By Troy Patterson

The computing power contained in today’s smartphones offers a variety of options for optical professionals as well as patients with low or no vision.

VisionSim, by the Braille Institute, is one of the best application’s Robert Dalton has seen.

Dalton, the executive director of the Opticians Association of Canada, says the application allows users to choose from a selection of eye diseases, read up on the associated symptoms of the ailment and, for many, then choose a camera filter ‘simulator’ that shows an example of the progression of the eye condition using a touch slider.

“Absolutely it’s an educational tool,” Dalton said during a break at the recent Inside Optics convention in Toronto. “I think it’s more for consulting when you’re talking with a patient and you’re letting them know what’s happening or what’s going to happen. It’s one thing to tell somebody you’re going to lose your vision, it’s another thing to show them.”

VisionSim is available free on iPhone, iPad and Android applications.

The Braille Institute also offers low vision apps such as Big Browser for ipad to allow low-vision users to more easily navigate the web.

As well, they offer ViA (Visually Impaired Apps) for iPhone and iPad, designed to help blind and low-vision users easily sort through the 500,000-plus apps in the iTunes Store. The program is used to locate apps that were built specifically for visually impaired users, or apps that happen to provide functionality useful to this population.

Other groundbreaking technologies were also on display at Inside Optics, like the new Toronto-based Specsy web-based app that combines three-dimensional photography with three-dimensional printing, to offer a new way to custom fit glasses.

“We offer opticians the option to design custom, 3-D printed frames designed on their patient’s 3-D image,” said Specsy’s Ashley Barby, adding the technology is accessible through browsers like Chrome, Safari or Firefox on tablets or desktop computers, with an iPad app expected this fall.

The six-month-old company saw a lot of attention at their Inside Optics booth. Coming from a background in dentistry, bringing the technology to the optical sector was a natural progression, from creating 3-D images of patient’s mouths, to using it for optical fitting and sizing.

Ashley Barby of Toronto’s Specsy shows off the company’s 3-D printing/modelling technology for eyewear at Inside Optics 2017.

Barby said to their knowledge, Specsy is the first company to offer such a service.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s (CNIB) Jason Fayre, the national lead for accessibility and assistive technology said there’s a trend now to use smartphones to help people with their daily vision needs and to navigate their communities.

An app like iDentifi – Object Recognition for Visually Impaired (Apple devices), uses artificial intelligence to enable a visually impaired user to take a photo of “virtually any” object or piece of text, and the program then tells the user a description of the object in an image or dictates the text in the image to the user.

“That type of thing can be really useful,” Fayre said in an interview with Optical Prism.

Another tool he uses harnesses live people to assist the visually impaired, with apps like BeMyEyes app for iPhone, which allows the user to request assistance for the item they need to see, and a volunteer receives a notification for help and a live video connection is established to help answer the question.

BeSpecular (Apple and Android) also uses live people, which allows a user to take a photo of an item and attach a question, which is then sent to the BeSpecular volunteer community of ‘sightlings’, who can the reply to the user by voice or text message within minutes. The user can then rate the usefulness of the interaction as well.

“These are all about fostering independence,” said Fayre. “Both my partner and I are both totally blind, so we don’t have somebody here that can look at stuff for us on a regular basis. So these types of apps are super useful.”

He also uses apps that read text back to him through just the click of a photo, with the KNFB Reader on Android and Apple devices, and Windows 10.

“A few years ago we’d have to find a friend, or bring a volunteer in, but now we can do these types of things independently,” he said.

Other companies like Hoya Vision Care’s HCV app (Vision Consultant Viewer) is available on iPad with fully interactive Augmented Reality for consumer-oriented sales consultation.

The app offers visual effects of different lenses, to help consumers understand the difference between them, including modules on progressive lenses, single vision lenses, indoor lenses, anti-reflective coatings, polarized lenses and photochromic Lenses.

Zeiss offers an Eye Strain Test App is designed help your eyes switch focus from a smartphone to a distance of 20 feet and vice-versa in order to precisely measure the strain on your eyes.

Eye strain and fatigue can lead to eye irritation, headaches and neck pain, and the app helps consumers find out how well their eyes are geared to the challenges of modern life.

Numerous other apps are also available for limiting blue light emitted by smartphones via dimming applications.

Applications are also available to test vision, like Canada’s FYi Doctor’s Vision Test on Android, which offers a number of short tests to check vision, but stresses it’s not considered an eye exam and doesn’t replace the need for one by a qualified optometrist.