Veterans who experience low vision or who are legally blind now have a new solution to increase their freedom and ability to handle everyday tasks. Lightweight and designed to be mounted on eyeglasses, the device reads text to the user.
OrCam MyEye, a wearable assistive technology tool for vision loss named by TIME Magazine as a Best Invention of 2019, is now being issued through the Department of Veterans Affairs to those who are eligible.
According to the VA, roughly 130,000 veterans are legally blind, and another one million veterans experience low vision. Blindness is characterized by the inability to see, while low vision includes some sight, but the issue can’t be corrected by glasses or surgery. Low vision symptoms can include poor night vision, blurriness, and blind spots.
Veterans of all ages can experience blindness or low vision. In older veterans the conditions are normally age-related. Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan may find their vision loss or low vision tied to blast-related brain injuries. In fact, the VA estimates that as many as 64 percent of service members with traumatic brain injuries also have a vision problem.
For U.S. Marine Corps retiree Carlos Pere, the OrCam MyEye technology greatly enhanced his everyday life. Pere served for nine years in the Marines, including Desert Storm and Somalia, and retired as a Sergeant. In 2003, he was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma, an eye condition that causes loss of peripheral vision and can advance to greatly restrict central vision. Pere subsequently lost complete vision in his right eye and the residual vision in his left eye is like “looking through a peephole”. After meeting the eligibility requirements, he was issued the device by the James A. Haley VA Eye Clinic in Tampa, FL at no cost.
“I researched different OCRs [optical character recognition], and OrCam seemed to be the best text reader and most reliable,” Pere said. He was drawn to the device because of its size, stand-alone use, and security since it operates completely offline. He added OrCam Technologies’ MyEye “will always be there for me to use well into the future.”
“Now I don’t need to rely on someone being close by to read a product label for me, or a sign on the wall,” Pere said.
Pere maintains an active lifestyle. He is President of BVA’s [Blinded Veterans Association] Florida Regional Group and participates in many “physical” activities such as kayaking, hiking, swimming, and even snowboarding.
Training to use the device was simple and was done remotely, consisting of a few video sessions. Pere said that he “came prepared and was already there knowing the basics of how to use the device” before the training started.
Veterans who have VA health coverage and are legally blind or have low vision may be eligible to receive the product fully funded by the VA regardless of the age of the veteran or if the condition occurred during active service.
The adaptive technology means a greater amount of freedom and independence for Pere and his fellow veterans experiencing vision loss. “I use OrCam MyEye to read my mail and can even identify the denominations of bills,” Pere said. “It’s very useful to read directions about food preparation, for the signs hanging above aisles in the supermarket, and to read restaurant menus – and when my wife forgets her glasses, the device helps her too!”
To find out more about how to obtain the OrCam MyEye visit www.orcam.com or request information from a local Visually Impaired Service Team (VIST) Coordinator.