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SCCB Connects • December 2020

Restoring confidence and capability with assistive technology

Photo of retired physician Dr. Thomas Gaffney sitting in front of a full bookshelf.

When diagnosed with macular degeneration, Dr. Thomas Gaffney, a retired physician, found himself more dependent on others to accomplish some of the basic tasks of daily living. Even so, Dr. Gaffney remained hopeful that there were resources available to assist him.

Encouraged by his wife, Dr. Gaffney reached out to SCCB’s Older Blind program for assistance in May 2019. This program helps citizens age 55 and older who have severe visual impairments remain as independent as possible in their own homes. Services they may receive include home management, assistive technology, low vision devices, orientation and mobility instruction, and assessment at a low vision clinic.

During meetings with his SCCB counselor, Barbara Thompson, they established several goals Dr. Gaffney wanted to achieve regarding his adjustment to vision loss.

In addition to enhancing his quality of daily living and level of independence, Dr. Gaffney expressed his desire to finish writing his memoir and a book detailing his family history. Although he was determined to complete his book, the significant decline in his vision impeded his endeavors to write.

A Vario Digital FHD desktop video magnifier; a computer screen supported by a folding arm over a surface upon which items are placed, magnified, and displayed.

Dr. Gaffney was assessed to see if low vision aids or other adaptive devices may be helpful. After a careful evaluation, he became one of the first to receive a Vario Digital FHD, a foldable desktop video magnifier. It was exactly what he needed to be able to continue writing his book.

“I can even link my magnified text and photographic images to my computer,” he says of the device. “As a result, I can finish writing my memoir and family history.”

Before contacting SCCB, Dr. Gaffney had been discouraged and frustrated that he would not be able to maintain his independence and achieve his goals. Now his perspective has completely shifted. He’s excited about finishing his writing and continuing to be an active member of his family and community. He feels that he still has value and purpose, and that SCCB’s assistance made all of the difference.

Recently, he offered to share his story with other Older Blind program participants; he hopes his resolve and desire to adapt will be a source of encouragement for others.

“Words can’t capture my appreciation for SCCB’s interest, concern, awareness, expertise, and help,” he says.

About the Older Blind program

The Older Blind program provides services for individuals age 55 or older who have a severe visual impairment that makes competitive employment difficult to obtain but for whom independent living goals are feasible.

Some of the services which may be provided include counseling and guidance, training on how to manage personal care and daily tasks, adjustment to blindness, low-vision evaluation, orientation and mobility training, and instruction in the use of adaptive computer software.

Low vision aids such as hand-held magnifiers, digital magnifiers, electronic reading aids, closed circuit television systems, and protective sun filters are some of the options that may be provided to consumers. Counselors reinforce techniques for proper use of low vision items.

To be eligible for the Older Blind program, an individual must:

  • Be a South Carolina resident age 55 or older. 
  • Be legally blind or have been diagnosed with a progressive eye pathology which could lead to legal blindness.
  • Require services to maintain independence. 

Awards presented to BRIDGE graduates included a certificate for completing the BRIDGE program, a Customer Service and Sales Certified Specialist credential from the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation, and a certificate from the International Association for Continuing Education and Training.

Graduates cross the BRIDGE

Four consumers who completed the BRIDGE pre-apprenticeship training program were recently recognized in an online graduation ceremony hosted by the SCCB Training and Employment division.

Jessica Bynum, Janice Crosby, Courtney Rone, and Ryan Szymanski shared with attendees how the BRIDGE program had made a difference in their lives.

“I really appreciated learning the different approaches to customer service,” says Ryan. “It’s important to be professional and find the best solution to a customer’s issue, and to show you are a good representative for the company that hired you. The skills and confidence I gained through this program will help me become a great employee.”

BRIDGE (Building Readiness for Individualized Development of Gainful Employment) is a pre-apprenticeship training program that provides a career path for consumers into employer-based apprenticeships or direct placement. The 6- to 8-week training incorporates work readiness development, job shadowing, and a Job Club experience to provide consumers with skillsets that meet specific needs of industries and align with the consumer’s vocational goals.

The consumers received 72 hours of job readiness training, 60 hours of customer service training, and 120 hours of other job related education.

Earlier this year, BRIDGE was invited to be a pilot program with Apprenticeship Carolina, which will allow graduates to compete for apprenticeship opportunities in the Customer Service field. Graduates will also be considered as candidates for BlueCross BlueShield’s Customer Service Associate Apprenticeship program or a direct hire.

In addition to the certificate for completing the BRIDGE program, each consumer received a credential from the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation recognizing them as a Customer Service and Sales Certified Specialist. They also completed training accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training which prepared them to work in a variety of call center environments.

Janice Crosby, BRIDGE graduate.

“This program has given me a lot of self-confidence,” says Janice. Although she had been in customer service previously, she said she’s learned how to be a much better representative now. “Thank you to everybody.”

Jessica agrees. “I really appreciated the whole experience. I learned a lot from the training. I know what to expect from [customers] and how to respond to them.”

Janice is currently in the application process with BlueCross BlueShield. In February, Jessica will begin employment with Conduent, a company which provides call center and other support services for businesses and industry.

Community and business partners who were in attendance included Gayel Wigfall, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at BlueCross BlueShield; Tammie Anderson, Diamond Coaching Institute; Karen Crider, Palmetto ABLE; Raven Freeman, SC Works Midlands; Dr. Leigh Hicks, Footsteps 2 Success, Inc.; Olivia Heath, Apprenticeship Carolina; and Monika Lamb and Chinesa Brown, CP Johnson Enterprise.

Five guiding principles for success

  1. Follow the state and federal rules, regulations and policies the SCCB operates under.
  2. Provide quality services.
  3. Work together as a team.
  4. Build and strengthen relationships and partnerships.
  5. Communicate effectively. No registration is required.

Screenshot showing Mark Schultz, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner; Darline Graham, Commissioner, SCCB; Rhonda Thompson, Director of Older Blind, Children’s Services, Prevention of Blindness Services and Low Vision Clinic Services; Zunaira Wasif, Director of Vocational Rehabilitation Consumer Services; Kisa Grate, Director of Training and Employment during the virtual National Showcase.

SCCB featured in National Showcase

The Commission for the Blind was invited, along with the general Vocational Rehabilitation Department, to participate in a National Showcase hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and Mark Schultz, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner and acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Commissioner Darline Graham provided an overview of the agency, followed by Kisa Grate, Director of Training and Employment, who spoke about the BRIDGE pre-apprenticeship training program. During her presentation, a video featuring Kristen Pratt from Apprenticeship Carolina was shown in which she shared how the BRIDGE program was benefiting consumers and businesses in South Carolina.

Next, Rhonda Thompson, Director of Older Blind, Children’s Services, Prevention of Blindness Services and Low Vision Clinic Services, discussed the challenges and successes of the Virtual Senior Camps offered for older citizens with visual impairments. Activities included a special music presentation, discussion of topics related to adjustment, shared stories of interest, plans to establish a book club, and a game night.

Finally, Zunaira Wasif, Director of Vocational Rehabilitation Consumer Services, spoke about the unique challenges faced by individuals who are blind or visually impaired, especially this year with the COVID pandemic. She shared how the agency has addressed these challenges through virtual workshops that covered topics as diverse as cooking and home management, how to travel safely in areas where there are no sidewalks, employment preparation, and using accessibility features of voting machines.

This was a great opportunity for the agency to share valuable information and best practices. There were more than 100 attendees from around the state and the nation.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

—Benjamin Franklin