Vision-challenged Texas teen uses technology to enjoy music – Charlotte Observer

Colton Hill fingers the edge of the dining room table as he walks carefully from his laptop computer to an upright piano against the back wall of his Vidor home.

The Beaumont Enterprise reports the 16-year-old sits at the piano bench and peers over his sunglasses at nonexistent sheet music. He begins to play a piece by Bach — then Handel — moving quickly to John Williams’ “Star Wars” theme song.

It’s all from memory.

Although Hill was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis — a retinal disease characterized by severe loss of vision — he has been blessed with musical talent many musicians would envy.

Hill has perfect pitch and an autographic memory, meaning he remembers almost everything he hears. It has helped him collect an endless supply of music for his repertoire.

“He just feels it out,” said his father, Ryan Hill, who remembers watching his 3-year-old son tap out the notes of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” after hearing it as a baby.

“There is a common misconception that when you lose a sense, the other senses get stronger,” said Peggy Arabie, Region 5 coordinator for teachers of the visually impaired. “Medically, your ears aren’t any stronger, but when hearing is the way you gain all your information, it becomes the thing you rely on the most.”

Music, however, has not been able to give Hill the independence he desires. Hill has light perception but is mostly blind.

In April, during his yearly ophthalmologist exam he found something that could give him that freedom.

Hill was given an opportunity to work with a new piece of vision technology called the OrCam, which attaches to a person’s glasses. It reads printed text on any surface and recognizes faces, instantly relaying the information to the user.

“You can program it to learn 100 different images and 100 different faces you want it to remember,” Hill said. “It would allow me to recognize people and things without really seeing them.”

The problem was the price tag attached to it.

“It costs $3,500 plus extra for travel and the time we’d have to stay in Houston while he learns how to use it,” said his mother, Brandi Hill. “It’s not covered by insurance, so we are asking for help.”

She set up a crowd funding website to ask for financial assistance.

“It’s never easy to ask people for money,” the teen’s mother said. “But this is something that would allow Colton to be more independent and could really change his life in a great way.”

Hill spends much of his free time helping others who have visual impairments.

He was able to teach himself how to write code with the help of a screen reader, which he uses to develop video games that rely on sound instead of sight.

His latest work was with a first-person shooter game that uses a series of beeps and other noises to let players know when enemies are approaching.

“It’s like any other game, well, except for you can’t see anything,” Hill said.

His interest in computers brought him to the world of Electric Dance Music, where he produces music using a program called Reaper, which allows those with visual impairments to be able to record their songs.

“He’s self-taught with computers,” said his mother. “I never have any idea what he’s talking about.”

Hill said he has plans to stay close to home for college but hopes technology like the OrCam will allow him to live alone in the future.

“I don’t want to be living under my parents’ roof the rest of my life,” Colton said. “This technology would help me do basic things that could make me more independent.

“Like, if I want to cook a meal, it would let me know which box I need to use. Just little things like that.”

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Information from: The Beaumont Enterprise, http://beaumontenterprise.com

This is an AP Weekend Member Exchange shared by the Beaumont Enterprise

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