Mom Creates Groundbreaking Tool for People With Visual Impairments

Catherine Rose’s daughter, Alexis, is both hearing and visually impaired. Rose’s experiences with her daughter’s disabilities motivated her to seek out a career with a company that was improving people’s lives, which led her to accept a job at Philips in their healthcare division.

Rose noticed her daughter’s attraction to lights and convinced her employer to build a teaching tool to help children with visual impairments learn. LightAide is now being used around the world by people of all ages, and, just as important, by their teachers and caregivers, who are beginning to realize their charges might have better cognitive abilities than previously thought.

“There’s a whole lot of people who have vision, but they have low vision,” Rose said. “They can’t see as well in the light that we normally give them. But if we give them more light, then they may be able to use more vision.”

Read more of Not Impossible Now’s interview with Rose below:

Courtesy of LightAide

NIN: Your daughter Alexis is visually impaired. What’s her relationship to light?

Catherine Rose: We had the traditional toys that all had very little light on them and some sort of sound, and she was moderately interested in a lot of them. But what we found was as long as it had a bright enough light on it and a sound component, she loved it.

When she about two years old, my dad said what if I get out my light-up keyboard for Alexis? She has a combined hearing and visual impairment, so I didn’t know what she would think of it. Lo and behold, she loved it. She refused to leave it. I’d try to pick her up and she’d hunch down, like you can’t pick me up, I’m not moving, I’m not going or if I’m going I’m taking this with me! So we got her one.

She pays really close attention to lights on in a room versus lights off in a room. She gets really scared in dark spaces and even our church has a really high ceiling, so the lighting is fine ambient lighting for all of us, but it’s really spooky for her because she can’t see the roof and she can’t tell where the light is.

Do you get the sense that she’s negotiating her space and where she is in that space relating to the light source?

Rose: Yes, it’s like a beacon. The way some blind people learn space is by walking around the perimeter of a room, and it’s almost like she’s using light as her perimeter finder. If a room isn’t bright enough, she won’t go into it and she’ll cry. I think she uses light to get a sense of space and where things are. When she went to the Philips showroom for the very first time, she was like, “Thanks mom, you made the walls light up so I can see exactly where they are. Why haven’t you done this before?”

How did you get the project started?

Rose: There are a lot of [disabled] kids who light gaze, they’ll spend their day in a classroom staring at a light on the ceiling. It’s not a preferred thing for them to do because there’s no information coming from a light on the ceiling. When Alexis enrolled at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, they had this modified toy, basically Christmas tree lights they’d put on a board. They hooked it up so when a kid hit a switch, the lights would come on. It’s teaching kids cause and effect. But what I realized is that those lights are so dim, the kids weren’t really engaging with it. I knew what Alexis did with the light up keyboard and I thought those are much brighter, she’s much closer to the lights, she can see them better and we should be able to get bright lights for these kids. That’s when I took the idea to Philips to make a LightAide.

How did the project develop?

Rose: Philips built three of out spare parts, things hanging around the lab, and we took them to Perkins and had the teachers work with them and got all their feedback and really watched them, how they used it, what they wanted it to do, how we could improve it, what they needed more of.

What they suggested to us from the very first was we needed more educational content — more early literacy training, more capability for the students to do math and numbers. We made two more prototypes and we used nonprofit educational research group TERC. They helped with the questionnaires and surveys for the teachers and getting information … we wanted to meet at the point where the LightAide would make sense for the teachers.

So it developed from being a pretty simple unit that looked good into something that had pedagogical value as well. What are some examples of kids using a LightAide?

Rose: I got a really great video recently of kid using a LightAide to work on the concept of longer and shorter. We have an activity on it that compares the lengths of lines — the top line has eight dots lit up and the bottom line has five dots lit up — and she could tell by either counting the dots or watching the lights to figure out which one was shorter and longer. What was neat was about halfway in — she’s verbal — the teacher asked, “Tell me how you normally compare lengths of lines?” The student says, “With my fingers.” Because normally she’s a Braille reader and the only way she could interact with math was really with her fingers.

