Technological Advances on Full Display in Jacksonville

by Humberto Rodriguez

Mike Taylor had asked me to sporadically write articles for the Florida BVA Newsletter and I had agreed to do so, but was away visiting my son and family in Idaho and upon my return much work had accumulated in my several hobbies, endeavors that keep me as busy in retirement as I was when I worked.

Yesterday however, my wife Miriam took me to the Hyatt Regency in Jacksonville to visit the fine exposition of many different vendors that, by virtue of being all in one place and ready to explain their respective products, make it easy for a gadget lover like me to stay current of technological advances.

Thus, I greatly enjoyed chatting with representatives of technology I already use, reminiscing with Charles at the VFO booth, who had been with Ted Henter when Henter-Joyce introduced JAWS-For-Windows; learning from the ORCAM people that version 8 of the software is imminent and the improvements it will bring, even that it will be available in Spanish; talked to the people of My Healthy Vet, APH, NLS and many others whose products or services I already benefit from.

Perhaps the most interesting part however, is touching, trying out, learning about new products, some I had no idea existed, others I had heard or read about but had not had the opportunity to touch, experiment, try out.

In the first category I learned there is a product very similar to the Mini-Guide, which if you are not familiar with it, is a sonar-based hand-held gadget that vibrates when you point it at something and the sonar waves bounce back, with higher intensity the closer you get to the object that makes the waves bounce. This new tool works similarly, but has the advantage that you can clip it to your clothing thus leaving your hands free, the range can be adjusted to 1, 2 or 3 meters, does not seem to reach farther as does the Mini-Guide, something useful if you are in a desolate area, in order to find in which direction a building lies.

In the latter category, there were two products I knew about but had not touched or tried. The first one is a contraption that you put in your mouth, connected to a small device that you put on your belt, which is in turn connected to a camera on your glasses. When you look at an object, the sensor on your tongue vibrates in the same shape as the object; for instance, if you are looking at a circular object, you will feel a circular vibration in your tongue; if an object crosses from left to right in front of you, it will give you the sensation on your tongue of something moving from left to right.

BVA Member William Bates speaking with representatives from eSight at the 72nd National Convention Exhibit hall.

BVA Member William Bates speaking with representatives from eSight at the 72nd National Convention Exhibit hall.

Something even more interesting, in my opinion, was the demonstration of AIRA. I knew about it, I had participated in an online conference about it, but there, I actually had the opportunity to try it out.

If you are not familiar with AIRA, it is a service wherein a live person describes through the telephone what you are looking at; a person of whom you can ask questions, chat with, a person that, I am sure, will make you feel secure, even if like me, you are totally blind, when you get off a Uber at a place new to you. They in fact, have an arrangement with Uber, the will call a car for you, tell you when it approaches, help you with your surroundings when you get out of it.

AIRA is presently negotiating with the VA to make the service available to veterans for $29 per month for 400 minutes of use, according to the very nice girl that demonstrated it for me, something that surprised me, for I thought it was for only 200 minutes. They also offer unlimited service, but it is expensive.

A BVA attendee tries out a pair of glasses from Noir Medical Technologies.

A BVA attendee tries out a pair of glasses from Noir Medical Technologies.

Without a doubt, despite all the aforementioned gratifying experiences, the best part of attending these events is human networking, meeting people one knows only virtually, talking again with all friends. The VA contracts me to visit veterans at their home or access their computers remotely if they are JAWS users, to help them with JAWS and other accessibility gadgets, the requests come from the VIST and BROS of Gainesville, Lake City and Jacksonville, so it was indeed a pleasure when I found Judy Hayes there, my VIST Coordinator and a close friend, who introduced me to Daria Wells and Lauren Brooks, VIST and BROS of Jacksonville respectively, both of whom I had maintained correspondence with and spoken on the phone, but had never met in person.

Another person I knew and who had helped me in the past, for it was he who demonstrated the ORCAM at a support group I attended, which motivated me to go to the Biloxi BRC to get mine, is Paul Kaminsky, who in turn introduced me to Dennis O'Donnel and his wife. Dennis writes a daily email with birthdays and events from that date in history, as well as other articles and thoughts, it is one of the few emails I open and read completely, on a daily basis.

In summary, although this was a National BVA Convention and therefor larger than what we have locally, I wish to encourage each and every veteran to keep in touch with the BVA and its various activities, their respective VIST and BROS, to attend support groups whenever possible, to do everything reasonably within their reach, in order to stay current with the geometric progression of changes, innovations and discoveries that make our lives easier and more productive; it is our responsibility, since we are fortunate enough to have lost our eyesight as adults, to adapt to new circumstances, use all new technology available to us and remain productive members of society, even in our retirement.

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