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The New Technology Center at Lighthouse Guild is Open for Everybody

Originally posted on Blind Abilities

Podcast Summary:

Lighthouse Guild President and CEO, Dr. Calvin Roberts, and Chief Operating Officer, Paul Misiti, joins Jeff Thompson in the Blind Abilities Studio to share the great news about the new Technology Center at Lighthouse Guild. With the launch just behind them, Dr. Roberts and Paul explain why the Technology Center is so important to not only students and clients, but to developers as well.

The Technology Center is for everybody, to learn, to assess, to help fit the right assistive technology to a need and to better understand how an assistive technology works for and may not work for the needs of the Blind, Visually Impaired and DeafBlind community.

From the latest assistive technology for education, the home and to the tools that enhance one’s everyday life, Lighthouse Guild’s Technology Center is built for the future and for everybody.

You can learn more about Lighthouse Guild and the Technology Center on the web at www.LighthouseGuild.org.  

Transcript

Roberts:  What we have an opportunity to do here is to do something bigger than just our catchment area.  What we want to do is be the leaders is assistive technology.

Misiti:  When we’re making that selection along with the client, it’s in the context of everything that’s available.  Not just what one particular reseller has to offer.

Introducing the new technology center at Lighthouse Guild.

Roberts:  And then one other part of this that’s important to us is that we feel that there’s opportunities for people who are visually impaired to be trainers, and Paul and I have really made it a priority to hire as employees people who are visually impaired.

People can find out more about Lighthouse Guild on the website at LighthouseGuild.org.

Roberts:  Yes.  We have a new website.  There’s a lot of information on technology and we’re going to be really building that out.

Now, please welcome Dr. Calvin Roberts and Paul Misiti.  We hope you enjoy.

Thompson:  Welcome to Blind Abilities.  I’m Jeff Thompson and in the studio today we have, from Lighthouse Guild, President and CEO Dr. Calvin Roberts, and Chief Operating Officer Paul Misiti.  And they’re going to be talking about the new technology center and what it means for people who have visual impairments.

Does it still have that new tech center smell?

Misiti:  Yeah, I guess so.  We’ve been using now for almost four months, but because of COVID we postponed the official grand opening till last week.  It’s a really nice event.  Well attended.  It was worth the wait.

Thompson:  Was it easy to blend into your curriculum?

Misiti:  Yeah.  We were already using technology here, so this just gives us a better space to do it.  We can do more of it.  We have some facilities like the smart home that we didn’t have before.  But we now have everything organized in one area.

Thompson:  You’re listening to the voice of Paul Misiti who joined the Lighthouse Guild in 2020 as Chief Operating Officer.  Paul brings 28 years of progressive leadership experience in iHealth including finance, operations, project management and business development.

Misiti:  I base a lot it on what the occupational therapists have to say, and we have wonderful occupational therapists here.  And one in particular who’s the lead occupational therapist has just been overwhelmingly positive about the experience now.  She’s bringing clients in and they’re able to try multiple devices and she’s able to work with them conveniently in this space and she’s giving me now multiple examples where somebody came in thinking they wanted one particular technology, and through her work and their evaluation decided something very different that was more appropriate for their needs, and in many cases less complicated and less costly, which is always a factor.

Thompson:  Yeah, that’s always been a big factor.  I belong to a couple foundations and people want a gift.  They went from a four times magnifier and they think they need a four thousand dollar piece of equipment to bridge that gap.  Sometimes they do, but when you’re spending $3-$4,000 you really want to make sure that that tool’s going to be the tool for that person.

Misiti:  Exactly.  Our philosophy is, I keep saying, we’re indifferent to what that solution is, the technology solution, as long as it meets the clients’ needs.  One of the examples she just gave me was somebody came in thinking they wanted a text-to-speech wearable device.  A $3500-$4000 kind of a device.  And with her work she went through his needs and tried a few different devices.  They ended up deciding a free phone app was really what he needed because he had minimal reading needs and he wanted to be able to identify currency.  And for him the free phone device worked fine.

