When five ladies gather at the William B. Cashin Senior Activity Center in Manchester, it is far from an ordinary meeting. These women share similar challenges and walk alongside one another in a unique way: each of them is visually impaired and almost all live alone.
Together, they form a monthly peer support group — thanks to generous funding from our partner, the Mary Gale Foundation. For more than a decade, the Mary Gale Foundation has enabled us to offer nearly 4,000 hours of direct vision rehabilitation services to 669 women over the age of 65.
Through the Mary Gale Vision Services for Active Living program, we provide special low vision services and adaptive devices at no charge to women in the Greater Manchester area who are dealing with sight loss. Services include peer support and counseling, training in magnification and technology, and skills for independent living and safe travel. To those who meet the criteria, the impact is undeniable.
Active Living Firsthand
I had an opportunity to join their final 2015–2016 meeting before summer break at the Cashin Center. Our agency’s social worker, Regina, began the meeting and invited me to catch a glimpse of this dynamic program. As I listened to the ladies’ stories, it became apparent how their lives have been touched.
Dottie shared that she has been legally blind for two years and started coming to the peer support group over a year ago. “The first time I came was hard because I was facing something I never had,” she explained. “I still have a long way to go, but I’m willing to try.” As a newer member of the group, she feels especially encouraged by other members. Joan remarked, “We learn something new every time!” The other participants agreed, and they also recalled inspirational visitors who spoke with them, including a gentleman who is completely blind.
They all say that the door to independence opened with video magnification through closed-circuit television units (CCTVs), which were provided through this program. For Joan, who went without a CCTV for her first year of sight loss, the technology is a godsend. “It’s the best gift I ever received!” she exclaimed. She can still do her puzzles, read recipes, and go through mail. “I’ve benefitted quite a bit from Mary Gale,” Mary chimed in. “There’s no question that I received things I wouldn’t have been able to afford. I can’t say enough about it.”
Value of Vision Services
With peer support, the women are able to note the progress they have made with our services and gain confidence in their abilities. They talked about the tactile buttons they have to guide them in their kitchens, ensuring safety and ease. Dottie, for one, is relieved to locate the settings on her microwave.
They reminisced about the time Joan showed them her PenFriend device, something she finds invaluable for locating spices. They were fascinated by Joan’s description of her tactile pill box that allows her to tell the difference between her morning and evening pills. They eagerly discussed the convenience of the RUBY handheld video magnifier and their desire to stay in touch with others.
Going Places with Low Vision
In general, these women see a need for more activities in which they can easily get involved, as well as more public awareness surrounding blindness and vision loss. Mary was part of a recent accessible cooking event at the Association and had a wonderful time. Reflecting upon that experience, she observed, “If people are included in things of this nature, they’re more likely to break out into the community, the social end of things.”
Joan added that some individuals with vision loss are simply ashamed. Though she still finds it difficult to go places at times, she has undeniably learned to remain active and independent. Mary remarked, “I’m amazed at what the Association has given me.” She noted that, when devices or services are warranted, “you get them!” Dottie concluded by saying, “I appreciate what I have that I didn’t before.”
Could you, or someone you love, benefit from the Vision Services for Active Living program? To receive more information or to make an appointment, please contact us.
Shelley is Vice President for Development