Monday, November 28, 2005

New voting machines will facilitate voting for the visually impaired

William Schultz has to replace a county's worth of outdated punch-card voting machines, but he's unsure how to proceed.

The El Dorado County registrar of voters faces a Jan. 1 federal deadline to retool more than 110 polling places. Yet Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has not certified some of the controversial machines Schultz plans to buy from Diebold Elections Systems.

"We can't do anything until the system is certified," Schultz said. "We're just waiting to see what the secretary of state is going to do, and we're rapidly running out of time."

McPherson's staff earlier this month recommended that the Diebold TSx machines be conditionally certified, but critics raised security and accessibility concerns last week at a public hearing in Sacramento.

McPherson is still reviewing public comments and plans to allow a Finnish expert to try to hack into the Diebold system soon, said Nghia Nguyen Demovic, a secretary of state spokeswoman.

McPherson has given no indication as to when he will decide on certification.

Electronic voting critics say the federal Help America Vote Act deadline requiring local officials to replace outdated and inaccessible voting machines should be extended. They suggest that electronic voting machines approved by federal officials are flawed.

And they insist that deadline fears raised by county registrars should not trump the need for secure elections.

"The next election is not until June, so the real goal should be to have it conducted with equipment that meets the standards of California and federal law," said Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey. "There is no requirement that every polling place be filled with electronic voting equipment. The requirement is to make the polls accessible to disabled voters and there's more than one way to do that."

County registrars are uncertain what will happen if they do not have new voting machines in place by the Jan. 1 deadline. They say they could face lawsuits or lose federal funding.

Another electronic voting machine made by Sequoia Voting Systems is certified, but not for the June primary ballot.

A third type, an optical-scan machine used in Sacramento County, meets next year's guidelines.
"It's a legal deadline, but as for what's going to happen, I don't have a crystal ball," said Conny McCormack, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials and the Los Angeles County registrar. "No counties want or need to be in this position of noncompliance, and we have been forced into this position."

Fifteen county registrars, including McCormack and Schultz, signed a letter this month urging McPherson to certify Diebold's machine as soon as possible. McCormack said registrars want the state to test and certify a variety of machines for use.

U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said federal officials could bring a civil action against any local government that does not comply with the HAVA standards. That could come in the form of an injunction that asks a county to come into compliance with the law, she said.

Sacramento County has installed a state-certified optical-scan system to comply with the Jan. 1 federal deadline. In optical-scan systems, voters fill out a ballot by circling in bubbles similar to those used on standardized tests.

Voters with disabilities can select choices on a computer that prints out a ballot on paper. In both cases, voters ultimately feed their paper ballots into a scanner.

Other counties, such as San Joaquin, have opted for touch-screen electronic voting. San Joaquin County has 1,625 Diebold TSx machines in storage, awaiting certification from McPherson.
Touch-screen machines allow voters to use a computer that internally records their selections. Under state law, all electronic-voting machines next year must provide a printout of a voter's selections for purposes of verification.

Schultz wants to purchase the Diebold touch-screen machine for visually impaired voters and those with disabilities to comply with federal guidelines - part of a plan El Dorado County supervisors approved in May.

Voters with disabilities have backed electronic voting as the best way to allow them to vote independently. Some suggest that the optical-scan system provides less privacy because voters may require help to transfer a ballot from a printer to a scanner.

But advocates last week criticized the Diebold electronic voting machine for a lack of accessibility.
Dan Kysor of California Council of the Blind said the Diebold machines are incapable of reading printed text to visually impaired voters who want to verify their selections. While sighted voters can read the paper trail, he said, visually impaired voters don't have the same protection.

Kysor said that blind and visually impaired voters in the past have sought help from a sighted person. But he believes HAVA allows all voters to vote independently with the same rights.
Teresa Favuzzi, executive director of California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, also criticized the Diebold machine for lacking a sip-and-puff mechanism for people who have impaired dexterity. She added that it is not portable enough for use in curbside voting at polling places that are inaccessible.

Kim Alexander of the California Voting Foundation said legitimate concerns by voters with disabilities could delay certification of the Diebold system because the HAVA standards are meant to make voting systems accessible.

McPherson rejected Diebold certification this summer when a volume test of 96 TSx machines in San Joaquin County resulted in screen freezes and paper jams. A subsequent test this fall in San Diego had few problems - leading to recommended certification by secretary of state staff.

But electronic voting critics last week said all machines - Diebold's included - are vulnerable to computer hackers. Jim March, an electronic voting investigator with nonprofit Black Box Voting, said that an errant elections official or company official could tamper with results.
Such concerns prompted McPherson to allow for a hacking test in the near future.
Diebold spokesman David Bear denied that the voting machines could be hacked.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Visually impaired nun wins case as a discrimination victim

A visually impaired nun was today awarded the maximum possible award in a discrimination case under the Intoxicating Liqour Act.Sister Brid Smith was refused entry to Conway's Pub and Restaurant in Blackrock, Co. Dublin because she was accompanied by her guide dog.Niall Crowley of the Equality Authority said he wasn’t surprised that the woman received the maximum payout as she was treated very badly: “

She arrived in the pub in the afternoon to have a cup of coffee - she was refused service and told very abruptly to get out by an employee,” he said.“The award that the district court made of €6,300 is the maximum award allowed and this is hugely important in sending out a very strong and unequivocal message that discrimination in this area is not only unacceptable but it will also be very costly.”

Visually impaired voters to receive help

It's a voting machine that will tell a voter everything but whom to pick.Vigo County got its first look Tuesday at a new touch-screen voting machine that will enable visually impaired voters to vote at their polling place without direct assistance.They'll receive voting instructions from the machine itself and use a variety of shaped keys to record their choices.

Election Systems and Software manufactures all the county's voting equipment.Its regional sales manager Robb McGinnis said the new machine gives a voter two options: to select a screen on which the voter simply touches the candidate's name, or a recorded system that allows the voter to get cues from the machine itself about individual races and which buttons to push to cast a vote.

The machine also has Braille information along the lower edge to assist voters who can read that language. Voters using the recorded system will not have visual cues on the screen.“Poll workers can usually just stand aside and wait to see if there is any problem,” McGinnis said.The recorded message begins with a summary of all the races available for that voter, and then leads a voter through each of the races, giving the voter a chance to vote, or move on to the next candidate.

