DALLAS -- What was once just a blur is now clear for the first time. It's called eSight. It won't work for people who are completely blind, but for those who have low vision it can provide a life- changing experience.
Eleven-year-old Emily Anderson is legally blind, but she can see her best friend Emmy for the first time with the help of eSight, electronic glasses. They use a high speed camera to magnify and clarify images that were just blurs before.
Emily told Ivanhoe, "I've just always wanted to see normal and I've always imagined it, so I just felt really, really, really happy, more happy than I've ever felt in my life."
Registered with the FDA, eSight is a breakthrough for people of all ages who control two screens which can zoom in, freeze, and stabilize images.
Alexandra Dalimonte, outreach coordinator for eSight explained, "As long as they have peripheral vision we're able to use that to almost overstep the blind spot. We can fill in that gap that their natural sight can't see anymore."
ESight restores sight for three out of four people with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, Stargard's disease and some forms of glaucoma.
"It made me feel confident and brave, and not feeling like I was going to trip or fall," said Emily.
Emily's mother Kami Anderson told Ivanhoe, "She's proved time and time again that she can do whatever she puts her little mind to, but I just think it will be a little bit easier."
ESight will cost Emily's family $15,000, but they say it is worth it.
"I'm pretty determined to show the world what I'm going to do," detailed Emily.
ESight is a Canadian company. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind said the effect this technology can have on people with vision loss is remarkable. More than 600 people across North America are using the technology.
BACKGROUND: About 300 million people in the world are considered visually impaired, or blind. Blindness is defined as lack of vision. It can also refer to a loss of vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. It can happen suddenly or over a period of time. Complete blindness is defined as someone not being able to see anything and may include not being able to see light. Partial blindness means someone has very limited vision. In the United States, a person who is legally blind is described as having vision that is worse than 20/200 with glasses or contact lenses.
CAUSES: Eyes are very complex organs and there are many eye conditions that can cause legal blindness or low vision. The leading causes of blindness in the United States include accidents or injuries to the surface of the eye such as chemical burns or sports injuries, diabetes, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Depending on the cause, the type of partial vision loss may differ. Vision may be cloudy or fuzzy, and bright light may cause glare for people with cataracts. For diabetics, vision may be blurred and there may be shadows or missing areas of vision. They may also experience difficulty seeing at night. For people who have glaucoma, there may be tunnel vision and missing areas of vision. For macular degeneration, the side vision is normal but the central vision is slowly lost.
NEW TECHNOLOGY: ESight are electronic glasses that let people with vision loss see again. They are wearable, hands-free headsets that house a small, high-speed camera that captures everything the user is looking at. The captured live video stream is sent to a computer that uses software to process each pixel of video captured by the camera. The video is then sent back to the headset and displayed on two screens in front of the user's eyes in real-time. ESight can work for people who have low vision, which includes those who are legally blind, but won't work for people who are completely blind. The electronic glasses are capable of restoring sight for three out of every four people with low vision who try the glasses out. The user can instantly switch from near vision to midrange vision to long range vision. Users can also adjust color, contrast, brightness and magnification (up to 14X) and even take and store pictures.
Alexandra Dalimonte, Outreach Coordinator for eSight, a company based in Toronto, Canada talks about a new device that is changing the lives of people who are legally blind.
Interview conducted by Ivanhoe Broadcast News in March 2016.
What is the point of eSight Eyewear?
Dalimonte: ESight Eyewear are electronic glasses that will give people with low vision the opportunity to have fully functioning sight, sometimes for the first time.
How does it work?
Dalimonte: The glasses have two screens that sit right in front of the individual's pupils. Those two screens are organic LED screens that send a clean image to that individual's eyes. There is a controlling device that they'll carry with them and that device allows them to both magnify and enhance whatever image they're looking at, which should give them a better and clearer image in front of their eyes.
What is the basic idea? Is it just to make the image bigger?
Dalimonte: Somewhat. The original premise of the eSight glasses was so that individuals with low vision could magnify, enhance and clarify what they are viewing. We want to make that a cleaner image for them. It could reduce the blind spots or anything that's getting in the way of their visual fields. By having the screens right in front of their eyes, they're now able to bring everything closer so they're able to see more of what their natural sight might be missing.
How many people are using it and what kind of results are you getting?
Dalimonte: We have over five hundred and fifty users at this point and that's across North
America, plus some select spots around the world. We find that roughly eighty percent of people who try it are able to achieve success with it. There are guidelines around the individuals we demo in terms of their eye condition, acuity and things like that; we always do some pre-screening just to make sure that they're candidates for the glasses so that they understand the product better and we have a chance to speak with them about how the demonstration works.
What kind of people are using it and getting benefits from it?
Dalimonte: We honestly have all age groups. We start as low as seven-years-old and I think our oldest user is now about 96. It's just people throughout any age group depending on what they want to do with their lives. We have kids in school who are now just able to take part in different school atmospheres; we have individuals in either at work or trying to go back to work; and we have older individuals who are using it for personal enjoyment.
