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McDaniel hosts event detailing apps for the blind

Ever since she was in the eighth grade, McDaniel College social work professor Cathy Orzolek-Kronner has been growing progressively closer to being totally blind. Now, at age 50, her vision has diminished to the point that when she started a year's sabbatical in August, she knew she needed to dedicate her time to learning how to use better navigate her world and to conduct her academic work as a blind person.

"As part of my sabbatical — part of it was to learn, to become more familiar with deferrent assistive technologies, or apps or programs [for blind people]," Orzolek-Kronner said. "I needed to get up to speed because I cannot act as quickly as my colleagues."

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Now, in a free Saturday event, Orzolek-Kronner will be sharing what she has learned about the world of accessibility technology, from iPhone apps to Braille readers, that makes the lives of the blind and those with low vision easier. The event will also serve as a way to test the waters for community interest in forming a Carroll County chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, an advocacy organization headquartered in Baltimore.

Chris Nusbaum, a junior at Francis Scott Key High School, will join Orzolek-Kronner in presenting Saturday. Nusbaum is the vice president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students, the student organizations associated with the National Federation for the Blind.

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"The goal of this [event] is to introduce those who might not be as familiar with this technology as Cathy or me, to introduce them to the technology, and more importantly, to talk about how that tech can and does empower blind," Nusbaum said. "Really, technology is, for blind people, a liberator. It gives us the freedom to access information like we have never had access to it before."

As an example, a blind person reading non-Braille paperwork presented to them on the spot was once impossible without asking another person to read it aloud.

"One of the apps I am going to talk about it is KNFB Reader. What this app does, I can take a picture of a printed page, say, a page out of your newspaper, and instantly the technology within the app scans the print … and converts that to a readable text and then reads the text on the page back to me," he said. "As student, a teacher can give me a paper … I can take a picture of it and by the time the teacher is done passing out the papers, I would have it on my iPhone, ready to follow along with the class."

Nusbaum will discuss a number of other apps, including NFB Newsline, which allows blind people using an iPhone to listen to, or read on a Braille display, more than 250 newspapers and magazines. And LookTel Money Reader, which allows a person to hold a piece of paper currency up to an iPhone's camera lens to identify its denomination.

"You know how many blind people have been ripped off because they think they are handing a person a $1 and they hand them a $10?" Orzolek-Kronner asked. "Now they have an app for that."

Not all technologies that assist blind people or those with low vision comes from Apple, but Nusbaum said the iPhone maker has long been the pioneer in the field.

"When I first got a touch-screen iPod, I didn't think I would be able to get it. But Apple has built in a really intuitive set of gestures in all of their devices which allow a blind person to operate a touch screen," he said. "Companies like Amazon with the Kindle and Google with their Android devices, and companies that make touch screen kiosks in airports and such, they have not been made accessible. They could be, it's just a matter of their putting the time into developing the software. That's something the National Federation for the Blind is working on at a national level."

And the National Federation for the Blind is really the overarching reason for the event, according to Nusbaum.

"We are using technology as this topic to generate interest, and while we want to help educate blind people about the technology that is available to us, we also want to build a network of Blind people," he said. "The best way of learning about blindness and learning blindness skills and developing a positive attitude about blindness is by getting to know blind people … We will also be introducing the network and the family of this organization to people in Carroll County with the goal of creating an active, energetic and long lived chapter here."

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If you go

What: Presentation on assistive technology for the blind

When: 2-4 p.m. Saturday, May 2

Where: Room 304 in Hill Hall at McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster

Cost: Free

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