Young woman wearing bioptic glasses sitting in the driver's seat of a car with her thumb up!

Bioptics and low vision

Learn more about bioptic glasses and how this tool can be used in the classroom, and this student's journey to obtain a driver's license using bioptic glasses.

When I was in 3rd grade, I was prescribed a bioptic for distance viewing in the school setting.  Since then, my bioptic has become one of my most used low vision devices (other than my phone and MATT Connect).  

What is a Bioptic 

For those who are unfamiliar, a bioptic is a pair of glasses that have a telescope mounted in one or both lenses.  The lenses may have the patient’s glasses prescription and the telescope(s) can be either fixed or focusable.  I have had three different bioptics over the years, with my first two being fixed and my current one focusable.  I prefer the focusable bioptic as it is more versatile.  With the fixed bioptics, I would have to use caps that I would put on the end of the bioptic to allow it to focus at a closer distance, whereas with the focusable bioptic, I just twist a small dial on the end to change focusing distance.  Bioptics must be prescribed a low vision specialist. Patients can also choose the frame that they would like their bioptic to be mounted in, although care should be taken to make sure that the patient will have enough room to utilize the carrier lens (the part of the glasses that don’t have the bioptic).  

Uses for Bioptics 

Bioptics are mainly used for distance viewing, although they can be used for mid-range viewing as well.  I was first prescribed my bioptic for distance viewing within the classroom, and I currently use it for various distance viewing tasks in my environment, reading music and even driving.  Some things I would use my bioptic for in school were things like reading the board, being able to see at school assemblies and even reading music.  When I am not using the bioptic, I tend to switch back into my regular prescription glasses, although sometimes if I was moving between classes, I would keep it on to save time.  

Driving With Bioptics 

The determination of whether a patient is able to drive using a bioptic is a decision that is made on a case-by-case basis and also depends on whether the patient’s state allows bioptic driving.  For me, the process of obtaining my driver’s license with a bioptic has taken me close to three years, as the process is complicated in my state (Michigan) as DMV representatives have a limited understanding of the process.  It is worth noting that I have lived in Michigan for my entire life and my family did not move just for the possibility of bioptic driving.  

The first step in the process for me was to have testing done by my low vision specialist to make sure that I was eligible to learn to drive using a bioptic.  These tests included things like a visual field test, contrast vision testing and visual acuity testing.  Once it was determined that I met the vision requirements for bioptic driving, we had to send the paperwork to the state.  While we were waiting for the state to verify and approve the paperwork (which took about 4 months), I had to go through a vision therapy program to learn how to use the bioptic for driving.  Using a bioptic while moving is different than using a bioptic while stationary in a classroom environment.  Luckily, this was more of a refresher for me as my TVI had done a good job of teaching me some of these skills previously.  

Once I had successfully completed the vision therapy and had the paperwork approved from the state, I could begin taking driving classes.  However, because I was 17 and was going to turn 18 before the open classes would begin (the driving school did both adaptive driving and regular driving), I needed to complete the bookwork portion on my own.  Once I passed the written portion of the driving exam, I would be issued a temporary instruction permit (TIP) that would allow me to drive with an instructor.  The driving school I attended was two hours away from my home, so that did make the days I had drivers training long days, but it was definitely worth it.  

When my instructor thought that I had successfully gained all of the needed skills, it was time to attempt the road test.  My instructor wrote and submitted a report detailing my progress to the state so they could schedule me for a road test.  Due to my low vision, I was unable to test with the driving school and was required to test with driver assessment section at my local secretary of state branch. 

Long story short, I had to take the test a total of three times before I successfully passed and it was different from the tests that all of my friends had taken, as I did not go on the expressway and I did not parallel park.  I did have to go get my permit renewed and go through the vision tests again, as they are only valid for 180 days.  

My vehicle is a 2010 Ford Edge and it does have some adaptations to make driving with low vision easier and safer.  I have an extra set of side mirrors that eliminate the need for me to turn my head to check my blind spot, I just have to look in both mirrors.  I also have little colored sticky dots on my windshield that are positioned to help with my lane placement.  My phone also has a speedometer app as I am unable to see the speedometer on the car.  These adaptations mean that I am not easily able to drive an alternate vehicle, as I would have to reinstall the mirrors and reposition the stickers.  

Having the ability to drive, even if it’s only in the daytime, has given me a ton of independence as I don’t have to rely on others as much if I want to go somewhere.  Of course, I still self-restrict a little bit and make sure that I am comfortable driving in a given situation.  For example, I do not drive in heavy rain or snow and I am extra cautious if I do happen to drive in the snow.  I also make sure that I am very comfortable with routes before I drive them independently.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in low vision driving, to talk with their low vision specialist and see if that is an option in their state.  

By CWhodat

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