National Rehabilitation Awareness Week is celebrated annually the third week of September. During this week, according to the National Rehabilitation Awareness Foundation, we “celebrate the powers of rehabilitation and share the message that through rehab there is hope, achievement and success!” This year’s Rehab Week celebration, September 15-21, provides a wonderful opportunity to highlight one of the least known, highly skilled rehab professionals, Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (CVRTs).
CVRTs may be one of the best kept secrets for anyone experiencing a vision loss from macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or many other eye diseases. CVRTs often work in state agencies or non-profits, hold a Master’s Degree and professional certification in Vision Rehabilitation, and adhere to a rehabilitation or educational model of skills training. In Maine, you will find CVRTs working statewide through The Iris Network or the Maine Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI).
A CVRT typically provides training in a client’s home or a rehabilitation facility, working on adaptive daily living skills (ADLs) covering a wide range of everyday skills used at home, in the work place, and school. ADLs may include such skills as reading, personal finance, home and business management, access to computers and technology, cooking, and leisure activities, to name a few. The CVRT develops a rehabilitation plan and goals, with the client, to learn adaptive techniques and advocacy skills that will help compensate for a loss of vision.
Why the secrecy? It’s complicated, and one of the main reasons may be that most private insurance and Medicare do not cover services provided by Vision Rehab Therapists. CVRTs are one of the most highly trained professionals in the specialty of vision rehabilitation . The cost for vision rehab services provided by a CVRT is provided through the Federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and individual state funding, usually through the Departments of Education or Labor. In Maine, for example, funding is through DBVI, housed in the Department of Labor. This means, client’s have access to most vision rehab services, with a CVRT at no-out-of-pocket cost! In addition, clients do not need a doctor’s referral to get services, although this is often how services begin.
Another reason for the secrecy may be the historical tradition of the Vision Rehab Therapist, who was until 2006, called a Rehab Teacher or RT. The first RTs in the US began working with clients in Pennsylvania, and were called, “Home Teachers of the Blind.” Often these original home teachers had no specialized training other than adapting to their own vision loss. Lessons at that time were based on access to the Bible through some form of embossed type. In the 1930s-1940s more standardized training for RTs was developed, and graduate level training began first at Michigan State in the 1960s. While CVRTs today still teach braille to appropriate clients most rehab training is with client’s experiencing varying degrees of vision loss acquired from aging, disease, or accident. Although some of these client’s may in fact be “legally blind,” most do not identify themselves as blind, nor frankly, do they wish to have much to do with a “Teacher of the Blind.”
Today’s Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist certainly recognizes the power of rehabilitation to restore hope, achievement, success and renewed independence for client’s with a wide range of vision loss. Recent advances in computers and technology offer CVRTs a much broader array of tools and resources to work with clients as they explore new skills for adapting to vision loss or “low vision.” For more information, or to make a referral in Maine, call The Iris Network at 800-715-0097. For a national directory, go to the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals at http://www.acvrep.org/directory.php.
Steven Kelley CRC, CVRT is a Vision Rehab Therapist and Rehab Counselor in Maine and maintains the website LowVisionTech.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.