By Steve Kelley, AccessWorld Author

Social distancing may be just what the doctor is ordering to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, but this same distancing may contribute to the social isolation many people experience with vision loss. For those that look forward to a low vision support group that meets face-to-face, this loss of support may be particularly difficult. There’s nothing like getting together in person with people you know, who share a common experience, and supporting one another.

Rather than put these support groups on hold, it’s time to explore one of the many options we have for conference calling—that is, getting a group of people together on one phone call. No, it’s not the same, but we don’t need to be isolated because we are physically distancing!

There are a number of video-conferencing alternatives that can be used with the computer, smartphone, or tablet, but not everyone is comfortable with that technology. The simplest solution may be just picking up the phone and dialing in to the group.

Is someone in your support group an iPhone or Android user? If so, both phones can be used to put together a conference call with a small group of 5 participants or less. The idea is the same for both. Call the first person on the list, and after the greeting, add the next person on the list by pushing the “+” or "Add Call" button and dialing their number. The first caller is briefly put on hold. Greet caller 2, then join the callers with the “merge” button. Just repeat the process for everyone you want to include on the conference call.

For a larger group, one of the most popular alternatives is FreeConferenceCall.com. You can sign up at no cost online or call them at (844) 844-1322. Even with the free service you can have up to 1,000 participants at a time. You don’t need to schedule a time with the service, either; you just pick it up and use it when you get together with your group. Each caller calls in, puts in a passcode for the conference, and your support group is back together again, with the social distance the doctor prescribed! To compare other free conference call options, check out Top 6 Free Conference Call Services 2019 .

If you aren’t connected to a support group yet, there’s no need to wait for the social distancing to pass to get connected. Here are several great no-cost alternatives:

  • Hadley Discussion Groups offer 8 monthly and 2 weekly discussion groups you can join by phone or computer. Topics include: Spanish; travel; writing; exercise; crafting; gardening; tech; cooking; resources; and braille. Check the schedule online or just call Hadley at 800-323-4238 for more information.
  • Well Connected offers support groups for older adults on a wide range of topics. Groups are accessed at scheduled times by phone. Some offer the option of connecting by computer. Their schedule is online, or you can request a printed copy by calling 877-797-7299.
  • The International Low Vision Support Group (ILVSG) offers monthly meetings by phone, moderated by founder Dan Roberts. For more information, check out their website or call 888-866-6148.

Social distancing is certainly disruptive to our community and support groups, but it doesn’t have to be socially isolating. In fact, by checking into some of these resources you might discover you can be even more connected!