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2008 was a good year for NCBI and those who use our services, with new and improved centres from which to make available more activities focusing on improving the quality of people’s lives through training and social interaction.
The number of people using our services increased, although the number of staff providing those services remained the same and the level of funding from the HSE actually decreased slightly. This meant that, as well as fundraising activities which volunteers took part in throughout the year, it became vital to train new volun-teers to work alongside our community-based staff and offer practical and essential social supports to people. NCBI has always relied very heavily on volunteer support but now more than ever before, the essential role of the volunteer has become evident in both the areas of fundraising and front-line support.
A total of 1,755 people were referred to NCBI in 2008. As in previous years, the greatest number of people who came to NCBI for the first time during 2008 had been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This accounted for over 23% of new referrals.
Other diagnoses included glaucoma (7.4%) and diabetic retinopathy (5%). While the majority of people being referred with AMD are, as would be expected, in the over-75 age group, we are seeing an increased number of younger people requiring our services as they deal with diabetic retinopathy. 43% of all people referred with diabetic retinopathy are aged between 18 and 65-yearsof-age.
The age profile of new referrals was:
- 0 – 6 yrs = 2.8%
- 7 – 17 yrs = 4.2%
- 18 – 65 yrs = 22.5%
- 66 – 75 = 14%
- 76+ yrs = 56.5%
In 2008, NCBI’s community-based staff (community resource workers/ rehabilitation workers and IT trainers) carried out a total of 16,663 home visits to people with impaired vision. In addition to working with people in their own environment, NCBI is increasing the number and range of centre-based and group activities in our regional resource centres.
The year began with the opening of our new resource centre in Ballincollig, Cork, by President Mary McAleese in January. From this new base in the south, NCBI services for people living in Cork and Kerry will be man-aged, co-ordinated and delivered, both within the centre itself and in people’s own home areas. In Limerick the staff relocated to a brand new resource centre which has enabled them to offer centre-based activities that were not possible in the previous location.
When a person contacts NCBI for the first time an assessment is carried out by a community resource worker, who meets with the individual and, where appropriate, their family or friends. They discuss how sight loss is affecting the person’s everyday life and what they would like to be able to do that they are currently finding difficult. The impact of sight loss is explored at both practical and emotional level and the community resource worker can then refer the individual to other NCBI services. These may include counselling, training, low vision assessment, advocacy, employment support, education support, leisure activities or opportunities to meet others in a similar situation. The community resource worker may also help a person to avail of local services in their area which they are not currently accessing.
Our technology trainers work with people on a one-to-one basis and in groups. They assess and make rec-ommendations to people regarding technology which might be helpful to them and provide training in the use of closed circuit televisions, scanners, and computers with large print and speech software, as well as the use of newer technologies such as accessible mobile phones and mp3 players.
Throughout the country people took part in social and leisure activities. Volunteers play a vital role in support-ing people in meeting their leisure and social goals. Our two day centres, located in North Dublin and in Wex-ford, offer a range of activities including yoga, arts, crafts, photography and more, and can be availed of by people living in those areas.
Low vision service
People who attend our low vision service receive an assessment from an optometrist, who will prescribe ap-propriate low vision aids which will help them with everyday activities such as reading and seeing things at a distance. They will also meet with a community resource worker, who will discuss any issues they may have, demonstrate some of the items available to assist people in their everyday lives and follow up with training in the use of new low vision aids. As part of the low vision service an IT trainer will demonstrate technology that may be helpful.
In 2008, 1,750 people attended our low vision services throughout the country. Some of these people are not legally recognised as having low enough vision to be perceived as “blind”, however their sight loss is signifi-cant. In our experience, learning to use low vision aids or adaptive software on the computer early and getting used to them, as well as having other appropriate training and support, helps people in their long term adjust-ment to living with sight loss.
Our staff are working with significantly increasing numbers of older people and with more and more people who have other disabilities, such as acquired brain injury, mental health issues, physical disability and hearing loss. In the younger age group many children are born with developmental delays or multiple disabilities, as well as impaired vision. In order to meet the needs of an ever changing and increasing population, it is impera-tive that NCBI’s front-line staff engage in regular up-skilling and professional training. In 2008, a number of internationally renowned training experts in the field of vision impairment delivered a series of workshops to community-based staff.
Dr. Bob Marek from ‘Hungry Fingers’ in Poland presented a two-day workshop on tactile graphics to NCBI staff who are working directly with children with vision impairment. Dr. Marek specialises in designing and pro-ducing educational tools for young learners with vision impairment.
Dr. Margaret Woodhouse, Senior Lecturer in Cardiff University School of Optometry & Vision Sciences hosted a workshop on Special Needs Optometry. Dr Woodhouse presented to NCBI staff working directly with chil-dren with vision impairments, as well as professionals from other organisations.
Nick Collins from Optima Low Vision Solutions presented to NCBI staff on the importance of low vision aids and the need for support in using residual vision and low vision aids.
Maggie Carey, international therapy trainer and author from Adelaide, Australia delivered training to peer counsellors in September 2008.