What kind of a medical breakthrough might this be?
Dalimonte: In terms of medical breakthrough, this is a classical medical device but beyond that it just opens up a whole new world for a lot of people that may not have been able to achieve that sight or that type of vision before.
You're seeing a lot of people and you're seeing some of the results so what are you seeing?
Dalimonte: On a regular basis when people come in to have their demonstration, I personally see huge results just in terms of changing their distance perception, what they can read up close, and the ability to adjust their contrast. Something like contrast is part of how our natural sight can distinguish details, right, so if you're looking at a wall that has wallpaper on it you're able to see the texture of that wall. Someone with low vision looks at that wall and it could honestly look like a blank slate to them. Being able to adjust that contrast gives them that definition, again the same with details and being able to bring everything closer to them. In terms of medical ideas, this is opening up the notion that we can use different technologies to improve a condition that may not be necessarily curable. By using medical technology we're able to support them a little bit further.
What kind of eye problems do people have, that this is helping?
Dalimonte: The most prominent low vision conditions I've seen people with personally that we've been able to support are Age-related Macular Degeneration, Stargardt's, and Diabetic Retinopathy. We also have a high success rate with Retinopathy of Prematurity and Ocular Albinism, or people with things like Nystagmus. There are many other conditions I could include on this list.
What is that?
Dalimonte: To my understanding, Nystagmus is essentially a condition where your eyes shift back and forth consistently, so it's hard to focus on things.
What's common to all those various problems?
Dalimonte: The conditions we were originally able to support all had a blind spot in the center with existing peripheral vision. All these conditions seemed to have the same similar features, but as long as the individuals had peripheral vision we were able to use that to almost cover up the blind spot. We can fill in that gap that their natural sight can't see any more.
With Macular Degeneration, you are blind in the middle and you have some peripheral vision on the outside, but it's really hard to watch TV and things like that.
Dalimonte: Exactly. With Macular Degeneration you have that blind spot in the middle and you have your remaining peripheral vision. Stargardt's is actually the juvenile form of that, so it's a very similar condition; it just affects young children. I've met people as young as seven years old who have been diagnosed. Diabetic Retinopathy has more spots everywhere and we're able to clean that up a lot more; and Retinopathy of Prematurity is a condition that affects individuals who were born prematurely and their eyes may not have developed fully, so again their vision is slightly different but we find a lot of success with helping it. The main factor in all of these is that as long as you have a very functional peripheral vision, we should hopefully be able to help you.
You have to have some peripheral vision for this to work, you can't be totally blind?
Dalimonte: Unfortunately, anybody who has completely no vision, these glasses would not work for them. You do need to have some remaining sight. Ideally that would be peripheral vision because that is what we are founded on. We have had some success with conditions like Retinitis Pigmentosa, which causes tunnel vision. With RP you have no peripheral vision, you only have that center. That is a little bit harder though because we can't always widen the tunnel, but we are able to clear up the vision they do have. If they have tunnel vision and it's very blurry, we can increase their sight within it.
Emily, what's her problem?
Dalimonte: I actually need to look that up. I've never had anybody with her condition before so give me one second. I don't know exactly what her condition would mean for her eyes but I can tell you what her condition is.
When somebody comes in and they can't see and they have a problem, they use the device; what kind of things are you seeing here, is this exciting?
Dalimonte: It's usually very emotional, I have been in demonstrations where parents who haven't seen their children in years will put on the glasses and they'll look at their kids and you get those tears that start coming up because they're seeing that clarity for the first time. You have people who come in and they're able to look out the window, and we also make sure that we're in rooms that have windows, so people can understand what it's like to look outside again and take in what's happening. We get individuals who can see people on the road, they can see things moving. For one little girl, she was able to put them on and she kept telling her mom, "look at that thing in the distance it's green, look how big it is" and her mom was like, "what are you looking at?" She kept pointing at it and we realized she was looking at a tree; that's something she had never seen clearly before. Little details like that, we tend to take for granted. When we have people come in here and actually try the glasses I'm constantly reminded of how lucky I am that I can see these things on a regular basis and how amazing it is that I'm in a position where I can help everyone else see those things again.
What kind of feelings do you have when you see these sort of eureka moments for these people?
Dalimonte: Personally, I've had pretty emotional responses; a lot of the time there's been tears in demonstrations, usually a lot of smiles more than anything else. For myself, I think the most emotional ones are when kids are putting them on for the first time and they're seeing their parents or they're able to read; you get this big grin that goes right across their face, it just makes you smile with them because they're so excited. There was one little girl who put them on and she looked at her mom and she said, "Mommy you're so pretty" and her mom just burst into tears. And I'm sitting there just trying to hold it back because these are moments that I get to see captured with this job.
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