NEW BEDFORD — Stella Lopes became legally blind 17 years ago after being diagnosed with glaucoma.
“I never go anywhere without my cane,” she said, adding she avoids crossing busy streets during her morning walks.
Even so, Lopes said she has continued to maintain her independence with the support she receives from the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s New Bedford Peer Support Group.
“When I first became legally blind, I wanted to be in a support group,” she said.
As Lopes and 10 others gathered at the main branch of the New Bedford Free Public Library Tuesday morning, Amy Ruell stood towards the front of the room and opened up the meeting.
“You all are here because you share something in common,” Ruell, director of peer support and low vision adjustment services for MABVI, said. “You are very much an untapped resource.”
The purpose of Ruell’s visit was to demonstrate useful technology.
Reading technology demonstrations
The first device she demonstrated was the LyriQ Assistive Text-to-Speech Reader, a device designed to read documents such as mailings or books to its users.
The device has an arm that extends above a black platform. The technology is activated when an item is placed in the scanning area.
“I didn’t even open that envelope and did you hear how fast it scanned?” Ruell exclaimed, shortly after using a piece of her personal mail as an example. “I didn’t have to position anything.
“You can go through your mail very fast,” she added.
Ruell also demonstrated Envision Glasses, a technology that reads text, identifies objects, makes calls, and finds light for its users.
“With these you have to have a smartphone,” she said.
Ruell relayed an anecdotal experience of hers where she was on a video call with a sighted friend and they were able to help her identify objects in the refrigerator.
“it’s sort of like FaceTime without having to hold the thing up,” she said.
Screen to magnify documents
Lopes demonstrated her favorite tool for The Standard-Times a large, handheld screen which she uses to magnify documents so she can read them.
She said it was indispensable for her and when one broke earlier in 2022, she paid about $600 to replace it.
Though she thought the demonstrations may be useful for her, she feared the prices would keep her out.
“I know things for the blind are very expensive,” she said. “I doubt I’ll ever use them.”
Costing $1,950 and $2,450 respectively, Ruell said she knew that to be the case.
She added that there were programs and payment options that may well be worth it.
“These things are pretty expensive, but they are very powerful,” she said.