I first heard Mary “Araba” Otoo speak during Prevent Blindness’s Annual Focus on Eye Health Summit, where she was awarded the 2020 Rising Visionary Award. Over the subsequent year, I would come to understand how appropriate that award truly was for her. Shortly after receiving the award, I reached out to her to invite her to sit on the newly established Vision Equity Task Force of the Center for Vision and Population Health (CVPH) at Prevent Blindness. Araba swiftly accepted the invitation and since October 2020 has participated in discussions exploring embedding equity into the processes, products, and services central to the work of the CVPH.
Araba is a skilled and fair listener, a deep thinker, and a natural collaborator. After observing her participatory style and qualities on the Task Force, I invited her to join the A.S.P.E.C.T. (Advocacy, Support, Perspective, Empowerment, Communication, Training) Program at Prevent Blindness, a 10-week educational series that aims to equip and empower participants with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to become advocates for vison and eye health. Participants include individuals with a variety of eye diseases and conditions, vision impairment, and blindness as well as their allies (defined as clinicians, researchers, parents, loved ones, and caregivers). Despite how busy Araba was in finishing Optometry school and establishing her own 503 (c) – Cherish Eyesight and Vision (CEV) – she joined A.S.P.E.C.T. without hesitation. While in the virtual classroom with patients similar to her own, I observed Araba’s humility and curiosity as she listened to patients describe gaps in the healthcare delivery system, how patients often felt communication in the doctor’s office was one-sided, sometimes impersonal, and lacked what they believed to be proper education, anticipatory guidance, and referral to resources (particularly those that could help address the mental health impact of vision loss and blindness).
Crucially, as a provider, Araba listened and participated in the dialogue and did not become defensive or avoidant. To the contrary, she leaned in and wanted to learn more. She has proudly said that participating in A.S.P.E.C.T. and hearing the participants’ stories has helped shape her into the eye doctor that she has longed to be. To boot, her passion for embracing public health as a driver within her approach to the practice of optometry is highly commendable. I nominate Mary “Araba” Otoo for the Eye Health Heroes Future Leader award. She has all that it takes to be a future leader who, without question, will have an incredible impact on patients and on her community.
“I love that I meet people from all walks of life and get to make an impact on their lives in a very specific and important way. Eye problems come with a flood of worries and fears and I find myself in a position to calm those fears. I am happy to be in the position to help maximize the vision a person has left, should that be the case. To diagnose and treat eye diseases has so far been joyful with both parties being extremely grateful for the gift of sight and the quality it adds to life.”
– Mary “Araba” Otoo