Visual impairment is a rapidly growing problem around the world as countries such as the U.S, China, Japan and European nations are transitioning from an era of demographic dividend to demographic deficit. In the U.S. alone, the number of people ages 65+ is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, which will account for approximately 24% of the U.S. population. As life expectancy has dramatically increased over the last few decades, the risk of being affected by visual impairment will rise simultaneously. In addition to this, the explosion in chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity in developed countries – particularly in the U.S. where three in four men are obese– has increased the risk of visual impairment. Old age and chronic illnesses will have a large detrimental effect on visual impairment, which is estimated to double in the U.S. in the next three decades.

Broadly speaking, 285 million people around the world are estimated to be visually impaired, out of which 39 million are blind. In the U.S., these numbers are estimated to be 21 million and 3.4 million, respectively. According to the CDC, blindness and vision problems are among the top 10 disabilities affecting adults in the U.S. Reduced vision among adults has been shown to result in social isolation, family stress, and ultimately a greater tendency to experience other health conditions or die prematurely.

While governments have established national programs and regulations in response to the increase in visual impairment around the world and made eye care services more available, affordable and integrated, stronger leadership & engagement of the private sector are needed. The rise of artificial intelligence and other technological advancements present ample opportunities to radically improve the lives of the blind and visually impaired by making autonomy, mobility and accessibility easier.

URBAN-X Cohort company WEARWORKS helps the blind and visually impaired to easily and effectively navigate the world around them through haptic technologies.

This thought piece has been put together by the URBAN-X team; with research support from Felix Keser and Adrian Dahlin.

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