New glasses help the legally blind see In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, Yvonne Felix wears eSight electronic glasses and looks around Union Square during a visit to San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
New glasses help the legally blind see
Lexile

Jeff Regan was born with underdeveloped optic nerves. He had spent most of his life in a blur. Then four years ago, he donned an unwieldy headset. It was made by a Toronto company called eSight.

Suddenly, Regan could read a newspaper while eating breakfast. He could make out the faces of his co-workers from across the room. He's been able to attend plays. And he can see what's happening on stage, without having to guess why people around him were laughing.

"These glasses have made my life so much better," said Regan, 48. He's a Canadian engineer. He lives in London, Ontario.

The headsets from eSight transmit images from a forward-facing camera to small internal screens - one for each eye. It does it in a way that beams the video into the wearer's peripheral vision. That turns out to be all that some people with limited vision, even legal blindness, need to see things they never could before. That's because many visual impairments degrade central vision. These same impairments leave peripheral vision largely intact.

ESight's glasses won't help people with total blindness. But they could still be a huge deal for the millions of peoples whose vision is so impaired that it can't be corrected with ordinary lenses.

EYE TEST

But eSight still needs to clear a few minor hurdles.

Among them: proving the glasses are safe and effective for the legally blind. ESight's headsets don't require the approval of health regulators because they fall into the same low-risk category as dental floss. But there's not yet firm evidence of their benefits. The company is funding clinical trials to provide that proof.

The headsets also carry an eye-popping price tag. The latest version of the glasses was released in mid-February. It sells for about $10,000. That's $5,000 less than its predecessor. But it's still a lot for people who often have trouble getting high-paying jobs because they can't see.

Insurers won't cover the cost. They consider the glasses an "assistive" technology similar to hearing aids.

ESight CEO Brian Mech said the latest improvements might help insurers overcome their short-sighted view of his product. Mech argues that it would be more cost-effective for insurers to pay for the headsets, even in part. This might be better than covering more expensive surgical procedures. Those procedures may restore some sight to the visually impaired.

NEW GLASSES

The latest version of ESight's technology was built with investments of $32 million. The investment was made over the past decade. The latest version vaguely resembles the visor worn by the blind "Star Trek" character Geordi La Forge. He was played by LeVar Burton.

The third-generation model lets wearers magnify the video feed up to 24 times. That compares to just 14 times in earlier models. There's a hand control for adjusting brightness and contrast. The new glasses also come with a more powerful high-definition camera.

ESight believes that about 200 million people worldwide with visual acuity of 20/70 to 20/1200 could be potential candidates for its glasses. That number includes people with a variety of disabling eye conditions. These conditions include macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, ocular albinism, Stargardt's disease. This also includes Regan's optic nerve hypoplasia.

So far, though, the company has sold only about 1,000 headsets. That is despite the testimonials of wearers who've become true believers.

Take, for instance, Yvonne Felix. She is an artist. She now works as an advocate for eSight. She became an advocate after seeing the faces of her family for the first time via its glasses. Others range from kids to senior citizens. They have worn the gadgets to golf and watch football. They have worn the gadgets for reading nutrition labels.

EYING THE COMPETITION

ESight isn't the only company focused on helping the legally blind. There are other companies working on high-tech glasses and related tools. These companies include Aira, Orcam, ThirdEye, NuEyes and Microsoft.

But most of them are doing something very different. Their approaches also involve cameras attached to glasses. But they don't magnify live video. Instead, they take still images. Then they analyze them with image recognition software.  And then they generate an automated voice. It describes what the wearer is looking at. It can be anything from a child to words written on a page.

Samuel Markowitz is a University of Toronto professor. He specializes in ophthalmology. He says that eSight's glasses are the most versatile option for the legally blind currently available. He says they can improve vision at near and far distances. And they can improve vision at all distances in between.

Researchers have recently completed a clinical trial of eSight's second-generation glasses. The results won't be released until later this year. But Markowitz said the trials found little risk to the glasses. The biggest hazard is tripping while walking with the glasses covering the eyes.

The device "is meant to be used while in a stationary situation, either sitting or standing, for looking around at the environment," Markowitz said.

Filed Under:  
Assigned 83 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why must the company provide firm evidence of benefits?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (20)
  • plaura-dav
    3/02/2017 - 05:18 p.m.


    In response to "new glasses help the legally blind people see," I disagree that this should be a thing because it could not work. One reason I agree is that some people might be able to see again . Another reason is that this could let people experience what they can't. It says in the article that this is soppose to be used while sitting or standing . A third reason is that this could let people feel like they can be included. Even though some people might think this is dumb, I think
    It is a good idea.

  • deriahm-bur
    3/13/2017 - 10:33 p.m.

    I think that the company should provide firm evidence of benefits is because we want the legally blind to see again or if they have never seen help them see for the first time. Another reason I have is letting them be free free from the darkness that they experience everyday while we take it for granted. Ampersonal connection that i have to this is that i remember in 4 th grade our teacher telling us about how scientist are working to try to ,tenths blind see and now they can.

  • quinn-rya
    3/14/2017 - 09:21 p.m.

    It says in the text," The biggest hazard is tripping while walking with the glasses over the eyes." People would be hesitant to buy the glasses if there was so many hazards to the glasses. They would want to know what benefits there are and evidence that's it's true.

  • ioanna-rya
    3/14/2017 - 10:05 p.m.

    The company must provide firm evidence of the benefits of the special glasses because the company needs to make sure that they are safe and will not damage the persons eyesight more if worn for too long otherwise the glasses are a complete waste of important money that is hard to get for these people because of their poor eyesight.

  • alesandra-rya
    3/14/2017 - 10:06 p.m.

    The company must provide firm evidence of benefits for the glasses that help people with poor eyesight see.They are doing that because the company needs to make sure and prove that they safe and not do damage to the person that is wearing it eyesight. The company is funding clinical trials to provide that evidence.

  • wyattw-man
    4/26/2017 - 09:28 a.m.

    I learned that The third-generation model lets wearers magnify the video feed up to 24 times.

  • collinr-man
    4/26/2017 - 10:28 a.m.

    the difference between legal blindness and blindness
    about the glasses
    about how they were made

  • ianw2-man
    4/26/2017 - 10:30 a.m.

    1. There are many companies trying to help the vision impaired or legally blind.
    2. Legally blind people apparently can still receive images in their peripheral images
    3. The cost of the glasses are a lot more expensive even though it is for the vision impaired who can not get high paying jobs

  • chloeb-man
    4/26/2017 - 10:33 a.m.

    I learned that the glasses are sold for $10.000.,the model lets wearers magnify the video feed up to 24 times, that the glasses were made at ESigh and that ESight isn't the only places working on the blind other company's like Aira, Orcam, ThirdEye, NuEyes and Microsoft are working on helping the blind.

  • aidenh-man
    4/26/2017 - 10:36 a.m.

    I learned that
    1. these glasses take pictures and show it on the lens
    2. they can cost 5,000-10,000 dollars
    3.it only works for blind people but they have to at least see a bluer as normal vision

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT