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Blog for Independent Living, Blind, Low Vision, Deaf

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™
04 February, 2018

Eye Tips from Lighthouse Guild for Low Vision Awareness Month

Here are some everyday eye tips in honor of February being Low Vision Awareness Month! Keeping eyes healthy is important at any age, beginning with young children. Lighthouse Guild, the leading not-for-profit vision, and healthcare organization are advising everyone to schedule regular screenings and comprehensive eye examinations.

Lighthouse Guild offers the following tips:

Get regular eye exams.
Vision screenings and eye exams are critical to maintaining eye health. Comprehensive dilated eye exams for adults can help detect glaucoma, macular degeneration and other serious eye diseases that can lead to blindness. Vision screenings can help detect problems, such amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, in children.
 Get high-quality eye charts for checking visual acuity here.

Speak up if your vision changes.
If you notice blurry spots, blurred vision, halos surrounding lights, eyes that itch or burn, black spots or "floaters," double vision, tearing or watering eyes, or if you find yourself squinting or having trouble reading or watching television, it's time to make an appointment. An eye doctor should be made aware of any gradual changes in your vision so the necessary action can be taken to maintain eye health.

Seek urgent care.
Seek urgent care if you experience sudden and/or severe eye pain, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, light flashes, or if your eyes turn bright red. Any of these could indicate a severe problem and should be addressed immediately.

Get UV-protected sunglasses. 
Tinted glasses will not necessarily protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. It is important to get good quality eyewear that provides both UVA and UVB coverage to protect your eyes properly. 
Get UV glasses here.

Give your eyes a rest from the effects of digital eyestrain. 
This type of eye strain—also known as computer vision syndrome—doesn't permanently damage eyesight, but symptoms could include burning or tired eyes, headaches, neck pain, fatigue, blurred or double vision. To rest your eyes, it's good to look up from your work every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds (the 20-20-20 rule).
 Get your computer, phone, and tablet light protectors here.

Dr. Laura Sperazza, Director of Low Vision Services at Lighthouse Guild, says, "The most important thing you can do to protect your vision is to get an eye exam.  If you find out you're in the early stages of an eye disease, your eye care professional will help you maintain the highest possible level of eye health and visual function."

Informational article: Lighthouse Guild/PRNewswire

Product links: MaxiAids

Photo courtesy: Allaboutvision.com

07 January, 2018

Low vision, Blindness Population Expected to Double in Next 30 Years

 

In the next 30 years, the blind and low vision population is expected to double amongst people 45 and older, according to new research from Johns Hopkins University. Researchers hope this new data will influence lawmakers to meet the growing demand for low vision services in the U.S. The new study was published last quarter in JAMA Ophthalmology.

Data about the low vision and blind population haven’t been recorded in nearly 20 years. The last United States Census data was collected in 2000. This new study, called Estimates of Incidence and Prevalence of Visual Impairment, Low Vision, and Blindness in the United States, examined findings from 6,016 participants who participated in the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. However, researchers did not account for information on any visual field testing or from institutionalized individuals.

Lead author of the study, Tiffany Chan, OD, explained, “These updated results may help policymakers plan for the future and decide how to allocate resources to help people with loss of vision, an often life-changing issue. We expect a greater need for services for those patients with low vision as the aging population increases over the next several decades."

Out of the 6,016 people surveyed, 28.4% were younger than 18, 39.1% were 18 to 44 years old and 32.3% were 45 or older. The study looked at the prevalence and incident rates of low vision and blindness in the U.S., meaning the number of current cases and the number of cases that will develop over time. In the 45 and older age group, the estimated prevalence of best-corrected visual acuity less than 20/40 is expected to increase from 3,894,406 in 2017 to 7,594,797 in 2050. Meanwhile, the incidence of best-corrected visual acuity less than 20/40 in this age group is expected to increase from 481,970 new cases in 2017 to 1,006,711 in 2050. The number of cases of legal blindness will increase from 134,002 in 2017 to 279,900 in 2050.

Low vision and blindness is often a life-changing impairment, with the potential to interfere with everyday activities. Researchers hope this study will ignite change for people who need vision services.

Until then, the blind and low vision community can confidently depend on MaxiAids for all of their vision-based needs. An industry-leading product provider for the blind and visually impaired, MaxiAids will continue to serve this community and offer independence-enabling products and services. 

Take a look at these products that are currently improving the lives of people who are blind or have low vision.

20 December, 2017

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children Sign Their Wish List to ‘Signing Santa’

 

 

Dozens of local North Carolina children who are deaf or hard of hearing got a special treat earlier this month at the Northlake Mall in Charlotte, at an event organized by the Charlotte Regional Center. Not only did the children get to sign what they want for Christmas to Santa and take a picture with him, they also got to play and bond with other deaf or hard of hearing children.

Mary Ann Franklin, who is deaf, took her 10-year-old daughter Alexis Poe to the Signing Santa event, who is hard of hearing. "It's a good experience for her to be able to understand and communicate with signing Santa,” she told WSOCTV.

Santa Claus took a photo with each child and held up the sign for “I love you” each time, which is three fingers up. About 40 children showed up to the event to participate in some holiday cheer, from local schools like Cotswold Elementary School, Cleveland County and the North Carolina School for the Deaf.

Blaire McCorkle, the manager of the Charlotte Regional Center, said she remembers Signing Santa events as a child. “I've had this experience myself and to see the kids for them to be able to see Santa using the same language. It is just amazing," she said.

McCorkle and her team help deaf and hard of hearing families all throughout the year, but this special event helps get kids who often feel alone this time of year feel a sense of community.

Check out these products that are also improving the lives of people who are hearing impaired.

05 December, 2017
02 November, 2017

Blind Runner to Compete in New York Marathon Using Groundbreaking Technology

A blind New York Marathon runner is relying on the use of groundbreaking technology to get him across the finish line rather than an aide, according to ITV.

Simon Wheatcroft, who's been legally blind since 17 due to a degenerative eye disease, will reportedly use a device that will alert him when he's too close to other runners and warn him about obstacles ahead.

The device is called Wayband. It's an armband that uses GPS and emits vibrations that will guide Wheatcroft right and left during the marathon. A second device, worn on his chest, will be responsible for warning him about obstructions in his path.

Wheatcroft opened up about the trial and error period he endured in preparing to run this 26.2-mile race without a human guide. He told ITV he encountered a number of issues along the way, including some injury.

"When you can't see where you're running you have to assume the environment is constant," he said. "That has seen me running into burnt-out cars that have been left in the middle of the pavement and injuring myself quite badly."

He's hopeful that in being the first blind person to complete the New York Marathon without a guide, he'll be able to help others and advance technology created to help the visually impaired. "I'm not doing these things just so I can be the first to do this and the first to do that, what I'm interested in is making sure this technology exists to help everybody," Wheatcroft told ITV.

He added that he's "excited, nervous and a little scared" for the big day, which kicks off early on November 5th, Wheatcroft anticipates that he'll be overwhelmed with emotion when he's through with the race.

Click the links below and view our selection of life-changing products that enable independence for those who are visually impaired!

iGlasses Ultrasonic Mobility Aid- Clear Lens - Detects Objects to Help You Walk with Confidence

Ray Electronic Mobility Aid for the Blind - Great to Use Along with Your Cane for the Blind

iMerciv BuzzClip Wearable Mobility Aid for the Blind - Assistive Device for the Visually Impaired

Video Courtesy: ODN News

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