REXBURG, Idaho — Gently curling a sheet of dough in her home kitchen, Leslie Alexander feels her way around baking a batch of cinnamon rolls.
"I'm feeling what I'm doing," she said. "This is a tricky part for a blind person, because you want to know what the end of the roll is doing."
Alexander lost most of her vision in a car crash in the Salt Lake City area in 2002.
"I don't remember much after the accident. It fractured my second and third vertebrae," Alexander said.
Though her recovery was slow at first, she eventually found help at a Utah School for the Deaf and Blind.
"It's frightening to lose your sight," Alexander said. "The world was pretty dark to me. I was still trying to figure in my brain how to do things."
Years later, she's now launching her own home business — Leslie's Specialty Cinnamon Rolls — with the subtitle, The Blind Baker. Though it wasn't easy at first, she got help through programs at the Idaho Commission for the Blind.
Janell Jarman, a rehabilitation teacher, helped outfit Alexander's kitchen with raised buttons to help her use her appliances, a label-reading machine, and a scale that reads weights through a computerized voice.
"Most people have a real fear of losing their vision," Jarman said. "We think it's going to be the end of our lives, like we couldn't go on if we couldn't see, and so when somebody does lose their vision, they often take a couple of years before they're ready to really get help."
Jarman says often people with disabilities don't know that resources are available through each state.
Matthew Queen, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, helped Leslie take the steps necessary to become an entrepreneur.
"Really what we're trying to do is support her in her goal to be a self-employed baker," Queen said. "We just want to make sure that we provide the supports necessary for that individual to maintain employment, and maintain independence."
Leslie's husband, Steve Alexander, helps by making the deliveries.
"I'm the dough boy," Steve Alexander said, laughing. "I do the driving, but not lately."
Steve now gets help from neighbors and friends to make those deliveries. He started showing signs of trouble with his own left eye around Thanksgiving.
"We woke up, and he had blood pooled in his eye," Leslie Alexander recalled.
The two of them were taken back to 1977 when Steve Alexander, then a Salt Lake County deputy, responded to a call in Magna.
"I was on a domestic barricaded subject, and was shot in the head by a high-powered rifle," Steve Alexander said.
That bullet wound left a piece of shrapnel in his left eye that is still there today.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, he learned he had a different problem.
"That's when they diagnosed that I had melanoma cancer attached to my retina, behind the eye," he said.
A surgery later, and he's dealing with some vision troubles himself.
"I have severe double-vision, and depth-perception loss," he explained. "This has given my whole new world a shakeup. I have a real insight into my wife's dilemma, and what she's struggled with."
His vision will eventually return, but it could end up going away permanently in his left eye.1 comment on this story
"I'm just in amazement at what she can accomplish with her ability. Disability does not affect my wife," he said. "My life has changed, and I just appreciate and admire my wife that much more, in what she is able to do as a disabled person."
Leslie Alexander's business was set to officially launch this month, but because of her husband's surgery it has been pushed back to March. She has, however, started to sell to a limited amount of customers until then. She's hopeful her life-lessons in overcoming loss of sight might encourage others to do the same.
"It does get brighter," Leslie said. "You do get stronger. Life does get lighter, the more that you choose to learn."