Opening up the top desk drawer in my home you will find an assortment of about a dozen or so magnifiers and other low vision assistive devices – several of them have been in use for over 40 years – others are just there collecting dust. I clearly recollect the disappointment and frustration my parents felt when I was about school age and they were told by several eye specialists that my visual acuity could not be brought even close to normal due to the condition of ocular albinism/nystagmus I was born with.
School was a real challenge for me – even sitting in the first row of desks in the classroom I had difficulty in reading what was written on the chalkboard – I always made mistakes in copying texts and numbers and the teachers, who never really understood why I couldn’t see (after all I did have a pair of glasses) – were not very sympathetic. In order to read school books I had to hold them close to my face – no more than several inches – which was quite embarrassing. At least in the younger grades, where the textbooks had larger print and several of the teachers wrote in big sprawling handwriting on the chalkboard, I somehow managed to get by.
The higher grades were a lot more difficult for me and I had to begin using various optical aids for reading, while no real solution was offered to me for distance vision. I guess I had to work a lot harder than most kids and spent many hours copying assignments that were written on the blackboard from my friends’ notebooks. Just think – this was before the advent of copying machines. I did well enough in high school to be admitted to college where a very dedicated optometrist, who was a close friend of my family, tried to fit me with all types of vision aids – especially telescopic and microscopic glasses which were extremely difficult to adapt to and quite simply made only a marginal improvement in my vision (I had constant eye strain, headaches and dizziness). Hard work and a lot of help from fellow students enabled me to finish my BA and gain acceptance to an MA program in Health planning and Management. After all, I had spent so much time in doctors’ offices that I felt that this would be a comfortable and supportive environment for me to be in.
For many years I worked in an administrative capacity in a large teaching hospital, even managing a large eye clinic, always keeping a lookout for any developments in the area of aiding low vision patients, but to my dismay all I saw were the same simple optical magnifiers and vision aids that were offered to me as a child. Perhaps the only significant advance was video magnifiers, which offer a limited solution for some problems.
About six months ago I was fortunate to be introduced to the OrCam device, and quite frankly my initial enthusiasm for this innovative assistive device has only grown with time. I never imagined that I could comfortably sit back in my recliner or lie in bed and effortlessly read a novel, newspaper or magazine with a device such as OrCam. This is opposed to having to place the reading material flat on a table and sit in a back-straining position while reading with a conventional or even a video magnifier. Imagine: no more back or neck strain, no more dependence on having special large print texts and being able to enjoy reading anything, anywhere, with the material being read to you in a pleasant voice by using a relatively simple to operate assistive device. Imagine being able to go into a supermarket or any other type of shop and simply read – even the small print – on all types of packaged items (ingredients or nutritional value) without having to carry around a high powered hand magnifier or have someone else read it to you .This was a wonderful new experience for me. That’s the OrCam device!