Low vision professionals are a team of service providers who work with individuals with vision loss to help them remain independent and maintain quality of life. These professionals are trained in their specific areas of service. They include ophthalmologists, optometrists, rehabilitation and occupational therapists, orientation and mobility specialists, counselors and social workers.
A Retinal Specialist is a medical doctor who specializes in ophthalmology with specific focus on diseases and surgery of the vitreous and retina. Retina Specialists are highly trained with eight to ten years of education and training. They work with both adults and children in hospital and clinic settings. Retinal specialists treat a wide variety of eye conditions from age-related macular degeneration to retinal detachment and cancers of the eye. They may also treat trauma to the eye and hereditary diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa. To learn more visit the American Society of Retinal Specialists.
Low Vision Doctor or Specialist
A low vision doctor is a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist who specializes in visual impairment when normal eye glasses or surgery is not an effective treatment. This specialist will perform a low vision exam to determine level of visual function and prescribe low vision devices such as magnifiers, telescopes, video magnifiers (CCTV) and other devices that can help a person read and preform everyday tasks. This specialist will train a person with vision loss on the proper use of these products. A patient with low vision should ask their eye care professional for a referral to a low vision specialist if standard treatments are not effective. Read more about a low vision exam.
Vision Rehabilitation Therapist
A certified vision rehabilitation therapist (CVRT) holds a degree in vision rehabilitation and is specifically trained to teach people with vision loss how to safely complete daily living tasks using adaptive techniques and assistive technology so a person can remain independent. Areas of instruction include:
- home management including home repairs;
- financial management and household organization;
- communication skills including capturing and accessing information, reading, braille and handwriting;
- daily living tasks including shopping, money management and personal care;
- indoor and outdoor mobility including public transportation, human guide and white cane skills; and
- counseling including career assessment and adjustment to living with vision loss.
Orientation and Mobility Specialist
A certified orientation and mobility specialist (COMS) helps individuals with vision loss build a repertoire of skills to help them travel independently. A COMS teaches individuals how to use their remaining senses to determine where they are in their environment and how to move safely through that environment. They hold a bachelor or master’s degree and are educated in the function of the eye and understand how various diseases or disorders affect visual function. Orientation and mobility specialists spend many hours under blindfold learning the cane techniques, travel skills and orientation strategies they teach.
Specific skills taught by a COMS include:
- learning the human guide technique,
- use of a white cane,
- planning routes,
- using public transportation,
- understanding cardinal directions,
- finding dropped objects,
- using protective techniques, and
- understanding intersections and traffic patterns and crossing streets
A licensed social worker (LSW) holds a masters or doctoral degree that includes many hours of supervised field work. A social worker’s training has a broad focus with an understanding of the challenges society places on individuals, families and groups with special needs. They can advocate for, and provide resources for, services, counseling and psychotherapy. A licensed social worker has the ability to bill Medicare for services.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LCP) or Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
A licensed professional counselor (LCP or licensed clinical professional counselor LCPC) are mental health professionals holding a masters or doctoral degree and are trained to treat individuals, families and groups with behavioral, emotional and mental issues. An LCPC has undergone the same educational and examination requirements as an LCP, but have also undergone an additional two years of supervised work experience. These mental health professionals can support clients with relationship, career and overall well-being issues. They cannot prescribe medications.
A certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) holds a master’s degree and is trained to help people with disabilities live independently. They work with a wide range of clients including those with physical and sensory impairments, mental illness and chronic disease. A rehabilitation counselor is specially trained to understand the medical and psychosocial aspects of disability, have knowledge of adaptive technology and can assist an individual to return to work. A rehabilitation counselor will assess a client’s abilities and design a strategy to meet the person’s individual goals. A counselor will advocate for their client, provide resources and counseling to help their client move in a positive direction.
An occupational therapist (OT) is a health professional who holds a master’s degree. They teach a person with a physical or emotional disability, injury or illness how to perform daily life tasks independently. They will evaluate a patient, discuss patient’s needs and goals, develop an individualized treatment plan and facilitate the implementation and completion of the plan. The occupational therapist provides hands-on, practical skills and physical and environmental modifications to increase a patient’s level of functioning. Most health insurance companies will cover some or all visits to an occupational therapist.