Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Blind Golf

The first Blind Golf event in Malaysia will be held on Thursday, 15th October 2009 at the Bukit Jalil golf course, in conjunction with the International White Cane Day. Hong Kong will have 8 blind golfers participating in this inaugral friendly golf event.This event is organised and sponsored by the National Council for the Blind, Malaysia, NCBM. The success of this historical golf event in the making, will be an achievement and of great significance to me, personally. As the 'driver' for this golf project, so to speak. This historical day too, will be my first 'official ' golf game outing since the loss of my sight in January 2008. I am getting some jittery feelings thinking of the golf game. Images buzzing in my head : standing on the first tee box, looking out towards the 1st hole but not seeing.., looking down at the white golf ball but not seeing.. hitting the golf ball  without seeing it fly, only hearing the sound created by the golf woods/irons hitting the golf ball following a good shot. It will be an emotional and nostalgic moment for me standing alone at the first tee box, driver in hand and looking out at the world in darkness, and knowing fully well that the day is going to be a bright and a beautiful day for golf.
Preparations are in progress but there is still much to do from now until the big day. It will be a challenge for me to brief our local keen blind and visually impaired first timers about golf, the different golf equipment, basic golf techniques, golf rules, etc.    A couple of visits to the nearby driving range for practices, and perhaps too, a brief coaching tour to a local golf course will be of great help for the local participants as they are newbies to the game of golf.  No doubt I played golf when I was sighted before but in the present time it is a different ball game altogether.  A totally new experience golfing in the dark!!
More challenging times ahead!
Useful information for those keen to know about blind golf..
"Blind golf is an adapted version of the sport of golf created for blind and partially sighted players. While we think of golf as an activity requiring eyesight, that's not necessarily the case. The game is enjoyed by thousands throughout the world who have someone else be their eyes.

The International Blind Golf Association (IBGA) was established in 1997 at a meeting held in Perth, Western Australia. Today there are currently nine member countries in the IBGA: Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the United States of America.

The earliest record of blind golf is from the 1920s in the USA when Clint Russell of Duluth, Minnesota, lost his sight when a tire exploded in his face. He began playing blind golf in 1925, gradually increasing his scores until Clint managed to shoot an 84 for 18 holes in the early 1930s.

A match between two blind Englishmen and two Americans took place before the Second World War. Organized blind golf tournaments have taken place in America since the United States Blind Golf Association was established in 1947.

The first hole-in-one recorded by a blind or visually impaired golfer in a National Open was scored on September 15, 2004 by Jan Dinsdale, a B2 lady from Northern Ireland. It was on the 115 yard second hole at Shannon Lake Golf Club in Kelowna, British Columbia during the Canadian Open Tournament

Blind golf includes only minor modifications to the standard rules of golf.

The principle of playing is that blind or partially sighted golf players have a sighted coach who assists the golfer in describing distance, direction and characteristics of the hole, and helps with club head alignment behind the ball, prior to the stroke. From this point, the golfer is on his own, and it is her/his skill that determines the resulting stroke.

Other than the coach, there is only one relaxation to the standard rules: blind or partially sighted golfers are allowed to ground their club in a hazard.

Blind golf competitions are set in classes determined by the golfer's level of sight, using the same categories as in other branches of sport played by the visually impaired:

B1 No light perception in either eye, or slight light perception but inability to recognise the shape of a hand at any distance or in any direction

B2 From ability to recognise the shape of a hand, up to visual acuity of 2/60, and/or visual field of less than 5 degrees

B3 visual acuity between 2/60 and 6/60, and/or visual field of between 5 degrees and 20 degrees.


