Guidelines for Conducting a Low-Vision Seminar

Created by the Low-Vision Committee of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind

 

On October 2, 2013, the day before our annual state convention, in collaboration with Vision Resources of Central Pennsylvania, our Low-Vision Committee held a seminar for the general public. After the event, we began searching for available resources to help plan and conduct a future low vision seminar. We found readily available a great deal of information regarding eye diseases that affect vision. However, except among organizations and agencies of and for the visually impaired (and persons who consider themselves to be members of the low-vision community), the term “low vision” is often misunderstood. Little information is available in brochure or pamphlet form that addresses related concerns, such as the social/psychological aspects of low vision and strategies for coping and adjustment. Consequently, a large number of people who have low vision do not know where to turn for help.

 

One way to provide education and information about low vision is to plan, publicize and hold a local low-vision seminar for the general public. According to information provided by The American Foundation for the Blind, the prevalence rates of vision loss in Pennsylvania in 2012 by gender was:  113,571 males and 153,316 females. The term “vision loss” refers to individuals who reported serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as those who are legally blind or unable to see at all.

 

Based on our experience planning and conducting a low vision seminar, we offer the following guidelines:

 

  • Determine how much time is needed. Plan for at least a six-month process.
  • Establish a planning team and assign tasks to the areas of planning, publicity, and conducting the seminar.
  • Maintain a checklist of assigned tasks that each participant has agreed to perform and keep track of progress through completion.

 

Remember that the goal of the seminar is to attract persons living with low vision, along with their families and friends, who have little or no knowledge about aspects of this condition. They may need guidance to adjust to vision changes and to navigate the services, organizations, and agencies that are available to them. Invite them to become a part of the low-vision community.

 

As you work within your own organization, consider collaborating with another organization or agency in your geographic area, with whom you have a good relationship. Working with other groups may provide additional resources and contacts.

 

Next, decide what topics will be covered, who will be presenting the information, the date and time of the event, and how long the seminar will be. Give consideration to covering the following three areas:      

 

  1. The medical aspects of low vision with an introduction to the use of low-vision devices that are designed to maximize remaining vision, which cannot be improved by eye surgery. Engage an ophthalmologist knowledgeable about the subject, and an optometrist who specializes in the assessment and prescription of low-vision aids, often referred to as “Low-Vision Specialists.” Depending on logistics, many low-vision specialists will be glad to set up a display of low-vision devices that he or she can show to those in attendance.
  2. Techniques and strategies (tips and tricks) that persons with low vision may use for accomplishing the tasks of daily living. Presenters best suited to cover this topic are professionals, such as rehabilitation teachers of the visually impaired, low-vision specialists and occupational therapists trained to work with persons who are blind or visually impaired.
  3. The social, psychological, and emotional effects of vision loss. Choosing a presenter for this topic requires careful consideration, because, if not handled properly, more harm than good may result. This topic must be covered in a way that is sensitive to those who are experiencing low self-esteem, depression, and not knowing how to find help, so that they will leave with a positive attitude toward their sight loss. The presenter for this topic must be able to discuss this topic in a frank and open manner that gives hope to members of the audience who are struggling to make the adjustments they need to make in order to move forward in dealing with their low vision issues, as well as to seek to become a part of the low-vision community. An ideal presenter for this topic would be a person with low vision, certified in the area of counseling persons who are visually impaired.

 

There is definitely a place in a low vision seminar for peers living with low vision to inform as well as provide motivation to those who are struggling and would benefit from embracing and employing coping strategies. For example, as part of the “tips and tricks” and psycho-social aspects portion of the seminar, consider offering a panel discussion that consists of an appropriately selected moderator. Invite several members who have low vision, are well adjusted, articulate and encouraging, to be on the panel to share their experiences of living with low vision in everyday situations, as they relate to the topics under discussion.

 

Things to consider when selecting a location:

 

  • Accessibility
  • A room large enough to accommodate the audience size, as well as provide an area for exhibitors
  • Space for registration. Be sure that you have assigned people to welcome guests, and to take contact information from attendees as they arrive.
  • Remember to have contact information for key facility staff in charge of such areas as audio-visual equipment, room set-up, and personnel at the front desk.
  • Make an appointment to visit the facility, so that you may familiarize yourself with the layout of the facility and the room where the event will take place. Since your audience will be made up of persons with varying degrees of vision loss, alert staff to the fact that adequate lighting in the meeting area is a necessity.