Maybe down the road something will change and he’ll want to come back and look at different technologies but for now that was sufficient.

Thompson:  Exactly.  A lot of people don’t know exactly what’s best for them and sometimes when they have someone paying the bill for them they just want it.  They just get it and it may not pan out for them.  I know there’s a lot of people with lots of stuff collecting dust at their house that they thought was useful.  But with you guys doing the assessment there you can help the client more directly.

Well, we just wrapped it up, Dr. Roberts.

Roberts:  If I can just add on to Paul had to say…

You’re listening to the voice of President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild Dr. Calvin Roberts.  A clinical professor of ophthalmology at Weill-Cornell Medical College, he was formerly senior vice president and chief medical officer Eye Care, at Bausch Health Companies where he coordinated global development and research efforts across their vision care, pharmaceutical and surgical business units.  Dr. Calvin Roberts is also the host of the podcast “On Tech and Vision.”

Roberts:  What we have an opportunity to do here is to do something bigger than just our catchment area.  What we want to do is be the leaders in assistive technology.  And that means not just for people who live in the New York area, but that means for people who live throughout the country or even internationally.  We want to use our position as a well-funded, multi-resourced agency to help people in areas that don’t have the resources that we have here.  We want to be able to help someone in other parts of the country determine what’s the best technology that they could use to achieve their goals, how to access it, how they get the proper training, what can be done virtually versus in person.  And then, put all that together so that we can help more people.

The beauty of the position we’re in here is that we’re indifferent, as Paul said, to what the technology is.  We’re also indifferent to where the person lives.  Give us the opportunity to help people.  Paul can explain to you all the programs we have in development here to try and make technology accessible to people who aren’t able to actually come physically to see our technology center.  Our technology center is a physical place, but it’s also a virtual space.

Misiti:  That is so true.  So, we have an active program right now in research that, to Dr. Roberts’ point, will not only benefit those people that come to our building here in New York, but people everywhere.  What we’re doing – we were approached by developers who wanted to partner with us.  I would always say the first thing we need to do is try out the technology for ourselves to make sure we’re comfortable with it.

And there were a couple of instances where, frankly, we were not comfortable with it at all.  We thought, well, we really owe it to our clients to understand technology before we start recommending it.  It just gave us pause for a couple of these instances.  We have an active research program now where we’re evaluating using evidence-based, independent evaluations of technology.  And we’re going to basically take a Consumer Reports kind of approach to it and rate these technologies based on different tasks and make that information available to everyone.  Publish it so that others can see it as well and benefit from it.

To Cal’s point, if organizations don’t have the resources to do the work for themselves, they can benefit from our work.

Another part of that program is to develop an algorithm that would suggest a specific technology.  We’re using obviously inputs from the client themselves and what their needs are and what their visual condition is.  What their goals are – because that’s very important to us.  Along with all these inputs on the technologies that we’ve evaluated, and ultimately we’re developing an algorithm that would then, you put all this in, the output is a recommendation for that individual on a specific kind of technology.

Again, it would benefit us, but it could benefit it others everywhere.

Roberts:  And the other thing has to do with training.  The point you made, Jeff, is that the last thing we want to do is be providing technology to people and having it sit in the drawer.  We wanted to help people with technology that’s going to just become integral to their way of life.  And the key to that is just training, training, training, training, training and training.  And so, some of that training has to be done in person, but I think what we’re finding more and more is that less and less has to be in person.  And then we can have training modules for various technologies on our website and then be able to refer people there.  And then people can take lessons at their own time for home and then be able to learn more and more about how to use these technologies so that it just becomes part and parcel of their daily life.

Thompson:  It also seems like a perfect environment for developers to beta test as they’re trying to develop something, so they don’t develop something that just sits on the shelves themselves.

