Lee Ann Buysse’s business card looks normal at first glance.

If you turn it over, her name and number are written in very large print. It’s a creative approach to answering one of the problems her department deals with – helping aging community members get the services that they need.

Buysse is the state program administrator for the state services for the blind (SSB). Buysse visited Redwood Falls Jan. 8 and gave presentations to the Rotary Club and at the library.

The SSB is a part of the Minnesota Department of Economic Security and has been around since 1923. Her office is located in Marshall, and her program covers 14 different counties in the state.

Buysse’s department is primarily concerned with the aging population, although her program does work with visually impaired persons of all ages and ability levels.

“The only real requirement for involvement in our program is that the person seeking assistance has difficulty reading their mail or newspapers,” Buysse said. “Our primary goal is to help people, especially older people who are losing their eyesight, retain a greater ability to remain independent. The vast majority of senior citizens who we work with have lost some of their vision due to macular degeneration…nearly everyone experiences changes in their vision as they grow older and macular degeneration is the number one cause of vision loss."

Development of age-related macular degeneration is often found to be related to genetic factors; luckily, it rarely results in complete blindness.

“SSB is often called the best-kept secret in the state,” Buysse said as she explained how they find new clients. 

The SSB often networks with doctors, veterans groups and ophthalmologists to get referrals, although anyone can encourage loved ones experiencing vision loss to contact them about services, training and equipment.

While some equipment can be purchased, the SSB provides services and equipment wherever able at no cost to those in their programs. These include “mobility classes” to help people adapt to their environment through the use of aides, such as canes.

In addition to magnifiers and audible clocks, one of the most in-demand pieces of equipment it lends out is the reading machines which feature a 20-inch flatscreen and magnify whatever is put in the viewing area. At almost $2,000 each, the SSB can only afford to purchase so many per year, and the waiting list to receive one is always long. While SSB is state funded, it always appreciates donations.

Technology has become a bigger part of its mission in recent years, and SSB employs two full-time technology experts. There are a number of apps that do everything from turn a smartphone into a magnifying glass to helping the vision impaired find themselves around the MSP airport.

“Our older population is very good at using technology – they might be better with iPads than I am – they mainly use technology to communicate with loved ones… our tech guys are available to help train people how to use their devices and smartphones,” she said. “They talk in layman’s terms and are easy to understand.”

Buysse cited one newer app called “Be My Eyes” which lets people connect with others to ask questions.

“A person showed me two cans and asked which one was cream of mushroom and which was cream of chicken. It’s very simple, and anyone can sign up to be a part of that and provide help,” said Buysse.“We like to keep people living as independently as possible for as long as possible.”

While SSB often works with nursing homes and assisted living centers, 62 percent of its clients still lived at home, and 39 of its clients were 100 years-old or older.

More about the SSB can be found at www.mnssb.org.