I took an extremely unscientific poll at Hackney’s, our favorite local, Friday afternoon.
Question: What do you think of when I say the name “Stevie Wonder?”
- My Cherie Amour
- Gangsta’s Paradise
- Signed, Sealed, Delivered
“I think he wrote a symphony, too!” our friend Larry said. It’s true. Stevie Wonder debuted “Sketches of a Life” in Washington, DC this year (Accompanied by a 21-piece chamber ensemble) when he received the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
That’s a remarkable array of music. And Stevie Wonder has had a remarkable career. What is truly remarkable, though, is that not one single person I polled mentioned that Stevie Wonder is blind.
Only 2% of Americans are totally blind. No Wonder, ahem, people sometimes stare at us. Our blindness makes us unique. So unique, that sometimes blindness is the first – or the only – characteristic people remember about us.
Unless you’re Stevie Wonder, that is. The fact that he can’t see is an afterthought. Stevie Wonder is in an enviable position. He could dismiss his disability if he wanted to. But Stevie Wonder is cooler than that. He uses his fame, and his blindness, to encourage technology companies to get together and do some good. Thanks to Stevie Wonder’s leadership (and his House Full of Toys benefit concert last month), 12 manufacturers — normally fierce competitors — have banded together to donate a bunch of expensive adaptive equipment — cool stuff like color identifiers, accessible GPS products, or speech software that transforms average laptops into talking computers. The equipment will be distributed to students around the country who couldn’t otherwise afford it. From an NPR story called Some Technology Leaves the Blind Behind
Unfortunately, the price of many of the devices or software applications created specifically for the blind is anything but accessible and would give most general consumers sticker shock. A case in point is the KNFB Mobile Reader, software that enables a cell phone to read printed text aloud to a blind person through synthesized speech. It sells for close to $1,000 not including the cell phone.
Stevie Wonder was interviewed for the NPR story:
“Hundreds of thousands of people on this planet are blind or with low vision,” says recording superstar Stevie Wonder, who has been blind since infancy. He spoke with NPR at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.
“So to me, that’s enough to say, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ And when you think about how by making things more accessible for those who are blind, how it would then make them more independent, then for the taxpayer that means less money.”
The equipment will be distributed at the end of January, so if you want to nominate a student to receive the free goods, or if you want to submit an application for yourself, fill out the online form asap. I know how much adaptive technology has helped me stay independent since losing my sight. Thinking of how this effort could change the lives of others who are blind makes me feel, well…”Overjoyed.”