Published July 11, 2019

Written by Leslie Garisto Pfaff

Eye2Eye, a new Rutgers hotline, will provide advice and reassurance for the legally blind

Life after blindness can be whole and fulfilling, yet many who’ve lost, or are losing, their sight struggle with isolation and loneliness. Recent studies show that a 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, like finding employment and navigating everyday tasks.

Steven Silverstein is the director of research at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, where Cherie Castellano is a program administrator. Photography by John O’Boyle

But a grant from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind to Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) aims to address psychological challenges with a new program: Eye2Eye, which will begin operation later this summer. Conceived by Steven Silverstein, UBHC’s research director, Eye2Eye draws on the organization’s two decades of success with peer-to-peer telesupport programs like Cop2Cop and Vets4Warriors.

Because Eye2Eye’s intensively trained peer counselors are legally blind, they will be uniquely equipped to provide reassurance and hope. They will also offer referrals to resources for help with mental health, employment, technology, and more. The helpline, 833-932-3931 (83-EYE2EYE-1), will be staffed 24/7.

Eye2Eye is expected to serve an estimated 5,600 people in New York City and northern New Jersey over the next two years. “It’s unusual to see a program that provides supportive services to people who are blind or visually impaired reach numbers even close to that,” says Andrew Fisher, Lavelle’s executive director.

Each call that Eye2Eye receives could represent a case of depression averted or even a life saved. “It’s about people having the best life they can,” Silverstein says. “There’s nothing like it in the country.”