“Players must wear padding for protection,” reads 7-year-old Isreal Scott aloud. He’s reading a new book about his favorite sport of football.
Nearby, inside the University of Houston’s Center for Sight Enhancement, 8-year-old Chloe is also reading aloud.
“Leaves change color. Pumpkins ripen,” she says with a smile.
These kids know the words in their books, but they can’t see them on their own, due to visual impairment.
“Sometimes my mom takes me to the library,” said Chloe. “I get books, but the words are so small.”
Chloe and all five children on this particular visit to the Center for Sight Enhancement (CSE) in the UH College of Optometry are legally blind. The conditions of the kids, ages 7-16, range from retinal detachments to tumors.
“There are a number of conditions that cause low vision, which is irreparable vision loss that cannot be corrected by glasses, contacts, surgery or medicine,” explained Stanley Woo, optometry professor and director of the CSE. “Kids with low vision or impairment can have devices at school in order for them to learn and compete, but they don’t have this technology at home. It puts them at a disadvantage as far as doing homework and playing.”
But that has all changed for five families in need, who received electronic video magnifiers through an alliance between the CSE, Optelec, which makes life-changing assistive technologies for the blind and visually impaired, and Sight Savers America.
On Tuesday (Dec. 13) volunteers for Sight Savers, a nationally expanding not-for-profit organization that provides free vision aids to legally blind children whose families can’t afford the equipment, trained Chloe, Isreal and the three other children who received the MultiView electronic magnification devices.
“I felt like it was Christmas,” said Chloe.
Her mother, Tonya Trahan, said she knew the equipment existed, but simply couldn’t afford it.
“I am very excited,” said Trahan. “I have struggled a lot of nights and days, crying, wondering if her vision will improve. Any type of equipment that will help her will be great.”
The specialized home aids will not only help these children read and work on their homework, but they help them become more independent and relieve the strain that can be brought to their eyes, neck and shoulders as a result of their low vision. The technology is equipped with video cameras that can magnify objects and text up to 79 times its original size.
As Chloe and her mother packed up the machine to take home, they said the gift meant an early Christmas. The machines cost more than $2000 and are not covered by insurance.
“I couldn’t afford it,” said Trahan. “When the doctor first showed us the machine, I was like, ‘oh my God, I can’t, so thank you to everyone.”
“For the impact it has, the cost has no equivalent,” said Prof. Woo. “So to be able to bring a smile to their eyes, to see them do more and recognize the impact it can have is very rewarding.”