Larry Lipman: Low-vision technology provides freedom to drive

January 25, 2022
Larry Lipman, of Memphis, Tennessee, wasn’t allowed to drive until he was 36 years old. Low vision prevented him from legally getting a driver’s license—until he heard about bioptic spectacles that could make driving safe. Now, every year, he turns to his doctor of optometry, low-vision specialist Cynthia G. Heard, O.D., FAAO, to take him through the tests required by the state to keep his license.
Larry Lipman and his doctor of optometry, Cynthia G. Heard, O.D., FAAO

Larry Lipman and his doctor of optometry, Cynthia G. Heard, O.D., FAAO.

Larry Lipman, now 62, was born with degenerative myopia, which is a severe genetic form of nearsightedness. Lipman also has nystagmus, in which his eyes move repeatedly and uncontrollably. His myopia was extreme but did not get worse throughout his childhood and early adult years. As a child, he used a monocular—like a binocular or tiny telescope held up to only one eye—to see the classroom chalkboard. He knew that when he turned 16 he wouldn’t be able to get his driver’s license like his friends.

But through a series of introductions to eye specialists in his 30s, he learned about bioptic spectacles, which are tiny telescopes fitted to a pair of glasses. They would allow Lipman to see at a distance, necessary for safe driving.

Tennessee required Lipman to go through a series of eye tests and bioptic lens training with an optometrist who specializes in low-vision care. Next, he had to take part in a certified driver’s training course for bioptic lens wearers. Finally, he was given his driver’s license.

“The bioptic was a life-changing event for me. I went 20 years as an adult without being able to drive and suddenly had the freedom to be able to do so.” -Larry Lipman

Soon after getting his license, he headed to California for a work conference. “Being able to fly into the airport, rent a car and drive myself around—it sounds silly to someone who’s grown up with the privilege, but to me it was an incredible experience,” he said.

Now, Dr. Heard’s office tests Lipman every year for his required license recertification. Because it’s a teaching practice, students often conduct the tests (under supervision). Lipman, who works as a technical trainer, enjoys interacting and teaching the future optometrists.

Two years ago, the tests showed that Lipman’s bioptic spectacles—which had served him well for 24 years—needed an upgrade. Tennessee requires visual acuity of at least 20/60, but with his older glasses, Lipman’s was at 20/70.

Dr. Heard helped Lipman choose a newer pair that gave him 20/40 vision again. The new pair also had improved technology, providing a magnifying option that gives Lipman the option of wearing the glasses when he’s not driving but needs to see something across the room, such as a television.

In fact, both doctor and patient keep up on the latest technology and bioptic spectacle advancements. They often share related articles with each other that they come across.

“Her kindness in thinking about me when she sees those articles is very appreciated, and she’s just lots of fun to be around,” Lipman said. “The quality of Dr. Heard’s care, coupled with her genuine concern for me as a person, has made an immeasurable difference in the quality of my life. I consider her not only a valued resource, but also a valued friend.”

To learn more about low vision and low-vision rehabilitation, visit aoa.org/low-vision-and-vision-rehab.

Cynthia Heard, O.D.
Cynthia Heard, O.D.

Cynthia Heard, O.D., is a 1992 graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry. She did her residency in Geriatric and Vision Rehabilitation at the Birmingham Alabama VA in 1992. Dr. Heard became an assistant professor of clinical optometry at The Ohio State University College of Optometry (TOSUCO) 1993 until 2007 when she joined the faculty at the Southern College of Optometry. Now a professor, Dr. Heard’s areas of interest include nutrition and eye health, ocular disease management and low vision care.

Dr. Heard is a member of the American Optometric Association (AOA), National Optometric Association (NOA), Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians (TAOP), West Tennessee Optometric Physicians Society (WTOPS), and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry (FAAO). She is currently a Council on Optometric Practitioner Education (COPE) Reviewer, member of the AOA Education Center Committee, Chairperson of the AAO Diversity Task Force, and an AOA Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) Consultant. She is past president of the National Optometric Association.

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