Conference on visual impairment showcases new technology

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The Computer Center for Visually Impaired People, which hosted the conference, is located on the sixth floor of the library building.

The Computer Center for Visually Impaired People at Baruch College held their ninth annual Employment and Visual Impairment Conference on April 9, covering the topic of “Policy and Practice: ‘Designing for the Future.’” Sponsored by the School of Public Affairs and several organizations, including The New York State Commission for the Blind, the conference was an all-day affair, lasting from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and was held within the Newman Vertical Campus.

Located on the sixth floor of the Newman Library, the CCVIP has been open to all students who have experienced vision loss since its inception in 1978.

Focusing mainly on accessibility to computers and other technology, the CCVIP offers classes, training, individualized instruction and more in its mission to serve the blind and visually impaired community, “increase[ing] the freedom, independence, and productivity of people who are blind or visually impaired through the power of digital technology.”

The conference sought to bring together people with vision loss, experts in the disability field, employers and the general public in an attempt to educate these groups on the opportunities available to people with vision loss, as well as to network and discuss the issues facing the visually impaired.

After a keynote address from Chen Guangcheng, a disability and human rights advocate, the conference broke off into various workshops that delved more into specific topics surrounding visual impairment.

The event also featured exhibits relating to visual impairment, as well as awards given out throughout the day to those who had distinguished work in the field.

Workshops were presented on such topics as “Advocacy Across Disabilities,” “Employment and Training Initiatives for People with Vision Loss,” “Martial Arts for People with Vision Loss,” “QuickBooks for Windows is Accessible” and “Social Networking.” Moderators and presenters trended toward those working within the CCVIP center, experts in the field of vision impairment and disability advocates.

The workshop “Braille Screen Input” had CCVIP instructor Rick Fox demonstrate a smartphone application that creates a braille keyboard for iPhone’s iOS8 and iOS9, using sounds and strategic placement of “buttons” on the screen to allow the user to type in braille. Through the app, people with vision loss are granted a quicker and more efficient way to communicate than through the standard QWERTY keyboard.

Matthew Krieger, moderator for the workshop, outlined how the app could improve the lives and studies of blind and visually impaired college students everywhere, not just those attending Baruch College.

“When you look, for example, at any of the accessibility enhancement that an iPhone or any smartphone can have, you’re looking at breaking down friction between the user and that device,” Krieger said. “The device is doing more and more all the time, [so] you really need to have low friction because [the device] truly becomes a part of the person. So whether they’re in a class taking notes or looking up information, the faster and more efficiently someone can interact with their device … the better.”

Other devices presented at the event include an eyeglass-mounted camera that helped visually impaired individuals by giving them an audio description of the surrounding environment.

Karen Gourgey, director of the CCVIP, stated the importance of showcasing technology at the conference as it relates to the blind and visually impaired community.

“The technology for the blind and the visually impaired is the technology that helps get access to information that might would have otherwise been limited because of a lack of vision … Whether you’re using speech output or braille output or large print output … it’s all about allowing people to jump their limits.”

Gourgey went on to discuss how technology, however, was not the only purpose of the event.

“[This conference] brings the community together. It gives opportunity to demonstrate new devices or new trends in tech [and] also in advocacy,” Gourgey said. “We have workshops in lots of different areas—it’s trying to heighten employment; it’s trying to explore needs around advocacy; it’s also trying to make sure people are aware of opportunities out there in the whole leisure area … It’s also a big networking [event].”

Throughout the day, there were several workshops devoted to networking, with blind and visually impaired people being given opportunities to hear the success stories of currently employed blind people, learn how to build professional relationships and find emotional support within the community.

The visually impaired can face many challenges in the workplace that people with sight take for granted, necessitating the conference’s large focus on professional activities. Sandra Kupprat, moderator for the “Marital Arts for People with Vision Loss” workshop, spoke on the importance of technology to visually impaired people in a work environment.

“With the help of technology, blind people can be employed just like everybody else. It kind of levels the playing field. As a blind person, if I can see or read what’s in front of me then, it makes barriers to employment less so,” said Kupprat. 

Whether attending for professional advice, to view technological advances or to establish relationships, the attendees of the conference fostered—through their participation—the greater sense of community the CCVIP hoped to foster through this event.