At its recent meeting, the Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS) Board of Directors approved awarding three grants to not-for-profit providers helping people who are blind and visually impaired realize their full potential in society. Following are descriptions of each of the programs receiving support.
Rutgers University Eye2Eye Program: Building a Model for Peer Support
Losing vision is often highly stressful and traumatic and associated with a higher incidence of depression. However, few seek treatment, and few mental health services exist with professionals knowledgeable about vision loss. Recognizing this, the Rutgers Eye2Eye Peer Support Program for Vision Loss, a free, phone-based support program, assists adults who are blind or visually impaired and their families. Their proposal to RDPFS requested support to strengthen and increase their services to meet the needs of growing numbers of individuals with vision loss. Eye2Eye plans to maintain and increase the number of clients served with additional peer support staff and volunteers, enhance programming for family members, continue formalizing their training curriculum, and develop professional education materials for mental health professionals. They will also advance the program by connecting with other organizations providing services to individuals who are blind and visually impaired (BVI) and build a network of service providers and partnerships with other mental health programs. Eye2Eye will serve as a model to be replicated among other organizations in the BVI community.
Teach Access: Expanding the Curriculum Repository
For individuals with disabilities, technology can foster independence and enhance quality of life. A volunteer-driven collaboration among industry, academia, and disability groups, Teach Access develops models for teaching and training students in technology to help ensure that new products are accessible to people with disabilities. The organization approached RDPFS to expand its ability to accomplish this goal. Devices and software need to be “born accessible,” meaning that upon release, an app, website, or device can be used by people with disabilities or interface reliably with the individual’s technology. However, that is often not the case. Technology companies dedicated to accessibility have faced challenges in preparing designers, engineers, and researchers to build inclusively so that individuals with disabilities can use the technology. Academic programs also seek ways to better prepare students to meet diverse needs. The Teach Access Curriculum Repository (TACR), launched in 2022, helps to bridge the technology gap. TACR, a “free collection of open education resources (OER),” supports teaching accessibility. RDPFS support will expand TACR by creating courses, adding instructional designers to maintain and house courses for the repository, and increasing awareness and access to resources. This will contribute to the overall strategy of Teach Access to introduce as many students as possible to accessibility-infused curricula to build toward a future workforce skilled in creating technology that is “born accessible.”
Chicago Lighthouse: The Current State of Low Vision Rehabilitation Services in the United States of America—Meeting and National Survey
Although the need for low vision care is growing, most people experiencing vision loss do not have access to comprehensive low vision rehabilitation services. Few providers offer services because of the low economic gains they derive compared with other eye care services. The Chicago Lighthouse approached RDPFS to secure initial support to study a more financially sustainable model that, if proven effective, can be replicated by other providers and, ultimately, emerge as the standard of care. This would make the provision of low vision rehabilitation services accessible to individuals with vision loss nationwide and prepare to address the current and emerging needs of the aging population. RDPFS support will fund the convening of a meeting with thought leaders, researchers, and practitioners in low vision rehabilitation to define the issues and set an action plan. Results will be used to design and distribute an IRB (Institutional Review Board)-approved research survey for low vision care provider entities across the U.S. Following the survey and analysis, findings will be published and disseminated to evaluate services delivery models and, eventually, provide the ability to trigger evidence-based change to the system of low vision care.