Unmute Presents Computers For The Blind

Brian and Marcy highlight Computers for the Blind, an organization founded by Robert Langford to provide affordable computers to blind individuals. With over 18,000 computers delivered, they offer partnerships with companies and detailed application processes. The computers come loaded with essential software and training classes, aiming to empower users with assistive technology. Brian shares his transformative experience with computers, and Marcy discusses upgrade options and donation opportunities. The conversation concludes with contact details for those interested in benefitting from or supporting the organization’s initiatives.


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Hey, everyone. Marty here. And we’re back with a new adventure for you guys, and we’re going to be talking all things computers for the blind. And with me today, I’ve got Brian. Say hello, Brian.

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And I’ve got Marcy. Say hello, Marcy.

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So, Brian, why don’t you kick us off with the kind of what computers for the blind is and how it got started?

00:28.716 –> 01:16.660
Okay, so, computers for the blind is an organization specifically established to sell low cost computers to blind, legally blind individuals across the country. All of our computers are donated to us. We then refurbish those computers, and we sell them at a steeply discounted price. The basic price of a laptop is $200, and the basic price of a desktop is $175. And we occasionally even get grants that can be applied to that to bring the price even lower. This was all started about 30 years ago, and Marcy can step in and tell us a little bit about how that got started and how it’s progressed and grown from there.

01:17.270 –> 03:13.420
So it started by a man named Robert Langford. Robert was blinded at age 16 in an accident. So he was a really good football player, is what I understand. And so imagine how his parents felt when they realized that he could no longer catch the ball, he could no longer do the things that he was doing as a sided player. But what he realized was that computers were going to be the things that were going to help him make things possible for himself and for other people. So what he decided to do was to get his friends together, and they all collected computers that people were no longer using. And then they presented them to people who were blind or with low vision. They had their warehouse at the beginning in a church, and then they ran out of space there and moved into the place where we are now, which is in Richardson, Texas. And we have computers donated to us by corporations like Ti. So, Texas Instruments, General Motors, and other corporations. We also accept donations from individuals, and we accept monetary donations as well. We have delivered over 18,000 computers, and we have partnerships with different people that make these computers a must have for people who are blind or with low vision. So in 2017, late 2017, early 2018, we partnered with Freedom Scientific. And our computers come with a year of jaws, the home annual license, if people need it, a year of Zoom text, the home annual license, or if they need it, we can do both of them for them, both jaws and zoom text. And what I recommend in that case is that they get 16gb of memory, which we can definitely do. We can do Windows ten. We can do Windows eleven. We also have a partnership with Accessibyte, who provides typio to people who purchase computers from us.

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And what is typio for? Maybe those who don’t know.

03:16.592 –> 03:32.270
So Typeo is a keyboarding program that teaches a person how to use the keyboard. So it would call out key combinations like AQaZ. Then the person would press that and it would reward them and let them continue with keyboarding lessons accordingly.

03:33.010 –> 03:38.062
So it’s like for someone who wants to improve their typing skills in sort of a game format.

03:38.126 –> 03:53.750
Exactly. So with a person who is blinded with low vision, it’s really important that they know how to use the keyboard. And my policy is I would prefer accuracy over speed. So you can do it as slowly as you need to at first, because the speed is going to come with repetition.

03:54.490 –> 04:02.330
So do you know, is the founder, is he still around? Is he still participating in the company?

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No, we lost him a couple of years ago.

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That’s a bummer.

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But his family was very key in trying to make the company succeed. And so that was their mission, is to try to get computers in the hands of people who are blinder with levision, because computers give you independence, computers give you education. Computers let you recreate by looking up different things on the Internet or even playing games on the web. So there’s just so much you can do with computers.

04:30.470 –> 04:42.002
It gives people access to the world pretty much these days. Wow, that’s amazing. Brian, how long have you been involved with computers for the blind?

