“If an optometrist or ophthalmologist or general practitioner refers a client, they will come to Vision Loss Rehabilitation Saskatchewan rather than the Canadian National Institute for the Blind,” said Christall Beaudry, executive director of CNIB Saskatchewan. “The reason for that is really simple. We wanted to break down stigmas and barriers for people who have vision loss.”
Some people with low vision have been reluctant to come to the CNIB, she said.
“Now they’re coming to an organization called Vision Loss Rehabilitation Saskatchewan, which is no different than going to another rehabilitation organization for whatever you need,” Beaudry said.
Certified specialists help people with all levels of vision loss develop or restore their daily living skills and work with them to create a personalized rehabilitation plan.
Staff explain eye diseases and how they affect vision, teach techniques to maximize eyesight and give one-on-one instruction on using devices such as specialty magnifiers with the goal of promoting their safety, independence and mobility.
In this year’s provincial budget, the CNIB received $250,000 to fund vision loss rehabilitation — the first step towards filling a $500,00 funding gap, Beaudry said.
“There’s a gap in funding for vision loss rehabilitation that’s currently subsidized by donors right now,” she said. “Traditionally, that funding would come from the government to support a health-care service, but CNIB has been delivering this service for 100 years as a charity.
“If you break your hip in Saskatchewan, you go to a health-care facility for rehabilitation, but if you lose your sight you come to a charitable organization — the CNIB.”
CNIB services are free and largely sustained by donors right now, but Beaudry expects Vision Loss Rehabilitation Saskatchewan will be fully funded by the provincial government next year.
Of the 13 vision loss rehabilitation staff, six provide services in rural Saskatchewan.
“If you lose your sight, you need to still be able to navigate in your home,” Beaudry said. “We’ll come out and help mark the stove or microwave with bump-ons, which are little raised dots to help you find where the numbers are and we help individuals tell their medications apart and how to label them properly.”
Beaudry noted that nine out of 10 CNIB clients have some sight.
“Many people come to us for aids just to enhance their current sight so they can do daily tasks like read the paper or watch TV,” she said.
The CNIB has relocated from Wascana Centre and is in the same building as Vision Loss Rehabilitation Saskatchewan at 2160 Broad St.
The CNIB is still waiting on approval for its building campaign, so Beaudry expects to be at that location for the next couple of years.
Any time someone loses significant sight, it’s not uncommon for them to go through a grieving process.
“It’s no different than if there was a death in the family,” Beaudry said. “There’s that anger, that denial — all of those things come into play when they lose their sight. Just being able to do small things to enhance their current vision if they have some sight remaining can make a huge difference.”