Leader Dogs for the Blind Offers Excellent Orientation and Mobility Training

A few years ago, after several serious injuries, I knew it was time to seek white cane training. The wait for such services in my state can be 2-3 years long. I took to the internet to find alternatives and discovered the Accelerated Orientation and Mobility (AOM) program at Leader Dogs for the Blind. This week-long course was free, including airfare to the training center in Michigan. I knew this was a great opportunity so I applied. It was one of the most important steps I have taken to adjust to my vision loss.

I had no idea how much there was to learn about Orientation and Mobility and how much it would change my life for the better. I had a wonderful experience at Leader Dogs and want to share this resource with others who may be considering cane training. Here you will find an interview with Erica Ihrke who works at Leader Dog with the AOM program.

Male student learning to cross a street with his O+M instructor looking on

Client crossing street with instructor looking on

Audrey: Tell me a bit about yourself, credentials, and professional experience.

Erica: I am a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist (COMS) and the Manager of Extended Services at Leader Dogs for the Blind. I’ve been employed at Leader Dog for the past 16 years. I have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Central Michigan University and Master of Arts in Orientation & Mobility from Western Michigan University.

I have been a part of the team to incorporate GPS into the guide dog curriculum here at Leader Dog. Accelerated O&M Training has grown from an average of 26 clients per year to 75 last fiscal year. Summer Experience Camp was developed and O&M Interns are now a part of the Leader Dog culture. I have published two research articles with colleagues about GPS and its benefits for people who are blind or visually impaired. Additionally, I have presented at local, national & international conferences about the Leader Dog model used for O&M instruction and various topics related to accessible GPS.

Audrey: What do you find most rewarding about teaching O+M skills to clients?

Erica: The thing I love most about teaching O&M is actually teaching. Through the model that we use at Leader Dog we quickly see growth in skills. Clients that arrive on Sunday and depart the following Saturday are noticeably transformed with new skills for daily travel.

Audrey: Why are O+M and cane skills important? What do you see as the benefits to clients?

Erica: O&M skills are so important because if you know how to get somewhere and can do it safely then opportunities are made available. The benefits are endless… socialization, work, fitness and health, etc.

Audrey: Can you give a brief explanation of the training and highlight the skills needed to be a safe and independent traveler?

Erica: O&M training that occurs through Accelerated O&M at Leader Dog starts with arrivals on Sunday and departures on Saturday. One -on-one instruction with a COMS occurs Monday through Friday. On each day two to three lessons are completed in morning and afternoon sessions with short breaks in between each lesson to digest information. Generally one night travel lesson is accomplished after dark one evening. The skills taught to be a safe and independent traveler include using a white cane, utilizing a human guide,orientation skills and cardinal directions (i.e., north, south, east, west) to know where you are, where you want to go and how to get there, solving problems such as barriers, crowds, etc., crossing streets safely, re-orientating, shopping, soliciting assistance when needed, and more. Training takes place in a wide variety of environments, such as residential, semi-business, business, city and country settings.

Accelerated O&M training is provided free of charge at Leader Dogs for the Blind’s Rochester Hills, Michigan campus to those who are legally blind and at least 16 years of age, regardless of whether or not they plan to eventually train with a guide dog. Individualized, one-on-one instruction is provided during five days to meet goals agreed on by the client and COMS

Audrey: In your professional opinion, when is it time for O+M training? How do you know when you are ready for this as a visually impaired person?

Erica: It’s time for O&M training when you find yourself looking down to travel rather than keeping your head up, when you find that you are bumping into things that you didn’t see, or when you find you are limiting the places to which you go. O&M training is not a one-time instruction and then you are done. If you have had O&M training previously you should consider retraining if you are experiencing changes in your environment (a move or new traffic controls are put into place) or changes in your confidence or skill level.

Female student walking with her new white cane

Client walking with O+M instructor

Audrey: What do you see as the barriers and resistance clients have to O+M training?

Erica: One barrier to O&M training may be that the individual is waiting for services in his/her home area and that service is not provided in a frequent and on-going manner. A resistance to O&M training may be that someone does not want to carry a white cane. In this instance it is best that the individual is accepting of needing some assistance. A cane is an identifier and does create more awareness of a person’s visual impairment. Additionally it is a tool that can help identify obstacles and locate landmarks. But there is more to O&M than utilizing a white cane. More importantly it is knowing where you are, being able to plan where you want to go & knowing how to get there safely.

Audrey: What do clients say once they have experienced the skills to travel with a cane?

Erica: I’ve had several clients tell me that they didn’t think they needed more O&M training and they just came because we required it for them to go on to guide dog training with a Leader Dog. They have ALL also told me that they were extremely glad they came for training because they learned so much and now felt more comfortable with their travel abilities.

