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.

It’s garden time!

Hands digging in the dirt with a spade.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

This is the time of year that people get outside and feed their bodies and souls by planting gardens. Gardening has become even more popular throughout the past few months as people look for ways to stay active, reduce stress, and think about providing their own supply of produce while staying at home due to COVID-19. Anyone can create a garden with the right guidance.

Although gardening can present some challenges for people living with visual impairment, it is definitely something they can do with limited assistance.

Here are a few tips from a website called Carry on Gardening to help you get started:

Top tips for getting ready

  • If you are just starting to garden with sight loss, you might find it useful to get to know your garden better by walking around it at different times of day until you are familiar with it.
  • Always manage your part of the garden yourself. If you need some help, ask for it for that job, then carry on working alone. This way, you’ll become a much more confident gardener.
  • Visually impaired people can sometimes find it difficult to find their way back to where they were in the garden. One idea is to use an RNIB sound beacon or take a small radio with you and leave it on while you are working.
  • A washing line can also provide a point of reference in the garden and you can use it as a guide to help you know where you are.
  • Think about the job you’re going to do and plan what will make it easier for you. It might be as simple as making sure you have a kneeler with you to save your knees, or a stool or seat to work from or take rests.
  • Get all the tools you’ll need together to save trips back and forth to the shed or garage. Try and keep your storage area tidy and you’ll be able to find your tools more easily.

To review these tips and more, visit www.carryongardening.org.

Success Story: Lisa Sims

Photo of girl with red, mid-length, curly hair wearing glasses and a pink and black top.

“Although I am visually impaired, I try my best to not let it handicap me.” Lisa Marie Sims has lived with congenital motor nystagmus, a vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements, her entire life.

Now 19 years old, Lisa recently began to feel unsafe as she traveled to and from her job at Publix. In early April, she began orientation and mobility (O&M) training with CVI.

“Working with Mr. Ernest helped me learn how to travel safely and Independently,” said Lisa. “I was taking the bus to and from work before training, but he taught me how to feel more confident and safe doing that. He also suggested I begin using a white cane to help me navigate my surroundings and introduced me to a telescope that clips on my glasses helping me to see much further away more clearly. Thank you very much Mr. Ernest and CVI!”

When asked what being able to receive training during this challenging time meant to her, Lisa said, “It means so much to me that words can’t begin to even explain. I am so thankful, and it has given me a great reminder of hope, that even with my disability I can travel safe and independently. I am just one person. There are many other people with disabilities worse than mine, and me personally working with CVI has brought tears of joy to my eyes. I love you CVI, thank you!”

CVI is participating in #GivingTuesdayNow next Tuesday, May 5. You can change someone’s life with your gift on Tuesday or any day. Click here to make your gift.

Tactile Quilts are Great for Babies Who Are Visually Impaired

Tactile quilts are a great gift idea for babies who have a visual impairment. CVI gives one to families that are new to the BEGIN program. Tactile quilts teach babies to explore a variety of textures, and when appropriate, colors and sounds. The quilts can be made with different textures in the squares on the front including lace, fringe, tulle, rickrack, elastic, and anything that is interesting and is washable. Some quilters will also add pockets on the quilt for a searching activity as the child gets older.

CVI recently received a donation of 21 tactile quilts from the Chamblee Star Quilt Guild. Members of the Guild make quilts to donate as part of their community outreach according to Shirley Dobson, a guild member. “We use everything on our quilts including items that make noise like a squeaky toy,” said Dobson.

Here are a few of the ones guild members made this year.

This quilt is for helping a child learn to count in Braille. Has the number and the braille version that they can touch. Colors are browns, yellows and orange.

This quilt has square with a theme of homes. There is a house boat, a castle and other types of homes with many colors including blue, pink, yellow, red and more with flowers, plaids and some strips.

This quilt includes a mitten and socks with fluffy cuffs that the child can feel. There is also a bear face with a raised purple bow. Other items include a square with a moon and a star, and x and o, a sail boat and fish under water.

Are you interested in making a quilt for a BEGIN baby? Below are a few instructions, and for the beginner, here’s a link to quilt making 101 https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-sew-a-quilt-Quilting-101/ that might be helpful.

Instructions:

The quilt is made of nine 12 ½ inch squares set 3 by 3 to give a finished quilt approximately 36 inches square. A 12 ½ inch square could be made of joined smaller squares of different fabrics or colors. You can also make themed quilts, with each square having a tactual picture of things associated with the beach, clowns, airplanes, camping, food, animals, flowers, balloons, etc. The top batting and back are then all put together, stitched and turned right side out. You can finish the inner seams with stitching or ties.

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!