Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Could 35% of the population be visually impaired in 2020?

More than 35 per cent of the population will be visually impaired by 2020, a Midland charity has warned.

According to the Sedgleybased Beacon Centre for the Blind, nearly two million people in the UK are already registered blind or partially sighted and the Government is expecting this figure to rise in 15 years because of links with smoking, diabetes, age-related illness and general poor health.
The centre's capital appeals officer Kate Fletcher said one of the main reasons for eyesight deterioration was agerelated macular degeneration, AMD, which is a retinal eye disease, causing progressive loss of central vision. It is the leading cause of blindness in the UK.

AMD can be hereditary but early detection and treatment can lessen its impact.

But a series of studies between 1996 and April 2005 had all come to the same conclusion about the effects of smoking on eyesight,

regardless of age. "Most people are under the misapprehension that sight deterioration is something over which they have no control, especially as they grow older," she said.

"It is true that our eyes change with age and that most visual impairment is acquired later in life, however as with any disease, positive steps can be taken to protect our eyesight and lessen the risk of serious sight impairment later on.

"The strongest and most important message regarding protection against AMD is do not smoke. Those who smoke are twice as likely to develop AMD than those who do not, yet until very recently very few people were aware of the links between smoking and sight loss."

The estimated cost of care for blindness in the country is £4.9 billion per annum, but Ms Fletcher said steps could be taken to limit the risk of serious sight impairment and therefore reduce the costs.

She said: "In recent years, deaths from certain forms of cancer have been radically reduced due to regular screening. In the same way, regular eye tests will reduce the incidence of blindness in later life.

"There are also a number of avoidable risk factors that individuals can control. One way in which we can protect our eyes is by limiting exposure to bright light.

"There is evidence of an increased incidence of sight deterioration in people who spend long periods in the summer sun, so wearing sunglasses at midday to protect your eyes is advisable.
"Obesity and high blood pressure have also been linked to eye impairment, so it is sensible to control body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

"The impact that diabetes has on sight-impairment is considerable. Cataracts are twice as common in people with diabetes and most diabetics will develop some form of retinopathy, a condition which, if not diagnosed will cause irreparable damage and in many cases blindness."
Birmingham optometrist Waqar Salim said he had always made a point of highlighting the link between smoking and visual impairment to his patients, who often do not realise the damage they are causing to their eyes.

Mr Salim said: "From my knowledge and experience, patients who smoke have an increased risk of certain conditions related to visual impairment. Smoking is a risk factor for glaucoma and cataracts. I tell them if you stop smoking, it will reduce the risk."

Voice guides help the visually impaired to enjoy movies!

A movement to help the visually impaired enjoy movies is spreading across the country with volunteers called "voice guides" on hand to explain what is being shown on the screen.

The movement was started in response to many requests from visually impaired people for the chance to enjoy the powerful atmosphere peculiar to large-screen showings at movie theaters.
At a public hall in Saitama city at the end of last year, director Yoji Yamada's "Kakureta Ken, Oni-No-Tsume" (Hidden Blade, Nails of Devils), a story about warriors in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, was shown with a voice guide. The main characters in the
movie are played by actor Masatoshi Nagase and actress Takako Matsu.

Listening to a guide with earphones, visually impaired people understood the movie's plot and at the same time enjoyed sound effects from a speaker.

For Rikisaburo Kose, 68, a totally blind man, it was his third visit to the public hall to "listen to movies." "There are many handicapped people wishing to enjoy powerful sounds and the atmosphere of a movie theater," he said.

A guide inserts descriptions of scenes lasting several seconds between pieces of dialogue. It can take several hours for a guide to select words most suited to convey scenes, expressions and atmosphere for just a five-minute scene.

Yoriko Okamoto, 63, a woman from Nagoya, became a guide volunteer 12 years ago when her husband, a city assembly member, died, to use her talents as a former TV announcer. "I had my hands clasped by a handicapped elder person, and was told, 'This is the first time in 60 years to have seen a movie.' I cannot forget that pleasure."

Five years ago, she inaugurated an organization called the "Voice Cane." Its present members number about 110. Her special lecture teaching abdominal respiration and vocalization is popular enough to attract people even from Tokyo and Nara. The organization has so far shown movies with a voice guide about 100 times in Iwate, Nagano, Aichi, Osaka and Tokyo prefectures.

The "City Lights," a group headed by Chihoko Hiratsuka and showing movies chiefly in the Kanto district, is using recorded voices. Each time, more than 60 handicapped people come to see a movie, and well-known movies, such as "
Roman Holiday," attract people from such far-off places as Hiroshima and Aomori prefectures.

If requested, a volunteer sits next to a handicapped person at a movie theater and whispers in the person's ear to explain a story.

Okamoto said, "There are still only a few organizations active in Japan. Various barriers exist, but we will have to make steady efforts."

Visually impaired man sets a good examples to others!

Srinivas Jena, a visually challenged man from a remote village in Orissa has set an example for others like him.

