Volunteer group plans meetings to aid people losing vision

It could start as simply as suddenly struggling to read a Newspaper.

It could happen gradually, or perhaps over night.

But when seniors begin to lose their vision, many of them begin to feel their world closing in around them – and a group of volunteers from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind is telling such people that losing their sight does not mean they have to shut down their lives.

In fact, they are hoping to teach people losing their vision that there are many ways to cope with the problem, and some new equipment on the market that can creatively solve a large number of their issues and let them get back to enjoying their lives.

Tommi Roden, Thelman Ashbourn, Gord Cummer, and Diane Barley visited the Wellington Advertiser officer on Aug. 19 to talk about a program being offered in Elora this fall. It is called New Horizons, New Dreams, and it is a free peer support program, where, they said, all people need to attend is a smile – even some of the guests can’t see them.

Cummer said CNIB started the program a dozen years ago for those with vision problems, or those anticipating problems.

He said there will be two or three leaders of the program being held at the Heritage River Seniors home in Elora. It will run for eight weeks, starting on Sept. 22 at one pm, and the seven following Wednesdays at that time.

All four of the group suffer some type of vision difficulty. Cummer said facing the loss of the ability to drive can be traumatic, but they believe, he said, “It’s not as bad as you think. There are ways to cope.”

Ashbourn added, “You’re not alone.

Barley noted, “It’s not as bad when peers … can explain coping skills.”

Roden said, “There are different aids to help.”

Everyone in the group particularly loves talking books. The CNIB has the largest library of talking books in Canada located in Toronto, catering to every taste in literature.

Roden noted that using new technology, even huge books can be placed on a single compact disc, and she said volunteers or even actors do an excellent job of reading.

Cummer said the CNIB spends $10-million per year on its library, and can see to it that anyone can access those books.

Ashbourn said people can call the library and staff will ask what kind of books people like, and send those, or there is the option of going on line and ordering them.

She said she is relatively new to volunteering for CNIB and she had no difficulty using the service.

Barley said their own vision loss attracts them to helping others with that problem. “I have a vested interest that everybody with vision loss can change their life if they want help.”

Cummer explained that CNIB has specialists who offer distinct services, depending on the disability. He said some can teach people to cope with mobility issues such as using a can, and how to get around the neighbourhood, and others are specialists in low vision aids. Still others can help people rearrange the lights in their home for maximum help to see.

All four have personal magnifiers that they use to read restaurant menus, and they range from a stamp magnifying glass that Cummer got at a stamp shop to others that are larger for those who need more magnification when dining out.

Ashbourn cited a CCTV set up that has a camera and a monitor. What is shot on the camera comes immediately onto the monitor, so people who film a recipe can get it in large type when cooking. She likes it so much she got a second one, used, to use in her trailer.

The New Horizon New Dreams program will include:

– beginning the journey;

– hearing one another;

– letting go and moving forward;

– courage to move;

– on the move;

– seeing with feeling;

– reflections and visions; and

– new beginnings.

There are also a number of discussion topics as part of the program. Those are:

– dispelling the myths;

– eye pathology and behaviour;

– processing the loss;

– mobility inside and outside the home;

– daily living skills; and

– sight enhancement.

Cummer said the program is designed for people age 50 and up, and is designed around the needs of that particular age group. He said, though, that anyone is welcome to the series at Heritage River. The meetings will be held in the chapel and moving screening room.

He added there is a similar program for teens, and another for those who are working age. Some of those have programs have even been done by telephone conference.

The four, who all noted proudly they are unpaid volun­teers, are strongly independent.

Cummer said it can be difficult for a senior who has had the same doctor for years to suddenly have to change. That happened to him.

“If you’re not happy hear­ing from your doctor, change doctors. I found one who wanted to treat me.”

He added that going to the same doctor might mean a patient is getting adequate care, but, “You need more than that adequacy.”

Barley said peer support is very important. “We find ways to make things work.”

Ashbourn added that some people attend simply for the social aspects, while others gain a great deal from the coping strategies.

Roden said of her own attendance, “I feel better.”

While everyone is wel­come, the organizers ask that if possible, people register in advance by calling Diane Gallately at 1-800-265-4127. They added, though, they will admit those who just show up.