Keeping Communities Connected During the Pandemic (Part 2)

man whos is visually impaired on a zoom call with clients

The COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions on personal interactions compelled many NIB associated nonprofit agencies to develop creative ways to restructure their in-person community programs to online formats. The results have been a virtual success.

Alphapointe, an NIB associated agency headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, recently launched Infopointe, an online learning platform that offers presentations about vision loss. One well-received webinar, “Expanded Core Curriculum Thursdays,” is a nine-part series that presents sessions on compensatory skills, orientation and mobility, social interaction, independent living, recreation and leisure, sensory efficiency, assistive technology, career education, and self-determination.

The Infopointe platform also provides weekly sessions on topics such as resumé building, social distancing, and safely using public transportation during the pandemic. Since late spring, individuals have been able to participate in on-demand Infopointe sessions available on the agency’s YouTube channel. “We lacked this reach before, but with virtual programs, we’ve got people from as far away as Alaska attending our webinars,” says Scott Thornhill, Alphapointe’s director of public policy. “Vocational rehabilitation therapists, occupational therapists, counselors, and teachers of the visually impaired are using our webinars as part of their curriculum.”

Adopting virtual solutions has resulted in other unanticipated benefits. A new telemedicine program for seniors allows therapists to continue providing independent living assessments. Alphapointe staff have served hundreds of senior citizens by phone or through virtual services since mid-March, Thornhill says.

Alphapointe plans to continue using Infopointe and telemedicine to deliver services in the post-pandemic world. “Our clients consider us essential — their needs are too important for us not to continue to find new ways to provide services,” says Thornhill.

Chris Ament, vice president of rehabilitation and education at VisionCorps in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says taking programs online has also broadened the agency’s outreach to beyond the Lancaster area.

Ament says many online programs implemented in response to the pandemic are proving highly efficient in delivering services to even more people. For example, occupational therapy services, in which a therapist assesses a client’s home environment and suggests minor modifications to make daily tasks safer and easier, were easily adapted to an online format.

Support groups hosted by the agency on topics such as technology, low vision aids, medication management, and self-advocacy are similarly expanding their reach. “Now that we’ve gone virtual, we are able to serve more clients in this setting with fewer resources,” Ament says.

A successful online services program for children delivers materials to their homes, allowing them to work on art projects and consult one-on-one with online with instructors throughout the project. Kids then share their completed artwork with each other online.

Amanda Hardman’s 3-year-old son, Cole, has participated in VisionCorps programs since he was three months old. At-home visits with his vision specialist have transitioned to virtual sessions using an iPad to work on letter and number recognition through puzzles and Play-doh to learn shapes.

“The pandemic has affected so many things, but luckily a 3-year-old adapts easily to change,” Hardman says. “VisionCorps was creative in responding, so it hasn’t affected their ability to provide vision services to Cole.”

“The pandemic has really increased the feeling of isolation for a lot of people who are blind because so much of what is out there is inaccessible to our clientele,” explains Ament. “The biggest strength of virtual programs is that they foster the feeling of belonging to a community, so our clients don’t feel like they’re in this alone.”