Roland Mattern, Director of Marketing for eSight, image
Roland Mattern, Director of Marketing for eSight by Gentex

Roland Mattern, Director of Marketing for eSight by Gentex, discusses some assistive technologies that are enabling people with vision loss to gain back independence.

Over two million people have sight loss in the United Kingdom and it is estimated that every day, 250 people begin to lose their sight, according to data from the Royal National Institute of Blind People. Sight loss can be caused by numerous circumstances including as a result of diseases such as AMD, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, or as a result of uncorrected refractive error and cataracts.

Vision loss can make living independently difficult, but with new and constant advancements in assistive technology, resources to help aid those with visual impairments have never been more abundant for healthcare professionals to share with their patients. From wearable tech to mobile devices, the industry for vision loss assistive technology is ever-evolving to better meet the needs of its growing community.

Here are a few examples of the technologies that are currently available to those with vision loss.

Bone conduction headphones

Bone conduction headphones transmit sound by sending audio vibrations along bones near the ears, keeping the ears free from obstruction. The benefit of bone conduction headphones is that they allow the user to hear the sound being transmitted through the headphones, while also being able to hear sounds from the environment transmitted through the air, such as traffic or voices. For those with vision loss, this is incredibly useful for safety purposes. For example, when exercising, users can listen to music or podcasts without losing situational awareness. Certain models also have built-in microphones for using voice assistants.

Mobile applications

There are countless mobile applications available that can be downloaded to smartphones or tablets and are built specifically for people with low vision in mind. Often these applications have accessibility features built-in or are compatible with accessibility software, such as screen magnification, that is already installed on a device.

One example of this is a mobile app called Seeing AI. Seeing AI is an entirely free application that uses a device camera to identify objects or people and audibly describes them for people with visual impairments. Seeing AI can be used for daily tasks such as reading, identifying products at the grocery store, and describing photographs.

Another example of this are GPS mobile applications. One app, called BlindSquare, pairs with third-party navigation apps and audibly delivers detailed points of interest and intersections for safe travel for those with vision loss. The app identifies your location, determines what information is most important to you, and periodically announces the distance and direction you are headed. Users can apply filters to reduce overwhelming and irrelevant information and save common places and routes to their accounts.

Smart eyewear

Assistive wearable technology in the form of digital eyewear is another invaluable tool for medical providers to help improve the quality of life for people with visual impairments.

eSight glasses, for example, help people with significant central vision loss to achieve 20/20 vision by utilising small high-definition cameras to capture everything within a wearer’s view. The footage is then presented on two near-to-eye OLED screens in real-time, enabling users with visual acuity sometimes as high as 20/800, to see clearly. These types of technologies can help those with vision loss be able to revisit hobbies, view the expressions of loved ones, and improve overall mental health.

Braille keyboards and display

Many career opportunities today require the use of a computer, which can be a struggle for those with visual impairments. Braille keyboards and displays have been developed to help those with vision loss to understand both the input and output of content from computer and mobile device screens.

Braille keyboards are similar to regular keyboards but have raised braille dots on them. This allows users with vision loss to accurately communicate while writing essays, posting on social media, or sending emails and text messages. Braille displays are electronic devices that connect to and provide information from computer or mobile device screens. The display responds to content on a screen by raising and lowering different combinations of pins within braille cells. The display continually refreshes to respond to changes shown on the screen as a user moves around a cursor.

As assistive technology improves and continues to become more prevalent in everyday life, healthcare professionals can strive to improve the quality of care they provide by not only treating vision loss and the diseases that can often be its cause, but also actively advising patients on how to improve their quality of life with the ample resources that are available to them. With continuous improvement as the goal, assistive technology will pave the way for a world steeped in inclusivity for those with vision loss.

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