Rice workshop on improving mobility with low vision brings together leaders to discuss pressing public health concern of visual impairment

People crossing busy street

On July 29, 2022, the Rice Workshop on Improving Mobility with Low Vision was held at the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) and streamed live. Event sponsors included the Creative Ventures Funds and the Educational and Research Initiatives for Collaborative Health (ENRICH). Presenters discussed current research to help improve the mobility of people with low vision and avoid accidents during everyday activities such as walking down stairs, driving cars, taking public transit and crossing busy streets.

Patricia DeLucia, associate dean for research in the School of Social Sciences and professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, said the impetus for the workshop was the pressing public health issue of visual impairment, which affects over two billion people worldwide. Spanning across disciplines and sectors, speakers and participants included clinicians, community service providers and academics, some of whom were visually impaired themselves. The program featured 15 presentations and a closing reception with six posters by postdocs and graduate students.

Speakers and their presentations included:

  • Charles C. Wykoff, director of research for Retina Consultants of Texas and ophthalmology deputy chair of the Blanton Eye Institute at Houston Methodist Hospital, whose presentation, “Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Past, Present and Future,” discussed the most common reasons for visual impairment, causes and global impact, and related clinical trials;
  • Melinda Benjumea, director of behavioral health services at The Lighthouse of Houston, who presented on “The Lighthouse of Houston: Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired” and the particular support needs of those with visual impairment;
  • Barry H. Stafford, certified orientation and mobility specialist at Leader Dogs for the Blind, who presented on “Orientation and Mobility for Independent Travel” and the process of providing training for people on the use of canes;
  • Gordon Legge, Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota and director of the Minnesota Laboratory for Low-Vision Research, who presented on “Designing Visually Accessible Spaces for People with Low Vision,” which focused on a tool that analyzes spaces to determine which parts of the environment people with low vision would not be able to see;
  • Shirin Hassan, associate professor at the Indiana University School of Optometry, who presented on “Assessing the Street-Crossing Decisions of Visually Impaired Pedestrians,” which focused on research conducted in the real world where people with low vision analyzed oncoming traffic and made judgments about crossing the street;
  • Alex Bowers, associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and associate scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, who presented on “Driving with Impaired Vision,” which focused on a driving simulation study of people with hemianopic field loss;
  • Patricia DeLucia, who presented on “Factors that Affect Collision Perception and Implications for Individuals with Central Visual Loss,” which detailed research on the information needed to make judgments about collision and how this is impacted by central vision loss;
  • Robin Baurès, associate professor at Toulouse Université, who presented on “Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Cerebral Bases of Street Crossing Decision” which detailed a study of street crossing decisions in people while they underwent brain surgery;
  • Joseph K. Kearney, professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, who presented on “The Effectiveness of Smartphone Warnings and Alerts on Pedestrian Road Crossing,” which described the pros and cons of technology designed to help people to cross the street safely;
  • Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel, associate professor of experimental psychology at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, who presented on “Auditory and Audiovisual Time-to-Collision Estimation and Road Crossing Judgments” and how this is impacted by certain types of vehicles, such as electric vehicles, which are quieter and can result in a loss of important information for avoiding collisions;
  • Andrew Kolarik, lecturer at the University of East Anglia, who presented on “The Effect of Visual Loss on Navigating Using Echolocation or Sensory Substitution” and addressed questions such as whether auditory abilities are degraded or enhanced by blindness and if auditory distance is correctly represented when vision is not present;
  • Stephanie Badde, Stibel Family Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at Tufts University, whose presentation “Loss of Vision Influences Temporal Perception Across the Senses” focused on temporal biases and on the role the onset of visual impairments plays;
  • Eli Peli, professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, adjunct professor of ophthalmology and director of the Vision Rehabilitation Service at Tufts University School of Medicine, who presented on “Pedestrian Collisions with Visual Field Loss” and the application of prism treatments for pedestrians and drivers;
  • John-Ross Rizzo, physician-scientist at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, who presented on “Assistive Tech 2.0: Smart Services Systems of the Future,” and how such systems may help people safely cross the street and commute via mass transit; and
  • Preeti Verghese, senior scientist at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, who presented on “Training Eye Movements for Visual Search in Maculopathy,” which addressed how to train people to shift their usual methods for accomplishing a task, such as reading, when their center of the vision is blurred.

“In addition to hearing about cutting-edge work from highly esteemed individuals, what was particularly exciting was that the presenters included people from a range of disciplines and sectors,” said DeLucia. She continued, “We heard from academic researchers, optometrists and ophthalmologists, and directors of support groups for those who have vision loss. There were many engaging conversations, and we learned a lot from each other that hopefully will lead to new strategies to help individuals with low vision improve mobility.”