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Technology tools that help improve sight displayed

October 05, 2000

Technology tools that help improve sight displayed



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer


Dave Wilkinson doesn't need a driver's license to operate his Braille Lite.

He can't drive the 8-inch rectangular box, but the $5,500 piece of machinery can take the legally-blind Wilkinson places he couldn't otherwise go.

"People who can see buy cars. I buy Braille displays," Wilkinson said. "They give about the same level of independence. I become just as mobile as you are."

The Braille Lite is a word processor, scientific calculator and multilingual speech tool all rolled into one. The machine can convert up to 5,000 pages of downloaded text into Braille, Wilkinson said.

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The apparatus joined a number of other technological devices for visually impaired people on display Wednesday at the Low Vision and Blind Technology Workshop at Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown.

As part of Disabilities Awareness Week, the workshop was sponsored by the Maryland Assistive Technology Cooperation and the Corporation for Assistive Technology with special presentations by Wilkinson and his coworkers at the Bartimaeus Group.

The Virginia-based adaptive technology firm links visually impaired people with equipment, technical assistance and training to suit their specialized needs, according to a company brochure.

"Low vision is very tricky in that what works for one person with low vision may not work for another," Wilkinson said.

The workshop featured talking clocks, calculators and blood sugar monitors. There were large print address books, thermostats and bingo cards.

A soccer ball with a built-in beeper allows blind children to follow the sound to kick a ball they can't see, said Susan Garber, executive director of the Maryland Assistive Technology Cooperation.

JAWS for Windows, a computer software package, puts a voice to words and even punctuation written on the monitor. Users can change the speed, pitch and voice of the program, said Jeremy Gilley, a blind man who is training to become an assistive technology instructor.

Another software program, ZoomText, magnifies all or part of the written words on a computer screen.

Reg Rice, a chaplain at Homewood at Williamsport, was more interested in a portable device that memorizes phone number dialing tones. The Dial Talk can then transmit those tones across any phone line.

It makes any phone accessible to people with impaired vision, Rice said.

A nonprofit service called Project LINK can find assistive products for people with low vision and other disabilities. Call 1-800-628-2281 for more information.

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