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.
We 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.
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 old 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)
2. See Jane See Program
3. Women’s Eye Health
4. Vision Problems in the U.S.
5. Lighthouse for the Blind
6. VisionAware-Women’s eye Health Section
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.
After 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 says 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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Editor’s Note: March is Womens History Month which is a time to honor and celebrate the contributions that women have made to their communities and society at large. With that in mind, it is fitting for us to highlight Helen Keller, a phenomenal woman that not only had a dual disability, but was a world-wide public speaker, political activist and author. Through her travels, lectures and interactions with people, she symbolized tenacity and leadership. The Helen Keller National Center is a rehabilitation facility named in her honor. Located in New York, the Center provides training and support for those that are deaf blind. Former client, Rickie Corey shares his experience there and how he learned to be a more productive and independent person.
I am a graduate of the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) in Port Washington, New York. It is a world renowned school for the deaf blind. They work with people who are hard of hearing or totally deaf with any amount of vision loss. I was a student from April 2011 through March 2012, and the Helen Keller National Center really changed my life for the better.
I attended other Centers for the blind, but in the late '90s I experienced minor hearing loss. I was told about the HKNC many times, so when I was running out of options, I decided to give it a chance and I'm glad that I did. They give lots of one-on-one training that helps deaf/blind individuals live a productive life, and most importantly, take charge of their life.
HKNC has deaf/blind students from all over the world. They have many options for classes and I was able to take a sign language course. At first, I didn't have the desire to take it because I figured it wouldn't help me when it came to getting a job. But once I got into it, I realized that was not true. The class helped me communicate with other students who had no hearing at all. I was even able to practice with people who had some hearing.
During my training, I had the privilege to go to some of HKNC's tech seminars which was a big help in guiding the deaf blind to communicate. CLC was a communications course that taught communications skills including social, braille, spelling and many other areas that help someone communicate.
In addition to taking classes in the building, we would go out in the community to see how our progress and to help us improve our communication skills. A good example of this was when I went in to the post office and I wanted the postal worker to write a note on a package I was sending. He wanted my instructor to do it because he claimed he wasn't allowed to. My instructor explained she was just helping me to go in there. The postal worker didn't realize what was going on at first, but I suspected that he caught on due to the change of his attitude. I learned to prepare ahead of time even though this was an emergency situation. Another area where I knew I needed to improve upon was spelling, so I wrote in a journal once a week. I also worked on my braille even though I read 96 words a minute. I realized this was helping my attention span and wanted to read even more.
Job readiness was a great experience because I did temporary reception work at the HKNC's switchboard transferring calls to the proper departments. I also worked at a physical therapy center scheduling appointments and taking messages. Using my musical talent, I was able to volunteer playing the piano at a group home. As a student, you get a chance to try different jobs to show your ability. They also had mock interviews to help you improve on your interview skills, just as the job club did at CVI. We got to have informational interviews with employers which helped us learn what employers are looking for.
HKNC has many activities such as art, exercise, and nutrition classes, community service projects, emergency group classes, SSP classes and many more. I learned to love art because I made a dog and a music collage out of clay. This was something I never thought of doing. Our community service class was a way of showing us how to give back. We raised money doing bake sales and helping in the community. I really liked the support service provider courses which taught the deaf blind how the SSP can volunteer for them.
Our case managers really helped us get what we needed for personal and school use. They met with us once a week to make sure everything was okay. The residence staff did lots of activities such as game night, parties and going shopping. We would go to restaurants and even go to the movies.
I write all of this to show how HKNC inspired me. As a board member of the Georgia Association of the Deaf Blind, I encourage and talk to future students to go to HKNC. I see much interest even in the Georgia community. I couldn't say enough thank you’s to the HKNC training and residence staff for what they have done and continue to do. When you come to HKNC, you will learn how to live a productive life and be good leaders for your families, communities, your nation and our world. Which, of course, all goes back to the example Helen Keller strived to set with her own life.
Editor’s Note:February is National Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month. AMD is a progressive eye condition that deteriorates the macular causing a decrease in center vision. During the last fiscal year, CVI provided services to over 500 clients that have macular degeneration. This number reflects CVI’s largest amount of CVI clients with eye diseases. Beverley Foster, a former client and current board member and volunteer, shares her story of how she maintained her independence after her diagnosis.
I’ve never been one to have "pity parties" so when I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s, a macular degeneration disease, in 1995 I didn’t throw one then either. Even though as a young girl I always said that the sense that I would hate most to lose was my sight. I didn’t know what Stargardt’s Disease was, nor that it was an inherited condition that had no cure. Turns out, my mother’s aunt had it and other members of her family had various eye conditions including blindness. I remember my uncle, mom’s brother called her sister “weak eyes”.
My disease progressed slowly until 2013 when I noticed a remarkable change that caused concern. Still, no pity party mostly because in 2006, I found the Center for the Visually Impaired. At first I became a volunteer, then later a client. The training and support I received has helped me remain independent and active in everything that is important to me. After receiving services, I went back to my current post as a volunteer.
Macular degeneration hasn’t taken much from me. I confidently live and travel alone and use public transportation. I also participate in and lead church, civic and social groups. While I am still resisting getting a smart phone, I use my computer with 3.5X reading glasses and a 5X magnifier. I enjoy reading ebooks on my Nook. I watch my favorite TV shows on a big screen television and use other assistive technologies. I sing in two church choirs. Many times, I lip-synch on songs that I have not memorized and can’t see to read the music. I count on the truth of the “God respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing.”
