The woman urgently needed a new pair of glasses for an upcoming meeting. So she was delighted to see an optical store on an otherwise desolate street in her neighborhood. A Russian-accented voice boomed dobroye utro (good morning) as she entered the store. For a moment she had second thoughts, wandering whether he would be able to understand her request. She was African and had a thick accent as well. Would they be caught in a conversational morass of misunderstandings? Luckily that was not the case. She was pleasantly surprised to discover how much she had in common with the store owner and they immediately established a rapport. After an impromptu lesson about the lenses needed to compensate for her high myopia, they perused his collection of designer frames, before engaging in a discussion about the visually impaired people in their respective families.
They simultaneously wandered if there were any medical breakthroughs that could help blind people. Being a curious person by nature, the woman paid close attention to the health news on television that night. She saw a snippet about an artificial retina. Although the implanted device was approved for a selected subgroup of patients with a rare eye disease, The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System was a possible indication of future technological innovations that could benefit the estimated 39 million blind people across the globe . The woman flipped through the Google search pages on her iPad, eager to share a list of current inventions with the store owner. She clicked on a page describing another discovery that could benefit blind people. Israeli researcher, Dr. Amir Amedi, had developed a non-invasive device (a computer mounted on glasses, connected to stereo speakers) that enabled blind people to “see” using sound.
Next, she searched for inventions of potential benefit to people with impaired vision or chronic diseases. Since comprehensive eye examinations were a rarity for poor people in the neighborhood, she was delighted to discover information for a portable eye examination kit. Another website for a smartphone diagnostic tool proclaimed that “almost anyone, anywhere could conduct their own eye test, quickly and easily.” However, correcting impaired vision with approved, do-it-yourself eye tests and devices were only the first two items on her wish list.
Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul and can also signal the onset of ocular ailments or indicate poorly controlled chronic diseases. She was therefore happy to read about the development of a scanner that could pick up on some of these conditions by non-invasively visualizing the 3D-structure of key ocular regions.
One week later, the woman received a call from the store owner. The thick lenses of her new glasses fit perfectly into a designer frame. She responded with a Russian word he had taught her: spasiba (thank you). Later that evening, the store owner called his son to tell him about the grateful customer. The son smiled when he heard about the inventions that the customer had shared with his father. Maybe one day he would no longer need to touch a Braille version of John Milton’s “On his Blindness.” Maybe one day he would be able to regain his sight.
1. Mariotti, S.P. Global data on visual impairments. 2010 [cited 2013 September]; Available from: http://www.iapb.org/sites/iapb.org/files/GLOBALDATAFINALforweb.pdf.