What is it like for people to deal with severely impaired vision and for those losing their eyesight? Sister Mary O’Shannessy fcj writes about her work in Vision Australia and invites us into compassion and accompaniment.
Recently I have volunteered to be part of a Quality Living Group at Vision Australia. People who have lost significant amounts of sight are invited to come together to share their stories, explore their reactions to sight loss and gain information on how to do things differently. A staff member who has a severe vision impairment facilitates the group, supported by a peer volunteer and another sighted volunteer who opens up and provides tea and coffee, welcomes participants and generally supports the program.
I have acted in the role of peer volunteer for a group of seven clients, and we meet for six weeks on a Saturday morning.
Sharing information on eye conditions and their impact on daily living was the agenda for the first meeting. Often other members can offer solutions to problems, empowering members to move forward, to think creatively and thus to overcome much of the depression which can accompany severe disability.
We have had sessions on grief and loss, how to deal with frustration and how to recognise and overcome depression. We have considered difficulties such as not being able to drive or to read easily, embarrassment in not recognising faces, social problems and the fatigue which is so debilitating.
Living in the 21st century means that we have many technical aids to help us manage to live productively in a sighted world. This equipment ranges from enlarged screens and screen readersto better lighting, electronic devices that can read to you and other mobility aids. Even games can be adapted, and a new cook book, ‘Scales Away’, measures ingredients in spoons and cups rather than measuring jugs and scales.
It is wonderful to see the difference in participants as they begin to experience hope in their ability to live a meaningful life. These groups are a blessing for both participants and supporters.
This article by Sr Mary O’Shannessy fcj was first published as an abridged version with the title, "Quality Living Groups" in the website of the Faithful Companions of Jesus Province of Asia Australia.