News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 31, 2010

Low vision assistance showcased at Expo

Annual event designed to increase public awareness about options

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A statewide network of support agencies gathered in Terre Haute on Wednesday, showcasing their offerings for those with disabilities.

The 2010 Low Vision Expo was still going strong inside The Meadows Conference Center before 1:30 p.m., with another half hour before closing. In its fourth year now, attendance was estimated to be about 200.

“A really good turnout and a lot of good information,” Danny Beemer said beside The Will Center’s information booth. Established in 2000 as The Wabash Independent Living and Learning Center, the organization focuses on assisting those with disabilities.

“Still, a lot of people don’t know about the center,” Beemer said of the organization, adding that outreaches such as its Low Vision Expo are designed to increase public awareness.

And Beemer understands the needs of those attending Wednesday’s event for people with vision-related disabilities. After years of suffering from low vision, Beemer’s sight has left him completely over the past three weeks.

“I’ve grown up using a lot of these every day,” he said of the tables full of new devices to assist those with vision problems. Even daily tasks like matching clothes can now be made easier with such devices. “That’s a simple thing that we take for granted every day,” he said.

And advances made in the field of information technology have evolved as well. Autumn Gonzalez, of the Talking Book and Braille Library, said her organization has come a long way since its birth in the 1930s, when record players and records were offered on loan.

“It’s completely free. 100-percent free,” she said of the program which today features more than 20,000 books in digital formats, in addition to 65,000 on cassette and those in “large print” or in Braille. Listening devices are also available through the library, which is one of 57 regional subsets of the Library of Congress National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. No postage is charged for participants, as the materials are termed “free matter” by the U.S. Postal Service, and users can order their books and devices to be delivered and returned through the mail, she explained.

The group also maintains a special collection of “Indiana voices,” or books by Hoosier authors. “And the books are all read by volunteers,” she said of the tapes.

And Sara Croft, education and outreach coordinator for the INDATA Project, said those advances are just the tip of the iceberg. Indiana’s Assistive Technology Act began as a grant-funded initiative in 2007 and now services the disabled statewide by loaning out more than 1,300 different technological devices to “try out for free before purchase.”

“As long as you live in the state, it’s free,” she said of the program which includes any Hoosier with a medically-documented disability.

Catalogs full of techie dream machines lined her booth inside the expo, including laser- and light-controlled computer systems. The Light Operated Mouse and Keyboard (LOMAK) system includes an earpiece, similar to a Bluetooth phone headset, which points toward a specialized mouse and keyboard control panel, allowing the individual to fully utilize the computer. Other packages include Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which allows the individual to use a computer with “Windows Speech Recognition” technology and verbal commands.

INDATA also collects donated computers to be repaired and upgraded and then donated to disabled Hoosiers at no charge. According to literature provided by Croft, the group distributed 133 computers to individuals in 2009. For those individuals wishing to purchase devices, INDATA recently launched a partnership with Star Financial and Easter Seals Crossroads which provides low-interest, long-term financing qualifying applicants in amounts ranging between $1,000 and $10,000.

Croft said the expo had been busy since its 10 a.m. kickoff. “It was super busy earlier,” she said just before its 2 p.m. closedown.

Beemer said he was impressed with the wide range of vendors, including local Lions Clubs, the U.S. Veterans Administration and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. From testing to legal assistance, Beemer said people need to know the amount of aid which is available for the asking.

“We want to do this year number five,” he said, noting the financial support of Terre Haute Regional Hospital and Indiana’s Division of Family Social Services in hosting the event.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.