Monday, September 28, 2009

New Research Aiding The Blind To See

Malaysia O Malaysia.. The rapid technological advances today have changed and impacted the lives of so many people, particularly the disabled. For the blind and the visually impaired, medical scientists and researchers, particularly from the west, are excited about the vast opportunities that can be explored and tapped in helping the blind to restore some level of sight. While it is important to create awareness in preventing sight loss among the rakyat(citizens), it is equally important too that more research work to be done in helping those already inflicted, blind due to various medical illness and causes. It is good to have modern assistive, both physical and ICT tools,  which undoubtedly will enhance the independence of those concerned in their daily lives. I believe there are several out there who could have some level of sight restored with assistance from the newly developed technology in the near future such as artificial retina implant, tooth implant, etc.. Perhaps, the related organisations(NCBM, MAB,etc) will consider engaging in more such exciting research dialogues with the local reputable universities and research institutions in carrying out such noble and important research projects. Interesting article extracted below for reading information..




From The New York Times:

Blindness first began creeping up on Barbara Campbell when she was a teenager, and by her late 30s, her eye disease had stolen what was left of her sight. Reliant on a talking computer for reading and a cane for navigating New York City, where she lives and works, Ms. Campbell, now 56, would have been thrilled to see something, anything.

Now, as part of a striking experiment, she can. So far, she can detect burners on her stove when making a grilled cheese, her mirror frame, and whether her computer monitor is on. She is beginning an intensive three-year research project involving electrodes surgically implanted in her eye, a camera on the bridge of her nose and a video processor strapped to her waist. The project, involving patients in the United States, Mexico and Europe, is part of a burst of recent research aimed at one of science's most-sought-after holy grails: making the blind see.

Some of the 37 other participants further along in the project can differentiate plates from cups, tell grass from sidewalk, sort white socks from dark, distinguish doors and windows, identify large letters of the alphabet, and see where people are, albeit not details about them.

Linda Morfoot, 65, of Long Beach, Calif., blind for 12 years, says she can now toss a ball into a basketball hoop, follow her nine grandchildren as they run around her living room and "see where the preacher is" in church.

"For someone who's been totally blind, this is really remarkable," said Andrew P. Mariani, a program director at the National Eye Institute. "They're able to get some sort of vision."

Scientists involved in the project, the artificial retina, say they have plans to develop the technology to allow people to read, write and recognize faces. Advances in technology, genetics, brain science and biology are making a goal that long seemed out of reach — restoring sight — more feasible.

"For a long time, scientists and clinicians were very conservative, but you have to at some point get out of the laboratory and focus on getting clinical trials in actual humans," said Timothy J. Schoen, director of science and preclinical development for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Now "there's a real push," he said, because "we've got a lot of blind people walking around, and we've got to try to help them."

More than 3.3 million Americans 40 and over, or about one in 28, are blind or have vision so poor that even with glasses, medicine or surgery, everyday tasks are difficult, according to the National Eye Institute, a federal agency. That number is expected to double in the next 30 years. Worldwide, about 160 million people are similarly affected.

"With an aging population, it's obviously going to be an increasing problem," said Michael D. Oberdorfer, who runs the visual neuroscience program for the National Eye Institute, which finances several sight-restoration projects, including the artificial retina. Wide-ranging research is important, he said, because different methods could help different causes of blindness.

The approaches include gene therapy, which has produced improved vision in people who are blind from one rare congenital disease. Stem cell research is considered promising, although far from producing results, and other studies involve a light-responding protein and retinal transplants.

Others are implanting electrodes in monkeys' brains to see if directly stimulating visual areas might allow even people with no eye function to see.

And recently, Sharron Kay Thornton, 60, from Smithdale, Miss., blinded by a skin condition, regained sight in one eye after doctors at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine extracted a tooth (her eyetooth, actually), shaved it down and used it as a base for a plastic lens replacing her cornea.

It was the first time the procedure, modified osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis, was performed in this country. The surgeon, Dr. Victor L. Perez, said it could help people with severely scarred corneas from chemical or combat injuries.

