During one of the hottest weeks in August, I arranged for my OrCam demonstration with Dr. Bryan Wolynski, a licensed optometrist and the company’s NYC representative. Of course the night before, “Mostly Wonderful” got called into work and my youngest daughter was up half the night teething. Motherhood, never a dull moment! Dr. Wolynski and I had agreed to meet around 11am at my home. With my daughters fed, dressed and the television permanently set to Disney Junior, I was hoping my OrCam demo would have minimal interruptions.
When my husband phoned me from work that morning, he could tell I was anxious about taking this technology for a test drive. He had really wanted to be a part of the process since he too had spent a fair amount of time watching videos and reading up on the product. Unfortunately, I had to experience OrCam alone and I was nervous. Seriously, I had butterflies in my stomach.
For anyone thinking to themselves, “well, isn’t she dramatic” or “give me a break,” try looking at this technology from my perspective. I wasn’t born blind. My vision loss was a result of a long term illness. There was a painful progression from being sighted to becoming visually impaired. Over the past 4 years I have been forced to adapt to my darker world using various types of technology. Some of the stuff works great and frankly, some of it blows.
Being a mom complicates my visual impairment. My girls are rambunctious toddlers. Sure, they understand that mommy’s eyes don’t work quite as well as theirs; but they also lack patience.
As much as I strive for my home to run like a well oiled machine by maintaining a high level of organization, sometimes things get misplaced. And when that happens and “daddy” isn’t around to help find their favorite book or the doll they need to take their nap – things go to hell in a hurry.
And you want to know something? Asking my husband for helps totally sucks. BIG TIME! Because I’m the mommy and I want to be able to take care of my girls on my own. I want to find that toy and read that book because in that moment they need to be comforted. I’m the mom, that’s my job. It’s heartbreaking and defeating to realize there are times I just can’t make it all better – at least not on my own.
In my mind, if OrCam really could provide me accurate, quick information then I would be that much closer to being the kind of mom that I want to be. The one who can do things by herself, not just sometimes, but all the time. It’s a personal struggle I face as a disabled parent, one that I’m trying to work on. To me, having the opportunity to actually try OrCam was a very big deal!
Meeting Dr. Bryan:
Since my kids couldn’t say “Dr. Wolynski”, my girls and I just called him, “Dr. Bryan.” And boy, did they love Dr. Bryan. He was amazingly sweet and gentle with my kids – and they were in rare form that day! OY!
Dr. Bryan and I sat in my kitchen and had an informal introduction with one another. I provided him with a copy of a visual field test that I had recently had done with my low-vision doctor. A visual field test measures a patient’s full horizontal and vertical range of vision. OrCam didn’t request any test results, but I thought it would be helpful for Dr. Bryan to see just where my small amount of residual vision was located.
Dr. Bryan had his OrCam stored in a tiny black case, no bigger than my cosmetic bag. He handed me the battery pack and ran my fingers over the buttons. It was no bigger than the remote control from my DVD player and the buttons were very easy to find. He then handed me a set of eyeglass frames with the OrCam already attached. The device was amazingly light and sleek looking. I had imagined it much bigger and more cumbersome (Remember, Schwarzenegger).
We turned on the device and when I motioned my head towards Dr. Bryan, I heard a male voice say, “Bryan, Bryan.” The OrCam had been pre-programmed to recognize the good doctor. It was completely amazing! I was then handed an OrCam brochure. Dr. Bryan instructed me to point my finger towards the text so the device could take a picture. Using my index finger, I made the pointing gesture, hearing two beeps and then a shutter sound (similar to when my IPHONE snaps a pic). The OrCam actually read me the brochure!
But the thing that really sent me over the edge was when I picked up my local newspaper while wearing the OrCam. I get the newspaper delivered to my home every day. If I’m lucky, I can read some of the larger headlines with a magnifier or closed circuit television. While wearing the OrCam, I could hear the entire front page of the newspaper. Headlines. By-lines. Journalist’s names. Even photo captions!
