Low Vision News and Products
Can Human Echolocation Replace Vision?
January 2015 Some blind people use echolocation, a technique commonly associated with bats, to help compensate for lack of vision. They make sounds, often by snapping their fingers or clicking their tongue, and interpret the sound waves that bounce off objects to perceive their surroundings. However, not a lot is known about how echolocation compares with actual sight.
Scientists from the Brain and Mind Institute set out to compare echolocation's influence on blind people's perception with sighted individuals' perception. "Ironically, the proof for the vision-like qualities of echolocation came from blind echolocators wrongly judging how heavy objects of different sizes felt," explains Melvyn Goodale, Director of the Brain and Mind Institute.
The researchers found that blind people using echolocation were susceptible to visual illusions, just like sighted people. Their experiment included three groups of people: sighted people, blind echolocators and blind people not using echolocation. Each group lifted cubes of different sizes by strings and were asked which cube seemed heavier.
The blind group not using echolocation correctly judged that all the cubes weighed the same. But the sighted and echolocation groups both fell victim to the same illusion and overwhelmingly perceived the smaller cubes to be heavier. This optical illusion is known as the "Charpentier illusion."
The researchers concluded that "echolocation is not just a functional tool to help visually impaired individuals navigate their environment, but actually has the potential to be a complete sensory replacement for vision."
The complete study was published in the December issue of Psychological Science.
Poor Visual Acuity Isn't the Only Reason That Seniors With Low Vision Have Difficulty Functioning
June 2014 A study of 779 seniors seeking low vision rehabilitation (LVR) services at U.S. clinics found several health problems that increase the functional limitations caused by visual impairments.
Participants filled out a questionnaire that measured their abilities in overall vision, reading, mobility, eye-hand coordination and information processing. They were also questioned about their physical, cognitive and psychological health. Here are the results:
- Visual acuity was the strongest predictor of overall visual ability and reading ability, and it also had a significant effect on the other functional abilities.
Depression can affect overall visual ability as well as specific visual tasks in seniors with low vision.
- Physical health was independently associated with overall visual ability, mobility and eye-hand coordination.
- Decreased cognition had an effect only on reading and mobility.
- Depression had a consistent negative effect on overall visual ability and on all the vision-related functional tasks.
The researchers concluded that physical, cognitive and psychological health have a significant effect on measures of visual ability, and that these factors should be taken into consideration both when measuring visual skills before initiating low vision rehabilitation services and when predicting LVR outcomes.
A full report of the study was published online this month by JAMA Ophthalmology.
Fewer Than 10 Percent of American Women Know They're at Greater Risk of Vision Loss Than Men, Survey Says
April 2014 Only 9 percent of American women are aware that women have a greater risk than men of suffering permanent vision loss, according to a new national survey sponsored by Prevent Blindness. The online survey was conducted in January and collected information from more than 2,000 female respondents aged 18 and older.
Prevent Blindness, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight, is releasing the findings as part of Women's Eye Health and Safety Month (April) to spotlight the need for greater public awareness of vision problems affecting women.
Mildred M.G. Olivier, MD, a leading expert on the eye health of women and children and spokesperson for Prevent Blindness, said the survey results indicate "an alarming lack of knowledge regarding women's vision."
According to the 2012 "Vision Problems in the U.S." study funded by the National Eye Institute and the American Health Assistance Foundation, 61 percent of Americans with cataracts and 65 percent of those with age-related macular degeneration are women. Also, women account for 66 percent of Americans who are legally blind.
One reason for the higher incidence of these age-related eye conditions among women is that they tend to live longer than men.
To address these issues, Prevent Blindness has created a new program called "See Jane See: Women's Healthy Eyes Now" that provides free information about women's vision issues, including vision changes that can occur during pregnancy. To learn more, please visit the website SeeJaneSee.org.
Visually Impaired Say They Face Significant Barriers to Care
November 2013 Many people who could benefit from low vision services fail to receive them, reducing their quality of life.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science in Canada conducted a literature review to identify common barriers that hinder access to low vision care from the perspective of patients.
