Low-Vision Services: Getting the Help You Need
Belinda Weinberg, OD and Sean Curry, MPH
The telephone discussion features Belinda Weinberg, OD and Sean Curry, MPH, of the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington.
Low Vision Services: Getting the Help You Need
April 24, 2019
1:00–2:00 pm EDT
Transcript of Teleconference with Dr. Belinda Weinberg and Mr. Sean Curry, Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington.
The information provided in this transcription is a public service of BrightFocus Foundation and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical, dietary, and/or exercise advice. Any medications or supplements should be taken only under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical products or therapies.
Please note: This Chat has been edited for clarity and brevity. AMD refers to age-related macular degeneration.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Hello, I’m Michael Buckley with the BrightFocus Foundation. Welcome to or welcome back to the BrightFocus Chat. Today’s topic is “Low Vision Services: Getting the Help You Need.”
Our guests today are Dr. Belinda Weinberg and Mr. Sean Curry from the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington. Let’s turn to our guests. Mr. Sean Curry, do you want to tell us what you do and what your organization does?
MR. SEAN CURRY: Absolutely. Thank you, Michael, and thank you, BrightFocus, for having us here today. I’m Sean, and I’m the Program Coordinator at the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington. We go by POB for short—so we will say POB the rest of the way to make everyone’s lives easier. We’re dedicated to the improvement and preservation of sight, and we do this mostly through providing services, education, and different advocacy.
We’re focused in the D.C. metropolitan region, which includes the District; suburban Maryland, which is Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties; and Northern Virginia, which is Alexandria City and Arlington and Fairfax counties.
Today, we’re talking about low vision, and the two main services we provide for low vision are (1) our POB VIP Vision Resource Network, where we provide resources, information, and education—the goal of that is to provide an opportunity to remain independent and maintain your quality of life, even with severe vision loss—and (2) the Low Vision Learning Centers. We have three locations—one in Bethesda, one in the District in D.C., and one in Alexandria—and what we have there are low vision specialists like Dr. Weinberg here, who create personalized rehabilitation programs and who also provide a chance for those with low vision to test or receive specific training on different visual aids and low vision technology.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Well, great. Dr. Weinberg, welcome.
DR. BELINDA WEINBERG: Thank you.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: What do you do as a low vision specialist, and what is low vision?
DR. WEINBERG: Low vision refers to when someone has a vision loss that cannot be improved with conventional glasses, contact lenses, medical treatment, or surgery. So, when there’s loss of vision and you’re unable to perform the activities of daily living or hobbies that you’d like to, that’s where a low vision specialist comes in. If the vision cannot be improved with these other methods, we want to use the vision that’s remaining to allow you to accomplish the things that you want to and need to do on a daily basis. As a low vision specialist, we see patients who have a number of eye conditions—from macular degeneration to glaucoma to diabetic retinopathy—and we aim to find personalized solutions for the specific goals that a patient has.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: A lot of people use the term “legally blind” or “legal blindness.” Is that the same as low vision, or could you talk about any differences there might be?
DR. WEINBERG: Sure. There is overlap between low vision and legal blindness. Legal blindness refers to a very specific definition, meaning that you can see 20/200 or nothing better than 20/200. And as reference, what we consider normal vision or ideal vision would be 20/20, so 20/200 would be about 10 times worse than that; or that you only have 20 degrees of peripheral vision—your visual field is 20 degrees or less. So, it’s a specific definition of vision that qualifies you for certain programs—either statewide or federal—to be legally blind, but you can have low vision without being legally blind. So, we actually prefer when we see patients before they’ve become legally blind, because even mild or moderate vision loss that may not have reached the legal blindness criteria yet can impact people’s day-to-day life. So, there is overlap certainly, but low vision really is when you’re not able to use your vision for the things that you need to do.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: This really provides such an incredible service to the community. I was just wondering, how did each of you end up where you are?