04:42.146 –> 05:26.926
So I got involved just over three years ago by about two months now. So three years and two months ago, I knew about them. I retired from freedom scientific in 2022 as director of tech support. And by the end of that year, I already knew about computers for the blind because, as Marcy said, freedom partners with computers for the blind to provide one year licenses for Jaws and Zoom text. So I needed something to do to keep me busy in my retirement, so I called them up and got a job, and I’ve been there ever since. So, yeah, just over three years.

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What’s your role now? What are you doing for them now?

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Right now I’m a customer service rep. When you call in to ask questions or put in an application or make a payment, I’m one of those that answer the phone, Marcy and myself, and we have one other colleague. There are three of us who answer the phones when you call in.

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Cool. And Marcy, how long have you been there?

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So I first heard about computers for the blind in 2018 when I was working for hims and I did a little bit of technical support because somebody had heard that I was working with computers and knew some things about Jaws. So I did a little bit of technical support. But then after 2018, they had an opening for customer service. One of the persons who was working there decided to leave, and so they accepted me as a customer service rep. And then we wanted to continue the training aspect, so we formed a training committee and wrote training courses. And now, last year was the first year that we did our training classes.

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So when someone receives a computer from computers for the blind, one of the special perks that you get is training, learning how to use Jaws, if that’s something that you need. So why don’t you talk a little bit about the training and who does the training? Because I believe we know the person that does the training.

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Correct? We do.

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So the training is arranged in six week periods. So we offer four classes. Currently, we offer two in the morning and two in the afternoons on Mondays and Tuesdays. And then we require students for all of the classes to come to a lab from two to four on Thursdays. And they cover from the basics of what is the Windows operating system? How do we get around that? Windows operating system? What jaws commands would you use to read text in the particular documents or web pages? How do we copy, cut and paste text from one place to another? How do we look at this web page and find the information that we’re looking for? And then how to use Gmail in standard view? So these are the different modules that we do. And myself and a co instructor, Stephen Gara, work to teach people all they need to know about using jaws for beginners.

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That’s awesome. That’s a great thing that you guys offer for people who get computers from you, because really, there’s a lot of people out there who really don’t know how to use jaws or maybe are just new to computers themselves. So someone who is losing their vision later in life, or maybe someone who has lost their vision, it’s very daunting to all of a sudden have to learn how to use a computer in such a different way. For a lot of people who’ve lost their vision, when you find out what a screen reader is and how it works, it can be very daunting in the beginning. But once you get going, though, it’s really great. Yeah.

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And I’ve got beautiful stories to tell about the classes that we’ve had. There was one girl who actually took every command that we taught. She put it in a document and sent it to us, and is constantly adding to it as she learns new things. We had a person who never knew how to use a computer and who all of a sudden is now making appointments for her mother in law, doing different things like that, and writing these appointments down on the computer so that she can access them later when she needs to. So just really neat stories. We had a judge who was on the court who learned how to use the computer with jaws, and he wrote us a nice testimonial as well. So we have beautiful stories that people have taken the course, and the course has actually changed people’s lives. And that’s what I enjoy about teaching.

09:27.430 –> 09:45.958
Yeah, there’s nothing better than helping people and see the evolving and the improvement in their lives that it gives. So. So, Brian, how long have you been involved using a screen reader, Jaws, any of that kind of stuff?

