From the Desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
Our Inconvenient Truth
We are all living longer and with age come illnesses that may bring on vision loss. Therefore, large numbers of seniors join the blind and vision impaired (BVI) community every day. The inconvenient truth for active members of the BVI community is that we lack the resources to provide older adults with the services that allow them to continue to lead independent lives.
Good vision rehabilitation introduces adaptive skills, so that a person experiencing vision loss can function as independently as possible.
We all know that most seniors living with low vision don’t get the vision rehabilitation services they need. Funding allocated to these services in medical, education, and vocational rehabilitation settings is woefully inadequate. We also don’t have enough specialists in BVI professional disciplines [orientation and mobility (O&M), vision rehabilitation therapy (VRT), rehabilitation counseling, et. al.] to provide services to all who need them.
I became a vocational rehabilitation counselor in the BVI community because I wanted everyone living with vision loss to get the excellent services I received. The painful inconvenient truth is that they don’t. Through the years we have tried to understand why this occurs and how to correct it.
We ask, how can we get more ophthalmologists to refer their patients to low vision doctors and get more referrals from low vision doctors for vision rehabilitation services? Then we discover that we must get more eye doctors to specialize in low vision. Despite the shortage of people working in vision rehabilitation professions, we argue about who should provide services and how to recruit more people to become Low Vision Doctors, VRTs, O&M Specialists, and Teachers of the Vision Impaired. Then we look at the few university programs in these professional disciplines and discover that they don’t get enough applicants. Simultaneously, the professionals working in the BVI community identify that there is simply too much work and too little pay. When we look to other professions to help lighten the load, those who have toiled in the lower-paying BVI professions say, “don’t hire social workers or occupational therapists, they are not trained in blindness and vision loss.”
This all occurs as the needs grow.
Recently ACVREP (the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals) decided to address this problem by creating a certification process for Occupational Therapists (OTs) who wish to provide rehabilitation services to people with vision loss. OTs already provide services to clients living with other disabling conditions, so it seems like a natural fit. Encouraging OTs to expand on their services in the BVI community has been a topic of conversation among BVI agency executives for years. Yet ACVREP’s announcement about a certification process for Occupational Therapists has been met with some resistance.
Recognizing the severe shortage of BVI services providers, we must expand our reach to include other professionals who can provide rehabilitation services to those struggling to adjust to vision loss. I am keenly aware of the complications in doing this and know both sides of the argument. However, the numbers reflecting the broken budgets of not-for-profit blindness agencies and the number of seniors who fail to get the vision rehabilitation they need don’t lie. We must figure out a way to lighten our load. Welcoming other helping professions in the BVI community is one way to do it. And we can’t do this alone. Let’s commit to compromising and working together with members of other helping professions, all in the name of providing excellent vision rehabilitation services.
New Findings on Guide Dogs in 2022
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
The American Foundation of the Blind (AFB) and Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) have published the results of a study on the impact of guide dogs in 2022. AFB and GDB surveyed over 500 people with vision loss in the United States and Canada, including guide dog users, white cane users, and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors. Among the results, the study revealed the extent to which blind travelers, whether or not they use dogs, have begun to take advantage of smartphone apps and technology to help them navigate routes, and their increased use of door-to-door rideshare services like Uber and Lyft in place of public transport or walking. On the flip side, drivers contracting with rideshare companies often deny access to guide dog users, despite their mandate to do so under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities. This severely limits the usefulness of rideshare services and causes anxiety for riders with guide dogs. In addition, the extreme shortage of O&M instructors in many areas of the U.S. in particular means that many blind people do not have sufficient skills in learning routes and in spatial orientation to travel effectively with a cane, much less qualify for a dog. Despite the hurdles, guide dog users consistently report many benefits to using a dog, from increased confidence in routes to emotional connection to more socialization. You can read much more in the paper linked above, as well as a press release from the AFB titled “AFB Announces Research Examining the Role of the Guide Dog in Collaboration with Guide Dogs for the Blind.”
Accessibility in Historic Buildings and Facilities: A November 3, 2022 Webinar
Historic buildings contain many opportunities to learn about the past and provide a “sense of place” to visitors, including individuals with disabilities. On November 3, 2022, from 2:30 to 4 pm ET, the webinar on “Accessing the Past: Accessibility in Historic Buildings and Facilities” will give an overview of the accessibility requirements for historic buildings and facilities based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). Speakers from the National Park Service and the Office of Technical and Information Services of the U.S. Access Board will present during this training, offered through AccessibilityOnline, a collaborative training program of the ADA National Network and the U.S. Access Board. Questions may be submitted ahead of time or posed during the live webinar. Those attending can earn continuing education credits. For webinar session details and a link to register, check out Accessing the Past: Accessibility in Historic Buildings and Facilities.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month
Each November, National Diabetes Awareness Month provides an opportunity to heighten awareness of this chronic condition, its potential complications, and how to manage it. Diabetes can cause damage to the eyes as well as kidneys, nerves, and heart. Having the condition increases the risk for vision loss from diabetic eye diseases, the most common being diabetic retinopathy. Individuals with diabetes also face a higher risk for developing diabetic macular edema (DME), cataract, and glaucoma. Early detection, treatment, and effective management can “help people with diabetes to lower the risk of vision loss.” The focus of this year’s monthly recognition is on “managing diabetes by building your health care team.” Among the recommendations for those with the condition from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
- Learn as much as possible about the disease and its management;
- Manage diabetes early: set goals for controlling risk factors, such as blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol, with your primary health care provider to help prevent diabetes-related health problems.
