Low Vision OT

As I embark on my Graduate Certificate Program in Low Vision Rehabilitation for Occupational Therapists starting February 1st, I am getting more and more excited to pursue this specialty area of practice. I sure hope everything works out as I am thinking it will and I will land a job in this specialty area soon! Fingers crossed.

As an individual with low vision myself, I find that I can relate to my low vision clients and I am so excited to work with this population and be able to share my insights and experiences, promote the proficient use and training in assistive technologies both low tech and high tech, and get my clients back to doing the activities that are most meaningful to them.

I have started reading one of my books, Macular Degeneration: The Complete Guide to Maximizing and Saving Your Sight, and I am loving what it has to say so far. First of all, it has mentioned occupational therapy several times in general and in regards to low vision rehabilitation and that is exciting to me. Second, it is describing all of the things that are important to know about when first diagnosed with Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), as it was written for patients with AMD. It describes how depression is common with a diagnosis of vision impairment as it is with any major life change or stressor. It talks about how important getting connected with low vision rehabilitation right away will help clients learn new ways of doing things and coping with their change in vision. Good exercise and becoming connected with support groups are also essential. And that one should not be ashamed of their vision loss, not hide it or isolate themselves from others in fear, but embrace it, laugh at yourself, and know that those around you love you for who you are despite your decreasing vision and ability to do things as independently as you once might have been able to do.

This reminds me a lot of my growing up years as a child with low vision. I always wanted to hide my visual impairment and I didn’t want to stand our from my peers. It wasn’t until high school that I truly embraced my vision impairment and my story and accepted it as part of who I am. It was with the help of a great vision teacher and a friend who was also visually impaired that I was able to make this transition. I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not accepted it and was willing to use the tools I needed to be successful and I would most definitely not have my wonderful guide dog, Nabisco!

I still feel like I have a lot to learn when it comes to using my adaptive tools (magnifiers, monoculars, VoiceOver, etc) but I sure have come a long way since I was younger. I recently received my training in VoiceOver and while I use it quite a bit on my iPhone/iPad and feel fairly proficient, I havn’t used it as much on my computer and so I feel like the skills I did learn havn’t stuck as well as they should. It just goes to prove that if you don’t practice a new skill, you will never learn it and you will never become proficient. This is a great thin for me to remember as I enter into the low vision field as an OT!

I am so excited to start my program and meet my cohort! I am so curious what brought them into the low vision specialty program and what practice settings they work in or plan to work in. I will be sure to keep y’all updated on my progress through the program.

I am still looking for financial assistance to be able to complete my Low Vision Certificate program, so if you are willing and able to help me out, I would greatly appreciate it! I can’t wait to start helping others with low vision. Click here to access my GoFundMe page to donate. Thank You!

Incredible Opportunities!

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I am so excited to announce that I have some amazing opportunities coming up in the next few months! Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me the opportunity to share my story and support GDB at two of their upcoming fundraising events. I will be the keynote speaker at the Annual Portland Fall Luncheon at the Nines Hotel on November 4th and the Holiday Luncheon in San Francisco on December 1st at the St. Francis Hotel!

In addition to getting to speak, they are also creating a video documentary/fundraising video of me and Nabisco, showcasing our life together. I cannot wait to see how it turns out! The filming was so much fun!

I am so grateful for all that Guide Dogs for the Blind has done for me and I am so happy to share my story to help raise funds for this amazing organization.

You can check out more information about the events at GDB’s fundraising page: http://www.guidedogs.com/events/

I am also excited to use this opportunity to share and promote occupational therapy. Even if it is only a short sentence about what OT is, it will be a way to tell the general public about what OT is. It will be a great!

Practice What I Preach

Recently I have been reflecting back on my own use of assistive devices. As an occupational therapist, we are often recommending assistive technology or adaptations and modifications. The trick is getting our clients to use them. I have a whole host of devices for low vision that I am spotty at using. I know I need to use them and they would help me a lot (decrease fatigue), but sometimes I just don’t. The trick is getting me to use them. I am not much different than any of the students I work with.

