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TouchPad Pro | Assistive Technology Reimagined

Image is described in the body of the post.

An Art Teacher for the Blind and Low-Vision Just Wants To Change… Everything.

Originally published March 1, 2020 in CAPTIVATING! Magazine

A device in the works will bring to life the much sought-after tactile display offering both a full-page of Braille and touchable multi-level, full-color illustrations. The TouchPad Pro (TouchPadPro.org) will change the entire landscape of assistive technology for the blind and low-vision community. It may take time and a great deal of funding for research and development, but according to Daniel Lubiner and Boston Engineering, it is now a matter of when not if. 

The TouchPad Pro will offer something that only six months ago seemed inconceivable. 

Ten Goals of the TouchPad Pro

Image is described in the body of the article.
Image With Specs
  1. Provide the world’s largest visual and tactile display (with over 2400 moving pins!)
  2. Be portable
  3. Offer a user-friendly and accessible interface, recreating the recognizable platform of Apple or Android.
  4. To be as affordable as possible with increasing affordability over time.
  5. Increase the ability to navigate through 3D maps displaying labeled buildings and streets; a map in motion will show location and movement when linked to GPS
  6. Allow its users to view/feel the contours, and zoom in on full-color illustrations, photographs, and graphs.
  7. Provide a specialized stylus to instantly create, touch, and save tactile drawings.
  8. Have a built-in port for the stylus for easy charging and storage.
  9. Feature a front-facing and a rear-facing 3D camera with a myriad of possibilities, including photographs and selfies that “rise from the surface.”
  10. Help lower the unacceptable unemployment numbers of roughly 75% by providing more accessibility to a world increasingly dependant on technology. 

Daniel Lubiner, inventor of the TouchPad Pro, is an Art Teacher for students ages five through 21 who are blind or have low vision. He is also a father, an artist, and a drama enthusiast. For over ten years, Daniel has taught at the New York Institute for Special Education in the Bronx. At nearly 190 years of service, NYISE (nyise.org) is one of the oldest schools for the blind in the United States. On over 17 acres of pristinely maintained grounds, NYISE is home to three dormitories, three classroom buildings, a vast library, an indoor pool, a bowling alley, an air-conditioned gym, an accessible playground, and a modern auditorium. 

Accessibility description of the Video:  

The video is a fast-moving visual tour of the TouchPad Pro, its features and some of the technology currently available to demonstrate feasibility. The video was created by working closely with a talented 3-D artist. Although the video is geared to people with vision or with some vision, everything in the video regarding the TouchPad Pro is also described on this website. The video also demonstrates current advances in this area in The Graphiti, by APH and Orbit described at this link, http://www.orbitresearch.com/product/tactile-products/graphiti/  and a haptic display developed be EPFL described here: https://lmts.epfl.ch/cms/site/lmts/lang/en/haptics_EM.   

The fact that an art teacher conceived the TouchPad Pro would explain its focus on the making and the experiencing of art. While teaching art to students with many different levels of sight loss, Daniel says that he discovered something: there is little in the field of assistive technology other than electronic magnifiers to meet the needs of people with limited vision. With this in mind, he began to make sketches. The goal was to create a tactile experience that would allow those with low vision to experience drawing in a multi-sensory way. From there, the ideas kept expanding. 

Daniel explains, “My students always like to touch what they are looking at, no matter where they fall on the spectrum of being ‘legally blind.’ The TouchPad Pro was conceived to benefit this entire spectrum, from those who are blind to those who can see relatively well with corrective lenses. For example, when drawing, the user can use an electronically-connected stylus in one hand and simultaneously feel the lines and shapes appear with the other.”

This is an exciting time for the newly formed TouchPad Pro Assistive Technology LLC. A renowned company, Boston Engineering (boston-engineering.com), is now dedicated to the success of the project. This is an engineering company that has designed medical devices and underwater drones; it is currently working on military exoskeletons for the Department of Defense. Boston Engineering has demonstrated its commitment to the project through the many hours it has invested in research, the study of available technology, and meetings with engineering and programming specialists.

The TouchPad Pro has sparked the interest of LVStek.com and its Low Vision Shop, a cutting-edge company in the area of assistive technology for the blind and low vision community. “The only shop of its kind in the world, we have created a place where people can explore life-changing vision aids, curated by a team of specialists with 45 years of experience in the low vision field.”

