March is Brain Injury Awareness Month
by Elise Grossman, CRC, LMHC, RDPFS Board Member
Each year the month of March is recognized as Brain Injury Month to increase awareness and understanding about the incidence of brain injuries. This is an appropriate time to draw attention to the link between vision loss and brain injuries. Many studies in medical journals support this relationship. As a service provider for more than 30 years specializing in brain injury, followed by working with clients with vision loss, I can corroborate a strong connection between the two. First, what is a brain injury? A brain injury is damage to the brain that can affect a person physically, cognitively, behaviorally, emotionally, and visually. It can occur from an external event such as motor vehicle accident, falls, gunshot wounds, Shaken Baby Syndrome, etc., or from internal factors such as stroke, meningitis, drug overdose, and other issues. The Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA) reports a high incidence of vision dysfunction in brain injury clients, including blurred vision, sensitivity to light, reduction or loss of visual field, reading difficulties, eye movement dysfunction, and cortical vision impairment. Combine this with cognitive deficits such as memory, attention, concentration, information processing, reasoning, and other losses and rehabilitation becomes challenging for both the client and service provider, especially if the provider does not have the client’s complete medical history. As a bit of advice to those who are professionals in the BVI (Blind and Visually Impaired) community, please ask your clients if they have ever had a brain injury, or use the simple five-question HELPS screening tool available from the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators (NASHIA). You’ll be surprised at how many clients report having a history of brain injury. This information may lead to a more helpful, realistic rehabilitation plan. For further information on brain injury, including treatment, visit the website of the Brain Injury Association of America. To learn more about brain injury and vision, check out the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA).
Rehabilitation counselors fulfill a critical role in helping people with vision loss and other disabilities to achieve their “personal, social, psychological, career, and independent living goals.” National Rehabilitation Counselors Day, on March 22, recognizes the work of Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRC). To celebrate the occasion, the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) provides key messages about the profession and a tool kit that can be used by CRCs to thank colleagues, communicate client success stories, and heighten awareness using social media, email signatures, and other communications. To find out more about CRCs and this recognition, visit the CRCC website post: National Rehabilitation Counselors Appreciation Day. Thank you rehabilitation counselors!
American Diabetes Association Alert Day, observed the fourth Tuesday of March each year, aims to increase awareness of this serious health condition, which is linked to more than nine serious health complications, including vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy, now the leading cause of new cases of legal blindness among working-age adults, occurs when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina in the back of the eye. It can cause blurry vision and loss of sight. People with diabetes can also develop other eye conditions, including macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to protecting eyesight. For more information, check out the listing from the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Diabetic Retinopathy. For details about the annual awareness day, visit the listing from National Today on American Diabetes Association Alert Day.
Ask the Experts About Vision and Diabetes: Virtual Program on March 22, 2022
On March 22, 2022, at 2 pm ET (Eastern Time), the American Diabetes Association is hosting a session covering ways to lower the risk of “worsening eye disease,” as well as the latest treatments available. This program is part of the “Ask the Experts Q&A Series,” which aims to help people with diabetes to address issues commonly faced through interaction with experts and others sharing similar experiences. To learn more and register for this event, go to Ask the Experts: My vision keeps getting worse, can it be saved?
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games concluded Sunday, March 13. In covering Paralympic athletes who are blind or visually impaired, we are highlighting Team Ukraine. Despite the crisis back home, these athletes not only participated, but also won multiple medals in the biathlon and cross-country skiing events. Dmytro Suiarko, a 25-year-old cross-country skier and biathlete, suffered a personal loss when his house was destroyed in a bombing on March 7. After winning a bronze medal in the men’s middle distance vision impaired biathlon, he “spoke powerfully: ‘I am happy, but you know the situation in Ukraine. Very hard concentration is needed in biathlon and I missed twice because yesterday my house where I live was bombed and destroyed.’” Suiarko‘s other medals included one gold and one bronze in cross-country skiing. His teammates achieved success as well, even completing two podium sweeps at the National Biathlon Centre. In the men’s middle distance vision-impaired biathlon, athletes Vitaliy Lukyanenko won gold and Anatolii Kovalevskyi won silver. Overall, Team Ukraine finished in second place, behind China, winning 29 medals. Congratulations Team Ukraine – and wishing them a safe return home. For more information about Team Ukraine and their accomplishments, read The Guardian: “Winter Paralympics: Ukraine complete double biathlon podium sweep”, and this article from People Magazine, “Ukraine Wins Second-Most Medals at 2022 Winter Paralympics amid Russian Invasion: 'A Miracle'”.
