The Albany Blind and Low Vision Support Group began in 2011 and provides a support system for the visually impaired in southwest Georgia. It was established by Debbie McDonald who has been a tireless advocate in her community for years. Debbie can empathize with support group members as she has had her own battles with medical and vision issues. Debbie had Type I diabetes for 32 years and has endured the ravages of this disease including vision loss, kidney and pancreas transplant, heart surgery and limb amputation. Her mission in life is to support others who experience these difficult challenges. Advocacy and volunteerism is a way of life for her. She serves as a member of many organizations such as Georgia Statewide Independent Living Council, Amputee Coalition of America, Mended Hearts, National Federation of the Blind, Georgia Transplant Foundation, and Project Independence for Seniors. Debbie is the founder and executive director of Limb Support, Inc., a non-profit organization and support group for people with disabilities. She serves as a volunteer at the local hospital and mentors patients who have cardiac surgeries, amputations and transplant procedures. Though she is soft spoken, she makes a powerful impact in her community.
As the facilitator of the Albany Blind and Low Vision Support Group, Debbie believes the key to the group’s success has been the "family atmosphere." The group meets the first Friday of each month at SOWEGA Council on Aging, Kay Hind Life Enrichment Center from 3:00-4:30pm, with the last 30 minutes reserved for sharing a snack, door prizes, and socializing. The mission of this group is "to ensure that blind and visually impaired citizens in the Albany, GA area have a support system available to help them adjust to vision loss and learn life skills from others." Family members are also welcome to attend meetings. There are usually about 12 people at the monthly meetings and the group is diverse in age and eye conditions.
Debbie shares resources with group members and helps them get connected to services such as the Talking Book program, paratransit system, and the Hadley School for the Blind courses. She demonstrates devices like prescription readers, talking thermometers and blood pressure monitors. Other favorite topics for discussion have been listening skills, household tips, and other health related topics. For example, Debbie took a course called "A Matter of Balance" and incorporates fall prevention teaching into her meetings. She even leads the group in stretching activities to "get their blood flowing." They have had a guest speaker present on safe ways to exercise for the blind including chair yoga, Zumba, and hula hooping for fitness. She hopes to start a walking club to encourage the group to walk together at a local hospital where there is an indoor track in the rehabilitation center.
This support group is affiliated with Project Independence, Georgia’s vision program for seniors who provide funds and training for the peer leaders of low vision support groups. With these funds, Debbie is able to pay paratransit costs so members can get to the meetings, provide snacks, and host an annual Christmas party. In the future, she plans to organize day trips for group members using the paratransit system.
Debbie advertises the support group in local newspapers and emails local agencies to inform them of the group. She uses phone calls, a Facebook page (Blind Peers Albany Georgia) and other social media to promote the group. The Albany group continues to grow as a result of her efforts and leadership.
Debbie shared a few tips for other support group leaders. She recommends creating a confidential database on each member to include their eye condition, other health conditions and an emergency contact number to have on hand at the meetings. Also, she suggests that group leaders consider taking CPR training. Debbie stresses the importance of maintaining confidentiality; everything discussed at the meetings is confidential. And finally, she commented that it is important to "show kindness to each group member; they need to know you truly care."
For more information about the Albany Blind and Low Vision Support Group, contact Debbie McDonald at: Deborahk63@aol.com or call 229-888-2789.
Editor’s note: this post was reprinted by permission and first appeared on the VisionAware website on June 6, 2015.