Lighthouse Guild: Inspiring People with Visual Impairments to Achieve Their Goals

By Mark Ogilbee posted 05-25-2023 09:21 AM


Based in New York, Lighthouse Guildan AgeTech Collaborative™ testbed participantis on a mission to inspire people who are visually impaired to attain their goals by providing a wide range of innovative services, including coordinated care for eye health, vision rehabilitation, technology and behavioral health, and much more. Lighthouse Guild’s chief technology officer, Dr. Bryan Wolynski, spent time telling us about Lighthouse Guild’s mission, distinguished history and some of the many services they offer.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you tell us about Lighthouse Guild? 

We provide exceptional services to inspire people who are visually impaired to attain their goals. Many of these services are focused on vision rehabilitation, but we also address things like behavioral health, because all these things are intertwined. We also have a research team that researches technologies and provides evidence-based data for developers and innovators.


Can you break that down for us? 

Everyone’s vision loss is unique to them, just as everyone’s goals are unique. Everything is personal to the individual, including the kinds of technology they want to use. At Lighthouse Guild, it’s really about treating the individual. 

People come in by going through a low-vision examination by optometrists who are vision loss experts. They’re trained to look at vision from a functional point of view — it’s not about trying to get someone’s vision to 20/20, because these individuals' vision loss can’t be corrected with glasses, medication or surgery. Instead, the goal is to help people utilize the vision they have left in order to attain their goals with the help of technology. 

From there, referrals can be made to one of our occupational therapists for a multicomponent evaluation where they’re looking at the whole individual, including their goals, but they're also assessing whether the person is living at home safely, for example, or whether they can accomplish the activities of daily living. It's also about matching technology to the person based on their abilities and goals, helping them access that technology, and training them to use it. 


How do you support other aspects of people’s health? 

First, we’re creating a community of technology users, including developers, doctors, researchers, innovators and members of the AgeTech Collaborative™. That way, we’re all communicating, including about the health and wellness of the individual. 

Second, we offer a variety of other services. We have a health care center with a primary care physician and specialists to address other conditions such as diabetes, for example, because diabetes affects vision loss. This means people can see specialists without going to another office where the practitioners might not have as much experience with vision loss. 

To help with peoples’ wellness, we have a behavioral health center with psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers who can help people address issues such as anxiety and depression over their vision loss. We even have a daycare center for adults, support groups and more, including a smart home lab, where we introduce technology that can give people independence, improve their quality of life and help them meet their goals. 


How does the role of technology play into all this? 

Sometimes, people come to us thinking we have something like a magic pair of glasses that will allow them to see again, but that’s not the case. We help people learn how to adapt to their situation and do things in a different way. 

For example, reading is a common challenge, along with transportation, because people have given up driving. Navigation is another: “Which door is the one I'm looking for?” There’s a lot of assistive technology out there to help. Some of it is visual, by making things appear bigger via magnification, but there are other solutions based on other senses, such as audio devices that can take a picture of text and speak it out loud to the user. 

Education plays a key role in this: People need to know what assistive devices are out there. And from our perspective, we want to help innovators be more inclusive by encouraging them to think about the technologies they’re developing, and then to ask: “How could this pertain to someone who is visually impaired?” 


What’s the history of Lighthouse Guild?

Lighthouse Guild formed from two different organizations in Manhattan. One was Lighthouse International, which started in 1905 on the east side; the other was the Jewish Guild for the Blind, which was founded in 1914 on the west side. Both organizations provided services to people who were blind or visually impaired.  

In 2013, the two merged to form Lighthouse Guild, which means we have over 200 years’ combined experience — and we continue to do work that is pioneering in the field of vision rehabilitation, and technology is a big part of that.  


What are Lighthouse Guild’s plans for the future? 

We want to make Lighthouse Guild a technology hub. We’ve done pilots with companies, and developers are having conversations with us, and we think it’s important to bring on the users of the technology, too, so that everybody can learn together. And it’s not just for people who are focused on vision. Maybe someone has a solution for quality of life, but that technology could be accessed by someone with vision loss — the question is: “How do we do that?” So it’s about challenging each other. 

It’s also about asking: “What’s the next big idea?” We have a great podcast, On Tech & Vision, by our CEO, Dr. Cal Roberts. It covers some big ideas with regard to the future of innovation and people with vision loss. It’s part of how we provide resources and evidence-based data for companies and developers, so they’re not just focusing their efforts on what they think people need. 

You can learn more about Lighthouse Guild on their website.