New device reads for those who can’t

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Barbara Ruben

A recently released device can read aloud text on everything from restaurant menus to road signs — and even recognizes faces — to help those with visual impairments navigate everyday life. Users simply point to text, objects or faces, and the device tells them what it says or who it is.

Called the OrCam, the device is a small, light and discreet smart camera that is mounted on the frame of the user’s eyeglasses. It is connected by a thin cable to a base unit about the size of a glasses case that can be placed in a shirt pocket.

The OrCam has the ability to read almost any printed text — including newspapers, books, signs, labels on consumer products, and text on a computer screen or smartphone. New faces can be added to its facial recognition library by the user. 

When the user points a finger at the text or item that they want to identify, the device relays the relevant information to the wearer via a small personal speaker mounted on the glasses near the ear. It generally cannot be heard by other nearby people.

In a recent independent study at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, legally blind test subjects were provided with OrCam devices in order to measure its effect on their quality of life. The majority said their quality of life had increased because they could read independently. One patient described the use of the device as “liberating.”

OrCam costs $3,500, and may be covered by some insurance plans. The cost includes a one-on-one training session for the device.

The OrCam will be demonstrated at a free Prevention of Blindness Society program titled “Revolutionary Technology Is Here!” on Thursday, May 12 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at the Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library, 5005 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. For more information and to register, call Kym at the library at (703) 746-1762.

For more information about the OrCam, see www.orcam.com or call 1-800-713-3741.