by Jaime Rodriguez
Each year in May Healthy Vision Month is celebrated by the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The theme for 2022, "Healthy Vision: A Family Focus," seeks to help inspire people to team up with their families to protect their vision, together. The campaign emphasizes the importance of equitable access to vision services and recognizes the barriers that some people face in accessing proper eye care. For those who are unable to access affordable eye care and would like to be connected to free or low-cost vision service providers across the nation, numerous resources are available for people of all ages, such as free vision screenings or help to cover costs associated with other eye care services. Many of these programs have income requirements or require applicants to be at an increased risk of certain eye diseases to be eligible, so make sure that your circumstances fit your local resource’s criteria. For information about free or low-cost eye exams for yourself, your family, or friends, please visit the NIH's NEI webpage titled, "Get Free or Low-Cost Eye Care." And to learn more about Healthy Vision Month, check out the National Institute of Health's National Eye Institute webpage.
Healthy Vision Month Social Media and Online Program
by Jaime Rodriguez
If you are interested in adding your voice to those of healthy vision advocates, or to help inspire people to join with their families to protect or preserve their vision, NEI has created the "Healthy Vision Month Social Media Library," with free, ready-to-use graphics and social media scripts to share online. You may also consider attending the free “Healthy Vision: A Family Focus” Facebook Live event on May 27, 2022, at 12 pm Eastern Time (ET). The online event provides an opportunity for parents and caregivers to communicate with doctors about the eye health of their families and to ask questions about keeping their eyes healthy. To attend, click here to register for the “Healthy Vision: A Family Focus” event.
This year’s observance of Older Americans Month (OAM), led by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), focuses on how older adults can age in place, to stay in their homes and live independently for as long as possible. Since older adults are at greater risk for developing eye conditions that may lead to challenges in performing daily living tasks due to vision loss, this topic is especially relevant. The 2022 theme, Age My Way, offers “an opportunity to explore the many ways older adults can remain in and be involved with their communities.” Planning, participation, accessibility, and keeping connections all contribute to aging in place. ACL provides materials to celebrate OAM, including a poster, social media graphics, activity ideas, and more. To access these resources and other information, visit Older American Month Age My Way: May 2022. And to read the announcement from The White House, read A Proclamation on Older Americans Month, 2022. More information on vision and aging can be found on Vision and Aging Resources page on the website of the NEI (National Eye Institute) of NIH (the National Institutes of Health) and the Vision Loss and Age page of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website.
Leaders in Improving the Lives of People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Recognized at Annual Conference
This week’s American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Leadership Conference recognized six individuals “who have made superb contributions to improving the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired” with presentations of the Migel Medal, the Llura Gund Leadership Award, and the Corinne Kirchner Research Award. The Migel Medal, established in 1937 by AFB’s first chairman, M.C. Migel, honors professionals and volunteers. Medal recipients are Gale Watson, a leader and expert who has worked in clinical care, education, and research in the blindness field, and Judith Dixon, “a recognized trailblazer” in braille reading, writing, and advocacy. The first Llura Gund Leadership Award was presented to Rachel Longan, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, California. Longan has brought people together throughout her career to benefit individuals of all ages with vision loss and special needs. This award is named in honor of the late Llura Gund, a philanthropist who, with her husband Gordon, funded research treatments and cures for blinding retinal diseases. The Corinne Kirchner Research Award recognizes individuals “whose leadership and dedication illuminate the most pressing needs of people with vision loss” through research. The recipients, research team members whose work resulted in the Visual Impairment Scale of Service Intensity of Texas (VISSIT), are: Rona Pogrund, PhD, TSVI, COMS, Professor and Coordinator of the TSVI program at Texas Tech University; Shannon Darst, PhD, TSVI, COMS, Program Facilitator for the Visual Impairment Program at Stephen F. Austin University; and Michael Munro, PhD, TSVI, Visual Impairment Consultant in Region 6 Educational Service Center of Texas. VISSIT, now in use nationwide, provides a research-based tool for members of the student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) team to make service time recommendations related to the expanded core curriculum (ECC), utilizing data from student evaluations and decisions based on individual needs. For more information, read the press release: American Foundation for the Blind to Present Its Highest Honors at Annual Conference.
by Jaime Rodriguez
San Francisco-based technology company Zammo is using voice artificial intelligence (voice AI) to improve the accessibility of online job boards and make it easier for individuals with blindness, low vision, or other needs for accessibility to apply for employment. With funding from Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program, Zammo is "applying voice technologies to create accessibility-friendly interfaces for online job boards." They aim to use conversational AI to create an inclusive platform for users with disabilities, businesses, and organizations. Many online job boards are currently inaccessible or difficult to use by people who use screenreaders and non-mouse computer navigation devices, which can cause qualified, eligible job seekers to be excluded from the applicant pool. Mary Bellard, the principal innovation architect lead at Microsoft and AI for Accessibility program lead said, “We are thrilled for the opportunity that Zammo’s work can introduce in reducing barriers for employment of people with disabilities.” In this pursuit, Zammo continues a partnership with Open Inclusion, an inclusive insight, design and innovation consultancy agency seeking “to make the world more inclusive” and to leverage technology to address needs. Open Inclusion’s managing director, Christine Hemphill said, "’The research done to date has evidenced how and where people find today’s job search solutions difficult or inaccessible and gathered perspectives on individuals’ interest, experience, expectations or concerns relating to voice-based interactions.’” Zammo is currently performing interviews and surveys to identify the most pertinent information regarding accessibility problems. Their hope is that their finished project will be adopted by all major online job boards, making it easier for qualified applicants with disabilities to navigate and apply for positions. For more information, please check out the AiThority AI Technology Insights article, “Zammo Applies Voice AI to Bridge Vision and Other Accessibility Barriers for People Applying for Jobs Online.”