Thirty-year-old Jena, having lost his sight at the young age of five to a freak accident, was advised by his neighbours and poor parents in Bhagipur village to beg.

Jena, considered a burden by his family, was one-day inspired by a radio programme to take to cashew plantation and now is able to support his family well.

Srinivas, who began planting in his compound and backyard, has till now covered five acres of land.

A kind hearted Srinivas now is not only able to feed his family but also helps hundreds of other physically challenged people both in spirit and kind.

"When I lost my sight at the age of five, I was shattered and did not what to do. But then I gathered courage and took up cashew plantation to earn a livelihood. And now I am able to lead a decent life with whatever I earn from these plantations and maintain my family," said Jena as he carried water for his saplings which he now loves as his own children.

Today, Jena in addition to the cashew trees also has a number of fruit bearing plants in his farm.
Kuni Jena, his wife who is his biggest supporter and only assistant, was all praise for her husband saying they are now able to lead a decent life which seemed to be a distant dream a few years ago.

"Now we are happy as we are able to lead a normal life as he earns around 5000 rupees (111 dollars) per month. Earlier it was very difficult to think of eating even a day's meal as my in-laws are very poor and my husband because of his disability was advised to take on begging. But he decided against it and did all the plantation on his own," said Kuni, who volunteered to marry Srinivas seeing his perseverance to achieve something in life.

Now, Srinivas is a local hero in the impoverished village where majority of residents have either taken to begging or working as domestic helps.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Visually impaired children gets a chance to be creative!

In a Village Gate classroom, five youngsters run their hands through a colorful jumble of foam hearts, shells and marbles. Their fingers eagerly sift through shapes and textures that their eyes can barely make out.

"Try any of them!" urges Shannon Halligan, an art therapist at Village Gate's Sage Arts Center. "Each feels a little bit different. You're going to design a tile using these pieces."

Josh Watson, a Gates pupil wearing a Spider Spider-Man T-shirt, daubs a few shells with Elmer's Glue-All. Peering intently through thick wire-rimmed glasses, he arranges the shells in bold geometric shapes on a tile.

Nearby, four other blind or visually impaired children experiment with paint and spools of tape. Like 13-year-old Josh, they are pioneers in a new program launched by the local Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired- – Goodwill.

ABVI spokesman Timothy Gleason says that the Creative Vision Program "allows a child to understand art beyond the use of sight ... as a guide for self-expression." That may seem an ambitious goal, but the organizers insist it's well within reach.

"Art is always thought of as a visual medium," says program coordinator Sarah Favro, an ABVI children's specialist. "But even if children's vision is limited, they still can create art. And they can get the satisfaction of building something of their own."

She speaks from experience. Nearly blind herself, she can perceive light but not shapes. She believes that the new hands-on course will give youngsters improved motor coordination, concentration and self-confidence.

The materials used are largely tactile. Children make prints by rubbing crayons over textured designs, build puppets and construct plaster masks.The materials and two art therapists hired from Sage Arts are funded through a $5,000 grant from the local Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation. The seven youngsters — all clients of ABVI — are 3 to 17 years old and travel from Monroe, Wayne and Orleans counties.

They can enroll in three free courses, each meeting for six 1½-hour sessions over three months. Topics include art and self-expression, learning about artists and art based on nature.

On a recent morning, they pass around a mask made by Macedon student Brandon Packard. It bears a flashy image of rocker Phil Collins, whose early hits are playing on the classroom CD player.

"Listen to that! It's the first Genesis album in which Collins sang," announces Brandon, 17. "Really great. Before that, he mostly played drums."

His pep rally seems lost on his classmate Teale Bradley. She decorates two large marbles as her mother, Ellie, talks to her in sign language.Embracing an overstuffed Winnie-the-Pooh doll, Teale seems exceptionally high-spirited. But she packs into her 7 years a harrowing history of medical setbacks. She has a hearing loss and is blind on the ?????/maa – change to 'can't see from the right side of both eyes' or right side of both eyes.

"She was born dead, but after seven minutes doctors resuscitated her," says Ellie, a Pittsford resident. "She has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and can use only her left arm."

None of that slows Teale down."I go to gymnastics with Mommy!" she shouts. This first-grader at Thornell Road Elementary School also enjoys bowling, ice skating and horseback riding.

Ellie believes that the arts program works well for Teale — and it has little to do with masks and ceramic tiles."She's had great social interaction and met new people," she says. "The teachers are very patient and understanding. Teale has behavior problems and can get angry and frustrated."

The teachers say that a lively social experience is one of their goals for the whole class."We really encourage the kids to interact," says Halligan. "We pass around objects for everybody to touch and pair kids up to work together."

She and fellow teacher Trish Pellegrino trained at ABVI this fall to prepare for the Creative Vision Program. They used distorted goggles to simulate visual disorders that their students live with.
Though unique in its focus on children, the program has one local forerunner. For seven years, the Memorial Art Gallery ran classes teaching blind and vision-impaired adults how to make and appreciate art.

