Several of us Ai Squared folks attended the annual Taste of Perkins event at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA last week. The drive through the Green Mountains, brilliantly colored with yellow, orange, and red, along with a chance stop at a very well organized antique shop, fulfilled my yearning for a fall foliage excursion.
And my hope for reconnecting with Jim Denham, Director of Assistive Technology for Educational Programs at Perkins, was satisfied first thing as I strolled into the exhibit area. I told Jim that he was the one that gave me the courage to try an iPhone, when I had thought its tiny screen was “not for me”. If you read the blog regularly, you know that my opinion has changed quite a bit. New tech aids can have that effect on people, myself included. Along with the iPhone, I had a similar reaction years ago when I was first shown a CCTV; I remember saying, “that text is way bigger than I need – it’s not for me” – how wrong was I.
This year, Jim was showing people the TapTapSee App, pointing his phone’s camera to the vase of flowers on the table and letting people hear the app identify “red roses with yellow violets.” Jim went on to explain some practical ways he uses this app in daily life: “I’ve used TapTapSee to identify the contents of grocery items, such as canned goods and frozen dinners, and for identifying different types of gift cards. For example, I recently used the app to identify which card was a Target gift card and which one was an Amazon gift card. Finally, I recently used TapTapSee to read my digital thermostat. After taking a picture of it, TapTapSee said the thermostat was set on 68 degrees!”
The blind taste test, always a big hit, never ceases to enlighten me. It seems I usually ignore the rest of my senses when I have my eyes open. After all these years of eating and drinking, do I really not know where my mouth is? Besides just being entertaining, the blind taste test gives a small sampling of how you would have to adapt to each new adventure that comes your way when you don’t have visual input to rely on.
But perhaps the most illuminating thing I saw this time was a new device called the LightAide™. It’s hard to explain why this was visually stimulating without seeing it. With its array of bright, colorful lights, I was reminded of the feeling I got while on Disney’s “Under the Sea” attraction. With so few living cone photoreceptors left in my central vision, it was so stimulating to be able to see vivid colors without really trying. And what was really cool is that Catherine Rose, the mother of a low vision-deaf toddler, was the one who had the initiative to inspire others to create this product. Its big buttons can be spread around the table so multiple kids can interact with the device. You can choose different activities with one of the big buttons and change what the lights do with the others. According to the Perkins website, the objective of LightAide™ is to “support core learning goals and help instill the building blocks of literacy and mathematical concepts in learners with low vision, cognitive disabilities and other special needs.” If you have a child that you think could benefit from this product, you can sign up to try it for a few weeks.
This event is not all about the blindfolded food and wine tasting; there’s always a lot to learn and share with some very compassionate and inventive people. Just as the fall colors stimulate my lazy cone cells, there was much to engage my senses at this year’s Taste of Perkins.