Taking Inspiration From Our Ability to Help Low Vision Patients

By Jeffry Gerson, OD, FAAO with Richard J. Shuldiner, OD, FAAO

Although I no longer practice low vision in my private practice, I still have the great honor and privilege of providing low vision services at the Kansas State School for the Blind. By the way, the school’s name includes the word blind, yet most of the students are not blind or even legally blind. The name might be more appropriate to mention the visually impaired instead of the blind. Through this great institution, as well as local schools, students receive help from teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility instructors, and many others.

When I was first asked to go and see kids at the school, I wondered if I would enjoy it or if I could even provide any real service. I was pretty hesitant to accept this once-a-month assignment. Looking back, it should have been an easy decision!

Some of the kids I see are legally blind, and some even live in the dorm on campus during the school week. However, most see better than 20/200 and live at home. The causes of vision problems range from retinopathy of prematurity to retinitis pigmentosa to congenital glaucoma or albinism to something called cortical visual impairment (CVI). Many show no outward appearance of being visually impaired. Many kids attend their “home” school, receive services through their “home” district, and occasionally visit the school.

Some kids are cane users due to their limited vision, and some learn to use a cane because they have progressive eye diseases. Where I come in is helping to determine if any low-vision devices would be beneficial. Both optical and non-optical devices are tried to see if they will help the student at school, at home, and community. Most students use magnification and often utilize more than one device. These clinics are collaborative, so I am frequently asked questions by the students, their families, and their educational team, and I do my best to explain their visual functioning.

Many students know how to read and write braille, as many have vision that prevents them from reading materials even with a CCTV. The school participates in the “National Braille Challenge”. This is a sight to behold (no pun intended). Many children from around the state descend on the school annually for this event to celebrate their use of braille. Some are absolute masters, and some are just beginners. All are proud of their abilities. This year, we took my nine-year-old son, who has “normal” vision, to this event. It was an excellent opportunity for him to see how other kids learn and read. He and my wife were incredibly inspired by what these kids can do!

We think of these kids living in a “different world”. But we all live in the same place — we just experience it a little differently. These kids can experience most of the same things any other child does but use their senses, especially their eyes, differently. Most of this is available only after somebody identifies them as having vision problems and refers them to a low-vision specialist. Many kids are identified through a routine eye exam where something “just isn’t right,” the eye doctor (OD or MD) gets them into the right hands for diagnosis and real help with low vision and services through school.

If you live in an area with a state school for the blind or a similar facility, I would encourage you to go and see what it is all about. Even if not to provide services, just to see these kids will put a smile on your face and help you realize the vital importance low vision plays!

After experiencing this, you will never again say “NOTHING MORE CAN BE DONE” to any visually impaired patient, young or old.