Electronic glasses have been in the spotlight lately.
First, there was the story of a blind fifth grader being able to see his mother.
Then, there was the video of an 8-month-old baby looking at her mother for the first time.
But these modern devices have other uses that are not in the public eye, so to speak, but they are just as life changing.
In fact, Lisa Kelly thinks they should be widely available as an employee benefit.
Kelly, director of enrichment programs at Outlook Nebraska in Omaha, hopes business owners realize that offering adaptive technology to employees with impaired vision is a wonderful retention tool.
“You give an employee their vision back and they’ll never leave you,” Kelly told Healthline.
Helping Employees, Saving Money
Outlook Nebraska is a nonprofit company whose mission is to provide jobs for people who are visually impaired.
In fact, 42 of the group’s 75 employees are legally blind. The company purchased five pairs of e-glasses last year from Toronto-based eSight.
Despite the $75,000 total price tag, Kelly sees the e-glasses as a cost-savings.
“It costs us thousands of dollars to adapt a machine,” for a visually impaired worker, she said.
Those tweaks might include adding an audio function or providing larger buttons denoting functions.
“And that is just one machine,” she noted. “With eSight, that worker can run any machine.”
She said employers are more open to accommodating people with mobility issues, such as adding ramps or creating wider aisles.
“People are afraid to say, ‘I’m losing my vision.’ It’s really scary. You’re afraid you’ll lose your job,” Kelly said. Besides e-glasses, Kelly noted the availability of “lots of adaptive tech,” including software, apps, and lighting.
Work, Music, Bowling
Kelly said Outlook Nebraska’s e-glasses are shared across shifts, but one pair has gone home with Katie Larson, who works in the sales department.
Born with optic atrophy, she sees, literally, a big difference in her life.
“I’m more independent. I don’t need the magnification software,” she told Healthline.
But there’s a bit of a learning curve in adjusting to the glasses.
“It takes time to get used to them,” she said, remembering how she got a headache after wearing the e-glasses too long.
But any issues were more than balanced by her enhanced abilities. After playing the piano for 14 years she’s now able to read the notes. And her bowling has improved as well.
“We’re not a typical company,” Kelly said.
Since it’s a facility with a significant number of employees who are blind or visually impaired, it had already adapted its equipment. Most companies have not made such modifications.
After the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, businesses are required to accommodate employees who have any impairment that interferes with their ability to work.
How the Glasses Work
The eSight glasses are not a cure-all for blindness.
They are designed for people who are legally blind or have low vision. They do not make it possible to resume driving.
The e-glasses use a headset, prescription lens frame, and a handheld controller. The headset includes a live camera that sends a video stream to the controller.
The controller, using formulas and choices of color and contrast, can customize the video to make images easier for people with low vision to see.
Once enhanced, the video signal is then transmitted back to the headset and appears on LED screens in front of the wearer's eyes.
Wearers can see a faraway object such as a clock on a wall, or read a book because the controller can zoom in on details.
The contrast can be changed to make a room seem darker or lighter, making it easier to distinguish objects.
Chelsea MacDonald, vice president of client outreach at eSight, loves seeing the product change people’s lives.
“This is a pretty awesome thing, to make a permanent change in someone’s life,” she said in an interview with Healthline.
“The hard part of vision loss is there’s not a whole lot you can do. There’s no treatment to follow up on,” MacDonald said. “If it’s been 20 years since you lost your vision, you might not be looking” for new devices.
She recalled attending a sales meeting to discuss the possibility of a company making e-glasses available to its employees. It was an emotional discussion and by its end, MacDonald found her eyes were wet.
“Then I saw the CEO and the CFO had tears on their faces,” she said. “It’s really a ‘wow moment’ for people.”
MacDonald added eSight wants to make sure the glasses are available to everyone who needs them.
To that end, the company helps set up teams to find money to pay for them, including fundraising or employer contributions.
As for Kelly, even with all her experience working with people who have visual impairments, the effect of the e-glasses has been surprising.
She recalled a worker who had taken the glasses home reporting with excitement the next day that she had done her laundry.
“That was a shocker for me. She’d never been able to read the dial before,” Kelly said.