Empowering Independence: Thriving with Vision Loss

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Learning to use a white cane to navigate opens up a world of possibilities for people with vision loss © Courtesy of Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada

BAM!

It’s not the first time you’ve bumped into the shelf or stubbed your toe on the staircase after misjudging the first step. Or perhaps you’ve stopped going for your evening walks after tripping over a curb that was difficult to see in the low light.

When making what seems like minor changes to your lifestyle, such as not taking your dog for a walk at night, it might not occur to you that your vision has changed. While a sudden change in the quality of your central vision would be obvious, seeing a little less at the edges of your vision is more easily ignored. Glaucoma might be the reason; unfortunately, there is no way to repair or reverse the vision loss it causes.

“All is not lost,” said Jennifer Urosevic, President and CEO of Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada (VLRC). “There is a way for people with glaucoma to regain their ability to do their daily tasks and be independent.”

As a non-profit healthcare organization dedicated to providing rehabilitation services for individuals living with blindness and low vision, VLRC is at the forefront of this journey. The organization’s Certified Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialists teach their clients how to use their remaining vision more effectively by training them to use a white cane, visual aids, and other techniques.

O&M specialist with VLRC, Mark Rankin, emphasized, “White canes are more than just aids; they signal to the public that the person using the cane has vision loss. It can also help the user gather information about their environment.”

Building Independence, One Step at a Time

Rankin shared an inspiring story of a client he worked with early in his career. After losing his sight, his client lacked the confidence to leave his apartment by himself. As a former competitive bodybuilder, he shared with Rankin that he longed to return to the gym and work out again.

Keeping that goal in mind, Rankin worked with his client on outdoor travel—getting him from home to the gym, using a cane and his remaining senses (primarily hearing) to keep himself safe. Over several months, his client gradually progressed from learning basic sidewalk travel to crossing streets and using public transit. As he overcame each challenge, he developed more confidence and set loftier goals.

vision loss
Jennifer Urosevic, President and CEO © Courtesy of Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada
Evaleen Baker, a Certified Low Vision Therapist © MARK NICOL

Eventually, he returned to the gym and got a membership. Rankin helped him navigate the weight room and familiarize himself with the equipment. At first, other gym members viewed him skeptically, but he gradually became a fixture at the gym. Weeks later, when Rankin went to the gym to help him learn a new route home, he found his client talking to other gym members who were asking him for advice on nutrition and exercise techniques.

On the way home, sitting on the streetcar, he shared with Rankin that taking transit and working out at a community gym seemed impossible when he first lost his sight. Now, “it just feels like I’m me again.” He was no longer concerned with what he had lost, but he was clearly focused on what he could do next.

VLRC’s O&M specialists, like Rankin, strive to help their clients gradually return to independence and restore their quality of life. “It is why I feel like we have the best job in the world,” Rankin expressed.

Navigating an Independent Lifestyle with Tools and Techniques

O&M specialists often collaborate with Certified Low Vision Therapists (CLVT) to address specific challenges related to contrast sensitivity, difficulty identifying objects, and decreased peripheral fields caused by conditions like glaucoma.

“It’s about restoring confidence and independence,” said Evaleen Baker, a CVLT with VLRC who has over 20 years of experience.

Glaucoma can cause a decrease in peripheral fields. Surprisingly, this can make larger objects more difficult to see than smaller objects. Also, with glaucoma, it is common for people to lose their ability to perceive sharp and clear outlines of very small objects and to have difficulty identifying objects when they are in a similar background.

“This can affect day-to-day activities,” Baker explained, “like pouring a cup of black coffee into a black mug or identifying terrain changes when walking outdoors.”

As a CLVT, Baker educates her clients regarding their eye condition diagnosis. She takes the time to explain the functional implications of an eye condition such as glaucoma and the importance of complying with their eyecare practitioner’s orders for taking eye drops to control intraocular pressure. During a functional performance assessment, the client shares their goals with Baker, and together, they review optical and non-optical aids. She will discuss with the client how to work with their remaining vision using compensatory scanning skills, task lighting, and filters. Filters are beneficial for identifying outdoor terrain changes and improving depth perception for safe mobility.

“I help my clients determine which colour-tinted sunglasses and/or filter to use, depending on their needs,” Baker explained, “some tints can enhance vision and colour, and some can distort them. For instance, yellow filters increase contrast and can make objects appear sharper both indoors and outdoors.”

The collaborative efforts of VLRC’s dedicated professionals empower individuals with glaucoma to overcome the challenges posed by vision loss. Through comprehensive rehabilitation services, from mobility training to low vision therapy, the organization guides its clients on a transformative journey toward renewed independence and a fulfilling quality of life. The stories of triumph, like that of Mark Rankin’s client returning to the gym, exemplify the profound impact that vision rehabilitation can have on regaining confidence and embracing life after vision loss. As VLRC continues its mission, its commitment to restoring sight and hope remains unwavering.

This feature is brought to you by Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada, a non-profit healthcare organization providing rehabilitation services for individuals living with blindness and vision loss. In alignment with the magazine’s focus on glaucoma and white cane awareness, Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada is committed to raising awareness and empowering individuals to lead fulfilling, independent lives despite the challenges of vision loss.

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Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada (VLRC) is a not-for-profit national healthcare organization and the leading provider of rehabilitation therapy and healthcare services for individuals with vision loss.

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