This past year has been a real test for senior centers. In honor of Senior Center month, the National Council on Aging salutes their work saying “you transformed your centers to virtual classrooms overnight and, in so doing, provided continued means of social engagement and activity during bleak times, turning the table on ageist stereotypes about older adults and technology use. You provided countless hours of support and encouragement and delivered numerous meals. You became even more integral to health care delivery in your communities by providing COVID-19 guidance, vaccine education, and vaccinations to your members. And you played an outsized role in addressing an issue that we all knew was important even before the pandemic: social isolation. Senior centers are opening again, but it will never be business as usual going forward.”
What does this mean for older people with vision loss? How can you participate? Senior centers now come in all kinds of packages—virtual, in person, and hybrid, providing some of both types of services.
Virtual Center Without Walls
WellConnected (formerly known as Senior Center Without Walls) is one of the best kept secrets and provides a great service to help older people stay connected “virtually.” In their own words, WellConnected is ”a virtual community that offers phone and online activities that build community through group conversations, games, and education.”
Yes, you got it right. It does say, “phone” as well as online. So, for those of you who aren’t techies or who are unable to go online, WellConnected is the service for you. Registration is free. Register online, call (877) 797-7299, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. WellConnected engages more than 3,000 older adults across 49 states. Materials are available in large print, audio, text, and Braille.
A great thing about WellConnected is their varied programming which runs the gamut from armchair travel to, a low-vision group, a walk in nature, a Memory Café, and a coffee break held four times per week (just to name a few options). The summer catalog has over 100 offerings. They also offer programs in Spanish.
If you are more interested in a one-on-one connection, join Social Call, their friendly visiting program, by calling the same number.
And they love volunteers. In fact, volunteers run their groups including people who are blind or visually impaired.
Senior Centers With Walls
Did you know there are over 3000 senior centers in this country? A few years ago, Amy Bovaird wrote about the value of senior centers. As NCOA noted, that value still holds in reducing social isolation and becoming involved in the community. How can you find out about senior centers in your area? Check the ElderCare Locator to find more information.
How Accessible Are Senior Centers?
How accessible a center is may depend on you being proactive about your needs. Below are some tips provided by the MSU OIB-TAC you can suggest for in-person programming.
Ten Tips to Provide a Vision Friendlier, Safer Senior Center
1. Control glare by using appropriate window coverings and adjustable lighting.
2. Increase use of contrast in the building. Paint door trim, replace covers on outlets and light switches and put contrasting tape on steps and railings.
3. For handouts, use bold, sans-serif fonts in large print in a minimum of 18 point font on white or light yellow paper for handouts such as activity calendars.
4. Provide enlarged, tactile versions of games, such as playing cards, bingo cards and board games.
5. Suggest that center staff use the human guide technique when walking with people with vision loss who need sighted assistance,
6. Talk directly to a person with vision loss. Ask direct questions like “What would you like to drink?”. Do not talk around the person such by saying things to their family members or companions like “What do they want to drink?”
7. At mealtime, describe the place setting and food arrangement on the plate in terms of a clock face: “your meat is at 12:00, your carrots are at 3:00, your mashed potatoes are at 6:00, and your green beans are at 9:00.”
8. Use clear, verbal descriptions when giving directions and offer a tour of the facility, including how to find restrooms. Point out landmarks that will help with wayfinding.
9. Staff should announce changes in furniture arrangement in public areas of the facility.
10. Avoid using throw rugs and low-lying furniture to help prevent falls.