Envisioning Technologies: Exhibit Launch October 14th

The exhibit Envisioning Technologies will launch at 4pm on Friday, October 14th at the Department of History of Carleton University (4th floor, Paterson Hall). It will follow the second public Shannon Lecture, given by Dr. Melanie Panitch of Ryerson University (to be held in MacOdrum Library). The exhibit is the latest creation of Carleton University’s Disability Research Group. It will include six panels, equipped with QR codes that can be scanned to access the text, as well as the virtual version of the exhibit. In the main office (400 Patterson), interested people can read the braille text of all exhibit panels (courtesy of Richard Marsolais), as well as engage with a touchable display of objects from the CNIB and the New Sun Joy MacLaren Adaptive Technology  Centre of MacOdrum Library. A glass-case display of objects from the Canadian Science and Technology Museum will also be present.  If you require additional guidance to the exhibit or have any questions, please let us know by emailing Dominique.Marshall@carleton.ca. This exhibit is also intended to travel. If you have any ideas of potential future locations, please be sure to let us know.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-12-32-02-amThe above image is a brief preview of the exhibit itself, including images of a user at the world’s first talking ATM in 1997, a red braillewriter hand-made by Roland Galarneau, a Quebec engineer who was blind, as well as CNIB teacher Elizabeth Rusk with Edna Sharpe in 1934. The introductory text reads, “Envisioning Technologies: An Exhibit on the History of Disability and Technology: Through stories of activism, ingenuity and engineering innovation, the exhibit considers how people who were blind or partially sighted reshaped broader discourses of disability, technology and access in Canada from 1860 to the present.” To access the rest of the exhibit text on this panel and others, read our recent posts, beginning with this.

Envisioning Technologies: Panel 6 Accessible Text


The Talking ATM: Innovation, Access and Human Rights Activism, 1984-2016

Main text

The first accessible or “talking” ATM in the world was installed October 22, 1997 at a Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) branch in Ottawa, Ontario. This was a typical machine that was retrofitted with an audio interface designed by an Ottawa company called T-Base Communications. Entrepreneur and blind-consumer activist Sharlyn Ayotte founded T-Base and worked alongside the RBC, as well as users, to ensure the design was practical. A more transparent and accessible financial sector in Canada, of which the talking ATM was just one part, was the result of over a decade of activism by people like Chris Stark and Marie Laporte-Stark. Now the talking ATM and the move toward accessible banking is recognized as a milestone in human rights in Canada.

Image description: Image of a user with his guide dog operating the first RBC “talking” ATM in 1997, embedded within the text. On the other side are images of Sharlyn Ayotte holding a red kerchief that reads “#iamyourcustomer, One Voice, More Choice”, as well as Chris and Marie Stark with their guide dogs, situated underneath an image of a contemporary accessible ATM, located at the Royal Bank of Canada branch at the corner Bank and Queen where the first talking ATM was initially installed.

Envisioning Technologies: Panel 5 Accessible Text


Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Memories, Voices and Technological Futures, 1918-2016

Main text

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) was an organization founded in 1918 for the purpose of providing technical, educational and social supports for people who were blind or partially sighted. It continues to this day and plays a fundamental role in helping people navigate a world in which sight is privileged. The CNIB was the product of long-standing activism on the part of people who were blind or partially sighted. Over the years, CNIB volunteers, like Howie Knapman, have trained others on how to operate and even repair technologies that enabled people to communicate, gain employment and live independently. Today, front-line workers, like Robert Bender, Leona Emberson and Richard Marsolais, continue this legacy.

 Image description: Image of CNIB Dictaphone Pool in Toronto (c.1930s) embedded in the text. To the right of the text are images of Robert Bender, Richard Marsolais, Leona Emberson, as well as a photograph of Emberson using a slate and stylus, photographed at the Ottawa office of the CNIB.

