How to be independent when visually impaired

This article was co-authored by Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP. Dr. Ran D. Anbar is a pediatric medical counselor and is board certified in both pediatric pulmonology and general pediatrics, offering clinical hypnosis and counseling services at Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California and Syracuse, New York. With over 30 years of medical training and practice, Dr. Anbar has also served as a professor of pediatrics and medicine and the Director of pediatric pulmonology at SUNY Upstate Medical University. Dr. Anbar holds a BS in Biology and Psychology from the University of California, San Diego and an MD from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Dr. Anbar completed his pediatric residency and pediatric pulmonary fellowship training at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and is also a past President, fellow and approved consultant of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

There are 19 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Being visually impaired might feel challenging, but it’s completely possible for you to live an independent life. You’ll probably find training to be useful, to begin with. But once you learn certain skills and start applying them in your day-to-day life, you’ll gain the skills and confidence you need to get around, cook, clean, and manage your finances.

February 19, 2020 – By Jasmyn Polite

How to be independent when visually impaired

Over the years, I have grown into an independent, successful young woman with dreams of helping other blind and visually impaired children grow into successful adults.

These services helped me figure out who I was as a visually impaired person, and I’m hoping that what they’ve helped me learn will help someone else, too.

1. Learning Braille

The best decision I made in school was learning braille. Braille has made me very confident in myself and has eased my fear of blindness from glaucoma.

Braille can be used to take notes in college, jot down important numbers or addresses, and more! When I have a hard time seeing cards, the stove, or washing machine, braille is the answer. I am able to do my tasks without straining my eyes and struggling to see.

In order to maintain my knowledge in braille, I use my contraction book or alphabet card to copy words down. I usually write a word or letter many times in a row with my slate and stylus or braille writer.

I am willing to challenge myself by getting better in braille. Never be afraid to learn new things and prepare for what life may throw at you!

2. Working Hard

In order to get to your goals, you have to work really hard if you are sure about what you want to do with your life. I am so happy that I am doing better in my braille skills and improving day by day. I have been practicing every day for two hours and taking advice from experts who know braille.

With my college work, I always try to make an effort and put my best into what I do. When I need help, I go to the academic center and ask a tutor for assistance. Whenever you make a mistake, the best thing to do is keep trying until you get it right and have a positive attitude! Never be afraid to admit that you need help and advocate for your needs as a visually impaired or blind individual.

3. Learning to Use the Long White Cane or Guide Dog

Another skill that I am glad I learned at school and from my NFB mentor was how to better use my long white cane. My cane has made me more confident and safety-conscious over the years.

I like using my cane to navigate to places like Dunkin’ Donuts, the gas station, the track, and going downtown. I also rely on my cane when I take the public transit bus to college.

I also recently relied on my cane to help me navigate on my journey to visit my grandparents and friends in Iowa for three weeks. It was my first time flying alone on an airplane. I was a little bit nervous because my mom wouldn’t be with me – but I believed in my heart that I could go on a plane by myself.

Guide dogs can also help with bringing up your confidence by assisting you in everyday tasks and serving as loyal companions. My two best friends, Stephanie and Sarah, are working on getting guide dogs through Southeastern Guide Dogs. This is great for them because an animal will bring up their confidence level and they will develop better mobility skills. My other friends, Courtney and Ciara already have guide dogs that have been a joy in their lives! I am considering getting a guide dog too but, probably in my 30s when things wind down.

Never be afraid to travel and adventure – and always explore new horizons!

4. Advocating for your wants and needs

When you enter the real world, you have no choice but to be responsible for yourself. You are the only person that knows yourself.

Let people at work, school, family, etc. know that you need certain things to accommodate your disabilities. I had to learn all of these things after I graduated from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

These important advocacy skills may include letting your college professors or disability advisor know that you need devices such as magnifiers, braille, interpreters, a ramp if you are in a wheelchair or a walker, and more.

The best time to set up your accommodations is before your classes start. This may be a month or week in advance that you can talk to your disability office. Another resource that can help you with school is blind services in your state. Check with your vocational rehabilitation counselor to see what financial aid might be available.

