Wearable Technology for the Visually Impaired

There are many devices and apps that help those with low vision such as handheld magnifiers, apps for smart phones & tablets that magnify what the camera sees, devices & apps that convert text to speech, CCTVs, apps & devices for object identification and more.  There are advantages and disadvantages to these which depend on the needs of the person.

One of the newest advances in technology is the hands free also called head worn devices or wearable technology.  You’ll hear them called: smart glasses,  low vision headsets or goggles.  Some of the technology is referred to as AugmentedReality (AR).

This page will talk about the ones that are currently available: eSight, OrCam, NuEyes and SightPlus. I’ve included IrisVision which will be available soon. There are currently a few smart phone apps for magnification that you can use in a Google Cardboard headset.

Disclaimer:  these are the features and costs as of today (July 5, 2017).  As the technology changes, so will the features & costs so check with the distributors for up-to-date information.


The information in this table is subject to change with changes in functions, available and price.

** photo with table

Availability & where to Get More Information
  • OrCam: http://www.orcam.com/
    • availability: a representative of the company told me “We are available in many countries and expanding all the time – here are the languages we currently have available: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hebrew.”
    • extensively used & reviewed by Blind Motherhood blogger: click here
  • eSight: https://www.esighteyewear.com/
    • available in 33 countries; click here for exact ones.
    • headset over eyeglass frame
  • NuEyes:  https://nueyes.com/
    • available Australia, Canada, Denmark, Farce Island, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Scandinavia, Sweden, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, China
  • Cyber Eyez: http://www.cybertimez.com/
    • mounted on eyeglasses frame (not included)
    • availability: sent msg
  • SightPlus:  http://www.givevision.net/
    • goggles
    • UK only
  • OxSight:  http://smartspecs.co/
    • availability:
    • may be called Smart Eye http://medgizmo.info/news/medgizmo-update-wearable-technology-for-visually-impaired-august-2016
    • http://www.caroncares.co.uk/optical-health/restoring-sight-give-vision/
    • https://www.rnib.org.uk/smart-glasses
  • IrisVision: http://theirisvision.com/
    • goggles
    • not sure when it will be available or where; I’ve requested information
    • http://abc7chicago.com/health/new-iris-vision-technology-aims-to-help-visually-impaired/2114456/
    • https://www.benzinga.com/pressreleases/17/07/p9852046/irisvision-a-new-product-for-the-visually-impaired-available-at-florida
  • Google Cardboard & smart phone apps: https://www.reddit.com/r/Blind/comments/5o5lci/use_your_phone_and_a_google_cardboard_as_a_low/

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Improving Communication: Part 1

TGIF! Greetings from the land of organized chaos, aka my life!

I have not been writing as regularly as I would like. For one thing, as I keep pointing out, there are lulls in the action with AMD. You adapt to a certain level of loss and things are calm until the next loss of vision occurs.

Crank up the magnification and soldier on until the yet next disaster. Lulls are not all that page worthy…and I don’t need a disaster right now.

The other reason is my days have been flying! I am taking more counseling clients and my days are jam packed. Nothing like being busy to make the time fly!

All of this by way of saying, I am sliding into a holiday weekend (Happy Memorial Day!) and I am going to try to pound out a few pages over the next few days.

We stopped for deep dish pizza on the way home. (The new comfort food!) I walked the Beastie Baby in the neighborhood and the field. She drank from every rain puddle (mud flavor! Yum!) and we investigated what looked to me like bear scat (poop, no bear. Life is good). Well fortified and with the ‘adventure’ out of the way, I guess I am ready to go.

The topic was suggested by one of our readers. She is located in Massachusetts and has just helped to launch a new, vision loss support group. (Kudos!) The topic had come up in her support group: vision loss and social isolation.

The short answer is “yep”. Problem is, I rather doubt I can make a page out of that. In trying to flesh things out a bit, I came upon a publication by the Thomas Pocklington Trust. Published in 2013, this literature review contained 44 pages on the topic. Good resource. [Lin/Linda: it’s 44 pages if you download the Word version; 8 pages for the PDF version which is what I’ve linked to.]

The review starts by pointing out loneliness is not part of natural aging. Loneliness and social isolation are also not inevitable for the elderly, visually impaired population. (So maybe “yep” is not the short answer?)

