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Ocutech supports optometrist who created non-profit to serve visually impaired children in Namibia

Dr. Chantal Overvliet, of the Oculus Vision Centre in Windhoek, is the sole optometrist providing low vision care in all of Namibia. After learning of the urgent needs of the 132 children at the country’s only school for the visually impaired, she and her business partner and Low Vision assistant, Michelle Opperman, created a non-profit project to provide high-level low vision testing and products to the students. The school’s principal, Smithly Engelbrecht, said he was so grateful for the important work Dr. Overvliet is doing.

In the back row: Chantal Overvliet (Optometrist at Oculus Low Vision Centre), Mr. Smithly Engelbrecht (Principal), Ms. Beverly Coussement (Public Relations Officer at NAMDIA), Mrs. Mugunda (Teacher), Mr. Andreas (Teacher) and Michelle Opperman (Low Vision Support at Oculus Low Vision Centre) with the Prevocational and Grade 9 learners of the School.

Since close to 80% of these students are from less privileged households, their families could not afford the high-quality low vision aids that would allow the children to maximize their educational opportunities. The testing process, which was provided by Oculus at no cost, took close to a year to complete as it had to be scheduled between the daily functions of the practice. Once their vision needs were identified, Dr. Overvliet approached many organizations in search of funding to provide these special low vision aids to these deserving children.

After visiting the school and learning about its programs and seeing the amazing work done by the teachers and administration, the Renaissance Health Medical Aid Fund selected the project as their biggest Corporate Social Investments (CSI) to date. According to the fund, part of their sponsorship and CSI policy focuses on youth and health-related issues.  “We came to understand that children with visual impairments will find it hard to get through life without the necessary early life training and visual and mobility aids required. These services can make a real impact for these children and on society and this need fit exactly into our fund’s social investment mission,” said Kwendhi Amagulu, Renaissance’s senior marketing officer. Namdia, the Namibian diamond company, has also become a sponsor of the project.

Ocutech was pleased and honored to have its products selected for these children and offered special reduced pricing to enable the project to reach as many children as possible. They are especially well received by children due to their ease of use, wearing comfort and hi-tech appearance.  They are designed to be easy and convenient for low vision specialists to fit and prescribe and can be updated as children grow.

Overvliet’s and Opperman’s joint passion is to enhance vision for visually impaired children in Namibia. “Our goal is to help them maximize their academic and personal potential to allow them to become productive members in their communities,” they said.

Michelle Opperman (Low Vision Support) demonstrating how to use the VES Sport telescope to a Grade 9 learner.

To contact the Oculus Vision Centre visit www.oculusvisioncentre.com.

In back row: Chantal Overvliet (Optometrist at Oculus Low Vision Centre), Mr. Smithly Engelbrecht (Principal), Ms. Beverly Coussement (Public Relations Officer at NAMDIA), Mrs. Mugunda (Teacher) and Michelle Opperman (Low Vision Support at Oculus Low Vision Centre) with all the children that received the VES Sport telescopes and Sightscopes.

Link to Press Release: Downloadable PDF

Open Letter to a Mom Parenting a Child with Albinism from a College Student living with Ocular Albinism

This open letter is my response to an article written by Lee Kofman and published on Mamamia.com.

Dear Dr. Kofman,

I was pleasantly surprised to come across your recent post about parenting your son who has albinism. In my opinion, there aren’t enough people like you sharing these stories which help to enlighten the community. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mack, I am 20 years old, and live in North Carolina, United States. I was born with another form of albinism, ocular albinism. This genetic variant affects my vision in many similar ways as your son Ollie’s. I have a nystagmus that people usually cannot help but notice, lack sufficient melanin in the iris and retina parts of my eyes, and have trouble reading classroom boards, restaurant menus, books… you name it. 

Your son Ollie, sounds precious and gifted, playing piano at such a young age! I applaud your continual effort to locate all the resources available to you to help your son grow up with everything he could need. I too have been through that cycle of conferences, appointments, and specialists. I have heard my fair share about stigma surrounding physically apparent conditions like albinism. One thing that I think has helped so many people with low vision to reach their potential is to come into contact with the right advocacy group that changes the individuals life forever. And while I do not want to provide anyone with false hope, I would be remiss not to share with you my story and how I found the thing that can help me reach my potential.

When I was an infant, my parents learned I had ocular albinism, and from that point on, 20 years ago, my parents lived with the fear of me not being able to drive. For 14 years it had never crossed my mind I could be even more different than I had realized, never pondering my ability to obtain a driver’s license. My parents, holding out for some miracle, kept in touch with my low vision specialist in between appointments about any new breakthroughs in the field that would enable low vision patients to drive. They learned about Ocutech and I soon got one of their products which allowed me to drive! I then was able to drive myself to school, athletics practice, and to friends’ houses. This was something my parents never expected me to be able to do myself.

