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ATU673 – Color InkConnect and ViewPlus Technologies with Dan Gardner


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Special Guest:
Dan Gardner – CEO – ViewPlus Technologies, Inc.
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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Dan Gardner:
Hi, this is Dan Gardner and I’m the CEO of ViewPlus Technologies, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
And welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Welcome to episode 673 of Assistive Technology Update, it is scheduled to be released on April 19th, 2024. Today’s show we’re excited to welcome Dan Gardner from ViewPlus Technologies back onto the show. Let’s go ahead and get into it.

If you like Assistive technology and podcasts, have I got a treat for you. Assistive Technology Update is not our only podcast here at the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads. No, we actually have two others. Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or ATFAQ, is a question and answer show where we take your questions, as well as questions that we receive through our other programs, and do our best to answer those with our panel of experts? I use that word very loosely.

This show relies on our listeners not just for our questions, but sometimes for the answers. Let’s not lie, we do not know everything that there is to know. So we always kind of try to throw those questions out, and sometimes our listeners’ feedback, well, we get to learn stuff as well, which is always a great thing.

Or perhaps you’re short on time, we also have Accessibility Minute. Now, Accessibility Minute is just a little taster. It’s going to give you just a little bit of information about a new piece of assistive technology, a new app, program, or something else cool that might be able to help individuals with disabilities. And they give you some resources where you can go and check out more about it on your own.

So remember, if you like this show, if you like Assistive technology and you like podcasts, check out our other shows, Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions and Accessibility Minute to Go along with Assistive Technology Update, which you’re listening to right now. You can find those over at, or anywhere you get your podcast.

Visitors, we hear at the INDATA Project are pleased to host a web accessibility webinar for programmers and developers on Wednesday, May 29th, 2024. Attend and join renowned web accessibility professional, Dennis Lembrey, for a full day of training. The training starts with a background on disability, guidelines, and the law.

Many techniques for designing and developing an accessible website are then explained, basic through advanced levels are covered. The main topics include content structure, images, forms, tables, CSS and ARIA. Techniques on writing for accessibility and testing for accessibility are also covered. If you’re involved in web design or development, don’t miss this wealth of practical knowledge.

Our speaker, Dennis Lembrey, is a senior accessibility consultant at Deque Systems. He was previously director of accessibility at Diamond Web Services, and worked several years on the PayPal and eBay accessibility teams. He also has experience at several startup companies, and contracted at large corporations including Google, Ford, and Disney.

Mr. Lembrey published articles, led webinars, and presented on digital accessibility at many conferences including HTML5 DevCon, CSS DevCon, CSUN, AccessU, Accessing Higher Ground, Accessibility Toronto, and Paris Web. Dennis runs a blog, Facebook, and Mastodon account on web accessibility called WebEx. He created an accessible, two-time national award-winning Twitter app, EasyChirp, which is now sunset.

So remember, if you’re involved in web design or development or want to learn more about web accessibility, please join us for our web accessibility webinar for programmers and developers on Wednesday, May 29th, 2024. We’ll put a link down in the show notes that will get you over to more information, as well as our registration page. There is no charge to attend this webinar, but you do need to register. So if you’re interested, please check out the link in our show notes.

Listeners, today we are very excited to welcome back Dan Gardner, CEO of ViewPlus Technologies. He’s here to talk about the hardware and software that they offer to assist individuals who are blind with accessing print, pictures, and also some new updates and cool stuff coming out from them. Dan, welcome back to the show.

Dan Gardner:
Well, thanks. Thanks for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, I’m excited to have you back on. Before we get into talking about everything, ViewPlus Technologies, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dan Gardner:
Oh, no. Me?

Josh Anderson:
It’s always the hardest question.

Dan Gardner:
I know, it’s the ones I always hated in school, right? It’s like you’re giving a speech. Well, no.