The system also allows the voter to change a vote cast in error, and reviews all the choices before asking the voter to make the final decision to cast the ballot.One touch-screen voting machine will be placed in each voting place, and will be available to all voters if they choose.

Modern voting: Robb McGinnis of Election Systems & Software discusses the capabilities of the new touch-screen voting machines Tuesday during a demonstration for members of the Vigo County Clerk's Office in the Vigo County Annex. (Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza)
The county's optical scan voting machines, new to the county in 2002, remain.“Most of your votes will be cast on the optical scan system,” McGinnis said.The optical scan machines will have the paper ballot available at the end of the day.

The new-touch screen machines do not, McGinnis said. It will only produce a printout of the votes cast on it. The votes cast on it will be kept on a cartridge that will be counted at the courthouse, adding another layer of recordkeeping for election officials.“Just a little more difficult having two systems rather than one,” said Pat Mansard, Vigo County clerk.She said the new machines are part of the county's upgrade into compliance with new state and federal rules. One of the new rules meant the replacement of the county's punch card system.

“We had gotten our money's worth out of that system,” Mansard said. “Because of the events in Florida [during the 2000 presidential election], everyone was required to get a new voting system.”The optical scan system was introduced in Vigo County in 2002. The system cost the county almost $1.4 million, with $348,000 having been reimbursed to county taxpayers.The Help Americans Vote Act of 2002 placed additional requirements on local election officials, Mansard said, including making voting more accessible.

The new touch-screen system is an effort to meet that new law's requirements.New state rules also are scheduled to take effect, including identification requirements at the polls, which may force some voters to come back to the clerk with an acceptable I.D.The new systems and laws will change the way the county does business.“We won't have official results as quick as we're used to,” Mansard said. The optical scan machines have an ability to send the results via modem that the touch screen machines do not, she said.

At the same time, voters who cast a ballot and have to return with identification will be provisional voters until their identity can be verified, she said. It could delay official results by as much as a week.“It's a lot more complicated than it used to be,” Mansard said.“All locations around the country will have the same challenges,” McGinnis said.Vigo County has spent more than $1.8 million on new election systems since the fall 2000 election. A breakdown of what has been spent:--Almost $1.4 million on an optical scan system for which voters fill in ovals on a paper ballot and feed the finished ballot into a counting machine.

About $350,000 of that purchase has been reimbursed.--More than $457,000 paid for 95 new touch-screen machines that will allow visually impaired voters a chance to vote at their polling place without direct assistance. The state will be reimbursing most of that cost, said Vigo County Clerk Pat Mansard.

Underprivileged tot recipient of free eye surgery

The HCMC Sponsoring Association for Poor Patients held a ceremony on Saturday to mark the 200,000th free eye surgery for the underprivileged, visually impaired in the past eight years.
This program has spent more than VND100 billion (US$6.3 million) eliminating blindness in 33 provinces and cities nationwide, including areas of the northwest, central highlands and southwest, said Nguyen Vinh Nghiep, chairman of the association.

They have also completed more than 3,000 procedures for the underprivileged, visually impaired in Laos and Cambodia.

Next year, the association hopes to treat 50,000 people nationwide, a plan requiring VND25 billion (US$1.6 million).

At the ceremony, about VND30 billion (US$1.9 million) was raised, including VND10 billion (US$628,000) for wheelchairs.

Parents concerned about lack of schools for visually impaired kids

The parents of visually impaired children lament the lack of an effective education system in the country that would suit the special needs of these kids.

Amparo Pelaez, president of the Parents Advocate for Visually Impaired Children (PAVIC), said education is especially important for handicapped children because it helps make them more self-reliant.

"Education can improve the quality of life of our children especially when they grow up. We want them to have good education and to be gainfully employed. We can’t always be here for them so we want them to be independent," Pelaez said in an interview.

PAVIC is a support group that was formed in 1999 by parents of children who are given free education at the Resources for the Blind (RBI), a non-governmental organization founded by blind American missionary Dr. Arthur Lown.

"When we gather together, we always talk about our frustrations and our disappointments. We realized that we needed to act for the sake of children with disabilities so we decided to form this support group. We hope to make our voices heard," Pelaez pointed out.

PAVIC is hoping to reach out to the parents of other blind children so they could also be educated as to how to handle their kids.

Recently, PAVIC held its First Parents Congress aimed at drumming up support for the education of visually impaired, or VI, children. The event was themed "Hope for a Brighter Future."

During the Congress, PAVIC recognized The STAR for its support of the organization.

According to Francis Choy, PAVIC former president, while there are public schools that accept VI children, they lack the logistics and training to handle such students.

"The government has this program ‘education for all.’ We should remember that even those with disabilities have the right to education. They should be given equal access to education," Choy said.

PAVIC complained that in many schools, textbooks and other educational materials are not available in Braille thus making it hard for VI children to be on equal footing with the sighted ones.
And oftentimes, Braille textbooks are delivered when the school year is already halfway over.
"We actually don’t have to dig deep here. The basic issue of transportation fare is a problem for many families with VI children. Many can’t afford the fare. In other countries, the government subsidizes even the fares just to encourage the parents to bring their children to school," Choy said.

PAVIC plans to lobby the Department of Education to institutionalize an "early intervention" program in the education of VI children to prepare them for mainstream school.

Visually impaired recent award winning books

Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass, the winner of the 2004 Sydney Taylor Book Award for distinguished Jewish children's literature, is the newest book to join JBI International's Talking Book Library for the visually impaired. A compelling story of life in modern Israel, Real Time follows a number of characters hour by hour to the moment when their lives intersect at a bus bombing in Israel, and through the aftermath of the event.

Remarkably insightful and even-handed, this thoughtful book, as publisher Clarion says, "could be the backstory behind yesterday's–or tomorrow's–news."JBI (established as The Jewish Braille Institute of America) makes books available to readers who are blind, visually impaired, or reading disabled by creating audio, Braille, and large-print versions of popular books on Jewish themes. The audio recording of Real Time will be available to JBI subscribers by January 2006. Braille and large-print versions will be produced upon completion of the audio book.

JBI's collection of over 13,000 Talking Books is available free of charge to anyone meeting the eligibility requirements: inability to read standard print even with corrective lenses; physical disability; and learning or reading disability. Visit to learn more about JBI, and to learn more about the Sydney Taylor Book Award and to view a list of past winners.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Ryanair changes policy for the visually impaired

Ryanair is changing its policy on visually impaired passengers, just one month after attracting criticism for ejecting a group of partially sighted passengers from one of its planes.

