Shedding Light on Helping Older Adults with Visual Impairment and Blindness

Did you know that 65% of people who are blind or visually impaired are over the age of 50? You probably have a number of clients who are visually impaired. How can you best address their needs? How might you modify your programs or service delivery to accommodate for individuals who are visually impaired or blind?

Close your eyes

Think about the programs and services that you provide to your clients who are older. Go through the process of your intake and imagine that your client is not able to see. Envision them as they enter your building and interact with staff. How do they participate in your organizations programs? How do they receive services from you? What are they thinking and feeling when they reach barriers to services?

The first step is knowing

On intake, it’s important to find out if your client has any vision loss, or any other sensory loss for that matter.

Many older adults with vision loss don’t want other people to know that their vision is compromised. Some don’t want others to know because they don’t want to be taken advantage of. For others, it’s a matter of pride. Even though they have difficulty seeing, visually impaired clients often move through our programs and services and we don’t realize it.

Clients who are visually impaired or legally blind do not always use a white cane for navigation. Individuals may also be wearing glasses, but may still not be able to see in a functional way.

What to do once you know

Ask your clients what types of accommodations they might need. Often times, clients are in need of large print materials. If you do not have these available, find out how you could do this. Some clients are able to read Braille, especially those who have had vision loss for most or all of their adult lives. Find out how you could Braille items or have a Brailler available so that clients can write things down as reminders. If this is not possible, many clients use a small tape recorder. Does your organization have funds to provide these to clients? Is there a staff person or volunteer who can provide information on a recorded tape? In addition, your organization could purchase a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) that will magnify materials for them.

Lastly, help your clients get connected. There are several organizations that provide services to the visually impaired. Make sure your clients are aware of the programs and services that are available through other organizations. Contact these organizations and see what might help your client if you are not sure what to do.

Program modification

How can you modify your program so that clients with visual impairment and blindness can participate? Make sure staff who are greeting clients know how to guide an individual with vision loss. This involves either very specific verbal cues or a hands on assist where the staff guides the client, who will hold the guide by either the elbow or the shoulder. If you are providing an exercise class, verbal cues and hands on assistance is needed here as well. For a meal program you can explain what is on the plate by describing it using the position of numbers on a clock. Staff must also know etiquette on communicating with those who have a visual sensory loss. Most importantly, the program must see the person as an individual and ask them what they need assistance with instead of assuming one modification works for all those who are blind or visually impaired.

The goals of a program can still be reached, but it may require additional funds for materials, staff or volunteers to assist clients, and/or training to work appropriately and effectively. Clients with a visual impairment are fully capable of participating independently in a variety of programs, however what’s most important is to recognize their needs and adapt to them. Much of the time, communication and creative use of resources work best.

Thank you Bonnie Richardson for editing this post and Andrew. for the photo.

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