I tell people that LightAide is sort of like giving hearing aids to a hearing impaired person. What we normally do with someone who is vision impaired is we go straight from you’re vision impaired to Braille. What’s missing is there’s a whole lot of people who have vision, but they have low vision. They can’t see as well in the light that we normally give them. But if we give them more light, then they may be able to use more vision.

Courtesy of LightAide

Since you’ve launched the final version, what has been the feedback from teachers?

Rose: Their response is really amazing. The interaction that they get, the interest they get from the students to maintain attention on a task is great. They’ve told me they didn’t have something like this to engage the kids we’re engaging today, we didn’t know these kids knew these things and we didn’t have a way to gauge that they knew these things. That to me is really amazing because that’s exactly what we want. I don’t want someone sitting in front of a LightAide eight or sixteen hours a day. But what I want is for the teachers and the staff and especially for the parents, to go, my kid’s in there. I know that they know this stuff, so let’s push them even harder. Let’s give them that next challenge.

We had a kid who was doing at 9 months old something the occupational therapist was not expecting until 18 months. Here was a milestone a typical peer would be doing at 9 months and the therapist thought this kid is far behind so we don’t start on something until 18 months. Well, lo and behold, this kid was showing, I get this. I know how this works, I know cause and effect and I know if I hit the button, the lights are going to switch off. For me, that’s the fantastic part.

Catherine Rose and her daughter Alexis.

So the kids have this outlet and another method of learning, but it also provides a way to communicate to their teachers and caregivers what they’re capable of.

Rose: Some of the kids who interact with LightAide are nonverbal and this is the very first time they’re showing cognitive capabilities, and it’s cool to watch. I try to not to sound too hokey, but it’s really amazing to hear these stories.

Do you think the LightAide is something people can use during their entire lives?

Rose: We have a lady who’s 35 years old in Australia, who reads Braille and talks but had never seen the shape of letters. She’s using everything on LightAide as it is, but most especially the literacy stuff to learn the shapes of letters and just be able, it doesn’t really matter for her, she’s still a Braille user, she can still talk. But it makes sense for her because she can go oh, that’s what an A looks like. 

Learn more about LightAide by visiting their website and by watching the video below:

Photo credit: Catherine Lacey Photography

Written by Danielle Beurteaux

Read More Stories from Not Impossible Now:

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To the Bold Woman in the Locker Room Who Taught Me It’s OK to Ask for Help

It can sometimes only be in retrospect that we realize how poorly we were coping during a certain period of our lives. I was keenly aware that my stress level was high in the summer of 2010. What I failed to appreciate, however, was that I was not effectively handling my strain.

Our third baby had arrived right in the middle of a health crisis for our toddler. Our son, who had been medically fragile since he was born, was now being nourished almost exclusively through a feeding tube, a method that took hours to complete and caused daily vomiting. Our oldest, a preschooler, was a healthy and energetic boy who was suffering the effects of his parents’ divided attention. My husband’s demanding job meant he was often gone before we awakened and was not home until the boys were in bed. I was in the early years of motherhood and, though I could not recognize that at the time, still operated under the assumption that admitting struggle or asking for help was a sign that I was not “mom” enough. An idle remark such as, “You’ve got your hands full!” I took as an irritating criticism of my public performance.

Despite some warning signs from my toddler’s chronic stomach problems and recent potty-training reversals, I decided that the best thing to do one day was to take the three boys to our local pool. It was only after I’d heaved a huge pool bag, an unwieldy stroller containing a fussy 2-month-old and two straggling kids the endless distance from the car onto the pool deck in face-melting heat and humidity that I realized I had no swim diaper for my toddler. “He was potty-trained up until his brother was born,” I reassured myself, “And we will only be here a few hours.” Operating under my guiding principle of proving to the oblivious world that I was “mom” enough, I naturally decided it would inconvenience others far more to ask to borrow a swim diaper than it would if my child had an accident in the pool. Which is, of course, what happened in fairly short order.

