The joy of receiving assistive equipment spreads to family members and caregivers! The daughter of a recent grant recipients expresses the critical need for hardware/software packages that have extended or expanded her mother’s remaining vision.
Dear Eye-Link Board,
I am writing to thank you for the use of the LyriQ text to speech reader for my mother. She loves it, and has given her so much freedom. She can now read mail, daily devotions, and other literature without help. Our vision counselor Gena helped us set up the machine, and it is now a permanent fixture on Mom’s side table.
We sincerely appreciate your generosity and compassion.
Putting assistive equipment into the hands of visually impaired people is Eye-Link’s daily mission, sharing the joy our recipients feel is our reward.
Be My Eyes is an app that pairs a blind or low-vision user with a sighted volunteer based on language and timezone. The first volunteer to answer the request is connected to that specific user and receives live video feed from the rear-facing camera of the user's smartphone.
I recently signed up as a volunteer on the Be My Eyes app - https://www.bemyeyes.com/ and here is what I want you to know:
• Downloading the app and signing up is extremely easy.
• Currently, there are 492,555 blind/visually impaired users on the app.
• There are 6.5 million volunteers.
I encourage you to reach out to anyone you know struggling with vision loss to sign up for the Be My Eyes app. Within a few days of signing up, I received my first call and spoke with a gentleman named “David”. David was completely blind and needed help pairing his iPad to his Bluetooth speakers. While Siri was helpful, David was dealing with some frustrations of not knowing whether his iPad was on, loading, or if
With some simple instructions, we were able to get his speakers paired and working. It was great to hear how excited he was to have the problem solved. David said he had been a long time user of the Be My Eyes app, and that it had become invaluable in helping him navigate certain technologies.
Whether you are blind and need help or you want to volunteer, I would encourage everyone to take a deeper look into the Be My Eyes app. My call with David was a brief 10 minutes out of my day, but the joy of having assisted will last much longer.
Excerpts from a recent letter about how Eye-Link is helping individuals meet the challenges of eroding sight.
Recently, I worked with Eye-Link Minnesota to get a Ruby 7 for my client Linda R. Linda continues to be very independent despite her remaining vision decreasing. Linda and I met in early 2023 and discussed her needs for her changing vision. We determined that a Ruby 7 would be perfect for her to integrate into her everyday life and continue to increase her independence. I contacted Eye-Link through the online application and within days, I heard back from Jeff Thompson that Linda was approved for a Ruby 7.
I sent it to Linda and heard from her almost immediately. She had tears in her eyes because of how amazing the product was AND how lucky she felt that she was approved. She said that this will not only help her, but also impact the lives around her because she won’t have to rely on them as much. She was and is so appreciative, she couldn’t express her thanks enough. As a counselor, that makes me incredibly happy and the state of Minnesota is so fortunate to have Eye-Link Minnesota “in our back pocket” in the instances that SSB cannot provide these life-changing devices.
Thank you again on behalf of not only myself, but also Linda R.
Lauren Eliason | Blind Rehabilitation Specialist
State Services for the Blind
The National Herald has reported that Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL-12), have reintroduced the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Act. This legislation would help vision-impaired Medicare beneficiaries live safe and independent lives by creating a five-year national demonstration project to evaluate the economic impact of allowing reimbursement for low vision devices, which are currently excluded from Medicare coverage.
The legislation was first introduced in the 116th Congress in 2019 and had 25 original co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.
Medicare coverage for assistive equipment would offer more choice to visually impaired Americans who are Medicare eligible.
Representative Bilirakis, a visually impaired American himself, believes the legislation is a preventative measure that will help seniors stay healthy, active, and self-sufficient for a longer period of time as they access low vision assistive devices that have previously been out of reach for seniors on a fixed income.
Eye-Link presented its first grant in 2001, and continues to provide a wide range of specialized assistive equipment and adaptive technologies to visually impaired and blind residents in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin, many who are Seniors challenged by substantial and uncorrectable sight loss.
Be a part of the only CISCO Academy customized for individuals who are blind in the United States! This innovative training opportunity connects talented individuals who are blind and interested in an IT career with the opportunity to receive not only the training but support in getting that employment opportunity with some of the leading industries in the country.
The NSITE Cisco Academy, adapted to the learning styles of people who are blind or visually impaired, provides foundational knowledge of a broad range of IT fundamentals, preparing participants to pass the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) exam and take their IT careers in any direction they wish.
Key Components of the NSITE Cisco Academy
Training- Receive customized instructor-led virtual training from leading IT trainers in the industry.
Professional Certification- Participants who complete the NSITE Cisco Academy become Cisco Certified Network Associates, a certification recognized throughout the IT industry. NSITE facilitates scheduling and taking the CCNA certification exam.
Workplace Preparation- Students attending the NSITE Cisco Academy participate in training and one-on-one consultations on topics from resume writing and mock interviews to professional networking and workplace etiquette.
