Learning to cope with low vision together
After Baltimore resident Ruth Hoffman was diagnosed with macular degeneration, she heard from a friend about a free low-vision support group that meets twice a month at the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center.
“I found out the program was sponsored by Jewish Community Services (JCS), a good organization, and I decided to attend,” said Hoffman.
“It’s a very informal group, mostly seniors, and everyone speaks frankly about their disability,” she added. “Sometimes we go around the table and share helpful tips with each other.”
The group facilitator, JCS Elder Care Specialist Rachel Brodsky, explained that the group has about 15 regulars, mostly women, with quite a few in their 90s.
“Our goal is to make life as easy as possible for the blind and to meet them where they are in their condition,” said Brodsky. “It’s a free group that offers support and the latest information on medical and technological advances and treatments.”
Support for the program is provided by the Sylvan and Isabelle Ribakow Low Vision Support Group Endowment Fund of JCS.
Brodsky said there are different reasons group members have lost their vision, and they function at many different levels [of sight].
“The thing they share in common is they all benefit from the camaraderie and enjoy coming, and they benefit from hearing from others who are going through the same things. It’s their group; they have really taken ownership.”
According to Brodsky, the main focus of the group is technology, with an emphasis on smart devices such as Google Home, Alexa, iPhones and advanced magnifying devices.
Occasionally the group hosts speakers from nonprofit organizations like the Maryland Technology Assistance Program (MDTAP), Blind Industries and Services of Maryland and others.
In fact, Hoffman said, one speaker from the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped changed her life.
“The speaker showed us how to use one piece of equipment that I found invaluable. Through this organization I received a tape recorder free of charge and a catalog of their books on tape.
“The CDs come through the U.S. Post Office and arrive at my door,” Hoffman continued. “They ship them for free, and I send them back for free.”
The speaker from the Maryland Technology Assistance Program (MDTAP) also impressed Hoffman. “She maintains a library near Morgan University. They have all kinds of equipment for people with vision and hearing loss. They brought equipment to our support group, and then invited us to come for a demonstration.”
Several members of the group drove to the university together. “It was well worth the trip,” Hoffman said. “They will lend you equipment for four weeks to see if you want to buy it, and they provide information on where you can buy it.”
Although Hoffman’s macular degeneration is not improving, she stays positive. “It’s been a challenge coping with this change,” she said. “I deal with it on a day-to-day basis.”
In spite of her disability, Hoffman feels gratitude for what she can still do. “So far, I’m living independently and I’m grateful for that. You see people who are in much worse condition than you are. When you’re up in years, you have to expect these things. I’m grateful I’m here.”
The group, which is open to the public, meets the second and fourth Thursday of each month (except in April and August), from 1:30 to 3 p.m., at the Edward A. Myerberg Center, 3101 Fallstaff Rd. Walk-ins are welcome, and there is no charge to participate.
At the May 9 meeting, Dr. Janet Sunness, medical director of the Hoover Low Vision Clinic at GBMC, will discuss dry macular degeneration.
For more information, contact Rachel Brodsky at (410) 843-7421 or email email@example.com.