Sight Saving Partnerships

Understanding the Road Ahead

Doctors Sanbrita Mondal and Melanie Schmitt have been busy as co-directors of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (DOVS) partnership with the Lighthouse Guild Vision Rehabilitation Network, a nationally renowned, non-profit vision and healthcare organization based in Manhattan, New York. The Lighthouse Guild launched a new initiative in 2017 to provide financial support and education resources to university ophthalmology departments, and they selected the University of Wisconsin as a partner site. In the year since activating this partnership, many exciting initiatives are underway that support our joint missions to save sight.

Patient Care

Working through the UW Health Patient-Centered Care Committee, of which Dr. Schmitt is currently the chair, the team assessed the department’s central care spaces at University Station Eye Clinic. They identified and documented many opportunities to improve the facilities for visually impaired and aging patients, such as creating legible signage, and changing carpet and wall colors to increase contrast.

Drs. Mondal and Schmitt have also strengthened relationships with external community partners, including the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired (WCBVI) and UnityPoint Health-Meriter, a partner of UW Health. With Dr. Mondal and the Low Vision clinic in full swing, patients benefit from long-standing relationships with the programmatic efforts of WCBVI, plus additional social and occupational resources. Dr. Mondal refers many patients to WCBVI after her initial examination. WCBVI is one of the few full-service, local resources that offers adaptive technology resources, in-home assessments, advocacy and a store for low vision aids. The occupational therapist referrals help people with low vision function at the highest possible level by teaching new skills, modifying tasks, and addressing home and public safety, as well as providing driving assessments.

Another essential community partner is Vision Forward of Milwaukee. Dr. Schmitt refers many pediatric patients to Vision Forward, as the organization specializes in assisting the visually impaired from birth through adulthood to achieve educational, personal and professional goals.


In addition to rapidly addressing low vision patient care, changes in our resident curriculum and staff training were implemented last fall. As of 2017, residents must complete an online curriculum that emphasizes low vision patient care in a practice and how to refer for the appropriate resources in a timely manner.

Low vision lunch and learn sessions kicked off in the spring of 2018 for all clinical and administrative staff. Marshall Flax, CLVT, COMS, has been commissioned to educate DOVS attendees on aspects of low vision life. In the sessions, he reviews the etiquette of working with low vision patients, how to identify and remove barriers of access and ability, and common biases toward this population. The lunch and learn series were well-attended and will continue twice per year.

“We’re transitioning from the model that, ‘Nothing more can be done,’ to, ‘While this is all I can do for you treatment-wise, here are other resources that can help you and your family’.”

Dr. Mondal


Investigation of the psycho-social impact of a low vision circumstance is an objective of the partnership with the Lighthouse Guild. To further understand patient perceptions, DOVS will begin collecting demographic data, determine how quickly patients are offered help, assess the availability of local resources, and compare the cost of low vision services and aids to other non-local programs.

Dr. Mondal notes that these efforts require a community of people working in concert to shift the approach of how we care for, and accommodate, low vision individuals. As the aging population grows, the number of patients with low vision will increase.

The real impact of the Lighthouse Guild’s 5-year pilot program with DOVS is already being felt, and the progress made this year will pave the way for additional resources to preserve quality of life, and to live and work independently and fearlessly.

How to Accommodate Low Vision Individuals

You can make changes today by considering the following:

On Printed Materials and Websites

  • Use fonts that are 16pt or larger
  • Choose color schemes with a strong contrast

At Home, Work and Clinics

  • Assess the contrast between the wall color and flooring and change if needed
  • Softer lighting, colored bulbs and filters can be used to reduce glare
  • Choose dishes in an opaque white motif, so fullness can be easily determined (i.e. white cups for coffee)

Be a Resource

  • Ask questions and listen
  • Dig deeper to determine if a low vision exam or professional assessment is needed
  • Familiarize yourself with community resources. If applicable, have referral forms on-hand
  • Show empathy, not sympathy