Each year in March, social workers are recognized for their work to “help individuals, families, communities, and our nation overcome issues that prevent them from reaching their full potential.” The theme of Social Work Month 2022, “The Time is Right for Social Work,” highlights the growing number of professionals entering this field, especially as the nation continues to deal with the pandemic and other issues. Social workers help people gain access to resources and work with individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, and other emotional challenges. This is especially relevant in terms of vision loss. Social workers and other providers of behavioral health services often help individuals adjust to changes in vision and manage life with vision loss. The Vision Health Initiative (VHI) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that “Managing vision loss can take a toll on your physical and mental health.” The CDC reports that reduced vision has been linked to “loneliness, social isolation, and feelings of worry, anxiety, and fear.” Therefore, the CDC recommends that those with vision loss be screened for mental health problems and referred for treatment for the sake of their quality of life. For more information about Social Work Month, including media materials, check out the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) website: The Time is Right for Social Work. Thank you social workers!
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
RespectAbility, in partnership with the Fox Family Foundation, is offering five apprenticeships to future leaders in the fields of public policy and employment, entertainment and news media, communications, nonprofit management, or civic engagement and coalition building. A diverse, disability-led nonprofit, RespectAbility seeks to change the way in which society views and values people with disabilities. Their mission is to fight stigmas and advance opportunities, including policies and practices, which empower people with disabilities so they may fully participate in every aspect of their community and have a better future. The organization helps individuals gain the training, skills, contacts, and opportunities necessary to participate actively and make decisions in the workplace. In keeping with these objectives, the apprenticeships are offered to individuals who are blind or low-vision, have a passion for making a difference, and want to gain skills and contacts that will help them succeed. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree or related experience in one of the previously mentioned fields, Selected apprentices will receive $15 an hour, are expected to work a minimum of 20 hours per week, participate in team meetings, and attend weekly speaker meetings, as well as work with the National Leadership Program Director to advance their career goals. For more information and to apply for the apprenticeship, please check out the “Apprenticeship for Blind and Low-Vision Leaders” page on RespectAbility’s website.
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
Over the past few years, many popular games have come onto the market, such as Elden Ring and Valhalla Assassin’s Creed, which have largely been inaccessible to many people. Individuals who are blind or have low vision, and those who are unable to distinguish between colors or are unable to read or interact with small subtitles or prompts, have been unable to participate fully in the gaming experience. A company called Descriptive Video Works seeks to change that with the help of audio description services, with a written script describing on-screen gameplay and content, matching game pacing and storyline. Currently, very few game studios focus on accessibility, as it is difficult to write a functional script that conveys important background details without blocking the narration and sound effects while describing imagery and gameplay dynamics fully. Due to these difficulties, game developers have been hesitant to incorporate audio description. However, once they work the kinks out, there could be a flood of games with accessibility options on the market. Audio Description for games and trailers works similarly to how it is used in TV and movies. Descriptive Video Works receives a copy of the game trailer before the launch date, views the video, and writes a script that uses evocative language to describe the game and gameplay without blocking out dialogue or sound effects. Rhys Lloyd, the Head of Descriptive Video Works, noted that the process to audio describe games and trailers involves various elements, such as choosing voice actors who help the viewer to identify the description from the primary content and match the vocal style and sound of a game. Their mantra is “Describe Everything,” and they hope that other developers will take up the initiative as well. To learn more, read the Nintendo Life article: “Feature: How Audio Description Can Make Trailers And Video Gaming More Accessible”.
On March 22, 1955, DeWitt Wallace, co-founder of the Reader’s Digest, established the “Reader’s Digest Fund for the Blind” to publish high-quality, large-type reading material for people who were visually impaired. Through the years the organization took on a broader mission, helping to foster the independence of people who are blind and visually impaired. Now, as Reader's Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS), we are proud to work in partnership with other organizations that assist, support, and provide training to people who are visually impaired. RDPFS has a significant grant program that has made a difference in the lives of thousands of individuals living with vision loss. And, in keeping with the Foundation’s origins, we continue to publish Reader's Digest Select Editions Large Type (SELT), providing a diverse selection of best-selling fiction in an easy-to-read large print format. In commemorating the 67th anniversary of RDPFS, we reaffirm our commitment to working toward an accessible and inclusive world where people who are blind and visually impaired have the tools, resources, and opportunity to lead independent and fulfilling lives.