Daniel sums up his thoughts: “Working with these diverse and wonderful students has given me pause to reconsider all that I think I know about art, and what many of us take for granted. Helping my students create a tactile version of Starry Night, for example, inspired me to create the TouchPad Pro. The way they overcome obstacles in everyday life motivated me to expand on the invention. It is my hope someday to provide a TouchPad Pro to each of my students and someday to those who can’t afford such devices.” 

Connecting With Daniel:

Biography:

Daniel & Trixie photo is described in the body of the post.
Daniel & Trixie

Daniel Lubiner lives in Westchester, NY. with his wife, Moira, a high school English Teacher, and step-daughter, Ella, a Community Outreach Coordinator at a non-profit. He has two sons. Max who is 21 has helped assist his father greatly with TPPAT LLC and is training to be a pilot. Harry, 18, is a rock-n-roll guitarist, artist, and honor roll student at SUNY New Paltz. Daniel has been into the arts since he was a child. Drama, music, and art have always played a big part in his life. He began teaching special education 23 years ago. He hopes to touch many people with the gifts God has given him and remain a good father and husband.

Image Descriptions:

  • The header image of the B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. The TouchPad Pro photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle on the lower left corner of the photo has yellow text that says “TouchPad Pro.” There is 3-lines of teal text on the photo that reads “Assistive Technology Reimagined.” The tablet resembles a large iPad turned on its side horizontally. The majority of the surface is made up of over 2000 pins that raise and lower to different heights to form tactile images, multiple lines of braille, or a touch-sensitive Braille keyboard. It is called a tactile and visual display because the pins contain characteristics that make them light up in various colors. Pictured drawing a bright blue line on the display is an electronically connected stylus, resembling a fat pen. Buttons on the stylus allow it to change instantly from drawing to erasing and may have other functions like shape-making.  Above the display is a full line of refreshable braille cells like that of a BrailleNote. To either side of the line of braille cells are stereo speakers. Above the tactile display and line of braille, at 12 o’clock, is a front-facing multi-Lens 3D camera and microphone. At 6 o’clock, below the display is a home button and power button. In the left-hand corner is a scrolling and selecting device. To the left side of the display are nine buttons with refreshable Braille indicators that can serve different functions.
  • Image with specs: Along the left edge of the TouchPad Pro are 2 USB ports, a mini-USB port, and a headphone jack. On the top edge is a stylus storage place, and a power Jack. On the right edge, there are three rocking buttons, including a brightness adjustment, a contrast adjustment, a saturation adjustment so people with visual impairments can adjust the screen to best suit their needs. Centered on the back of the device are an LED Flash, a front-facing multi-lens 3D camera, and a microphone. The TouchPad Pro will be able to take stills or moving images and change them into tactile images on the screen. Please feel free to contact us with questions or suggestions! dlubiner@touchpadpro.org
  • Biography Photo: Pictured here is a photograph of Daniel smiling with a small colorful parrot named Trixie on his shoulder. They are a local park with many people around.
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Pushing Boundaries…

Supporting Independence of Visually Impaired People

Updated February 24, 2020. Originally published on October 23, 2018

“I asked him what he envisioned for his future…“I don’t know. I think I will always be with somebody”, he said.”

~Kassy Maloney

“I… I just don’t like to talk about it”, my student told me. It was our first Orientation and Mobility (O&M) class together. He was about 15 years old with the degenerative eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

For people with RP, there is a significant chance that they will eventually lose most of their vision. Vision is worse at night, often resulting in night blindness before losing their peripheral fields.

As we sat facing one another in the principal’s conference room, I asked him what he envisioned for his future. His once jolly smile turned into a saddened face. He looked down and suddenly began avoiding eye contact.

“I don’t know, I think I will always be with somebody”, he said. Describing what he thought his night-time travel needs might look like in 10 years.

“Even as an adult?”, I probed.

Here I was, a stranger without a visual impairment, trying desperately to casually bring up the forbidden “C” word; CANE.

Featured Image Description is in the body of the post

There have been many of these instances in my career. I’m a person who doesn’t have a visual impairment, and yet I am pushing boundaries. Their boundaries. The boundaries of what they think they can do; the boundaries of what their family members think they can do. Sometimes I even push the boundaries of the perceptions of what their community members think they can do.

It’s my job to push the boundaries of my students’ independence level and get them out of their comfort zone. That does not come without its own fair share of push-back.

Stradling the Fence of Independence & Pushing Boundaries

Supporting the independence of people with visual impairments when you are not blind yourself is a delicate balance. A balance between knowing when to push those boundaries, and knowing when to sit quietly. When we are new to our students we are still outsiders who have not yet earned their trust.

