Friday, September 30, 2005

Visually impaired students involved in track meet

It wasn't just the season that gave it away: This was a track meet unlike any other.Red, plastic-coated cables stretched waist-high down the 100-meter straightaway Wednesday. The cables helped the sightless find their way down the track.Some didn't need the cables and sped around the oval.

Others hobbled on braced legs or managed to fly just a few inches into the long-jump pit.For all that, it was a track meet much like any other. The official in his black-and-white stripes fired blanks to start races. The visiting Illinois Warriors distinguished themselves from the home-team Wisconsin Badgers by their school colors.

Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped student Brian Boknevitz, 16, holds onto a guide rope during the 60-meter race at the school’s track and field meet against the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in Janesville on Wednesday afternoon.No, not the UW Badgers. These were the kids from the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped in Janesville.

Athletes helped sing the national anthem in three-part harmony, conducted by WSVH music teacher Kathleen Hudziak, who doubled as the announcer.The weather turned from overcast to misty to downpours over the next two hours, but the meet went on at the track behind the Janesville school.

Ninth-grade Badger Tauri Ramsey said the 60-meter run is her favorite, "because it's fast." She showed how fast when she took first in that event at a triangular meet with Illinois and Missouri recently. She placed first again Wednesday.

Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped coach Pat Baker cheers on her team during the 400-meter run.

WSVH is part of a conference that includes more than a dozen state schools for the visually handicapped from the country's midsection, from Arkansas in the south to Minnesota in the north. They also compete in wrestling, swimming, cheerleading, forensics and goal ball.The Badgers wind up their track season next Wednesday and Thursday, when they compete in their conference meet in Tennessee.

Badger head coach Pat Baker said the students are in grades seven through 12. They're not divided by age, but rather by their degree of sight. Class A is blind. Class C has quite a bit of sight, and Class B is in the middle.Class A athletes run with the guide wires. They slide a hand along the wire to keep them going in the right direction. Bits of tape wrapped around the cables tell them when to stop or turn for another lap.

From left, Carlton Freeman, 20, Tauri Ramsey, 14, and Emily Bauer, 15, from the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped compete in the 400-meter run.At the long-jump pit, someone tells athletes if their feet go over the board."You were over," someone called out as Dominic Sheridan warmed up."I know this; I can feel it," he responded with an adolescent growl.Eighth-grader Dominic's favorite event is the 1,600 meters."Because I'm more of an endurance runner; it's more of a challenge," he said.

Illinois coach Dawn Chambers, a graduate of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired herself, said the competition is good for the kids."It gives them a chance to compete in athletics that a lot of times they wouldn't get in the public schools," she said.They also get to travel and meet visually impaired students from other states, she said.

Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped student Kris White puts the shot during the meet.Dominic said he likes WSVH because of such opportunities, which he didn't have at his former school, the Milwaukee Education Center.While Dominic seemed to revel in the competition, he was among the many who wanted it to end as the rain lashed down hard late in the afternoon. He jumped up and down to fight off the goose bumps at the starting line."Come on, just shoot the gun," he called to the official.Illinois lost, by the way, 135-92.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Special fund to help the visually impaired

VISUALLY impaired people are getting access to specialist software which will enable them to use computers.

The News' Community Fund has allocated £1,982 to Saffron Sight, a Saffron Walden based charity which will use the money to demonstrate specialist software to people with sight loss The charity already uses the software at its resource centre, but needs a laptop for its information desk at the Saffron Walden Hospital to raise awareness of how useful it can be.

"We are absolutely delighted to receive this kind donation," said Madeleine Cassidy, director.
Text enlargement and voice recognition software allow visually impaired people to use word processing, spreadsheets, and the internet.

Saffron Sight helps about 1500- 2000 visually impaired people annually through their resource centre, located on Central Arcade, Saffron Walden. They also make home visits, aiming to carry out around 300 visits every year.

The visually impaired is now allow to grow within society

New Delhi: Delhi Lt Governor B L Joshi today stressed the need to create an environment to enable the visually impaired to 'grow' in the mainstream of the society.Inaugurating a national conference of the visually challenged women here, he said, ''we have to create an environment, which allowed every visually impaired individual to grow together, realising their similarities while respecting the differences.

The visual disability should not be perceived in terms of just physical loss, he said and added that negative attitudes affect a blind person adversely more than blindness itself.''Social negativism is a real challenge for disability and not physical disability itself.'' Mr Joshi said the challenges faced by visually challenged women were manifold for they had to grapple not only with visual loss and its concomitant prejudices but also with gender bias and poverty.

Majority of the persons with disability could lead a normal life if they had effective access to rehabilitation services, he said and added these services should include early identification, intervention, education, vocational training, employment opportunities and the availability of aids and appliances.

The LG also released a book titled 'Uska Sapna', written by a multi-handicapped woman Dr Rekha Karda, on the occasion, where blind girl students presented a dance performance.The conference was organised by All India Confederation of the Blind as part of its Silver Jubilee Celebrations.

New technology to be used by the visually impaired

In line with its social investment programme for 2005, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) has announced that it is to build an Information and Communication Technology Centre to serve the blind and the visually impaired population in Oman. PDO has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Education to fund the building and Information and Communication Technology Centre at the Omar bin Al Khatab Institute for the Blind.

Dr Saif bin Said Al Ma’amary, director-general of education, signed the MoU on behalf of the ministry, while Abdul Amir Al Ajmi, PDO engineer and head of external affairs and communications, signed on behalf of PDO.

Al Ajmi commented on the occasion: “PDO is proud to be providing a centre that will help make sure the blind and visually-impaired people of Oman can take advantage of information technology revolution. We all now take computers and the Internet for granted, but it is important that sections of our society are not excluded from its benefits because of disability. We hope this centre can play a part to improve the lives of, and provide opportunities to, the blind and visually-impaired of the Sultanate.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Iris Network helped the visually impaired for the last 100 years

The Iris Network will celebrate its 100th anniversary this week, thanks to a traveling almanac salesman with impaired vision.

