Meet Mississippi’s First Bi-optic Driver

Meet Mississippi’s first bioptic driver, well sort of… 
Mike Smitherman, Exhibits Coordinator for the American Council for the Blind and the President of the Mississippi Council for the Blind over the last two years, was the first person in the state of Mississippi–to never have driven prior to bioptic driving–to get his driver’s license as a legal bioptic driver.  ”There was some other guy who beat me to it by a day!”  he says jokingly as we talked after yesterday’s Low Vision Support Group meeting, “but he had known how to drive previously, and he had just moved here from Tennessee, so it hardly counts.”
Mike still shows his first driver’s license with pride and excitement.
So what is bioptic driving and why is it such a big deal?  Bioptic driving is an available method of learned transportation for individuals with vision deficits up to 20/200 in their strongest eye.  Thus, access to training and licensure for bioptic driving is an invaluable means for the visually impaired community to begin living more independently.  ”Our lives changed on March 28, 2002, at 2:53 PM, (the date and time Mike was first granted his license) because I no longer had to depend on others to get us around,” Mike told the Low Vision Support Group yesterday.  ”And I know the worst day of my life will be when I can no longer drive.”
At the Low Vision Support Group, Mike spoke to the audience about his experiences and process of becoming a bioptic driver.
Although bioptic driving has been around for over 40 years in other states, Mississippi did not pass the legislative measures and regulations on it until 2002.  But as soon as the necessary legalities were approved, Mike and two other individuals with low-vision from Mississippi entered the pilot program on bioptic driving.  They were given access to the special bioptic glasses (see first and third photos) through rehab counselors before going through rigorous training under a specialized driving teacher from Tennessee.  After six weeks of practicing with his trainer, as well as with family and friends, Mike finally passed his driver’s test.  And what made this a more fluid process for him?  ”Family support!” He says.  ”People in my family would let me borrow their cars, and they would sit in the passenger seat as I practiced, and that by far was the most helpful part of learning to drive.”
Mike and his wife, Alison–editor of the Periscope (MCB’s Newsletter)–prepare to run errands after MIB’s low vision support group.
“You were setting the stage for those coming after you,” says Kathy Foster of Low Vision Etc. to Mike at the support group meeting.  And indeed he did.  There is now a program at the T.K. Martin Center at Mississippi State that teaches individuals with visual impairments about bioptic driving!  And with easier access to such training, there are now dozens of drivers like Mike in Mississippi, and therefore dozens more people with low vision who are living more independently.
Want to know more about Bioptic Driving?  Check out the website on Adaptive Driving provided by the T.K. Martin Center at Mississippi State University.