Mitch Walker has his eye on one goal: improving the quality of life for people with low vision.
As an optometrist at See Differently, Mitch says giving a glimmer of hope to those diagnosed with low vision is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
“If we can give people a little bit of independence by allowing them to complete a task or something they used to enjoy doing, it really has a flow on effect to their mental health,” Mitch said.
“That’s what I really enjoy about my job…it can give someone that confidence to keep trying and to do other things.”
For more than a decade, Mitch has helped make life easier for See Differently clients, who have a range of low vision conditions. These include people who are legally blind to others struggling to read small print.
With many thousands of South Australians suffering from a range of eye conditions — and more than two billion globally living with vision impairment — it’s important work.
As a See Differently optometrist, Mitch’s work is a little different to that of a regular optometrist.
“All of us have up to 10 years experience in the low vision sector caring for people with vision loss,” Mitch said.
In most cases, the people Mitch sees will have already had their low vision diagnosed. That allows him to spend longer with clients than standard clinics would.
“What we do is work out how they are seeing and delve a little bit into that functional vision and look at how they see contrast,” Mitch said.
“It’s not just about seeing what the lowest line they can read on the chart is, but more about how quickly they read the chart, whether they are skipping letters, what happens when it’s not black on white and checking to see if there are parts of their vision that are missing.”
That allows See Differently’s optometrists, including Mitch, to devise a strategy to help optimise a client’s remaining vision.
“That might be magnification, it might be patching one eye, or it might be an electronic aid,” he said.
The use of optical and adaptive technology can go a long way to improving the lives of those with low vision.
Easier-to-use optical tools such as magnifying and telescopic devices are hitting the market, which are clearer, lighter, and more ergonomic.
“The technology used to be very expensive but has really become more accessible now,” Mitch said.
“There are products that are really good quality and still affordable and I think we’re reaching for those types of products earlier on, whereas in the past they were probably reserved for people with more advanced conditions.”
However, he said it’s the advances in adaptive technology that have progressed at a rapid speed.
Companies across the globe are developing artificial intelligence and virtual reality-based tools to help low vision people see differently.
Some produce screen readers, electronic personal assistants and apps that can help people with low vision navigate an unfamiliar environment.
“You can think of that technology progressing in a similar fashion to mobile phones in a lot of ways…that’s how quickly the technology is improving,” Mitch said.
“We’ve got devices that take a photo of a document, about the size of a pen, and it uses AI to read it out to you, so you don’t even have to read it.
“The space is improving all the time and the beauty of See Differently optometrists is that we’re right up with the latest tech that is coming out.”
Finding solutions to sometimes complex health issues is something Mitch was always attracted to about optometry.
From his early school days, he enjoyed physics and problem solving but wanted to help people in health care. Optometry, he said, was a good combination of those.
“One of the things that always fascinated me was how many things could go wrong with the eyes because they’re complex little organs,” he said.
“There are so many diseases you can get, from genetic diseases when you’re a kid to age-related diseases when you’re in your 90s.
“I wanted to be able to help people solve some of these issues.”