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Monday, March 22, 2021

Eyesight Assistance


Sunu Band helps low-vision clients

Like most LSU Shreveport students, Elizabeth Sanderson walks across the campus parking lot and into the building where she has class.

Unlike most LSUS students, Sanderson – who uses SporTran’s Liftline transportation to get to school – is legally blind. A detached retina when she was 12 years old took all the vision in her right eye. Glaucoma in Sanderson’s left eye took all but a very narrow field of vision.

That makes walking to class a little dangerous.

“A lot of times, the yard crew will leave their vehicles parked on the sidewalk,” Sanderson said. “Someone who is sighted could see that and go around it. Before having the Sunu, I would just use my cane and walk straight into it. The Sunu has been really helpful for picking up on unexpected objects like that.”

The “Sunu” – which Sanderson says makes her feel safer – is the Sunu Band, developed by Sunu Inc., based in Boston, Mass., and Guadalajara, Mexico. Sanderson wears the device on her wrist – like a watch. The closer Sanderson comes to an object – or the closer an object comes to Sanderson – the faster the Sunu Band vibrates.

“It’s telling me there’s a car coming up behind me,” Sanderson said. “I could hear the car, but (the Sunu Band) is buzzing and telling me the car is closer than I would like, so let me move a little bit more over to one side. That has been really good. It’s definitely given me a lot more confidence to walk across the lot, where maybe I wouldn’t have before without somebody who could see.”

Sanderson got her Sunu Band through the Louisiana Association for the Blind (LAB), which is headquartered in Shreveport. The LAB’s partnership with Sunu makes it the smart band’s exclusive distributor in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“For our low-vision and blind communities, it opens up a world of possibilities to truly live, work, travel and play as independently as possible,” said Audra Muslow, vice president of the LAB’s Community Services Division. “There is so much assisted technology on the market today. We are truly living more and more in a world that is becoming accessible.”

When the Sunu Band was developed some three years ago, LAB was among the country’s first organizations to offer the device to clients. The smart band’s technology combines sonar echolocation with vibration feedback to alert the user to objects up to 15 feet away.

“The more opportunities we can present to our clients for independence in their professional and personal lives, that’s what our mission is,” Muslow said. “It is to create those opportunities for independence. Technology in the 21st century world is the way to do that. It’s modern. It’s cuttingedge. This is how we can make our clients feel more comfortable living and working in their daily lives.”

One advantage of the LAB-Sunu partnership is that if there is ever an issue with the smart band, the user doesn’t have to jump through hoops to get that issue resolved.

“Let’s say there’s a glitch,” Muslow explained. “We’re able to contact Sunu directly – the designers – and say, ‘Here are the problems the client is having.’ … We have a direct link with Sunu to help eliminate those problems as quickly as possible. If a device is defective, we have a direct link to return that device and get a new device to the client as quickly as possible.”

The retail cost of a Sunu Band is $299. However, any LAB client identified as someone who would be helped by wearing the device can get one.

“It’s on an individual basis,” Muslow said, regarding how much someone will pay. “Insurance does not cover Sunu technology. We work with the individual, depending on their financial situation, and make arrangements directly with them. No one, under any circumstances, is ever turned away from our services or from receiving any type of technology based on their financial situation. We make it work.”

As for Sanderson, she hopes to one day work – using her English degree to teach others who are blind. Until then – with the help of her Sunu Band – she will keep on walking to class.


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