Employment- After earning their Cisco Certified Network Associate certification, NSITE works to assist participants in obtaining employment in the field by leveraging partnerships within the IT community and NSITE Connect.
What is the schedule for the current program?
The 40-week instructor-led training program is conducted using a virtual classroom two days per week, from 6:00-9:00 p.m. ET. Student's study and complete lab assignments on their own time.
Is there a cost to the program?
Yes, there is a training fee for CISCO Academy. NSITE will work with you to find funding resources for the program either with your Vocational Rehabilitation offices or various grant opportunities established with the program.
Who is eligible for the NSITE Cisco Academy?
Read Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
To apply, please complete the application form below. You will need to upload your resume and if you have a vocational rehabilitation counselor you will need to provide us with their contact information to complete the application.
DEADLINE to Apply: March 1st, 2022
Click here to access the application.
Questions? Please contact Rikki Howie at email@example.com.
HOW YOUR OWN DNA COULD SOMEDAY SAVE YOUR VISION
Imagine living with a genetic disease that could cause blindness in your 40s—and your doctor tells you there are no treatment options. It's for patients like these that Johnson & Johnson is harnessing cutting-edge technology in the hope of finding real solutions.
By Hallie Levine October 11, 2021
It can be devastating to watch someone slowly lose their vision.
Just ask James List, M.D., Ph.D., Global Therapeutic Area Head of Cardiovascular, Metabolism and Retina at Janssen Research & Development, part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Before he joined the company in 2014, the Harvard endocrinologist spent his days counseling patients with diabetes. “Many people don’t realize that diabetes can cause irreversible damage to multiple organs, including the eyes,” he says.
Aimee Volk, MS, OTR/L, Vision and Independent Living Services Administrator for North Dakota Vocational Rehabilitation Human Services has been elected as a Director for Eye-Link North Dakota.
Aimee has a true desire for helping individuals coping with substantial sight loss regain and maintain their independence. Aimee began her career in Occupational Therapy in 2010 working in various settings of the hospital including ICU, rehabilitation, and acute care. Aimee soon realized her passion was with vision. In 2017, Aimee began a new journey as the Vision and Independent Living Services Administrator for the North Dakota Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Aimee’s educational background includes a Bachelor’s of University Studies, a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy (2009) from the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, and a Graduate Certificate in Low Vision (2020) from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Aimee currently resides in Bismarck, ND with her husband Troy, daughters Paighton and Mallana, and three dogs.
Eye-Link welcomes the leadership and experience Aimee brings to the North Dakota Board.
Microsoft’s Seeing AI is an app that lets blind and limited-vision folks convert visual data into audio feedback, and it just got a useful new feature. Users can now use touch to explore the objects and people in photos.
It’s powered by machine learning, of course, specifically object and scene recognition. All you need to do is take a photo or open one up in the viewer and tap anywhere on it.
“This new feature enables users to tap their finger to an image on a touch-screen to hear a description of objects within an image and the spatial relationship between them,” wrote Seeing AI lead Saqib Shaikh in a blog post. “The app can even describe the physical appearance of people and predict their mood.”
Because there’s facial recognition built in as well, you could very well take a picture of your friends and hear who’s doing what and where, and whether there’s a dog in the picture (important) and so on. This was possible on an image-wide scale already, as you can see in this image:
But the app now lets users tap around to find where objects are — obviously important to understanding the picture or recognizing it from before. Other details that may not have made it into the overall description may also appear on closer inspection, such as flowers in the foreground or a movie poster in the background.
In addition to this, the app now natively supports the iPad, which is certainly going to be nice for the many people who use Apple’s tablets as their primary interface for media and interactions. Lastly, there are a few improvements to the interface so users can order things in the app to their preference.
Seeing AI is free — you can download it for iOS devices here.
The updated iOS app is available in 35 countries.Article Link: https://www.engadget.com/2017/12/14/microsoft-seeing-ai-app-update/
Artificial intelligence took center stage at Microsoft’s AI Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday. Aside from announcing AI smarts for a range of software — from Bing to Office 365 — the tech titan is also ramping up its Seeing AI app for iOS, which uses computer vision to audibly help blind and visually impaired people to see the world around them. According to Microsoft, it’s nabbed 100,000 downloads since its launch in the US earlier this year, which convinced the tech titan to bring it to 35 countries in total, including the EU.
It’s also getting a bunch of new features. The app now boasts more currency recognition, adding British pounds, US dollars, Canadian dollars, and Euros to its tally. Going beyond the color in a scene, it can also spot the color of specific objects, like clothes. Plus, it’s no longer restricted to just short printed text, with handwriting recognition now part of its skill set. You can also customize the voice that it uses to speak its observations out loud, and set how fast it talks.
Finally, a musical light detector alerts you to the light in an environment with an audible tone — Microsoft claims the tool will save users from having to touch a hot bulb or LED battery to check if it’s on. Despite the big update, there’s still no word on an Android launch.
by Emily Mullin
The prosthesis could help more people who have lost their vision than a device already on the market.
