Sharing the vision
Livingston charity donates Israeli tech to aid those with vision loss
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
When 10-year-old Gedaliah Shaffer heard his new glasses — yes, heard — identify his maternal grandmother (“Bubbe Ima”) as she entered the room, “His face lit up,” according to his mother, Liba Shaffer.
He was wearing the OrCam MyEye, which functions as a camera that attaches to any pair of eyeglasses. It can read text aloud and recognizes faces, colors, consumer goods, and money, for example.
Gedaliah, a fifth grader from Passaic, has trouble recognizing family members by sight. His albinism (oculocutaneous albinism) means the lack of pigment in his retina causes vision loss; he also has hypoplasia to the optic nerve, which causes nystagmus, a condition in which his eyes are always moving. Gedaliah is also very sensitive to light and has poor depth perception.
His condition can be dangerous in unexpected ways. For example, one day Shaffer and Gedaliah were in Central Park, and he didn’t realize his aunt was there, too. At one point Gedaliah and his aunt walked off together without Liba, but he assumed he was with his mother. That time he was with a relative, but he could have been with anyone else and not known.
Thanks to Share the Vision, a nonprofit founded in 2017 by Livingston resident Eve Posner, Gedaliah received the speaking glasses for free this fall. He was Share the Vision’s first beneficiary.
According to Maimonides, “There are eight rungs of charity, and the highest is helping a man help himself,” Posner said. “I feel like that really encapsulates what I’m trying to do with Share the Vision, because getting this device to people is enabling them to live a fuller, more independent life.”
She said the device increases self-esteem by enabling people to complete simple tasks by themselves. “If they want to read a tube of toothpaste to make sure it’s toothpaste and not hand cream, they can do that alone.”
When the wearer points to words or taps the OrCam MyEye, the device takes a photo of whatever the user is holding or pointing to, and then converts the text into audio. Then it “reads” the words out loud, whether from a book or the ingredient list on a box of cereal.
In addition, when someone whose identity has been registered approaches the user, the device will recognize and name them. (The system can also be used with a listening device so that only the wearer hears the audio in a public space.)
Posner told NJJN in an interview in her home that she is “proud” to be a salesperson for the device made by OrCam Technologies Ltd, an Israeli company founded in 2010. She’s been working at the company for almost two years and sells directly to consumers. Most commonly she sells OrCam MyEye to people with conditions from vision impairment and legal blindness to significant vision loss from macular degeneration, glaucoma, or trauma, such as a car accident. She likens the OrCam MyEye to a cell phone in that it can be used by each person to offset his or her needs and improve the user’s quality of life.
“I’ve met many people who cannot afford it,” she told NJJN about OrCam MyEye, which costs between $3,500 and $4,500. So early in 2017, she decided that while she would continue as a salesperson, she undertook a separate effort to raise funds for people who couldn’t afford one.
“It’s amazing technology,” she said. “I see how much it helps my customers.”
The company is not involved in her effort. She started by crowdfunding on Jewcer, a fund-raising site for Jewish projects, but later decided to open it up to anyone, Jewish or non-Jewish, who is between the ages of 10 and 25 and could benefit from the device. People in that age group “are at the beginning of their education, careers, and lives,” she said. “This can really propel them further. If a kid is in college with tons of reading, they might be held back without assistive technology. This device can help them stay apace and maximize their potential.”
Additionally, she noted, younger people are more “adept” at integrating the technology into their lives. They’re not as “hesitant,” she said, as someone, by contrast, over 50.
It took Posner about a year and a half to get Share the Vision off the ground. She said she’s raised over $20,000 so far and expects to give away three to four devices each year.
In the meantime, Gedaliah is still learning how to use his OrCam MyEye. He hasn’t brought it to school yet because his teachers at Crossroads Academy in Clifton want him to continue learning braille and mastering other skills, according to his mother. And they are a little “nervous,” she said, about having such an expensive device in school.
But for facial recognition, his mother said, there’s nothing like it. Gedaliah has often found his own ways of identifying people, like keeping track of the colors they are wearing, but sometimes his methods fall short. One day, his mother was originally wearing black but later added a red vest. “He walked right by me,” she said. Experiences like that make them even more thankful for the OrCam MyEye. “This is a product with so much promise.”
To apply for a free device, contact Eve Posner at email@example.com.