Health Alert | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

Medical Minute 4-5: Helping a Blind Man Sail

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

From the sea to the slopes, Ed Gallagher is doing it all-blind!

"When I lost my eyesight, well I thought my life was pretty much at an end," said Ed Gallagher, Founder of Genoa Services Inc.

He thought he would never sail again-until he came up with this-a remote guidance system.

"We started working on a computer system that I can sail by myself out on the bay and be hooked up with an experienced sailor on land," said Gallagher.

Genoa-named after Ed's guide dog-is a camera mounted inside these glasses. It's hooked up to a computer that Ed carries with him. It has a microphone and ear piece … allowing Ed to use Internet video call … and call someone to talk him through the process.

But the idea behind this-isn't just for the extreme. Ed sees this helping visually impaired people do just about everything.

Joy has been blind since glaucoma stole her sight at just 16.
Without someone guiding her-she couldn't see what she was choosing from the vending machine.

"It's a sense of independence, even though someone's helping you out," said Joy Oganeku.

Ed can even go shopping by using a remote guide. Ed's system isn't fool proof. You can see there are downfalls including unpredictable Internet service. But even with a few bumps along the way, ed says it's worth it.

"I just discovered a true freedom of movement that I haven't experienced in the last ten years."

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500, jcherry@ivanhoe.com.
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Medical Blueprints: Additional Information:

BACKGROUND: According to the World Health Organization, 314 million people in the world are visually impaired, and 45 million of those are completely blind. In the United States, four million people live without sight. Though there are many causes of blindness, such as Glaucoma or other diseases of the eye, increasing numbers of people are blind because of conditions relating to old age and longer life expectancies.
About 82 percent of visually impaired people worldwide are over the age of 50. Blindness can also be caused by cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and blinding trachoma, among other things.

THE SYSTEM: While many blind people can get around thanks to canes or guide dogs, a Genoa Services guide can help with other things. For instance: reading signs or menus, counting change, or even picking out groceries. Blind users wear hands-free equipment (such as hats or glasses) with a camera and earpiece and communicate with their sighted guide.
Through Skype video software, the sighted guide can see what the blind user looks at and can talk to him or her through the earpiece. It’s important to note that Skype is not the required type of Internet Video Call for users. At this point – according to Ed Gallagher – any type of Internet Video Call will suffice. Though the system is dependent on a wireless Internet connection, it gives its blind users new freedom and independence. (SOURCE: www.genoaservices.org)
THE FUTURE: Genoa Services will be available to 50 users in the San Francisco Bay Area this year, according to the Genoa Services website. Later in the year, they plan to expand to other locations, given adequate funding. Ed Gallagher, the man behind Genoa Services, envisions call centers full of guides for blind people on the go. Those interested in using the service or being a volunteer guide can send an email to Genoa Services for more information. (SOURCE: www.genoaservices.org)
PROBLEMS: The Genoa system is not without problems and potential issues. After all, this is a developing technology … although one with presumably a very high upside.
The top concern is shaky Internet service. This can, obviously, cause problems if a user is using heavy (and possibly dangerous) machinery like a car or a boat (like Ed). Ed is hopeful these kinks can be worked out very soon, thought it’s likely there may need to be a more “close to home” cooperation between users and guides.
 For More Information, Contact:

Scott Plakun
Genoa Services
contact@genoaservices.org


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