February is Low Vision Awareness Month. Low vision is defined as any type of vision impairment affecting and individual’s activities of daily living that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, procedures or surgery.
While low vision cannot be corrected, there are interventions and strategies – such as adaptations and aids – that a low vision specialist can help individuals implement to live well and independently with their remaining functional vision.
In addition to providing care for these patients, the University of Wisconsin Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences is a leader in low vision research and is hard at work developing new technologies to further improve quality of life.
Interested in learning more? Chief of Vision Rehabilitation Services, Sanbrita Mondal, OD, shares updates on existing and upcoming low vision research projects.
Clinical trials are a key part of advancing low vision research while also improving the quality of life for those affected by vision impairment. Now, an upcoming project aims to make it easier for patients with vision loss to take part in these studies.
When it launches in August 2022, the Wisconsin Low Vision Registry and Data Repository – or WILVR – will be overseen by a project manager with the DOVS Clinical Eye Research Unit. This new resource will help UW study investigators identify patients with vision loss and help connect them to clinical trials involving novel low vision technologies or equipment, as well as epidemiological research studies aimed at measuring quality of life improvements through low vision services.
Patients will be able to opt-in to WILVR and be automatically alerted to studies they may be eligible to participate in.
Closing the Gaps
Another project in the works will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders – including doctors, low vision occupational therapists, certified low vision specialists, certified adaptative technology specialists, teachers of the visually impaired and orientation mobility specialists – to shed light on the barriers and opportunities to low vision rehabilitation services in Wisconsin.
“We’re trying to figure out where the gaps are in providing low vision services in our community and our state,” Mondal said. “We’re trying to get a sense of how we can fill those gaps for services so that people are able to receive timely referrals and care, so they can continue being independent.”
The multi-year project will pilot in Dane County but will eventually expand to other areas of Wisconsin.
Extended Reality for All
These days, augmented and virtual reality have become a part of many households. With the proliferation of smartphones and VR headsets, it’s easier than ever to experience these technologies.
That is, if you don’t have a visual impairment.
“In terms of virtual reality technology, all the data comes from people with regular vision,” Mondal said. “If we want to apply this technology to people with a visual impairment, we need to have software that’s able to identify and interpret how people with visual impairment use their functional vision.”
In partnership with UW Department of Computer Science, Mondal is helping to develop and use pupil-tracking software and technology to better understand how low vision patients use their eyes differently to view various forms of information.
“By observing people with visual impairments, the system is learning how these individuals are using their vision to view things easier,” Mondal said.
The results of this research will be used to further expand VR and AR technology applied to common activities of daily living and vision rehabilitation programs.