The researchers analyzed 14 studies that were published during the past 20 years and found these common barriers to accessing low vision services, as expressed by visually impaired people:
More education about low vision devices and services could overcome the stigma some people associate with their visual impairment.
- Lack of awareness of low vision services
- Misconceptions of what "low vision services" are
- Poor communication by eye care professionals
- Location and transportation needs
- The need to appear independent
- Worries about the opinions of family and friends
- Cost of low vision services and optical aids
- Reduced perception of vision loss relative to other losses in life
Other factors associated with low utilization of low vision services included income level, other/multiple health problems, and education level.
The study authors concluded that the reasons for people with visual disabilities not accessing low vision services are complex, and some may be more easily addressed than others.
A stigma associated with using low vision aids and admitting a disability is also a factor. The researchers believe this stigma may be reduced by increasing awareness and understanding of low vision and low vision services, with better communication by eye care professionals and with public education.
A full report of the study was published online in October by the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology.
New Poll Shows Australians Believe Blindness Is The Hardest Health Condition To Live With
July 2013 As part of Australia's nationwide JulEYE eye health awareness campaign, a survey commissioned by the RANZCO Eye Foundation (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists) has found that Australians believe blindness would be the hardest health condition to live with even more than cancer, loss of mobility and heart disease.
Yet while 32 percent of respondents believe being blind would be hardest to live with, nearly half (46 percent) say they only have their eyes tested if they are having difficulty seeing or if their eyes hurt.
The JulEYE campaign is aimed at educating Australians about eye health, investigating your family's eye health history and the importance of having your eyes examined every two years. An eye exam can detect the main causes of vision loss such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
Eye disease doesn't just affect the elderly many of these diseases are hereditary and can cause vision loss at any age. Detecting any signs of eye disease early allows for the best chance of treatment, given that the vast majority of vision loss is preventable or treatable.
For more information about the JulEYE campaign, visit www.eyefoundation.org.au.
Braille Smartphone to Launch Soon
May 2013 Technology designer Sumit Dagar has come up with a great idea for the visually impaired: a Braille smartphone.
Dagar has been working on a prototype with Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, and the phone may be ready for market by the end of this year.
For more details, watch the brief video by Adam Falk of Mashable.
New Low Vision Videos Inform and Inspire
February 2013 The National Eye Institute (NEI) has released a new video series called "Living with Low Vision: Stories of Hope and Independence," which features inspiring stories of people with low vision.
The challenges they face reading, working at a computer, recognizing colors, cooking and navigating their neighborhoods haven't always been easy to overcome.
But with determination, a positive attitude and the help of vision rehabilitation professionals, they have learned to adapt to their vision impairments and lead busy, productive lives.
One example is Joma, who uses a computer in his work as a customer care associate at a call center. In his video, he explains how he uses special software to magnify his screen, change screen colors to enhance readability and more.
Another is Ruth, who has age-related macular degeneration. She discusses her love of painting in watercolors and playing bridge, as well as the tools and strategies she uses to read text and get around independently.
You can watch the videos via the blue box above or by visiting the NEI website. A booklet is available, too. Called Living with Low Vision: What You Should Know, it is downloadable in PDF format here.
Fear of Falling Among Visually Impaired Seniors Can Cause Isolation
December 2012 A fear of falling can lead to a sedentary, lonely life for many seniors who don't see well.
A study found that 40 to 50 percent of older people with vision-impairing eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and Fuchs' corneal dystrophy have this fear and limit their activities because of it.
In the study of 345 patients, those with the fear of falling tended to be older females with worse vision and were more likely to be depressed. They also tended to have additional diseases or conditions.
"It is important to know more about which activities are being limited due to fear of falling," said researcher Ellen E. Freeman, PhD, Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Montreal. "We can then develop and test interventions to help people feel more confident about their ability to safely do those activities."
A report of the study appeared in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.
