Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 22, 1996

Student Enhances Computer Screen for Visually Impaired

R&D: Steve Crutchfield invented the Zoom Lens software while on break
his sophomore year.

Phil Sneiderman
Homewood News and Information

     While awaiting cataract surgery last year, Arthur Karshmer
had trouble reading his computer screen. This was a serious
problem for Karshmer, who heads the Computer Science Department
at New Mexico State University and edits a newsletter for people
with handicaps.

     From an on-line library, however, Karshmer downloaded free
software that magnified the images on his screen and allowed him
to continue his work.

     Zoom Lens, the program that came to Karshmer's rescue, was
invented by Johns Hopkins student Steve Crutchfield, during a
holiday break in his sophomore year. Recently, the university
installed Zoom Lens on all Macintosh units in its Krieger Hall
computer lab to make it easier for visually impaired students to
use the machines. Hopkins officials said it was the first time
they had installed a student-developed program on computers in
this lab.

     Karshmer says Zoom Lens is superior to the magnification
program that came with his Macintosh. Instead of replacing the
entire screen with an enlarged segment, Zoom Lens opens an
adjustable window that only magnifies the area where the curser
is located. The full image remains in the background for

     "Zoom Lens allows me to have a magnified window of any size
on my Mac that shows a portion of my screen enlarged to almost
any magnification level I might like," Karshmer wrote in a
thank-you note to Crutchfield. "Whatever is under the cursor is
in the middle of the Zoom Lens window. I have found this tool to
be very helpful."

     Ironically, Crutchfield, now finishing his third year at
Hopkins, did not create Zoom Lens to help people with limited
vision. It was a tool to hone his software development skills.
"It's often useful as a developer to look closely at something on
the screen," explains Crutchfield, 19, of Chicago. "There's a
feature where at the top of the magnification, it gives you the
coordinates and what color pixel is under the mouse pointer. That
was useful for me."

     But after he made Zoom Lens available free through on-line
software libraries, "I got some feedback from people on the
Internet, saying this is a good program for people who are
visually impaired," he recalls. "To be honest, I had never
thought of that. I went back and modified the program to be more
appropriate for that sort of use."

     Since then, he's received fan mail from as far away as Japan
and the Netherlands. Closer to home, the Kansas-based Virtual
Assistive Technology Center's World Wide Web site promotes Zoom
Lens as a free program for people with visual disabilities.
Although he has copyrighted the software, "I have never tried to
sell Zoom Lens commercially," Crutchfield says. "I like to think
of the program as a 'gift' to the Mac community, and I enjoy
receiving e-mail from people who've used it, liked it and
distributed it further."

     Crutchfield has been creating computer programs for a
decade. His parents bought him his first Macintosh at age 8. A
year later, he devised a secret-number guessing game that he
could play on his computer.

    While attending high school at Illinois Math and Science
Academy near Chicago, he invented Beam Wars, an arcade-type
shareware game. He says about 300 people have purchased it for
$15. Many others, who have not paid the registration fee, have
nonetheless sent him complimentary e-mail.

   Crutchfield grad-uated at 16 and enrolled at Hopkins, where he
majors in electrical and computer engineering and in computer

     In 1994, he wrote a program that allows Hopkins' Student
Council elections to be conducted electronically. He also 
developed Firepower, a free screen-saver that has been installed
on all Macintoshes in the Krieger Computer Lab. Last summer, he
completed an internship at Apple Computer Inc. in Cupertino,
Calif.; he will soon return to Apple for a second summer

     This spring, Crutchfield served as a teaching assistant in
two Hopkins computer courses. One was the demanding Operating
Systems class, in which he helped older graduate students with
programming problems. After picking up his diploma next year,
Crutchfield plans to go to graduate school, where he will
continue to study software development and take business courses.

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