DATE OF PROJECT: 2018 - Updated and improved 2019
Angel Eyes is a charity whose aim is to provide emotional and practical support for parents who are coming to terms with a new born baby being diagnosed with a lifelong eye condition, or who are trying to cope with the despair of a child losing some or all of their vision from illness or trauma. Angel Eyes aims to provide parents with as much information as they need to make informed choices for their child regarding services, support and education for their child.
For most parents this is the first time they will have encountered a visual impairment, and trying to understand what life for their child will be like, is frightening and daunting. Angel Eyes NI provides practical advice regarding help that is available to parents and assists them come to terms with the shock and isolation they may be experiencing, and the challenges they are facing.
One such very common challenge faced by parents is an insight into what life is like for their visually impaired child. It is extremely difficult for parents to envisage how their child views the world with their visual impairment. This issue is raised regularly by parents.
Previously, Angel Eyes used ‘simulation specs’ to provide parents with an idea of what visual impairment is like for their child. These are physical spectacles where the lenses distort the wearer’s vision in some way. However, this is a very basic experience, and is complicated by the fact that many eye conditions co-exist – each producing a different effect on a child’s vision which is difficult to replicate in a single pair of spectacles.
Angel Eyes required a solution which utilised immersive technology to allow parents to experience for themselves what life is like for visually impaired children.
Following initial fact-finding meetings with Angel Eyes, a bespoke solution, in the form of a Virtual Reality Visual Impairment Simulator was proposed. The project involved the development of software to allow visual impairments to be simulated via a low-cost virtual reality headset. The Oculus Go was initially selected, due to its portability, affordability and ease of use. The revised version of the application uses a Pico Neo Headset and makes use of the eye-tracking feature to provide a more realistic experience.
Subsequent meetings ensued to decide upon the content which would be available in the Oculus Go. Angel Eyes have a close working relationship with a leading consultant optometrist, who provided expert advice and input throughout the project. Out of a long list of possible eye conditions, the following were selected for simulation in the Virtual Reality application:
· Reduced visual acuity
· Contrast sensitivity
· Reduced 3D perception
· Loss of peripheral vision
· Half field of vision
In order to make the impairments realistic, three predefined scenes which feature in children’s lives were created – a classroom, a play park and a street. Users can select a scene, then view the visual impairments either individually or in arbitrary combinations. They can also select the level/severity of each impairment. Additionally, pre-set combinations of the supported impairments can be selected to simulate the corresponding eye conditions from an Eye Conditions and Visual Functions spreadsheet which was provided by Angel Eyes.
The Visual Impairment Simulator provides parents with an immersive and realistic experience which demonstrates what life is like for their visually impaired child. Parents can literally put themselves into their children’s shoes as they face each day at school, in the park or on the street. The combination of eye conditions available mean that each parent can experience a situation unique to their child.
Sara McCracken, CEO, Angel Eyes NI.
‘Working with Sentireal on this project has been great. They are experts in what they do and are innovative in their approach. Sentireal were able to take our vision of being able to incorporate eye functions with variable levels and develop it into a wonderful prototype that we have been able to demonstrate to parents of visually impaired children and other professionals involved in their support. The potential impact a solution like this could have for all those supporting sight loss in children is immense, especially for those who have no prior knowledge of visual impairments and the impact this can have.’