Last month, a disability organisation called for people to boycott the airline after a group of nine blind and partially sighted people were taken off a flight. The group, from Norwich, boarded the Stanstead plane and were destined for Italy before being asked to disembark as the flight. Ryanair said it could only accommodate four disable people.

Ryanair announced that following consultation with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, it will be changing its policy on the number of visually impaired people on board a flight.

The company said the change is part of an ongoing commitment to enhance customer service.
The proposals have been put to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and, subject to approval, visually impaired passengers who are travelling with a sighted companion on a one-to-one basis will no longer need to pre-advise Ryanair and will not be included in the aircraft safety limit of four.

However, visually impaired passengers flying alone will remain part of the safety limit quota of four.
The airline's head of customer services, Caroline Green, said: "This is a common-sense change which follows an incident where a group of vision impaired passengers were not able to travel because the safety limit for reduced mobility passengers was exceeded.

"This policy change will increase quota for vision impaired customers able to travel with us as the aircraft restriction will not apply when a vision impaired passenger is travelling with a sighted companion on a one-to-one basis."

Des Kelly, chief executive of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, welcomed the announcement and said: "Ryanair are to be congratulated for taking the lead in improving what has been a problematic area for vision impaired passengers when flying.

"It is also a major step forward for the European aviation industry as a whole and I hope that other airlines will follow Ryanair's example."

If approved by the Irish Aviation Authority, visually impaired passengers travelling with a sighted companion, on a one-to-one basis, will no longer be required to pre-advise Ryanair.

India President's address was positive for the visually impaired

Following is the text of the President, Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s address at the concluding function of the Silver Jubilee of the India Confederation of the Blind here today:

Capacity building for Visually impaired

“I am delighted to participate in the Concluding Function of the Silver Jubilee of All India Confederation of the Blind. My greetings to all the members of the Confederation, ophthalmologists, optometrists, medical social workers, medical technologists and distinguished guests. I am happy to know that the Confederation has made many important contributions towards removing the pain of visually challenged persons. I would like to discuss on ‘Capacity building for visually impaired’.


Rehabilitation process should aim at enabling persons to reach and maintain their optimal physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological and social functional level. It has to include measures to provide and restore functions to compensate for the loss or absence of a function. It should include from more basic and general rehabilitation to goal-oriented activities, for instance vocational rehabilitation.

Training is an important educational mechanism to remove the disabilities. We have recently come across one interview with a wrestler who is kneeless and handless. The training from childhood, will power to be on own and above all the willingness of benefactors with love and compassion to go all out to help such special persons, demonstrate that the special abilities can be built.

Dr. Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University is one of the most accomplished physists of our time. This great scholar was affected by motor neuron disease which deterioted so much that threatened his research career. His speech became slurry and many people predicted that he would not live to complete his Ph D. His determination and the help that he received from modern technology and from some close friends, made sure that he not only lived to complete his Ph.D but also made the most enviable contribution to Physics, the string theory. He is a great living example in radiating the confidence to win in the midst of number of physical disabilities.

Conquest of Vision Challenges through Technology Tools

I met number of people who have fought and conquered the vision challenges. Particularly on 23-Aug-2004, I met Mr. Asif Ali who shared with me his experiences in overcoming the vision challenges that he faced during his teen age and how the technology tools such as screen reader software using with the laptop helped him to continue his studies up to post graduation level. He is able to read electronic books, send emails, participate in seminars and presentation and feel very normal and able to carry out his day-to-day activities.

Now he is a confident engineer, he takes class in the Symbiosis school. Technology has enabled him to overcome the problem though at a high cost which he is able to afford. I am sure many may be able to benefit from this experience but we have to make special effort to make the technological tools available to them through societal mission at an affordable cost.

I am thinking how these technologies can be made available to common people, who are challenged by the vision difficulties. If the software and hardware for the visually challenged persons are available at an affordable cost, if the software is accessible through web, then certainly it will reach the needy and will be of help to them to overcome the problems. In this effort, in Rashtrapati Bhavan, as a first step my friends have developed a ‘Speech Applet’ which provides a speech interface to my website for the visually disabled persons and has been released on 26 Jan 2005.

It has been made available to all, through my website for download, so that it can be configured at their web servers to provide a speech interface for the visually challenged persons. It has been used by many institutions that are imparting training to the visually challenged persons for making the content available and accessible. It has also been used by visually challenged individuals. On an average there are 8000 hits on this site and around 4500 used the applet for reading the text.

In addition, I would like to mention that Arushi, a NGO based in Bhopal has made Braille of the English version of Wings of Fire and Ignited Minds and they are giving to the blind schools at the cost price. Similarly, Shri Gandhi Kannadasan has made the Braille of the Tamil version of Wings of Fire and is supplying free to blind schools and social organizations. Arushi has also made the Braille of 140 exhibits of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Children's Art Gallery in both English and in Hindi. We have made the Tactile Garden with Braille board to explain about the herbal plants and flowers. Over thousand children are visiting this garden every year.

As a next step, we are working with the R&D institutions to integrate the speech interface with the open source operating systems in English and other Indian languages. In order to make it available in a cost effective manner, we are working towards providing a speech interface through the indigenously developed handheld PC called ‘Simputer’ to visually challenged persons. These hardware, software integrated system can be called as ‘Virtual Vision’. The government agencies and various private organizations can take up this mission of development and production of ‘Virtual Vision’. Now I would like to discuss the Pyramid model developed by Dr. G.N. Rao, President, International Agency for Prevention of Blindness for providing comprehensive eye care to all the visually challenged people in the country.

Investment in eye care

The pyramid model of eye-care delivery as focused by Dr.G N Rao is an excellent roadmap. It involves creation of a four tier system of treatment namely primary, secondary, ter-ti-ary and advanced ter-ti-ary care. In India, we have 20% vision centers for primary care, 70% service centers for secondary care, 50% training centers for tertiary care and 25% centers of excellence. We need to double the investment to provide full compliment of eye care facility for all the four sectors with participating eye centers, government agencies, international partners and social organizations. This funding should also be available for carrying out research and providing virtual vision to the needy personnel.

