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The White House Conference on Aging Issues and Initiatives: Part Two

Priscilla Rogers wearing a blue shirt

Guest blogger Priscilla (Pris) Rogers, Ph.D. is the Program Manager for VisionAware and co-author of Aging and Vision Loss: A Handbook for Families. Her other works include Self-Advocacy Skills Training for Older Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired and Solutions for Success: A Training Manual for Working with Older People Who Are Visually Impaired. She has an M.A. degree in gerontology and a Ph.D. in special education with an emphasis in vision and aging.

In A Summary of the White House Conference on Aging Issues and Initiatives: Part One, Pris described the major issues and initiatives addressed during the 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA). This week, she summarizes the conference initiatives related to aging and vision loss addressed by the American Foundation for the Blind's Letter to the President.

Background and Overview

The White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) took place on July 13, 2015. It was an historic occasion that occurs once a decade. This year's conference was the first to take place on a national stage with the opportunity for people across the nation – and even the world – to listen in and participate through social media, including a Twitter feed @WHAging that enabled virtual attendees to ask questions and make comments.

2015 White House Conference on Aging logo

The American Foundation for the Blind's (AFB) Letter to the President articulated major WHCOA issues related to aging and vision loss. AFB and the 70+ agencies that signed on to the letter emphasized the need for a systemic approach to ensure that older Americans who are blind or visually impaired are able to (a) receive the training in independent living they need to carry out everyday tasks, (b) obtain critical technologies to enhance their health, independence and safety, and (c) access appropriate support services, such as transportation.

Editor's note: The initiatives detailed in this post come from Fact Sheet: White House Conference on Aging. These initiatives are related to the themes of the conference and to additional older adult-related concerns. We have included specific AFB responses and remarks to tie the WHCOA initiatives to issues of concern to AFB.

Initiative: Aging in Place

Older Americans prefer to stay in their homes and communities as they age. As the older population grows, housing that meets their needs is increasingly important.

  • To address these needs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released Aging in Place: Facilitating Choice and Independence, a guide to help older homeowners, families, and caregivers make changes to their homes so that older adults can remain safe and independent.

AFB's Response

Advocates should check this guide for relevance to older people with visual impairment. For example, the guide should include (a) a checklist and information about preventing falls, (b) using environmental cues such as color, contrast, and texture, and (c) providing good lighting and controlling glare.

AFB's Response

Again, advocates should check this guide for relevance to older people with visual impairment. For example, VisionAware offers videos about home modification and vision loss and suggestions for enhancing visual contrast.

  • Washington State University will test new models of using technology to keep older adults safe and healthy as they live independently in their own homes, including a partnership with the Good Samaritan Society to equip 1,500 homes across the country with wireless sensors to help clinicians monitor those older adult residents who voluntarily chose to participate for health concerns.

Initiatives: Long Term Care, Healthy Aging, and Elder Justice

  • A proposed rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to update, for the first time in nearly 25 years, the quality and safety requirements for more than 15,000 nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities to improve quality of life, enhance person-centered care and services for residents in nursing homes, improve resident safety, and bring these regulatory requirements into closer alignment with current professional standards
  • A new proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase accessibility to critical nutrition for housebound, older Americans and people with disabilities by enabling Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to be used for services that purchase and deliver food to these households
  • A final Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) victim assistance rule from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to be released by the end of the year.
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidance confirming that its Equal Access rule applies to all HUD-assisted and HUD-insured multifamily housing, including Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly.
  • The SCAN Foundation is investing $2 million in assisting community-based aging networks in developing the skills and capacity necessary to build collaborative partnerships with the health care sector.

Initiative: Helping Older Americans Stay Healthy

  • To reduce the occurrence of falls among older Americans, Kaiser Permanente will implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) evidence-based falls prevention tool, known as STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) across all of its regions. The CDC is also launching a free on-line course, based on the STEADI program, which will offer continuing education credits to physicians, nurses, and other health professionals on making fall prevention a routine part of clinical care.

AFB's Response

As noted previously, fall prevention is a major issue for older adults with vision loss and VisionAware provides many solutions and suggestions for prevention.

  • By the end of 2015, Epic Systems Corporation, the electronic health record (EHR) technology provider, will make available to its EHR clients a clinical decision support tool for falls assessment based on CDC's guidelines, to make it easier for health care providers to screen for falls, intervene to reduce risk, and provide follow-up care.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration announced $35 million in awards to health professions training programs to expand geriatrics education to prepare the health care workforce to respond to the needs associated with advancing age.

