January 07, 2022
4 minutes to read
Calvin W. Roberts, MD, joined Lighthouse Guild in April 2020 after having had a long career as a practicing ophthalmologist and working with various pharmaceutical companies.
Now, as CEO of Lighthouse Guild, Roberts is working towards a future in which assistive technology is available to everyone. The ultimate goal, said Roberts, is a world in which no one is limited by their visual ability.
Healio / OSN spoke with Roberts about Lighthouse Guild’s work to make assistive technology available and accessible to everyone.
Healio / OSN: How did you become interested in joining Lighthouse Guild, and what Iit’s the organisation global mission?
Calvin W. Roberts
Roberts: Two things motivated me to join Lighthouse Guild. When I was working in the industry I saw so many great technologies that never made it to market because there was no viable business model for their success. It bothered me that there were so many opportunities to help people, but these technologies were never developed because of these business model challenges. The Lighthouse Guild Board of Directors is committed to providing the most advanced technology available and to making Lighthouse Guild the world’s leading center for assistive technology – not just assistive technology specifically designed for people who are blind and visually impaired, but all forms of assistive technology. Like never before, advancements in artificial intelligence, program learning, facial recognition, augmented reality, virtual reality and 5G are all intended to benefit the blind and visually impaired. There are so many recent technologies that have taken place elsewhere that could be reused for the benefit of people with vision loss.
Healio / OSN: Are there types of upcoming technologies that you aare you personally enthusiastic about helping the visually impaired?
Roberts: All the technologies of the connected home. If you come to the Lighthouse Guild Tech Center, you’ll see a smart home here. We have brought together all the latest smart technologies so that people can use their devices, and these smart technologies are continually being improved.
I’m excited about a few technologies unique to this field, including OrCam, which performs facial and object recognition and reads text. It is a magnificent piece of technology. I am also very excited about IrisVision. IrisVision is a unique technology that recognizes that people with low vision have areas in their visual field that work better than other areas, whether it’s macular degeneration or glaucoma. What is amazing is the power of some apps that you can download on smartphones.
Healio /OSN: Where do you see assistive technology going from here?
Roberts: I think people underestimate the technological know-how of the elderly. All they want is technology they can access, even with their limited vision. I see technology taking advantage of and helping this large population of blind and visually impaired seniors. This opportunity allows this huge group of visually impaired seniors to regain the functionality they had when they were younger.
Healio / ONS: What can ophthalmologists do to help patients access this type of technology?
Roberts: What ophthalmologists need to do is trust that there are sites and organizations that can help their patients. I encourage physicians to visit our website for assistance. They can also refer their patients to the local low vision agency in their community.
Healio / ONS: What should engineers and developers keep in mind during development assistive technologies?
Roberts: In general, all assistive technology tries to substitute the use of sense to replace what the person has lost of their visual sense. They’re going to convert or try to take things that were visual and make them auditory. What software developers should keep in mind is that it’s easy to have sensory overload – that visually impaired person is trying to walk around and you can’t give them too much audio or tactile information to to treat. We have to find a way to keep it simple but still effective. And the developers who do the best job now are the ones who determine what information the patient needs and doesn’t need and, thanks to AI, are able to vary that.
Healio / ONS: What is the next problem software engineers should try to to resolve?
Roberts: Inland navigation has turned out to be a much bigger problem than inland navigation. There are a lot of people who are trying to figure out how to improve inland navigation. How do you walk through a grocery store knowing exactly where to find soup, ketchup, and milk? And then when you get on the shelf, how do you know which item is which? So inland navigation is a problem. The other big problem is funding. How do we pay for technology? Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurance do not pay for these expensive technologies. You have a situation where, # 1, a lot of people who need this technology aren’t particularly well off, and # 2, there’s no insurance to help them pay for it. At Lighthouse Guild, we advocate in Congress for tax credits for assistive technology and seek Medicare and Medicaid coverage for assistive technology.
Healio / ONS: What impact does this technology have on the users who depend on it on a daily basis?
Roberts: When I think of the technology for these people, I divide the needs into three categories. The first bucket is navigation. Bucket two is the house, including cooking, cleaning, organizing your house and cupboards, shopping and all the things we do daily to function normally. The third bucket is what I call productivity, and that means computers, communications, and technology to help us work or go to school to learn. Our vision is a world in which no one is limited by their visual ability. This technology gives people a feeling of confidence. It makes them feel productive. It makes them feel useful. In short, for many, it makes them feel more normal.