On the 11-13 of June 2018, Hazel Sacharowitz, Karen Denton and I hosted our first Low Vision conference for multidisciplinary practitioners.
The conference was attended by more than 50 people over 3 days. We were privileged to have Professor Bennett McAllister from USA as our international speaker and together with 13 South African presenters we were able to cover a wide variety of subjects for the multidisciplinary attendees.
A few our delegates had lost varying degrees of vision, placing them in a unique position to provide valuable insights from the view of the practitioner as well as the experiences and perspectives of the visually impaired person (VIP). These experiences were generously shared by the VIPs in a daily segment entitled ‘My Journey’. In this daily time slot VIPs shared their personal journey from vision loss to their current situation. Among the VIPs who presented were a General Practitioner, an Occupational Therapist, an Accountant, a Lawyer, and a dynamic lady who lost her sight completely as a schoolchild and how she is able to work towards completing her Doctorate.
Listening to the various life journeys experienced by the VIP’s, provided theaudience with the opportunity to reflect on the five stages of grief – from thedenial to acceptance and always the possibility of having to having to re –visit when circumstances change. Support and guidance from professionals, make this journey so much easier. To summarise all the diverse talks here is not possible, but one of the topics to be highlighted because it is sadly overlooked by many was the role of learning styles as well as the frequently misunderstood role of dominance. Different injuries can have a major impact that can affect people in unexpected ways. For example, some professionals believe that it is possible to function perfectly well after the loss of an eye because of the near perfect vision in the remaining eye. However, if the remaining eye is not the dominant eye the results for the individual can be devastating. Dr Melodie de Jager presented the implications of vision loss, how to determine dominance and how to assist with productive
At the Low Vision Conference excellent displays of Low Vision devices were available during breaks that were extended so that all could experience and learn from the exhibitors. Professionals and visually impaired people had the opportunity to see many assistive devices, new electronic aids and voice assistive technology under one roof. We are very grateful to all the suppliers who helped to make the conference a great success.
The results of the survey that was completed by more than 50% of attendees was that they would like 2 conferences per year over 2 days and that the conferences should be multidisciplinary. Finally, just a year ago we started the Low Vision Interest Group South Africa. The aim of this group is to create a network across South Africa and its borders to share our knowledge and passion for Low Vision, and to inspire others to understand the benefits of multidisciplinary approach. There is an absolute information overload which means some people feel so overwhelmed that they won’t even look at what’s available. One of our aims is to present relevant material in small chunks as needed. To supplement the above, we host monthly info meeting on a variety of topics. These are held on the last Wednesday of every month 4-6 pm. What we have seen from the Interest Group, the Conference, and the monthly meetings is that many have established new networks and a greater understanding of the team in the broadest sense. For example, many of the group have a far greater understanding of the role of Orientation and Mobility, Genetic Counselling, Neuro Optometry, Diabetes, and Vocational Rehab Occupational Therapy. Most importantly each practitioner can strengthen their own practice by adopting a multidisciplinary mindset and understanding the strength of synergy and the need for referral. South Africa is certainly on track with what is available in the world of Low Vision.