DR. WEINBERG: I became interested in optometry, looking into a field within the health profession where you’re working with people. My grandfather was an optometrist—on a personal note, that’s how I came into the field—but more specifically, I became interested in low vision rehabilitation, a specialty within optometry, upon my exposure to it in optometry school.
I found that low vision optometry and rehabilitation really allow us to look beyond just the eyeballs and look at a person as a whole and help them in the situations where we’re unable to save the vision the best that we can. So, I like that aspect of low vision rehabilitation as really considering the person as a whole.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Sean?
MR. CURRY: I originally came to POB as a public health intern. I recently completed my Master’s in Public Health, so I completed a needs assessment for POB when we first started out. A needs assessment, for those who don’t know, is a little bit of a data dump and getting to understand what your community is like, as well as where your programs stand specifically to the environment you’re at and how we can possibly improve them over time. So, after completing that, I was brought on full time as a program coordinator. As a program coordinator at POB, I do a lot of program development and coordination, as the name says, and I also do lots of research—anything data-related—and lots of public outreach, like what we do today.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: In terms of understanding your audience, I was just wondering, Dr. Weinberg, is there a common reaction people have when they first learn that they have low vision?
DR. WEINBERG: It varies, for sure, and the reaction that we get in terms of when you get a diagnosis of a condition that is known to have progression or have vision loss does vary, of course, by personality but also age of onset. We find that children that have eye conditions that cause vision loss, often it’s sort of all they know, so it can be an easier adjustment than someone who is older and developed the condition that causes vision loss down the line. It’s much more difficult to relearn how to do many of the tasks—sometimes you have to relearn how to do everything when you develop a condition 80 years after having vision one way. So, certainly, we see a wide range of emotional reactions. Some people are angry: Why did this happen to me? All those stages. Sadness…you know, you’re losing a lot there. So, we do find that the success of low vision rehabilitation often is connected with your ability to cope with the vision loss itself and be open to what may be involved with the rehabilitation.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: This could be for one or both of you. How do people ask for help? It would seem like for a lot of people…I’m from generations of stoic, independent New Englanders. Your organization provides such wonderful services, but is there a hurdle that people have to climb over to get to the point where the two of you can provide help? Or what is that process like?
MR. CURRY: Absolutely. I know on my end—and then you can talk about the patients specifically—I do a lot with our support groups and our resource networks. A lot of the time there’s a huge disconnect because you’re afraid to admit that you have a problem, or you’re in denial that there really is an issue. And even when you do accept it, at first you have no idea how to communicate that with even loved ones, let alone the medical community. So, there’s a huge hurdle that has to kind of be overrun, and there’s a lot of frustration that comes along with that as well. Like, one of the top things we always hear about is, “Well, when do I know when to stop driving?” and a lot of the times you don’t want to admit that it’s time to stop driving.
DR. WEINBERG: On the patient’s side, in terms of finding help, that can be a challenge for some of the reasons that Sean mentioned, as well. Sometimes people don’t know where to look. They may be seeing their ophthalmologist, their glaucoma specialist, retina specialist. They may see them every month, every couple of months, but a lot of times the aim of those specialists is to preserve the vision and treat the eye condition. So, sometimes just time-wise—not that the ophthalmologist isn’t caring—but sometimes the impact that that may have on a person’s life can get pushed aside or forgotten. So, it does often take that you, as a patient, have to advocate for yourself and look for these resources. Ideally, optometrists and ophthalmologists will refer patients to these services, but again, they do have to be ready to accept and be prepared for it.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: It must be very challenging. I know that you mentioned your organization works in the Washington area. Are there similar types of programs offered in other parts of the nation?
MR. CURRY: Absolutely. There are several different nonprofit organizations. A lot of them are local-based or metropolitan- based, and there are rural ones, as well, and they do a lot of the similar stuff that we do. Off the top of my head, I know of at least two. There’s one in San Diego that has a very popular Twitter page, and the other one is an organization in Chicago called Second Sense. We’ve actually worked with them and consulted with them and other resource network and support groups, and they’re a best-practices community, as well. So, if you’re in the Chicago area, you should definitely check them out if you’re having any vision issues.
