The director of the Iowa Department for the Blind says there is “rapid growth” in the number of Iowans who are losing their vision and Emily Wharton is asking the governor and legislators to set aside $80,000 she can hire another “independent living teacher.”

Wharton already has a team of five teachers who travel the state, helping Iowans over the age of 55 who are losing their vision due to conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes.

“These folks are wanting to enjoy their retirement and finding it difficult to do a lot of the basic tasks in life,” she says. “They don’t know how to get around if they’re, maybe, unable to drive. They don’t know how to cook or clean their house safely, how use their technology to stay in touch with family and friends and how to really participate in activities that they enjoy and be a part of their community.”

The agency’s “independent living teachers” work with individuals, train small groups and seek out local volunteers who can provide support to Iowans in their communities who are suffering vision loss. Wharton says the goal is to keep people living independently in their own homes.

“If we can just keep one person from having to go into a nursing home or a really restrictive assisted care facility, we do end up saving quite a bit of money,” Wharton says.

The department recently changed the travel patterns for its independent living teachers.

“Clients are grouped into geographical areas, so the teacher will go into a certain smaller geographical area for a period of four weeks and see each of those clients in that area once a week and this enables the clients to practice what they’re learning during that week and come back with questions and ideas,” Wharton says, “and we found that this really increases retention, reduces frustration and we’re seeing a lot quicker progress.”

An estimated 54,000 Iowans currently have “low vision” and about 8,000 of them have registered with the Iowa Department for the Blind. A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine predicts the number of visually impaired Americans will double by 2050.