Story by Marianne Salza
John Oliveira, Acting Commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), Brookline, attended the August 16 Winthrop Low Vision Group meeting at the Robert DeLeo Senior Center to discuss the proposed $27.1 million FY2024 state budget as well as agency resources, such as occupational therapy and home care assistance.
“The funding is helping people stay in the community, be more confident, and help people manage a situation that they’re not used to,” Oliveira said.
The meeting was attended by members of the Winthrop community and neighboring cities who suffer from vision loss caused by optic nerve damage and eye conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, and retinitis pigmentosa.
Massachusetts Commission for the Blind serves approximately 30,000 visually impaired individuals. Through MCB, those with low vision can join adult support groups, enroll in educational opportunities, gain access to case managers, and partake in social rehabilitation services. Volunteers can assist in reading mail and grocery shopping, as well.
“We’re a social model and don’t charge for the services that we offer. Some tax dollars pay for the agency,” explained Oliveira. “We have additional money to buy technology; and with that equipment comes the commitment to do the training to learn how to use it.”
Oliveira explained that organizations, such as The Carroll Center for the Blind and the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, advocated for earmarks to Governor Maura Healey’s proposed budget to provide additional services to social rehabilitation consumers.
“On the vocational side, we get our money from the federal government, and match it with state funds. On the social rehab side, we look for state dollars for services that we provide for the social rehab consumers,” said Oliveira. “The advocates did not think there was enough for the rehab consumers, so over the past few years, they have proposed additions. Those earmarks were passed: one for The Carroll Center, and one for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.”
Oliveira encouraged attendees to contact The Carroll Center for technology lessons, and independent living skills training, and the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired for counseling, and day programs.
“Even if you get services from the earmark funding, we have rehabilitation teachers who can come to your home, work with you in your kitchen, or in any skill set you’re looking for,” described Oliveira. “We have orientation and mobility instructors who work with you in your neighborhood to get you acclimated to using a cane.”
Oliveira recommended that those with low vision use white canes to navigate sidewalks, and locate where dips, curbs, and unexpected objects are to avoid injuries. Bicycle lanes have presented a new challenge for those using canes because they are an additional obstacle to cross while having to avoid bicycle and scooter traffic.
Massachusetts Commission for the Blind has received many complaints concerning bicycle lanes; especially in Boston; but Oliveira assured attendees that instructors can guide them in using canes effectively to ensure their safety while approaching bicycle lanes.
“Aging-related disorders are the leading factor in losing vision for most in the U.S.,” revealed Oliveira. “Use groups like this for early intervention, and learn how to rely not so much on your vision, so when your vision changes, you can use more non-visual techniques.”