South African Author Finds Visual and Emotional Refuge with Ocutech Bioptics

When Terry-Ann Adams first sat down to write her debut novel, Those Who Live In Cages, she herself was still fighting to get out of some of her own. 

Terry-Ann is no stranger to grit, resilience and bravery; growing up with albinism in South Africa, she is the first to know what it feels like to be an outsider in your home. Moreover, her albinism diagnosis meant that she would grow up with a visual impairment from day one, having to wear goggles to shield her sensitive eyes from the bright sun.

And even though Terry-Ann was visually impaired, she could ‘feel’ the eyes of judgment upon her. She could sense the looks of strangers boring into her back and she wanted nothing more than to break free and feel beautiful in her skin. “It is difficult and frustrating living with a vision impairment,” she said, openly. “To those who don’t share the experience, please try to understand that our eyesight is so precious, so please do not patronize us.” 

Terry-Ann comes from a family of storytellers. A writer at heart, she decided to focus her energy on her career and family. Whether it’s hiking with her husband and son or publishing her impactful book about five women of color who uphold the bonds of friendship and identity— all while persevering against domestic violence, coming of age, ingrained patriarchy and migration— Terry-Ann uses her voice to give a voice to others. The novel is set in Eldorado Park in the south of Johannesburg, the town right outside where she lives in Krugersdorp, South Africa. 

 

Seeing and doing things never thought were possible.

“I believe in creativity as a force that drives me,” Terry-Ann shared of her writing process. “I am empathetic and believe that everyone should be treated fairly and because I didn’t grow up well off, I had to focus on my ambitions rather than my eyesight.”

But that all changed when Terry-Ann put on a pair of bioptics made by Ocutech. Bioptics are miniature telescopes that are attached to regular eyeglasses and just like binoculars, they make images larger and as a result easier to see. Ocutech bioptics enable the user to see much farther away, something Terry-Ann never thought she’d be able to do. 

Ocutech bioptics gave Terry-Ann the independence she never thought she’d have: the opportunity to drive.

“There are so many challenges I’ve had to face before using Ocutech, but not being able to drive was my biggest one,” Terry-Ann admitted, honestly. “I have had to accept that I will have to use our terrible public transport system.” 

Now, after using backabuddy, the author doesn’t have to imagine a world where she’s behind the wheel—she can actually do it! A world where she is able to read her own novel like every other bookworm and see her son and husband from across the room.

When it comes to Ocutech, Terry-Ann is extremely grateful for their quite literal visionary thinking. 

“My bioptic has been by far the most effective visual aid I have ever used,” Terry-Ann said, passionately. “It has truly helped me to see the world with different eyes.”

 

Many thanks to Terry-Ann’s Low Vision Specialist and Provider is Hazel Sacharowitz,, Low Vision Care Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Dr. Greene to Lead The Vision Council’s Low Vision Division

Ocutech co-founder and President, Henry Greene, OD, FAAO, has been elected in-coming chair of the Low Vision Division of The Vision Council (sponsor of Vision Expo East and West). His 2-year term begins in late January 2022. 

“I am honored to have been chosen to lead the Low Vision Division during what promises to be a very exciting time for the vision rehabilitation specialty.  I take over the reins from outgoing chair, Richard Tapping, who has lead the division during the many challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.”

As the first optometrist to take on this role, Dr. Greene plans to address issues that he feels will be helpful for all members of the low vision care community. 

One of the most common refrains that low vision providers hear is ‘How come no one has told me about low vision care until now?’

Addressing this lack of awareness will guide our efforts during Dr. Greene’s term in office.  Specifically the LVD goals will include:

  • Increasing awareness of low vision care on a national basis
  • Creating a national directory of low vision care providers
  • Improving and facilitating methods for the referral of patients for low vision care

To stay updated on the LVD initiatives and to express your potential interest to join a national directory of low vision care providers click here.

“The Vision Council is thrilled to welcome Dr. Greene into the Chair role for the Low Vision Division. From fostering a high level of engagement between members and division leadership to raising awareness of low vision rehabilitation among eyecare providers as well as visually impaired consumers and their caregivers, Dr. Greene will play a key role in moving the division forward,” said Ashley Mills, CEO of The Vision Council.

“She Became So Much More Curious”— How a visually impaired 15 Year Old’s World Suddenly Changed

Cheryl Jones didn’t know how to respond after taking her daughter, Leah, to yet another eye doctor to see why her daughter had so much difficulty seeing clearly, when the doctor told them “she’s probably pretending to have such bad eyesight so she can wear cool glasses like her friends.”