Like me, you may also have to order medicine. Because I have glaucoma, I am responsible for taking my eye drops and making sure I don’t run out of any medication. This means ordering my meds on the phone from the pharmacy and picking it up. Glaucoma is a big job but I have done very well with calling Wal-Mart and making sure that I have refills.

Occasionally, sighted people might overdo their generosity by trying to do everything for you. Sometimes it’s nice when someone helps you with a certain task – but if you always rely on family or strangers to do everything for you, you’ll never become independent. Politely tell the person that you can do certain tasks all by yourself. If you don’t know certain tasks, attend a blind center for independence or have a vision specialist come to your home to teach you independent skills.

All these tips I’ve talked about are for everyone with visual impairment or blindness to benefit and use for reference. Working hard, having a positive attitude, learning braille, using the long white cane and advocating for your needs are all helpful skills that all blind and visually impaired people should learn and apply to their lives.

The quote from the National Federation of the Blind is a great one for all to follow: Live the Life You Want!

How Independent Do You Want to Be?

Editor’s note: Peer advisor DeAnna Noriega writes about independence and the full range of options you have as a person with visual impairment. You may also want to go back and read the first of our series on independence with a post by peer advisor Audrey Demmitt, RN, Independence versus Interdependence.

How to be independent when visually impaired

Do you handle your own finances? Do you arrange your own transportation? Do you live alone or with family members that seek to protect you? Do you organize your life; doing things that interest you, managing your own affairs, prepare your own meals, shop, hold down a job you love, and care for your home? All of these things are possible if they are things you want to do. You can find out more about them by reading the Essential Skills section of VisionAware.

What Can Help You with Your Independence?

The training, tools, and techniques to accomplish an independent lifestyle are all available and possible.

However, the choices of what you wish to learn and what you want to do are up to you. Some of these things will depend on what you enjoy doing, what your circumstances are, and whether you wish to take back control of your life. If you never did some of these things, such as handle your finances because a spouse always did that, you could decide not to bother learning to do that. How much control of your life you want is up to you as are the methods you choose to employ.

For example, you might use magnification, computers with optical character recognition, and online banking to handle your money. Or you might allow a family member to pay bills, etc. You might choose to use a reader to read your mail or use technology to do it. The choice is up to you.

If you like to control how, where, and when you accomplish tasks, you might opt to attend classes or spend time at a rehabilitation center to master the skills you will need.

How Independent Do You Need to Be?

The degree to which you want to take control of your life is a personal decision and there isn’t a right way to live as a visually impaired person. There is a full range of options to tailor your lifestyle to meet your needs and be as independent as you choose to be. If you need to continue to work, that might be possible with the right tools and techniques. A construction worker I once met decided to go back to school after vision loss and not only did he graduate from college, but he also went on to law school. He passed the Bar exam and when I met him, he was serving as a judge. A man in the computer industry designed the first version of a popular screen reading software for the blind. He also declared that since he hadn’t cooked before he lost his vision, he didn’t want to learn how after he became legally blind. My husband of forty-five years claims I am too independent. Having lost my vision in childhood, I honestly forget to ask for help from others most of the time. I didn’t choose to marry him so that he could drive me everywhere, read mail, or pay my bills. It is convenient to live in a household with six sighted adults and teenagers, but I am preparing to move out to an aging in place home with my husband as soon as we find a house on a bus route that will accommodate his wheelchair. I have had a long time to decide who I am and what I want out of life. Remember that vision loss doesn’t change who you are or what you like to do, just how and what things you choose to do.

How Capable Are You?

A lot of the daily tasks we do reside in our muscle memory. We don’t have to watch ourselves in a mirror to get our fork to our mouth. If you were a knitter before you lost vision, you can learn to do it without needing to see the stitches. If you could get up at night and find the bathroom without turning on the lights before developing visual problems, you can learn to navigate easily in familiar places. Break tasks down into manageable baby steps and don’t worry about how long it takes you to accomplish tasks. Think outside the box about how to do the things you enjoyed before visual impairment. Learn to use your other senses to gather information about your environment. Touch, smell, and hearing can give you a lot of information you used to gather by visual means. Reach out to others who share what you are experiencing and ask questions. Don’t give up the things you love because there is probably a way to continue them if you figure out a few workarounds. Life is as rich as you choose to make it after vision loss.

