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Save My Sanity!
by Carol M. McCarl
Salem, Oregon

Hoping to locate a magnifying glass that would help her continue to read the newspaper, a caller found Blindskills, Inc., the first listing after Blind Services in the phonebook. The woman who answered the helpline asked what she was using to read currently and what she liked to read. In just one phone call, she learned where to obtain magnifying glasses and large print reading materials and was invited to join other people in the Salem area who were striving to cope with vision loss. The caller made note of the number for Blindskills and promised to call if she decided to join the group on the third Tuesday of the month.

The caller didn't join the support group for two years. After she took the first step toward accepting help from others and joined the group, she regretted not joining sooner. She found herself looking forward to the informal meetings held in the cozy living room of the facilitator's home. The time between the thought of reaching out for help and accepting help varies.

In the 11 years of providing a support group in Salem, we have discovered that the majority of people who attend the meetings return again and again. Members want to participate in the sharing of solutions for common problems with paperwork, home maintenance, food preparation, transportation, and all of the other daily activities that can become difficult when experiencing diminishing vision. Different strategies and tips for using various gadgets and gismos to deal with such problems are presented. There are also discussions about coping with depression, public attitudes, treatment from family members, comments from physicians, and other topics that can run the gamut. A great deal of information is shared at the 2-hour meetings. While members enjoy snacks and beverages, an article of interest is read by the support group coordinator and hostess, Cathy Bickerdike. It may be about discoveries from research, new products or services, or humorous takes of things that can and do happen when vision is limited. Questions, which arise sometimes, dictate subject matter that is read.

The favorite part of the gathering is when it's time for SMS (Save My Sanity!) and WOW. During this portion of the meeting solutions are shared and successes are celebrated by members. The SMS allows members to ask for suggestions and how-tos regarding such hurdles as dialing the phone without being able to see the keypad, keeping track of pills, shopping for groceries, participating in water aerobics, getting to evening functions, etc. After SMS, each member is given the chance to brag with a WOW. This is a time when renewed confidence is exhibited. One member announces that she independently pruned her rose bushes while another member tells how he successfully distributed the lights around the Christmas tree unassisted. Yet another member who has macular degeneration describes how she uses a walker with a basket to go shopping. When she returns from the store, she is able to easily enter her home by using her garage door opener. As time goes by, big problems don't seem so overwhelming and small joys increase. There is the realization that shared ideas can enhance many lives when people with common needs meet.

Encouragement continues when members go home through the group's membership list and telephone network. The between meeting contacts are valued as each member has the power to sustain another and in return gain personal support.

As the phone was the link to help when this article began, it continues to be the link each day at Blindskills, Inc. If you find your vision slipping away with macular degeneration or other condition, put your finger on the dot on the five and start dialing. You will soon feel comfortable using the phone again, increasing your contact with friends and helpful resources. Call Blindskills, Inc. at 800-860-4224 and we will help you locate a support group in your community.


 The Hadley School for the Blind  
700 Elm Street
Winnetka, IL 60093

Hadley offers two correspondence courses for people interested in support groups. "Self-help Groups: An Introduction" defines support groups and their benefits. "Self-help Groups: Advanced Topics" describes the function of leaders and facilitators and suggests how to improve an existing support group. Other courses which may be helpful to someone just beginning to lose vision include: "Introduction to Low Vision" and "Macular Degeneration."

 The Lighthouse National Center for Vision and Aging 
111 E. 59th Street
New York, NY 10022-1202

The Lighthouse publishes "Sharing Solutions," a newsletter for support groups for people who have vision impairments and maintains a database of support groups by state.

 Earle Baum Center for the Blind 
4539 Occidental Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Contact: Beryl Brown
The Earle Baum Center provides a weekly support group from 9-11 a.m. on Thursdays. It is a peer-driven support/activities group, which has been meeting for five years on a drop-in basis. Visually impaired individuals of all ages and their family members are welcome to participate.

 Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation 
19 E. Cole Avenue
Wheaton, IL 60187

Contact: Melissa Robertson, M.A., L.P.C.
The Deicke Center offers a support group meeting from 2-3:30 p.m. the second Sunday of every month at Central DuPage Hospital, 25 N. Winfield Road, Winfield, Illinois. Other programs at Deicke include Seeing is Believing for children, Passport to Independence for job seekers, and Sight for the Road for visually impaired people who want to explore the feasibility of driving. A newsletter is also available.

 San Antonio Low Vision Club 
11510 Sandman Street
San Antonio, TX 78216

Contact: Bonnie Truax
In its ninth year and with more than 750 members, this club offers a support group meeting usually held from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of the month at the Children's Cancer Research Center, 8403 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio. The club sponsors the annual Low Vision EXPO as well as regular social events, publishes a quarterly newsletter, "Low Viz Biz," and operates Owl Radio, a radio reading service.

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