Monday, July 07, 2008

New medical device helps the visually impaired!

From cell phones to office equipment, medical devices and home appliances, we live in a world filled with small digital display screens.

Most of us likely take them for granted, but for those with visual impairments, such screens can present major challenges.

Marshall University and the American Foundation for the Blind Technology Employment Center in Huntington have unveiled a new device that measures the contrast on small visual displays.
"The problem with small screen displays is that they are found on an incredible number of products," said Mark Uslan, director of AFB TECH. "The reason it's a problem is the contrast. Manufacturers don't have standards for contrast. That's the most important variable in the readability of a display."

The new device was developed by Marshall physicist Thomas Wilson and engineered by AFB TECH personnel and faculty and students in the Marshall College of Information Technology and Engineering.

Officials from Marshall, AFB TECH and the American Foundation for the Blind office in New York City announced the development of the new device during a news conference June 25 in Huntington.

The device works by placing an instrument with a digital display in front of it, said Lee Huffman, national technology associate for the AFB. A camera that is connected to light-sensing equipment determines the contrast on the display screen. The machine then gives the user a percentage of contrast.

During the news conference, the AFB TECH staff tested a blood pressure monitor that had a contrast of 45 percent.

"That's less than half," Huffman said. "That's not enough for those with vision loss."

At this time, however, no studies have been completed that determine what percentage of contrast is acceptable, Uslan said. That is why the AFB is working with the Veterans Administration Hospital in Atlanta on just such a study.

When that study is completed, the AFB will be "able to go to manufacturers with the measurements," Uslan said. "... The whole idea is to get manufacturers to enhance their displays."
The new device and the Atlanta study will affect a large segment of the population that has impaired vision, Huffman said. The AFB estimates that 8 million people in the U.S. have such impairments.

Those problems hamper their ability to use digital cameras to take pictures, use cell phones to call loved ones or use debit card readers at the grocery store. A lot of those with visual impairments tell cashiers their personal identification numbers because they can't see the displays.

And it goes beyond that, he said. The visually impaired often guess at the reading on their glucometers, which could lead to serious health problems. It's the same for insulin pens.

"How would you feel if you couldn't do that? How would you feel if you could?" Huffman asked.
But the potential advancements go far beyond the visually impaired population, Uslan said. When the contrast benchmark is determined, it could help the general population.

"We think it will," he said. "We think everybody needs displays that are as readable as possible."
The Atlanta study is expected to be completed by this fall, Uslan said.

The Huntington AFB TECH lab was founded in 2001.


Post a Comment

<< Home