DR. WEINBERG: I also would recommend the AFB website— American Foundation for the Blind, I believe it is.
MR. CURRY: Yes.
DR. WEINBERG: The American Foundation for the Blind. They actually have a resource look-up by state or by region, so you can look for similar groups to the Prevention of Blindness Society. Every state also has a branch of their state government for rehabilitation and disability, so that can also be a good place to look for resources for those with visual impairment.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: This is a very broad question, but the services you talked about—support groups and rehabilitation— does that tend to be covered by Medicare or Medicaid or private insurance? I know it’s a very broad question, but I just wondered if you’d talk a little bit about the affordability and access for people.
MR. CURRY: Sure. Our resource network and support groups are completely free to anyone who wants to come. Most of the time, we even provide lunch for you, so that’s a good way to get people to come.
DR. WEINBERG: In terms of low vision rehabilitation, the examination for a low vision exam…we do accept medical insurance for that. Different places that offer low vision rehabilitation typically will bill through medical insurance, as well. So, if you have Medicare or any other health insurance, the examination would go toward your health insurance. The unfortunate part is that glasses—as well as low vision aids, such as magnifiers or other devices—are not covered by insurance.That can certainly be a hurdle to people getting what they need. Again, these state agencies: for example, in Washington, D.C., the D.C. Rehabilitation Services Administration or, in Maryland, the Department of Rehabilitation Services stores often can help those who may not be able to pay for devices out of pocket and can help in allowing people to obtain those through funding.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Dr. Weinberg, a few minutes ago you mentioned, I think very clearly, the different stages that people go through, different emotions. Is there one area that’s the biggest struggle for people to work through? And I guess it could be in your support groups, as well, Sean.
DR. WEINBERG: Yeah. I see that it’s a very personal individual aspect to deal with. A lot of the most common things that we hear that people are having difficulty with is reading, whether that’s pleasure reading or reading the things that you need to read that you may not even realize on a daily basis—you know, mail, bills—so that’s one of the more common issues that people are having, but it can be very personal. Some people may love to play music, so that’s the hardest thing for them.
MR. CURRY: And another issue that we often see, I know, in my support groups, is the fact that a lot of the times when you lose your vision, and you’re starting to lose a little bit of independence—like, I can’t drive to the supermarket anymore— it puts a lot of stress, they feel, on loved ones, especially significant others. You’ll hear all the time where grandpa, he can’t get around anymore, and grandma’s got to drive him everywhere, and there’s a lot of guilt that’s unnecessary…that they don’t know how to communicate and properly talk about, like, “This is what’s going on. This is my new reality, but I can still do this, I can still do that.” So, it’s really important to remain optimistic and to enforce optimism for when you’re losing your vision.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: When you talk about the challenges of either being a caregiver or having care provided for you, you talked about the communication challenges. What, in your opinion or experience, works best? How can someone best communicate to a family or friend that they need help? That could be kind of potentially a tricky conversation. Do you have tips in your support groups for how to work on that?
MR. CURRY: We have a couple of tips. One thing is, whenever you go to the doctor, ask your significant other or loved one or a friend to come with you, because not only is it going to reinforce the fact that you’re getting the information that you need to know and you’re asking questions you need to ask, but it’s also providing the opportunity for your loved one or significant other or friend to be able to really understand where your vision’s at, and it kind of informally/formally opens that dialog for the loved ones, and then it’s just important to talk.
It’s tough, but you’ve got to sit down and just talk about, like, this is…I know I can’t do this, I know I can’t do that. So, let’s say, I can’t drive because I’m blind; however, I can still get around town. I can still make a phone call to get…for D.C., we have Metro Access, for example, to be able to get somewhere. So, it’s just opening a dialog about, what can we still do together, or what do I need your help on every once in a while?
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Interesting. It’s kind of…as far as when you talk about that in the support group, I think everybody knows the term “support group,” but it might be a little intimidating or…
MR. CURRY: Yeah.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: What is the structure of a support group—like, the size of the group? What does the group do? How frequently does it meet? What do you talk about? If you could just sort of, pull back the curtain on what a support group is.
