DIALOGUE Interviews Janet Handy of NAVH

Janet Handy is the director of development at the National Association for Visually Handicapped. We recently asked Janet to tell us about NAVH and how her organization helps people who have low vision. Here is what we learned.

National Association for Visually Handicapped (NAVH) is the only national voluntary health organization serving visually impaired people exclusively. For more than 50 years we have been training and encouraging people who are "hard of seeing"™ to use residual vision. Our offices in New York and San Francisco provide services to people of all ages in the United States and throughout the world. We have provided services to people in 101 foreign countries.

NAVH is growing in many areas. We have seen an increase in the number of people coming for low vision consultations, attending our senior support group and using our large print loan library. We expect to grow substantially in the coming years, as more baby boomers reach their sixth decade.

The most important service NAVH provides is encouragement and training to use residual vision. During our low vision consultations, our patients are encouraged to accept that they can no longer see the way they used to and are trained to see in new ways. Second, we publish a series of large print booklets on vision and eye disease written for the public by experts in the field. Third, we offer a large print, nationwide, free-by-mail loan library that currently has over 9,000 titles, which is available to anyone who needs or prefers large print.

NAVH is so different from other organizations in the field that we do not have any competitors. We help people experiencing any degree or kind of visual impairment, except total blindness, for an affordable fee, which can be waived in cases of financial hardship. For these reasons, we are unlike any other national health organization and other organizations frequently refer people to us.

NAVH does not receive government subsidies or United Way funds. We rely on donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. This support makes it possible for us to provide services to those who are unable to make a donation.

NAVH is unique in being the only national health organization to serve only people who have low vision and to provide them with a place to experiment with visual aids and lighting options. Because we believe that training for the totally blind can be standardized in a way that training for those with low vision cannot, the two groups should be served by different organizations. No two visually impaired people see the same way, and we cannot generalize about their needs. Each requires one-on-one attention and must be allowed to experiment with a wide range of aids and lighting. By serving only the "hard of seeing™," we provide this individualized attention without the risk that a visually impaired person will be treated as though he is totally blind.

NAVH is currently expanding its public outreach program. We plan to significantly increase services to places where seniors gather and live in order to train them and their caregivers in the use of visual aids and lighting.

For more information, contact NAVH, 22 West 21st Street, Sixth Floor, New York, NY 10010; Phone: 888-205-9965 or 212-889-3141; E-mail: ; Web site: .

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