Peer Advisor Audrey Demmitt Shares a Similar Sentiment

I think if you are new to vision loss considering the impact your level of independence has on your relationships is important. Too independent as in taking unnecessary risks, not being realistic about what you are capable of, or being so frustrated with a task that you are miserable will affect those around you. There are times when asking for assistance is okay. On the other hand, if you are choosing to play the “helpless” role, this too will strain relationships. Using your previous skills, assets, and problem-solving abilities is necessary to reach a desired level of independence without overburdening family and friends. There is a time, when one is new to vision loss when you will need to lean on others more, but vision rehabilitation training can help you take back control and restore your independence. Greater independence means more choices, more opportunities, more privacy, and living life with dignity.

Written by,

Jennifer Freeman, Orientation and Mobility Specialist

Orientation and Mobility Specialists around the world face the same issues every day- a student who can complete all of their O&M tasks in class, but still can’t be as independent or successful as they’d like. For many of us, it can feel frustrating to teach our students how to cross the street, ride a bus, and solicit assistance when they don’t have the ability to get dressed on their own.

We are so thrilled to introduce you to Jennifer Fullerton, a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist in California who does an outstanding job of incorporating Independent Living Skills in to her Orientation and Mobility lessons!

Disclaimer: Jenn receives a portion of the sale when you purchase a Rock the Cane Sweater from the Zazzles link below. None of the other links are affiliate links. All opinions, strategies, and comments are of Jenn Freeman’s and do not represent any company linked in either the blog post or resources below.

How to be independent when visually impaired

Jenn Freeman, COMS

Welcome to my blog series about how to foster independent living skills (ILS) with your child who has multiple impairments or is of preschool-age. As an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist, I am lucky enough to work with individuals who have visual impairments entering the school system at age three, and I work closely with them throughout their school careers. During my tenure, I started to pick up on a pattern of behavior when I was assessing students.

What are Independent Living Skills?

Independent Living Skills (ILS) are skills that we need in order to lead independent lives. These skills, which include being able to dress ones’ self, use the toilet, brush our teeth, shower, and organize our belongings are foundational skills required for us to live by ourselves.

My Startling Realization about Daily Living and Visual Impairments

My students were learning the advanced O&M skills such as how to navigate a campus, cross streets and shop, but they were unable to independently shower, get dressed, manage their clothing or accomplish several daily living tasks.

I even had a 20-year-old student denied acceptance to weekend programs and adult programs such as the Junior Blind of America because she could not shower herself. Don’t get me wrong. I collaborate with teachers and parents regarding independent living skills and did so for the 20-year-old student throughout the years, but I realized she was not working on the skills at home.

The Michigan Independent Living Skills checklists was just what I needed to explain to parents how to help their children at home.

Success = Independence in All Areas of Life

If you want to help a child who has vision loss be successful long term, you have to help them learn to be independent in all areas of life.

My biggest tip to parents is to avoid the excuse “I don’t have time” at all costs. By incorporating learning opportunities in everyday life, we can progress from learned helplessness to success and independence! Remember: over-helping = hindering whereas teaching = life-long independence.

The IEP Team: Seeking Advice and Working Together

I realize that all children with vision loss are unique, so if my strategies don’t work for you, contact your student’s Vision Impaired (VI) team and they will help you find a way to teach a particular skill. After all we are a team, and this is part of our job.

Introducing the Independent Living Skills Checklists

In this four-part blog series, we will walk through the Michigan Independent Living Skills Checklists together.

I will give you broken down examples on how to work on each task in your student’s everyday life. We will learn how to help parents release those responsibilities to their own children. Instead of tying their adolescent child’s shoes and helping them get dressed, the children will now be able to do those skills on their own!

Our end goal is to help the parents of your students to allow your student be as independent as possible in all areas of life. We need parents and other staff members involved. As a school employee and for many ethical reasons, there are some skills we just are not able to work on like parents can in the home.

