Rutgers begins support program for legally blind

daily targum blind story photo image from flickr

Since Oct. 1, calls have been coming in to a Rutgers-based peer support helpline for the legally blind, the first of its kind in the nation. 

The program, called Eye2Eye, provides support for people and families who are having difficulties with emotional adjustment to vision loss, said Steve Silverstein, the program's co-director.

“A peer helpline provides phone-based information and support for a specific population, and the people receiving the calls are from the same population, and so have lived experience with the issues that callers are calling in about,” he said. “The Eye2Eye staff members are all people who are either blind or who have lost most of their vision and who have gone through the phases of adjusting to losing their vision.”

The program, said a recent press release, is funded by a grant from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind which serves the Tri-State area. Rutgers has more than 20 years of experience setting up peer helplines, Silverstein said. The Reciprocal Peer Support (RPS) model was developed by Cherie Castellano, an Eye2Eye co-director.

All of the Eye2Eye peer counselors have gone through the challenges of vision loss and have adjusted to a new lifestyle, Silverstein said. They also have a history of providing support to others who are blind, whether through participating in support groups or teaching others how to use assistive technology. 

The peer counselors are not the only ones who have experienced vision loss first-hand, Silverstein said. One of the program supervisors, he said, is a blind doctoral-level psychologist who provides individual psychotherapy for those struggling with vision loss at the University Behavior Health Center (UBHC) Clinic in Edison, New Jersey.

At the state level, agencies like the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NJCBVI) provide support groups, vocational rehabilitation, orientation and mobility training, he said. But there are few options for one-to-one counseling.

“We only know of one therapist in the entire state of New Jersey who specializes in working with people with vision loss, and so there was really a shortage of psychological services available for this population. While what we are offering is a range of emotional and informational support services and not individual psychotherapy, we believe this will still be very helpful to callers,” he said.

The helpline, which is run through Rutgers UBHC, addresses a need for psychological resources for the legally blind in New Jersey, Silverstein said.

“Eye2Eye was established, to provide emotional support, referrals and information for people who are blind or who are losing their vision, and who wish to speak with someone else who has gone through the process of adjusting to losing vision," he said.

Read more about Eye2Eye at The Daily Targum