Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Collaborative Activities by State Older Blind Independent Living Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Collaborative Activities by State Older Blind Independent Living Programs

Article excerpt

The need for greater collaboration between agencies that serve persons with disabilities and the aging network has been widely acknowledged by researchers and advocates who have recognized the emergence of a common and rapidly expanding consumer base, made up of older individuals who have aged with disabilities and those who have developed disabilities as a result of aging (Ansello, 1992, 2000; Crews, 1994, 2003; Orr & Rogers, 2006; Putnam, 2002, 2007; Torres-Gil & Pynoos, 1986). Whereas the need for and cost of long-term care services are expected to continue to rise over the next 40 years (Gonyea, 2005), service providers who are faced with ever-tightening budgets will need to strengthen their network bonds to enhance the flow of information and to ensure that scarce resources are used effectively.

In particular, public and private agencies that serve older people who are visually impaired (that is, are blind or have low vision) under the Older Blind Independent Living program (Title VII, Chapter 2, of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended--hereafter, VII-2) may have much to gain by creating interactive relationships with agencies within the aging network. The unprecedented growth of the oldest demographic group portends a greater number of individuals who will acquire vision-related disabilities as they age (Crews, 1994). Lighthouse International (2005), a nonprofit advocacy, training, and research organization for people who are visually impaired, estimated that some 14.8 million Americans aged 65 and older will report some form of vision loss by 2030. Presumably, many of these individuals could benefit from vision rehabilitation services, in conjunction with other long-term-care services provided by the aging network.

Collaborative relationships that are formed between VII-2 programs and the aging network have the potential to be mutually beneficial among programs because of the unique services provided by each of the programs. Independent living services for older people who are blind are regulated by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and are administered by designated state units (DSU) in each state. VII-2 independent living services that are available (but not necessarily provided) under the program include services to help correct blindness (including visual screening and surgical or therapeutic treatment); hospitalization related to such services; the provision of visual aids (such as magnifiers or eyeglasses); and other specific services that are designed to assist older individuals to adjust to blindness, maintain independence, and become more mobile and more self-sufficient (for example, information and referral services, peer counseling, individual advocacy training, mobility training, or braille instruction) (Orr, 1998). In addition, services provided under VII-2 may include functional skills training that enables older adults who are visually impaired to make better use of programs that are otherwise available to older adults in general by increasing their confidence and improving their mobility.

Agencies and organizations that address long-term-care needs in the aging network offer an array of services that complement those that are provided under VII-2. Nevertheless, administrators of state VII-2 programs who seek to form relationships with entities within the aging network face a fragmented, often daunting, array of public and private services, charitable organizations, and clubs with which they could collaborate. Often, entities are only loosely structured within a larger network, and a diverse array of aging services may be provided by any number of organizations in an area. Therefore, the type and quality of services that are available is likely to vary from region to region. To compound the problem of fragmentation, private service providers (many of whom contract with state vocational rehabilitation agencies) may join or leave the network at any time, resulting in an aging network that is always in flux. …

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