Many different people are working to change the world for those with low vision and blindness. Researchers are working to find a way to stop progressive eye diseases like macular degeneration. Entrepreneurs are using technology and advanced software to create medical devices like IrisVision, that allow the blind to see and participate fully in daily activities, including driving. Then, there are those who break barriers, living life on the edge to show others that low vision and blindness may be impairments but they do not have to create a life of disability. We have met several of these pioneers and we would like to tell you about them.
Tony Jasionowski has been at the forefront of the accessibility movement for many years. He is the Senior Group Manager, Aging & Accessibility, for Panasonic Corporation of North America. Because of his tireless efforts listening to low vision groups across America, Panasonic is a leader in making phones and TV remotes that are accessible to those with low vision and blindness.
The company has a written policy that requires all product designers to follow Universal Design, Inclusive Design and Design for All in product development. As a result the company produced the first accessible HDTV. It was the first to put Secondary Audio Programming (SAP) in red, a close caption button, and nine small bumps, called “nibs”, to orient the user, on all their TV remotes. Panasonic phones at all price points offer a wide range of accessibility features for those with low vision and blindness including multi-lingual talking features, larger keys in black and white contrast, back lighting, audio phone books, and more. “We want to be at the forefront of developing products that are easily accessible, whether it is in the home, the car, an airplane or part of innovative smart cities,” he said.
Erik Weihenmayer lives what he calls a “No Barriers Life” and he has built a brand, an organization and an inspirational, worldwide movement on that philosophy. An eye disease called Retinis Pigmentosa began to rob Erik of his vision by the age of 13. Determined to live a life with no barriers, he became a formidable high school wrestler and represented his state at the national championships. He graduated from Boston College with a double major and took up rock climbing, but the most amazing feats were yet to come.
In 1995 Erik climbed Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. In 2001 he became the only blind person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. In 2008 he climbed Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, New Guinea, completing the Seven Summits, the highest point on every continent. Only 150 mountaineers in the world have accomplished that feat. In 2014, Erik kayaked the entire 277 miles of the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon.
Erik’s No Barriers Life works to inspire men, women, children and veterans around the world to strive to break barriers and find “their inner purpose and contribute their very best to the world.” His motto is, “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”
If you want to meet boundless energy that is mixed with tenacious drive, you will want to meet Two Blind Brothers, Bryan and Bradford Manning. They were diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease as children; a progressive eye disease that steals central vision and eventually results in blindness.
“We weren’t ever going to view our handicap as a disability,” they said, so they started a company that donates 100% of its profits to research to combat eye diseases and blindness.
Brad and Bryan boldly named their company Two Blind Brothers. It produces sleek, urban design shirts made of soft, high end fabrics for men and women. The shirts are produced at the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind where 60% of the employees are vision impaired.
Their cause, company and product have gone viral, in part because of their innovative guerilla tactics and Facebook videos. They have been guests on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and featured on the NBC Nightly News. In one year they have gone from selling their first shirt to being one of the fastest growing cause-driven companies in the country.
“Our number one goal is to cure blindness. We want to change medicine for retinal eye diseases,” they said.
These are just some of the visionaries working to change medicine and the world for those with low vision and blindness. We applaud their tenacity, their bravery and their tireless efforts. Keep an eye on our Visionary Blog as we talk to these pioneers at length and discuss their commitment to make the world a better place.