By LOIS KINDLE
If you’re a senior who is blind or has age-related conditions, like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma, the Sun City Center Low Vision Support Group can help make life easier.
Its members meet at 1 p.m. the second Friday of each month in the Sun Towers Retirement Community Theater Room, 101 Trinity Lakes Drive. Free valet parking is available.
The group is open to anyone with vision-related challenges in the greater South Shore area.
“If you can get here, you’re welcome,” said Michelle Mason, Sun City Center volunteer coordinator for Seniors in Service, the nonprofit organization that provides the volunteers who organize and lead the Low Vision Support Group. “We’re always looking to help more people by growing our membership, so if you know someone or have a loved one with low or no vision, please let them know we’re here for them.”
Every day, quality-of-life challenges club members face are taken for granted by folks with good vision.
One woman, who is completely blind, said she feels uncomfortable in public not knowing what clothing she has on or if it even matches.
Another whose macular degeneration makes it impossible to read her mail, expressed concern about not being able to check her bank statements.
And a man who can no longer see well enough to differentiate between a $1 or $10 bill is at the mercy of a cashier’s honesty to give him the correct change.
Low Vision Support Group members benefit from making social connections, informally conversing with each other and engaging in discussions following monthly educational presentations by community experts. Most recently, two women from Nova Southeastern University discussed fall risks and how to organize your home to make it more fall-proof.
“I can listen to 100 of these talks and always learn something new,” Mason said.
Sponsored by the Sun City Center Men’s Club, the six-year-old Low Vision Support Group partners with other nonprofit organizations and foundations to provide funding sources, products, services or other forms of support. Recently, for example, the Sun City Center Lions Club donated 25 lighted magnifiers for members.
“One of the most important things we do is provide access to information, training and assistive technology that can improve their ability to perform daily activities and reduce loneliness,” Mason said. “I install free apps like Be My Eyes or Seeing AI on their phones and teach how to use them.”
“These apps provide a level of independence,” Mason added.” Many people with low vision feel inhibited about pursuing friendships, or they worry about how long they can remain on their own.”
The Low Vision Support Group recently provided its members with yet another opportunity.
Lighthouse for the Blind & Low Vision in Tampa has many assistive devices, including electronic magnifiers for reading mail and paying bills; Braille labelers for marking household items or currency; and clothing identification apps, that are customized for individual use.
To purchase and/or get the most benefit from these devices, people with low or no vision need to visit the agency on site to talk with its personnel, who have extensive knowledge and expertise. Since the Lighthouse no longer offers transportation (other than to take a class), the Senior Connection Center in Tampa stepped up to help.
Thanks to a $5,000 mini-grant that the Senior Connection Center awarded to Seniors in Service, free, handicapped-accessible transportation for 40 blind or low-vision individuals is being made possible to the Lighthouse for the Blind store.
Sun Towers Retirement Community is providing the van and experienced, certified drivers.
The first trip, which included nine attendees and four volunteers to assist them, was on May 31. The remaining three trips, which will be quarterly, have yet to be announced.
“Four people signed up for free classes while we were there, three for technology and one for home safety in the kitchen,” Mason said.
For more information about the Sun City Center Low Vision Support Group, call Mason at 813-492-8920 or email her at email@example.com/.