I know what it is like to live with vision loss and the importance of reaching out for support. I am visually impaired and believe the adjustment process can be made easier by participating in a supportive community with others who are experiencing similar challenges. So three years ago, I started the Envision Support Group in Peachtree City, Georgia. My goal was to educate, encourage and empower people with vision impairments to live more independently and remain fully engaged in life.
I prepared myself to facilitate this support group by taking the Hadley School for the Blind courses “Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness” and “Self-Help Groups, Introduction and Advanced Topics.” These informative courses were invaluable in helping to start a group and understanding what others’ experiences of vision loss may be like. I engaged the support of my local optometrist, Dr. John Henahan of Spectrum Eyecare and collaborated on an article for the newspaper on where to find help for vision loss, announcing my new support group. I had no idea how many people would be interested in such a group and was surprised when people started coming out of the woodwork! The group grew to 21 visually impaired members in the first year. Since blindness affects family members, friends and caregivers, they are encouraged to attend the meetings.
The Envision Support Group is diverse with ages ranging from 20-92 years and all kinds of visual impairments including macular degeneration, glaucoma, optic neuropathies, and retinitis pigmentosa. Despite these differences, members have much in common. Many come to learn how to live with vision loss and find resources. They learn where to get a Low Vision Exam, vision rehabilitation, Orientation and Mobility, and access technology training. Many have been connected to these resources and are in the process of receiving services. Group members share their experiences with navigating through the “system”, dealing with grief and loss issues, and planning for the future.
The group benefits from sharing information, guest speakers and topical discussions. They have learned about the talking book library and many are now patrons. Two members are now learning to drive with bi-optic glasses and one has even returned to full-time employment. Several have been directed to the right specialists for them and are now receiving treatment for their AMD. Family and friends learn how to safely guide and assist their loved ones. Members explore devices and technologies and help each other learn. One young man, who is particularly sharp with computers, offers his assistance to older members who are learning assistive technologies. Envision has had speakers on nutrition, yoga, fall prevention, volunteer opportunities in the community, and stress management. Every year Dr. Henahan attends a meeting and presents on subjects like cataracts and dry eye syndrome. He holds an “Ask the Doctor” session which the group always enjoys. These are great examples of ways peoples’ lives can change by receiving information and support.
The group plans social events and field trips for enrichment. We have a yearly Christmas party and a summer cook-out. We have attended workshops and lectures sponsored by CVI and have even gone to audio-descriptive movies together. A favorite activity is going out to eat at restaurants. These outings provide opportunities for members to practice new skills like traveling and eating in restaurants. But we also serve to build awareness in the community about the needs and abilities of the visually impaired. Sharing time together outside the meetings helps to build friendships among group members. We have become a support system for each other.
The Envision Support Group meets the first Tuesday of each month from 6:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Arbor Terrace Senior Living Center in Peachtree City (201 Crosstown Dr., PTC, 30269) in the multi-purpose room on the 2nd floor. There are usually 10-15 people in attendance and new members are always welcome. For more information contact Audrey Demmitt, RN, at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read her personal blog at www.seeingpossibilities.com –“Navigating Life with Vision Loss.”
Whether you are interested in the Envision Support Group or CVI’s Adjusting to Vision Loss Support Group consider joining a support group in your area so you can get the help you need to live well with vision loss.