Blind World Magazine

Visions of a bright future

The Westerly Sun, Rhode Island USA.
Thursday, July 13, 2006.

WESTERLY - Just a year ago, Electronic Vision Access Solutions was perfectly capable of handling the small shipments that would arrive at the small Canal Street business with one or two computers inside.

Then, last July, the company won a five-year, $15-million contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide specially designed computers for blind and visually-impaired veterans throughout the United States with specially-equipped Dell computers.

The deal with the VA meant major changes for EVAS and owners Catherine and Gerald Swerdlick and their 14 employees.

Now, along with expansion of the business comes and expansion of the structure housing the successful EVAS. The Swerdlicks took another giant step last week when they broke ground for an addition to their Canal Street building, a step that will allow the company to better deal with the increasing demands for their products.

Only through the grace of God, Gerald Swerdlick said, has he been able to turn his disability into a blessing and grow his business from a company in a closet to a booming national concern.

Following its contract, the sporadic single-box deliveries soon grew into palettes-full of computers arriving almost daily. Along with the shipment size, the need for a loading dock grew as well. The building addition will allow the company to handle the increased volume.

"We've almost quadrupled in volume," said an enthusiastic Francis Valliere of Westerly, the company's chief information officer. "Nine months ago we were delivering 15 to 20 systems a month to our customers, now we're shipping between 150 to 200."

Swerdlick, who is legally blind, founded EVAS in 1979 with his wife and business partner Catherine. The two have shepherded the business - which specializes in providing computer access for people who are visually, physically, hearing or learning disabled - from a mom and pop operation to a nationally recognized, "cutting edge company" ever since.

For the last 26 years, the local residents have served the disabled population, by improving their lives with customized, easy-to-use "Plug & Play Accessible Computer Systems."

"EVAS Access Technology Solutions are tools that can be used to gain independence," explained Swerdlick, who serves as EVAS president, "an independence, which can open the doors to further education or employment opportunities and lead to a better quality of life."

"I was able to turn my disability into an advantage," said Swerdlick who recently donned a hard hat and tossed a symbolic shovel full of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremonies for the much needed addition.

The Swerdlicks, working extensively with Dell Computers, have developed a wide variety of customized desktop and notebook systems outfitted with "assistive technology" designed to meet the diverse needs of the differently-abled population. They were making computers with such helpful technology as speech synthesizers, large print software, electronic magnifiers and other access technology. The response had been overwhelmingly positive.

Valliere tells the story of a young quadriplegic, unable to do anything but lie on his back. When he found about EVAS, he ordered a computer outfitted with the "Dragon Naturally Speaking" voice recognition system. Two years later, an EVAS technician received a call from a young man who had just received his associate's degree and was calling for some technical advice.

"It was the same young man," said Valliere who was clearly moved by the story. "He got himself a life and a degree because of what Gerry initiated."

Paul Rosenbloom, an EVAS senior technician who has been with the company for 18 years, tells of a visually-impaired woman who is able to work at a newspaper in Connecticut because her computer is equipped with a specially designed EVAS Braille system. He shows a small intricate Braille keyboard while he tells the story.

Valliere said that the connection with Dell Computers has been a significant connection in EVAS' growth. Valliere and Swerdlick agree that their good relationship with Dell is part of the company's success.

"You can even get to our web site from Dell's web site," said Valliere. "I don't know of any other company that has that connection."

"It must be a trust factor," he added with a broad smile.

Casey Harrington, the VA program manager for Dell Managerial Services who flew in from Austin, Texas for the groundbreaking ceremony, smiled and nodded her head when she heard Valliere's comments.

EVAS, she said, "is the kind of company I take a personal interest in."

"I baby-sit their every order," said Harrington who is a disabled veteran herself. "It's really neat to see small companies like this succeed."

"We are proud and happy to have you all," she said.

The stories of the people whose lives have been improved by EVAS and the Swerdlicks are touching and uplifting.

"It's a great way to earn a living," said Gerry Swerdlick as he sat in front of his own computer designed with large print software, which allows him to communicate with his customers "and the expansion will allow me to bring even more to people with disabilities."

Craig Bishop, the Swerdlick's account manager from Fedex, who was on hand for the ground breaking ceremony wondered aloud whether people in Westerly were even aware of just how "cutting edge" EVAS is and of how progressive the work being accomplished inside the building on Canal Street truly is.

"This is a fascinating little business in a fascinating little town," said Bishop, who added that what began as a business relationship with the Swerdlicks blossomed into a friendship the more he understood of the noble plans afoot at EVAS.

"EVAS makes Westerly look like the (Route) 128 corridor," he said, referring to the technology-rich beltway surrounding the greater Boston area.

End of article.

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