For Desktop Magnification, Presto Lite Keeps It Simple
September 2012 Operating on the principle that complicated features will be poorly understood and rarely used, Eschenbach and Ash Technologies created the Presto Lite.
This desktop video magnifier has only the most popular features, so it is simple to use as soon as you take it out of the box.
The device has an LCD anti-glare monitor, auto-focus camera and reading table, all connected together. It folds down compactly, so it's easy to ship and store, and it weighs just 15 pounds.
Continuous-zoom magnification ranges from 3X to 21X, and there are three viewing modes: color, black on white and white on black.
The unit is user-customizable, with a tiltable monitor and a sliding reading table. And according to the manufacturer, the LED bulbs never need replacing.
New World Record at London Olympics for Legally Blind Archer
July 2012 Im Dong-hyun of South Korea has broken his own record and helped South Korea set a team record in a preliminary round of archery at the London Olympics.
Im, who is aged 26, reportedly has only 20/200 vision in one eye and 20/100 in the other. (In the United States, most states require 20/40 vision or better to drive without corrective eyewear.)
Im does not normally use corrective eyewear during competitions, despite his very blurry vision. To aim, he concentrates on the bright colors of the target.
He won gold medals in two other Olympics: Athens and Beijing. He downplays his vision issues and says that he doesn't consider them a problem.
Exhibit Spotlights Blind and Visually Impaired Australians
Photo 1: Rita Solomon and her dog Chief. Solomon was one of the earliest Australians to use dogs for orientation and mobility. Photo 2: Chelsea listens to a Daisy Player. (Images: Illawarra Images and Vision Australia)
July 2012 Most museum exhibits have little to offer visually impaired or blind people, but here's an exception.
"Living in a Sensory World," opening August 7 at Melbourne Museum (Melbourne, Australia), has interactive displays, multimedia and a variety of touchable objects that tell the story of how Australians with vision issues have worked, played, learned and lived their lives.
Included are many interesting objects, such as the ball used in the first match of blind cricket played in Melbourne, an issue of Playboy magazine in braille and Sonicguide glasses from the 1960s that used sounds to identify objects. Also featured is the story of Louis Braille, the Frenchman who invented the tactile reading and writing format.
The exhibit also recounts the many achievements of the visually impaired and provides a look at new technologies, such as bionic eyes. And it helps people with normal vision understand what it's like to rely on other senses besides that of sight.
The exhibit, developed by Vision Australia in partnership with the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, will be open through October 28.
Affordable and Lightweight, the Pebble-Mini Is
Designed To Help You Stay Independent
May 2012 With the Pebble-Mini handheld magnifier, you can read menus, price tags, receipts and labels, as well as write checks and more.
It has a 3-inch high-resolution LCD display that magnifies from 2X to 10X. The choice of 28 viewing modes and the adjustable brightness let you optimize the Pebble-Mini for your own needs.
It weighs less than four ounces and charges with a USB into either an outlet or your personal computer. The "freeze image" feature lets you take a picture and then magnify the image or view it in a different mode. You can also save and recall images.
The Pebble-Mini comes with a pouch, neck strap, hands-free reading stand and two-year warranty. Please click here for close-up photos of the Pebble-Mini in action.
After-School Program Helps Visually Impaired
Children Stay Active, Avoid Obesity
March 2012 In many communities, blind and visually impaired children have fewer opportunities to play sports or be active than sighted children. Their fitness levels suffer and they have a high risk of becoming obese.
Junior Blind of America's After School Enrichment Program aims to change all that. It runs a multi-sensory playground, aquatics center, weight room, bowling alley, rooftop track and playing field from 3 to 6 pm every school day and all day in summer. Other activities include cooking classes, nutrition education and academic enrichment.
The program operates in Los Angeles, serving 75 visually impaired and sighted children ages 8 to 13 each year, most of whom have low-income, minority backgrounds.
What could your community be doing to help visually impaired children stay active? Visit juniorblind.org for more information.
Read more about living with low vision.
[Page updated January 12, 2015]
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