09:46.044 –> 12:41.920
Yeah, so I started 1997. I was working for a company, and it was a sales job. And they came to me one day and said, we’re switching over to computers completely. Can you use a computer? I said, well, I never heard of a blind person using a computer, but let me look into it. And that’s when I discovered Jaws and had taken typing in high school. But I was 34 when I learned about Jaws, so quite a few years without typing. And so they wouldn’t let me take the typing or the computer class until I brought my typing up to 30, 40 words a minute to even qualify to take the class, which goes back to what Marcy was saying about how important it is to be able to familiarize yourself with the keyboard and learn to use it effectively. But, yeah, so I learned about it, and just as I had learned about it and got Jaws and got the synthesizer and got the computer and everything, the company had a big layoff, and I was among the layoffs. So I contacted Freedom scientific. At that time, it was Henna Joyce, and they were here in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is where I live. So I called them up and, hey, you know, I’ve been in sales all my life. I’d, like, come work for you. And so when interviewed with Ted Henter, one of the founding members of Henner, Joyce and Jaws, and got the job. And I worked in sales from 1997 until, I think it was 2005. 2005. So about eight years in sales, worked my way up from regular sales position to management to sales director, and then I was promoted over to. It was a cross promotion to technical support to head up the tech support department. I did that from 2005 until I left in 2020. So about another 15 years. So, yeah, that’s just a perfect example of how important computers can be in people’s lives. Because up to that point in my life, I went from sales job to sales job to sales job to washing dishes in a restaurant. All these different jobs. It was just hard to make it. And once I learned computers, it allowed me to get a job at the bottom and work my way up to the top and retire. And it makes such a difference in education, in life. Whether it’s your own personal stuff, work stuff, educational, you can get it all done with the technology.

12:43.330 –> 12:51.426
See, you’re a perfect example of someone who learned how to use technology, learned how to use a computer, and look how much it improved your life. So another good example.

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Yep. Absolutely.

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So, Marcy, when someone wants to get a computer from computers for the blind, a cool thing is if you’re someone that’s maybe a little bit more of a power user or someone that wants to do a little bit more than the average person, there is options to be able to upgrade the computers. You want to talk a little bit about that?

13:14.960 –> 14:23.380
Sure. So we can do either eight or 16gb of memory for you. We can do either 256 gigabytes of hard drive space, solid state, 512 gigabytes of solid state hard drive space, or 1 hard drive space. And we can do all of those configurations on our desktops and our laptops. There are four steps to the computer application process, and I like to divide them into the Asians. So the first thing we would ask you for is an application. The application is available on our website, or we, in customer service are happy to help you complete that application. Then we need documentation. Every one of our customers must be legally blind. That’s why we are computers for the blind. So when we show our records to auditors, we want to say for sure, we have sold computers to a person who is blind or with low vision. Then we ask for documentation from you. So the documentation has to show us that you’re blind or have low vision. This can come from a doctor, a nurse. Some states have certificates of blindness, which we accept. We’ve accepted guide dog ids or.

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I said, certificate of blindness from states. We’ve accepted different types of documentation, showing something from a rehab teacher, a rehab counselor, mobility instructor, anyone in the community that can verify the legal blindness. Then we need documentation showing us that you are a student, whether you are a student of a blindness center, like Braille Institute, or whether you are a student of a high school or college. If you’re a student, you qualify for a grant. Then we need documentation showing us that you receive any type of Social Security. So if you receive SSI, SSDI, regular Social Security retirement, any type of Social Security qualifies you for a grant. So once we have that documentation, proof that you’re blind or have low vision, and proof that you qualify for one of our grants, we ask you for compensation. After we get the compensation, we send the order to the refurbishing center where they authorize your software. So all of our computers come with Windows, Windows professional. So either ten or eleven professional, Microsoft Office 2019 student, which they authorize for you, and then your copy of Jaws or Zoom text, which you’ve decided to purchase, or the one that you need, the program that you need. So after the authorization is done, we ship the computers to you free matter for the blind. And that’s the fourth step. That’s called transportation. So we transport them to you, and then you get your computer, and hopefully you’re a happy customer. Those computers are guaranteed for one year. So if anything goes amiss, it’s one year repair, replace. If you have anything go amiss, give us a call, speak with our technical support department. We have the ability to dial in remotely and possibly fix the challenge remotely. If we’re not able to do so, we’ll ask you to send it into us, and then we will do our best to repair it. If we’re not able to do that, we will replace it for you for the first year after the order.

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So a couple of questions for you. So let’s say that the one year expires and you’re outside of your one year warranty. Is there a time limit on how often you can purchase a computer from computers for the blind?

