Aside from the deaf, visually-impaired seniors and individuals in general must also be served to enable them to gain access to Medicare and other government benefits.
Kim S. Liddell, information and referral advocate for the Progress Center for Independent Living, an outfit aimed at serving disabled individuals in Blue Island, Ill., a south suburb of
Chicago, said those with limited vision are impacted in every aspect of their lives by their disability and obtaining Medicare and other benefits is no small feat.
Liddell made these comments during her panel titled “Working with Blind/Low Vision Individuals to Improve Access to Benefits.”
“Support is needed in their everyday challenges,” Liddell said, “ It comes in [various] forms. Life is not simple. It’s not cut and dried. There is something about vision loss that can affect people on a day-to-day basis. We are trying to see how people are receiving support for Medicare and services. Software and technology is out there to help on tax and information on computers.”
She explained that vision loss falls into gray areas, stating that there are many levels of vision loss. Some of her center’s clients can read Braille, others can’t and still some can use audio information. Additionally, magnifiers and CCTDs can serve as assistive technology for vision-impaired individuals as well as a screen reader to empower them to hear human speech.
“Screen readers can be installed that provide speech,” Liddell said. “It provides access to [government benefit] programs. We held a focus group [to learn] how a community accesses information. Many [of our clients] are [on] Medicare and [are] visually impaired.”
At the focus group meeting, she learned that the webpages that her clients access to obtain information on Medicare and other benefits contain too much information, leaving them befuddled about how to choose what is relevant to them.
“We asked a few select sets of questions,” Liddell said. “It was interesting to find the feedback about chasing information. [The clients would say that they would find] information on a link. They went to the page. They had to click on another link. The webpages [were] vast. Where does one start?”
In their comments, she said, participants in the focus group said that they wanted accommodation on the Medicare summary statement online and basic information about what Medicare covers and what they might be expected to pay in the way of premiums.
“[There are basic] qualifications for [the right] materials [to be used],” Liddell said. “[There] needs to be a good contrast. [There must be] use of [the] screen reader. [For the] audio files, [there was] not a loud enough volume. And you don’t want to read all topics. You want to read the ones you want.”
“I have an issue for the blind community. We can read [most of the materials] in Adobe Acrobat reader. I went to [the] Social Security website. I found a PDF that was not accessible. When you take a document to scan, you convert it to PDF. It is important to have a scan.”
When faced with a lack of accommodation in government benefits information materials online, Liddell said it is important for the center to reach out to such organizations as the Lighthouse for the Blind that can make documents accessible to the blind or those of low vision.
“ [After examination of the documents, our client group staff] said the documents [could be] opened,” she said.
“They said they had a blind/low vision individual [on staff] to improve access to benefits. [They] told me about Adobe Reader. The blind community told us, ‘If you are going to [use the] screen reader, please tell us.’ The advisory group [we attended on the subject was] about seeing the need [for such assistance] for [the] visually impaired. Now we see the areas that need to be worked on. I think it is important to provide a quick reference in Braille and audio CD format [for the government benefits information online.]”
Liddell explained that her goal is to serve Illinois’ Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) counselors by providing accommodation to the visually-impaired communities on Medicare and other government benefit information.
“I want to serve SHIP [and] let them know about [the] visually impaired and how to use PDF formats,” she said. “They have language. They should have choices. A lot of things are good for visually-impaired SHIP counselors [who] don’t know anything about [this]. This is what I like to promote.”