Skip to Top NavigationSkip to ContentSkip to Footer

Low-Vision Patients Learn Life Skills through MCO, ABVI Optometric Collaboration

Dr. Sarah HinkleyFerris State University’s Michigan College of Optometry has teamed with the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired to help adults and children cope with low vision.

MCO’s new partnership with the Grand Rapids nonprofit agency to offer an interdisciplinary Vision Rehabilitation Service is “unique,” said Dr. Sarah Hinkley, an associate professor and chief of Low Vision Services.

“The team approach to vision rehabilitation is the most effective for patients with vision impairment or blindness,” Hinkley said. “I’m proud of it from a patient-care perspective as well as an educational perspective.”

Under Hinkley’s direction, fourth-year clinical interns perform vision rehabilitation examinations on patients with vision loss at MCO’s University Eye Center. The students follow their patient through an appointment with a certified visSonja Iverson-Hillion rehabilitation therapist from ABVI, who discusses available services such as home visits, orientation and mobility training, and support groups.

“If the patient is interested, we go along with the therapist to offer rehabilitation in the patient’s home,” Hinkley said.

Together, they determine the need for environmental modifications that address daily living and safety issues.

“We learn from them, and they learn from us for the mutual benefit of patients,” Hinkley said. “This is a unique model of interdisciplinary care.”

More than 50 patients have been seen since the program began last summer, and many more have appointments scheduled. The clinic is held one half-day each week, and home visits are scheduled one day per month.

Most patients are seniors, but the clinic also serves many middle-aged adults and children, too, Hinkley said. They suffer from macular degeneration, diabetic-related eye disease, glaucoma-related impairments or genetic diseases.

“We had a homemaker in her 30s with neurological vision loss who we helped through vision rehabilitation and home visits to be able to read again, help her kids with their homework and see the TV,” Hinkley said. “It has been life-changing for many of the patients.”

It also has been eye-opening for the Doctor of Optometry students. Sonja Iverson-Hill, a senior from Glencoe, Minn., wanted to participate in the four-month rotation to gain experience in the low vision field.

“It has been very rewarding,” said Iverson-Hill, whose role includes showing patients how to use optical aids that will benefit them at home or, in a child’s case, in school. “It’s so good to see them hopeful.”

The partnership between MCO and ABVI is a step toward making vision rehabilitation a standard of care for those affected by low vision, said Richard Stevens, ABVI’s executive director.

“We have a long history with MCO,” Stevens said. “We’ve been sending staff to speak to students for years – it’s one thing to speak to students in a classroom, but another to show them. It creates better optometrists, and that’s critical as low-vision referrals increase.”

ABVI is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year of serving West Michigan patients challenged with vision loss to live independent lives.

The collaboration between MCO and ABVI resulted in recognition by the American Academy of Optometry. Hinkley received the AOF’s 2013 Fredric Rosemore Low Vision Educational Grant, which is awarded for projects intended to increase interest and reward excellence in the field of low vision. The American Academy of Optometry Grants

Hinkley also hopes to fuel student interest in low vision rehabilitation as a career option by initiating a Vision Rehabilitation Club at the Michigan College of Optometry.


About the Michigan College of Optometry:

The Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University prepares doctoral and post-doctoral students for successful professional careers, responsible citizenship and lifelong learning. Through its clinically-based education and patient care, MCO serves the optometric health care needs of society. It is the only college of optometry in Michigan. For more information, go to

For additional information on MCO’s University Eye Center services, including the Vision Rehabilitation Service, visit

About the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired:

The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, founded in 1913, is a full-service agency based in Grand Rapids that serves clients and their families in 13 West Michigan counties, regardless of their ability to pay. For more information, visit



(TOP) Dr. Sarah Hinkley is an associate professor in Ferris’ Michigan College of Optometry and chief of Low Vision Services.

(BOTTOM) Sonja Iverson-Hill, a fourth-year clinical intern in Ferris’ Michigan College of Optometry, works with a patient at the University Eye Center.