E Rothermel Tele-intervention pic.jpg

Erika Rothermel, a teacher in the rehabilitation services division with VisionCorps of Lancaster, meets virtually with a client as part of the organization’s shift to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When Amanda Hardman’s son, Cole, had his first virtual meeting with his VisionCorps therapist in early spring, she didn’t know how he would react.

Cole, 3, who has aniridia, an eye condition in which the iris (the colored portion of the eye) did not develop entirely during pregnancy and reduces vision clarity, typically meets with his therapist in-person, says Hardman, who lives in Lebanon County. However, because of COVID-19 that changed and Cole’s sessions became virtual.

VisionCorps, a nonprofit organization located in Lancaster, employs and offers services for people who are blind or vision impaired. The organization began offering online services for its clients about three weeks after the pandemic started in March.

Hardman says she was surprised at Cole’s ability to adapt. “He’s shown us that he’s able to do that,” she says.

He was engaged for the entire 30-minute meeting. She says Cole’s familiarity with his therapist, who has worked with him for some time, helped him to stay focused, too.

“We worked on identifying the letters of the puzzle that were in (his therapist’s) name,” Hardman says. “We used Play-Doh to make different shapes as well.”

After one virtual session, however, Cole and his mother worked together on exercises supplied by VisionCorps. This allowed them to work at their own pace.

These exercises included written instructions about working with items of different textures, Hardman says.

Service options

VisionCorps has learned to be flexible while serving its clients during the pandemic, says Chris Ament, vice president of rehabilitation and education.

While the nonprofit offers its clients remote services such as teleintervention, support groups and instructional videos, it also offers in-person services when necessary, Ament says.

Teaching someone how to safely cross the street, for example, is something that can’t be taught on the computer and needs to be demonstrated in-person, Ament says.

“We try to minimize the risk by doing those things remotely, but we do have boots on the ground,” Ament says. “It’s quite impressive to see our staff out there making changes.”

Changing course

Cole’s therapist is one of the VisionCorps staffers making those changes.

She reached out to Hardman in July about resuming in-person sessions with Cole at his daycare, Hardman says. Once permission was granted by the daycare, they resumed in-person meetings there in late August, Hardman says.

Since then, Cole and his therapist have been meeting twice weekly to do activities based on what his preschool class is also working on, Hardman says. 

“Sometimes they’re outside, so she’ll incorporate different vision exercises outside. Other times she’ll work in his classroom with him,” Hardman says. “If they’re able to, she tries to pull him aside so she can work one-on-one.”

Cole was motivated to keep going with the sessions. “I think by having that virtual session (first), it kept him aware that she’s still in our life and still working with us,” Hardman says.

What to read next