Implementation of Disability Bill

I would like to emphasize that government institutions should respect the Disability Bill which provides three percent job reservations for differently able persons. There must be a mechanism for effective monitoring of adherence to the Bill by the concerned ministries and departments, so that the differently able personnel are able to lead an economically independent normal life. I have seen few states have taken initiative on their own to assist training and absorption in governmental units. All of us have the responsibility to help such persons. Much more than the legal provisions are the need to empower disabled persons with right type of knowledge, skills and technology. Then alone they will have the fullest self-esteem.


The 2001 census indicates that over two crore people suffer from different types of disabilities. The category wise distribution of disabilities is as follows: visual one crore, locomotors sixty lakh, mentally challenged twenty-two lakh, hearing thirteen lakh, speech sixteen lakh. The largest number of disabilities is either visually challenged or movement disability. Hence, all the effort must be directed towards finding technology tools for removing the visual impairment in a time bound manner.

The work done in removing this pain is definitely God's work. I would request the NGOs, corporates, academicians, philanthropists and the government to join together for finding lasting solution to make the life of these two crore people in the country productive. This I would consider a great contribution towards human resource mobilization for the national development mission.

Meanwhile we require an innovative and caring mind to provide productive employment to the disabled persons. To achieve this a committee of experts including representatives from corporate and voluntary sectors have identified around 120 occupations at executive/management/supervisory levels and around 946 occupations at skilled/semi-skilled/unskilled levels including call centers for employing disabled persons without compromising the quality of work.

Organizations and industry should voluntarily come forward to offer some of the occupations to the disabled so that they can realize their economic independence and free them from the pain of disability. I was happy to find that one of the food processing industries in Erode is employing 200 differently abled personnel particularly visually challenged in all their production activities from manufacture to packaging of Masalas. Also I saw in Coimbatore some visually impaired people are being employed for medical transcription by a BPO industry.

To mark the 60th Anniversary of Mahindra & Mahindra, on 2nd October 2005 at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the management decided to donate 60 cochlear implants to hearing impaired. I inaugurated this programme. The corporate groups and social institutions and Government organizations can do similar missions for the visually impaired persons.

Once again I congratulate all the Silver Jubilee award winners and winners of the National Dance Competition Award. My best wishes to all the members of the All India Confederation of the Blind in their mission of providing better quality life to the visually challenged persons.

May God bless you.

Airline mistreated visually impaired customers

Campaigners who were fighting to get budget airline Ryanair to change its policies after it booted a group of blind people off a plane today hailed a partial victory.However volunteers at the Norwich-based charity Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind, which organised the holiday which sparked the row, today insisted they were still seeking compensation from the airline.The airline yesterday announced it would change its policies after previously insisting it had done nothing wrong.

The group of middle-aged and elderly passengers from Norwich and Great Yarmouth were told to get off their plane at Stansted, because they had not told the airline in advance blind people would be travelling.Yesterday the low-fare Irish airline announced vision-impaired passengers who were travelling with a sighted companion on a one-to-one basis would no longer be required to inform the airline in advance.

And that they would not be included in its limit of four reduced-mobility passengers per flight.But the no-frills carrier added that vision-impaired passengers travellingalone would remain part of the rule.The low-fare Irish airline had always maintained that the group of 12 passengers, a mix of blind, partially sighted and perfect sighted, was above its quota of how many mobility impaired people it could carry.

However Katherine Hurst, a volunteer with the blind charity, which is based in Magpie Road, said she still wanted to see an apology and compensation from the budget airline.And she added she was "amazed" at the airline's sudden change or heart given that they had always maintained they had done nothing wrong.She said the group of travellers had employed a solicitor and barrister to sue Ryanair for breach of contract.

And she said this legal action was being backed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB.)The group of 12 is also going to be meeting East of England MEP Richard Howitt in Brussels next Wednesday to lobby the European Parliament to change the Disability Discrimination Act so that it forces airlines, who are currently exempt, to comply by its rules. In September the 12 travellers, aged 50 to 73, were thrown off their aircraft by the captain at Stansted airport because he said the airline could only take four visually impaired passengers at a time and needed to be informed in advance.

But Mrs Hurst, 43, who organised their holiday, has always maintained that she phoned the airline in advance and told them there would be six blind passengers, three partially sighted and three perfectly sighted on that flight. And she maintains that they did not need staff assistance because they all had companions either partially or fully sighted."Everyone had a sighted companion. Six were completely blind, three were visually impaired which just meant they could not read or drive but they were perfectly capable of getting on and off an aeroplane on their own and three were fully sighted guides.

"Seven of the passengers had to fly later that evening arriving in Italy in the middle of the night, one went home she was so upset and the other four were forced to sleep on the floor of the airport and fly the next morning to Treviso. She said many of these passengers had been left scarred by the "humiliating experience.The mother-of-two, who lives in Unthank Road, Norwich, said it had been a devastating experience for all involved.

"We have written to Ryanair and they have never written back or offered us any compensation. They have never spoken to us – they have only spoken through the media."This is a fantastic victory for us but I still think Ryanair should have the courtesy to contact us. I think they have been through an awful lot and it would be nice to get some compensation."

Ryanair's Caroline Green said: "This is a common-sense change, which follows an incident where a group of vision-impaired travellers were not able to travel because the aircraft safety limit for reduced mobility travellers was exceeded."

Registration of visually impaired students is rising

The second Public Awareness Day for Students with Visual Impairment 2005 was held yesterday at The Mall in Gadong.

It was launched by the guest of honour, Deputy Minister of Education Pg Dato Dr Hj Mohammad bin Pg Hj Abd. Rahman.

The Public Awareness Day was organised by the Special Education Unit, Ministry of Education, with sponsorship from local companies, namely Sugi Sinar (B) Sdn Bhd, Standard Chartered Bank and Abdul Razak Holdings.

The first Public Awareness Day was last held on October 9-10 in conjunction with World Sight Day.
The event began with the reading of al-Fatihah by Mudim Kg Tamoi. This was followed by opening remarks by the co-chairperson of the ceremony, Acting Head of Special Education Unit Hjh Dyg Aming binti Hj Wasli.

She pointed out that the number of visually impaired students registered at the, Special Education Unit had increased since the Public Awareness Day was first launched last year.

There are currently 85 visually impaired students registered with the Special Education Unit who need assistance in the learning process in the classroom.

