Vision-loss Nonprofit Eyes New Tech Center as Hub for Patients and Developers

March 11, 2022

By Crain’s New York

Lighthouse Guild, a nonprofit that provides services to people who are visually impaired, has opened its Technology Center, a hub designed to bring patients and technology developers together.

The 11,000-square-foot space, which opened Tuesday, occupies half of the third floor of an Upper West Side building where the nonprofit is headquartered. The Technology Center had been planned for 3,400 square feet and an August launch, but after assessing demand for more space and realizing ways to expand the center without affecting the budget, the organization expanded the project.

“We had the support from our board and donors and the potential to make this the world’s premier center for assistive technology, so we decided to go for it,” said Dr. Calvin Roberts, Lighthouse Guild’s president and CEO.

The organization moved its vocational rehabilitation and physical therapy rooms to the fourth floor of the building and repurposed existing classroom space for the Technology Center. That reduced construction costs and helped keep the project closer to its more than $1 million budget, which was established for the original space, Roberts said.

To help defray construction and future operational costs, the center has an optical boutique. Surpluses from eyeglasses sales will go toward the center.

“The idea of proceeds going toward the center resonates with people,” Roberts said. “Instead of money going to large corporations, helping to improve the lives of people with vision loss feels like a more worthy cause.”

The center’s experts will assess individuals with how assistive devices might be compatible for them. These include wearable devices, computers, closed-circuit television systems and other assistive technology. Some devices are available for purchase on-site. The space features home settings such as a kitchen, office and living area, augmented by smart home technology.

Beyond benefiting people with vision loss, the center provides space for developers to test their products.

“We want developers to come in, bring their new product that needs beta testing and let our large community try them out,” Roberts said, adding Lighthouse Guild gets about 5,000 visits a year. “This is a group that’s eager to participate.”

The organization will put out consumer reports on the latest assistive technologies, to be made available on its website, and will look to hold conferences to share knowledge, Roberts said.

“This center is critical right now because the latest technologies . . . are primed to help people who are visually impaired, but [they] haven’t been repurposed for this community,” he said. “We don’t always have to be designing technology from scratch, and we can help existing technology do good here.”

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