People With Low Vision Can Drive Safely

Being visually impaired does not necessarily mean you must give up driving. The University Eye Institute's Center for Sight Enhancement at the University of Houston has a program to teach people with low vision how to drive safely by using telescopes mounted on their glasses. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports.

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It's sort of like bi-focals on steroids. For those who have not had the thrill of bi-focals, you have to learn to nod your head slightly to take advantage of the lens you need to see clearly. Dr Stanley Woo, runs the Center for Sight Enhancement.

"Bi-focals are for both distance and near. Bi-optic telescopic spectacles, same concept but for distance and a greater distance, and the unique part of it is the telescope is actually drilled and mounted into the spectacles themselves. It is not like using binoculars the whole time, in fact you're using your natural vision 90-95 percent of the time and simply tipping your chin down to access that telescope five to ten percent of the time to get that extra information. So, it's kind of like using your rearview mirror, you glance quickly, you figure out the information you need and then you attend back to where you're going."

This is not like getting a pair of glasses where you get the eye exam, pick-up the glasses and take off. Dr Woo says the several step process can take six weeks or longer to complete. It begins, like any other, with an evaluation of the patient's visual situation.

"The second step then is to go through the telescope training, to make sure they're able to respond to the magnification appropriately. Along with that training they go into that vehicle as a passenger in the car with our certified low vision therapist Erika Andersen."

"We have a road that we follow that has critical road objectives, it has unusual road signs that people may not anticipate, it has a series of different speeds, and so we use this route as just a standard so we have the objectives in terms of at what distance are people identifying things and how quickly are they able to exit the telescope and get back into the carrier lens."

Once this training is complete the patient goes to a rehabilitation service to get behind the wheel driver training. Following that the patient must pass a DPS driver test just like anyone else.

This method of treatment is not indicated for everyone with limited vision. Dr. Stanley Woo says DPS guidelines look at two criterions: detail vision and side vision.

"So folks who have their detail vision affected, those with age related macular degeneration for example, or AMD, they only lose their detail vision not their side vision, so they are particularly well suited for this kind of adaptation. For patients with peripheral vision loss from glaucoma, or retinitis pigmentosa, if their peripheral vision is decreased to substantially then they are not eligible for this kind of treatment."

Coming up next month there is going to be a low vision symposium at the UH Hilton and there will be a session on low vision driving. It will be open to the public and you'll find a link for more information at kuhf.org.

Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...