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Blog posts for October, 2017

Discover the latest innovations in the low-vision, low-hearing, and mobility industry, as well as those must-have products to enhance your day-to-day life. Our Independent-Living Blog will help make daily life a little less of a struggle and a bit more pleasurable with assistive products, suggestions, and advice. MaxiAids Helps You Do It . . . Yourself™
25 October, 2017

Deaf Poet's Visual Slam Poetry: Creative Storytelling Without Words

Douglas Ridloff started composing poetry in American Sign Language when he was a teenager after a well-known ASL poet named Peter Cook visited his high school. Now he's performing regularly in New York City, in a medium that he says has benefits and nuances that spoken word poetry does not.

“ASL poets can create a complete poem or story by using one handshape to represent a multitude of concepts,” he said. In ASL, Ridloff explained, a single handshape can mean a different word depending on its placement of movement. The handshape for “rooster,” for example, is the same as the handshape for “car.” “Maybe you could compare rhyming or alliteration to that concept, but that’s just something not experienced in spoken English,” Ridloff said.

People who sign ― including ASL poets like Ridloff ― also use facial expressions and other “non-manual markers” to communicate the equivalent of volume or inflection. A head tilt, nod or shake will provide tonal context for the words that are signed, marking the difference between a declarative statement and an inquiry. Raised eyebrows indicate questions; lip movements indicate superlatives. This, he says, contributes to the “spherical” or nonlinear nature of ASL poetry. “Spoken English can be non-linear too, but what it cannot do is exemplify three, four things at the same time,” Ridloff said. So, for him, what began as a passing hobby has evolved into its own unique art form.

CLICK HERE to see industry-leading ASL products that enhance the interaction/communication of those who are deaf or hard of hearing!

18 October, 2017

New Developments: Enabling Vision for Individuals who are Blind

Enabling blind people to see again is the dream of many neuroscientists. We still have a long way to go to make this happen, but we have also made a lot of progress over the last twenty years, says Richard van Wezel of the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behavior. He presented his research into the development of a 'prosthetic for blind people' on the occasion of World Sight Day (October 12th), an annual event that focuses attention on blindness and vision loss. Van Wezel and his colleague Marcel van Gerven belong to the NESTOR consortium, consisting of participants from a range of disciplines including neurobiologists and engineers specialized in microelectronics and wireless apparatus. NESTOR, which received a grant last November from NWO Applied and Engineering Science AES, is working on the development of a prosthesis that uses micro-electrodes to stimulate the brains of blind people to evoke phosphines. "These are phosphines, comparable to the stars you see when you stand up too quickly. Blind people can also perceive them," Van Wezel explains. "We use electrodes to stimulate the brain in such a way that blind people can have a limited form of vision to see what is happening in the world around them." It is a potential solution for people who have become blind because their eyes or optical nerves are no longer functional. "For this group, stimulating the visual cortex is the only option for restoring vision."

Evoking phosphines

"The beauty of the visual cortex is that it is organized very logically. In a sense, the visual cortex contains a map that we can use to evoke phosphines very precisely at certain locations. Even with a limited number of electrodes, you can create all kinds of patterns. We are still at a very early stage and are working with experimental animals, but our ultimate objective is to make this possible for blind people." Within the project, Van Wezel is focusing primarily on psychophysics: understanding the relationships between stimuli and perception. "I am especially interested in how much information you need to see certain things. We know that even a small number of moving points is sufficient for people to see the contours of a person or the layout of a room. For someone who sees nothing at all, even this limited vision can be extremely valuable."

Positive expectations

For Van Wezel, the cochlear implant is one of the great success stories in neuroscience. "Worldwide, more than 300,000 people have benefited from cochlear implants, but I expect it will be several decades before visual implants become so widespread. Many attempts have been made, but few of them have succeeded." Nevertheless, the researcher is optimistic. "Our starting position now is much better than 20 years ago, when trials with brain implants usually failed. Much more is now technically possible, due in part to artificial intelligence and developments in deep learning. Another positive note is that we now understand much more about the functioning of the brain and the retina."

In the near future, Van Wezel also expects that gene therapy will provide solutions for certain types of hereditary eye diseases caused by a genetic mutation resulting in blindness. "At present, a great deal of research is being done with injections of genetic material into the eye to stop eye diseases. The developments are promising." However, Van Wezel argues that the greatest gains can currently be achieved in developing countries. "The majority of people in the world who are currently going blind are from developing countries in which no money or suitable treatments are available, for cataracts for example. This disorder requires relatively simple surgery, which is widely available in developed countries."