Several courses and workshops have been held for teachers, parents, guardians and students in efforts by the Special Education Unit to help visually impaired students in schools, Hjh Dyg Aming said.

She pointed out that some 60 teachers have attended workshops on vision impairment that was held in stages.

This year, 12 government primary and secondary teachers who had completed a Code Braille course sat for the Braille Specialist Examinations, which was sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank.

Following the launching of the public awareness day, the guest of honour presented certificates of the Braille Specialist Examination, which are recognised by the Royal New Zealand Foundation of The Blind, Auckland, to the 12 .teachers who sat for the examination.

Basic Braille Specialist certificates were also presented to four government and private school teachers, six parents, four volunteers and six visually impaired students.

The Braille learning classes was carried out by Cikgu Hj Roslan bin Hj Zulkefli, the programme coordinator for visually impaired students, Special Education Unit.

Various activities were held yesterday in conjunction with the event such as exhibits on visual impairment set up by the Special Education Unit, Brunei DarussalamNational Association for the Blind, Eye Specialist Clinic from the Ministry of Health and Pusat Ehsan.

The Eye Specialist Clinic also conducted free eye examinations for visitors to the exhibition.
Meanwhile, the Language and Literature Bureau - with cooperation from the Special Education Unit and Pusat Ehsan - has recently published several children's Braille books for the first time in Brunei.

Weaving now can be enjoyed by the visually impaired

Weaving it is not a common activity but it is at Chicago's Friedman Place -- even though the weavers can not see the beauty of their work. Vision is not a requirement for weaving but it does call for patience and willingness to do the same thing over and over.
Korah Erbacher is the weaving instructor at Friedman Place.
"I also teach sighted weavers on an individual basis, you know, I take private students but as a group I only do what I'm doing here," said Korah.

All of the residents are blind or visually impaired.
"I take their hands and I show them with their hands and I talk to them. If they have limited hearing, I also give them Braille notes to help them understand better. Not all of the weavers read Braille, but, so far, the hearing impaired weavers I've had read Braille so that helped," said Korah.

The weaving program started in 1998 at Kagan Home for the blind. In February, they moved to the new facility. Teaching people without sight to weave is different.

"It is just a matter of introducing them to what they're doing and convincing them that they can do it. Some of them don't believe it is possible and it is," said Korah.

They do amazing work.

"The people who have been blind from birth have never seen color and yet they really want to know what color they're working with," said Korah.

Jim Fordyce has been weaving since the program started.

"Today I'm doing what they call overshot pot holders," said Jim.

"I come as long as I want except when there is a day of exercise," said Jim.

Next Sunday Friedman Place is having their annual holiday sale.

"We've got some baby blankets, we've got pillows, we've got tote bags, we make hand towels and shawls and scarves, table runners, place mats," said Korah.

Prices range from $5 to $90. Proceeds from the sale go to support the weaving program.
"I find the ones that do it best. They get into a zone, they get going. They get their rhythm and they just weave and I just have to keep an eye on them. I don't really have to intervene much," said Korah.

Friedman Place's holiday sale is Sunday, December 4 from 1 to 4 p.m. They are located at 5527 North Maplewood in Chicago. The telephone number is 773/989-9800.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Final report on how to help visually impaired children

A special House commission is releasing its final report today to help visually impaired children.
The commission was established in 2002 to promote and develop a comprehensive system of education for blind and visually impaired children. It issued an interim report on its findings last year.

Representative Eileen Naughton, the commission’s chairwoman, will review improvements that have been made at a news conference this afternoon at the Statehouse. Several local actors will perform “before and after” skits to demonstrate the new services and policy changes implemented by the commission.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Teacher study to obtain Ph. D. to follow her dreams...and teach the visually impaired

For Julie Durando, the thing she loved -- daily, one-on-one interaction with blind and visually impaired students in Volusia County schools -- conflicted with two truths:

· There aren't enough teachers like her to go around,

· And in order to do something about it, her educational specialty needs more leadership.

Durando, 30, is now enrolled as a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, with a goal of someday recruiting and preparing more teachers of blind and visually impaired children.

She is one of 14 teachers to earn a fellowship from a program at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Elkins Park, Pa. The fellowship is partly funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and provides her full tuition and a minimum $20,000 annual living stipend during four years of full-time study.

That allows her to live at the university, in Greeley, Colo., and occasionally travel back to Florida to see her husband at their Edgewater home. But no matter where she is these days, she's not far from a book or her laptop.

"I have piles and piles of research," she said.

She came to see a need for more education in the field through both her experience and at the urging of one of her professors from her undergraduate years.

Sandra Lewis, associate professor of education and coordinator of the visual impairment program at Florida State University, said the field desperately needs new leaders to replace a large number of baby-boom generation leaders who are approaching retirement.

In recent years an average of four students nationwide were annually earning doctoral degrees in the specialty.

Blind and visual impairment is considered to be a low-incidence condition. About 90 students are in the Volusia County schools program. Still, more children are surviving premature deliveries, creating a growing need for more teachers, said Kathleen Huebner, co-director of the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment, the organization that awarded Durando's fellowship.
Today, schools nationwide need 5,000 more teachers in the specialty and another 10,000 orientation and mobility instructors, said Missy Garber, project coordinator for the center.

Volusia County schools have no vacancies for teachers in the visually impaired program, said Sharon Voorhees, exceptional student education administrator for Volusia County schools. But she acknowledged qualified candidates are few. When she was teaching in Volusia, Durando usually had between 10 and 15 students at five or six different schools. She taught several for eight years.

"I was able to teach the same kids year after year," she said. "I became quite attached to my students."

As a teacher, she could only help her students. With a doctoral degree, she can reach more.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Patient information leaflets now available to the visually impaired

A new service, X-PIL, is launched this week offering patient information leaflets (PILs) in Braille and other formats, such as large print and CD-ROM, that enable visually impaired people to access information about their treatment.

The new service helps pharmaceutical companies comply with new regulations brought in at the end of October which require accessible information to be made available on request for newly-launched products. Over the next five years the requirement will be applied to all 25,000 PILS in the UK.

X-PIL is being provided by the Royal National Institute of the Blind, the National Library for the Blind and Datapharm Communications, a not-for-profit company whose objective is to improve public health through the provision of better health information.

