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. If you have any questions or comments regarding the blog posts, please send them to Angie Clawson at aclawson@cviga.org.

CVI Brings Attention to Low Vision During Low Vision Awareness Month

Female senior citizen using a handheld magnifier to read something while the doctor looks on.

Early Diagnosis and Rehab Services are Key to Living with Low Vision

Millions of Americans, including many older adults in metro Atlanta, are affected by low vision. Low vision can make it hard to do everyday things like reading, shopping, cooking, or writing. And it can’t be fixed with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medications, or surgery. But there’s good news! Vision rehabilitation can help people with low vision stay independent and make the most of their sight.

Low Vision Awareness Month, which is recognized each February, is the perfect time to raise awareness about low vision and vision rehabilitation services here at the Center for the Visually Impaired.

First, let’s talk about what some of the early signs of low vision are. You might be dealing with low vision if you are having difficulty with the following activities even when wearing your glasses or contact lens:

  • Recognizing the faces of family and friends

  • Reading, cooking, sewing or fixing things around the house

  • Selecting and matching the color of your clothes

  • Seeing clearly with the lights on or feeling like they are dimmer than normal
  • Reading traffic signs or the names of stores

According to the National Eye Institute, these could all be early warning signs of vision loss or eye disease. They say the sooner vision loss or eye disease is detected by an eye care professional, the greater your chances of keeping your remaining vision.

What can you do if you are diagnosed with low vision? Start by reaching out to a vision rehabilitation organization like the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI). At CVI’s Florence Maxwell Low Vision Clinic clients receive a thorough exam to assess their vision challenges. The doctors conduct an evaluation of all aspects of daily living to learn more about a client’s specific vision challenges and assess if glasses, magnifiers or other optical aids would be beneficial to improve their visual function. Devices such as large closed captioning televisions, small pocket magnifiers or audio equipment can all be used to assist someone with low vision needs.

The exam is followed by a visit with the low vision occupational therapist who will work with the client to develop a plan to support the goals of the individual through education and training of devices, non-optical aids and simple strategies to maximum vision. In addition, they are provided information about community services and resources available to people with low vision including support groups and other services provided by CVI that may help them continue to get back to work as well as live independently.

In addition to a low vision evaluation and OT services, individuals who come to the Center for the Visually Impaired also receive assistance with vocational rehabilitation like orientation and mobility, computer training, and job placement support. It is our hope that each client departs the Low Vision Clinic with a wealth of information, assistive devices and a restored faith in their independence and quality of life.

In honor of Low Vision Awareness Month, the Low Vision Clinic staff will set up an information table outside CVI on February 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. so stop by to learn more about the services we provide. You can also check out the devices and products that we carry in the VisAbility Store that can make life easier for you or your loved one living with vision loss. If you can’t make it by, you can also call 404-875-9011 for more information.

Making New Year's Resolutions Stick

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is always a time to reflect on what we accomplished during the year that is ending and begin setting goals for the new one. If you are like so many others, you struggle to keep your New Year’s Resolutions past the first few months despite your best intentions. If this sounds like you, these tips below from the American Psychological Association (APA) might just help you make this year’s resolutions stick.

By making your resolutions realistic, there is a greater chance that you will keep them throughout the year, incorporating healthy behavior into your everyday life. APA offers these tips when thinking about a News Year’s resolution:

Start small

Make resolutions that you think you can keep. If, for example, your aim is to exercise more frequently, schedule three or four days a week at the gym instead of seven. If you would like to eat healthier, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt, instead of seeing your diet as a form of punishment.

Change one behavior at a time

Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. Thus, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Don’t get overwhelmed and think that you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.

Talk about it

Share your experiences with family and friends. Consider joining a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of coworkers quitting smoking. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating.

Don’t beat yourself up

Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.

Ask for support

Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.

And if you are looking for some New Year’s resolution ideas that are not the usual, check out this list at https://parade.com/969195/megangrant/new-years-resolutions-ideas/.

Spotlight on Krista MacCallum

CVI Staff Member’s Personal Journey Inspires her Passion to Teach

“It was my home away from home. STARS provided me with a community where I felt accepted, understood and supported.” Krista MacCallum has gone from a student in the STARS program at the Center for the Visually Impaired to becoming a member of the Children & Youth Services department staff. She is a paraprofessional in CVI’s Preschool Class and an instructor in the STARS after school program, and she loves it.

