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New Eyes to Read Medicine Labels

Device reads aloud information on bottles for a blind ex-soldier
by SALATHEIA BRYANT
©2005 Houston Chronicle

Sitting at his kitchen table in Houston, Kenny Adams listens for the loud ticking. It’s the sound of a more independent lifestyle.

The tick-tick indicates his ScripTalk is on and ready to scan the voice-encoded labels on his critically important medications.

Adams, an Army veteran left blind by a shooting accident in Afghanistan last year, takes three medications daily to manage his seizures and calm his mood. The handheld device makes it easier to take those medications by audibly reading the drug and dosage information on the encoded labels.

“I can scan the bottles myself,” Adams, 24, said, showing his wife. “I’ll be able to wake up and take my pills. I don’t have to ask my wife.”

Several years ago, rehabilitative services for Houston-area blind veterans were limited to a few basics. Anything more sophisticated meant a veteran had to seek help at a rehabilitation center in Waco or Arizona. But a national push by the Blinded Veterans Association has increased the focus on local services.

At the the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which serves more than 1,000 blind veterans, services have expanded in the past year to include the hiring of the outpatient rehabilitation specialist for blind patients — the medical center’s first — who trained Adams on ScripTalk.

“If you were a blind veteran several years ago, I would give you a cane, talking watch and large-button telephone, and they were on their way,” said Bill Johnson, visual impairment service-team coordinator at Houston’s VA hospital. “For anything else I had to send you off to a training center. Now we’re able to provide local services.”

Adams, who suffered a brain injury after accidentally being shot in the face by a fellow soldier cleaning his gun in Afghanistan, likes the idea of being as independent as possible.

In addition to ScripTalk, he uses an instrument called ID Mate, which contains recorded product information on more than 700,000 items found at any grocery store.

Adams is among the first Houston-area veterans to receive the device from the local VA hospital.

Randall May, the VA’s outpatient blind-rehabilitation specialist, said the increased services allow veterans to get the help they need to remain independent without having to leave town.

“Our goal is to help the veteran remain in an independent-living standard. It gives the individual confidence in themselves to do what they can do,” said May. “This is about rediscovering life.”

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