Swenor Research Group

bonnielin swenor

Dr. Bonnielin Swenor's research aims to improve the health of people with visual impairments and other types of disabilities and is fueled by her personal experience living with a visual disability. To achieve this, her research concentrates on three interrelated areas:

  • Vision and Aging: examining the impact of visual impairments on health and well-being across the lifespan, with a focus on older adults
  • Access to Care: documenting health care disparities and improving healthcare utilization, quality, and access in patients with vision loss and other disabilities
  • Disability Inclusion: enhancing the inclusion of persons with visual impairments and other disabilities across settings, including the biomedical workforce.

As the founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center, Dr. Swenor is now expanding on this research framework and taking an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to establish the evidence needed to address disability inequities. This includes disability disparities in employment, education, and income, as well as barriers to voting and transportation. The overarching goals of this research are to maximize health, equity, and participation for persons with all types of disabilities.

Visit the JHU Disability Health Research Center

Vision and Aging

The Swenor Research Group focuses on examining the interrelationship between vision loss and aging. This includes determining the effects of visual impairment and eye disease on physical and cognitive functioning in older adults, and identifying interventions that could enhance the health of older adults with visual impairment and eye disease.

swenor research framework chart
Figure: Swenor BK, et al. Aging With Vision Loss:A Framework for Assessing the Impact of Visual Impairment on Older Adults. Gerontologist. 2019 Aug 24. pii: gnz117.

This work is guided by an overarching research framework (Figure) that integrates concepts and terminology from both ophthalmology and geriatrics. Under this framework, visual impairment leads to downstream changes in functioning – physical, cognitive, and social/psychological functioning – that in turn lead to negative health outcomes associated with accelerated aging – including frailty, comorbidity, and increased risk of mortality. This framework also acknowledges the complexity of these relationships, as there are common causes or risk factors that may contribute to functioning decrements and negative health consequences among older adults with visual impairments. To achieve these goals, Dr. Swenor’s research team relies on a highly collaborative approach working with investigators across multiple departments, The Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology and the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health.

Access to Care

Access to health care is an important component of aging well. Dr. Swenor and team aims to characterize and ultimately reduce disparities in eye care and healthcare for individuals with visual impairments and other types of disabilities. This work includes collaborations with researchers from Wilmer Eye Institute's Vision Rehabilitation department and The Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health to examine utilization of healthcare for people with vision and hearing loss, as well as identifying barriers to accessing care for people with all types of disabilities.

Related Publications

Disability Inclusion

Driven by her own experience with a disability, Dr. Swenor’s research and advocacy include efforts to enhance disability inclusion. People with disabilities offer a unique and valuable perspective that can drive scientific innovation and advance patient care, yet this group is often absent from research and medical settings. To change this, Dr. Swenor is addressing barriers to inclusion of people with disabilities in the research process, including increasing representation and inclusion of people with disabilities in academics, from students to faculty, building partnerships with disability advocacy groups and stakeholders to inform research efforts, and developing methods to increase the representation of people with disabilities in research studies.

Related Publications

Ongoing Studies

In the News

A Woman's Journey Baltimore 2019 | High Sights for Low Vision

Bonnielin Swenor shares her unexpected loss of vision at the 2019 A Woman's Journey Conference in Baltimore, and details how this disability has challenged her pursuit of family, career and life.

Postdoctoral Research Fellows

  • Lamma Assi
  • Fahd Naufal
  • Niranjani Nagarajan
  • Ahmed Shakarchi
  • Varshini Varadaraj

Medical Students

  • Sophie Gu
  • Moon Jeong Lee
  • ​​​​​​​Priyanka Kumar

Master of Public Health Students

  • Mina Motaghi
  • Niranjani Nagarajan
  • ​​​​​​​Yi Sun

Undergraduate Students

  • Yunmeng Wang
  • ​​​​​​​Annie Zhang