In a recent interview, Glen Gordon, Chief Technology Officer from Freedom Scientific sat down with Ian Stenseng, The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.’s Director of Accessibility and Innovation, and Steve Clark, Lead Business Partner from Adaptive Technology Services, to discuss the groundbreaking work being done at the Lighthouse (listen to the full FSCast episode). Our unique facility provides employment opportunities and services to individuals who are blind. Through contract manufacturing and cutting-edge accessibility innovations, the Lighthouse is transforming the way we think about inclusivity and productivity in the workplace.

Bridging Accessibility & Employment

At the heart of the Lighthouse mission is a commitment to creating a diverse workforce that is both empowered and inclusive. With around 480 employees, the Lighthouse employs approximately 280-300 individuals who meet the legal definition of blindness, low vision, or DeafBlindness. These employees work in various roles across a range of physical environments, from manufacturing floors to retail spaces.

The Lighthouse stands out not only for our dedication to employment opportunities but also for our emphasis on quality and accessibility. We have partnered with companies that design machinery with Windows-based human-machine interfaces, allowing for integration of tools like JAWS (Job Access With Speech) and custom scripts to enhance accessibility for their employees.

Ian Stenseng the “Mad Scientist” of Accessibility

Ian Stenseng, as the Director of Accessibility and Innovation, is the driving force behind many of the Lighthouse’s ingenious solutions. Often referred to as the “Mad Scientist,” Ian thrives on crafting creative and custom solutions to accessibility challenges. With a unique blend of audiovisual knowledge, low-voltage electronics skills, and IT expertise, he takes on tasks that lack commercial solutions.

Ian’s ingenuity shines through in his adaptation of measuring devices used in manufacturing. By incorporating Braille displays and collaborating with technology partners, he has made previously inaccessible tools usable for individuals with visual impairments.

Collaboration with Steve Clark: Crafting JAWS Scripts for Accessible Interfaces

Working in tandem with the Lighthouse is Steve Clark, co-owner of Adaptive Technology Services. Clark’s specialty lies in developing JAWS scripts that make user interfaces accessible. A case in point is the collaboration on CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines, which use touchscreen interfaces. Clark’s scripts enable efficient navigation and interaction for machinists who are blind, making tasks smoother and more accessible.

Navigating Noisy Environments

In an environment where machinery generates constant noise, the Lighthouse has harnessed sound-based navigation for the benefit of its employees. Recognizing the distinct sounds of different machines, visually impaired workers can navigate effectively. Innovative solutions include vibration-based alerts and displays connected to remote sensors, enhancing communication and safety amidst the noise.

Balancing Accessibility and Productivity

Balancing accessibility and safety in an industrial setting is paramount. Measures include mandatory two-handed operation, light curtains, and tactile wayfinding techniques. Accessible scripting and customized hotkeys are employed to streamline processes, boosting efficiency—a crucial factor in a production environment.

Sharing Innovations

The Lighthouse doesn’t keep our innovations under wraps. Ian’s creations, such as the modified measuring device, are designed to benefit STEM students and other organizations with visually impaired employees. The Lighthouse’s collaborative ethos encourages specialists like Steve Clark to collaborate with employees, fostering an environment of shared knowledge and continuous improvement.

The Lighthouse is redefining accessibility and innovation in the workplace. With a focus on creating a safe, inclusive, and efficient environment, we are not only empowering individuals with visual impairments but also inspiring others to adopt similar practices.