After more than 40 years in the field of eye care, Dr. Calvin Roberts, ophthalmologist and President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild, is still “really, really excited” about his work.
When he joined Lighthouse Guild three years ago, he did so with big plans to build on the organization’s legacy in new and exciting ways.
“I have this vision for making Lighthouse Guild–which is the world’s oldest and largest organization caring for people who are blind and visually impaired going back to 1905–to take this organization and make it the pre-eminent world’s leader in what we call ‘assistive technology.’”
That is why he accepted the offer to lead the Upper West Side organization located on West 64th Street near West End Avenue: an opportunity to combine his many years of medical expertise with the fast-growing technology now available to help many more people than historically possible.
“My passion is technology,” Roberts said while seated in his office on a recent weekday afternoon. “There is so much [current] technology that is potentially applicable to people who are blind and visually impaired” to help them attain their goals, as is the organization’s mission.
The spacious new Technology Center that opened to much fanfare just a year ago, featuring high-tech devices, training and even a model Smart Home for clients to try new innovations, leaps Lighthouse Guild to the premier status in the field that Dr. Roberts envisions.
But when and where did this passion for eye care develop? “When I was 17 years old, I asked my parents if I could get contact lenses, because I didn’t like wearing glasses.” He had been wearing glasses since he was 13 years old. “So, my mother who was a librarian, her answer to most things was ‘Let’s get a book’ and read about it,” he said. “So, she got me a book about eyes. And that was really my first exposure to anything about medicine.”
The lifelong New Yorker received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his MD from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, becoming a practicing ophthalmologist from 1982 to 2008. He also has extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry and in academia as a professor of ophthalmology.
Dr. Roberts and his wife, Andrea, have been married for 43 years and have three grown children and four grandchildren, all who still live in Manhattan.
Dr. Bryan Wolynski, Lighthouse Guild’s Chief Technology Officer, whose enthusiasm for technology’s applications to enhance the lives of individuals matches that of the CEO, gave a tour of the 11,000- square-foot modern space where “exceptional services” are personalized by looking “at the whole individual” to help them achieve their goals.
In addition to the sophisticated technology available at the Center, Lighthouse Guild offers a host of other social and eye care services, including an adult health day care program offering healthcare services plus a full day of activities including snack and lunch daily.
Dr. Roberts emphasizes that Lighthouse Guild is for everyone “throughout the spectrum of vision.” It is a center where people with normal vision can come to see world class eye doctors and select from the latest in fashionable tech-forward eye wear in their boutique Eye Care Eye Wear. This is a big win for the community, he says, because as a non-profit, the proceeds go right back to helping people who are blind, teaching them basic life skills for “functional independence.”
While Roberts and Lighthouse Guild’s research team are interacting with all the technology available–program learning; facial recognition, among others–that he believes can be “repurposed” to help the blind and visually impaired, he is especially interested in the emerging technology that propels self-driving cars.
“What does a self-driving car need to know? What’s in front of me, what’s behind me, what’s to my right, what’s to my left,” he said. Adding that the investment and technology used in creating these vehicles could be repurposed to help the visually impaired “because a blind person is like a self-driving car”–needing to know where all the obstacle are.