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Deaf-Blind Students at Helen Keller National Center Take Maiden Voyage on a Tricycle Built for Seven

Despite the bitter cold, six intrepid students who are deaf and blind, and a sighted driver took a tricycle built for seven out for a spin. The $10,000 ConferenceBike was donated to the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults by Long Island philanthropist Erwin Staller. HKNC Executive Director (center with baseball cap) signs with HKNC student Jimmy Iandiorio (back to camera no hat). Also on board from Mr. Iandioro's right are Patty Haggerty, Kathryn Bottner and Steven Evans. From Mr. Iandioro's left are Victor Figueroa and Russel Salmons.

SANDS POINT, NY --Despite the bitter cold, six intrepid students who are deaf-blind and a sighted driver took a tricycle built for seven out for a spin after Long Island philanthropist Erwin Staller presented the $10,000 ConferenceBike to the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults. The ConferenceBike was invented by Mr. Staller's son Eric, an artist and inventor who lives in Amsterdam.

The ConferenceBike-one of only a handful in the United States--has seven seats arranged in a circle, permitting students who are deaf-blind to continue "speaking" to one another using tactile sign language as they ride and a sighted driver steers. The sighted driver for today's test drive was HKNC executive director Joseph McNulty.

Mr. Staller, a resident of Lloyd Neck, NY whose family endowed the Staller Center for the Arts at Stonybrook University, decided to donate the ConferenceBike to an organization serving the visually impaired after he was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. He chose the Helen Keller National Center because his granddaughter is deaf-blind.

"We're just happy to be able to help," said Mr. Staller. "I know from personal experience just how difficult these disabilities are, and I know the students at the Helen Keller National Center will have hours of enjoyment on the ConferenceBike.

"We're absolutely thrilled to be the beneficiary of this fantastic vehicle, says Mr. McNulty, who adds that the center currently has tandem bicycles that allow one person who is deaf-blind to ride with a sighted person, but the conference bike allows several riders to converse using tactile sign language while they ride. "Our goal here is to help people who are deaf- blind lead independent lives in the community of their choice. The amazing vehicle permits our students to enjoy as a group what is, typically, an independent activity."

The ConferenceBike was invented by Eric Staller as part of his ongoing "urban UFO" series of mobile public art. Of the 40 bikes in existence, most are in Europe. The ConferenceBike is being used by people who are blind in Pennsylvania and Ireland, but this was the first time it was used people who are both deaf and blind (see www.conferencebike.com.

"We live in an age of mobility and convenience, but our laptops, cars and cell phones are isolating us more and more," says Eric Staller, who says he's sold approximately 40 bikes in 10 countries. "The ConferenceBike is a tool for bringing people together. The response is the same from London to Tokyo to New Yorkeverybody smiles! Because we're giving pleasure and, perhaps opening a world to people who are deaf-blind, today is especially satisfying!"

Since its creation in 1967 by an act of Congress, The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (www.hknc.org) has been a driving force in helping people who are deaf-blind throughout the United Sates lead independent lives, and live and work in the community of their choice. It offers an array of national programs for individuals who are deaf-blind, their families and the local agencies that serve them. Its Sands Point, NY headquarters offers services that include evaluation, rehabilitation, vocational training and placement.

From left to right: Joseph McNulty, executive director of the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, Mrs. Freddie Staller, and Mr. Erwin Staller are shown at a reception at HKNC headquarters in Sands Point, NY. The Long Island philanthropist donated a $10,000 tricycle built for seven to HKNC. The ConferenceBike, which was invented by Mr. Staller's son Eric, an artist and inventor who lives in Amsterdam, is one of only a handful in the United States. It has seven seats arranged in a circle, permitting students who are deaf-blind to continue "speaking" to one another using tactile sign language as they ride and a sighted driver steers

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