After operating at a reduced capacity since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Vision for Independence Center in Yakima, a nonprofit founded to address the needs of those with vision loss, has fully opened.
The center was founded in 2006 by optometrists and other volunteers who knew there was a need for services for people with vision loss and low vision in Yakima and surrounding counties. As opposed to a regular optometrist’s office, low-vision clinics focus specifically on patients with 20/70 vision or worse.
Low vision can be caused by a number of conditions including cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy (brought on by diabetes) and age-related macular degeneration. According to the National Federation of the Blind, in 2016, 161,900 Washington residents had visual disabilities.
Patients like these, for whom surgery, traditional eyeglasses or medical treatment won’t improve their vision, usually look to low-vision clinics for specialty equipment, said Dr. Chris Babin, one of the founding members of the center.
“When someone has vision loss, there are a lot of devices that are out there that can at least give them back some visual independence to do something like reading mail or a book. There is a lot that can be done with things like telescopes or closed circuit televisions which have small electronic magnifiers,” Babin said.
He explained that tools like this, while not designed to return the vision of those with vision loss, can do more than make things easier to read.
In one case, Babin said, he had a patient who’d been forced to retire after not being able to drive anymore. With a set of telescopes attached to his glasses, he was able to return to 20/30 vision.
In other cases, technologies like Peli lenses, designed to expand an individual’s visual field by 20 degrees, can make all the difference. For stroke victims, who can sometimes lose up to half their field of vision, such devices can be life-changing.
“There can often be visual field wash as a result of a stroke. It can just block out half a person’s vision. It can be devastating; imagine losing half your visual field,” Babin said.
Aside from Babin, Yakima County optometrists Dr. Dale Graf, Dr. Byron Thomas and Dr. Jennifer Crown volunteer their time to the center. It is staffed by clinic director Lisa Raap, as well as a nurse and other volunteers who help operate the center.
Through partnerships with organizations like the Yakima Lions Club, the center can offer low vision aids at a discounted price. The center can receive direct payments or work with insurance.
The center’s store is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Clinic hours are by appointment on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The store and clinic are in the 300 building on 311 N. Fourth St., Suite 104 in Yakima.
Santiago Ochoa’s reporting for the Yakima Herald-Republic is possible with support from Report for America and community members through the Yakima Valley Community Fund. For information on republishing, email [email protected].
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