- Build a diabetes health care team: In addition to the primary care provider, other professionals, such as an eye doctor, dietician, endocrinologist, and podiatrist, can be part of the team involved in regular care; and
- Adopt and maintain healthy habits in diet and regular physical activity.
Find out more about the November commemoration from the American Diabetes Association writeup on American Diabetes Month® and from NIDDKD’s description of National Diabetes Month 2022: Diabetes Management - It Takes a Team. Learn specifics about vision consequences from the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s webpages on National Diabetes Month 2022 and Diabetic Eye Disease Resources.
Some Virtual Events During Diabetes Awareness Month
Events, both in-person and virtual, are being held throughout November to provide resources and information about diabetes. Following are a few that are virtual and free of charge for participants to join, via registration on Eventbrite:
On November 3, 2022, from 7 to 8 pm ET, "Unsweetened Reality: Living with Diabetes," a Women’s Wellness Webinar from Northwell Health’s Katz Institute for Women’s Health, experts will discuss how to prevent diabetes as well as manage the disease for those affected. For more information and to register, visit the listing for Unsweetened Reality: Living with Diabetes.
On November 8, 2022 and December 6, 2022, from 11 am to 12:30 ET, classes in the Diabetes Self-Management series from Crystal Run Healthcare will cover, respectively, “Medications/Monitoring Blood Sugar” and “Emotions and Support/Exercise/Changing Habits.” Certified diabetes educators will be presenting. Find out more and register here for the Diabetes Self-Management Education Class Series.
On November 10, 2022 from 11 am to 12:30 pm ET, "Managing Diabetes During the Holidays" promises to help participants “Learn how to fill a healthy plate and fit in all the foods you love.” The event is offered by the UF(University of Florida)/IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) Extension Polk County Family and Consumer Sciences. Register here for Managing Diabetes During the Holidays.
For People with Vision Loss, Taking Selfies Just Got Easier
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
Google’s new Pixel 7 smartphone, released on October 13, 2022, includes an accessibility feature designed to allow people with visual impairment to take accurate selfies. The enhancement, known as Guided Frame, uses Google’s TalkBack screen reader to direct the user on the best placement of their phone for a good picture. It may tell a user to move the phone to the left, to the right, up, down, or closer or farther away from their face. Once the phone detects the most accurate angle, Guided Frame automatically takes a selfie. Google points out that the feature is also useful for fully sighted people by allowing the phone to direct them in certain lighting conditions, and also by eliminating the need to move their hands to press the shutter button when taking a photo. As Google’s Senior Technical Program Manager for Accessibility Victor Tsaran stated: “‘What this feature allows me to do is be confident that the result I'm going to get will be a good one.’” Guided Frame is one of the latest in a variety of steps by large technology companies to make their products more accessible and inclusive. Google has launched an app called Lookout, similar to Microsoft’s Seeing AI and to Envision, and Apple has recently released detection features for people and doors. You can find out more information from a CNET article titled “Pixel 7 Makes Taking Selfies Easier for Blind, Low-Vision Users.”
How Blind Gamers Play, Fight, and Win
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
BBC Scotland recently published How do visually impaired people play video games?, an article included in Yahoo News, covering blind gamer Ben Breen, now an accessible games and immersive technology research officer for the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB). Born without vision, Breen spent his childhood experimenting with PC games – but not winning them. He recalled: “‘I started out with games like Fighter Pilot on PC not really understanding how anything worked because I didn't know about screen readers at the time, or any of the tech. So I was just pressing buttons, seeing what happens, and literally nosediving a plane.’” He later played audio-only games, but when more mainstream video games began to be developed with more attention paid to the needs of people who are visually impaired, he found he “‘prefer[s] stuff when it’s enjoyable for more people.’” Some features he finds helpful include screen-reading capabilities, handset shortcuts, and lock-on aim. He and others spoke at a conference in Scotland with agents from Google, EA Games, and Microsoft. His aim now is to advocate on behalf of gamers with vision loss to the gaming industry, so that games are designed more inclusively from the outset. One positive example of this trend is “The Last of Us Part 1”, launched in September for the Play Station 5. Another notable blind gamer fighting for game accessibility is Steve Saylor, who has a YouTube channel, and was profiled in this Vice article. Lastly, on the Can I Play That? website, here is an interesting article on Five Games for Blind and Visually Impaired Players.
Halloween Safety Tips
With Halloween and Trick-or-Treating just a few days away, here are a few pointers on enjoying the festivities safely:
- If applying makeup, be careful. Test the product on a small area first to be sure it doesn’t cause irritation or an allergic reaction. Avoid placing makeup inside the eyelash line.
- Don’t use glitter, which can get into the eye and cause damage.
- Choose costume accessories that are short, flexible, and made of a soft material to prevent eye injuries. Long and pointy items like a witch’s wand or pirate’s sword can be dangerous.
- If wearing a mask or hood, make sure they don’t block vision, especially at night or in dim lighting.
- Do not use nonprescription contact lenses. They can damage the cornea, cause eye infections, allergic reactions, and an “irreversible decrease or loss of vision.” For anyone interested in using costume contacts, be sure to “see an eye care specialist to determine if your eyes can safely wear lenses and to acquire a prescription.”
Read additional recommendations and details from Johns Hopkins Medicine’s article on Halloween and Eye Safety: What You Need to Know. For more information on such topics as avoiding “Spooky Eye Infections” and the hazards of costume contacts and eyelash extensions, check out the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Halloween Eye Safety Infographics.
Have a happy and safe Halloween!
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