Michael Barber was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and attended the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton from K-12. He spent 4-1/2 years with the Iowa Department of Transportation after which he became a vending facility operator for a little over 14 years through the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Business Enterprises Program. After that, he spent 5-1/2 years working for what is now Wells Fargo as their first totally blind communication specialist in both the credit card and home mortgage branch. It was there that he learned the Windows operating system and JAWS for Windows. He has spent the last 14 years at the Iowa Department for the Blind as a technology analyst. Ten years were spent working on Project ASSIST, where he helped with the production and dissemination of tutorials to teach blind people how to use the computer from a strictly keyboard approach. These tutorials were distributed throughout the United States and in many countries around the world, including France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Russia and Norway.
Says Barber, “I am pretty much a self-taught computer user. When I learned to use a computer, I did so by much exploration and by asking questions of other computer users. At that time, there were no tutorials or classes to help blind people learn to use the computer.”
Barber is married to Kim, and they both enjoy their dog Allie. They have two granddaughters, who both have more energy than is needed to power the whole state of Iowa.
Curtis Chong has more than 40 years of experience in commercial and nonvisual access technology.
Born prematurely in Honolulu, Chong lost his eyesight lost due to excessive oxygen in an incubator. Without the incubator, Chong would have died; so the choice was simple: live as a blind person.
His involvement in affairs of the blind began when, in 1969, he joined the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and, through that organization, worked to improve the quality of services provided to the blind of Hawaii. In 1972, Chong was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration and began his career as a computer professional. Because there were no talking computers at the time, he developed his own Braille output program for the IBM 1401 computer which, together with a piece of elastic taped to the front of an impact printer, enabled him to Braille information stored on punch cards.
Chong has since held various high-profile technology positions in Minnesota, Washington, D.C, and Iowa.
In 1984, Mr. Chong was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, a position that he still holds today.
Chong continues to be well regarded in the field of access technology for the blind. He continually writes and lectures on the topic and has served on a number of advisory bodies, including the National File Format Panel–a group charged with developing a voluntary standard which textbook publishers can follow to produce accessible material for K-12 students with disabilities.
Susie Stageberg is a relative newcomer to technology: she had never had her hands on a computer until 2000, when her growing family’s needs necessitated a larger home, which in turn required a return to the workforce after 18 years as an at-home mother of four.
Knowing she would need computer skills to be marketable, she contacted the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) for help. Ms. Stageberg credits Project ASSIST tutorials and her own stubborn refusal to give up with helping her get ready to go back to work.
In the winter of 2001, she joined the IDB staff in the Library’s Braille Production unit, where she put her new computer skills to work producing Braille materials to be used by blind Iowans in school, for work, and for leisure activities. In 2003, she joined the Project ASSIST team to produce tutorials designed for use by deaf-blind individuals whose interaction with the computer would be exclusively through a refreshable Braille display. During her time with Project ASSIST, Ms. Stageberg gave presentations at international technology conferences and had the fun of learning about the newest and best in nonvisual access technology. When Project ASSIST, a grant-funded program, ended, Stageberg found her way back to the Library, where she is currently a Reader Advisor, using her computer skills to navigate the Library’s circulation system and perform “other duties as assigned.”
Ms. Stageberg and her husband, Paul, live in suburban Des Moines with two teenaged children, two dogs, and a cat. When she’s not at work, Stageberg enjoys knitting, reading and choral singing. She writes a bimonthly fashion column for “Our Special”, a magazine for and by blind women produced by National Braille Press in Boston, Massachusetts. Autumn weekends find her cheering for her beloved Iowa Hawkeyes and Chicago Bears.