James Laird, who has has under 5% vision, describes seeing Jersey Boys at the Palace
It’s been a long time since James Laird visited the theatre. The Manchester writer has a degenerative sight loss condition called retinitis pigmentosa that is causing his eyesight to slowly deteriorate. Laird currently has less than 5% vision, and suffers from both night blindness and photosensitivity.
Last week, however, he found himself seeing hit musical Jersey Boys thanks to a revolutionary pair of specs. OXSIGHT Prism smart glasses use a camera to project a live feed onto high-resolution screens within the specs, meaning that even people with very limited sight can see what’s going on around them.
It was the first time, in a long time, that I could track what was going on
Laird, who has been using the glasses for a month, says they have changed his life: “I use my OXSIGHT Prism glasses for practically everything now, from when I’m out and about to when I’m home watching TV. They have almost replaced my normal glasses because I wear them so much.
“I love being able to interact with people when I’m out, (they) often want to talk to me about the glasses and find out what they do. I feel like they have re-opened doors for me, and I’m actually planning to use them to go travelling later this year."
First, though, it was a visit to the Palace Theatre, which donated tickets to Laird and a friend as part of its ongoing commitment to making the theatre accessible to all. Alongside fellow ATG venue The Opera House, the Palace offers accessible performances throughout the year - including BSL interpreted, audio-described, captioned and relaxed performances - as well as a dedicated booking line and an Access Membership scheme that makes it easier for patrons to book.
So how did he find it? “Incredible…it was the first time, in a long time, that I could track what was going on, see more of the body language and the tension building up.”
Controlled with a hand-held console, the OXSIGHT glasses are fitted with a camera that streams a live feed into two high-res video displays. These screens are placed directly in front of the wearer’s eyes and the images produced are manipulated to fit into the user’s area of usable vision. There are seven modes, including: increased image contrast, super colour, text mode, edge enhancement, inverted colour and a digital zoom to allow users to magnify objects and obstacles.
“It took me a little bit of getting used to,” Laird continued, “adjusting the settings and the right zoom to enjoy the theatre properly. Outside of that there wasn’t much of an issue with lighting or being able to track what people were doing. To be honest, I actually spotted a couple of the back-cast members bring props out and I was like ‘Oh I know what’s coming up!
“I really enjoyed the performance, being able to go to the theatre for the first time and feel like I got a full enjoyment out of it. Typically, I always go in (knowing) there’s something I am going to miss or not understand in certain parts. That didn’t happen this time, I managed to see everything.”
OXSIGHT is a leader in image interpretation technology and has developed a range of low vision glasses for people with sight loss. Founded in 2016 by a research team at Oxford University, studying how the brain manages visual information, OXSIGHT has since established partnerships with several global partners and opticians.
Its first device, OXSIGHT Prism smart glasses, was launched in 2018.