The Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington, Featured Support Group Agency of the Month
By Audrey Demmitt, R.N., Peer Advisor
Since 1936, the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington (POB) has been a leader in bringing eye health information to the Greater Washington area. It offers comprehensive programs and services for all ages, including vision and glaucoma screenings, affordable eyeglasses distribution, vision health education resources and events, low vision rehabilitation services and a network of support groups throughout the community. POB is a non-profit dedicated to the improvement and preservation of sight and quality of life for area residents of all ages.
Raising Awareness about Low Vision and its Impact
Along with Low Vision Rehabilitation services, POB operates the Low Vision Learning Center, where people can come to get information and see demonstrations of low vision devices and technologies. There is even a telephone/email hotline. This in-person center is also available to give eye care practitioners and other medical professionals an in-depth learning experience about the impact of low vision on daily life. Each year, POB partners with an area residency program to provide an annual low vision symposium where eyecare residents from nearby universities and practicing eye care professionals can receive continuing education credits. This program effectively raises awareness among eye doctors and results in referrals to POB. And, of course, consumers learn about the Low Vision Resource and Support Group Network through the Low Vision Learning Center, Low Vision rehabilitation clinics, and other eye services and events at POB.
Other efforts to build awareness about life with low vision involve partnering with the “Checkered Eye Project” to distribute checkered masks (a symbol of low vision) during COVID, sending information to local businesses and the Chambers of Commerce, maintain relationships with area consumer organizations, and publishing a monthly newsletter.
More About the Support Groups
VisionAware recently spoke with Sean Curry, MPH, Senior Programs Manager, at Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington to learn more about the low vision services and the Low Vision Resource and Support Group Network. The organization recently revamped the Network after Sean formed a task force to look at the community’s needs and how POB could improve services. As a result, they changed the name to the Low Vision Resource and Support Group Network, shifting the focus to “resources” as this seemed more attractive to the consumers they were trying to reach. There are now 11 groups offered, led by POB staff, professionals at senior living centers, and community volunteers. Sean uses the Second Sense Support Group Leaders Manual to train new group leaders. He then offers administrative support to help them get started; POB staff helps find a location and guest speakers on low vision topics, advertises the meetings in the POB newsletter, supplies flyers, and provides refreshments for events. The group events meet in places such as libraries, senior living communities, and community centers located near the Metro subway and bus lines.
Sean reports that many people learn about the support groups through flyers and word of mouth. “And as doctors get to know us, they refer to us. Our low vision doctors refer a lot of their patients to us as they recognize its value,” he added.
How the Groups are Structured
Groups are geographical, and most have a virtual format right now due to COVID. Town Hall call-in meetings were developed to address low vision topics during the pandemic like how to get groceries safely and how to stay engaged, with 50-70 people in attendance on average. The Tech Talk group helped people learn how to use technology to keep in touch with family and friends during COVID. And one group member was thrilled to learn about the Talking Books program so she could finally read again. From the website: “Group events can take the form of traditional support group sessions, technology demos, informational talks from doctors, and other educational events.” And, according to Sean, “There is always lots of sharing resources and information, along with emotional support.” Community groups typically have 6-10 core attendees. These face-to-face groups will probably restart sometime this fall.
Supporting the Support Group Leaders
Sean maintains contact with group leaders by email, sharing news and resources. He attends groups to offer administrative support as needed and leads a group himself. POB’s Low Vision Resource Guide, professional member directory, financial resource guide, and monthly newsletters provide group leaders and attendees additional information.
Sean has seen many successes with the support group network. People are learning about the POB support groups and stepping up to lead groups. And the number of word-of-mouth referrals seems to indicate the support groups are a valuable service to the community. In the future, Sean hopes to address diabetes and vision loss within the support group network. He would like to expand the Low Vision Learning Center as a “hub” where it all begins for the public, offering more hours and maybe adding another location.
The Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington has a long history of delivering quality, comprehensive vision health services to their community, preventing vision loss, and preserving sight in children and adults. It is clear to see they have been diligent innovators and advocates for all in the low vision arena. And their Low Vision Resource and Support Group Network is a commendable effort to support those living with vision loss. To learn more about this organization, visit www.youreyes.org
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