Steve Mott of Datapharm explained to EHI Primary Care: “Within five years all PILs must be brought up to speed. What we are trying to decide is how we do that in a controlled way.”
The task is huge with the average PIL translating into a 16 page Braille document costing an average of £1 per page. Mott said such a service would be offered ‘on request’, but by working with the major organisations for the blind, he was confident the scheme would reach the people who needed it. He said pharmacists would be able to order the X-PILS as an add-on service for visually impaired customers.

In addition, Mott explained that some formats such as audio and large print could be made available via the web.

The service will be expanded next year to enable companies to offer PILs for their total portfolio of products in the required formats and will include a dedicated website where PILs can be downloaded as normal or large print or as audio.

Patients will also be able to order a hard copy in their preferred format of either Braille Large Print or audio CD ROM using the website or a freephone telephone service.

Awareness campaigned for visually impaired children

The second public awareness campaign for blind and visually impaired children, sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank, will be held on November 16 on the ground floor of The Mall, Gadong from 11 am to 6 pm, in conjunction with the World Sight Day and White Cane Day.

Held in collaboration with the Special Education Unit, Ministry of Education and Sugi Sinar (B) Sdn Bhd, among the agencies which will participate in the event are Ministry of Education, RIPAS Hospital, Ministry of Health and National Association of the Blind.

Members of the public are invited to visit the exhibition where lucky draw prizes are up for grabs.
The objective of the campaign is to enhance public awareness of the needs of special children, who face daily challenges in adapting to life as blind or visually impaired individuals.
The event also aims at strengthening self-awareness among blind and visually impaired children so they can develop self-esteem and a sense of responsibility.

Parents and guardians of blind and visually impaired children will also be introduced to the latest technology to ensure the special individuals can enjoy equal rights and opportunities as the rest of the society. The venue of the campaign is sponsored by The Mall, Abdul Razak Holding.

Project based on navigation system for the visually impaired

//MUKANA (the Finnish for "aboard", "along") is a project of the University of Art and Design Helsinki in collaboration with the Technical Research Center of Finland and the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired. The system combines smart clothing, a cell phone, a wireless headset, a GPS module and voice recognition software, all to allow people an ease of navigation:

The system takes account of the special needs of the visually impaired. Users can ask //MUKANA to tell them their location, to give information on what route to take to their destination or on the timetables of public transportation.

With //MUKANA, people can use the phone and operate the guide system with the help of a Bluetooth® enabled wireless headset and an integrated 10-key Braille number pad for the visually impaired. Extra batteries are included to guarantee the long-term functioning of the system and the cell phone. There is a pocket where the headset can be charged and stored, as well as a pocket for keys and a wallet. The Braille keypad is located in front of the garment, rotated 90 degrees from the normal position to support ergonomic hand movement.

//MUKANA is made of materials, which have special sensory qualities. It is designed to appeal to the visually impaired. Neoprene®, a very durable and flexible material has been used for the structure of the garment. Water resistance has been secured with a special coating, glued seams, and water repellent zips. The outer seams are finished with reflective piping and the keypad is covered with reflective material to enhance the security of the design.

Internet not easily accessible to the visually impaired

User experience consultancy User Vision surveyed a cross section of 208 internet users throughout the UK with impairments which affect the way they use the internet, comprising the visually impaired/blind, hearing impaired/deaf, physically disabled, and those with dyslexia/learning difficulties.

The users were asked to rank, in terms of importance, the factors which aid their ease of use when online. Clarity of content – using straightforward language and a clear, simple layout – was regarded by 88% as ‘very important’. Good navigation – the ability to know where you are within a site – was regarded as very important by 65%, followed by the use of meaningful and clear hyperlinks (63%).

Two of the three factors traditionally perceived as the fundamental accessibility issues have become comparatively less significant. Good use of ALT tags – which provide text alternatives for images – was only regarded as ‘very important’ by a third of respondents Surprisingly, among the visually impaired users, 25% found ALT tags not important at all.

Respondents were also asked to rank the most annoying features on websites and most useful features. Elements that aid users in finding content easily and navigating round sites came up high on the lists, whilst avoiding pop-ups was only fourth in the list of top five annoyances thanks mainly to the increased use of blockers which eliminate them before they appear. Inevitably scalable text remains an important issue, particularly for visually impaired users.

Top 5 annoyances

Not having in-site search
No sitemap
No internal page navigation/skip to content/back to top links
Inability to change font zie/colour contrast

Top 5 most useful features

Having in-site search
Having a sitemap
Clear, well labelled links
Having internal page navigation
Ability to personalise page view/font size

Chris Rourke, Director of User Vision, said: "The broadband revolution has led to web sites becoming more sophisticated and content-rich, which inevitably increases the risk of creating barriers for impaired users. As a result factors such as an effective in-site search and navigation are becoming increasingly significant considerations which need to be moved up the development agenda."

He added that web designers must consider how changes in functionality affect accessibility, and ensure that sites are regularly tested using the wide array of devices which those with impairments are using to access the internet.

Other barriers to good usability for impaired users, according to the research, include: Flash movies; the necessity to ‘sign-in’; too many hyperlinks; and online forms where fields/labels have not been marked up properly.

The research also asked respondents to name the web sites which they found most and least usable. Google was unanimously voted as easiest to use – thanks mainly to its clear layout and uncluttered design – followed by Yahoo! and BBC News Online. Educational sites, webmail and travel sites all featured heavily in the ‘least usable’ category.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Convention to develop awareness about the visually impaired

A revolutionary new device which helps the visually impaired to read will be unveiled this weekend at the state National Federation of the Blind, NFB, convention at Four Points Sheraton in Rock Island.

“This is exciting,” said Lois Montgomery, president of the Illinois chapter of the federation, of the NFB Kurswile Reader. “You just hold it above any type of print and push a button and it’s going to scan the page and read it to you. It will scan anything. You can take it to the grocery store or out in public with you.”

The convention, which begins today, will feature speakers discussing a variety of issues pertaining to the blind, including workplace topics and dating. The forums begin this afternoon.

“How would a sighted person approach a blind person for a date?” Montgomery asked. “We want to educate the public. It’s as much for the sighted as it is for the blind.”

She said a new voting machine which will allow the blind to cast their votes independently also will be on display. Local dignitaries who plan to be in attendance include Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, and Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert.

Representatives from Illinois Rehabilitation Services and the federation’s training centers also will be on hand. “They will be discussing everyday living skills, travel and mobility skills, computer skills, cooking skills, anything that helps a blind person to become more independent on a daily basis,” Montgomery said.