Drug “Antabuse” Could Potentially Restore Vision in People with Retinal Disorders
by Jaime Rodriguez
Researchers from the University of California (UC) Berkeley recently found that a drug that has been used to “wean alcoholics off of drinking” can help to improve vision in mice with retinal degeneration. This breakthrough in mice may help to restore sight in people with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and possibly other eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration. A group of researchers, led by Richard Kramer, UC professor of molecular and cell biology, had previously shown the effects of the chemical retinoic acid, which is produced in the eyes as the retina’s light-sensing cells die over time. As this chemical builds up, it triggers hyperactivity in certain retinal cells, interfering with the ability to process visual information, “obscuring vision.” In recent experiments, Kramer and collaborator Michael Goard, who directs a lab at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), discovered that disulfiram, also called Antabuse, a drug that has been used to treat alcoholism, contains enzymes that decrease the production of retinoic acid. “Both the behavioral results and the brain imaging results suggest that the drugs improve vision and not just light detection.” Kramer speculates that retinoic acid also affects vision in people, although experiments to check the chemical’s presence would be too invasive and have not been conducted with humans. The use of disulfiram, which has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, “could establish that link.” Researchers plan to partner with ophthalmologists to begin a clinical trial of disulfiram with a small group of adults with advanced RP, who retain some vision. This work has been supported by grants to Kramer from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Foundation for Fighting Blindness, and grants to Gourd from NIH and the National Science Foundation. For more information, please read the Berkeley News article, “Antabuse may help revive vision in people with progressive blinding disorders.”
Using Ultrasound Waves to Treat Vision Loss
With the increase in age-related eye diseases and conditions due to the aging population, researchers are exploring innovative modes of treatment. Medical experts project that it’s likely that many of the growing cases of vision loss will be caused by retinal degenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration. This presents an unmet need for new technological solutions to treat vision loss. Currently, through electronic technology, ophthalmologists stimulate retinal neurons by “implanting electrode devices inside the eye,” which “requires expensive and invasive surgery.” Researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering are investigating a “non-surgical solution to restore sight by using another of the five senses.” The procedure, now being studied in animals, involves using ultrasound stimulation. Ultrasound waves generate mechanical pressures that activate neurons in rats, sending sound waves to the retina, located in the back of the eye. When the ultrasound waves are projected in a pattern, such as a letter, the rat’s brain being examined was able to detect a similar pattern. The research team, supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI), has applied for additional funding to advance their work and test the approach on non-human primates followed by human clinical trials. To read more about this promising research, visit the USC Viterbi report titled Ultrasound Gave Us Our First Baby Pictures. Can It Also Help the Blind See?
When Holly Bonner became legally blind in 2012, she transitioned from the role of social work practitioner to client needing services. After losing vision due to a neurological condition following chemotherapy treatment, Bonner embarked on months of training in technology, mobility, and adult daily living skills. And, as she began to feel confident about rejoining “the land of the living” with her white cane and training, “what doctors said was impossible happened. I (Bonner) became pregnant!” As an expectant mother, Bonner drowned out “unhelpful background noise” from some doubtful, “overly opinionated people” and resolved to become the “best disabled mommy” she could be. Together with her husband, Joe, Bonner cared for their daughter Nuala, born in 2013, and then second daughter, Aoife, who arrived in 2014. She also created an online resource for individuals and family members whose lives have been impacted by vision loss. Blind Motherhood shares experiences and insights online to help blind parents learn “all things baby,” from changing a diaper, to nighttime feedings, and much more. The mission is to “demonstrate (that) members of the blind and visually impaired community can parent safely, independently and effectively,” seeking to combat negative perceptions about parenting without sight, “educating and enlightening both the sighted and the blind.” Sighted parents of blind children can also find support from Blind Motherhood. As Bonner states, “Blind or sighted, when it comes to parenting you can ‘never lose sight of life, love and laughter.’” Read more of Bonner’s insights and the resources she provides by visiting Blind Motherhood.
In preparing for Mother’s Day, families with mothers or grandmothers with eye conditions that limit their eyesight can celebrate with some pointers about adapting activities that might be planned. Many Mother’s Day pastimes can be enjoyed by thinking "about a few things slightly differently.” For some ideas, Hadley’s online learning platform provides free resources for tips on dining out, cooking a meal together, creating and maintaining a container garden as well as training in how to use Zoom and accessing low vision features on cell phones to visit virtually with family members anywhere. For more information, read the press release about Mother's Day when Mom (or Grandma) has Vision Loss.
Happy Mother’s Day to All Who Celebrate!
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