California: San Francisco Lighthouse Support Group,The Business of Blindness AKA “Coffee with Mike”

by Audrey Demmitt, R.N., VisionAware Support Group Advisor

coffee with mike group picture

A Comfortable Place to Discuss Experiences

We live in a time of dwindling funds and services for the blind community and support groups can play a vital role in meeting the needs of adults aging with vision loss. Bimonthly I have the privilege of interviewing support group leaders all over the U.S. and have learned support groups come in all shapes and sizes. Each one takes on its own focus and personality, often reflecting the facilitator’s skills and the needs of the group. These groups provide a safe place for people with vision loss to learn, share and grow together. For many it is an invaluable experience which helps them find their way to greater independence and acceptance of their changing circumstances. Here at VisionAware we receive many requests for help to find local support groups. The truth is there are not enough of them.

Coffee with Mike

mike at table talking to support group members

This month I bring you a new type of group. Though its formal name is “The Business of Blindness,” leader Mike Cole refers to it as “Coffee with Mike.” It meets every Monday at 9:30 am at the San Francisco Lighthouse, year-round. And yes-there is coffee! Most of the members are clients receiving rehabilitation services at the Lighthouse and the group provides an opportunity to discuss their experiences.

Mike Cole has been a long-time member of the Lighthouse community having served as a board member and past President of the board. As someone who is also blind, he has a keen understanding of blindness issues, society’s attitudes toward the disabled, and the changing state of services for the visually impaired. He observes, “Older blind people have a sense, all too often, that they are forgotten, and they aren’t always sure how best to assert their independence.” He states the goal of his group is to “encourage members to assert their independence and to value themselves as blind people; we hope to normalize blindness.”

Group Members Encouraged to Try New Things

In partnership with the Lighthouse, Mike wants to encourage his group members to try new things and take advantage of all the activities offered at the Lighthouse. He sees it is important to change the way group members think about blindness and themselves. “We hope people will think of themselves as having the dignity that comes of their long lives, their roles as parents, workers, friends, and people with rights,” says Mike. While it can be a challenge to stimulate people to try new things and think in new ways, he tries to make it fun and takes it slow.

Mike views his goals for the group as modest, but I think they are worthy and important. Just coffee, Mike and discussion every Monday morning-a simple formula for changing people’s lives. And there has been evidence of success. “We have seen members advance in their personal independence and we claim at least some credit for helping people gain the courage to push personal boundaries. We have seen growth and greater self-acceptance in new members with the unconditional support of the group. We laugh a lot, and they keep coming back,” Mike reports. For more information, contact Mike Cole at: or call The San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired at (415) 431-1481.

Starting a Support Group

Does your area need a coffee group where people with vision loss can be heard and enjoy a sense of community? Have you ever thought about facilitating such a group? It doesn’t take much… a bit of heart and patience is all. You may be surprised by the ways it can enrich your own life. Visit Support Groups and Other Resources to help you get started today!

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