Need Financial Assistance to Purchase Access Technology and Devices for the Blind?

 

 

Assistive Technology Fund

The Association of Blind Citizens operates the Assistive Technology Fund. The Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) will provide funds to cover 50% of the retail price of adaptive devices or software. The ABC board of directors believes that this program will allow blind and visually impaired individuals access to technology products that will have a significant impact on improving employment opportunities, increase the level of independence and enhance their overall quality of life.

The products covered by this program must retail for a minimum of $200 with a maximum retail price of $6,000. Persons eligible to apply for assistance must have a family income of less than $50,000 and cash assets of less than $20,000. Applications will be reviewed by the Assistive Technology Committee (ATC) and recommendations will be submitted for board approval. If applicants are selected to receive a technology grant, applicants will be asked to provide documents such as tax returns, bank statements and any other documents that the ABC board or it’s designee would deem necessary to assess financial need for the grant.

Applicants must be legally blind and a resident of the United States to qualify for this program. Applications must be submitted by June 30th and December 31st for each grant period (two per year). Applicants will be notified if their request for a grant is approved. Applicants may submit one request per calendar year. All applications must be submitted via e-mail. You will be notified by ABC within 45 days after the application deadline. The grantee will have 30 days after notification to purchase the product. If the purchase cannot be made within 30 days ABC reserves the right to withdraw the award and assign it to another applicant. All decisions are final.

You may fill out the request form below by pasting it in to your word processor and emailing it to: atf@blindcitizens.org.

Important: Requests must be received via email only, by June 30th or December 31st. Please do not use attachments when submitting your request.

Association of Blind Citizens Assistive Technology request form

 

Name:

 

First Line Of Address:

 

Second Line Of Address:

 

City:

 

State:

 

Zip:

 

Telephone Number with area code:

 

Email address:

Provide a description of 500 or fewer words of the device you wish to purchase and how it will help you achieve employment or increase your independence.

 

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Trina’s Job Hunt:Perseverance Pays Off

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I invited a Seeing Possibilities reader to share her story here in hopes that it will inspire and encourage other job seekers. Trina Bassak has a doctorate in Physical Therapy with 25 years of clinical experience. She enjoys yoga, gardening, and roller skating. Trina and her husband are Master Gardeners and 4-H leaders. If you would like to contact Trina, her email is: tdbassak@frontiernet.net

About Myself

I was born with glaucoma which was diagnosed at age six and already had tunnel vision. I had a retinal detachment after yet another glaucoma surgery the summer after high school and went to college with low vision.  I always knew I wanted to be in a medical career. Once I was exposed to physical therapy, that was what I wanted to do without question.

Some accommodations were made after more glaucoma surgery in college (assist for reading and special bright-colored markers in cadaver lab). Then two years after graduation, employed in an outpatient clinic, my other retina detached after glaucoma surgery again. I continued to work totally blind and then returned to school in 2009 to get my doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) degree.

I worked and went to online school for three years and graduated in 2011. I used my computer with JAWS, Open Book OCR and had a reader to assist with the school work. The college let me take extra time for testing. I also went to massage school as well and graduated in 2000. I was afraid advancing technology in my field may not be accessible and this might force me to change professions. So I wanted to prepare.

The Job Hunt

I have had a difficult year searching for a job and it is finally over. The frustration level was much more than I ever imagined and I thought maybe sharing it with others may help someone on the verge of giving up on their own job hunt.

I have been a physical therapist for 27 years in Pennsylvania and for 25 of them, I have been totally blind. I left a long-term position to relocate to Florida, for family reasons, thinking I would find another position in a reasonable amount of time. I moved to a very rural area and the people were not accepting of outsiders, yet alone a person who is blind!  There were only a few clinics within 20 miles and no public transportation. I didn’t even make it to the interview stage and that was without disclosing my visual deficit!

My husband and I decided it was not the area for us and we began to investigate opportunities in Colorado. There were more job openings, great weather in the southern region, gorgeous mountains and friendly, accepting people. This led to a second move after only 7 months!  I applied online, made phone calls and contacted agencies that I thought could be useful. I even started looking in other related professions such as healthcare advocate.