MR. CURRY: We’ve been using the term “support group” a lot, and we call them “vision resource groups,” because a lot of the times the term “support” kind of has a negative connotation for people, and it’s kind of…it might push people away. So, we’ve kind of focused a lot more on resources, as well, and we want to empower independence, as well as provide the resources to maintain your quality of life.
So, a typical meeting will be…anywhere from an hour to an hour-and-a-half—some of them are 2 hours long—and it depends on the group that we’re targeting, what time of day it is. So, if it’s an older population, it tends to be more in the middle of the day, because they’re not working a normal 9–5, but if we have a working-class age, then we’re going a little bit later in the evening as well. And these groups typically have a guest speaker; however, that’s not required every single time, and they come and speak about different topics related to low vision. This can range from different technology, like, your smartphone and tablet and different applications that you could use on there to be able to make life a little bit easier.
Then, we also have different transportation options, in-home services, and we also have doctors periodically come in and discuss anything related to the eye that you might want to learn about, whether that be research, glaucoma, anything like that…even floaters. People hear about it all of the time, because everyone gets cataracts eventually, everyone wants to hear about, “Well, what do I do with these floaters?” So, there’s a brief discussion, and then after that we open up Q&A for the opportunity for everyone to kind of ask the questions they want to ask. Then, there’s a chance at the end to be able to really connect with one another and just talk one-on-one about…like, John over here, “I’ve been really having an issue with my oven, and I’m not able to cook my meat and my food as well anymore.” And then Sally is like, “Oh, well, I’ve done this and I’m able to now do this.” So, opening them up on communication and really forming a bond—a social bonding—is very important to us, and that’s something that we try to stress with our support groups.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Well, that’s great. There’s got to be such fears and anxieties at the root of this. I know, Dr. Weinberg, you talked about driving, and that’s something that we’ve talked about in previous BrightFocus Chats, and it just seems like such an emotionally intense, visceral topic. How do you do it? How do you navigate such a difficult topic in your practice?
DR. WEINBERG: It’s not easy …I think driving has such an impact, the way you said, because it is directly tied with independence. If you lose the ability to drive, especially in a lot of places in the country, you’re losing your ability to be independent and go to the places that you need to go when you want to go. So, it’s definitely not something that we take lightly when we have to inform individuals that their vision no longer qualifies them to drive, and people have different reactions to that.
Luckily, in the D.C. area, we do have a lot of good public transportation. But that’s not always the case everywhere in the country, so it is very beneficial to reach out to people in the community, either through groups like this, through your doctors, to find alternative ways to get around, and that’s improving all the time as well. With ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft—and even those who aren’t smartphone users, there’s something called GoGoGrandparent—which a tech-savvy family member can set up for an individual, and they can just use their regular landline or regular phone to call.
MR. CURRY: Jitterbug, too.
DR. WEINBERG: Jitterbug is another good phone for people. So, the driving…it is really in discussion. It’s self-reflection but also a conversation with your family members and your doctors to determine if it is safe to continue driving or not.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: So, I appreciate it. I’m glad you mentioned the other people in the family. When families get together at Thanksgiving or Christmas or the religious holidays in the spring, how does one initiate that topic about a person that they’re close to? What’s the icebreaker on that topic?
DR. WEINBERG: Right. I don’t know that there’s any one…
MR. CURRY: It depends.
DR. WEINBERG: Yeah. I don’t know if there’s any one good way, and sometimes it is good to do in the presence of a managing doctor. So, sometimes a conversation that I have in a low vision exam, like Sean was saying, with visits to the ophthalmologist, it’s good to have family members present. We think that even more so with the low vision exam, so that family members can see what their family member with vision loss is able to see, what they’re not able to see, and really kind of understand their situation a little bit better. So, those difficult topics, even though we as doctors don’t necessarily want to be in the middle of it, it can be helpful to get that sort of objective sense by having them present or in that discussion.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: And what if it’s you? Like, if you are questioning your own ability to drive, what should you do?