“[Because my O&M instructor is keeping me safe during training] I know that I am going to be able to make mistakes, it’s going to be OK, and I’m also going to be able to succeed and feel good about it,” said client Sheila Roussey.

“I just wanted to get more proficient to use the cane so that I could get around a lot better and not have to depend on people,” said client Susan Miller.

Thank you Erica for sharing this information. And thank you Leader Dogs for the Blind for your commitment and dedication to the mission of empowering people who are blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind with lifelong skills of independent and safe travel. To learn more and apply to the AOM program visit: http://www.leaderdog.org/clients/programs/accelerated-o-m-program                                                                        Happy Trails!!

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Reading to Enhance Mental Health: Bibliotherapy

Reading as a Healing Experience

Most of us become readers at an early age and discover the wonders of a good story. We learn to interact with books in order to learn and grow. Characters come alive to us as we relate to their experiences. Sometimes reading is for pleasure or escape and other times it is for the disciplined acquisition of information. No matter what, our engagement with literature and written word has the potential to change us, calm us, inform us, inspire us and heal us. In its most simplistic form, this is known as bibliotherapy. Exposure to books, poetry, writing, and even film and videos can be therapeutic and beneficial in helping us process our own life experiences. In other words, literature can be used to help us figure life out, heal emotional traumas, and change thoughts and behavior. Reading can be a healing experience.

As I was learning to adjust to vision loss, I was drawn to read books about blindness and books written by authors who were blind. I found it very helpful and motivating to enter the narratives of others who were sharing their own stories of vision loss. Some books were informational, some humorous, and others deeply moving. I realized that the cumulative affect was that I understood more about blindness and my feelings about it were changing. Reading books on blindness, memoirs and biographies of blind writers has had a very positive influence on my ability to adjust and cope with vision loss.

Reading Books on Blindness

It has long been understood that literature “heals the soul” and the use of bibliotherapy has evolved to become quite complex in its application to psychiatry and health care. Consider a bit of reading therapy for yourself as a way to deal with vision loss. With the help of the Peer Advisors at VisionAware, I  put together a reading list of books for this purpose. It is not exhaustive by any means but meant to get you started. Most of these titles are available through the National Library Service in audio or braille formats. Newer titles are not yet available through the NLS. Many are available in e-book formats through your favorite booksellers. (Kindle, Nook, etc.) Another way to find such books on blindness is to search the NLS collection using “blindness” as a key word. Whether you are using your eyes, ears or fingers to read, may it be a rewarding and therapeutic experience.

If you are interested in learning more about the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Talking Book Program, go to: hhttp://www.loc.gov/nls/index.html

24 Books on Blindness

  1. Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer- e-book, NLS
  2. Cockeyed: a memoir by Ryan Knighton- e-book, NLS
  3. Blindness: What it is, What it Does, and How to Live with it by Thomas Carroll-NLS
  4. Lessons I Learned in the Dark by Jennifer Rothschild- NLS
  5. Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness by John Hull- NLS
  6. Living on the Edge of Twighlight by Doug Green- e-book
  7. Now I See You: A Memoir by Nicole C. Kear- e-book
  8. Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith by Amy Bovaird- e-book
  9. Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation by Sue Martin- e-book,NLS
  10. The Adversity Advantage by Erik Weihenmayer and Paul G. Stoltz-  e-book,NLS
  11. Thoughts on Blindness: One Spouse’s Perspective on Losing Vision and Living Life by Becky LeBlanc-The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  12. Ordinary Daylight: Portrait of an Artist Going Blind by Andrew Potok- e-book, NLS cassette
  13. A Matter of Dignity: Changing the Lives of the Disabled by Andrew Potok-NLS
  14. ROCKS:The Blind Guy at the Lake by Thomas P. Costello-Amazon print, The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  15. Focus by Ingrid Ricks- e-book
  16. How Do You Kiss a Blind Girl by Sally Wagner-NLS
  17. The Way We See It: A Fresh Look at Vision Loss – anthology from Vision Loss Resource-print, e-book available at http://www.visionlossresources.org
  18. Do You Dream in Color? By Laurie Rubin-NLS
  19. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance by Jacques Lusseyran-NLS
  20. Not Fade Away by Rebecca Alexander
  21. The Unseen Minority: a social history of blindness in America by Frances A. Koestler-NLS
  22. Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness: the process of responding to life’s demands by Dean and Naomi Tuttle-NLS
  23. Shades of Darkness: a black soldier’s journey through Vietnam, blindness and back by George Brummell-NLS
  24. Undaunted by Blindness: concise biographies of 400 people who refused to let visual impairment define them by Clifford Olstrom, Perkins School for the Blind-NLS

Share Your Favorite Therapeutic Book

Is there a book you have read that helped you adjust to vision loss? How did the book help you? Or is there a book about a blind person that was encouraging or motivational? What about books written by a blind or visually impaired author? Share your favorite reads below.

