From art to the eyes: Improving vision care and fueling research

Imagine you visit the Seattle Art Museum. Your experience will be visual, appreciating the art's color, texture, scale, and shape, as well as reading titles, captions, and background information.

Now imagine you visit the museum with a blindfold on.  This is how our patients with low vision must experience art, and this is the challenge Suzanne Ragen faced as a docent in 2008 when visitors from Lighthouse for the Blind arrived at the museum. Having served as a volunteer docent since 1965, Suzanne is passionate about making art come alive for visitors. Yet she had never given a tour for individuals with low vision. When she better understood their needs for potential accommodations such as sight dogs, canes, magnifiers, and vivid audio descriptions of the room and the art, Suzanne founded Art Beyond Sight. She trained 15 docents to provide monthly tours at the Seattle Art Museum for individuals with low vision. For example, it needed to be more adequate to verbally describe the sculpture of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, noting details about his hair, toes, or bust. Low-vision visitors want to know details about lighting and the room where the sculpture was situated. 

Suzanne’s appreciation for vision care and research has grown over the years. While her husband Brooks, who passed away in 2018, served on the UW Medicine Scholarship Development Committee, Suzanne began volunteering with the UW Eye Institute’s Community Action Board (CAB) in 2011. Suzanne learned about faculty-led research to prevent blindness and develop novel treatments for eye diseases. Along with others, Suzanne helped Bucey Chair Dr. Russell Van Gelder and fellow CAB volunteer Camille Jassny spread the word about UW Medicine’s excellent clinicians, researchers, and patient care through outreach talks throughout the Puget Sound region.

Motivated to help Dr. Van Gelder recruit and retain excellent clinicians and researchers committed to preventing blindness, Suzanne and her family established the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Ophthalmology this year. She hopes this fellowship will significantly help the Department of Ophthalmology attract clinicians and scientists who drive innovative research and discoveries benefitting current and future patients. The first holder of the fellowship will be appointed and recognized in 2024.

We are grateful to Suzanne Ragen and the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Family Foundation for their generous support. In addition to supporting research and faculty in ophthalmology, the Ragen family has supported scholarships for medical students at the UW School of Medicine for many years. Finally, named after Brooks and Suzanne Ragen, the annual Ragen Volunteer Service Award acknowledges the outstanding service from a volunteer, faculty, or staff member who advances the mission of UW Medicine to improve public health.

Suzanne and Brooks Ragen
Suzanne and Brooks Ragen

UW Department of Ophthalmology

908 Jefferson St.. Seattle, WA 98104 (academic offices)
Harborview Medical Center (mailing address)
Box 359608, 325 Ninth Avenue Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: 206.543.7250
Fax: 206.685.7055


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