When you have checked off every skill in a category, celebrate! This is a great baseline for how far your student has come.When the entire checklist is complete, move on to the new age-appropriate checklist.

The number one thing for working on any of the independent living skills is to teach the individual who has vision loss is to be SUCCESSFUL!

That person does not have to learn to do everything like a mainstream child who has normal vision.

How to be independent when visually impaired

How to be independent when visually impaired

Companies are focusing on diversity and inclusion to create more just, equitable, and effective workplaces that perform better—and it’s working. Diverse teams are smarter and more innovative than groups with similar backgrounds and experience. But while the workplace has become more diverse in terms of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, people with disabilities—like blindness or visual impairments—are continually underrepresented.

Daily life for visually impaired individuals has changed considerably thanks to the last four decades of advancement in assistive technologies. And in the last fifteen years, with the dawn of “digital accessibility,” inclusion into mainstream tech has become the new normal. The smartphone was the “biggest assistive aid to come along since Braille was invented in the 1820s” and is enabling blind and low-vision individuals to lead more independent lives. But while time and technology have changed many aspects of life for visually impaired people, some things remain the same. For many, accessing the workforce remains a challenge.

According to the National Federation for the Blind, more than 70% of the country’s four million visually impaired adults are without full-time jobs. While these numbers are more indicative of employer reticence than skill and ability, employers wonder “how will a visually impaired person get the job done, and at what cost?” In reality, 58% of necessary accommodations cost nothing and the rest fall under $500. At Accessibility Partners, a DC-based company which works with organizations to improve accessibility through technology, owner Dana Marlow prioritizes hiring people with disabilities. Marlow tells Workforce it’s not purely about doing the right thing but rather that it “just makes good business sense.”

In an early episode of the Be My Eyes Podcast, “What Blind People Need to Succeed at Work,” we explored this topic in depth with an HR inclusion specialist who specializes in training executives and business leaders in Manila. But hiring visually impaired employees has to be more than just a top-down approach—it needs to be a core piece of workplace culture. What sort of cultural beliefs are you building at your company? Here are some ideas for you to bring to your colleagues:В

Hiring visually impaired people is a rich opportunity for company growth because:

  • They are an untapped talent pool. With a 37% employment rate, people with blindness or low vision represent a capable yet untapped (and often underestimated) talent pool. While visually impaired people can’t fill all job roles, the limitations are very few, like ones that include driving.
  • They are natural problem solvers. The creative mindset and resilient attitude people with blindness or low vision need to manage their disability makes them innovative problem solvers. With proper instruction and clear job duties, visually impaired individuals perform well independently and on teams.
  • Assistive technology is becoming more and more mainstream.Blind New World writes “there has never been a better time to be blind.” That’s because tech has made assistive technologies more accessible and sophisticated than ever before. Leaders in the tech space are having a ripple effect on accessibility worldwide— and when apps are not yet totally usable for blind employees, tools like Be My Eyes are there to help bridge the gap.
  • Visual impairment in the workforce is set to rise. Estimates suggest visual impairment and blindness will rise in the coming years due to an aging population—a population eager to remain employed. Consider that 29% of Boomers ages 65-72 were on the job hunt in 2018. If you want to be relevant as an employer now and in the coming years, creating a culture of inclusivity with visually impaired people makes sense.

How to be independent when visually impaired

Making the workplace more inclusive for blind and low-vision individuals

In addition to the reasonable accommodations the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires by law, workplaces can foster an inclusive culture for all by taking these steps.

