Historically, the City of New York, through the Department for the Aging, has had a long history of partnering with vision services to pilot strategies aimed at increasing utilization of services by the elderly. In 2007, DFTA spearheaded the formation of the Coalition on Aging and Vision to respond to the urgent need for a comprehensive, collaborative and coordinated effort that would:
The vision rehabilitation agencies that represent the Coalition’s leadership have deep roots in the vision community and extensive expertise in providing services to blind and visually impaired persons of all ages. They have proven their commitment to serving on the Coalition, collectively implementing projects and providing a substantial amount of in-kind staff resources to support its activities. These five service providers see an extraordinary value in the Coalition’s central, objective role as well as the economic and programmatic efficiencies that result from joining forces to tackle non-competitive issues.
In 2008, the Coalition created a one-day symposium, which resulted in the training of 230 professionals within the aging services network, health and public health fields who regularly interact with older adults. As part of this concentrated effort to increase referrals, the Coalition also created one of the cornerstones of its ongoing awareness and training programs: the Unified Referral Form. This helped Coalition representatives and stakeholders’ staff refer individuals to rehabilitation services based upon specific criteria (geographic location, special needs, reimbursement options, language capability, support groups, unique programs, etc.) or on a rotation basis to ensure equal opportunity for new clients.
Following this, the Coalition formed a multi-year Interpreter Bank designed to address the special needs of non-English speaking seniors within New York City. The project involved the hiring, comprehensive training and ongoing placement (on an as needed basis) of shared interpreters fluent in several languages including Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hebrew, Yiddish, Haitian Creole and Russian. Fundamental to the success of this project was the creation of a training curriculum that would educate interpreters about the many issues facing LEP elderly who are experiencing vision loss. Over the course of two years, the Coalition trained 20 interpreters fluent in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Haitian Creole and Coalition agencies have benefited from 4,441 hours of interpreter service to support 2,416 clients, of which 920 were served in their clinics, during home visits, or by phone, and 1,496 through outreach.
In addition, the Coalition worked with the NYC Heath and Hospitals Corproation WeCoach program, an exercise and wellness program that pairs diabetic patients aged sixty and older with uncontrolled diabetes with peer coaches, to provide referrals to clients who could benefit from vision rehabilitation services.
Finally, also during this period, the Coalition worked with DFTA’s Health Insurance Information Counseling Assistance Program (HIICAP) and trained 36 volunteers about vision problems and available services, focusing on the Medicare Low Vision Rehabilitation Demonstration Project
Four years after launching, the NewYork City Coalition on Aging and Vision (Coalition) has transformed from a small demonstration program into an independent, strong and active partnership with a clear strategic vision.