What is the OT low vision certification and why is it important?
Low vision was named an emerging practice area for occupational therapists in 2011. According to AOTA, low vision can be defined by "visual acuity cutoffs", but OTs focus on function.
Therefore, one of the most important definitions for an occupational therapist to remember is “permanently reduced vision that cannot be corrected with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery.” The NEI reports that the four major eye diseases related to aging (age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma) will affect millions of older adults as they live longer and struggle to manage chronic health conditions.
Step 1: Research low vision organizations in your area
Finding out more about state and local programs focused on the needs of people with low vision can help you determine what resources are already available and how you can contribute your OT skill set.
Examples of state and local organizations are Lighthouse organizations, Lion’s Clubs, schools and treatment centers for the blind, and low vision optometry clinics. Performing this research can help you quantify the demand for low vision services in your area.
Step 2: Research the programs
Several programs offer training for OTs to achieve competence in this practice area. One of the best-known programs is the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB)’s graduate certificate in low vision. A series of five online courses geared specifically towards occupational therapists culminating in an in-person skills checkout, created and run by Mary Warren, a pioneer in the field. The program is geared towards working professionals and, at one class per semester, takes about two and a half years to complete.
Another popular school for low vision education is Salus University (formerly the Pennsylvania College of Optometry) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Salus offers several options for study, including part-time and full-time Master’s degrees and certificate programs. In deciding on a program, be sure to carefully evaluate whether the structure and time commitment required fits your lifestyle and meets your needs.
Low vision training for older adults has become so important that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) now offers a scholarship program called the Visual Impairment and Orientation and Mobility Professionals Scholarship Program (VIOMPSP). The program offers scholarships for students exchange for a commitment to work at a VA medical center. The program requires that the student commits to relocating, at his or her own expense, to work full-time at a VA facility for three years after graduating. Preference is granted to students in their final year of obtaining a degree in a field related to visual impairment.
Step 3: Research the designations
There are two main credentials OTs use to signal their additional study and practice in this area: the CLVT (Certified Low Vision Therapist) and the SCLV (Specialty Certification in Low Vision). The CLVT is the older of the two credentials, and the one shared with other professionals working with low vision or blind clients. The SCLV is newer, was developed by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and limits eligibility to occupational therapists.
To obtain the designation of Certified Low Vision Therapist (CLVT), candidates must fulfill all the requirements of the certifying body, the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP). These requirements include successfully passing an exam and completing a 350-hour internship supervised by a CLVT and in collaboration with a low vision OD/MD practitioner. Offsite CLVT supervision is also possible.
AOTA also offers a Specialty Certification in Low Vision (SCLV) with its own set of requirements, including a detailed application form and a portfolio demonstrating evidence of competence in the required areas. As of this year, UAB graduates now have a fast track to AOTA’s SCLV designation.
Formal training and instruction in a low vision certification is an asset to therapists treating older adults. As conditions causing low vision become more and more prevalent, therapists will have increased opportunities to use these skills to improve patient safety and quality of life. Low vision training has the potential to empower both therapists and patients managing these conditions.