New services for people with vision loss

Written by  Wednesday, 24 October 2018 11:24
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Low vision can significantly impact a person’s everyday activities. Vision loss is defined as loss of sight that can’t be corrected by medicine, surgery, or standard eyeglasses. Vision loss can affect a person’s overall health, independence, and community participation.

To boost the safety, independence and quality of life of individuals with vision loss is the aim of vision rehabilitation. In our region, the South East Ontario Vision Rehabilitation Service (SOVRS) is funded by the Ministry of Health to provide vision rehabilitation to people of all ages. SOVRS brings together healthcare providers and certified specialists from Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Vision Loss Rehabilitation Ontario. The SOVRS team works with people with vision loss to meet their individual needs and goals.

“Using Technology to Assist with Low Vision” is one thing that many people add to their vision rehabilitation plan. That is why SOVRS is offering a free, two-part workshop of this title at Connections Adult Learning’s site in Sharbot Lake. The dates are November 7 and November 21, 2018 from 1:00 to 3:00pm.

“Technology can really level the playing field for people with vision loss,” says Scott Birney, one of the workshop presenters. Scott sees the benefits of technology almost daily in his role as an Independent Living Skills Specialist on the SOVRS team. “There are so many devices and programs that have been specifically designed to help people with vision loss overcome day to day obstacles and assist with staying informed.”

Julia Foster, another presenter and an Occupational Therapist on the SOVRS team says, “So many beneficial features are actually built-in to most computers, smartphones, and tablets. Many of these devices can also be adapted to make it easier for the user to understand and control. Features like speech to text, onscreen keyboards, reading mode and magnification can make it easier for people with different types of disabilities.”

Those with vision loss who have learned to use technology have discovered possibilities they didn’t realize existed. For some, the benefits may be as basic as using a device for reading, playing games and connecting with loved ones. For others, it may be using technology to manage a schedule, do their banking, keep track of contacts, identify items in the store, take online courses, write their memoirs, or make their work demands more manageable.

In an article for the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, retired teacher and past participant, Catherine Whittaker, talked about the “life-altering” impact of vision rehabilitation and technology. “I don’t use that word lightly,” she says, “but after learning how to use an iPad to access online books, library services and more, I felt like I had finally entered the 21st century. I can get news and commentary, which means I can be a political person again and make thoughtful choices. I didn’t want to be sidelined by low vision. I wanted to keep learning, be independent and engaged in life. I have all that now, and I have hope.”

These workshops aim to provide a starting point for learning. No experience is necessary and Connections will have equipment to explore if participants don’t have their own. There will be options to receive follow-up one-on-one training from specialists from the SOVRS team or with Connections’ Computer Instructors.

While the workshops focus mainly on technology, individuals with vision loss can also access other training and services that support them in building skills to remain independent at home and to navigate within the community. Through a partnership with the Sharbot Lake Family Health Team (SLFHT), Anne Chiarelli, Certified Low Vision Specialist with SOVRS, will be at the the SLFHT one day a month for a low vision clinic. The next clinic is tentatively planned for November 2, 2018, but you will need to be referred to SOVRS ahead of time for an appointment. After gathering information on each person’s vision loss, and how they can best use their remaining vision, the broader SOVRS team works with each person to look at what type of techniques, equipment, or other adaptations might be best suited to that individual.

For referral to the SOVRS vision rehabilitation program, you can talk to your eye doctor, or your healthcare professional at the Sharbot Lake Family Health Team about sending in a referral form. You can also start the referral process yourself by calling 613-542-4975 extension 5081. Referral forms can be obtained from the number above or the Queen’s Ophthalmology website: https://ophthalmology.queensu.ca/clinic/SOVRS.

For more information about the “Using Technology to Assist with Low Vision” two-part workshop, see the flyer insert in this paper. To register, please contact Connections Adult Learning at 613-279-2499 or drop in to their site at 24719 Hwy. 7 in Sharbot Lake.

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