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I’ll let Brian take that one.

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Yes, you can purchase one computer per year. So if we ship a computer to you in March of 2024, you would be eligible on that date, in March of 2025 to purchase another computer. So there is a one year gap there.

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So if you did purchase a computer in the first year, you’re fully covered. And once that year is over, if something was to happen to the computer and it say was going to be not cost effective to repair the computer, then you could easily then purchase a new computer because that’d probably be a better option to go than to obviously try to replace the old one that maybe is too expensive to repair.

17:32.518 –> 18:10.986
Right. We do encourage, so after the first year warranty, we do have a per incident technical support. So if something happened in the second or the third year, we encourage you call tech support see what they can do and what that would cost versus buying a new computer with us. As I mentioned in the beginning, our prices start so low. The you’re going to get a lot for your money, and it’s a good thing.

18:11.168 –> 18:27.534
Yeah, definitely is. And Marcy, also talk about some of the other expansions that you can get. Like if you’re someone who maybe wants a full size keyboard or possibly a mouse, or maybe you want to be able to dock your computer with a display or something like that, how would those things work?

18:27.652 –> 19:26.100
So those are accessories that we talk about when we take your application or when we’re taking your order. We run by all the accessories that we have to offer. So we have an external monitor, larger external monitor that can be hooked up to a desktop or can come with the laptop, and we’ll send you the wires and cables to connect that external monitor to your computer. We also have a keyboard, wireless or a wireless keyboard mouse combination. So the keyboard and the mouse come together. We have a USB keyboard, a USB mouse. We have a wireless mouse by itself. We have a case. We have a USB number pad. So if people want to use the number pad only and not put that full size keyboard in their case, they can just put the number pad and then use the regular laptop keyboard. We also have a carrying case that we can provide for you with your computer.

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Excellent. So those are some great upgrades for.

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I missed. Do you think Brian can let you, we missed anything.

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I think we were pretty thorough. I think you did a great job, Marcy.

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So I’m not sure which one of you would be the better person to answer this question, but let’s flip it around onto the other side. Let’s say you’re a company and you have upgraded all of your desktop computers or laptop computers, and the computers you have are a couple of years old and you wanted to donate them. How would that process work?

20:02.836 –> 21:48.000
Sure. So we are a nonprofit organization, and we accept donations in many ways. One would be time, of course, if somebody lives in the Richardson area and wants to volunteer their time, give us a call, and we’re happy to do that. Also, money people, we get cash donations from people who have had family members benefit from our program and other ways they donate money and then hardware, as you were mentioning, if you have computers, not printers, scanners, those kinds of things, we don’t sell those, but we do sell computers. So if it’s computer related, you can donate. Now, if you wish to make any of those three types of donations you can find on our website, computersoftheblind.org. That’s our website. And at the top is a donate link. When you go to the next page, there’s the different ways you can donate. One of them is hardware and you will see a form that you can fill out with what you’re wanting to donate. You submit that and then our refurbishment center looks that over and says, hey, is this something we can use or not use? And if they can, they’ll get in contact with you. They’ll send you a label so you can send your equipment to us at no charge to that. That helps immensely as well. So yeah, there’s lots of ways to get involved even if you no longer need or don’t need one of our computers. Lots of ways to get involved and help out.

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Excellent. And so in closing, Marcy, do you want to go over all the ways that if someone wanted to get a computer for computers for the blind, how would they get connected with you? How would they be able to reach out to you guys?

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So Brian has mentioned our website, computersoftheblind.org. That’s our website. You can give us a call at 214-340-6328 you can send customer service an email at [email protected] well, this has been fantastic.

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Thank you so much for you guys being here. And if anyone out there is interested in either donations or donating computers or getting a computer for yourself, contact computers for the blind and find out all the great stuff they have to offer. And again, thank you guys so much for being here. We much appreciate it. Look forward to spreading the word.

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Thank you for having us and we appreciate your spreading the word.