AFB's Response

One respondent to AFB's National Conversation on aging and vision loss said this: "Long term services or support are difficult to maintain if available at all. Most services are short term, addressing immediate needs. Facilities, for the most part, do not employ persons with the knowledge base to truly assist the vision impaired individual. Most do not know where services are available – if at all. In rural Arizona this is compounded by lack of services and distance to, or to receive, services. Most rely heavily on family or friends, if available, for long term support. The 'golden years' aren't very golden for many living with vision loss."

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is working with AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Family Physicians, and many other organizations to disseminate information to patients and members on Medicare's preventive benefits. Efforts to increase use of recommended preventive services will include, for example, co-branding CMS publications on preventive services and distributing a user-friendly checklist to help Medicare beneficiaries understand and use their Medicare preventive benefits.

AFB's Response

The Medicare preventive services include a "simple vision test" (undefined) and "glaucoma" tests. These services should be expanded to cover a dilated eye exam at least annually. Further, doctors are not required to refer patients diagnosed with severe vision loss for services to help them cope with vision problems. Patients are normally unaware that such services exist. AFB has developed a simple, free, IOS app to help with this referral process.

  • A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) effort to improve Medicare enrollment educational materials has resulted in updated Web-based information and frequently asked questions, as well as a redesigned Social Security Statement containing more prominent Medicare enrollment information for individuals over age 60.
  • The National Prevention Council will release a Healthy Aging Action Plan during Spring 2016 to advance its National Prevention Strategy and will identify Federal action steps to promote prevention and well-being among older Americans.
  • The John A. Hartford Foundation plans to invest $3 million to support the delivery of evidence-based services and programs by Area Agencies on Aging, which provide community-based support to older Americans and their caregivers. It has allocated $2 million to help the HHS Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program meet its goals of improving health outcomes for older adults.
  • The Stanford Center on Longevity will develop a State of Longevity Index to be released in early 2016 that will measure how well the United States is doing to improve the prospects for long-term well-being in financial security, physical health, social connectedness, educational attainment, and age-friendly communities.

Initiative: Keeping Older Americans Moving

  • The Surgeon General has joined with the YMCA in issuing a challenge to the 850 YMCA associations across the country: Hosting intergenerational physical activity events during the first week of August to promote opportunities for young and older Americans to be active together.
a group of seniors doing aerobics
  • The National Institutes of Health is partnering with a diverse group of public and private partners to promote healthy aging through its Go4Life exercise and physical activity campaign for older adults. Go4Life Month is September 2015.

AFB's Response

VisionAware has partnered with Go4Life to develop Exercise for People with Low Vision.

Initiative: Transportation

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation will launch the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center in Fall 2015. This $2.5 million investment will provide technical assistance to improve the availability and accessibility of transportation options that serve the needs of people with disabilities, seniors and caregivers.
  • Uber is announcing pilot programs in Florida, Texas, Ohio, Arizona, and California that will partner with senior community centers and other advocates to provide free technology tutorials and free or discounted rides to older Americans to increase access to transportation options and support mobility and independence.
  • Airbnb has conducted research to support and understand the experience of older Americans in their travels and in their use of technology and is partnering with communities to enhance accessibility and the user experience for older populations.

AFB's Response

Transportation always has and continues to be a major deterrent to independence to people with visual impairment. This concern surfaced repeatedly during AFB's National Conversation on aging and vision loss: "Public transportation is critical for all persons with vision loss to maintain their independence. Unfortunately however, public transportation is often limited or not available at all. This results in older individuals who are blind or experiencing vision loss being dependent on friends and relatives for transportation, or being housebound."

For More Information

Information on the WHCOA initiatives has been excerpted from Fact Sheet: The White House Conference on Aging.

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Ways to Make Monitoring Blood Sugar Easier, More Accurate, and Less Costly: Part 5 in a Series

Audrey Demmitt and her dog guide

Audrey Demmitt, RN, BSN, is a nurse diabetic educator, VisionAware Peer Advisor, AFB Career Connect mentor, and author of the VisionAware multi-part blog series on diabetes and diabetes education. At age 25, Audrey was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and continued to work as a nurse for 30 years with her visual impairment.

She has worked as an Adjustment to Blindness Counselor and Diabetic Educator for Vision Rehabilitation Services of Georgia and as a school nurse providing in-service training for school staff and developing care plans for newly-diagnosed students and their families.

In Part 1 of her series, Audrey discussed how diabetes education can help lower your blood sugars and reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy. In Part 2, she emphasized the significance of the A1C test in the effective diagnosis, treatment, and management of diabetes. In Part 3, Audrey explained the importance and benefits of healthy eating as part of a comprehensive diabetes care plan. In Part 4, she examined the importance and benefits of exercise as a critical component of a comprehensive diabetes care plan.