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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.

Musings of a Visually Impaired Mother

I come from a long line of mothers. Women have been birthing babies since the beginning of time. You know that excruciating moment during childbirth when you are screaming “I can’t do this!” and then you dig deep and discover you can after all? I told myself in that moment “If my mom could do this seven times (yes, seven!), then I can too!” And then when the nurse placed my squalling, slimy, bundle of joy in my arms for the first time, I suddenly realized the labor was not even the hard part of being a mother.

I learned that I was expecting my first child from a neurologist, who was working me up for some unknown vision problem. The news was dulled by the uncertainty of my diagnosis. But I decided in the end that it was indeed good news and worth celebrating. Like every other expectant mother, I began to plan and dream of the days to come with my first baby. Before I knew it, my husband and I had two more babies, each two years apart; two boys and a girl in between. When I told my mother I was pregnant with my third she asked me “How did that happen?” and I replied “Oh, the usual way, Mom.”

The baby years are largely a blur, especially after the third one. It was a time of sleepless nights and exhausted days; the tired years. Someone always needed something from me. I remember feeling like a 24- hour Dairy Queen. I constantly “wore’ a baby around my neck or on my hip and my clothes were often adorned with baby body fluids. My body was no longer my own. But I remember those years with a special sweetness and wonder at what my husband and I had created together. There was sheer joy in cuddling my precious babies, taking in their milky breath, sleepy grins, and clutching fingers. During that time, I still did not know what was wrong with my vision and I didn’t think about it much.

Life got a bit busier during the toddler years. I call them the “sticky” years; Cheerios stuck to the kitchen table, gooey jelly fingers and tacky walls and windows. I had trouble conjuring up my inner June Cleaver. I was probably somewhere between Carol Brady and Roseanne on the mother spectrum. I much preferred playing with my children to cleaning up after them. I learned that children are incredibly resilient and durable. Eating a little dirt and even an occasional dead fly off the window sill, did not make them sick. In fact, it may have even boosted their immune systems. Most days, my lunch consisted of half-eaten PB and J crusts gleaned from the kids’ plates as they hurried away from the table. At that time, I finally got a diagnosis: Retinitis Pigmentosa. I began to have a few issues like tripping and bumping into things. One day, while running after my youngest son who was headed for the street, I fell into a hole and broke my ankle. It was also during these years that I lost my driver’s license due to vision loss. This put a huge cramp in my style and an extra burden on my husband. Gone were the days when I could just run up to the store for diapers and milk.

Birthday at the beach-happy and tanned!

Celebrating my birthday at the beach-1995

The school-aged years are remembered as “controlled chaos.” We were in the thick of raising our children while balancing our careers. It took team work and creativity to meet the demands of our busy household. The kids needed rides to baseball practice, ballet, and piano lessons. I needed rides everywhere; to the grocery store, haircut and doctor appointments, and to work. Transportation was the biggest challenge for our family. We were fortunate enough to have friends and neighbors who were supportive. I offered services like after-school care or baked muffins in exchange for rides for my family. It required careful orchestration, but we got where we needed to go and survived those busy years. As my vision deteriorated my children learned to pitch in and help. They learned to guide me and give me descriptive narration at ball games and movies.    

During the teenaged years, when aliens take over kids bodies, it’s difficult to have a visually impaired mother. Now adults, my children admit it was sometimes painful and embarrassing for them. One year on Mother’s Day, we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant. We were escorted to the table and I began to sit down on what I thought was a bench and went crashing to the floor. I looked like a bug on the rug, my dress crumpled to my waist and arms and legs flailing. I began to laugh so hard that I could not get up. My three teenagers were mortified and asked to leave the restaurant. We stayed. For them, my vision loss was an aggravation and an inconvenience. They had to take turns driving me on errands, much to their chagrin. For me, it was becoming an all-consuming struggle to keep up at home and work. By now, reading print and mobility were my biggest issues and I needed to learn new ways of doing things. I needed to embrace technology and my earliest computer lessons came from my kids.