William J. Ryan founded the only private agency devoted to Maine's blind and visually impaired in 1905 so they could have a place to learn a trade. His idea took root with the help of supporters such as Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, whose wife was visually impaired, and Helen Keller, who raised $1,000 for what was then called the Maine Institution for the Blind.

In the decades since, more than the agency's name has changed. The organization was once a place for people to live and work, but its focus now is on helping Maine's estimated 23,000 blind and visually impaired people be part of the community.

It runs Maine AIRS, a statewide program started in 2000 that broadcasts newspaper articles as well as information not typically available in audio form, such as community calendars and obituaries.

Based in eight locations throughout the state, trainers show clients how to perform everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning and using transportation.

Gone are the on-site workshops where clients for the greater part of the century caned chairs and made brooms. Today, the organization works with the state Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired to place clients with employers.

"With the skills that we teach people and the technology we have, a person who is blind can live and work very efficiently in the community. They don't have to be institutionalized anymore," said Steven Obremski, the organization's president and chief executive officer.

To meet an increasing demand for eye evaluations, the Iris Network launched its Low Vision Clinic in May. It caters to people who have problems doing everyday tasks even with glasses, medication or surgery. Specialists can prescribe visual devices such as magnifying or telescopic lenses.
Portland lawyer Jeremiah Newbury came to the Iris Network when he began to lose his sight in the 1970s. Specialists trained him how to get around with a white cane and how to use a computer with a speech synthesizer.

He now chairs the Iris Network's advisory board and takes pride in how much the organization has accomplished. He points to a project that will replace the boarding house on Park Avenue with a 31-unit complex currently under construction.

Costing $4.7 million, Iris Park will be only the second housing complex in the country designed specifically for people with vision impairment. It will feature signs in Braille and use color and variable lighting fixtures to guide people with limited vision. But changes are in store for people used to living in the dorm setting. Each apartment will have its own kitchen and bathroom.
The project fits into the Iris Network's practice of encouraging independence.

"We've morphed into an agency that wants to get people out into the community," Newbury said. "We're now more of a network where people can get the help they need."

The visually impaired now have access to speech option on PDA device

Developed by Dolphin Computer access and localized into Arabic with the help of Nattiq Technologies, Pocket Hal turns your PDA into a talking device instantly. Pocket Hal reads everything displayed on a PDA's screen with a synthesized voice. It was initially developed for blind and visually impaired users to enable them access PDA devices. A visually impaired user may walk into any electronic store and select a standard PDA, install Pocket Hal on it and enjoy many standard applications.

Such applications range from word processing to city maps with GPS support useful for obtaining street and address directions via synthesized speech. 'With Pocket Hal, the gap continues to close for blind people. They too may enjoy using standard PDA devices as their sighted counter parts do.', said Auda Hazeem, Nattiq's CEO. While it is a necessary tool for visually impaired users Pocket Hal is convenient for sighted users who may also rely on synthesized speech in using their PDAs.

Nattiq Technologies announced earlier the availability of e-learning content delivered on PDA devices. Studying becomes much easier with speech built into PDAs with Pocket Hal for both visually impaired as well as sighted users. Installed on an I-Mate Jam, Pocket Hall will be demonstrated during GITEX 2005 at Nattiq's stand number 809 in Hall 8.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Companies join efforts to provide technology for the visually impaired

This announcement comes in line with the initiative programs announced earlier by ICDL GCC Foundation the governing body of the ICDL program in the GCC. Nattiq's showcasing is arranged with one of ICDL's approved test providers, NCC Education. A co-development effort between NCC Education and Nattiq resulted in a bilingual automated test solution for the blind and the visually impaired.

This solution was developed under the guidelines of ICDL and was reviewed by Tamkeen, a non-profit organization that seeks to empower the blind and the visually impaired individuals through support, training and counseling. NCC Education developed an automated testing solution (ATS) which is localized into Arabic and approved by ICDL GCC Foundation for use in the GCC region. Nattiq provides map files and scripting for making the AST accessible.

With an accessible ATS, blind Arabs may take ICDL exams independently. 'As more blind Arabs become computer literate, they look for official means to endorse their computer knowledge. ICDL certification provides them with a milestone of achievement', said Auda Hazeem Nattiq's CEO. NCC Education and Nattiq Technologies will demonstrate computer-based ICDL exams running with Nattiq screen reader.

The demonstrations will be conducted during GITEX 2005 at the impressive ICDL pavilion located at in Hall 8, Stand H8-I, and at Nattiq's stand 809 in Hall 8. GITEX 2005 will be held on September 25 - 29 in Dubai.

Teacher helps the visually impaired

The day that Merry-Noel Chamberlain totaled her car and almost killed her daughter in the accident was the day she realized she was going blind."I thought I saw a green light and drove right in the middle of an intersection," said Chamberlain of Des Moines. "I started to realize that streetlight signals disappeared from my view and street signs became blurry."Losing her sight was a psychological adjustment as well as a physical adjustment for Chamberlain.

"When I started using a long white cane, I realized my head was down and I wasn't seeing what I used to see. It was an awakening moment, but it wasn't negative," she said.As a child, Chamberlain suffered from amblyopia, also known as "lazy eye," and began wearing glasses at age 2. Her eyesight worsened and she had optic nerve damage as she got older.Today at 43 she is legally blind, with no vision in her right eye and only 20/100 sight in her left.

She also lost all of her peripheral vision.But vision loss hasn't stopped Chamberlain. It has driven her to help others, especially visually impaired students in Iowa."People, blind or sighted, often search and search for their niche in life — for the one job that makes it worthwhile to get up in the mornings," said Chamberlain. "I'm so fortunate that I found mine."Chamberlain, who teaches students with visual impairments in the Des Moines school district, recently was honored as an outstanding teacher.

She was named the 2005 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children by the National Federation of the Blind in Louisville, Ky.In the United States, about 95 percent of teachers for the visually impaired are sighted. Chamberlain is one of four blind teachers in Iowa."Teaching and helping the students is so important to me," she said. A blind teacher knows what they're going through and understands because I've had the same experiences firsthand. I also want to make sure they have the same accommodations that I had as a student."