Yeah, I am the son of the founders of ViewPlus, so I guess it’s a blessing at first to work with your parents every day. But yeah. No, I mean at heart, I feel like I’ve sold my soul a little bit here, as moving from engineering into “management,” air quotes.

But it’s been a great journey since 2015 in coming in. My wife and I, kind of now co-managing the business as my parents are active in the business, but less so. And we’re in the midst of, I guess I still call them kids, but now that they’re 20 and 22, I guess they’re adult children. But they’re all still at home and then, anyway. So whether in school or doing things like that. So that’s, I guess, between work and kids, that’s pretty much our personal life.

Josh Anderson:
No, I gotcha. I have some of those air quote “kids” as well. So I completely agree, and I still call them the same thing. Well, on to ViewPlus Technologies. I guess let’s start with the big picture. Just tell us about the company as a whole.

Dan Gardner:
Yeah. Well, I mean the company, we’ve been around for more than 26 years. And it was started, founded by my parents as I said. My dad was a physics professor at Oregon State, and went in for an eye operation and came out blind. And his whole life was around analyzing data, and so it was trying to envision how that could happen, and that’s the base. And you can read the longer story on our webpage, but that’s really it.

And I’d been around a little bit early on, but I was actually in college at the time of the operation. And then as the company started, I was getting started with my family. So I came in twenty-fifteen, moved back home to help them as they transitioned into it. So ViewPlus really was founded as a tactile graphics company, to be able to make graphical information accessible.

Because again, so many things were, at the time, why did blind people need graphics? Why isn’t a description good enough? Well, if it’s something that hasn’t been discovered yet, then you need to be able to interpret the data for yourself, as the general premise of ViewPlus. And we’ve really grown into Braille, tactile graphics, looking at multimodal interfaces, and really about how do we make information accessible?

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, and one of the main reasons we had you back on today was to talk about a new device you have called the Color Ink Connect. Can you tell us about it?

Dan Gardner:
Yeah, sure. I mean, it goes into this thing. As we discovered, we were focused for many, many years on just all the hard stuff, all the things in STEM, the science, technology, engineering and math that we talk about. And it turns out that a lot of people run away from that. Compared to, when you add a little A in there and it makes STEAM, with the arts.

So again, we’ve kind of stumbled into this as we just were, again, out there talking to people and finding out where they were struggling. And hearing so many sort of fifteen-year-olds saying, “I’ve never been able to color before.” And so we started playing around with some coloring books that were, we would say accessible, but they’re really inclusive. But you put the ink, and the Braille, and the tactile graphics on there.

And then it was our supposition that this was something that would be something unique, something that would be kind of interesting, and it’s amazing how it just exploded. Between those and the big giant-format cartoon characters that are tactile within now the color patterns for textures.

So we’ve been playing with this, I guess, since I had some of the ideas during Covid. Of, what can we do to add more contrast? Or to help, I guess, remove seeing-eye human from the loop. And so a lot of these pieces are all coming together towards this Color InkConnect thing.

Because we’ve had the Spot Dot for many years, which is an all-in-one, but does just the letter size paper. We’ve had our production machines, a Black Ink option to do interlining the text. And then we’ve been showing off our cut sheet embossers, the Delta and the Rogue Sheet, to show how we can do the large format laser printing on our office laser printer. With the big Bart Simpsons, and hot air balloons, and color wheels and things to then emboss in a two-step process over the last two years.

And we know it’s exploding because we can’t keep up with, some of the people are now essentially printing coloring books or cartoon characters full-time. So we’ve been a victim of our own success in just giving away all these examples, and people really starting to understand.

And again, for me it clicked with the coloring books. Is bringing the coloring books to the NFB Pennsylvania conference, and seeing multiple generations, sighted or not, with or without sight, all together working on the same books. And just hearing it, and just listening.

And hearing people say, “I’ve never had a book that wasn’t white on white.” Or, “I’ve never had anything I could do with my siblings, or my parents, or my grandparents.” And so again, that was where it clicked, the difference between inclusive and accessible for me.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And just to dig in a little bit more, how does the Color InkConnect and some of the other kind of things, I guess, convey the kind of color and information to somebody who maybe isn’t accessing that information visually?

