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Editorial: Local office levels field for visually impaired

Nov. 04, 2012 @ 10:15 PM

For the 25 million Americans with vision impairment, West Virginia has become a very important place.

From an office in downtown Huntington, a team of researchers spends each day working to make the products and gadgets in our technology-driven world function a little better for those with vision problems, and in some cases, for all of us.

The American Foundation for the Blind opened the office 10 years ago with local funding from the Teubert Charitable Trust and a staff of two.

Today, the operation has expanded to 24 people, and the impact of the work done in Huntington is felt around the world.

For example, the office has worked with Apple to make the iPod Nano, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch usable for people with vision loss.

Other projects have included making all-in-one printers more accessible and voting machines easier to use for visually impaired citizens.

Most of the research work is done in a unique product evaluation and optics lab, located in a 6,000-square-foot space in the Chase Bank building on 5th Avenue.

In particular, the lab has equipment to measure the contrast, reflection properties and image quality of small visual display screens used with smart phones and other electronic devices.

"To tell the truth, we really are changing the world," Darren Burton, project manager of technical evaluation services for AFB, said last week during a 10-year anniversary celebration. "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."

Burton noted that some of the work with Apple made those screens easier to read for everyone.

The Huntington office also is home to CareerConnect, an online database that helps individuals with vision loss seek employment nationwide.

The AFB also has had a big impact locally.

The office has consulted with a number of organizations in the state from the National Parks Service at New River Gorge to the Huntington Museum of Art to help them make their facilities more accessible for the visually impaired.

The office also has worked closely with Marshall University, including providing internships for more than 30 students.

The goal of the AFB is to "remove barriers, create solutions and expand possibilities."

The Tri-State can be proud of the contributions the Huntington office has made to that effort over the past 10 years and excited about the breakthroughs coming in the years ahead.

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