Visual Impairment, Assistance Technologies and CYBATHLON Vision Assistance Race
Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and GPS are making everyday tasks easier for people with vision loss. But it is not easy with over 2.2 billion people living with moderate to severe visual impairments worldwide. With our new discipline – Vision Assistance Race, CYBATHLON aims to push research in the field of visual aid because the technologies involved have the potential to improve the quality of life and autonomy of people with vision impairment.
Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and GPS are making everyday tasks easier for people with vision loss. But it is not easy to accelerate development as over 2.2 billion people are living with moderate to severe visual impairment worldwide, according to the WHO. Do you have a vision for the next generation of assistive technology? How does your assistive device enable people with visual impairment? Come and demonstrate your technology at CYBATHLON competitions and join hands with us to stand with all the people with visual impairment. CYBATHLON provides a platform for showcasing your technological advancements and innovations and to directly work for and with people with visual impairment to better suit the users of the technologies as well as be part of a dialogue fostering social inclusion.
Causes of sight impairment
Many causes may lead to loss or impairment of vision. The following are the main causes of visual impairment:
1. Uncorrected refractive errors – when there is a mismatch between the eye's refractive components and the eyeball's length – the result is an out-of-focus or blurred image. This is known as refractive error. Uncorrected refractive error is the most common cause of vision impairment and the second leading cause of blindness in the world.
2. Cataract – A cataract is when your eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy. Most cataracts develop slowly over the course of years. Hence, they are very common as you get older.
3. Glaucoma – it is a common eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged. It is usually caused by fluid building up in the front part of the eye, which increases pressure inside the eye.
4. Age-related macular degeneration – is an eye disease that can blur your central vision. It happens when ageing causes damage to the macula – the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision.
5. Diabetic retinopathy – it is a complication of diabetes, caused by damage to the blood vessels in the tissue at the back of the eye (retina).
6. Near vision caused by unaddressed presbyopia – it is an eye condition in which your eye slowly loses the ability to focus quickly on close objects.
According to the WHO global estimation on visual impairment 2012, the top three leading causes of blindness were cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. These causes may vary depending on the availability of eye care services, their affordability, and the eye care literacy of the population.
The challenges people with vision impairment face
People with vision impairment do lead a normal life with their style of doing things. But they face troubles due to inaccessible infrastructure, technology, and social challenges navigating around places:
- Unexpected changes in their surroundings
- Inaccessibility and unaffordability of assistive technologies
- Access to information
- Social stigma
- Arranging clothes
- Overly helpful individuals
- Gaining an independent life
- Employment opportunities and workplaces
One of the most pressing challenges that people with visual impairment face is a social stigma that can greatly affect personal relationships. They frequently miss nonverbal cues and must rely on others for transportation and other assistance.
But CYBATHLON ambassador Francisco Taboada turns obstacles into opportunities, he says, “Handicapped of the sight since the age of two, my journey is atypical. I understood at a very young age that life was made up of good and bad moments, but what could make it more pleasant and constructive was to face the obstacles to find solutions.” Francisco is an entrepreneur, elite sportsman, and father of three children.
Available technologies for people with visual impairment
People with sight impairment experience the world differently. Vision loss can make it very hard for people with vision impairment to understand their environment and they often rely on other senses to pick up cues. Modern technologies are making their everyday tasks easier and artificial intelligence, augmented reality and GPS are providing new options. But it is not easy with 2.2 billion people living with moderate to severe visual impairments worldwide.
Lukas Jäger, the former Head of Discipline at CYBATHLON, says in an interview, “Although a broad range of visual aids is available on the market, their functions are generally limited to specific areas or else they are not handy or easy to use. There still aren’t many intelligent visual assistant systems out there that can serve as an intuitive, comprehensive, and reliable substitute for seeing.” He further states, “We would like to push research in this field because the technologies involved have the potential to improve the quality of life and autonomy for blind people. Smart visual assistive technologies that support blind people in their day-to-day lives intuitively and reliably have the potential to improve blind people’s quality of life and increase their independence.”
Seeing Through Another's Eyes
CYBATHLON Vision Assistance Race
CYBATHLON has launched this new discipline in its competition on the Road to 2024 and it is the first kind of such race for people with a sensory impairment. Simple situations such as selecting colour-matching clothes or identifying a desired product in the supermarket can become a challenge. Unexpected road works on the daily commute can lead to hazardous situations. New technologies such as intelligent white cane help to provide information about the environment that is otherwise accessed through vision by rendering the information to the available senses, such as touch or hearing. While there is a wide range of vision aids available on the market, based on a variety of approaches (e.g., computer vision or artificial intelligence), their functions are usually restricted to specific domains (e.g., reading a text aloud or identifying a colour), or are impractical to use. Smart vision assistive technology that provides an intuitive, comprehensive, and reliable substitute for vision has the promising potential to improve the quality of life and autonomy of people with severe visual impairment or complete loss of vision.
CYBATHLON also focuses on people with visual impairments. Working on barrier-free access, in a digital sense as well, is extremely important to CYBATHLON. This is why the website is evaluated regularly by the foundation “Access for All”, and CYBATHLON also continuously develop the website in line with criteria relating to digital accessibility.
Furthermore, the CYBATHLON event live streams have subtitles in several languages, including German and English audio descriptions that allow blind people to follow the events. All physical event locations are made as accessible as possible in terms of both visual impairments and motor disabilities.