Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

CVI's SightSeeing Blog

Welcome to CVI's SightSeeing Blog! Here we discuss topics of interest and importance to the community.

Some of the information posted here includes personal stories from CVI clients, perspectives from CVI's expert staff, hot topic issues in government, the latest trends in technology for the visually impaired, and much more. Our desire is that this blog is a useful tool to enlighten, educate and provide needed information in a meaningful dialogue for both the blind and sighted communities. Join us as we invite you to share and discuss the topics with us.

Please note: Blog comments are not to be interpreted as a direct endorsement by the Center for the Visually Impaired.

Gardening Tips for the Visually Impaired

Small planter filled with flowersAs the saying goes April showers bring May flowers. Now that May is here and spring has officially arrived it is time to go outside and dig in the dirt. But don’t let your visual impairment stop you from enjoying quality time with nature. Whether you like planting beautiful flowers, or growing delicious and healthy veggies or even something smaller like herbs there are a variety of ways to use your green thumb with vision loss.

But before we get started, you might be wondering why anyone with vision loss would want to garden? Some might think that gardening is only for those with good eyesight. Or the only way you can do it and enjoy the fruits of your labor is to be a fully sighted person. But that is not true. Many people garden for the pure pleasure of it. The personal interaction with nature. The physical activity of planting. The tactual experience of digging in the dirt. The ability to be outside in the warm weather. The positive mental and emotional feelings that germinate. And of course the beautiful flowers, plants and foods that can be enjoyed and shared with others. Did I give you enough reasons? Hope so. All of these are excellent motivators to garden even with vision loss. So let’s get started!

First, look at your surroundings so that you can mark the territory. Depending on what you are planting you might need to build your garden in a bright sunny area or a cool shady spot. Check out your location and then you can use tactual supplies to mark the area off. To do this, use commercial edging products such as crushed stones, bricks, or fencing to determine where one area ends and the other begins. You can paint your stones bright bold colors like yellow or use tactual supplies liked crushed shells or wood chips you can decipher when stepped on.

Once you have determined your garden location, decide what you want to plant. Do you like flowers? Vegetables or herbs? Do you want to plant your items in the ground outside or in containers housed on the back porch? Using your senses can help make a determination. Think about various textures and scents. Do you want roses? Geraniums? Daisies? Tulips? Or other flowers? For a vegetable garden you can think about the sensory differences in tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers or green beans. Thinking things through and answering these questions beforehand will help you get started in the right direction and have a successful garden.

Next, get your supplies organized and labeled in a way that you can use independently. You might want to keep all your metal gardening tools in a caddy where they are all in one place. Labeling your seed packets might be helpful but it will depend on your vision level. Those that are totally blind and use braille might want to use braille dymo tape adhesive labels. Or if you are low vision, you might want to use address labels and write with a 20/20 pen the name of the seeds. Some might want to keep a written or audio gardening journal where you can track the type of seeds use, location of the seeds and their progress.

A row of various flowers planted in the ground The next step is the actual planting. Creating your rows of plants and the precise place to plant your seeds can be a little tricky with vision loss. Read the directions on your seed package to determine how deep to plant the seed and how far apart each seed should be placed. You might have to get some sighted help in order to accomplish this. But knowing this information will help you to plant your seeds properly. If you don’t want to do all of that, using seed tape is an easier option. Seed tape is two thin sheets of paper with seeds glued in between. They are already proportionally spaced out so it is just a matter of planting it. Just lay the tape on the ground and cover with top soil and add water. Once you have your rows of seeds planted, use tactual items to mark off the rows. Using support tresses for vegetables like tomato vines, plastic tubes that run along the rows of seeds, recycled popsicle sticks and other wood or metal items found at gardening stores can help mark the location of your plants and vegetables. Once things are growing, feeling the leaves and the actual vegetable or noticing the scent can help determine where things are located in your garden. For example feeling lettuce leaves, touching cucumbers or tomatoes or smelling herbs like mint and basil are all distinctive enough to determine differences.