Chamberlain teaches her students Braille writing, computer technology, handwriting and independent living skills. She teaches students from age 6 to 17.Chris Waters, a 16-year-old sophomore at Hoover High School, has been meeting with Chamberlain four times a week."I like meeting with Merry-Noel. She's helped me read, and I used to hate reading. I'm reading Harry Potter now, and it's double-sided Braille," said Waters.

Chamberlain has a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a master's degree in educational psychology from Louisiana Tech with a focus on orientation and mobility.She is working toward a second master's degree at Western Michigan University in teaching students with visual impairments.

Chamberlain hopes to complete her doctorate in interdisciplinary health studies from Western Michigan University in 2008.In her final remarks during a speech at a student seminar at Louisiana State, Chamberlain reflected upon becoming blind and her journey through life."I no longer look down at the sidewalk," she said. "I go everywhere with my cane, and I hold my head up high."

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Two visually impaired runners complete challenge

Two visually-impaired runners completed an incredible 32-mile challenge across 32 counties tonight and hailed the spirit of Irish adventure and the abilities of people with a disability as their inspiration.A breathless Caroline Casey and Tony Ward crossed the finishing line in Dublin after raising more than €100,000 for charity in their 32-hour dash around the island.

After two gruelling days in which they each ran an 8-minute mile every hour for 32 hours, the Imag!ne Challenge 32 team were looking forward to refreshments at the finish line in the Burlington Hotel.A jubilant Tony Ward thanked the Irish Air Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as well as the Rotary Clubs of Ireland for organising the event, and sponsors, Imag!ne, for making the difficult task possible.

“The sheer cliff-face that Challenge 32 presented was always daunting – not only from my own perspective as a runner but also the organisational efforts to make this happen,” he said.“That cliff-face has been well and truly overcome and it is a huge credit to everyone involved in Challenge 32.”Caroline Casey said the effort had pushed her to her limits.“I had nothing left at the end,” she said.

“Challenge 32 pushed me further than any of my adventures before this for sheer physical exertion and mental stamina.“But one of the main aspects of this effort was always a celebration of the Irish spirit of adventure and the abilities of those living with a disability in this country.”Martin Molony, District Governor of Rotary International, Ireland, said his organisation was delighted to have been able to assist the achievement.“Caroline and Tony have really demonstrated the ability of people with disabilities and raised so much for a number of worthwhile charities,” he said.

Brian O’Donohoe, Managing Director of Imag!ne, said sponsoring the event was not a financial decision for the company.“We could see that what Challenge 32 was attempting was exactly the type of thing that we stand for at Imag!ne,” he said.“We believe that human endeavour knows no boundary if people are prepared to push themselves and those around them to smash through the impossible to new realms of the possible.“Tony and Caroline and the entire Challenge 32 team are a credit to Ireland and human endeavour.”

The challenge kicked off in Co Monaghan on Wednesday morning at 10.30am and finished 32 hours later in Dublin.At each location Caroline and Tony ran with the guide runners and over 30 local runners from each area, each of whom raised €100 for charity.With the aid of The Irish Air Corps and RAF helicopters, Garda and PSNI escorts, Caroline and Tony made it to each county in the allotted time.

Along the way, near injuries and poor weather conditions threatened to hamper the challenge, but they could not hinder the two intrepid runners.The €100,000 raised during the challenge will go to three major Irish charities – Blind Sports Ireland, The Jack and Jill Foundation and PHAB (Northern Ireland) Inclusion Matters.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Expo presents importance of technology for the visually impaired

By the age of 9, William Bowman had already developed glaucoma. Born with cataracts, the Selma resident underwent 44 eye surgeries over the years, but even after all that today he has sight in only one eye.

Through his lifelong struggle with vision problems, Bowman learned the value of having a good support group and adequate technology to help him lead a normal life. That's the reason he started Visually Impaired People Organization Inc. in 1998, and a few years later began holding conferences for the visually impaired.

"My life has pretty much been devoted to educating people about what it is like to be visually impaired and how to overcome it," Bowman said. "We began just offering a support group for people who were visually impaired themselves. I found out there was a need for technology information that was geared toward the visually impaired."

His nonprofit organization will host the fourth annual Low Vision Conference and Assistive Technology Expo on Thursday in Selma. The conference will bring visually impaired people together with vendors who sell assistive products to the visually-impaired population in the state.
Bowman said he personally uses a computer that enlarges text on the screen and talks while he types. Products at the conference will include magnifiers, talking watches, talking calculators and closed-circuit TV that can magnify books for easier reading.

But the assistance doesn't come cheap. These TV devices -- known as CCTVs in the industry -- can cost several thousand dollars each.

"It's very expensive," said Bob Davidson, supervisor of the assistive technology department at the Talladega office of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. "It's a niche market, and I think that is basically the reason the prices are as they are."

The AIDB helps working-aged blind and low-vision people train on technology and get jobs in Alabama. They assist the totally blind with products Davidson calls "electronic Braille note-taking devices," which are comparable to personal data assistants.

"These devices, in the vocational setting, level the playing fields so a blind or a low-vision person can perform many, many jobs that normally wouldn't be accessible to them," Davidson said.
Because of certain demographic changes in the American populations that are going to happen in the next few years, the technology industry servicing the visually impaired may be on the cusp of big growth. As the Baby Boomer generation edges closer to retirement, the number of people with degenerative eye disease also will increase, says one local doctor.

"We've seen businesses are definitely aware that the population is getting older," said Dr. Benjamin Harris, an optometrist at Primary Eyecare Associates in Montgomery and Selma. As an example of this, Harris said some utility companies send out large-print statements and phone companies sell phones with large numbers, he said.

Harris is slated to speak at the conference about diseases that cause low vision, and the symptoms, treatments and management of those diseases. Similar to the philosophy of the AIDB, Harris believes in a comprehensive approach to helping the visually impaired, from medical treatment to technology training and counseling.

"It's not just vision therapy, it's occupational therapy," Harris said. "The fact that they have visual impairment doesn't mean they have to be stuck at home."

