Advocates See Advances in Assistive Technology

Sun Sounds of Arizona
Mares Wright displays one of the radios Sun Sounds of Arizona gives out, in addition to its online live stream of radio programming. (Lily Altavena)

by Lily Altavena

In 2015, non-profit Sun Sounds of Arizona is still giving out functional, 80s- looking radios to listeners after more than 30 years on the airwaves. Geared to help people with disabilities, volunteers from the organization read everything from the Wall Street Journal to Playboy aloud.

But the tide is changing at Sun Sounds, where an online stream is gaining in popularity.

“I’m signing up more and more people who want to do it digitally,” spokesman Mares Wright said.

Assistive technology is going digital and making new strides. Those with disabilities don’t have to look further than their smart phones to find a range of apps and accessories to improve quality of life. Some of this new technology was on display recently at “White Cane Day: A Resource Fair” in Tempe, Ariz., hosted by the city’s diversity office. The event was aimed at connecting those in the community who are blind or have visual impairments to a variety of resources, according to Michele Stokes, the city of Tempe’s Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Specialist.

Prodigi

The Prodigi, an electronic magnifier displayed by Mike Perry of Low Vision Plus in Arizona. (Lily Altavena)

Mike Perry owns Low Vision Plus, which offers assistive devices for those with visual impairments. One of the vendors at the fair, he said he’s seen a lot of improvements in the past few years.

“The technology has just become so much better,” Perry said. “Now people can afford to get it, even if they don’t have a lot of money.”

He displayed an electronic magnifier called the Prodigi at his table, which connects to a tablet to magnify and read words aloud. Perry estimates the Prodigi costs around $2,700 – thousands of dollars less than what its lower tech, 1990s counterpart would have cost.

Virginia Thompson, the assistive technology coordinator with the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said she sees more technology useful for people with more than one disability. A home alert system might include flashing lights, vibrations and braille, for example.

Smart phones, too, are ripe for development in assistive technology. In Lyrics Guru, a video game app showcased at the fair, users have to guess the correct lyrics for a song. The company, Al Jones Corporation, is currently developing a voice-controlled version of the game for those who are blind or have low vision.

“From our understanding, there are not many video games out there for those with visual challenges,” Al Jones, the company’s CEO, said.

Events like “White Cane Day” are critical to the communities they reach, Stokes said. Especially if someone is in the process of losing their sight, finding a new tool might make a huge impact in their life, he said.

For Thompson, updates in assistive technology signals more inclusion for those with disabilities.

“We still have a long ways to go, but at least now deaf-blind people can be active in the community,” she said.

Wimp.com: Helen Keller

Video: Helen Keller Speaking in 1930

In this video, Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher and companion explains how over time, Keller expanded her communication skills to include being able to speak. For decades, Keller was able to interact with others using tactile sign language and other methods. But as the video makes clear, by developing innovative yet simple methods, Keller learned various sounds and words through feeling the vibrations in Sullivan’s face and vocal chords.

At the time when this video was produced, Keller was already involved with the American Foundation and years earlier, she had attended Radcliffe College as well as the Perkins School for the Blind.

Where We Live (WNPR)

Redefining Disability: Our Changing Perceptions of People with Disabilities

Photo credit: taberandrew, Creative Commons
Photo credit: taberandrew, Creative Commons

This hour of “Where We Live,” heard on WNPR, a public radio station based in Connecticut, discusses the ways in which societal perceptions of people with disabilities are changing and the things that still need improvement. The two guests are Beth Haller and Suzanne Robitaille, who are both NCDJ Board members.

Haller says that journalists often miss opportunities to report on important issues happening in the community of people with disabilities, such as disability rights laws, the lack of accessible housing in various cities or discrimination against people with particular disabilities, for example.

Robitaille also joins the conversation and discusses her views on the state of disability in the news media and how journalism on these topics can be covered more deeply and with greater precision. She explains the complex nature of defining disability on both societal and individual levels, along with the troubles she saw with NPR’s recent reports, “Unfit for Work.”

The New York Times

“The Crime of his Childhood”

As Wendell Jamieson recounts in this March 2 story, Joshua A. Miele was injured outside of his Brooklyn home at the age of four, after a neighbor doused him with sulfuric acid. Attempts were made, both immediately following the incident and for years afterward, to reconstruct Miele’s face and other parts of his body that were burned. Efforts were also undertaken to restore his sight, but those were unsuccessful.

Jamieson explains what happened between the Mieles and their next door neighbors in October 1975 as well as the legal and personal tolls that the incident took on everyone involved. The author also discusses outcomes of his injury that have led to more positive things and how Miele helps people with visual impairments in the Bay Area.