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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Diabetes and Vision Loss:

What happens when you can't read your LIFESAVING EQUIPMENT...insulin pump, glucose meter, or blood pressure monitor?

Your health is in serious danger.

New York, NY (November 16, 2005)—Diabetes, one of the leading causes of adult blindness, is on the rise. Yet lifesaving equipment such as blood glucose meters and insulin pumps cannot be used safely by people with vision loss because few have speech output capabilities or screens that are readable for people with low vision.

"Making diabetes equipment user-friendly for people with vision loss is not just important, it's a matter of life and death," said Carl R. Augusto, AFB's President and CEO. "One third of people with diabetes experience some degree of vision loss, which means millions of people need accessible equipment to protect their health."

Twenty million people have diabetes, and over five million of them experience some form of vision loss. In addition, each year diabetic retinopathy causes 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness. And though there's a growing need for diabetes equipment to be accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, there are only a few models on the market that are. Plus, they are often difficult to find and considerably more expensive.

"AFB is urging companies to incorporate speech and tactile buttons when they design newer models," said Mark Uslan, Director of AFB TECH. "It's more than just the right thing to do; it's also a wise business investment given the growing demand for accessible equipment."

What's more is AFB has found that user manuals are rarely, if ever, produced in accessible formats such as large print, braille or electronic formats. This means people with vision loss cannot independently learn how use their diabetes equipment. In one of the few cases where an accessible manual was available, AFB found that it was geared toward sighted users.

In order to raise public awareness of this important issue and educate manufacturers about accessibility, AFB has released reports on the usability of blood glucose meters, insulin pumps, and blood pressure monitors. Below is an overview of the findings:

Blood Glucose Meters (BGMs)

Monitoring blood glucose levels helps people with diabetes keep their levels within a normal range by taking a dose of insulin or eating a certain food. Not being able to read a BGM's visual display to accurately assess how much insulin to take can result in more than just discomfort or unconsciousness; it could mean death. Of the 30 blood glucose meters on the market, there is only one that uses modern technology and is accessible to people who are blind. Some visually impaired people may be able to use an off-the-shelf meter without speech output, but many people need speech access to test their blood independently. BGMs with speech cost 5 to 10 times as much and are often not as user-friendly or as readily available. Read more information on the accessibility of BGMs.

Insulin Pumps

When a person has diabetes, his or her pancreas does not produce the insulin that is necessary for the body to store and use glucose properly. Insulin pumps are devices that deliver insulin into the body in a way that is similar to the actions of the pancreas. This is often the preferred method of insulin delivery and has been shown to be more effective in maintaining normal blood glucose levels than multiple insulin injections. Insulin pumps are a revolution in the advancement of diabetes management, and their use is spreading rapidly, but because they are so inaccessible, many people with diabetes who are blind or have low vision are missing out on the benefits they provide. Currently, there are no accessible insulin pumps that offer speech output, which makes them virtually unusable for someone who is blind. Unlike the inconvenience experienced when an inaccessible cell phone cannot be used properly, the results of improper insulin delivery can be lethal. Read AFB's full evaluation on insulin pumps.

Home Blood Pressure Monitors (HBPMs)

Studies have shown that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure and that more than 50% of people with diabetes actually do have high blood pressure. A person with diabetes is more likely to develop clogged arteries, and has two to four times the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Self-monitoring with an HBPM is an important step in maintaining healthy blood pressure. Currently, there are only two HBPMs on the market that use the more accurate upper-arm technology and have speech output capabilities. In addition, AFB found that very few people are aware that accessible HBPMs exist because health care providers often fail to pass on this important information. Read AFB's evaluation/survey regarding HBPMs.


Adrianna Montague-Gray
AFB Communications

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