Charleston nonprofit dedicates over 80 years to the blind and visually impaired community | New
The pandemic year has meant dealing with isolation and depression for many people.
But for those living with visual impairment, it means increasing their chances of amplifying a risk of depression that was already there.
“Our biggest concern was the isolation of our clients,” said Courtney Plotner, President and CEO of the Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted.
The organization has been in existence since 1937 and supports members of the Lowcountry community with visual impairments. Since its creation, the group has moved from offering extracurricular activities to offering independent living skills.
Over time, organizers said they had learned that isolation and depression were all too common for people living with visual impairments. One of the main reasons is the major change in lifestyle.
This topic of isolation became increasingly prominent in the early days of the pandemic. Many people around the world have been forced to stay at home and away from others.
For a person living with a visual impairment, this means fewer possibilities to travel since they often need public transport. It also means increased challenges regarding connecting with family members.
Everyone who connects to ABVI is trying to learn independent life skills, so making sure they don’t feel alone has become a top priority for the organization. They also wanted to make sure the people who relied on them stayed on top of things like COVID-19 testing.
“Navigating the pandemic last year certainly had its challenges,” said Brooks Harken, the association‘s program director. “Now we are strengthened.”
The organization was able to move all of its programming to virtual. At the same time, the number of people contacting them increased by 50% during the pandemic.
The goal, Harken said, was to make sure all of their clients knew that training was not ending because of the pandemic.
“We don’t like to slow down,” Harken said.
The association offers two training courses. One is their personal independence trail.
This training offers programs that focus on things like using a white cane, assistive technology, and performing daily activities like choosing clothes.
The other stream is the vocational rehabilitation stream. In this program, clients of the association can learn skills to help with employment opportunities.
Originally, the association’s programs were more relaxed and wellness-centric activities like yoga and art. Organizers have made the transition to more skills-based programs in recent years to help people with visual needs live independent lives.
Plotner said this was important because there was no other organization where the community could learn these skills in the three counties.
“It was an area that was a gaping hole in Charleston,” she said.
With the vaccine distribution, the organization hopes to return to more in-person training while maintaining its virtual programs. Some of their new clients would still have difficulty reaching them in person.
But the overall goal now is to push the association to truly become a next-step entity, staff said. Doctors often recommend that their patients log on to the association as the next step after learning about their vision loss.
Bryson Young, the nonprofit’s director of advancement, said people often think of vision loss as the end of their lives.
“This is not the end of the story,” she said. “This is not where the hope ends.”
At the start of the pandemic, organizers said they missed out on many financial opportunities.
As they move on to more opportunities in person, Harken said it was essential that the strong support from the three counties continued.
To support or donate to the association, people are encouraged to visit the group’s website at www.abvisc.org.
Reach Jerrel floyd at 843-937-5558. Follow him on Twitter @ jfloyd134.