OpenVisSim, a sight-loss simulator

Modern digital simulators are able to replicate and objectively quantify some of the key everyday difficulties associated with visual impairments.

First row: virtual rooms from the simulator. Bottom row: smartphone highlighted in the first pannel, while the last 2 showcase superior and inferior visual field loss. Source

Over 100 million people worldwide live with a chronic visual impairment (VI). The most common causes are glaucoma, agerelated macular degeneration (AMD), and cataracts. Simulations are often used to help communicate the day-to-day challenges that visually impaired individuals may experience. The authors used a Head Mounted Display (HMD) with integrated eyetracking to perform gaze-contingent digital manipulations in virtual or augmented reality (VR/AR). Their software is freely available online (OpenVisSim), and provides a description of multiple different symptoms that can be simulated simultaneously and in real-time.

The current work is focused on glaucoma, because it is often misunderstood. Individuals with this condition often report particular difficulty locating objects in cluttered visual scenes, and also exhibit reduced mobility and increased risk of falls. Additionally, these difficulties tend to be most pronounced when the loss occurs in the inferior visual field, compared to when the loss of vision occurs above the midline. The experimental setup implies 28 individuals that had to perform two tasks in the simulator: object search (locate a smartphone in a house) and visual mobility (navigation). The results show that participants were slower to perform everyday visual-search (VR) and mobility (AR) tasks when experiencing simulated Visual Field Loss (VFL), and as with real patients these difficulties were exacerbated when the VFL was inferior.

Many participants reported feeling anxious when the impairment was active. This was particularly the case when participants were ascending/descending the stairs that led to the AR mobility platform. Interestingly, “climbing stairs” is also a regular source of anxiety for many people with severe vision loss.

You can read more in the original paper (this version is adapted and abridged).

Jones, P.R., Somoskeöy, T., Chow-Wing-Bom, H. and Crabb, D.P., 2020. Seeing other perspectives: evaluating the use of virtual and augmented reality to simulate visual impairments (OpenVisSim). NPJ digital medicine3(1), pp.1-9.