Misiti:  You’re exactly right.  It’s exactly what we’re trying to do, and again, it’s a way we can help our own clients, but we can help people everywhere.  Some of these companies, as you know, are smaller, some of them are very big.  In any way we can help them either perfect the technology that’s already there or perfect a technology that’s in development, it’s going to be good for everyone.  That’s exactly what we’re doing.

We’re already working with several companies, big and small, to do exactly that.  The more we get our word out there, we want these developers to know that we’re open for that kind of business.  Every discussion I have with developers I always bring up our fantastic research group, and the fact that they’re able to collect data in a formal setting that many of these developers are just unable to do themselves.  So, we offer that service as well.

Roberts:  What we’re trying to do here is build a community.  and that’s a community of entrepreneurs, developers, engineers, scientists, physicians.  But critically, users, so that everybody is working together to advance assistive technology.

Thompson:  I can’t stress how important that is as someone who has experienced getting technology that I don’t use any more.  Not that I outgrew it, but maybe I did not need it.  At one point I didn’t need a [9:56] but I got one because that’s what I thought I needed.

There’s so many other things, such a CCTVs – the magnitude that you can get up to $4,000 for them.  Or is it something as little as someone uses it, like the free app like you mentioned, Paul.  The tools are out there or they’re being developed, but knowing, just like when someone buys a car, they test drive it.  They kick it around a little bit.  Your place right now gives them the opportunity to experience it so that they can make a more educated decision on which tool fits them.

Misiti:  Absolutely. And historically, someone would come across one of these technologies, and they contact the developer or reseller, they’d get a demonstration, possibly. And I would say most certainly, it’s some kind of a sales pitch. The beauty about what we’re doing here is not only our indifference to the solution, but the fact that we’re carrying a broad spectrum of technologies, not just what one company has or one reseller has, but we’re trying to get everything that’s meaningful to people who are visually impaired. 

So, when we’re making that selection along with the client, it’s in the context of everything that’s available, not just what one particular reseller has to offer.

Thompson:  What inspired you to expand into the technology center? You grew it from within. What inspired that?

Roberts:  Paul and I came from the for-profit world of eye care. And in our years at Bausch and Lomb, we saw so many great technologies that could really help people and the business model often didn’t work. Not every great idea, actually, every guy is commercialized. And that used to bother me so much about the fact that there was great opportunities out there that weren’t coming to market. And so, when we came here to Lighthouse Guild, it was with the support of our board. And we said to them, if there’s great technology out there that could really help people to attain their goals. Will you help us? Will you allow us to work to get this developed? And they said, yes. And I think that was the big motivating factor here was just great support of our board to make technology a priority for Lighthouse Guild.

Thompson: I know technology for people to go out and get jobs, get into workplace education, all that. But there’s other stuff that enhances people’s lives. And you guys built a smart home for people to experience. Can you tell me about that?

Misiti: Sure. Early on in our discussions, we were talking to various technology companies about what we should include in our environment.  We had some pretty good ideas. But among those discussions, the idea of a smart home came up a few times. So we decided, you know, this is a perfect opportunity for us to build, we built a space that simulates in New York City apartment, and the idea is that it’s somewhat of a laboratory. 

So we have appliances in there, we’re using Alexa as our platform.  We selected Alexa, because of its familiarity. Most people are familiar with it. But you could use any platform.  We actually worked with Amazon to pick out particular devices to use in the environment, including appliances with a stove and refrigerator, a washer and dryer, microwave and dishwasher, to smaller devices like a television, and thermostats and lights and those kinds of things. Part of it is for us to learn. But really, the bigger reason for doing it is to show clients the possibilities of what they can do in their own homes, and then help them do that.