I still get frustrated by macular degeneration when I can’t see the detail in faces to recognize people who are only a foot away from me; or when I'm not being able to read signs or see words on the TV or movie screens if I’m not standing close enough. And even when I'm reading a fairy tale to my adorable 2-year-old grandson. I hope I never see a crime or accident because I couldn’t help or be a reliable witness. But besides these setbacks, I have a wonderful and fulfilling life.
I lost my sight due to a car accident in December 1979. I am thankful that my Ophthalmologist referred me to the Center for the Visually Impaired. I started my rehabilitation training in March 1980. The training that I received included: mobility, braille, activities of daily living, sensitivity training and recreation. This training helped me to realize that my life was not over. It gave me self- esteem to move forward with my life. During the time that I was receiving training, several clients and I would sit in the break room and share our feelings about vision loss. We found this to be very therapeutic and helpful. We approached the rehabilitation manager about starting a support group. The manager agreed and the support group was formed.
The support group is called Adjusting to Vision Loss and is led by a CVI staff counselor and a peer counselor. Even though I finished my rehabilitation training years ago I wanted to stay connected to CVI and give back so I attended peer counselor training classes. I have served as peer counselor for this group since the late 1980s. We have found that this support group is very helpful to individuals adjusting to their visual impairment regardless of how or when they lost their eyesight. By participating in the group, new members are encouraged by the older group members sharing their experiences (how they dealt with frustration, fear, anger, doubt, etc.) and their successes. The older group members show empathy and understanding - this makes it easier for new members to open up and express their feelings about vision loss.
We found that vision loss often causes low self- esteem. You don’t realize what is possible and you don’t see how you will be able to live a fulfilled life. New members are encouraged to attend the support group on a weekly basis. As they attend the group sessions, they begin to learn what is possible. They learn about all of CVI’s services and activities and other resources in the community that will be helpful in their rehabilitation. They are also encouraged to start the process of entering CVI to receive the training that will allow them to regain their independence. They are also asked to stay involved with the group so that they can pay it forward and be a support for someone else.
I have seen many people participate in this support group and they have moved on with their lives. Some have had to change careers, some have remained in the same career and many have been able to live independent of their family. This is why I have been committed to this support group for more than 30 years. I truly believed that this support group and the training provided by CVI help people with vision loss to live with independence and dignity.
Have you ever attended the Adjusting to Vision Loss support group? If so, did you find the experience beneficial? Would you recommend a support group to a friend losing their vision? If you are not familiar with CVI’s Adjusting to Vision Loss support group we encourage you to attend. The group meets each Thursday afternoon from 2:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. at CVI. For more information call 404-875-9011.
As mentioned last month in the first installment of this series, disability benefits are available to those who can no longer work due to vision loss or impairment. These benefits - Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - each have their own technical requirements. You can read more about these programs in my previous post here: sightseeing/social_security/. In addition to the technical requirements explained there, applicants are required to meet certain medical criteria.
In order to qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits, an individual must first meet the SSA’s definition of disability. This definition is split into two parts, one for children and one for adults. These definitions are explained as follows.
1. Adults are considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has, or will, prevent them from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least one year. In 2014, SGA for statutorily blind individuals is set at $1800 per month. The monthly SGA amount for individuals with other types of impairments is set at $1,070.
2. Children under the age of 18 will be evaluated based on a separate definition of disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider a child to be disabled if they have a physical or mental condition that significantly impairs their ability to perform day-to-day activities.
It is important to note that there is no duration requirement for blindness under SSI, meaning that you will not need to be blind for a set amount of time before or after receiving benefits. Also of importance, SGA for blind individuals applies only to SSDI eligibility. SGA does not impact a blind applicant’s eligibility for SSI. To learn more about the different rules and requirements for blind applicants, visit the following page: http://www.ssa.gov/redbook/eng/blindrules.htm.
In addition to meeting the general definition of disability, an applicant will have to meet criteria specific to his or her particular condition. When evaluating your eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA will compare your condition to the requirements found in their official manual of disabling conditions, the Blue Book. Vision loss and impairment is evaluated under Blue Book section 2.00—Special Senses and Speech. Under this section, there are three listings that cover vision loss. It is important that you go over each of these listings to determine which listing is the closest match to your condition. These listings are:
• 2.02—Loss of Visual Acuity
• 2.03—Contraction of the Visual Field in the Better Eye
• 2.04—Loss of Visual Efficiency, or Visual Impairment, in the Better Eye
Note that these listings apply to adults. If you are applying for disability benefits on behalf of a child, you will need to consult the following listings instead:
• 102.02—Loss of Central Visual Acuity
• 102.03—Contraction of the Visual Field in the Better Eye
• 102.04—Loss of Visual Efficiency or Visual Impairment in the Better Eye
Although the Blue Book is conveniently located online, understanding the optometry terminology might prove to be a challenge. If you are having a hard time understanding the Blue Book requirements, you should start by scheduling an eye examination. At your examination, you can sit down with your doctor and discuss the SSA’s medical requirements and he or she will help you schedule the appropriate tests. If you do not meet a Blue Book listing, do not panic. You may still be able to qualify for disability benefits under something known as a medical vocational allowance. Essentially, this means that the SSA will evaluate your age, your abilities, and your previous work experience to determine if you are capable of holding a job. If it is determined that you cannot work, you will be awarded benefits.
For more information about Social Security Disability medical eligibility, visit the following page: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions/vision-loss-and-social-security-disability.
Stay tuned for the final blog post on Social Security benefits, where I will be discussing application preparation and submission.