I am an occupational therapy student working with the Low Vision Network in Chattanooga, TN. During this internship, I have taken a special interest on the impact of vision loss on mobility. Low vision can cause changes in the clarity of vision or the field of vision which make it difficult to perform everyday activities, especially those that require mobility.
What do I mean by mobility?
Mobility is the ability to get around one’s home and community environment safely. After vision loss, this is very difficult. Things that were once simple, like going to the mailbox or going to the grocery store, become big challenges.
Think about going to the grocery store. You have to get there, find the entrance of the store, navigate through the aisles of the store to find the items you need, navigate to the cashier to pay, go back home, bring in the groceries, and put them away. After vision loss, a person must figure out how they are going to get to the store, find all the items they need, pay and get back home. This is just one of the many activities that requires mobility skills that is impacted after vision loss.
What is the impact?
Persons with low vision often limit their activities because they are afraid of falling, getting hurt, and they are not confident in their abilities to get around. Persons with vision loss often are afraid of falling because they have difficulty seeing obstacles like bumps in pavement, curb cuts, steps, signs, and much more. This makes going out into an unfamiliar area very frightening. Commonly, if a person does go out into the community, they have assistance from another person. Needing assistance from others all the time can make them feel like a burden on others. If a person with low vision does not have the mobility skills they need, they will decrease their participation in activities in their communities. This leads to individuals who are socially isolated and depressed. For these reasons, it is important to continue participating in activities in the home and in the community.
So, what can be done?
It is important that a person with low vision to receive training on mobility skills. There are two professionals who commonly address aspects of this training, occupational therapists and orientation and mobility specialists.
What do orientation and mobility specialists do?
Orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists teach persons with low vision how to navigate safely within their homes and communities. Some examples of skills O&M specialists teach are:
What do occupational therapists do?
Occupational therapists (OTs) work with persons of all ages and ability levels. The focus of occupational therapy is to help individuals participate in activities that are meaningful. OTs can specialize to work with people who have vision loss to help them maximize their independence and participate in activities that are meaningful. OTs address mobility by
Does someone with low vision need to see both professionals?
O&M specialists and OTs often collaborate when working with persons with low vision to determine if the individual needs services. Persons with low vision need to have strong basic mobility skills learned in orientation and mobility training before they can learn more complex tasks such as using public or private transportation services to get from place to place.
O&M specialists may refer an individual for OT services if the person has problems caused by other conditions that interfere with mobility. For example, a person with diabetic retinopathy may have a loss of feeling in their fingers which makes finding their bus pass in their wallet difficult.
OTs may refer to an O&M specialist if the individual they are working with is having trouble with mobility skills. For example, the person is bumping into objects, falling due to not detecting obstacles, or changes in pavements.
What happens when mobility is addressed?
Persons with low vision learn mobility skills, find and access transportation services, and navigate their home and community environments safely. This increases the person’s confidence in their ability to travel in the community and decreases their fear of falling. With this increase in confidence and skills, persons with low vision can participate in activities in their homes and communities that are meaningful to them. Being able to continue participating in meaningful activities helps reduce social isolation and depression, and leads to an overall better quality of life.
For More Information:
Check out VisionAware’s page http://www.visionaware.org/info/everyday-living/essential-skills/an-introduction-to-orientation-and-mobility-skills/123
For more information about Occupational Therapy’s Role in Low Vision:
Check out AOTA’s page on low vision http://www.aota.org/Practice/Productive-Aging/Emerging-Niche/Low-Vision.aspx
Who are we?
The Tennessee Lions Low Vision Rehabilitation Project is a collaborative effort between Lions Clubs volunteers, low vision medical providers, and community organizations to serve individuals with low vision through community service, education, research, and advocacy.