Supportive staff, programs at Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
October 1, 2021 | View PDF
When my mother lost her sight at the age of 85, it seemed sudden but in fact it was a gradual loss with providers ignoring her complaints of floaters, flashes and jaw pain. A rare autoimmune disease, temporal arteritis, had her seeing only shadows and disrupted her circadian rhythm, the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, so she never had a full night's sleep again.
Having retired to Texas, the town she was in offered little in the way of services related to her illness, but had she been in Alaska she would have had access to a wide array of resources.
For Nate Kile, program director and assistive technology specialist at the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, his blindness came suddenly in a hunting accident as a teenager.
Now, at 45, he oversees programs to help others cope with their vision loss.
When I called to talk to him, I asked if he would prefer an email with questions, but then I thought that would not be possible. However, technology has made great strides in improving communications for those with vision loss.
Programs offer that technology to Alaskans through monthly meetings, private consultations and clinics. There is even a grant for Braille technology in schools and three times a month virtual support groups concerning vision loss on Zoom.
The center helps people navigate getting a guide dog, and devices like iPhone magnification and talking book services. They also offer a $100 grant to help purchase new glasses.
Serving Alaska for 44 years
Since 1977, the center has been the only non-profit vision rehabilitation center in Alaska. It serves the entire state of Alaska through the Rural Outreach Program. The center has a suite of services for blind and low vision Alaskans at its facility in Anchorage, as well as the Mat-Su and rural areas (see sidebar).
Attached on Kile's emails is a quote from Hellen Keller, "Knowledge is light, love and vision." And Kile fulfills that by sharing his knowledge and journey with others.
Kile will be speaking at the Living Well with Vision Loss group meeting at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at the Wasilla Senior Center, 1301 Century Drive, Wasilla, (907) 745-5454, and at the Palmer group meeting on Thursday, October 21, at the MatSu Senior Services' Palmer Senior Center at 1132 S Chugach Street, Palmer, (907) 745-5454.
Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired services
ACBVI offers Alaskans experiencing blindness and visual impairment a complete program to help them to thrive in their daily lives:
Assisted daily living. Training in personal and household management for independent living.
Orientation and mobility. Safe travel in business and residential areas.
Assistive technology. Adaptive communications involving the use of computers and related electronic devices and reading and writing Braille.
Manual skills. Use of tools and development of problem-solving skills.
Vocational services and worksite evaluations. Job preparation and vocational training for employment success.
Visually Impaired Senior Alaskans (VISA). Living Well With Vision Loss support groups and services providing support to seniors to increase their home safety for independent living.
Rural outreach. Through a state grant, the center provides rehabilitation training in communities statewide. When vision loss begins impacting daily life like reading, travelling, cooking, or using the computer, the proper rehabilitation training and assistive technology can help. From Utqiagvik to Ketchikan, over 100 Alaskans per year attend the center's low-vision clinic and receive training at no cost in their community or nearby hub. Up to $100 of low-vision devices is provided to each individual as needed. While many are referred by their eye doctor, no referral is needed to benefit from rural outreach. Center staff typically visit a community once a year and rely on community partners to get the word out and host low-vision clinics. Optometrists, nurses, care coordinators, Lions Club members and many others help make the program a success by connecting those in their community who are blind or have vision loss to services.
Low-Vision clinics. The low-vision clinic provides education about vision loss, rehabilitation training and appropriate assistive technology. Clinics are held regularly in Anchorage and in Wasilla. A typical appointment has the individual meet with a low-vision optometrist who will provide recommendations on devices for magnification, reducing glare and other ways to optimize useable vision. The client then meets with a low-vision therapist and has the opportunity to learn about and try low-vision devices such as handheld magnifiers, screen readers and other devices to increase independence with daily tasks. For low-vision clinics in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, a doctor referral is preferred.
The Bright Path program. Vision rehabilitation, vocational training, job preparation, assisted daily living and supervised social activities for youth ages 14 to 21.
Blindness sensitivity training. An educational seminar for businesses, organizations and other groups about how to approach blind and visually impaired people in a public setting. Please call to schedule.
Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is located at 3903 Taft Drive, Anchorage. Call 907-248-7770 or go to https://www.alaskabvi.org/.
In the Mat-Su Valley, email Mat-Su Outreach Coordinator Jacque Olsen, firstname.lastname@example.org
Living Well with Vision Loss groups meet monthly in Wasilla and Palmer. Call for information, 907-745-5454.