by Dave Melanson
The Concerns and Fears Related to Losing One's Eyesight
One of the hardest things for an individual who has been accustomed to 20/20 vision is coming to terms with a decline in eyesight. It is a very emotional and stressful thing and in many cases all kinds of fears and concerns develop. One thing I know from experience is that the worst thing anyone can do during this emotional period is to completely withdraw and not admit their fears and concerns.
If you know someone who is loosing their eyesight, or if it is happening to you, please keep in mind that you are not alone. There are many individuals and groups out there who can be of great support to you. This is a time when you most need friends and need to express yourself without feeling ashamed of that need.
As someone who has been visually impaired all of my life, I have never known what it is like to have 20/20 vision and so for me, having under 10% in my left eye and no vision in the right eye is perfectly normal. I have always accepted this from day one as I have never known anything different.
However, I do know of many people who begin to loose their eyesight later in life and I have to say that, sadly, most of them do withdraw and do not wish to talk openly about it. It has made me feel sad when this happens as I know that, as a good friend who is sight impaired myself, I can be supportive to them and help them through these difficult times.
One of the things you may be concerned about if your are losing your eyesight is, "Will I be able to continue to teach?" Technically speaking, I believe that in most cases the answer to that is yes, providing that you are in a school district that is flexible and you have a reasonable principal.
There are many adaptations that can be made which would enable you to continue to teach. However, it may be more difficult to teach a lower grade like Kindergarten, grades one and two if one is losing their eyesight. But I do know for example of a lady here in Montreal who teaches 3rd grade and has Macular Degeneration. She uses a closed circuit television which consists of a tv screen with a built in camera which faces down to a tray. A print document is placed on the tray and the user is able to focus the camera to make the test viewable on the screen. There are several positives to this situation. She has been able to successfully perform her job despite her slowly failing eyesight and at the same time her 3rd graders are learning that it is possible to function normally in society if one has a challenge. Her 3rd graders learn all about her closed circuit television and how she uses it to correct their work and read their assignments.
Always keep in mind that if you are losing your eyesight, never withdraw from having friends or be in denial. This is a time when you most need your friends to care about you and be there for you. You will find that despite the fact that it is worrying to you or that there may be many questions unanswered, this difficult period will go much easier for you with friends around you who care and support you and are there to listen to you.
I feel very fortunate that I have been able to carve an employment situation for myself on a contract basis, giving workshops and inservice training to elementary teachers on accommodating sight impaired and blind children in the regular classroom environment. Working with teachers has been the most rewarding thing, and these workshops I give combined with writing my book, "Integration A Rewarding Experience" has really enriched my life.
The most important thing to remember is to always try to stay positive even in those really difficult early stages of losing one's eyesight. It is important to keep active, join social groups, be ready to accept support from your friends. It is also important to try to maintain a close positive relationship with your school administrators and your Union. They are the people who can be of most help to you in terms of ensuring that you can keep your teaching position or, if need be, help you protect your pension should you retire early.
There are always inspirations and individuals who can have a positive influence to you. Never be afraid to use their experience and advice. The end result is that you will be still living a productive useful life and smiling every day.
David Melanson, frequent contributor to the Teachers.Net Gazette,
has just self-published Integration: A Rewarding Experience, a manual for educators on the topic of working with sight-impaired students. As a sight-impaired person whose parents persisted in having their son placed in "regular" (public school) classrooms, David's experiences, perspective, and advice are particularly interesting and helpful. The manual is interesting and worthy of reading even if one does not currently have a sight-impaired student in class.
The cost in the U.S. is $10 plus $2 .45 for postage. In Canada: $15 Canadian plus $1 .45 postage. Money orders are preferred. To order the manual, contact Mr. Melanson by e-mail: [email protected]. Should you have difficulty reaching Dave directly, contact Kathleen Carpenter [email protected] with "Melanson Manual" in the subject line.
To access monthly chats on the topic of working with sight-impaired students, moderated by David Melanson, visit the Teachers.Net Archives.
Sight Impaired Students, December 12, 2001
Integration Of Visually Impaired And Blind Students Into The Regular Schools
Accommodating the Visually Impaired Child
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, Sept. 21, 2000
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, December 6, 2000
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, February 15, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, May 7, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, July 19, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, August 6, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, October 23, 2001