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Talking computer helps sight-impaired reader

May 18, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Churchey

Chances are, Carroll Churchey will never be able to see again.

But with the help of his new talking computer, the semi-retired pastor has been able to renew a love of the written word that had slowly deteriorated as a hereditary condition known as retinitis pigmentosis, or degeneration of the retina, took over.

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"I used to read a lot, but when my eyes began to fail, it slowed things down quite a bit," said Churchey, 70.

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As a pastor and founder of several churches in the area, the Sharpsburg native's livelihood depended on being able to read.

But as his eyesight grew dimmer, Churchey was forced to commit parts of the Bible to memory to carry on his sermons.

His wife of 43 years, Evelyn, also was pressed into reading the mail and newspaper articles aloud, and television became his main source of news and entertainment.

"I got so tired of watching TV," he said.

Like a dark curtain closing over a window, Churchey began losing his peripheral vision in both eyes in the early 1980s. The condition progressed until his central vision was lost about 10 years later.

"I could see enough to read up to about 1991," he said.

Churchey's twin brother, Harold, suffers from the same ailment and is also blind. He has a talking computer on order, after hearing so much about it from his brother.

For protection, Churchey still wears his thick, dark-rimmed eyeglasses. He has some light perception, but it's not enough to detect the bright computer screen that sits inches from his face.

But there's no need to be able to see when the computer lets Churchey know nearly every move he makes from the time he turns it on until he shuts it down.

"I'm sorry I didn't get it sooner. This has revolutionized my life," Churchey said.

Though he said he didn't know a thing about computers until he received his custom-made one in February, Churchey started out with two advantages - he hears well and he knows how to type.

The computer is made by the Arkenstone company and distributed to Churchey by Hoover Clinic of Baltimore. The equipment also has braille, a system of lettering developed for the blind in which raised dots are read by touch.

Since Churchey already knew the main keyboard strokes, it only took him a few days to get used to the other keys on the computer version.

Churchey is learning computer basics and two programs step-by-step by listening to a series of instructional cassette tapes on a tape recorder he has rigged within reach beside his computer.

"Me being ignorant of computers, sometimes I can't figure it all out," he admitted.

But for someone who isn't versed in computer technology, Churchey is learning fast and is obviously excited as he shows off his knowledge and the computer's capabilities.

Churchey's mail is read back to him daily in the computer's monotone voice. He has scanned in and listened to a number of magazine and newspaper articles and Bible verses, and has composed perfect letters since the computer voices each letter, character, word and sentence as Churchey writes.

"Aw, shut up," he mumbles to the computer when he hits a wrong key as he demonstrates.

Once he has the programs down, Churchey said he has every intention of getting onto the Internet.

"There's a lot to learn and I've got a long ways to go. But every day is a learning process," he said.

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