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 who 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 while leaving 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 that may restore some sight to the visually impaired.

NEW GLASSES

The latest version of ESight's technology was built with investments of $32 million over the past decade. It is a gadget that 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, despite the testimonials of wearers who've become true believers.

Take, for instance, Yvonne Felix, an artist who now works as an advocate for eSight after seeing the previously indistinguishable faces of her husband and two sons for the first time via its glasses. Others, ranging from kids to senior citizens, have worn the gadgets to golf, watch football or just perform daily tasks such as reading nutrition labels.

EYING THE COMPETITION

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

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

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

Markowitz is one of the researchers from five universities and the Center for Retina and Macular Disease that recently completed a clinical trial of eSight's second-generation glasses. Although the results won't be released until later this year, Markowitz said the trials found little risk to the glasses. The biggest hazard, he said, is the possibility of tripping and falling 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.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why must the company provide firm evidence of benefits?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (23)
  • seyonniek-
    3/02/2017 - 08:38 a.m.

    They had to provide firm evidence because they needed people to see that they were not a scam and that the glasses that they made really did work.But in order to do this they had to have proof.They had to be able to prove to other customers that someone else that was legally blind used their glasses and they really did work for them to be able to see.

  • madilyn-dav
    3/02/2017 - 05:24 p.m.

    In response to "New Glasses Help the Legally Blind See," I agree that people who are legally blind should use these glasses. One reason I agree is that there is no other invention greater than these glasses. Nothing better than this has been discovered, so why not use them? Another reason is that it allows people to see clearly, which is amazing. A legally blind person who used the glasses said that "'These glasses have made my life so much better.'" A third reason is that these glasses help legally blind people see near, far, and everything in-between. Even though they are expensive and there are a couple of risks to using these glasses, I think that if it helps legally blind people see everything clearly and it makes them happy, then it's priceless.

  • llandon-dav
    3/02/2017 - 05:50 p.m.

    In response to ",New glasses help the legally blind see" I agre that these glasses should be manifactured. One reason I agree is that for the people that are blind this will help them see the world like we do. Another reason is that this will allow the families of a blind person can do daily activities with everyone. It says in the article "ESight believes that about 200 million people worldwide with visual acuity of 20/70 to 20/1200 could be potential candidates for its glasses" this shows how much these googles can really help someone. A third reason is that the glasses blind people to have jobs that would normally need sight to do. This will provide more opportunities to blind people. Even though the glasses might be expensive, I think they are really cool.
    _______________________.

  • temmy-dav
    3/02/2017 - 07:42 p.m.

    In response to article, I say that it is a good thing. One reason I say this is that it is a lot safer then before ways. Another reason is that it provides more opportunities. A third reason they don't have to do a dangerous surgery to see again.

  • hlindsay-dav
    3/02/2017 - 07:46 p.m.

    In response to "New glasses help the legally blind see," I agree that companies are making new technology so the blind can see. One reason I agree is that Legally blinds are missing out on a lot of daily tasks so if we could fix this problem i'm all in. Another reason is that this decreases the rate of blindness in the U.S. It says in the article "That turns out to be all that some people with limited vision, even legal blindness, need to see things they never could before."This means that many people who couldn't see, can now see and it makes life so much better and easier for them. A third reason is this helps people read and do everyday things with clearer vision. Even though the price is high at $10,000 and insurance does not cover it, I think it is still well worth the money.

  • mcaitlin-dav
    3/02/2017 - 08:46 p.m.

    In response to," New glasses help the legally blind see," I agree that glasses to help the blind see are good. The first reason is,"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," the glasses help the ones that are not totally blind so it gives them better vision. My second reason is, "They can improve vision at near and far distances, plus everything in between," if someone that is legally blind, that can not see things from far away, they can with the glasses. My last reason is,"ESight believes that about 200 million people worldwide with visual acuity of 20/70 to 20/1200 could be potential candidates for its glasses," around 200 million people can be helped with their vision with the glasses. Although the glasses would be helped, it would lead to people tripping if they wore it while walking with the glasses on.

  • bchase-dav
    3/02/2017 - 10:37 p.m.

    In response to "New glasses help the legally blind see," I agree that eSight is a good idea. One reason I agree is that they greatly improve sight for legally blind people. Another reason is that they are getting higher quality and cheaper with each new generation. It says in the article the newest generation has 24x magnification and $5,000 less than the previous version which had a magnification of 14x. A third reason is that they are quickly getting better and better. The price is decreasing quickly. Even though they can only be used when still, and are not covered by insurance, I think eSight is a good idea.

  • hjake-dav
    3/03/2017 - 08:34 a.m.

    I think this is an amazing invention. With this, many people who have suffered from blindness can now see everything. This will help many people in this world, and it's funny how we have hearing aids for deaf people, now we have special goggles for people who are legally blind.

  • saraip-
    3/03/2017 - 08:44 a.m.

    I think this pretty cool how they made glasses for blind people and I hope one day they lower the price so other blind people could see and they don't have to pay so much.

  • carlosj-
    3/03/2017 - 01:00 p.m.

    if they don't other company might take there place.

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