A few days ago in the low vision clinic, I saw a thirty-three year old woman who had recently begun regaining some functional vision after years of unstable, unusable vision. Although her vision at this point was significantly reduced, she felt like she could see and do “everything.” She’d returned to college and is working towards a bachelor’s degree in psychology with the goal of obtaining a master’s degree in counseling.
When I saw her, she was only using a pair of low vision aids – a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses and a minimum-strength magnifier. She told me she was only able to read for about five minutes before her eyes would feel too strained, necessitating a break. She’d brought one of her large biology textbooks with her to the clinic, which brought me back to my own days of taking biology pre-requisites. She was struggling to get through the course, but somehow was managing due to her determination to succeed in her coursework with the vision she had remaining, while she still had it.
We worked to get her a pair of glasses to at the least protect her functioning eye (the other eye was a prosthetic) and helped set her up with a program that could help her pay for the glasses. So much of what we can do in a low vision clinic is to help make our patients aware of services and tools that are available to help them use the vision they have to do the things they need/like to do throughout their day.
We began by showing her video magnification systems where she could easily enlarge an image 10 to 30+ times its original size, if needed. I left her for a few minutes to become acquainted with the device and when I returned, she had enlarged an image of a cell that I think she was really seeing for the first time. Imagine what a difference that will make in her understanding of the material in this course!
She was blown away at the possibilities. She used the technology with ease and fluidity. We were confident these devices could help her. She began to think of ways she could use these devices and all the struggles it would lessen in her daily life. I was amazed she had been doing as much as she had without any stronger magnification systems and was truly impressed by her determination and perseverance in her pursuit of higher education, despite the difficulties she faced every day along the way.
She echoed to me something we hear so often in the low vision clinic: “I wish I had known about these options sooner.” I think it’s important for all of us as budding optometrists to be aware of the services available to our patients and the varieties of their visual needs. While we are all trained to do low vision, it may not be practical depending on the mode of practice we work in down the road, but I encourage each of you to seek out a low vision specialist in your area (if you are not that person) as well as organizations in our future communities that provide services and support for the visually impaired. We can make a world of difference for our patients by anticipating their needs and pointing them in the right direction to help them reach their goals.