Samuel Genensky lives "in a world of shape, form and color." Legally blind since birth when a hospital staffer mistakenly put an alkaline solution in his eyes instead of silver nitrate, he has no vision in one eye and partial sight (20/800) in the other.
Yet with few exceptions, the 52-year-old mathematician can do anything a fully-sighted person can.He strides confidently down unfamiliar city streets without the aid of a dog, cane or human. He can read newspapers, write with a pen, watch movies, plays and ballgames.
The key to his seemingly extraordinary abilities is the variety of visual aids he employs. He wears binoculars around his neck to help him read street signs or traffic signals and, with the other end, find objects on the floor.
A pair of telescopic spectacles -- which look like a jeweler's glass attached to a pair of glasses -- allow him to watch television, and a pair of "monster binoculars" enable him to sit in a theater balcony and watch a ballet. At his home and office, closed circuit television cameras focus on a printed page so he can read the enlarged letters on a screen.
"The vast majority of the legally-blind are not blind," Genensky stresses. "And if most partially-sighted people had the appropriate visual aids they could function in the mainstream of society."
As director of the recently-established Center for the Partially Sighted in California, Genensky is helping hundreds of partially-sighted people do just that. He was in Washington this week to investigate future funding sources for the federally-supported facility which provides examinations, visual-aid prescriptions, mobility training and counseling for the partially-sighted.
"When it comes to services, almost all the emphasis has been on the functionally blind," notes Genensky. "Yet there are 116,000 functionally-blind people in the country and 1.75 million partially-sighted."
Society's tendency to classify people as either blind or sighted, Genensky says, "condemns a large number of people to be classified as blind who aren't." s
One problem is a confusion in terminology, "Functionally blind people can see nothing at all or just light and shadow," he explains. "A person is legally blind if vision in the better eye is correctable to no better than 20/200.
"A person is partially-sighted if visual acuity in the better eye, even with ordinary corrective lenses, does not exceed 20/70. In general terms, a partially-sighted person is unable to read newspaper column type even with ordinary corrective glasses."
His own experience of being forced to attend a high school for the blind for one year, started his personal crusade to prove that partially-sighted people can use what vision they have to function in the mainstream of society.
He earned a Ph.D. in mathematics "because it was the last thing anyone thought I could do," and started the center "to help others like me learn that they can make it."