Her daughter— who was in fourth grade at the time— couldn’t believe it either.  She’d been struggling since kindergarten to see the board and her friends in her classroom. She had already been to eight specialists by the time of this visit and none could explain why she couldn’t see the TV if she sat on the couch with her parents. She always had to sit right up in front of the screen to be able to see anything.

It was a year later, at age ten, that Leah’s diagnosis was finally made. Upon walking into the room, the doctor saw Leah try to read the eye chart while tilting her head to the side. “He knew straight away what my daughter had—Stargardt’s disease”—a juvenile form of macular degeneration— “It was such a relief to finally know what was going on,” Ms. Jones recalled, thoughtfully.

Stargardt’s disease is a rare genetic eye disease that affects the macula, the central part of the retina that normally provides our sharp 20/20 vision. The disorder impacts about one in 10,000 people. Early on it may be very difficult for eye doctors to diagnose Stargardt’s Disease because the macula can appear normal for many years, prompting some doctors to think that the child might be fibbing. But eventually the macula does begin to change and the diagnosis can be made.

Understanding Stargardt’s Disease

Once her Stargardt’s diagnosis was made, Leah was introduced into the world of low vision aids—special equipment and software that enlarges print to make it easier to see and access.  But not that it was easy! Leah could be found in school rolling her heavy backpack, full of large print materials and bulky equipment like her electronic screen magnifier called a CCTV that has a special camera used to enlarge print. In each classroom, Leah would have to wheel her bag in and set up her equipment, and when she got to high school, it meant doing it sometimes eight times a day. And to get around school with her heavy rolling backpack, she’d have to use the school’s elevator requiring special permissions, forms and signatures— a parent’s nightmare.

“Her school librarian was moved to help us by adding a large print section in the library for Leah. Though it took a long time for Leah to finish reading each book, we felt that her gesture was so kind and sympathetic— it’s just one of many examples of how we’ve learned to navigate the challenges that Leah faces day to day,” her mother explained.

But about one month ago, Leah’s navigation through her visual impairment took a spectacular turn.

Leah was referred to Dr. Sonya Braudway, an optometric physician who specializes in low vision rehabilitation in Lakeland, Florida. Working at the Center for Retina and Macular Disease, Dr. Braudway demonstrated a pair of special eyeglasses designed for the visually impaired. These low vision aids, called Ocutech Bioptics, contain miniature telescopes that work like binoculars. In mere moments, Leah felt the ground shift under her feet.

“I’ve never seen her read an eye chart so fast,” Ms. Jones said, smiling. “Suddenly, my mother, my daughter and I all started crying, realizing the miracle that had just happened.”

Leah, whose vision is normally 20/400, can now see 20/60 with her special Ocutech bioptics— a reality made possible by her grandparents who purchased them for Leah when they saw how happy they made her.

“It’s like getting to watch her grow up again overnight,” her mother said. “She’s become so much more curious about the world, because now she can see it, just like any normal kid.”  And since her bioptic is focusable, she can use them to see better at any distance she needs including the TV, her computer, her Nintendo, as well as her art projects.

Low Vision Rehabilitation

Dr. Braudway has prescribed Ocutech bioptics for children many times before. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I can do,” she said.  “The impact that bioptics can have for children can be so profound. It helps them come out of their shell, and the smiles we see when they first begin to use it—oh my! It’s a shame that more families don’t know about this technology.  It can be so pivotal in their children’s lives.”

These days, Leah, now 15, attends Excel Christian Academy in Lakeland, Florida. She’s happily adjusting to her new life as an Ocutech user.  Whether it’s joining her classmates in the hallway instead of riding alone in the elevator, sitting between her parents on the couch to watch television together, finally getting to read signs, go shopping, see her friends and family— and even enjoying trips to the zoo where for the first time she can really see the sloths and giraffes in their pens— Leah is excited about what it all means for her future.

“Now we’ll find her looking at our old wedding photos hanging on the wall, staring at the wedding dress, the flowers and our family’s faces— seeing them all with quite literally a fresh pair of eyes,” Leah’s mother shared. “It’s amazing what a difference these glasses have made for her in such a short period of time; I’m not worrying so much anymore— she’s so much more independent and happy… [the way] every girl her age deserves to be.”

Ocutech bioptics are prescribed by Low Vision Specialists throughout the world.  To learn more about Ocutech bioptics, and whether you, your child, or a loved one might be a candidate contact Ocutech at info@ocutech.com.