STARS, which stands for Social, Therapeutic, Academic and Recreational Services, provides programming with an emphasis on the components of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). The ECC includes nine areas of focus: functional academic skills; orientation and mobility; social interaction skills; independent living skills; recreation and leisure skills; sensory efficiency skills; career education; self-determination and use of assistive technology. Krista’s personal experience growing up with and living with a visual impairment gives her a perspective that helps her connect with the students she teaches at CVI.

Diagnosed with Stargartd’s Macular Degeneration, Krista began coming to CVI at the age of 11. She remained part of the program through high school graduation. During that time, she learned to read Braille, type and use assistive technology among other things. In the fall of 2018, she was hired as a paraprofessional when CVI launched the Toddler Class. Krista says that being in that role really opened her eyes to how critical it is for students with visual impairments to receive individualized services that make learning accessible for them.

“I see the excitement each child has when they are presented with an adapted book or tactual lesson because they are able to understand something that they couldn’t before because of their vision loss,” says Krista. “I want to be a Teacher of the Visually Impaired because it makes me so happy to provide these students with what they need to experience learning in a way that resonates with them.”

As a STARS instructor, Krista not only serves as a teacher but also as a mentor. Her own experience as a STARS student is where she developed confidence, independence and the ability to advocate for herself and others. When asked what she hopes her students take away from their time with her at CVI Krista said, “I hope my students walk away with the confidence that they can do just about anything they set their minds to. That even though they might need to do things differently, anything is possible. I hope they will take away how to be an advocate for themselves, work hard and live independent lives.”

Krista is a valued member of our staff. She is helping to inspire future generations living with vision loss to strive to be whatever they want regardless of what limits the world may try to put on them. We are incredibly thankful for Krista’s personal passion, drive and what she brings to CVI.

“I can honestly say that my passion and drive came from being a student at CVI. CVI showed me that I could do more than what the world said I could. I am who I am because of the services CVI provides,” said Krista.

As 2019 comes to an end, please consider making a gift to CVI as part of your year-end giving. Your support will change the lives of so many people and will truly make a remarkable impact on our community. You will help other people like Krista reach their goals.

This is Us is Familiar to Us

This is Us is Familiar to Us
Sheds Light on the Needs of Families Impacted by Vision Loss

By Meredith Snellings, M.A.
CVI BEGIN Program Early Intervention Specialist

In a recent episode of NBC’s This is Us, Kate and Toby welcomed the birth of their son, Jack. The story shed light on some of the emotional realities that parents of a young child diagnosed with a visual impairment face. Many times, family members are unaware that a child will be born blind or with a visual impairment. This news can be overwhelming and may be in addition to other medical events. However, as shown in the show, there are supports in place to assist families with connecting to early intervention services.

The most common ways that the BEGIN Program is connected with families are through referrals from the pediatric ophthalmologist or the statewide early intervention program, Babies Can’t Wait. Sometimes families self-refer and seek out our program, or other early intervention therapists working with the child (PT / OT / ST) may refer or recommend our services to a child’s family. Developmental pediatricians and neurology practices also refer to the BEGIN Program, as the largest population of children with visual impairment in developed countries is brain-based and involves a difference in the way that the brain perceives and processes vision functionally.

Together, a family and the early intervention vision specialist work to make a plan for the child’s future that optimizes all areas of development, learning how to stimulate functional vision, develop compensatory skills and advocate for their child while navigating medical and educational systems. Along the way, a family is introduced to peer families through classes, family events, and group music therapy sessions here at CVI. These friendships and connections are invaluable to the families participating in our programs and can become a lifeline when they need a home base where people understand their needs. Parents and caretakers have opportunities to participate in specialized trainings to learn about the legal structure of Early Intervention and public education and explore topics related to advocacy, self-care, technology and medical professionals.

BEGIN can offer the start of life-long connections, resulting in a supportive family with a vision for the future that recognizes the individual strength and potential of the child. Children may enter the school system with a greater sense of preparedness and often continue to participate in BEGIN’s Programs and eventually transition to Afterschool or Summer Enrichment activities in our STARS Program as they get older.

To learn more, click here.

