A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Coronavirus measures taking toll on local Bluegrass Council of the Blind in Lexington; how you can help


Due to COVID-19, the Bluegrass Council of the Blind (BCB) is moving in-person group activities to remote access only and closing its doors temporarily to walk-in traffic.

“Given that the BCB community is made up of mostly seniors and folks who are immunocompromised or suffering from additional health issues, we began seeking new ways of delivering our services, even before social distancing was recommended,” said Theresa Thomas, BCB executive director. “We are lucky in that we have always offered some of our peer support activities via conference call to include our participants who are challenged with transportation issues.

“We are working to expand those remote capabilities to other services now until the CDC deems it safe to gather together again. Thanks to some dedicated volunteers and board members, we are also working toward delivering supplemental food to some of our participants who would, otherwise, have no way to get out and get groceries at this time.”

Thomas, who is visually impaired herself, added, “For those of us who are blind or have low vision, we use our hands to see. When we hear reports of the way it is spreading, how it can live on surfaces for days and how extremely contagious it can be, it raises greater concern for people who depend on their sense of touch to navigate their surroundings. Most depend on public transportation, which increases the concerns of contamination.

“BCB is doing what we can to help those with vision impairments to get the supplies and resources they need, and to connect to support each other through these difficult times. Peer support has long been a key component of the services we provide, but moving that from in-person to online will be challenging for many of our seniors and folks with limited resources.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (2017), approximately one person in three has some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S., and Kentucky ranks sixth in the highest incidence of the disease. Vision loss significantly impacts the lives of those who experience it along with their families, friends and society.

The debilitating effects of vision loss can feel frightening and overwhelming, leaving those affected to wonder about their ability to maintain their independence, pay for needed medical care, retain employment, and provide for themselves and their families. BCB offers hope through services that provide resources, education, tools and training to help regain independence, confidence and mental wellness.

Services are provided free of charge to adults and seniors in Kentucky with vision impairments and their families.

BCB is the only nonprofit agency exclusively serving the needs of adults with vision loss in Central Kentucky. With more than half of their staff, board and volunteers being visually impaired, BCB enhances the quality of life for persons affected by vision loss by empowering participants through peer support, education, technology, information and interaction. Services are offered to anyone affected by vision loss, including family, caregivers, community members and professionals working with blind and low-vision adults.

In-person meetings moved to remote access include support group meetings, educational seminars, and technology training sessions. An updated list of events with instructions for participating will be available on the organization’s website at www.bcbky.org and will be listed in their monthly newsletter.

“In addition to providing remote access to our services where we can, we are also encouraging participants to connect through a peer-to-peer support system where our consumers can call and check on each other,” said Thomas. “Our goal is to keep everyone safe and healthy while continuing to battle the isolation and fear experienced by people with low or no vision, which can be magnified during these uncertain times.

“We are also responding to requests for information packets by mailing them, rather than sharing during an intake appointment. Many of these adaptations have resulted in an increase in expenses for our agency.”

How the Community Can Help

The COVID-19 restrictions, while necessary, are putting BCB in a tough spot financially.

For the last several years, the main annual BCB fundraiser has been their popular spring SEE Cruise. Held at Banners Bar and Grill in Lexington, this cruise ship-themed event features live music from local band CONCH REPUBLIC, raffles, silent auction, food and drink specials and lots of fun.

This event raises nearly $20,000 each year and every dollar raised goes directly to support BCB’s programs. The 2020 SEE Cruise was scheduled for May 17, but will be postponed until late summer or fall.

“At this point, we have decided it’s best to reschedule the SEE Cruise to the end of summer or early fall, but that’s going to hurt us financially,” Thomas said. “We hold this event in spring because the money it brings in tides us over until grant money comes in again in the fall. And adding vital remote capabilities also costs us more.

“With the uncertainty of the near future due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are struggling to find a way to avoid lay-offs, but it may be unavoidable without the funds raised from the SEE Cruise event.

“Like other small nonprofits, we are facing some difficult decisions and need the support of our community more now than ever.”

Statistics from the National Federation of the Blind show more than 70 percent of b/vi adults are not employed, leaving most in poverty. So while BCB is moving to provide their services virtually, many of BCB’s consumers do not have access to smartphones or tablets to access the apps.

“Our services include distribution of iPads and iPod Touch devices due to their advance accessibility features for people with low vision or blindness,” Thomas said. “Our consumers use them to listen to the news, check the weather, and stay connected with family and friends. Now they will need them to access the BCB services they have come to rely on.

“We are almost out of these devices and have a need to distribute them to those who would like to join the Zoom meetings – available through ‘one touch’ on an IOS device. The one-touch access makes it extremely simple for our seniors and those who are not tech-savvy.”

Cash donations to help the organization continue their work can be made on their website, www.bcbky.org. Just look for the blue “Donate” button. The organization also needs donations of iPads or iPod touch devices that run IOS 10 or better. Or BCB can purchase refurbished one for around $250 each. To donate a device, please email paula@bcbky.org.

“Every donation helps at this point,” said Thomas.

From Bluegrass Council of the Blind


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