The Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) is bringing help for the visually-impaired directly to their homes.
It is piloting a home care programme to reach out to those who are losing their vision.
Patricia Chua was diagnosed with glaucoma early last year.
Six months ago, her eyesight degenerated rapidly, leaving her with 10 per cent vision. This means she can see only lights and shadows.
The 30-year-old was so traumatised by her loss of vision that she spent many days at home, refusing to go out.
But under a new programme by SAVH, social workers started to visit Ms Chua.
Ms Chua said: “At first, I came here in a wheelchair, I couldn’t even walk…subsequently…a lot of social workers trained me to use this white cane, which I have with me now, to do my basic training, walking.”
It was strong family support and the help of social workers that helped her emerge from her darkest days.
She said: “I cannot forget the social workers that are here at SAVH because they also gave me a lot of support because they have seen me (progress) gradually – (initially, I) couldn’t do a bit of housework, I couldn’t even do my own daily routines properly. Gradually, (I could) do some domestic work at home, like mopping, sweeping the floor and things like that.
“They gave me a lot of home care support. They normally come to my house for home visits twice a week, (they are) very concerned about how I’m progressing at home, how I’m coping (with) things…my emotions, my daily routines, and how I’m progressing from a wheelchair-bound patient to what I am today…”
SAVH said adults who lose their sight tend to go through more trauma than those who are born blind, having to completely restart their lives.
The association has 3,300 registered clients – aged five to beyond 60 – who are affected by various degrees of impairment.
And the number could go up as Singapore’s population ages, with more suffering from diseases like glaucoma and diabetes.
Michael Tan, executive director of the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped, said: “As Singapore’s population is ageing, we find that there are more adults losing their sight because of glaucoma and other eye-related problems. And these people face a different world once they lose their sight.
“It is like they have to learn everything all over again, even things like daily living skills, like how to make coffee, how to shower and all that.
“And usually the first few years, they feel very traumatised and they will not leave their house. They stay in their house and depend on their caregivers. So we feel that rather than they stay at home…we go to their house and help them.
“The aim is to make them independent so that they can leave their house, come to our association and enjoy other services.”
SAVH offers a number of services such as computer and braille lessons, vocational skills training and a low vision clinic.
The home care programme was piloted late last year and has reached out to between 15 and 20 visually-handicapped people in their 30s to 50s.
Mr Tan said the home care programme is expected to be officially launched end-March.
The association is now relying on current staff to run the programme.
But Mr Tan said it hopes to employ six dedicated full-time staff to handle up to 30 clients eventually.
He estimates the programme needs up to S$180,000 per year to run.
SAVH has received S$70,000 from people who have left the association money in their wills.
It also intends to use the S$150,000 it is getting from this year’s President’s Challenge on the programme.
The 62-year-old association welcomed its first-ever presidential visit on Monday afternoon.
After touring the premises, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said the visually handicapped can still contribute to society, as long as they are equipped with the skills and confidence to do so.
He commended the association for its work in helping the visually handicapped, adding that it is very important for it to get help from volunteers.
President Tony Tan said: “What SAVH has done to extend (its) reach and the range of services to more elderly in their homes…is very important. I hope other VWOs (voluntary welfare organisations) also will consider doing the same, so that we can provide help within the community, like SAVH, to help people to help themselves with the assistance of volunteers and public-spirited individuals.
“In a way, it can make Singapore a more caring and a more gracious society where people look out for one another.”
Dr Tan added he hopes the public can support the association through donations.