That program disbanded three years ago, but one component remains. Blind visitors can still touch selected pieces of art with gloves, touring the museum with audio guides. The museum's library also has textured diagrams of art from ancient Greece to European modernism.

"We'd certainly welcome visitors from the ABVI program," says Susan Dodge-Peters Daiss, the gallery's education director.The youngsters hope to make a field trip to the museum this spring. But first, they'll create more masks, murals and mobiles at Village Gate.

"Want to do this again, Josh?" Halligan asks as the boy puts away a glue-smeared brush."Yeah!" he says. "Oh, yeah!"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Talking award-winning books now available to the visually impaired

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

New Nokia talking cellphones to help the visually impaired

Vodacom has unveiled Nokia speaking cellphones, designed specifically to help blind or visually impaired people communicate over the GSM network and which include Internet access.

ITWeb reports that the phones will give visually impaired people full access to cellular communication services, including data services such as text messaging, network information such as signal strength and cellphone information such as battery power status.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Visually impaired couple spend their honeymoon volunteering

Blind national team swimmer Lai Zhijie and his wife Ye Zhaoling, who studied at National Taiwan University's Department of Foreign Languages, were married at the end of October, but they didn't go abroad for their honeymoon. Instead, they headed to Huadong and other remote places to do volunteer work.

The couple and Lai's Seeing Eye dog made their first stop on Monday at Beichang Elementary School in Hualian. Lai contends that this could be a most interesting honeymoon. Lai, who won a bronze medal for Taiwan in the Asian Games 1999 200-meter butterfly, is a man of many talents. He teaches newly blind students piano tuning, and he is the second visually impaired person in Taiwan to earn his piano tuner's certificate.

He plays baseball on a team for the blind, and is an avid long-distance runner. On December 18, he took part in the ING International Marathon in Taipei, completing the entire distance. The next day, he set off on his honeymoon with his new wife. But the Lais' honeymoon will be quite different from the average run-of-the-mill vacation trip most couples take. The two will spend their time doing volunteer work, working for the King Car foundation.

From December 19 though the 27th, the pair will be in Hualian, Taidong and other remote areas of central Taiwan, visiting elementary schools and sharing their own story with the children, encouraging them to grow and develop. Lai says that his new wife and he arrived at their first stop on Monday, the students had arranged a welcoming symposium, and a visually-impaired sixth grader, Xu Yazhen, played the flute with classmate Liu Yufan.

Lai says that volunteer vacations are a new concept, so he and his wife believe that if they can combine their honeymoon with volunteering, it will be more meaningful. People don't get much out of the average honeymoon, but, Lai says, although being handicapped can slow one down, having the spark of life is all the more precious as a result, and he hopes that this trip will let him share his life experiences with many people, and encourage everyone to come out as well.

Holding Lai's hand, wife Ye Zhaoling says that the two of them have lived a "barrierless" life since being married. Many people might suppose that she has to take care of him, but actually, apart from not doing any cooking, Lai shares equally in the housework, helping to wash dishes and mop floors. Ye says that in the future, there will be fewer and fewer barriers to the handicapped, and society should be friendly and encouraging to people with physical limitations. Only in this way can a truly accessible world be built.

Center teaches living skills to the visually impaired

Christopher Sanchez knows learning how to use a computer isn't easy. He's had to do it twice.The first time, when he was 7 years old, he could see the screen. Today, he relies on computer software that reads what's on the screen to him.Sanchez, who is totally blind and hearing impaired, now teaches other blind people to use the technology. He admits it isn't easy.

But he has faith in his students' ability to learn."A lot of (blind) people think they're not independent," he said. "I believe they can do this."That kind of optimism has lifted Sanchez to star status at Stockton's Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where the 34-year-old Stockton resident works with clients one-on-one, four days a week."His enthusiasm is catching. He's very knowledgeable," office manager Bonnie Hamma said.

"He's opening a whole new world to them," she added. "Let's face it, the computer is what's current, and it's a great method of communication."Sanchez teaches his students how to use JAWS, software that "reads" a computer screen out loud as the computer's user taps keystrokes to navigate the computer desktop.He recently demonstrated the program by deftly typing a short letter in Microsoft Word and moving to the Internet, where he looked up and read the local newspaper.

The computer verbalized his every move."It changed my life," Sanchez said, adding he felt trapped after losing his sight to a degenerative condition with which he was born. "Without it, I would never make it."Founded in 1949, the center provides services to blind and visually impaired people, from teaching them basic living skills such as cooking and going to the bathroom to reading and moving around town. Services are free.It's also a place to socialize.

Clients learn crafts, hold holiday parties, take field trips and play "beep ball," a blind version of baseball.Everything is designed to help the visually impaired lead regular lives. Sanchez fits right in.Although his students can't actually see the computers with which they work, Sanchez helps them create an image in their minds. He says it helps."When I train someone, I ask them what they think Microsoft Word looks like," he said.

