By Cynthia Boyadjian
This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.
Isaac Stone, a recent graduate from LASA High School, was challenged by his engineering teacher to create something that involved engineering. For the past 2 years he has been volunteering with the non-profit group, Texas Rowing For All, which focuses on bringing rowing and paddle sports to people with varying disabilities or impairments. Both of these factors inspired him to create the Invisible Cane, which emits sound to help blind people navigate their surroundings. His work earned him one of the $10,000 HGU scholarships this year.
Two things stood out to him most when working with those with visual impairments. For them to get into a boat meant largely relying on someone else for guidance and the obstacles that they could run into while in a boat are not within reach of a standard cane, until it’s too late to avoid a crash. The Invisible Cane doesn’t have the distance limitations of a standard physical cane, which would help people who are blind or have visual impairments become more independent on the water. A primary goal of Isaac’s is to allow the people with visual impairments the ability to independently row in places where programs such as Texas Rowing For All don’t exist. In addition, this will allow program volunteers to devote more resources to the parts of the community where visual impairments don’t apply.
When Isaac first started on his project, he created a prototype for the Invisible Cane. However, through more research and feedback from mentors and those in the blind community, he decided to develop an app for phones. Doing this will solve most of the current issues associated with cost and scaling, as he won’t be developing a physical product any longer. The majority of Isaac’s programming knowledge is self-taught and he plans to learn more to be able to be able develop the app. In the meantime, he will continue to volunteer with the Texas Rowing For All community. He hopes that as time goes on, his app will become widely accessible, easy to use, and highly functional for those in the blind community.
Throughout this process, Isaac has learned a lot about himself and how to challenge himself in different ways. He has learned that being a risk-taker can help him achieve his goals, even on a time-crunch. He also discovered that he already has a network of people to whom he can turn to for help, which has been a great resource to help him understand what this kind of process takes. Currently, he is working on getting in contact with a woman in his area that works with people who have recently lost their vision. She helps them learn to use a cane and to adjust to their new situations. He is hopeful that she will be able to help him better understand what is most important for their navigation needs. In addition, he would like to conduct navigation experiments himself without the benefit of sight to gain further understanding on how he can be more effective and understanding. Isaac says that through this process, he has been drawn to people with ambitious goals, good work ethics, and an abundance of self-awareness. He believes that this has been the most valuable and encouraging outcome of his project.
Isaac will continue his education at the College of Engineering at Washington University-St. Louis. His hope is to increase independence and power of an often-overlooked group within our society with the Invisible Cane. He wants to help these people build their capabilities and put them on par with the general population, which will allow them to integrate into society rather than remain dependent on others for companionship and aid.