Call this one your Feel Good Story Of The Day.
The New Jersey Foundation for the Blind does the Lord’s work. Day in, and day out. And they are in the forefront of using technology to help the visually impaired.
Lorie DeMarco and Fallon, her American black Labrador, take long, daily walks through their 3-square-mile hometown of Elmwood Park.
But even a guide dog can lose her way.
“When she starts to venture and cross streets, I want to know where we’re going,” said DeMarco, who is nearly completely blind.
So the 56-year-old retired Paterson teacher returned to school this spring. Inside a sparse room at the headquarters of the New Jersey Foundation for the Blind in Denville,
DeMarco, joined by about a dozen others with severe vision loss, took part in a pilot program where she learned to navigate the internet and, with the added help of a GPS app and an audible screen reader, her hometown’s streets.
She can now send e-mails and texts, scan texts, more easily identify currency and download and use numerous mobile apps, including mapping software and another that reads Scripture. And she and Fallon are finding several ways home.
Every student is eligible. And they absolutely love it.
The foundation’s program, among the first in the country, is designed to foster greater independence for the blind, who can now access and use devices — iPhone and iPads — so ubiquitous, they’ve become nearly a necessity.
“It’s giving them equal access to technology and the world around them. It’s great,” said Laura Gardner-Lang, a member of the foundation’s board of directors.
Gardner-Lang, who has lost nearly all of her vision, sat in on several of the sessions during the eight-week pilot. She came away impressed, she said — and, she quickly added, with added credibility.
“I’m very happy,” she said. “My children are finally texting me.”
A 13-week program is now part of the foundation’s health-and-wellness curriculum. Another nearly 30 people are learning to use their iPhones and iPads, said Kathy Caviston, the foundation’s director of development and public relations.
Kudos to Apple for developing the necessary software, which relies heavily on voice recognition. Call it Super-Siri!
Not so long ago, getting the sightless online involved much more expense and hardware. “People needed all these kinds of devices and strategies,” he said.
Apple’s software changed all that, he said. Now just a double tap gets anyone nearly anywhere online, from Twitter to a book club.
“Whatever we can do sighted there’s a way to do through VoiceOver. A year ago that was virtually impossible,” he said. “These are no longer giant barriers between the sighted and nonsighted.”
Just one word of advice. Don’t name your iPad “Hal.” And don’t ask it to open the pod bay doors.