  • Make the application process accessible. Offering an accessible application process sends the message that you’re an equal opportunity employer. Conversely, if blind or low-vision applicants struggle in completing the application due to accessibility, they may become discouraged from applying at all.
  • Move beyond the mental block of “how”. Don’t let your fear of visually impaired individuals’ capabilities rule decision making. Blind and low-vision individuals lead more independent lives than you may think. As a general rule, remember that a person with blindness or low vision wouldn’t apply for a job they didn’t think they could do. Move beyond the mental block of “how” a person with a visual impairment could do the job.
  • Use inclusive communication tools and methods. Use accessible tools for intraoffice messengers and other communications. During presentations, verbally describe charts, graphs, and other visual aids used. Identify yourself as you enter or leave a meeting room and encourage other employees to do the same.
  • Offer support by asking the right questions. Proactively support employees with blindness or low vision by asking about what kind of modifications they need to get the job done. For someone who has never had to ask for workplace accommodations, these inquiries may seem unimportant. Visually impaired individuals may be accustomed to these conversations, but employers can pleasantly surprise employees by asking first. Just make sure you understand what you can and cannot ask according to the ADA. Lastly, ask for feedback.

In some cases, it may seem like there is no accessible solution (for example, the company just spent millions of dollars switching to a new copy machine vendor with inaccessible touch screens and switching back would be an “undue burden” on the company). In those cases, there are tools, including Be My Eyes, that are built to bridge the gap.

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace can feel like a complex endeavor. But increasing the diversity of your workforce by hiring people with blindness or low vision is not as challenging as you think. What’s more, the opportunity for organizational growth may be richer than you expect.

Even if you have a visual impairment you can live an independent life. This is my belief as a visually impaired man. As learnt through my personal journey, once your needs are recognised and you start to understand what is happening everything becomes second nature to you. But how independent are you really? Who looks after daily tasks such as organising your commute and transportation to managing finances? When society doesn’t enable or help you, do you live with your family who seek to protect you or do you live independently? Who do you rely on to prepare meals, shop or even manage affairs related to your career and home? Without any help, how does a visually impaired person live? Perhaps the bigger question is, does one accept their impairment or does one try and live on their own terms. Do you walk with the help of a white cane, learn new technologies created for ones benefit, do you ask for help and rely on the people around you or do you manage the daily routine on your own?

All these questions have one answer. The key to success and the way forward in life, to achieve any and all goals is to have strong determination and will power. All these things are possible if they are things you want to do.

In order to successfully integrate one’s self into society and community without losing independence, visually impaired people need to accept their reality and learn minimal skills. And by doing so enable themselves to live a full life. Especially for children with such impairments, society must understand that at an earlier stage in life they have more opportunities to learn through other senses such as hearing, touching, tasting and feeling. Skills needed for communication, direction, mobility and simply daily tasks, can be learned and taught through use of modern technologies. Regardless of the fact that a child is visually impaired, parents play an imperative role in their growth. For a child in such a predicament, sometimes it is difficult to accept and live life with a positive attitude.

For a child to become self governing and independent, an adequate lifestyle is needed. At such an early stage, expert guidance is essential. Seeking help to raise their child might be difficult for some parents, but they need to resolve such feelings and learn what do and how to do it.

As people with vision need certain life guidance skills, visually impaired people need them too regardless of age. Individuals with blindness need to learn certain tasks in their youth, to take care of themselves and those around them.They range from hygiene practices such as washing, combing, cutting nails, to picking clothes in accordance with the climate and social environments and handling personal belongings. It is also important for them to understand healthy practices, such as knowing when to take their medicines.

All these tasks are possible with an organised lifestyle.Even financial services or aids to understand them, are not accessible to those with impairments, one needs to be able to distinguish between coins and banknotes and even learn how to sign papers. A key aspect of learning all the mentioned skills is spatial awareness. This includes understanding surroundings and the ability to move without a field of view, as well as the ability to use other senses to recognise landmarks, e.g. identifying and following noise or distinguishing between smells.

In addition, by adopting different techniques, visually impaired people should be equipped to walk in an unfamiliar environment. Children should be able to use search methods such as looking for fallen objects and other protection methods.

These orientation and mobility skills must be taught from childhood, as learning them is a gradual process. Equipments like white canes help the blind become more independent. In my personal journey, initially I felt a little ashamed of using it but once I realised that it made walking easier for me, I started using it when travelling alone. When seen with a cane people tend to be more helpful, while crossing the road, stopping a bus or buying groceries in a store. This helps me connect with people around me as well.