Dan Gardner:
Yeah, sure. I mean, again, a lot of times … In science, I was calling it collaboration. You don’t usually discover things on your own, you’re part of a team. Whether it’s science or architecture, whatever it is, it’s part of this thing.

And that’s where, I struggle with inclusive because it sounded more like the buzzwords from big tech or from other places trying to sound like they were doing something by checking the box. And so I struggled with how to use it, that word correctly, until really witnessing what it meant when you see people working together.

But I guess the pieces is that our earlier products, again, they’re unique on the graphics. And the multi-height, tactile graphics is still something that nobody else does, but we keep pushing the envelope. And so the color patterns, again, we throw things out there and people are like, well, what’s the standard? Well, there isn’t one. So we just keep trying it, and testing it on people to see what we can see as the benefits. And in this case, it really has exploded.

And so that’s where, the adding the Color InkConnects to our Elite 200 production printer. So then we have a brand new color ink printer attachment that goes onto the back of the Elite 200.

And the idea being, let’s not slow down our fastest embosser. Because with our black ink one, it kind of slowed everything down, to do the ink on this. And this is now doing the ink in, as a pipeline, within the tactile graphic. So it’s doing the ink on the thing that it just tactiled, and then the next page is already coming through and being tactiled as it goes through a tractor feed paper path through this thing.

So we’re able to do something like a thousand pages in four hours.

Josh Anderson:

Dan Gardner:
Which is just insane when you start looking at, okay, before we were doing 30 to 50 sheets at a time. And whether it’s with the Spot Dot that it’s doing one at a time through it, but with a stack. But it’s kind of doing the ink, and then pausing, and then doing the emboss. And on the two-path processes you’re having to go get stacks of paper and move them through, and maybe send them through the process.

So this was just something that, we are our own best customer in this case. Because we’re able to print thousands of color wheels and examples of the butterfly thing that we’ve been putting in all of the bags so that everyone else can … You don’t understand what it is until you experience it.

And people seem to be, we offer the samples on our website, they can click on it and request samples there. But again, at the shows is where you really get the people that just walk up. And we can give away 300 bags that between, at ATIA and then now we just got back from CSUN. And so showing that.

And then people being able to walk up and say, “Hey, well, what about this?” It’s like, okay, yeah, I can print those. I’ve got everything here. You want to see something and see what it … Because again, I guess it’s just, experiencing it for yourself is way better than me talking about it.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, it’s always hard to do from a podcast. But I can definitely tell you, as somebody didn’t make it and make it to see some, but did see you guys at ATIA and was able to see it, it’s so cool. It gives you just a whole nother level of being able to kind of understand.

And I mean, to kind of explain it, yeah, like you said, it’s just all the tactile feel, and it gives you just so much more information than you would get from just words, or print, or something like that. You can actually convey pictures, and color, and just all kinds of other information in there just from the tips of your fingers, from actually feeling it on there.

So it gives you just so much more, and really, I’m sure it can just open up so many doors in education, like you said, even in the arts. But also graphs, and just tons of more information can be conveyed. Just having that extra piece, that extra information to be able to come through. So it’s super cool.

And like you said, it is a little bit harder to convey just kind of when you can’t really reach out and touch it. But hopefully this will at least get folks to go and check it out on their own, so they can see and hopefully get an experience of it for themselves as well.

Dan Gardner:
Again, it’s also trying to, I guess, making it more approachable too. I mean, some of the things that I see people struggling, again, this is just going out there and asking people what they’re doing. Is, even just trying to sometimes hand-write the text above the Braille. Because a Braille document just looks like a white document, and if you don’t read the Braille, then how is someone going to, then, assist if it’s a student teacher or a parent or somebody else that isn’t a Braille expert? How do they help?

