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New product testing and research by blind lauded

Nov. 01, 2012 @ 11:15 PM

HUNTINGTON -- If the screen on your latest Apple gadget is easier to read than the last one, thank a Huntingtonian.

Research and product testing being conducted at the American Foundation for the Blind's discreet 6,000-square-foot office and lab tucked inside the J.P. Morgan Chase building on 5th Avenue is to thank for making Apple devices not only more usable for people with vision loss but also more reader-friendly for everyone.

That accomplishment and many others were celebrated Thursday during a 10th anniversary celebration of the foundation's Huntington location.

"Ten years ago, I packed my bags and my family and moved from New Jersey to Huntington, and I was welcomed with open arms. I found the community supported the foundation's efforts and cheered us on, and we've been nationally recognized for our work," said Mark Uslan, director of AFB Tech and AFB Consulting. "We've worked with Apple to make things more accessible. We've worked with Canon, Lexmark and Samsung to make things more accessible. We've conducted extensive testing of electronic voting machines to make voting easier for the visually impaired.

"Our groundbreaking research on screens from cellphones to diabetes management gear is making things easier for everyone to read and more accessible for all," Uslan continued.

The American Foundation for the Blind, headquartered in New York City, opened its Huntington office in 2002 to complement its Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Dallas locations. In the past decade, the Huntington staff has grown from three to nearly two dozen employees and provided opportunities for Marshall University and high school students to work in the area of accessibility with the West Virginia Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the National Parks Service and the Huntington Museum of Art. The office houses a one-of-a-kind optics lab and product evaluation space as well as AFB CareerConnect, a web-based program for blind and visually impaired students, job seekers and employers. In the lab, AFB Tech evaluates mainstream and assistive technology products from major corporations to ensure they meet the needs of blind and visually impaired consumers.

"I have a lab upstairs where I get to play with toys all day long," said Darren Burton, project manager of technical evaluation services. "To tell the truth, we really are changing the world. Anybody with low vision or blind can now do the same things on an iPhone as anyone else.

"It's all about leveling the playing field -- something as simple as using a microwave to something more complex like diabetes management equipment. We do all of that here."

Board members for the American Foundation for the Blind were traveling in from across the country, including storm-ravaged areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, according to Cathy Burns, who serves on the board of trustees. They will conduct an all-day board meeting Friday, conclude with dinner at the Huntington Museum of Art and take in the Marshall game and tailgating on Saturday.

"Not even a storm as big as Sandy can keep us from breaking down barriers for people with vision loss, and nowhere is that more apparent than here in Huntington," Burns said. "Helen Keller, who worked with the foundation for most of her adult life, once said, 'I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.'

"Our Huntington office has accomplished tasks small, great and noble. It sums up what this office is doing," Burns continued. "We are so proud of the work being done here."