Holiday 2017 Newsletter

November 14, 2017

A pdf of this newsletter is available by clicking here

The Iris Network Fall 2017 Insight Newsletter is Here!

A printed version with an accessible code is also being mailed to our constituents this week. If you want to receive one and are not on our mailing list, contact Terri Tomchak at ttomchak@theiris.org or call (207) 518-5040.  

Low Vision Clinic Supports Aging-in-Place  

The Bastarache family
The Bastarache family

Terri Bastarache was curious about those air fryers that “fry” foods using very little oil. She often shops online, but “if it’s black text on a blue background, I can’t read it.” She had gone shopping, but was thwarted by tags that were black type against a red background, and restaurant menus that are black type against brown. “Why do they do that?” she wondered. When her son stopped by and she told him about the fryer, he said, “Let’s go!” 

“When you get to be my age, everything fails, but you still want to do something,” Terri said. “I am invited to go to a presentation at The Iris Network this month, and I’m looking forward to it. I want to see what they have. They said to bring a friend. I’m going to ask a friend of mine who goes to the same eye doctor and has macular degeneration in both eyes.” 

Terri had cataracts removed when she was in her 70s, then lost the vision in one eye due to a detached retina. When her doctor told her she had macular degeneration, she said, “If I can’t spell it, I don’t want it! He said I’m legally blind, but that’s okay. That’s why God gave us two eyes!”  Right now her vision is still good enough in the other eye for her to continue driving. “I want to hang on to it,” she said. “It’s not broken; don’t touch it.” 

Although she values her independence, she also feels lucky to have a wonderful family she can depend on when needed. “After my husband died, I’ve been alone for quite some time,” she said, “But I have three sons and a daughter and their spouses, 15 grandkids, and 5 great-grandkids! They all have busy lives, but they do stop by. It’s always spontaneous. But when they come over, it’s really good for me. I’m not one to sit around twiddling my thumbs. I’m always ready to go.” 

Terri and daughter DollyTerri and Daughter Dolly

Her children sometimes try to play match-maker, but she tells them, “If he can’t cook, I don’t want him!” Her sense of humor serves her well in dealing with the frustrations of vision impairment, such as reading appliance dials, manuals and recipes. “This morning, I bought the air fryer,” she said. “No oil – French fries, onion rings, steak. My friend has one, and she says it’s awesome. But I’m going to have to read the manual. I need a talking recipe book.” 

Terri was seen in the Low Vision Clinic for a low vision exam with Dr. Berlin.  She then worked with the occupational therapist for an evaluation and follow up treatment in her home, where many areas were addressed.  She improved her task lighting for quilting and got appropriate lighting and magnification for reading. We also addressed iPad/computer use and accessibility features, telephone use, and operation of household appliances. Thanks to the generosity of donors who support The Iris Network, we will be able to introduce Terri to additional tools, devices, and techniques if her vision continues to decline. For example, she's an avid reader, and we can connect her to a source for audio books or screen-reading software. The goal is to help her live a good quality of life and maintain her independence. 

 But one thing is certain: You won't find her sitting around twiddling her thumbs. "Life is full of opportunities," she said. "In the meantime, I'll go to Iris. They've already helped me like you wouldn't believe." 


Five New Technological Innovations for Vision Impairment

A. Jan Berlin, M.D., Medical Director, the Low Vision Clinic

In February of this year during Low Vision Awareness Month, the National Eye Institute (NEI) published an article written by Kathryn DeMott, describing five new innovations utilizing computer vision, a technology that enables “computers to recognize and interpret the complex assortment of images, objects and behaviors in the surrounding environment.” 

The Co-robotic cane is a huge advance on the white cane. Its innovator Cang Ye, Ph.D. of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has developed a co-robotic cane that can help in finding specific rooms within a building, where GPS-assisted devices aren’t much help. The prototype cane has a 3-D camera to “see” for the user, with a motorized roller tip that can propel the cane toward the desired location. In addition, the user can speak into a speech recognition microphone, which interprets the verbal commands and guides the user by means of a wireless earpiece. A credit-card sized computer stores pre-loaded floor plans via Wi-Fi upon entering the building, alerting the user to hallways, stairs and doorways. Dr. Ye’s device takes current images captured by the camera and matches them with those of a previous image, thus determining the users location by comparing the progressively changing views, all relative to a starting point. Dr. Ye is receiving NEI support as well as a recent grant from the National Institute of Health Innovation Program to explore commercial production of the co-robotic cane.

Dr. Ye is also developing a fingerless glove device to identify small objects, such as door handles, by means of a camera and speech recognition system. The user gives the glove voice commands such as “door handle,” “mug” or “bottle of water.” An actuator on the thumb’s surface prompts the user to move his or her hand forward and backward, but at the moment, getting a feel for how to grasp an object is more challenging, he says. 

