February, 2019: low vision products

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Ian opened the meeting. He discussed the recent White Cane Expo. He said the technology forum was well-attended.

Jason discussed his upcoming visit to CSUN, an annual adaptive technology conference. He recommended the Blind Bargains podcast as a good source for reporting on the event.

A member asked about sticky keys. She wants to know how to use this Windows feature. It helps you if you want to, for example, hit shift down arrow multiple times. There’s a command that will essentially hold down the shift key for multiple presses of another key, to make key combinations easier. Jason said he would look up the hot key for this Windows Accessibility setting.

The presenter raised the topic of We Walk. It’s a smart cane that was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show. It detects obstacles above chest level, and has smart phone integration, which can give you GPS feedback and connectivity to Uber or other ride-sharing aps. It was featured on Cool Blind Tech.

Ian raised Manning Whitby, the student who presented a haptic object detection system to GTT a few months ago. He’s actively looking for testers, so get in touch with Ian if you’re interested.

Jason described a $40 Bluetooth keyboard that he’s really liking, 3 triple A batteries, a real on/off switch, and pairs with 3 devices. It’s the Logitech K380.

A member asked what to do when you have a white curser on a white background in Windows8. It was suggested that Windows10 has more accessibility features.

A member described a member-driven conference in San Francisco that he will be attending. It’s completely patient-focused. He will report back on what happens there.

A member passed around a cleaning mechanism for keyboards and screens, felt, and a bristled brush.

Ian pointed out that the CCB Visionaries website has an extensive list of resources in terms of recreation and connection.

The issue was raised of making the Zoom calls for GTT meetings a regular event. We’ve done it periodically, but maybe it could become permanent.

Our guest speaker is Dr. Anna Jerosic, a Toronto optometrist, who will be speaking about new products for the low vision community.

Anna said that one of the goals she’s always kept in her professional life was to help people make the most out of the vision they have. She often hears people say, “I never knew this was available.” Dr.s aren’t aware of a lot of treatment options. Dr.s would often say that nothing more can be done. What this really meant was, medically and surgically. Today, there are many more treatment options. People in remote communities are particularly poorly served and poorly informed.

The social part of vision loss is one of the most important aspects. People with vision loss are often fearful of social situations, and can fall into isolation and depression. There’s about a 6 times normal risk of depression if you have vision loss. One benefit of finding a visually impaired community to socialize in is that you don’t have to explain yourself or your vision loss.

In her practice, she welcomes family members and friends into examinations, because it helps them understand what the individual is seeing and not seeing. This decreases frustration for everybody. Ophthalmologists are very busy, and not always the most informed about adaptations or resources. She sees her job as helping find the tools to make the most of the vision that you have, in your day-to-day life. She asks her patients, “What do you want to see?” This helps people focus on what their specific needs are, and helps her figure out what can help them.

Anna starts her patients by deciding whether there are any glasses that can help, because this will make any other visual aids work better. Glasses have many functions, such as shifting a visual field. Glasses can be used in conjunction with hand magnifiers, so that readers don’t have to hold material so close to their face. If you have arthritis, this solution isn’t ideal, but there are stand magnifiers that can help. Another problem for newsprint at least, is that ink and paper quality is not good, so a magnifier isn’t necessarily going to help. This is where digital solutions come in. A CCTV can make magnification up to 85 times, which you would probably only use if you were a rare coin collector. It’s a good solution, except that they’re big. Portable digital magnifiers are now becoming more common. Portable magnifiers can change the colour and contrast of surface and writing, to make it easier to read. You can use it for things like threading a needle or signing a cheque.

She raised the question of how out-dated ADP is. In her 23 years of practice, the fees haven’t changed. Also, many products exist now that are new. As frustrating as ADP is for the end user, it’s just as frustrating for the Physicians.

She demonstrated another hand magnifier which is good for arthritic patients, as it has a rubberized handle.

Some of these run around $650, and ADP will only cover $120. One device has an HDMI port, so you can hook up your TV or large monitor to it.

Anna likes to show her patients many options even if they don’t yet need them. It helps them know that there’s something available if their vision continues to change. An easy fix she shows people is how to change their smart phone screen to different contrasts, white on black etc.

Reading with a magnifier can be very slow for people who have been avid readers. Many of these digital solutions incorporate the scrolling or reading speed as variable. Some have an HDMI input as well, so that you could mount a store-bought camera on a tripod to read a PowerPoint presentation for example, and send it to your personalized screen. Some models come with a reading stand, which helps position the book, and flatten it out. People use these devices for crossword puzzles and repair work under the stands as well.

Anna demonstrated a 35-year-old device she still uses, called a Beecher. It’s a distance-viewing aid, for things like watching a smaller screen TV. It’s useful for live sporting events or the theater as well. It was designed by a sighted birder. It has 4 up to 7 times magnification.

She then demonstrated a binocular clip-on device for glasses. It’s more designed for close settings like facial recognition.

She talked about ESight and Jordy, which are all video smart glasses. The industry is a going concern, and it does work for some people. They do involve a head-mounted system, which some people find too conspicuous.

One specific set of problems is faced by musicians wanting to read sheet music. Dancing dots is a solution that scrolls sheet music.

She then discussed OrCam. It’s an intuitive reading system, that will also recognize up to 100 human faces, recognize currency, and read French and Spanish. The newest upgrade can recognize up to 4-million bar codes. It is a stand-alone unit that doesn’t require a smart phone. It has no text retrieval system; anything you read is instantly gone, which is an advantage for people working in sensitive industries, or in an exam situation. The technology came from tech being used in developing driverless cars. There’s an iPhone ap for it, through which you can control its settings and read manuals. It’s also responsive to several silent gestures such as looking at your wrist to speak the time, or holding up your hand in a stop gesture to make it stop reading.

Anna identified that the evolution of the smart phone is the most transformative thing for the blind and partially sighted community since braille. There’s a need for a national eye care strategy. Things are happening province by province, and we’d benefit from a more unified strategy, in terms of funding for equipment.