Roslyn McCoy is not blind, but she learned to read through her fingers, not eyes. She reads in Braille, with her eyes wide open.
It's a miracle that the Boulder-raised woman learned to read in the first place, with such severe dyslexia that she says pages in books look like those 3-D posters of colorful dots; if you focus long enough, an image emerges.
"Now imagine if your own source of light is a Bic lighter, and the longer you hold it, the hotter it gets, and it begins to burn your fingers," she explains. "Yes, you can read, but it's very labor intensive, and it starts burning your fingers."
McCoy speaks with confidence and clarity, and although she was relegated to special education courses throughout her primary education due to her inability to read or write, her IQ is off the charts and she has a nearly perfect photographic memory. In 2005, she earned her degree in psychology, minor in social advocacy, graduating cum laude from Humboldt State University in California.
She is now leading groundbreaking research into helping physically disabled and brain-injured people communicate, via a mind-reading headset.
You could say it all happened by chance. Or you could say it was the perfect culmination of McCoy's life experiences.
You see, McCoy, who now lives in California, is accustomed to using technology for different purposes than for which it was designed.
To the sighted woman who learned to read using Braille, it seemed logical to take her son's cutting edge, virtual reality video game headset, and try it on her neighbor, who had brain damage following a car accident a decade earlier.
The helmet, called the Emotiv EPOC, picks up the electrical fluctuations of neurons firing in the brain. In other words, it can sense your thoughts and feelings, as they're happening.
McCoy's son, a software engineer and gamer, got his hands on one of the first-released helmets three years ago, she says.
One day, McCoy says, she was watching her neighbor push her daughter down the street in her wheelchair. Cora Lovio was only 17 when she was in a car accident that injured her brain and left her "semi-vegetative." A decade had passed, and she had made no real progress.
But you could tell she was there, says her mother, Tricia Lovio.
"You could tell by looking in Cora's eyes she was there," she says.
On that day, they happened to cross the street earlier than usual and walk past McCoy, who was outside washing her son's car. McCoy stopped the neighbors, whom she only knew casually, and proposed something unusual.
She asked if Tricia Lovio would let her put the gaming helmet on her daughter -- just to see what would happen.
"She might be in there," McCoy says.
Cora Lovio's first experience with the mind-reading helmet is captured on YouTube. McCoy asks her to move the box on the screen with her mind. The box jumps upward, and Lovio smiles.
"I'd seen her go up and down the street for many years. It was always as if nobody was home. No reaction, nothing. And suddenly she was extremely expressive," McCoy says. "It was just wonderful."
No one had ever used the helmet to communicate with a person like Cora Lovio before, so McCoy had nowhere to go for protocol or questions. It was pure trial and error, and this woman -- who, her mother says,,,, had been nearly kicked out of school and ostracized as a child for her own differences -- was leading the way.
The Huffington Post's "Influences and Innovation" recently featured McCoy's groundbreaking discovery in a video, "Mind-Reading Headset Helps Physically Disabled Communicate."
McCoy continues to meet with Lovio every other day. By increasing Lovio's awareness about which areas of the brain she is not using, projected onto a computer through a brain-mapping program, McCoy says Lovio has improved function and activation. McCoy has also witnessed a measurable neurological impact when she massages Lovio's hands and touches the side of her face.
McCoy's not sure where this is leading. She keeps busy studying, now using computer programs that can read to her, rather than Braille. There's no way to predict a discovery when you're in the middle of it. You just keep trying new things, she says.
It reminds McCoy's mother, Lois McCoy, of Boulder, of her daughter's own journey.
All it took was one teacher to be willing to try her mother's "wild and unproven idea" of teaching her Braille, Lois McCoy says. The hypothesis: Although the visual pathway in Roslyn McCoy's brain was not functioning, maybe the touch pathway could.
That's where they found her voice.
"The universe is at my fingertips now. I can ask a question and learn anything I want. Through computers, everything is out there," Roslyn McCoy says. "Without it, my world would have been very small."
She says now it is time to use that voice to expand the world for Lovio, and maybe others.
Contact Staff Writer Aimee Heckel at 303-473-1359 or email@example.com.