I think one of the main reasons why I choose to take off my glasses and look close to the paper or computer screen (my MO) instead of getting out a magnifier, is that I have not been properly trained to be proficient and efficient in the use of my adaptive devices. This is ESSENTIAL when teaching clients the use of adaptive devices. You can’t just hand them the technology (low or high tech) and expect it to work for them, as it was done for me. It is very important that the individual has buy in and that they are trained so that they feel comfortable and confident in using the device and it feels easier to use the device than not.

With my work, traveling to and from 7 different schools on the bus, I am not able to carry around a device for every little thing.  I need to simplify. Instead of carrying magnifiers, my CCTV, monoculars, and my iPad; I have simplified it to one monocular, a magnifier app on my iPhone, my work iPad and laptop.

I need to dedicate time to practicing and becoming proficient at the use of my tools. This is hard to do when I am barely keeping up as it is and to take the extra time to go slow and learn these tools. It would have been much easier if I was taught these skills at a young age or even better when I was given these tools only a few years back.

I need to keep this all in mind as I work with my OT students and as I work harder to learn to use my tools more efficiently. I need to be patient with myself.

 

The Gift of Freedom and Independence!

This Christmas I am celebrating many lovely things in my life, a good job, a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and a place to call home. I am also celebrating something else very special this Christmas. The gift of freedom and independence. Something that I strive to give to all my OT clients, I have found for myself. This is through the partnership with a Guide Dog.

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On December 5, 2015, I graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind with my enthusiastic, 68b, black Labrador Guide Dog named Nabisco. He is one of the best things that has come into my life. I always thought I could walk fast before my white cane, and even faster and safer with my white cane, but the speed, freedom and relaxation of traveling with Nabisco as my mobility partner is unsurpassable. I feel so much safer navigating the streets of Portland and through my daily life as an occupational therapist and independent woman. As with any new mobility tool or way of life, there is always a learning curve and we are learning to work together as a team, but I am so impressed with his eagerness to work and please and his intelligence. He is such a smart dog and he takes his job of keeping me safe very seriously. I love him more than words can explain and he gives me so much.

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As a former puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind, I know the dedication that it takes to raise these puppies and pass them off for formal training. I know the power and emotion that comes with presenting them to their blind partner on stage at graduation, but it was an absolutely amazing experience of being on the other end of the leash receiving a Guide Dog on stage at graduation. Everything has come full circle and it was a beautiful thing. I am so thankful to Nabisco’s puppy raisers! It is so amazing to me that Nabisco was raised on a farm with livestock and has been exposed to people with disabilities. What a perfect match for my lifestyle? He fits me so well in so many ways.

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I had the most amazing experience in training at Guide Dogs for the Blind. I lived in the dorms of their Oregon Campus for 2 weeks where I was able to spend dedicated time learning to work with Nabisco. I shared this experience with 3 other wonderful classmates who came from all walks of life and lifestyles and it was so great to get to share in this experience with them and we all did so well and supported each other so much. I have even stayed in touch with them since we have gotten home and it is wonderful to continue that support. The trainers and staff at Guide Dogs for the Blind are truly amazing and they would do anything to see us succeed. I am so thankful to all of them.

As Nabisco and I are building our relationship, I am amazed at his intelligence. Just the other day we were leaving Timberline Lodge and headed back to our car through the snowy parking lot. Nabisco took us directly to our car! I can’t believe he remembered exactly where it was and was able to navigate that environment in the cold and snow when his sound, smell, and sight cues were dampened. Truly amazing!

I have gotten to have Nabisco in the schools with me working as an OT. It has been really fun! All of my fellow co-workers and students enjoy having him there and we are providing a good learning opportunity for all the students. I enjoy telling them what Nabisco does for me and answering all of their questions. Kids are so insightful! One of my fellow OT’s and I wrote a social story about Nabisco to share with my students when we return from break. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Nabisco and I as an occupational therapy team and as a guide dog team!