 

 

The Importance of Ocular Dominance in Low Vision Care

By Henry Greene, OD, FAAO

Over the years experienced practitioners tend to ‘go where the action is.’  What this means to me is that we refine our testing methods to do the tests that are most instructive in managing the patient and stop doing tests that don’t tell us much.

One such test that I have found very helpful is testing for ocular dominance. I’ve written a short blog post about Ocular Dominance and I’ve shared it here.

All of us have a dominant eye, just as we do a dominant hand and foot. Some of us have a very strong dominance while others can easily switch between eyes. I have a very strongly dominant right eye.  I can barely localize when looking through a monocular telescope with my left eye, and it took forever for me to learn to use my left eye with my handheld ophthalmoscope (dating myself, aren’t I?)

As we know, the dominant eye superimposes over the non-dominant eye. If the non-dominant eye is the only eye with reduced acuity, the patient might not even notice it.  However, if the dominant eye has the reduced acuity, they’ll be on the phone to us immediately. 

Whenever I have a patient with markedly different acuity between the eyes, I always have them cover the poorer-seeing eye.  If they report that they see better with that eye closed, than the covered eye is likely the dominant eye and this will impact all my prescribing decisions both distance and near.  When the poorer-seeing eye is the dominant eye and it drags down binocular vision I call it a “dominancy conflict.”

Most individuals find that sighting and localizing through a monocular telescope is much easier when using the dominant eye. In fact, many individuals are unable to aim or sight through a telescope with the non-dominant eye (like me!).  As a result, the ability for the patient to localize through a bioptic telescope will be much more natural if they are using their dominant eye.

Another easy way to determine the dominant eye is to ask the patient to look through a monocular handheld telescope without suggesting which eye to use. (I use a handheld 2.2x Galilean for BCVA of 20/100 and better, or a 4×12 Keplerian pre-focused for the chart distance for 20/125 and less.) They will usually bring it to their dominant reflexively.  And, since I already know which is the better seeing eye, I’m keeping my fingers crossed (behind my back) that they bring it to the better-seeing and hence dominant eye!

 If they ask which eye they should use, I suggest they bring it to whichever eye seems more natural.  On occasion, patients will show no ocular preference and can sight equally well with either eye, for which I send up a prayer of thanks, however this is less common.

When thinking about bioptic telescopes, if I have a dominancy conflict I will try to prescribe a binocular system in lower powers or if I need a monocular device, I would often prefer to prescribe a higher power to the dominant eye so long as I can get the acuity through telescope that I seek.  If I have to prescribe to the non-dominant eye, I might consider a sector occluder so when the patient dips their head to sight through the bioptic the fellow eye is covered.  However, even with occluders and/or lots of training I have usually found that these folks have a bit more of a challenge thriving with their bioptic and I will warn them about that right away.

Hope this little tidbit helps you as much as it has helped me.

Henry Greene to lead The Vision Council’s Low Vision Division

Ocutech co-founder and President, Henry Greene, OD, FAAO, has been elected in-coming chair of the Low Vision Division of The Vision Council (sponsor of Vision Expo East and West). His 2-year term begins in late January 2022. 

“I am honored to have been chosen to lead the Low Vision Division during what promises to be a very exciting time for the vision rehabilitation specialty.  I take over the reins from outgoing chair, Richard Tapping, who has lead the division during the many challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.”

As the first optometrist to take on this role, Dr. Greene plans to address issues that he feels will be helpful for all members of the low vision care community. 

One of the most common refrains that low vision providers hear is ‘How come no one has told me about low vision care until now?’

Addressing this lack of awareness will guide our efforts during Dr. Greene’s term in office.  Specifically the LVD goals will include:

  • Increasing awareness of low vision care on a national basis
  • Creating a national directory of low vision care providers
  • Improving and facilitating methods for the referral of patients for low vision care

To stay updated on the LVD initiatives and to express your potential interest to join a national directory of low vision care providers click here.

https://thevisioncouncil.org/members/low-vision-prescriber-network

“The Vision Council is thrilled to welcome Dr. Greene into the Chair role for the Low Vision Division. From fostering a high level of engagement between members and division leadership to raising awareness of low vision rehabilitation among eyecare providers as well as visually impaired consumers and their caregivers, Dr. Greene will play a key role in moving the division forward,” said Ashley Mills, CEO of The Vision Council.

When should I be considering an Ocutech Bioptic for my patient?