The maker of the world’s first commercial artificial retina, which provides partial sight to people with a certain form of blindness, is launching a clinical trial for a brain implant designed to restore vision to more patients.
The company, Second Sight, is testing whether an array of electrodes placed on the surface of the brain can return limited vision to people who have gone partially or completely blind. For decades, scientists have been trying to develop brain implants to give sight back to the blind but have had limited success. If the Second Sight device works, it could help millions of blind patients worldwide, including those who have lost one or both eyes.
The device, called the Orion, is a modified version of the company’s current Argus II bionic eye, which involves a pair of glasses outfitted with a camera and an external processor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted the company a conditional approval for a small study involving five patients at two sites, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of California, Los Angeles. Second Sight still needs to conduct further testing of the device and answer certain questions before starting the trial but hopes to begin enrolling patients in October and do its first implant by the end of the year.
Second Sight first won approval in Europe in 2011 for the Argus II, followed by an FDA approval in 2013 (see “Bionic Eye Implant Approved for U.S. Patients”). In Europe, two more retinal prosthetics have since been approved—one is marketed by French company Pixium Vision and another by German firm Retina Implant.
Also known as a bionic eye, all three devices are intended to bring back some vision in patients with a genetic eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa. The disease causes gradual vision loss when light-sensing cells called photoreceptors break down in the retina—the tissue membrane that coats the back of the eye. An estimated 1.5 million people worldwide, including about 100,000 people in the U.S., have retinitis pigmentosa. That is a small percentage of the 39 million people worldwide who are blind, according to the World Health Organization.But Robert Greenberg, Second Sight’s board chair, says the company has only sold about 250 of the Argus II devices, a number lower than he expected. The device costs about $150,000 and restores minimal vision. Only 15 centers in the U.S. offer the technology, and with competition abroad, Second Sight is hoping its new brain implant could be used by far more people.
Second Sight’s Argus II uses a camera mounted on a pair of glasses to capture images. The images are sent to a small, patient-worn processor, which uses special software to convert the images into a set of instructions that are sent to the implanted chip near the retina. Those instructions are then transmitted as a series of electrical pulses to an array of electrodes, also implanted around the eye.
People with retinitis pigmentosa are able to benefit from the device because the disease destroys only specialized photoreceptors while leaving the retina’s remaining cells intact. These retinal cells are able to transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to the brain, producing patterns of light in a patient’s field of view.
The new device, the Orion, borrows about 90 percent of its technology from the Argus II but bypasses the eye. Instead, an array of electrodes is placed on the surface of the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual information. Delivering electrical pulses here should tell the brain to perceive patterns of light.
“In some types of blindness, the optic nerve is damaged so you have to go downstream. With the Orion, we’re essentially replacing the eye and the optic nerve completely,” Greenberg says. With this approach, “anyone who had vision but has lost it from almost any cause could potentially be helped by the Orion technology.”Second Sight estimates that about 400,000 retinitis pigmentosa patients globally are eligible for its current device, but about 6 million people who are blind due to other causes, like cancer, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or trauma could hypothetically use the Orion.
Greenberg hopes the approach will restore the same degree of vision as the Argus II, possibly a little more. Still, people with bionic eyes have limited sight. They can distinguish light from dark and recognize the outlines of objects in their view, but they can’t see color. Patient experiences also vary. Some can read small letters but others can’t.
A major downside is the device requires a more invasive surgery than the Argus II. A small section of the skull needs to be removed to expose the area of the brain where the array of electrodes is placed. Because electrical brain implants carry risks like infection or seizures, the first clinical trial will be small, and the company will start off by testing the implant in patients who are completely blind.
Last year, Second Sight tried out this approach, implanting an off-the-shelf neurostimulator device for epilepsy in the brain of a 30-year-old patient who had been nearly blind for eight years. The patient was able to see spots of light with no significant adverse side effects.
Researchers at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and Monash University in Australia are working on similar artificial retinas that would connect directly to the brain.
Martha Flanders, director of the Central Visual Processing Program at the National Eye Institute, says a brain implant will be more difficult to get right than a retinal implant because the brain’s visual cortex is so much more complicated than the eye. Flanders says scientists are still in the early days of understanding how the brain processes images to produce vision and how neurons extract information from the visual cortex.
“If we could figure out how to process and filter visual information to correctly stimulate the electrodes we could eventually improve the type of image that person will be able to perceive,” she says.
Because of how complex the brain is, Mark Humayun, a professor of ophthalmology and biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California who spent 25 years developing the Argus II, says Second Sight will need to develop new software and algorithms to convert the visual information the camera picks up and turns into electrical pulses.
In order to get its new device approved by regulators, Humayun says Second Sight will need to show that the changes it made are worth the additional safety risks that come with a more invasive device.