A smartphone crosswalk app is under development by James Coughlan, PH.D. and his colleagues at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute to give users an auditory prompt to identify the safest crossing location and stay within the crosswalk, using GPS and computer vision to scan the area and then a geographic information system (GIS) database which contains a crowd sourced detailed inventory about the intersection’s quirks, such as the presence of road construction, uneven pavement, status of the walk lights and traffic lights and the presence of vehicles. 

Client looking at video magnifier
Client looking at video magnifier
Dr. Jamy Borbidge, Optometrist
Dr. Jamy Borbidge, Optometrist
Dr. Berlin working with client
Dr. Berlin working with client

Five New Technological Innovations for Vision Impairment 

A CamIO (camera input-output) system is under development to provide real-time audio feedback as a user explores an object, by turning it around and touching it. Holding a finger stationary on a 3-D or 2-D object signals the system to provide an audible label of the object in question or an enhanced image on a laptop. CamiO was conceived by Joshua Miele, Ph.D., a blind scientist at Smith-Kettlewell, and is being developed by Dr. Coughlan and his associates there. To watch a demonstration of the CamiO system, visit http://bit.lv/2CamIO. 

Eli Peli, O.D. of the Schepens Eye Research Institute, Boston, has developed lenses constructed of high-powered prisms and periscopes for severe tunnel vision that expand the visual field while preserving central vision, very useful for people with retinitis pigmentosa or severe glaucoma. Dr. Pelli has designed multiplexing prisms consisting of one-millimeter wide prisms that expand the field of view by about 30 degrees, which he feels is not good enough, so he and his colleagues are employing a periscope-like concept, such as those used on submarines, but modified to shift the image to achieve a 45-degree visual field. They are looking to work with optical labs to manufacture a cosmetically acceptable prototype that could be magnetically clipped onto existing glasses. 

The technology for devices to assist those with visual impairment is rapidly expanding, Stay tuned! 


Kinley and Gloria Herboldsheimer

  There’s No Stopping Him! 

  Kinley and Gloria Herboldsheimer

Kinley Herboldsheimer is looking forward to celebrating his 98th birthday in November. “I’m healthy, and happy to be alive,” he will tell you. His young wife, Gloria, will turn 87 on Thanksgiving Day. They’ve been married for 62 years. 

According to the National Eye Institute, more than 1.75 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration. Kinley is one of them. He was diagnosed several years ago before the couple moved to Portland from Boston. “His vision has been getting progressively worse,” Gloria said. 

Kinley had a chance to explore video magnifiers and a text to speech device that captures and reads printed material at The Iris Network. “We’ve also been to several programs there, and found them very informative and helpful,” Gloria said. She is always on the lookout for things to do that they both can enjoy. She hopes the community will support The Iris Network so they will be able to expandgroup activities and educationalprograms for people who are blind or visually impaired. 

“When my husband retired from teaching high school physics and chemistry, he liked to work on mathematical problems people said couldn’t be solved. If it wasn’t for the macular degeneration, he’d probably still be doing that. He has some hearing loss and dementia, but his long-term memory is very good,” she said. 

Many seniors who are blind or visually impaired have a difficult time keeping up with current events if they can no longer read a newspaper. The couple’s son Thomas has volunteered for The Iris Network, reading the newspaper to residents of Iris Park Apartments. Kinley tags along, and the residents seem to enjoy his Nebraskan sense of humor. At home, Gloria reads the Boston Globe to Kinley each morning. “I get a cup of coffee, and put my feet up. Then I ask him, ‘Is this something you’d be interested in?’ Usually, I hit it right.” 

Both Gloria and Kinley are taking part in a medical research study that may one day crack the code to macular degeneration. But for today, they are grateful to have The Iris Network help them deal with the challenges of vision loss. 

The key to living long is living well: staying open to learning, maintaining an interest in current events, and being able to enjoy life with friends and family. And thanks to a caring and supportive community, seniors with vision loss can depend on The Iris Network to be there with help and hope. 

Join The Iris Network Giving Society 

The Iris Network announces the creation of The Iris Network Giving Society.  Society members are donors who realize that The Iris Network needs a steady, reliable stream of income to take the organization from good to great.  Society members have agreed to have a set donation amount withdrawn from their bank account or charged to their credit card each month. For more information, please contact Regal Naseef at (207) 518-5016 or rnaseef@theiris.org or donate online at www.theiris.org/donate (and choose monthly donation and amount). 

If you know someone who is being challenged by vision loss, call The Iris Network at (207) 774-6273 or (800) 715-0097. For more information, our website is www.theiris.org. 

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We acknowledge with gratitude the sponsorship of a portion of the cost of production and distribution of this newsletter by Maine’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


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