The tips above are just a sampling of the things that a person with a visual impairment can do to grow a garden. To learn even more check out the resources below:

  1. VisionAware list resources and tips on visually impaired gardening. You can go to www.visionaware.org and do a search for gardening to find a listing of articles and blog posts on the topic.
  2. The Hadley School for the Blind lists webinars on container herbal gardening and basic gardening tips. Go to www.hadley.edu for more information.
  3. The NLS/Talking Book Library lists various audio books and magazines on gardening and horticulture. You can call the Atlanta Metro Library for Accessible Services at 404-657-1452 for more information.

So, how does your garden grow? Do you currently have a garden? Have you gardened before losing your vision? Would you like to start gardening again or for the first time? Share your comments with us and let’s go dig in the dirt!

The Low Vision Clinic Comes to Your Home

Magnifying glassThe Florence Maxwell Low Vision Clinic is excited to share that we have added 2 new low vision occupational therapists to our staff. This addition to our staff now allows the low vision clinic to provide services within the home. An individual must initially be seen in the low vision clinic, either in Atlanta or Gainesville, by the low vision optometrist. Following the on-site appointment, the occupational therapist can come to your home and mark your appliances, address lighting, safety concerns and your challenges with all aspects of daily living. Difficulties such as using your phone, light cooking, managing your medication or writing a check. Working within the home ensures that you will not only be able to learn new skills, but also affirm that you can use any optical aids or devices independently within your own environment. Success, independence and empowerment are the goals and the best place to achieve that is within your own home.

It is also important to remember, as an adult, you are your own best advocate. If you’re struggling with problems at home or in the community, related to your vision loss, talk with your eye doctor regarding your concerns. Be as specific as possible. Try to stay away from statements such as, “I can’t see” or “I am going blind”. Often these statements will be disregarded. However use statements such as, “I can’t read my bills or write a check” or “my television is blurry and I can’t see my family member’s faces”. These specific examples allow for better insight. If your doctor does not recommend low vision services, take the first step, tell your doctor you are interested in low vision services and ask for a referral.

Low vision services provide you the opportunity for increased independence in the areas that you are having specific challenges. Although your doctor may tell you there is nothing that can be done, they are more specifically referring to their services. However, there is much that can be done at CVI to promote education and independence through training on devices and compensatory/adaptive strategies which you can learn safely in your home environment.

May is Senior/Older American Awareness Month. It is important as a senior to remember aging does not have to mean a decrease in independence or inactive lifestyle. Low vision creates challenges that were not present previously however just like other obstacles there are ways to learn to maintain the lifestyle you seek. So, are you a senior having challenges with your vision? Is reading the newspaper or your medication bottles difficult? Are you having problems operating home appliances, cooking or preforming other household duties because of vision? Do you want to maintain an independent life in your home? If so, please call CVI’s Florence Maxwell Low Vision Clinic and schedule an appointment. For more information call 404-875-9011 or log on at www.cviga.org.

We Are All Beginners Here: Mothering a Visually Impaired Child

Editor’s note: In celebration of Mother’s Day this coming Sunday, we at CVI thought it would be very fitting to have a mother of a visually impaired child share her story. We hope that you enjoy reading this week’s post and happy Mother’s Day to all our moms.

Picture of Christina and JessieI don't often write about my daughter's visual impairment and, when I do, I always find the subject somewhat difficult to address. This is not because the topic is associated with anything negative but because my child's visual impairment is so far from what defines her or my relationship with her. My primary identity is not “the mother of a visually impaired child” any more than my daughter’s is “a visually impaired child.” I am Christina James, mother to Jessica James: a smart, outgoing, energetic, slightly-out-of-the-ordinary girl that just happens to have a visual impairment. Still, she does have a visual impairment and it has shaped our lives from the get-go...in the best of all possible ways:

When Jessica was born, she didn't open her eyes until we left the bright lights of the hospital three days later. Having no experience with newborn humans but a lot of experience with newborn puppies, I simply assumed that humans were more like puppies than I thought and that this was all normal. Once, when telling this story, I was told that I should somehow be embarrassed of this incorrect assumption I had made. I'm not. I wear my early motherhood ignorance like a badge of honor.

