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for the Blind

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New Vision Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center is Coming to Maine

Date: 1/8/2015

Construction on a new vision rehabilitation and training center in Portland, Maine, the only such facility for individuals "who live north of Newton, Massachusetts," according to Bangor Daily News, is expected to be completed in the spring of 2015, thanks to $1.1 million in grant funding from the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education. The new facility, which will be called the Vision Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center, will be built at the existing location of the Iris Network (a nonprofit organization formerly known as the Maine Center for the Blind, which is part of the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services) in Portland. In addition to federal grant money, the Iris Network expects to contribute just over $300,000 (that is, 20% of the grant) toward the new construction, which will be completed with an additional $275,000 in funding from the public and private sector.

According to James Phipps, Iris Network executive director, the current model through which people with visual impairments receive vision rehabilitation services in the state is an itinerant one, and Iris Network staff members drive more than 175,000 miles per year to work with individuals across Maine. The new center will allow clients to travel to Portland to participate in immersion rehabilitation. "It's certainly possible to provide a comprehensive vision rehabilitation program on an itinerant model, but it takes a lot of staff time to deliver those one-on-one services, especially in a very rural state like Maine," said Mr. Phipps. "But the benefits to the clients [of immersion vision rehabilitation] are significant because they move through the vision rehabilitation process much more quickly if they receive six or seven hours a day of intensive training for a number of weeks at a time."

The new facility will include updated training spaces such as a training apartment, in which individuals can learn how to independently complete activities of daily living. After the facility is completed, clients will come to Portland for 10 weeks of intensive training, which will include low-vision therapy, vision rehabilitation, and vocational training. Regarding the need for visually impaired individuals to travel to Portland for vision rehabilitation services, Mr. Phipps said, "Our job is to teach these clients to live independently in the community, and there's no better way to do that than to begin integrating clients into the community immediately." For more information, contact: The Iris Network, 189 Park Avenue, Portland, ME 04102; phone: 207-774-6273; e-mail: ashah@theiris.org; website: www.theiris.org. [Information for this piece came from the September 22, 2014, Bangor Daily News article, "Vision rehabilitation, training center coming to Portland," by Colin Ellis.]

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