I now attend University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am a third year studying economics and entrepreneurship, still using my bioptic device to drive everywhere! I also now work as an intern for Ocutech, the very same company who gave me so much independence. My job there is to share my story, and how their product changed my life forever. Eager to make an impact, I have searched for people who could benefit from my story. Upon reading this heartfelt post of your experience so far with Ollie, I could not help but reach out.

If you are interested in seeing what could be out there for Ollie, I would love to answer any questions you might have and be a resource for you to make sure you leave no stone unturned. Please reach out to me at my personal email mackdespard@ocutech.com, I would love to get to know you and your family!

Eager to hear from you soon!

Best,

Mack Despard

Briarna Dobson’s Journey with Stargardt’s Disease

Ocutech would like to thank Briarna for sharing her story with Stargardt’s and how she gained her independence back with dedicated parents, doctors and Ocutech bioptics!

I always get asked, “What do you mean you’re blind, you look so normal?” Most people find it difficult to comprehend that you can look normal but be partially sighted. We are taught there are three types of vision: perfect vision, vision that requires correction with glasses or completely blind with no vision. So, I do understand the confusion some have when I try to explain my vision.

Losing My Vision

I was born fully sighted and had no issues with my vision. When I was 8 years old, I started struggling to see the board. We went to the Optometrist and I got glasses for reading and seeing the board. I went back yearly for routine check-ups and it wasn’t till I was 13 years old that the optometrist found something at the back of my eye (my retina), we then went to the ophthalmologist in Tauranga, where they referred us for more testing at the Retina Specialist clinic in Auckland.  This was when we were told…I had Stargardts.

My parents were devastated. They saw all the obstacles I would be coming up against, would I be able to finish mainstream education? Would I be able to drive? Would I be happy? I, however, didn’t have the foresight to think of any of that. I could see alright for the moment and that was all that mattered. A few months later I understood completely how my parents felt that day.

What is Stargardt’s?

Stargardt’s Disease is a genetic juvenile condition. It affects the macula in the retina. This is responsible for colour and central vision. This results in the whole image not being sent through the optic nerve to the brain. My brain then fills in the missing pieces and compensates with my peripheral vision. The loss of vision starts with puberty and gradually continues to progress through the teens and adult years. As if puberty wasn’t difficult enough.

Losing My Sight and Independence

Growing up I was a very active kid, I got involved in all the sports, netball, volleyball, water polo, hockey, and dance, to name a few. With the loss of my vision that was taken away from me, I no longer was able to play those sports or see the choreographer in dance training. Then it came to the age where I was faced with “you won’t be able to drive.” My friends were getting their driver’s licenses; they were independent and could go off when they pleased. They could get around and did not have to rely on anyone else.  These days were dark for me, it just didn’t seem fair as I could not be independent and have the freedom that comes with it.

My parents are continuously working to find the best tools possible for me to live life as a normal teenager. They are always researching Stargardt’s Disease and keeping up to date with everything and anything that could benefit my condition and my life.  My Dad came across a video on “stuff.com” of a guy who was visually impaired that was granted his license with a special pair of glasses, he was also from New Zealand and we immediately got in touch with him. He explained how he got the glasses and who to contact.

Finding Hope and Learning I Could Drive!

My Dad got in touch with Peter Neuhauser and Anna Megaffin from the Hamilton Branch Bell Neuhauser & (Matthews) Optometrist. Peter sounded so hopeful and it was really promising.  Although I did not want to get my hopes up too high. 

We went to Hamilton and they ran a few tests. We were then given the best news of our lives – with these glasses (Ocutech VES-Sport II) I could obtain my driver’s license!

Photo of the VES-Sport II Bioptic Telescope
The Ocutech VES Sport-II

The glasses are ordered from America, so I started to study the road code like crazy and after a few months of waiting, the glasses arrived and the very next day, I took my learner’s license test in 13 minutes and got 35/35 correct.  I now have my very own licence.

It really was the best day and feeling ever!

The past 4 years have been the longest and hardest years of my life, but after meeting Peter, Anna, and the team, my life has completely changed in the best way ever and my dreams have come true!

I am so grateful for all they have done and my Ocutech Bioptics!

VES-Falcon Autofocus Bioptic Brings Tears of Joy

We received this amazing letter from one of Ocutech’s favorite prescribers and would like to share it with you. Thank you Dr. Fuhr for your kind words.

Falcon is One-of-a-Kind Device

Image of Dr. Patti Fuhr with veteran Patient wearing Ocutech Falcon Autofocus Bioptic My first experience with the new 4x Falcon autofocus bioptic telescope brought tears to my eyes– tears of joy. This type of system has been only a dream for so many years, for patients, and for prescribers. The previous version of the Ocutech autofocus has not been available for a few years, which left a void in my low vision rehabilitation prescribing practices. An autofocusing, wearable telescopic system is more appropriate for many persons with visual impairment who also have manual dexterity problems, tremors, shoulder or arm issues, or simply slow reaction times. An autofocus is also more appropriate for heavy users of telescopic systems, such as students, teachers, public speakers, and technical persons. And it can be prescribed for driving for appropriate candidates.

