Explore UAB

Sheila Roche, MSOT

When I commenced the UAB Graduate Certificate in Low Vision Rehabilitation program in 2008, low vision rehabilitation as a practice area for occupational therapists was an unfamiliar concept to me – an Irish occupational therapist practicing in Ireland.

At that time I had more than 10 years’ experience in older adult rehabilitation and my main area of interest lay in stroke rehabilitation. Without realising it, I was already involved in low vision rehabilitation through the assessment and intervention relating to visual field deficits following stroke.

“Would I be wasting time and money enrolling?”

I was introduced to the University of Alabama at Birmingham and their Graduate Certificate in Low Vision Rehabilitation program when Mary Warren, the program director, made a passing comment about UAB’s program during one of her workshops in London. This triggered my curiosity in the area.

I remember thinking about the UAB program on the flight home from that workshop: would I gain anything extra from the program relating to brain injury, my main area of interest? If not, would I be wasting time and money enrolling?

I agonised over the decision for weeks, but in the end I enrolled – nothing ventured, nothing gained – and have never regretted my decision. In fact, I have no hesitation in saying that it was the best decision I have ever made regarding my career as an OT.

Goal: 1st Low Vision Clinic in OT department in Ireland

The UAB Low Vision program has opened up a whole new world for me. In a shift away from my interest in neurology, my goal is now to set up the first low vision clinic in an OT department in Ireland – this is a work in progress but one that seems attainable and has great support from my colleagues and the management team at the hospital where I work.

Since completing the Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy with a concentration in Low Vision Rehabilitation at UAB I have provided lectures to undergraduate OT students and interdisciplinary Masters’ students on low vision rehabilitation topics in the local university, University College Cork – something I had never considered doing before now.

Whatever fears I may have had in relation to public speaking were well and truly put to bed when I was asked to speak to 300 delegates at a Stroke Conference on the topic of the functional impact of visual field deficits in 2014!

I would urge anyone with even a vague interest in low vision to undertake the UAB Graduate Certificate in Low Vision Rehabilitation program. The workload is geared towards occupational therapists who work full-time. At times it was a challenge to juggle work and study and still maintain some semblance of a “normal” social life but it was manageable and most definitely worthwhile.

For me, it culminated in my proudest achievement: the publishing of my Masters’ research study, titled “Assessment of the Visual Status of Older Adults on an Orthopedic Unit,” in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy. I also won the Presidential Prize for this research at the Irish Gerontological Society’s annual conference in 2012. I presented my research at the annual conference of the Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland in 2014.

I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead in relation to advancing Low Vision Rehabilitation as a practice area for OTs in Ireland!