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.

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.

My Experience at the Helen Keller National Center

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.


Helen KellerI 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.

Macular Degeneration Hasn’t Stop My 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.

Beverley FosterI’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.

Adjusting to Vision Loss Support Group

George AceyI 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.

Support Group

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.

Medical Eligibility When Applying for Social Security Benefits

SSI

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.

Why Do We Fear the Blind?

On January 5, 2014 in the Opinion/Editorials section of the New York Times, I read the most compelling and straightforward article about fears, phobias and misunderstandings about the blind. The article was written by Rosemary Mahoneyjan, author of the upcoming book “For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind."

I appreciated her boldness and honesty when talking about a topic that people can often be uncomfortable discussing. People really do fear the blind and this fear has been on-going for a long time. She starts off by sharing some of the historical misconceptions about people who are blind.

She says, "They have variously been perceived as pitiable idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or as mystics possessed of supernatural powers. One of the most persistent misconceptions about blindness is that it is a curse from God for misdeeds perpetrated in a past life, which cloaks the blind person in spiritual darkness and makes him not just dangerous but evil.”

In my years as a blind person, I have experienced all of this and much more. There have been times when my intelligence was challenged or where I was perceived as either being very close to God having more spirituality or totally removed from God and cursed.

She shares about her experience working as a teacher with blind children in the program Braille Without Borders, an international organization that provides training programs and Braille literacy. She talked about the isolation, fear, ignorance and hostility toward her students. But what is interesting is that these same things happen right here in the United States today. She says, “The United States has one of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the world, and yet blindness is still among the most feared physical afflictions. Even in this country, the blind are perceived as a people apart.”

An international blind list group that I participate in discussed the New York Times article. Some of the people in the list group that live in other countries were surprise that the same things that happen to the blind in their countries also happens in the United States. I am not unsurprised by this because human nature and fear can be the same all over the world. As humans we fear what we don’t understand or cannot relate to. Blindness can be something that is unconceivable and hard to imagine.

Out of our five senses, vision is premium providing endless amounts of information. Facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a huge part of how we interact with each other. So if a person is blind how do you interact? How do you have a conversation? How do you share common experiences? How do you connect?

Because we depend so heavily on our vision, we can’t even phathom how to live without it. People pepper me with questions on a regular basis about my life as a blind person. How do you get dressed? How do you put on your makeup? How do you cook? Do you work anywhere? If so, what kind of work do you do? How do you travel? Do you live alone? Do you have children? And the list goes on and on. People are naturally curious and fascinated at how those of us who are blind live our lives. They just can’t imagine that we are able to function and live a happy, prosperous and successful life.

With that being said, the perception of the blind can be that we are amazing, inspirational and super heroes. Even though I appreciate the compliments, I am just a regular everyday person like most people. I get stressed out at times. I laugh at a funny joke. I cry watching a sad movie. I have bad hair days. I live my life much like everyone else. We have to be careful that in our desire to esteem the blind, we don’t go overboard in a way that becomes insulting. Rosemary says, “I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness. There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability and daring.” I personally appreciate this comment and think it can apply to all people - sighted or blind.

I encourage you to read the article and share your thoughts. Why do you think people fear the blind? Can anything be done about it? If so, what? Let’s discuss and help change the negative thoughts and attitudes about blindness. Share your ideas in the comment section below.

CFII Assists with Financial Resolutions

Center for Financial Independence

empish writing check

Most people make a commitment to some kind of New Year’s resolution each year. For some it might be losing weight, advancing their career or spending more time with family and friends. For others it might be getting organized, continuing their education or learning a new language. But I would dare to say that a large number of people have financial resolutions they want to achieve at the top of the list.

Creating and keeping a budget, making plans to save more and getting out of debt are the goals I hear about the most and have actually worked on myself. For the visually impaired community, it could also be finding funding to purchase assistive technology and devices. Achieving these financial resolutions could be a little daunting and stressful if tackling them alone. Having some help from people who are familiar with the financial world and understand the needs of people with disabilities can be a big help and lead to even greater success.

