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Ryan Hooey sitting in a restaurant, holding an insulin pump and smiling for the camera.

Canadian with diabetes and sight loss urges manufacturers to create safe, accessible insulin pumps

Ryan Hooey knows the challenges of managing diabetes with sight loss.

The Windsor, Ontario resident was seven years old when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At 27, he lost his sight.

“Living with diabetes and sight loss means my blood sugar affects what little remaining vision I have each day, and it varies,” says Ryan. “People living with diabetes who are sighted don't have to think about how they are going to safely administer insulin, they just do it.”

Leading up to World Diabetes Day on Saturday, November 14, Ryan and CNIB are urging manufacturers to develop an insulin pump that can be used by anyone.

“Because of the inaccessibility of existing insulin pumps, I can only use about 11 per cent of the functions. I cannot read the screen, I have to rely on beeps and sounds and guess what they mean," says Ryan. "The infusion set that connects the insulin pump device to my body must be changed every three to four days, which I’m unable to do without Facetiming someone or having a sighted person assist. I can’t even adjust the clock or tell when the battery is running low.”

As a result of insulin pumps not being accessible, many pump users with sight loss require the assistance of others to properly and safely use their device. However, it’s not always possible for another individual to be present.

“Three years ago, I was staying in a hotel while travelling for work and my insulin pump warning sounded,” says Ryan. “I thought I bypassed the warning to bring me back to the main menu, but I accidentally changed the amount of insulin to be administered to my body,” says Ryan. “I was lucky that it only changed a small amount, as it could’ve been extremely dangerous if it administered too much insulin.”

Ryan would like to see insulin pumps advance in the same direction as smartphones.

“Every smartphone has accessibility features already built in – making a new insulin pump with similar features is not only achievable, but it would be extremely useful to the many people currently living with sight loss, or are at risk of losing their sight, due to diabetes.”

In Canada alone, there are 750,000 people living with diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness among working-age Canadians – yet insulin pump manufacturers only offer products that rely on visual features.

With such a strong link between diabetes and sight loss, Ryan believes insulin pump manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure all of their customers can use their devices safely and independently.