The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Kathryn Vey-Strachan works with a mentor at The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Vey-Strachan became blind due to a rare disease about two years ago. Provided/The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

After 83 years of operating, a Lowcountry nonprofit that helps the blind and visually impaired navigate their lives is opening a second location, this time in the quickly growing North region.

The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired is broke ground Friday on a new office on Highway 78 in Ladson on a bus route and across the street from the offices of several eye doctors. The association's services are free for clients of all income levels.

Courtney Plotner, the nonprofit's CEO, said the expansion is needed as the organization tries to reach more of the 15,000 to 20,000 people with a visual impairment living in the region. 

About 335 people have used the association's "Own Your Life" program, which enables people who struggle to see with training, therapy and classwork, since its inception in 2015. The coursework can help clients prepare to go back to work. 

The new center will open in the early spring of next year, Plotner said. A location on a bus route was essential, she said, since clients typically don't drive. The association pays for clients' public transportation.

"We'll be able to see more people here in a day than in Charleston," she said. "We're always reaching out to look for more clients." 

Kathryn Vey-Strachan went suddenly blind due to a rare, genetic disease about two years ago after a 30-year career in the Boston public schools. A Ladson resident, she graduated from the association's program about two weeks ago. Making her way to the Charleston office could be a challenge.

"They introduced me to a community of blind people," she said. "I can pretty much do 99 percent of what sighted people can do."

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She is now looking for a job. 

The Ladson building is in 10-year-old Yale Plaza, which Dr. Virgil Alfaro developed. The business plaza is filled mostly with eye specialists, he said. The association's new location was the last spot left to be filled. Plotner said the proximity to physicians' offices should help increase referrals, and bring the possibility of only having to coordinate transportation once.

The association is keeping its office in Charleston, but the new spot in the North area will more than double the space the group has to work with clients. The association has 4,000 square feet at its disposal at its office on Carriage Lane in West Ashley, half of which is administrative space. The Ladson office has 4,300, all of which will be dedicated to clients and classes.

With the addition, the association is also looking for volunteers.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.