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Who’s Certified for Vision Rehabilitation?
Where do you find vision rehabilitation services and who is certified to provide them?
Like many people with a vision loss, you may find yourself at the eye doctor’s office, where she or he tells you there is, “nothing more we can do for your vision loss.” This of course actually means there is nothing more medically that can be done. There are no new glasses that can be provided to correct the vision loss. Many assume wrongly, that there is nothing more to do.
On the other hand, your doctor may actually refer you to an occupational therapist within the practice for vision rehabilitation. Is the occupational therapist the right professional for vision rehabilitation? It depends, and you may want to ask some questions about their qualifications.
An occupational therapist or OT, by training is a medical generalist with no specialization in vision or vision rehab. An OT is a professional who works with patients on adapted daily living skills. How to do some of your everyday tasks in a different way based on a change, in your abilities, like those caused by an injury, the loss of a limb, etc. Very few OTs have specialized training in vision rehabilitation. If the OT has been at the practice for many years, they may have developed this experience over time.
Ask the OT if their training or certification is in vision rehabilitation. At one time the American Occupational Therapy Association offered a Specialty Certification in Low Vision, called SCLV which provided some of the additional training needed for a more comprehensive specialization in vision rehabilitation. However, very few OTs completed this certification and it was discontinued several years ago. Other certifications are available to the OT through the national certification body that certifies vision rehabilitation therapists called ACVREP. Here the OT can pursue specialization in vision rehab, like a certification as a low vision therapist called a CLVT, a certification as a vision rehabilitation therapist (CVRT), or a certified assistive technology instructional specialist called a CATIS. Does your OT have any of these certifications?
Many medical practices and even some state and community agencies for the visually impaired do not require vision rehab training for the OT because they are unfortunately able to bill third party insurance without any additional certification. That means, for example, that the occupational therapist with only a specialty in pediatrics or orthopedics can nonetheless bill for services in vision rehabilitation, although they may have very little training or experience in vision rehab.
So, ask what training your OT has. Do they have any advanced training in vision rehabilitation?
In many cases, you have alternatives, like the vision rehabilitation therapist who is trained at a Masters Level in adapted daily living skills specifically for clients with a vision loss or blindness. Vision Rehab Therapists are not generalists, like the OT. The certified VRT is often found affiliated with a state or local agency serving individuals with a vision loss and in Veteran’s Administration healthcare. To find a certified vision rehabilitation therapist you can call the APH Connect Center at 800-232-5463 or search the Vision Aware Directory of services online at visionaware.org. And ironically, the vision rehabilitation therapist who is often more highly trained in vision rehab, is available through a local or state agency at no cost to you or insurance, or available on a sliding scale based on your income.
Take a moment to ask your vision specialist what their certification is? Do they actually have any certifications or training in vision rehabilitation? There is plenty of research that shows rehab outcomes are better with a specialist. Ask for the specialist, the certified vision rehabilitation therapist, low vision therapist, CATIS, or Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). These are the professionals with the highest level of training in vision rehabilitation.