I was in serious danger of losing my tough New Yorker street cred, because I literally thought I was going to cry. I had forgotten what it felt like to hold a newspaper in my hand and read it. It was something I had deeply missed and Dr. Bryan explained to me that my extreme reaction was normal given the sight loss I had experienced.
Pictured: Dr. Bryan & Holly with OrCam Brochure.
OrCam Good & Bad:
My daughters had now wandered into the kitchen and were racing cars around my kitchen table, asking for snacks and requesting crayons. Once they had been taken care of, I asked if I could try to use the OrCam to read one of my children’s favorite books – The Gruffalo’s Child. The OrCam had a lot of difficulty reading the font depicted in this children’s book. While I knew most of the words it was reading were correct, (I have the book memorized) some were completely off. Dr. Bryan explained that the device primarily reads regular font, no handwriting or scripted words. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed.
I then ventured into my refrigerator to see what the OrCam would be able to read. I pointed to my Philadelphia Cream Cheese. While the device could read “cream cheese,” the word “Philadelphia” was slightly off sounding. Again, this related to the font design of the product. However, Dr. Bryan assured me if I purchased my own OrCam, I could simply photograph, save and store the products that I most commonly keep in my home – recording them with my own voice (another amazing feature). This would eliminate any problems with fonts and dictation for the OrCam.
I literally had to ask Dr. Bryan to review pricing with me. The man was not pushy at all. He didn’t hassle me to buy the OrCam. He wasn’t asking me for a check. All he did was review the installment plan, leasing options and warranty information for both the “My Eye” and the “My Reader.” He told me to contact him via email or by phone “if” and “when” I wanted to order.
The State Doesn’t Pay:
Prior to receiving my OrCam demo, I had put in a call to my counselor at the New York State Commission for the Blind. The Commission offers counseling and vocational training to blind individuals in an effort to create independence and promote job placement. When I first lost my eyesight in 2012, the Commission was my lifeline, providing me technology like magnifiers, a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), and various computer programs to help me sustain my employment. Much of what they provided ranged between $1,000 to $4,000 per item.
Upon speaking to my counselor, I was told the Commission currently “does not” approve the $2500 to $3500 funding necessary to purchase an OrCam. Their justification for this policy – the technology is simply too new for they to deem effective. Their decision is a frustrating one, especially when you consider how purchasing one OrCam could potentially negate both the need and cumulative expense for any additional assistive technology. The OrCam does what a handheld magnifier, CCTV, and accessibility based computer programs already do – but in one compact device. It makes perfect financial sense to me. So what’s the hold up?
Will Blind Motherhood Purchase an OrCam?
After meeting Dr. Bryan and trying the technology, there is no doubt in my mind that OrCam would absolutely save me a lot of time – and with two toddlers running around, I’m all about time management. I could read to my girls. I could independently fill out forms and have less worry about reading those tiny warning labels on their medications. I’m sure OrCam would help me with instructions for toy assembly and organizing their snacks, books and appropriate clothing sizes. Most importantly, OrCam would help me immensely in my current job. I would spend less time reading emails and lengthy documents and more time snuggling my kiddos on the sofa. So what’s holding me back?
In all honesty, the money is an issue for my family. Yes, OrCam does have some pretty fantastic financing and leasing options to purchase its technology. However, I won’t sacrifice my kid’s Christmas or miss a mortgage payment to purchase the device. My husband and I discussed it and we will buy an OrCam My Eye, as soon as we are financially able to do so. Hopefully, before the end of the year.
This two-part blog series was not a sponsored post by OrCam. As you read in Part I of this blog series, I requested my own demonstration from the company.
After experiencing OrCam and encountering the people who make this technology possible – like Hannah, Jonas and of course, Dr. Bryan – I sincerely believe OrCam’s ultimate goal is to empower those impacted by vision loss. These people are consummate, caring professionals. The technology works – it’s absolutely amazing – and it gives me hope that as my daughters grow this type of artificial vision will only continue to get better.
So, if after reading my blog you’re curious about how OrCam can work for you – I encourage you to reach out to the company directly. Check out their website –www.orcam.com. Follow them on Facebook. Connect with them on Twitter. OrCam is truly a pioneer in this field and you’ll want to follow them every step of the way!