DR. WEINBERG: Yeah, that’s a great question, too. What’s interesting is there are actually places that are rehabilitation for driving specifically. So, in the Maryland area, there’s a place in Frederick called Rehabilitation of Frederick where they do have driver rehabilitation for those with low vision or with reduced vision. The first thing is if you meet the legal requirements for your state—and every state does have different visual acuity and visual field requirements as to whether it’s legal to drive— but if you’re in those legal requirements and still not sure if you’re safe to drive, you can have on-the-road assessments at these low vision or rehabilitation driving schools to determine things like reaction time, your ability to detect obstacles. So, there are some ways to get a professional’s insight to that.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: This next question is for the both of you. When a person that’s either at your practice or in your support group, when they fear that they’re going to go blind, what do you say to that? I guess one or both of you on that.
DR. WEINBERG: So, on our end, I feel that that’s one of the most valuable things that we can provide, as a low vision optometrist, by having the understanding of the disease process, as well as the rehabilitation process. We can educate people about their condition. So, for example, people with macular degeneration often fear going blind. Everything is going dark, and that term “blind” does have a wide range of meanings, but people do fear that they’re going to lose all perception of light and everything’s going to go dark. So, being able to explain the disease process itself and explain the anatomy can often put people’s worries at ease, because we can explain that the macula is only a small area of the retina, and with macular degeneration alone, it won’t impact your peripheral vision; that will always remain intact with macular degeneration. So, being able to explain the eye condition, the eye anatomy, can really help people with those fears.
In some cases, we know that conditions are progressive. Retinitis pigmentosa, for example, can cause complete loss of all vision, but what we find helpful with that is knowing all the resources that are out there. So, if we know that someone’s going to be continuously losing vision, we plan for that in our rehabilitation. If we know that we can’t rely on vision throughout our life, maybe we start to teach braille or teach orientation and mobility—how to get around using a white cane—if we know that that’s coming in the future. So, really, being able to prepare and understand what may happen with your vision is very helpful for people.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Do you have anything to add to that, Sean?
MR. CURRY: Yeah. A lot of times at support group meetings someone will say, “I’m really afraid that I’m going to go blind, and I’m going to let everyone down,”, and a lot of the times there’s another group member there that will almost immediately kind of take them under their wing and just say, “It’s tough. It’s not the end of the world. You can still do this, you can still do that, and here’s how,” and more often than not there’s also a few who are like, “I can’t work anymore.” You can still work. There are different organizations that you can contact, like, your local rehabilitation or disability state organization, and they will help you be able to get the different adaptations that you need, and you can still work more often than not.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Well, that’s great. A lot of our audience members are at different stages of macular degeneration. Dr. Weinberg, do you have any tips for what they can do moving forward, as far as diet and lifestyle and exercise and medications? What does somebody do from this point forward?
DR. WEINBERG: Right. When you’ve been diagnosed with macular degeneration, probably one of the most important things is following up with your retina specialist as scheduled to monitor for any changes. But in terms of things that you can do on your own to reduce the progression, smoking is the biggest risk factor for macular degeneration. So, whether you have macular degeneration or have a family history and you’re someone that smokes, you know definitely though it’s not easy to do certainly. Cutting back and eventually cessation is the best thing for reducing the risk of macular degeneration.
The other thing is eating green leafy vegetables—like kale, spinach, collard greens—that have antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin, and fatty fishes that have omega-3s. Those are all dietary modifications that you can make to help preserve the health of the macula, as well as vitamins or supplements called AREDS 2 from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study. Your ophthalmologist can tell you if you’re at a stage of macular degeneration where that’s been proven to slow progression.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: That’s good to know. I find the supplement aisle at a supermarket or a pharmacy sort of overwhelming and maybe a little bit of the Wild West. Could you explain a little more about that AREDS supplement, so people know what to steer toward?
