Seeing what she was missing
“Stereo Sue” sounds like the handle of a fast-talking disc jockey, but Susan Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions, is actually a neuroscience professor. On top of that, she is probably her own most famous experiment. Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, wrote an article called “Stereo Sue” for the New Yorker, and also introduces this book.
Barry was born with crossed eyes, and the vision centers in her brain compensated by allowing her to see without double vision. Her condition—seeing, essentially, in two dimensions—is called stereoblindness. It was not until Barry was in her late 40s that she undertook the developmental optometry that taught her, through perseverance, to see in three dimensions. In Fixing My Gaze, she chronicles this process with plenty of illustrations and scientific terms, explaining each phrase for her lay readers. A complete glossary also helps readers understand some of the necessary language.
Filled with clear diagrams that illustrate the difference between how the stereoblind and normally sighted people see, Fixing My Gaze introduces readers to a rare but interesting disability. It is also a testament both to human physiology and spirit that permits someone to live with—and then change—a uniquely altered view of the world. As Barry writes, “What a magnificent feeling it is to take control of your own vision and solve your own problems.”
My own seven-year-old son is currently working with a developmental optometrist to help him with his “tracking.” He does not naturally see from left to right, or top to bottom. Instead, his eyes jump all over the page. His reading tutor recommended vision therapy, and we hope it will help him as it helped Barry. This book opens up the possibility that people can change their physical limitations, and that it is never to late to try.
Eliza McGraw writes from Washington, D.C.