I’m frequently asked what makes me consider a bioptic for an individual patient. So, I’ve written a short blog post to describe my approach. There are several factors to explore when considering the appropriateness of an Ocutech bioptic for an individual. Here’s a list of factors you may choose to consider.

1. Vision

a. BCVA in the better-seeing eye (hopefully the dominant eye) is 20/300 or better

b. Field of view of at least 40 degrees diameter with regular glasses if used

c. Absence of hemianopsia

2. The prospective patient seeks to improve their distance and/or midrange vision for activities that might include:

a. Independent travel

b. Classroom

c. Signage

d. Shopping

e. Social engagement

f. Table/desk activities

g. Computer screens

h. Driving

i. Music

j. Theater/movies

k. Museums/galleries

l. Hiking

m. Gardening

3. They have promising manual dexterity and cognitive status

4. They have a need for hands-free visual support

5. Focusing options are based upon working distance considerations

a. Fixed focus (perhaps with reading caps) or Manual focus if their needs are at fixed distances  with minimal need to refocus the device

b. Autofocusing bioptic if they have a range of varying and continuous working distances

Meet Aaron Paulk, a visually impaired competitive surfer.

His Ocutech bioptic low vision aid helped make it happen!

“My first dream as a kid was to be a US Navy Seal.” Says Aaron Paulk. “I enlisted in the Navy halfway through my senior year in high school in Indiana. Things were going along fine until my physical in boot camp found that I was losing vision due to a juvenile type of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s disease. That totally derailed all my plans as I was no longer eligible to join the navy or any service. I lost my dream, my vision, and my motivation at age 17 all at once. It was one of my hardest periods emotionally.”

“I lost my license and my independence,” he says. “And then I found Dr. Laura Windsor, my low vision specialist. She prescribed an Ocutech bioptic telescope—a miniature telescope built into eyeglasses that provide me with near-normal vision–and my life changed forever. It allowed me to follow my second dream, to be a surfer living in Hawaii, and I just placed third in the 2021 World Parasurfing Championships held in California December 7-11.

“Gosh where do I start with how my Ocutech bioptic has changed my life?” he says.  “I have been able to regain my independence and drive, which has helped me train harder and harder to now be one of the best visually impaired competitive surfers in the world.  Before Ocutech I couldn’t even see the surf in the ocean before I got in, but now I can check the surf and watch it through my Ocutech and get an idea of how the waves are breaking.  I wear my Ocutech at all competition events to have the ability to watch the competition and prepare for my heats.” 

Aaron wants to share his enthusiasm for using his bioptic with others. “The impact of my Ocutech has been so dramatic for me,” he says, “and I’m eager to do what I can to help inspire other people with visual impairments to adopt such great technology to help them follow their passions and achieve their dreams.”

“If It Weren’t for Ocutech, I Wouldn’t Have My License”— Julius Frierson is Seeing New Possibilities

Julius Frierson shuts the door to his car, parked on a street in the rolling hills of Ventura, California, with a grin— remembering how the license in his wallet and the ability to improve his vision was once just an impossible dream.

“I was considered legally blind ever since I was nine months old,” Frierson, a behavioral technician, explained. “Things were always hard for me— I was the kid who never saw the board in school, who needed special textbooks enlarged, the whole nine yards.”

Julius was born with macular scarring, a formation of fibrous tissue in place of the normal retinal tissue on the macula area, the central part of the retina, which normally provides our20/20 sharp vision. His condition is not very different than loss of central vision from disorders like macular degeneration or Stargardt’s disease. Julius’ reduced visual acuity made it hard for him to read print, see the blackboard, or see his friends’ and family’s faces. He was told that glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery could not correct his condition.

Frierson recalls one mentor in his life who inspired him to keep his chin up, teaching him how to cross the roads even when his eyes couldn’t see the lights change.

For years, teachers at Frierson’s school would often follow Frierson home after school, ensuring the teen was walking home safely. He’d hear the cars whiz past and think about what it would be like to drive one— to see the road and feel the sense of independence he always wanted.

Many years later, that dream became a reality.

One day Frierson’s optometrist at Kaiser recommended special glasses called bioptics made by Ocutech.  Bioptics are miniature telescopes that are attached to regular eyeglasses. Just like binoculars, they make images larger and as a result easier to see. Ocutech bioptics enable the user to see much farther away. For example, if an individual can only see clearly to 5 feet away, a 4x-power Ocutech bioptic will let them see 20 feet away.

