Shining Light in the Dark | A woman with severe vision loss starts a rhinestone business

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – One local woman will stop at nothing to make her dreams come true and rise above adversity.

He started his own rhinestone business in Huntington, despite losing most of his eyesight.

Sondra Andrews is the CEO of Eye Candy West Virginia, a company whose mission is to bring extra sparkle to your everyday items.

“I’m a vacation junkie, okay. Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, oh my gosh, I love the holidays,” Andrews said.

Rhinestoning is a time-consuming labor of love for everyone, but especially for Andrews.

“I have Stargardt’s disease,” Andrews said. “I have severe vision loss.”

How does someone who is legally blind do such detail-oriented work, you may wonder? Assists with special industrial equipment.

The camera shows a magnified image on his computer screen.

“Some are smaller than others, so I move it around until something catches my eye,” Andrews explains.

“I’m sure it’s probably when the stones hit a certain spot, I can see the face, the glow,” he said. “I can see a flash of color. I think as long as I can do it, I don’t feel disabled.”

Andrews wasn’t always so optimistic.

After 28 years at Collins Career Technical Center, starting a new job wasn’t her plan.

“I thought I might make it to 35 and retire, and the disease decided otherwise,” Andrews said. “I can’t read anymore, I haven’t driven for six years. I had to retire on September 30. I was horrified. Terrified.”

Andrews says it was all he needed to keep going.

“I was very depressed,” she said. “My mom always taught me, bad things happen to you, and then you can lick your wounds, but only for a while.”

At the urging of close friends, he decided it was time to start a business. He knew what he wanted to do, but he knew he couldn’t do it alone.

“His eye doctor called us, and this is the first time I’ve ever had an eye doctor call and say you have to help this person,” said Tony Walls, executive director of the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind. It helps people like Andrews in the Huntington area live fuller lives while managing their vision loss.

“We provide devices, aids and training to help people use the functional vision they have left,” Walls said.

With the help of the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind, Andrews gets his industrial-grade equipment completely free.

“I haven’t seen a face in probably ten years, I don’t see detail,” Andrews said. “Well, how can you do that?” This is equipment.”

The equipment is useful, but the process is not perfect. It requires a lot of patience and determination.

“I have to look under a microscope to do my job, so to say my job is meticulous is an understatement,” Andrews said. “I’m the type of person who, when I put my mind to something, I’ll do it. I may fail, but I will fight and give it 150 percent.”

“His determination just shined through and I could just tell he wasn’t going to let anything stop him,” Walls said. “It’s not the loss of sight, it’s not people’s opinions, it’s people’s illiteracy, lack of knowledge.”

“People see me walking and it’s like he’s not blind,” Andrews said. “I think it’s really important that people understand that vision impairments are on a spectrum from complete blindness in the dark to certain conditions.”

There are many misconceptions about visually impaired people and what they face.

The Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind is aware of these challenges and wants those struggling to know what resources are available.

“Because you don’t know we exist until you need us and reach out to us. That’s one of the reasons I love doing things like this, and I love Sondra’s passion for what we do,” Walls said. “It will get the word out to someone else sitting on the couch at home, scared to death of the vision loss they’re facing because they don’t know there are magnifiers, CCTVs and talking video magnifiers.”

“I’m sure there are people out there who have lost the ability to do certain things,” Andrews said. “They think that that’s it, that part is over. It is not. This is not the end.”

If there’s one thing that’s clear about Sondra Andrews, it’s that nothing can stop her from making the world a better place.

Andrews just started the business in September and is already busy with orders. She sells items from Baruch Salon and Boutique in Huntington and through her Facebook page.

Andrews now wants to give back to the Cabell Wayne Association of the Blind this holiday season as it helps him with his business.

Blenko is engaged in the sale of ornaments made with the help of Glass.

Ornaments on sale to raise proceeds for the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind.(Blenko Glass Company)
Ornaments on sale to raise money for Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind.
Ornaments on sale to raise money for Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind.(Blenko Glass Company)

They say “shining in the dark”. You can choose from three types that say ‘love’, ‘hope’ or ‘peace’ in braille, plus one with the Association of the Blind logo.

These are on sale now at the Association or through Eye Candy — $30 for the glass ornament and $15 for the Plexiglas ornament, plus $5 shipping from Eye Candy.

All proceeds go to the Society for the Blind.

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