And even for self-learning parts of it, we hear all the time where someone has a degenerative condition where they’re going to be losing their sight, and they’re trying to learn Braille. And being able to just do automatically, within our software, put large-font ink and double space the Braille, so you can have large font and then Braille below it. Again, it’s something that people can do for themselves in that way.

So I mean, that to me is, we just skip over some of the really easy things that are powerful. Because again, we think it’s obvious that you could do that. But then we see people doing some amazingly difficult ways to do these things, and time-consuming things, that are essentially, again, fully automated between our software and our hardware, just because we forget to mention some of the easy things.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, yeah.

So speaking of just some of the things that you’ve seen, could you share a story or two with us about maybe how someone’s used something from ViewPlus Technologies maybe in a new way, or just maybe how it’s maybe made a big difference in their lives?

Dan Gardner:
Yeah, I mean, some of my favorite stories, I was taking a Stanford business class through one of my peer groups. And there was a module on storytelling, and I was like, I really want to collect some of these amazing people who happen to be blind, and their stories.

And so I started asking around, and that’s where, they’re coming out of the woodwork, right? Now it’s like, oh, now I need to have a podcast, or write a book, or do something to share all these stories.

But some of my favorite ones, I mean a lot of the listeners probably are familiar with Chancey Fleet. She’s in the New York Public Library Technology Center, and she has been spearheading this effort to work with people to hand-code SVGs to make their own graphics, to make their own pictures with the text-based thing, and then printing them on, at the time, it was our Delta printer.

Although one of the spinoffs, Marco, I should know his last name, he’s out in California. So he was at CSUN and he was trying out his, he has some artistic renderings that he’s done, and he was trying them out on our newest Rogue, that has the highest resolution graphics that we have with some extra features to help highlight some of these structural things.

So we were printing out the Golden Gate Bridge that he had created, to see how much more information he was able to glean from it with the cleaner graphic. And so, just seeing the impact that one person can have on that.

But my favorite story of Chancey was during, well, during the class time. And during Covid, she got to take home the embosser from the library, because they were closed. And it was also a great time. I think everyone else did this too, right? It’s time to remodel your house.

And so I’m like, oh, great, tell me the story about how you used the thing at home that did. I’m thinking I got this great testimonial type thing, right? And then as she starts going on, I’m like, wait, it was way bigger than that. Was, yes, it turns out she’s the visual thinker, even though she’s blind. And her husband was the one laying out stuff in the floor plan, in the floor plan tool, but he couldn’t communicate to her what it looked like.

And so they ended up just, oh, let’s just print it out, see what happens. Sure enough, it came out well enough that they could then communicate. So she could feel what he was trying to describe, and help guide the process of relaying out their house, or their kitchen, or whatever it was.

So her takeaway, she wrote this all down for me. And so her takeaway was, “Your embosser saved my marriage.” And I was like, whoa, that was way better, that’s really cool. Better goosebumps stories are great, right?

But yeah, and there’s so many amazing things of, by empowering people to be able to self-learn and use the product themselves, rather than someone trying to make something accessible for them.

It is like, how do I get something more real time? How do I get something that I can do for myself? And that’s kind of also where my other story is, the color patterns we were doing. I thought about, well, can we even do this technically? And then I played with a couple patterns to start off with.

But I really needed to pull in, so I pulled in my dad. And then Ashley Nabert, who’s worked with Independent Science as we knew her from that, and then she’s going and working on her PhD here at Oregon State, so she’s been an intern here for us as well as still working for Independent Science. And so I started testing the patterns on them. And they’re like, I don’t like this one, or I don’t like this one.

And then we went out to shows, when they started coming back again. And so we’ve gone through lots of different iterations of the patterns. And now there’s still no standard, but we’ve sort of stabilized on this interesting set of patterns that are very high-contrast.