In this month's installment, Audrey discusses the importance of developing regular and accurate blood glucose monitoring skills, which are essential for people with diabetes. As Audrey says, "With practice, blood sugar monitoring can become a quick and routine procedure that helps manage blood sugar and avoid the complications of diabetes."

Self-Monitoring Is an Essential Skill

Self-monitoring blood sugar is an essential skill for people with diabetes. The information obtained from regular and accurate finger-stick testing gives you and your doctor the ability to adjust your diet, exercise, and medications so you can achieve your blood glucose control goals. People with diabetes know that monitoring blood sugar is important, yet they resist doing it and for valid reasons. Here are some common reasons people give for not testing as often as the doctor recommends:

  1. It hurts to poke my fingers.
  2. My fingers get sore and calloused.
  3. It is difficult to get a good drop of blood.
  4. I have trouble finding the blood drop.
  5. I waste a lot of test strips trying to get an accurate reading.
  6. The test strips are expensive. My insurance will pay only for so many strips.

Monitoring: the First Steps

As with learning any new skill, it is important to have the right equipment, instruction, and support. With practice, blood sugar monitoring can become a quick and routine procedure which helps manage blood sugar and avoid the complications of diabetes.

Selecting an Appropriate Glucose Meter

Begin by asking your doctor or diabetic educator which glucose meter would be best for you. There are many models available that include accessibility features like larger screens, tactile buttons, speech output, and lighted backgrounds.

Insurance providers have "preferred" equipment lists. Sometimes, your doctor can write a letter of "medical necessity," documenting reasons you may require a certain type of glucose meter and insurers will make an exception. For instance, if you have vision impairment or neuropathy of the fingers, you may need a specialized model. Learn more about glucose meters and their accessibility features at An Evaluation of Accessible Blood Glucose Meters from AFB Tech.

Learn Techniques for Self-Monitoring

Next, you want to be sure you have learned proper techniques for self-monitoring and that you have not developed bad habits over time. Ask for instruction when you visit your doctor’s office. Ask your doctor to evaluate your technique and compare your result against the blood draw that is sent to the lab to check your meter for accuracy. I have heard of newly diagnosed patients who were handed a glucose meter in a box and sent home without any instruction. This is unacceptable. Patients need to ask for proper instruction.

While you are learning this new skill, you may need support from family, friends, or other caregivers. It is a good idea to have someone learn along with you so they can give assistance while you perfect your method and act as a backup in times of illness, stress, or when trouble-shooting is needed. Contact a vision rehabilitation therapist to learn ways to adapt your technique if you are experiencing vision changes. Consider reaching out to your local American Diabetes Association office to inquire about workshops, events, and support groups in your area.

The following resources can provide step-by-step instructions and a comprehensive overview of blood sugar monitoring:

Making Blood Sugar Testing More Successful

Here are some tips to help make blood sugar testing more successful:

  1. Choosing the site. Develop a method of rotating your fingers so they do not get poked as often. One method is to begin with the left first finger on Monday, second finger on Tuesday and third finger on Wednesday. Move to your right first finger on Thursday, second finger on Friday and third finger on Saturday. For Sundays, use the baby fingers. You can also rotate the sides of the fingers; the side facing the thumb for morning and the pinky side for evening. This gives your fingers a chance to heal, avoiding soreness and callouses.

  2. Getting the blood drop. Increase the blood flow to the site by washing your hands with soap in warm water. Then hang your hand down and shake it a couple of times. Massage your finger to warm it up. This helps bring blood to the fingertip so you can obtain an adequate blood drop to test. If you still have trouble getting a good-sized drop of blood, you may want to try wrapping a rubber band around the middle joint of the finger, holding the band in place with your thumb – like a tourniquet. After poking the finger, release the rubber band so blood will fill the fingertip and the site will bleed. Don’t squeeze the site; "milk" the finger gently instead.

  3. Finding the blood drop. Poke the finger along the sides, avoiding the finger pads. There are fewer nerve endings and more blood vessels on the sides. If you have trouble seeing the drop of blood, it will be easier to find if you use the sides of the fingers and visualize where the puncture site is in relation to the nail bed. Usually, a slow scooping motion, with the strip in the meter, along the side of the finger will find the drop of blood.

  4. Using the right lancing technique. Adjust the lancing device to the right depth and purchase lancets with the smallest-sized needle that gets the job done. The larger the gauge of the needle, the smaller it is in size. Most blood glucose strips now require micro amounts of blood, so there is no need for large, deep sticks. Ask your pharmacist or diabetic educator for a few lancet samples so you can experiment to figure out the best size and depth for you.