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Occupational Therapist with Low Vision – Assistive Technology

I work as an occupational therapist for a large urban school district. I serve 7 schools and ~80+ students from K-12th grade. This is a big job for any therapist, but because I have low vision, I have extra hurdles to overcome in my daily work.

This job requires me to do a lot of different things, but to name a few, I have to:

  • Travel from school to school via city bus
  • Complete documentation/respond to email on the computer
  • Review/Read client files
  • Administer and score standardized tests
  • Make observations of students in the classroom or other school environments such as cafeteria or playground
  • Work with students on fine motor/handwriting activities
  • and much, much, more.

These are all very visual tasks. If I do not use my own adaptive equipment then I find myself getting extremely fatigued by the end of the day. In addition, many of these tasks are straining on my eyes and are very difficult for me.

In order to combat the fatigue and make these tasks easier for me, I use a variety of assistive technologies throughout my work day.

First, I use my white cane to travel to and from my schools as well as throughout my schools. I have written about my cane use before. I find that it really helps others know that I cannot see well and it helps me with navigating and detecting objects in my path. I love hearing the student’s comments and questions about my cane!

Second, to complete computer work, I use screen magnification software to magnify the screen and make things easier to read. I either use ZoomText or the built in Accessibility features on the Mac. The accessibility features on the Mac are awesome! I am really impressed with the built in capabilities that allow me to use magnification to make the computer easier to see without really expensive software.

Third, to read normal print when looking at printed reports, client files, or standardized assessments, I use a wide variety of magnifiers to assist me with these tasks that make the print larger. I have a Ruby Video Magnifier that I really like as I can make the font different sizes and I can invert the colors to find the one that is best for me. My one biggest complaint with my Ruby magnifier is the battery life. Often times, I go to use it and the batteries are dead. I also have a variety of other lighted magnifiers, but they are at a set magnification of 4x or 5x. I find that this is sometimes not enough magnification for me.

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Fourth, to view students at a distance in a variety of school environments (classroom, cafeteria, playground, etc) I use my 4x monocular. This allows me to sit near the back of the classroom and see the details about what a student is doing (seated posture, pencil grasp, movement, sometimes handwriting). I find this really helpful in the classroom, but it is difficult to track a student while they are running around the playground or in a crowded cafeteria.

Fifth, when working with students one on one or in small groups, I sometimes find it challenging to redirect them while they are working on handwriting because it is hard to see the details of what they are doing. I am able to correct big things like if they are starting at the bottom vs. the top, but sometimes I have to let them just form the letter and then I will discuss it with them after once I get a chance to look at the writing closer.

For me, the hardest part is that since I do have residual vision, I am able to read normal sized print if I squint, look really close to the paper, and work really hard. After hours of doing this throughout the work day for all visual tasks, I am worn out! This is not a sustainable practice throughout my life. I am working really hard to use my adaptive devices more to make things easier and help make not only my job, but my life less fatiguing. One thing I am trying to do is use VoiceOver when using my iPhone to limit the amount of small print I am visually reading. As with learning anything new, it is often slower and less efficient at first, but once you learn, it will hopefully speed things up and make it better. This is really important for me as an occupational therapist to remember because I am often teaching students to use assistive technology and I need to remind them that until they learn it and after practice it will get better.

I am always on the search for new, better, and more efficient low vision aids. As a OT who travels to many different schools, I can’t carry a lot of things with me so I need to fine one or two things that do it all and do it efficiently. Some days I feel like I have yet to find this.

If anyone has any suggestions on tools, apps, strategies, or different ways of doing things, I would love to hear them. Please share!

Welcome!

This is my first blog post! I want to welcome you all to my blog. Please check out the About Me page to learn a little more about me.

I had come across a blog called doublevisionblog.com the other day and it inspired me to start my own blog. As an individual with low vision, specifically Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), working as an occupational therapist, I believe I have valuable information, stories, and experiences to share that will hopefully provide hope, encouragement, and inspiration to others.

To start off, I wanted to share this article that was written about me by Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota when I was there completing one of my occupational therapy internships last fall. Check it out here!