I interviewed on the phone and even went to Colorado twice before moving for in-person interviews. One company flew me out and provided us with a car and hotel accommodations. I passed all their work lift tests and drug screens and thought I would get an offer. They declined me after 6 months, claiming they could not accommodate me. This was one of many rejections – at least 12-15…I stopped counting.  I started looking at other career options again. I applied online and contacted people with experience working from home. This included customer service, writing articles, and data entry. I really love my profession and working with patients, but was getting discouraged by the many barriers to employment.  I kept remembering the saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   At this point, I was frustrated, angry, getting depressed and cried a lot more than I ever had in my life.  I very much identified with being a physical therapist and my feelings of self-worth and self-esteem depended on my work, I came to realize.

Getting Discouraged…

My husband and I argued all the time and things were not going well.  At a very low point, I knew I had to do something. I then decided to take any position I could find and started looking at both therapy and non-therapy positions. On an impulse, I started calling chiropractors who seemed to work in conjunction with physical therapists. My focus was still on working in an outpatient clinic setting, which I believed would be the most accessible for a blind therapist. Or was it…?

Got the Job!

Finally, I received a call from an operations manager for an outpatient clinic and home health agency called AIM Home Health in Pueblo Colorado. We talked a bit and I learned they did not have an opening in outpatient. He wanted to meet me and discuss the opening in home health, even after I disclosed my visual limitations.  After a few meetings, I was offered a position as a home health therapist and I accepted the job.  The company offered to provide me with a driver who also would assist with computer work and home orientation, and a company car to do in- home treatments.

I contacted the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation upon arriving in Colorado and they started my application process immediately. While I was waiting to be accepted, I found a job on my own, which changed my plan with them. Instead of helping me obtain a position, they were now assisting with work accommodations. They sent an access technology specialist to assess the computer system which is already partly accessible. I am working out the necessary accommodations, learning the job, and orienting myself to new environments. It all has definitely been an adjustment for me.

Trina doing physical therapy in a client's home

Trina with client Nicole Turner

The biggest adjustment has been working in new environments-not knowing where everything is all the time as I did in an outpatient clinic. I don’t have control of the situation as I did previously but I still have to present myself as a confident and competent therapist. It seems to be going okay so far but I am constantly striving to make it better. My assistant and I are getting used to each other and she is learning how to provide me with directions. She is not used to being around a blind person and I am doing silly things since she doesn’t know how to tell me where things are.

Soon we will fall into a routine.  I am grateful for her help and the opportunity this company has provided me. I am a good therapist and just needed to be given a chance and some accommodations. I keep wondering what I would be doing now if I had given up the search. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again, I’m glad I tweaked my search and opened myself up to new opportunities. It feels like the right place for me now.

Don’t Give Up!

Anyone in search of a job needs to be persistent and look at all opportunities and options, even if they don’t seem feasible.  I was on the verge of giving up but chose to continue forward. Now I completely understand why many people do give up.  During this difficult process, something in job preparedness needs to be done every day. Whether it is working on a resume, searching for openings online or in newspapers, making phone inquiries, networking, expanding your knowledge by taking online courses, or reading articles of interest…just do something! Perseverance will pay off; maybe not in the way you initially thought but open yourself up to new ideas and experiences.

Trina in the tomato patch

Trina in the tomato patch

 

The Transportation Problem

Finding Rides When You Can’t Drive

Audrey on the side of the road with her thumb out and a sign that reads "Going My Way?"

Hitch Hiking is Always an Option!

One of the most difficult challenges for people with vision loss is finding reliable and affordable transportation. Whether you have had to give up your driver’s license or never had the chance to drive, it is an adjustment fraught with emotion and a sense of loss of independence. In this mobile, fast paced, car-loving society, who among us has not longed to get into a car and drive? Oh the joy of running errands on your own schedule or simply being able to spontaneously meet a friend for lunch. Those days are long gone for me; I lost my driver’s license 24 years ago due to vision loss. It was a real game-changer to be sure. However, life can be lived even after this happens. Life without a license to drive calls for innovation, networking, and advocating for yourself especially if you live in a community that does not offer public transportation.