  5. Knowing when to test. Talk with your doctor about how often you need to test your blood sugar. Since not everyone needs to do it as frequently, determine "the bare minimum" of tests you need to perform. You may also want to "pair the readings," such as before and after meals or an activity, so the results give you more information about how your blood sugar responds to various factors. In this way, fewer tests may be needed.

  6. Ensuring accuracy. Meters are designed to detect errors in testing and give feedback. Be familiar with your meter error messages so you can correct them. Avoiding errors means fewer finger sticks and fewer strips wasted. The Food and Drug Administration offers information about meters and the most common testing errors at Blood Glucose Monitoring Devices.

  7. Working with Your Insurance Provider. Insurers cover blood sugar testing supplies under the durable medical equipment policy. This includes prescription items ordered by your doctor for home use. If you require a special type of meter and strips, or more strips than are allowed monthly on the policy, you can ask your doctor to fill out the medical necessity form and send documentation as evidence to support your request for the insurance to make an exception. Generally, insurance companies have rules to provide what is "medically necessary" or an appropriate substitute. Also, co-pays for test strips are often less if you use a mail-order service instead of a retail pharmacy. Check with your insurer about this option. Supplies are conveniently delivered to your home and are cheaper.

  8. Saving Money on Supplies. During the past few years, the burden of diabetes expenses has increased for the patient in the form of higher co-pays and higher deductibles. Though testing supplies are a smaller expense in comparison, there are a number of ways to cut costs. Diabetes Forecast® magazine offers excellent tips that can help save you money on test strips.

Do you have any tips that make monitoring blood sugars easier or more accurate? How do you save money on supplies? Please share your ideas with us!

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A Summary of the White House Conference on Aging Issues and Initiatives: Part One

Priscilla Rogers wearing a blue shirt

Guest blogger Priscilla Rogers, Ph.D. is the Program Manager for VisionAware and co-author of Aging and Vision Loss: A Handbook for Families. Her other works include Self-Advocacy Skills Training for Older Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired and Solutions for Success: A Training Manual for Working with Older People Who Are Visually Impaired. She has an M.A. degree in gerontology and a Ph.D. in special education with an emphasis in vision and aging.

The 2015 White House Conference on Aging: An Overview

The White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) took place on July 13, 2015. It was an historic occasion that occurs once a decade. This year's conference was the first to take place on a national stage with the opportunity for people across the nation – and even the world – to listen in and participate through social media, including a Twitter feed @WHAging that enabled virtual attendees to ask questions and make comments.

2015 White House Conference on Aging logo

However, it is unfortunate that minimal effort was made to acknowledge aging and disabilities, particularly with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaching on July 26, 2015. Although the words "low vision," "visual impairment," and "screen reader" were used by some of the presenters, nothing was mentioned specifically about older Americans with visual impairments, except when discussing initiatives related to consumer fraud. In addition, the excellent videos that accompanied the presentations were not audio-described to make them fully accessible to participants and viewers who were blind or visually impaired.

This is the first of three posts that will cover the WHCOA initiatives that were announced with great fanfare – and, in several cases, with noticeable ageism.

Overriding Themes

The conference focused on four issues: healthy aging, long term services and supports, elder justice, and retirement security.

Adriane Berg from Generation Bold Radio summed up what happened quite well:

Every 10 years, leaders in the field of aging gather in Washington D.C. to attend the White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA). The WHCOA sets the tone for governmental, nonprofit, and commercial efforts that will affect us all. This year, there were significant themes which express the state of aging today:

  • Focus on family and professional caregivers
  • The woeful state of retirement savings of boomers
  • The disgrace of elder abuse
  • Age-friendly and dementia-friendly universally designed communities
  • Continued food insecurity
  • The ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the State of Vision and Aging

All of these themes certainly affect older persons with vision loss and many were reflected in the input from across the country that AFB has received on the "state of vision and aging" in this country.

The American Foundation for the Blind's (AFB) letter to the President about the WHCOA articulated major issues related to aging and vision loss. AFB and the 70+ agencies that signed on to the letter emphasized the need for a systemic approach to ensure that older Americans who are blind or visually impaired are able to (a) receive the training in independent living they need to carry out everyday tasks, (b) obtain critical technologies to enhance their health, independence and safety, and (c) access appropriate support services, such as transportation.

President Obama Speaks at the WHCOA

Key quote: "...Because this conference takes place just once a decade, we have to make it count. ... one of the best measurements of a country is how it treats its older citizens." You can view President Obama's speech in its entirety at YouTube.