"The image is important."The biggest challenge, he says, happens when students want to move too fast. But that's OK."I'm a patient person," he said. "It takes a long time to train them to get it right."

Scholarship available to visually impaired students

Two estate gifts totaling $817,000 will create scholarships at Ball State University to assist students from Randolph County and the visually impaired.

The Eunice M. Davisson Scholarship was created from a $317,000 gift from the estate of Davisson, who died in 2001. The fund will provide scholarships for students from Randolph County who are attending Ball State.

Davisson, a resident of Greenville, Ohio, at the time of her death, earned her bachelor's degree in 1949 and her master's degree in 1955 from Ball State Teachers College. She worked as a teacher in Baltimore, Md., before retiring.

The Myra Jean Bush Fund to assist visually impaired students recently was established through a $500,000 gift from an anonymous donor.

Reader shares the news with the visually impaired

Dorothy Craig will always remember how to pronounce the word “vicissitude.” It stuck out like a sore thumb on a test she took in 1997 to become a volunteer reader with the Northeast Indiana Radio Reading Service (NEIRRS).

Fortunately, Craig doesn’t have to read that word on-air regularly, but she does read obituaries, local news, features, TV listings and other information to the approximately 2,000 NEIRRS listeners in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio who tune in daily.

“I have great compassion for those who are unable to read for themselves,” Craig said. “When you have a visual loss it really isolates you.”

At least once every two weeks, Craig sidles up to a microphone in the NEIRRS office on DiSalle Boulevard with a second reader. For two hours, both volunteers relay items of the day in either The News-Sentinel or The Journal Gazette. The free service is offered seven days a week by the Allen County Public Library, and largely caters to the sight impaired. Live and taped recordings are broadcast.

Craig is a substitute reader, which means she is called upon when a full-time reader volunteer is unavailable. Craig said she likes the flexibility of not being on a set schedule, and her substitute status allows her to read with a variety of partners.

“I have read with former pastors, educators, a truck driver, you name it,” she said.

Becoming a volunteer reader was on Craig’s “what I will do when I retire” list and she finally got around to it after retiring from 35 years in the nursing field.

On visits to her native Detroit, Craig would read to her now-deceased father Leo Milchner, who lost his sight due to macular degeneration. Craig has diabetes and is aware that vision loss can result from this disease, which makes her glad a service like NEIRRS exists.

Despite the organization’s 26-year history, Bordner said many listeners in Fort Wayne are still unaware of the service.

It moved from Cook Road to its DiSalle Boulevard location in 2002. In 2004, after operating for years as an independent entity, NEIRRS became a part of the library system, which provided more financial stability for the organization.

Through increased marketing efforts, Bordner hopes to double the NEIRRS listening audience.
In January, Bordner said the organization will discard its antiquated equipment for new digital technology that will decrease the time it takes to broadcast taped recordings. A $45,000 grant from the Lutheran Foundation helped pay for the equipment.

More volunteers are always welcome and NEIRRS works to accommodate their schedules, Bordner said .

Generally, Craig is easily able to speak in measured tones when reading, but admits when reading about child abuse cases or other articles she disagrees with, she takes greater pains to sound unbiased.

“I think that’s why I like the live reading, because it’s a challenge,” she said. “I have to be very conscious of the level of my voice so I don’t put in my own feelings.”

Paintings of visually impaired artist displays life as he perceives it!

Soup bubbling on the stove. Bread baking in the oven. Many people can talk in detail of memories from mama's kitchen.

But for Gardendale High School junior C.C. Perry, putting memories into words is hard. Cerebral palsy makes speech difficult for him.

Yet, he knows how to show what those smells look like.

"One of the first paintings C.C. did," said his mother, Jane, "he called 'Smells of Mama's Kitchen.' He sat in the kitchen while I cooked, and painted a picture of the way the kitchen smelled."

Since preschool days, C.C. has been painting, and winning awards, battling not only the disease that hinders his movements, but also partial blindness. Others see through C.C.'s work the things he sees most vividly only in his mind.

His latest work, called "These Three Trees," is making the holiday season a little brighter for people across the country. It was chosen by U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus and his wife, Linda, as the cover for their Christmas card this year.

Each year since 1993, Bachus' holiday cards have been original art produced by metro Birmingham children with disabilities.

"This has been C.C.'s year," said Gardendale teacher Jennifer Johnston. "He was in the top 25 in the Helen Keller Art Show of Alabama, won the Bachus card cover, and was also in the Liz Moore Low Vision Art Contest at Eastern Health Systems."

C.C., who says he's only called Charles Clay when he's in trouble, is the son of Ray and Jane Perry of Adamsville.

"We adopted C.C., and a month later I found I was pregnant," his mother said. "His sister, Paige, is 13 months younger and is a junior at the International Baccalaureate School at Shades Valley.
C.C. is classed as visually impaired.

"That means he can read very large print," Johnston said. "We also have a student who is legally blind and can only detect light, and one who is totally blind."