That said, however, it is easy to see how vision loss, loss of function and depression can lead to social isolation and how social isolation can loop back around and cause more depression, etc. People with vision loss can really end up in a nasty downward spiral.

The review acknowledges the problems that can come from not recognizing faces and facial expressions. Without nonverbal cues to go by, communications can easily breakdown.

Lack of good social communication can break down social relations and lead to a drop in feelings of self-efficacy. Feeling you are not able to adapt and cope with your loss once again leads to all sorts of issues and perpetuates the downhill slide.

I think I mentioned before that feelings of self-efficacy are exceptionally important to mental health. The “I can do it myself” attitude can be reinforced by success in using assistive devices. In another page I believe I quoted something that said one of the best predictors of life satisfaction is access and use of assistive technology, both high and low tech.

OK. To be continued. Since some of us have trouble reading long text, I will stop here for now.

Continue reading “Improving Communication: Part 1”

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The Stuff of Life

Good morning. Fair warning; I might just ramble on this page. A bunch of little things happening. Nothing major.

Of course, little irritations are the stuff of life. I am also thinking they are more the stuff of low vision life.

I am waiting for transportation but I have no idea when they are coming. I got a call but the recording never clicked on. That meant anywhere from one minute to a half an hour. Better than yesterday. Yesterday they never bothered to put me on the schedule!

Fortunately my husband was able to take me. I seem to have a large number of ‘saviors’. Did I tell you a total stranger gave me a ride home from yoga? I was sort of stuck. The stranger told me she has been taking class behind me for six months. Couldn’t prove it by me.

That is a bit embarrassing. The next class also gave me a problem. I really wanted to talk to her but I could not see if she were there or not. What was I supposed to do? Walk down the back row staring at people? That would have been a bit weird.

I finally decided she had been told (and had observed!) that I am visually impaired. If she wanted to talk to me, she needed to speak to me first.

Why doesn’t someone write an etiquette book for these things? Miss Manners for the Proper Low Vision Sufferer!?!? There have to be some sort of rules! I get frustrated having to reinvent the wheel all of the time.

I got my CCTV back from the repair shop. I held on to the loaner a few days just to be sure all was well with mine. Also because returning the loaner was a semi-major event. Pack it up with all sorts of cushioning. That, of course, made it all a little too much for the box so one of us had to hold it closed while the other one taped. Then I discovered they had neglected to include free shipping labels so I needed to call for them. No to mention getting the bulky box out the door and to UPS!

(UPS will pick up. You can schedule a pick up by calling 800-pick ups which is 800-742-5877. However, their website does mention a ‘residential surcharge’. How much, no clue. We are the strong back and weak mind type and just always take things to the store.)

It would be nice if there were local repair options but I don’t believe there are. FYI, though, when I was not sure the company was going to be able to supply me with a loaner, I called Blindness and Visual Services. As a former client I could have borrowed one from them, quality not guaranteed. Pack that one away in your memory for a rainy day with a ‘sick’ CCTV.

Last thing for this post, I have my first visually impaired counseling client! I won’t say much about that person because of confidentiality. Instead, just a quick comment about my (of course!?) thoughts on it. To wit: it is happening slowly but it is happening. Remember that stuff about God closing a door and opening a window? The stuff about not forcing your fate???? How about “build it and they will come”? There you go! We are building and they are coming. Cool. Continue reading “The Stuff of Life”

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Face to Face

“OK, so what the hell did she do?” Flubbed my testimony. My yoga instructors, the defendants, say I did not. Others say they screwed up on the stand. They are all still talking to me. Maybe I really do hold myself to an outrageously high standard. Just the same, I disappointed myself.

Discovered several things from this experience. One of them was how dependent I have always been on face reading.

There are all sorts of crazy articles on face reading as part of Physiognomy.  This appears to be related to Phrenology, studying the bumps on your head to determine things about your brain functioning. This is NOT what I am referring to.

What I am talking about is covered in a lesson on Wikihow. The lesson is entitled How to Easily Read Faces and Facial Expressions. It talks about how to use expressions and micro expressions to determine how someone might be feeling or thinking.

I have always known I use nonverbal communication, but I never realized how dependent I am upon it. I can still get a vague idea of people’s nonverbal communication in the office but my clients are generally about three feet away. Across the courtroom? I really felt at a disadvantage!

I went online and looked at least a dozen articles on nonverbal communication and the blind. Every one of them dealt with teaching nonverbal expression to the visually impaired. Not a single one said anything about nonverbal reception!

