Like many of you, we were moved while watching the YouTube video of Kathy Beitz, who was diagnosed with legal blindness at the age of 11, seeing her newborn baby boy with the help of eSight glasses. The viral video has amassed more than 3 million views on YouTube so far.
Not Impossible Now spoke with Beitz and her sister Yvonne Felix, who has also been legally blind since childhood, about the amazing moments captured on video.
“What we wanted by sharing her experience is first to have people understand there’s a technology out there and not to be afraid of technology,” Felix told Not Impossible Now. “And secondly, to eliminate the stigma of what the face of blindness really is. We’re just people who don’t see that well, but we want to be members of society, too.”
Speaking about the experience, Beitz said: “I was in shock because I’m used to not seeing facial expression and detail. So when I put on the glasses, I just spent a lot of time staring at him. I couldn’t be happy or excited because I was very overwhelmed, and I spent a lot of my emotional energy just engraving all the fine details of his face into my brain. I felt very lucky.”
Both Felix and Beitz have Stargardt disease, a hereditary form of juvenile macular degeneration. Felix was first diagnosed with the disease when she was 7, and by the time she was 15, she only had 2 percent of her vision remaining.
Although she loved drawing, Felix was told by an art teacher not to pursue art professionally. By the time she was 25, however, Felix reapplied to art school and was an active volunteer in the blindness community. Through her volunteer, fundraising and advocacy work, Felix heard about a study for eSight and became one of its earliest users.
“The first thing I noticed was this blind spot I had centrally that covered 98 percent of my vision wasn’t there anymore,” Felix said. “From there, I said, ‘Yes, this is amazing. I can see my husband and kids.’”
To raise money for her own pair of eSight glasses, Felix made necklaces that looked like her own blind spot. Beitz’s pregnancy prompted Felix to start #MakeBlindnessHistory, which seeks to educate the public on blindness and to raise funds for individuals to obtain eSight glasses.
Like her older sister, Beitz also learned to adapt incredibly well to legal blindness, successfully putting herself through school and work. With low vision, however, she would not have been able to see her baby’s face; eSight wanted to fix that and enabled Beitz to see her son in the delivery room.
The glasses use two OLED screens, a high-speed camera, video processing software and a computer processor to project a real-time image that legally blind users can see. The eSight device is completely mobile and hands-free. Once the glasses are fitted for a user’s prescription, the user has full control over the settings and can adjust brightness, exposure, magnification and contrast for different activities and environments. At $15,000 apiece, the glasses are a significant investment.
“There is an imperative to bring the price down, and there is also an imperative to make the technology as good as it can be,” eSight spokesman Taylor West said.
Felix’s video of Beitz has received more than 3 million views on YouTube and counting, surprising both sisters.
“I got to keep the video for my own family records so that’s how I took it,” Beitz said. “And it’s nice to make something that would possibly help another person. I’m really pleased to see all these individuals who have low vision come out and talk about it.”
Felix was also overjoyed with the response of the video.
“I’m so touched that people actually care, and I’m really happy for sister,” she said. “My hope is that when people see others using this technology, it opens the door for questioning, as opposed to being afraid of someone you don’t understand. Instead, you should ask questions and begin that conversation. That’s the best way to help educate and help the community become more unified.”
Top screenshot courtesy of Yvonne Felix’s YouTube channel