Guiding those with low vision

Q I specialise in low-vision occupational therapy because...

A I am intrigued by the difficulties faced by people with poor vision. I am also interested to find out how to help them live a more independent and fulfilling life.

Q If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I'd be a...

A Ship captain. I would ensure that crew members carry out their duties to enable the boat of life to sail smoothly to the shore of safety.

As an occupational therapist, I embrace the needs of each patient and his priorities in life. I help to facilitate independent living for patients and empower them with the know-how to do their daily tasks. This helps to improve their quality of life and lead to their reintegration into the community.

Q I come across all types of cases from...

A A 25-year-old with limited vision trying to move around safely in her wheelchair to an 86-year-old dementia patient who has glaucoma.

Some patients vent their frustra- tions so it is important for me to be understanding. People are most vulnerable when they are sick or facing life-crisis issues.

Q One little-known fact about low vision is that...

A It is a spectrum of visual impairment. Some patients can still see colours or make out shapes even though they are nearly blind.

Low-vision occupational therapy taps on the patient's residual vision to enhance his independence in daily activities.

Q A typical day for me...

A Starts at 8am. I start by checking on the progress of patients through multi-disciplinary team notes and liaising with other team members.

I also visit patients to conduct home therapy sessions. I can do about four home visits in one day.

I identify areas that therapy can add value to the lives of patients. For example, for those who wish to read, we will make sure they have optimal lighting and that they know how to use tools such as a reading magnifier.

For those who wish to go out, we will let them practise - such as using a pocket magnifier to identify coins or read food labels - in supermarkets, coffee shops and other places.

Q On a recent home visit...

A I cooked soup noodles for a 59-year-old patient who lives alone. She had stopped cooking after the acute onset of her decreased vision and often ate out.

I taught her to use brightly coloured utensils and keep them well- organised. I also gave her the hotline for an online shopping portal that makes home deliveries, as her poor vision and weak legs make it unsafe for her to go out.

Q The things that put a smile on my face are...

A When I see a smile on a patient's face as he tackles a once-difficult task with ease. And when I see my patients' determination to lead independent lives.

Q It breaks my heart when...

A I hear about the sad reality of the challenges patients face when they try to reintegrate into society.

Low-vision people face a lot of stigma as visual impairment is a hid- den disability. Other people may be suspicious when they ask for help.

When they go out, fading yellow strips, poorly contrasted steps or traffic lights with reduced auditory cues can also pose challenges.

Q My best tip is...

A Don't be too quick to judge when you meet someone who appears to be facing physical or social diffi- culties as he may have low vision. Try to help him, if possible. A little patience goes a long way.

Q I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

A I love that I am able to help my patients make changes to improve their lives. I'm constantly inspired by their enthusiasm to live their lives to the fullest.

This job constantly challenges me to be on my toes and to have good interpersonal relationships with patients, caregivers and other healthcare professionals.

Bio Box


Age: 30

Occupation: Senior occupational therapist at National University Hospital (NUH) Rehabilitation Centre

Ms Chen chose occupational therapy because it allows her to empower patients to live to the fullest. By helping to make a difference to their lives, she can put a smile on their faces.

She is one of two low-vision occupational therapists at NUH.

"I was given the opportunity to go into this speciality when NUH pioneered low-vision rehabilitation services in Singapore in 2011," she said.

Ms Chen, who is single, has a post-graduate certification in low-vision rehabilitation from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, United States.

This article was first published on Mar 14, 2017.
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