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Riding the Wave of Evolving Technology
April 9, 2014
The article below explains how evolving technology is swiftly closing the gap between visuality and blindness, and that the two can even exist symbiotically.

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"With technological advancements rapidly integrated seamlessly into our culture, we hardly note the arrival anymore, let alone the ways in which it defines us.
As an unabashed gadget geek, I have followed the development of low vision technology since my diagnosis 20 years ago. The first 15 of those years offered a number of optical and non-optical devices to help our low vision community get by, and we have hungrily consumed each and every one. During the most recent years, however, we have witnessed an amazingly speedy evolution.

Like a tsunami, low vision technology has suddenly flooded the marketplace with assistive devices straight out of science fiction. As a result, those of us who have been riding the wave are watching our sense of sight evolve into more of a convenience than a necessity.

With the help of low vision devices and learned skills, we can accomplish, without looking, 99 percent of our independent activities of daily living (ADLs). I recently dedicated some attention to each of over 80 ADLs identified in the past by several researchers and was heartened to learn that at least one of our other four senses can help us accomplish, without eyesight, almost every one of those activities.

Ask any congenitally blind person. They know how well they can do without eyesight when proper training and resources are available. But, since the technology evolution is making it simpler for the rest of us to see without sight, we’re beginning to realize how easily vision can be replaced. Naturally, we want to maximize our vision as much as possible, because functional eyesight makes life considerably easier in this man-made visual world of staircases and posts in the middle of nowhere. We are finding, though, that evolving technology is swiftly closing the gap between visuality and blindness, and that the two can even exist symbiotically.

"Obviously, seeing with diminished eyesight is challenging. But if we close our eyes and look around in the different ways now available, we will surely find those challenges less daunting and the future more promising."

Only a few years ago, we were learning how to identify a dollar bill by the way we folded it. Now we point a gadget at it, and it tells us what it is. We once depended upon strangers to tell us what street corner we were on. Now Siri tells us after she gets our coordinates from a satellite. Those of us with some functional vision used to purchase magnifiers for every occasion, bold-tipped pens, and writing templates so we could communicate using our eyes. Now we have several hundred electronic miracles that help us to also see with our ears. And for the profoundly blind, digital text can now be read in Braille on a tactile computer screen.

Formerly expensive specialized devices are now inexpensive mainstream devices. As recently as three years ago we were buying text-to-speech software, optical identifiers, and GPS navigation devices. Now, all of that technology and more is contained in a single iPad, phone, or personal digital assistant.

As an additional resource, Prevent Blindness, the national non-profit group, on their new Living Well with Low Vision online resource, which can be found at lowvision.preventblindness.org. The site contains a self-help guide to nonvisual skills, a visual skills workbook for people with age-related macular degeneration, a guide to caring for the visually impaired, and a range of resource directories, including a searchable database of more than 1,500 paratransit services around the country.

Obviously, seeing with diminished eyesight is challenging. But if we close our eyes and look around in the different ways now available, we will surely find those challenges less daunting and the future more promising."

Dan Roberts
Editor-in-Chief, Living Well With Low Vision

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