In 1993, Lee Bennett went blind in just six weeks, but now he can see again, thanks to Give Vision’s remarkable ‘electronic goggles’. He tells Ian Halstead his story.
I’ve been going to the Sight Village UK exhibition in Birmingham every year, for ages. It’s interesting just to hear about the latest technology, but I’d never found anything which could help me. I can only see blurred images and smudges, but I’m always optimistic.
“Last time, I met one of the Give Vision people, and agreed to try their headset on. I put it on, moved the control joystick, and it was unreal. For the first time in 24 years, I could see an eye-chart and actually read it all right down to the bottom line.
“I went home, and all I could think about was what a surreal experience I’d just had. About six weeks later, Give Vision rang and invited me to trial their latest headset. It was amazing.
“For years, I’d been using unreliable PC-based technology to let me see some things, or using other stuff, which was just really magnifying glasses.
“The headset was hands-free, so I could actually read things I was holding. I went back home, and I could watch my TV from across the room, instead of having to sit inches away from the screen. I could even use a normal PC.
“Up to the age of 23, I’d taken sight for granted, but then a rare condition destroyed my central vision in one eye, and six weeks later, the other one went. I went to Waterstones, explained what I was doing to the assistant, took a book off the shelf, put it down and I could read it. It was so amazing I was overwhelmed.
“Maria from Give Vision took me around, and I saw the outside of the Bullring for the first time, then went back home to West Brom, and couldn’t believe how much had changed.
“We used to live near the old Oak House, and I hadn’t been there for 20-odd years. I went to see the building, but could also see people’s faces.
“I’m a civilian support officer with West Midlands Police, but when I went into work, talking about reading eye-charts and seeing stuff from across the room, they must have thought I’d gone crazy.
“The best things are the small stuff. My parents are both dead, and although I’ve got a picture of them on my fireplace, I haven’t been able to see them properly. With this headset, and especially the newest prototype, I can see them as I remember them, and I can look at pictures of my old German Shepherd too.
“It makes you well up inside, and when you see twigs and leaves on trees, and can see the grain on wood, it feels like a miracle. I can see my sisters properly too, and now we can all look at old photos together, and all my memories just feel so real now.
“My mates are really pleased for me, of course, and I think they also appreciate not having to read the menus out loud, every time we go for a meal. I’m also looking forward to going to snooker tournaments and seeing the players and their shots, not just listening to the commentary on an ear-piece.
“Going away on holidays, and seeing what other people see, is something I’m really going to enjoy, but one of the greatest pleasures is simply being able to write freehand. To have thoughts, and to be able to express them, without having to switch on a special PC and boot the software, is a really special moment.”