I can blame what happened next only on my extreme horror and humiliation that my son had shut down the entire pool. Moments later, I found myself in the middle of the ladies’ shower room with a soiled toddler, a squirming and screaming newborn and no stroller or car seat or even a towel on which to lay him. Not knowing what else to do, I began a futile one-handed struggle to remove the bathing suit, streaming with poop, while my baby screamed and attempted newborn back-dives in my other arm. My stroller may as well have been back at home it was so impossibly far away. As I was desperately wishing someone would just hold my baby, this woman suddenly appeared in front of us. “You need help,” was all she said, in a beautiful German accent.

She was everything you imagine when you think of a 50-years-young, strong, tall German matron. I swear she was even topless. I’d caught her mid some act of practicality and purpose, but when she saw something more urgent, she wasted no time on the extraneous. She removed my son’s suit, then picked up — bare-handed — the poop that had fallen onto the floor and disposed of it as if it were just any ordinary thing to toss away. Next, she washed out my son’s messy little bottom with her bare hand and soap from a dispenser. She then attacked his filthy suit, washing it out in the sink with hand soap until it dripped with fresh-and-cleanness. Before I knew it my little boy was wearing his suit once again, ready to face the now-closed baby pool. She did it all in about three minutes and without any chit-chat or advice, like it was nothing. She was wonderful, and I wanted to cry with gratitude. I wished she was a permanent character in my life, but I just got her for those few minutes. Then, she was gone. Maybe her radar picked up someone choking somewhere.

We went back to the pool where I pretended that my son’s swim diaper had simply leaked rather than admit it had not existed. The rest of the day was unremarkable, and all I could think about was that wonderful lady and what she had said. “You need help.” But her remark was devoid of judgment or condescension. It was simply fact, and a fact that drove her to action. I did need help, and not just in those minutes in the pool bathroom but during that period of my life. Pretending otherwise only made everything harder on the people I loved the most, in service only to a self-defeating form of pride. I had been elevating my own need to feel like I could do it alone above all else, including the effectiveness of my single-handed efforts or the psychological toll it took on me.

I could have gotten my son cleaned up while my baby revolted in my other arm, but it would have been much more difficult, far more unpleasant for all three of us and would have yielded a lesser end result in terms of how clean my toddler and suit would have been. In other words, I could have managed, but I would not have managed well.

There is a difference between continuing to breathe during these times of stress and strain and actually surviving those times. Surviving signifies an overcoming. I was breathing, but I was not surviving. Sometimes during motherhood our hands truly are full, and we ought to recognize that not as a sign of weakness or ineffectuality but as an indicator that we need to accept the extra ones reaching out or that would if we sought them. Our loads are too precious to risk dropping.

It has been five years since that day. Today, my son is a healthy, perfect first-grader and an older brother to three younger siblings. When I find myself struggling to manage my beloved burdens, I reach out for help to get us all through as best we can. When my hands are freer, I try to seek out opportunities to lift others through their swamps of hardship. And someday, I want to be that permanent Fraulein for other people, swooping in out of the blue with nonjudgmental aid. Except for the bare-handed poop disposal, part. Surely getting a paper towel wouldn’t have been too extraneous. Though, I suppose, she would have lost points for style. I have long-wished I could have sent her a thank-you card, if only to let her know how much her kindness meant to me, how she recalibrated my thinking in a way that aided my entire family for years and how she provided an example of something to aspire to.

Fraulein, if you read this, thank you. I would send you hand sanitizer if I only could.

summer 2010 017

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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To the Elderly Man Who Gave My Son a Gift at Physical Therapy

My son and I were involved in a car accident while we were sitting at a stop sign waiting to turn. I was sore but OK, but my 4-year-old son, Daniel, who was strapped in his car seat, tore muscles
in his neck and had horrible headaches for weeks following the accident.

We were referred to physical therapy. Daniel also has epilepsy and didn’t have great muscle strength to begin with, so we’d done PT before, and it was definitely not his favorite thing.

