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Louis Maher is a scientifically-minded Federationist using his passion for technology to explore accessible math and science materials for future blind students. He serves as the Secretary for the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and as Treasurer of the Houston Chapter.
Motivated and guided by his family, Louis attended private catholic schools in Dallas with supportive teachers who helped provide the materials and acceptance he needed to pursue a career in the STEM field. He had some usable vision in one eye throughout school, and he used a combination of magnification systems and braille to participate. Louis’ parents understood that print and magnification alone would not be realistic, so Louis began learning braille in second grade. His first grade teacher spent a summer learning braille herself so that she could teach him one hour per day, along with additional lessons after school, for five years.
Louis became interested in math and science at a young age through the science-fiction books that he read from the National Library Service. He began taking science and math classes in high school, where he used a combination of low-vision techniques and non-visual methods to complete assignments.
“I did math with a large, dark pencil and could hand that in to a teacher,” Louis said. “Otherwise, I used a portable typewriter for my work. But the trouble with typing was that I could not see what I was typing.”
Louis was responsible for producing his own braille books and materials during college. He transcribed Learning Ally audio cassettes of math and science textbooks himself, and reviewed class materials in advance.
“I can’t study math and science by hearing alone, I must have Braille,” Louis said. “I found it difficult to learn in math and science classes unless I had prepared for the classes in advance."
Louis graduated from Spring Hill College in 1972 with a B.S. in physics. In 1979, he received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas. Louis held post-doctoral appointments in space science at Rice University in Houston and at Radio Physics Inc. in Boulder, Colorado, from 1979 through 1981, where he participated in processing spacecraft data aimed at determining the makeup of the ionospheres and magnetospheres of earth and Saturn.
Louis joined the Exxon Production Research Company in 1981 where he programmed for the Exxon Seismic System, the Landmark ProMAX system, and the WesternGeco Omega system. These systems convert seismic recordings into images of the subsurface, which give geologists information about the density, velocity and composition of structures below the surface of the earth.
In 1979, Louis underwent surgery to reattach the retina in his better eye. The retina disintegrated in 1985 and caused him to lose his remaining vision within a few months. After that, Louis could no longer use magnification systems to do his work.
”After I lost my vision, I was not very productive at work, using computer voice output only, until I obtained my first 20-cell Braille display in 1986," Louis said.
Louis received an 80-cell Braille display in the late 1980’s, which greatly enhanced his capabilities.
After seeing television commercials featuring Kenneth Jernigan and hearing about the Federation from a blind acquaintance who rode the same bus as him, Louis joined the organization in 1994.
“The NFB calls upon you to go have adventures and do things you would not usually do,” Louis said. “It gives you opportunities for advancement that the sighted world may not let you have. You can have any job in the NFB you want as long as you are willing to do the work. It gives you a role where you can use your own individual talents.”
Louis has used his talents in the Federation ever since. He served as the Houston Chapter President from 2006 through 2012 and is currently its Treasurer. He retired from ExxonMobil in March of 2015, and continues to serve on Houston city commissions and committees. Louis now focuses on improving accessibility for the blind to graphical user interfaces, graphically displayed data and to mathematically-based materials.
“I’m interested in mathematics in all forms,” Louis said. “I am particularly interested in the Stimulating the Market to Make Accessibility a Reality Today (SMART) Act to make things accessible for blind students. I want to become knowledgeable about how math is electronically read and written, what works and what doesn’t, to improve accessibility for everyone using these electronic systems.”
Louis uses the NFB-NEWSLINE® audible newspaper service to read up-to-date scientific publications, including Air and Space, PC World, Popular Science, Science News and The Smithsonian.
“You can make science part of your environment just by doing that,” Louis said. “The NFB-NEWSLINE® iPhone app is even easier to use than the Newsline telephone service. I've started moving all my media to the iPhone.”
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