It's Up to Us to Carry the Ball

Just how do we in the field of visual impairment make this conference count for older persons with vision now and in the future? It is up to us to continue to push our agenda forward and use this opportunity to tie in the concerns raised in AFB's National Conversation and aging and vision loss survey. It is up to us to insert ourselves in this process; to become aware of the initiatives that are taking place; and make sure that we have or make a place at the table. Once at the table, it is our responsibility to advocate for resolution to specific concerns that affect older persons with vision loss.

Initiatives Rolled Out at the Conference

Editor's note: The initiatives detailed in this post come from Fact Sheet: White House Conference on Aging. These initiatives are related to the themes of the conference and other related concerns. We have included specific AFB responses and remarks to tie the WHCOA initiatives to issues that AFB has raised.


As a cross-cutting measure (i.e., fundamental issues related to, and included in, all programs and projects), the Administration launched on July 13, 2015. The purpose of is to provide older Americans, their families, friends, and other caregivers, with a one-stop resource for government-wide information on helping older adults live independent and fulfilling lives. The website links to a broad spectrum of Federal information, including how to find local services and resources in the community, as well as key information on vital programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Initiative: Retirement Security

  • Facilitating State Efforts to Provide Workplace-based Retirement Saving Opportunities: About a third of the workforce lacks access to a workplace retirement plan.... In the absence of Congressional action, the states are leading the charge. Similar proposals have been passed by a few states and are under consideration in over 20 others. Other states are considering an approach that would encourage employers to create 401(k)-type plans. By the end of the year, the U.S. Department of Labor will publish a proposed rule clarifying how states can move forward, including with respect to requirements to automatically enroll employees and for employers to offer coverage.
  • Employers Better Preparing Workers for Retirement: Even among workers with access to an employer-based plan, only 78 percent participate; for part-time workers, this number decreases to 57 percent... Best practices like automatic enrollment of employees in 401(k) plans starting at levels of at least 5 percent of pay, automatic escalation of contributions, substantial employer matching and other contributions, and comprehensive financial education programs are important to help employees better prepare for retirement. Some companies have set up innovative plans. Also, for new savers without access to workplace retirement savings plans, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has also introduced myRA (my Retirement Account), a simple, safe, and no-fee savings option. Individuals can currently contribute to myRA through payroll deductions at their employers, and will also be able to contribute directly through their bank accounts later this year.
  • Helping Workers Plan for Retirement by Providing Ready Access to Information About Their Social Security Benefits: To assist Americans in their financial planning, the Social Security Administration is providing individuals with an easily transferable data file with the information contained in their monthly Social Security benefit statement, and has released a guide to help developers understand how they could incorporate the data into new software. New tools utilizing this information could combine it with self-reported information on an individual's retirement savings in 401(k)-style plans and IRAs to help individuals understand the amount of resources they will have available, determine how much to save, and figure out when to claim Social Security benefits, among other important financial planning and retirement decisions. Betterment, Financial Engines, and HelloWallet Holdings (a Morningstar Company) have committed to developing software incorporating the new data from SSA.
  • Protecting Defined Benefit Pensions: To ensure that more retirees continue to enjoy a steady, reliable stream of income in retirement, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has recently issued guidance clarifying that employers sponsoring defined benefit pension plans generally may not offer lump sum payments to retirees to replace their regular monthly pensions.
  • Facilitating the Availability of Lifetime Income Options: Retirement security requires more than just accumulating savings—people also need protection against outliving assets. Lifetime income options like annuities provide a regular stream of income regardless of lifespan... the U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance clarifying that an employer's fiduciary duty to monitor an insurer's solvency generally ends when the plan no longer offers the annuity as a distribution option, not when the insurer finishes making all promised payments. The guidance should encourage more employers to offer lifetime income annuities as a benefit distribution option in their 401(k)-type plans.

AFB's Concerns Re: Retirement Security

Although the above measures address major concerns related to retirement, economic security is even more precarious among older Americans who retired early due to unexpected vision loss, who have had vision loss for most of their lives and as a result had fewer employment opportunities. These individuals significantly economically disadvantaged as a direct result of their vision loss.

One respondent shared the following with AFB: "Many individuals were diagnosed after retirement and did not even think about planning to have finances to pay for video magnifiers; co-payments for injections related to age-related macular degeneration; in-home assistance; or options for transportation. Those who do not have the financial resources do without; those who have financial resources found that retirement funds have to be diverted from more fun/social expenditures to 'eye care needs.'"

Initiative: Utilizing Technology to Support Older Americans

As part of the administration's commitment to making Federal government data open and more easily usable, September 2015, Federal data sets relevant to aging and to elderly Americans will be made easily available on, the repository for the U.S. Government's open data. This resource will continuously be updated with datasets on aging, much like it is for other important Administration priorities such as climate, public safety, and education.

