Older Alabamians Speak Out About the Importance of Specialized Services for Older Persons with Visual Impairment

Anthony: OASIS Got Me Over the Hump

Anthony is 78 and has Retinitis Pigmentosa. Although he has been visually impaired all of his life, it was not until he lost his dog guide in April, 2012 that he realized that he needed vision rehabilitation services to build his confidence and independence. He found out about about OASIS (Older Alabamians System of Information and Services) from a friend. Jane, a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, came to his home. Anthony was immediately impressed with her first action, which was to sit down with him and his wife to discuss his needs and goals and to lay out a plan for accomplishing them. She treated them as a team, which Anthony very much appreciated. With his background in guidance and counseling and his career as a counselor and principal with advanced degrees, he quickly recognized the importance of the family team approach.

The Plan

The plan included helping him with being able to write his name confidently using a signature guide and by improving his skills in doing things around the home such as laundry and in the kitchen, including marking his appliances. He learned about the “pen friend”, which he uses to label his clothes and well as files, canned goods, and anything else that he needs. He uses a timer to time how long to ice down his knee and how long to exercise on the treadmill, which she also marked for him. He learned to use a computer with speech using a free software called Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA). He also received and learned to used his most treasured, acquisition, an optical character reading device, which helps him with his bills and mail and greatly enhances his independence. He loves his well planned billfold, which helps him with organizing his money and his new up-to-date talking watch. He brags on the encouragement he continued to receive throughout the training process from his vision rehabilitation therapist, that he could “do it.”

Orientation and Mobility

One of the things that can happen when you have a dog guide for a long time, is not keeping up with your cane skills. So Anthony and Jane planned for him to receive training from a certified orientation and mobility specialist. This training also enhanced his independence.

Getting A New Dog Guide

In April, 2013, Anthony got his third dog guide from the Guide Dog Foundation in New York. He credits his basic cane travel skill training that he received at OASIS with preparing him for the trip to New York to get the dog and for being able to keep up with the younger students while in dog guide school training. At Jane’s recommendation, he also took a free Hadley Course called “Going Places”, which covered dealing with all sorts of transportation issues and that helped him with navigating the airport. He would recommend it to anyone. He says one of his main challenges today, which he welcomes, is keeping up with his young dog guide!

Gifts From OASIS

They gave me the ability to know that I can do it. As people get older, often there is no one there to help us and believe in us. OASIS believes in us and will help us if we want to help ourselves. That’s the key; we have to want to help ourselves.

Specialized Services Mean Continued Enjoyment of Life for Penny In Alabama

Penny Barcroft, who is 85, opens her story with, “I have a friend in my Bridge Club who has macular degeneration. Just the other day she was telling us that she is going to have to stop playing with us because she can’t see the cards anymore. I was so happy to tell her that I could help her. I have two packs of low vision playing cards that I was able to obtain through the OASIS program here in Alabama. She went on to say,’I have problems with my seeing. Do you think they will help me?’ I assured her that they would and called my vision rehabilitation therapist, Victoria, right away. She promised to refer her to someone who could help her. That’s the kind of service you get in Alabama.”

Types of Services Received

When asked what other types of services Victoria was able to help her with, Penny could not stop talking about all of the things Victoria had done to help her with all aspects of her daily life. She mentioned a few things that have made the most difference in her life. One is a electronic video magnifier that she uses to keep up with the news, reading her Bible, and her mail. She stated that being able to read again was the most important service that she could have received and she just “wanted to kiss” her teacher. The other is a timer with large bold numbers that she uses for everything, including cooking, alerting her to remember to take her medications and to reminder her to watch her favorite television shows.

Penny says, ” I didn’t know such a wonderful program existed until my aunt, whose husband got the services, told me about it. It’s a well-kept secret. I don’t know why my doctor didn’t tell me.”

Funding for Services

Penny and Anthony were able to get these services because the specialized funding available through the Title VII, Chapter 2 Older Blind program of the Rehabilitation Act. Find out more about specialized services for older persons with vision loss and what you can do. The OASIS program is funded through Chapter 2 and is administered by the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. It is designed to assist persons who are 55 and older and experiencing vision loss in living more independently and is VisionAware’s October agency of the month.