Are Wearable Devices the Answer?

Posted by Luke Scriven on 7/12/2019

In the low vision technology world, wearable devices are the current hot trend, and for good reason - they offer the potential to give some semblance of normal vision back to people who are experiencing vision loss. Assistive technology companies make some big claims about what their wearable devices can do, and often times potential customers are led to believe that this technology can solve all their vision related problems...but is this true? Let's find out!

Firstly, we should define what a wearable device is, and the clue is in the name. A wearable device is an electronic device which can be worn – in the consumer market think an Apple Watch, or Google Glass. In the visual impairment assistive technology world we have devices such as the Sunu band, Orcam and Acesight which offer differing takes on wearable devices for people with vision loss.

The most common type of wearable device for people with vision loss currently is the ‘electronic glasses’ concept; worn on the head, these devices have a camera in the front, and video screens on the inside. A user sees what they are looking at in the video screens, and has the ability to manipulate the image through magnification, contrast enhancement, brightness adjustment, color changes and so on.

Technology companies make bold claims for these devices, often using marketing to show how people’s lives have been changed through their ability to see again. As a result, many consumers expectations have been set sky-high, and if the device doesn’t meet these expectations then it can be a hard pill to swallow. With this in mind, we will aim to point out some pros and cons of wearable devices, in an effort to temper expectations.


PROS

  • Wearables have the ability to focus up and close and in the distance, making them potentially viable for many tasks including reading, watching television, writing, using a computer, going to plays and concerts etc. This can reduce the need to own multiple devices for different tasks

  • They can have the ‘wow factor’ for some clients, whereby when they put them on they experience a large increase in their functional vision and feel like they can see again how they used to

  • They are portable, and are therefore suited for tasks both at home and when out

  • A user has a potentially more natural viewing experience. Rather than using an external device such as a magnifier, a user moves their head to looks around and see things


CONS

  • Wearables are still quite bulky, and can be heavy. This reduces their potential for long period use, and can make people less likely to use them in public due to fear of stigma

  • They can be difficult to use for concentrated visual tasks such as reading, particularly if higher magnifications are needed. The higher the magnification required, the smaller the field of view will be, and the harder it is to keep the image steady

  • When looking at screens (such as a television or computer) with a wearable, some image degradation occurs. This is because you are looking at a screen, through a camera, through another screen. Some wearables counteract this by allowing you to connect a video source directly to the screens of the wearable

  • Some wearables cannot be used while walking, due to their enclosed design inhibiting a user’s peripheral vision. Wearables that can be worn while walking are affected by ambient light due to their more open design, meaning when using them outside on bright days it can be hard to see the screens clearly. 


In conclusion, wearable devices offer a lot of potential, but also are not suitable for all users and all tasks. It is important with these devices, and indeed all assistive technologies, to remember that the best way to know if it works for you is to try it for yourself, and don't get caught up in the hype. And when you're ready to try them out, we've got you covered! To schedule an appointment to try out wearable devices, call us at 312-997-3649 or email [email protected] 


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4 Comments

Sandi Dillon
Date: 5/30/2020
My 87 year old dad has Macular Degeneration. He is able to read with bright lighting and magnification. Would this be feasible for him? Is there a local office near Fresno, CA? Is this a one size fits all, or is it programmable for each individual? I prefer email refpkbses. Thank you
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