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Hana Schank

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It Isn’t Easy to Read a Book When You’re Blind, But This Rocket Scientist Figured It Out

Turns out, the hardest part was changing minds. #ProjectLiteracy

A blind man reads a book on a handheld device. Screenshot via Benetech.

In 1979, Jim Fruchterman was making pattern recognition systems to blow up targets for smart bombs. This was back when he was still a student at Caltech, long before he was awarded a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” or served as an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center, or the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (America’s premier hub for particle physics.)

So Fruchterman wasn’t entirely sure yet how to use pattern recognition for social good—perhaps by identifying words or letterforms instead of tanks and bridges. But he figured it out eventually. And today, Fruchterman is out of the rocket science game entirely: He’s the CEO and founder of Benetech, one of a handful of organizations working to improve access to literacy, books, education, and the world at large for the blind and visually impaired.

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