An unexpected adventure

By Allison

At age ten I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration. When I was diagnosed, I was told I would never be able to drive. In December of 2018, I was researching a little more in depth about my vision impairment and stumbled on an article of someone who had the same condition as me and drove with bioptic lenses. After further research, I realized I might be a candidate for driving with bioptic glasses. At my next yearly checkup, I talked to my genetic specialist and he referred me to the low vision specialist where I found out I met the medical requirements for driving with bioptic glasses. The requirements for acuity with the lenses vary by state, but it is the standard requirement that corrected vision must be 20/200 corrected in order to qualify for bioptic driving. In Tennessee, the potential driver must have an acuity of 20/60 with the bioptic telescope and a visual field diameter of at least 150 degrees. After being approved medically and receiving the glasses, I had to get my permit. The feeling to actually get my permit was incredible after being told for ten years of my life that I would never be able to drive. 

After getting approved medically and getting my permit, my low vision specialist referred me to the driving rehabilitation center at Vanderbilt. In Tennessee, it is required that a bioptic driver have at least 30 hours of behind the wheel training before having a license. I got my permit and only being able to drive in a parking lot and only up to 20 miles per hour was the best feeling. During my first training session I got used to driving a car in a parking lot, neighborhood, and a heavier traffic residential area.

Throughout the training, I have been through high traffic, residential areas, highways, and two sessions ago I drove on the interstate. With the driving training, my occupational therapist assists me in better using my bioptic telescope and also giving me tips on how to do things as a bioptic driver. I have had a little over 30 hours of training and March 18th is supposed to be my last session. After completing training, my occupational therapist will send a letter to the state stating that I am a safe driver and qualify for attaining a license. Once the state gets the letter, they will send a letter to me to give to the DMV where I will take my license test and then get my license. With bioptic driving training, my therapist has asked me to drive in different weather situations such as rain, cloudy, sunny, and also night driving. Therapists will make the decision of whether or not it is safe to drive in certain conditions. For me personally, I have been approved for everything but night driving in the rain. This has been a long process, but I know it will be worth it in the end. To any of my fellow VIBES friends or friends of friends considering bioptic driving, I certainly recommend it. My best advice to you is to follow what your driving trainers say, and if you exceed 30 hours keep on going and do not give up. The extra hours spent will help with safety and independence and it is definitely worth it!

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