Karen Barlow, who is legally blind, teaches computer skills to the visually impaired by using adaptable software. Barlow is one of 50 vendors demonstrating adaptive technologies and other aids to employment at the “Options for Success” conference, which continues today at the Red Lion in Medford. - Jamie Lusch

Conference helps disabled find options

When Karen Barlow speaks about wanting to bring more independence into the lives of the disabled, she speaks from a position of authority.

Barlow is a legally blind, independent businesswoman who teaches computer skills to the visually impaired in the Rogue Valley.

After losing her sight to complications related to diabetes seven years ago, Barlow said she faced many challenges — emotionally, physically and financially.

"Being disabled is difficult. It's scary," Barlow said.

Hope came for Barlow in the form of new relationships and new technologies. Barlow used her computer skills and the latest in sight-magnifying and speech-assisted computer programs to create her own business, Barlow's Computer Training. Now she has contracts with the Commission for the Blind and other organizations, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics.

Barlow is teaching computer skills to private sector individuals — and to soldiers in the military who have been blinded in action and are returning for treatment and rehabilitation at SORCC, she said.

"I try to encourage people to learn the computer. I have met some of the most amazing people since I lost my sight. When you see somebody with that kind of drive to overcome their disability, it takes your breath away," Barlow said.

Barlow is one of 50 vendors demonstrating adaptive technologies and other aids to employment at the "Options for Success" conference at the Red Lion Hotel in Medford. The conference continues today.

Sponsored by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, the seminar's theme is "attitudes for success." Advocacy, referral, work-incentive programs and inspirational speeches fill the sessions, which began Tuesday morning.

The goal is to improve the self-esteem and promotional skills of disabled persons eager to join the workforce, said Kristi Hyman of OVRS.

"Getting a disabled person back in the workforce is good for our economy. And it is also increases their own independence," said Hyman.

Hyman also hopes the seminar will encourage a dialogue between potential employers and disabled workers.

"We want employers to tell us what they need. What qualities they need in a particular employee. If the (disabled) employee has that quality, they need to speak up and say 'I can do that.' And the employer needs to look past the disability. We want to encourage that discussion," Hyman said.

Kids on the Block, a national program that teaches youths about disability awareness, social issues and educational differences, performed for about 200 people at Tuesday's lunch break. The puppets model positive relationships and discuss uncomfortable issues, portraying youngsters with blindness, cerebral palsy and spina bifida.

At a table next to Barlow were representatives of the Sendaro Group, which creates GPS navigational systems designed by another blind individual, Mike May of Davis, Calif.

Sighted individuals can rely upon road signs or road maps. May's GPS systems help the visually challenged plan a route, determine points of interest and even surprise a taxi driver, said Sheila Small, spokesperson for the Davis-based company.

Small and May were in a taxi in Ireland, en route from the airport to their hotel, when the driver tried to take a circuitous route. May had logged in their destination into his GPS — and called the driver on his roundabout route, said Small.

"The taxi driver saw this blind man with a cane get in his taxi. He wasn't expecting Mike to tell him he was going the wrong way," said Small.

Small said the GPS system also informs the user of a vehicle's speed. She was once chided by one of six blind passengers when she was driving a van.

"He said, 'Hey, you're going 65! Is that allowed on this street?' " Small said with a laugh.

Barlow said one of the most frustrating things about living with a disability is the limitations others attempt to impose upon the disabled.

"A normal person judges you by what they think you can do," she said. "Let the disabled person show you what they can do."

To contact Barlow, e-mail To contact the Sendaro Group, e-mail

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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