Private Sector Actions Regarding Technology and Its Intersection with Management of Day-to-Day Life

In connection with the WHCOA, private sector leaders announced new actions to help bring technology to bear to improve support for older Americans:

iPad with hand indicating apps on screen
  • LeadingAge, an association of 6,000 not-for-profit organizations and businesses that represent a broad field of aging services, is planning to partner with Hewlett-Packard using HP's 3D immersive computing platform and Federal open data to challenge innovators to create technology-driven tools to improve the lives of older adults and their families.
  • Walgreens has made advancements in its digital technologies to connect individuals with its telehealth services provider, which offers 24/7 access to U.S. board-certified doctors. Seniors also can track their health behavior with personal wellness smartphone technologies from Walgreens and WebMD.
  • Peapod has adopted "best in class" web accessibility standards to ensure that all individuals, including those with disabilities and those who are unable to shop at traditional stores, can use its website and mobile applications.
  • Honor, a tech-enabled company that matches seniors with care professionals, will offer $1 million in free home care across 10 cities in the country and work with established care providing organizations in those communities to ensure this care goes to helping older Americans.
  • The University of Washington's School of Nursing and the HEALTH-E (Home-based Environmental Assisted Living Technologies for Healthy Elders) initiative are introducing an Aging and Technology Laboratory, which includes hardware and software tools to support participatory design of technology for older adults. The laboratory will allow scientists, engineers, and others to engage older adults and their families to accelerate the generation of new solutions to support aging.
  • Philips, joined by the MIT AgeLab and Georgetown University's Global Social Enterprise Initiative, will create the AgingWell Hub – an incubator for open innovation that examines and shares solutions to aging well through the use of new technologies, products, services and thought leadership in collaboration with academia, healthcare systems, caregivers, payers, entrepreneurs and older adults.

AFB's Response to Technology Initiatives

Despite efforts to build an awareness at every level of government about the importance of ensuring that technologies used for living and working are accessible, the accessibility of technologies remains an ongoing and uphill battle for consumers who are visually impaired. Technology affects every aspect of everyday life and can make or break a person's decision to remain independent – from taking medication, to reading bills, to ordering groceries, to getting around.

Technology does hold the key to answering many of the dilemmas faced by older Americans including those with vision loss, but the decision to make technology accessible out of the box must be a conscious decision that includes the stakeholders. AFB recently honored Apple for doing just this: creating VoiceOver, a gesture-based screen reader that allows users to hear a description of everything happening on the display, and other features that make iPhone, iPad and other iOS devices accessible to people with vision loss.

No mention was made of Walgreen's initiative on accessible prescriptions.

Further, the very devices that affect independence are not covered by Medicare or other funding, nor is training to use them available on a consistent basis. As noted by one respondent, "Medicare should pay for assistive devices for people with low vision or no vision... Aids for vision, such as glasses, magnifiers, and talking devices should be covered. This could mean the difference between a person being independent and having to have a family member or to hire someone to provide these services."

For More Information

Information on the WHCOA initiatives has been excerpted from Fact Sheet: The White House Conference on Aging.

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Meet Dr. Gregory Goodrich, Chair of the Upcoming Conference on Vision Loss in Older Adults and Veterans

head shot of Gregory Goodrich

Dr. Gregory Goodrich received his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology in 1974 from Washington State University, when he also began his career with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He retired in 2014 after having served as supervisory research psychologist assigned to the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto, California, and as the program coordinator for the Optometric Research Fellowship Program in Palo Alto.

Since retirement, he has become a volunteer at the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center and serves on a committee for the Blinded Veterans Association. He is also a member of the Governing Board for the Hall of Fame: Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field, housed at the American Printing House for the Blind.

In addition to his volunteer activities, Dr. Goodrich is currently a research consultant on several projects. His primary areas of research are low vision reading, low vision mobility, and outcome studies. Most recently, his research has focused on the treatment of polytrauma veterans with visual loss returning from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of Sorting Things Out in Traumatic Brain Injury and Veterans, Brain Injury, and Vision on the VisionAware website.

AER 2015 conference banner

Dr. Goodrich has been an active member of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI or AER), serving as its president and past president. Currently, he is the conference chair for the upcoming AERBVI Conference on Vision Loss in Older Adults and Veterans, which will be held November 4-6, 2015 in Norfolk, Virginia. Here is more information about the conference from an AERBVI news release:

Join AERBVI at this first-of-its-kind conference for professionals in the vision field to share what they've learned working with older adults and veterans who have experienced vision loss.