We’ve installed all this equipment we’ve been bringing people through, there’s a lot more a lot more I think we can do in this environment, including giving feedback to the developers, which is one of the things that we’ve been doing.  We’re finding much like other assistive technologies, some of these technologies are not perfect yet. I was a little naive thinking that because these are big companies involved in this, that that you’re they’re going to be plug and play, right?  The Amazons of the world and large companies like LG, Samsung, very large companies.  You would think you turn these things on, you know, you make the connection to Alexa, and they’re going to work perfectly, it turns out, they don’t, it also turns out that many of the developers are eager to get the feedback about where the problems are. So I think it’s both a laboratory and a way for us to show people how they can do this in their own homes.

Roberts: And for some people, this idea of a smart home is intimidating, and coming to our center allows them to do it, just to try it and just see that, oh my gosh, this isn’t so hard. I just asked Alexa to turn on the microwave or preheat the stove. And it happens and now that gets people more excited and say, Gee, I could do this. We can help them to make this happen in their own homes.

Misiti: Another thing I’ve noticed is that many devices, as I guess designs progress they’re becoming more and more streamlined. So many devices have just flat screens, glass screens that you know, if you’re visually impaired is very difficult to orient yourselves on and some of them have refreshable screens so you can’t even use bumps or something to orient yourself.  So, it’s becoming more and more critical as designs change and things go from analog to these kinds of refreshable screens that somebody who’s visually impaired has the ability to use voice commands to control them.

A thermostat’s a good example or even a microwave where it’s just a flat screen with really no tactile sense to it at all. But with your voice, you can, you can have as much control as if you were sighted, you’re able to see the screen.

Thompson:  I really like what you said about it shows people, students, the possibilities that they can have. You’re not saying this is exactly what you have, but it gives them it opens up their mind to the possibilities that they can, when you’re talking about Amazon devices, I think Amazon comes in at the more affordable type of products because they sell so many of them that someone can get a smart device and have him put it into their house and explore with it. None of us know all about this stuff at first, but at least they’re gonna get a trial period with the stuff to see what the possibilities are. 

Now I read you have, the Lighthouse Guild has over 5000 people coming through a year, that’s huge.

Roberts:  That is and that’s because we are a health-based model, which means that not only do we provide vision related services, but we provide health related services, because as you know, so many of the medical conditions cause vision impairment.   Obviously, diabetes is number one there, and that all the studies show that the better controlled is your diabetes, the more likely you are to retain your vision. And obviously, vice versa, if your diabetes is not well controlled, the odds are that your vision is going to suffer. And so therefore, we want to help people with the medical side of their health, as well as just the vision side and recognizing that as hard as it is for someone to give themselves an injection of insulin every day, try doing it when you can’t see. 

And so there are specific talents and training that’s required for the medical management of people who are visually impaired. And so that we want to be the leader there, also, in terms of the endocrinology, the cardiology, of course, podiatry is a big deal with diabetics, and so to be able to help people so that they can maintain their ability to walk and keep their feet strong. That’s a very important need for people with diabetes. And we want to be able to do that also. 

And so the breadth of services that we provide, not just on the vision side, but on the health side as well.

Thompson: Yeah, sometimes people think of Assistive Technology Trainer specialists and all that that’s all there is, but you host occupational therapists, too, so they can explore this technology center to find which adaptations work best for their clients as well.

Roberts: Yeah, one of the other things that’s important to us is the multi-generational aspect of what we’re trying to do. So many of the people that we care for who are visually impaired are older. And we want to get young people involved in helping them and so that we have some new programs that we’re working on to get younger people involved in training older people on technology. As we all know, younger people grew up with technology. They’re much more comfortable with it than older people are. So let them use their knowledge and their facility to help other people to learn technology. So that’s a big part, too.

Thompson: So the Lighthouse Guild is for children all the way to seniors.  Ir seems like you’ve covered quite a vast array, you’re not just locked into, you know, transition age students. That’s not it.  There’s more to it than 

Misiti:  No, you’re right. It’s you’re right, all the way from children all the way to certainly seniors.

