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Stevie Wonder Touts Technology for Impaired

The Grammy Award-winning hitmaker visited San Diego on Mar. 20 to attend the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference

By Lauren Lee
|  Friday, Mar 21, 2014  |  Updated 7:05 AM EDT
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Music legend Stevie Wonder made a surprise appearance at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. NBC 7's Lauren Lee spoke with him about technology for those with disabilities.

Music legend Stevie Wonder made a surprise appearance at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. NBC 7's Lauren Lee spoke with him about technology for those with disabilities.

Music legend Stevie Wonder was in San Diego Thursday, not for a performance, but checking out new gadgets showcased at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference.

The Grammy Award-winning hitmaker attended the event at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Diego.

There, he spoke with NBC 7 about the importance of assisted technology for those with disabilities and impairments, including visual impairment, such as Wonder himself.

“It’s always good seeing new technology that makes the world more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired,” Wonder told NBC 7.

“Imagine yourself not being able to see, and then all of a sudden, you’re able to get information that you would have never had available to you. That’s how important [new assisted technology] is,” he added.

Wonder made his way through the conference, visiting with friends and checking out gadgets. He wasn’t a keynote speaker or performing, just simply enjoying the event as an attendee.

In its 29th year, the conference filled an exhibit hall, highlighting products from more than 150 companies catering to those with hearing, reading and writing disabilities.

For instance, one product on display was a braille note-taking tool with a voice output system. Other examples of new technology included screen-reader devices that read out loud what is being typed.

The devices may look simple to some, but they can make a world of a difference for those who need it most.

Dinah Cohen has spent the last 23 years as the director of the Department of Defense’s computer electronic program, which provides these types of technology to wounded warriors. She also attended Thursday’s conference and said events like these are important in supporting soldiers returning home from deployment.

“I know when the first wave of wounded warriors were coming back, many had lost their vision, lost their hearing. And they had no idea where to start. And to know the technology is out there is step one of the recovery and process,” said Cohen.

Kathy Martinez is the Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy. Martinez says assisted technology helps her and others with their everyday tasks.

“Technology is the great equalizer. A lot of us cannot do what we do. I get upwards of 300 emails a day. Tthere’s no way I can ask someone to read them to me. So to have an iPhone or tablet that talks where I can actually hear what’s on the screen is critical for me to do my job,” she said.

Martinez says assisted technology also helps people with disabilities stay employed.

“That means we're paying taxes. That means were not on benefits and contributing to society," she said. "So accessible technology has a huge impact on society as a whole, not only on the person that has disability.”

The International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference is in town through Saturday.

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