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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 8, 2004

Visual Enhancement Technology Is Now Available At Hancher

In a fortuitous convergence of art and science, the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium and the UI Center for Macular Degeneration (CMD) have collaborated to provide cutting-edge visual enhancement technology, free of charge, to audience members at events in Hancher.

The centerpiece of the new service is JORDY, a head-mounted video-magnification device manufactured by Enhanced Vision Systems -- http://www.enhancedvision.com -- based on technology developed by NASA. Spectacle-mounted and hand-held binoculars, superior to traditional "opera glasses," are also available through this new collaboration.

The first head-mounted video-magnification unit, introduced in 1995, weighed two-and-a-half pounds and provided only a black-and-white image. But the two new JORDY units at Hancher weigh only eight ounces and provide color images that can be zoomed to 30X magnification with a hand-held control.

In addition to donating the devices, the CMD will also provide advance Hancher playbill copy on its website -- http://www.c4md.org -- available in formats that are more readable for people with macular degeneration and other low-vision conditions, including large-format type and white-on-black options.

Iowa Citian Nancy Powers, who was diagnosed with macular degeneration four years ago, was the first Hancher patron to try out JORDY, at performances by Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio and Eugenia Zukerman with the UI Symphony, and her response was enthusiastic.

"From mid-seating to the back, everything is very blurry, and I can't distinguish individuals," explained Powers, whose husband, Jim, arrives at Hancher in a wheelchair and must be seated at the back of the hall. JORDY enhanced her experience while seated both in the back of the auditorium and closer to the stage.

"It will make attending arts events much more enjoyable for me, because I have increasingly been listening more than seeing," she said. "I liked it particularly with a soloist or a small group. The jazz trio had a guitarist, and I could see his fingers and the strings and everything. I probably saw it better than most people."

The CMD, in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, is dedicated to research and treatment of macular degeneration -- the most common cause of legal blindness in the United States -- as well as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa and related degenerative diseases of the eye. And Hancher has a long history of leadership in providing special services including audio enhancement, signing, handicapped parking and seating, and audio description, so the collaboration was a natural fit.

But bringing visual enhancement technology to Hancher also had its genesis in the sort of everyday human interaction that occurs in the UI community. Ophthalmology faculty member Edwin Stone, director of the CMD, and Hancher's executive director, Charles Swanson, are part of a neighborhood group that walks together on weekends.

"There is such a link between sight and enjoying the performing arts," Swanson says. "One day on our walk I began talking about someone I knew with macular degeneration, and it was quickly apparent that Ed's interest in serving their patients and our interest in serving our audiences dovetailed perfectly. The only question was what sort of collaboration was possible."

Stone involved fellow faculty member Mark Wilkinson, director of the CMD Low Vision Rehabilitation Service, which connects patients with assistive technologies including JORDY. He is confident that the new devices will enhance the performing-arts experience of people with low vision caused by a variety of conditions.

"One of the most common concerns individuals who have experienced a loss of vision express is their inability to see detail, both when reading and when attempting to see objects in the distance, such as people's faces," Wilkinson explains. "In low vision rehabilitation, we know that to improve detail vision, we either needed to make the object bigger or bring it closer to the individual.

"Distance magnification devices such as conventional binoculars, spectacle-mounted binoculars and head-mounted video magnification devices can all be employed to enhance an individual's ability to see the performances with greater detail, regardless of where they are sitting in the auditorium. Our patients have experienced excellent results using these devices at sporting events, movies, church, weddings, family gatherings, watching TV and even playing poker on the riverboats, so I am confident that this technology will substantially enhance the enjoyment of arts events for low-vision audience members."

"Additional devices will be acquired, as needed, to allow every individual with a visual impairment attending a performance at Hancher the ability to enjoy the performances even more, by enhancing their vision to its fullest potential."

Audience members who wish to make use of Hancher's new visual-enhancement equipment should reserve a unit by calling 319-335-1158 as far in advance as possible. Any units not reserved will be available at the west coat-check, in the main-floor lobby, the evening of each performance on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: <http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu>.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu.

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/hancher/media.html or http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.