Joan Wright is a slim, energetic businesswoman who does her own accounting and comes to the city from the South Shore twice a week to manage Ultravision, a store she has owned for more than 25 years.
“I like coming to the shop, it gives me exercise,” she says, adding casually that she doesn’t much like walking.
She sells devices that help people with low vision keep their independence. The three most common causes of low vision she sees are macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. It takes some time before one realizes she has a way of looking a little behind you as she speaks—she reveals that she uses a white cane because she has two out of the three challenges—macular degeneration and glaucoma.
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Not seeing clearly beyond a foot has not robbed Wright, 87, of her autonomy and enthusiasm for life. She is excited about the huge strides science has made in terms of creating and improving low-vision technology. She and her late husband started the store because they both had relatives with vision problems.
“We couldn’t find anything on the market that was useful for them in 1971,” Wright recalls. “We took on the dealership of another company and watched the development of these products over time.”
The most impressive device is a closed circuit television (CCTV), which looks like a computer desk—it scans and projects reading material onto a screen. Over the years, Wright says, it has become much more user-friendly.
“Now you can read quickly, move print across the screen without visual overlap. It is much clearer now and there is a variety of colour combinations you can choose to get the maximum result,” she says. The machine makes writing possible, by creating a line on the screen to guide the hand.
The store stocks a range of lamps and magnifiers, suitable for a range of hobbies like jewellery making or model-train building. “The stronger the lens, the smaller the lens surface,” Wright says, “that’s why electronic digital magnifiers are a miracle.”
Functioning like a mini CCTV, these handheld devices not much bigger than a cellphone are like six magnifiers in one: “You can use it like a magnifying glass on one surface, but you can increase and decrease the magnification with the push of a button.” You can “fix” the image on the screen, then take it with you—as when getting a number from the Yellow Pages, then going to the phone to call.
There are devices to help with low hearing as well, such as pocket amplifiers, telephone and TV amplifiers that work without disturbing a regular-hearing partner, and a variety of “talking” thermometers, clocks, watches and calculators.