What Are Low Vision Simulator Apps and How Do They Work?
Tengo Baja Vision and Tengo Baja Vision VR (Virtual Reality) are two FREE applications available for use with iOS or Android devices with cameras. These are tools for simulating some of the symptoms of low vision including loss of visual field, patched vision and night blindness—to name a few. The apps serve to demonstrate what a person with low vision can or cannot see in the environment, what is meant by visual fatigue, and the importance of accommodations and modifications to providing access. Some eye diseases which can be modeled using the apps include retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt disease and diabetic retinopathy.
Low vision simulator apps make use of the camera built into a smart phone or tablet. A digital filter is applied which alters the image displayed on the screen. It is possible to simulate nine low vision symptoms including photophobia and central vision loss. Some low vision simulator apps like the Tengo Baja Vision include information: an overview of common eye diseases and their symptoms. You will not want to use the VR version of the Tengo Baja Vision app unless you 1) have VR glasses to clip attach to the screen and you 2) are using a smart-phone sized device.
Who Should Consider Using Low Vision Simulator Apps?
Low vision simulator apps may prove useful to teachers of students with visual impairments, orientation and mobility instructors, and vocational rehabilitation counselors. Low vision is sometimes referred to as an “invisible” disability because limitations in a person’s visual functioning may not be evident to others. Sharing the simulator apps and VR goggles with parents, teachers, related service providers, and job coaches may increase awareness and lead to meaningful discussions about the modifications, adaptations, and technology needed by a person with low vision or blindness. This technology can be used by students with low vision to illustrate the very real challenges to visual access they may be experiencing in the classroom or community and as a tool for self-advocacy.
“The technology provided to me truly put me in the shoes of my student. Not only was I able to “see” what my student would see, it helped me realize what distractions and obstacles could be moved in order for her to have the same experience as every other student. The technology is everything you think technology should be in this day and age and was a fantastic resource.” (Katelyn Epstein, Middle School Educator Fairfield, Connecticut)
What Advantages Do Simulator Apps Have Over Other Simulation Techniques?
Unlike traditional goggle or glasses-based kits, neither the phone or VR goggles need to touch the face or head of the person using the app. This is more hygienic than sharing glasses and no time need be spent sterilizing the kit between uses. Additionally, simulation apps can be shared at a distance. It takes just a few minutes for a user to download the app and begin using it. With the swipe of a finger, the severity of a symptom experienced by a person viewing the display may be increased or decreased. In future posts the author plans to share her experiences using the apps with families and teams of school age children to help simulate a variety of different eye conditions.
Sighted people may gather as much as 90 percent of their knowledge through the sense of sight. Simulator apps can illustrate the very real phenomenon of visual fatigue experienced by many people with low vision. Members of a child’s family and education team may use the apps to better understand how a child with low vision may be able to see some things and not others. Simulator apps can demonstrate the importance of modifications and accommodations outlined in a student’s 504 or education plan. Younger children and students not able to explain their visual disability to others may have the most to gain when those around them have access to apps like these.
What Are Some Limitations of Low Vision Simulation Apps?
Students and vision professionals providing a simulation experience to others do well to emphasize the ways in which a low vision simulation is different from the experience of low vision IRL (in real life). Viewing the world through the filter of an app for a few minutes is not the same as navigating the daily challenges of life as a person with low vision. Anyone using the app should be in a chair. For a walking experience with low vision, sighted guide technique should be provided to the user. Anyone who is prone to motion-sickness or vertigo should instead view still images of simulations. These can be captured with the app via a screen-recording (paused) or a screen shot.
Tengo Baja Vision applies filters to simulate up to nine low vision “symptoms” including ‘patched vision’ for retinopathy of prematurity, ‘loss of central vision’ for macular degeneration, ‘photophobia’ for ocular albinism and more. One disadvantage of the simulator apps available as of this printing is this: only one filter (representing a single ocular disability) may be selected at one time. In a future update the functionality of simulating multiple conditions at one same time will hopefully become available.
Where Can I Go to Learn More about Low Vision Simulator Apps?
Here is a link to the Tengo Baja website for two of the low vision simulators available for free as of May 1, 2021.
The Tengo Bava VR link takes you to a demonstration (in Spanish) of the Virtual Reality VR APP in use. This is a simulator created to be used with (VR) Glasses. The app was developed by a Spain-based organization: RETINOSIS GUPUZKOA BEGISARE. This is why the video is in Spanish.
The Tengo Bava non-VR link takes you to a demonstration (in Spanish) of the (non-VR) Simulator APP in use. This is a simulator which can be used without Virtual Reality glasses to simulate different symptoms of low vision.
The Amazon VR Glasses link takes you to an Amazon link for one type of reusable and easily cleaned VR glasses for use with a smartphone and VR Low Vision Simulator.
*Two of the three links above are to Spanish-language videos. This should not prove a barrier to viewing the demonstrations. English Language versions of the apps themselves are available for iOS and Android operating systems.
Author’s note: The author wishes to thank the developers of the Tengo Baja Vision app for making this great resource FREE to those who need it. The author also wishes to thank Nancy Moskowitz, Education Consultant for the State of Connecticut at ADS-BESB for her help exploring ways in which low vision simulator apps like this could truly empower students and clients with low vision. Thank you, Nancy!