Why? When you have a visually-impaired child (or any child for that matter), every single one of us is a beginner and not only is it ok that we are but it is important to be so. Our children’s vision conditions are each unique as is our parenting experience so there's no way we can know what it is we're getting into. We do not experience motherhood in the same ways as each other or anyone else so we cannot rely solely on the advice of others.

What we all have in common, though, is the fact that our children change us. Our children are born with unique needs and differences that teach us new ways of seeing the world and ourselves. Jessica, for instance, has taught me the importance of seeing the world through all of my senses, not just my sight. She has taught me to be aware of my own ignorance and to use that blank slate as fuel to research and learn about her condition...to realize how important it is to say, “I don't know what you're going through but I'm ready to observe and listen and try to understand.” Most importantly, she has taught me that perfection is overrated and there is a special beauty in the process of figuring out what it is you can't see or you don't know with the clues you have available to you.

My experience of motherhood may have been “different” due to Jessica's vision differences but I doubt there is any experience of motherhood that could be considered “normal” and I wouldn't change any of it for the world. Sure, I didn't get to experience breastfeeding because she couldn't see to latch. No, I didn't get to enjoy eye contact until she got her first glasses at 2 years old. Instead, I got to hold my child closer and delight in her joy at being able to see me when I held my forehead up to hers. I watched her learn to lift her head, crawl, and run faster than most children in her excited attempt to get close enough to see the fuzzy images that were just a little bit too far away. As she has gotten older, I've gotten to watch her grow into a supremely practical and self-confident young lady who understands the importance of struggle as only one who has had to surmount obstacles can know.

From her, I have learned a completely different way of seeing motherhood and the world than I had before she came into my life...not because she was visually-impaired but because she taught me the most important lesson of motherhood: We are all beginners here.

A Big Decision-Cane or Canine

Anyone losing their sight knows how difficult it is to A) admit you need to use a white cane, and B) actually use one in public. Most of us learn to overcome our fear, our discomfort, and our embarrassment. The statement let your cane mature in the drawer or closet for a while has deep emotional resonance for many of us. It becomes a rite of passage in the lives of visually impaired people to accept the reality and go out into the world with their heads held high.

I was so embarrassed using my white cane. My first outing had to be out of town, in another state. I couldn’t run into anyone I knew. I can smile about it now, but at the time, it felt like I was wearing a neon sign saying “blind lady coming through!”

Gail Handler headshotThat occurred three years ago. And while I’ve become more proficient in cane travel, I’d be untruthful if I said I was totally comfortable with it. There’s still the slight embarrassment when I catch my reflection in a store window. It surprises me to see the cane because it has never become a part of my self-image.

What about a guide dog instead? Everyone loves dogs, right? Who wouldn’t enjoy having one?
I was afraid I might not be one of them. I never grew up with a dog or cat. And there’s the small matter of being deathly afraid of dogs most of my life after trying to outrun a greyhound as a child. Would it be possible to overcome that fear to have a guide dog? I realized I’d already overcome several fears: going blind, giving up driving, and needing a white cane. Vision loss requires problem-solving. It’s the only way to have a “normal” life. I viewed my fear of dogs as another challenge to conquer.

Two years ago, I met a woman who was a puppy raiser for one of the guide schools. I went to some of the monthly meetings with other puppy raisers to see training for myself. I asked millions of questions. And I discovered something-I really do like dogs! At the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Visions 2013 conference, I talked with every guide dog owner, collected data on schools and asked owners many questions. Sitting at a table with a gentleman and his resting dog, I asked permission to interact with his dog. That lab, after a few scratches, put his chin on my leg and a paw on my arm and just looked at me. I was hooked.

I’m now awaiting a training class and meeting my new companion. I believe a dog will help expand my travels around town. That discomfort using the cane should melt away. Dogs, especially working dogs, draw people in, unlike a white cane that sometimes distances them.
I have been a teacher my entire adult life and retired due to vision issues. I miss that connection to kids. I hope to create school presentations and talk with children about the Dos and Don’ts of interacting with blind or visually impaired individuals and demonstrate the incredible skills of a service dog.

