An Ontario teen who is legally blind not only got to hang out with a couple of Harlem Globetrotters recently — he was able to actually see them, thanks to technology from a Toronto startup.
Ethan LaCroix, 13, has been nearly 75 per cent blind his whole life because of a rare disease called Leber congenital amaurosis. But when he wears eSight eyewear, the Brantford, Ont. teen has nearly normal vision.
"I could see writing on a piece of paper from across the room," LaCroix said, describing the first time he put the glasses on. "I looked out the window and could see the street signs and all the signs on the buildings."
Jeff Fenton, eSight's director of marketing, said people often compare it to the visor worn by Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation — an instrument that allowed the La Forge character, who was totally blind, to see even better than people with normal vision.
"They're not totally off," Fenton said.
Essentially, a high resolution camera in the centre of the glasses captures what's in front of the person wearing them. Then, the glasses display the image on Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) screens in front of the person's eyes.
The technology helps people who have low vision or who are legally blind.
Since he first got a pair of the glasses a year and a half ago, LaCroix has been to a Toronto Raptors game, an AC/DC concert, and he was able to see his younger brother play hockey for the first time. Earlier this month, he hit the court with two of the Harlem Globetrotters.
"It was really cool to meet them," LaCroix said. "They were really funny."
Herbert 'Flight Time' Lang and Shane 'Scooter' Christensen spent the day with the 13-year-old, going up the CN Tower and shooting hoops on the Air Canada Centre's practice court.
"It was just such a perfect fit for an organization who wants to give an experience to someone who would have otherwise not been able to experience it," Fenton said.
"We were going up the elevator and Ethan is looking out the window and it was just — you sort of pinch yourself in that moment because he's seeing the city."
Glasses not covered
According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, nearly 187,000 Ontario residents live with vision loss or partial sight. The province's Assistive Devices Program covers some visual aids, like white canes and magnifiers, but eSight glasses aren't covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
The latest pair costs about $13,500. Fenton said the company has a fundraising department that helps people buy the eyewear using platforms like crowdfunding.
LaCroix's mother, Margaret LaCroix, told CBC Toronto she was emotional watching her son put on the glasses for the first time.
"It was amazing just to see that he could see all those things he's never really seen before."
As for Ethan, he said he can't wait to see what's next for vision technology.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what the next ones look like and how well they'll be built in the future."