We recently attended the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Innovations Expo, a showcase of technologies that advance accessibility for people with vision impairment and other disabilities. It was an exciting look at the innovations that entrepreneurs, technology companies, organizations and academics in the public and private sectors are developing. As FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn said in her opening remarks, the expo was full of “trail-blazing communications-based technologies and accessibility innovations.” We want to share some of the amazing developments we saw there.
First among them was Aira, the new disruptive technology that we are offering our patients. Aira is one of the first technologies designed to expand the living environment for those who are blind. It employs tiny cameras mounted on wearable devices and instant feedback from on-call audio agents who help those who are blind experience the world and navigate their surroundings. We are an Aira preferred partner and will distribute and demonstrate Aria technology at our practice locations throughout Maryland and Virginia.
Here is how Aira works. With Aira on-call agents, blind people can traverse an environment with unexpected obstacles. Aira is a support system that includes a small camera attached to Google smart glasses and an on-call live, certified agent. When the blind user needs support he or she taps the glasses to call an agent. Through the live stream in the Google smart glasses, the agent can see the user’s environment. The agent uses a dashboard that see the user’s location on a map and along with the live stream feed, the agent can guide the user on their way, detailing the environment for the user. For example, “You are coming up on a busy intersection with a crosswalk signal box on the right,” or “Walk 50 feet to the train stop and there is a bench for you to sit on if you are tired.” You can see why we are so excited to offer Aira to our patients.
IrisVision was at the expo as well. We offer this powerful, wearable technology to our patients because it offers sight enhancing features for those with macular degeneration, Retinis Pigmentosa, glaucoma and other eye diseases. IrisVision is wearable technology that makes blurry things in the central field of vision clear. It uses a Samsung VR headset combined with software that is uploaded to a Samsung Galaxy phone. The headset has a 16 MP camera, a 70-degree field of vision and a screen that displays 10 times more pixels than an HD TV. Each device can be customized by the wearer to adjust magnification and field of vision so they can read, watch TV, view a computer screen, see people’s faces, go to the theater or participate in other activities they enjoy.
We visited with Panasonic Corporation at the expo, where they were displaying the accessibility products they have designed as part of their policy of following Universal Design, Inclusive Design and Design for All. Tony Jasionowski, Senior Group Manager, Aging & Accessibility, Panasonic Corporation of North America, and self-professed “accessibility evangelist” was there. We featured Tony in our Visionary Blog series and discussed the TVs, TV remotes and phones the company has developed for those with low vision and blindness. Panasonic phones at all price points include features such talking features in English and Spanish, talking caller ID, larger keys in black and white for optimal contrast, audio phone books and more.
There were many other innovators at the expo, including:
- Project Ray: Phones for the blind and the visually impaired
- RAZ Mobility: Advanced Android devices optimized for those who are blind, visually impaired or have other disabilities
- VFO computer access software: Provides access to the internet by blind and low vision users
We’ve said it before and we’ll said it again – it’s exciting to see that commerce and industry are now paying attention to accessibility. It’s been a long time coming. While they work on developing technologies and consumer goods that make life easier for the vision impaired, we will continue our work enhancing low vision with innovative technologies that increase the ability to read, watch TV, see the faces of loved ones and in some cases, drive a car. If you have been told that nothing more can be done to enhance your vision, come see us. We enhance vision every day for patients who been told the very same thing.