by Yvonne Miller
Coping with vision loss is not as easy as a walk in the park. Especially when the person’s sight may have diminished late in life. All of us know this, whether you lose your sight gradually over time, overnight or have had to live with it for many years. We each have to deal with daily issues of our environment.
Ask any low-vision and older visually impaired/blind person what it’s been like; you will get many different stories, as many as the number of people you ask. The people who have sight loss later in life deal not only with the physical loss but all the mental trials as well.
You will have similar experiences of being unable to carry out simple everyday tasks that require familiar visual cues of the world around us, such as instant visual information. Other shared experiences include: not understanding what’s going on in your surroundings, eye contact, familiar facial expressions, body language, feeling left out and uncomfortable, becoming isolated and lonely, discouraged, angry, resentful, frustrated, scared, despairing, and resigned. Add to this the impact of one’s vision loss on family, friends, and co-workers who don’t know what to do. Vision loss can present major challenges for all who are touched by it.
However, over time, most people find ways to live with their vision loss. We use a variety of adaptive techniques and methods that we’ve learned through vocational rehabilitation services. Developing alternative ways to regain living skills broadens the horizons of those of us living with sight loss to get support from VR professionals and family and friends. We discover training resources and support groups we can join. We can also seek visionary local organizations and find connections with others in our communities.
I remember getting tired of sitting on my pity pot and being frustrated, and feeling so isolated that I reached out to seek resources to assist me to regain some independence. I met with Jeff Vanderport, the rep from the Department of Services for the Blind at Bellingham to discuss going to Seattle for training through the DSB program. I thought, “What a concept. They will teach me how to function in a world without relying on sight? Can this really work?” My first attempt, I left after only a few weeks. I got so homesick … I cried when I saw my family. I soon regretted my decision.
I returned to the program and graduated from the Orientation Training Center in 1991 and have only positive things to say about the program. The experience taught me daily living skills —mobility, cooking, cleaning techniques, sewing, reading and writing using braille, even woodshop, and learning about useful resources. The program gave me my independence and confidence to manage the way I navigate the environment at home, work, travel and with others. It opened up the world once again.
There was a time when I became a shut-in. I recall feeling helpless and consumed with fear. An awful period of depression sent me into a dark hole of being untouchable by anyone. Such a sad state to find oneself in! I finally had to work through all the emotional barriers. I truly wanted more for my life and most of all to move forward, but to what?
Meeting the caring, knowledgeable people from the training center gave me solutions on how to carry out everyday tasks through my other senses. The most difficult adjustment was waiting. One must rely upon others for transportation. So it goes according to their schedule. No longer can I jump into my car. I really miss driving.
This transition of adjusting to vision loss means dealing with the very real impact that comes with the loss of easy visual cues, loss of information, power, control, fewer options, loss of independence and changes in self-image. The list of losses goes on. Along with these losses are a predictable psychological reaction to grief and the emotional reactions we have to loss. We resist or deny our reality. We’re mad about it. It’s not fair, we are very sad, sometimes even depressed about it and withdraw from life. Eventually we begin to come to some terms with it … accept? Perhaps … adjust to our new reality? Hopefully that’s what we each can do to find ways to cope and navigate more successfully to this life-changing experience.