Envisioning Technologies: Panel 3 Accessible Text


James Swail and the National Research Council of Canada, 1947-1985

Main text

James Swail (1924-2005) was a researcher with the Radio and Electrical Engineering Division of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) from 1947-1985. As a youth he was disallowed from performing laboratory work in high school on account of being blind. In response, Swail built his own laboratory at his parents’ home to prepare himself to be accepted into McGill University, where he graduated from a Bachelor of Science with distinction in 1946. The next year, Swail found employment with the NRC. While there, he built several prototypes of assistive technologies, including mobility devices, talking clocks and calculators, as well as different models of card readers that computer programmers who were blind could use to do their work faster and independently.

Image description: Image of James Swail (c.1969) embedded within the text in his NRC laboratory demonstrating the first model of his card reader. On the other side of the text are his teal-coloured “talking” clock, the first model of his brass card reader and the Swail sensor, a handheld, cylindrical aluminum device with black cap.


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