April Newsletter No. 288
What coronavirus means for blind and partially sighted people
“If a well-meaning neighbour offered to do your lockdown shopping, would you be brave enough to ask for a bottle of sherry and a bag of cheese and onion crisps? Visually impaired campaigner Anna Tylor did just that, as she describes wryly on her blog. Anna was struggling to get her usual supermarket delivery slot as blind and partially sighted people in the UK are not classified as “clinically extremely vulnerable”so are not automatically entitled to food parcels, priority supermarket deliveries or help with basic care needs”.
“Supermarkets usually allow a staff member to accompany a visually impaired person around the shop. Now, though, this would mean spending more time in close contact with a potential asymptomatic carrier. Social distancing is even more difficult for people with reduced hearing as well as bad eyesight. It is far harder to hear someone from two metres away than from 50 cm, and there are worrying reports of tactile interpreters for deafblind people not being available in healthcare settings”.
Are smartphones finally catering to the visually impaired?
How would you use your smartphone if your vision was impaired? Recent improvements in voice computing have been hugely significant for the visually impaired. Voice recognition allows devices to be operated using the spoken word, while voice synthesis can describe the contents of a screen. So, when Apple introduced an on-screen Braille keyboard to the iPhone and iPad back in 2014, many who would reap the benefits were ecstatic. “I do not exaggerate when I say this feature was life-changing,” wrote Alex Hall in an article for the website AppleVis, which publishes information for visually impaired people who use Apple products. “My phone has become my primary computing device, and Braille screen input is largely why.” the coronavirus crisis is putting a spotlight on many accessibility issues as people move to new ways of working.
Technology to help Covid-19 patients communicate with frontline medical staff
Severely ill coronavirus patients around the world have been able to easily communicate with healthcare workers wearing Personal Protective Equipment thanks to digital flashcards. Digital flashcards are being used by NHS Trusts and hospitals in 47 countries following funding advice and introductions made by the Department for International Trade.
Potential new therapy to treat macular degeneration might be available in the future
Age-related macular degeneration (MD) is a variety of ocular disease that affects so many millions of people, it’s downright characterized as nothing more than the process of aging.
In fact, the study of MD has proven itself to be so fruitful for understanding aging as a whole, MD has become one of the first places that scientists have looked to in order to attempt to repair the damage of aging and restoring youthful, or normal function.
Now in a new paper published in Nature, researchers demonstrate an alternative to stem cells by creating replacement photoreceptors from skin fibroblast cells via pharmacological-conversion—a process that promises to be cheaper, faster, and unburdened by ethical and legal restrictions.