As a veteran educator with low vision, Bruce Franson ’77, M.S.E. ’90, Ed.D. ’96, possesses extensive knowledge and insight into the value of assistive technology. The former high school teacher serves as a computer specialist in the College of Education, and uses an array of these technologies for work and play on a daily basis.

A self-proclaimed “technology geek,” Franson keeps up on the latest developments in the field to determine the personal value of new gadgets, and just as importantly, to pass along knowledge for aspiring and professional educators and their students.

He was able to do just that at the college’s Teaching in the 21st Century (T21) Speaker Series.

The series, which is free to attend, showcases leading minds on the use of educational technology and offers hands-on learning with the latest and greatest technologies. Presentations take place during both fall and spring semesters in the Exploratorium—the college’s high-tech teaching and learning lab—and can also be watched online by visiting the T21 Speaker Series website.

Franson’s first message for attendees was simple albeit profound: “If you leave with anything, leave with hope. There are so many great technologies out there to help people with low vision impairments to live their lives.”

By the end of his presentation, this point was well understood. Franson discussed and demonstrated a variety of different technologies, including GPS devices for on-foot travel, braille printers and typewriters, text to speech programs, barcode readers, and even cameras. He also went through his process for setting up the display on his computer.

“It was really helpful to get the perspective of a visually impaired person and to get his take on the different technologies,” said Sarah Hertz, a junior

Bruce Franson demonstrates a speaking barcode reader to attendees.

Bruce Franson demonstrates a speaking barcode reader to attendees.

special education major. “And he didn’t talk about just the high-tech devices—because you won’t always have the means to get those—but the low-tech and free options, too.”

Franson explained that by having a serviceable knowledge of a range of devices, teachers can match a student’s specific needs with the appropriate technology.

“Not all people with vision loss are the same,” Franson said. “We, like everyone else, have preferences.”

For instance, he prefers audiobooks, while his wife, whose vision is more limited, prefers to read braille.

Franson’s wife is a volunteer in the Bookshare program, which has enabled thousands of print publications to be scanned and converted into digital text for individuals with low vision or blindness. The versatile text file format can be used in a multitude of ways to facilitate reading.

It is awareness of resources like these—coupled with high expectations—that help individuals with disabilities to succeed.

Despite his limited vision, Franson earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Illinois State. For these accomplishments, he is quick to credit family support and the many educators who encouraged him along the way.

“When I first arrived at Illinois State, my admissions officer said, ‘If you don’t succeed, I’m going to want to know why,’” Franson said. “He believed in me.”

These words, spoken to Franson more than four decades ago, had a lasting impact on his life. The powerful message now promises to encourage future educators to similarly inspire their students to realize their full potential.

Check out the T21 Speaker Series website to view past presentations, and for details on spring 2014 presentations, available soon.