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 reared its ugly 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 together once again to see how they had fared since the last meeting. The group meets to share problems, solutions, and ideas on how to navigate their vision loss.
Vision loss comes in many different guises. It can be caused by eye diseases, like Macular Degeneration, Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy, Refractive Errors, Nearsightedness, Glaucoma, Amblyopia, Strabismus and Dry Eye Disease, or health issues like 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 dealing with multiple health issues, I have yet to visit a more upbeat 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 instance, foggy glasses while wearing a mask can be a real irritant. I was told if I pulled the mask up under the bottom of my lens it really helps.
Participants offered tips about resources
The American Lake VA Medical Center; Dr. Mary Ferris, a low-vision specialist at The 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 discussed as helpful, but some of the members felt intimidated by the technology.
Options for technical help were offered, including honor students looking for volunteer opportunities, family members and one local “hero” who works for the Washington State Department for Services for the Blind.
The Washington State Department for Services for the Blind offers many helpful services and referrals, including books on tapes. A new service for the hearing impaired was recently introduced so those who are sight and hearing impaired can enjoy the tapes as well.
But hands down, one of their best resources is Rafael Ramirez, who works out of the Washington Department of Services for the Blind in our area. Rafael makes in-home visits to help set up safe floor plans, equipment, and technical support among other things, and was hailed as a true hero by this group. Best of all, Rafael can be contacted directly for an in-home appointment.
Most of the attendees were familiar with the collection of used eyeglasses by Lions Clubs in our area but not everyone knew about the Corbin Low Vision Resource Center. Large and small equipment from handheld magnifiers, talking watches and clocks, telephones, keyboards, and closed-circuit video magnifiers are loaned out to our low vision community members at no cost for as long as they are needed.
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 has the low-vision button for every one of her coats and it has been a tremendous help when she shops.
The Low Vision Support Group meets at the South Sound Senior Center, located at 222 Columbia Street NW in Olympia, on the second Monday of every month at 10:00 am. For more information contact Martha Worcester at email@example.com
Other resources are listed below:
Washington Department of Services for the Blind:
American Lake VA Medical Center:
Corbin Low Vision Resource Center:
Dr Mary Ferris:
Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia. Contact her at kathleen@theJOLTnews.com or post your comment below.
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