Recognizing facial expressions

Another project, known as Sixth Sense, is a very practical application of the type of research being conducted by Van Wezel and his colleagues. In cooperation with the University of Twente, a belt has been developed that can be worn around the abdomen and is linked to a smartphone and a camera that recognizes facial expressions. "Based on the emotion shown in the face of the conversation partner, the wearer feels certain vibrations. Half of our communication is nonverbal, and cannot be perceived by people who are blind or have low vision. A tool like this enables them to sense emotions that they cannot perceive otherwise."

Check out these products that are also improving the lives of people who are blind or have low vision.

Provided by: Radboud University

16 October, 2017

Researchers Test Gene Therapy on Mice to Restore Eyesight

 

Retinitis pigmentosa, one of the most common causes of blindness, could be reversed with the use of gene therapy, according to a study by the University of Oxford in England. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study’s theory was tested on mice and proved successful after reprogramming cells at the back of the eye to become light sensitive. Researchers used a retinol protein called human melanopsin to see if they could increase light sensitivity, and were successful after one year. The study’s administrators found the mice that received this gene therapy were more aware of their surroundings than the mice that did not receive it.

The study’s lead author, Samantha de Silva, told Seeker, “Treated mice showed a number of visual responses including the ability to detect their environment based on visual information alone, whereas control mice were completely blind by this time point.” De Silva added if this method was used on blind humans, it would be “hugely beneficial in terms of navigation and quality of life.” 

De Silva also said the researchers suspect this gene therapy will work in some blind humans with certain retinal degenerations, but their next step is to begin a clinical trial using this gene therapy on humans. The form of blindness that this gene therapy could treat, which is inherited retinal degenerations such as retinitis pigmentosa, is now the leading cause of blindness. De Silva said this breakthrough study will help researchers treat other forms of blindness using the same approach.

She told The Independent of her enthusiasm to use the gene therapy on patients, “There are many blind patients in our clinics and the ability to give them some sight back with a relatively simple genetic procedure is very exciting.”

Check out these products that are also improving the lives of people who are blind or have low vision.

Photo Courtesy: LinkedIn.com

10 October, 2017

Uber Offers Sign Language Tips to Passengers for Better Communication with Deaf Drivers

In an effort to improve communication between deaf and hard of hearing Uber drivers and their passengers, Uber is offering basic sign language pointers to passengers on its main app. Passengers will now learn to sign their name, as well as say “hello” and “thank you” to their hearing impaired driver.

Uber riders will be able to access these tips through a special card located right on the main Uber app, located in the messages section. Uber added this feature in support of National Deaf Awareness Month.

Uber’s goal in adding new features like these sign language tips is not only to improve the experience between hard of hearing drivers and passengers but also to recruit more deaf drivers. They previously rolled out features like notifying passengers when their driver is deaf, and disabling phone calls with deaf drivers, instead encouraging passengers to text with any questions. On the driver’s end, Uber added a feature that lights up their phone when passengers request a ride, instead of notifying the through a text message that they might not hear.

"Actions mean more than words," Uber posted to its announcement page about the new ASL pointers. “And we're excited to create new and meaningful ways for people to earn money and connect, regardless of how they communicate. We hope this small update will contribute to a much larger conversation between riders and drivers around the world."

Check out these products that are also improving the lives of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

 

05 October, 2017

OSU Research: Gene Therapy for Deafness

Researchers at Oregon State University have been working on what could lead to the development of gene therapies for those born deaf. Mutations in a protein called otoferlin, which binds to calcium receptors in the sensory hair cells of the inner ear, can be directly linked to hearing loss. 

The team found more than 60 mutations that weaken this bond to the sensory hair cells of the ear, marking the first of many steps to identifying successful therapies. 

In a press release from OSU, Colin Johnson, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics stated that, “a lot of genes will find various things to do, but otoferlin seems only to have one purpose, and that is to encode sound in the sensory hair cells in the inner ear. And small mutations in otoferlin render people profoundly deaf.”

The size of the protein has been causing problems for researchers thus far.

