Roadmap to Living with Vision Loss: What Kinds of Services Will You Need to Maintain Independence?
If you have experienced losing sight due to macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetes, or another eye condition, there are many services and devices that can help you continue to live independently in your home and community after vision problems. Vision rehabilitation services can help you regain self-sufficiency, improve your quality of life, and help you function independently, just as occupational and physical therapy restore the ability to function after a stroke or other injury.
Step 1: Start with Your Eye Care Professional
The best place to begin the vision rehabilitation process is to make an appointment with your own eye care professional:
- An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic physician who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and the prevention of eye disease. An ophthalmologist treats eye diseases, prescribes medications, and performs all types of surgery to improve, or prevent the worsening of, eye and vision-related conditions. An ophthalmologist will have the initials M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) after his or her name.
- An optometrist is a health care professional who specializes in function and disorders of the eye, detection of eye disease, and some types of eye disease management. An optometrist is trained to examine the eyes for visual defects, diagnose vision problems or impairments, prescribe corrective glasses and contact lenses, and, in some states, perform certain surgical procedures. An optometrist will have the initials O.D. (Doctor of Optometry) after his or her name.
- Tell your doctor about There Is Something Else You Can Do, a newly-released six-minute video from the American Academy of Ophthalmology that emphasizes the impact of vision loss on the individual and the responsibility of the ophthalmologist to refer to, or provide, appropriate vision rehabilitation services.
Step 2: Have a Low Vision Examination
If your vision loss cannot be completely corrected by your regular eye care professional, a low vision specialist can conduct the needed low vision examination and help you make the best use of your remaining vision.
Think about what you enjoy doing. Do you like to read? Do you need to pay your bills? Do you watch TV, cook, exercise, go for walks, grocery shop? These tasks often involve the use of different types of low vision devices.
Low vision optical devices use lenses to magnify images so that objects or print appear larger to the eye. Examples include magnifying reading glasses, stand magnifiers, hand-held magnifiers, and small pocket-sized telescopes. These special optical devices are different from regular glasses and magnifiers.
Non-optical devices and modifications do not use lenses to magnify images. Instead, they increase lighting levels, improve contrast, decrease the effects of glare, or increase print size to make objects and print more easily visible. Examples include high-intensity table or floor lamps, large print reading materials, electronic video magnifiers, and iPads and tablets. Absorptive lenses are sunglasses that filter out ultraviolet and infrared light, reduce glare, and increase contrast. Non-optical devices can also be used in combination with magnifiers and other low-vision optical devices.
Adaptive daily living equipment includes devices that are designed to make everyday tasks easier to do with little or no vision. Clocks and timers with large numerals, writing guides, needle threaders, large print or talking watches, large print and tactile labels, and talking pill bottles are examples of such equipment.
You, your eye care specialist, and other providers of low vision services, such as social workers and specially trained therapists, will also discuss how you are coping emotionally with your vision loss, whether you are motivated to learn a different way of doing things, and whether you have family and friends to support you.
Prepare for your examination by thinking through what you will need to take with you and what you want to know. During the examination, be sure to ask questions.
Step 3: Investigate Additional Vision Rehabilitation Services and Resources
Vision rehabilitation services can help you function safely and independently in critically important daily living areas:
- Independent movement and travel such as getting around indoors, walking with a guide, using a long white cane, crossing streets, using public transportation, and using electronic travel devices.
- Continuing to read and write
- Independent living and personal management such as preparing meals, managing money, labeling medications, making home repairs, enjoying crafts and hobbies,and shopping.
- Learning about using a computer or tablet, using a phone, and telling time
- Job training and vocational rehabilitation services such as vocational evaluation, job training and placement, workplace adaptations, and workplace technology
- Counseling and peer support groups to help you and your family members with adjusting to vision loss and managing stress, anxiety, and depression.
What Types of Benefits Are Available to Me?
If you are legally blind, you may be eligible for some disability benefits, such as income tax exemptions and Social Security. Other benefits, such as property tax exemptions and accessible public transportation, may vary from state to state, but every state offers vision rehabilitation services (blindness skills training) that can help with independent living and/or employment. You may also qualify for the free Library of Congress talking book program and receive free audio books and a player.
Don’t Give Up
The types of vision changes described here can affect how you get around and how you go about your everyday activities. Although a change in vision can involve difficult emotional reactions and adjustments, people who have experienced a loss of vision can continue to go about their lives and activities and remain independent in their own homes. Read personal stories about how people just like you are coping and going about life with vision loss.
Excerpted from Making Life More Livable: Simple Adaptations for Living at Home After Vision Loss (New York, NY: AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, 2015), pp. 14-26. © 2015, American Foundation for the Blind. All Rights Reserved. By Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT