The Rebound Indiana: Helping visually impaired Hoosiers navigate the pandemic

Elizabeth Hartman.JPG
Posted at 12:50 AM, Jul 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-17 13:38:47-04

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INDIANAPOLIS — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed reality for everyone. As we all rebound and work to adapt to a new normal, for part of our community, the pandemic presents other challenges for those who are visually and hearing impaired.

Just like many organizations, Bosma Enterprises’ Center for Visionary Solutions for the Blind closed their doors in March, but they never stopped providing their services.

People who are visually impaired are reliant on touch, so Bosma is continuing to provide training, technology, and solutions to ensure these Hoosiers have the tools to lead full and independent lives under the current conditions.

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“I gave up nursing, I would still do patient care such as direct care staff, you know, taking care of staff but it wasn't the same,” Elizabeth Hartman, a Bosma client, said. “So I kind of just graciously walked away from it although it was my passion to be a nurse.”

Hartman is a mother from Noblesville. The 47-year-old has a condition called Dominant Optic Atrophy Plus, it affects both her auditory and optic nerves. Over the course of the last decade, Hartman’s hearing and vision has been declining, forcing her to step away from her career.

“I have a lot of medical knowledge and I was very proud of myself for getting through school and having hearing loss and I would really like to find a way to use those skills,” Hartman said.

Before she can use her skill-set, Hartman needs to learn how to work with her condition. That is why she went to the non-profit, Bosma Enterprises, where she has been learning braille, reading skills, assistive technology, and mobility skills.

“I am looking for something where I can be at my desk or a desk-like setting,” Hartman said. “I am hoping that I can use my medical knowledge in medical coding and billing.”

On top of learning new skills, Hartman also has to adapt to the challenges presented by the pandemic. Masks and social distancing cause extra difficulties for those with hearing and eyesight disabilities.

“I rely on lip-reading even though I am visually impaired, I still rely on lip-reading and you know it is hard to be closer to somebody so you can hear and understand them,” Hartman said.

James Michaels is the vice president of programs at Bosma. He is also visually impaired and is figuring out how to navigate the pandemic.

“So much of what we do, I am visually impaired myself,” Michaels said. “And much of the way we navigate our environment is through touch. So now if you think about it, if things that you touch can really cause you to have some health problems, so we have to be very cognizant of that.”

To keep helping Hartman and Bosma’s other 300 clients in Indiana, the organization needed to quickly pivot their in-person training. They transitioned their services to virtual formats, thanks to a grant through the United Way of Central Indiana Community Economic Relief Fund.

“Teaching people who are visually impaired how to use assisted technology like using their smartphone, helping them to order food from Instacart or Walmart, ordering supplies from amazon, it can be very difficult unless you get trained,” Michaels said.

Bosma Enterprises’ was able to purchase Zoom Rooms to continue their curriculum online and they provide training over the phone as well.

The grant money has also allowed Bosma’s staff to provide care packages to their clients with food from Gleaners Food Bank, adaptive aids, white canes, PPE and opportunities to connect with other people through phone calls with activities.

“Individuals that are coping with vision loss a lot of time there is isolation because it is really difficult to get out,” Michaels said. “If you think about this...getting in an Uber and Lyft can a lot of times be really scary when you are touching something where someone else has been in. And just going out with someone that you really don't know in this type of environment, it can be intimidating. We are helping those to still be able to communicate and to socialize and to really diminish those feelings of isolation through some of these connection lines and support lines that we have.”

These services go beyond getting Hoosiers facing barriers back into the workforce, Bosma Enterprises’ is also providing the ability to connect in a time when many are staying apart.

“Just because we are not able to go out there and work with people doesn't mean that they don't have needs,” Michaels said. “So it is going to be very important to us to continue to serve clients as long as we have to this period of social distancing.”

Bosma Enterprises’ continues to develop and evolve their curriculum to adapt to the “new normal.” The non-profit reinstated some in-person training at the end of June to a handful of clients, they have modified it to allow for social distancing. Most of their clients continue to receive training virtually

As a not-for-profit, Bosma says they cannot provide these services without the support of the community. If people would like to help the organization provide these critical services to people who are blind as it relates to COVID, click here to donate.