It is essential for NCBI to develop and retain links with leading experts in the field of vision impairment (as above) and to both contribute to and keep abreast of current research in order to deliver top class services and to plan for future service delivery. For this reason, under the VISPA banner, 2008 saw the launch of the “Services Directory”, where specific services that are relevant to people experiencing sight loss are listed al-phabetically and described briefly with contact details for each service. This VISPA Directory of Services is available on line at www.vispa.ie
Emotional support is initially offered to people by their community resource workers. However, when it be-comes evident that a person may benefit from speaking with somebody in a counselling capacity they can opt for either the Dublin-based professional counselling / family therapy service, or the peer counselling service which is more widespread, although not yet nationwide.
NCBI offers a peer counselling service in collaboration with the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA). Peer counsellors are people who themselves have a disability and have been trained in counselling skills.Their personal experience gives them a different understanding of how disability can impact on a person’s life and on the lives of those around them.
A total of 77 NCBI service users were met by peer counsellors in 2008 over a total of 313 sessions. At the end of 2008 the dormant account funding, which provided funding for four part-time regional peer counsellors came to an end. Peer counselling will continue as a voluntary service in NCBI and IWA.There are currently 13 peer counsellors available to NCBI and IWA.
NCBI’s Dublin-based family therapy service was used by 51 individuals, couples and families in 2008 and a total of 247 counselling sessions took place.
104 people engaged with the employment support service between January and December 2008. Career guidance, advocacy and job retention accounted for most of the work in this area.
NCBI’s main source of funding remains the Health Service Executive (HSE). Health Service Funding in-creased from €7.38 million to €7.40 million, an increase of €0.06 million (0.8%). As the general economic envi-ronment worsened in the second half of 2008 the HSE introduced the first 1% of a series of cuts to our fund-ing, with more cuts likely.
Fundraising & Mrs Quin’s
Mrs Quin’s charity shops had another good year, with eight new shops opening around the country and a 13% increase in income, to €5.38 million.
Donations from the general public continued to rise, against expectation given the current economic climate.
Low vision aids
The provision of aids and appliances and low vision aids to service users and telephony services to Govern-ment departments contributed a surplus of €0.36 million to NCBI, down from €0.49 million in 2007. Sales of low vision aids and technical equipment fell during the year, although they remain above 2006 levels.
NCBI carried out a number of significant capital works during the year. Work on the extension to the Rehabili-tation Training Centre at head office, which began in 2007, was completed in 2008, providing extra classroom space which enables us to facilitate larger groups. In Limerick, our staff moved into a new purpose-designed building, which is fully accessible to our service users. Finally, the lower floor of the head office building was renovated to ensure that service users can access our shop, IT equipment displays and also have a comfort-able waiting area. The shop and reception area were redesigned and a purpose-built display area for equip-ment was installed to enable service users to try the most recent equipment on the market.
Library and Media Centre
NCBI Library continued to grow in 2008. There was an 8% increase in book issues and an 11% increase in new membership.
There was also an increase in the number of organisations seeking assistance in making their information more accessible to individuals with vision impairment. This resulted in an increase in the output of Braille and audio information. The Media Centre worked with the Referendum Commission on making the Lisbon Treaty booklet accessible and the Centre was responsible for the distribution of the booklets to registered vision im-paired individuals.
The Media Centre is committed to the production of audio description for film and TV, and in 2008 saw nego-tiations with RTE and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the require-ments for the production of digital receivers and the analogue switch-over.
Centre for InclusiveTechnology (CFIT)
CFIT continued to provide its range of out-reach consultancy services in accessible website design and devel-opment during 2008. Services included accessibility auditing, user testing and training of designers. The wide range of clients that CFIT worked with included public bodies, universities, private companies and web consul-tancy service providers. The Department of Social and Family Affairs subsequently won the Accessibility cate-gory at the annual eGovernment Awards.
CFIT staff were active throughout the year promoting digital accessibility in Ireland and further afield, through a programme of conference and seminar attendance and presentations.
The area of digital terrestrial television (DTT) became a major focus point during 2008, due to the impending switch-off of analogue services in 2009, and the implications for accessibility and affordability of television for older people and people with disabilities. To raise awareness around these issues, CFIT founded the TV Ac-cess coalition, consisting of most of the major organisations in the disability, ageing and poverty sectors in Ireland. This has created a powerful lobbying group which achieved success in being invited into the Dáil to brief members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications.
In order to provide a research basis for arguments in favour of digital accessibility, CFIT commissioned the Work Research Centre to produce a report entitled ‘ICT accessibility and social inclusion of people with dis-abilities and older people in Ireland: The economic and business dimensions’. The report reveals the negative implications of digital exclusion, for people with vision impairments and other disabilities, for businesses and for the public finances.
Freedom of Information Acts 1997 & 2003
NCBI is covered by the provisions of the above act since 22 October 2000.
It is the policy of NCBI to obtain the views from people who use our services, about the services provided and the way in which they are provided. Any complaint will be viewed as an opportunity to inform and to continu-ously improve the quality of service provision.