One day, Daniel was working on strengthening his neck muscles and then finishing with ultrasound to help the damage from the accident. He’d had a seizure the night before, which had exacerbated the injury, and he was sore. He was having an incredibly tough time, and there were a lot of tears. I was silently praying for strength for him to get through the next 45 minutes.

On this particular day, Daniel’s therapist had brought him from the pediatric area up to the adult area to work on different exercises. There was an elderly lady relearning how to walk up and down stairs following a stroke. Her husband was also there, seated, watching both his wife and Daniel. He was nice and clapped for Daniel when he’d get through his set of 30 of each exercise. Just having an audience helped Daniel push through the pain, and I silently thanked God the man was there.

When we were finished with the exercises, we collected our things and were heading back for heat and ultrasound. The gentleman called Daniel over to him, and Daniel shyly walked over. What happened next was shocking and so kind.

The man opened his wallet up, handed my son a $20 bill and told him, “You’ve earned this. You were certainly brave doing all your work here. You make sure to ask Mommy to take you to the toy store so you can pick a prize.”

Daniel gave him a big hug and said thank you. I, of course, teared up and thanked him as well.

The kindness this stranger showed us was incredible. It absolutely made my son’s day, and was something I will never forget.

Daniel and I

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Why I Love When Your Kid Blurts Out a Blunt Question About My Kid With Special Needs

After the reality of having a child with complex medical and developmental needs sank in, I decided I was going to bring my sweet Connor in his bright blue wheelchair everywhere I could. I wanted to introduce him to everyone and everything that makes this world go round. I knew it’d be tough (like in places that are not handicap accessible, which by the way stinks), but I was prepared. I was going to teach the world about my son.


I started noticing the stares from others fairly quickly — from adults and children. I know they’re curious stares, but what hurts the most for me is when certain parents reprimand their child for staring at mine and don’t satiate their child’s curiosity. I admit I was this parent with my oldest son before I had Connor.  I get it. They don’t want to have a rude, staring child so they quickly and quietly chastise them and whisk them away from the situation. And Lord forbid the kid cry out “What’s wrong with him?” Am I right?  Don’t worry, my fellow parents, I understand why you do this.

Play this scenario out in your head…

I’m pushing my blond-haired, smiley, bubble-blowing guy in his bulky blue wheelchair through the grocery store. I stop to browse the latest organic baby food, and your 4-year-old spots us. Her eyes zone in on my guy, and she takes it all in. She steps a little closer. She inspects every inch of Connor’s chair and is wondering why? She’s curious why this boy, who is bigger than her, is riding in this stroller-looking chair on wheels and making crazy sounds. So she tugs on your shirt and loudly asks, “Momma, what happened to him?” You look up to see us just a few feet away, and your heart drops. You think, “Oh God, did they just hear that?” You quietly hush her and hurriedly go on your way, praying we didn’t notice.

This scenario is one that I see way too many times, and it hurts my heart.

Let me tell you why I love when your child blurts out the obvious question.

It gives me a chance to explain my child to yours in a positive way that he or she can understand so they won’t be afraid or sad.  It lends me the time to introduce him or her to my Connor and let them say hello, while I point out similarities between them (they both have blue shoes or both like Thomas the Train). And most important, it provides a moment to ignite compassion and love for people who are different from them. This one tiny opportunity can be a lifelong learning experience. It teaches others that people with special needs are still people with feelings. They deserve our respect and attention, rather than our pretending they aren’t there or our glances of pity.

Often when we hush our child from acknowledging people who are different (simply because we don’t want our child to seem rude), we unknowingly make our kids take on a negative connotation for these differently-abled people. I seek out your beautiful, staring child and anxiously await the question swirling in their mind. I love their blunt little questions because it is the start to acceptance!  Let me say here that not all parents feel the same way (to each their own way of parenting), but I am confidant that the majority of us parents who were blessed with a child with specialties would encourage your child’s innocent questions. My deepest hope is that you are teaching your children to embrace the acceptance of others.


