Can You See Me Now? How About Now?

I want to take a moment to say “thank you” to the brilliant, big-hearted people in our world who see a problem that needs solving, get down and dirty with it, expend time and energy thinking about how to solve it, create an elegant solution, and then share that solution and, in the process, change the lives of millions for the better.  Professor Joshua Silver is one of those people.

I was driving to pick up the kids from school a few weeks ago and caught the BBC Newshour on the radio and learned about Joshua Silver for the first time.  The BBC was discussing Silver’s self-adjusting “Child Vision” glasses that were part of the Design Museum in London’s Designs of the Year 2013 exhibition, which showcases some of the world’s most innovative and imaginative designs.

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Josh Silver estimates that about 50% of any given population requires some form of corrective lenses, and that a country’s overall population suffers greatly when those people must live with sub-par visual acuity.  In the U.K., there is one optometrist serving 10,000 people on average.  In sub-Saharan Africa, that ratio skyrockets to one optometrist per one million people on average.   Silver, a UK physicist who discovered a new way to change the curvature of lenses, has created glasses that allow the individual to inject just the right amount of fluid into each lens to change the lens’ curvature to the specifications necessary to correct that person’s vision.  His glasses work effectively for about 90% of those requiring corrective lenses, and using them bypasses the necessity of having an optometrist as the intermediary between an individual and his or her ability to see the world clearly.

Silver’s goal is to get a pair of self-adjustable eyeglasses to a billion impoverished people by the year 2020 at a cost that is affordable to those who live on less than $1 per day.  You can delve into his work at the Centre for Vision in the Developing World.

What a truly life-changing thing a pair of glasses can be.  When I was 19, I got my first pair of glasses.  During the exam, the optometrist looked and me and asked, “How did you get here today?”  “I drove”, I said.  “Very carefully, I hope”, he said.  Before that day I knew my vision was blurry, but I could still read most street signs with a bit of squinting.  It wasn’t until I put on my new glasses that I realized how poor my vision had become.  For the first time in years, I could see the individual leaves on trees.  I had lived with blurry vision for so long that I honestly didn’t know how bad it was until I put on my new specs.  I also realized how much of the world’s beauty I had missed before I started wearing corrective lenses.

Clear vision is a profound gift – one that, when it is granted to you, is like the perfectly fitting puzzle piece someone has just handed you that you didn’t even know you were missing.  I applaud Joshua Silver and those brilliant inventors like him who change the world, one person at a time, with their simply elegant designs.  Kudos, Sir.  (Of course, there is a cool TED Global talk that sums up Silver’s efforts, because all the cool stuff is on TED.)

About Chris DeVinney

Me in a nutshell: mom, writer, former lobbyist, wife, volunteer, lover of music and art, massive fan of traveling, and something of a smart ass. A typical INTJ, I quietly observe anyone and anything that comes into my orbit, squirreling away material for future essays. These days I spend my time writing about whatever interests me (both professionally and personally) and trying to strike the balance between taking care of kids/family/house/pets and me. Occasionally I nail it, hang on to it briefly, and then scramble back toward the center when the tipping starts again. I know, it’s a common story.
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