In conclusion, social experiences are very important for a child’s development. Visually impaired children need friends, both who share the same experiences as them and those who have vision. Children with impairments need to be taught communication skills, as they are the bases for tolerance in society. Our surroundings need to be made more inclusive, and people need to have more understanding towards those with impairments.

Independence Day—the Freedom to Choose to be Independent

Over the years the VisionAware Peer Advisors have observed this holiday by writing about what independence means not only for our country but for people with vision loss. This year, we’re compiling some of their most insightful thoughts.

Angela Whitfield, former VisionAware Peer Advisor, wrote July is a Powerful Month of Independence, observing that, “…We started the month with Independence Day- the day we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th, which represented the end of the control, authority and jurisdiction of Britain over the colonies, and, this year, we end the month with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) on the 26th, which marks the legal prohibition of discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities (dubbed the “civil rights act for people with disabilities”). My question for you, have you signed your own personal Declaration of Independence in your life? Have you prohibited yourself from discriminating against yourself and your goals?”

What Does Independence Really Mean, a post from 2017, stated, “it’s all about choice and options.” Deanna Noriega ran with this theme in her post How Independent Do You Want to Be, where she wrote, “…the choices of what you wish to learn and what you want to do are up to you. Some of these things will depend on what you enjoy doing, what your circumstances are, and whether you wish to take back control of your life.” She went on to write, “the degree to which you want to take control of your life is a personal decision and there isn’t a right way to live as a visually impaired person.”

Audrey Demmitt elaborated on this concept in her post, Independence vs Interdependence: “In the process of learning to be independent once again, I learned surprising lessons on interdependence.” She discussed the concept of economy of mutual benefit – “while learning to maintain a level of independence once again, I also learned how to ask for help and find ways to offer help to others in this dance we call life.” This is a critical concept to embrace personally and as a country.

In 2020 during the throes of the pandemic, Lenore Dillon wrote, “Celebrate Independence Day by regaining yours if you’ve lost vision. You may think that’s not possible, especially now with COVID-19 concerns.” In her post, she went on to share about the different types of training available and encouraged readers to find out about vision rehabilitation services. Her post still resonates today, as we begin to come out of a pandemic-induced isolation into a hybrid world of virtual and in-person training, depending on where you live. As she so aptly stated in her post, “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.”

Learn more about how you can get started with regaining independence when you are new to vision loss. Check our directory of services for help, or call the APH ConnectCenter at 800-232-5463.

Independent living skills (ILS) are the tasks students need to manage their daily life, such as housework, hygiene, and time management.

Checklists

These documents help you track what students should be able to do at each grade level.

ILS Checklist

Use the ILS Checklist to document when a student is able to accomplish each skill.

ILS Guides

These guides outline what skills are appropriate by the end of each grade. The skills are included on the ILS Checklist.

ILS Modules

The ILS Modules were designed to help regional and local districts easily set up an ILS program to help children who are Blind/Visually Impaired (BVI) to learn the skills necessary for managing daily life. ILS is one component of the nine categories of the expanded core curriculum (ECC) and includes cooking, cleaning, dressing, hygiene, home maintenance, laundry, organization, and more. These skills are essential for students’ immediate use as well as use in the future as they go on to seek and maintain employment.

These easy-to-follow, downloadable ILS modules contain sample lessons, templates, checklists, and embedded trainings.

ILS Calendars

These calendars provide suggestions for practicing one ILS task each weekday. The tasks are to be completed at home, and the sheet may be returned to the student’s teacher at the end of each month.

Tips and Lessons

These resources explain how to teach different ILS.

General

Five-Minute ILS [PDF]
This MDE-LIO document lists ILS activities students can complete in five minutes or less.

Video Clips on Blindness Tips [Website]
The Washington State School for the Blind hosts videos that show how to teach various skills.

Kitchen and Food

  • Cooking Tips [PDF]
  • Eating Skills – Feeding Defensiveness [PDF]

Leisure

Track Progress on Skills

This checklist from Teaching Students With Visual Impairments may be used to track a student’s progress with skills found in the Expanded Core Curriculum.

MDE-LIO

The Michigan Department of Education Low Incidence Outreach (MDE-LIO) is funded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) through the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education.