At one time, there were few aids to help the visually impaired navigate through life, making the challenges even more overwhelming. But today’s low-vision technology has given many people the tools they need to overcome everyday struggles.
Two low-vision technology fairs are being sponsored by the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany (NABA) in our region. One is scheduled for Wednesday, September 15 at the Kingston Holiday Inn. The other will be presented near Albany the next day, September 16, at the Beltrone Living Center, Six Winners Circle in Colonie. Both venues will be open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Low-vision technology fairs, according to NABA, are intended to showcase the latest in low-vision equipment and aids designed to assist the visually impaired with reading and daily activities such as computer use, working and shopping. Low-vision technology companies will be demonstrating state-of-the-art products such as talking clocks and key chains as well as computer technology that can improve the quality of life for individuals with low vision. Healthcare experts will also present the latest in eye health research. Persons with vision difficulty as well as family members, caregivers, educators and healthcare professionals are encouraged to attend. The fair is free to the public, and light refreshments will be available.
Low vision is defined as a visual impairment that cannot be corrected by standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery and that interferes with the ability to perform everyday activities.
Vision loss can come at almost any age, and is not unusual for most Americans over 40. Although age plays a role in normal sight loss, a low-vision diagnosis is not a natural part of the aging process. Typical visual aids will not remedy the condition. Patients with a significant field loss find their reading vision severely impaired. They will normally see a low-vision optometrist and are at risk of becoming legally blind.
The challenges associated with vision loss can seem overwhelming at times. Vision rehabilitation combines training, counseling and adaptive devices. It teaches skills that people with low vision need to have the confidence they need to function as independently as possible by optimizing their remaining sight, according to NABA. With the latest low-vision technology and the virtual world at one’s fingertips, a diagnosis of low vision or legal blindness no longer brings a bleak prognosis.
Low-vision technology along with vision rehabilitation services can help people adapt to their environments and learn new ways of doing things to improve their safety, independence and confidence. Most importantly, these technologies can help people with low vision maintain their everyday activities.
Woodstock resident Helene Aptekar has experienced this first hand. Aptekar was diagnosed with Azoor (acute zonal occult outer retinopathy) in 2000. Azoor is a condition that has no cause or cure and is one of four orphan diseases of the retina. In 2002, Aptekar was not only facing the loss of sight but the possibility of ending a career as a teacher. At the time of her diagnosis, she was in her 28th year of teaching. Although she struggled for the next two years as her vision progressively declined, her visual disability caused her to retire in 2002.
“I tried everything, from a macrobiotic diet, intravenous vitamins and minerals, and even traveled as far as India to the Ayushakti Clinic tenaciously looking for a miracle,” said Aptekar. But there was no miracle, treatment or cure.
Overcoming the disability
Although Aptekar said she is blessed with a wonderful loving husband and her life was otherwise comfortable, she never stopped searching for something that would enhance her sight. When she looked to The Lighthouse International in Kingston, she didn’t know this would turn out to be the gateway to a brighter future. The Lighthouse organization referred her to The New York State Commission for the Blind. After careful evaluation, she was referred to NABA.
Through NABA, Aptekar received training that enabled her to acquire CCTV (a closed-circuit television aid) and Zoom Text (a computer program designed for low-vision patients). These tools have enabled her to return to teaching dyslexic children to read. While Aptekar remains legally blind, her sight is no longer the kind of disability that prevents her from living a full and productive life.
A CCTV uses a video camera to project a magnified image onto a TV screen. For individuals with visual impairments, it can help them accomplish daily tasks like reading, writing, viewing photos, working crossword puzzles or sewing. Zoom Text provides integrated magnification and screen reading for vision-impaired computer users. With xFont and NeoSpeech technology, it allows them to see and hear their computers with clarity. ++
A not-for-profit organization, NABA has been providing services and resources to the blind and visually impaired for over 100 years. For more information about the low-vision technology fairs, contact Cheryl Lawyer at 518-463-1211 extension 234 or at email@example.com. For more information about NABA’s services, visit www.naba-vision.org. Located at NABA’s facility at 301 Washington Avenue in Albany, the Dr. Harry M. Judge Vision Rehabilitation Center provides examinations by a low-vision specialist who can prescribe low-vision aids, vision rehabilitation services, orientation and mobility training and counseling. Services are at no charge to the legally blind.