Guest blogger Priscilla Rogers, Ph.D. is the Program Manager for VisionAware and co-author of Aging and Vision Loss: A Handbook for Families. Her other works include Self-Advocacy Skills Training for Older Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired and Solutions for Success: A Training Manual for Working with Older People Who Are Visually Impaired. She has an M.A. degree in gerontology and a Ph.D. in special education with an emphasis in vision and aging.
The 2015 White House Conference on Aging
The White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) is a once-a-decade conference, sponsored by the Executive Office of the President of the United States, that makes policy recommendations to the president and Congress focusing on the needs of older Americans. 2015 is an especially critical year for the WHCoA, with the convergence of the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid!
These programs are critical to older Americans with vision loss. Almost 50 percent of Americans over 64 reported some level of disability in the 2010 census, with over 13.5 percent reporting difficulty seeing.
However, according to the input the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) received in our recent online survey and national conversation at our 2015 Leadership Conference, it is clear that older Americans with vision loss are not receiving the rehabilitation or support services needed to maintain independent lifestyles or, in some cases, to meet the most basic of everyday needs.
Major Issues Identified
Here are some of the major issues that have emerged from our initiatives :
- The primary health programs serving older Americans, Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover technology and specialized services (e.g. low vision services and vision rehabilitation services) for older Americans who are blind or visually impaired. A comprehensive reevaluation of systems serving older Americans should ensure fiscal support, coordination of research, and dissemination of services and assistive technology to enhance independence and quality of life for persons who develop vision loss at any stage of life.
- Funding for specialized services for older adults with vision loss is insufficient. Important services do not reach many of those who have the greatest need of assistance – including those in rural areas, those who are isolated from social and family networks, and those who have additional disabilities and medical conditions (especially deafness/hearing loss, memory loss, and diabetes). At a minimum, full funding is needed for the Older Individuals Who Are Blind (OIB) program, a federal program authorized by the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and administered through vocational rehabilitation services in each state.
- The number of qualified professionals providing supports for adults with vision loss is vastly inadequate to meet the service delivery needs of the growing population of older Americans with vision loss. Targeted funds are needed to support training and employment of vision professionals, as well as to provide pre-service and in-service training for service providers, caregivers, and health-care workers who provide in-home, community-based, and residential services.
- Older Americans with vision loss can continue to live independent and fulfilling lives if given access to appropriate home and community-based supports for carrying out everyday tasks. Seniors should have access to qualified, trusted assistance for reviewing printed materials and managing finances in a way which respects their independence and privacy. Additionally, all Americans – particularly seniors – benefit from affordable, reliable public transportation access, not only for medical appointments and groceries, but for social activities, visiting family, and pursuing their retirement goals and aspirations.
- Economic security is even more precarious among older Americans who are likely to have had fewer employment opportunities or to have retired early due to unexpected vision loss. These individuals significantly economically disadvantaged as a direct result of their vision loss. Title V of the Older Americans Act should be amended to require that programs funded through Title V provide assistance to these individuals, regardless of income status.
- One respondent shared the following economic observations with AFB: “Many individuals were diagnosed after retirement and did not even think about planning to have finances to pay for video magnifiers; co-payments for injections related to macular degeneration; in-home assistance; or options for transportation. Those who do not have the financial resources do without; those who have financial resources found that retirement funds have to be diverted from more fun/social expenditures to ‘eye care needs.'”
What Can You Do To Help?
AFB is looking for organizations to sign on to our advocacy letter to the President of the United States. To participate, review the letter and the report and email your organizational signature to AFB in care of Rsheffield@afb.net. We need your support by the close of business on June 25, 2015.
Remember, only organizations can sign on to this letter. However, individuals are urged to write their own letters and/or participate in the following ways:
- VisionAware invites you to a “virtual watching party” of the White House Conference on Aging on July 13, 2015. From the comfort of your office or home, you can participate live in a once-every-decade event by visiting the White House Conference on Aging website and following the instructions for participating.
- On the WHCoA website, you can learn how you can take part in the StoryCorps project, share consumer stories, and read/respond to policy briefs.
- You can also post your comments on our Facebook page to engage in conversation with VisionAware followers.
- Use the #WHCOA hashtag on your social media postings.