With the enthusiasm of a game-show host and the patience of a science teacher, Don Cassidy pulled out one of his latest gadgets - a blue item, shaped somewhat like a phone, with yellow markings on top.
"You know what this is, right?" Cassidy, 57, of Boothwyn, asked Patty Guarini, who has been coming to the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Chester for 18 years. She offered a guess, and Cassidy answered, "It's a color identifier."
Cassidy, who has vision problems of his own and has managed the center's Sight Solutions store since it opened three years ago, got a reaction usually reserved for magicians and miracle workers.
"Oh, my God. Oh, geez," Guarini, who is color-blind, said, almost whispering. "Oh, my gosh. I didn't even realize they had those."
Cassidy talked her through the steps as she held the device on her sweater, pulled it away, and listened to the mechanical voice say, "White." Despite her amazement, she decided to hold off on buying the $169.95 item. Which was fine with Cassidy.
He works for a nonprofit organization and has a different focus from when he was a route salesman for Stroehmann, a manager at Wawa, and owner of a Delaware restaurant famous for its ribs.
"If I can help them, I'm happy. It's a satisfaction you didn't get doing the other job. The other job was nice display, get some sales up, meet your quota, that kind of stuff," he said as if going through a checklist.
"My quota here is help these people accomplish what they're trying to accomplish."
Most of his customers are senior citizens, and many come in the first time looking for magnifiers, Cassidy said. They return for some of the other products, from $1 plastic signature guides to closed-circuit televisions that cost about $2,000.
Plus, there are watches and thermometers that talk, canes, TV glasses from Germany that make the screen appear twice as big, and large-button keyboards, remote controls and calculators.
Cassidy teases 84-year-old Dottie Stinsman about how many large bingo cards she buys for herself and the other residents of the Lutheran Knolls senior housing in Boothwyn.
"You'd be surprised at how many who can see get those," said Stinsman, who has been coming to the center for five years. Before the store, people such as Stinsman, Guarini and Cassidy had to order most items from catalogs.
In 2000, Cassidy's aorta ruptured, and a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the optic nerve left him with a scotoma, blinding parts of his vision and disrupting his depth perception.
He had to leave his job at Stroehmann, and had trouble finding another one. As he was finishing the center's Blindness Skills Training program, he heard about the opening of Sight Solutions.
Cassidy was a natural fit, said Bob Nelson, executive director of the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
"Don is a great people person. He makes people feel comfortable," Nelson said. "He helps the person deal with their lack of understanding of what we have in the store in such a sensitive way."
More than 1,000 people shopped at the store last year, Nelson said. And officials at the center expect that number to grow as baby boomers get older and have age-related vision problems, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
In the 2000 census, more than 9,000 Delaware County and Chester County residents reported having vision problems that could not be corrected, said Rosemary Keefe, marketing and communications coordinator for the center.
Besides running the two-room shop, Cassidy has contacted retirement villages, nursing homes and senior centers to let them know about Sight Solutions, and customers say he connects with them.
"He's a very special guy," said Guarini, 60, of Lansdowne. "He understands us very, very well."
He understands the daily frustrations. Not being able to see the border when he's writing. Or the column breaks blurring together if he tries to read a sports page. Taking a SEPTA bus for the first time in his mid-50s. Not sitting at the steering wheel.
"I'm a lousy passenger. I really am," Cassidy said, laughing.
He has adjusted, though. He'll use whatever tool "helps me to conquer my difficulties. I still struggle, but you work along with it."
Cassidy keeps a plastic card in his wallet to help him sign his name within the borders of credit-card receipts. He goes online and uses Jaws, a screen-reader program, to check up on local sports teams. He enjoys the bus ride to work now; in fact, while on it, he made friends with a guy who happened to be Stinsman's nephew.
And as for driving with Angel, his wife, Cassidy said he tried - tried very hard - to keep any comments to a minimum.
Sight Solutions, 100 W. 15th St. in Chester, is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. To learn more, visit
» READ MORE: www.sightsolutions.org
call 610-874-1476, Ext. 145; or e-mail
» READ MORE: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, visit
» READ MORE: www.cbvi.net
or call 610-874-1476.