The Ocutech system is not a heavy box that sits on the face and eliminates the outside world. It is a telescopic system that mounts on a regular pair of glasses and provides a seamless transition in focus from 13 inches to optical infinity and anywhere in between. Also, it is an autofocus OPTICAL system, so it feels like normal vision magnified through a telescope. The Falcon is much more natural than any of the head borne video magnification systems available today. And, as with most distance viewing devices, it helps people feel more connected to the world beyond the limitations of their visual impairment.

New Powers are Now Available

Recently, Ocutech introduced 3x and 5.5x versions of the Falcon. I was amazed at the appreciable increase in the field of view with the 3x version (15 degrees) and the lightning speed at which it focuses. The 5.5x version has a good field of view (9.5 degrees) for a high power telescope and its optics are also nice and sharp.

All versions of the Falcon are astonishingly easy to fit and prescribe. The Ocutech website has videos that walk the prescribing doctor through the process, and prescribers can always call Ocutech for any questions or help necessary. They are very accessible, knowledgeable, and willing to help. Since the optics are basically the same as the manual focus systems, if you can’t afford new fitting systems, it is easy to demonstrate and fit with the Ocutech manual systems that are currently in many low vision rehabilitation offices. The frames are the same as used in the manual systems, and the parameters can be verified on the website.

I urge any prescribers to consider these autofocus bioptic systems for any patients interested in distance viewing enhancement. Personally, I have prescribed almost a dozen 4x autofocus systems to date, and all patients have been successful. I am thrilled that the 3x is now available, as it is appropriate for so many persons with mild to moderate visual acuity loss. It bridges the gap between the 1.7x and 2x SightScope Galilean bioptic telescope systems and the 4x autofocus. The cost of the autofocus systems is similar to that of many of the head borne video systems that, in my opinion, can’t compete with the Falcon. 

Autofocus Bioptic is a Game-Changer

Ocutech has brought great advances in technology to the practice of low vision rehabilitation, concentrating on the fairly neglected, but oh so important, study and application of technology to the field of distance vision enhancement. The autofocus bioptic systems allow seamless focus from distance to near, simply by looking at the object of interest. It allows the wearer to focus more on what they want to see rather than dealing with the technology with which they must interact. That, my friends, is a game-changer, for prescribers as well as patients with visual impairment.

Floridians with low vision can benefit from bioptics even if they cannot use them to drive.

Image of palm trees in florida with title, Visually Impaired and Living in Florida

There is more to bioptics than just driving in Florida

Losing one’s drivers license or never being eligible for one because of reduced vision is undoubtedly a bummer.  There are ways to get around without driving yourself, but the independence and enhanced quality of life one gains from being able to drive (not to mention the ‘right of passage’ of a driver’s license for teenagers) is hard to argue. Most US states have adopted bioptic driving laws, allowing individuals with a certain acuity and degree of peripheral vision to be eligible for full or restricted license privileges.

Unfortunately, Florida is one of the few remaining states in the Union that does not allow visually impaired individuals to obtain a driver’s license while wearing a bioptic telescope.

What is the current licensing requirements in Florida?

Date last verified: August 2018

  • Bioptic driving is NOT allowed
  • Bioptic is NOT permitted to meet visual standards
  • Minimum visual acuity of 20/70 for an unrestricted license
  • Minimum visual acuity of 20/40 if one eye is 20/200 or worse
  • Field of view must be at least 130 degrees

So, if I cannot use a bioptic to drive in Florida, why should I use one?

There’s more to life than driving… really!  And bioptic telescopes for low vision can be part of making your life experiences as positive and enjoyable as you choose to make it.  Can’t see your friends, family or co-workers from across the room? Can’t read the sports score on TV? Can’t read the menu on the wall of the restaurant?  Can’t read the computer screen or play music or card games.  Can’t see well enough to play shuffleboard or bowl? Don’t want to go out because you can’t recognize people at a distance? Feel left out because you don’t feel visually connected?  Bioptics can help in all these ways and even more.

Bioptic telescopes can help individuals with 20/200 see 20/40, and maybe even better.  You’ll see virtually as well as a normally-sighted person.  Granted, they look a little weird (most folks think they’re cool once they realize how much better they can see with them… promise!), and there a few things you’ll have to learn.  Bioptics have changed the lives of the visually impaired whether they are in their teens, twenties, or even nineties!  You owe it to yourself to check them out. They may not get you behind the wheel in Florida, but at least they will help you see where you’re going and when you get there!

For more information on Ocutech bioptics visit our webpage at www.ocutech.com or email info@ocutech.com for a referral.