Lauren Hoffman

For many of us, watching the birth of technology has been exciting, scary, and everything in between, but for some it’s also been a necessity.

Meet Shane

“I started using technology at the age of five and I have certainly seen a lot of it change throughout the years.” Meet Shane Popplestone. A Lorain County Community college student who, like many others has grown up around technology in his day to day life.

The only difference? Popplestone is completely blind. “Many people when they see me think I can’t use a lot of technology because I can’t see, but trust me that is completely not the case.”

Popplestone has spent his life traversing the growing age of technology from screen readers to accessibility programs to help better his life, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “In 1991, I started out with the Apple 2E using the echo speech synthesizer while at school when I was five. They had us using 5 ¼ inch floppy discs that have braille edited express on it,” he says.

“Basically one side had the braille and the other was full of data, and floppy discs are weird on their own, so for someone who couldn’t really see them, it was super strange.”

Still despite the troubles, Popplestone preserved and as he grew so did technology.

Back to the 90s

By the time we entered eighth grade, the troubles of screen reading and writing seemed to be drifting off. “Windows 95 came out when I was in 8th grade and that would run Job Access with Speech or JAWs for short on an upgraded version,” he says. “This was a major upgrade for everyone, students and staff included at my school.”

Popplestone attended the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus, OH by this point.

“This technology gave us access to the internet in ways we never could have imagined and worked on all the computers at our school,” says Popplestone. “It felt like I could start being like the other kids, you know going on the internet and clicking on things I wasn’t supposed to and laughing.”

But as technology is always growing and changing, it can come with some less than favorable experiences as well. “Screenwriter manufacturers had to figure out the changing technology even faster than most could to make sure that the internet was still accessible to us which was fine, until Java came along,” he says.

Java Monster

Java, a now mainly defunct programming language system first developed in 1995 by James Gosling. At the time, the program was the leading platform for all things technology, powering everything from video chat sites to virtual shopping centers.

While the program seemed great for many, for the blind it was a nightmare.

“It was so hard to get things to work with the program and overall caused so many problems,” says Popplestone. “The technology we used didn’t want to work with Java but since it was everywhere, we couldn’t do anything about it. It was like we took a step back in time.”

To the future

But, like always, Popplestone persevered and soon life was back on track, especially when he got his first iPhone. “The iPhone was my first experience with explore based touch and it was interesting to say the least. I didn’t realize I could click on things and open them just by using my fingers on the screen and it was all crazy.”

According to a study done by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, there could be as many as 100,000 blind and visually impaired iPhone users in the United States, a number that could possibly be even bigger.

Now with apps like “Be My Eyes” that allows blind users to connect with sighted users to help with tasks like picking out clothes or reading expiry dates on products, the iPhone has continued to become more accessible than ever.

Today, Popplestone views technology as he always has, a marvel of life that has continued to help him throughout his own.

“A lot of technology helps with even the most basic things like shopping or scanning a package to make sure I have the correct one.,” says Popplestone. “A lot of stuff most sighted people don’t even think about, but it helps me because I don’t have to wait for people to help me, I can do it myself.”