A cane or a canine is a major decision. I have always enjoyed learning and this journey of partnering with a guide dog will be, I’m sure, an incredible journey. So, let’s discuss canes and canines. Do you use a white cane? Or what about a guide dog? Which option works best for you? Share your comments in the section below.

April Is Women’s Eye Health Month


hand holding magnifying glassWe all know how important it is to take care of our eyes; but for women it is even more important. Surprisingly, women are more susceptible to vision loss than men. The Women’s Eye Health website reports that nearly two-thirds of all visually impaired and blind people in the world are women. Eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration are diagnosed more in women than in men. This month is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month and as a woman who is visually impaired, I want to encourage any woman who is reading this blog post to take good care of her eyes.

The first step to healthy eye care is to educate yourself and know the facts. To assist women in this, Prevent Blindness America (PBA) has started a new program called See Jane See: Women’s Healthy Eyes Now to inform women on their unique eye health needs. In addition, I have listed below some reasons specifically as to why women lose their vision.

  1. Women typically live longer than men. There are eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration that are specific to the aging process.
  2. Additionally, there are eye conditions that are more prevalent in women such as dry eye syndrome which can be caused by hormonal changes. Since women go through various hormonal ups and downs throughout their lives, from menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, their vision can be impacted. Also, women are diagnosed more often with autoimmune diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis which can greatly affect vision.
  3. Lastly, social and economic situations can impact women more than men. Getting access to affordable healthcare and taking time to go to the doctor can sometimes be more difficult for women than men. Women are typically the caregivers in families and can neglect their own health while caring for others.

Now that you know some of the reasons why women are more prone to have vision problems than men, let’s look at some things that women can do to take care of their eyes. First, get a comprehensive eye exam from your eye doctor. An eye exam cannot only determine the health of your eyes, but can quickly track any changes especially if you have family history of eye disease. Next, watch your weight and your diet. Being overweight or obese and not eating healthy foods can affect vision and cause medical conditions such as diabetes, strokes and high blood pressure. All of these conditions can greatly impact vision. Specifically for women, monitor eye makeup usage. Replace oldPicture of sunglasses makeup every three months or so. Also, do not share cosmetics with other women as bacteria and germs can be easily spread. Wear sunglasses when outside. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and also from air-born pollutants that can blow into your eyes such as dust and pollen.

For additional information on women’s eye health check out these resources:
1. Prevent Blindness America (PBA)
http://www.preventblindness.org/
2. See Jane See Program
http://seejanesee.preventblindness.org/
3. Women’s Eye Health
http://www.w-e-h.org/
4. Vision Problems in the U.S.
http://www.visionproblemsus.org/
5. Lighthouse for the Blind
http://www.lighthouse.org/eye-health/womens-eye-health
6. VisionAware-Women’s eye Health Section
http://www.visionaware.org/section.aspx?FolderID=6&SectionID=116&DocumentID=6487

Now that you got the facts on women’s eye health let's talk about it. If you are a woman have you had an eye exam recently? Are you practicing good self-care? What things have you put into place to take care of your eyes? If you are a guy, have you encouraged the women in your life to take care of their eyes? Share your thoughts and comments in the section below.

An Overall Thumbs Up on Audio Described Movies

Empish with headset onAfter years of not going to the movies because of my vision loss, I decided this year to make a change and explore audio descried movies. I was already somewhat familiar with them because I had rented a couple through the Atlanta Library for Accessible Services some years ago. Regrettably, I found the movie selection very limited and quickly lost interest. But today that has changed and not only can you find audio described movies to watch at home through WGBH Media Access Group but your local movie theatre has audio described options as well. If you are not familiar an audio describe movie provides extra verbal narration of visual elements happening in the film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action happening in the movie. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize.

