Essential Tech: the Tools Society Staff Can’t Live Without

By Aser Tolentino, Assistive Technology Instructor

When living with a visual impairment, the choice of technology has a profound impact on how you interact with the world around you. Here at Society for the Blind, our staff use a variety of tools to do their jobs and live life to the fullest.

Working with Access News and performing technology and Braille assessments for Core Programs, I use an eclectic collection of gadgets throughout the day. One of the proponents of the NVDA screen reader in the office, I use an Asus laptop to work with productivity and audio production software. I also use the iPhone for everything that device has become known for in the visually impaired community.

As with blind people more generally, a lot of the staff at Society for the Blind have found themselves gravitating toward the iPhone and certain other tools. But if you talk to the people who work here, you’ll find at least as many different possible approaches to tackling life’s hurdles as members of our visually impaired staff. That diversity of perspective makes us stronger as an institution and gives us the tools to welcome anyone who walks through our doors to help them do the things they want to do their way. I asked a few of our staff members to share what pieces of tech they use every day to do the things they need and want to do.

Diane Starin

Diane is one of our independent living skills instructors. In this role, she prepares our clients for living on their own by teaching how to safely cook, clean, plan and perform the whole range of tasks around the house entirely without sight. Her primary tools are the iPhone and the Victor Reader Stream. The iPhone provides her with a one-stop solution for email, messaging and calls, but also provides access to the internet and online media. The Victor Reader Stream, an audio player designed specifically for use by the visually impaired provides her with instant access to the National Library Service’s Braille and Audio Reading Download Service. It can also act as a fully accessible MP3 player.

Brandie Kubel

Brandie is the other half of the Core Program’s independent living skills team and is known for her tech savvy. She too uses the iPhone to access a wealth of content through the National Library Service via their BARD Mobile app. She also gets commercial audiobooks through Amazon’s Audible service. However, a piece of technology she uses that you won’t find in the average tech enthusiast’s arsenal is a Coloreno color identifier, which well….identifies colors.

Paul Gray

One of our technology instructors that doubles as an orientation and mobility instructor that helps people build confidence as they move around the community, Paul has turned the iPhone into a technological Swiss Army Knife. He uses navigation apps like Apple and Google Maps for turn-by-turn directions, and iMove for data about nearby points of interest. Microsoft’s ever evolving Seeing AI lets him read short text by simply showing it to the camera, and Money Reader helps him keep his wallet straight. He also uses BARD Mobile for books and relies on the iPhone’s mail app to keep in touch while on the move. As a person who has to be in a lot of places almost simultaneously, he also relies on Outlook on his desktop to manage his calendar.

Priscilla Yeung

Priscilla is our Senior IMPACT Project Coordinator, helping to run Society’s program for seniors age 55 and above who are blind or experiencing vision loss. Priscilla’s go-to device is also the iPhone, using it to handle everything from phone calls, texts and email, to online banking, checking weather and taking in YouTube and audiobooks.

Randy Owen

Randy is our resident Apple Enthusiast. He works with a MacBook Pro to demonstrate VoiceOver for those students in our Core Program’s technology classes learning about Apple’s screen reader for Mac OS. He keeps class notes in the iPad’s Notes app and works with Safari on his Mac to transfer them to our online database.

Shane Snyder

As the head of the Core Program, Shane keeps a lot of balls in the air. The device he turns to most is the iPhone. Like others on our staff, mail, calendar, Seeing AI and Money Reader get a lot of use. Shane also reads books with iBooks that can be found in audio format and is a big fan of Netflix.