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An Inspiring Dream For the Blind

Oct. 6, 2008 at 1:29 PM ET

From Josh WeinerTODAY producer

Imagine losing your vision - and finding a way to ski, sail, bike and continue all your passions. It sounds impossible, right? Not if you're Ed Gallagher. I met Ed recently for our TODAY story. Inspiring is the word sums up this his outlook on life.

Ed grew up near a Michigan lake, and he jokes that he "sailed" out of his mother's womb. A building contractor by profession, Ed always embraced the outdoors his entire life. Sailing became an integral part of his routine. But in his late 40s, Ed was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. His vision began to fade slowly over several years, and he feared his sailing days were over. But Ed, 57, who now lives in San Francisco, came across a group called BAADS - The Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors. The club is a comprised of folks who have all types of disabilities, but with the help of one another and many able-bodied volunteers, organized regular sailing ventures in the beautiful bay water.

Then Ed came up with an amazing idea he calls "Genoa Connections." Named after his beloved guide dog, it's a seemingly simple, yet brilliantly clever remote guidance system. Ed mounts a web-camera to a strap around his forehead, and the camera wirelessly transmits the live video over the Internet using free software called Skype. Ed's friends take turns acting as his guide. Both wear microphones and earpieces, and talk back and forth as the guide tells Ed what he's "seeing." He's testing the barriers, and regularly uses it to sail, but also tries shopping, cross country skiing and even biking in Golden Gate park.

Ed has started an organization where he hopes to refine and mass-produce his system, so other blind people all around the world can use it too. Certainly it's not going to replace the time-tested travel tools like a white cane or guide dog (which already enable the blind to get around independently). But Ed believes it can greatly augment the lives of the blind and vision impaired through advancing technology.

His dream doesn't end there. Ideally, Ed says, homebound individuals, through a government agency, like the Department of Rehabilitation, would serve as the guides. That way it's a win-win. And according to Ed, the experience is just as rewarding for the guide as for the blind person. When our correspondent, Jenna Wolfe, told Ed he seems like someone who always see the glass-half-full, he paused. Then, grinning,  he responded, "that's what my mother always said!" Watch video here.

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