November 14, 2011

Elmhurst, IL — Christmas came early this year for 7-year-old Briana.

Briana has limited vision because of oculocutaneous albinism, and is considered legally blind. This month, she received a new vision aid that allows her to see the world like never before, courtesy of the charity organization Sight Savers America.

The aid, a Closed Circuit TV Magnifier, is a high-definition monitor attached

Briana demonstrates her new CCTV for Mom Jocelyn .

to a camera that can swivel and point at anything the Elmhurst child would like to see. She can alter the color contrast of the background, and magnify any image as much as she needs.

And, fitting with the season, when her mom came home from the store with Christmas magazines full of recipes, Briana could finally revel in the pictures of tantalizing holiday treats — it was the first thing she put in front of the device.

She was all excited about reading recipes and getting a close view of the Christmas cookies,” said her mom, Jocelyn. “She’s excited about learning how to cook. She’s a little bit too young, but she’s excited about viewing the pictures.”

Oculocutaneous albinism blurs Briana’s vision, and requires her homework and anything else to be blown-up to a very large size in order for her to see it.

Her school, Hawthorne Elementary, provides a Closed Circuit TV Monitor for her to use in the classroom. But at home, she would have trouble seeing her homework and other materials, even when printed in a larger size.

Briana was one of five children to receive the special monitors from the non-profit organizations Sight Savers America and Spectrios Institute, in coalition with the for-profit device manufacturer Optelec at an event in Chicago this month.

This was kind of neat that we had a for-profit partnering with two nonprofits,” said Sight Savers America spokesperson Linda

Long. “And they all have similar missions, they’re just trying

to help kids see the best they can. Kids’ worlds just open up when they get this. It’s the kind of stuff that sighted people take for granted, we don’t think about. But it’s just a whole wonderful experience for them.”The device is costly and isn’t covered by insurance, Long said. And as a single mom, Jocelyn said there was no way she would have been able to afford it without help.

“I don’t know even know the words to say besides a big ‘thank you,’” Jocelyn said. “And it’s nice to have organizations out here that give and have a concern about vision.”

Being low-vision is a frustrating experience for a child learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, her mom said. Her teachers know Briana needs to sit front and center, but sometimes circumstances and setting prevent that, and occasionally a substitute teacher might not know.

“If you cant see, you can’t follow what’s going on,” Jocelyn said. “She’s only 7 years old — you most likely wont pay attention if you can’t follow and you can’t see.”

Even when the vision aid at school worked flawlessly, Briana would still have trouble seeing her work at home, until now.

“She can do her homework by herself, and be self-sufficient without mom telling ‘what this is, what that is,’” Jocelyn said. “The device will definitely make a difference for her. I’m very grateful for all of those who had a hand in letting Briana have that device, and at such a young age. Once she gets to fifth, sixth grade, I think she’ll be a pro at it.”

One thing that will take practice is writing while looking at the screen, as well as at the actual paper on which she is writing. Briana said she’s excited to use it to draw, too.

“It makes me feel good that I can do my homework better, and read better, and see things better,” she said.

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