Bowman expects about 300 to attend the conference, which has grown each year he has held it. The free conference is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Carl Morgan Convention Center in Selma.

Need more content for project for the visually impaired

Do you know how to pronounce magnanimity? Bourgeois? Rotogravure? How about societal panacea? If so, you may be the perfect volunteer to read the Herald-Review newspaper over the airwaves to a group of visually impaired listeners. For the last two years the Grand Rapids Herald-Review has been involved in a program known as Keeping Current sponsored by the Cap Baker Lions Club in which the visually impaired are able to hear the Herald-Review read.

They listen on a special radio provided to them free of charge from the Minnesota State Services for the Blind. Volunteers read the paper, but more volunteers are needed to help read for the popular project. The world’s first radio reading service started in 1969 and since then Minnesotans have been able to access not just the newspaper but books, magazines, journals and other printed material via the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network.

In 1993 the Minnesota Network opened an outreach site where local volunteers can break into the statewide signal to hear the local newspaper read. In January of 2003 through a partnership with KAXE Northern Community Radio and the Cap Baker Lions Club, the Grand Rapids Herald-Review has been read by volunteers to listeners across the region. Marjorie Toven, who has had macular degeneration for the last 10 years is an avid listener to the broadcast.

She said, “To me it is certainly heaven sent. There is no way that I could read the newspaper or it would take me three to four hours just to read the headlines on the front page … It kind of helps me keep in touch with what’s going on in town.” The Cap Baker Lions Club is one chapter in an international organization which is recognized worldwide for its service to the blind and visually impaired.

Donna Anderson, a member of the Cap Baker Lions Club, whose husband Chuck has macular degeneration, said that finding a group of people who could benefit from a program like Keeping Current has been a top priority for the club which has donated $2,500 each year to keep the project going. Herald-Review Publisher Ron Oleheiser said, “The Herald-Review continues to be a proud participant in this project.” Linda Johnson, the host of news, music and Green Cheese on KAXE Northern Community Radio also is a volunteer reader for the program.

She reads the Wednesday paper and KAXE part-time staffer Alex Huessler reads the Sunday edition of the local newspaper. Johnson said, “I really enjoy the fact that I can help people who can’t see, be able to read the paper. It feels good to know that people are enjoying the paper.” Every week Johnson reads the front page headlines, followed by the names on the obituary page. She then reads front page stories, Ken Hickman’s column, letters to the editor, sports scores and other feature stories. She even describes the Ed Fischer cartoon each week.

While the program is popular with those across the northland there are more volunteers needed to start reading the newspaper. Now that KAXE has moved into its expanded studios on the Mississippi River there is plenty of room for more volunteers to use the recording equipment. Volunteers must first submit a recorded audition which includes reading several stories taken straight out of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review, as well as a list of 100 words which include vocabulary like ration, vicissitudes, emissary, ambivalence and others.

Johnson said that readers may practice before they audition and she will hold a training session as well as work with those who may be interested. “I would like to make it a fun learning experience for anyone interested so they can feel comfortable and increase their abilities,” said Johnson. “The people who listen are wonderful and we know they are appreciative.” Those interested in auditioning to become a volunteer reader may contact Linda Johnson at KAXE Northern Community Radio at 326-1234 or e-mail Linda at

Any blind or visually impaired person can receive the Talking Radio free of charge from the State Services for the Blind. Those interested in receiving the radio should call toll free at 1-800-652-9000.

New educational technology for the visually impaired

The visually impaired in the Arab world are now able to cross a new frontier and benefit from the same educational opportunities offered to learners with fine vision. Integrating blind students in conventional educational environments had its share of challenges. Schools and universities had to invest in their infrastructure in order to be able to deliver quality education to blind and visually impaired students.

Such investments proved to be costly which resulted in less schools and universities catering for blind students around the Middle East. Nattiq and UKS propose a more cost-effective and convenient alternative for organizations that provide education and training to the visually challenged.

UKS specializes in providing the best in integrated e-learning solutions based on a unique learning model designed by its instructional experts. It combines a profound academic background with a cutting edge technological expertise. UKS solutions provide valuable benefits such as accessing the content anytime of the day or night regardless of one's location. With interactive and adaptive learning, learners are fully engaged in the learning process.

Performance tracking allow for progress to be monitored and recorded automatically. The reusability of the elements that make the learning content allow for higher cost-effectiveness. 'Working closely with a company that is practical and innovative in recognizing and delivering the needs of the visually challenged, encourages us to transform the long-established classification of being blind' explains Jawad Sebaali, UKS Country Manager in Dubai; concluding: 'We are excited about our novel product as it reflects our technological educational capability while greatly contributing to our society. We are truly committed to providing all the available learning opportunities to visually impaired and blind people in the region'.

UKS is the only Arab firm with the experience of building and operating a full-fledged virtual university: the Syrian Virtual University (SVU), Nattiq delivers the required assistive technology which enable blind learners to access to content delivered by UKS. With Hal, Pocket Hal and Talks screen readers, visually challenged learners are able to access e-learning content without having to leave their homes.

UKS delivers content to PCs, PDAs and mobile phones. Nattiq's screen readers provide blind learners the opportunity to read and study content with ease and convenience. 'Most educational institutions in the Middle East show interest in providing education to blind Arabs. The challenge was the high cost associated with it', said Auda Hazeem, Nattiq's CEO, adding that 'with UKS and Nattiq teaming up to provide an accessible integrated e-learning solution, blind Arabs will realize another mile stone'.

E-learning content running on PDA and mobile phones will be demonstrated by both Nattiq and UKS at their respective stands at Gitex Dubai 2005 in stand number 809 and H8-1, both in Hall 8.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Company to purchase voting machine for the visually impaired

The blind and visually impaired will be able to vote unassisted in Vigo County precincts starting in the 2006 Primary Election in May.The voters will be aided with a voting machine that uses a headphone set to instruct the voter on how to cast a ballot.The Vigo County Board of Commissioners this week unanimously approved a contract to purchase 95 voting machines for $457,942 from Election Systems & Software Inc. The county reached an agreement to pay for the equipment over a four-year period, with annual payments of $114,485.50.