On Saturday, there will be a panel discussion on blind people in sports as well as another forum on religion. The group will discuss two resolutions, one on rehabilitation issues and another on accessible software.

Robert Gardner, president of the local Blackhawk chapter of the federation, said attitudes about the blind also will be discussed.

“The type of attitude that sometimes happens is that people are ashamed of their blindness, and often times people who are newly blind try to hide it because they are embarrassed,” he said. “Part of the (federation’s) philosophy is that blindness isn’t anything to be ashamed of. It’s another condition of being human.”

He said the federation tries to dispel the myth that the blind are “helpless,” adding that many of the group’s members complain that people often are too eager to assist them while they’re walking down the street.

About 50 people belong to the local Blackhawk chapter, Gardner said.

“We have people of all conditions and ages,” he said. “At times we’ve had members who were in their low teens all the way to people who were well into their eighties. Some lost sight in middle ages, for others it was a genetic disease or diabetes.”

The last time Rock Island hosted that state convention was 1999. “We thought it was time to come back to Rock Island,” Montgomery said.

About 150 people plan to attend the convention.

Apology for assaulted visually impaired teenager

The Stagecoach bus company says it will apologise to the family of a visually impaired boy who was assaulted by a fellow passenger after the bus driver questioned his blind person's pass.
Police say the 14-year-old boy was hit around the head and dragged off the bus by another passenger on Monday night after the driver said he wasn't the pass holder.

Both police and the bus company have launched investigations.

Eddie Mcaffrey from Stagecoach says this is the third time his drivers have questioned the boy's pass and he is very sorry.

Mcaffrey says he will consider extra training for his drivers.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

New software for the visually impaired allows to use talking catalog

Wizzard Software (OTCBB:WIZD) announced today that The Swiss Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired (SBS) has selected AT&T Natural Voices to power their talking catalog. For over 25 years, the SBS has been dedicated to making information accessible to the blind and visually impaired and is based in Zurich. SBS is a full member of and works in conjunction with the Daisy Consortium, who have set standards to provide digital talking books to the blind, visually impaired, physically handicapped, or otherwise print-disabled readers around the world. DAISY denotes the Digital Accessible Information SYstem.

"AT&T Natural Voices has turned out to be a very useful tool," said Markus Wildi, Head of the IT Department for SBS. "Together with the DAISY technology, Wizzard and Natural Voices provided us with the means to transform very large quantities of text material into structured audio information of very high quality within a very short time."

SBS produces a talking catalog of their available Daisy talking books. This catalog itself is a structured talking book according to the DAISY standard. The DAISY National Information Standards Organization (NISO) Standard is based on XML/SMIL computer language and provides structured access and navigation facilities to stored text, audio and video information. Currently, the SBS catalog contains 3000 titles, which represents 30 hours of spoken text.

The process to create the talking catalog is a simple one. The SBS catalog database produces an HTML file which is read by EasePublisher, a special DAISY production software. EasePublisher translates the HTML file to DAISY NISO files. EasePublisher then feeds the text elements to the Natural Voices TTS engine. Natural Voices then easily converts a natural-sounding, high-quality audio output in WAV or MP3 format. Users then access the catalog via special hardware or software DAISY players.

"Easy accessibility to information is critical to everyone, particularly those with visual disabilities," said Danielle Lewis, Marketing Director for Wizzard Software. "Wizzard is delighted to be able to provide SBS with the highest quality speech technology so they may supply sight-impaired individuals with access to literary works."

Currently, nearly 37 million people worldwide are blind. A new study performed by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that without extra intervention, the global number of blind individuals would increase to 76 million in 2020.

About Wizzard Software:

Founded in 1996, Wizzard Software has become a leader in the speech technology application development market. Wizzard architects solutions to business problems using its expertise in consulting, speech development tools and building speech based applications for the Desktop and Internet. Wizzard has achieved global recognition because of its expertise with voice communication whether it is via PC or telephone. Wizzard's successes have lead to expanding opportunities in both the government and commercial sectors.

In April of 2004, Wizzard acquired MedivoxRx Technologies. Established in 2000, MedivoxRx is the originator of "Rex", the talking prescription pill bottle, which "talks" to the patient allowing them to distinguish what type of medication is in the bottle and hear critical information on dosage amounts and refill parameters. In September of 2005, Wizzard acquired Interim Health Care of Wyoming. Based in Casper, Wyoming, Interim is part of the fast growing home health segment of the healthcare industry, providing a wide range of visiting nurse services to the elderly, wounded and sick. It is one of the 300 home health agencies that comprise Interim Health Care.

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There are important risk factors that could cause actual results to differ from those contained in forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to risks associated with changes in general economic and business conditions, actions of our competitors, the extent to which we are able to develop new services and markets for our services, the time and expense involved in such development activities, the level of demand and market acceptance of our services, changes in our business strategies and acts of terror against the United States.

Visually impaired need safety assesments

Unwarranted safety concerns keep too many people with visual impairments out of the workforce, according to Oct. 25 guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In its new guidance, Questions & Answers About Blindness and Vision Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the EEOC advises employers to ensure that safety assessments are based on factual, individualized inquiry, not generalizations. “The employer must evaluate each individual’s knowledge, skills and experience, as well as how the impairment affects his or her ability to perform a particular job safely,” the guidance states.

The number of individual safety assessments that would need to be performed could be significant, considering that approximately 10 million people in the nation currently are blind or have vision impairments. And the number of persons with visual impairments may double over the next 30 years, the EEOC notes in the Q&A, which is its second ADA guidance issued during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (see “EEOC shines spotlight on ADA’s ‘association’ provision,” HR News, Oct. 21, 2005).

Further complicating matters for employers, the ADA generally prohibits disability-related inquiries or medical examinations of employees as well as applicants, except at the post-offer stage of the hiring process.

But there are exceptions to these rules. For example, if a disability is obvious and an employer reasonably believes an applicant will need an accommodation, it may ask whether an accommodation will be needed and, if so, what type, the Q&A explains. One exception lets employers ask for medical information when an employee’s medical condition may pose a direct threat to safety. But the scope of information requested by employers should not be too broad, the EEOC has clarified in its Enforcement Guidance on Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees Under the ADA.

To flesh out how a safety assessment might play out, the EEOC provides two examples in the recent Q&A, one involving an applicant and one an employee.