“The otoferlin gene is really big, and it makes a huge protein,” Johnson explains, “the traditional method for making a recombinant protein is using E. coli, but they loathe big proteins. This paper came up with a way of getting around that challenge.”

“We were trying to shorten the gene, to find a truncated form that can be used for gene therapy,” Johnson added. 

“There is a size limit in terms of what you can package into the gene delivery vehicle, and otoferlin is too large. That’s the Holy Grail; trying to find a miniature version of otoferlin that can be packaged into the delivery vehicle, and then hopefully, the patient can start hearing.” 

To get around these obstacles and find out how otoferlin mutations affected their bond to calcium receptors, the researchers developed a new way to assess that bond after identifying a truncated form of the protein that can function in the encoding of sound.

This research not only opens a door for people who are born with hearing loss, but for researchers working to solve similar problems through bioscience as well.

Johnson’s team included doctoral biochemistry student Nicole Hams, former biochemistry doctoral student Murugesh Padmanarayana, and Weihong Qiu, assistant professor of biophysics.

 

See our products that are designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Article courtesy of Corvallis Advocate's Andy Hahn

Image courtesy of Renae Richardson / Levana Photography

04 October, 2017

Legally blind seven-year-old sees for the first time through high-tech glasses

Davin Bazylewski, a legally blind seven-year-old boy, is seeing clearly for the first time, thanks to a pair of eSight glasses. 

Davin was born with optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH) also known as septooptic dysplasia (SOD) or DeMorsier syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by underdevelopment (hypoplasia) of the optic nerves, which causes continuous eye shaking and poor vision. In Davin’s case, he is completely blind in one eye and has poor vision in the other.

Davins's miracle was set in motion earlier this year when his parents got wind of this high-tech eyewear that could help him. They learned that these unique glasses have the capability to capture high-definition video and then optimize the images into an easily viewable format. They were even more pleased to find that the glasses actually did as advertised, after having Davin try them out. Davin's parents then started a GoFundMe page to assist them with the $10,000 purchase price and were beyond grateful to see absolute strangers donate towards covering the costs.

These glasses now allow Davin to see patterns and textures as well have the ability to read, watch TV and engage in all visual activities. Davin's parents are assured that with time, he will gain even more independence and confidence. 

Check out these products that are also improving the lives of people who are blind or have low vision.

Photo Courtesy: Winnipeg Free Press

02 October, 2017

Emmett Smith to Help Visually Impaired Fan Watch Dallas Cowboys Game

Emmett Smith

Thanks to former Cowboys star Emmett Smith and AT&T-backed startup Aira, on Oct. 1st a visually impaired fan was able to watch the Dallas Cowboys-Los Angeles Rams game on from quite a unique perspective. Pete Lane, the lucky fan, who shared his story about experiencing more out of life despite being impacted by blindness or low vision, won the sweepstakes created for AT&T’s Experience More campaign in honor of National Blindness Awareness Month.

Aira uses technology to assist those with low vision with everyday tasks. Their smart eyewear uses a combination of technology and human assistance to verbally assist those wearing the glasses through daily activities. In this case, Smith assisted Mr. Lane through the game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, giving him a personalized run-down of the game straight from an NFL legend.

Lane's excitement and gratitude could not be held when he won. When asked how he felt prior to the game he said, “I’m going to sit up in the box, and we’re going to talk about what I’m seeing, and I’m going to relay the game to them so they can get this visual effect of what’s actually transpiring on the football field,” Smith explained recently during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, as seen below. “These glasses are pretty awesome. I’m enjoying the technology. This is a way to communicate to the visually impaired to help them understand what’s going on around them.”

Aira, which was founded in 2014, won the Consumer Technology Association Foundation’s Eureka Award. AT&T’s role in supporting the smart eyewear is providing the wireless support between those wearing the eyewear and the live agent assisting them, as well as using its Dynamic Traffic Management to guide agents through prioritizing the traffic flow between themselves and those wearing Aira’s smart glasses.

Aira’s SEO Suman Kanuganti said of the smart technology, “It’s exciting to have the AT&T ecosystem by our side to help our blind and visually impaired users stay connected.” AT&T’s Experience More campaign will continue through October, putting a spotlight on people faced with cognitive or physical challenges who are dedicated to making the most out of life.

Image from AT&T press release (http://about.att.com/newsroom/att_celebrates_all_who_experience_more.html