In January, the blindness field and the Planet Earth lost three people who always worked towards making changes that would make life better for people who are blind or visually impaired.
At the beginning of January, Richard Kendall passed away unexpectedly. At the time of his death, Richard was working for HIMS U.S., an industry-leading developer and manufacturer of popular assistive technology products for users who are blind or visually impaired. I first knew Richard when we both worked for Telesensory Systems, Inc., in the mid-1980s, though Richard had been in the field since 1977. Richard always had a kind word and cared deeply about his customers. He was 65 when he died. That was far too young.
When my husband picked me up at the airport in Orlando, Fla., for the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference, he told me that Hans Ring had passed away. I have known Hans for years but not really that well. Last year at the Braille21 conference, we stood next to one another in line waiting for the gala dinner to begin and we started talking about the French revolutions. Yes, I did say revolutions. There were several between the famous one and when Napoleon took over. Hans knew about all of them and I was spellbound for over an hour. Then he helped Neal and I eat all the right German foods in the right order. I found a new friend just in time to say, well, ‘Bye.’ Hans worked for Papenmeier, which develops innovative technological solutions for people who are blind or visually impaired, for many years. He was 59 when he died, while on vacation in New Zealand.
Also during ATIA, Jim Bliss gave up his fight against cancer. I had heard a rumor that he died during the State of the Union Address, but I don’t know if that’s true. Jim almost began the AT field with the Optacon (Optical to Tactile Converter), which he co-invented in the ‘70s. He added many other tools that led to the products we use now. Jim always made me feel special and played a big part in keeping me in this field. I always wanted to be just a little bit like Jim; I think we all did.
These three heroes played a big part in my life and the lives of thousands of other blind people. Every time we use our technology, call someone for technical support, dream about what we can do with our future, we should think of the people who worked so hard for so many years to make it all possible.