Other techniques focus on delaying blindness, including one involving a capsule implanted in the eye to release proteins that slow the decay of light-responding cells. And with BrainPort, a camera worn by a blind person captures images and transmits signals to electrodes slipped onto the tongue, causing tingling sensations that a person can learn to decipher as the location and movement of objects.

Ms. Campbell's artificial retina works similarly, except it produces the sensation of sight, not tingling on the tongue. Developed by Dr. Mark S. Humayun, a retinal surgeon at the University of Southern California, it drew on cochlear implants for the deaf and is partly financed by a cochlear implant maker.

It is so far being used in people with retinitis pigmentosa, in which photoreceptor cells, which take in light, deteriorate.

Gerald J. Chader, chief scientific officer at the University of Southern California's Doheny Retinal Institute, where Dr. Humayun works, said it should also work for severe cases of age-related macular degeneration, the major cause of vision loss in older people.

With the artificial retina, a sheet of electrodes is implanted in the eye. The person wears glasses with a tiny camera, which captures images that the belt-pack video processor translates into patterns of light and dark, like the "pixelized image we see on a stadium scoreboard," said Jessy D. Dorn, a research scientist at Second Sight Medical Products, which produces the device, collaborating with the Department of Energy. (Other research teams are developing similar devices.)

The video processor directs each electrode to transmit signals representing an object's contours, brightness and contrast, which pulse along optic neurons into the brain.

Currently, "it's a very crude image," Dr. Dorn said, because the implant has only 60 electrodes; many people see flashes or patches of light.

Brian Mech, Second Sight's vice president for business development, said the company was seeking federal approval to market the 60-electrode version, which would cost up to $100,000 and might be covered by insurance. Also planned are 200- and 1,000-electrode versions; the higher number might provide enough resolution for reading. (Dr. Mech said a maximum electrode number would eventually be reached because if they are packed too densely, retinal tissue could be burned.)

"Every subject has received some sort of visual input," he said. "There are people who aren't extremely impressed with the results, and other people who are." Second Sight is studying what affects results, including whether practice or disease characteristics influence the brain's ability to relearn how to process visual signals.

People choose when to use the device by turning their camera on. Dean Lloyd, 68, a Palo Alto, Calif., lawyer, was "pretty disappointed" when he started in 2007, but since his implant was adjusted so more electrodes responded, is "a lot more excited about it," he said. He uses it constantly, seeing "borders and boundaries" and flashes from highly reflective objects, like glass, water or eyes.

With Ms. Morfoot's earlier 16-electrode version, which registers objects as horizontal lines, she climbed the Eiffel Tower and "could see all the lights of the city," she said. "I can see my hand when I'm writing. At Little League games, I can see where the catcher, batter and umpire are."

Kathy Blake, 58, of Fountain Valley, Calif., said she mainly wanted to help advance research. But she uses it to sort laundry, notice cars and people, and on the Fourth of July, to "see all the fireworks," she said.

Ms. Campbell, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for New York's Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, has long been cheerfully self-sufficient, traveling widely from her fourth-floor walk-up, going to the theater, babysitting for her niece in North Carolina.

But little things rankle, like not knowing if clothes are stained and needing help shopping for greeting cards. Everything is a "gray haze — like being in a cloud," she said. The device will not make her "see like I used to see," she said. "But it's going to be more than what I have. It's not just for me — it's for so many other people that will follow me."

Ms. Campbell's "realistic view of her vision" and willingness to practice are a plus, said Aries Arditi, senior fellow in vision science at Lighthouse International, a nonprofit agency overseeing her weekly training, which includes practice moving her head so the camera captures images and interpreting light as objects.

"In 20 years, people will think it's primitive, like the difference between a Model T and a Ferrari," said Dr. Lucian Del Priore, an ophthalmology surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, who implanted Ms. Campbell's electrodes. "But the fact is, the Model T came first."

Ms. Campbell would especially like to see colors, but, for now, any color would be random flashes, Dr. Arditi said.

