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The Touch of Genius Prize logo.

2015 Adjudication Committee


JoAnn Becker has worked in the field of access technology for several decades. She was the marketing director for Ray Kurzweil for the first Optical Character Recognition (OCR) system for the blind. Currently she works at Perkins Products as an instructor and technology support specialist. She also provides assessments and training for deafblind individuals in the National Deafblind Equipment Distribution program. She has been a Trustee at NBP for many years and is a passionate braille reader.


Edward Bell, Ph.D., is the director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. He has extensive experience in the area of rehabilitation for the blind and visually impaired. He has presented widely throughout the United States and Europe. Dr. Bell has earned degrees in Rehabilitation Education and Research, Educational Psychology, and Human Development. In addition, he also possesses certification in educational statistics and research methods, rehabilitation counseling, and orientation and mobility.


Frances Mary D'Andrea, Ph.D., is an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, a reading specialist, and an educational consultant specializing in literacy issues related to students with visual impairments. Dr. D'Andrea began as a teacher of students with visual impairments in 1982. From 1995-2005, she worked at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and helped establish their National Literacy Center. She co-authored Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment; Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy; Looking to Learn: Promoting Literacy for Students with Low Vision; and The Braille Trail books. She continues to serve as AFB's representative to the Braille Authority of North America.


Judith M. Dixon is Consumer Relations Officer at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress. Dr. Dixon was the 2005 winner of the Francis Joseph Campbell Award from the American Library Association for her many years of excellent work in the field of library service for blind and physically handicapped persons, and for her pioneering efforts in the area of electronic braille materials on the internet through the NLS service Web-Braille.


Dr. Lotfi Merabet is an optometrist-scientist and Associate Director of the Vision Rehabilitation Service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI). He is active in research relating to individuals' adaptations to loss of sight. He continues to lecture and serve as an advisor within the local blind community to advance legislation and advocacy activities intended to improve education and independence for those with visual impairment and blindness.


Paul Parravano received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Northeastern University. Paul works as the Co-Director of Government and Community Relations at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has served as Trustee of NBP over the course of almost two decades. He is an avid braille reader and well versed in the latest accessible technologies being tested for the blind and visually impaired.


Noel Runyan is founder and primary consultant at Personal Data Systems, Inc. Mr. Runyan holds a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and has been working in human factors engineering for over 36 years developing access technologies for helping people with visual impairments use computers and other electronic devices. His many accomplishments in this field include helping develop the original VersaBraille while at Telesensory Systems and serving as Director of R&D for Talking Solutions. While at IBM from 1973-1978, he developed the first text-to-speech program used on microprocessors and co-invented the first talking touch screen/tablet systems. He also serves on NBP's Center for Braille Innovation team.


Janet Ulwick-Sacca is a certified itinerant Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) in Massachusetts, serving several public school districts north of Boston. She has been a TVI for 30 years, specializing in Assistive Technology and teaching/adapting STEM subjects for students who use braille. Janet has taught children with a range of visual impairments from preschool through high school, primarily in grade level public school settings. She has taught graduate level courses in Assistive Technology, Math, Science, Tactile Graphics Production, and Early Literacy for TVIs for the University of Massachusetts and Utah State University. Janet has worked with Educational Testing Services on research projects related to testing students with visual impairments since 2006. She received the Award of Excellence in Direct Service to Students with Visual Impairments from the Northeast Chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of Blind and Visually Impaired in 2008, and the CarrollKids Award for Advancements in Literacy from the Carroll Center for the Blind in 2011. Janet is Vice President of the Board of ViStars, Inc., an after school enrichment program for students with visual impairments, and an assistant coach for the ViStars Goalball Team. She has a Master's Degree in Education from Boston College, and lives with her spouse, Stephen Sacca, in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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