And just seeing people be able to walk up, study the color wheel with the seven colors of the artistic colors, and then go to the cartoons, and they’re able to figure out so much more stuff. So for me, it all start with Bart Simpson. But some of my favorite stories were when Tess was feeling the … I think it’s on the videos on our website too. She was feeling around the color wheel. She’s like, “Oh, I really want to feel what pink feels like, because I think it’ll be soft.”

The videos like, wow, I didn’t think of that. I was just trying to differentiate different regions of the picture.

Josh Anderson:

Dan Gardner:
Then also, then Ashley was using it because her vision kind of comes and goes, right? So she was now a braille reader, and heavily reliant on a screen reader. And seeing her then on Amazon, shopping for shirts and printing out the shirts to get the textures, to get the colors. Because we have a 12-pattern one, so you get much more different types, shades of blues, and reds, and yellows, and things that come out on that one.

And so, seeing someone using it in some way you never have ever anticipated. Those are, again, you know you’re hitting on something.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And yeah, I always just love the way that folks figure out how to use it in different ways. And I love that it can do everything from help you shopping on Amazon to saving your marriage. I think that’s always great, a great thing.

Dan Gardner:
We’ve got, because I think the other interesting thing about this, I guess, is empowering some of the blind techies that were out there. So there’s the Get Braille people that, we kind of let them borrow an embosser for a little while, and now they’re getting contracts with zoos and museums to build tactile content.

Plus, we’ve been involved with the Blind Canvas program. If you haven’t heard of that one, that’d be an interesting interview to have Ben Fox on. He was in our booth seat at ATIA, but then he ended up getting his own one where they’re interviewing blind people to get their stories, and then having AI create the paintings of the story, of the moment as part of the story, about what it was like to either go blind, or be blind, or one of the experiences that they pick out as meaningful experience in their life that’s specific to being blind, is very interesting stuff.

And so I guess there’s all sorts of cool stuff. That, I mean, my personal thing is as now a, I don’t know when I discovered it, but I mean realizing that I really liked entrepreneurs and small business stuff is empowering these blind techies on finding a business, and creating a business based on this type of stuff is really cool.

Josh Anderson:
Dan, if our listeners want to find out more maybe about these stories, about ViewPlus Technologies, about all the really cool things y’all offer, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Dan Gardner:
Yeah. Well, we’re all over. is the landing spot for everything. There’s the Color InkConnect is up there with some videos that we have, a webinar plus the making of if they want to find more about the Color InkConnect. There’s also, in their contact us, you can click on there and you can book a 30-minute slot with Dan, me, or Lloyd.

And so you can get on our calendars and we can, if you have any questions you’re not able to get answered, or come by any of the shows that we’re, things, we can show you a lot of this stuff or discuss things online through virtual meetings.

And then, of course we’re on Facebook, and YouTube, and Instagram, and all that social stuff that I’m staying away from now. But we’re all over that. Because we’ve been, again, picking up a lot of strong partnerships through this as we’ve been expanding. People see what we’re doing now, I guess.

Before, we were in sort of a box of, just for techie science stuff. And now I feel like it’s finally clicking that, no, this is good from pre-K through professional career, right? We’ve got the whole gamut. And the earlier that people start, the more choices that they’ll have as they go in through their educational and professional career.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool. We’ll put links on that down in the show notes so that folks can easily go and check it out.

Dan Gardner, thank you so much for coming back on the show, for telling us about the cool new things you have, and really for just digging into everything that ViewPlus Technologies makes. And just, how it can help individuals with just accessing the world around them. With really finding out more about color, more about just how things are.

Or I love, well, just all the different things that your products can do to really help folks that are blind and visually-impaired with everything from learning Braille, accessing print, getting access to braille, to seeing colors, and finding out, just, I don’t know, what everything’s all about. So thank you so much.

Dan Gardner:
Yeah, thanks for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Send us an email at, or shoot us a note on Twitter @InDataProject.

Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or INTRAC. You can find out more about INTRAC at A special thanks to Nicole Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule.

Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own, and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host.

This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-Bye.


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