Friend seeks help after blind woman’s iPad is stolen


BURRILLVILLE – Many people are dependent on technology on some level, but for Donna Elliot, an iPad she received back in 2012 has been something of a lifeline to the outside, seeing world.

Accessibility options on the device have allowed Elliot, who is legally blind, to communicate with friends and others with her condition; to have books, texts and other written items read aloud; to order groceries and make doctor’s appointments; and to read information on the internet through a magnification application.

But two weeks ago, the iPad was stolen, making life much harder in the Elliots’ home.

“It was something that I could hold close to my face, and it had VoiceOver,” Elliot told NRI NOW of the device.

Elliot was born legally blind and grew up in Chepachet, attending Ponaganset High School.

“I got by in school by listening,” she said. “When I went to college, it was overwhelming.”

Elliot left her studies, married her high school sweetheart, Joe, and the pair moved to Burrillville.

Years later, advances in technology allowed her to return to school, using newly created applications to listen to her text books.

Assisting devices have since allowed her to maintain a fairly active life, including running a small home daycare in the 1980s. She eventually graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in social work.

The iPad was granted to Elliot six years ago through State Services for the Blind. At the time, the Stillwater Heights resident had a job as a social worker.

“It allowed her to work with her clients better,” explained friend Jessica St. Jean.

The device also helped to put Elliot in touch with organizations like Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a group that helped her to acquire guide dogs to get around. Through Apple applications and programs to assist those with her condition, Elliot has learned to purchase groceries through Pea Pod Delivery Service, and make doctor’s appointments. She could even go on Facebook, and listen to things like cooking instructions, giving her access to new recipes.

“I was able to use technology that other people have on their phones that I otherwise never would have been able to do,” Elliot said. “It tells us things that we couldn’t possibly read. That’s why you find so many blind people going for Apple products. They were the first to come out with it.”

“It’s literally her lifeline,” said St. Jean. “It’s how she does everything.”

“Her iPad has given her a sense of self; independence, the importance of community, friendships, and friends made through her religious and visually impaired groups, as well as others,” said St. Jean.

Meanwhile, Elliot’s vision has continued to deteriorate. Currently, she is only able to see a small amount of light out of one eye. The remaining eye is also getting worse, and Elliot knows that eventually, she will be in 100 percent blackness.

“I have a little vision in one eye,” she said. “I can’t see my husband’s face when he sits across the table.”

Donna and Joe Elliot

Health problems have also plagued the Elliots, eventually keeping Donna from work. Husband Joe had his first open heart surgery at the age of 34, and when he suffered a sudden cardiac death 15 years ago, it was Donna who administered CPR and saved his life.

“Many of the things he used to do for me, I’m able to do through an iPad,” she said.

The pair was at Walmart in North Smithfield hoping to have that iPad’s charging port repaired when the device was stolen from their cart. It was later returned to the store, broken and completely unusable.

It was the same week that Joe received a terminal diagnosis.

“She had a really tough week,” St. Jean said. “They’re very sick.”

The friend has stepped in to try to help, starting both Facebook and GoFundMe campaigns to replace the device.

“Since both Donna and Joe have been ill for many years, they also have a lot of insurance co-payments’s and appointments, and would never be able to afford to buy a new iPad,” St. Jean wrote.

Between the two campaigns, St. Jean has raised $360 of the needed $1,100 to replace the broken device. She’s hopeful that the Eliot’s community, and others who hear their story, will step forward.

“Donna Elliott, and her husband Joe, are two of the nicest people that you could ever hope to meet,” she wrote. “Deeply religious, Donna and Joe have overcome repeated, seemingly insurmountable events during their lives. Each and every time, they wind up stronger, and continue to smile and look for the best in life.”

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