An Interview with Sylvia Stinson-Perez, Director of the Independent Living Older Blind Technical Assistance Center ( OIB-TAC) at Mississippi State University

Sylvia (in dark clothes) center of group at pre-pandemic conference.

Sylvia and her team have just launched the “Time To Be Bold” website ( to help everyone over 55 with sight loss find services and rehab training. She also directs the Vision Specialist Graduate Certificate Program.

Hannah: How old were you when your parents knew you had a vision problem?

Sylvia: My parents noticed very early that my eyes weren’t tracking. The doctor said I was legally blind and suggested they institutionalize me!

My parents were young, just 20 and 21, not college educated. I was their first child. Four brothers and sisters followed fast, so family life was very busy. My sight wasn’t really an issue. Another sibling has the same condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Hannah: At school you were not given any accommodations for your vision. Some kids who live with vision loss feel inadequate or that sighted people are the real people. Is this how you felt?

Sylvia: I never felt inadequate. My parents really taught us to value ourselves, and that you pick yourself up and try again. I felt like an alien at school but not at home or in our church.

We lived in a small rural town. A Teacher of the Visually Impaired came for about an hour twice a week. I could read regular print very close, but I could never see the board at any distance even if I stood on top of it! Plenty of hand held magnifiers came to me. They disappeared very fast. I wasn’t going to use them, or large print books either. I didn’t even want to be pulled out of class for special lessons.

Hannah: Did you have friends?

Sylvia: I had a few short-term friends. Middle school was a big challenge. When I moved on to High School I learned never to say anything at all, because that opened opportunities for bullying. I got through school lessons just listening. But at home and at church I was a bubbly kid.

Hannah: So was college any better?

Sylvia: When I got to college I thought, “I have an opportunity to be a better more outgoing person. I’m not going to be scared.” It took some effort but I did it! I was very determined. I really got to enjoy college. I had gobs of good friends and some are still my good friends.

Hannah: What made you decide to go into social work. Did you always want to work with others with vision loss, or was it more happenstance?

Sylvia: Feelings of loneliness in high school had an effect. I wanted to help people feel better about themselves. I got a BS in Psychology. Then I had a roommate. She and her boyfriend were both doing a Master’s in Social Work. They convinced me that an MSW was more marketable than social science.I met my husband through her boyfriend as well.

Hannah: So did you work on your MSW to help blind people?

Sylvia: I didn’t know there were jobs to help blind people! I thought there were only information jobs. I had another roommate who was studying to work in the field of vision rehab, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t know any blind people. “Probably not my kind of people,” I thought!

One day my technology teacher at the Lighthouse for the Blind said, “Do you think you’d like to work here?” That was the beginning.

Hannah: What is your wish for the blindness community going forward?

Sylvia: Only a tiny proportion of people with vision loss seek services. We have an opportunity to have some really good outcomes, but no longer talking about adjustment. It’s all about getting a job, or for retired people putting on a bandaid like   labeling the microwave. We do not put nearly enough time enough focus on rehab any more. We do not provide comprehensive high quality services any more.

There are so many job openings in blindness rehab and university education. If only we could convince more really good people to come into vision rehab and education instead of trying to go into mainstream employment.

Sylvia and Volunteering: In regards to my personal life I very much enjoy coaching people to maximize their personal and professional success. One venture I am involved with is an online Speak With Confidence 10 week training program. It is held on Tuesday evenings and we are currently accepting registrations for our next group of 12 to begin on May 4. The cost is $45. All welcome, any level of speaking ability.

2 thoughts on “An Interview with Sylvia Stinson-Perez, Director of the Independent Living Older Blind Technical Assistance Center ( OIB-TAC) at Mississippi State University

    1. Hello, Congratulations on finding a good way to continue working while also contributing to the happiness of other people. This is a really great example of self-advocacy. Hannah

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