What to do when you've been diagnosed with a visual impairment

Posted by Rob Mineault on

Closeup of of an Elderly Woman's EyeThere aren’t many more traumatic events that can happen in a person’s life than being diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition or to have your vision change suddenly. Not only can it be overwhelming emotionally, but it can be hard to know where to turn for resources to help manage this life change, what support groups exist, and what to expect in the coming months or years. Almost every person living with a visual impairment will tell you that this initial stage can be a very dark time, filled with uncertainty and grief. But they will also likely tell you that this is a transitory phase, and that no matter what you may think, your life is not over. People living with visual impairments are able do most everything someone who is sighted can do, albeit it they may do it in a different way and using things such as assistive technology and specialized training to accomplish their daily goals.

One of the first things to remember as you begin to deal with this change is that you’re not alone. Millions of Canadians live with visual impairments every day, and cross all divides in terms of demographics, so no matter your age or medical condition, you have support groups out there that can help with resources, information, training, and even funding for equipment in some cases. We’ll cover those a bit later in the article, but the important fact to take away is the fact that no matter what you’re going through, there are people out there that have been where you are and have come out the other side of the emotional roller coaster.

Image of CNIB SignDuring these early days, it will be important to surround yourself with an emotional support group to help you through this difficult transition. Family members, friends, support groups, or even counselling can all help. Organizations such as the Canadian Council of the Blind or the CNIB can also help point you in the direction of peer support groups. While these are Canadian organizations, it’s important to note that organizations just like them exist all over the world, so if you’re in another country, just search online for Low Vision or Blindness support organizations to find what’s available in your area.

Image of a blind man putting a casserole in the oven Next, you’ll begin to gather the resources or rehabilitation and training to manage your vision loss. Vision Rehabilitation programs are designed to assist people living with all levels of vision loss and provide training to help with things such as daily living skills. Reading, writing, grooming, cooking, and travel are just a few examples of targeted areas of rehabilitation. The CNIB offers a range of vision rehabilitation services that can be found here. For those in the Victoria area, there’s also the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind that provides several programs of essential life and travel skills.

Young student using a manual braillerCNIB also offers Braille training, which can also be a very important aspect of re-training. Braille literacy is incredibly important and can be truly empowering as it allows for a degree of independence and engagement with written materials that goes above and beyond alternate mediums such as screen readers, scanning and voice output, or digital book players / audio books. Organizations such as the Hadley Institute for the Blind also offer a wide variety of Braille courses online, which are free of charge for visually impaired students and their families.

Orientation and Mobility training will also prove to be invaluable, as the skills provided will enable you to travel independently. Specialized instructors can help you become familiarized with your neighborhood, as well as common transit routes that you might take on a regular basis. Finally, they’ll give you the training on how to use a white cane in your travels and give you the confidence you need to travel from your doorstep to your destination. Once again, organizations such as the CNIB offer these services as part of their vision rehabilitation services.

As yet another part of your Vision Rehabilitation, you may also require Employment counselling if you’re looking to re-enter the workforce. Several organizations can offer assistance in this regard and will not only help with things like resume building or job interview skills, but also may be able to help in terms of job placement. CNIB once again is a great resource for this and has an extensive Internship and Mentorship program as well as an Entrepreneurship program to help with those looking to build their own business or become self-employed.

Woman with Low Vision working with her White Cane beside herIf you are already employed but require specialized equipment for your job and live in British Columbia, the Neil Squire Society has their Technology@Work program that can help your employer acquire partial or full funding of suitable equipment that you may need in order to do your job or even travel to your job. They also provide a free service for with physical impairments who want to improve their computer skills called Computer Comfort. Other provinces have similar programs, such as Alberta’s Alberta Supports. The availability and scope of programs and organizations such as these will vary depending on your location, so if you’re in another province, check out our Resources page to see what options you have in your locality.

Woman giving training to a senior on a computerThe importance of support groups and community can’t be understated, and no matter where you may be in your journey, they will continue to offer great value to you. One example of a popular peer support group sponsored by the Canadian Council of the Blind is their Getting Together With Technology group, otherwise known as GTT. GTT offers monthly meetings at various locations across the country as well as conference calls for those who may live in smaller communities. The idea behind these peer support meetings is to bring members of the visually impaired community together to share information, technology, and strategies for everything from mobility and travel to downloading music or DAISY books.

Group of blind youths posing after a hikePeer support is especially important when it comes to children and youth, which is why the programs and services that organizations like Blind Beginnings offer are so vital. The activities, programs, peer support, and counselling they offer are designed to inspire and empower visually impaired youth to attain their true potential and build positive outlooks which can prove invaluable as they grow and mature. Blind Beginnings is located in BC, but similar organizations may exist in your area and may only be a Google search away.

Picture of a variety of low vision and blindness aidsOne of the final things to consider is Assistive Technology itself. No matter what your particular challenge may be, from low vision or blindness to physical or cognitive, there are technology solutions out there for you. Most people don’t even realize the scope of Assistive Technology until the day they need it, so it’s important to do some research and find out what solutions may exist for your particular condition. Most people are shocked to find out there are devices or software that can help them with, for example, their favorite hobbies or maintain a level of independence that they didn’t think was possible. This very site  is a great place to start this research (if we do say so ourselves) to get an idea of some of the AT solutions that are available. Or if you don’t find what you’re looking for, give us a call at 844-795-8324 and one of us would be more than happy to steer you in the right direction.

Image of a billboard with the text "Funding Opportunities"While Assistive Technology is indeed life-changing, it can also tend to be fairly expensive. That’s why it can be important to be well versed and up to date on all the potential funding sources in your area that can help mitigate the cost of AT. Depending on your province and/or state of residence, there can be various programs that can help fund a much needed piece of Assistive Technology. Organizations such as the Military Police Fund for Blind Children do some amazing work for visually impaired youth across the country, and is just one example of funding sources that exist. As a service to the community, we have compiled a Resources page that we try to keep as up to date as possible that list various agencies and organizations that offer funding and services. Check it out, try a Google search, and ask around at your local support groups – you just may find that a device is not out of financial reach after all.

While something as simple as this blog post can't really every prepare you for the life change of having your vision change, we hope that what it can do is mitigate some of the anxiety knowing that there ARE resources, support systems, and funding out there for you. Many of the organizations we've mentioned are Canadian and many are BC-based, but we'd encourage you to search for similar organizations in your area, you will likely be surprised at what is available. 

 

 


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