Television Viewing for Visually Impaired Persons Enhanced by Technology

Article excerpt

Researchers at the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, have developed software designed to enhance the contrast of images of people and objects on a television screen in order to improve television viewing for individuals with low vision. The contrast-enhancement technology, developed by Eli Peli, professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and senior scientist and Moakley Scholar in Aging Eye Research at Schepens, is the latest of several image-enhancing innovations his research team has created to improve television watching for people who are visually impaired, and the first developed for digital televisions. Dr. Peli explained:

   Our approach was to implement an image-processing algorithm to the
   receiving television's decoder. The algorithm ma[de] it possible to
   increase the contrast of specific size details.

The study by Dr. Peli and colleagues, entitled "Measuring perceived video quality of MPEG enhancement by people with impaired vision," published online in November 2007 and in print in December 2007 in the Journal of the Optical Society of America, examined 24 individuals with visual impairments (the majority of whom had macular degeneration) and six sighted individuals and found that the subjects with visual impairments preferred watching television with contrast enhancement. Working within the "decoder" that makes digital television images possible, Dr. Peli and colleagues--including the study's lead author Matthew Fullerton, a student of electronic engineering currently working on a Master's degree in Dr. Peli's lab--were able to make a simple change that could give every digital TV the potential to enhance contrast to a degree that would benefit visually impaired viewers. Until now, viewers with visual impairments had the options of using optical devices, sitting closer to the television, purchasing enlarged screens or monitors, or listening to audio description. …