Types of Low Vision Eye Care Professionals in Western New York

For those struggling with low vision, including partial or full blindness, the eye care professionals they rely on are truly a lifeline. It’s these individuals who provide the hands-on care, the life-changing solutions, that can help those with low vision live normal, functional, high-quality lives.

There are various sorts of eye care professionals out there, each with their own specializations and areas of knowledge. And someone suffering from low vision may need to see one type of eye doctor or another depending on their specific needs.

Generally speaking, there are two main kinds of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists. Additionally, there are low-vision specialists like the Visually Impaired Advancement’s (VIA) very own Dr. Simmons. But where do these areas of eye care differ? And if you’re looking for an eye doctor in Buffalo, NY, which is the appropriate type for you?

Read on to find out more about the main types of eye doctors and what they do. Then, we’ll learn more about VIA’s low vision optometry specialist and the resources we have in place to help those struggling with low vision regain their confidence and quality of life.

What Are the Main Kinds of Eye Doctors?

Optometrists and ophthalmologists are the two main types of eye doctors that most people know about. And most people probably think of these titles as interchangeable. While it’s true that there is overlap between the two professions and someone with low vision might see both types of doctors, optometrists and ophthalmologists are distinctly different from one another.


Optometry is a vision care specialty dealing with the health of the eyes, the visual system at large, and related structures. An optometrist is a healthcare professional specializing in function of the eye, diseases and disorders of the eye, and eye disease management. An optometrist will have the initials “O.D.” (Doctor of Optometry) after their name.

To become an optometrist, one usually needs four years of undergraduate studies before being admitted into optometry school. Four years of postgraduate studies in a certified optometry school are needed to earn the Doctor of Optometry degree. Some optometrists continue on to complete additional studies and residencies in specific areas of eye care, like geriatric eye care or neuro-optometry, for example.

What Does an Optometrist Do?

An optometrist performs eye examinations, diagnoses issues, prescribes corrective lenses (glasses and contact lenses), and provides certain types of treatment. Today, many optometrists are licensed to perform certain surgical procedures, including laser treatments, and administer injections like local anesthesia or treatment for macular degeneration.

An optometrist is usually the doctor a patient will go to for standard eye checkups, or to get a prescription for corrective contact lenses or glasses. But in addition to everyday eye care, optometrists can perform some medical and surgical procedures depending on their scope of practice. For complex procedures or advanced eye disease, however, an optometrist may refer a patient to another kind of eye care specialist: the ophthalmologist.


Ophthalmology, while closely related to optometry, has a few distinct differences. Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine that specializes in the anatomy, function, and diseases of the eye. An ophthalmologist specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eye, as well as prevention of eye disease. An ophthalmologist will have the initials “M.D.” (Doctor of Medicine) or “D.O.” (Doctor of Osteopathy) after their name.

Ophthalmologists attend four years of medical school and also spend a minimum of three years in residency at a hospital or clinic, where they receive specialized training in all aspects of eye care. Many ophthalmologists also spend an additional one or two years in a subspecialty like glaucoma or pediatric ophthalmology.

What Does an Ophthalmologist Do?

Ophthalmologists provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing corrective lenses and performing eye exams to completing eye surgery. These professionals treat eye diseases, prescribe medicines, and perform surgeries in order to improve vision or prevent eye issues from getting worse or occurring in the first place.

Patients often visit the ophthalmologist on a referral from an optometrist, or when they need eye surgery or other advanced procedures performed. But ophthalmologists can also perform routine eye exams and prescribe corrective lenses. It simply depends on the patient and their needs.

What Makes Our Low Vision Optometry Specialist Different From Other Eye Doctors?

Some optometrists, as well as some ophthalmologists, are also low-vision specialists. This is a distinct area of eye care dealing with vision loss and vision loss rehabilitation. Visually Impaired Advancement’s goal is to help guide people through vision loss, help them overcome it, and provide skills to restore their independence and confidence.

At our Low Vision Clinic, our goal is to help individuals deal with vision loss and adapt to their new normal. Rather than prescribing medication or conducting surgeries like optometrists or ophthalmologists, our focus is helping individuals adapt to their vision loss and live productive, independent lives even in the face of low vision. We build off of the advice of your optometrist or ophthalmologist to provide additional recommendations for living comfortably and independently in the face of vision loss.

Dr. Simmons: WNY’s Certified Low Vision Specialist

Looking for a low vision optometry specialist in WNY? Look no further than Visually Impaired Advancement and our Certified Low Vision Specialist, Dr. James Simmons. Dr. Simmons is native to this area and graduated from Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia in 1993. There, he earned his Doctorate of Optometry and Master’s of Science in Vision Rehabilitation. Prior to that, Dr. Simmons earned his Bachelor of Science in biology from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Simmons has been the Certified Low Vision Optometrist for VIA’s Vision Rehabilitation Department. He’s helped countless individuals with low vision regain their confidence and independence in the face of vision loss.

What To Expect When Visiting Our Low Vision Clinic

What can you expect while visiting Dr. Simmons and our low vision clinic in Buffalo, NY?

First, we’ll discuss your vision loss. The exam begins with a simple conversation to help us understand your health history, your vision loss, and how it affects you, your family, and your life in general. We’ll ask that you bring any visual aids you currently use with you to the exam, like eyeglasses or magnifiers.

Next, we’ll educate you and answer your questions. We’ll discuss your eye condition and answer your questions about the process or what to expect next. We recommend bringing a family member of friend along to the exam to help you absorb and remember everything – you’ll receive a lot of information during this stage.

Finally, we’ll maximize your vision using the tools and resources at our disposal. Dr. Simmons may try a variety of lenses to help you see at a distance or at close range, or both. You’ll also receive recommendations on additional vision rehabilitation services that could aid you in your journey to overcome vision loss. For most people, a combination of optical and non-optical aides is useful to manage low vision.

Optical aides include things like:

  • Magnifying glasses
  • Hand magnifiers
  • Light-filtering lenses
  • Reading prisms
  • Telescopic glasses
  • Closed-circuit televisions

Non-optical aides include things like:

  • Large-print reading materials
  • Screen- and text-reading software
  • Talking clocks, watches, pill bottles, etc.
  • High-contrast clocks and watches
  • Writing guides

We Are WNY’s Trusted Low Vision Eye Care Professionals

For more than 100 years, VIA has been the trusted low vision specialist in WNY, helping individuals maximize their independence, confidence, and quality of life in the face of vision loss through comprehensive vision rehabilitation services.

If you or your loved one are experiencing vision loss or visual impairment, contact your optometrist, ophthalmologist, or medical doctor right away. After speaking with your doctor, turn to VIA and Dr. Simmons for additional rehabilitation services – Dr. Simmons can provide recommendations in addition to the information you receive from your eye care professional that can help you live independently. From education, job training, and community support to hands-on rehabilitation and optical and non-optical aides, our goal is to help individuals of all ages who are experiencing vision loss live and work independently.

Contact Our Low Vision Optometry Specialists Today

Are you dealing with vision loss, or do you have a loved one who is? A diagnosis of vision loss can be challenging, frightening, and even life-changing. But we believe that everyone facing vision loss can live an independent life and adapt to their vision loss in a way that helps them regain confidence and function. Contact VIA today to learn more about the vision loss rehabilitation services we provide in Western New York.

VIA has two clinic locations in the WNY area:

Main Campus
1170 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14209

1491 Sheridan Drive, Suite 600
Tonawanda, NY 14217

Clinic hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. To make an appointment at one of our locations, call VIA at (716) 888-4556.

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