I’ve lived with macular degeneration for almost my entire life. As a result, I’m very familiar with devices that, for the last 30 years, have helped people with low vision. These devices have primarily assisted people with reading and writing. Yet, experts say that individuals with high-functioning low vision typically need between 6 and 8 different low-vision devices just to accomplish their daily tasks. This is all changing now because of IrisVision. IrisVision is a mobile device allows individuals with low vision to read, write, see faces, watch TV, and even enjoy art galleries. In other words, to live fully.
At 19, I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease. This came as a shock. As a child and later as a teenager, I loved art. I’d spend hours drawing and painting. My family and teachers supported my love for art because I seemed to have a talent for it. So, when I was selecting a college major, I naturally chose art history.
Despite my diagnosis, I continued my passion by enrolling in art classes in college. However, my vision worsened and my world started going dark. I hid the extent to which my eyesight was deteriorating from my professors and friends and even my family. My paintings started growing in size. My professors would tease me about my decision to paint on larger and larger canvases, unaware of my vision problems.
Looking back, it’s obvious that I was trying to hide the reality of my problems from myself. I was in denial about my vision loss. I just couldn’t accept that I was losing my central vision. Two years later, my low vision forced me to drop out of college and, to make things worse, I had to give up driving shortly thereafter. It wasn’t how I pictured my 20s unfolding.
Forty years later, with the help of technology, I was able to do what was impossible when I was in college. With the use of a CCTV reading machine, I could complete my college degree and even go on to graduate school. This allowed me to have a fantastic career in the field of low vision where I have helped numerous people that struggle with similar issues as myself.
I first became acquainted with IrisVision in 2017 while serving as Vice President of Rehabilitation Services at Chicago Lighthouse. I was overwhelmed by how well I could see the faces while wearing IrisVision. Not only could I see facial features clearly, but I could also see the twinkle in people’s eyes. Instantly, my thoughts went to the paintings I studied in college. Though I had not seen them in over 40 years, they remained clear in my mind. In the past, I’d visited galleries using a monocular telescope. With it, I could make out only a very small area of each painting and they appeared dim through the telescope. I decided I had to find out if it was possible to see those paintings I’d so often recalled in my mind using IrisVision.
On my way to the museum, I was a little hesitant about using IrisVision in public, but my excitement far outweighed the thought of possibly being embarrassed. I selected the most colorful painting that I could think of from my days as an art student and stood in front of it. I closed my eyes and then I slipped IrisVision over my head, my hands shaking with anticipation. I stepped back into the crowd and opened my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was able to see the entire painting in a single look. I mean I could really see it! I saw the painting’s bright colors and small details, including individual brush strokes. It was better than I’d remembered. I was stunned. Tears began rolling down my cheeks. I was able to recapture a part of myself that I’d thought I’d lost forever. It was almost like seeing normal again.
No other low vision aids have ever allowed me to see like IrisVision. Without IrisVision, I’d never have had the opportunity to see another painting in my life. Standing in front of that painting with IrisVision is a moment I will never forget. In my early 30s, shortly after losing my central vision completely, I could still remember what it was like to see. But over time, I lost that sensation too. Now with IrisVision, I can make new visual memories and recover a part of myself I thought I’d lost so many decades ago.