Editor’s note: Please join us for a panel discussion, Practical Steps to Independence When You’re New to Vision Loss, on July 7 at 5:00PM ET. To learn more and register please visit our webinars page.
Also, read about our featured support group and agency The Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington DC.
Breaking the ice when joining any new group is challenging. It helps to make introductions and try to get acquainted before you arrive. If the information you received about the group contained the name and contact instructions, give them a call or send an email introducing yourself as a potential member.
Ask questions which will enable you to gather important information such as date, time, and location of the meeting. Examples of questions to ask include:
- How often does the group meet?
- What is your average attendance?
- What should I expect the first time I attend?
- What is the focus of the group?
- Do you have long-term goals for yourself in attending the group?
Introduction of Yourself to Group Leaders
An introduction in advance helps the group leader or leaders know that you will be in attendance and helps them to introduce you to others when you arrive. Knowledge about your situation will enable the leader to direct the group to help meet your individual needs. Some information that you might provide to the group leader may include but is not limited to:
- The cause and extent of your vision loss.
- How does your visual impairment impact your life?
- What do you expect from the group?
If the group meets by telephone or virtually the same questions are appropriate, and even more important. Get the phone number you need to call in or have the group leader send the link to the virtual meeting. Joining the group virtually is easy; all you have to do is to click on the link. When you see or hear, “Join meeting,” push “enter.” You should have arrived in the virtual meeting.
Arrive Early and Stay Late
I remember many years ago when I joined a new group, I just wished I could arrive late and leave early. I liked the group but wasn’t able to interact. One day when I was on my way to the group, the driver said; “You are becoming a part of our group now, just let me know if you ever need to arrive early or stay late.” Exactly opposite of what I wanted! However, it was what I needed. Before another month was over, I was asking if we could arrive early.
Early arrival to an in-person group allows you more time to meet the group leader and members.
If a vision rehabilitation service provider attends, you will have time to inquire about vision rehabilitation services such as: vocational rehabilitation, vision rehabilitation therapy, technology training, and orientation and mobility. You may even be able to make an appointment to apply for specialized services.
You may also be able to meet many of the members on an individual basis. Establishing friendships is a strong benefit of group membership.
If you are attending a telephone or virtual group, it may be more challenging to arrive early. A group may meet before yours which may be in session. You may still be able to spend a few minutes before or after the meeting chatting with other members.
Come To Order
Most groups of people who are blind or who have low vision start with a roll call or go around the room and participants introduce themselves. This is common since many or most members cannot glance around the room and see who is there.
- Common rules of etiquette are even more important for a telephone or virtual group. Whenever you speak or ask a question, introduce yourself. For example, “This is Lenore.” Then you can make your comment or ask your question.
- Avoid any background noise such as conversations, radio, or television. Don’t open that bag of chips until the call is over! Be it ever so slight, a crunching noise can be heard in the background, and it can be disturbing. If you know you may have some background noise, mute yourself or have the group leader mute you.
- Listen Attentively
- Try to take notes using large print, braille, or recording.
Topics and speakers are often planned several months in advance. The topic and/or speaker of the hour may or may not be what you needed or expected. Or on the other hand, it may be just what the doctor ordered. Regardless, please do not be quick to judge. Even if the information presented is not immediately beneficial, it may be of value down the road. I have been a part of meetings when participants left or hung up just a few minutes into the presentation. Often, they missed out on good information, simply because they prejudged.
If you have a particular topic you would like to have addressed, ask the group leader. Group leaders are always looking for new topics and speakers. They also want to meet the needs of participants.
After The Meeting
Do not just wait until the next meeting. Try to explore and further investigate what you learned in the first meeting. Example: If you learned about any service delivery programs, make an appointment to learn more and perhaps even submit an application. If you were introduced to a new product or service, learn more by contacting someone who uses the product.
Please Note: It is often difficult to express expectations when we are facing something new. Most people who attend a sight loss support group get more out of the group than they ever expected.
Interested in starting a support group? Read Tips and Strategies for Starting a Support Group by Peer Advisor and Support Group Leader Audrey Demmitt.