November is Diabetes and Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month

National Eye Institute National Eye Health Education promo about diabetic eye disease. It has a picture of an African American man. The card says "A Lot of things can catch us off guard. Diabetic eye disease doesn't have to. It gives info about what to do and gives this number: 1-877-569-8474

The Vision Rehabilitation Therapist and Diabetes Management

Over the years, as a vision rehabilitation therapist (VRT), I worked with a number of individuals who were managing their diabetes with vision loss. In most of those cases, the individual was using insulin in a vial with a syringe. This occurred because the insulin click pens, which might be easier to use with reduced vision, were more expensive and not covered with their insurance, or the co-pay was outside their budget. As a result, syringe needles got broken, the amount of insulin drawn into the syringe was not exact, or the wrong type of insulin was administered at the wrong time. In most cases, the person had been prescribed a glucose meter they could not read, because the medical practitioner did not know a talking meter existed, or the talking meter, like the click pen was more expensive or not covered in their health plan.

Problems with Referrals

In nearly all of these cases, my services for medication management with low vision or blindness were not referred or suggested by the physician, the diabetes educator, or the occupational therapist. Often the referral came in a roundabout way through a friend, vocational counselor, support group, etc. In each case, I wondered, “Why the delay?” As professionals, this is one of the things we do. We work with individuals on adaptive daily living skills like medication management.

The Usefulness of Low and High Tech in the Management of Diabetes

In several instances, I was able to help obtain handheld magnifiers or desktop video magnifiers for the individuals I served, at no cost to them. These magnifiers greatly increased their ability to draw and measure insulin from a vial, and read the labels on the vial. In other cases, professional advocacy or a referral to the state’s Older Blind Independent Living Program resulted in obtaining a talking glucose meter and training with it, again, at no cost to the person. With each of them, we worked on alternative types of labeling, organizing medical supplies, meal preparation, accessing information for diabetes management, advocacy, and more.

The caveat to this is that not every state offers the same level of service in terms of devices or assistance that a VRT can directly offer. Some states employ a diabetes educator on staff. In other states, VRTS may refer you to a licensed practitioner. So you would need to check with the program in your state.

Advocating for Yourself

The good news is that accessible devices are now more readily available and affordable. For example, Walmart sells a talking glucometer now for a very good price. To get the device you need, you may need to advocate for yourself and educate doctors and pharmacists. For example, pharmacists may not realize they may be able to order talking meters such as Prodigy even though they do not carry them in the store. If your insurance turns you down for a device, you may be able to appeal and the doctor can submit a “medically necessary” form to obtain the needed durable medical equipment. When choosing your meter and supplies, you will want to check with your insurance provider to compare co-pay costs with the self-pay costs.

Risk of Diabetes and Importance of Management

simulation of the ocular and functional effects of diabetic retinopathy
A simulation of the ocular and functional
effects of diabetic retinopathy

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), diabetic retinopathy, one of several eye diseases caused by diabetes, is currently the leading cause of vision loss among working-age individuals. In fact, between 40%-45% of individuals with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. With the risk of eye disease and loss of vision so high with diabetes, it is baffling to understand why medical professionals so often overlook the opportunity of incorporating the vision rehabilitation therapist in their plans for patients with diabetes. Ironically, research suggests that the risk of diabetic eye disease can be greatly reduced through proper medication management and healthier lifestyle choices, which can be supported by a vision rehabilitation therapist for those with a vision impairment.

Commit to Better Eye Health

During this month, make a commitment to yourself, a family member or friend for better eye health. Here are some suggestions:

• The National Eye Institute (NEI) recommends a dilated eye exam from an ophthalmologist once a year for anyone with diabetes so diabetic eye disease can be detected, monitored, and treated.
• Check out the NEI website for a list of links to get help paying for an eye exam.
• If you have vision loss and you want to learn more about managing your diabetes or other daily living skills, look for vision rehabilitation services using the APH Directory of Services. Select your state, then look for the local or state agencies providing services for people with vision loss. These services are often available at no out-of-pocket cost or on a sliding scale.

•Alternatively, you can call the APH ConnectCenter I&R line at 800-232-5463 or email

Additional Information

National Eye Institute National Diabetes Month

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