Technology on the Job #1

Technology on the Job #1

Learn how a law professor continues to enrich her students lives by using the Connect 12!

Cynthia Hawkins was working as a well-established law professor in Florida when she suffered an unthinkable blow: after a surgery intended to improve her vision, she woke up to find that she could barely see anything. While her vision had never been stellar, she had used glasses or contacts all her life to function as a sighted person. The medical incident changed all that.

"As a law professor, I basically read for a living," Hawkins says. "Immediately, I was worried that I might lose my job. I had a very flexible teaching schedule, so I was always able to drive my 12-year-old son to and from school. We went from doing that every day to 'Mom can't drive anymore.' It was a very difficult transition."

Hawkins lost most of her vision five years ago, but she has continued to work as a law professor for that entire interval. And while it hasn't always been easy, she says that the assistive tools provided by Florida Vision Technology are an essential part of her daily routine, and she can't imagine doing her job without them.

"Once you get the tech, you have to learn to incorporate it into the toolkit of your daily life," Hawkins says. "However, once you get used to it, you can't go without it. That's how essential it is to my work."

Hawkins says that she uses her HumanWare Connect 12 every day to perform basic tasks related to her students, such as writing notes, reading over papers, or preparing her lectures. Since Hawkins relies on digital vision aids like ZoomText in order to read text, she has to fight to obtain PDF copies of textbooks and other materials for her classes, which can prove more difficult than you might expect. 

"The textbook companies are used to providing PDF copies to students, but when I tell them that I'm a professor, there's a real disconnect," she says. "I have to poke and prod them to send me digital copies. It can be very frustrating."

That's where the Connect 12 comes in handy. It can take PDFs and use its optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities to read the text to Hawkins. Even if she can't obtain a PDF, Hawkins can take photos of the textbook with the Connect 12 and use OCR to parse the words. Hawkins says that she tried out several of the tablet-based CCTVs at Florida Vision Technology, but only the Connect 12 is able to easily scan books in this fashion, which is an essential feature to her.

"I've always been a big reader in my daily life, both for my job and for pleasure," she says. "When I lost my vision, I was afraid that it wouldn't be a part of my life in the future, but the Connect 12 definitely helps with that. It's been difficult to go from reading to listening, but the device definitely makes a huge difference. I was worried that I would never be able to do my job again, but it made me realize that I could. You can't imagine how important that is."

Though Hawkins says the Connect 12 is extraordinarily helpful, she's also expressed interest in another piece of emerging tech: Envision smartglasses, which were just released on the market. In fact, Florida Vision Technology is the only company selling this state-of-the-art product. The device is essentially a pair of glasses that can convert text to OCR on the fly. It can recognize objects up close or at a distance, or even the faces of loved ones or colleagues.

After demoing the product with Florida Vision Technology, Hawkins says that the glasses could help her bridge the gap from work to daily life, giving her more freedom to go out into the world. She says she would use the product to help her catch up on hobbies that she hasn't been able to pursue since the incident, such as needlework or other craft projects, as well as cooking herself meals.

"It's a very impressive product," Hawkins says. "It really shows you how far the technology has come recently. I want one quite badly, but I can't get one right now. If I could, though, I definitely would. It would have a huge impact on my daily life."

Since the incident, Hawkins has immersed herself in the blind and low-vision community, serving on multiple committees and boards of directors, including the Florida Council of the Blind and related organizations. Before she lost most of her vision, Hawkins says she didn't think much about the community, even though she technically belonged to it since birth. However, she says that she's found a sense of purpose and belonging in this new world that she never imagined, and she's glad that low-vision people support each other in this way.

"Because of my own issues with discrimination after losing my vision, I can see what people go through, and I've found a space in the community as a result," she says. "People perceive blindness as a weakness, and it's really not. I've learned that from my friends in the past five years. We're a lot more resilient than people think."

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