Q&A With Tony Heath, Access Technology Specialist at VisionCorps
Vision impaired himself with Optic Atrophy, Tony Heath has worked in the field of blindness for nearly 25 years. He is responsible for the evaluation and training of blind or vision impaired clients in the use of Video Magnifiers, adapted computers and other related technologies.
Tony demonstrates, installs, provides training and support for the equipment both at the agency, and in the customers’ homes.
Tony’s job duties also include facilitating four low vision support groups at various locations throughout York County. Vision impaired clients can learn and benefit from his life-long experiences.
The part of the job that Tony enjoys most is educating the community about blindness and the agency. He has spoken to school children, senior groups, and other organizations in an attempt to promote the capabilities and dispel the myths about people who are blind or vision impaired.
Recently we had a chat with Tony about what’s new in AT:
For the unfamiliar, what is Assistive Technology in relation to those who are blind or visually impaired?
Well, I like to call it Access Technology. And it is anything that gives a blind person access to the same information that their sighted peers have.
How has Assistive Technology changed in recent years and what advancements are you aware of for the near future?
In recent years it has begun to appear in mainstream products such as appliances and smart phones. The fact that we are now able to speak to some devices has made it much easier for those who are blind or vision impaired because we don’t have to be able to see buttons or touch screens. Nor do we have to memorize the sequences of key strokes or button pushes. There has also been an introduction of numerous products with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) or text to speech capability. This is great for us because we are now able to take a picture of a document and have it read in speech. I expect the aforementioned technologies to continue to improve in the future.
What are daily tasks/situations in which Assistive Technology positively impacts children and adults who are blind or visually impaired?
There are devices that identify color to help with selecting our wardrobe each day and one that beeps to let us know our cup is full when we pour our morning coffee. My microwave and meat thermometer talk to me as I prepare my meals. Computers display fonts up to 50X and read screen content to help with e-mail and searching the web. There are GPS systems that work in pedestrian mode to help us get from place to place.
How does one gain access to Assistive Technology and is it available for everyone?
For the most part, these devices need to be purchased and are usually expensive, which makes them available to those who can afford them. There are grants and low-interest loans set up specifically for assistive technology. However, at least for the grants, they can be difficult to get; often requiring an arduous application process and a limit on how much money is available. Pennsylvania has a state Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services that will provide such devices to qualifying individuals. Again, the problem is limited funding and long wait times. Blind and vision Impaired persons who are employed and need the assistive technology for their job are more likely to receive it from the state agency than those who are unemployed.
For those wishing to use Assistive Technology, what type of training/support is available?
Many companies that produce assistive technology devices have sales representatives, who also provide training and support. They usually offer free lifetime telephone support as well. Local agencies serving the blind and vision impaired, such as VisionCorps, often have a person on staff who will provide training and support.
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