But C.C. sees just fine in his mind. "I don't paint from things I see, but from ideas," he said. "I've been doing it since preschool, and I enter every contest I can."

Most of C.C.'s works are abstracts.

"He has a wonderful eye for color," his mother said, "and with limited range of motion, abstracts are a better fit for his style."

He paints with help from his mom, dad and sister, and with a special chair and lap board at home. C.C.'s helper places the brush in his hand and positions it on the paper. Then the helper moves the paper as C.C. directs.

"I do a lot of the helping," Perry said, "but his dad was his main helper on his 'These Three Trees' painting."

C.C.'s first painting is now a fading 12-year-old piece of paper still hanging on the kitchen wall.
"He called it 'Bears Eating Blueberries,'" his mother said, "and he was only 5 years old when he did it."

After high school, C.C. hopes to paint and open an art store.

Other interests include Alabama football, NASCAR, hunting, Atlanta Braves baseball and girls. He has taken two deer and has one mounted.

In recent years C.C. has become an avid fan of Peyton Manning, the former Tennessee quarterback now with the NFL Indianapolis Colts. And in just a couple of weeks he'll meet Manning, thanks to the Make a Wish organization. C.C. and his parents will travel to Indianapolis, meet Manning on Dec. 31 and watch a game the next day.

"My next artwork," C.C. said, "will be something I can give to Peyton."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Musical performance a success for the visually impaired

The children at the Cooperative Preschool for the Visually Impaired are just like any young kids putting on a Christmas performance. Some sing on cue, some search the audience for their parents, and some are thinking about the treats after their performance. The preschool is part of the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix.

And on Friday, the students sang Christmas songs for their parents. The moms and dads pointed and smiled and took pictures. And they cried. But when you watch a group of children sing the Reindeer Pokey while wearing antlers, these are not tears of sadness. "We're just very proud, as any parent would be," said Doug Demaree, who watched daughter Madison perform.

Kevin Hart videotaped his 3-year-old son, Sean: "We are so happy to see him up there, the same as any parent. You are just happy to see them doing so well."Lisa Mickelson has worked at the school for years as an early intervention specialist, which means she sometimes works with babies and their parents as they are just coming to grips with the fact that their child is blind or visually impaired.

"Every year, 14 years now, I cry at the Christmas performance," she said. "The children are doing so well. They have all come so far. It always brings a tear to your eye."

Life a visually impaired person

I’m legally blind, so when I began this article, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about blindness since conveying a true sense of the condition to the seeing is virtually impossible. I then began to think of ways to describe what legally blind people see, and what totally blind people do not. Even with good illustrations though, it would be difficult for seeing people to understand the permanence and unyielding challenges conquered by people like me on a regular basis.

That being said, I concluded that I can only hope to spread understanding to the seeing by documenting experiences which are all too familiar to people such as I. Maybe after reading this, you’ll feel a little more respect, and a little more patient when encountering us out in the world.
First of all, I’m not totally blind. I say this because I know I have some advantages that totally blind people do not.

For instance, even though I can’t see the characters faces on the TV, I can watch programs if I sit very close to the screen. Totally blind people, however, can’t see it at all. My being able to watch TV this way does present its own unique set of challenges though, one of which is not being able to find the remote control.

One afternoon a few weeks ago, I decided to sit down and watch TV, so I began looking for the remote. I began by looking on the breakfast bar; didn’t see it. Then I looked on the kitchen counters, then the couch and love seat. Unfortunately, ten minutes later, I was still looking when my teenaged daughter entered the room. Unbelievably, she walked directly to the breakfast bar, and retrieved the remote which was sitting there in plain sight. This whole frustrating scenario was topped off when she turned on the TV, and started watching Sponge Bob!

Another issue is that I have two cats I can’t see very well living in my home who are always on high alert as to where I am walking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flattened fluffy, or side swiped Snow Flake while rushing to the bathroom, or while sneaking to the fridge for a midnight snack. It’s no wonder that after watching their nine lives dwindle down to two or three, they make a wide arc around me when I’m up and about.

Interesting observations can be made if you watch a visually impaired person trying to find a particular food item in a large grocery store. Let me tell you, after asking a person for help one day, I’ve learned there are allot of helpful people out there for us to contend with. You see, after explaining to a fellow shopper that I am legally blind, I asked her if she could tell me where the clam sauce was located. Well, I didn’t notice that there was someone else nearby who heard everything I said so you can understand why I was completely surprised when another shopper quickly grabbed me by the arm saying, “Don’t worry baby, I’ll show you.” Guess what happened next.

The lady I actually asked suddenly became disgruntled, and grabbed my other arm saying through clenched teeth, “He asked me first!” Painfully, for about two minutes the two women yanked me this way and that, until the manager observed me being nearly pulled limb from limb, and saved my life.
The next challenge people like me have that seeing people should know about is the difficulty we have buying gifts for our spouses without them finding out what they are.

