Announcing the Panel for Innovations in Affordable Assistive Technology
Moderator: Paul Parravano Speakers: Brian Charlson, Igor Feinberg, Jessica Shi
This panel will explore innovations in affordable assistive technology and devices for individuals with blindness or low vision. While there have been many advances in the field of assistive technology and devices, the high cost of such innovations keeps many of them outside the reach of the visually impaired. The focus of this panel will be to highlight innovations which are affordable and can be scaled up to reach large numbers with low cost.
Paul Parravano is the Co-Director, Government and Community Relations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Paul has been part of the MIT community since 1991. His role in the Office of Government and Community Relations involves fostering communication and understanding between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and all levels of government, major constituency groups, and MIT’s surrounding community. He serves as a liaison and resource for people within MIT who may have a need to work with external parties and those in the community who have a similar need to interact with the Institute. Mr. Parravano serves as MIT’s campus federal relations officer, accompanying MIT’s President on regular visits to Washington and hosting campus visits by elected officials and other dignitaries.
In Cambridge, Paul works to strengthen MIT's involvement in science education for K-12 teachers and students through a growing list of partnerships, especially with the Cambridge Public Schools. In all of his work and travel, both in Washington and locally, Paul’s most critical task is to represent the Institute in a personal way as a resource for knowledge, neighborly support, and the advancement of MIT’s mission of scientific education and research.
Prior to his employment at MIT, Paul worked as a staff attorney in a civil rights consulting firm in the Boston area, providing advice and consultation for corporations on the implementation of civil rights regulations. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.
Paul likes to highlight his strong affinity for baseball, barbecue, and water sports. His greatest delight flows from his family, which includes two absolutely splendid daughters, Emily and Eleanora, and his wife Martha.
Brian Charlson is a national authority on assistive technology for persons who are blind or visually impaired. Brian has worked at the Carroll Center for the Blind as both a classroom instructor and as the Director of Technology over the last 30 years. Blind himself, he has dedicated his career to ensuring that persons with vision loss have equal access to technology and the skills to independently use it in their daily lives.
As the Director of the Carroll Center for the Blind Computer Training Services program, and as the Chair of the Information Access Committee of the American Council of the Blind, he has worked with Sun Micro Systems, Adobe Systems, Microsoft, IBM and may other companies to improve the accessibility of mainstream products and services. While working with Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, AI Squared and Duxbury Systems, among others, to assure that access technology keeps up with the rapidly changing information technologies used in school, offices and places of public accommodation.
Brian has presented at national and international technology, leadership and special education conferences including traveling to Spain, Israel, Greece, England, Canada and Australia. He is often a guest speaker on subjects related to access to technology for those with disabilities at universities, library associations and other media events. Brian has taken leadership roles in local, state, national and international consumer groups including the Bay State Council of the Blind, Library Users of America, American Council of the Blind and the World Blind Union. Brian is an advocate for quality services for people who are blind so that they can achieve their individual best.
Brian’s current passions include universal design so that mainstream technologies can be used by everyone; making access technology training available to everyone who needs it and major League Baseball as a fan of the Boston Red Sox. Brian enjoys playing the ukulele which he taught himself using YouTube.
Igor Feinberg, currently with the Orbit Research LLC, leading worldwide channel sales development, has been in the assistive technology field for the last 8 years. Initially with the ABISEE Inc., makers of the Eye-Pal OCR-based reading devices for the blind and then Perkins Solutions, a division of Perkins School for the Blind where he was responsible for the sales of Perkins Braillers and other types of assistive devices. As part of his duties, he works closely with the prominent blindness organizations and various NGOs to bring new innovative solutions to the blind and visually impaired. Orbit Reader-20, a refreshable braille display and Graphiti, a dynamic multilevel tactile touch display are just a few innovative solutions that dramatically increase access to information for people with visual impairment.
Jessica Shi received her B.S. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering in 2017. During her junior year, she and her friends invented a real-time text to braille converter called Tactile, which allows individuals who are visually impaired to read printed text such as menus, textbooks and agendas. Their concept is now patent pending in the U.S. and in India. Her team has been interviewed by media outlets such as Forbes, Mashable, and Upworthy. They were recently listed as one of the top 100 Global Thinkers of 2017. Jessica and her team since graduation have continued to develop Tactile. The company aims to improve braille technology and access for the 285 million visually impaired individuals worldwide.