The price includes software, election support services and maintenance.Vigo County is to be reimbursed the cost through the Indiana Election DivisionThe equipment is required under the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The act was passed to remove the punch card voting system from national use and to allow the handicapped to vote in the 2006 election.It mandates that visually impaired or blind be able to vote "through the use of at least one direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities at each polling place."

Vigo County paid more than $1.3 million for a five-year lease on its current optical scan voting system. Of that amount, the county was reimbursed $347,928 from the federal government. The Help America Vote Act required the additional voting machines, or the county could have been required to pay back the $347,928, said county attorney Bob Wright.

Vigo County presently has 87 voting precincts in 73 polling places, with some polling sites containing two precincts. Nearly all of those polling sites do not meet federal requirements under a federally mandated survey done under the Help America Vote Act.A state program called Count Us In surveyed all Vigo County polling places in 2004 for accessibility to the handicapped. Only two of 87 precincts met the standards, according to the survey.

The two precincts are in one polling place, the Hyte Center.Vigo County commissioners are responsible for setting polling sites under election law. Commissioners plan to form a committee next week to review the issue. Half of that eight-member committee will include elderly or disabled members.The county has paid its lease for its current optical scan voting machines through 2006 and has an option to buy the machines for an additional $60,000.

Vigo County Clerk Pat Mansard opposes this idea, saying a lease agreement includes full service with Election Systems & Software, which provides personnel to oversee the equipment to ensure it works properly on election day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lucknow University gets library for the visually impaired students

In a latest endeavour to further facilitate its visually challenged students, the Lucknow University is getting a library built for them. Named Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Library, it is being constructed by the Lucknow University Nirman Department. Besides, the visually impaired students have also been allotted 15 rooms at the Narendra Dev Hostel.

‘‘The university authorities have always kept on priority the welfare of the visually challenged students. With facilities like free education, free stay and free education for them, we hope the strength of such students would also rise in the university,” said Proctor (Lucknow University) VD Mishra. He added that as the Narendra Dev canteen was not running, the LU authorities have arranged for a tiffin system for these students. The success of their attempts can be gauged from the fact that the strength of the visually impaired students has gone up from 22 to 30 this year.

The Proctor said, ‘‘We are providing special facilities to them at the Tagore Library also. The library is equipped with a conversation machine and brail transcript. But, the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Library would be a seperate library for them.’’

SP Shukla, the Nirman Nigam junior engineer, who is also looking after the library project, informed that Rs 2 lakh has been sanctioned for the library, that would have a seating capacity of 50. Shukla also added that since the library was situated in front of the Narendra Dev Hostel, these students would find it easy to reach.

Textbooks transcribed to Braille

Fielding calls from across the nation for textbooks for visually impaired students, the Mohawk Valley Braille Transcribers organization works at a hectic pace during the back-to-school season.
The group, which transcribes everything from foreign language to mathematics textbooks, completes about eight textbooks per year and also produces duplicates of previously transcribed texts. They work out of the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired offices on Kent Street.

The group has been active since 1973 and is staffed by 24 volunteers. It usually takes about six months to transcribe and proofread a 350-page literature textbook, but up to one year to transcribe a math book.

The group even tackles American history books rife with maps.

"For a fourth-grade child to read what a map looks like is fairly confusing," project coordinator Nancy Hester said. "We try to help them out. "

For the volunteers, mostly retired teachers, the desire to ensure all students have a chance to learn is payment enough.

Elaine Edwards, a retired Clinton teacher who lives in New York Mills, had a friend who was transcribing Braille when she decided to give it a try.

She has volunteered since 1991 and even sometimes works from home.

"The first time I picked up a Braille sheet and could read, it was very exciting. It was like learning to read text," Edwards said.

Volunteers said the training to become a transcriber can be rigorous. It takes most people about a year to learn Braille and submit a 35-page manuscript to the Library of Congress before becoming a certified Brailler.

Mary Doughtery, a Central Association for the Blind receptionist, learned to read Braille in her 20s after becoming visually impaired. She said it took her awhile to learn the new way to read.
"Once you get the concept, and how things are positioned, it's much easier," Doughtery said.

Janet Burt, of Cold Brook, has been a volunteer transcriber 10 years. A retired math teacher from the Clinton school district, she said she got involved with the group through her friend Edwards.
"Learning something new is always exciting to me," Burt said. "It's a good feeling to be able to provide the same materials for blind students as it is for sighted students."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Visually impaired artists to be honoured

WHAT: Passionate Focus 2005 -- Juried exhibition of artwork of blind and visually impaired artists from around the country. Sponsored by Chicago's Guild for the Blind.

WHEN: Artists Reception and Silent Auction Thursday, September 15, 2005, 5 - 9 pm. The exhibition continues through November 13, 2005.

WHO: If people who are blind can be artists, what else can they do if given the opportunity and support? Passionate Focus is a reflection of the spirit embodied in all the programs offered at the Guild for the Blind, including: -- Career training to stem the 70% unemployment rate among the blind and visually impaired, and -- "New Visions," a program to help the one in six people over age 65 who develop vision loss due to macular degeneration. Representatives from the Guild for the Blind will be present, as well as several local featured artists.

WHERE: The Gallery of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Michigan Avenue at Delaware Place and Chestnut Avenue, Chicago.

COST: $100 per person. Tickets are available at the door.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Voting now easier for the visually impaired

For the first time in Citrus County's history, visually impaired voters will be able to vote in private and without assistance. Fifty AccuVote-TSX touch screen voting machines were delivered to Citrus County in August. A touch screen machine will be at each polling location and early vote site.

The machines feature a standard telephone keypad with a raised indicator on the No. 5 key, accompanied by a headset and detailed audio instructions, to make voting private. A poll worker will be assigned to each machine to help if needed.

But the voice-guidance feature enables blind or visually impaired people to vote unassisted in complete privacy by sequencing through the entire ballot using verbal prompts. The AccuVote-TSX even allows voters to control the speed of the audio ballot. The unit's ballot magnification feature, which can be activated by the voter, enables people with limited sight to easily read the touch screen ballot and make selections. The complete system is portable and adjustable, making it accessible to people with physical limitations.

