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How Tech and the Xavier Society Revolutionize Life for the Blind

Posted on August 27, 2019 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

By Jim Sliney Jr

The Xavier Society for the Blind was founded in 1900 by Jesuit priest Father Joseph Stadelman SJ and a group of lay women. It was the only publishing house focused on making religious and spiritual writings available to the blind. The mission of the Xavier Society is:

“To provide the Word of God, and the best of Roman Catholic teaching and literature, spiritual and inspirational material, to blind or visually impaired persons of any faith in whatever format best meets their needs at no charge and to continually explore ways to make that material more accessible and available to the widest possible audience of those in need. To offer opportunities
for volunteer service for those who wish to help in this work through their donation of time, talent or financial support.”

HOW THAT TRANSLATES INTO PEOPLE’S LIVES

The living benefit of making services and technology available to the blind are best seen in the stories of those who receive them.

Suzanne Erb can play the piano and cantor at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Philadelphia. Suzanne gets copies of the liturgical readings (the “mass propers”) and texts ahead of time, either audibly or in Braille, allowing her to plan the music to accompany the appropriate prayers.

Pat Sheehan, who uses an app on his smartphone called AIRA (Artificial Intelligence and Remote Assistance) that connects him with a live ‘viewer’ who can communicate what he holds his smartphone camera at. He uses this, for instance, to navigate the complex train stations in Washington D.C. on his business trips to Boston, MA.

Lygia Bohan, a parishioner of All Saints Parish in Sunrise, FL, who reads along with the Sunday Mass using publications in Braille on her Refreshable Braille Display device that reads Braille-Ready-Files (BRF). 

There are also talking books. Using Digital Talking Book Machine (DTBM), the visually impaired can insert compatible cartridges into the device to get an audio reading of the written material. In April, Pathstoliteracy.org reported Xavier Society for the Blind had completed converting their library to digital talking book format and added some popular titles on cartridge to their library. These books can be played on the talking book machines provided by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

The Xavier Society for the Blind provides all of its services for free. Their work is supported solely by private donations and the generosity of its patrons. They receive no direct financial assistance from city, state or federal agencies. The Xavier Society is a member of the family of agencies that are part of Catholic Charities of New York. They are also part of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and serve as the National Catholic Press and Lending Library for the Visually Impaired. 

You can read more about the lives impacted by the Xavier Society by visiting their website.