NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers has launched the nation’s first peer support helpline for the legally blind and their families.

Eye2Eye – 833-932-3931 (83-EYE2EYE-1) – is staffed 24/7 by peer support specialists who are legally blind and understand the challenges callers face.

The program, which is funded by a grant from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, serves residents in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

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The helpline assists people with vision impairments and blindness to work through some practical and emotional challenges associated with losing vision.

Services include peer support, clinical assessment and referrals to resources for help with mental health, employment and technology. The program also offers callers resilience training to promote wellness, strength and self-care.

Recent studies show that one-third of people with vision loss suffer from depression and anxiety. This risk has gone largely unaddressed in the medical community, which has focused more on the practical problems faced by the visually impaired, such as finding employment and navigating everyday tasks, said Steven Silverstein, a clinical psychologist and vision researcher who co-directs the program with Cherie Castellano, the National Peer Support Call Center program director at  Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.

“The Eye2Eye peers all have different forms of visual impairments, and these began at different times during their lives. This allows for a ‘cultural connection’ between callers with a wide range of vision problems and life concerns, and our peer counselors,” Silverstein said.

The helpline draws on Rutgers National Peer Support Call Center’s two decades of success with peer-to-peer telesupport programs such as Cop2CopVets4Warriors and Mom2Mom.