At the 13th annual Perkins Possibilities Gala, more than 500 guests enjoyed dinner, dancing and entertainment while also getting a window into the future of assistive technology and its potential to change the world for people who are blind.
“Our biggest lever in the battle to make the world more accessible will be technology,” said Perkins President and CEO Dave Power. “We’re helping tech leaders to develop products and services that work for everyone.”
Held May 3, the Gala raised more than $1 million to support Perkins’ programs and initiatives, including $131,000 earmarked for assistive technology.
In between jovial skits performed by Perkins students and a live auction led by legendary comedian Lenny Clarke, Power and Perkins Board Chair Corinne Basler Grousbeck detailed the Perkins’ broader efforts to facilitate societal progress.
“In order for Perkins to succeed in our mission, we literally need to change the way people perceive the blind,” said Grousbeck. “We have to demystify blindness and shift attitudes toward acceptance.”
Later in the program, Power outlined new programs like College Success@Perkins, a gap-year program designed to prepare students who are blind for higher education, and Perkins’ Pre-Employment Program, which helps young adults find and land jobs.
“It’s not enough to run a great school,” he said. “We need new programs to overcome the stubborn barriers to a successful transition.”
Guests witnessed the power of assistive technology first-hand during a live demonstration of Aira, a virtual assistance technology designed for individuals who are blind. A video showed clips from Perkins’ first assistive technology hackathon and its collaboration with Optimus Ride, an autonomous vehicle company.
Other videos chronicled the journeys of four recent graduates, including Perkins social media intern Ashley Bernard. After her video aired, Bernard came on stage for an impromptu interview with Gala Co-Chair Kevin Bright.
“Don’t be afraid to use the resources you’ve been given,” she told students in the audience. “Tap into every pool of information that you have because no one is going to figure your life out for you.”
Bringing the crowd to its feet was the boisterous and soulful Ellis Hall, a renowned musician and Perkins alum. He was joined by the Perkins Student Chorus and a band from nearby Berklee College of Music who opened the Gala with a lively set of ’80s classics from Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Devo and more.
Gala attendees danced the night away, but they were there in the name of progress.
“Lean in,” said Grousbeck. “Be an advocate. Work with us to make your business and website more accessible. And call out injustice when you see it because we can’t do this alone.”