'He loves them': Special e-specs give blind boy a new lease on life

A blind boy from Selkirk, Man. is getting a new outlook on life thanks to a pair of special e-glasses.

Benny Francey, 10, is legally blind but now he can see fine details including faces

Benny Francey takes a peek at a book with his new eSight glasses. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

It's a big day for Benny Francey.

He's at the library in Selkirk, Man. for the first time with new specs.

"I can actually see complete detail," Benny, 10, says.

The boy and his brother are living with a rare disease called Leber congenital amaurosis.

The condition means the boys can only see silhouette-like images.

The specs inside the case are eSight glasses from a startup in Toronto and cost $20,000 Canadian dollars — a hefty bill that was paid for by a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year.

A blind boy from Selkirk, Man. is getting a new lease on life thanks to a pair of e-glasses. 1:34

The glasses have a special camera that feeds a high-res image in real-time to mini screens close to the eye, which let the boy see clearly. They've been a hit at Benny's school.

"People thought they were virtual reality for a bit and they really liked them," he said.

Ryan Francey is Benny's dad.

He said watching his son see new faces has been touching.

"Just seeing people's faces has been the most amazing thing for him, because he'll sit there and just stare at you for a long period of time."

eSight glasses are a relatively new technology from a startup in Toronto. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

Benny saw his mom's face for the first time last month when his family flew to Toronto to try on the glasses — there was a chance they wouldn't work, but they did.

The boy said his mom had a big nose after putting on the glasses — a moment caught on camera that went viral online.

"It was funny, and I said 'It was totally a Benny answer,'" said Jenna Cason, Benny's mom.

The Manitoba government doesn't fund vision aids like eSight, leaving the visually impaired to foot the bill for the technology.

The CNIB, an organization that helps visually impaired Canadians, said it's important to recognize technology like eSight doesn't restore vision. Instead, it helps people who are mostly blind see more clearly.

"Technology is only one part of rehabilitation services," said Jackie Lay, a spokesperson for the Manitoba division of the CNIB.

Benny and Ashton Francey (right) both live with Leber congenital amaurosis. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

Benny's brother Ashton is a living example of Lay's point. The glasses will not work for the boy, who is also living with autism.

"It's not a solution for everyone," Lay said.

For Benny, the work's not done yet. The boy still needs to learn how to read properly. Until now, he's just read braille.

"It's a lot to take in for somebody who's never seen before to all of the sudden see in such great detail," Ryan said. "It's hard on his brain."

About the Author

Austin Grabish

Reporter

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg​ where he files for TV, web and radio. ​​Born and raised in Manitoba, Austin has had an itch for news since he was young. He landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country.​ Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca