At Xerox, in Rochester, New York, research scientist Peter Torpey is living proof that you do not need to see images to work with them.
Born with glaucoma, Torpey
had some functional vision until about age 20.He
was able to read a book by holding it a couple of inches from his
nose and could read a blackboard with a monocular telescope.Shortly before he
entered graduate school at the University of Virginia
lost almost all his
vision.He switched to braille, a closed-circuit television (CCTV), and an extensive number of books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) and earned a Ph.D. in engineering physics.He
also began using a cane for mobility.Now, at age 52, his
vision is limited to being able to tell where lights and windows are located.
Major moves were required for attending college and graduate school and working at Xerox
, none of which proved particularly difficult.Torpey
parents for raising him to be independent.
...Photo of Peter Torpey at his desk with a computer, braille display, remote control, braille book, and Dilbert doll.
...Caption: Peter Torpey in his office.In the late 1980s, Torpey got more into image processing, and in the 1990s, he managed the image-processing group that developed the drivers for Xerox's ink jet printers.
"It was kind of interesting having a blind guy lead the group," Torpey
said with a laugh."People got to learn to be verbal and to look closely.I think it improved other people's perception skills.I think it worked to everyone's advantage."Torpey
job, specializing in image processing, modeling physical phenomena, and printer operations."I love computer programming.I'm a geek," he
admitted."I do mostly individual contributor stuff now, and that's fine with me."
Throughout the years, Xerox
has been accommodating with regard to Torpey's lack of vision and has provided all the assistive technology equipment he
needs.An ALVA refreshable braille display assists Torpey
in writing computer programs because he
likes to "see" the details of what he's
writing at his
computer has the JAWS screen reader, and Torpey
uses the OmniPage
Pro OCR program for scanning.He
points out that so much material is now accessible by computer that there is less of a need for an OCR (optical character recognition) program.The Imp, from Voice Diary, is his
choice for taking quick notes and he
uses the PAC Mate for giving presentations, taking notes at meetings, and scheduling appointments.Torpey
also enjoys trying new assistive technology products and then giving feedback to the manufacturers.He
said, "I guess they get feedback from an engineer, and it's kind of in a language they can understand."
Acceptance in the Workplace
Acceptance has never been an issue.Torpey
said that his
coworkers respect him.He
added, "I'm a research fellow.Out of a company of 60,000, there are only 20 of us.I've done pretty well here."Xerox
runs a science consultant program in which Torpey
wife participate.About once a month, they go to a school and bring items, such as liquid helium and dry ice, and give the students an opportunity to do some "hands-on" science experiments.Torpey
always does an additional experiment: "Here's What It's Like to Be Blind."He
shows the students his
adaptive equipment and then asks, "You've seen all my stuff.Now think of something you think I can't do, and let's figure out a way we can do it."
free time, Torpey
, the father of two, and his
wife like to exercise.He
jogs and has started swimming again.Reading is another favorite pastime, and piano playing is one of his
passions."I love playing the piano," he
said, "but it's a lot easier to make money as an engineer."
Words of Advice
"I think the higher-tech jobs are easier for blind folks to get into," Torpey