Report 16th November 2010

Blind Man’s Bluff

Frank Ellis, who is famous for his hilarious talks relating to comedy and the world of showbiz, showed us a more serious side today in his 11th talk to the forum: Blind Man’s Bluff.

Frank was registered blind in 1967; two years later the British Computer Association of the Blind was formed and Frank has served as treasurer for 13 years, chairman for two years and is now one of the very few honorary life-members. For the 40th anniversary of the Association Frank was asked to write an article for a commemorative magazine detailing the development of technology over the previous 40 years.

In his talk to the forum he started with a poignant history of his early years and his struggle with impaired vision he went on to give an inspirational account of his involvement in the innovation and development of electronic devices to aid all visually impaired people.

Early on Frank worked as an engineering apprentice and for some time worked as a capstan lathe operator but after one year it was decided that he should learn touch-typing and at the same time he also taught himself Braille. Later in 1967 he went to London to train as computer programmer and was employed by the Central Electricity Generating Board which in 1990 moved to Harrogate. In 1992 a voluntary redundancy package was offered and Frank age 55 grabbed it.

Never one to hang about Frank set up his own business supplying technical equipment to visually impaired people for the next 13 years, and for ten years he edited a puzzle magazine for the blind from his back bedroom. He retired at the age of 69.

Frank then went on to describe and demonstrate to us some of the technological aids that have been produced over the years from the basic Braille printer right up to the modern speech – text – speech computers.

As a strong believer of the old showbiz adage: Always leave em laughing, Frank finished with the story of an interview that he gave to the press in which, when it was published, he was described, to his great chagrin, as “The Blind Wizard of the Space Age.” – Never again said Frank.

Just one more story – Some time ago a wonderful device was invented to aid blind people when walking about. It was an ultrasonic gadget that fitted into the centre of a pair of glasses, by moving the head from side to side the wearer would get echoes from any looming obstructions. Frank was asked to test it and to give his opinion:

“Wonderful” said Frank,  “ but not much good if you walk off a cliff! ”

George Mountford

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