December 1 2018
It was a cold bright day in November, and the clocks were striking ten. A crowd was bustling through Toronto’s union station, and my uncle, standing next to me, counted the chimes quietly on his fingers. He has Stargardt Disease and can’t see the clock across the room, so he counts the chimes to tell the time. We were on our way to meet with eSight eye-wear, located conveniently close to union station, at Front and University.
Upon our arrival at the 6th floor office, we were warmly greeted by Rachel at the front desk. She offered us coffee, water and recommended we help ourselves to the assortment of candies and gummies at the entrance. Our Vision Advocate Brandon took us through the office, which was full of energy, teams of eSight visioneers were on the phones spreading the inspirational message of their life-changing technology. We noticed that most eSight teams sat in the office, with the exception of the engineering team, located in Ottawa. Whiteboards, covered in multi-colored tables and checkmarks, separated the desks between marketing and sales teams. The office’s centrepiece is a lounge area, complete with couches, a chess board, Jenga tower, and a classic set of Uno cards. At the far side of the room, a bunch of Muskoka chairs were arranged to face a screen.
Brandon introduced us to Alysha Law, the best with helping people during their experience at eSight. We walked with Alysha to an eSight eye-wear device, and she connected it via Bluetooth to an iPad, so we could follow along with whatever appeared on the device’s OLED screens. My uncle sat down on a comfy chair across from a classic Snellen chart at the opposite end of the room. Even with his glasses, he barely read the 2nd line of the chart, and I suspect at this point, he just knows the 1st line is always the letter E. According to the chart, his vision is somewhere around 20/200.
The excitement began when Alisha measured my uncle’s pupillary distance using a digital pupilometer, and calibrated the eSight glasses accordingly. She explained the different pieces of the device; the magnetic head-strap, silicon forehead band, nose pads, and plastic temples. She helped him put on the glasses, and walked him through a few of the different controls on the remote. My uncle was amazed by the first control. The glasses allowed him to zoom in, and take screenshots and he could look at a faraway sign, zoom in the text until it was large enough to read, and then freeze the image so that small movements wouldn’t distract his reading. He tried the Snellen chart again, this time he read the top lines no problem, “E … F, P”. Then he jumped right down to the bottom, one line better than perfect 20/20, “L, E, uhh F, O, D, PCT!” he announced the letters with frantic delight.
He was very impressed, and already started thinking about some of the things eSight would let him do without having to ask for help, while travelling, taking the train, or getting around at work. An avid traveller, my uncle often has trouble reading airport signs from a distance and since many of the signs hang high overhead, he can rarely stand close enough to read them at all. He imagined reading the signs and finding his gate without a guide, something he hadn’t done in 30 years.
Next Alysha showed him some of the other cool features of the device, the device plugged in to a Macbook via mini-HDMI and read the news on his favourite website. Alysha turned on narration and used OCR to have the glasses read my uncle a poem. Using just the sSight glasses, he read his doctor’s business card, without his pair of magnifying glasses or magnifying lens, which he always carries in his pocket. He was clearly delighted by the ability to switch from reading a sign across the room to reading the small card in his hands, all while sitting in a comfy chair. After taking off the eSight device, he showed us how close he would have to stand to read the same lines on the Snellen chart, and pulled out his magnifying devices to show us how he reads his doctor’s card. For my uncle, living with low vision requires a lot of preparation, and he sees eSight eye-wear as an effective tool for managing his ability and enabling true independence in his daily life.