On The Road With Independence Science


It’s good to be back in Indianapolis, but I had a good time the past few days.  You probably don’t know, but when I’m not riding my amoeba around the twitterverse or blogosphere I work for Independence Science.  A small startup company, Independence Science is a spin-off of PhD work done by Cary Supalo.  Our company’s mission is to make science accessible for people with disabilities.  We work to make science accessible a few different ways including low-cost solutions, developing our own products, and working with creators of commercially available products to make what’s already available accessible.  While we focus primarily on education, there are certainly research applications.

When many people hear what we do, we get positive responses.  Yet some companies aren’t interested in developing accessible tools, for whatever reason.  So recently I went to ACS in Boston to meet with exhibitors.  The idea was to meet with companies on the floor and start talks to develop more partnerships.  Lots of telling what we do and hear what others do; lots of business card swaps too.  Over the next few months, hopefully it will have paid off and we’ll have new products in the works.

Also while in Boston, I had lunch with some brothers from Alpha Chi Sigma and even met Abel Pharmboy in person! Despite the rain, it was a pretty good trip.

From Boston, we took a bus to Hartford, Connecticut where we picked up our rental car for the next portion of our trip.  Had some pretty good eats at Black-Eyed Sally’s and headed into Springfield, Massachusetts for a training session at Western New England College.  Over the course of two days at win-ec, as the locals pronounce it, we showed biology, chemistry, and lab professors how to teach the new blind biology major hands-on science.  WNEC must have a great PR guy, because the local media was all over the training sessions–(I think there were 2 radio, 1 tv, and 1 newspaper, maybe more).

Before heading out of town, we stopped at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.  That was really cool, even as only an occasional basketball fan.  After a brief stop home to see Mrs AmoebaMike, we headed to Ohio for a few days.  In Finneytown, Ohio we worked with a student and chemistry teacher on how to make class more accessible this year.  Somehow we were lucky enough to be in one of the few places on campus that had air conditioning!  While there, we had LaRosa’s Pizza which we were told is sort of a Cincinnati thing.

Wright State University Primary Corporate Mark

Image via Wikipedia

After leaving Finneytown, we headed up to Wright State University in Dayton.  Really, the word for Wright State is: WOW!  A school of about 18,000, Wright State has over 500 students registered with the student disability services office.  The school has an atmosphere of acceptance when it comes to disabilities–and that’s very rare.  You can’t be in the student union for more than a few minutes without seeing someone in a wheelchair or with a cane.

Wright State was a 2-day trip and both days were very impressive.  On the first day, I had lunch with two deaf-blind quadriplegic students!  That’s pretty mind boggling to me.  On the second day, I learned we had a brother at Wright State, which was nice.  Regis, a chemistry professor from Illinois, was even close to my age, so I might know one more person at this year’s district conclave.  Then we headed back to campus where we saw some of the research being done in the area of accessibility.

One grad student showed us 3D audio in the form of a demo.  It was beyond awesome and beyond his ideas for helping the blind, I could see the technology being sold to Disney parks or Hollywood and easily bringing in millions upon millions of dollars.  Seriously, it was that amazing.  Another grad student is working on making websites more accessible for blind users.  Not as flashy as 3D audio, but probably more important.  We also went to a lab where we played with Brainfingers and learned to control objects on a computer screen using just facial muscles.  That’s tech those deaf-blind quadriplegics could possibly benefit from!

We wrapped up in Indy with a dinner meeting.  Consulting with a local electrical engineer, we hope to get one of our prototypes to market within the next year or so.  (Actually we have 2 prototypes we hope to have released in 2011.)  The local EE has a blind son, so it’s a neat little connection.

I’ve been doing lots of traveling and training and have even more to come!  I already have trips to Denver and Austin on the calendar in the short term, so I could be in your city helping make science accessible soon.  And if not in your city, I might be in your airport.

I don’t want to make everyone a science major or a scientist, but I want everyone to have the opportunity to choose for themselves.

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2 Responses

  1. How do you communicate with a deaf blind quadriplegic?

  2. It’s quite impressive, actually. To speak, the interpreter reads their lips/words (or attempts at words–some of them you can understand). To be spoken to, the interpreter signs into their hand or on their chest.

    I think these particular two students had limited vision because a few times the interpreter put their mouth very close to the student’s face and mouth words.

    Great question!

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