We know that even though we have no pity for anyone, our sympathy is not empathy. We don’t actually know what it is like to live with a visual impairment every single moment of the day.

Kassy Maloney

President Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Reminders For O&M Instructors

When we aren’t blind ourselves, we must remember a few things when supporting the independence of people with visual impairments:

  • We must remember everybody goes through cycles where they’re dealing with the stages of grief. Even those who have been blind since birth. 
    • We also must remember the student and their loved ones may be on different parts of this cycle at any given time.
  • We must remember that building relationships and trust can take a long time.
    • When we only see a student once a month, this can take a lot of persistence to overcome. We are outsiders coming into their inner circle. Sometimes the pushback we receive is simply because we haven’t yet proven our worthiness.
  • Most of all, we must remember while we’re both cheerleaders and coaches to our students’ independence, we’re NOT the quarterbacks. We cannot do the work for them.
    • We can teach them the skills. We can coach them to make that big play. We can cheer them on from the sidelines. We can even get their water-filled after the game.

BUT, we cannot make the moves for them. Ultimately, this is THEIR independence; not ours.

Reminders For Students & Clients

To our students and clients reading this, there are things for you to remember, too:

  • Remember that we care.
    • Each and every O&M Specialist in this field care about each and every one of you. We may be pushy. We may be bold in our attempts. And we may step on your toes. 

But overall, it is out of a deep sense of caring for you and your independence.

For most of us, the privilege of sight is actually a burden in our careers. We know that even though we have no pity for anyone, our sympathy is not empathy. We don’t actually know what it is like to live with a visual impairment every single moment of the day.

It is our joy to help support the independence of people with visual impairments. And it’s our passion to see every person with a visual impairment live their most independent, successful, and fulfilled lives.

I hope this gives some insight into how we try to support the independence of people with visual impairments. Leave a comment and share your story.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured Image: The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. Kassy’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In the photo, Kassy is smiling while sitting in a chair with her left arm casually propped against the chair’s back. She is wearing a black cami with a rose-colored skirt and gold medallion around her neck.  “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Kassy’s name is in white text. There is a 4-line of black text on the image that reads “creating an inclusive society that values all of our abilities”
  • Kassy during an O&M session is walking behind her student who is learning to navigate with the white cane. Both brunettes with shoulder-length hair are casually dressed in jeans and flats. Kassy is wearing a black tank top and her student is wearing a green top. Some green foliage and city buildings can be seen in the background. It looks like they just came down a set of cement stairs.

Connecting With Kassy:

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Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression

Editor’s Note:

The following article, originally published on  is a work of fiction and is being republished from our Cane EnAbled series. Since we are reintroducing Abby to our audience we will share recycled as well as new content about her. We hope you enjoy!!

Going forward, 4 of our main series (Men In Motion, Women On The Move, B3 Magazine (formerly Blind Beauty), and Cane EnAbled) will be published monthly on Mondays). For example, Men In Motion will be published on the 1st Monday of each month, Women On The Move the 2nd Monday, B3 Magazine the 3rd Monday, and finally Cane EnAbled will be published on the 4th Monday. The balance of our content will be a mix of reviews, Q&As, and more.

Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression

I’ve always loved fashion and style. So when it came to my white cane I thought why not use it beyond its intended role? Why can’t it help express my inner sense of being, much like my hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and jewelry?

~Abby
Abby & Gold Cane
Abby & Teal Dress

Hi Everyone, Abby here! It’s been a while since I’ve last spoken with you. The boss lady (Steph) has me going hither and yon all while working behind the scenes. Today though, I want to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart―embracing disability through self-expression.

During my business trip to the UK, I met up with my friend Vicky (Victoria Claire) to accompany her to Dublin. As an Ambassador for Retina UK, Vicky serves to help people living with sight loss understand life is not over. She shares her message of hope through the 3 A’s―acceptance, adaptability, and accessibility.

Depending on the severity, acquiring a disability at any time during our lives can be a soul-crushing experience. There are a plethora of articles about the fear of blindness and how people feel it would end their life. It’s no wonder when we find ourselves in this very situation we balk and some of us give up. Granted, working through sight loss is a deeply personal ordeal and getting through it can be an ongoing process.

When we lose our eyesight it can feel like a small part of us is dying. Our whole world shifts and like a baby learning how to walk and talk, we have to learn to adapt. Sustaining a part of ourselves that’s familiar yet tweaked to our new life circumstance becomes a lifesaver.

