The ‘V’ in the Vision Loss Disease

Guest writer Nyma Malik explains how virtual reality could give some visually impaired people a second chance at life.

Virtual Reality (VR) is no longer an emerging technology. To this day, VR has progressed beautifully with high-tech VR headsets, smart glasses and other gadgets. This technology holds a monumental place in the gaming and entertainment industry, but that’s not all there is to VR.

VisionVR is also redefining the lives of visually impaired people. Let me first brush up on visual impairment and the direness of the situation. Around 253 million people in the world are visually impaired. US alone has 3.4 million legally blind people and a majority of these people fall in the age group of 45 – 65.

Being visually impaired translates to not being able to see properly, to the extent that the person is considered blind. Such people have their peripheral vision intact, but loose the central vision over time. So they can still see, but it is either too blurry or too low to be considered as seeing. People affected with visual impairment have to battle with a ton of problems. Bad sight aside, the medication and treatments bring a huge toll. And because low vision conditions progress over time, going through treatments and medications become a part of their life.

So in summary, that is just like fixing one problem with a ton of other problems. Problems like extreme nausea, blinding headaches, loss of appetite, even withdrawing socially. Some cases even introduce patients to diabetes. So how does this technology swoop in to save the day? Three words – virtual reality headsets!

It makes so much sense. A technology that changes how you experience reality. What better use of VR to help people fully experiences their own reality! By using VR headsets, people get to see clearly and live a fuller life. You don’t just get to magnify things, like conventional visual aids, it is one solution to a lot of problems. For starters, you don’t need to buy a new VR headset every time your eye sight changes. And for people with low vision, there is no standard or rule of thumb. It could happen quite frequently or not at all.

But no matter the frequency, if your eye sight changes, just adjust the settings on your headset.Then, using one headset, you get to read and watch TV. You can also adjust to different light sensitivities.

Low vision conditions vary in severity and symptoms. For example, people affected with macular degeneration often develop blur spots in their vision. They can partially see clearly, but a part of their vision becomes blurry or even grey-ed out. VR without making the person go through any painful surgery or medication, allows that person to see as if there were no blur spot.  A startup, IrisVision, in California is working on exactly that. They invented VR low vision aids, which use a VR headset and a smartphone, coupled together to help such people. To be specific, the “IrisBubble view” feature allows to magnify in on a specific area and still keep the contextual integrity. Meaning, you don’t get a ‘telescope’ view and loose the rest of the scene.

Then, VR headsets can be used anywhere. They allow visually impaired people to move freely and independently. Studies have shown people to drive, ride a bus, watch television and even work with tools wearing VR headsets.

For a visually impaired person, the feeling of not being able to see is more crippling than any other hindrance that comes with the territory, and that is the reason VR is a life saver for such people. Apart from addressing low vision conditions, VR puts the ‘V’ back in the vision for these people.

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