DR. WEINBERG: Sure, and one thing that I forgot to mention before when I think about the AREDS is also wearing sunglasses. Having UV protection—100 percent UV protection— is also very helpful for the macula. In terms of the AREDS 2, it’s got to be recommended by your retina specialist or by your optometrist/ophthalmologist. At the store the bottle, itself will say “AREDS 2.” If it doesn’t say that and says, “vitamins for eye health” but does not specifically say “AREDS 2,” it may still have components that are very helpful for the eye health, but it’s not the specific make-up that was proven with this large AREDS2 study.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: I know some people who have macular degeneration receive treatment via an injection in the eye, and that to the average person walking down the street sounds extremely unpleasant.
I wondering if you could tell us about that anxiety and how people and their physician should address that?
DR. WEINBERG: It sounds very scary to have an injection in the eye, certainly, but these injections really have kind of revolutionized how we treat macular degeneration. In the past, if you’ve had what’s called the wet form of macular degeneration where there’s blood vessel growth underneath the retina, we didn’t have much in the way to treat that, so that would cause large, what we call scotomas—or blind spots—in the central vision. These injections, though they sound very unpleasant…you can ask people that have had them. In most cases, you don’t have pain. The eye is numbed, and you may have some effects afterward, but certainly by later in the day or the next day, the eye feels okay, and it does really help to preserve vision with macular degeneration and sometimes even cause improvement if there is fluid or blood underneath the retina. So as unpleasant as they are, the alternative is, unfortunately, more significant vision loss. So, if injections have been recommended by your retina specialist, it’s likely because the benefits outweigh the risk or the discomfort of those injections.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Thank you. Sean, a question. In your support groups are there are some techniques that people have for daily life in the community? I want to go to the grocery store. I want to order lunch somewhere. Do you have tips that you share for sort of navigating daily life?
MR. CURRY: Sure. Part of the low vision rehab, which we do, is about activities of daily living — as well at our Low Vision Learning Center. — But the support groups, we like to have speakers come in periodically and talk about a different service, like a food service. They come in and talk about what they can do, and this is more locally.
In the D.C. metropolitan area, there’s a lot of different transportation services that will provide free ride-sharing services for you to be able to go for a doctor’s appointment, and then there’s also different volunteer ride-sharing services that will freely drive you to the supermarket if you need to do that or if you want to go to the park or something like that. They’ll do that for you. It’s volunteer-based, and actually, a lot of them come from what’s called the Villages, which is the Village movement. I don’t know how aware you all are of that.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Yeah, it’s a great, great concept.
MR. CURRY: So, they have a lot of ride-sharing services, as well, for that.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: And would something like that help within the store when I’m trying to look at those beans…you know, the pico font on the ingredients…
MR. CURRY: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Do you have any suggestions of how people navigate situations like that?
MR. CURRY: Absolutely. So, if you don’t have a magnifier already, there are several…if you have a smartphone, there are several free apps, or applications, that you can download from your app store. If you don’t know how to navigate that, ask someone that has full vision, and they will happily do it for you. Everyone knows how to do it who has used their iPhone before, and these different apps are able to either scan a barcode and tell you exactly what it is, or it will be a magnifier as well.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: That’s great. There’s time for a couple more questions, but I was wondering, Dr. Weinberg, a lot of our audience have children and grandchildren. Any advice that they can pass down to their kids or grandkids about healthy vision?
DR. WEINBERG: I think anyone that has vision loss and has family members would tell you that you shouldn’t take your vision for granted, though it’s important to, of course, have yearly eye exams, protect the eyes from the sun, have a good healthy diet. But in terms of ways to navigate in the world, it’s also an important message to show to younger individuals that any form of vision loss …we can compensate for that or overcome any vision loss to still have a good quality of life and independence. So, that’s an important message alongside of the prevention of eye disease for younger individuals.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: And one operational question before concluding remarks. I know a lot of our audience served in the military. Does the Veterans Administration offer services similar to what your organization does?