But she saw circular lights at a restaurant, part of a light installation at an art exhibition. "There's a lot to learn," she said. Still, "I'm, like, really seeing this."



More challenging days ahead.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Emotional support for people losing their sight

Browsing the internet today, I chanced upon an article relating to a research study in the UK. This research study focussed in the need for emotional support and counselling for adults who have lost their sight. The issues highlighted pertaining to the concerns, fears, loss of confidence and difficulty coping with the new life, etc. The research study article extract copy can be read below. 
While reading the article, it dawned upon me that the research described what I went through 21 months ago when I lost my sight. Much to my regret there was no professional counselling services available from the various related support organisations in our country then. It was through my family's sheer strong love and undivided support that contributed and played the vital role in helping me to come to terms with my new life.  My determination and proactive attitude pushed me to make things happen and not waiting for things to happen. Certainly, there is still much to be done to help the new adult blind in our country to cope and adapt to the new life as it lacks professional counselling and support groups. There is a need for more local research studies to understand and to provide the much needed emotional support to those who have recently lost their sight or to those who are about to lose their sight due to various eye ailments, etc. There is also a need for support groups to counsel the caregivers as well as they too need to understand how to care for the loved ones who are blind or becoming blind.
Extracted Article
The need for emotional support for people losing their sight is great but the question of how best to provide it is under researched, underfunded, and remains seriously neglected, says a new study published today.

The study (1), commissioned by sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust and carried out by researchers at the University of Reading, describes the emotional trauma of being diagnosed with sight loss as potentially devastating. Yet, while there is clear evidence of a need for emotional support, there is very little information on how best to provide it. Today, the charity calls for research to evaluate the effectiveness of current services, including counselling and rehabilitation, as well as other available kinds of support.

"Not enough attention has been given to the emotional impact of sight loss," says Dr. Angela McCullagh, Research and Development Director, Thomas Pocklington Trust, "but research shows that panic and distress can lead to
depression. There's a clear need for emotional support and an urgent need for work to establish the best ways to provide it."

Using a systematic review of literature the research team accumulated and updated evidence from previous studies. This was combined with a survey of counselling services for people with sight loss in the UK, as well as interviews with people with sight loss. The team found that adjusting to sight loss was like the stages of bereavement. Participants reported initial feelings of panic and distress, followed by devastation and depression, before finally coming to terms with sight loss. This is because sight loss dramatically changes a person's way of life, cutting short activities that bolster feelings of self-worth and quality of life. Not being able to drive was a major blow, adding to a general loss of independence that was a big factor in the onset of depression.

The survey found that sight loss particularly increased the risk of depression among older people. In particular, adults of working age and above were more likely to suffer
mental health problems and a reduction in their quality of life and social functioning.

However, the study found little published evaluation of how best to deal with this emotional trauma. What did exist were mostly published pilot studies by academic researchers and client satisfaction studies by voluntary organisations. From these and further interviews it was clear that:

- Although the practical and mobility support provided by current services was important, rehabilitation played only a minor role in improving emotional well-being and reducing the risk of depression.

- The very real issue of loneliness among people with sight loss was under researched. Participants reported that having to give up their job, or having acquaintances who couldn't cope with their sight loss often led to the loss of their friends. Emotional help came from family and friends, along with voluntary groups who organised welcome social contact. Counselling and group-based courses were helpful since they provided both information and peer support.

"There is currently no real understanding of the most effective way to deal with the emotional impact of sight loss," says McCullagh. "Properly funded research and a real commitment is essential if local services across the UK are ever to provide the emotional support that could ward off depression in those with sight loss."

1. The study "Emotional Support to People with Sight Loss" was commissioned and funded by Thomas Pocklington Trust. It was conducted by the University of Reading. Based at the Institute of Health Sciences, the principal investigators were Professors Margot A Gosney and Christina R Victor, and the postdoctoral research fellow was Dr Samuel R Nyman. From 11th September the study Findings can be seen at
More challenging times ahead!