Many specialists help with vision rehabilitation. It may involve learning new ways to accomplish tasks, learning Braille or training in the accessibility programs to make using a computer easier.
Rehabilitation Counselors are professionals who provide vocational assistance and information to blind and low vision clients. They develop and maintain files on each individual in their caseload and coordinate services provided by various organizations. Primarily hired by state agencies or rehabilitation centers, these individuals are similar to school counselors. They provide information and referrals. They may also act as social workers, dealing with the adjustment and concerns of the blind client and family members. They frequently advocate for their clients in obtaining services from educational or vocational institutions. They also coordinate monetary support from federal agencies to fund the needs of clients.
In Florida, rehabilitation counselors work for the state Department of Education, Division of Blind Services. (DBS) This agency helps individuals who are going to school or need accommodations to keep their job. DBS also funds the Lighthouses for the Blind where much rehabilitation training takes place. Light and Magnify Technologies will refer you to the these agencies and professionals when appropriate.
Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (VRTs) have specific skills. They work in rehabilitation centers, schools for the blind and for public school systems. They may also work on an itinerant basis travelling to schools in less populated areas, to the workplace or to the client’s home to provide individual instruction.
Activities of VRTs may include helping organize kitchen cabinets by labelling each shelf front with Braille or large print stickers. They teach Braille reading when indicated. They help learn the use of magnifiers and electronic reading devices as well as non-optical aids. They help arrange the workplace in a useful manner for easier use by someone with low vision. Many of their skills overlap with those of Occupational Therapists. However, VRTs are not usually covered by insurance. Instead they are paid by agencies who provide services to visually impaired clients. Light and Magnify Technologies will refer you to the these agencies and professionals when appropriate.
Orientation and Mobility Specialists (peripatologists) are professionals responsible for teaching clients to move around in their environment in spite of limited vision. They work in residential centers, rehabilitation centers and schools on a full time or itinerant basis. Light and Magnify Technologies will refer you to the these agencies and professionals when appropriate.
O&M specialists teach clients to become oriented to their surroundings by paying attention to sounds, landmarks and clues. They teach clients to maneuver in their home setting by using self-protective techniques and arranging furniture and supplies in an organized manner. Orientation in the school or workplace is provided. They also explain the logical arrangement of address numbering systems and street grids, enabling clients to use public transportation and find their own way in any private or public environment.
Long Cane Travel: The use of a long cane, otherwise known as a white cane, is taught by O&M Specialists during the course of mobility training. These canes work as an extension of the person’s arm and provide tactile feedback about the environment being traversed.
Guide Dogs: Guide Dogs are another form of mobility “device” that function much like a long cane. These dogs are trained to warn their master of any object in, or heading toward their path that should be avoided. Besides the fact that they can be great companions, dogs can be better than canes in several ways. A guide dog that is “working” will continually scan the environment for dangers. It looks out for walking hazards such as potholes, curbs, stairs or downed branches. Other obstacles that might strike the master’s head as well as cars, bicycle riders, threatening animals or would-be muggers are also detected by a dog.
Guide dogs are not appropriate for every individual however. The blind person must be in good physical condition. The master must be able to move fast enough to keep up with the pace of a healthy dog and strong enough to control the animal. Guide dogs can become lazy if they do not work daily, so the person who uses one must have a daily routine that takes them both out walking. Please note that when a guide dog is in its harness you should never approach and pet it. The dog in a harness is doing a job and should not be distracted. If the dog is lying down or not in a harness you may ask the owner for permission to pet the dog. Please respect the situation if the answer is no.
Teachers of the Visually Impaired work in public or private schools or special schools for blind children. They are trained to deal with the special needs of blind and low vision students and meet with them on a daily basis or as needed. They might transfer handouts and reading assignments to large print, arrange for textbooks in large print, Braille or recorded versions. In addition they sometimes read testing materials aloud so a test can be taken orally or they might transpose it into Braille. These teachers provide continuity and support to the student and parents, helping them locate other necessary services through state agencies or rehabilitation centers. They will recommend low vision evaluations and work closely with parents, doctors and low vision clinics to provide complete services to their students and are intimately familiar with many helpful resources. Light and Magnify Technologies will refer you to the these agencies and professionals when appropriate.
* Excerpts from Brown, B The Low Vision Handbook for Eye Care Professionals, Second Edition. Thorofare, NJ: SLACK incorporated; 2007.