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Meet Darran Zenger: Seeing Through Blindness

Darran Zenger, MSW, has never let the fact that he is blind and deaf define him.

He lives a normal, busy life and uses his experiences naDarran_with_Louvigating the world independently to help others with disabilities. One of his current jobs is leading the "Maintaining Independence with Vision Loss" group,
part of the John A. Moran Eye Center's Patient Support Program. In this no-cost, five-week course, Zenger covers basic skills in transportation and mobility, accessing information, shopping, and keeping up a social life.

"Being legally blind is a challenge you can choose to accept," he said. "Do a lot of people have a hard time getting to that place of acceptance? Yes. It's traumatic. When you can't see, and you feel that you might have to depend on others for so many things, it affects your family relationships, your social life, and your employment. Adapting requires a real mind shift because our brains are wired to be visual, but we can work through that."

Zenger, 42, has Usher syndrome, a disease characterized by combined retinal degeneration and progressive hearing loss.

"I was born completely night blind," he said. "My mom noticed that when I was a baby, I wouldn't grab a bottle at night the way I did during the day, so she knew something was wrong."

As a child, he could see with glasses during the day, but started losing peripheral vision and became legally blind at age 25.
"That's when I had to hang up the car keys," said Zenger. "Now, it's like I'm looking through two straws, each smeared with Vaseline on the end. I can see the blur of my hands in front of my face, but that's about it."

With the added challenge of hearing loss and the eventual need for cochlear implants when hearing aids were no longer helpful, Zenger has conquered a number of challenges that even for someone with sight and hearing could be daunting. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology, then went on to earn his master's in social work at the University of Utah in 2015.

He cooks, uses an iPhone, and takes public transportation and private lift services such as Lyft and Uber all in the company of his co-pilot and service dog, Lou.

Zenger, who uses both tactile and American Sign Language (ASL), has three children who are also fluent in ASL.

"Darran is a great example of someone who meets challenges and lives a great life," said Patient Support Program Director, Lisa Ord, PhD, MSW. "He's helped so many people with vision loss recognize their own potential and has changed their self-limiting attitudes."