The machines meet the applicable requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act.
The system incorporates advanced security features. It underwent rigorous independent testing before being certified at both the state and federal levels. In addition, logic and accuracy tests will be conducted on each machine before each election.

Each machine operates independently. They are not accessible to wireless or wire-based computer systems, nor are they connected to phone lines or the Internet.

A poll worker programs a voter access card with the voter's precinct/party combination and then gives it to the voter. Voters will have a chance to review and change their choices before casting their ballot.

On election days, the system will continuously accumulate the number of cast ballots, and that number can be cross-checked with the number of registered voters listed in the poll book to confirm the accuracy of the election results. The system requires all machines to be closed by a poll worker before a tally of the precinct can be obtained.

Equal access to voting in Citrus County has been a primary focus of this office. Each year, polling locations are reviewed for physical accessibility. Precincts offer wheelchair-height voting booths and magnifying glasses. Our poll workers attend classes on conflict management, sensitivity and disabilities. The addition of touch-screen voting machines to our existing AccuVote optical scan machines makes it easier for all eligible Floridians to vote. Voting by absentee ballot is still an option, or voters can bring a person to an early voting site or the polls to assist them.

Voting is as easy as 1 - 2 - 3:

1. Vote by mail-in ballot (absentee).

2. Vote at an early voting site.

3. Vote at the polls on election day.

Visually impaired to run in marathon

The Pt Brunei Marathon, which will be held on December 11, 2005, is only three and a half months away and has sparked interest in many of the nation's running enthusiasts.
One such enthusiast is Noralizulrainee Ali Yusop, a visually-impaired student from the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD).

Apart from holding the position of vice-president of the local Brunei Darussalam National Association for the Blind (BDNAB), Noralizulrainee is also a part-time employee of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) and local ambassador for SCB's "Seeing is Believing" initiative.

In preparation for the gruelling run, Noralizulrainee is currently training diligently with his running partner Henry Lu, a colleague from SCB who will also be taking part in the 1st Brunei Marathon. Both Noralizulrainee and Henry will be taking part in the 21 km category.

Being visually impaired does not stop Norali from currently undergoing training three to four times a week.

He runs in unison with Henry, where they are connected together with a foot-long tether held firmly in their fingers, which is a common technique used to guide the visually-impaired during running. Henry also provides verbal cues on matters such as upcoming hills, turns, curbs and uneven footing.

"I am running to help raise funds for the visually-impaired through SCB's `Seeing is Believing' initiative," said Noralizulrainee.

"Through this initiative, we will be able to make a lasting difference to the lives of the visually-impaired community. “I also want to prove to myself and others that being blind is not obstacle," he added.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

United Way celebrates its 100th anniversary!

Abby Shirley was a dedicated United Way donor for years, never dreaming she'd need services the organization helps provide.

A bad turn down a water slide changed everything. Shirley was a diabetic, and a slight bump on the head caused bleeding inside her eyes. After a series of surgeries, the doctors finally confirmed the worst: she'd never see again.

"I had been married 11 months," Shirley told a crowd of hundreds at Thursday's United Way campaign kickoff. "My husband had not bargained for this."

An agency supported by the United Way, now known as the Center for the Visually Impaired, helped Shirley learn to read Braille and perform basic life skills.

"I don't know how much you've ever given to the United Way," she said. "But when I went to CVI, every one of you was on the other side of that door, saying 'Come on in, Abby Shirley, we want to help you.' "

Shirley's story kicked off the Gwinnett United Way's 100th anniversary campaign.

"If I was a Baptist minister," mistress of ceremonies Frances Davis said, "I would pass the plate right now."

There will be plenty of proverbial plate passing. The Gwinnett United Way's 2005 campaign, led by Al Hansen, aims to raise more than $4.6 million. Last year's campaign raised $4.4 million. The United Way supports a host of organizations, including the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, which are soldiering these days to assist hurricane victims.

"The dollars you raised in last year's campaign are helping victims right now," Davis said.

Help provided for prescribed medicine's intructions

People who are visually impaired often struggle to take their medications. Many can't read the instructions, and risk taking an overdose, or the wrong medication. In this week's medical report, Doctor Peter Ostrow has details on a high-tech device that can change all that.
What if you had to take several different medications and you couldn't read the labels?
Bruce Carpenter is one of over 400 severely visually impaired veterans in Western New York who have that problem.

Elaine Powers, VA. & WNY Healthcare System coordinates their care. But now there's a device that can read special medication labels and tell patients what to do. Beep, when it clicks like that take tablet as directed in Coumadin Clinic.

So he no longer has to depend on help with every pill.

When his prescriptions are filled, a computer prints a special label that has a microchip embedded in it. The information in the label is read by the machine, and there's more.
"To refill this prescription, call 212."

The V.A. really is in the lead on this technology. They started the program in July and will be offering it to all patients who might benefit.

The device has a bit of an electronic accent, it says Cou-mah-din instead of Coumadin, but it really is easy to understand.

The more help people can get with medications, the better off they'll be.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Book's introduces to help the visually impaired

Representatives of the Association of Blind and Visually Impaired People of Serbia Beli stap/White Cane, together with several other associations of persons with disabilities, discussed the problems faced by the students with visual and other handicaps in their university studies, and how to assist their studies.

The “Nasa Knjiga” (Our Book) action, implemented by White Cane Association, has the goal to provide each student with text-books in a form most suited to his/her needs. Vesna Nestorovic, President of the Association, said that the blind students and students with impaired vision should be able to have access to electronic books, since that is the form best suited to their needs and the needs of their studies.

Nestorovic emphasized that the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policies distributed 111 oral programmes to blind and visually impaired persons and added that the students should contact the Association with their requests for books needed in electronic form, and the Association will, in turn, notify the Ministry.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Virginia Jacko helps the visually impaired to live independently

For nearly 75 years, a local institution has served as a beacon for people with little or no eyesight, encouraging them to cope with life in a sighted world. It is the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which June 15 appointed a new president and chief executive, Virginia Jacko. Ms. Jacko, an experienced financial executive - for 14 years, she directed fiscal affairs for Purdue University in Indiana - and a longtime advocate of the blind is sightless.

