Notice to the Older Blind: It’s Time We Took Control of Our Future

by Carl Jarvis

Even as our national organization continues to work toward normalization of the blind into the mainstream, our members are aging.  And with age comes another box for us to be placed in.  We are now seen as not only blind, but old.  Old carries with it a great number of misconceptions.
In many ways, we treat our elderly population the same as we treat our very young.  We put their lives in the hands of untrained and underpaid amateurs.  It is past time that our national organization turn its efforts toward bringing the older blind out of the Dark Ages and into the light.
Here is an editorial I wrote last March for the WCB Newsline.
Editorial: Where Have All The Caregivers Gone?
After 20 years out in the field, serving older blind and low-vision folks, and becoming closely acquainted with many age-related needs for which our program is not equipped to be of assistance, I can honestly say that the number-one service provided to the elderly is lip service.
Not only are the caregivers woefully underpaid, there are not nearly enough to provide the level of service needed. In addition, there is not nearly the number of supervisors overseeing the quality of services provided.
There is not enough room to do more than give a couple of examples, but they represent a serious lack in our care for our seniors.
Several years back, we visited an elderly woman who was a double amputee, as well as being visually impaired. She met us at the door on a scooter. She later told us that the artificial limbs rubbed and caused sores that did not heal well. As we entered the living room, we noticed a woman seated in a recliner, watching TV while eating a sandwich. We just figured this was a relative or friend. “This is my caregiver,” she said, introducing the woman by name. We spent nearly two hours doing our initial intake, and the woman never stirred from her seat. The home was not so clean and tidy that there was no work to be done.
On our second visit the caregiver was not present. We asked what sort of things the woman was supposed to do to help. “She’s supposed to clean and prepare meals in advance, so all I have to do is to heat them up.”  So we wondered out loud if she was satisfied with a helper who sat around all day. “I don’t dare complain. She takes me shopping, but she’s not supposed to do that. If I lose her, I’d have a hard time getting groceries.”
In another home, the poor client was being ordered about by her helper. “You need to call the supervisor and have this woman removed from your home. Can’t you get someone else?” She shook her head. “This is the third caregiver I’ve had assigned to me this year. They tell me, if I’m so fussy, maybe I can just get along with no one.” This woman needed assistance every day, but she had someone only four hours, three days a week. And they were cutting that time in half.
As we age and become more child-like, heartless predators move in on us, eager to help us out, out of our life’s savings. Why is it that when we talk about keeping our nation safe from terror, we don’t include our elderly citizens? How does building drones or bullets keep Grandma from having her bank account raided, or Grandpa from being bullied by some angry, underpaid orderly?
We ship billions of our dollars around the world in the belief we are promoting peace and democracy. Since the only people I see benefiting from such generosity are the billionaires, why don’t we let them fend for themselves for a few years, while we spend those dollars helping our own people? Just a thought.