I Won’t Know Unless I Try

Post by Brian Klotz

Ellie Leach at MABVI's Senior Connection 2014

Ellie Leach at MABVI’s Senior Connection 2014

Ellie Leach had never used a computer. No email, no games, no web browsing – as she puts it, “I had never even used a typewriter!” Over twenty years ago Ellie, now 78, was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a medical condition that causes vision loss, putting yet another obstacle between herself and tech-savviness.

Today, however, Ellie is the proud owner of an iPad, which she uses to email friends and family, play games, and listen to her favorite music.

“It’s like I’m alive again,” she says. “I feel like I’m a part of everything again.” Continue reading


Serving with Liberty: A Day at the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the Museum of Fine Arts

Post by Grant Johnson, Senior Financial Analyst for Liberty Mutual in Boston

Being new to Liberty Mutual, this year was my inaugural experience with the “Serve with Liberty” employee community service program. When I took a look at the available options, I knew I didn’t want to cop out and simply pick an event that was as close to where I lived as possible. Sure, the convenience of picking such a place sounded appealing, but volunteering at its core shouldn’t be about what’s convenient to you; the reason you’re contributing your time is to benefit and convenience the lives of those who actually need it. Because of that mindset, I wanted to select something that I felt would have both an immediate and lasting impact on those I, along with the other volunteers, would be dedicating the day to. That’s when I came across an event called “Feeling for Form.” Continue reading

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

Natick Low Vision Peer Support Group serves up food, friendship, and fun

Post by Brian Klotz, Marketing Coordinator for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) and Natick High School Class of ’05

A stuffed snowman wearing a winter hat sits on a table at the Natick support group meetingOnce a month, they meet at the Natick Senior Center, in an often filled-to-capacity room right next to the gift shop. They come to share stories. They come to learn about helpful tips and resources. They come to bond over their shared disability: vision loss.

On this day in late December, however, they have come for the turkey.

A catered spread of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and other seasonally-appropriate food items (Let’s not forget the pie!) sits on a long table against the window as the members of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s (MABVI) Low Vision Peer Support Group gather for a holiday feast.

The luncheon, a break in routine from the usual guest speakers and group discussion, has become an annual December tradition for the group.

“It’s fantastic,” says group member and co-coordinator Marge Burrows. “It gets better every year.” Continue reading

From struggle to support

MABVI support group members.

Support group members.

“How would you know?”

A question that has crossed all of our minds at some time or another. When someone gives you advice without ever having been in your shoes, it’s not always helpful. Often it’s more comforting to turn to someone in the same position as you, someone who can give guidance and understanding from personal experience. For those struggling with vision loss, support groups provide a place to share personal fears, coping mechanisms and resources as their vision changes over time.

MABVI Marlborough support group member Robert Marcotte explains: “The goal of the meetings is to give support and information to our members and also to give them a place to come and interact with other people who have the same issues. Many do not know where to turn or what is available to them, and just need to interact with other low vision people and discuss/share their problems.” (See Marcotte Helps Sight-Impaired) 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