In recent years, the field of vision rehabilitation has rapidly grown in the United States. As veterans return with eye injuries from their tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, the demand for vision specialists within the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs has risen. Meanwhile, the private sector continues to serve the growing population of older adults with vision impairments due to age and other health-related issues. As a result, the increased demand for vision rehabilitation services has generated tremendous growth and change in the field.

AER is thrilled to bring together vision rehabilitation professionals from the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, as well as those in the private sector, to share information about working with adults affected by trauma-related and age-related vision loss. This conference gives vision professionals the opportunity to share their collective wisdom to better serve adults with vision loss.

Maureen Duffy: Hello Greg. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. My first question is about your academic background and life's work. How did you develop your interest in experimental psychology? And how did that help you in your work with the VA?

Greg Goodrich: Thank you, it’s a pleasure to talk with you again. My interest in experimental psychology actually began with monkeys. Dr. Francis Young, my major professor, had a large colony of rhesus macaque monkeys that he used for vision research, and my first job with him was feeding the monkeys and cleaning monkey cages. It wasn't glamorous, but that job connected me to Francis and also to Dr. George Leary, a born-and-raised Londoner and a natural-born teacher.

Their mentoring got me interested in studying the visual sensory perceptual system. They also alerted me to the job opportunity with the VA in Palo Alto, but that is too long a story to get into here, other than it was that job that got me into the field of low vision and blindness.

MD: I'm also very interested in the AERBVI Conference on Vision Loss in Older Adults and Veterans, which you are chairing. How did the idea for this conference come about?

GG: The idea was the brainchild of the AERBVI staff. They noted that the VA serves older veterans, as well as veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The service needs of older individuals and veterans cross a broad range of topical areas, including aging, low vision, orientation and mobility, recreation, technology, psychosocial, research, and the relatively new area of brain injury-related vision loss.

So I felt the broad appeal of the theme would interest many professionals and provide content not readily available in other conferences. In short, as soon as they mentioned the idea I was enthusiastically on board!

MD: Can you tell us more about some of the featured speakers and sessions?

GG: Recently, I reviewed the papers and posters accepted for the conference and I'm very pleased with their breadth and relevance to both civilian and veteran populations. We also have exceptional general session speakers.

head shot of Janet LaBreck

Janet LaBreck (pictured left), Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), is one. Ms. LaBreck has been a longtime advocate for the blind community and previously served as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. In 2013 she was confirmed by the United States Senate as Commissioner of RSA. She will bring a unique perspective as consumer, advocate, and national policy-maker to her talk, "Increasing Employment Opportunities for Those Who are Blind and Visually Impaired."

head shot of John Crews

Another keynote speaker is Dr. John Crews (pictured right), who is a Health Scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Crews is a respected senior researcher in our field and an excellent speaker. One of his research interests, and the topic of his talk, is health-related quality of life, which encompasses the primary factors hindering or promoting the quality of life of people with a visual impairment. Dr. Crews' research was featured recently on the VisionAware blog and can provide interested readers with a preview of his conference presentation, entitled "Health-Related Quality of Life among Older Adults with Vision Impairment: Findings from the 2006-2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System."

head shot of BJ LeJeune

Our third keynote speaker is B.J. LeJeune (pictured left), who is a widely recognized speaker. A Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT), Ms. LeJeune is the Training Supervisor at the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University. Her keynote presentation is titled "Things I have learned living with someone who has a traumatic brain injury (TBI): More confessions of a VRT." Her perspective as a professional and wife of an individual with TBI gives her an opportunity to share her unique insights with other rehabilitation professionals.

MD: I've also heard that the conference will be honoring professionals who have been inducted into the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field and have made significant contributions to services for blind veterans. Can you tell us more about that?

GG: Thanks for asking about this. I'm extraordinarily pleased that the conference gives us an opportunity to highlight the Hall of Fame in general and those inductees who provided exemplary services to veterans. In the process of serving veterans, these individuals greatly advanced services for all individuals living with low vision or blindness. The list is too long to name every inductee who will be featured, but included are such luminaries as Warren Bledsoe, Donald Blasch, and Richard Hoover.

During the entire conference we will have posters of each of these notable people on display. Attending the conference will provide an opportunity not only to learn about these individuals, but also to learn how our field originated and was shaped. I think it is a "not to be missed" opportunity.

MD: Where can our readers get more information about the conference, such as registration deadlines and costs?

GG: AERBVI members have already received mailings; anyone else who is interested can get additional information and register by logging on to the conference website. The conference hotel is the Norfolk Waterside Marriott and reservations ($129.00 per night) can be made on the conference website or directly through Marriott hotels.

