Braille Institute provides support for people with low vision

Low vision support group members doing chair yoga led by Mina Izadsepas.
Low vision support group members doing chair yoga led by Mina Izadsepas.

by Phil Chandler, Owner of Right at Home of Ventura County, Home Care Agency

Many individuals with serious chronic illnesses find that meeting and discussing their illness at support groups provides comfort and tips in dealing with the disease. The Breeze will be highlighting local support groups for several different conditions in the coming weeks.

As we age, many of us will experience vision loss. In fact, the National Federation for the Blind estimates that 5.5 million seniors in the United States are blind or visually impaired. There are many causes of vision loss with age, including Macular Degeneration, Glaucoma, and Diabetic Retinopathy.  There are medications that can slow the progression of vision loss due to these diseases, but it cannot be reversed.

Fortunately, we have resources right here in Ventura County to help people adapt their lifestyles to low vision. The Braille Institute has a regional office in Santa Barbara that sponsors several low vision support groups throughout Ventura County. Locally, a group meets at the Ventura Townehouse at 4900 Telegraph Rd from 10AM to 11AM on the first Tuesday of the month. There are also numerous other support groups throughout the county.

The topics for each support group are selected by its members – there may be a presentation on tips for navigating your house and using appliances, using an ipad, or an overview of the changes in Medicare. One support group had a presentation by UCSB students who were working on devices to help people with low vision.  Other times, they may discuss coping with the emotional impact of vision loss.

In Camarillo, the Lions Club sponsors a bus to take people to the center in Santa Barbara, where they teach independent living skills. There are also academic courses taught by volunteers, many of whom are professors from UCSB. A diverse curriculum is offered – including ceramics, computer skills, languages, and disaster planning to name a few.

Brenda Birdwell, the Braille Institute’s Field Service Manager serving Ventura County, said “The mission of the Braille Institute is to empower people with low vision to lead fulfilling lives”. There are a wide variety of services that the Institute provides. The Institute can send a consultant to your home to do an in-home assessment. With each visit they try to help the participant master one major objective, from navigating the kitchen to using the phone. There is training available on orientation (where you are relative objects around you) to use of a white cane. An extensive library of talking books are available as well.

For more information on these support groups and services for those with low vision, call Brenda Birdwell at 682-6222 ext 8304, or see http://brailleinstitute.org/santabarbara.

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