She moved to Miami to become a client of the Lighthouse after a disease with no known cure caused her eyesight to begin failing. She served as treasurer on its board and in February was named interim CEO when incumbent Roxann Mayros resigned. She was interviewed by Miami Today international editor Michael Hayes.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

First visually impaired person to win a singing contest

1.1 million viewers tuned in to watch Kelvin Tan make history on Thursday night, as the first visually-impaired person to win a national singing contest. The "Project SuperStar" finals was also one of the highest rated productions on MediaCorp TV Channel U. It was definitely a night to remember, especially for civil servant Merinda Tan and daughter Micole Soh, who were also there for a personal reason.

Micole's sister Miki loves the show but could not attend as she suffers from Rett Syndrome, a neurological order that causes fits. "I wish my sister was here with me to watch the performance but sadly she can't come. But I'm sure she's enjoying the show at home. And I would definitely bring back lovely memories of the show back to her," said Micole Soh. And one of those include the crowning moment. Kelvin Tan 'out-sang' Kelly Poon, taking home nearly three quarters of the SMS and phone votes.

533,000 votes were cast and Kelvin Tan took 64% of the pie and Kelly, 36%. Their CD sales contributed to 30% of their final scores. Kelvin sold 12, 239 CDs while Kelly sold 11,319 CDs. Tears were also shed, but none went home disappointed. "Even though my idol has lost, I'll still love her forever. Kelly rocks!" said one Kelly fan. And many feel that "Project Superstar" is more than just a talent competition. "It's really seeing how a man in the streets, how an ordinary person can become a superstar. How people around us, their hopes, their aspirations can be turned into reality," said Chang Long Jong, Deputy Group CEO of MediaCorp TV.

"People walking by on the streets, they stop to listen once in awhile. Now people can own my CD, so they can listen to it whenever they like," said "Project SuperStar" winner Kelvin Tan. The very first "Project SuperStar" has finally come to an end and the competition has found a winner. But there are no losers as both finalists each get a recording contract.

Their companies say the contracts will not only make them big in Singapore but regionally as well, in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and even China. And fans hungry for more SuperStar action don't have to wait long. Their idols will hit the stage again at a SuperStar Super Concert on 30 September 2005.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Nattiq creates technology for the visually impaired

Nattiq Technologies will be displaying its latest range of assistive products developed for the visually impaired at Gitex. This includes screen readers, optical character recognisation (OCR) products for scanning and reading back Arabic text, and devices for mobile phones. These products include the firm’s Hal/Supernova screen reading software for computers, as well as a PDA version, Ease Publisher software that turns any electronic text into a talking book and second generation talking mobile phone software called Talx.

“This is our first time displaying on our own. This year the show will be all about raising awareness of the number of blind people and the help they need, that’s our first priority. After that we also have the opportunity to convince employers that blind people can do anything that sighted people can do,” says Auda Hazeem, chief executive of Nattiq Technologies. “Our goal is to provide blind Arabs with the tools to gain the skills in using IT and communication equipment confidently and competently. This is an achievable target,” he adds.

Internet not unattainable for the visually impaired

FOR many urban youngsters who have grown up in the IT era, the Internet and computers may have been part of their lives for many years.

But at this very moment, in a little building next to a busy road in Penang, a group of youths may be laying their hands on a keyboard for the first time in their lives.

At the St Nicholas Home For The Visually Impaired, being blind is not an impediment to being IT literate.

The home has been caring for the blind as well as the visually impaired since 1926, providing them with residential care, education, training and rehabilitation.

Under Project Samsung Eyes, a modern information and communications technology (ICT) centre has been established at the home with a RM190,000 grant from Samsung Malaysia Electronics’ two-year-old DigitAll Hope social programme.

The nationwide Samsung DigitAll Hope programme has helped welfare organisations and communities to implement technology-driven projects for underprivileged youth communities.
The new centre, launched on Aug 18, is equipped with 13 state-of-the-art Internet-connected computers installed with Braille software and screen reading programs such as Windows Eyes, JAWS Professional, MAGic Professional and other applications designed for the needs of the visually-impaired.

Hearing what they can't seeA screen reader program can “speak out” words, instructions and functions to the visually impaired user.

Although 13 computers are speaking at the same time in the room, the users have no problems focusing on their own computers.

With training lasting a month, the visually impaired can perform simple word processing, surf the Web, send e-mails and listen to streaming Web audio.

The new facility has so far trained around 70 blind and visually impaired youths at the secondary school and university level (aged 16 to 25) and is expected to benefit about 100 youths every year.
“Previously, we had only two computers and therefore the number of people we could train was limited,” said Regina Leelawathi, the chief IT trainer of the centre.

“Before the new centre was opened, we have already trained over 400 blind and visually impaired people, teachers and personnel working with the blind over the past 10 years,” she added.

According to Ooi Chee Khoon, executive director of St Nicholas Home for the Visually Impaired, the home has plans to expand the availability of the training classes.

“We are planning to offer afternoon, morning and weekend classes. Also, we hope to offer more comprehensive courses lasting three to six months.

“In the future, we hope to be recognised as a qualified IT trainer, comparable to the IT colleges for normal students,” said Ooi.

Further enhancementsOoi also hopes to upgrade the software applications and equipment at the centre with funds from Samsung’s DigitAll Hope grant, such as purchasing special notebooks for the blind and scanners with optical character recognition (OCR) software.

“With scanners and OCR, the students can scan their own documents such as their own letters into text. Using Braille software, the text can be converted into Braille format and then printed out,” he explained.

Computer technology is also being employed at the home’s Braille Production Centre that produces books in Braille formats for its library.

Previously, books could be typed in Braille using a Braille typewriter, but the disadvantage was that text could only be printed on one side of the paper.

Using a software called Duxbury Braille Translator which works like a word processor that can translate words into Braille text. The Braille text is printed using a RM25,000 Braille printer, which can print on both sides of the paper, thus saving space and paper.

