Dr. John Hart had a dream…
His vocation was computer science; his passion was helping blind students acquire and use technology in order to complete their educational and employment goals. His efforts, along with those of blind students at the University of Western Ontario, led to the creation of the Computer Braille Facility at UWO.
Dr. Hart found that his work did not end there, however. Regardless of academic achievement or talents, individuals with visual impairments were still not being successful in entering the work force. So he took his crusade into the community and Audio Tactile Network (ATN) was born.
From 1988 until 1990, under his leadership, ATN engaged in a series of short-term research and training processes, which attempted to bridge the gap between traditional education and employment.
In 1990 ATN (read John) was able to recruit another committed champion in the person of Ormah Gibson – Project Manager for HRDC. Ormah facilitated the funding of a feasibility study assessing the needs and commitment of both local employers and individuals with visual impairments so that a training program could be developed that would create the necessary link between these groups. The feedback from the study was very positive, and in March of 1991 ATN’s first full time training program began with eight students, all of whom were either blind or had low vision – and the rest, as they say, is history.
John’s involvement did not end with the realization of this dream. For five more years he sat as Chairperson of ATN’s Board of Directors. Sadly, in 1996 he decided that it was time for new blood to take over, and resigned. Fortunately for ATN, he never really left. His personal involvement was just less frequent. John seldom missed an annual general meeting. Occasionally through the years, he would pop in or pick up the phone and the conversation was often the same. “Had we looked at ways of reaching a greater audience and assist them to make use of computers and all that this technology had to offer?” He was particularly interested in helping seniors learn to use the Internet, and potentially establishing a mentorship program. He never came without an idea.
Dr. Hart brought dignity and sincerity to every encounter. He was warm, energetic and much too intelligent for most of us. We will miss his presence greatly. He believed that technology could make an important difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities. ATN was born and has grown on that belief. We will continue to honour John Hart’s memory each year by presenting in his name both a plaque and a cash award to an ATN client for whom access to computers and access technology has made a great difference.