The role of Vison Rehab Specialist

What is the role of a Vision Rehabilitation Specialists?

When someone loses their sight or has a visual impairment from birth, who is there to help them? There are eye doctors (ophthalmologists) and opticians, but most of the intense one-to-one rebuilding of lives is done by specially trained professionals known as Rehabilitation Officers (Rehab Officers) for Visually Impaired People. Rehab Officers, who may also be known as Rehab Workers in some areas, are specialist professionals who are trained to support visually impaired people, enabling and empowering them to lead independent and fulfilling lives.

They work with people of all ages, including children, and older people who make up most of the number of people who have sight loss. 92% of people who have sight loss acquire it during their lifetime, only 8% of people who are visually impaired are born with a visual impairment. When a person loses their sight it can be a very traumatic and distressing life changing event. Likewise if a person has a visual impairment since birth, they have specific rehab requirements that may need to be addressed, and these life skills can be taught in independent living by a Rehab Officer.

A Rehab Officer would be one of the first professionals involved in supporting people to build and rebuild their lives through independence and rehabilitation training and in some instances the provision of specialist equipment.

Rehab Officers are not social workers, although in some areas they may undertake certain aspects of the social work role, but many Rehab Officers describe their role as being similar to that of an occupational therapist (OTs), who have a holistic rehabilitation role but not for ‘eyes’. Although not medically trained, Rehab Officers are OTs for ‘eyes’, they are trained in the principles and practices of habilitation (learning new skills) and rehabilitation (relearning or adapting known skills and concepts), and work with service users on an individual one-to-one rehab training programmes. Much of this work would take place in the visually impaired person’s home. This may also include working closely with a visually impaired person’s family and carers.

What is rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation (rehab) is not a prescribed or set process, it is a flexible and holistic activity which is person centred. Rehab training empowers and enables a person to lead an independent life, which can help them to become more confident and enjoy a better quality of life. Rehabilitation can involves a person relearning to use previously known skills, concepts and actions, these can also be compensatory skills that support a person to overcome their visual difficulties. Habilitation concentrates on a person learning a new skills, this could be a compensatory skill, to assist a person in undertaking specific tasks.

The Rehab Officer role

The core elements of the Rehab Officer role include:

  • Assessment – specialist assessment of a person’s vision needs, identifying any visual difficulties and possible solutions, and agreeing a rehab ‘action plan’.
  • Eye conditions – non-medical knowledge of how the eye functions and eye conditions that can cause sight loss
  • Low vision – specialist knowledge and skills on low vision devices and magnifiers, high-tech video magnifiers and close circuit TV, the use of non-optical devices, and training a person to make the most of their vision by using specific sight strategies
  • Orientation and Mobility – mobilising visually impaired people to get about safely both indoors and outdoors. Providing training in the use of mobility aids, such as white canes. Route training in specific areas eg. teaching the route to the shops or work. Developing orientation techniques and building confidence to become and independent traveller.
  • Independent Living Skills – developing a visually impaired person’s activities of daily living. For example kitchen skills, making a hot/cold drink, preparation of small snacks and cooking a meal. Skills for managing personal care, such as applying make-up, shaving and dressing, and identifying and taking medication appropriately.
  • Communication skills – developing communication and information skills for visually impaired person whether they use written formats, and read large print, using the telephone, tactile formats such as Braille and Moon, accessing audible information using CDs, using IT equipment with specialist software and hardware equipment, that also enables access the internet.

Some experienced Rehab Officers specialise their practice, such as working with children or people with learning disabilities.

Initially a full rehab assessment of a person’s needs would be undertaken to ascertain what level of functioning a person is current able to achieve. A number of recommendations and an ‘action plan’ would be agreed with the service user on the completion of the assessment. This may include a structured training programme (of specific skills as outlined above) and various items of specialist equipment. Skills training can take place over a structure period of time and sessions, the length of which would be determined by the service users needs and progress, but timescales can vary depending on the type of input. Aims and objectives of training and input are agreed with service users at the start of any intervention and outcomes are assessed with the service jointly at the end of a training programme.

What qualifications do Rehab Officers have?

Rehab Officers are university trained, and academically qualified to Foundation Degree level in Health and Social Care (visual impairment), or equivalent.

For further information about studying for the Foundation Degree, and training as a Rehab worker contact Avril Chapman.