Volunteer/Donor Gives Hope

BEGIN student using Tomato Chair in class

Volunteer/Donor Gives Hope to CVI Families

By Emily Pack, TVI in the BEGIN Program at the Center for the Visually Impaired

Before this school year, a classroom specifically designed for students with Cortical Visual Impairments (CVI) was merely an idea we hoped to set in to place - a hope that would take a lot of time and resources that weren't readily available. However, we decided that the Center needed to be that place for hope and inclusion for all of our students. One of the biggest needs we had were adaptive chairs called Tomato Chairs that were mobile. This would allow all of the children to participate in all of the activities, and with the help of one generous volunteer and donor, Mr. Ed, we were able to bring this idea to reality.

For the families participating in our CVI 1 & CVI 2 programs, the first day of class brought anxiety about how their child would be included, when so many times before, their child faced difficulties even while in an "inclusive environment." As quickly as class invitations to families were sent out, questions came streaming in. Many of the questions we received were "would the activities be too hard for my child with motor impairments," "will there be any students like my child attending," and "does my child need to be walking to participate?" We did all we could to reassure the families that this class was truly meant to be inclusive.

In early September, our families took their first steps into a brand-new class, and with a sigh of relief, found that for once their child was the norm and not the exception. With a fleet of mobile Special Tomato Chairs, our students were able to dance during circle time, sit with their peers at the art table, and freely move from center to center during learning station. This would not have been possible without the support of Mr. Ed.

When asked about his connection to CVI, Ed said “I was introduced to the Center for the Visually Impaired while serving as President of the Lions Club Camp and began volunteering in the STARS program. I think what CVI does is important for the kids and want to support that in whatever way I can.”

Thankful doesn't begin to describe how I felt watching the children gain independence and their families make connections. While the time spent in class was short, the impact the class has already made is lasting!

Former STARS Student Succeeds On & Off the Goalball Court

Former CVI STARS student Matt Simpson poses in USA Goalball uniform.

Former STARS participant Matt Simpson is living his best life and credits at least part of that success to what he learned at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI).

“CVI showed me from a very early age that living life with a visual impairment did not have to be anything less; less fulfilling, less adventurous, less ambitious,” says Simpson.

Simpson’s first experience with CVI was around the age of four. He was diagnosed with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, an extremely rare condition (1 in 25,000) that occurs mostly in young males. He spent his formative years participating in the STARS (Social, Therapeutic, Academic, Recreational Services) program gaining the skills and self-confidence to be successful in whatever he wanted to do despite his vision loss.

“I found my first role models through CVI,” says Simpson. “The STARS program for school-aged individuals showed me that life was about getting out and doing things, even when someone tells you it’s impossible. That’s a good lesson for anyone blind or not.”

Baseball was his first love, but eventually he turned his focus to sports that didn’t rely on vision as much until one day he was introduced to goalball at summer camp. He had found a sport that provided the same kind of thrill that baseball did and was specifically designed for athletes with vision impairment. He put his all into becoming one of the best goalball players and made it all the way to the 2016 Rio Paralympics where he was part of the Silver Medal winning Men’s USA National Goalball Team.

Since then Simpson has worked for the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and currently serves as the Secretary of the Board for the USABA, as an athlete representative to the Athlete Advisory Counsel of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and as a member of the Paralympic Advisory Committee to the USOPC. Simpson graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2012 as a Johnson Scholarship recipient for leadership and academic excellence and will graduate with a law degree from the University of Virginia in May 2020.

CVI is excited that Simpson will serve as this year’s keynote speaker at Dining in the Dark. Learn more of his story here. And to hear him tell his story in person join us for Dining in the Dark on September 28 at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center. Get your tickets today!

Sensory Garden Brings Nature to CVI Clients

How a Volunteer's Love of Gardening Inspired her to Create a Sensory Garden for CVI Clients to Enjoy

by CVI Volunteer Kelly Spetalnick

As a suggestion from Abra Lee during my interview to apply for the Central Fulton Master Gardener program in 2018, I combined my career as an optometrist and my new-found community garden service to begin designing a garden for the visually impaired. After consulting with the administration at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), where I have volunteered in the past, they invited me to install a new garden in front of the building along West Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta and teach a gardening class to the after-school kids one afternoon a week. From a gentle suggestion, I found a new part-time volunteer job.

The kids range from five to twenty-one years old, and with the ‘shepherds’ that assist, each week brought over twenty students to the dirt world. We worked indoors and out, planted take home gardens, did show and tell with a variety of plants, cooked with herbs from their herb garden, etc., and we hope to eventually have a raised bed garden in the playground.

