An Indiana University assistant professor and low-vision optometrist working to advance pedestrian safety has been awarded more than $1.9 million by the National Institutes of Health to evaluate street-crossing decision-making performance in pedestrians who are elderly, visually impaired or blind.
The work by Dr. Shirin E. Hassan from the Indiana University Bloomington School of Optometry is expected to lead to better mobility and an improved quality of life for people with impaired vision.
Specifically, Hassan will investigate the effectiveness of a current orientation and mobility street-crossing training program used by numerous orientation and mobility instructors across the country to teach safe street-crossing techniques to pedestrians who are elderly, visually impaired or blind. This groundbreaking research aims to improve the overall safety of high-risk pedestrian groups and represents the first time the training program has been assessed and measured.
"In today's aging population, there is increasing incidence of low vision," Hassan said. "To support older adults and help them cope with the changes of aging, in particular with visual impairments and blindness, there needs to be increased efforts to improve pedestrian safety that will maximize an individual's independence and quality of life.
"Having successfully secured funding, I can now determine whether or not a street-crossing training program provides an older adult with low vision with enough scope and skill to cross a street confidently and safely."
In addition to assessing the orientation and mobility street-crossing training program, Hassan will, over the next five years, conduct a series of other street-crossing experiments in real, outdoor traffic environments.
Employing an innovative measuring technique that she developed in an earlier street-crossing study, Hassan will evaluate whether an individual's perception of their street-crossing decision-making performance corresponds to their actual performance. Other experiments will determine how an individual's street-crossing decision-making performance changes with different road configurations and intersections, such as two-way streets and roundabouts. The research will also determine what impact age, walking speed and level of vision loss have on an individual's street-crossing decision-making performance.
"When making street-crossing decisions, if pedestrians do not take into account their reduced vision and slow walking speed, we might expect to see a corresponding decrease in their decision-making accuracy and/or reliability," Hassan said. "If pedestrians do compensate for their limitations and adopt a conservative or cautious street-crossing strategy, the converse will be found."
She said the importance of assessing street-crossing decision-making performance in real-world conditions would also provide the framework for developing objective, evidence-based recommendations for use by low-vision optometrists and health care professionals about when they should refer their patients for street-crossing decision training.
"With my new clinical recommendations, low-vision optometrists and health care clinicians will have the tools needed to recognize early on when their patients should receive street crossing training," Hassan said. "This is the next critical step in patient care for people needing low-vision rehabilitation."
IU professor P. Sarita Soni, vice provost for research at IU Bloomington and former interim dean of IU's School of Optometry, noted that Hassan was one of the two patient-based researchers the school was able to recruit because of the Commitment to Excellence Funding the school received in 2003.
"The results of Dr. Hassan's study will have national implications," Soni said. "And it further enhances the School of Optometry's reputation as a world leader in patient-based research that has health care management implications."