A person is pulling a piece of paper out of a bag. The paper has a human eye with a red line through it at the top of the page.

"The Letter:" How I Adjusted to Life with Vision Loss

Hi. Everyone is being stood up at the office today. Cancellations and no shows out the ears! I guess this gives me time to write yet ANOTHER page.

To recap, I had decided I needed to call the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. Remember?

On an assigment

The truth of the matter is I don’t hang well. Downtime and I are not good friends. That is why, when my newly assigned case manager called me, I insisted upon an assignment. I assured him it would be in his own best interest. Left to my own devices, I would be calling him every day. Frankly, I can be obsessive. And relentless.

What is the "letter?"

My assignment was to get “the letter”. You should probably obtain and keep your own letter. The letter (or copy of your medical records) has your diagnosis on it. That is your get-out-of-jail-free card. Need services? Present your letter. Classroom accommodations? Same move. The only way you will be able to access much of the good stuff is to have ready access to that piece of paper saying you are what you say you are: visually impaired.

Visual impairment services

Please note: the way you get the good stuff is to be, basically, legally blind. Generally, the definition for visual impairment in school is acuity between 20/70 and 20/200 in the better eye with best correction. That is the first part of the criteria BBVS uses. The other three parts are as follows:

  • Visual field loss of 20 degrees of arc or greater
  • A diagnosis of a progressive sight-threatening disease
  • A significant functional limitation from vision loss

If you have AMD in both eyes, you probably will qualify.


Once it was determined I was able to meet the criteria it was paperwork and planning time. Like every other bureaucracy in the known Universe, BBVS has forms. Since I hate forms and such with a passion, I am going to move on to planning.

The two primary questions answered in planning were what did I want to be when I grew up as a visually impaired adult and how were we going to get me there. I already knew what I wanted to do, of course. I have always liked being a psychologist. After all of these years, it is part and parcel of my identity. I did not want to change career paths.

Switching career paths

That does not, however, mean it could not be done. I could have been assessed and retrained by BBVS. If you have been employed in a job you can no longer do, you may be able to get an education in another field at the expense of the state. Don’t give up on being employed because you have been declared legally blind. I have been working for almost three years now past my diagnosis.

Accessibility tools

Since I did not need to be trained - all I needed was to see! - I got help in other ways. This was when I was put in contact with my tech guy. He brought me loaner “toys”. I was given a closed circuit TV to try as well as a couple of different handheld, electronic magnifiers. We also discussed a zoom program for my desktop computers.

Like I said, “the letter” was my get-out-of-jail-free card. I was on my way to my new normal!

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