As of now, we have the inaugural sensory garden in place along West Peachtree Street that touches on a few considerations for the visually impaired and the blind. There are tactile plants such as ‘Frosted Curls’ carex — a soft grass that feels like hair; tiboucina grandiflora — rises large with stiff fuzzy leaves and purple flowers that rise on stalks; various ferns that are feathery or curled or stiff and ragged; cast iron plant — long with flat, waxy leaves that rise and fall like rabbit ears. Scented plants include Royal Standard hosta (summer), paper bush (winter) and Guacamole hosta and Honesty (spring). Sound comes from Northern sea oats’ seed heads dancing in the wind in the fall. Contrast is used to surround plants and divide areas with chocolate chip ajuga, creeping Jenny, vinca major, Solomon Seal and hellebores. There are large pots that elevate plants for clients that cannot bend to the ground and are filled with a variety of native perennials, colorful annuals and succulents. Over forty-six plants are labelled with their scientific name, common name, a QR code that can be scanned for additional plant information and Braille labels with the common name. We even added a doggie poo station for the guide dogs.

With no budget for this project, I had to rely on generous donations to bring this garden to life. The overall effort cost about $6,000 and benefitted from in kind donations of advice, labor, plants, pottery and money from Ameer Mackoul, owner of Green Season Landscaping; Bobby Saul and Dave Smith of Saul Nursery; AW Pottery; Central Fulton Master Gardeners; Comcast and their employees, and a number of local optometrists (Drs. Barr, Grosswald, Carter, Forsche and more). The support of the staff and clients at CVI ensured it was successful, and area Master Gardeners helped in the garden and classroom (thanks, Bob Ruprecht).

As any gardener will tell you, the design is never finished, and we hope to improve on our outreach to the visually impaired population in Atlanta to make sure that they recognize how they, and we, can enjoy nature using all of our senses.

High Museum of Art Provides Engaging Experience for STARS Participants

By Kate McLeod - High Museum
Head of School and Teacher Services

“You mean an artist made this for us?” A child with a visual impairment is seeing a work of art for the first time at an art museum and had just been told that a visual artist recreated Native American on Horseback by Ronald Lockett for their group especially.

The group is part of a program called STARS (Social, Therapeutic, Academic and Recreational Services) at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta, Georgia. This year-round program is for school-aged children with visual impairments and helps them “gain the self-confidence and skills necessary to thrive.” The Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) is located in Midtown, less than two miles from the High Museum of Art. CVI and the High officially began a partnership in 2016 through a Museum Access for Kids contract from the Kennedy Center VSA. One of the High’s overarching goals in the past few years is to grow and expand inclusive programming for all visitors, including students on the autism spectrum and students with visual impairments. And who better to partner with then our next-door neighbors, CVI?

Through this partnership and others, High Museum staff has received training on how to work with visitors with various abilities. For the program with the Center for the Visually Impaired, the High consulted with educators who have previous experience in working with students with visual impairments, including one High Museum docent who earned her doctorate in art education and wrote her dissertation on best practices around students with visual impairments in museum settings. Part of this museum educator’s dissertation was to provide replicas of four works of art from the High’s collection. She learned through her research that each replica should have large font text and Braille text about the art and the artist, a “visual legend” that went along with the replica, a visual reproduction of the work of art, and additional touch objects for students to experience. The docent then trained museum education staff on these best practices. Our path was also paved through generous support from CVI on training education staff on how to work with students with visual impairments, creating Braille text and providing additional best practices on working with all visitors with visual impairments.

From this starting place, the High collaborated with and commissioned four teaching artists to create replicas of four works of art from the High’s collection. The replicas were partnered with the appropriate text and visual legends. On the day of the STARS group’s first visit to the Museum, the objects were placed by the works of art and the tour allowed the STARS participants to see the objects and feel connected to the Museum in a way they had never experienced. Participants also worked with professional teaching artists to create wearable art, inspired by one of the works of art on the tour.

Photo of STARS student experiencing the specially made artwork through touch.

STARS students making artwork with beads and other materials with help from High Museum staff.

Group of STARS participants being guided through the High Museum galleries.

This initial program has been so successful, both CVI and the High Museum are committed to working together in upcoming years to provide access to museums, art, and artists for all children who are blind or visually impaired.