Two major movie chains-Regal Cinema and AMC Theatres offer most blockbusters and current films in audio description. You can read more about these options and how they work by reviewing their websites. When I go to the theatre I request the device for the blind. It will be a headset attached to a small box with a little lever on the side for volume. Because there are devices for the deaf and also the hard of hearing, be sure that you make it clear you want the device for the blind and/or visually impaired. A couple of times I was given the device for the hard of hearing, which looks similar but is not attached to the small box for the volume control. Depending on the theatre you go to, you might have to do a little education with the theatre staff and take time to explain exactly what you need.

I give audio described movies an overall thumbs up because the description makes a movie accessible and enjoyable to a person with vision loss. I now realize that I have been missing critical and key information while watching movies. This has impacted my ability to get the fullness of the film. But there are some challenges I want to make you aware of.

One thumbs down of audio description is that the headset will not work until the movie actually is playing. So that means no description on the previews. That can be a challenge because sometimes the headset is not working properly and you won’t really know until the actual movie starts. I have been told that since each movie comes with a different set of previews it is hard to get those particular previews audio described in advance. Since this happens more frequently than it should, the theatre staff person is supposed to come back and check on you. But sometimes that does not happen. I usually give about 5-10 minutes and if no one comes I get up and go back up to the front counter. Sometimes staff gets busy with other customers and you will have to be assertive but patient when getting another headset.

I have gotten to know some of the staff at my local theatre and have even had a conversation with the manager. I have learned the best time to come to the theater when help is more available to me. I was encouraged to avoid opening nights or evenings because the theatre is usually more crowded. I also learned the hard way that when the actual theatre is crowded it is hard to hear the audio description in the headset because people are talking and being noisy. Today I go early in the day and early in the week to avoid all of this and that has been working out well for me.

Another thumbs down is that the movie might not be audio described even though it saysEmpish at the concession stand otherwise. It is a good idea to double check the availability of audio description. Although the theatre’s website says they offer audio description call and check again. I had an experience recently where a movie was listed as audio described and the theatre staff thought so too; but it was not. I wrote a nice e-mail to the corporate office expressing my disappointment and requesting a full refund. Some friends have experienced this too and were given free tickets to come backend see another movie.

I give the actual theatre chains a thumbs up. When I went to the movies on my own, the theatre staff was very helpful. They gave me the audio described headset, assisted me at the concession and guided me to my seat. Through some trial and error I discovered that if I sit near the back on the outer row I can navigate with my white cane out of the room pretty easily when the movie is over or if I have to get to the bathroom. I tend to frequent the same movie theatre so I have learned and memorize the floor plan and now have little difficulty with maneuvering around. If worse comes to worse I just ask someone walking by or follow my nose to where I smell the popcorn! That usually does the trick and I am back in the open where tickets and food are purchased. I have found that people are very helpful and will assist you if you need it.

Audio description is an excellent way to enjoy a movie and even with all the ups and downs I would encourage anyone with a visual impairment to check out their local movie theatre. So, let’s go to the movies! Have you experience watching an audio described movie? How was the experience? Did you have any challenges with your headset? Would you recommend audio described movies to a visually impaired friend? Please give your thumbs up or thumbs down in the comment section below.

CVI Volunteer Shares Experience with STARS Program

Submitted by: Lynne Arceneaux, CVI Volunteer

Editor’s note: This week is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. At CVI we honor and value all of our volunteers who assist us with our mission of helping each client we serve to have independence with dignity. Below one of our volunteers shares her experience working with the STARS Program.


Picture of Lynne ArceneauxMy volunteer experience with the Atlanta Center for the Visually Impaired was a stellar one from the very beginning! Following my interview with Lara Tillery, Volunteer Coordinator, and tour of the facility, I was very impressed with both Lara and the organization.

At the Meet and Greet for the volunteers, the staff and fellow volunteers were professional, organized, friendly and very dedicated to children who are in the STARS program. STARS is an afterschool and enrichment program for children with visual impairment. The activities of the program are coordinated in three age groups: first and second graders, third to fifth graders and sixth through eighth graders. My volunteer position was as a tutor to the younger groups and to assist the Art and Fitness teachers with their class activities.

The Staff at CVI is very supportive of their Volunteers and appropriate training and information are provided before beginning an assignment. The STARS Director and Staff members were very welcoming and a joy to work with. We had a great team always working hard, while having a good time, to coordinate the social and scholastic activities of up to forty students.