Customized Colored Canes At Home & Across The Pond

For me, I’ve always loved fashion and style. So when it came to my white cane I thought why not use it beyond its intended role? Why can’t it help express my inner sense of being, much like my hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and jewelry?

While there is some debate on using customized or more specifically colored canes, my canes are an extension of me. I believe what makes blind and visually impaired people stand apart from other cane users is our technique. Our canes are used to help us navigate by probing to let us know if there is an obstacle in our path. 

So it was fabulous meeting up with Vicky, both of us with canes in hand (hers black and mine gold). Both of us noticed a significant difference in how we were received by those around in our respective countries and Dublin. 

Here in the U.S., with the explosion of mobile devices, it seems like people aren’t really attentive to their surroundings in general. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Research Note “2016 pedestrian fatality count (5,987) is the highest number since 1990.”

In the UK when we were making our way through the airport people seemed to be oblivious to us using our canes. However, when we arrived at the Dublin airport the attitude was very different. It was immediately recognized that our mobility canes were for the blind.

Freedom To Express Ourselves

The hotel we stayed at was very lovely and had good lighting in the room, along with contrasting colors in the bathroom. We visited the Jameson Distillery which was really great and we also spent a lot of time walking. The River Liffey was well paved with decking and a nice and flat walk area for us.

When we went to the NewsTalk Radio Station Studio, they couldn’t have done enough for us. The conference, held in a large and well-lit conference room was very organized. Overall we had a great time in Dublin and I for one cannot wait to return one day soon. Vicky said it best:

The world can become a much more accessible place, somewhere we are all free to express ourselves and we are not stuck in a limiting space.

While I cannot speak for Vicky, I believe she would agree with me that those who choose to use the standard white cane rock as do we!

Image Descriptions:

  • Abby is sitting cross-legged in her PJs (gray bottoms & white top with a gray collar). Her laptop on her laps has a teal Abby logo on the cover. Atop her signature explosive hairstyle, she is wearing a headset with a microphone. Her white cane is propped up next to her.
  • Abby & Teal Dress: Abby is holding up a teal dress on a hanger in her right hand. She is wearing a stylish black off the shoulder dress, black heels with ankle straps and a white hat with a black band with a loose end waving. In her left hand is her white cane.


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Becoming a Crusader for Our Children

Featured image description is in the body of the post.

Nothing brings out the crusader in us like becoming a parent, especially when we have a child with special needs. Gracie Benedith-Cane is a remarkable mother and crusader for her visually impaired son. A few months ago I wrote the following introduction to “3 Blind Mice Are Stylish Mice With A Purpose,” an article featuring Gracies work.

Gracie and Wani image description is in the body of the post.
Gracie and Wani

One of the most pervasive and persistent misconceptions about blindness is the theory that we cannot appreciate beauty. What many people don’t understand about blindness is that it is not a matter of seeing vs not seeing. Blindness is a vast spectrum where the majority of people who are blind have some residual sight.

I’ve been following Gracie and her son Wani on Instagram for quite some time and what immediately caught my attention was her charming logo. The three blind mice who also happen to be the characters in Gracie’s children’s book “What’s Cool About Braille Code School?” are very stylish looking images. And of course, they look quite cool with their white canes. The book was “written to inspire, uplift and give confidence to children who are visually impaired as well as inform sighted children about braille and special needs awareness.”

If you’ve heard of Gracie, you may have seen her in the media as her work has been getting some national recognition. She’s been on local news, NBC’s Today Show, and Passage to Profit Radio Show, to name a few.

Getting To Know Gracie

As I said in my intro, though I’ve followed Gracie for quite a while, I’ve only recently spoken with her by phone. A request to feature her on Bold Blind Beauty ended up being a two-hour-long call. As a fellow parent and disability advocate, Gracie and I discovered we shared many commonalities. From the moment we greeted one another, we excitedly began talking about our work and exchanging ideas on how we might help one another.

Since Bold Blind Beauty’s Cane EnAbled series focuses in part, on parents of blind and visually impaired (B&VI children), Gracie agreed to answer some questions about her experience.

