Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sight For The Sightless

"It's become a bit of a worldwide phenomenon. The response has been truly incredible. Just in the last couple of days, there's been many thousands who have emailed us, saying they'd like a pair."
"His thesis [eSight company founder] was, if technology can solve all these telecommunications problems, perhaps it could solve what he regarded as a greater problem, which was blindness."
"[The response] is beyond our wildest dreams. We're just blown away by how much people care about this story."
Taylor West, director of outreach, eSight

"It was amazing, honestly. I wasn't sure what to expect. I wasn't sure if I would be disappointed, if I wouldn't be able to see him [her newborn]."
"[She was ecstatic to be enabled to see his] fine little features.  He's [Aksel, her baby] a big and chubby baby now."
"It was overwhelming because I got to recognize my husband..."
"I would have figured out a way to do it [make the most of her blind state in caring for her baby] before, but now I don't have to figure out a way. I just get to do it. And that is enormous."
"I actually could see a cheque [with the glasses]. I had never really seen what a cheque looks like. That's how I knew it would work for me."
Kathy Beitz, 29, blind Guelph, Ontario resident, new mother

It is a story, after all, of enormous hope; that people without the ability to see will be able to now, with the help of new technology. Scientists are working on various aids to help people with blindness, not all of them requiring a technical assist; some working to 'rewire' (retrain) the brain of a blind person so that sight-reception can be achieved promoting neuroplasticity. But there are other technical devices, like one that uses the tongue to relay signals to the brain to achieve sight.
A pair of sunglasses wired to an electric "lollipop" helps the visually impaired regain optical sensations via a different pathway

The technology company that produces these goggle-like spectacles -- eSight -- which are computerized glasses, began its research and production eight years ago in a suburb of Ottawa. It took until 2013 to produce functioning sight glasses. Roughly 140 people now use these glasses, which have a pricetag of $15,000. News coverage from India, to Malaysia, South America to Japan have brought enquiries to the company about their product.
Kathy Beitz, who was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Stargardt's disease at age 11 and is legally blind, sees her newborn baby in this frame from a video her sister posted to
A video had been posted on YouTube by Yvonne Felix, of her sister Kathy Beitz of Guelph, Ontario. Both sisters had been diagnosed with Stargardt's disease in their pre-teen years. Over 2.4-million views have been logged since January 21 when the video first appeared of a young woman with a degenerative eye condition leaving her with a mere two percent of full sight, seeing her newborn baby in hospital with the use of the goggles.

Conrad Lewis, the company founder, is a computer engineer, and it was his vision of aiding the blind that led to this particular advanced technological aid for the blind. He was inspired by a need to help his own two legally blind sisters who just happen to suffer from the very same eye affliction as the two sisters, Kathy Beitz, and her sister Yvonne Felix, who also wears the goggles and happens to work for eSight.

Kathy Beitz has 20/400 vision. She has macular degeneration as well, leaving large blind spots obliterating most of her vision. Wearing eSight's glasses, her vision tests at 20/20. With the aid of the glasses she can read to her infant son. She can also shop like most people do, reading the tags for sizes and prices. One caution; the visual stimulation that the glasses account for can be headache inducing, so she wears them sparingly.

When Kathy's son Aksel was born on December 10, her sister was there to ensure she could take advantage of the glasses to see her baby. Her sister made a video of the unique circumstances and the first sight of the young blind mother of her baby boy. When it was posted on YouTube the response was immediate and gratifying. News organizations worldwide ran with the story.

Now, the demand for the eSight glasses has grown exponentially, so much so that the company is planning to expand production. If that demand continues it will have to increase production even more, leading to an increase from its current ten employees to however many it will take to train and begin production on a larger scale to meet the needs of those who are able to afford such an invaluable sensory assist in life.

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