Henry Ford Vision Center Helps Facilities to be Senior-Friendly

DETROIT, March 21, 2011 – Henry Ford Health System has launched an outreach service – SiteWise – to help older adults participate safely and easily in their communities.

The SiteWise service was inspired by reports from Henry Ford’s adult patients with vision loss of difficulties they have in restaurants, banks, places of worship and other community facilities. 

“For more than 10 years, our occupational therapists have been helping patients function well in their homes and get out into the community,” says Lylas G. Mogk, M.D., director of the Henry Ford Center for Vision Rehabilitation and Research.  “SiteWise is the next step: helping community businesses and institutions become more accessible to the growing number of senior customers.

For example, an individual with partial vision loss may have no trouble getting to a community center or bank, but not see a step, a chair that’s the same color as the floor, a small-print sign, or locate a deposit slip or sign-in sheet, explains Dr. Mogk.  This can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, as it makes the adult feel less competent.  It can also be a safety hazard, and the whole experience undermines the senior’s willingness to go out into the community.

“With a few easy, inexpensive modifications, however, businesses and institutions can make their services safer, more accessible and thus more popular with seniors, and with their families,” says Dr. Mogk.  “This is good for business, for the community and for seniors.”

For the SiteWise project, two occupational therapists from the center visited 24 sites in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties and completed assessments of their accessibility to seniors with visual impairments.  The therapists visited community centers, libraries, restaurants, pharmacies, banks, places of worship and outdoor public spaces.

At each visit, they noted and photographed both positive aspects and limitations to accessibility. Each site was given specific recommendations focused on four main strategies for optimizing access for those with low vision: maximizing lighting, size, and contrast, and minimizing glare.

After presenting their findings and recommendations to each site, half of the target institutions made the recommended changes, and nearly 80 percent stated an intention to make changes.  The Henry Ford therapists found that libraries, senior centers and city governments were the institutions most immediately receptive to their recommendations.

The next step was a set of brochures, one for each type of establishment, giving “SiteWise Super Suggestions” and illustrated examples of simple, inexpensive changes that can make a big difference for older adults.

The SiteWise project was supported by a grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Building on its success, the center anticipates a follow-up project to disseminate SiteWise suggestions throughout the Tri-County area and has received an additional grant from the HP Foundation.

The Henry Ford Center for Vision Rehabilitation and Research helps people with low vision make the most of their sight and maintain their independence.  The center is the most comprehensive in Michigan, offering experienced staff, state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, and home-based visual rehabilitation.

The center is located in Grosse Pointe and Livonia.  For more information on SiteWise or vision rehabilitation, please call (313) 824-2401.

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