Blind World Magazine

Technology opens doors for the blind.

January 9, 2006.
Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal - Thunder Bay,Ontario,Canada.

Diagnosed as legally blind in the second grade, Rob Gaunt's family doctor referred him to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

CNIB, Canada's primary provider of vision loss support services, sent him books on tape and large-print textbooks.

They're tools he credits with letting him stay in a mainstream classroom.

Today, the 36-year-old works for the Canadian Diabetes Association as public programs and services co-ordinator.

His computer has a speech synthesizer that reads e-mail, documents and website text back to him. A scanner records documents, memos and books, and the software reads it to him.

He still uses CNIB talking books, only now the books are on CD rather than cassette tape. He learned about many of his high-tech aids through CNIB.

"Technology has changed tremendously," said Gaunt, a board member for the local CNIB branch, along with being a client. "It's incredible."

He was at the CNIB office at 229 Camelot St. for the organization's service day, during which the visually impaired, their families, caregivers and medical professionals could learn about the group's services. Anyone who wishes can contact the CNIB at 345-3341 for an appointment.

Today, technology puts a visually impaired person on an equal playing field, Gaunt said, and possibly gives them an edge over people who can see.

He recalls long lineups for computers when he was at university, while he had one at home.

"In some ways, I felt I had a bit of an advantage that way," said Gaunt.

He has retinitis pigmentosa. He has two per cent of his vision, and periphery vision. Because he adapted well as a youngster, it wasn't noticed until he arrived at school and couldn't see the blackboard or read regular print.

Some of the technology that helps the visually impaired work and get around on their own is expensive, some because it's new and some because it's targeted to a small group.

Speech software - not counting the cost of a computer - can be several thousand dollars.

The very latest gadgets include GPS units that help identify for a person where they are on a street - even which side of the street they're on and how many metres to the next stop sign.

Another new tool is a "Jordy" visor, named after the Star Trek character who wears a special visor that lets him see.

A camera and screen inside the visor bring an object, like a television, much closer.

"Rather than having my nose on the TV screen, I can sit back and watch it there," said Gaunt.

There is a lot of financial help available, said Gaunt, listing government programs and service clubs that support individuals.

Every client is assessed on an individual basis, and a CNIB vision rehabilitation teacher can guide a person to programs that help cover the costs, said Anna Bahlieda, co-ordinator of district volunteer services.

"And really, how do you put a cost on quality of life?" said Gaunt, noting the technology allows the visually impaired to be productive, working members of the community.

Three-quarters of CNIB funding comes from donations while the rest is through government programs.

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