Blind rehabilitation programs teach iPhone and iPad use to improve independence in Veterans with low vision or blindness

Abstract: While many individuals affected by blindness or low vision utilize accessibility applications on iPhone and iPad devices, few receive professional training on application use. Determining the impact of a smartphone and tablet-based curriculum at a Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) on functionality and independence can help patients and physicians understand the value of these training programs. Between January 2015 and December 2019, a pre–post initiative evaluated patient functionality and independence scores before and after exposure to a technology educational curriculum at the West Palm Beach Veteran Affairs BRC. A total of 337 patients with impaired vision or complete blindness participated in a 1-month, 35-hr iPhone and iPad learning course. This course was led by technology instructors trained in working with patients with low vision or blindness. The level of function and independence was determined before and after the educational curriculum using a modified Functional Independence Measurement (FIM) Scale from 1 to 7, with 1 indicating no independent functionality and 7 indicating complete independence. After completion of the course, patients were stratified by age, gender, ethnicity, and eye-related diagnosis. All demographic groups noted an increase in FIM score, with average improvement of 3.75 points. A factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed that younger age groups displayed a statistically significant improvement in FIM score compared to older groups with an F ratio of F(3, 295) = 4.503, p = .004. Eye diagnosis did not have an impact on FIM score change. These results suggest any patient may benefit from professional training in the use of iPhone and iPad applications with younger patients showing greater rates of initial improvement. The authors recommend increased utilization of smartphone and tablet training programs at BRCs by all individuals with low vision or blindness.

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