In the five months that I worked with STARS, I left each and every day with a smile on my face and a sense of belonging and accomplishment. The children in this program are amazing in their dedication to doing better at school, making friends and being part of the STARS team. They are wonderful kids and we had a lot of fun as we learned. It was truly enjoyable to interact with and tutor the partially sighted students with their reading, spelling, social studies, science and math homework. I was, however, very appreciative that we had a math prodigy in our group who was always happy to explain the more complex math problems to his fellow students! I was particularly gratified when one of my students, halfway through the year, told me that he had been placed in an accelerated reading group and had now great hopes of being advanced to a higher grade level next year.

Volunteering at CVI is a great way to make a positive difference and have a wonderful personal experience as well. I am looking forward to volunteering at the Retreat for the older kids at the end of April. I hope to continue volunteering at CVI with the STARS program next September.

Do you have a passion for volunteering? Would you like to volunteer at CVI? If so, please check out our websites’s volunteer page or call Lara Tillery, CVI’s Volunteer Coordinator at 404-875-9011.

The Application Process for Social Security Disability

Editor’s note: This blog post is the third installment in a three-part series about Social Security Disability benefits and vision loss. The first installment explained the disability benefit programs in the US and the second installment explained the eligibility requirements for each. This final installment will focus on effectively preparing and submitting your application for disability benefits.


SSI

As previously explained, disability benefits are available to those who can no longer work due to vision loss or impairment. These benefits are offered through two separate programs—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Although, the application process for each of these programs is often long and complicated, there are certain steps you can take to increase your chances of approval.

Application Preparation
One of the most important steps to submitting a successful application is to prepare ahead of time. In addition to the application forms, the SSA will also need to see medical and financial proof of your disability. Be sure to collect the appropriate records and documents prior to submitting your application. Medical proof may include the following:

  • Documentation of your diagnosis
  • A history of hospitalizations or medical appointments
  • A history of any treatments you’ve received and your response to them
  • Vision tests—particularly those outlined in the SSA’s Blue Book
  • Findings of physical and mental examinations
  • Written statements from your treating physicians.

Non-medical documents will include appropriate forms of identification, information about your family members, financial statements, and records of your previous employment. For a complete list of non-medical requirements, visit the Adult Disability Checklist or the Childhood Disability Checklist.

Be sure to collect as many of these documents as possible. If you cannot access certain records, you should begin your application anyway. Although this may slow down the processing of your claim, the SSA can help you collect any missing information.

Submitting Your Application
Once you have collected the necessary records, you can begin the application process online or in person at your local Social Security office. If you are applying on behalf of a child, you will be required to attend an in-person interview with a local SSA representative.

The actual application is made up of several forms. If an applicant is unable to complete these on their own, a family member or caretaker is allowed to fill them out on the applicant’s behalf. Be sure to take your time when completing the application paperwork. It is important to provide detailed answers. Any missing or incomplete information could potentially cause your claim to be delayed or even denied.

Receiving a Decision
After submitting your application for disability benefits, you may not receive a decision for several months. If your claim is approved, you will receive a letter in the mail outlining your award and payment schedule.

Unfortunately, more than half of all initial disability applications are denied. If this happens to you, do not panic and do not give up. You are allowed to appeal the SSA’s decision within 60 days of receiving your notice of denial. If you do not file your appeal within the given period, you will be forced to start the application process all over again. For this reason, we suggest you file your appeal as soon as possible.

Although facing the appeals process is often overwhelming and discouraging, it is often a necessary step toward receiving disability benefits. In fact, many more applicants are approved during appeals than during the initial application.

Remain organized and persistent in your efforts and you will increase your chances of approval. To learn more about the appeal process, visit the following page:

http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/content/denied-social-security

To learn more about applying for disability benefits with vision loss or impairment, click here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions/vision-loss-and-social-security-disability

We hope that the information we have provided in this three-part series was helpful when applying for Social Security disability benefits. For more information on Social Security go to their main site at www.ssa.gov.