Roberts: And then one other part of this that’s very important to us is that we feel that there’s opportunities for people who are visually impaired to be trainers and Paul and I have really made a priority to hire as employees, people who are visually impaired and to give them an opportunity to work in the Technology Center.

Thompson:  What a perfect opportunity to have all the equipment there and find out. I taught before and some students that come through all of sudden you see that student that helps the next student to build on that.  Some people just have that natural teaching instinct, too, and for you to see that people who are visually impaired as teachers, instructors who, who may better know about the technology and what it takes to use and to teach and for people to learn the technology right within.

Misiti:  We see that not only with our own employees who are visually impaired, but some of the people who have benefited from our services have come back.  I can think one or two in particular who just come back and really provide a valuable resource by training people who are visually impaired.  They themselves are visually impaired, they understand technology, and they come back and do it from their perspective, which in some respects is more valuable than any other kind of a message that you can get.

Roberts: As part of this community that we’re building the Technology Center, it’s a place you can hang out. And so, a lot of the people that we serve, just hang out and they’re there to just help other people learn as well.

Thompson:  Community is huge. It is because I could teach or someone can teach something all day long, but when a fellow student is doing something and the other one leans over and says, what you doin’?  They can do that? Why can’t I do that? So, it really leads to other people wanting to do more as they’re seeing others or peers doing it themselves.

Misiti: You’re right. And we are seeing that. That’s been one of the really nice things is we’ve opened up this technology center to see that coming to light, and we expect there to be more and more of that as we build and grow this.

Thompson:  So, you made it out to [20:24] Paul and gave a presentation. 

Misiti: Yeah, we’re trying to make sure that we’re at these kinds of meetings, again, not only to see the technologies for ourselves, but to let people know who we are and the kind of work we’re doing here and encourage them to work with us.

Roberts: And let people know how we can help them. That’s the beauty of it, that we’re all working together, that we can help people while at the same time as helping the patients that we serve.

Thompson:  And people can find out more about Lighthouse Guild on the website at Lighthouseguild.org.

Roberts: Thank you. Yes, we have a new website. There’s lots of information on technology. And we’re going to be really building that out as the technology

grows. 

Thompson: Yeah, that website, I can get lost in there. I mean, not lost, like I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s like there’s so much information, like I want to know about centers, I went to the center, then I went to the news releases, all sorts of stuff, all good information. 

Roberts: And the other thing, a great source of information is our podcasts series. We have this podcast series, where we talk about big ideas in new technology and the promise that these big ideas may have for the future. And so, I really encourage people to go there. Our podcast is called On Tech and Vision with Dr. Cal Roberts and it’s available wherever you get your podcasts.

Thompson: That’s a great podcast, I just saw you do something on that when they deciphered the German code message machine.

Roberts:  Well, yeah, thank you. That’s our most recent episode.

Thompson: Dr. Cal, Paul, thank you so much for coming on The Blind Abilities and sharing all the news about the new technology center at the Lighthouse Guild. And thank you both and your entire Lighthouse Guild Team for all that you’re doing for the blindness community. 

Misiti:  Thank you, Jeff. 

Roberts: Thank you. 

Thompson: Always a great time talking to Dr. Calvin Roberts and Paul Misiti. And once again, be sure to check out LighthouseGuild.org. There’s something for everybody. 

And for more podcasts with the blindness perspective, check us out on the web@www.blindabilities.com on Twitter @blindabilities and download the free Blind Abilities app on the App Store and Google Play Store. That’s two words, Blind Abilities. 

And if you want to leave some feedback, give us some suggestions, give us a call at 612-367-6093. We’d love to hear from you. A big shout out to Chi Chao for his beautiful music and follow Chichao on Twitter @LChiChao. And from all of us here at Blind Abilities through these challenging times, stay well, stay informed, and stay strong. I want to thank you for listening. And until next time, bye bye.

When we share what we see through each other’s eyes, we can then begin to the gap between expectation and the reality of blind ability realities.

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