When you’re so absorbed by an issue every single day, it’s easy to forget that many people (even donors) may not completely understand the issue that you’re trying to solve.
Our donors know that loss of vision makes life incredibly difficult for those who are living in the countries we work in – but many people think that ‘blindness’ means the complete loss of vision with no remaining perception of light (a life of darkness).
The reality is that severity of vision loss can vary widely and the way someone blind or vision impaired sees the world depends on the underlying cause of their condition.
That’s why The Fred Hollows Foundation came up with the Sight Simulator, an experiential digital project that was designed to allow the user to understand what it really means to have differing levels of vision loss.
A user can simply search for a familiar address or iconic landmarks and then see the Google Street View of this location the way someone with cataracts, glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy.
As you can see from these examples of Times Square, well-known landmarks are hard to identify, but what’s most disconcerting is how familiar locations like your home or workplace become unrecognizable.
As the user explores the street view around them, facts about avoidable blindness and its prevalence pop up on the screen.
Why Did You Create a Sight Simulator?
One of the main battles for those working in the nonprofit space is is raising the salience of a particular issue. When there’s so much competition for attention, it’s difficult to raise awareness of something as niche as eye health.
We knew that if we’re going to cut through the noise and connect people with the cause, they needed to be able to ‘see’ what it’s like to live without full vision.
We wanted to create empathy and awareness that vision loss is more complicated than most people think.
How did we come up with the concept?
People seem to think of blindness as binary: you’re either completely sighted or completely blind. The truth is that there are infinite ways to be legally blind. Some people have acuity issues, while others have blind spots but otherwise had clear vision. Many are somewhere in between. Few are completely blind.
But, regardless of how someone is blind or vision-impaired, they still face numerous challenges.
To give people a sense of the range of blindness and vision-impairment, we wanted to create an easy-to-use tool that displayed a range of vision-impairment in a familiar setting.
The most obvious familiar sight was ‘place.’ On busy days, we barely take notice of the world around us. Many of us take the fact we can see our surroundings for granted, and we wanted a tool that would make this obvious.
After laying out options and routes for technical delivery, we developed an MVP in two weeks, and we used Google Maps StreetView API to address the ‘place’ element of the project.
By utilizing such a widely used tool, we allow the user to see how their familiar environment would look like through the eyes of the millions of people who are suffering from eye conditions.
What were the challenges?
User experience is crucial: a smooth experience is everything in any digital campaign that hopes to build trust and legitimacy.
Additionally, the Simulator is built using cutting-edge HTML5, and while there is wide browser support for this, it can be resource intensive on hardware. As such, the question for users is not ‘will it run’ but ‘will it run well.’ Balancing this trade-off with the desire to provide a high-end experience for as many users as possible is one of the central challenges of any digital project.
It was also important that the overlay filters we created to represent different levels of vision impairment/blindness were researched thoroughly. This was the educative part of the experience, so we needed to get it right.
Would You Recommend Investing In Digital Experiences to Other Nonprofits? If So, Why?
The aim of the project was to raise awareness and connect users to the issue of vision loss. Experiential tools like the Sight Simulator help generate large amounts of empathy and – as we’ve seen – huge interest from people online and the media.
Within the first month, we achieved over 100,000 page views. But more importantly, the feedback we received showed us that many supporters were moved by the ability to experience blindness first hand. This experience deepened their willingness to take action and donate.
The Sight Simulator is obviously quite tailored to eye health, but the technology involved has a myriad of use which we will explore in the future. Collaborating with developers and creatives has unlimited potential for nonprofits today.
Esha Thaper is a Digital Producer and works at The Fred Hollows Foundation, an international development organization working towards eliminating avoidable blindness and improving Indigenous Australian health.
Since its humble beginnings, The Foundation now works in more than 25 countries and has restored sight to over two million people.
Find out more about The Fred Hollows Foundation or donate at www.hollows.org.