Blind World Magazine

Some of the technology Wong uses to "see." (Massachusetts).
Thursday, June 01, 2006.

First, his night vision began giving him problems. Then he started to lose his depth perception. Twenty-eight years old at the time, Wellesley resident Bruce Wong was baffled - his vision had never given him any cause for concern.

Worried about his deteriorating vision and his future as a registered pharmacist, Wong consulted an eye doctor who, based on Wong's symptoms, suspected that he had retinitis pigmentosa. At the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, the diagnosis was confirmed.

Retinitis pigmentosa is a hereditary, degenerative eye disorder that affects the retina's ability to respond to light. The condition is genetic, and if one or both parents have the recessive gene, there is a 50/50 chance that the offspring will have the disorder. Wong has three brothers, one of whom also has the vision defect.

The progression of retinitis pigmentosa can be very slow, Wong says. Sometimes it stabilizes for a period of time and "your vision stays the same for a number of years."

However, by 1995, his vision had become so blurred that he could no longer drive. "Once you lose 20 percent of your peripheral vision, you are, by definition, legally blind," Wong said.

Wong's eye doctor referred him to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, where he was assigned a counselor to assess his situation. Wong still had limited vision - comparable to looking through a rolled-up piece of paper - so the counselor recommended only that Wong use a cane for mobility.

His vision continued to deteriorate, and, by 2002, Wong realized he would need the help of modern technology to maintain the quality of his life at work and at home. He contacted the Commission for the Blind again, which sent a "low vision" specialist to assess his needs, Wong said. An assistant director of pharmacy for Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Wong was delighted when the hospital provided the necessary equipment at work and the Commission duplicated much of the equipment in Wong's home.

Wong is not completely blind, but anything farther than 6 inches from his eyes is usually a blur. But that hasn't stopped him from continuing his work - he can still fill and dispense prescriptions, although he acknowledges that most of his work is now administrative and computer-oriented.

Wong and a colleague, Sun Yeung, created a Computerized Order Entry System that is used by Newton-Wellesley for its hospital in-patients. The doctor submits a medicine request via computer from the patient floor; the order is sent to the pharmacy and the pharmacist verifies the order; once verified, the nurse on the patient's floor looks up the medicine order in the patient's medical profile; and the nurse picks medicine out of one of the hundreds of cubbyholes in an automated dispensing machine located on each floor. The program also provides the proper dosage of the medication ordered and alerts the doctor if the medication has been duplicated or if the patient has an allergy to the drug.

Wong and Yeung are working on a new program called the Electronic Medication Administration Record that would use bar coding throughout the entire process. The program is slated to go live in the spring of 2007; if it works as planned, Wong said, the result will be the "right drug - right patient - right [medication] order."

Wong's vision problem surfaced the first year he and his wife Shirley were married, he said, and "my wife has been unbelievable [with her support]." The couple, married for 27 years, have two children: Stephanie, a speech therapist, and Michael, a recent graduate of Fairfield University.

At home, Wong doesn't let his vision disorder slow him down. He cooks, vacuums and irons, and also uses the microwave, dishwasher, oven, washer and dryer, assisted by vision-impaired adaptations on the appliances.

For fun, he plays Scrabble, cards, listens to books on tape and works out on treadmill. A devoted Red Sox fan, Wong goes to games and brings a transistor radio to hear the play-by-play.

Although Bruce is no longer able to drive, he navigates whenever Shirley drives. Most of the time, she said, he memorizes the route ahead of time. "He can see more than a sighted person," Shirley said.

"I don't feel sorry for myself," Wong said. "I didn't say, 'Why me?' The whole bottom line is that people who are visually impaired can still do the jobs that any sighted person can do, and just as well. We may need more support [in terms of equipment] but we can still do it."

On May 11, Wong was one of five people statewide to receive the Carroll Society Award for outstanding achievement in the workplace by a person who is blind or visually impaired. The Carroll Center for the Blind, located in Newton, is a private nonprofit organization that provides training programs and services for visually-impaired or legally blind persons.

"The biggest thing for getting this award was doing an outstanding job," Wong said. "Just because you're blind or legally blind, you can't give up - there are always other options."

Optelec, a piece of equipment used to enlarge or enhance text. The item to be viewed is placed on the scanner; a camera above the scanner transfers the image of the item to the monitor where it can be enlarged or the contrast changed for easier visibility.

Quick Look, a portable magnifier used in the pharmacy to read medications.

A computer program called "Zoom Text," where a computer voice reads any line on the screen that is highlighted by the cursor.

A talking watch

A talking calculator

*In every instance, Wong finds it is easier to see the information on a black screen with white writing.

End of article.

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