UBC Occupational Therapy students explore how stigma influences the lives of adults with visual impairments
Canadian adults who have vision impairments face higher rates of unemployment and are at a greater risk of social isolation and clinical depression.
To gain a better understanding of how stigma influences daily activities and opportunities for people with visual impairments, UBC occupational therapy students — Andrea Smith and Taku Kawai — recently spoke with a number of legally blind individuals.
Here, Smith and Kawai share what they learned, and discuss why there’s a pressing need to raise more awareness of the barriers faced by adults with visual impairments.
Why did you decide to take on this particular research topic?
Smith: This research project seemed like an opportunity to explore some of the challenges people with visual impairments or blindness face in their day-to-day lives. I wanted to learn how we, as future occupational therapists, can play a role in addressing some of the gaps that currently exist.
Kawai: As occupational therapists, we need to be at the forefront of educating other healthcare professionals about the range of experiences that people with visual impairments face, as well as what assistive technologies are available to support. I took on this project because I wanted to hear directly from those with visual impairments, and share our findings with the wider healthcare community.
What was the specific focus of your study?
Our study aimed to better understand how stigma (both enacted and perceived) shapes participation and engagement in everyday activities among adults who have visual impairments.
What were your findings?
We spoke to a number of legally blind adults and one of the recurring themes was this notion of stigma — we found that both enacted and perceived stigma have a significant influence on the activities that people with visual impairments do in their day-to-day lives.
Many spoke of challenges they faced finding work, and staying employed. Many also talked about bullying and social isolation. One participant noted that they can be in a room full of 200 people, but feel like they are completely alone. Mental health is definitely an area that needs to be explored more deeply, as older people with vision loss (specifically those over 60) are three times more likely than those with good vision to experience clinical depression.
What did you take away from this research experience?
We became very aware of how ocular centric our world is — sight is often held up as the most important sense in life, and this really shows up in a lot of things that we take for granted day-to-day. In the field of healthcare, ocular centrism shows up in the forms we’re asking clients to fill out, or the way that we’re performing interventions.
To help address the gap that exists in understanding how adults who have visual impairments experience their day-to-day lives and how stigma influences that, we put together a number of tips for those conducting research with individuals who have visual impairments. You can find our tips online at: https://acloserlookweb.wordpress.com/
There’s certainly a need for more research, and more education to help raise awareness of the experiences of Canadians who have visual impairments. We’re hoping our work will help build a foundation for both occupational therapy and social policy to better support these individuals to not only participate, but master the occupations of everyday life!
Our project is also part of a larger body of ongoing research being led by Laura Bulk, a UBC PhD Rehabilitation Sciences candidate, who is completing her dissertation in this area. Over the course of the next year, two incoming second-year MOT students will continue supporting this research.
Project Supervisors: Laura Bulk and Dr. Tal Jarus
Interested in learning more about rehabilitation sciences research underway? Come out for the first annual Rehabilitation Research Day on September 28. For more information, visit http://rsec.med.ubc.ca/rhsc-research-day/
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