Relocation For Greater Independence

At the time I lost my license, we lived in the cornfields of rural Indiana. My husband and I quickly realized this location was not going to work for us; we had three young children to raise and I had a career I wanted to pursue. So, we relocated to Georgia. We discovered Peachtree City which is in a rural county south of Atlanta. While it does not offer any forms of public transportation, it has 100 miles of golf cart paths and walking trails that connect the whole city. For years, I drove a golf cart to work, school, shopping, piano lessons, ball games and anywhere my busy life required. As my vision declined, my children were old enough to drive me and we survived a few more years on the golf cart paths. Then my kids got their drivers’ licenses and we bought a second car. They each took turns being my chauffer. Before long, they all left for college and I found myself looking for new transportation options. I got my first guide dog and began to walk to work and to the closest stores. But there are many places I cannot get to on foot and there are still no buses in town. So I had to get creative and assertive about finding rides.

Meeting The Challenge

I rode to work for a while with a neighbor who worked at the same place I did. Then her job changed and she moved. I then recruited college students from a local campus and several individuals as drivers for pay. We would discuss the price up front, which I based on mileage reimbursement plus an hourly wage. To find drivers or rides, I advertised my need for transportation in the neighborhood newsletter. Also, I contacted the local Lion’s Club to explore options with their volunteers. Often, I can get errands done with friends who do not accept payment and I buy their lunch in return. When my children were young, I arranged carpools and rides for them in exchange for my babysitting services. It is important to plan your rides in advance, communicate clearly with your drivers, and organize your outings to make the most of the trip.

Tips on Getting Around

Here are a few more tips to address the transportation dilemma:

  1. Some people keep their vehicle and hire a personal driver. You may want to advertise locally, interview candidates carefully, do a background check, ask about their driving record, negotiate fees, and secure appropriate insurance coverage. This option involves other expenses such as car maintenance, registration and tags, insurance, and gas.
  2. If relocation is an option, consider areas where there is public transportation; fixed route buses, paratransit, and public transit. Look up the Walk Score (www.walkscore.com) of areas that may interest you to find the “walkability” of the community. Consult a realtor about the rising number of “live- work-play” communities (http://plannersweb.com/2013/09/a-place-to-live-work-and-play/)   that offer the conveniences of city life with less stress, decreased need for driving, and a healthier walking lifestyle.
  3. Some communities offer a “voucher transportation program” through the senior services or community services center. These programs are subsidized by federal and local agencies to provide transportation for seniors and disabled adults. The rider buys a book of vouchers at a low cost and exchanges them with a certified driver at the time of service. The driver then cashes in the vouchers for a subsidized amount.
  4. Some local churches or community groups may have “volunteer” transportation programs that provide rides free of charge to qualified people.
  5. Local taxi companies may be willing to negotiate discounts for disabled passengers who frequently use their services.
  6. There are new “rideshare” services cropping up such as Uber (www.uber.com) and Lyft (www.lyft.com) in most major cities nationally. These services offer rides on demand within minutes in private vehicles, as taxi alternatives. They have mobile apps used to request the ride and handle fees electronically.
  7. Expect to pay for rides and budget accordingly. If you owned a car and drove, you would have a myriad of expenses to maintain your own transportation.

Accessible and affordable transportation is in short supply in many communities. Federal and local governments struggle to maintain programs and find resources to meet the needs of low income, senior, and disabled citizens. Shortfalls in funding have resulted in cutbacks in services and routes, and even the folding of paratransit programs in some communities. People need rides to maintain employment, good health and quality of life, and engagement in the community. It is imperative for the visually impaired community to be pro-active in managing their transportation needs. Lack of transportation can lead to isolation, unemployment, loss of independence and even depression. We must take charge, self-advocate and be creative when it comes to addressing this area of our life.

The Summer Camp Experience for the Blind and Visually Impaired

When I was ten years old, I went to summer camp with my best friend. To this day, that week is memorialized as one of the best weeks of my life. The camp offered a variety of sports, games, talent shows, arts and crafts, swimming lessons and wilderness experiences. There was so much to try for the first time. I was beyond myself with excitement and enthusiasm. Besides the fun activities, every meal in the mess hall and bedtime in the bunks was a time of laughter, songs, pranks and socializing with new friends. Oh and let’s not forget the “cool” counselors who shepherded us through the week’s program; we watched them and wanted to be like them! The summer camp experience can be life-changing.

