Local nonprofit Computers for the Blind and its board members work to ensure those with visual impairments can access computers.

Giving back

The organization, which is located just across the Richardson border in Dallas, customizes refurbished laptops with assistive software that allows individuals with visual impairments to operate computers. It also provides training on how to use the software.

Computers for the Blind uses two softwares, Executive Director Tanya Towndrow said. The first is Job Access With Speech, or JAWS, a text-to-speech program that assists with reading what is on the screen and navigating the mouse. The second is ZoomText, a magnification and reading program made for low-vision users.

The backstory

The organization was started by Robert Langford, who was blinded in an accident when he was 16, Towndrow said. According to the organization’s website, it was founded in 1988 as part of the Texas Center for the Physically Impaired but became a separate entity in 1995.

Langford was the first blind person to graduate college in New Mexico, Towndrow said, adding he eventually earned three masters degrees. When Langford got his first computer, he realized that it could open people’s lives.

Looking ahead

Board member Dan Youman said the organization's target this year is to ship 2,000 computers to those in need.

“That’s roughly [what] we chase in donations every year,” Youman said. “In years where we can’t get donations, we have to go out and buy, which affects our ability to support customers.”

Board President Keith Landau said the organization partners with several businesses, including Texas Instruments and General Motors, which donate large volumes of computer equipment. This allows Computers for the Blind to customize and ship laptops across the country. The computers receive new memory, operating systems and one of the two assistive software packages.

Board member Mike Mignardi said that the organization’s primary competition is recyclers and refurbishers.

“We’re trying to get these companies to say, ‘It would probably be a better use of our property to be used for Computers for the Blind than just recycle them or just trash them,’” Mignardi said.

How to help

Those interested can donate money on the organization’s website, donate their time volunteering or donate computers.