By Carol Goar
Could you be a Vision Mate? Are you willing to share your eyesight and friendship with a Canadian with sight loss?
Think before you say, "Yes." It requires a commitment of two hours a week, for at least six months. You need patience, empathy and rock-solid reliability.
If this doesn’t fit your agenda or your lifestyle, there are plenty of other volunteer opportunities at CNIB, such as fundraising, event planning, administration or outreach.
Still weighing the possibility? This checklist might help:
1) Are you comfortable with a one-on-one relationship or would you prefer an arm’s length position that allows more control over your time and involvement?
2) Are you a good communicator? It is vital that a blind or partially sighted individual hear and understand what you are saying. Without a clear, audible voice, your partner will struggle to follow directions and participate in conversation.
3) Are you a self-starter? As a Vision Mate, you work without supervision. You suggest weekly activities, propose outings, learn what your partner likes and take your cues from them. You both set the terms of the relationship and keep it on friendly – not dependent – footing.
4) Are you an attentive listener? In a fast-paced, noisy world, it can be a challenge to slow down and let your partner speak, particularly if the words don’t come easily, but waiting respectfully is essential to comprehending what a client needs and encouraging two-way communication.
5) Can you adapt to changing conditions? A Vision Mate needs the flexibility to dump a plan that no longer fits the circumstances, the client’s priorities or the mood of the moment. For volunteers who need structure and predictability to be effective, this can be challenge. Anyone can overcome their natural tendencies with sufficient willpower, but it is worth asking yourself, before making a commitment, how hard you’ll find it to let go and be guided by your partner’s needs.
6) Are you a natural leader, an extrovert, a take-charge kind of person? Those characteristics – ideally suited to the role of CNIB Ambassador, Leadership Volunteer or Dining in the Dark event organizer – may not be the best fit for a Vision Mate. To build a relationship with a blind partner, the attributes that matter most are empathy, patience and constancy.
7) Are you a snowbird or frequent traveller? You might want to wait until your timetable changes. Long absences are difficult for socially isolated people. Winter can be lonely. A Vision Mate needs to be an all-weather, year-round companion.
Learn more about volunteering for CNIB and our Vision Mate program here, or call CNIB on telephone 1-800-563-2642.