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Blind treasure hunt, bionic eyes at international mobility conference


Organiser of the International Mobility Conference Professor
Steve La Grow of Massey University, says about 80,000
New Zealanders suffer impaired vision and this number will
increase as the population ages.

From bionic eyes to how blind people can use iPhones and GPS to cope with everyday living, Massey University is hosting a world-leading conference about improving mobility and independence for those with impaired vision.

Keynote speakers at the International Mobility Conference, February 13-16, include Sir Ray Avery, scientist, inventor and New Zealander of the Year 2010, and Mike May, a partially-sighted American business executive and sports enthusiast.

By 2020, an estimated 30 million people worldwide are expected to benefit from Sir Ray’s development of intraocular lenses implanted into the eyes of cataract blindness sufferers.

Blinded by a chemical explosion at the age of three, Mr May regained partial vision in 2000 at the age of 46 after cornea transplants and a pioneering stem cell procedure. In 1999, he founded the Sendero Group, which produced the first GPS solutions for blind people.

Mr May has also held the record for downhill skiing by a totally blind person and competed in alpine skiing at the 1984 Winter Paralympics, winning three bronze medals in the downhill, giant slalom and combination events.

At the conference Mr May will lead delegates on a GPS ‘treasure hunt’ so instructors can appreciate how a blind person can navigate independently using GPS technology.

Among the 110 presentations over the four-day conference, Duane Geruschat, director of research at the Maryland School for the Blind and a research associate in ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, will talk about developments in bionic vision and travel and mobility.

The conference is in New Zealand for the first time and is being hosted by Massey University through the links of world expert in orientation and mobility Steve La Grow, Professor of Rehabilitation at Massey and head of the School Health and Social Services.

Professor La Grow says he is delighted that such a high calibre of experts will be in New Zealand presenting and discussing their research into blindness, vision impairment and mobility. “It is a real coup to get this conference to New Zealand and to Massey University,” he says. “Mobility is one of the biggest challenges faced by blind and visually impaired people, and this conference will help raise the profile of the issue, both in New Zealand and in the wider Asia-Pacific region.”

About 80,000 people in New Zealand suffer from some level of vision impairment. Professor La Grow says a lack of mobility brings issues around independence, social connection and isolation and self worth. With an ageing population questions about how people can remain independent while their vision deteriorates will only increase.

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