Services for People with Blindness or Low Vision

If you are experiencing a change in your vision, there are services available to help you keep or find a job, adjust to vision loss, learn to use new communication systems or assistive technologies, and learn to get around safely inside and outside your home. You can learn more about these resources by clicking on the topics below.


Vocational Rehabilitation

Every state has a federally funded vocational rehabilitation (VR) program to help people with disabilities, like vision loss, learn new skills and return to work. Many state VR programs have services designed for people who are blind or have low vision (B/LV). The state receives federal funds from the Rehabilitation Services Administration to provide these services at the local level. This is not welfare or public assistance. It is a program to help people keep their job or return to work at a new job and become more independent.
 

If you reach out to VR for services, you will first undergo an assessment to determine your skills and abilities. Then, you will be assigned a VR counselor who will help you create a plan to either return to work or maintain your current job. Your plan might include vocational training; learning adaptive skills; or learning to use assistive technology (AT), like computers with speech output or screen magnification.

After you finish your rehabilitation and training, VR staff will help you get ready for the job seeking process. When appropriate, VR staff will identify and work with potential employers to help them understand how job candidates with B/LV can perform a job. VR staff will help you develop your interviewing skills, resume-writing skills, and any other preparation you need before meeting with a potential employer. Some VR agencies have a staff member, known as a job developer, who helps with the process of resume writing, job seeking, and preparing for interviews.

View the list on our website to find a VR office in your state or search the internet using the name of your state and the term “Vocational Rehabilitation Services.”


Low Vision Services

If your vision cannot be improved with normal glasses or contacts, an eye doctor may refer you for a special eye examination called a “low vision evaluation.” A low vision evaluation is different from getting an exam to determine if you need glasses. It focuses on functionality and on making the best use of remaining vision. During this evaluation, a low vision specialist will use charts to check your visual acuity. Often people with the same condition and visual acuity actually see very differently and have different visual functional capabilities. The low vision specialist will try to identify these differences and find ways to maximize your visual functioning.

A low vision exam will not restore your vision to where it was before, but with the use of magnification devices and various strategies, it can help you function better with your remaining vision. Some people experience a big improvement, others a small improvement. If you feel a low vision exam might benefit you, ask your eye doctor or VR counselor to refer you to a low vision specialist who can perform the exam. Some eye doctors may not make this referral, but VR can arrange for these services if they are appropriate.

A low vision specialist may be able to prescribe optical devices, like magnification or telescopic devices, or nonoptical devices, like special lighting or large print items, that can make doing near tasks (like reading) easier. They also arrange for training in the use of low vision devices. Some states offer a bioptic driving program to help people with low vision return to driving with the use of specialized aids and training (visit the website Driving with Bioptics for more information).

Low vision exams and devices can be expensive. In some cases, VR can help eligible consumers with the costs of needed exams and devices.


Orientation and Mobility Training

Orientation and mobility (O&M) is an area of instruction that involves the ability of a B/LV person to move safely through an environment with dignity and confidence. Orientation describes a person's understanding of where he or she is in space and helps a person find his or her way through an environment to a destination. Orientation includes the understanding of directionality (north, south, east, and west) and comprehension of the intricacies of an environment. Orientation answers the questions, “Where am I?”, “Where am I going?”, and “How am I going to get there?”

Mobility refers to a person’s ability to move safely and comfortably through an environment. Traditionally, people with B/LV have used human guides, dog guides, or white canes to help with mobility. Mobility answers the question, “How am I going to safely get where I want to go?”

Electronic travel aids or wayfinding devices can help individuals with B/LV safely travel through complex and unfamiliar environments. These include devices like GPS systems, laser canes, and audible streetlights.

Click here to learn more about O&M.


Blind or Vision Rehabilitation Services

Known by several different names, instructional services to help people adjust to vision loss are provided by vision rehabilitation therapists (VRTs). These specialists may also be referred to as rehabilitation teachers, independent living instructors, or braille instructors. VRTs provide instruction in compensatory skills and assistive technology that enable people with B/LV live safe, productive, and independent lives. VRTs also work in areas that enhance the career opportunities, independent living, and educational development of B/LV people, and they may work in either center- or home-based settings.

Specific areas of instruction covered in blind or vision rehabilitation services include:

  • Communication: braille, handwriting, recording skills, use of electronic reading systems, use of assistive technology, computer access technology
  • Personal management: grooming, hygiene, clothing organization, medical measurement, socialization skills
  • Home management: organization and labeling, repair and home maintenance, budgeting, record keeping
  • Activities of daily living: cooking, cleaning, shopping, safety, money organization and management
  • Leisure and recreation: hobbies, woodworking, crafts, sports
  • Psychosocial aspects of blindness and low vision: adjustment and acceptance of vision loss
  • Medical management: assessment and instruction regarding adaptive medical equipment, medicine identification and organization
  • Basic O&M skills: sighted guide, safety techniques
     

If you would like to learn more about vision rehabilitation or blind services, visit the VisionAware website, which focuses on independent living for B/LV individuals.


Rehabilitation Counseling Services

Rehabilitation counseling services are provided by rehabilitation counselors who work with people who are B/LV to provide vocational rehabilitation. Rehabilitation counselors can play an important role in helping you prepare for and find gainful employment. A rehabilitation counselor can collaborate with you to create a plan for employment that works with your strengths, resources, priorities, capabilities, and interests.

Rehabilitation counseling services also involve purchasing and providing resources you may need to achieve your plan for employment. These resources may include physical or mental restoration; educational or vocational training; computer and adaptive equipment; and job readiness, placement, and retention services.