Posts Tagged 'Wisconsin Public Radio'

Seeing a bigger picture

Harper and I head to Madison, Wisconsin today, and one of the things we’ll be doing there is this:

Apart from the conference, Madison is one my favorite destinations.

“The Lindbergh Lectures”
Thursday, September 29
12:00 – 12:50 PM
Room 1106 Mechanical Engineering Building
“Seeing a Bigger Picture”
Beth Finke
NPR commentator, Teacher and Journalist
Author of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound”

Abstract:

Thanks in large part to assistive technology, people like Beth Finke, who are blind, live full, creative and pleasurable lives. But what if AT researchers stretched the boundaries even further? Beth Finke discusses the assistive technology she relies on today and the AT on her “What if?” list.

My “Seeing a Bigger Picture” lecture is free and open to the public. It’s in conjunction with AT Expo 2011 at the University of Wisconsin (also free and open to the public), and I was invited by Jay Martin, the director of the University of Wisconsin’s Assistive Rehabilitation and Technology Design sequence. Jay and I met last year when we appeared on a public radio show about technology that helps people who have disabilities.

Jay walked my (now retired) Seeing Eye dog Hanni and me to the University of Wisconsin Union after our interview, and that walk gave me a chance to ask him one question that didn’t get asked over the radio. “What motivated you to get involved in assistive technology in the first place?“ That’s when he told me about his son’s accident. Liam, now age 27, was paralyzed in a diving accident in 1999. From a University of Wisconsin article:

At the time of Liam’s accident, Martin was director of UW–Madison’s Engine Research Center and had studied internal combustion for nearly 20 years. But upon returning to work after his son left the hospital, he found that disabilities, rather than engines, were constantly on his mind.

Jay talked to a mentor in the engineering department about switching his research focus to assistive technology. A number of his colleagues were interested in doing similar research, and in 2002 the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology (UW-CREATe) was born, taking an engineer’s approach to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Again from that UW article:

Today, more than 10 faculty and staff researchers and four times as many undergraduate and graduate students carry out the center’s academic goals of teaching, learning and research.

Jay urged me to come to the AT Expo last year, and I’m sure glad I did. In addition to being exposed to all sorts of new technology, I got to meet his son.

Liam finished high school with his graduating class and went on to receive a degree in psychology from University of Wisconsin. When I met him last year, he was working at a booth at AT Expo as a mentor for Midwest Alliance, an effort to encourage students with disabilities toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math. He noticed me there struggling with my cell phone to call for the hotel shuttle to pick me up. “Would it be easier if we gave you a ride?” he asked. “I’ve gotta go back to my office anyway.” He and his colleague Chris ended up chauffeuring me back to the hotel.

This year I’ll be a bit more high-tech savvy, what with my talking iPhone and all. But if asked, I’ll sure let Chris and Liam chauffeur me home again.

Life-altering events

During our Wisconsin Public Radio interview Wednesday my fellow guest Jay Martin happened to mention that he’d been in the assistive technology (AT) field for 11 years. AT is a relatively new field, so 11 years makes Jay somewhat of a pioneer.

Jay walked Hanni and me to the University of Wisconsin Union after our interview, and that gave me a chance to ask him one question that didn’t get asked over the radio. “What motivated you to get involved in assistive technology in the first place?“ That’s when he told me about his son’s accident. Liam, now age 26, was paralyzed in a diving accident in 1999. From a University of Wisconsin article:

At the time of Liam’s accident, Martin was director of UW–Madison’s Engine Research Center and had studied internal combustion for nearly 20 years. But upon returning to work after his son left the hospital, he found that disabilities, rather than engines, were constantly on his mind.

Jay talked to a mentor in the engineering department about switching his research focus to assistive technology. A number of his colleagues were interested in doing similar research, and in 2002 the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology (UW-CREATe) was born, taking an engineer’s approach to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Again from that UW article:

Today, more than 10 faculty and staff researchers and four times as many undergraduate and graduate students carry out the center’s academic goals of teaching, learning and research.

Jay urged me to come to AT Expo 2010 at the University of Wisconsin College of Engineering Thursday. “It focuses on mobility issues,” he acknowledged. “But we have a few sessions about vision, too.” I took up his offer, and I’m glad I did. Both sessions I attended yesterday were fantastic. Not simply because of the wonderment of the new technology, but because the presenters were honest about the limitations.

