The Apple Watch is another well-designed piece of technology that makes digital communication more accessible for blind people. It provides a simple interface for many of my daily needs. I can make phone calls, receive and compose text messages and emails, make purchases with my credit card, get directions, play music, monitor my workout vitals, and access my calendar, all via simple movements and voice commands. The fact that I can keep this on my wrist saves me the hassle of having to feel around for my phone to check messages and emails throughout the day. Click on the image below to link to the Apple Watch webpage.
CCTV refers to the visual magnification technology originally used in surveillance cameras. In the blind community, a “CCTV” looks like a computer monitor elevated above a flat surface where you place your book, article, map, etc. A camera on the bottom of the monitor reads the text, magnifies it onto the screen, and produces an audio reading. Depending on your level of vision-impairment, this tool can equip you to read independently. Click on the above image to read a short, informative article by The Daily Texan about how CCTV’s serve students.
While my iPhone helps me keep up with emails and messages, my iPad is better for surfing the web. Again, the VoiceOver and touch screen features work very well in Apple products, allowing me to surf the web independently. Click on the image below to browse Apple’s iPad collections:
My iPhone, in combination with VoiceOver software, makes it very easy to stay in touch with personal and professional acquaintances via email, phone calls, and messaging. The Apple touch/voiceover combination is the best I’ve found in smartphones. Click on the below image to link to Apple’s iPhone webpage:
MagniLink products are made by Low Vision International (LVI). Connected to a desktop or laptop computer, they magnify printed materials onto the screen and convert the text to audio. They work with both PCs and Macs. MagniLinks are extremely useful for reading and note taking, as well as recording presentations and more. Their highly portable design makes them convenient for students.
MagniLinks are not currently able to convert scientific and mathematical figures into audio. For advanced STEM courses, I had to use different methods to access the material. At the LVI website, they give full descriptions of the Student MagniLink model: https://www.lvi.se/en/magnilink-s-new
Throughout my years of research and study, I have kept a ball and stick molecular modeling kit on hand. It proved very helpful for learning chemical structures during my education.
As I progressed into more specific fields of study and research, I often worked with molecules and compounds that were too large to be modeled with a modeling kit. For example, my HP Urease project focused on complex protein structures. To approach this structure, my reader and I would make a model with vibrantly colored Play-Doh (I have some vision in my left eye, so I can see bright, well-saturated colors), paying attention to patterns and general shapes more than individual sequencing.
Looking to the future, I am very interested in 3D printing. A friend and fellow blind chemist, Henry Wedler, has spent time developing a method to print molecular models and modeling kits that include Braille labels for things like atom identity, bond lengths, and bond angles. I am hopeful that models like these will become widespread in the education of blind students, and I am looking into the possibility of incorporating this technology into my own daily research.
Dr. Wedler has co-authored an article in the Journal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design that demonstrates ways 3D printing can aid a visually-impaired researcher. The article can be found at this link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10822-014-9782-7#/page-1. He has also made a powerpoint detailing 3D printing strategies, which can be found here: https://acsdchas.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/tantillo-wedler-3dprinting.pdf
My office layout capitalizes on the fact that I do have some vision remaining in my left eye. Everything is set up to promote my ability to use that vision while I work. When I first move into a new office, one of my priorities is to saturate everything with light; the brighter the environment, the more I can see. This involves placing various lamps and light fixtures around my space.
Since I can have up to four other people working with me at any given point, my office has several computers of different types to meet my various needs. In my office I have three large monitors. One is connected to a Mac Mini, one is connected to a MacBook Pro, and the third is connected to a ThinkPad Helix 2. We mirror the desktop on the ThinkPad and the Pro so that I can work in tandem with my readers, with them on the laptops and me on the oversized monitors. With my face close to the screen and the content magnified, I can see somewhat.
I have a wireless keyboard and mouse so that I can work with the large screen while my reader works on the laptop. Since we are looking at and controlling the same screen, we can work collaboratively. I give instructions and feedback, and they give visual descriptions, notify me of typos, and carryout commands. In addition to the stationary hardware, I also have a MacBook Air that my readers bring to seminars and group meetings to take notes.
OrCam is a new and remarkably innovative tool for sight-impaired people. It is a small device that you attach to glasses. It contains a smart camera that can read text, and projects audio through a mini earpiece. It is very easy to use, reading where you point your finger. OrCam enables you to read signs, books, newspapers, and so forth at a moment’s notice, and without assistance. OrCam can take and store photos and videos, memorize products and faces, tell you how many people are in front of you and identify their names (as you add their names to its data base), and describe motion around you.
The OrCam website contains much more information, as well as an option to purchase or request an OrCam demo: https://www.orcam.com. Follow this link for a series of interviews and demonstrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArNYhgVzExM
Although most of the computers in my office are Macs, some programs (ex: Visual Molecular Dynamics, or VMD) that I use in my field work better on Windows computers. Therefore, my office set up includes a Windows ThinkPad Lenovo Helix 2 tablet. All Windows computers come with a program called Windows Journal, which allows users to write onto the screen. ThinkPad computers have both an excellent touchscreen capacity and a stylus designed to function with Windows Journal. My Helix 2 allows me to utilize this ensemble in addition to serving as a better platform for VMD.
I use Windows Journal to take research notes along with my readers and coworkers. It allows us to draw figures and data trends, write equations and mathematical symbols, connect thoughts with arrows, add notes in margins, etc. The ThinkPad is connected to a larger monitor where I can view magnified versions of the notes and drawings. The colors of text, lines, and fillings can be changed to accentuate relevant trends and distinctions. The note files can be converted to pdfs, saved, and printed if needed. We purchased our ThinkPad Helix 2 at the Lenovo website, but the Helix 2 is no longer being made.