compiled by Ardis Bazyn
This membership focus call was titled "The challenge of aging and blindness, and how ACB can make a difference." The participants on the call had many ideas. This group often doesn't want to identify itself as blind, so it's necessary to reach them where they are. We first identified agencies or places where we could either meet them or leave information to be shared with them. Then we discussed what they might want to know.
One suggestion was contacting the Department on Aging in the local community and offering to assist them with blindness or low-vision resources. ACB affiliates could offer tip sheets with a list of services that would interest those losing their sight. This information could be disseminated to social workers, senior centers, assistive living centers, ophthalmologists, Lions chapters, audiologists/hearing impairment centers (talk with staff), deaf-blind agencies/organizations, state or county aging and blindness committees, support groups, etc. Members could volunteer to give presentations to these groups or at vision-related conferences. Presentations could explain these resources in more detail as well as giving members an opportunity to tell them about ACB and local chapters. Once members are known in the local community, referrals will automatically be sent to them.
Some resources that were identified for newly blind or low vision people were: how to receive National Library Services in your state, paratransit or local transportation options for seniors or people with disabilities, enhance social and recreational activities such as audio-described movies or programs, local services such as homemaking or shopping assistance, specialized gadgets such as needle threaders or other low-tech items, book clubs for blind or visually impaired people, and Tech Access programs in your state that may cover the cost of computers. Another resource that could be disseminated is the organization called Ears for Eyes. It is available nationwide. They have a dozen training cassettes explaining how to learn particular skills in the kitchen, traveling inside your house, etc. Ears for Eyes' toll-free number is 1-800-843-6816. Or you may visit www.earsforeyes.info/ and fill out the form on the "contact us" page.
The Tennessee Council of the Blind applied for a grant from the stimulus funding and received one for two programs. One allowed them to purchase a "traveling tool kit" which included color identifiers, the PenFriend, and other useful items for seniors losing their sight. Now, they can use this resource to inform them by showing the items and how they work.
Many seniors with vision loss do not know about the American Foundation for the Blind Senior Site on www.afb.org. It has many tips to help both seniors losing sight and their families. Some of ACB's special-interest affiliates would be helpful to newly blinded seniors as well. The Alliance on Aging and Vision Loss (AAVL), Council of Citizens with Low Vision International (CCLVI), Diabetics in Action, Visually Impaired Veterans of America, and Library Users of America would have helpful ideas. Encourage local support groups to see what ACB affiliates have to offer them.
The Veterans Administration has a training program for blinded veterans. Many seniors who qualify may not know that the VA provides many tools and equipment for visually impaired people. Two state affiliates have brochures especially for seniors losing their sight. Check the California Council of the Blind web site at www.ccbnet.org and the Washington Council of the Blind web site at www.wcbinfo.org.
The best way to let people know about the resources your chapter/affiliate may have is to encourage your members to be an active part of your community and meet people one on one and talk to them. Make sure your organization is on the charitable resources list for the 211 number in your county. Write papers to send to local service organizations or provide resource lists to them. You can offer to tell them about trips you've taken and how they worked for you. Be out there and embrace everyone and you will reach family members of those with vision loss.
The next membership focus call will be held Jan. 23, 2011 at 8 p.m. Eastern (5 p.m. Pacific). The topic will be involving youth in ACB. The spring focus call will be held on April 25 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. The call-in number is (712) 775-7000 and the pass code is 640009. See you then!