Envisioning Technologies: Panel 4 Accessible Text


Roland Galarneau and the Converto Braille, 1960-1989

Main text

Roland Galarneau was a largely self-trained machinist and engineer born in Hull, Quebec in 1922 with two percent vision. In 1952, he built a powerful microscope, which he called a “roloscope” that enabled him to read printed material, including an array of literature on electronics. Through private study, he was eventually struck with an idea to develop a machine that would automatically transcribe written texts into Braille. This idea materialized in 1972 when he built the first “Converto-Braille”, to be followed by subsequent models that acted as a terminal, capable of converting printed material into braille. In 1982, a California-based company Telesensory System Inc., purchased the rights from Galarneau and began distributing the printer globally in 1986 as the Versapoint Printer.

Image description: Image of Roland Galarneau (c.1970) embedded within the text, working on electrical circuits. On the other side of the text are the 1972 and 1982 models of the Converto-Braille.

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.

Envisioning Technologies: Panel 2 Accessible Text


The Emergence of Braille Technologies, 1860-1951

 Main text

Louis Braille invented the writing system that was named after him in 1820s France. Braille was imported into Canada from the 1860s onward, enabling Canadians who were blind to read, write and communicate. Yet activists like Edgar B.F. Robinson and others needed to struggle with sighted administrators well into the 20th century before braille was fully integrated into the educational system. Braille also paved the way for technological innovation, from the slate and stylus to mechanical braillewriters. The first braillewriter was the US-made Hall, to be followed by the German Picht braillewriter and several more. Many view the Perkins braillewriter, developed in 1941 out of the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, as the most practical and durable of these designs –a “premiere” machine.

Image descriptions: Image of Edgar B.F. Robinson (c.1900) embedded within the text. Beside the text is a slate and stylus, vertically oriented, alongside a Hall braillewriter (c.1892), a Picht braillewriter (c.1900) and a Perkins braillewriter (c.1951).


Envisioning Technologies-Introductory Panel Accessible Text


Envisioning Technologies: An Exhibit on the History of Disability and Technology in Canada

Main text

Through stories of activism, ingenuity and engineering innovations, this exhibit considers how people who were blind or partially sighted reshaped broader discourses of disability, technology and access in Canada from 1860-Present.


Created by Carleton University’s Disability Research Group:

Adrian D.C.Chan, Department of Systems and Computer Engineering, Carleton University

George Duimovich, MacOdrum Library, Carleton University

Roy Hanes, School of Social Work, Carleton University

Dominique Marshall, Department of History, Carleton University

Richard Marsolais, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Sreeraman Rajan, Chair of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS), Ottawa section

Beth A. Robertson, Department of History, Carleton University

Dorothy J. Smith, Department of History, Carleton University

Barbara Waruszynski, Chair of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT), Ottawa section

Photography, Research and Design: Beth A. Robertson

Objects and archival materials graciously provided by the Canadian Science and Technology Museum, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the National Research Council and the Royal Bank of Canada.

Many thanks to our supporters:

Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)                                                                     Canadian Science and Technology Museum (CSTM)
Canadian Urban Library Council (CULC)                                                                                       Carleton University (CU)                                                                                                                           Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA)                                                                                   Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Canada                                             National Research Council (NRC), Library and Archives                                                                   New Sun Joy MacLaren Adaptive Technology Centre

 Image Description:

A red, wooden braillewriter, surrounded by two images, one of a user standing next to a talking RBC ATM (1997) and the other of CNIB teacher Elizabeth Rusk instructing Edna Sharpe on how to read braille (c.1934).


Footer – For All Panels

[Carleton University Logo], Envisioningtechnologies.omeka.net

Carleton University’s Disability Research Group

NOTE: Two Quick Response (QR) codes are positioned at the bottom right-hand corner. The one closest to the corner, once scanned, leads to accessible text of exhibit panels. The second code, to the immediate left of the first code, leads to the virtual version of the exhibit.