A True Pioneer In Our Field: Remembering Dr. James Bliss
by AFB Staff
Ike Presley, AFB National Project Manager:
We recently lost Dr. James (Jim) Bliss to cancer. He was truly one of the pioneers in the field of technology for people who are blind or have low vision. His first major contribution was in the development of the Optacon. Back in the 1970s, he developed this landmark tool in conjunction with Professor John Linvill to provide John?s daughter, Candy, a tool for accessing printed information. For many years this was the only piece of technology that allowed blind people to independently access printed information.
As technology progressed, other options became available and overtook the Optacon in prominence. However, it still has its devoted fans. Users have set up an e-mail listserv to discuss and share information about this valuable tool. Some users still consider it one of the best tools in their toolbox for accessing printed information while others prefer newer technologies. Regardless of one's personal belief about the value of this device, I think all will agree that it was one of the landmark developments in the continuing struggle to acquire access to printed information.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying one of my AFB colleagues, Tony Candela, on a visit to Jim's house. While Tony was recording an interview with Jim, I was allowed to look through Jim's garage. After the interview, Jim came out and showed me several prototypes of the Optacon and gave me a great history of its development. It was very exciting to see numerous Optacons in various states of functioning. I know that many of the current users are always looking for parts to keep their units operating and I discussed this with Jim. He told me that he was often contacted by users explaining how essential the Optacon was to their lives and he always tried to help out. Sometimes he provided technical advice and sometimes he was able to supply a spare part that helped the person continue to use this valuable tool.
Jim also went on to develop numerous tools for people who are blind or have low vision. His most recent company, JBliss Low Vision Systems, continues to provide several tools that assist people with low vision in accessing printed and electronic information. There are several good articles and remembrances at the website, www.jbliss.com, that you may wish to read.
Mark Uslan, Director, AFB Tech:
While Jim Bliss was well known as the inventor of the Optacon and co-founder of Telesensory Systems, I had met with him at Telesensory, but I got to know him after he had set-up JBLiss Imaging Systems. I evaluated his early OCR product and published reports on it and early upgrades in AccessWorld.
Jim was a pleasure to work with on that project. He understood and respected my need to be objective about the products' strengths and weaknesses. He stands tall as a pioneer in our field and I feel privileged to have known him.
* * *
Jim's spirit and dedication to our field will be greatly missed. His obituary in the San Jose Mercury News provides additional information about his life and where donations can be made in his honor.
Log in to Post a Comment