By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Last year, as a senior at Shrewsbury High School, Jen Tylock earned academic and athletic awards, and was honored as one of Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services” “Outstanding Youth of Shrewsbury.” She also won several scholarships, including one from the Jewish Guild for the Blind, which required meeting criteria such as academic excellence, community involvement and legal blindness.
Tylock has Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a rare genetic disorder that causes degeneration of the optic nerves, resulting in central vision loss.
“My peripheral vision is fine, but in the middle of my sight is a blur,” Tylock said.?”Symptoms began towards the end of 8th grade, and it took a month or two to reach the vision I currently have.”
She has not let it stop her from continuing to overachieve.
Having just finished her freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), Tylock is spending her summer working at the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) in Hyderabad, India, trying to improve the fate of others with visual impairment. She was chosen from a pool of applicants to have her summer project funded by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative.
Tylock's summer work includes several initiatives. One is running a trial on “PEEK,” a smartphone app that provides a complete eye exam via a phone and clip-on hardware. According to Tylock, PEEK is designed to reduce time and cost for eye care in rural areas, since transporting all the usual equipment is challenging and expensive. Her role in the trial is helping collect and analyze data.
Another project she's involved with is “Roshni,” a website being set up by the institute. The goal of Roshni is to provide information (regarding education, employment, recreation and other crucial topics) to those who are blind or visually impaired in India – all on a single site. Tylock is doing research for the technology part of the website, locating all the different technologies available in India that can aid people with visual impairment.
While in India, she will also attend a workshop conducted by LVPEI and the MIT Media Lab, which she dubbed “a hackathon to solve problems in the eye care field.” Majoring in mechanical engineering, she said the workshop relates well to her career goals.
“In the future, I want to help design and develop assistive technology for people with disabilities, especially visually impaired people,” Tylock said. “Working on the website kind of relates because it's making existing technologies more available for people. Essentially, I came to LVPEI because I want to help reduce blindness and make life easier for people with uncorrectable vision loss. So PEEK helps prevent blindness, Roshni helps make life easier, and the workshop might do both!”
Tylock works six days a week in Hyderabad, with only Sundays off. Most of her time involves research, and once a week she shadows her supervisor. She's also been going to a general knowledge class for young adults who are blind or visually impaired.
During her brief spare time, Tylock has soaked in some of her surroundings. She said the weather is hot, but not as hot as she expected. The food, however, is very hot, she noted. After a few days she got used to it and people were surprised at her ability to eat such spicy cuisine.
She has explored around with other interns, including a visit to Lumbini Park, a boat ride to a Buddha statue, and a tour of the historical Golconda Fort. She's also gone to the movies, which she said are much less expensive than in Massachusetts and include an intermission, which she thought was “cool.”
Tylock set her wishes for the rest of her trip: “I’m hoping to have an amazing experience Hopefully I will help benefit LVPEI, but I know I will benefit in so many ways. I also hope to experience the culture, make new friends, and at least begin to feel at home here.”