Being “as blind as a bat” covers all manner of sins. For a start, most people with a visual impairment don’t wear a big sticker that says “Going blind, bear with me please” on it.
And because you don’t carry a stick (a mobility cane, not something to thrash folk with) most people don’t even realize you have an underlying issue.
Which is great, by the way. As a member of the visually impaired club myself, I was terrified when I was younger of standing out in a crowd. I just wanted to be as normal as the next guy.
I even had good friends around me, knowing you merely have to nudge someone to ask what the train timetable says (Why do they put them so high up!).
But unless you take someone with you wherever you go, at some point you just knew you would need to go somewhere, or do something, alone. And you dreaded it.
Visual Impairment Can Cripple Your Confidence
I don`t mean defusing a bomb in 2 minutes to save the world here either, I mean going to a new restaurant and needing the bathroom, God, what if I walk into the ladies! You can`t very well shuffle up and press your nose to the sign to see if it’s a man or a woman on the sticker, you`ll never get a girlfriend if you have a reputation as a toilet door sniffer…
And asking someone can be a pain too; asking a waiter if the toilet you are pointing at is the gents when it has got a big sticker of a man on it only results in the frosty stare of shame.
Until recently all of this used to drive me insane with insecurity, I’m not normally lacking in confidence, provided I know where the toilet is, and if there are any ridiculous steps around I should be aware of.
Thankfully after getting older, I now feel comfy enough in my skin to bark at a waiter “I’m sorry, I can’t see that well, which way is the bathroom please?”
I`m old enough to stand in a train terminal and glower through my one half-decent eye at the timetable (Why do they put them 30 meters up in the air!), face scrunched up like I just smelled something awful, until I get enough information to make a decision.
I didn`t come on here to merely complain, although I do love a good whine about being visually impaired, today's sermon is to delve into what visual aids are available to the visually impaired.
Surely the field has come on massively in the past 20 years? I bet there have been loads of improvements, right? Well yes, and then again, no.
Virtual Reality Baby!
One of the most exciting things to be developed for the benefit of the visually impaired is Virtual Reality (VR) equipment. The technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the last decade, becoming a mainstream entertainment device enjoyed by millions worldwide.
I had avoided VR like the plague, purely due to my visual impairment, despite being besotted with the idea from the age of about 10. I just didn’t think I would be able to see well enough through the headset and didn’t want the crushing disappointment of being proved right.
As a tech geek teenager, I knew by 2010 I would be living my life inside VR, leaving my mildly tubby, forever squinting, corporeal remains behind forever.
It didn`t quite work out that way, but today things are looking up, Gaming VR headsets have exploded onto the scene in the past few years, from the OCULUS Quest 2 to the HTC Vive Cosmos VR Headset, the Samsung Gear VR headset, and many others.
While all are pretty much geared at the gaming/streaming world, they’re amazing products that are well worth looking at.
And I strongly recommend you do look at them, even if you don’t have one yourself due to a visual impairment, or just a distaste for tech. Most of us know one friend who has one, and if you do, go and get it on for a trial run, you could be pleasantly surprised.
VR Worked Like A Charm
It was a recent dabble with one of these headsets for the first time that really got me thinking about VR for the visually impaired, Expecting blur, dreading the ensuing headache, remembering the 10-year-old me that wanted to be TRON, I couldn`t face the disappointment.
Except there was no headache, I could see like a hawk, I was TRON!
I was on for hours, I couldn’t put it down, and then the final geek explosion, I saw a VR office where my friend did his daily commute to his “office”.
It was incredible, I could see everything clearly, after hours of playing around I noticed zero eye strain or discomfort, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It did raise the question though, why hasn’t it been advertised more as an option for the visually impaired? Do they even know about it being an option?
Missed Opportunity For VR Companies
Surely someone out there did VR headsets for the visually impaired? There had to be a market for it surely?
The market for it is huge! According to the NHS, one in 30 people in the UK alone lives with sight issues. Over 360, 000 are registered as blind or partially sighted, and that`s just the ones that bother to do anything about it!
A delve into the VR market for this niche reveals that there aren`t that many companies that solely focus on VR for the visually impaired. Sure, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are always developing new software and tech, but right now, unless you go down the gaming headset route, your choices are limited.
Let`s look at Acesight.com, a UK-based company that specializes in wearable electronic glasses and a new VR headset product that could be right up your street.
Acesight VR is designed with full 1080p HD+ screen resolution, a 48-megapixel camera, 16x magnification, weighs a mere 1lb, and could be the product to help you get your vision working for you again. As always with any product, one of the main things I look for is customer reviews, and the Acesight VR has some top-notch reviews from its users.
Another option is getvisionbuddy.com which offers a truly world-class product called the Vision Buddy V2. This 4K FULL HD headset has a 16 Megapixel Camera, has multiple modes such as reading mode, magnification mode, and streaming mode.
The customer testimonials video tells you more than I can, and what especially resonated with me was the young lady on there saying how she felt normal again, not having to whisper to someone to find out what was going on around her.
There is also a payment plan to spread the cost of the headset, which is awesome. From reading to watching TV, moving around, and just generally being a member of the household or life in general, I cant recommend you look at this product enough.
Virtual Office For The Visually Impaired
Most gaming headsets are affordable these days, the range is ever-improving and the quality is quickly becoming excellent. For the headsets mentioned above, those specifically designed for the visually impaired, prices are noticeably higher at present.
That doesn’t mean all is lost though, as manufacturing costs and materials eventually become cheaper and more streamlined, VR could soon be easier to afford for those whose eyesight can’t cope with the day-to-day use of a PC monitor.
One day soon people who may find going into an office to work terrifying due to their poor eyesight could be working from home in their Virtual Office. It would be nice to see some of the bigger gaming VR companies grab a bigger slice of the pie, millions of people will benefit from being able to interact online, read books, watch TV, everything most people take for granted.
We may not get to dress up as TRON yet, but the future of VR looks to be incredibly exciting, and hopefully, the industry takes note and tried to implement ways to help those with sight issues join the party.
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