Some years ago, I was the camp nurse for Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind. I was struggling with my own vision loss at the time, but still working as a school nurse. I spent 7 weeks caring for campers of all ages from preschoolers to seniors. It was an inspiring and empowering experience not only for the campers, but for me. I learned so much from observing the campers and playing alongside of them. They had such exuberance and eagerness to try new things like climbing the rock wall and horseback riding. One six year old boy who was totally blind since birth conquered the climbing wall while his mother and camp staff looked on through misty eyes. When he reached the top and rang the bell, he was giddy with accomplishment and exclaimed “Look at me! I’m so high up!” For many campers, it is their first time to be away from home and the watchful eyes of parents. It is the first exposure to many new experiences like canoeing, camp-outs, adapted sports like beep ball and goalball, and tactile arts and crafts. They quickly become a part of “the group” and feel included and accepted, while learning from each other. It is a place where their disability does not make them different. The growth and learning that takes place in a camp setting is invaluable and cannot be replicated. There is often a sort of magical transformation that takes place in a camper. And they leave with powerful memories of being included, succeeding at new activities, tasting independence, and making new friends which can change them forever.

Camps that are designed for special needs can accommodate campers in unique ways. The Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind is a visually impaired friendly environment. They use rope lines to help guide the campers to different areas. In the buildings, the wood work is painted in high contrast for better visibility. The pathways are straight, flat and uncluttered. The staff receives training in vision rehabilitation techniques and many are interns or professionals in the field of vision rehabilitation therapy. The program integrates recreation, education, rehabilitation and social development, with a hefty component of play therapy. Have you ever played in a huge mountain of bubbles spewed from a bubble making machine? It was a highlight at camp. In other words, the environment is safe and the staff is trained and knowledgeable. It is an ideal opportunity and atmosphere for campers to explore interests, discover special talents, and stretch personal limits in a physically and emotionally safe environment.

So, what did I learn from my experience at the Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind? Well, I came away with a new “can do” attitude after watching campers conquer new tasks. I learned to try to do things in a new way. I enjoyed being part of the community of visually impaired, realizing I was one of them for the first time which helped me accept my disability. I came away empowered to learn new skills to live with my blindness. Somehow, the kids instilled in me a new-found courage to move forward by watching their fearless approach to activities. I learned to play again and have fun in bubbles, water and mud. I played beep ball (adapted baseball for the blind) and loved it. I learned at the talent show that we ALL have talents. We celebrated and shared our unique talents and “abilities,” while our disability faded into the background. I was truly inspired by campers’ attitudes and accomplishments as well as the staff’s dedication to serve this population. My time at the Lions camp rivals my summer camp experience as a child. It was most memorable and life-changing.

There are summer camp programs for the blind and visually impaired of all ages. Many schools of the blind have summer camps such as Perkins and Colorado School for the Blind. Leader Dogs for the Blind offers a summer camp program for teens which is free, including airfare. Lions Clubs International has special needs camps throughout the world. Everyone should experience summer camp at least once in their life. And you are never too old to go to camp. Who knows, you may come away with new confidence, courage, independence, playfulness, friendships and a spirit of adventure.

For more information go to:

http://www.blindcamp.com/   National Camps for the Blind

http://www.lionsclubs.org/EN/our-work/sight-programs/sight-services/camps-for-the-blind-and-visually-impaired.php    Lions Camps for the Blind/Visually Impaired

http://www.perkins.org/resources/scout/recreation/summer-camps.html  Perkins School Summer Camps

http://www.leaderdog.org/clients/programs/summer-experience-camp   Summer Experience Camp

 

smiling camp staff

Nurse Audrey with girls’ counselors

group of people dancing in a mountain of bubbles

Bubble Fun at Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind

Adjusting My Career to Vision Loss

The day I graduated from the University of Arizona in 1983 with a nursing degree was a personal triumph. I looked forward to a career I dreamed of since childhood. I was certain I had found my life’s passion in nursing and my future was full of promise and excitement. Then at age 25, a vision exam turned everything upside down. The diagnosis was Retinitis Pigmentosa and my future became uncertain.

