An interview with Maureen A. Duffy, CVRT, Author
Making Life More Livable
Agencies that provide services to people who are blind or visually impaired offer vision rehabilitation to the 5.3 million Americans over 65 with age-related vision loss. But for those who are not quite ready to enlist the help of a professional, readers can turn to the revised edition of Maureen Duffy’s book, Making Life More Livable: Simple Adaptations for Living at Home after Vision Loss. The book is also a good reference for consumers who have had rehabilitation services but need a refresher.
VisionAware audiences will likely be familiar with Duffy’s significant contributions to the website as our resident social media maven and blog writer whose accessible understandable prose brings readers the latest scientific research and medical breakthroughs in the field of ophthalmology and optometry. While Duffy is a well-respected educator, international lecturer, and past Director of the Graduate Program in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy at the Salus University College of Education and Rehabilitation, this is not a dense textbook.
Instead, Duffy’s practical guide has more in common with those books found in the DIY and self-help section of a bookstore. With a very modest investment of time and money, readers will discover that small home modifications can make a big impact on their quality of life.
Vision Rehabilitation, an Evolving Field
In the early 80s, Duffy took her first job with VISIONS as an itinerant Vision Rehabilitation Therapist serving adult New Yorkers who were coping with vision loss. She trekked to appointments on subway cars that were tattooed in graffiti, a pulsing rap beat from boom boxes providing the soundtrack.
The contents of her heavy bag included a bright yellow Library of Congress cassette player (no longer available) and talking books, homemade bump dots, and a large-print template to help clients dial a rotary phone.
Not surprisingly, vision rehabilitation specialists’ tools have undergone a steady evolution and so has the dynamic between client and professional. The authoritative, all-knowing voice of the “expert” doling out a prescribed course of vision rehabilitation training have gone the way of, well, the rotary phone. Duffy has this observation. “These days, adults want access to information but then they want to solve their problems themselves.” Making Life More Livable is a road map for successfully adapting to age-related vision loss and readers are encouraged to improvise along the way.
The Seven Principles of Home Modification
Doubling the size of the previous edition, Making Life More Livable offers 230 pages of tried and true techniques and common sense recommendations described in easily digestible paragraphs or in bullet points. The author explains normal changes in the aging eye and how common eye conditions impact the way a person sees. Equipped with a better understanding of how the eye functions, readers are presented with a wealth of ideas for optimizing usable vision or carrying out activities of daily living without relying on vision alone.
The core tenet of the book is that people with low vision can more easily carry out everyday tasks by considering seven basic principles: lighting; color and contrast; organization; texture and touch; sound; labels, lettering and marking; and safety. In the section on lighting, for instance, readers learn to choose the right kind of light bulb and address glare by repositioning televisions and using window coverings.
Duffy offers a virtual home visit as she walks readers through each room in the house and applies the seven principles. In the bathroom, for example, towels that contrast with the color of the walls are easier to find. A rubber band placed around one bottle will help a person distinguish between the shampoo and conditioner through touch. Among the various ways to avoid overfilling a bathtub, the author suggests floating a brightly colored sponge in the water as the level rises. And Duffy alerts readers to the availability of talking scales for weight management.
The “Ah Ha” Moments
Often the most innovative techniques make use of ordinary, everyday objects. Duffy remembers how clients would graciously offer to make her a cup of tea during home visits. If she observed them nervously groping for the hot kettle, Duffy would demonstrate how a wooden spoon could safely be used as a probe to find both handle and spout. “They thought that was the most wonderful thing!” Duffy laughs remembering how the wooden spoon was suddenly transformed into a “magic wand.”
Similarly, Duffy would notice lists posted around apartments that were difficult to read because they were scrawled in ballpoint pen on small scraps of paper. She would give her clients a felt tip pen and wide, bold lined paper and their lists became instantly more legible. Duffy reassured clients when those initial celebratory, “ah ha” moments were dampened by a “why didn’t I think of that?” irritation. “I would tell them, ‘It’s difficult to think creatively when you first experience vision loss. You are the one going through this, and I am an objective observer with a lot of training.’ “With Making Life More Livable in hand, readers are invited to rummage through the vision rehabilitation professional’s bag of tricks.
Changes in Technology and Adaptive Devices
Duffy first penned Making Life More Livable in 2002, which was inspired by an earlier version by Irving R. Dickman, published in 1983. Dickman created the concept of a user-friendly guide with plenty of photographs and instructions written in very simple, clear language. Now 13 years later, much of Duffy’s original text holds up, but much has changed in terms of technology. “The difference between my first and second book is a retrospective on the pace of change.” Duffy notes. “Adaptive technology now includes so many more ways to access print such as electronic magnifiers and speech recognition software. Devices like bill identifiers did not exist and cell phones were not even mentioned in the previous edition.”
Even light bulbs have evolved. Now that incandescent bulbs have been discontinued, that section needed to be replaced with information on highly efficient LED light bulbs. “When I realized how much things have changed, it truly amazed me,” says Duffy.
New Content and Updated Resources
Making Life More Livable has been updated with a new chapter on fall prevention, an area of geriatrics that has advanced significantly in the last decade. Readers will learn to identify trip hazards in the home and prevent accidents. Duffy collaborated with occupational therapist Debbie Sokol-McKay, OTR/L, CLVT, CDE, CVRT, SCLV, to describe techniques for safe and more efficient movement indoors. Sokol-McKay provides a seven-point checklist to help readers determine if they are at risk for falling and if so, to eliminate or modify the factors that increase the risk of falls at home.
As independent travel in the community requires more intensive, one-on-one training, Duffy refers readers to local agencies for the blind and visually impaired which offer Orientation and Mobility instruction. These agencies also offer technology training programs, vocational training and living skills classes. Duffy highly recommends vision loss support groups in which participants discuss their personal challenges and share practical solutions to living with a visual impairment. Most services at these nonprofit agencies are free or low-cost, although adaptive technology can come with a high price tag and often is not underwritten by any provider.
An extensive resource guide includes a list of vendors that sell independent living products ranging from low-tech, large print calendars and raised tactile labels for marking appliances to the amazing array of devices that talk, including watches, glucose monitors, pill organizers and color identifiers. People who are interested in learning more about their eye condition or are looking for consumer groups, will find a helpful list of organizations and websites as well.
In her role as advisor for VisionAware, Duffy frequently corresponds with people whose parents have been recently diagnosed with an eye condition. “I get anguished letters from adult children who don’t know where to turn.” Duffy knows family members are sometimes forced into the role of caregivers prematurely because they don’t know how to help someone with a visual impairment maintain independence. The basic recommendations in her book are easy to implement and yet they yield dramatic results. The materials used in modifications can be found around town. “It’s all inexpensive, and you don’t have to go out and buy something special.” Duffy says dollar stores are one of her favorite places to find adaptive materials.
Duffy is already planning to work on a 4th edition of the book in three to five years to keep up with the lightning pace of technology. The next version will be more participatory as Duffy intends to call on VisionAware’s online community to contribute ideas for home modifications and adaptive techniques. Indeed, Making Life More Livable is a vast collection of knowledge, and Duffy readily shares the credit. “The book didn’t come just out of my head. All the hints come from everybody I ever worked with and all the graduate students and clients I ever had. People say it’s my book, but the book belongs to everyone.”
The newest edition of Making Life More Livable is published by AFB Press in large print paperback and as an e-book.
Available Formats and Product Details
- Paperback: $39.95
- e-book (ePUB format): $27.95
- e-book (Kindle): $27.95