Jennifer Melanson, 36, was born with retinopathy of prematurity. Approximately 50 per cent of the 28,000 estimated premature babies born yearly in the U.S. have this condition, which occurs due to abnormal blood vessel development. As a result, Jennifer is completely blind in her left eye, with 20/100 vision in her right eye.
Even so, that did not deter her from pursuing her professional goals. Jennifer went to school to become a special needs education assistant, her rationale being that, “I want to do something that helps people.” Compounded with the fact that Jennifer’s son lives with a language delay, she made up her mind on going into a profession that could benefit him and other students like him.
She understood though that as a teacher living with vision loss, there were more potential barriers to prevent her from doing her job effectively.
Trying Different Vision Loss Treatments
Jennifer had undergone cataract surgery in 2014. “I noticed after the surgery, the numbers of the chart were the same as before but the functionality of eyes had changed. I was unable to focus from far to close. Stigmatism came after cataract surgery, so I could no longer use glasses.”
Her vision loss made many of her daily activities much more challenging, including seeing her son’s face and reading from a text. But when a doctor told her about eSight and how it can help people with low vision conditions like retinopathy of prematurity, she decided to test it in September 2017.
“I put the glasses on and started to cry. My youngest son was buckled up in his stroller across the exam room and I was able to see his face for the first time! Everyone was crying in the room.”
Jennifer continued, “During the testing, I was able to read better than 20/20. I walked outside on the street and could read street signs and all kinds of things I wasn’t able to read before.” She quickly realized eSight’s implications for her future career as a teacher with vision loss.
She added that she loved using her eSight when “going to the zoo and actually seeing the animals for the first time. It sounds funny, but for those with low vision, people with sight take those little things for granted.”
Her favourite part about eSight however, is how amazing it is to see people convey their feelings through facial expressions. For instance, the pure joy a child has while playing, or when a student gets that ‘Aha!’ moment when they’ve been struggling with learning something but then it finally clicks. She explained that as a visually impaired person, she can hear those emotional nuances in people’s vocal inflections but to see them through eSight has truly shown her the meaning of the common saying that “eyes are the windows to the soul.”
In the Classroom
Jennifer was nervous about completing an in-person teaching practicum as a teacher with vision loss, and she took her eSight with her every day. She broke the ice with her students as many of them were interested in her eyewear, and would curiously inquire, “Is that a VR headset?” When she explained that it was actually an assistive technology that helped her to see, the foundation between her and her students was laid as they could all already agree on one thing: that it was very cool indeed.
eSight proved immensely helpful for Jennifer’s practicum because she was able to stand at the back of the classroom and still see the whiteboard by zooming in, and she could also follow along with what her students were working on without having to constantly hover over their desks.
It also meant that she didn’t have to lug around specialized sheets of enlarged papers for people with low vision, and she was even able to read the contents of any sheet aloud to her students without having to ask them to read it to her.
Jennifer currently teaches English as a Second Language online to students in China. As well, she will continue working in classroom settings with students with special needs ranging from autism to ESL learners.
Jennifer is confident that her eSight will continue to be an invaluable asset in her life.
Did you enjoy reading this eSight user success story? Read more about how Jesse Johnson, who also lives with retinopathy of prematurity, created emergency masks and ventilators for his local hospital in the midst of COVID-19.