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November 27, 2004

Tool helps blind boy, deaf parents communicate

From: Lansing State Journal, MI - Nov 27, 2004

Home makeover show aids family in Detroit area

Associated Press

OAK PARK - A 12-year-old blind and autistic boy is holding unassisted conversations with his deaf parents these days, thanks to a new piece of technology in their suburban Detroit home.

The BrailleNote is not the largest but may be the most valued addition to the Vardon family home as part of being featured on ABC-TV's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" on Nov. 7.

The device lets Lance Vardon type in Braille and converts his work into words that show up on his mother's computer screen. When she types, the words appear in Braille on Lance's BrailleNote.

It makes it easy for Judy Vardon to ask him simple but important questions such as, "What do you want to eat?" and "How was school?"

Communicating was much more difficult before the BrailleNote. Judy Vardon is not completely versed in Braille and, because he is blind, Lance had to have his parents' words spelled out in sign language in his hands.

"I'm still learning, but it's so exciting," Judy Vardon said. "I use it more every day, and I think it's wonderful."

ABC selected the family for the home makeover after Stefan Vardon, 14, wrote an essay about his family for extra credit at school earlier this year, telling about his parents Larry and Judy and his brother.

Julie Unatin, one of Lance's teachers, alerted ABC to the BrailleNote and how it could benefit Lance's family. She also solicited the help of Pulse Data HumanWare, which makes the product and donated one to the family.

Unatin said having the $10,000 BrailleNote at home will make a world of difference. She meets with Lance and his family three times a week to ensure they are using the equipment properly and to go over other lessons with Lance.

"This is huge for him, for him to be able to sit here and not just play with the buttons," Unatin said.

There is more to come, said Jim Halliday, president emeritus of Pulse Data HumanWare.

A few months ago, the company unveiled Braille Note PK. About the size of a hand-held computer, it has an attachable keyboard that allows instant communication between a blind and seeing person.

Copyright 2004 Lansing State Journal