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Published on December 05, 2016

Need help seeing? There’s an app for that

Need help seeing? There’s an app for that

Lisa Judelson of Sandwich has a great sense of humor, an easy smile, and a glass-half-full attitude.

I met her at the Livestrong at the YMCA program in Barnstable this past spring, and over the course of a few classes, we became friends. One day, she asked if I could give her a ride to the next meeting. She gave me her cell number and I promised to contact her.

I didn’t think twice about texting her the morning of the next meeting to let her know what time I would pick her up. That is until I hit the “send” button.

What was I thinking? Lisa is blind! How could she read my text?

A few seconds later, I heard a ping from my cell phone and there was a response from Lisa agreeing to the time I would pick her up.

I later learned that Lisa’s ability to text comes from the Voiceover audio cues that are built right into all iPhones. She can control Voiceover with finger gestures. For example, running her fingers over the screen will tell her what’s on the screen. With one tap she can select an item and double-tap to activate it. She uses three fingers to scroll.

The iPhone has many other capabilities that help with texting, emailing and other tasks with the Voiceover settings.

“Just because I can’t see, doesn’t mean I have to limit myself,” Lisa said.

As the weeks went by, I learned that she has a number of tools that help her perform daily tasks.

How She Lost Her Sight

While Lisa became legally blind four years ago, she completely lost her vision in October and was left with only the ability to see light, occasionally. Her vision had been decreasing slowly ever since she was diagnosed with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL) when she was 17. The syndrome is characterized by the abnormal growth of blood vessels caused by a gene mutation.

This rare disease occurs in approximately one in 36,000 people according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).

The most common symptom of VHL are hemangioblastomas, which are benign tumors of the brain, spinal cord, and retina of the eye.

Lisa has had five brain surgeries to remove tumors as well as radiation to eliminate small ones. She has a titanium plate in the back of her head that can be removed to do further surgeries, if necessary.

“Here we are, five brain surgeries later and fortunately I have not had any deficits in my walking, gait, speech, strengths or other physical limitations from my surgeries,” she said.

Aids That Help Her

Lisa uses a number of aids that help her function as a wife to local physician Andrew Judelson, MD, and full-time mother of their two boys.

“I go low-technology first and my family is my backup,” said Lisa.

But when no one is around, it’s time for her apps and assistance tools.

“The new technology is a game changer and I’m grateful that it makes things easier for me,” she said.

One of the apps Lisa often uses when cooking is called “Be My Eyes.” She connects with a live volunteer via the app who will help her differentiate food items that are wrapped in the same packaging. The volunteer can distinguish between white rice or brown rice, ground turkey or turkey burgers and other items that are packaged the same way.

Another app “Tap, Tap, See” will tell her the name of an object when she takes a picture of it.

Pen Friend is a tool that recognizes special labels on canned foods, spices and other items. With the help of another person who identifies the food or spice, Lisa touches the tip of the Pen Friend to a label and verbally records the name of the item. The recording is associated with that label and is affixed to the item. At a later time, when she is looking for specific canned food or spice, the Pen Friend will identify what it is when she runs the tip over the label.

Colorino is another tool that tells her the color of material so she is able to match her clothing.

A Sense of Adventure

Lisa is adamant about maintaining her independence. She uses a cane or the arm of a friend to guide her when walking. She was recently trained with her new guide dog, Iron, at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York. It has become a wonderful partnership.

Yoga helps with stress relief.

“It really teaches me how to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation and the breathing re-orients me,” Lisa said.

She has skied with the New England Disabled Sports program at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire. And through the Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center Cape Cod she has kayaked and biked, and added archery to her list of accomplishments this past summer.

“I asked the instructor of the archery program if he had ever done archery with someone who is blind and he said ‘no, but I’ve seen it in training, so let’s give it a try,’” said Lisa. With a great deal of practice and direction from the instructor, she hit the target 90 percent of the time.

“I’m not sure I would have gone out to do archery if I could see,” said Lisa.

Lisa’s Advice to Others Who Are Blind

  1. Advocate for yourself.
  2. Find support through various organizations that help the blind.
  3. Once you are diagnosed as legally blind, you are able to receive services through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.
  4. If you have a problem with something, many other people probably do, too, and can help you solve it.
  5. Don’t sit at home and wonder how to do something; there’s an app for that.
  6. Go online for information; there are many people living with blindness who talk about it in their blogs.

While Lisa faces new challenges every day, blindness has changed her life forever and opened her up to adventures she may have never imagined – including hitting a target with a bow and arrow.

“It’s made me reassess things and open myself up to doing things that maybe I wouldn’t have done otherwise,” said Lisa. “It’s just saying yes to things that are presented; I’m not sure that I would have done archery when I could see.”

Further information about VHL is available at: www.vhl.org