The Road to Independence through Remote Learning

Celebrate Independence Day by regaining yours if you’ve lost vision. You may think that’s not possible, especially now with COVID-19 concerns. Lenore Dillon, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, and VisionAware Peer Advisor puts these fears to rest in this series on remaining independent with vision loss while learning remotely.

Anyone who has recently been diagnosed with vision loss is left with an empty feeling of gloom and doom. The good news is that there is life after vision loss and specialized training is available to make the seemingly impossible, possible. This new life can be positive and filled with hope.

Traditional Vision Rehabilitation Training

Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (VRTs), formerly known as Rehabilitation Teachers, are available to provide training in all aspects of daily living and communication skills. Some of the areas in which a VRT can offer specialized training include the use of magnifiers, lighting, assistive technology, and cell phone use, as well as cooking, sewing, cleaning, personal care, and tactual communication such as braille. As a person new to vision loss, you may think these skills sound too difficult, but you can master them and regain your independence.

Traditionally, this training has been offered individually or in small groups, but always face-to-face. COVID-19 presents a new challenge, but VRTs are adapting. Virtual platforms such as Zoom are being used to conduct lessons, as well as the use of the old-fashioned phone and apps such as Facetime. Each state or agency has a different policy and methodology.

Getting Started with Vision Rehabilitation

If you are not currently enrolled in a program with your local agency or rehabilitation center serving those with vision loss, call and get signed up. You can find services through the APH Directory of Services. The agency staff will guide you through the application process and tell you about the services they are currently offering. Do not wait and be sure to keep in close contact with the person who is directing you through the process.

If you have any special needs related to COVID-19, make them known. They should be able to direct you to resources. In the meantime, be sure to check out the VisionAware series on COVID-19 for resources.

Questions to Ask Your VRT about Remote Training

What type of training is provided?

 If you have a specific area of interest or something you need to learn how to do, make it known. The more specific you can be in explaining your training needs, the better your VRT or service provider can adapt training specifically for you. For example: if you have difficulty ordering groceries or preparing a meal, your VRT can provide training in those areas.

Do you have any type of technology classes available online?

Since COVID-19, many organizations started providing online technology training for small groups. This may help you with many skills related to the impact COVID-19 has had on your life. You may learn how to order groceries through Instacart or Shipt, or use online banking apps.

Do you have any type of virtual support groups?

 Support groups have often played an important role in helping people adjust to vision loss. Many communities are starting virtual support groups. Connecting with others who are going through similar challenges can often be encouraging.

Preparing for Remote Lessons

Conducting a lesson is more challenging than ever before because teachers and students can no longer be up close and hands-on. VRTs do an excellent job of connecting with learners and anticipating challenges before they occur. They are champions at finding creative solutions for difficult problems. They are also cheerleaders, providing encouragement every step of the way.

Establishing Training:

  • Keep in close contact with your VRT. Find a date and time and learning platform for your lesson that works for you both. Find out what equipment and supplies will be necessary for your lesson. Your VRT may need to send you some adaptive equipment, instructions for the lesson, flashcards, or samples of work.
  • Set up a workstation. Do not use your kitchen table, as that is your eating station. You will need a spot that is specifically set aside to store the equipment needed, including a computer or tablet, lamp, magnifiers, bold line pens and paper, and braille equipment.
  • Read and study instructions sent to you by your VRT.

Steps to Make Virtual Learning a Good Learning Experience

  • Have a discussion with your VRT about directional concepts such as up, down, under, over, beside. These are terms frequently used in a lesson, and each person may have a different interpretation of them. When working side-by-side, it is easy to determine any disconnect in the interpretation of terms. When working remotely, it is more difficult.
  • Be verbal. Words are everything in a virtual setting. Let your teacher know what you are doing, thinking, and feeling.

After the Lesson:

  • Practice your newly-acquired skills. Try to spend at least 15 minutes each day working on what you covered during the lesson. Then reward yourself with something you really like to do, such as listening to an audiobook or talking to a friend. Let your VRT know what you have accomplished since the lesson occurred.
  • Give your VRT feedback. Remote teaching and learning are new to all of us. Feedback only helps us get better.
  • Prepare for the next lesson. Keep in contact with your VRT and find out what equipment or supplies you will need for this lesson. Be ready to start the lesson at the appointed place and time.

Keeping in close contact with your VRT or any other person providing services is the key to success. If both parties are intentional about expressing needs and feelings of accomplishment and frustration, remote learning will be successful.