November Newsletter No. 329

Libraries at risk of cuts

Community libraries are seeing an “unprecedented” rise in the number of people using their services, but many are concerned about their future.

Scientists create ‘mini eyes’ in the lab that could help thousands at the risk of sight loss

Scientists at University College London have created the first artificial retinas in the lab from children with a condition called Usher syndrome. This could help more than 30,000 people in the UK at risk of blindness from inherited conditions, and provide hope for around 60,000 older people living with age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of severe sight loss in people over 50.

The accessibility of visual assistance apps for people living with low vision and other impairments

Aira is a live, human-to-human professional assistance service. Using the camera on the participant’s smartphone, a trained agent assists by visually interpreting the surroundings. The service is available 24/7 and offers subscriptions at different levels, from 30 minutes per month to 700 minutes per month.

Seeing AI is a free app which narrates the world for the visually impaired or blind individual. It was developed by Microsoft for iOS and uses optical character recognition to read aloud any typed or handwritten texts. It also uses the device’s camera to identify people and objects to then audibly describe those objects.

 Supervision+ was developed at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary and is the only magnifier app on the market that offers a supreme live image stabilization capability. It also provides features such as freezing of images at high resolutions for examining details and options to change the contrast from black on white to white on black.

Failing eyesight may be a warning sign of a heart attack or stroke – study finds

Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York say people with a form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. However, the discovery offers hope that doctors can create a screening program for heart problems.

Hearing or sight loss needn’t mean job loss

Hearing loss, deafness, tinnitus and sight loss affect 14 million UK people so being fully aware and catering for the requirements of any staff members with additional needs is essential for inclusive employers. As these disabilities are often invisible, employers need to be aware of the barriers colleagues may be facing, so speaking openly about how hearing or sight loss affects their ability to work is vital.

Advancements in eye implants are saving sight

A new device can treat age-related macular degeneration and replace eye injections for many.

Gene injection to help stop sight loss caused by macula degeneration

Scientists are using a harmless virus to piggyback a gene into the eye, where it instructs it to produce its own supply of a sight-saving substance. The breakthrough could lead to new, less unpleasant treatments for some of the 600,000 people affected by AMD in the UK. The condition occurs when the macula, part of the retinThere are ways to tackle wet AMD – prompt treatment is vital to prevent further damage – but they can be gruelling.

Drugs including aflibercept, a protein that blocks the action of VEGF, have to be injected into the eye for life. This needs to be done frequently, as often as once a month. These jabs can be painful and cause bruising around the eye (rare complications include cataracts and infection). Around half of patients stop treatment within two years, according to a 2021 review in the journal Ophthalmology. The new treatment, known as ADVM-022, involves just one jab probably every three years. Developed by US-based company Adverum, it is a form of gene therapy. It involves injecting a virus containing the genetic code for making aflibercept into the eye. The virus acts as a vehicle to carry the genes into the eye.

Samsung’s latest Smart TV range awarded Accreditation by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

RNIB awards its “Tried and Tested” standard to products, websites, apps or services which meet the charity’s criteria for accessibility for consumers with sight loss. This distinction enables the users to make easier purchase decisions and also underscores Samsung’s pledge to improving accessibility features on its TVs.

Samsung has worked with RNIB for nearly a decade, ensuring its products are suited with the most efficient features to offer accessibility for all consumers. This year’s accreditation is the second time Samsung have been awarded the ‘Tried and Tested’ standard, having first been recognised by the charity in 2020.

If you have vision problems, these phone settings can help

Android phones and iPhones both include lots of accessibility options. Further details below:

Paralympian talks about the struggle of cost of living

People who are blind and visually impaired are struggling to keep track of their energy use, a Paralympic sprinter has warned. The cost of living crisis is affecting everybody, but for those who are blind or partially sighted, the difficulty in knowing that household appliances are using energy can be much harder.

Paralympic and Commonwealth sprinter, Zac Shaw, who’s from Grimsby and lives and trains in Loughborough and says for many it’s an “increasing struggle”. Mr Shaw said: “You can walk past a plug and see it’s left on or you can walk past a heater and see it’s been left on. If you’re visually impaired, it’s not always that easy. “Your home is a safe place, but it’s also like a little trap. Am I spending too much money?” The Commonwealth silver medallist lost his sight as a teenager and says even basic tasks now come at a price.

Further details:

Statins may help prevent macula degeneration

Statins may reduce the risk of age-related sight deterioration, according to new research. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of leading causes of severe visual impairment among older people. Now a new study has shown that the regular use of drugs to lower cholesterol and control type two diabetes may lessen the risk of the degenerative eye disease by more than a fifth.