Reaching Out: Focus on Volunteering as a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

volunteers planting garden in front of house

If you or a loved one is experiencing vision loss, you may think about things you used to enjoy that no longer seem feasible, especially activities that link you with other people as a volunteer or mentor. Let’s be honest. A few things might be tough, for example if you dreamed of teaching your grandchild how to drive or play umpire at a junior baseball league.  While some opportunities will arise from your lifetime of skills and experiences, we encourage you to think about things you have never considered.  

Volunteering Can Bring Added Joy and Fulfillment to Your Life  

Bill Cohen, an older consumer with vision loss who volunteered at a low vision clinic, advises, “Volunteer in areas you are passionate about… find something that means a lot to you….that is of great interest to you and STAY WITH IT. There are so many organizations that need volunteers. Consider being a volunteer in an area that interests you because helping others feels good.” 

Ashley Nemeth, a former VisionAware peer, had this to say about her work as a volunteer, “… one thing that I do… is a seniors support group….I run for seniors that are new to vision loss or are struggling with vision loss. This group has been running for a while now…Many in the group are now doing things that they weren’t six months ago, which is amazing. Many of our seniors that have vision loss become very isolated because they often have more medical issues than just the vision loss. The support group is a way to help make them not so isolated and feeling alone.” 

Trina Bassak, another peer, says, “I’m a project leader for 4-H…, a national organization offering youth development and mentoring programs with the motto of…’Preparing young people to make a positive impact in their communities and the world.’ These young people are doing hands-on learning in the areas of science, citizenship and healthy living and after much thought, I wanted to be a part of it. Helping shape our future leaders gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as well as boosting my self-confidence and opportunities to meet people in our new community.” 

Organization of Our Volunteer Ideas 

Now that we have whetted your appetite with some reasons for volunteering, this smattering of activities that I and many of the VisionAware peers have accomplished may interest you. All of us are blind or visually impaired. At times, we were asked to participate; at other times, we just stepped up and did things people didn’t expect. 

I’m deliberately keeping the organization of this post a bit loose to encourage you read all the way through, the way you would browse an unfamiliar store.  I use “we” instead of “I” where I have compiled volunteering from several people who do related activities.  

Your Ideas Bank 

Consider this your ideas bank for a bit of mojo when you feel like you are running low on ways to give back or stay involved. 

Types of Volunteer Activities in Which Many Peers Engage 

We run support groups for other people with vision loss. 

We serve as board members ranging from libraries to arts groups, to city disability access. 

We fly to other states to spend time helping a friend recovering from surgery or to provide respite care for families with a member in hospice. 

We have assisted and taught children’s Sunday School class. 

We have facilitated many advocacy training seminars.  

We have been involved with various consumer organizations for people with vision loss, serving in local and state/province leadership roles.  

We have hosted exchange students, visiting scholars from abroad, foster children and others in need. 

We have given lectures about realities of blindness and best ways to treat people in the blind community with sensitivity and respect for students anywhere from kindergarten to college, to future medical doctors. 

After training, we have handled calls in community service centers ranging from resource sharing to immigrant assistance, to suicide prevention.  

We operate ham radio and have used this in times of emergency to convey important information. 

We sing or play piano at church and other occasions needing entertainment or song.  

We evaluate websites of nonprofits and other groups to make sure these are accessible for nonvisual readers. 

We knit robes, hats, and blankets for donation to various organizations such as cancer treatment and overseas shipment. 

 We visit nursing homes with guide dogs, children, or friends.  

We regularly exchange critique services with fellow writers.  

We write for local and national newsletters ranging from disability issues, to cooking hints or book critiques. 

We have taught braille to other blind people, including students learning English at the same time. 

Individual Types of Volunteer Activities 

At my local Toastmasters club, I volunteered to assist the entire District. My role was to respond to email inquiries from businesses who wanted to know more about running training sessions with an experienced Toastmaster at the helm. I made phone calls and engaged in conversations. I wrote emails using a screen reader to link groups to each other. The joy for me in this volunteer role was that I made new friends in the Toastmaster world and I am currently mentoring new members of my club. Being a volunteer is more than the giving of my time; it brings unexpected rewards that nurture my own growth.  

My church organized a construction team to go to Costa Rica. I had no building experience, but the team needed a hygienic place to sleep and food on the table, so I assisted with cooking and cleaning every day. Since I was the only one brave enough to use my smattering of Spanish, I also got some messages across.        

After years of dance lessons, as a college Freshman, I taught tap and ballet to a group of students at a school for the blind. I learned as much as they did, as I had never been around blind children since I had just been declared legally blind myself. 

I helped our church administrative assistant with clerical tasks.  

In college, I needed assistance with reading textbooks. In exchange for foreign students reading to me, I helped with pronunciation and edited English in their research papers. 

At our annual youth camp fundraiser spaghetti dinner, I greeted people and took their money at the door. (Many others mentioned similar food fundraising work with charitable groups.)   

I helped set up and tear down for our annual Christmas Eve service several times.  

I hosted a Christmas party an outdoor event with food games.  

One year I hosted a huge event for blind and visually impaired children for which I applied for and received funds from a charitable foundation and rented out a skating rink and provided pizza and drinks for about fifty families. 

My college got an appeal from the fire department to serve as volunteers. I went with the team and handed out hot drinks from the truck on a cold day to grateful safety workers and those who had to leave the burning building. 

I help produce a radio journalism program. My prior experience had been in print only.  Each month I find guests for the 30-minute show, do research, and write up notes and promotion materials from home. I also collaborated with the host on topic ideas and future guests.  

I volunteered as a 4H parent at county and state fairs. This involved helping my keep track of attendance, dates, schedule etc. 

I trained as a La Leche League instructor and counseled new mothers on breastfeeding and infant care. 

As a bilingual person, I have interpreted on the phone and in-person for immigrants and nonprofit groups. This makes me feel empowered, like I’m the only one who can “see in the room! 

I am working with a group of blind crafters, sharing my experience. 

The biggest volunteer job I undertook was the two and a half years I spent as a Peace Corps volunteer. I returned home with a ten-year-old adopted son.  

I volunteer one day a week at my local food bank, answering the phone, giving ticket numbers to the customers waiting to get their boxes, and interacting with customers while they wait.   

And, yes, I did volunteer to write this article!   

P.S. Oh, I almost forgot something.  We no longer ever, ever have to volunteer to be the designated driver! 

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