 

Publicizing your seminar is crucial. Prepare a flyer with the details of your event. The earlier you can distribute your flyer, the better. Spread the word.  Think of as many agencies, organizations and individuals as you can and distribute your flyers to them. The flyer does not have to contain specific details at this point, but it must be written in an attention-grabbing manner. Provide the basic information:  location, time, date, topics to be covered, and cost (if any). Adding graphics will increase flyer appeal. Write a press release or public service announcement. Provide media outlets with all of the information you wish to convey in as concise a manner as is possible.

 

If you do not have a list of media outlets in your area, compile a database of newspapers, television stations, radio stations, schools, agencies, organizations, etc. Contact each outlet and find out how they would like to receive the information, e.g. email, regular mail, a live interview, etc. Also find out how much time in advance of your event each outlet would prefer to receive the information. Do not overlook social media. Consider posting information about your event on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and group lists. If you need more help in developing a publicity strategy, The Public Awareness and Relations Committee of the PCB is ready to assist you.

 

Prepare an agenda that can be distributed to target persons and groups before the event, and will be available to each attendee upon their arrival. Include arrival time for registration, the presenter’s name, title, topic being covered, time each presenter will begin, and time of breaks. By following an agenda, the audience and presenters will have a sense of structure and assurance that everything will run smoothly. Make sure everyone involved in the seminar is in agreement with the details of the agenda, by allowing enough time for input from all before finalizing it.

 

Regarding audience participation, remember that the agenda is like a road map containing specific directions for getting from your point of origin to your final destination. With this image in mind, each presenter is responsible for covering his or her material as indicated in the agenda. Some presenters are comfortable inviting questions from the audience while others are not. As a rule, you can count on your presenters to handle their responsibilities competently with whatever style they prefer. Inviting questions from the audience outside of the agenda is not recommended. You are deviating from your road map, so to speak, and risk getting lost. Perhaps allow a block of time at the conclusion of the agenda for questions and comments from the audience. This way, you have control of how much time will be available for audience participation while also knowing that you have covered all material within the agenda time frame.

 

As the day of the event approaches, contact all presenters to confirm that they are ready to participate. On the day of the event, plan for all those in charge to arrive at the facility prior to the beginning of the seminar, so that you can be sure that the room is set up as agreed upon. It is a good idea to arrange for a facility coordinator to do a walk-through with you, who can be of assistance to you in the event that last minute changes are needed. During this preparation time, anyone with displays, hand-outs, and demonstration equipment will have time to get things in order.

 

After the seminar, allow time for attendees to speak with the presenters, obtain hand-outs and other materials, and become acquainted with the low-vision aids and devices that may have been made available. During this time period, you will have an opportunity to get a sense of the attendees’ impressions of the strengths and possible weaknesses of the program. You may want to prepare a short, large-print survey form with a return-addressed envelope, which is distributed along with the agenda, information packet, or any other materials each person receives prior to the start of the program. Attendees can either fill out the large-print survey before leaving or complete it later. The survey sheet might be in the form of a questionnaire, employing a numeric rating scale for each question, e.g. Do you feel that today’s seminar was: 1) Excellent, 2) Very good, 3) Fair, 4) Poor, or 5) Very poor.

 

Be sure to take the time to evaluate the feedback that you have acquired and make use of what you have learned when you plan your next low-vision seminar. You may also want to consider using other survey formats, such as email, web site (e.g. Survey Monkey) or telephone. You could even choose to employ a combination of survey formats in order to achieve the maximum level of response from those in attendance.

 

Finally, keep a written record of all of the steps you took to plan and conduct your seminar. This documentation will prove to be extremely valuable and helpful as a tool that you can use to make the next event even better and to ensure that you don’t have to “re-invent the wheel”.

 

Because of your hard work in planning your low-vision seminar, you will be pleased and rewarded with the efforts everyone involved made to bring knowledge about low vision to those having little or no understanding of the multifaceted realm between total blindness and 20/20 vision.

 

If you have any questions or comments about these guidelines, feel free to get in touch with PCB’s Low-Vision Committee Chair Ed Facemyer using efacem@verizon.net or 610-647-3365.

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