People On The Move - Sherlock Washington
Sherlock Washington decided a long time ago that he had no plans to allow his total blindness to get in the way of his happiness. Today, at age 52, Washington is married with a son, runs a successful technology company, is a world-ranked high jumper and plays a mean game of Beep Baseball. Beyond his own full life, he works as an ambassador to the blind community, inspiring others in the blind population to realize there is really only one thing they cannot do: see.
Washington was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa at age seven. With assistance from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Disabled, Washington went to a sight-saving class in Paterson. The purpose of the class was to help him learn to adapt in a sighted world. Years later, when he enrolled as a freshman at Rider University, his sight was already significantly limited. Soon after, his world went completely dark.
The Matawan resident is now the brightest light in any room; his gigantic smile and tremendous enthusiasm for people and learning can’t be extinguished. He works closely with young people and the elderly – anyone who is losing or has already lost their vision.
“Early in life, I found that people were very focused on my obstacles instead of my abilities,” he says. “I have always focused on the solutions. With adaptive tools, you can read mail, check stock quotes and, yes, be on Facebook! You don’t need to rely on others all the time. These tools encourage independence and allow people to manage their daily lives.”
Washington’s company, SWI Unlimited, sells and installs adaptive technologies for people with vision challenges. This includes specialized equipment that “reads” documents, including web pages, emails and texts out loud. “Talking” technologies are novelties for sighted people; for the blind, they are lifesavers. With these computer add-ons, blind people can be successful at school, work and play.
“Once I started using this technology, I wanted to help people like me so they could understand what the technology can do,” says Washington. “For many, it’s the difference between feeling like you can’t do anything and knowing you can do everything.”
For this one dynamic man, “everything” includes being able to pursue his lifelong passion for sports. Beep Baseball gives him a sense of freedom and an outlet for his natural competitive spirit. Beep Baseball is essentially baseball that has been adapted for the blind with noise-activated balls and the assistance of sighted coaches. Come to think of it, it’s an adaptive technology – much like the tools Washington sells.
When he shares his adaptive technology solutions and shows customers how they can be productive members of society, it’s always a game changer. “I want people to know that even though they are losing their vision, they are not losing their thoughts or their mind. They just need tools to help them continue being exactly who they already are and more.”
Washington has a message for the world: “Blind people have to do things a little differently than you, but everyone is the same. Vision impairment is a challenge but there are ways of overcoming it. We all have challenges we have to overcome in life.”
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina—which is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. The symptoms of RP typically appear in childhood. Its progression can differ greatly from person to person, but eventually most individuals will lose their sight. To find out more, visit the National Eye Institute website at nei.nih.gov.
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