Harriette Buckman uses eSight3 electronic glasses to overcome eyesight disability.
SARASOTA — In competitive bridge circles, Harriette Buckman is known as the “Star Trek Lady.”
Buckman turned to high-tech eSight3 electronic glasses that resemble the visor worn by “Star Trek” character Geordi La Forge after her vision worsened and threatened to end her beloved bridge games. She is one of an estimated 11 million Americans who have age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss.
The device helps people who are legally blind (but not totally blind), by using a high-definition video camera that can zoom up to 24 times and display an enhanced picture in real time on two small optical light-emitting diode video screens near the wearer’s eyes.
A handheld controller smaller than a smartphone or TV remote allows Buckman to zoom in and out, focus and adjust contrast and color.
Before she started using eSight3, Buckman, 83, said she could only read the top two lines on a vision chart. When she put the glasses on at her eye doctor’s office, she couldn’t believe the difference.
“They put this on me and I read all the way down to the bottom. I sat in the office and cried because I could see. It was nothing short of a miracle,” Buckman said at her home in Sarasota Bay Club.
The longtime Sarasota resident is so bullish on the device, which costs nearly $10,000, that she is wrangling support from local players in the American Contract Bridge League to raise enough money to buy two eSight3 devices for people who cannot afford them.
In November at the annual charity match, league players will donate an extra dollar each in exchange for earning higher points for the day and designate Common Vision Loss Foundation in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as the charity beneficiary. Buckman, a former president of the 167,000-member ACBL and longtime player and teacher, has an angel donor who will match up to $4,000 and another person who has given $1,000. That will pay for one eSight3, which is manufactured in Toronto.
She hopes that others will join her quest to provide the devices for people who can’t afford them. Buckman is so passionate about the device that she has fielded calls from bridge players and others all across the country and Canada. The company reports the goggles can correct vision for those whose eyesight has been affected by dozens of ailments.
In 2017, both Time magazine and the New York Times named eSight3 as one of the top tech inventions of the year. An electrical engineer invented the device to help his two sisters after they were diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a genetic condition that causes a rare form of juvenile macular degeneration.
At the bridge table
Buckman plays regularly both at the Intercity Bridge Club at Temple Sinai and at G&G In-Between Bridge Club in Sarasota. She sits in the stationary north-south position at the table, while east-west players go from table to table.
The computer that controls the eSight3 sits on a case in the chair beside her, and her glasses sit on top. Most local players are accustomed to seeing her wearing the electronic glasses, and they subject her to good-natured ribbing by telling her they hope her battery runs out before the game is over.
At national tournaments, like the one she just attended in Atlanta, Buckman is greeted with lots of questions.
“People come to the table and they say, ‘Does that thing enable you to see through the back of my cards?’ And I say, ‘Absolutely. The only way you can prevent it is to keep your 13 cards together instead of fanning them out,’ “ Buckman said with a hearty laugh. “Please help the little old blind lady.”
She has given the ACBL permission to give her phone number to players and others who need more information on eSight3. While the device isn’t for everyone, especially those who may be technically challenged, Buckman said it has changed her life by allowing her to see on her computer and at the bridge table.
Reading is another story. Because of the challenges of focusing a moving camera on a single line of type, the retired school teacher opted to subscribe to a government-sponsored audio book service offered for free through by participating libraries.
“I will not allow this to define me,” Buckman says of her vision loss. “For as long as I can go kicking and screaming, I am going to lead as normal a life as I can.”
Vicki Dean is a freelance writer based in Venice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.