By Sarah Ellis

The State (Columbia, S.C.)

The first time Tori Diamond saw the features of her mother’s face, she saw tears.

“I saw her blinking,” Diamond remembers, thinking back to a year ago. “I’ve never been able to see people blink. I saw her blink to hide those tears. But I saw them.”

In all her 21 years, Diamond had never seen her mother’s expressions, had never seen leaves rustle, had never seen a full moon in a clear night sky.

Then Diamond, of Columbia, South Carolina, put on a pair of glasses that would change the way she sees the world and her own future.

Diamond, now 22, was born legally blind with a condition called optic nerve atrophy. She has some sight, but everything more than a few inches from her face is a blur.

“This is who I am. This is who God made me to be,”she said. “This is all I know.”

Sometimes, she’ll jokingly tell her family, “Y’all see too much.”

At the same time, there are many experiences she’s missed sharing with them.

“I’ll say, ‘Tell me as much as you can,’” Diamond said. “They try. … But it isn’t the same as seeing it for yourself. … Like a full moon. A beautiful night out. I can’t picture it. I don’t know what it looks like.”

About a year ago, a woman in Diamond’s church watched her reading scripture through a magnifying glass, the Bible held close to her eyes. The woman told Diamond’s grandmother to search the internet for options available to the visually impaired.

An online search turned up eSight’s electronic glasses, which at first seemed too good to be true, Diamond said. But, she figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Her mother, Charra Diamond English, was more than skeptical.

“It sounds like a scam,” English thought.

At her daughter’s urging, though, English drove her to an appointment to try on the glasses.

“I said, ‘Look, I don’t believe what you have going on, and I really think you’re pretty much wasting her time,’” English said.

Then English saw her daughter’s eyes open to things she’d never seen before, even see things English herself couldn’t see. And she cried.

The eSight glasses resemble virtual reality goggles. They work by video recording what’s happening in the world around the wearer, processing the images through a computer and essentially magnifying them directly toward the eyes’ remaining healthy photoreceptors. Using a hand-held remote connected to the glasses, the wearer can zoom in and out on whatever they’re looking at.

“The results are really astounding,” said Eric Down, a spokesperson for eSight, which launched the current version of the glasses in January 2017. Thousands of people around the world now are wearing the glasses, he said.

They might not work for everyone, and the results are clearer for some wearers than for others. And there are other electronic glasses on the market that operate differently than eSight.

For some, the glasses can be life-changing, Down said.

For Diamond, the difference in her vision is almost indescribable, she said.

“Just to have things right there, to see people’s faces and to see what they actually look like,” Diamond said. “Not that it matters to me what you look like, but just to know that I’m able to do that.”

Diamond and her mother were so sold on the glasses that even a nearly $10,000 price tag would not deter them.

Her insurance does not cover the cost, she said. With the help of an online fundraiser, Diamond raised about $1,000 in the past year, enough to get her the glasses while she finances the remainder of the cost. She’s continuing to raise money online at giving.esighteyewear.com/tori-diamond and by selling “Eye Heart Tori” T-shirts.

Diamond has had her eSight glasses for about two weeks.

She’s worn them to class at Midlands Technical College, where she’s studying early childhood education, with a particular interest in special education. Last week, for the first time, she took notes from a lesson without constantly picking up and putting down a magnifying glass.

She hopes to use the glasses to learn to cook, now that she can see the dials on the stove without leaning dangerously close over the burners.

“She stands a little bit taller” since she’s gotten the glasses, her mother said. “Even her conversations now are different. It used to be, ‘If I do this.’ Now, it’s ‘When I do this.’”

Diamond hadn’t known what she couldn’t see before. Now she wonders how she could never have known that an aid like these glasses existed.

She wonders how many other visually impaired people are missing out on something that could change their lives, too. Diamond hopes to open others’ eyes to what can help them.

She’s considering shifting her career goals toward social work and becoming an advocate for the blind and visually impaired.

“I didn’t know that this was out here for us,” she said. “I want to just be that voice for them: ‘Hey, here’s what’s out there. Try it and see, but if it doesn’t work, don’t give up.’”

She wants to push others to do what her mother has seen Diamond do for her whole life: “Always reach and strive for more,” English said. “There’s nothing out there that … she does not have or cannot have the opportunity to do.”

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