The low vision support group met for the first time since 2019

By Kathleen Anderson

I stopped by the Olympia Senior Center on Monday to attend the first low vision support group meeting since 2019.

Facilitated by Resource Advocate program manager Martha Worcester, this group met monthly for several years until COVID came to a head and the center closed for the safety of its members.

With the Senior Center open again on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Martha gathered her group once more to see how they had been doing since the last meeting. The group comes together to share problems, solutions and ideas on how to manage their vision loss.

Vision loss comes in many different forms. It can be caused by eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, refractive errors, myopia, glaucoma, amblyopia, strabismus and dry eye, or health problems such as accidents, strokes and birth defects. And there are many levels of low vision.

The group began by introducing themselves, sharing their degree of vision loss, and any resources they currently have access to. While several members are struggling with multiple health issues, I have yet to visit a more optimistic group.

One of the suggestions discussed was how to improve street lane lines. They would like to see the city of Olympia improve its streets, starting with brighter lane markers for night driving. Reflective lane bumps were suggested as helpful, especially for an area with so much rain. More streetlights would also be beneficial when walking or driving.

Some suggestions were simple but very helpful – for example, fogging up glasses while wearing a mask can be a real irritant. I was told if I pulled the mask under the bottom of my lens it would really help.

Participants offered advice on resources

The American Lake VA Medical Center; Dr. Mary Ferris, low vision specialist at Olympia Vision Clinic; The Washington State Department for the Blind and the Olympia Host Lions’ Corbin Low Vision Center were all mentioned as great resources.

Several smartphone apps were also found useful, but some members felt intimidated by the technology.

Technical assistance options were offered, including honor students seeking volunteer opportunities, family members, and a local “hero” who works for the State Department of Blind Services for the Blind. Washington.

The Washington State Department of Services for the Blind offers many helpful services and references, including books on tape. A new service for the hearing impaired has recently been introduced so that visually impaired and the hearing impaired can also enjoy the tapes.

But by far, one of their best resources is Rafael Ramirez, who works at the Washington Department of Services for the Blind in our area. Rafael makes house calls to help set up safe floor plans, equipment and technical support, among other things, and has been hailed as a true hero by this group. Even better, Rafael can be contacted directly for a home appointment.

Most attendees were aware of the used eyeglass collection by Lions Clubs in our area, but not everyone was aware of the Corbin Low Vision Resource Center. Equipment large and small such as hand magnifiers, talking watches and clocks, telephones, keyboards and closed circuit video magnifiers are loaned free of charge to members of our visually impaired community for as long as they need them.

Buttons are also offered by the Corbin Low Vision Center that say “I have low vision” and or “I am hard of hearing.” One member said she had the low vision button on each of her coats and it helped her immensely when shopping.

The Low Vision Support Group meets at the South Sound Senior Center, located at 222 Columbia Street NW in Olympia, the second Monday of each month at 10:00 a.m. For more information, contact Martha Worcester at [email protected]

Other resources are listed below:

Washington Department of Blind Services:

https://www.linkedin.com/company/washington-state-department-of-services-for-the-blind

Raphael Ramirez:

[email protected]om

Lake VA American Medical Center:

https://www.va.gov/puget-sound-health-care/locations/american-lake-va-medical-center/

Corbin Low Vision Resource Center:

https://olympiahostlions.org/

Dr Mary Ferris:

[email protected]

Kathleen Anderson writes this column weekly from her home in Olympia. Contact her at [email protected] or post your comment below.

Virginia S. Braud