American Foundation for the Blind Ramps Up Aging and Vision Loss Initiative

Older woman smiling

With the introduction of AFB’s new strategic direction last year, AFB has identified three significant issues to address in our efforts to create a world of no limits: education, employment, and aging and vision loss. Many of our initiatives moving forward will center around these priorities.

With regard to aging and vision loss, America is woefully unprepared to respond effectively to the aging of the population, especially as the Baby Boomer generation ages out. Further, according to the National Health Interview Survey, in 2016, of all the civilian, non-institutionalized adults ages 65 and up in the U.S, 7.3 million (or 15.1 percent) experienced vision loss, and 356,000 (or 0.7 percent) were blind. For the population ages 85 and up, 22 percent had vision loss and 1.7 percent were blind. Although we need better data, we can certainly tell from the stories and experiences of seniors that older adults with vision loss are frequently overlooked and underserved, and the numbers are continuing to increase. To make matters worse, we are already behind the eight ball in meeting the need for specialized services for older persons with vision loss. It’s estimated that only 2 percent of older people who need specialized training in independent living are currently receiving it!

The 2lst Century National Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss

One of the major initiatives that AFB is facilitating related to aging is the 21st Century National Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss. It came out of a national conversation held at AFB’s 2015 Leadership Conference in Phoenix, where AFB staff engaged older consumers and professionals in a meaningful dialogue about critical issues including elder justice, long-term services and support, healthy aging, and retirement security. Additionally, AFB hosted a national survey to encourage more input from consumers.

The current agenda has four goals:

  • Goal One: Funding for Services
  • Goal Two: Ensuring Availability and Quality of Professional Services
  • Goal Three: Collaboration Across Service Delivery Systems
  • Goal Four: Funding for Low Vision Devices

Critical Next Steps: Opportunities to Engage Right Now

  • Join a goal group and/or our Google Group listserv. To join, visit our Google Groups page and select "contact the owner," or email Sarah Malaier.

  • AFB will be continuing the conversation on critical concerns related to aging and vision loss at the 2018 Leadership Conference in Oakland,CA, April 5-7. The conference features an aging track that begins with an update on where we are with accomplishing the above-mentioned goals. It ends with the "Second National Conversation on Aging and Vision Loss," to be held on Saturday, April 7, from 2:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. We are encouraging older individuals with vision loss to participate in this conversation, and there is no charge. Join us at the Oakland Marriott City Center.

  • If you are unable to attend this session and would like to engage in the conversation, please fill in our National Survey on Aging and Vision Loss at Aging Survey.

  • The Senior Center Without Walls will also be offering a national opportunity to weigh in at a teleconference on May 4 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST. To join this conversation by computer, go to To join by phone, call (888) 974-9888 (US toll-free) and enter meeting ID # 788-788-7778. After the prompt, enter #.

In closing, it is fitting to take a quote from our letter to the President of the United States following our first national conversation on aging: "All aging issues involve people with vision loss; likewise, all issues for people with vision loss have impacts on people who are aging. Even with the latest advances in care, anyone who wishes to live a long life has a good chance of encountering some symptoms of vision loss; most people can name older friends, colleagues, spouses, parents, or grandparents experiencing age-related vision difficulties. With the generation of aging boomers, our nation cannot afford to ignore any segment of the senior population, and AFB looks forward to supporting the research, systems, services, and policies which continue to offer equal opportunities and no limits for every American."

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