DR. WEINBERG: That’s a great question. So, I actually did spend a year at a VA hospital in Connecticut, and so the VA system does have a lot of low vision rehabilitation for veterans. It’s a really great resource, so if you have served in the military and have vision loss, I would strongly recommend speaking to someone at the VA system. A lot of the devices that I spoke about that, unfortunately, medical insurance won’t cover—at the VA system, you’re able to get these without as much of an issue. There’s even in the VA system…in each region, there’s an inpatient program where you can stay for about 6 weeks to really learn how to do those activities of daily living, as well as tasks that you want to do to really kind of relearn how to do the things you need to when you have vision loss. In this area, the one that serves Washington, D.C., and most of the East Coast is in Connecticut. So, it’s worth going to your local VA and working with the outpatient services for low vision rehabilitation, or if you need more expensive care, even the inpatient rehabilitation services.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: It sounds like there’s a wide range of resources—federal, state, local, and certainly the philanthropic efforts that your organization does. It’s kind of my final questions for the two of you. In your experience, when you think about the work you do, are you hopeful for the future in terms of how Americans deal with vision loss? What’s your overall opinion about the future of the work you do and the services you provide? Sean, do you want to go first?
MR. CURRY: I’ll start. I’m really optimistic about it, because we’re moving more and more into a technology-based age, and it’s becoming easier. There are ways that the technology today makes living with low vision easier. Many people have iPhones now, and there’s so many free different applications that you can use and learn how to use. There’s even VoiceOver, which is made for people who are totally blind to be able to use your iPhone with no problem at all. So, stuff like that is going to become more and more popular and easier to be able to use for anyone. If you are losing your vision, it’s going to make life easier.
On top of that, I think that the awareness campaigns have been growing more and more, and we’re really focusing on that and the need for providing and raising awareness of the resources available. We at POB have actually targeted that as a major issue that we want to address in the area, and we’re developing a resource guidebook to be able to do that, as well, in the specific D.C. metropolitan area. So you’ll be able to find anything from transportation to technology to whatever state resources or different activities that you want to do—there’s blind hockey, for example. So, if you want to play hockey and you can’t see, you can still do it. There’re different ways, so [I’m] very, very optimistic.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Well, that’s great. Dr. Weinberg, when you think about the future of people with vision challenges, what do you think?
DR. WEINBERG: I think that Sean stole my answer. [laughter]
MR. CURRY: Sorry about that.
DR. WEINBERG: That’s okay. So, the same two things. For me, optimism as well, which is the accessibility of technology, so even those without vision loss are having phones and having computers as much more a part of our daily life, and luckily, these devices come out of the package with a lot of accessibility features to them. So, I think there’s a lot of ways for people to continue working, to continue reading, doing all the things that they want to and like to do with the use of this technology, and it also makes it more affordable, as well. Like Sean mentioned, there are a number of phone applications that have no cost, and those can be much more available to people than some of the low vision devices that we typically rely on.
So, technology is definitely changing the game for the better, and I think awareness is increasing, as well. Making everything more accessible—not just phones and computers, but we want to make the whole world more accessible. And I think that’s improving, too.
MICHAEL BUCKLEY: Well, great. I want to thank our guests today and the Prevention of Blindness Society; they just really do such amazing work in the community, and it’s a real pleasure for BrightFocus to partner with you.
DR. WEINBERG: Thanks.
MR. CURRY: Thank you.
BrightFocus Foundation: (800) 437-2423 or visit us at www.BrightFocus.org. Available resources include—
- BrightFocus Foundation Chats (Audio Presentations on Macular Degeneration)
- Clinical Trials: Your Questions Answered (Publication)
- Healthy Living and Macular Degeneration: Tips to Protect Your Sight (Publication)
- How Low Vision Services Can Help You (Audio and Transcript)
- Macular Degeneration: Essential Facts (Publication)
- Information on research funded by BrightFocus Foundation
- The Top Five Questions to Ask Your Eye Doctor (Publication)
- Treatments for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (Fact Sheet)
- Understanding Your Disease: Quick Facts About Age- Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) (Article)