A long journey followed as I struggled to adjust to vision loss and redesign my life and career. In the early stages of visual changes, I continued working in a hospital. My husband and I started a family. I tried not to think about the future possibility of more vision loss. At age 30, with three children and a part-time job at the local hospital, I lost my driver’s license. This was the first of many losses which would change my life forever. Grief, depression, isolation, frustration and disappointment set in. My life and career were not shaping up as I imagined.

For the next ten years, my vision deteriorated slowly. I struggled to keep up at home and on the job. There were times when I doubted my abilities to be a good nurse and mother. My husband and I pulled together and found creative ways to get around obstacles. Always supportive, he affirmed me and encouraged me to continue to pursue working as a nurse. Eventually, I gave up working in the hospital setting when the pace, lighting, and technical duties limited my ability to function. It was difficult to let go and even more difficult to find the next job. There was much to consider: personal limitations, employers’ reactions and concerns, transportation problems, co-workers’ attitudes and more. Out of sheer determination, I landed jobs in a variety of settings from student health on a college campus to doctors’ offices. Sometimes it required hiding my visual impairment, which was very stressful. On one job, I was confronted with it and told I was “too great of a liability” and let go. Through many such experiences, I learned to defend my work, advocate for my rights, present my limitations to employers and co-workers, and find resources that enabled me to perform the essential duties of my job. At times I wanted to give up, but was always driven by my passion for nursing and the belief that there was still some job out there for me. After all, nursing is more than the ability to perform technical tasks. It is more often about understanding patient needs, giving care and comfort, exercising skilled judgment, and educating patients and their families. With low vision, I could still do these things. The challenge was always in finding the right job, presenting myself as a capable and conscientious practitioner, and working out the transportation conundrum.

In 1994, I was declared legally blind. Undaunted by this, I found a job as a school nurse when we relocated to Georgia. This environment proved to be ideal and I enjoyed years of support and collaboration with my principal, the staff, students and parents. But it was not easy…it was never easy. The role was challenging and the job required lots of paperwork. I was having problems with mobility and reading printed word by then. So I sought vision rehabilitation services. I received a low vision evaluation, assistive work technology training, orientation and mobility training, and daily skills training. This was again a redefining and redesigning of self. For now, the vision impairment was known to all. Though I have never “looked blind”, all the new accoutrements and trappings proved it was so.

Upon returning to school one year, I had three serious falls in the first two weeks of school. I was tripping on obstacles I did not see because they were in my blindspots. I sustained minor injuries such as bruises and a sprained wrist. However, falls were becoming a growing concern both to me and my employer. At that point I realized I needed to take the initiative to keep myself safe in the workplace. An orientation and mobility instructor trained me in the use of a white cane and fall prevention.Before I began using the cane “publicly”, I asked to speak to the staff about this change. I wanted to allay their concerns, assure them I could still do my job, and ease the transition for myself. So I spoke at a faculty meeting and explained the whys and hows of using a cane for personal safety.

Assessing a student at school

Assessing a student at school

By now, I was using many tools and devices for low vision. I wore thick magnifying glasses which the students called my “goo-goo goggles”. A large video magnifier helped me read. I used hand held magnifiers and special lights to assess skin rashes and other boo-boos. ZoomText enabled me to manage student files on the computer. Eventually, I introduced the school to my first guide dog, Sophie who quickly became a beloved school mascot. I adopted a straightforward way of explaining these tools and taught the school community what it means to be visually impaired. I developed a no-nonsense approach to problem-solving and self-advocacy in order to keep my job and do it well. I demonstrated that people with disabilities are capable of contributing in meaningful ways. I learned to be tenacious and resilient. And I was grateful for the opportunity to practice nursing.

Sophie and I at JC Booth Middle School

Sophie and I at JC Booth Middle School

After 11 years as a school nurse, I retired. I recently worked with a vision rehabilitation agency as an adjustment to blindness counselor and diabetic educator, another attempt to hone my professional skills. I started a support group in my hometown to assist the visually impaired community to find resources, support, and services. I enjoy teaching, speaking, and writing on topics such as diabetes and vision loss, health and nutrition, adjustment to blindness, depression, stress management, self-advocacy and guide dogs. I draw on both professional training and life experiences as a visually impaired nurse. My career has not been what I originally imagined, but it has been rich and fulfilling. I am excited to see what comes next as I explore new opportunities.