The Carl R. Otto Annex One-Year Anniversary – What a Year!

One year ago, on February 13th, nearly 200 people gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Carl R. Otto Annex at Society for the Blind along with the successful closing of our Vision 2020 Comprehensive Campaign. Little did we know what was to come just one month later!

The Otto Annex could not have been completed at a better time. Having this new 5,000-square-foot multi-purpose training space played a key role in our ability to provide socially distanced training for seniors with vision loss. We used the annex to hold meetings of our nine-member Strategic Plan Task Force this past year, so we could continue to chart a course for the future at Society for the Blind.

Despite having to close our doors in March 2020 for several weeks, that did not mean programs, support groups and low vision eye care couldn’t continue. We learned a lot this past year as we shifted to remote programs and services delivery. Of significance is the number of people accessing our services from the northernmost parts of the state. In our CareersPLUS Youth program, we have had kids from other states participate in workshops. It is clear to us that online services will continue once we can return to in-person classes.

One of our long-term goals for the Low Vision Clinic was to establish a telemedicine program. The pandemic turned that goal into a reality last August. The result is that our seniors are able to have a portion of their low vision evaluation conducted from the comfort of their own home. As a result, our doctors have found patients to be more relaxed and open about their vision challenges. When they do come in for their eye exam, the appointment is shorter and there is more time to demonstrate assistive devices.

Socially Distanced Senior Impact Project Participants in the Carl R. Otto Annex.

Socially Distanced Senior IMPACT Project Participants in the Carl R. Otto Annex last summer.

A key outcome of our Core Blindness Skills program is employment. This past year has not been favorable for finding jobs, yet our team persevered and more importantly, our clients stayed focused on their goals, with 14 clients finding employment last year. We hope to see that number climb even higher this year.

One thing we know is that blindness and vision loss does not stop for a pandemic. People experiencing vision loss need help today. They need access to classes and support services so they can learn non-visual techniques and become proficient with assistive devices that enable them to live independently, work and pursue their interests.

Vision loss, like pandemics, can come upon us with little warning. The measures we take to respond make all the difference. We have learned a lot this past year, and it has helped us to reshape our programming and service delivery in a way that enables more people with vision loss to access our services. We remain hopeful that in addition to our online services, we will return to in-person classes later this year, providing a full complement of options to people living with low vision and blindness to discover, develop and achieve their full potential.