Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Seeing with the Heart

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Seeing with the Heart

Article excerpt

"I believe that when you are blessed with the gift of success, the greatest way you can really thank God for what you have received is by giving back to those less fortunate," said musician, Stevie Wonder at the SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Awards recently held in New York City.

Stevie has used technology to overcome obstacles created by his blindness, and in turn wishes to reach out and help others utilize technology. He comments, "I think by doing the best we can today, we are playing a very, very significant part in the lives of people with disabilities."

Stevie is fulfilling his dream of making technology accessible by creating a forum for the development of new technology. He has collaborated with SAP (Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing) America Inc., a computer software company, to put together the SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Awards. Through the awards program, technology corporations, organizations, and researchers are invited to compete for monetary awards to further their advances in developing technology for people who are blind and have visual impairments.

Technological advancements

Stevie was born prematurely. Poor oxygen flow to his incubator caused his blindness. Stevie's childhood was unique, not only in dealing with his blindness, but because of his rise into musical stardom. Heralded as a musical genius, he signed his first record contract at the age of 12. Stevie says it was the technology available that helped him pursue his love of music both then and now. "As far back as when I was real little, the remote synthesizer, which was just the beginnings of technology, was tactile enough so I was able to move around and touch it," Stevie recalls. And it is with synthesizers that Stevie is able to compose his songs.

"Technology that can give speech output is incredible because you can immediately know what is going on, and you can do it in the confines and privacy of your own space, which is key," Stevie explains. "The technology is ongoing and neverending. The less expensive it becomes, the more accessible it will be to more and more people. That is a great thing." Though Stevie expresses his excitement about all the new technology available, he is happiest about technology focused on outputing braille. "As excited as I am about speech information technology, I do encourage people who are blind to read braille."

Family encouragement

Born Steveland Morris on May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan, Stevie is the oldest of five brothers, Milton, Calvin, Larry, and Timothy, and younger sister, Renee. Growing up with a disability, Stevie credits his family for helping him reach his goals and have a "normal" childhood: "I think the most important way my family helped me was by allowing me to discover, allowing me to be independent. They would tell me what was happening and where things were, and give me a sense of a parameter. My mother never said, `Let me walk with you, I don't want you to walk down these stairs, you might fall.'"

While his mother cautioned and kept him away from hazardous things, sometimes she would just let him learn for himself. Stevie recalls one event in particular. "When I was a little kid, I remember my mother saying, `Don't go off the porch. I'm telling you, don't do it,'" Stevie recounts. "I must have been three years old, and I found my way off the porch, as you know kids do. I was walking around off the porch, and I stepped in something ...," Stevie laughs. "There was a dog out there, and the dog had done his thing. My mom said, `I told you.'"

Stevie's best friend since age 12, J. J. Jackson, now a staffing executive for human resources at Amoco Oil Corporation, describes Stevie's mother as very supportive. "His mom has been the driving force behind him, as all parents of children with disabilities are," Jackson explains. "If parents pity or shelter their child, the child will pick up on this and it will encompass their own psyche. …

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