  1. Since the majority of the world is sighted many people are never exposed to or know of people who live with blindness/sight loss. Before your son was diagnosed what was your level of understanding about how blind people live their lives?
    • I did not have any understanding about the lives of blind or even visually impaired people… I only understood the experience with watching tv shows like Little House on the Prairie when the character Mary went blind. That was my first experience in seeing how someone reads Braille as well. 
  2. Gracie, you are an incredibly fierce and passionate mom whose love for her children is undeniable. It must have been heartbreaking when you learned of Wani’s diagnosis. Can you tell us what led to his diagnosis and how it made you feel? 
    • Well, when Wani was 2 months I saw that he had rapid movements in his eyes so I went to his pediatrician who then recommended me to go to an ophthalmologist. He examined Wani and told me Wani was not going to have 100% of his vision. At 11 months he had his 1st MRI and the findings were that Wani had Septo-Optic Nerve Dysplasia. I was DEVASTATED and the devastation lasted for almost 2 years! I felt lost, alone and confused as to what and why this all happened. 
  3. With Wani being your firstborn everything was new to you. After you received his diagnosis how did you manage his care? Were there service providers readily available to assist you to meet Wani’s needs and help him meet critical milestones?
    • His pediatrician, the wonderful Dr. Liza Natale gave me information about services and specialist for Wani. I got ALL the services meaning ophthalmologist, endocrinologist, and 5 therapists to come into my home 5 days a week to give him the therapy that he needed in his very young age. 
  4. From the moment we learn we are about to bring a baby into the world we have expectations of having a ‘perfectly’ healthy child. As a parent of multiple children with and without disabilities is there a difference in how you feel and/or interact with your children? 
    • There is no difference on how I feel or interact with them. I give them all that they need when they need it. Giving them hugs, guidance, attention and most importantly LOVE! With Wani, I have to do things slightly different for better understanding and safety as to what he does not see and my 2nd child, my daughter Niara understands fully and even assists her brother in so many ways. Their relationship is So Special to see. My youngest son, 2 yr. old Zaire was just diagnosed moderately autistic and I have services and therapist in my home again. My Life!!
  5. How did Wani’s sight loss influence you come up with the idea of your book “What’s Cool About Braille Code School?” 
    • I was at an office called Invent Help to see about a patent for my product and the man whom I went to see kept looking at my 3 blind mice logo and told me that I should do something with them. It created ideas on how to use them. I saw how sighted children reacted to Wani everywhere we went. Wani did not have sighted friends. So I decided to write the book to give sighted kids a better understanding as to what the life of a blind child is like; to create a conversation and interaction between them. 
  6. What advice would you give to new parents who’ve received a diagnosis that their baby has a disability? 
    • I would tell them that I can relate with their experience and that although they may feel whatever they are feeling they MUST be PROACTIVE! It is VITAL to be proactive, do the research on the diagnosis and seek all the services that their child needs.  MOST of all I would tell them they are special people to have had a special needs child SO it is also vital to PRAY for guidance, LOVE and LEARN your child. By doing all of this I would promise them that all will be fine and that their child will begin to show them that all will be fine!
  7. Would you like to share additional thoughts on blindness/sight loss or how we as a society can improve how we view disabilities in general? 
    • I would like to share that no one should assume that when they see someone with a white cane or a wheelchair they should automatically feel so sorry for the person or assume they are not ABLE. Give them a moment/chance to show you their capabilities!! Also, society is so far behind on giving the blind and VI more access to supermarkets, clothing and toy stores! Braille should be EVERYWHERE not only on bathrooms, exits, and elevators… they want to be able to shop and do all the things sighted people can do. 

Summary

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising a child with special needs and every family situation is different. However as a parent of a child with special needs, its an instinct to learn all you can about their diagnosis to help them learn to live a fulfilling and independent life. Like Gracie said in her comment, she was at first devastated to learn of Wanis sight impairment then after a period of time, she discovered his particular needs and how best to help him to achieve his goals.

Connecting With Gracie:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured Image: A photo of Wani and his two siblings. L to R Niara, two-year-old Zaire and Wani are standing outside holding hands. Wani is holding his white cane in his left hand.
  • Gracie is standing hugging Wani while they pose for the camera.
  • A gallery of three images of the blind mice: 1) the logo is an illustration of three blind mice each of whom is holding a white cane 2) cover of the book “What’s Cool About Braille Code School” contains the illustration of three blind mice who are standing in front of a school building in red and white coordinating school uniforms 3) the back of the book with a summary of the books content.
  • The second gallery of three photos: 1) Wani is standing with his white cane 2) a photo of sneakers with the right/left braille patches on the tongues 3) a clear package of the left/right patches.