Help and Hope for Anyone Losing Eyesight

Losing eyesight due to an accident, illness, or aging can be scary. You may wonder how you can stay safe both in your home and when you’re out and about. Will you be able to continue doing things you enjoy?

The truth is that sight loss is not easy. I know because I was born blind. While my vision may never have been as good as someone who lost their eyesight later in life, I have learned lots of strategies for living a rich, full life in a visual world. I’ve also worked professionally with people who are losing eyesight, so I’ve seen firsthand the challenges of changing vision and what has helped people to gain confidence and independence. In this post, I’m sharing some of the things that have helped me and others adapt to sight loss.

Know That You Are Not Alone

You may not know anyone else who has vision issues like you do, but there are millions of people who have eyesight loss that can’t be corrected with glasses or contacts. In fact, 37 million Americans over the age of 50 have significant sight loss. And 1 out of 4 people over age 80 have vision loss.

In most cases, you can’t tell someone has bad eyesight just by looking at them. Case in point: fewer than 10% of blind people use a white cane. Chances are good that there are a lot more people in your community who have eyesight issues than you realize.

You also aren’t alone if you feel scared about the changes in your eyesight. Studies have shown that many people fear blindness more than cancer or even death. As someone who has been blind his entire life, I can tell you that losing eyesight does not mean your life is over. Many aspects of life may change with decreased vision, but it is possible to live a full, active life.

Fine Tune Your Communication Skills 

Many people feel the impact of losing eyesight in their social interactions because it becomes more difficult to observe facial expressions and non-verbal communication. This can make it difficult to make eye contact, pick up on social cues, or to see how your grandchildren took your last joke. 

One strategy is to remind loved ones that you can’t see their facial expressions. You may need verbal confirmation that what you said was a great punch line – encourage others to laugh out loud! During conversation, you can ask probing questions to better understand other people’s reactions. Try questions like:

  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • What did you mean by…?
  • How does that make you feel?

Practicing good communication skills and active listening are good tools for all relationships. It’s especially useful for clarifying non-verbal communication when you can’t see well.

Set the Tone for Talking About Your Eyesight

When your vision first starts to change significantly, your friends and family may not know how to talk about it with you. Sighted people often hear the word “blind” and assume that means someone has no vision at all. The term blind only means that you fit the legal definition of blindness. And there are also a lot of people who DON’T fit the legal definition of blindness yet their lives are still significantly impacted by losing eyesight. Saying that you are blind, low vision, or are losing eyesight does not mean that you can do less or more than anyone else, it only means that you may do and see things differently. 

If you bring it up first, you can set the tone for how you’d like to discuss your changing vision. I encourage you to describe what’s hard to see and what you can see pretty well. The clearer you are with your loved ones, the better they will understand what you’re experiencing and how to support you.

There are also lots of easy modifications that can be made for get-togethers with family and friends. I’ve heard from lots of people who don’t want to bother someone, so they don’t ask for things that would make their lives easier. Please, speak up! Let hosts know ahead of time what they can do to make your experience enjoyable. It will make for a more relaxed time for you and will give the host peace of mind that they are creating a comfortable gathering for all guests, including you!

Connect With Others Who Have Sight Loss

I have found it really useful to talk to others who are going through sight loss. Blindness organizations exist like the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind have local in-person and virtual chapters where you can meet others who have gone through sight loss. Sometimes they discuss the emotional and psychological challenges that come with losing eyesight. Other times, they may discuss practical tips. Making these connections can help with understanding what you are going through, and it will give you the knowledge that you are not alone in the world after vision loss.

Keep Learning

If you’re committed to lifelong learning – and I hope you are! – spend some time learning about technology and skills for adapting to sight loss. Start by asking your eye doctor for recommendations to local centers. In the United States, many states offer programs through the Workforce Development department for adults with vision loss who want to continue working. There are other programs for people who are retired and want to remain independent. Search for “Independent Living Centers” in your state. There are also private centers where you can find training for skills and technology. Some trainings last for only an hour or two at a time. Others may involve weeks or months at an in-person center. Whatever you are looking for, chances are good that there is a program that will meet your needs. You can also look to virtual training options like Hadley.

Depending on the types of skills you want to develop, you may run into an alphabet soup of professionals who work with people with sight loss. Here are some of the acronyms you may find:

  • O&M – “Orientation and Mobility” professionals focus on getting around and staying active. They provide white cane training, and also work on skills to safely navigate your community, cross streets, and create mental maps of new environments.
  • VRT – “Vision Rehab Therapists” work on daily living skills like cooking, selecting outfits, managing medications, and more.
  • TBVI – “Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired” work primarily in K-12 schools with blind children.
  • OT – “Occupational therapist” – In the past, not many OTs have worked with people facing vision loss, but thankfully this is changing! You may find OTs who specialize in vision loss. They are wonderful resources. WayAround partnered with a blind OT who made several videos for our YouTube channel.

As you’re learning new techniques for working with eyesight loss, create a balance between your skills and technology. Technology like WayAround can be a great tool in your toolbox. Yet it’s still important to develop good problem-solving skills for situations where there’s not an app. For example, knowing cardinal directions to determine the direction you are facing will always be available even when the technology isn’t.

Remember, You Can Do This!

Adjusting to losing eyesight can be tough. There will be ups and downs. Some days will feel hard. And some things will get easier. With a strong support system, good training and education, and a positive mindset, you can live an active, full life even with changing vision.

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