But often, people can keep working at what they love with the right tools. She knows of a woman who is still decorating cupcakes at a local bakery, for instance.
"I think it's bad enough to lose your vision, but to lose your identity? And to lose your income?" she says.
A lot of what determines success is a person's attitude, Studebaker says.
Bobbie Milliken, supervisor for the local office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, says her state-run agency works with disabled employees to find or maintain work, and it helps employers determine how they can accommodate disabled workers.
It's not a quick process, Milliken says, so an employee should apply with the office. Eventually, he or she will likely meet with a counselor.
Depending on the situation, Milliken says, Voc Rehab will often pay for training or tools to help a disabled person keep working. Requests for help for the legally blind are common.
Many options exist for those with low vision, she says, including magnifiers and other tools, but also "personal adjustment training." ("You have to be able to make your clothes clean to go to work, and you have to be presentable," for instance.)
"It can become more complicated, but it is amazing what a person who is motivated can do, or be retrained to do," Milliken says.
To be appreciated
For his part, Makielski has continued to build things over the years, creating substantial work-arounds in his basement workshop to be able to measure and use his power saw, for example.
Only in the last few months has he become aware of such programs as Voc Rehab, he says.
Monday, he's headed for a weeklong VA program in Battle Creek. He's hoping to apply for a six-week VA program in the fall that teaches -- or re-teaches -- such skills as carpentry, plumbing and electrical work to the legally blind.
He receives some Social Security disability benefits now, and when he turns 62 in October, he could retire.
But Makielski says he wants to improve his working life and to contribute what he can.
"They've taken my tools and taken everything from me and put a paintbrush in my hand and told me it's all I can do, it's all I'm worth," he says, taking a phone break from cutting tile for his kitchen backsplash, which had to be adjusted last week to fit a new microwave. "This is the most miserable situation I've been in in 61 years, and I've been in the military.
"I just want to be productive. I just want to be appreciated for what I do."
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