Exclusive interviews with contemporary newsmakers                  

Dr. Andrew D. Baker
Pioneering optometrist

What could be more important to a Deaf person than clear and healthy vision? Yet very few deaf people have entered the fields of optometry—eye care.

Dr. Andrew Baker is the first Deaf person in the nation to become an optometrist. Born deaf because of Rh blood incompatibility, he was the only deaf person in his family. He had a “mainstreamed” background, and graduated from NTID/RIT in 1979. While at NTID, he saw how many students had vision problems, and this inspired him to enter the optometric field. (All incoming NTID freshmen receive a mandatory eye examination, and it’s not uncommon for previously undetected problems to be “caught” and diagnosed.)

Dr. Baker graduated from the New England College and Optometry in 1983, and is celebrating his 25th year as a staff optometrist of the Department of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. He specializes in providing vision-care services to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. He enjoys his work and the satisfaction of providing vital services to the Deaf community in a Deaf-friendly way.

He says, “It has been an extremely rewarding, enriching, and unique experience. We’ve seen deaf people from all walks of life, including those from Venezuela, Iran, Cape Verde, Greece, and Pakistan, and many of them present with unique profiles. They have much to teach us, benefiting the staff, residents, and fellows at Mass. Eye and Ear. My most rewarding experiences are watching one-year-old deaf children signing!”

There are a number of genetically-linked syndromes (an inherited group of symptoms that present a certain medical condition) involving deafness and various kind of vision problems. Since 45 percent of congenitally deaf people have an eye problem, compared to 10 percent of those born with normal hearing, early diagnosis and identification of the syndromes can help with genetic and career planning. Usher’s Syndrome is the most familiar of these syndromes. All of us know people with US. They’re born deaf, then experience gradual deterioration of vision due to abnormal buildup of pigment in the retina (retinitis pigmentosa). The onset of US can be anytime during childhood to the teens to adulthood. Loss of vision can be fairly rapid or quite gradual. People with US can lead full, active, lives, raise families, and have rewarding careers.

But Dr. Baker tells a scary story involving two drunk drivers with US. Even though they had limited visual fields, they were able to read the alphabet charts at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (which doesn’t test visual fields), got their driver’s licenses, and—for a while, anyway—got away with it. “They were not safe drivers, and people got hurt.”

As for the progress made in treating RP: “The best treatment plan of choice is dietary. It was recently discovered that eating two servings of oily fish per week, along with dark-green leafy vegetables, and taking 14,000 units of Vitamin A palmitate, could slow down the rate of degeneration from 9% per year to 3% per year, allowing the patient to retain useful vision to age 79, rather than 59. Eating right is very important!
“Vision-rehabilitation programs and social services are excellent resources. With vision rehab, patients can learn about a variety of vision-aid devices, and social services can provide counseling and [further] resourcing.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the patient to be their own best advocate. Most people are unaware of the limitations imposed by their condition, but it’s up to the patient to educate them.

“Which brings me to the next point: all deaf people have an inherent responsibility to advocate on their own for not only their best interests, but for the best interests of everyone. If someone is talking to me without facing me, it’s up to me to advise them to please look directly at me while speaking, and not bobble their heads!

“These are some of the points I teach the physicians at Mass. Eye and Ear, and by learning the points, the physicians find themselves using the same strategy with all of their patients. It’s part of Mass. Eye and Ear’s ongoing commitment to providing excellence in medical care, and providing it with compassion.”

Dr. Baker would like to see more Deaf students entering the vision-care and other health-related fields, but reminds them that being a physician can be very challenging and requires strong verbal skills. Here’s looking at you, kid!

Photo credits: mini-tile and Flashbox: Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Above: Dr. Baker using a phoropter with John Monahan, ASL Specialist and Driver Education Teacher at The Learning Center for Deaf Children in Framingham.

Deaf Person of the Year
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
Robert Davila
John Yeh
Luke Adams
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
2019
Robert Davila
John Yeh
Luke Adams
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2017
January 2017
February 2017
March 2017
April 2017
May 2017
June 2017
July 2017
August 2017
September 2017
October 2017
November 2017
December 2017
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2016
January 2016
February 2016
March 2016
April 2016
May 2016
June 2016
July 2016
August 2016
September 2016
October 2016
November 2016
December 2016
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2015
January 2015
February 2015
March 2015
April 2015
May 2015
June 2015
July 2015
August 2015
September 2015
October 2015
November 2015
December 2015
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2014
January 2014
February 2014
March 2014
April 2014
May 2014
June 2014
Kurt
July 2014
August 2014
September 2014
October 2014
November 2014
December 2014
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2013
January 2013
February 2013
March 2013
April 2013
May 2013
June 2013
John Yeh
July 2013
August 2013
September 2013
October 2013
November 2013
December 2013
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2012
January 2012
February 2012
March 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
John Yeh
July 2012
August 2012
September 2012
October 2012
November 2012
December 2012
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2011
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
John Yeh
July 2011
August 2011
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2010
January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
John Yeh
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2009
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
John Yeh
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2008
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
Robert Davila
Kevin Frost
Ed Bosson
Leon Lim
John Yeh
Marlee Matin
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
Deaf Person of the Month: archives 2007
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
Robert R. Davila
Lizzie Sorkin
E. Lynn Jacobowitz
Joey Baer
Donald Tinsley, Sr.
Howie Seago
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
Bernard Bragg
Alice Hagemeyer
Carole Lazorisak
Ben Soukup
Tony Saccente
Fred Beam

Any questions, comments, ideas, or concerns you’d like to share?  Contact us at editor@deafpeople.com.
Copyright © 2007 - 2016 MSM Productions Ltd. All Rights Reserved.