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Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 September 2006 Issue  Volume 7  Number 5

Letters to the Editor

I enjoyed very much reading Tony Candela's "Legends and Pioneers of Blindness Assistive Technology, Part 1." Tim Cranmer, a great man and technology pioneer, is credited with inventing the talking calculator. I wonder if Tony should check that out with Jim Bliss. In the early 1970s, a professor of physics from the University of California, Berkeley, came to see me. I was then a professor at San Francisco State University. This Berkeley professor told me that he had invented a chip that would make a calculator talk--he did it because he had a blind student in an advanced physics class. He asked me what he should do with it. I referred him to Jim Bliss, then the CEO of Telesensory Systems. My understanding is that Telesensory bought the chip, installed it in a calculator, and made available to the world the first talking calculator. Tim Cranmer may have been on the same track, but I wonder if Telesensory Systems doesn't deserve some credit for its work on the first available talking calculator.

Early in technology for the blind development, someone (it may have been Peter Duran) developed a computer system called "ARTS." I don't know what the initials stood for, but I do know that Emerson Foulke convinced the Kentucky legislature to purchase this system, thereby having the capability of electronically connecting all blind people in Kentucky. Something went wrong with the early attempts to use the ARTS system, and it never got off the ground. But it had shown enough promise that Emerson invested a lot of his energy and time in trying to get a system established in his state. Speaking of Emerson, we cannot forget that he is the "father" of compressed speech. Taking technology originally developed for radio commercials, he used a piece of technology called the "Whirling Dirvish" to create compressed speech that could be easily understood by the blind listener.

Finally, Tony's mention of the name Vito Proscia brought back a host of memories regarding the MIT Sensory Aids Center. It was established in 1964 under the direction of John Dupress. The MIT faculty sponsor was Professor Robert Mann. A visit to the MIT Sensory Aids Center was my first introduction to the promise of high tech. I subsequently came to know John Dupress, Vito Proscia, and George Dalrimple quite well. Their work in assistive technology for the blind was legendary and should not be forgotten.

I have been fortunate in that I've lived long enough and stayed in my profession long enough to have known almost all the legends that Tony discussed in his article. Thank you, Tony, for a worthwhile trip down memory lane. And thank you for mentioning Jim Allan and his award. We at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired consider him a national treasure!

Phil Hatlen


Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Anthony R. Candela responds

I'd like to thank Phil Hatlen for his diligence and long memory. He is correct in pointing out that Telesensory developed the Speech Plus, one of the first talking calculators. In my interview with him, Jim Bliss corroborates Phil's recollection. I should have said, "Tim Cranmer invented a tactile calculator." I don't think it made it to the marketplace.

I share Phil's fond reminiscences of the other legends he mentions. If only I could have interviewed them all! Vito Proscia and George Dalrimple, both of MIT, are still with us and no doubt champing at the bit to tell their stories. Joe Sullivan spoke lovingly of both in my interview with him. I'd love to sit with Peter Duran for six hours and record his memoir. It would be fascinating. So many products had their beginnings cut short by malfunction or poor marketing it is almost unfathomable to think about what might have influenced our lives but for a bit of good luck here or there.

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