Vision Rehabilitation Therapy: The Invisible Profession?

September 15, 2015 | Leave a Comment

by Polly Abbott, CVRT

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I have just returned from my first Association of Vision Rehabilitation Therapists conference.  A re-occurring theme of the conference was how under-utilized vision rehabilitation therapists (VRT) are, especially by doctors, educators and vocational rehabilitation professionals working with clients with vision loss.

Are VRTs Invisible?

As a profession, we are practically invisible. No one is quite sure how this happened.  Perhaps it is because our name creates confusion about what we do.  The name implies something to do with helping vision, but our expertise is actually coping with blindness.  A story I heard from a CVRT with 30 years’ experience made me wonder if we are invisible to the people we help as well.  Is it possible not to realize that vision rehabilitation therapy is happening to you? I believe so.

Once Upon a Time

John worked for most of his career providing direct service to clients in their homes.  A long time ago, he had a client who was a 104-year-old woman with macular degeneration.  She loved playing cribbage, but could no longer see the board or her cards.

In typical VRT fashion, John painted a cribbage board in high contrast colors himself (commercially made boards didn’t exist yet).  With the new cribbage board and a deck of large print playing cards, John and his client spent several afternoons happily playing cribbage.  I can picture John explaining why that black and white board was so much easier to see and making suggestions as to other areas where color contrast and large print would help his client.

The Outcome

Here is the “invisible” part:  The woman remembers pleasant times beating the pants off John at cribbage.  What John remembers was using her desire to read the cards and see the holes on the board to teach her the skill of eccentric viewing.  With John’s coaching and guidance, his client had learned that if she looked left and up, she was able to use her peripheral vision to see the cards in front of her well enough to read them.  With practice, she got faster and better at it.  From then on, any time she wished to see a person’s face or read the large print label on her pill bottle, she knew to look up and left.  After all the cribbage games, it became the natural thing to do!

The Point of the Story

Have you ever thought about why Second Sense offers some of the programs it does?  Well, braille is easy to explain, but why do you think fun things like sewing and knitting are also offered?  The goal is not to create a world of crafty people.  When you are learning a craft, you also are:

  • developing spatial awareness,
  • increasing tactile sensitivity ,
  • practicing organizational skills,
  • making use of any braille or technology skills as you record how to do a new stitch or note the date of your next class,
  • finding a reason to travel independently and practice your mobility skills,
  • acquiring a skill that has been proven to lessen the negative effects of stress,
  • connecting with a group of peers to combat the social isolation and depression vision loss might be causing, and
  • gaining confidence to learn the next skill.

All of these eventually lead to being a confident, independent and happy person:  The goal all VRTs have for you.

So next time you are in a class or a group, ask how learning this skill is going to help you.  If you already know why you want to learn it, ask what other ways the skill will help you in your life.

If you are not sure what to do or where to start in order to get your life back on track after vision loss, I invite you to give Second Sense a call and we can plan that next step together.

Polly is the Director of Rehabilitation Services at Second Sense.  She is a Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist with over 15 years of experience providing training to adults with vision loss.

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