Mar
2004

Eye Opener

 

Karen Keeney
President
Chadwick Optical

By Andrew Karp

Founded in 1980, this small White River Junction, Vt. business originally operated as a traditional optical laboratory producing regular corrective eyeglasses for local optometrists and opticians. Over the past four years, Chadwick has specialized in eyeglass prescriptions for the visually impaired, including high prism and high diopter lenses and more specialized designs such as high prism laminates for retinitis pigmentosa patients and tints, glare-reducing filters and even variable tint lenses for patients suffering form macular degeneration, glaucoma and photophobia.

In addition to serving accounts throughout the U.S., Chadwick exports to Canada and as far as South Africa and the Pacific Rim. It also services the majority of the Veteran Administration’s blind rehabilitation centers, schools of optometry and many state and local associations for the blind and visually impaired.

Recently, the National Institute of Health awarded Chadwick a grant to develop and evaluate the effects of a novel design of prescription eyeglass lenses for homonymous hemianopia, a half blindness on one side of the visual field in both eyes that results from brain injury. L&T spoke with Karen Keeney, Chadwick’s president and owner, about this new project and the lab’s expanding role in the low vision field.

Why did Chadwick target the low vision market?
We targeted low vision for many reasons. My beloved grandfather was legally blind, whichprovided an empathetic incentive. It was a lab market that did not lend itself to mass merchandising, where we could not afford to compete. It also appealed to our collective creative optical and entrepreneurial skills. It is an underserved market, on the laboratory side, because larger labs cannot process unique Rxs profitably, even if their staff understands what is required.

Chadwick is a relatively small lab, yet it services low vision customers on an international level. How do you attract such a diverse customer base?
Word-of-mouth advertising is our major source of new customers. This is facilitated by the fact that the community of low vision professionals is very close-knit. Many of our customers lecture at conferences and mention Chadwick’s products in their “what’s new” presentations. We provide them with pictures and data. We were also recently honored to present the EP Field Expansion lens at the American Academy of Optometry Press Conference this past December. Exhibiting selectively at various conferences also provides exposure.

How did Chadwick get involved with the Schepens Eye Research Institute’s project to develop a new lens design for patients with homonymous hemianopia?
Eli Peli, OD, senior scientist at Schepens had been looking, unsuccessfully, for a lab interested in co-designing and producing prototype lenses to be used in various Schepens studies. Chadwick decided to take on some of these special projects, including prototypes of the first generation EP Hemianopic Field Expansion lens that Dr. Peli initially proposed in 1999. Encouraged by Dr. Peli to seek National Eye Institute funding to engineer a marketable hemianopic lens, we applied for a Small Business Innovation Research grant and received funding in April 2003.

What is the goal of the NIH grant?
The overall goal of the grant is to overcome optical design and cosmetic obstacles that stand in the way of innovative optical designs for low vision. The focus of the grant is to engineer a cosmetically acceptable, safe and affordable lens to aid the millions who are affected with hemianopia, a by-product of stroke, brain tumor or head trauma. The final design is targeted to be commercially available in the spring of 2005.

Describe Chadwick’s role in producing the EP Hemianopic Field Expansion lens.
I am the principle investigator on the project and Chadwick Optical has entered into a consortium agreement with Schepens to conduct mobility studies and outline fitting parameters to maximize obstacle detection for the wearer. A driving simulator will also be used in the study to quantify the effects of this field expansion lens.

Will Chadwick be the exclusive source of this lens or will it be available through other labs, professional offices or eyecare clinics?
Chadwick will sell to professional offices and clinics. Other labs are not likely to be in a position to produce this lens, given the extensive effort and proprietary nature of many of the processes involved and at the targeted price. We encourage interested professionals to view our web site at
www.chadwickoptical.com.

With the aging U.S. population, the number of people with low vision is likely to rise significantly. How is Chadwick positioned to serve that growing market?
Chadwick is positioned to serve the portion of the low vision market that other labs and companies ignore. The visually impaired population and the professionals serving them are persistent and dedicated in their search for solutions. We’ll wait for the people that need us to find us. This strategy has worked so far.

Some Chadwick employees have an immediate family member with vision impairment or may themselves be impaired. What do these employees bring to Chadwick in terms of the customer service, sales and marketing, quality control or other aspects of the business? 
Our young office manager is partially sighted. Her husband has had congenital cataracts and a detached retina. The finishing room manager’s mother is legally blind as a result of birdshot retinopathy. The engineer in charge of the grant project, ironically, has homonymous hemianopia. 

We have an empathetic staff who also recognizes that visual impairment is usually accompanied by economic disadvantages. The staff is trained to come up with creative, modestly priced solutions to enhance the quality of life of people we serve.

 

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