In either case, be sure to mention the "AER Conference on Vision Loss" to get the conference rate. The Marriott is a wonderful hotel on the water in Norfolk, Virginia and for history buffs it is a short walk to where the World War II battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin is docked. As a Navy veteran (I spent some time in Newport News next to Norfolk), the Wisconsin is one attraction I'll definitely spend some non-conference time enjoying!

Additional Information

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Download the VisionConnect App Today and Take the VisionAware Challenge

Priscilla Rogers wearing a blue shirt

Guest blogger Priscilla Rogers, Ph.D. is the Program Manager for VisionAware and co-author of Aging and Vision Loss: A Handbook for Families.

Her other works include Self-Advocacy Skills Training for Older Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired and Solutions for Success: A Training Manual for Working with Older People Who Are Visually Impaired. She has an M.A. degree in gerontology and a Ph.D. in special education with an emphasis in vision and aging.

About the New VisionConnect™ App

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has just released a free, accessible iOS app: VisionConnect™, available for download. VisionConnect™ provides a searchable directory of services available in the US and Canada for children and adults who are blind or visually impaired. You can use the app to find services such as computer and technology training, daily living skills training, braille and reading instruction, dog guide training, employment services, low vision services, and more.

VisionConnect logo - an eye with the pupil drawn as a spyglass search icon

Individuals who are blind or have low vision can use this accessible app themselves to find resources and tips for living independently with visual impairment, including information on products and technology, personal stories about how people live everyday with macular degeneration or glaucoma, and advice on maintaining employment. The resources on VisionAware are used heavily in the app.

Health care providers can use the app to create customized lists of rehabilitation service providers that they can email to their clients, and provide their patients with home survey checklists, ideas for managing their medications, and more.

Key Features of the VisionConnect™ App


  • Select an age group: all ages, children, or adults, including seniors.
  • Select a service category: advocacy, assistive products, braille and reading instruction, etc.
  • Select a state, zip code, or distance from service, or
  • Select an organization by name.


  • Save your search results as lists; for example, "Low Vision Services in Florida."
  • E-mail your lists to family members, patients or consumers, or health care providers.


  • Select an audience: information for doctors, children, adults, or seniors.
  • Drill down into resources such as tips for modifying your home, accessible products, medication management, a Getting Started Kit, information for veterans, stories about people living and working with visual impairment, and more.
A screenshot of the AFB VisionConnect iOS app

A screenshot of the VisionConnect™ app

Why Did AFB Launch This App?

According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, 20.6 million adults in the United States have trouble seeing even with corrective lenses, or have low vision, or are totally blind. A very high percentage of these individuals are older, and this number is growing as a result of an aging population experiencing age-related eye conditions such as macular degeneration. Far too frequently, individuals who lose vision and their families are unaware that there are a variety of beneficial technologies and services, as well as an entire array of resources that can help them continue to live independent and active lives.

Medical providers, and especially eye care specialists, provide a natural gateway to information about the technologies, services, and resources that people with vision loss need access to. Often, however, eye care specialists and other health care professionals are not aware of these options. Consequently, they do not provide crucial information to their patients experiencing vision problems. As a result, people with low vision are unlikely to hear about low vision rehabilitation services from their ophthalmologists or other medical providers, according to a 2010 study published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Studies.

In November 2011, AFB conducted a focus group with consumers with vision loss and family members. These challenges in finding help were identified:

  • Lack of follow-up support and referrals by eye care specialists
  • Gaining access to resource information, and
  • Help and hope through a range of information about vision loss that reflects an optimistic spirit about living with vision loss

An App Is Conceived and Born

AFB began to search for a solution that addressed two major issues: 1) health care providers' lack of knowledge about helpful technologies and resources, and 2) severely limited time to counsel patients as a result of the increased demand for medical services.

Through a series of focus groups and interviews, AFB determined that both patients and health professionals will be helped by the VisionConnect app. The app gives providers information about and access to resources, enables them to show patients how to access the information themselves, and makes it possible to share information about services to patients and/or family members by e-mail. This technology will hopefully mitigate the three primary challenges faced by patients and caregivers alike: lack of follow-up support and referrals, gaining access to resource information, and help and hope.

Take the VisionAware Challenge

mock prescription pad with information about the VisionConnect app and how to download

The VisionConnect™ prescription pad

How do we get the message out to health care providers and the eye medical community? We need your help to educate your doctor and health care providers about the VisionConnect app. Please order one of our mock prescription pads and take it to your doctor or health care professional. Ask him/her to download the app and "prescribe” VisionConnect to patients who need information about services and living with vision loss.

To order the prescription pad, send an email to with your contact information.

Download VisionConnect™ for the iPhone or the iPad.

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