Visually Impaired? There’s an App for that.

Want to know how much money you’re holding? How about the color of your shirt? Or maybe you just want to curl up with a book? If you’re one of the over 20 million adults in America alone who suffer from vision loss, these everyday actions can be cumbersome and difficult. What can you do to help with these daily tasks while retaining your independence?

Reach for your iPad, of course.

As technology becomes increasingly intuitive and user-friendly, more and more visually impaired people are embracing high-tech solutions for their everyday needs. And while of the 20,000 apps developed each month, many are, shall we say, less than useful (for only $1.99, “Melon Meter” uses the iPhone’s microphone to measure the ripeness of watermelons!), several developers are using the capabilities of modern technology to aid visually impaired individuals in innovative ways. We’ve taken a look at just a handful of such apps now available for iOS (most of which you can get for the low, low price of FREE!): Continue reading

What low vision specialists can do for diabetes patients

Whether you have cataracts or glaucoma, vision loss doesn’t mean saying goodbye to your daily routine. With help from a low vision specialist, people with diabetes and vision loss can manage their health and continue to live fulfilling lives.

Diabetes can cause vascular changes in the retina, which can cause blood vessels to leak blood products, and if they leak into the center of the retina (known as the macula) it can cause blurry, distorted vision. Diabetes can also increase the risk for developing other conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts.

That’s where the low vision specialist comes in. While optometrists perform exams and check-ups, low vision specialists are key for patients who want to monitor their vision loss and find new ways to continue their daily routines.

“The comprehensive eye examination has been done by others. We’re focusing on visual function and trying to help our patients do what they need to do on a daily basis,” says Dr. Philip Silver, the low vision specialist at the Joslin Diabetes Center.

Dr. Silver, who has worked at Joslin for more than 20 years, helps people with diabetes maintain their current level of vision and adapt to whatever vision loss they experience.
“Just improving patients’ quality of life by maximizing their vision keeps me going every day,” he says.

Low vision specialists help determine if factors aside from a patient’s diagnosis could be contributing to vision loss. Some patients may be diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy or degeneration, but not discover until later that they also have cataracts and glaucoma. Cataracts can make the lens cloudy, and glaucoma can damage the optic nerve, both causing more vision loss if left untreated. Detecting other conditions early on could make the difference between a patient having 2200 vision (legal blindness) and going completely blind, Dr. Silver says.

“It’s not just focusing on one disease that a person was diagnosed with,” he adds. “There are other things that have to be ruled out too.”

Technological advancements have made controlling diabetes, and thus one’s vision levels, easier for patients. Today patients can use insulin pumps and glucose monitors to maintain normal glycemic levels and blood sugar levels.

However, low vision specialists do not only monitor the effects of diabetes on vision. They also must assess patients’ current vision levels and their goals. By learning those details, low vision specialists can direct them to the right devices and therapy options to adapt to their vision loss.

Among the most common tools are magnification glasses or handheld magnifiers. One of Dr. Silver’s patients who loves to travel has a telescope mounted in her glasses to read gate signs. She also uses bifocals so that she can read. Other patients may use large print labels on their medications or household items, as well as smartphone applications that help with reading or labeling.

Low vision specialists may also send patients to occupational therapists who may help make their houses more adaptable or help them use certain devices at home.

“We’re not going to restore your vision, unfortunately, but we are going to try to maximize the vision that you have left,” he says. “There’s so much that can be done for a patient who is either losing vision or has lost vision that they owe it to themselves to get a low vision exam.”

WATCH: An Introduction to low vision optometry

Medication Management: Tips from an OT

Occupational therapist Anne Escher leans over the shoulder of a visually impaired elder during an occupational visit.

Occupational therapist Anne Escher leans over the shoulder of a visually impaired elder during a vision rehabilitation visit.

Anne Escher is an occupational therapist who teaches at Boston University Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. She specializes in acute care, low vision and rehabilitation.