The main reason for this is that it’s usually because it’s our spouses who have to take us to the store. Today, I went to a large department store with my wife. I told her to, “Go away!” So I could shop for her gift. After asking at least a dozen strangers throughout my ordeal what various price tags read, and what kinds of things were in various bath sets, I finally found her something.

What I found her though, is so big, I was worried she’d see it as I was carrying it to the register, or out the door. Once outside, it took 25 minutes of walking up and down rows of parked cars to find our own. After depositing the gift in the trunk, I returned to the store because I wanted to get her a Christmas card.

Let me tell you, if you are visually impaired and looking for a card for your husband or wife, you better get someone to read them to you before you choose the one you want. Last June, I was too self conscious to ask somebody to read the cards I was looking through for my wife’s 35th birthday. So I was looking at the pictures as best I could, and thought I bought a card that said, “I love you, and always will.” But, in all actuality, what the card really said was, I love you even though you’re over the hill.

Needless to say, she wasn’t pleased when she finally got around to reading it.

Another problem, or challenge, comes from having adaptive devices that talk, but do not have volume controls. In other words, everyone in the house now knows when I am ‘seeing’ what time it is, and when I am weighing myself. Why does this bother me? Well think about it, if you are a married man, and your wife is taking forever getting ready to go out to dinner, each time you glance down at the time on your watch, loudly blurt out what time it is. If you do this, it won’t take long for you to find out how wives react to feeling rushed.

It’s too bad I can’t turn down the clock’s volume. If I could, I’d be more like seeing husbands who quietly and discretely check the time without reproach.

The other device I’d like a volume control on is my talking scale. As it stands right now, it is both a marvel of modern technology, and a thorn in my side. The problem I have with it is every time I stand on it I hear my wife yell from the kitchen, “You aint losing any weight yet.” Annoyed, I respond with, “Thanks for the info honey, but I’m blind, not deaf.”

To sum this all up, the visually impaired have many challenges they face on a regular basis. From awkward and benign situations at home, to more serious predicaments like having to cross busy streets or navigate large hospitals, most visually impaired people handle them with grit and determination.

That being said, you may come across a visually impaired person one day who is in your way, or causes you grief in some other way, If you do, remember this article and remember how pervasive the effects of vision loss is in the life of the impaired, and maybe you will indeed feel a little more understanding, patients and respect.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

From photos to tactile displays

The visually impaired are now able to enjoy the "Earth from Above" photographs on display along Orchard Road. The photos have been converted into tactile displays with captions in Braille, in a first ever exhibition called "Touch and See", organised solely for the blind. French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand wanted to share his vision with all people, including the visually impaired, and eyewear designer Alain Mikli helped make it happen.

Mr Mikli said, "I like to share with everybody especially with blind people...because always we forget them...they cannot see really all the pictures, but at least they have a sensation, at least they have a feeling, at least we can communicate with them, and that to me, that's the most important thing." Visually impaired artist Victor Tan said, "There are two ways I felt I experienced the work. First just by touching the tactile image itself I feel is a piece of art, the feeling, the tactile, the flow, the movement, the line, the strokes, I think it's a masterpiece.

Followed by the descriptions that were given to me, I started to realise and identify what those signs and symbols represent in the image that was taken by the photographer." The exhibition is open 24 hours daily till January 17.

Visually impaired help with websites' accessibility

Page Accessibility Labs (PAL) has launched offering website accessibility testing services carried out by blind and visually impaired test specialists. Capitalizing on their unique experience and expertise in using so called assistive technologies; PAL introduces true target audience usability testing which can ensure a website is as convenient as possible for the visually impaired user.

To access the internet visually impaired users require special hardware and / or software collectedly known as assistive technologies. Most often used are screen readers which read the content of a web page aloud or Braille output devices which the user reads with their fingertips. In both cases the experience is quite different from that of a sighted user. Most people are accustomed to seeing the entire page at once on their monitor.

They are able to quickly scan it and select the options they want using the mouse. A screen reader presents information one word at a time. The user must remember what they have already heard without knowing what is still to come. They select their options using the Enter key before the next option is read. It takes practice and a level of skill a sighted user is unlikely to have.PAL test specialists all have expertise in web design or assistive technologies design and they are all partially or totally visually impaired.

Since they depend on assistive technologies in their daily web usage they bring a unique depth of knowledge to website accessibility and usability testing which sighted testers never can. They also have a deeper understanding of what design elements and techniques make a website usable and even convenient for impaired users.To work properly web pages need to include elements to help present important data correctly.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created a checklist which is generally accepted as the minimum requirement for website accessibility and offers legal protection against litigation. Accessibility testing firms generally rely on automated software and sighted accessibility specialists to ensure clients’ websites are “W3C Compliant”. Website accessibility is intended to help not only the visually impaired but people with various disabilities such a hearing impairment, motor control problems and cognitive disorders.

