The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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John Gardner Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

August 13, 2014


“Improving Science Accessibility for the Blind”  August 13, 2014  Location: ViewPlus Technologies, Corvallis, Oregon.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Gardner discusses his upbringing in Mississippi and Texas, his struggles with poor eyesight as a child, and the techniques that he used to overcome his disability and succeed as a young student. From there Gardner describes his mostly unhappy experiences as an undergraduate at Rice University and his more fulfilling years as a graduate student in Physics at the University of Illinois. He also notes his year of post-doctoral work in Munich and his first academic post at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gardner next discusses his tenure at Oregon State University, including his initial impressions of the area, the status and development of the department, and the role that German international exchange students played in bolstering the rigor and reputation of Physics at OSU. Gardner also speaks of important OSU colleagues and the development of his research agenda during the first fifteen years of his career in Corvallis.

The remainder of the session is devoted to Gardner's complete loss of sight and the changes that this event compelled him to make, both personally and professionally. Gardner describes the surgical procedure that led to his blindness, the immediate impact that this made on his research and teaching, and the methods that he employed to try and remain productive. He also comments on the transitions in day-to-day life that were ushered in when he could no longer see, and his professional movement in the direction of accessibility technologies for the blind.

Gardner's founding of the Science Access Project and its eventual transition into ViewPlus Technologies is a major point of emphasis, as is the development and growth of the company to its current status as a world leader in assistive technologies. In commenting on ViewPlus, Gardner specifically remarks on benchmarks in the advancement of the company; its flagship products; the role that his wife, Carol, has played in its success; and his future vision for what the company might achieve.