Wearable Vision Event at TSBVI

This article describes an event and a program model that took place over two years ago and could be customized to meet your campus needs.

Submitted by Cindy Bachofer, PhD, CLVT

TSBVI Low Vision Consultant

It all started at a Student Council meeting in January. I introduced myself as the Low Vision Consultant on campus and asked the students what questions they had about how vision works or how someone can increase use of their vision. One student said, “I’ve been hearing in the news about these electronic glasses or goggles you put on that let you see really well. I want to try those.” Several students chimed in that they had also heard about these and wanted to see what the talk was all about. What a great idea that student had and it got me to planning!

This article will describe key steps of planning, the event that took place in March of 2017 and feedback from students and staff who attended. The response was very positive with nearly one-third of the student body attending or 45 students plus accompanying adults for a total headcount of 62.

I suspected a few students might have had a chance to try a model or two possibly during an eye doctor appointment. This event could provide an opportunity for students and staff to compare pros and cons of different models that enhance vision, give feedback as a user with low vision and practice how to stay updated as a consumer of products and devices focused on visual access. This event would also provide a chance for instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), specifically in the areas of social skills, career education and sensory efficiency. The initial goal was for students (and adult attendees) to have hands-on time with a product type that was once thought of as sci-fi and now was making headlines everywhere. Multiple benefits were possible in creating a Wearable Vision Event.

The planning became a collaboration across campus. My primary concern was that this not be seen by staff, families or vendors as time for a sales pitch and administration agreed to putting it on the calendar with this caveat in mind. Based on the selected 90-minute time slot, designated room space and optimal number of stations to visit without being overwhelmed, my target goal of models to test was six. A large conference room in Outreach Programs was reserved and the month’s “long Wednesday” where the school day is extended an extra period was used.

I had attended a conference the previous summer where different versions of wearable vision (e.g., IrisVision, Orcam) were big news in the exhibit hall. Multiple companies were represented and it was clear that the representatives were eager to have attendees “try it on”. I’d kept business cards or email promotions following the conference so I had a few contacts to start with and initiate the conversation. I also contacted low vision specialists in Austin who likely had company contacts and I checked exhibitors listed in other conference programs in the field of vision. Key planning steps are summarized below:

Vendor list: I made contact six-weeks prior to the event via email and phone and explained this was a first-time venture and was sparked by a student’s curiosity. Representatives from four companies (five models total) responded quickly and confirmed that the date worked (IrisVision, Jordy, Orcam, NuEyes, Think & Zoom). This was a rare opportunity to interact with the younger population and to hear feedback when purchasing is not the focus. In our communication I emphasized the program goals (e.g., consumer awareness) and the benefits (e.g., giving and getting feedback) of participation for everyone involved. Most of the representatives lived in Texas or were regional rep and could add this to their travel calendar. Each vendor booth or station was provided with two 5’ skirted tables, two chairs and access to an electrical  outlet.

Publicity: A printed flyer with a brief explanation was distributed around campus, shared on email with staff and read on the morning announcements the week of the event. “High tech vision -Come try it yourself!” Student Council members helped to spread the word in their classes and dorms. In addition to TSBVI campus, the flyer was shared with staff at the educational service center (ESC 13) who provide visual impairment services to Austin and surrounding school districts. The Rehabilitation Center in Austin (Criss Cole) was also contacted.

Student preparation: Knowing how to “work” an exhibit hall is a learned skill and I wanted students to feel the importance and responsibility of their official role as tester and evaluator. This face-to-face event was a rare opportunity. Having questions ready to ask when approaching a table is a helpful strategy and I shared suggestions with staff in the weeks before the event: “How does it work?”, “What happens if it breaks?”, “What updates to this device are you expecting?” “Do you have a trial period where I can test it at home?” And as a point of comparison, “How much does it cost?” This presented an occasion to model
conversation and role play an exchange and to search online for company websites or news articles highlighting wearable “high tech” vision.

Sticker card and prizes: Chips and cookies (the most popular incentive for drawing a crowd) were outside of the budget so I turned to worksites on campus as a resource for prizes. These work placements (e.g., bistro, assembly and manufacturing) are student-operated and offered appealing prizes at no cost: two meal certificates from the Wildcat Bistro, two 5-punch cards from the Wildcat Coffee Shop and two embroidered TSBVI logo tote bags from Wildcat Manufacturing. This was an important part of the event summary shared on the morning announcements. As attendees arrived, each received a 6” neon cardstock strip with the models/company name printed in bold. The goal was to gather six stickers (provided during set up) by visiting with the vendor at each station. Completed strips with the person’s name filled in were dropped in a decorated shoe box and winners were drawn at the end of the event. Prizes were delivered the following morning after announcements and I heard from 1 st period teachers that this was big news in the hallway.

The event start time was 2:15 PM and students were right on time. Anticipation was high for seeing cutting edge technology. The room filled quickly and traffic flow stayed constant throughout the 90 minutes as students and adults, individually or in small groups, moved from station to station. Most of the attendees were teenagers and diverse in terms of vision, functioning level and interests. As appropriate, adults
supported students with trying the device on and interacting with the vendor. In a short amount of time, attendees were able to compare features of each model, consider pros and cons based on their needs and hear observations from others. Reactions varied: “Oh Wow, that’s cool!”, “It’s kind of heavy on my face”, “It doesn’t let me see as much as I wanted” and one female student who stated to her boyfriend, “Put these on so you can see how pretty I am.” Many comments of appreciation and continuing interest were shared as attendees departed.

A good sign of an event’s success is when people stay past the session’s end. It was 4 o’clock and a few conversations were still going on in the room. The event was a win-win for all and required minimal effort to coordinate. Students gained experience in savvy consumerism, practiced ECC skills and joined peers in sampling wearable vision technology. The exhibit hall format lends itself to other student-focused, high interest themes in the future such as new tech in O & M, favorite apps for ECC tasks and options for physical activity in nearly every community. The Wearable Vision Event was a valuable example of students getting hands on time with devices that are no longer science fiction but have indeed become a reality.

Host your own wearable vision event!