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OT Faculty Member Helps Visually Impaired Function More Fully

Dr. Orli Weisser-Pike is the only occupational therapy low vision rehabilitation specialist in the Mid-South. She is shown here wearing lightweight binoculars made specifically for watching TV. (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

Orli Weisser-Pike, OTD, OTR/L, CLVT, SCLV, CAPS, an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Health Professions at UTHSC, was initially interested in the profession of art therapy. She could find no courses of study in that field at the time, so she looked into occupational therapy as an alternative.

“I had a few friends who were occupational therapists, and what they did sounded like a good fit for me,” she said. “I realized that I wanted to work with people, rather than make art.”

Dr. Weisser-Pike was born to Israeli parents in Cape Town, South Africa, and lived there until the age of 12, when her parents decided to return to Israel. She spent her middle- and high-school years there. She later served in the Israeli Defense Force in military intelligence.

After her military service, Dr. Weisser-Pike studied jewelry-making and came to the United States to work in a small jewelry manufacturing facility in Connecticut for a year. She returned to South Africa, where she earned her National Diploma in Fine Art in 1993 and a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy from the University of Cape Town in 1996. As an occupational therapist, Dr. Weisser-Pike began her career working in local schools in Virginia. That time ignited her interest in the low vision specialty.

“I developed an interest in the impact of visual impairments on one’s ability to carry out activities of daily living,” Dr. Weisser-Pike said. ”The field of low vision was in its infancy in America and I became more and more interested in it, taking courses and networking with other professionals. I was largely self-taught and pursued certification in low-vision therapy from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals in 2003.”

While working at Baptist Rehabilitation Hospital in Germantown, Dr. Weisser-Pike opened the first occupational therapy outpatient clinic for adults with low vision. The same year, she was selected by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to be a member of a special task force to develop standards for specialty certification in low vision for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. The specialty certification was launched in 2006.

In 2004, Dr. Weisser-Pike became the first occupational therapist in Tennessee to be certified in low vision therapy. She is the only occupational therapy low vision rehabilitation specialist in the Mid-South.

Dr. Weisser-Pike was recruited by the UTHSC Hamilton Eye Institute to head the Low Vision Service with Thomas O’Donnell, MD. She earned a clinical doctorate in occupational therapy in 2013 and became a full-time faculty member of the College of Health Professions in the Department of Occupational Therapy in 2017. “I love the UTHSC campus and particularly the Department of Occupational Therapy,” she said. “All my colleagues make it so that I am glad to be at work each day.”

Dr. Weisser-Pike has transitioned her clinical practice into a new emerging field within low vision, involving work with children with cortical visual impairments, or brain blindness. “It is thought to be the leading cause of visual impairments in children, but relatively little is known about the best ways to work with children with this condition,” she said. “I am taking courses and hoping to do some research into this important field, which includes collaborating with the Department of Ophthalmology at UTHSC and with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.”

Dr. Weisser-Pike also lends her time to AOTA as an applicant reviewer and serves on the board, and the low vision committee for the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

At this year’s annual AOTA conference, Dr. Weisser-Pike will receive the Roster of Fellows Award for her contribution to the profession in the area of low vision.

This story is from the most recent issue of Health Professions magazine.