Vision rehabilitation training may be one of the most helpful things for a patient who's been diagnosed with low vision. A knowledgeable teacher can help a patient maximize his vision and develop everyday skills to maintain his independence and quality of life.
What does a rehabilitation teacher do?
She is a trained professional who can help a patient learn adaptive strategies (like how to pour his coffee without spilling it, how to navigate the stairs, and how to use a stand magnifier). She can help assess how well his home is functioning for him (in terms of safety, efficiency, and low-vision friendliness) and make suggestions for modifications. And she can recommend vision aids and teach a patient to use them.
The teacher can also provide a great deal of information about a particular condition to a patient as well as the rest of the family.
The rehabilitation teacher may meet with a patient at an office or in his home. She may even accompany him to the grocery store or for a walk in the neighborhood to teach him skills in action.
When should you consider a vision rehabilitation teacher?
A patient's eye doctor will examine his eyes and determine what kinds of lenses and eyewear will maximize his vision. She may suggest new lenses, protective or reflective coatings, or biopics that supplement his glasses to provide magnification for better vision.
She may also suggest other vision aids or make a referral for rehabilitation training. Another way to find local vision rehabilitation training is through the Lighthouse International Vision Connection, which will also put you in touch with other low-vision resources. The American Foundation for the Blind is another good resource.
How a rehabilitation teacher can help
Here are some of the ways a rehabilitation teacher may help someone with low vision:
- Meal preparation. She may teach the patient to safely slice food, mark appliances for easy use, and employ tricks and habits (like always setting a timer when something is cooking) that will help him stay as independent as possible.
- Orientation and mobility training. The teacher may help him learn to move about safely while he's at home and when he's out and about -- navigating elevators, stairs, and curbs, for example.
- Enhancement of recreation and leisure time. She may help him access and learn to use a reading machine or a CD or tape player. The teacher may be able to find lighting and magnification that enables him to continue with his handiwork and teach him to mark his tools for easy identification.
- Shopping. She may accompany him to the store and help him use vision aids, like a scanner, to read tags. Once home, she can help him develop a system for storing purchases such as groceries.
- Money management. The teacher may show him how to use templates for writing checks, how to bank online with magnification, and how to organize money in his wallet (five-dollar bills folded in half in one area, one-dollar bills lying flat in another, for example).
- Housekeeping. A patient can learn tips for maintaining a safe, clean, attractive home despite his low vision.
- Grooming. The teacher may show him how to use a magnifying mirror for makeup or shaving, how to safely run a bath or take a shower, how to iron his clothes, and other grooming skills.
- Driving. With the help of magnifying lenses, the rehabilitation teacher might be able to help a patient safely keep his driving license.
- Vocational counseling. If a patient would like to continue to work, he may greatly benefit from some help in learning to adjust to his low vision at his particular job. The rehabilitation teacher may be able to provide this help or may refer him to someone else who can.
- Emotional support. The teacher will probably have a great deal to offer in the way of emotional support. And if the patient needs more help coping, she can also help find a support group or psychological counseling.
Do-it-yourself vision rehabilitation
If you don't have access to rehabilitation training for the person in your care, there still are many things that you can try together. If even only a few of these suggestions prove useful, you'll find that he'll benefit enormously.
- Experiment to provide the best lighting in the person's home. A qualified rehabilitation teacher will easily spot what needs to be done, but you may be able to help the person in your care figure out what works best with trial and error. Incandescent light is generally better than fluorescent for those with low vision.
- Make sure there are lights in the closets, under the kitchen cabinets, and in hallways. A gooseneck lamp directly over his reading, cooking, or work area may be useful. Stock his home with flashlights, nightlights, and illuminated magnifiers if he finds those helpful.
- He may be sensitive to glare, so check windows to make sure he's able to close blinds or curtains when necessary. Place lamps below his eye level to minimize glare.
- Use contrast to help items stand out visually. Put a white dinner plate on a dark placemat and a dark beverage in a light cup, for example. (Avoid clear glass, which may be invisible to the person.) Install a dark outlet plate around a light-covered outlet or a light-colored switch on a dark wall (or tape around the switch cover with bright-colored tape).
- Choose contrasting colors for everyday items like soap and towels. When running water in the tub, have the person place a brightly colored object that floats in the water, so he can tell when the water is high enough. Mark kitchen and clock dials with bright nail polish, felt markers, bright stickers, or a black marker. Mark steps in his home with contrasting colors of tape.
- For television, a bigger screen isn't always best. He may do better with a smaller screen with better resolution near his chair than with a large screen with poor resolution across the room.
- Count the way. Count the number of steps to the basement with him, so every time he gets to that last step he knows he's there. Have him count which mailbox is his from the right or left, and how many turns to the right the delicate or regular cycle sits on the washing machine knob.
- Get organized. Declutter and simplify are the first rules of organization, especially for those with low vision. Reducing the number of items in the cupboard will make it easier for him to locate just what he needs.
- After shopping , label new products using large white labels and a thick black marker.
- Help him preset the buttons on his phone and organize his fridge, cupboards, wallet, and so on. Work together to come up with systems so he can find things he needs at any time, even if you're not around. Drawer dividers can separate different-colored socks or kitchen gadgets, and a caddy on the side of the bed can help him keep track of his glasses, a flashlight, and tissues.
- Educate yourself. The more you learn about the person's condition -- from professionals, others with low vision, and the patient himself -- the better you'll be able to help. Vision loss is often progressive. If that's the case for the person in your care, he's continually having to readapt to his situation. Having you (and, ideally, a rehabilitation teacher as well) to help him problem-solve will be invaluable.