I frequently get comments from readers who discover my blog after they have been diagnosed with low vision or progressive blindness, and they often ask me what they should do first. One of the things that can help people with vision impairments the most is setting up a case or file with their state resource department for people with blindness or vision impairment. The name of this department in each state varies- Virginia is the Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Maryland is Department of Rehabilitation Services, New York is New York State Commission for the Blind, etc. No matter the name of the department, receiving services can help tremendously with navigating life with a vision impairment- and they provide their services for free. Here are seven benefits of having a case with state departments for vision impairment.
Vocational rehabilitation is defined as “a process which enables persons with functional, psychological, developmental, cognitive and emotional impairments or health disabilities to overcome barriers to accessing, maintaining or returning to employment or other useful occupation.” Through this program, people with vision impairments can receive resources and training towards gaining stable and meaningful employment, or for maintaining their job. One example of how vocational rehabilitation services may be used is if a computer programmer began losing their sight, they would learn how to use assistive technologies and screen reading and/or magnification software to continue to do their job. Another example would be helping a high school student get into an apprenticeship and helping to ensure they graduate and gain employment. For a more in-depth explanation of vocational rehabilitation, read my post here.
Help with IEPs and 504 Plans
When I had an IEP in high school that eventually transitioned into a 504 plan, when I graduated (read more about why to transition to a 504 plan here), we always noted that I had a case with Virginia's Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI), which I received in ninth grade. Having a case helped to confirm that I needed services and also eliminated the need for repeated assessments to determine if I still qualified for services, which came in handy when I moved school districts (read more about that in my post on not graduating early here). My school had trouble understanding why I received services from DBVI, citing that I wasn't blind, but the truth is almost all state departments can help students with low vision in addition to students with blindness. Another benefit is that your DBVI case manager can come to IEP, 504 plan, and child study team meetings and act as an advocate when needed. Read more about child study teams here.
Aids in college transition
When I started preparing to go to college, I had an intake meeting with Disability Services so we could determine my accommodations. Having a case file with DBVI meant that I was approved almost instantly for services, since a lot of documentation was attached. On an unrelated note, having a case with DBVI gave me something to talk about when I met other students with vision impairment. Read more about setting up a Disability Services file here.
Orientation and mobility training
As your vision changes, you might need to learn alternative ways of navigating, or learn to use a blindness cane either for identification or mobility purposes. Almost all state departments for vision impairment have at least one orientation and mobility specialist who teaches people how to navigate, how to pick out a cane, and learn to travel independently. Sometimes you might even be able to get canes for free. Read more about my initial feelings about using a blindness cane in my White Cane Day post here, and learn more about the different colors of blindness canes here.
Assistive technology services
No surprise, this is one of my favorite things about having a case with my state department for vision impairments, because everyone I have met from the assistive technology department has been very knowledgeable and up-to-date on all of the latest technologies. They can perform assistive technology assessments as well as show off the latest gadgets for people interested in them. One of these meetings actually led to me discovering the E-Bot Pro, which has helped me a lot in the classroom- read more about the E-Bot Pro here. It's important to remember that not all assistive technology devices are high-tech though- read more about assistive technology myths in my 200th post here.
State Protection and Advocacy organizations
When I ran into an issue that was connected to the fact I have a disability, I was able to utilize my state Protection and Advocacy organization in order to help me solve the problem. Having a case with DBVI helped me be able to get my other case approved quickly and helped move everything along even quicker. While I won't explain further what the issue was, you can read more about my experiences with my state Protection and Advocacy organization here.
A reminder vision impairment isn't the end of the world
A lot of people tend to be scared of losing their eyesight, or not being able to function after they have lost it already. One of the greatest benefits state departments for vision impairment provide is that you can still lead an amazing life, no matter what your sight level may be. There are a lot of great people who want to help and make life easier for you, and it's important to give them the opportunity to do so.
Having a case with my state department for vision impairment has helped me a lot, and I highly recommend setting up a case if you haven't already.