Sunday, April 12, 2015

What? I get to drive!!

Bioptic Glasses
As a child who was legally blind, I had been told I would not be able to drive. As I approached the age to get a license around 1978, I started looking into bioptic glasses. Bioptic glasses are glasses that have one or two scopes on them. These scopes magnifier from 2-4X  If you can get to a certain visual acuity with the scope you can drive in most states. The specific requirements vary state to state. I was lucky that I was in California which had bioptic driving since about 1970. The pair my eye doctor tried were similar to these.Mine had a single 4x scope attached and the carrier lenses were tinted. So the eye doctor took me out as a passenger and asked if I could see brake lights, signal lights etc. I could not. The problem was there was no protection from the light with the scope and no protection form the light on the sides of the glasses. I also did not know about red contact lenses at this time. I could not see the red lights or brake lights all. My dream of driving died that day and the doctor did not know how to deal with the specific issues related to Achromatopsia- total color blindness, severe light sensitivity, along with low visual acuity. If it was just the visual acuity of 20/200, I would have been driving but the other two were the problems. So for the next 25 years I resigned myself to the fact I would never drive.

In 1995, I got my first set of red central contact lenses from UC Berkeley. Here is an article about them Seeing the World Through Red Tinted Glasses.  They were amazing when I combined these contacts with sunglasses outside, I was not blinded by the light. They also have the effect of allowing red light through. I could see the red signal and brake lights. It does make greens go dark so I could no longer see the green lights. None of the eye doctors mentioned driving so I continued to think I could not.

My Ocutech
The chance appointment that changed my life. In 2013, I learned about Dr Windsor of the Low Vision Center of Indiana.  I discovered he specialized in Achromatopsia. What a change most eye doctors have never heard of it or have any idea how to help. I decided to see him in May 2013 to try out
My red and brown filter
different color contacts lenses because I found my reds were not the right color for school inside the classroom. He asked if i wanted to be evaluated to be able to drive. What!!!! Really!! Drive!! Hell yes i do!. So he tried the ocutech bioptic on me and had me read the eye chart. He said I was a good candidate but it is a long road. We have to find the right color combination of filters and contacts. Finally in Dec 2013, I received my Ocutech but I had to wait until May 2014 to go to Indian again to try to figure out filters. In May I went back to try out filters. I needed sun but it was overcast the entire time I was there so we pretty much had to guess. We decided on NARZ contacts and red contacts and the filters would be custom made red in the front and brown wrap around to protect me from the light coming in.The double layer of red made the brake lights and red light really pop out. I spent the next few months as a passenger practicing with the bioptic. In Oct 2014 the big day came to start drivers training. My training was through Driving to Independence. I did about 35-40 hours of behind the wheel with Jill and Jason. The red filters make it so I do not see green lights but I feel much more comfortable seeing the brake lights and red lights. If I don't see a
Troublesome signals for me
light then it is green. The only presents a problem making left turns where there is a signal with 5 lights. It could be a protected green arrow or a unprotected green solid.They do not go in the same order each time. It is often dependent on traffic. So, I am working on trying to figure out a combo that will work to see all lights. What I am going to try is red filter for my regular vision and amber or dark grey/green over just the scope. This is getting very pricey. Every pair of contact i try are $200-450 per pair and if they don't work I just have to try another. I read a blog about driving and the person had the same issue. It was called My Miracle Drive.  i saw his set up and I am going to try it. He uses NOIR red fitovers that are cut to allow the ocutech scope to fit
My Goal
through. I ordered a custom filter for the scope and will try my NARZ or brown contacts. I need to cut the NOIR fitovers and will hopefully be having that done on a milling machine at Arizona State.

On Feb 6, 2015 I took my behind the wheel driving test and passed!! I did not get my license that day because for bioptic driving teh test has to be sent to medical review along with my form signed by an eye doctor within 60 days stating that I can see 20/40 with the scope and what my vision is without the scope. A few weeks later
It's official!!!
I got the paperwork form medical review to take to the MVD to finally get my license. I went of Friday March 5th and the computers were down for the entire state of AZ. No license. Finally Monday March 9 I tired again and came out with my first drivers license at the age of 51!!!

There is still a lot I am working on. The green lights are one of them. Another issue is the setting or rising sun low on the horizon. When the sun is low but behind me the lights don't look right I can't tell them as well. Sometimes I think the yellow is lit but it is not. When driving into the sun when I dip to use the scope I am blinded but the sun coming straight in. I need to either avoid this time of day or find a solution. Right now I drive familiar places. I have been doing more freeway practice with Chase so I might be ready to make a solo trip down to ASU. I just wanted several trips to get confident with lane changing and traffic merging in and out.

Upcoming posts:
Shopping for the best car
Tricks I use when driving
Problems I face

Here is a video of me driving. The iPhone slipped so it is crooked. I will make another.


  1. Ocutech offers NOIR glasses machined out to fit over their VES-SPORT and VES-K models.

    1. Ocutech actually starting doing that after they saw my set up :-)