Tools & Technology
We live in a visual world. All aspects of daily living and the workplace are designed around the physical sense of sight. Many people believe that once a person loses vision she can no longer do the things she used to do at home, work, or in the community. On the contrary! The story of the blind is one of developing alternatives to access the visual world and of developing approaches and techniques to live and work without sight. Most of these alternatives are designed so that the person can use the other senses, primarily touch and hearing, but smell and taste as well, to research information for work, clean house, garden, travel for work or vacation, read the latest best seller, and more.
Countless technologies and tools are used everyday by Iowans to get to work or travel across the country, write to a friend or the next great American novel, improve our health or remedy an illness. The tools, techniques, and technologies used by blind Iowans perform the same function. They provide a means to do any activity more efficiently.
Impact of Technological Changes
The changes to the tools and technologies that blind people use have been greatly influenced by scientific innovations throughout the years. Canes used for mobility went from wood, to aluminum, to fiberglass and carbon fiber. Prior to the developments in computer and digital technology, blind persons could only use human readers to access written information that was not available in Braille. Now, they can also use scanners and computers to have print information readily converted to Braille or audio.
Many technologies that were developed for persons who are blind came to be used by sighted persons too, such as long-playing records and optical character recognition (OCR) scanners. Indeed, these devices were or have become so commonplace that many do not realize they were originally designed to provide a way for blind people to access written information.
The story of tools and technologies is not limited to manufactured products. Many blind people improvise or develop their own tools and methods for using them. While technological advancements have improved the lives of blind Iowans in many ways, such advancements have also created barriers where none existed previously. Jobs that were once accessible to blind persons have become inaccessible. For example, the job as an x-ray technician became inaccessible once digital imaging was introduced. An increased reliance on audio information has impacted the teaching of Braille, which in turn negatively impacts a person's literacy skills.
The topics below address some of the tools and technologies that blind persons have used over the years. (Note: The information on this topic continues to be researched and developed. More information will be posted as when complete.)
Reading and Writing
Computers & Screen Access Technology
Raised Line Drawings
Global Positioning Systems.
You can learn more about tools, techniques, and technologies that blind Iowans have used in their everyday life on the Community & Domestic Life pages.
Blind Iowans Talk about Their Experiences with Tools & Technologies
To find oral histories in which blind Iowans talk about technology, visit the Oral History page.
The American Foundation for the Blind has oral histories from several innovators in assistive technology for the blind.
The Iowa Department for the Blind has a collection of reading and writing aids. Please visit the Digital Archives to view and learn more about the devices.