It was not encouraging to read the statistics quoted in a PDF entitled
Strategies for Enhancing Non-Verbal Communication, either. That document said communication is 55% visual, 37% vocal and only 7% verbal!  OMG! I am sunk.

To their credit, the authors of this lesson plan put forth some suggestions for increasing verbal comprehension by using situational comprehension. However, nothing they list has anything to do with increasing understanding in other ways, especially comprehension of thoughts and emotions.

So now what do I do? Damned if I know for sure. Maybe make sure I can use my technology to magnify faces so I can really see the expressions. Beyond that I am at a loss. Suggestions? Let me know if you come up with anything. Continue reading “Face to Face”

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Friends I Haven’t Met Yet

I have always been a friendly soul but this is getting ridiculous! Today I thought the car pulling into the parking lot at my friend’s office was my husband come to pick me up. I waved and smiled. The driver waved and smiled (I think). Then he -she?- backed out of the lot and headed back in the direction he had come! Oooops.

This has been happening more and more. The other week I thought it was a dear friend standing on the street in front of a restaurant. I was getting ready to give her a hug before it dawned upon me she was a total stranger!

People address me and do not give me a clue who they are. I have several times walked up to within two feet of someone and said something profound like “oh, hello. It’s you.”

We are going on a cruise this summer and I would like to do a few shore excursions. I have no idea how this is going to work. I like to wander around and explore but if i get more than a few feet away from people I have no idea who they are. Makes it sort of hard to stay with the group!

I might get on the wrong ship and go to South America or someplace. I might need a GPS tracker device implanted to get me home. Maybe a tag. If found please return to….

I have been getting better at identifying ‘faceless’ people at school and at the gym.  Some of these people are pleased  I have been able to recognize them. I keep it to myself that it generally has to do with something like a pronounced limp or oversized ‘love handles’. The more gross – and I use that word meaning the opposite of fine although you can think what you like – details of a person’s appearance have recently become more important to me.

I really don’t have an answer for this lack of face recognition faux pas waiting to happen nonsense. I just have to believe people are more tolerant of pleasant clueless folks than they are of unpleasant clueless folks and just keep trying to be nice.

And who knows, the next stranger I try to hug might possibly become a friend.

Continue reading “Friends I Haven’t Met Yet”

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Attention Walmart Shoppers

I had two ‘firsts’ yesterday. Not that I had not done them each a thousand times before but these were the first times I had done them as the new – but not necessarily improved – me.

The first new thing I did was go into Walmart  – alone. I was not thrilled with the idea. As I said before, I cannot see faces and Walmart was full of people. What if I snub somebody again? Also the day before I had gone to Staples and had trouble with the credit card machine. Came out of there in tears. Something so simple and I had screwed it up!

Just the same, my husband was not going in with me, so I put on my big girl panties and sallied forth. Here goes nothing.

First thing, make sure you know where the car is, Susie Q. I have already walked up to strange cars at the dog park. If anyone had actually been in them it would have been embarrassing.

I got in the store and got a cart. I know Walmart and knew what I needed. The problem came when I had to read what was in the cases of frozen foods.

Now, sticking your nose on boxes of frozen meals so that you can read them is probably frowned upon by health officers. We won’t even discuss the possibility of getting your nose stuck! So, I did a little Radical Acceptance (DBT concept) turned my mind (DBT alert here!) and got out my near point clip-on magnifiers. Sigh.

clipons
These are my clip-on magnifiers. They look very much alike but the one on the left side is for looking at things close (called near point) & the other is for looking at things farther away (far point).

Turning your mind is a DBT concept that says acceptance of a problem does not happen in one fell swoop. Shazam! I accept that I am visually handicapped. Uh, no. Acceptance happens over a series of decision points. I did not get my clip-ons out at Staples. I did not accept that I needed them and turned away. Bad decision. In WalMart I decided I needed to turn towards the truth and accept that I needed the help. Sort of bite the bullet – a dozen times a day if necessary.

Acceptance happens over a series of decision points. I didn’t use my clip-ons at Staples but I need to use them at Walmart.

OK. So I have two pairs of really funky looking clip-on magnifiers. One for near and one for far. Let me tell you, people stare. They especially stare when I flip them up and it looks like I have…what? Antennae ?

