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Eyes right
Promoting performers visual health

A collaboration between leading eye care specialists, advocates and manufacturers aims to lead to a better understanding of the visual needs of musicians.


Making sure the eyes are right...

Networking and knowledge exchange were the aims of the recent ‘Visual Health in Performing Arts’ event organised by Allegro Optical opticians, the Department of Music at the University of York and the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM).

In addition to drawing attention to the visual challenges faced by performing artists, the event helped raise awareness of the specific visual requirements of musicians.

Musicians, clinicians, medical device manufacturers, performing arts health advocates and representatives from the BBC met to share knowledge and ideas.


Eye care for musicians and performers was put into perspective

Perspectives

The opening 'Perspectives' session saw three musicians discuss their vision problems. Each was determined not to stop playing. Making music was such an integral part of their lives, and to forgo it without researching all potential help was not an option.

Pianist Yanna Zissandou described the challenges she found in focussing on sheet music due to problems with glare following a retinal tear.

When her own optician was unable to restore her vision sufficiently, Yanna sought the help of performing arts eyecare specialist Allegro Optical. 

Highlighting need

Its Managing Director Stephen Tighe talked about how presbyopia, cataracts, and a detached retina impacted his musical career as a conductor and trombonist when he experienced a detached retina following cataract surgery in 2013. 

He discussed the limited knowledge among eye care professionals of performing artists' requirements, highlighting the need for specialist performing arts eye care and a greater understanding among clinicians. 

Stephen Tighe talked about how presbyopia, cataracts, and a detached retina impacted his musical career as a conductor and trombonist when he experienced a detached retina following cataract surgery in 2013. 

Norma Wilson, a pianist, flautist, teacher, and music therapist spoke about how wet age-related macular degeneration had made it difficult for her to read music. 

Norma also turned to Allegro Optical for specialist prescription eyewear following her diagnosis to enable her to keep making music. She now also uses an iPad while performing to enlarge font size to assist her. 

The outcomes of specialist intervention spoke for themselves. 


Discussing visual health

Impact

Dr. Gunnar Schmidtman (Associate Professor of Optometry & Vision Science at the University of Plymouth) shared his knowledge of various ocular disorders and their impact on musicians.

He discussed how artists who play small bore brass instruments (such as cornets and trumpets etc) may experience elevated intraocular pressure, putting them at a greater risk of glaucoma. 

Many who suffer from glaucoma he said, only find out about it through regular eye examination. 

Many who suffer from glaucoma he said, only find out about it through regular eye examination. 

In his presentation, Optelec's Paul Bartley highlighted the developments in technology that have led to assistive devices and apps which can help performers with low vision. 

Loss of freedom

“When eyesight deteriorates,” he said, “people lose freedom and control.” Regular routines and pleasures – from shopping to watching television, and especially performing music can be severely affected, leading in many cases to isolation and depression.

This has led Allegro Optical to collaborate with numerous musicians and performing arts professionals. It has been an acclaimed approach that has led it to becoming one of the country’s leading opticians specialising in the needs of musicians.

Managing Director Sheryl Doe, discussed the problems performing artists faced as eyesight deteriorated and the process those seeking clinical treatment needed to both consider and undertake.

It has seen the company work directly with optical manufacturers, diagnostic equipment suppliers, and device and app manufacturers to provide performing artists with customised solutions.


Key points made

Obstacles and opportunities

Key points arising from the presentations were summarised in a panel session entitled, ‘Obstacles & Opportunities’. 

These included the lack of data gathering in respect to the number of performing artists in the UK who experience difficulties with their visual health. These in turn lead to difficulties in being able to persuade medical device manufacturers to develop bespoke products, and in convincing institutions and organisations to prioritise visual health. 

It was felt that artists and creators are not generally taught about their visual health or how to protect it,

It was felt that artists and creators are not generally taught about their visual health or how to protect it, whilst eye care professionals (including optometrists, opticians, and ophthalmologists) are currently not provided with sufficient insights during their training to be able to cater effectively to their specialist visual needs.

Better access

As one speaker pointed out: “Different ocular conditions require a variety of approaches to facilitate vision, and more needs to be done by venues, lighting designers, employers, and artists to explore this challenge and find workable solutions. 

There are organisations and individuals working to provide specialist services and support for performing artists, but better communication and connections between them is needed.” 

It was hoped that the industry and education system could now work toward making the performing arts accessible to everyone, regardless of their visual health or how they use their eyesight to participate. 

As a speaker added: “Everyone can work to protect the level of vision, but if someone loses their vision, it shouldn’t mean that they can no longer be involved in the performing arts.” 


Looking after the eye care needs of performers

Exceptional day

Following the event, Dr Naomi Norton (Associate Lecturer in Music Education & Musicians; Health & Wellness Coordinator at the University of York) said: “Bringing together this dedicated and passionate group of individuals resulted in an exceptional day full of insight and expertise.

This event is only the beginning, and we hope others will join the network and work with us toward those aims.

It also enables people to provide a sound basis for further research, collaboration, and educational approaches to supporting a more inclusive and healthy performing arts community that prioritises visual health alongside other aspects of wellbeing.” 

She added: “This event is only the beginning, and we hope others will join the network and work with us toward those aims. A huge thank you to the University of York Place and Community fund and Department of Music for supporting this event and enabling it to happen.”

Sheryl Doe BSc FBDO

Author: Sheryl Doe is Managing Director of Allegro Optical Ltd and Dispensing Optician of the Year 2019.


Allegro Optical Ltd 
1-3 Station Street, Meltham, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, HD9 5NX.
Tel: 01484 90 70 90 

Allegro Optical (Saddleworth) Ltd
1 The Greenfield Center, Wellington Road, Greenfield, Oldham, OL3 7AQ
Tel: 01457 353 100

Allegro Optical (Marsden) Ltd
30 Peel Street, Marsden, Huddersfield, HD7 6BW
01484 76 88 88

2020 Vision Labs
30 Peel Street
Marsden
Huddersfield
HD7 6BW
01484 556818
Mobile: 07940 842854

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