New magnifier enhances reading for the blind

Louise Greenwood sets up her and her husband Bruce Greenwood’s new Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier while he watches. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Louise Greenwood sets up her and her husband Bruce Greenwood’s new Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier while he watches. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
The Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier not only magnifies the words of, in this case, a newspaper article but also can read it out to her, like an audiobook. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)The Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier not only magnifies the words of, in this case, a newspaper article but also can read it out to her, like an audiobook. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
The Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier can magnify words up to 20 times their original size. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)The Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier can magnify words up to 20 times their original size. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Bruce Greenwood still prefers using handheld magnifiers to read while Louise Greenwood is using their new Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier, purchased by the 108 Mile Ranch and 100 Mile House Lions Club. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)Bruce Greenwood still prefers using handheld magnifiers to read while Louise Greenwood is using their new Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier, purchased by the 108 Mile Ranch and 100 Mile House Lions Club. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Louise Greenwood jokes she now believes in Santa Claus after receiving the Christmas gift of a lifetime.

The 108 Mile Ranch woman and her husband Bruce – who are both legally blind – were given a new electronic magnifier in late December, thanks to the 100 Mile House and District Visually Impaired White Cane Club, a private donation and the 108 Mile Ranch and 100 Mile House Lions Club.

“I was totally in shock, I just about collapsed,” Louise, 86, said. “I couldn’t believe anybody would be so generous to people they don’t even know.”

Louise, who has slow-moving macular degeneration, put in a request with the White Cane Club last fall after she could no longer read books, newspapers or her recipes with her handheld magnifiers. She didn’t expect Lori Fry, the club’s public relations and fund development director, to jump to her request so quickly, reaching out to the local Lions Clubs who provided the funds for the $1,700 Optelec Compact 10” HD Speech Electronic Magnifier.

The magnifier is set up like a tablet, with a simple easy-to-see interface and a stand. To magnify the words, Louise uses an extendable camera that takes a picture of the text and transfers the words to the screen at whatever resolution she wants. It can magnify text up to 20 times its original size, change the font and colour of the text and can be even programmed to read the words aloud for her.

“I’m still learning how to use it, but isn’t that something?” Louise said. “I felt panicked to begin with. I didn’t know what I was going to do with this thing. I was afraid to plug it in in case I stuck it in the wrong port.”

With the help of Jim Vinson, a longtime club member, and her daughter Karen, Louise is now using the new technology on a daily basis. At the moment, Bruce, who has wet macular degeneration in his left eye and glaucoma in his right, continues to use a simple handheld lens to see but Louise expects he will come around to the new tablet.

Bruce said it has been difficult losing his sight over the past two years. “It’s really hard for me. (As a retired bus driver) I’ve been driving all my life and now all of the sudden I can’t drive,” he said.

Fry said the local Lions Clubs are continuing the organization’s long commitment to helping the blind community. That history began almost 100 years ago when Helen Keller challenged the Lions Club International Convention in 1925 to be champions for the blind.

“The relationship that has developed between the local Lions Clubs and the low vision/blind community and the overall support provided to the White Cane Club over the past 31 years is a perfect example of the ‘Knights of the Blind’ keeping their promise to Helen Keller,” Fry said. “The White Cane Club members salute you all.”

Feb. 6-12 is celebrated as White Cane Week in Canada due to the initiative of the Canadian Council of the Blind. The aim is to provide education and raise awareness about vision loss in British Columbia through a network of online or socially distanced special events and demonstrations throughout the province.

The Greenwoods said they appreciate the support of the club and their “amazing” neighbours. Louise said after they’re no longer able to use the magnifier they will return it to the White Cane Club.

“Belonging to the club has probably been the best thing that could have happened to us here in the Cariboo,” Louise said. “Thank goodness my daughter Karen introduced us to the White Cane Club. They really are a good group of people.”



patrick.davies@100milefreepress.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

100 Mile House