Seeing potential

October 5, 2023
R. Tracy Williams., O.D., a member of the AOA’s Vision Rehabilitation Committee, on vision rehabilitation and how you can coach patients from a can’t to can mindset.
Tracy Williams O.D. headshot in AOA Focus

Photography by Nate Smith

Excerpted from page 54 of the September 2023 edition of AOA Focus.

Where others might only see a deficit, R. Tracy Williams., O.D., sees potential in patients with low vision.

Dr. Williams is executive director of the Spectrios Institute for Low Vision in Wheaton, Illinois, where patients are evaluated, diagnosed and prescribed low-vision interventions (corrective eyewear, occupational therapy, counseling, technology aids) to achieve their goals of living their fullest lives. He is an unapologetic and passionate advocate bent on bringing attention to the treatment modality that is vision rehabilitation. Even his office reflects it: a large, rambling butter-yellow structure with a helpful and highly trained staff. The not-for-profit, highly regarded institute was established 37 years ago by Dr.

Williams, a member of the AOA Vision Rehabilitation Committee.

What was your childhood dream?

Growing up, I wanted to play for the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately, I lacked one thing: talent.

My parents kept on saying, “You like baseball, but you probably should stick with your plan to go to college.”

And I did.

What was the inspiration for the institute and its name?

The name Spectrios doesn’t refer to spectacle but spectrum. We do the full spectrum of accredited, comprehensive, multidisciplinary low-vision rehabilitation. The tail end of the name is what we love so much. Trios refers to our triad philosophy that we work at—the head, the heart and the eyes.

We’re not only optometry. We have a staff of 16—small but mighty in our purpose. We want to listen to what our patients’ goals and fears are and coach them to understand how they can use their energy to change their thinking from what they can’t do to be like the little locomotive.

What is the co-management role of the low-vision practitioner?

Low-vision practitioners are not only good clinicians. Supported by science, they must have good psychosocial skills because you want people to embrace who they now are; to get them to realize they have potential. Sometimes it’s the low-vision practitioner who is the first one to see potential in them before anybody else.

You have high praise for your fellow eye doctors but believe strongly that they could do a better job on behalf of patients, particularly in one area. What is it?

Timely referrals are what must be done in the best interest of people with vision loss. For example, we have patients who come to see us about driving. Can you imagine how important bioptic or telescopic driving is to independence-minded patients, if it can be done safely and appropriately? Yet, some doctors (doctors of optometry and ophthalmology) make judgements about what their patients are capable of without having the appropriate training. The institute is aligned with an accredited driving rehabilitation program, and we make referrals to these sites where occupational therapists are certified to address driving skills, cognitively and behind the wheel. There is an approach to this that is collaborative.

By the way, your baseball dream still lives, right?

This is how amazing a life journey can be.

There was a retinal specialist in Chicago who was a team doctor with the White Sox, and he was referring patients to me. One day, he called me up and said, “Hey Tracy, you’re squeezing every last ounce of vision out of my patients (a big compliment), how would you like to be a team doctor with the Chicago White Sox?”

I’ve been a team doctor now with the White Sox for 37 years and also a team doctor with the Bulls. So, dreams and amazing stories can happen.

Vision Rehab Resources

Vision rehabilitation care can be an important tool to growing and strengthening your practice—whether you are looking to add value to primary eye care services, starting to incorporate vision rehabilitation care into your practice or already an expert in the field.

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