Start a discussion with your child about children and adults who are different than them, encourage them to ask you questions and be sure to explain that different is wonderfully OK. I want you to teach them that these children often love the same things, have the same feelings and love to be included just like your child does. When approaching a person with special needs with your child, please express happiness, rather than sadness. A smile, kind wave and hello can make all the difference in the world.

Children truly want to understand why others are different from them, so I think it is our job as parents to encourage their acceptance — and perhaps maybe we can learn from them too.


This post originally appeared on Red Stick Moms Blog.

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This New App Could Be a Game-Changer for Braille Users

Thanks to a team of Stanford University students, people with visual impairments now have access to a free braille-writing app. iBrailler Notes allows iPad users to use their fingers to communicate.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 9.29.24 AM

A braille keyboard can cost more than $1,000, according to iBrailler is free. The app creates customized keyboard layouts based on the users’s hand positions and allows them to type in both braille and English.

Ed Summers, a blind computer engineer who works with visually impaired students and teachers, told that the app has great potential for classroom use.

Now [visually impaired students] can use an iPad and they’re the cool kid,” he said. “They have the coolest technology in the classroom.”

iBrailler features customizable design options. The typing screen is free of buttons and can be adjusted to different color schemes and font sizes. The app features a traditional eight key layout but lets users determine the arrangement of the keys by repositioning their fingers. Using the audio feedback feature, users can hear what they type and make edits in real time.

The app supports English Braille Grade 1 and 2, and Six-Dot Computer Braille. Users can choose to pay a monthly subscription fee to access additional features, such as additional languages. You can download the app from the Apple Store.

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Why My Great Grandpa’s Fall Is One of My Favorite Memories

I just read a wonderful story about a stranger who became a friend by helping a mother struggling to clean up her lovely child after he had an accident at Walmart. I would like to share my story, too.


My family all lives in Ogallala, Nebraska. Our population runs about 5,000, and I can honestly say this is one of the best hometowns to have. If you’ve ever meet a Nebraskan, they can tell you that we are friendly, neighborly, Husker-loving individuals who aren’t afraid to stop and help someone in need.

Less than a year ago my Great-Grandpa Al became ill. He’d been battling bone cancer and had fallen and broke his hip. Grandpa and his daughter, my grandmother Maria, who likes to be called “Nana,” decided it would be best if he stayed with her until he was healthy enough to go back home.

Nana is in her mid-50s and uses a cane to get around, so you can see the potential problem. I usually assisted them to the doctor’s office, helped deliver checks to pay the bills and was generally the first response team when someone had fallen. I loved spending extra time with Nana and Grandpa when I could, but just like any other college freshman, I had to get a job to pay for classes and living expenses. I couldn’t always be around to help them out in sticky situations.

One day last summer, it was time for one of Grandpa’s checkups. I was at work so I couldn’t come over to help them to the office. Nana has to hold the doors open for Grandpa while he does his best to make it out the door with his walker. There’s one step to get from the door to the ground; this step was always the hardest part of getting Grandpa to the car. Without someone there to spot him, he lost his balance and fell into the grass. Nana immediately stepped out to help him, but she also fell into the grass.

They were unable to get up. Nana’s first instinct was to grab her phone to call me, but at the time she didn’t have my work number. Before she could think of someone else to call, the neighbor across the street was right there to help. He was outside mowing his lawn when he noticed them on the ground. He helped them back up, got them to the car and didn’t leave until they were out of the driveway.

Our family is so thankful that God had sent such a wonderful guardian angel in the form of their neighbor, who was also my former employer. We still keep in touch now and again. His son and my previous step dad where wrestling buddies, and his eldest daughter and I worked together in his establishment. He is truly an inspiration.

Grandpa Al passed away at the end of August, and I will always cherish the memories I have. Everything from road trips to visit my dad when I was young, to the last smile he gave me the night before his passing. This story is the best memory of them all and has inspired me to always stop and help someone who needs it. I’ve stopped my schedule to help my elderly neighbor shovel his sidewalk, pulled over to make sure a crying child was taken care of and will continue to do good — always keeping Grandpa Al and his guardian angel in my heart.

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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