Suppose a blind sous-chef who has worked in restaurants for 15 years is a job applicant. She discloses she takes slightly longer to learn a kitchen’s layout, but assures the employer that once she does she moves about easily and safely. Her experience, use of touch to perform some tasks others perform visually and simple accommodations such as Braille labels on oven controls help her use all kitchen equipment and supervise others. The restaurant may not refuse to employ her on the ground that she cannot work safely in a busy kitchen, according to the EEOC.

Different facts may lead an employer to a completely different conclusion. Suppose a restaurant employs a line cook who has difficulty learning the layout of the kitchen and has barely avoided bumping into three different co-workers. Two were carrying trays of food just removed from the oven. One was lugging a pot of boiling water.

The cook also has been warned repeatedly about placing his hands too close to open flames and fryers filled with hot oil, but seems oblivious to these cautions. The person poses a direct threat to his own health and the safety of others, the guidance states. But the guidance also reminds employers to consider whether an accommodation is available that might reduce or eliminate the risk.

An employer may refuse to hire someone with a visual disability if another federal law actually requires it to do so, the EEOC notes. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation has regulations setting visual standards for interstate drivers of commercial vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

Companies may set safety standards that are more stringent than those of the federal government if they can show the standards are justified by business necessity and legitimate business reasons, said Peter Petesch, an attorney with Ford & Harrison in Washington, D.C., in an interview. The direct-threat exception is narrow and far from reassuring to employers that aspire to high safety standards (see “Risky Business,” in the November 2005 issue of HR Magazine).

Visually impaired teenager assaulted and dragged off bus

Constable Grant Nalder from Wellington police said the boy, accompanied by his brother and a friend, got onto a Stagecoach bus at the corner of Mercer St and The Parade in Island Bay about 9.45pm Monday.

He produced a "blind person" bus pass and sat next to the front door. The bus driver did not accept that the bus pass belonged to the boy, asked him to get off and refused to drive on, Mr Nalder said.

After a few minutes of discussion between the victim and the driver a passenger who was seated near the back of the bus approached the victim.

"This passenger grabbed the victim by the shoulder and hit him two times on the head before dragging him off the bus," Mr Nalder said.

"This passenger then returned to his seat and the bus drove on."

Police want to hear from anyone on board the Wellington bound bus at the time or who has information about the identity of the offender. He is described as Caucasian, aged 18-19, 5'8", of skinny build and clean shaven. He was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and jeans and was accompanied by three blonde females.

Meanwhile, Stagecoach was investigating the incident, Wellington area manager Eddie McCaffrey said.

"We've currently asked the driver for his version of events and we're waiting to take it further once we've got his version of what happened," he told NZPA.

"We certainly will be following through."

Mr McCaffrey said visually impaired or blind people were issued with a bus pass.
"My understanding is this boy has got a pass, and there's no reason why really a driver shouldn't take that at face value," he said.

"My understanding is with this boy there is potential for the drivers to question it...I haven't got any information on why that would be the case, perhaps there isn't a clear indication of any impairment," he said.

"But at the end of the day obviously there is an acceptable way of questioning it and an unacceptable way, and that will form part of our investigation with the driver."

The incident came less than a week after a Human Rights Commission report into accessible public land transport found many disabled people suffered "systematic discrimination".

The Accessible Journey report recommended comprehensive mandatory accessibility standards for buses, trains, footpaths, bus stops, shelters, stations and other transport infrastructure.

New services for the visually impaired

A series of new facilities and services have been launched for museum visitors with visual impairments at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Northern Ireland.

The project, called Coming to Our Senses, is a result of a partnership between the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI) and the Department of Social Development.

The scheme has seen a range of new exhibits and services being introduced at the museum, including a new customised audio tour, interactive information stations, tactile maps, and large print and braille formats.

Blindness doesn't stop student from learning mechanic

Abdullah Nikzad's hands are covered in black grease, and his loose-fitting shirt is polka-dotted with smudge marks. He moves his fingers across a heavy cylinder head from a V-6 engine, slips a valve spring compressor around it and squeezes the lever shut.

Gregg Barlow looks on, his hands snow-white compared with his classmate's.
"I'm going to watch," Barlow said. "Watch and learn."

Nikzad, who is blind, is one of the top students in his auto-tech class on Kennedy High School's campus. He can change your tires, your spark plugs and your oil, so it's not unusual for his classmates to look to him for pointers.

"I'm amazed at what he does," Barlow said as Nikzad removed valves one by one from his cylinder head. "I didn't think someone who is blind could do something like this."

By now, the high school senior is used to surprising people with his mechanics skills and independent streak. He arrives at school early each morning, crossing the parking lot to reach his auto-tech class, which is run by the Mission Valley Regional Occupational Program.

A woman who works with visually impaired students keeps an eye on him during the class and tellshim to step to the left or right to avoid tripping or walking into vehicles in the cluttered shop.
Outside of class, though, he's on his own.

When the bell rings at the end of the day, Nikzad assembles his long cane and steps into the corridor as students pour out of classrooms around him.

Last week, on his way to the school bus, a boy careened into him and mumbled an apology.
"See that?" Nikzad said with mock-seriousness. "People don't get out of my way."

The 18-year-old was born in Pakistan to Afghan parents who left their country just before he was born. His family moved to Texas when he was a few months old and lived briefly in Hayward before finally settling in Union City.

Nikzad, who speaks Farsi at home, transferred into the Fremont school district in elementary school because of its programs for visually impaired students, he said. He has passed the California High School Exit Exam and plans to graduate in June.

"He is certainly a success story," said Michele Germany, a vision specialist who has known Nikzad since kindergarten. "He has ambition."

First visually impaired Cubans to have surgery

Cuba is extending solidarity to 160 visually impaired Ecuadorians of low income, the first to arrive, who are in Havana to receive operations without cost, Cuban Dr. Rody Cervantes said Monday.
Of 1,826 patients, the first 160 patients arrived in Havana on Sunday night, and another 245 needy Ecuadorians suffering eye afflictions have been examined, and are waiting to come to the island in the coming weeks.

Operation Miracle, a program conceived by Cuba and Venezuela, is assisting thousands of Venezuelans and Latin Americans with visual problems.

It is anticipated that more low-income Ecuadorian patients will travel to the Caribbean nation each week to receive operations.