Convention showcases advances in assisting legally blind citizens

MORGANTOWN — A technology fair kicks off the 2018 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia (NFBWV) Sept. 13 at Holiday Inn on Pineview Drive in Morgantown.

This is not the first year for the convention in Morgantown. Ed McDonald, who does media relations for NFBWV, said the first convention he ever attended was in 1969, which also took place in Morgantown.

The conference itself runs through Sunday morning.

“Living the Lives We Want with Tomorrow’s Technology” will introduce advances in assisting the blind. McDonald said things have changed in that arena, given the access to technology such as smartphones and computers.

“I think that we’ve made progress in terms of dealing with various issues as an organization of blind people, but at the same time the message that we have is still the same as it was back then,” he said.

Apart from all the “glitter and glitz,” McDonald said what they’re really trying to change is the attitudes about blindness and present the message that blind people are normal and being blind does not mean someone cannot be a productive citizen. Blindness doesn’t hold them back.

McDonald said the NFBWV’s mission is public education. The federation is involved in different projects to break down barriers and creating opportunities for the blind.

The technology conference is open to the public, but is a learning opportunity for those who are blind or visually impaired — as well as families, teachers and other professionals who work with blind adults and children.

McDonald uses new technology in a lot of the work he does, including computers with speech on them, and paperless braille. There are also phone apps designed for the blind as well as smart glasses that allow a blind person to use artificial intelligence or connect with another person to describe visual information about a blind person’s surroundings. McDonald said these are exciting breakthroughs, though he has not had the chance to use them yet.

Anyone can attend the conference to meet and talk with those who are blind.

“We really are hoping that some folks who maybe have never heard of us before, never had an opportunity like this before will come out and take a look,” he said.

McDonald said the conference will likely include discussions about public education for the blind, rehabilitation services and information on library services for the blind.

The event is presented in collaboration with the West Virginia Assistive Technology System (WVATS), a project of the WVU Center for Excellence in Disability.

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