Blind World Magazine

Family's high-tech makeover., NJ.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006.

Most everything about the ABC reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is spectacle, and the TV show's encampment this week in Bergenfield is no exception.

Roads are closed, corporate sponsors have hospitality tents, celebrities show up and neighbors gawk at the small army of blue-shirted contractors turning one disadvantaged family's modest house into a well-designed home.

On Monday, scores of companies donating gadgetry and computer systems for the family arrived to display their wares half a block from the house.

The Llanes family -- whose members were not made available for interviews -- includes a blind father, a mother with cancer, a blind grandmother, two daughters who are going blind and a deaf son.

Along with demolishing and rebuilding the home's interior, the companies will pack the home with $100,000 worth of the latest technology designed to help people with vision and hearing problems.

"This house will have every piece of technology in it that we know exists on the planet Earth to help a family with disabilities," said Brian Stolar, president and CEO of Chatham-based developer Pinnacle, which is handling the 24-hour-a-day building effort.

The array of high-tech assistance that the Llanes family will find on their return (the makeover, which began May 6, will end on Thursday) includes everything from the NoteTeller 2, a gadget that lets a blind person distinguish denominations of paper money up to $100, to the PVO, a 4-inch portable color magnifier that enlarges an image from six to 12 times.

Microsoft donated a range of gadgets, including alarm clocks that vibrate and smoke detectors that use strobe lights along with sound to alert people of a fire.

The house will have the latest solar panels from BP Solar and the latest home-control software from Home Automated Living of Maryland. A member of the Llanes family will be able to speak into a phone or microphone and tell the system, for example, to turn out the lights or raise the thermostat.

Victor Llanes, the blind father, will be able to communicate more easily with his deaf son, Zeb, 16, using a software program called iCommunicator, which converts text to sign language.

The family will receive Blackberry handheld devices from Hackensack-based GoAmerica that will allow them to type a message to an operator, and then place a phone call.

People who can hear "take cellphones for granted," said GoAmerica sales manager Christina Harper.

The family also will receive high-speed Internet access from Verizon, computers from HP and a Braille printer that punches raised dots onto thick paper.

They'll receive a small black gadget with a laser that can tell a person with vision problems the color of their clothes. And a global positioning system that can tell them what street they are walking down.

"They will hit the ground running with an entirely new life," said Marc L. Harrison, president of Silicon East Inc., one of the consulting companies and organizations that helped pull off the massive planning effort to get the reality show off the ground in Bergenfield.

"It was a house that was disabled," said deaf act- ress Marlee Matlin, who has met the Llanes family. "They are going to have less stressful lives," the actress said through a sign-language interpreter.

Nearby, Bergenfield residents Francis and Agnes Cross stopped to watch the bustling scene.

Deaf since birth, Agnes Cross, 72, said she and her husband, who is also deaf, have some technology in their home including TTY, the telephone texting service, and a doorbell flasher.

"Beautiful," Francis Cross said, giving a thumbs-up when asked about the work being done for the Llanes family. "Beautiful."

The show will air on ABC in the summer. No date has been set.


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