By Carol Goar
Examined with cold, hard logic, a Vision Mate doesn’t do anything essential in the life of a person of who is blind or partially sighted.
CNIB has specialists who provide mobility training and coaching to help people with vision loss live independently. The health care system provides medical support. The Red Cross or the local public transit agency provides transportation. The family – if there is one – handles the shopping. Otherwise, groceries, medications and other necessities can be delivered. Physiotherapists, podiatrists, veterinarians and other service providers can make house calls.
For volunteers who want a clear-cut role, who are used to being in control, or who need to make a measurable difference in another person's life, this realization can be humbling. For those who are willing to go with the flow, it can be liberating.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I think a lot about the purpose of my weekly visits with Verna Letourneau. I’d like to believe I’m making her life better in some small way, but I don’t need to be indispensable, have a precise role or measure what I am accomplishing.
Each Vision Mate will have to figure out where he or she fits on the spectrum.
Verna has an extensive support network. The CNIB provides mobility and orientation training. CNIB specialists have taught her to navigate with a white cane and encouraged her to get a guide dog. They've helped her live independently with assistive devices that allow her to cook, sew, read and do other household tasks.
Verna's localk health authority looks after her medical needs. A Red Cross driver picks her up every weekday morning to take her to Brantford, Ontario's Adult Recreational Therapy Centre for exercise, arts and crafts, and socializing.
A veterinarian comes to the house to look after her guide dog, Buster. A visiting podiatrist provides foot care. Her medications are delivered to the house. Her friends and pastor connect her to the outside world, sometimes by phone, sometimes in person.
Verna’s son, her primary caregiver, has renovated the kitchen to make it more accessible. He also takes care of most of her everyday physical needs.
So what do I – her vision mate – bring to her network of support?
The first thing is regular, predictable friendship. No matter what else is happening in her life – or my life – Verna can count on me being there once a week, to listen, to walk together, to do something that makes her feel good.
The second thing is a partnership with no demands or ulterior motives. I’m there because she matters; not because it’s my job and not because I expect anything in return.
The third thing is a willingness to step into her world to the extent a sighted person can. I care about how she lives and what she thinks and what has happened since my last visit. I want to her to feel comfortable sharing the details of her life.
The final thing is respect. Verna is a better cook, gardener and seamstress than I am. She is wise in ways that I am not. She has learned to live without instant gratification; dealt with loss and tragedy and express her gratitude in a hundred ways. Every week I tell her how much I’m learning from her.
Could she get along without me? Undoubtedly.
Do I contribute something intangible but meaningful to Verna’s life? That is my hope and my aspiration.
Learn more about volunteering for CNIB and our Vision Mate program here, or call CNIB on telephone 1-800-563-2642.