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06/26/2010

One year ago: Samuel M. Genensky

June 26, 2010 |  7:00 am

Genensky Throughout his life, mathematician Samuel M. Genensky insisted that he wasn't blind. Yes, he had to hold a book up to his nose to read. Yes, he sometimes mistook the women's restroom for the men's room. But he wasn't blind -- only partially.

Genensky, whose eyes were burned shortly after birth when a delivery-room nurse accidentally administered the wrong eyedrops to guard against infection, felt that though the world tried to accommodate the blind, nothing was being done for people like him. He set out to change that and developed a kind of closed-circuit television that became the prototype for the video magnifiers sold around the world today for the severely visually impaired. One year ago today, he died of heart disease.

Genensky's great invention was born early in life when, to keep up with his normal-sighted peers, he took his father's World War I-era binoculars to geometry class and was delighted to discover that he could see what the teacher was drawing on the board.

He continually improved on this binocular system throughout his schooling, taking it with him all the way through Brown and Harvard universities. After college, he joined Rand Corp., where his colleagues helped him develop his device into something that eventually became publicized by Reader's Digest as "Sam Genensky's Marvelous Seeing Machine."

"Sam is universally known as a pioneer of assisted technology for people with partial vision," said Tony R. Candela, a deputy director in the California Department of Rehabilitation who oversees services for the blind and deaf. Genensky's magnification machine "ended up revolutionizing the ability of people with partial vision to read printed material," Candela said.

For more on the man who made life easier for the visually impaired, read Samuel Genensky's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Samuel Genensky wearing a bioptic telescope. Credit: The Center for the Partially Sighted

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