Vision Rehabilitation Services
The term "vision rehabilitation" includes a wide range of professional services that can restore functioning after vision loss, just as physical therapy restores function after a stroke or other injury.
Vision rehabilitation services allow people who are blind or have low vision to continue to live independently and maintain quality of life.
Although your eye doctor is the professional you'll likely turn to first when dealing with your own – or a family member's – vision loss, it's important to note that many different kinds of vision rehabilitation services are available in addition to the eye care provided by your family doctor, ophthalmologist, or optometrist:
- Communication skills: reading and writing, braille, and assistive computer technology
- Counseling: to help you, your spouse, family members, and friends adjust to your vision loss
- Independent living and personal management skills: home modifications, home repairs, personal self-care, financial management, recreation and leisure activities, and using the telephone
- Independent movement and travel skills: moving about safely indoors, using transportation, and traveling safely outdoors with a long white cane or other device
- Low vision evaluations and training with low vision devices: the low vision examination, low vision optical devices and non-optical devices, such as held magnifiers, special reading glasses, telescopes, and high intensity lamps that can make the best use of remaining vision
- Vocational rehabilitation: vocational evaluation and training, job training, job modification and restructuring, and job placement.
Who provides vision rehabilitation services?
Vision rehabilitation services for adults who are blind or have low vision are provided by a team of specially trained professionals, including low vision therapists, vision rehabilitation therapists, and orientation and mobility specialists:
Low Vision Therapists
Certified Low Vision Therapists (CLVTs and SCLVs) instruct individuals in the use of residual vision with optical devices, non-optical devices, and assistive technology, and help determine the need for environmental modifications in the home, workplace, or school. You can learn more about these professionals at the Low Vision Therapy website and the American Occupational Therapy Association – Low Vision website.
You can learn more about Low Vision Specialists at The Different Types of Eye Care Professionals on the VisionAware website.
Vision Rehabilitation Therapists
Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (CVRTs) teach adaptive independent living skills, enabling adults who are blind or have low vision to confidently carry out a range of daily activities. You can learn more about these professionals at the Vision Rehabilitation Therapy website.
To learn more about what a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist does and how you could benefit, read What Is a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist? and A Day on the Road with Vision Rehabilitation Therapist Stephanie Stephens Van on the VisionAware website.
Orientation and Mobility Specialists
Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS or O&Ms) teach the skills and concepts that people who are blind or have low vision need in order to travel independently and safely in the home and in the community.
They teach safe and independent indoor and outdoor travel skills, including the use of a long cane, electronic travel devices, public transportation, and sighted guide, human guide, and pre-cane skills. You can learn more about these professionals at the Orientation and Mobility website.
To learn more about university programs and training in Orientation and Mobility and Vision Rehabilitation Therapy, you can watch and listen to Hunter College's YouTube video and read Dr. Grace Ambrose-Zaken's Orientation and Mobility Blog.
Who certifies vision rehabilitation professionals?
The Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) offers certification for Low Vision Therapists, Vision Rehabilitation Therapists, and Orientation and Mobility Specialists. ACVREP also provides a searchable database you can use to check the certification credentials of your service providers. Please note: The ACVREP database will only return the names and locations (by state) of individuals who are already certified by ACVREP. It will not help you locate additional non-certified service providers in your state.
Is there a membership organization for vision rehabilitation professionals?
The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI) is an international membership organization for vision rehabilitation professionals. AERBVI provides continuing education, publications, and regional, national, and international conferences for its 4,000+ members.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the national professional association to represent the interests and concerns of occupational therapy practitioners and students of occupational therapy and to improve the quality of occupational therapy. AOTA's major programs and activities are directed toward assuring the quality of occupational therapy services; improving consumer access to health care services; and promoting the professional development of members.
Do I have to attend a school or center, or can a vision rehabilitation professional come to my home?
That depends upon the agency that provides your vision rehabilitation services and the type and length of training you require:
- Some agencies employ vision rehabilitation professionals who work with you in your home and develop a training program that best meets your individual needs.
- Other agencies provide vision rehabilitation training in agency-based settings that you attend on a daily basis.
- Some specialized residential rehabilitation centers require long-term (one month or longer) stays.
Is there a waiting list for vision rehabilitation services?
That also depends upon the agency that provides your vision rehabilitation services, as well as the type and length of training you request. Be sure to ask about waiting lists when you inquire about the agency's services.
Can I learn on my own without going to an agency?
There are several self-help and self-study options that can help you learn more about vision rehabilitation:
- The VisionAware "Personal Stories" series provides real-life interviews with men and women who are blind or have low vision.
- CIL Publications and Audiobooks offers self-study audiotapes and audiobooks for people who are blind or have low vision. Subjects include indoor mobility, personal management, and sensory development.
- The E.A.R.S. for EYES Program provides free self-study audiotapes that teach adaptive daily living skills to adults who are blind or have low vision. Subject areas include kitchen techniques, eating skills, indoor mobility, and personal grooming.
- The Hadley School for the Blind offers distance education courses for eligible students free of charge. Study areas include high school courses, GED preparation, braille and communication skills, independent living, recreation and leisure, assistive technology, and the Low Vision Focus @ Hadley program.
How and Where to Find Vision Rehabilitation Services
Your state rehabilitation agency or an online searchable database can help you locate vision rehabilitation agencies in your area and find the type of services that are right for you. See our listings for State and Local Rehabilitation Agencies.
Are vision rehabilitation services different from services specifically for older persons?
As you begin searching for vision rehabilitation services, it's helpful to review the overall network of services for older adults to better understand how specialized vision rehabilitation services "fit" (or sometimes don't) within the current system of programs and services.
This "network," developed from the Older Americans Act (OAA), was the first legislation to address community-based services for adults age 60 and older. The OAA also coordinates services from federal, state, and local agencies.
The Administration on Aging (AoA) oversees the administration of programs and services authorized through the OAA. The AoA also hosts the National Eldercare Locator, a searchable database to help you find local agencies and resources that enable older adults to live independently in their home communities.
State Units on Aging and Disabilities develop and administer programs and coordinate statewide service delivery systems. All states have a Department on Aging. You can find how to contact your state's department on aging at the State Agency Contact List.
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) develops and administers programs and coordinates statewide service delivery systems. All states have a Department on Aging. The n4a develops, coordinates, and provides local services that enable older adults to remain at home and in their communities. These services include:
- Telephone reassurance
- Homemaker/chore service
- Information and referral
- Meals on Wheels
- Friendly visiting
- Legal assistance
- Case management
- Senior centers
- Adult day care and respite services
- The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) 21st Century Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss Is Moving Forward!
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- There is Hope; There is Help: Part 1 in a Series on Low Vision and Low Vision Services by Bryan Gerritsen, CLVT
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- Respond to the Challenge: Embrace the Magic of Vision Rehabilitation Therapy
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- New Research from Canada: Approximately One in Five Persons with Vision Loss Experience Visual Hallucinations
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Father Warnke, who was born with retinitis of prematurity and glaucoma, has had a very successful series of careers as mental health counselor and Episcopal priest, to name just a few of his accomplishments.