The Freedom Box, Technology for the Blind and Visually Impaired
by Dave Melanson
There is now a new and wonderful device on the market for computer users who have low vision or no vision at all. It is called the "Freedom Box," invented by a gentleman named Mike Calvo. Mike himself is blind and has a very positive outlook on how to make life easier for people who are sight impaired or blind. I had the honour of meeting Mr. Calvo at a demonstration of the Freedom Box at the Montreal Association for the Blind earlier this year.
The device is known as the "Freedom Box" because it allows the blind or sight impaired computer user to have the freedom to reap the full benefits of the internet. The device hooks up to any standard pc or laptop and comes with a microphone into which the computer user speaks commands.
The Freedom Box is programmed to accept very simple commands including one word responses. When the user logs onto the Internet he receives a warm greeting from the Freedom Box and it immediately asks, "What would you like to do now?" The user can answer in a simple response such as "Shop." The Freedom Box will then ask "What category?" The user can then respond with a category such as "Music," and the computer then connects to a section on the internet where there is a variety of music stores selling cd's, for example.
After listing the choices of stores available in this category, it will ask, "What would you like to do now?" The computer user could then say, "Locate Glen Campbell's 'Lineman for the County'" and the computer would list all of the places where this song is available and where one could order it. After that it would offer the opportunity to order online.
After the user has made his purchase, the voice will again ask, "What would you like to do now?" Perhaps the user would like to listen to the radio online. So, he would speak into the microphone again and say "radio," prompting the computer to find the radio category and list the choices of radio stations available in that category. The voice would then ask, "What would you like to do now?" The user might respond, "Country music," bringing up a list of all of the country music radio stations available for the user to choose from. With the one word commands, "Quiet," the Freedom Box voice will stop talking.
Mr. Calvo explained that the Freedom Box is designed to assist the "average computer user," it is not necessary for them to have extensive knowledge of how the computer operates or be technically inclined. The purpose is to serve the individual who wishes to surf the internet in a comfortable easy manner without having to worry about typing in every request.
He described it as a freedom for the visually impaired and blind, allowing them to do all of the leisurely things they may have had difficulty doing in the past. For example, if a blind or person with extremely low vision wanted to go shopping prior to the invention of this device, they had to go to a store and often seek assistance from others to find the items they wanted, thus relying on others and making them feel less independent. With the Freedom Box it is even possible to grocery shop online, ordering items to be delivered to the home. One can also do banking this way, and much more.
The Freedom Box has opened a new door for the blind and visually impaired, offering a new found freedom and a new kind of life.
I am proud of Mr. Calvo who is not only the inventor of the Freedom Box but also the CEO of Serotek Corporation, the company that manufactures this device. Listening to Mr. Calvo speak at this meeting was both an honour and a pleasure. He talked about how, if one believes in oneself and goes for his or her dreams, and places the highest goals in front of them, anything is possible.
After the meeting I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Calvo and told him of the work I am doing with the teaching community, how I had a goal and a dream and I am making this happen. We talked about how important it is for other visually impaired and blind persons to be encouraged to think positive and to encourage others who are in the same situation as we are to strive for the best they can be.
I believe that this all depends on the attitude and overall outlook of the individual. If one is negative and feels "trapped" in a situation that they can never change, then that is the way it will always be for them. However, if they possess a positive outlook and have a set of goals for where they wish to be 5 years from now, see themselves striving to achieve those goals, then chances are they will overcome the many barriers they see in front of them and the impossible then becomes possible.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about the Freedom Box: Serotek can be reached by telephone at (952)831-3030 or by fax at (952)832-9138 or through their web site at:
http://www.freedombox.info you can also email Mr. Calvo personally at
I would like to invite any teachers who have had a sight impaired or blind child mainstreamed in their classroom to please email me at [email protected] if you would like to be interviewed for my second book. The interviews can be done by email. I am also trying to connect with teachers here in the Montreal area who have taught sight impaired and blind children. So, if you are a teacher in the Montreal area who reads this, please email me.
David Melanson, frequent contributor to the Teachers.Net Gazette, has self-published Integration: A Rewarding Experience, a manual for educators on the topic of working with sight-impaired students. As a sight-impaired person whose parents persisted in having their son placed in "regular" (public school) classrooms, David's experiences, perspective, and advice are particularly interesting and helpful. The manual is interesting and worthy of reading even if one does not currently have a sight-impaired student in class.
The cost in the U.S. is $10 plus $2 .45 for postage. In Canada: $15 Canadian plus $1 .45 postage. Money orders are preferred. To order the manual, contact Mr. Melanson by e-mail: [email protected]. Should you have difficulty reaching Dave directly, contact Kathleen Carpenter [email protected] with "Melanson Manual" in the subject line.
To access monthly chats on the topic of working with sight-impaired students, moderated by David Melanson, visit the Teachers.Net Archives.
Special Needs June 27, 2002
Sight Impaired and Other Special Needs May 15, 2002
Working With Sight Impaired Students, April 24, 2002
Sight Impaired Students , January 17, 2002
Sight Impaired Students, December 12, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, October 23, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, August 6, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, July 19, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, May 7, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, February 15, 2001
Sight Impaired Students, January 17, 2001
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, December 6, 2000
Working With the Sight Impaired Students, Sept. 21, 2000
Accommodating the Visually Impaired Child, May 2, 2000
Integration Of Visually Impaired And Blind Students Into The Regular Schools, December 8, 1999
I have developed several audio tapes from previous seminars I have given on the topic of mainstreaming and integrating sight impaired children. I am willing to sell these tapes for $10 U.S. each. If there is any school district that is interested in purchasing a tape, please contact me:
Email: [email protected]
702 Riverview Ave
Verdun Quebec Canada H4H 2C1