2000 Conference Proceedings

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Introduction to Low Vision Devices and Technologies

Gretchen B. Van Boemel, Ph.D.
Doheny Eye Institute/University of Southern California Department of Ophthalmology
Los Angeles, California USA



This course is an overview of low vision aids and devices that are currently available or in the development process. It is intended as an introductory course for those who are newly blind or visually impaired. Newly visually impaired individuals may need or want devices that can assist them in performing activities of daily living. But what are the best devices to get? How "high tech" should one go? For example, should the person purchase a closed-circuit television (CCTV) with an attached monitor or obtain a camera-type device that can attach to his or her own television? Numerous factors may influence the type of devices the individuals should obtain, including their type of eye condition, personal needs, and economic conditions. Other factors should be considered, such as warranties, return policies, up-grades, technical support, and training as well. These issues will be discussed so that the individual will become a more educated consumer and will be able to purchase ! appropriate devices for his or her type of eye condition. The course will be divided into sections based on specific technologies and go from "low tech" to "high tech" devices and will feature many of the items on display at the conference.


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The course will start with an overview of "lower tech" devices such as magnifiers and telescopes. Types of devices such as high strength glasses, clip-on, head-worn, and hand-held magnifiers will be discussed. A review of basic optics will also be included so that participants will understand the reason why strong magnifiers are always "small." Basic hand-held telescopes and simple low cost binoculars will be reviewed. Additionally, bioptic, mounted, and self-focusing telescopes and binoculars will be discussed.

Camera technologies will be reviewed next. Close-circuit televisions, attachable cameras, and head-worn camera systems will be reviewed. Cost factors and disease progression will be emphasized in this section. Many individuals with macular degeneration must consider both cost factors and disease progression when purchasing camera-type low vision devices, as many are on fixed incomes and many have progressive problems. CCTVs are frequently the low vision device of choice for seniors with macular degeneration.

Scanning technologies will be featured next. Reading machines as well as other types of units that combine scanning, computer, and CCTV-type technologies will be reviewed.

Computer access will be featured next. Programs to enhance text size, icon presentation and text presentation will be discussed. Reading and speech recognition programs will be featured, as well as the computer components necessary for voice transmission or recognition. Refreshable Braille displays that are attachable to computer keyboards also will be included in this section.

Other technologies such as Braille note-takers and talking and voice recognition day planners will be introduced. More sophisticated devices such as satellite navigational systems for mobility, barcode technologies for product identification, and hand-held "reading" pens will be reviewed. Information about the new computer chip "retina" will conclude the discussion of "high" tech low vision aids. The session will conclude with a brief question and answer period.


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