Meet Jen Buchanan

Jen and Keating posing on the grass in front of the ocean at Fort Sewall in Marblehead

Jen and Keating pose by the ocean at Fort Sewall in Marblehead

Jen Buchanan, the new Volunteer Coordinator working out of the Brookline office of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), knows how important finding the right services and support can be for those losing their vision, because she’s been through it herself.

“When I first was losing some sight,” she says, “I didn’t know where to go.” When she learned about a local MABVI low vision support group in her hometown of Peabody, she decided to go. “It was really the first place I had journeyed to independently with my cane. I was early and I sat outside of the room, where I met Joanne, a member of the group. She was so welcoming and had so much experience to share that I knew I was in the right place. I absolutely love each and every one of the group members. They all have something unique to share and are eager to do so.” Continue reading

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Exercising My Soul as a Boston Marathon Guide for the Visually Impaired

By Dr. Vincent Hau, vitreoretinal physician and surgeon at the Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center, California

Vincent Hau guiding Richard Hunter as they run the Boston Marathon

VIncent Hau guiding Richard Hunter at the Boston Marathon

Like most avid marathon runners, I’ve always dreamed of running the most prestigious marathon race in the world: the Boston Marathon. I first qualified when I was a medical student nearly 11 years ago, but was afraid of requesting time off from my third-year clinical rotations to run it. For the following 10 years I’ve always regretted never asking.

Since joining Kaiser Permanente, an institution that values an employee’s health and well-being via a strong work-life balance, I’ve been able to achieve qualifying for the Boston Marathon again. Ten years later, in 2014, I ran the post-bombing marathon in a personal record time and shared in showing the world how a terrorist act would never dissuade the spirit of our running community.

This year, after having to take nearly a half-year hiatus from training due to plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, I knew that in running Boston I would not get close to the time I achieved last year. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I should be running at all, since I was still recovering and had run for only a couple of weekends prior. When I asked my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist if I should run Boston, they answered with silence and that special smirk that implied they knew I would run it anyway if they said no. Continue reading

Doing Good: A Volunteer’s Story

Post by Ilana Bergelson

Ilana and Kate posing together at the gym

Ilana (right) and Kate (left) at the gym.

Having participated in a volunteer program called Service of Sight through Delta Gamma at the University of Chicago, I wanted to carry on the same type of community service following graduation. One moment when I knew I wanted to volunteer with the visually impaired was seeing the blind runners and their guides during the Boston Marathon. Their perseverance was amazing, and even though I was happy to volunteer in whatever way necessary, I secretly hoped I could be a running guide too. I heard about the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) through the Delta Gamma alumni group, and with an upcoming training session and a location nearby, I knew I had to join. Continue reading

What you learn from Senior Connection and ‘Your Benefits Count’

Seniors entering LantanaOn June 12th, we held the 19th annual Senior Connection, inviting low vision support group members across Massachusetts for a day-long conference! Seniors arrived at the Lantana in Randolph, dressed in their finest attire, excited to learn useful information about coping with vision loss from experts and each other. If you couldn’t make it to our annual event, tune in to hear the fun facts we learned on tax exemptions, disability placards and accessible voting that could save you time, money and agony!

At “Your Benefits Count,” speakers Kathleen Colleary, Michele Ellicks and Michelle Tassinari updated us on the latest changes made in state agencies MA Department of Revenue, MA Department of Transportation and Office of the Secretary of State, which are especially beneficial to the blind and visually impaired community. A block of time was allotted for a question and answer forum where senior guests could share personal issues and concerns with our visiting experts.

Are you aware of the basic state tax exemptions available to the blind and visually impaired? If you are living with a disability, you may be eligible for basic home and vehicle exemptions! With the help of Colleary, seniors had the opportunity to ask specific questions about tax Kathleen Colleary speaking at Senior Connectionabatement guidelines. One senior asked, “Is exemption possible with a sighted spouse?” To his advantage, he learned that regardless of his wife’s vision condition, he should receive full tax exemption if all other qualifications are lawfully met.

Furthermore, Colleary explained that the elderly generally qualify for their own exemptions that may be even more favorable than those available to the blind and visually impaired community. If this applies to you, the MA Department of Revenue will determine which exemption is most valuable for you. For more in-depth information regarding tax exemptions, click here.

Guests listening to speakersGood news for all you travelers out there: The days of renewing disability placards are over! This may be old news to some of you readers, but it was certainly a piece of information causing a few ears to perk up at the Senior Connection.

Michele Ellicks speaking at the Senior Connection

Actually, the process changed a full two years ago. Michele Ellicks from the MA Department of Transportation explained that the registry now automatically updates the placard, mailing a new one out to the individual in need upon expiring. Our seniors shared personal experiences with their own placards where they had to sign or send money for renewals – Don’t be fooled, there is no reason you should be paying a cent! The one and only detail to remember is to immediately replace the old placard with the new one. More specific questions of disability placards can be answered by clicking here.

Michelle Tassinari speaking at the Senior ConnectionEver feel like you aren’t getting enough privacy when voting? Voting privacy is an ongoing concern for people with vision loss. Support group members spoke about feeling apprehensive about their privacy when submitting absentee ballots or having someone accompany them in the voting booth. Michelle Tassinari from the Secretary of State’s office gave us the full scoop on the state’s efforts to secure anonymity for absentee ballots and to place accessible voting equipment in all polling stations. She mentioned that with the accessible voting machines, you always have the option to turn the screen so it’s facing the wall, or shut the sound off altogether and use headphones. She urged voters who have specific concerns about their polling place to contact her office.  If you have any additional questions on accessible voting, click here.

This year’s event was a great success. The next Senior Connection, held the second Wednesday of June 2014!

Images courtesy of Darlene DeVita Photography