Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Look before You Leap: Living with Low Vision at a Glance



People have been asking me to speak to their clients, friends, or family members who have been diagnosed with some vision loss caused by a variety of eye diseases.  I am not a rehabilitation counselor and do not have all the answers these people need.  I also have reached the point where my own eye conditions require that I spend all of my time learning more technology and Braille skills in order to do my work.  I will no longer have time to write more blog posts nor to volunteer my services as a disability advocate.  I have, therefore, created the following list of steps for people who are newly diagnosed with a disease that is causing some vision loss:

1.  Learn everything that you can about your condition and medications.  Do not be shy about asking your doctor questions.  You just might learn that dry eye or dehydration are causing the blurred vision that you experience from time to time.
2.  Research your condition, medical procedures that are being recommended, and current medical studies online or at your local library.
3.  Ask your eye care specialist or low vision specialist to write a letter that will serve as proof of your eligibility for services for the blind and visually impaired.
4.  Learn about all of the classes and information provided by the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  (www.hadley.edu)  Then listen to past seminars that interest you.
5.  Apply for a digital Talking Book player and training from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped so you will be able to download and read talking books and magazines.  If you need assistance, ask your local librarian.
6.  If you are a student or a professional who still needs to read books that are more academic than commercial, apply for services from Learning Ally.  (www.learningally.org)
7.  Apply for Newsline that will allow you to read an audio version of newspapers and magazines that are provided by the National Federation of the Blind.  (www.nfb.org)
8.  Read biographies and autobiographies of people who have lived successful lives while living with low vision and blindness.
9.  Look for and join chapters of the ACB and NFB in your area.  Read their online websites that include conference events.
9.  Attend local low vision and independent living center support groups if you are interested in networking, friendship, book clubs, and current information.  (A very wise social worker told me to spend half of my time with sighted friends and half of my time with blind friends.)
10.  Make the time to learn the skills you need such as Braille.  Large print, magnification tools, and lighting changes are short-term answers that can be costly.  Screen-reading software for computers, talking products such as calculators and thermometers, and Braille for note taking and labeling are long-term solutions recommended by rehabilitation counselors for anyone who has been diagnosed with a potentially blinding eye disease that has already caused some vision loss.  One of the benefits of using these tools is that they do not cause eye strain.
11.  Browse catalogs from Independent Living Aids, Maxi Aids, the American Printing House for the Blind, and the National Federation of the Blind.
12.  Learn about the accessibility features on iPhones and Smartphones.  Find the apps for BARD (NLS Talking Books), Learning Ally, and Newsline that allow you to read books and magazines on these phones.
13.  Make long-range plans even if you never need them.  Ask important questions such as:   What services are available if I must stop driving short-term or long-term?  Is my home handicapped accessible?  What would my income be if I had to live on social Security Disability benefits or Social Security?  What kind of medical plan and prescription drug plan would I have?  Can I afford to retire?
14.  Build a support system of friends or family who live nearby.
15.  Do not be surprised if people you thought you could count on let you down.  They might not be emotionally, financially, physically, or spiritually available when you need them.
16.  Move to a new location if you need to but only after careful planning.  See the place in person if that is possible.
17.  Search for adaptive technology that will allow you to continue your work and hobbies.  If these activities cannot be adapted, look for other work or hobbies that will be of interest to you.
18.  Be flexible, hopeful, positive, and active in your community.
19.  Love yourself by asking for help when you need it and by accepting help when it is offered. 
20.  Love what is left in your life while living with low vision.