As an occupational therapist I am always trying to help people be as independent and safe as possible with their daily activities. Each person is an individual and my clients demonstrate different levels of visual impairment as well as different daily routines they have already established. Appropriate OT interventions for medication management differ from person to person, but there are some “low-tech” ideas that could help many people. Continue reading

Holiday Cooking with MasterChef Winner Christine Ha

Photo Courtesy of Mitch Mandel/Rodale

Photo Courtesy of Mitch Mandel/Rodale

This holiday season MABVI brings you tips and tricks on how to get in the spirit. “MasterChef” winner Christine Ha, who is visually impaired, shared her holiday cooking tips for us! Ha is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Recipes from my Home Kitchen. She also offers some recipes from her blog, The Blind Cook.

On assumptions about vision loss and cooking:

Perhaps the biggest misconception blind people have about cooking is that it’s impossible. It’s not. Look at me. It’s about practice and adapting your kitchen and tools accordingly. My biggest accomplishment as a chef is obviously winning “MasterChef” Season 3. But more importantly, it’s relearning how to cook independently after vision loss. What I enjoy most about cooking is the same today as it was when I first began: learning how to improve, learning about new ingredients and techniques, just learning and improving in general—and, of course, feeding others.

 On getting back in the kitchen after experiencing vision loss:

It’s about practice and experience and not being afraid to make mistakes. Rather, you learn from them. Start with the small stuff: learn how a knife should feel in your hands. Cut something easy like a lemon or orange. Do it slowly and carefully. Make sure to curl your fingertips away from the blade. Begin by heating up a soup in a saucepan. Take baby steps and feel victorious over the little things.

As with anything around the house as a VI person, it’s important to be organized. Get a sighted person to help you organize your kitchen from the pantry to the cabinets to the fridge and spice rack. Buy some adaptive tools like a talking scale, talking thermometer and a liquid level indicator. Mark the “5”, “start” and “stop” buttons on the microwave with raised bump stickers. Mark the oven knobs and buttons, and stove burner knobs so that the functions and temperatures are easily functional for you.

 On recommendations for easy holiday cooking:

Stuffing is a holiday staple. Many cooks often resort to packaged stuffing and dressing it up with added sausage, dried cranberries, apples, walnuts, onion, celery, etc. Or just simply follow the package directions, and voila. You’ve got an instant side dish for the holidays. Other simple holiday dishes include caramel dip for apples, roasted Brussels sprouts or squash, or a cheese spread.

Holiday Recipes from The Blind Cook blog:
Bring savory slices of prime rib to your dinner table with your choice of au jus and horseradish sauces. Ha recommends a digital meat thermometer to make sure the prime rib comes out perfect.

Bake soft and sweet gingerbread cookies without molasses. This recipe includes butterscotch pudding mix, ginger, cinnamon and brown sugar for that decadent taste.

Bringing accessibility to medication labels

CVSYour medications can make a major difference in your daily life — unless you can’t tell them apart.

When it comes to purchases, pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid have made accommodations for blind and visually impaired customers. Many of these stores now have tactile keypad at the front checkout counter and magnification technology or a screen reader for online shoppers.

But what about identification options for drug containers? Where do these pharmacies stand on providing their customers at the pharmacy counter with accessibility?

CVS offers Braille labels for blind and visually impaired customers through a request. Call CVS’ customer service line to file your request, and you will have your medications labeled.

However, Duane Reade and Rite-Aid do not have a corporate policy regarding medication labels for blind and visually impaired customers. Instead, they leave it to the individual stores to handle labeling, many of which do not have that option.

Walgreens offers large-print copies of prescription information about the medication name, directions, warnings and prescription numbers, according to its website. The magnified text is available in English or Spanish at local stores. However, their customer service representatives say they do not offer Braille labels.

The U.S. Access Board has pushed pharmacy representatives to develop guidance on making prescription drug labels accessible to customers with vision impairments, according to a press release. The Board is working to implement changes under a bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act.

The Board includes representatives from AARP, Walgreens, Target, CVS and Rite-Aid, among others. Its members planned to look into Braille, large-print labels, “talking-bottle” technology and other alternative identification tags for drug containers.

In August, the Board issued a report and stated that “new guidance is now available from the Board on how to make prescription drug container access available for people with vision impairments or who are elderly.” These range from hard-copy Braille and large print labels to electronic equipment with speech recorders or digital voice capability.

It is imperative for people experiencing vision loss to have access to information about their medication, the dosage, additional instructions, side effects. Pharmacies by and large have yet to implement new accommodations for drug container identification, but at least the possibilities are being reviewed.