PAL’s accessibility testing currently includes the full range of issues covered by the W3C guidelines. But, according to PAL, the visually impaired represent the largest population which is reliant on an entirely different presentation of online information. Page Accessibility Labs was founded in early 2005 in Prague, Czech Republic, though its primary client base is in the UK and Ireland.

New technology helps the visually impaired to enjoy tv shows

A scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) found that increasing the contrast of details of certain sizes was of special importance in making television watching more enjoyable for the visually impaired.

The information from the study details information that will aid in the development of an electronic device to help millions suffering eye diseases.

People who may benefit from such a device include those suffering from macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other causes of low vision.

Dr. Eli Peli, lead investigator of the study, says, "Most of us take seeing the television for granted."
However for the blind or those with low vision the medium can be a source of great frustration and discouragement since so much news and entertainment come from tuning into the 'tube'.

Peli and his team found that patients liked the images that reflected their own individual settings for contrast and details better than the un-enhanced video.

However, personal preferences were only slightly higher for those individual settings than for the arbitrarily enhanced images.

Peli treats hundreds of patients suffering from vision impairments caused by diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy and other diseases that impair the central vision.

Peli, whose previous career was in electrical engineering is an optometrist by training, has devoted his career to creating and evaluating new technologies to help low-vision patients regain their ability to do these tasks.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas gift for the visually impaired

RESIDENTS of Chitungwiza, mostly the visually impaired elderly people recently received an early Christmas present after they were treated for free at the city's public hospital.

More than 150 less privileged members of the community will benefit under the programme, which is being initiated by the Lions Club of Harare West and held in conjunction with Eyes for Africa and the Chitungwiza Central Hospital.

Archie Kufa, the vice chairperson of Eyes For Africa told The Standard the programme was meant to benefit older people with eye problems such as eye cataracts.

"This programme will benefit many older people because eye operations are now very expensive and beyond the reach of many. In private hospitals, patients pay up to $50 million dollars while other hospitals like Parirenyatwa charge up to $20 million," Kufa said.

He added that many people were taking advantage of the free service.

"Within a space of one and a half hours we had attended to more than ten people and many were still waiting to be treated." Kufa said shortly after the scheme was launched.

Asked why they had chosen Chitungwiza Central hospital, the public relations officer of the hospital, Elizabeth Tasaranavo, said the town with 1.2 million people had a huge population of old people.
"This exercise gives them a chance to get back their sight and live normal lives," she said.
One of the beneficiaries of the programme who identified himself as Sekuru Moyo said his eyes had been giving him problems for some time.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Charity group helps the visually impaired

The world's only Flying Eye Hospital landed at Taipei's Sungshan Airport on Thursday to raise funds for Orbis International, a nonprofit organization that strives to eliminate avoidable blindness and restore sight in the developing world. Vice Premier Wu Rong-i said back in the days when Taiwan's economy and medical technology were just taking off, the country relied heavily on the assistance of health organizations such as the World Health Organization or the American Red Cross Association.

Now that Taiwan had made significant medical advancements, it is time to give back to the world some of what it received 60 years ago, Wu added. According to Orbis Taiwan representative Chen Jing-ding, one new case of childhood blindness is recorded each minute in the world. With early intervention and proper treatment, 75 percent of these children can have their eyesight restored, Chen said. Gordon Douglas, medical director of the FEH, lauded Taiwan's medical environment and explained that the mission of Orbis is to provide free continuing education opportunities for doctors, nurses, and technicians so that they can better serve their communities.

"Taiwan has excellent medical facilities," said Douglas, who has been on 35 international missions since 1992. "You do not need an FEH here. But you can provide help to less fortunate countries." To show their support for the cause, students from Taipei School for the Visually Impaired collected change and donated their savings to Orbis. School principal Lin Li-hui said the event will give a boost of confidence to visually impaired persons on the island. To better serve the visually impaired community in Taiwan, volunteer doctors from Orbis will provide free eye exams at local elementary and junior high schools, starting next year.

Taiwanese ophthalmologist Ho Ye-tau, who has volunteered for two Orbis missions to China and performed over 30 surgeries onboard the FHE in the past two years, said his missions in Taiwan were not linked to any political agendas. "There was no talk of politics because we were busy helping people," said Ho. "There is a tremendous need for eye doctors in Taiwan's rural villages. In some areas there is only one ophthalmologist for a few thousand people."

The spirit of Orbis, Ho added, is sustainability. "We strive to teach local doctors so that they can continue to serve their communities after we leave," he said. The FHE carries a laser treatment facility and an operating room where local doctors observe surgical procedures performed by volunteer surgeons. These operations are broadcast to the classroom onboard the aircraft as well as to remote conference rooms in which local doctors observe the procedures.

To date, more than a million people have received direct medical treatment and more than 93,000 healthcare professionals in over 80 countries have honed their skills through Orbis programs. It is now estimated that as many as 22.5 million children and adults have benefited from Orbis programs worldwide. As a nonprofit organization, every service ORBIS provides is entirely free of charge to the host countries as well as to the patients.