Credit AbleThe Center for Financial Independence and Innovation (CFII) is an Atlanta-based non-profit that works with people with disabilities to help them reach their financial goals and be more independent. CFII was established in 2003 when the Georgia Department of Labor successfully applied and received a federal grant to provide loan capital. This funding would be used as an alternative financing program for people with disabilities to purchase assistive technology, home and vehicle modifications. The program was funded and was originally called Credit-Able.

Now a person with vision loss can apply for a low interest loan to purchase assistive devices such as a CCTV (closed circuit television), braille equipment or assistive software for their computer. Prior to Credit-Able’s creation there were very few places, if any, that a visually impaired person could go to get funding to buy needed devices to be successfully independent. Ronald Menifee, who is visually impaired said, "I contacted CFII about three years ago to get help with purchasing assistive software and office equipment. CFII is a great program and now I am more independent because I can get on the computer and access needed information.”

In 2005, a decision was made to expand Credit-Able to offer other financial services besides just loans for assistive technology, home and vehicle modifications. So CFII was born. Now, not only can a person with a disability get a loan for assistive devices, but they can also receive financial education and counselling, down payment assistance to purchase a home and much more.

I have personally benefited from the expanded services of CFII. A few years ago during tax season, CFII worked with local non-profits in the disabled community to provide tax preparation assistance. I was able to come to CVI and work with a CFII staff person to get my income taxes completed. I preferred working with CFII than hiring a tax preparer, getting a friend to help or doing it myself since they were already familiar with the disabled community and handling financial information.

According to their website, “Since 2005, CFII has provided over $5 million in financing for Assistive Technology, as well as over 1,000 hours of financial education, to more than 350 Georgians with disabilities, their family, and caregivers.”

Here at CVI, clients can get financing to purchase assistive technology and devices at the VisAbility Store. We have partnered with CFII to provide this needed service. All a client has to do is pick up an application at the store and return to CFII for approval. Once the application has been approved, funds will be provided to purchase their devices at VisAbility.

For more information on CFII and their financial products and services log on to www.thecfii.org or call 404-541-9005.

What are Social Security Disability Benefits?

SSA Apply image


Editor’s Note: Many people who are blind and visually impaired might be eligible to receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. Unfortunately, the application process can be confusing and daunting. We are doing a three part series over the next months on the application process for people with vision loss who want information on how to receive benefits. We hope that these upcoming blog posts will help educate, inform and give clarity to this process.

If you or a loved one is blind or visually impaired, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. These benefits can be used to offset lost income due to unemployment and can help cover the cost of day-to-day expenses.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two different benefit programs to help people who are disabled - Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs are intended to provide assistance to different groups of people and, therefore, have separate eligibility requirements.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
The first of these programs, Social Security Disability Insurance, is intended to help disabled workers and their eligible family members. To qualify for SSDI, an individual must be formerly employed for a specified length of time and must have paid social security taxes. These requirements will vary slightly depending on how old you are and the age at which you became disabled.

To measure an applicant’s eligibility, the SSA assigns each applicant a specific number of “work credits.” The longer you have worked and paid taxes, the more work credits you will have earned. Because SSDI eligibility is focused around work history, these benefits are best suited for older applicants who have worked for a significant number of years. You can learn more about work credits and SSDI benefits here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI benefits are intended to provide financial assistance to disabled individuals of all ages who earn very little income. Eligibility for this program is based on financial need. To qualify, your income and financial resources must fall within the parameters set by the SSA.

Because SSI is based on financial need rather than employment, individuals of any age can qualify for this type of benefit. Adults will be evaluated based on their income and any income that a spouse earns. Children will be evaluated based on the income that their parents or guardians earn. Learn more about qualifying for SSI, here: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/text-eligibility-ussi.htm

Qualifying for SSDI and SSI benefits can be difficult. In addition to meeting the technical requirements explained above, all applicants must meet certain medical requirements. Check out the Sightseeing blog next week when we will cover these requirements.

For more information on Social Security benefits, go to www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213.