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Carroll Center in Newton hosts annual Technology Fair for the blind and visually impaired

Posted by Derek McLean  November 25, 2011 12:50 PM

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The annual Technology Fair at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton was held this week, presenting the newest technology from various companies to improve the daily lives of blind or visually impaired people.

The fair, presented Tuesday by the Carroll Center, which celebrated its 75th anniversary after the event, held 15- 20 exhibiters, a half dozen presenters, and 100- 150 participants, including people of all ages.

Some of the people in attendance included blind or visually impaired children with their parents, college students, working adults, elders, and teachers.

“When it comes to adaptive technology for the blind and visually impaired, its not like a blind person can walk into a store and look at whats available,” said Brian Charlson, Director of Computer Training Services at the Carroll Center. At the fair, people “learn whats available, learn where they can get it, and they will learn how they can learn to use it.”

The technology fair is one of four annual national expos in the U.S showcasing new technology for the blind. The Carroll Center fair is the only expo which features local retailers and is the only expo which exclusively features technology for the blind and people with low vision. The other expos are cross-disability events.

Products for the blind and visually impaired are usually sold online or by vendors selling directly to places like the Carroll Center. “This is the one opportunity each year that the blind community has a chance to meet with those vendors,” said Charlson.

The fair featured products from local, national, and international companies, including Freedom Scientific, Humanware, MassMatch, Vision Dynamics, and MagniSight.

Products featured at the fair included a screen reader which reads text off a computer from Freedom Scientific, screen magnifiers, digital books, online libraries, and an OCR device which allows a person to take an image of a printed page and have the computer convert the image of the page into a readable text.

The fair also featured a series of presentations teaching people how to use various pieces of new technology. Some of the presentations included Carroll Center technology experts who focused on new Apple products.

Charlson co-presented during a couple of the presentations showing how to use IPads, IPods, IPhone, and eBook readers as a blind or visually impaired person.

Charlson said the advances in technology have been essential for blind people to integrate into the world of a sighted person in terms of everything from employment, to shopping, to mobility.

As part of the Carroll Center’s general training, for the past 28 years they have taught people how to access technology as a blind person. “We have been training 200- 300 individuals per year, how to use these technologies, whether its speech, large print, or brail, or a combination of the them,” said Charlson, “to interact with a PC, or a Mac, or hand held devices.”

Charlson said the Carroll Center is one of the three original organizations in the U.S. to take on the responsibility of advancing blind and the visually impaired with the newest technology.

“There is a lot of features in everyday devices that we have, that we never learn to use. But with a blind person, how are they to learn to use it?” he said. “The Carroll Center has been very supportive of technology in general.”

Derek McLean can be reached at dbmclean1@gmail.com.

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