Starting a Low-Vision Support Group in a Senior Residential Community

By Jeanette Schmoyer

Originally published in The PCB Advocate, Fall 2011

 

Soon after moving into an “over 55” community, I realized how many people

were sharing with me their concerns about losing eyesight.  I have had low

vision for over fifty years, and have acquired knowledge and experience in

the field of low vision, so I felt I had something to offer them.

 

I approached the social worker in our building about starting a support

group, explaining that one of the first things I did after moving here was

to call the local Association for the Blind to arrange for O&M services

specific to this area. I also explained that I am very familiar with the

leading vender of low vision products in this region. My own experience with

many low vision devices offered through catalogs and other venders seemed an

attribute I could share.

 

The social worker agreed that a vision support group was a great idea. She

felt that using the name “Vision Support” would be less threatening to the

residents than using “Low Vision.” I planned an agenda for the first

gathering, and gave a promo to the social worker to submit to the community

newsletter.

 

At the first gathering nearly forty people came to hear what was being

offered. I spoke about my experiences to make it clear that as the initiator

of the group I was not a professional, but a person who had experienced and

was still experiencing loss of eyesight. The response was very positive. The

residents felt they could relate to me. That was in May 2008, three months

after I had arrived, and we have met almost monthly since then.

 

The monthly programs have included various eye physicians and low vision

therapists, various staff members from the Association for the Blind,

assistive device venders, and PCB officers. Countless low vision devices and

daily living gadgets have been demonstrated. Attendees have been introduced

to CCTV’s, portable video magnifiers, digital book players, electronic

readers, liquid level indicators, Bump Dots, tactile checks, talking clocks,

wrist watches and calculators, ZoomText for the computer, clothing labels

and much more. They have had opportunities to share their concerns, and to

share discovered solutions. In addition they have heard about various

advocacy issues that PCB and ACB are pursuing and tracking.

 

On behalf of the support group I have written letters to the administration

here and to the Campbell’s Soup Company. In response to suggestions from our

Vision Support Group the directory of residents here is now printed in large

print in addition to the traditional directory, and a yellow center line has

been painted on the roads on campus in our community. We have had a letter

of response from Campbell’s Soup and we hope the soup name on the labels of

their soups will once again be in large bold black lettering instead of the

more recently used thin script writing.

 

In January 2010 our support group held a Low Vision Expo with five

demonstrating participants, and now the facility staff includes low vision

venders in their annual senior expo here on the campus.  Neighboring senior

communities are invited to the expo, so the impact of the support group here

has expanded.

 

If you are thinking of starting a Low Vision Support Group, be sure to make

the appropriate contacts to initiate the group. That may be an administrator

or social worker in the location you wish the group to meet. Clarify who

would be responsible for scheduling speakers and reserving the meeting room.

Be sure you are prepared to lead if that is asked of you. Know local

resources you can call upon as presenters. Be prepared to make the phone

calls required to schedule speakers and venders if that is your

responsibility. Plan well in advance. Stay in touch with your host facility

to be certain that your space will be available as planned.  There are many

details to care for to make things go smoothly.

 

If you have any questions or comments, you may contact me at (215) 703-4072

or via email at

jmschmoyer@gmail.com.

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