Franklin Senior Center Partners with Mass. Association for the Blind Low-Vision Program Welcomes Seniors from Area Towns
The Low-Vision Program at the Franklin Senior Center is made stronger by a partnership with the Mass. Association for the Blind. Shown, left, is Maggie Gundersen, of the Franklin Senior Center, and Jerry Feliz, of Mass. Association for the Blind.
By Judith Dorato O’Gara
The Franklin Senior Center will now be working with The Mass. Association for the Blind to run its low-vision program. The program and its services are available to blind and visually impaired seniors in Franklin and surrounding towns, including Norfolk and Wrentham.
It is made possible through a grant from the Greater Milford Community Health Network (CHNA-6). This same program has been established and is successful in Natick, Brookline, Worcester, Pittsfield, and Harwich.
“We laid a good foundation,” said Maggie Gundersen, Social Services Coordinator at Franklin Senior Center, who has been a coordinator for The Stella Jeon Assistive Technology Center, or “Low Vision Center,” for about five years, teaching seniors with vision loss about assistive technology there to help them. “We’d taken the program as far as we could, but what I’ve come to find is that with Mass. Association for the Blind has known all along, visually impaired individuals need to learn technology. Many are resistant, which is understandable, because they didn’t grow up with it, but if they don’t learn it they will get left behind.”
In March, the Franklin Senior Center welcomed Jerry Feliz, of the Mass. Association for the Blind, who will be an active participant in the new partnership, directly working with seniors who have vision loss.
“Imagine if you’re totally blind, you’ve never used a smart phone before, and you’re just new to vision loss. You can’t imagine how you’re going to be able to read something,” said Feliz. “There is help to navigate those challenging, stormy waters. This is a vibrant, welcoming community, and it’s also a platform for persons with visual impairments to learn from people that have visual impairments,” said Feliz. “A lot of our volunteer trainers are people who are either totally blind or have some kind of visual impairment.” This creates a safe environment for people just experiencing vision loss, he says.
“A lot of times, people will come into this environment, and there’s a lack of hope, because they’ve lost the ability to read, to write, to navigate their world,” said Feliz. “They walk outside, they feel lost, but we give them a lot of hope. If you’re willing to learn how to do something a different way, you’re able to regain some of the independence you lost.”
Assistive technology plays a huge role in transitioning to vision loss, says Feliz. “If you can learn how to use it, it’s going to help you to gain a bit more quality of life, in terms of how you access the world,” says Feliz.
The educator describes Apple’s innovation in this area as revolutionary to the blindness community “without hyperbole,” he says. “We’ve taught people how to use GPS to navigate in their communities, communicate efficiently with their devices via text, to make phone calls and access email with their smart devices, how to use optical character recognition, an app that will read a physical document to you.”
At least 90% of this training is iOS-based, he says. Clients can also learn how to use gesture-based commands with audio, speech to text and magnification.
“I will be here to provide training for folks,” says Feliz, who says he usually begins with some simple questions and a low vision and CCTV assessment. “We measure the distance you are from the screen as you’re reading, what level magnification you’re using and check the contrast that you’re using, what your functional vision is. (The assessment) is a really helpful tool.”
Feliz will be at the Franklin Senior Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Thursday for one-on-one appointments, and he will conduct a Zoom presentation on assistive technology each Thursday from 2 to 3 p.m. Call the Franklin Senior Center at (508) 520-4945 to get his contact information to schedule an appointment.
“Jerry will be here as frequently as possible, but we’re going to add a peer support group once a month, led by a mental health counselor, so you can deal with some of the emotional pieces of vision loss, and we will have a guest speaker program every other Thursday,” says Gundersen. “We’re putting you in a position where you’ll know that every Thursday, (seniors with vision impairment) can come here for something.”
Individual and group adjustment counseling is also available through the Massachusetts Association for the Blind for people struggling with the emotions that can accompany vision loss. Appointments can be conducted by phone, usually with counselors who are also visually impaired. Additional information can also be found on the MABVI web site at www.mabvi.org.