Julian Jackson from VisionBridge shares the value of using assistive technology for sight loss.

There is no doubt that sight loss continues to be a clear and present issue across the UK and globally, bolstered by increasingly ageing populations, the impact of infections, and inherited and systemic disease.

So how can assistive technology (AT) help alleviate this situation?

Let me first go back a step to 2010 when I lost my sight to a retinal inherited disease retinitis pigmentosa, and duly launched the social enterprise VisionBridge (this link will take you away from our website).I had struggled for some years with diminishing sight to read emails, recognise faces, navigate outdoors in glare or low light and generally manage the activities in daily living that we all take for granted. It never occurred to me that technology including vision enhancement, audio-description, navigation and orientation could be so pivotal in the rehabilitation of people with vision loss, dual sensory loss or even visual processing challenges.

Indeed, progress in eye research continues to move aside the usual obstacles to maintaining a chosen lifestyle, experiencing travel and leisure, and accessing education and employment opportunities. However, all this progress is being made in the context of a growing number of challenges to eyecare provision and patient rehabilitation in the UK.

For example, low vision care is extremely varied and availability of devices is mixed.

My discussions with a wide range of healthcare professionals have highlighted the increasing fast pace of development of wide-ranging AT. This may complicate potential pathways for people who experience sight loss, when wanting to ensure relevancy of a particular device for a particular eye condition or disease. Furthermore, hands-on training of people on devices is inconsistent, particularly during a global pandemic.

In light of all this feedback, VisionBridge is helping to put AT on the front foot. VisionBridge in collaboration with Sight and Sound Technology (this link will take you away from our website), has launched a series of online interactive AT sessions. They are designed for anyone interested in exploring how technology can improve people’s mobility, confidence, independence and connectivity alongside improving the ability to gain and retain employment, sustain a lifestyle and remain in mainstream education.

We are partnering with the ALLIANCE on 14th April to deliver a session to members. These sessions introduce people to some highly innovative hardware, software and literacy support solutions. At the very least, they provide people with information and experience of handling equipment so that they can then make an informed choice.

Our session is open to users and future users of assistive technology, and health and social care practitioners.  They have an important role to play in helping to create and maintain a much clearer ‘line of sight’ between themselves, acting as ‘touch points’ for people, and specialist distributors. We all need to remember that information about AT is not the same as recommendation, and will simply give the person choice.

Personally speaking, AT continues to help me work, communicate and retain a measurable degree of mobility and independence. I am amazed by the ability of technologies and devices to evolve and make life just that little bit easier. AT is certainly not a panacea for sight loss. It does not pretend to prevent, treat or even cure. However, I strongly believe that it should be considered as a useful friend in times of crisis or specific need. I would urge people to explore the wonders of AT.

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