At school I have been working on the problem by having class meetings. “This is why I look stranger than usual. ” “This is what this is.”  What am I going to do at WalMart? Put it on the PA: “Walmart Shoppers, Please do not stare at the strange woman presently in frozen foods.” ?

So, I put on the clip-ons and people stare. So be it. I was able to use the credit card machine. Score.

I even put on my far point magnifiers to find my way across the parking lot. Technically not supposed to do that. They are actually for TV viewing and you are supposed to be stationary. Having everything magnified messes with depth perception. However, I was able to find the car and did not run into anything.  Besides, the far point magnifiers make me undershoot, not over shoot. I reach for something and it is a foot beyond where I thought it was. All sorts of new problems. Sigh.

I used my far point magnifiers in the parking lot and did not run into anything.

I also took my far point clip-ons with me on my second new me first. I rode my bike! To get to the trails I use, I have to cross two fairly major roads. I “turned my mind” towards acceptance of my limitations and walked my bike across the roads. Did not want to but I wanted to be roadkill even less. Used my far point clip-ons to check for traffic. If the drivers stared, I could not see them.

Continue reading “Attention Walmart Shoppers”

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What Do I Do Now?

So, since this is all about me, let’s talk about me. The week following my ski trip, my vision went to hell. I am an avid reader and had just purchased two paperback books by best-selling authors. I had not touched the one and had 30 pages to go in the other. It was that fast that I lost my ability to read standard print. Before I gave up on the paperbacks I was standing in the middle of the upstairs hallway directly under a light. It was all I could do to make out what I was reading.

My vision went to hell-all of a sudden, I couldn’t read standard print!

I am a professional Psychologist but that means something different for me than it means for the general public. I am an assessing psychologist. I administer and interpret all sorts of tests. Intelligence tests, adaptive behavior tests, achievement tests, personality tests – this word ‘tests’ has been my bread-and-butter for 38 years.

One of my jobs is as a School Psychologist. I was not able to see the testing material. Fourth graders with reading problems started to correct me. There was a real problem here.

Fourth graders with reading problems were correcting me.

I sent a note to my ophthalmologist. I told him nothing was working. I wore my contacts with my glasses. Did not help. I wore my glasses with bifocals. That did not help either. There was something very wrong.

I was also noticing an exacerbation of other symptoms. I was having trouble recognizing people. Earlier, if I looked at someone, my right eye was doing pretty much all of the seeing. Looking at them with my left eye only, their faces would white out. Now, unless you were within 6 feet of me, I could not see you. Your face was simply a white blob.

I was having trouble recognizing people.

vi7_macular_degeneration
What happens to central vision in AMD

A wild thing that was happening I learned later is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome which causes visual hallucinations. I have had trouble recognizing what I was seeing from a distance. Walking the dog and looking across the field, I would often comment that I was seeing something but I had no idea what the hell it was. The dog generally wasn’t very helpful unless it turned out to be another dog. The rest of the stuff she refused to identify for me.

I would see something and not know what the hell it was or would see bunnies & kitties that were not there or would be plastic bags stuck under trees.

 

charlesbonnet
Example of Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Anyway, Charles Bonnet Syndrome hallucinations involve this interesting phenomenon in which your mind tries to make sense of what it cannot properly see. I started to see weird shit. Nothing scary. Just nothing that made sense. Definitely nothing that was actually there.

When I discussed this with a friend at work, she was laughing at me. The reason for this was that I seem to see a lot of bunnies and kitties that simply were not there or were plastic bags stuck under trees. I guess she considered that if I had to have hallucinations it’s nice that they are of something pleasant.

But not everything about the sudden change in my vision was anywhere near pleasant. In addition to the excessive problems I was having doing anything vaguely related to reading and close work, I started to have panic attacks.

I started to have panic attacks.

People who know me were sort of surprised that I started with panic. I defended myself to my boss by telling her that they were ambushing me in my sleep. This was true. I could use some mindfulness techniques and distractions, which we will discuss later, to keep the panic at bay during the day but my defenses were down at night. I was waking up to three times a night in a state of pure terror. It was this internal alarm system that made me make an emergency appointment with my ophthalmologist. I had been trying to wait until my regular appointment the next week but I was not going to make it. There was something very wrong. It had to be taken care of immediately.

I was waking up to 3 times a night in a state of pure terror.

Continue reading “What Do I Do Now?”

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