Confidently Facing Total Darkness

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Explain Sight to a Blind Person

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People who are born completely blind or who lose their vision before preschool never really experience the world with eye­sight. Therefore, normal life for them is the absence of vision. They may not even view it as a disability in the sense of losing an essen­tial bodily function.

Singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder said: “Sometimes, I feel I am really blessed to be blind because I probably would not last a minute if I were able to see things.”

Spending meaningful time with an unsighted person is a lesson in creative adaptation. To move around in total darkness, blind people keep things orderly. The textures and buttons on clothes are clues to color. How they tie scarfs or fold papers are identifica­tion techniques.

A visually impaired individual has a place for every­thing in their home. As a visitor, don’t reposition a chair without putting it back in its original place. The orderly place­ment of clothing within closets and food in the refrigera­tor allows those without sight to independently dress sharp and prepare amazing meals.

The Blind Experience

A stylish mother of eight who lost her vision in her 20s prepared all the meals for her eight children. When asked why not train her daughters to cook for the family, she replied, “I don’t know what they will put in the food!” It is a reaction that most people with sight might express about a blind person preparing their meal.

A resourceful man lost his vision around 30. He received training to navigate his home, the city on public transportation, and the internet. Later he purchased a food service business. After revealing his desire to marry a pretty woman some day, I candidly asked the obvious question: “What difference does it make?” His reply? “We can’t both be ugly.” Yes, blind friends have a sense of humor.

You can visit the world of the blind in your own home. Try walking through various rooms of your house in total darkness at night or with your eyes closed. You are apt to discover several things in disarray. It would be a surprise if you don’t bang your head, knee, or foot at least once.

For the ultimate challenge, prepare a sandwich and pour yourself a beverage in the dark. Hint: Grasping the rim of the glass with your thumb inside the edge allows you to pour until the liquid reaches its tip.

Causes of Blindness

There are different types of blind­ness, like night blindness or color blind­ness. Some people are born blind. Others lose their vision either abruptly or gradually. Causes include health conditions like glaucoma, eye infections, traumatic injuries, macular degen­era­tion, or diabetes. Histoplasmosis includes swelling of the retina, which signals atypical growth of new blood vessels. Most often seen among our valued mature population, cataracts cloud vision. The good news is that vision restora­tion for cataracts is common with surgery.

Surgical Advancements

Facing Total Darkness

Decades ago, cataract surgeons performed extra­capsular surgery. This involved making manual incisions to remove a patient’s lens. Since the 1990s phaco­emulsi­fica­tion breaks up the lens into tiny frag­ments using ultra­sound energy before removal. This reduces the amount of post-operative astigmatism with less risk of posterior capsule rupture.

Multifocal intraocular lenses (IOLs) can reduce the dependence upon eye­glasses after cataract surgery. Instead of just removing the cloudiness, doctors can implant IOLs that correct astigmatism and improve vision.

My vision is far from blindness, but myopia requires corrective lenses to read clearly. By now you are somewhat familiar with LASIK (laser-assisted in situ kerato­mileusis) surgery. With a computer-guided laser, doctors make flaps on each eye, and alter the shape of the cornea to “correct” your bad vision.

There’s a new game in town that will make you smile. ReLEx® SMILE (Small Incision Lenticule Extraction) surgery is the game changer. This less-invasive technique introduced by Carl Zeiss Meditec provides correction of even higher myopic prescriptions. Most patients’ vision is 80 percent better instantly and reaches 100 percent within a few days of the 15-minute procedure.

Assistive Technology For Visually Impaired

If an ophthalmologist tells you that your vision is failing, the initial shock can be devastating. You may imagine yourself sitting alone in the dark reading braille books. Many people are legally blind without their correc­tive lenses. High-index poly­carbonate can produce thinner and lighter multi-focus eyeglasses for strong prescrip­tions. So instead of carrying a cane, these legally blind individuals wear a fashionable eyeglass frame.

Technology for smartphones and computers can provide a new lease on life, without a seeing-eye dog. Organizations like Wayfinder Family Services in California and other support groups provide training for navigating daily tasks and using technology. This is one of the organizations that helped my friend who now owns a food service company.

IrisVision is an FDA registered Class-I medical device that improves low-vision conditions such as Macular Degeneration, Stargardt’s Disease, Albinism, Diabetic Retinopathy, and more. Wear this assistive technology device over eyeglasses. With a virtual reality headset, it provides sharp, clear color and up to 12X zoom magnishy;fica­tion for almost any situation.

NuEyes enters the category of compact, yet powerful, ODG smartglasses for individuals with a low-vision condition. eSight combines multiple technologies for optimum vision enhancement. It captures real-time video to help legally blind individuals see.

The Aipoly Vision app for your smartphone goes beyond simple object and color recognition. It identifies over 2,000 plant and animal species, more than 1,000 food items and dishes, text, and U.S. currency. The Color Inspector app helps to distinguish individual colors using the video camera on your iPhone. The iDentifi Object Recognition for Visually Impaired app is an easy-to-use tool that helps with object and text recognition. You snap a photo of the object and it is then described for you.

People Detection iOS14
People Detection within Magnifier app on iOS 14.2

The iPhone iOS includes many built-in accessibility features, including contrast adjustments, a magnifier, and spoken content VoiceOver. For those with low vision, Apple added a new People Detection accessibility feature in the Magnifier app with iOS 14.2+. It takes advantage of the camera to let iPhone users know how far away other people are—a useful tool for social distancing. When it is more comfortable to sit in front of a desktop computer, website screen­readers like WebAnywhere provide context.

To address color blindness, EnChroma sells glasses look like fashionable sunglasses. Many styles are available, with sizes for children and adults. Prices range from less than $200 to more than $400 USD.

Ways To Protect Your Vision

It is much easier to protect your eyes than restore vision. When working with machinery or viewing objects under ultraviolet light, wear safety glasses. Eyes are also a point of entry for viruses. So those who wear masks plus eye coverings fare better at warding off the virus. Wearing sunglasses outdoors in bright daylight is also helpful.

Eye injuries can take place during sporting activities, where a finger, fist, or ball can strike an eye. Protective headgear or choice of a less dangerous sport can preserve your eyesight.

Some people like me press their own fingers in their eyes while sleeping. They may do this to shade distracting light or comfort eye fatigue. But sometimes it is just a bad habit that can alter the shape of your retina. It can also separate the internal translucent vitreous membrane. As a step before wearing handcuffs to bed, try wearing a satin sleep mask.

Understand your family history. Did either of your parents have macular degenera­tion or some other eye condition? Get regular eye exams for early detection of diseases. Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians all play an important role in providing eyecare services.

When working at a computer, use the 20-20-20 rule. Look up from your work every 20 minutes at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Avoid smoking and eat nutritious meals. If you nurture perfectly imperfect vision, have confidence that you can enjoy life even in total darkness.

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Kevin Williams is a health advocate, artist, pro­gram­mer, and writer of hundreds of articles for multiple web­sites. He has 17 years experi­ence as a Neutrogena Research and Scientific Affairs graphics con­sul­tant.

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