AAO Offers New Services to Visually Impaired Students

Visually Impaired Students to Benefit from Collaboration Among Ophthalmologists and Leading Vision Service Organizations

American Academy of Ophthalmology, Lighthouse Guild and Bookshare partner to empower individuals with assisted reading solutions; provide access to vast library of digital books

SAN FRANCISCO – Visually impaired students across the United States now have an opportunity to experience the joy of reading through the use of assisted technology. These individuals, who otherwise might run the risk of low performance in the classroom, will benefit from a collaboration announced today by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Lighthouse Guild and Bookshare®. This program will empower these students with tools needed to explore all that the world of books has to offer.

While the ability to engage in book-based learning is a significant challenge for visually impaired students, braille, large-print reading devices and other technology can help them overcome this obstacle. Accessing these resources, however, can be difficult because of lack of awareness that they exist or not having the financial resources to access them. This program will help tear down these barriers and provide the students greater access to digital reading materials.

As part of an initiative to support visually impaired patients, the Academy encourages ophthalmologists – physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care – to refer affected individuals to services that help lessen the impact of their low vision, and potentially improve their overall quality of life.

“Living with vision loss is never easy, but patients can learn how to maximize their potential by using assistive devices and techniques,” said Philip R. Rizzuto, M.D., a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Vision rehabilitation is now the standard of care for patients who are visually impaired. This initiative supports ophthalmology’s commitment to helping these individuals in every possible way.”

In supporting this program, Academy member ophthalmologists will certify the visual impairment – visual acuity less than 20/40 or partial loss of vision – and refer the student into the program. Students will be eligible to receive free access to Bookshare’s library of more than half a million e-books. Bookshare® a Benetech initiative, is the world’s largest online library for people who are blind, visually impaired, have a physical disability, or a learning disability that interferes with reading. The Bookshare library is accessible via Spotlight Gateway, an e-reading application specifically designed for people with low vision. The Spotlight Gateway app offers a variety of special functions to assist visually impaired students, including high-quality, text-to-speech voice, digital braille and enlarged fonts.

This assisted-reading solution is designed for use with iPads. In observance of Low Vision Awareness Month in February, Lighthouse Guild in New York, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco will distribute a limited number of tablets locally and through participating vision agencies across the country. This will help make the online library available to students who do not otherwise have access to an iPad. This effort is supported in part by a grant from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

“Reading should not be a privilege,” said Mark G. Ackermann, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Lighthouse Guild. “Books document our history, mark our present and inspire our future. We’re pleased to join in establishing this program to break down barriers and open a world of possibilities to students who are visually impaired.”

Ophthalmologists are encouraged to share the details of the program with eligible patients. They can learn more about this initiative on the Academy’s website. Members of the public interested in learning how to participate can find out by visiting the Spotlight Gateway’s website.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, we protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Our EyeSmart® program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit aao.org.

About Lighthouse Guild

Lighthouse Guild, based in New York, is the leading not-for-profit vision and healthcare organization with a long history of addressing the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities or chronic medical conditions. With more than 200 years of experience and service, Lighthouse Guild brings a level of understanding to vision care that is unmatched. By integrating vision and healthcare services and expanding access through its programs and education and awareness, we help people lead productive, dignified and fulfilling lives. For more information: lighthouseguild.org.

About Bookshare

Bookshare®, a Benetech initiative, is the world’s largest online library of accessible eBooks for people with print disabilities.  Through its extensive collection of educational and popular titles, specialized book formats and reading tools, Bookshare offers individuals who cannot read standard print materials the same ease of access that people without disabilities enjoy. The Bookshare library has over 500,000 titles and serves more than 450,000 members.  Access to Bookshare is free for all U.S. students with a qualifying print disability.  Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that develops and uses technology to create positive social change. For more information, visit bookshare.org.

About LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Founded in 1902, the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers programs in six locations in San Francisco and throughout Northern California serving over 3,000 blind and visually impaired individuals annually. LightHouse is the place where blind people come to learn skills to gain confidence and independence.  At the LightHouse, people connect with resources, peers and mentors. Every day we prove that with training in braille, cane travel, and adaptive technology, blind people can live the lives they want as competent and confident employees, students, and community members.

About Spotlight  Text

Spotlight Text, developed by Focus Reading Technology, Inc, is the first eBook reader specifically for individuals with vision loss. For more information, visit spotlighttext.com.

About Vision Alliance

VisionServe Alliance, founded in 1987 and now celebrating its 25th year, provides a forum for top executives of private agencies and organizations specializing in blindness and represents the interests of such agencies before many organizations, professional, governmental and non-profit groups. VisionServe Alliance is the only organization whose members directly represent every aspect of services to people who are blind or visually impaired, including dog guide schools, adult rehabilitation agencies, private residential schools, early intervention and pre-school programs, career placement/employment and manufacturing, membership organizations, advocacy organizations, low vision clinics, and services to those with multiple disabilities. For more information about VisionServe Alliance, visit visionservealliance.org or call 314.961.8235.

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