That's the BrainPort system, from their Web site.

BrainPort is a device that translates signals from a tiny camera into electrical pulses. Users put a device in their mouths and feel light zaps on their tongues in response to visual stimuli. The presenters yesterday admitted the challenges to using this device are significant. The BrainPort provides information in two dimensions,
like a line drawing on a piece of paper. User’s have to translate this information into things like perspective, dimension, and location. The presenters were proud to tell us that Erik Weihenmayer, the blind man who reached the top of Mount Everest, is experimenting with their device while he climbs. “But you know the thing he likes best about it?” they admitted with a shrug. “He can use it to figure out where his coffee cup is and grab it off the kitchen table.”

David Ross, a biomedical research engineer for the Department of Veteran Affairs, gave a presentation on cell phones that can scan things and read them aloud. David pointed out, however, that people who can see naturally narrow in on what is important to focus on in their line of vision. People who are blind and traveling through space, however, will have no idea where to point the phone to get a reading. As is, the technology could be useful in helping those of us who are blind confirm we’ve found what we’re looking for. “Those of us who are sighted use our vision to do this all the time,” he said. “We feel something with our hands, then look at it to make sure it’s what we thought it was.”

The best part of the afternoon? Meeting Jay Martin’s son. Liam finished high school with his graduating class and went on to receive a degree in psychology from University of Wisconsin. These days Liam works as a mentor for Midwest Alliance, an effort to encourage students with disabilities toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Liam was manning the Midwest Alliance booth at the expo. He told me he likes his job there, but said his real interest is in music. And radio.

Our conversation took off from there. I told him how I got started at National Public Radio, he told me about the shows he’s put together for WORT, a community radio station in Madison. We talked about radio internships, whether a person could do a virtual internship, and if not, what cities in the United States have the most accessible public transportation. We’d been talking nearly an hour before I finally took out my phone to call for the hotel shuttle to pick me up.

“Would it be easier if we gave you a ride?” Liam asked. “I’ve gotta go back to my office anyway.” He and his colleague Chris ended up chauffeuring me to my next stop, a rendezvous with a Madison friend at a groovy coffee shop. We exchanged email addresses, and as Hanni led me to my cup of capucino, Chris and Liam took off in the conversion van.

Geez. The Vision Midwest conference hasn’t even started yet, and already I’ve met so many very talented – and very cool – people. What will today bring? I can’t wait to find out!

Schwoegler’s, here I come

Tune in to Wisconsin Public Radio….

Tune into Wisconsin Public Radio tomorrow

Hey, I’m going to be on Wisconsin Public Radio tomorrow morning from 11 to 11:45 am (Central Time), and you don’t even have to live near Madison to join the conversation. Would love to hear from you — Use the toll-free call-in number (1-800-642-1234) or you can e-mail your Question to talk@wpr.org. I’ll be appearing with Jay Martin (director of the University of Wisconsin’s Assistive Rehabilitation and Technology Design sequence) and we’ll talk about communication devices and adaptive technology. I’ll also be touting the Vision Midwest Conference that 12 State, Inc is putting on at Alliant Energy Center in Madison this weekend. From their web
site
:

The Vision Midwest Conference for blind and visually impaired individuals and the professionals who serve them offers educational, sports and cultural opportunities with a Midwestern focus.

The presenter schedule is pretty entertaining to read – it lists presentations on everything from careers to cell phones, cutting edge stem cell treatments to sensory gardening. And get this for a session title: “A Guide to the Solar System with Digital Talking Text.” Whew! Sounds interesting, but I might opt for the “Home Brew/Distillery Tour” during that time slot instead.

During free time we’re invited to go on tactile tours of local art museums, participate in talking GPS scavenger hunts, try out a VIYM (Visually Impaired Yoga Mat), and ride tandems on Madison’s fabulous bike paths. And hey, what would a conference in Wisconsin be with out a bowling tournament? This one is at an alley with an absolutely perfect Wisconsin name: Schwoegler’s.

I’m giving two presentations on Friday: one on writing as a career at 1pm, and another about blind blogging at 4 p.m. Mike will join me on Saturday — he’s sitting on a panel about relationships where one spouse is sighted and the other is blind.

Okay, enough. My bus for Madison leaves in a few hours, and I’d better get packing. If you have any questions about adaptive technology or this weekend’s Vision Midwest Conference, I hope you’ll call into the show tomorrow — I’ll be all ears.


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