Frierson’s doctor fitted him for the VES-Sport-II, which is one of a range of Ocutech bioptic telescopes specially designed for the visually impaired to enhance a patient’s vision. They are focusable, so he could use them to see better at any distance he needed including the TV and the computer.

Of course, these types of special glasses aren’t cheap. But Frierson was determined to raise the funds to obtain hisOcutech bioptic and benefit from its life-changing potential.  He let his loved ones know of this opportunity to restart his lifeif he could onlyfindthe money to purchase the glasses.

It was then that his girlfriend set up a GoFundMe page, sharing Frierson’s intense and beautiful story. In just 24 hours, the money was raised to cover the cost of the glasses! The amazing support he receivednow unlocks memories Frierson holds dear.

Ocutech literally allowed me to see two to three times better [than anything I had used before],” Frierson shared, passionately. “As of now, my regular vision is 20/200 but with myOcutech, my vision is 20/40— and that is a drastic difference.”

It’s only been a little less than a year, but Frierson finds his future is suddenly clearer, in more ways than one.

With his Ocutech bioptics, Frierson can see the world the way his friends and family have always experienced it. He sees the scoreboard of sports games playing on the screens in his favorite restaurant. He reads the menu without help,and he feels the firm grip of the stirring wheel as he can now independently drive.

Frierson goes to concerts and doesn’t just hear the artist perform, butsees them—colors and all.

The license in his pocket, the car parked on his street, the ability to cross the road now with no one having to follow:it’s these little things—seemingly ordinary things—that ignite extraordinary joy for this Ocutech user.

“[It comes down to this],” Frierson said, smiling. “I simply cannot live without these glasses.”

To learn more about Ocutech bioptics, to determine if you might be a candidate for Ocutech bioptics, or if you or a loved are seeking a referral for a low vision specialist, contact Ocutech today at www.ocutech.com.

Australia’s first ever bioptic driving demonstration day using Ocutech bioptics

Ocutech is extremely proud to be part of this event. Australia’s first ever bioptic driving demonstration day–using Ocutech bioptics, was held last week at Wakefield Park, near Goulburn. An estimated 228,000 people in Australia could use this technology to drive for the first time, or continue to hold a driver’s license. We hope these awareness events help spread the word about our technology that his transforming lives! Bioptic driving is the use of assistive technology to allow people with central vision loss conditions to have sharper reactions to the obstacles in front of them. Continue reading this article–>

Bioptic Driving: The challenge of dealing with the state’s driver licensing office.

One of the great motivators for individuals to pursue bioptics is that they may become eligible to drive. 

In 2013 the State of North Carolina, my home state, passed its bioptic driving law that would enable some visually impaired individuals to be eligible to obtain a driver’s license.  Soon afterward I was invited to make a presentation to the state’s DMV Medical Board to explain what bioptics were all about and how they are used for driving (seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it?).  While I had expected to give a 30 minute presentation, the meeting lasted 2 hours and discussions explored a range of subjects related to vision and driving.

Soon after, I was invited to join the DMV Medical Review Board where I became involved not only in reviewing and ruling on DMV actions regarding individuals who were deemed inappropriate for licensure based upon a range of issues including vision, diabetic control, seizure disorders, substance abuse, cognitive status, behavioral issues and high accident rate.  In fact, the majority of the cases I was involved in reviewing were not vision-related at all.

In addition to my role examining the cases of individual drivers, I became involved in reviewing and revising the DMV’s vision guidelines including developing the process for licensing bioptic drivers. After several months of exploring the range of options, including meetings with stakeholders, we developed the methods and process that would be used for evaluating drivers. These were boiled down to be as easily administrable as possible. But there are 100 counties in the state, and many hundreds of DMV examiners, and more often than not, the examiner was unlikely to have previously encountered a bioptic driver. In addition, feedback I received from my own patients when they pursued their bioptic driver’s license, was that the DMV examiner had little idea how to perform vision tests on these individuals nor how to evaluate their on-road driving skills.

As a result of these issues, and as part of my role on the DMV Medical Board, I wrote a whitepaper backgrounder both for my NC Medical Board colleagues (one of whom was an ophthalmologist, while the others were neurologists, geriatricians, and a physiatrist) and for the DMV examiners in the field.

A DMV examiners guide to assessing a bioptic driver

In addition, as part of my role at Ocutech, I created three information brochures including:

I’m pleased to share this information with the low vision provider community.  I hope that this information is helpful and I invite you to share it as you see fit to help promote an effective understanding of how bioptics may enable visually impaired individuals to drive.