Several months ago, Blind Motherhood ran a two-part series about OrCam, an assistive technology device that reads text aloud to people who are visually impaired or legally blind. I remained in touch with the company and with Dr. Bryan Wolynski, OD, who provided my initial in-home demonstration. While I would have liked to purchase OrCam immediately, this technology is not covered by medical insurance or funded by the New York Commission for the Blind. My family and I were simply not in a financial position to comfortably enroll in any of OrCam’s financing options. Instead, OrCam offered me an amazing opportunity to borrow one of their devices for several months.
They didn’t request I write any blog posts about their product. No money was exchanged. All OrCam wanted was my feedback on how this blind mother of two toddlers found the technology useful in my daily routine. On a cold day in December, Dr. Bryan returned to my home and gave me a two-hour training, teaching me the in’s and out’s of this technology.
Since that time, I have found OrCam to be the lifeline that I didn’t know I needed – threading my previously sighted world together with my current state of blindness. It’s hard to comprehend how a machine can have such an emotional impact on someone’s state of mind, but I am telling you; OrCam has done that for me. Wearing it has not only made me become more independent, but has empowered me as a professional and as a mother. While some people were completely oblivious to my wearing OrCam, those who did notice the device had some pretty memorable reactions.
I swear, it was like every techie within a five-mile radius could smell me coming while I was wearing OrCam. “What’s that?” “Can I try it” “Give me a demonstration, please, please, please.” Be prepared because people who love technology will love to talk about your OrCam. They want to know what it does, how it works, and experience some of the features for themselves. While I had no problem showing others how I use the device, what people really loved is when I offered to store their face with OrCam’s facial recognition feature. By taking a few quick photos of someone, the device will actually remember who the person is and say it’s name back to you when they approach, even if it’s weeks later. Talk about being a hit at the monthly board meeting! People were literally running over to me during conferences, waiting to hear “my” OrCam say “their” name.
Implementing this technology allowed me to interact with every single person in the room during social functions. Previously, I would keep to a small, intimate, group of colleagues whose voices I clearly recognized. OrCam allowed me make connections with people who had always been in my immediate circle, but I had inadvertently avoided because of my visual impairment.
Some people cried when I showed them how OrCam was helping me in the daily tasks of raising my girls – like actual tears. While this reaction may seem a bit dramatic, it did happen on more than one occasion. My parents, who are in their 60’s, were especially impacted by experiencing the technology first hand. While my dad wanted to play with the device, even using it himself to read the newspaper; I think seeing this technology brought up a lot of “what if’s” about my late grandfather, who also became legally blind after a stroke.
If grandpa had been given the chance to use OrCam, he too would have been provided the opportunity to live a more fulfilling life as a visually impaired adult. He would have had the chance to read his newspaper every morning (his favorite pastime pre-vision loss) and perhaps would have been more confident navigating further away from home. Instead, he chose to isolate himself for the duration of his life, until passing away in 2006.
There is sadness in knowing if technology like OrCam had been available to my grandfather; he could have been happier. Equally emotional, is the responsibility I feel in using this device. While it’s only been 5 years since I lost my own eyesight, I know I need to be open to any and all technology that will help me live a more adaptive lifestyle as a visually impaired parent.
Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen someone with something in their teeth? You sort of stand there for a moment, mulling over the idea if you should tell them or not. On one hand your thinking, “Well, if it were me, I would want to know.” On the flip side, you also don’t want to appear to be some kind of creeper. Same goes for OrCam. I could physically feel people staring me down as I waited on line in the store or as I was sitting next to a colleague at a meeting. To ask or not to ask, that was the question.
As someone who’s not ashamed of my vision loss, I was more than happy to talk to anyone, friend or stranger, who had a question about the little camera sitting on arm of my eyewear. This would usually lead to a bigger conversation about how I came to need this technology in the first place, how I lost my eyesight, and about my blog, Blind Motherhood. If you’re thinking I probably wasted a lot of my time explaining OrCam to perfect strangers; I want to be clear that I don’t see it that way.
OrCam was the vehicle to get me talking to others, many of whom, I may have never had a chance to have a conversation with about living with vision loss. I didn’t just educate people about this technology; I was able to allow them to interact with someone who was visually impaired and underscore one of the key messages the blind community seeks to emphasize… “Yes, I may be blind, but I am a person; the same as you.”
Lessons In Nail Polish:
My husband and I explained to our daughters that OrCam was a “tool” that mommy needed to help her see better – not a “toy.” In the beginning, both my girls constantly wanted to touch my device and would accidentally tug on the wire attached to the base unit. Within a week, the novelty had worn off, and they never touched the unit inappropriately while I was wearing it. Using OrCam allowed me to read books independently to them, more so than I had ever done before. I even used the OrCam to help my girls choose their ice cream flavor when we visited our local mall. OrCam read the flavor selections right from the glass case with a point of my finger.
My 4 year old daughter, Nuala, was quite capable of verbally explaining to others just how OrCam “helped her mommy” as I quickly learned during a trip to our local nail salon. I always let her choose my nail polish color; but I prefer to know the the actual name of the paint that is being applied. On this particular trip, Nuala chose a bright red polish for me. When I pointed at the polish to have OrCam read the color name to me, I was shocked to hear it was called “After Sex.” Yup, my adorable four-year old picked “After Sex” to polish my toes!
Two women were standing beside me when they heard OrCam say “After Sex” and glared at me strangely. Nuala looked up at them and said, “Oh, that’s my mommy’s OrCam talking. She’s blind and it’s a special tool to help her see.” Just like that, my intelligent little girl, was able to name the technology, describe her mom’s disability, and proved she understood that I was using a “tool” to help me see the world around me.
The women and I had a good laugh and Nuala enjoyed our afternoon at the nail salon. When we got home that day, my husband complimented us on our nail color. “It’s called After Sex,” Nuala said, “the OrCam told me.” Out of the mouths of babes, right?
What I Really Love About OrCam:
You want to know what I really love about OrCam? It’s the people like Dr. Bryan Wolynski, O.D., and their staff all over the globe, who make themselves available to whomever is interested in experiencing this technology. OrCam is there to answer your questions, provide realistic expectations and is willing to push the envelope in how the device can be used. I appreciate collaborating with a company who’s willing to listen to the feedback of the blind community, including myself, in order to improve their product.
I invite you to join Blind Motherhood during this latest OrCam Trilogy, capturing the highs and lows of my experience. Stay tuned for OrCam Episodes 2 & 3. Like the company says – you gotta “SEE FOR YOURSELF.”