Angel Eyes NI awarded funding for VR sight loss simulation project

  • Belfast-based charity Angel Eyes NI has been awarded a grant from The National Lottery Community Fund for its new, digital VisualEyes project.

    VisualEyes incorporates the use of a virtual reality (VR) headset to simulate eye conditions to families, so the impact of sight loss is better understood.

    It was developed by Angel Eyes’ CEO and founder, Sara McCracken and consultant optometrist, Jonathan Jackson.

    Sara said: “We knew there was nothing out there to replicate children’s sight loss accurately. There are simulation spectacles that you can place on your face, but they are often based on adult eye conditions which are very different to children’s and they can’t show every element of sight loss.”

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    Sara explained that there could be children that can read text but can’t negotiate the world around them because they may have reduced visual fields, no 3D perception and be sensitive to light, and vice versa. So in partnership with Jonathan Jackson, the VisualEyes concept was born.

    She continued: “If you don’t understand it’s very hard to advocate, and parents are their children’s best advocate. One size doesn’t fit all.”

    “Lottery funding gives us the opportunity to take it out free of charge to education and health organisations to see if something that could be useful in the future.”

    After trying out the prototype VR headset, one mother Heather, told Angel Eyes NI she and her family “were so thrilled to have the opportunity to understand in a meaningful way, the sight loss of our son. This is going to make an amazing difference to children living with sight loss as this understanding is key to them realising their potential".

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    Sara said Angel Eyes NI is a “solutions-focused” organisation, which was registered officially as a charity in 2009 “to support parents and their families with blind and partially sighted children”, both emotionally and practically.

    She created Angel Eyes initially as she has twin children that were born with a genetic condition which means they have a lifelong visual impairment.

    Sara added that Angel Eyes is all about finding and creating “the tools to empower families with visually impaired children to create a future for their child to realise their full potential.”

    The charity has already developed a Level 4 qualification for supporting visually impaired learners, accredited by Ulster University, and contextualised to Northern Ireland. Sara said: “This is the first time classroom assistants are able to do a course to specifically help them in supporting blind and visually impaired children.”

    Find out more about Angel Eyes NI and the VisualEyes project here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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