Another advantage of is that copies of the same book can be reproduced easily.

Among the other technologies that St Nicholas Home plans to improve is the “talking newspaper” – a newspaper for the visually impaired that “reads” to them the daily news and “talking books” that act like a storyteller.

DigitAll hope 2005Applications are now open for the Samsung DigitAll Hope 2005 programme, with the new theme “Imagine a Brighter Tomorrow Today.”

Charities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and educational institutions are invited to apply for monetary or product grants to help support ongoing projects or for the founding of new projects that improve the lives of youth through the use of technology.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A visually impaired man excels in medical transcription

Aditya Modi is 22 years old. He lives with his parents in Barrackpore. On Thursday morning, he will make his way to Jodhpur Park for the first day in his first job.

Aditya is excited, but not nervous. But then, Aditya in no ordinary youngster. He is visually impaired, although that hasn’t stopped him from finishing a six-month training course in medical transcription in just four months.

He isn’t the only one. Sandeep Chakraborty, too, has excelled in the course, and is joining the new job on Thursday.

What began as a goodwill gesture has left the IT-enabled services BPO company Transtek stunned at the skills of the handicapped young men of Ramkrishna Mission Blind Boys’ Academy, Narendrapur.

On Wednesday, five of the schools’ students were felicitated for their efforts and skills. Four months ago, Transtek, which does medical transcription work for doctors in the US, approached the Narendrapur academy to train some of its students.

“It involves listening to tapes of dictation by doctors of interaction with their patients and typing them out. These reports are then sent back, which the doctors attach with their bills and send to insurance companies. We had heard that in the US, visually-impaired people were doing this. So we decided to try it here, too,” explained Sudarshan Bagri, managing director, Transtek.

The training was provided free to six boys on the Narendrapur campus. Initial doubts of both teachers and students were soon erased. “They are just too good. Their skills are no less than a sighted person,” gushed trainer Archan Haldar.

A doctor also took classes once a week, to teach the students about the human body, “since a general idea is required”. There were hurdles, of course, like complicated medical terms, American accents and learning about the human body without being able to see the diagrams. “It was a little difficult at first, especially with the keyboards. But I’ve had no problems. I’m confident,” smiled Aditya.

Three more students are gearing up to complete the course in another two months, after which Transtek will hire them, too. “We want to continue this project, but with corporate sponsorships in future to cover the costs,” added Bagri.

For those like Deepak Bhattacharya, such an initiative matters. The 30-year-old is excited about completing his course in another two months, and happy about finally being able to earn.

Special cane for the visually impaired

A daily wage earner in a confectionary making unit in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu has developed a special mobility cane for the visually handicapped.The walking stick is working with the help of two battery cells and makes different sounds.

Anandan, a 'mithai master' in Kulasekharapatnam, who displayed the special cane fitted with a wheel at the bottom, at a seminar on 'Innovations for Human development,' told PTI that a specially fitted three-foot aerial to the cane, vibrates whenever the stick-holder comes across an obstacle.
On what prompted him to make the stick, Anandan said he became upset when he saw a blind man falling into a pit and struggling to regain control. From then on, he started working to develop a stick useful for the visually challenged.

He had first made a cane with seven wheels, making different sounds when it dashed against stones, pits, Anandan said adding S Gurumurthy of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch had advised him to go in for a lighter one, since that cane weighed about 24 KGs.

After working day and night, he had succeeded in developing the new 1.3 kg stick, fitted with earphone, toy car motor and a bell, by which the user can get the indication of pits and other obstacles, he said.

Short of fund for mass production, Anandan, who earns rs.100 a day, however, does not want to sell the rights of his invention, but would seek loans to market the product on his own.

New services options offered to the visually impaired

NSTAR and the Perkins School for the Blind are teaming up to help sight-impaired customers more easily and independently manage their monthly utility bills. NSTAR will now provide monthly statements in Braille or large-print to customers who have lost all or part of their vision. The new service is free of charge and customers need only call the company's customer service line to sign up.

"Access to information is a major barrier threatening the independence of many people in the blindness community. By introducing billing in Braille and large print, NSTAR is giving customers who are blind or visually impaired the ability to read their electric bills independently without assistance from a sighted person," said Kim Charlson, Director of Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library. "NSTAR deserves recognition as one of the first major energy companies to provide accessible billing to all of its customers."

NSTAR customers who enroll in the program will receive both their regular statement and the new version at no additional charge. The Braille and large-print format will afford these customers the opportunity to get a better understanding of their monthly energy usage and other pertinent account information.

"The new bill options are just one example of how NSTAR tailors its services to fit the needs of a diverse range of customers," said Penni Conner, NSTAR's Vice President of Customer Care. "Providing our statements in Braille and large print allows these customers to enjoy a better sense of independence and privacy as they manage their finances."

To take advantage of this service, customers can call NSTAR at 800-592-2000. Customers who enroll will see no impact on any payment option programs or services in which they are already enrolled - such as Direct Pay, Pay by Phone or Budget Billing.

Perkins is the oldest school for the blind in the country, where Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, were educated. Today Perkins serves more than 60,000 people who are blind, deafblind or visually impaired with multiple disabilities--from babies to school-age children to elders--on campus, in the community and in 55 developing countries around the world.

NSTAR transmits and delivers electricity and natural gas to 1.4 million customers in Eastern and Central Massachusetts, including over one million electric customers in 81 communities and nearly 300,000 gas customers in 51 communities.

New computer lab for the visually impaired in Cuba

A computer lab was recently opened for the blind and visually impaired at the provincial library of the central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus.

The library extended its services in 1982 to include a special area for children, youth and adults with vision limitations. Now this area includes the modern Jaws software which enables users to consult an extensive digitalized bibliography, including the Encyclopedia Encarta 2005, reports the local newspaper Escambray.

By means of computer speakers the person is aware of every operation he/she is carrying out and the menus available. The implementation of this technology allows the visually impaired to use word processors, opening and saving texts, inserting images, etc.

Similar computer labs already exist in the provinces of Havana and Santiago de Cuba.