February is Low Vision and Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Month. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss among Americans age 60 and older and may affect as much as 30% of the population over the age of 75, according to the National Eye Institute. Currently 15 million Americans are affected by AMD, and this number is expected to double by 2020, primarily as a result of an aging population.
Individuals who have AMD, may also have low vision, although low vision may be caused by a variety of other eye diseases such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Low vision is a term used by professionals to describe a functional loss of vision that affects an individual’s ability to perform tasks of daily living, such as driving, reading the newspaper, participating in hobbies or social activities, seeing the computer screen, etc. For example, a person who is legally blind (acuity less than 20/200 in the best eye corrected, or a “visual field” of less than 20 degrees in the better eye) has low vision. A person may have low vision without being classified as legally blind. An adult in Maine with an acuity of 20/80 who is denied a driver’s license because of their vision loss, and having difficulty seeing the computer screen, or balancing a checkbook, may be said to have low vision.
Many people who are diagnosed with AMD or learn that they have low vision that is not correctable with a new pair of glasses are completely unaware of the highly trained vision rehabilitation professionals who are available to assist them, either through state agencies, or local non-profits. In many instances, unfortunately, ophthalmologists and optometrists may not refer their patients or do so only after they are “legally blind.” These vision rehabilitation professionals are highly educated and often hold Master’s Degrees in their professions, with additional certificates of accreditation. These professionals may include:
Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (CVRT) work with clients on adapted daily living skills, such as cooking, alternative ways to read print, manage finances, use magnification, or electronic devices to enhance vision;
Certified Low Vision Therapists (CLVT) work with clients to use optical devices such as magnifiers, hand-held telescopes, bioptic glasses, or electronic magnifiers to access print, enhance contrast, reduce glare, etc;
Certified Orientation and Mobility Instructors (COM) work with clients to travel safely with confidence, by incorporating lighting or glare reducing strategies, learning alternative transportation systems, pedestrian GPS, and using a white cane effectively;
Adaptive Technology Specialists (AT) work with clients to access computers using screen magnification, keyboard shortcuts, text-to-speech software, electronic magnification and reading devices, GPS, etc.
Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI) work with school-age children through high school to provide instruction in adaptive reading techniques, Braille, and assistive technology instruction;
Personal Adjustment Counselor (PAC) a licensed counselor to work with clients on the emotional adjustment process that accompanies vision loss;
Many clients are surprised to learn there is usually no fee to work with these professionals and referrals can be made directly by the client—a referral from the eye doctor is not required. Federal and state funding ensure these services are available and may be delivered in a client’s home.
If you are having difficulty reading the paper, seeing the screen on your computer, or have recently been diagnosed with Age-related Macular Degeneration, please call the Iris Network at (207) 774-6273, or toll-free in Maine 800-715-0097 for more information or to make a referral. Additional resources, including the Maine Airs newspaper reading service may be found on the Iris website at http://www.theiris.org.