Before long, my sweet little babies were grown and off to college. Our house became empty and quiet. All too soon, the years flew by, leaving me with the echoes and trappings of child rearing. My role as a mother has changed from caregiver to counselor, confidante, cheerleader, and consultant. As I look back, I can honestly say I relished each phase of motherhood. My children and my husband made it easy for me to be a “good mother” and I have often joked that “they were so easy, they practically raised themselves.” Despite my anxieties and limitations as a visually impaired mom, my kids have said they feel they had a very “normal” childhood. And I can see many wonderful qualities in them which resulted from growing up with a visually impaired mother. Compassion, empathy, cooperation, advocacy, problem-solving skills, resourcefulness and patience are among them. My adult children are truly my favorite people in the whole world.

In truth, motherhood is hard work and it requires intentionality, resilience, and patience. Fortunately, we are naturally endowed with a certain measure of courage and grace to be mothers. The other necessary things, we find amidst the love and laughter of our children. Even vision loss cannot suppress the joys or dampen the pride of being a mother. My humble advice to other visually impaired mothers: don’t sweat the small stuff, keep it simple, live in the moment, and don’t aim for perfection because you will miss every time

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.

From Personal Loss to Personal Growth

Blindness is a thief of much more than just vision. It robs you of many things and the impact is life changing. In the early stages of adjustment, loss is its anthem and grief is its mantle. Often depression is a close companion of vision loss because the losses pile up and overwhelm one’s ability and internal resources to handle them. This was my experience.

In the beginning, I was not even aware of all the losses that would come as a result of my vision loss, which served to protect me. There are many kinds of losses to catalog. There is the actual sensory loss of vision; losing touch with the physical world and missing out on information, colors and beauty. Shattered dreams are another significant loss. There are material losses caused by blindness like the loss of a job, car, home, or relationship. And there are internal, personal losses suffered such as self-esteem, confidence, social standing, identity, security and purpose in life. Indeed, blindness is a greedy thief that seeks to destroy…if you let it.

The task is to learn to accept, adjust, cope, and reaffirm life as a person who is visually impaired. The process is a long farewell to who you once were and how you used to do things. It is a tall order but the point is you can learn to adjust, limit your losses, and reclaim your life. Adjustment to blindness is a process; it takes time, training, and courage. It does not submit itself to a timeline or linear progression. According to The Hadley School for the Blind, there are 7 stages of adjustment to vision loss:
1. Physical and Social Trauma
2. Shock and Denial
3. Mourning and Withdrawal
4. Succumbing and Depression
5. Reassessment and Reaffirmation
6. Coping and Mobilization
7. Self-Acceptance and Self-Esteem

The Hadley course entitled “Self-Esteem and Adjusting With Blindness”, suggests that adjustment to blindness is an ongoing process as it calls for continually learning new techniques, revisiting issues of loss, reliving seasons of depression and reassessing goals and dreams. (I found this course to be very helpful.) Somehow it comforts me to know these stages. It gives me a roadmap and milestones to anticipate. There is much about the experience of “loss and grief” that is universal and it has been well-studied. It is reassuring to know that the myriad of powerful emotions I experience are all within the “norm” for a grieving person. And that eventually these emotions will give way to positive growth and progress. You never quite finish adjusting. This is also true of personal growth. We are always growing as a result of our experiences and life stressors. We are always adjusting to what life brings us; new stages, crisis, joys, challenges, set-backs and losses.

There was a time when I was not “adjusting” very well to my vision loss. I was angry and felt that life was unfair. I was afraid of the future. And I was depressed. In short, I was “stuck” and it affected every aspect of my life. Eventually, I sought counseling and began to understand the impact and implications of my vision loss. I learned about depression; that there was no shame in it, which freed me to address it. Through cognitive therapy, I learned that our emotions come from what we are thinking; negative thinking results in negative feelings. This seemingly simple concept was a key to turning my depression around. With my counselor, I worked through a book called “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by Dr. David Burns. This book proved to be a toolbox full of tools to deal with negative emotions which I have used over and over in life. It changed my thinking and perspective on my vision loss and many other things in life. It taught me to “reframe” the negatives, correct distorted thinking patterns, and find the good and positive side of things.

Joining a support group was an important step that helped me adjust to my vision loss. Meeting others who have successfully navigated through life encouraged me. It empowered me to hear their stories and learn from their experiences. It inspired me develop new plans and reach for new goals. It was the beginning of learning everything I could about my disease and what to expect in the future. Knowledge was an effective therapy and it moved me forward.

Another turning point for me was when I reached out for rehabilitation services. Just the process of learning new skills like walking with a white cane and reading with a video magnifier gave me hope and restored my confidence. It was hard to accept the reality that I needed help. I hid my vision loss for so long and it was frightening to go public with it. But in the end, getting rehabilitation services has been liberating on many levels and the payoff has been well worth it. My adjustment to vision loss continues.