Helping a Blind Man Sail

FRESNO, Calif.

From the sea ... to the slopes ... Ed Gallagher is doing it all ... blind!

"When I lost my eyesight, well I thought my life was pretty much at an end," Ed Gallagher, founder of Genoa Services, Inc., told Ivanhoe.

He thought he would never sail again until he came up with a remote guidance system.

"We started working on a computer system, so I can sail by myself out on the bay and be hooked up with an experienced sailor on land," Gallagher explained.

Genoa -- named after Gallagher's guide dog -- is a camera mounted inside glasses. It is hooked up to a computer that Gallagher carries with him. It has a microphone and earpiece, allowing Gallagher to use Internet video call and call someone to talk him through the process.

But the idea behind this isn't just for the extreme. Gallagher sees this helping visually-impaired people do just about everything.

Joy has been blind since glaucoma stole her sight at just 16. The last time she tried a vending machine, the candy inside cost just 25 cents. Without someone guiding her, she couldn't see what she was choosing.

"It's a sense of independence, even though someone's helping you out," Joy told Ivanhoe.

Gallagher can even go shopping by using a remote guide. Gallagher's system isn't foolproof. There are downfalls including unpredictable Internet service. But even with a few bumps along the way, Gallagher says it's worth it.

"I just discovered a true freedom of movement that I haven't experienced in the last 10 years," Gallagher said.

Gallagher's vision loss prohibits him from driving, but there are no laws against him sailing. He says right now, the system is dependent on volunteers or friends guiding a person, but he says, in the future, there could be call-in services that would provide blind people with someone to remotely guide them wherever they need to go.

Scott Plakun
Genoa Services

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