New technology helps the visually impaired

It used to be a challenge when 7-year-old Megan Burella’s mom wanted to read over her homework.

Burella likes reading books and playing with friends but she experiences life in a unique way. The articulate little girl sat down and shared a passage from one of her favorite books, “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.” From left to right her index fingers felt the Braille as Burella, who is legally blind, reads aloud.

This school year, the second grader was given a small personal computer called a BrailleNote. The machine is a word processor with Internet and e-mail capabilities. It also has a Braille display so Burella can read what she wrote and make any corrections. The small one line of raised dots offers Braille that can be refreshed to allow Burella to read her report from the computer. The computer can also read the report back to Burella. She even has two printers available to her, one prints in Braille, the other in text.

“It’s made her life a lot easier. It’s equally made my life easier. It’s not like she does her homework on a piece of paper and brings it with her. She had to use all this heavy equipment. But this is light and easy,” said her mother Carmel Burella.

In San Mateo County, visually impaired children are paired with not only technology but various specialists to support them in their studies. This allows the students to work with the same curriculum as their peers. Most of the money for the technology comes from the state, said Shelley Viviani, teacher for the visually impaired.

While Burella has mastered reading, 7-year-old Highlands Elementary student Grant Loy is still learning.

He uses a device called SAL, Speech Assisted Learning, to learn Braille reading and writing. There are learning activities like recognizing different letters. It also helps Loy read, he can do it himself or press on a word for help. The machine can say the words aloud.

For older students, technology allows them a few less hours of homework at the end of the night.
Jamey Gump, an 18-year-old Menlo Atherton High School junior, used to spend hours doing his homework in middle school. He relied on audio tapes to listen to the book. His history book, for example, was made up of 33 tapes. It took him half an hour just to cue up the place he needed to start.

Now Gump uses his Victory Reader, a device using CDs to read the textbooks aloud. It also allows Gump to set certain pages to read and it will instantly go to those pages. He said his homework now takes two to three hours.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the technology or because the classes are easier,” he said.
Gump also uses a computer program called ZoomText 8.0 which allows him to magnify the size of the items on a computer screen. He also has a problem seeing certain colors, blue is especially hard. When Gump is searching online, this can be a problem since links are generally shown in blue. ZoomText lets him change the color of items to ones he can see, like green.

For 18-year-old Hillsdale High junior Casey Bernasconi, her BrailleNote is her life. Bernasconi uses a wireless infrared printer that receives files from the BrailleNote and prints it in the text version.

“When a teacher says, ‘print this out,’ you’ve got to be able to do it,” she said.
When she is given a handout in class she can use another gadget called a PocketViewer. About the size of a handheld video game toy, the viewer allows Bernasconi to enlarge anything and also change the color of the text.

Although Bernasconi loves her BrailleNote, there is still technology out there she’d like to see developed. She would love bigger screens on cell phones, but mostly she wants a machine featuring a Braille display with a built-in iPod.

New reports display shocking results

New reports say 800,000 Ghanaians are visually impaired 2005-12-08

Available statistics at the Ghana Eye Foundation (GEF) indicates that 200,000 Ghanaians are completely blind while 600,000 others are visually impaired from causes, 75 per cent of which were avoidable.

This was contained in a GEF concept paper released at the official launch of GEF and the swearing in ceremony of its Board of Trustees in Accra. The Board includes Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa, Chief Executive, Ghana Chamber of Mines, Ms Joyce Rosalind Aryee, and three others.

The Foundation set up by the GHS with the brand name "Sight for Ghana" is purposely to perpetually mobilise resources for eye care delivery. In that regard the GEF is to collaborate with the Government and other eye health organisations to achieve the aim of vision 2020: "The Right To See."

The GEF Concept paper noted that cataract, glaucoma, trachoma, childhood blindness, refractive errors and low visions as well as diabetes and sickle cell retinopathy accounted for the visual challenge facing the country.

It noted that every year 20,000 people became blind in both eyes from cataract and an additional 4,000 people becoming blind in one eye due to the same causes, saying it occurred mostly in persons over age 65 years.

Visually impaired learn lesson from Art class

Timmy Smith has never seen the ocean.

He does not know what water looks like or how drifting clouds brighten a sunset.
Smith has been blind since birth.

But he painted a picture on Monday with a blue ocean and a colorful sky. Art teacher Kim Cowger helped him.

“Timmy, are you ready for this today?” Cowger asked. “We’re going to the beach.”

She taped a paintbrush to his canvas, at the horizon line, so Smith could distinguish between his sky and his sea. She dipped his paintbrush in deep blue paint and placed it in his hand.

He had already finished the sky. He painted ocean with sweeping strokes, side to side. He kept his left hand on the paintbrush taped to the canvas.

Once a week, Cowger works with students at the Vision Resource Center in the Lions Club building off Rowan Street. All of them are blind or nearly blind. Most of them are seniors. Some, like Smith, are younger but disabled.

For three years, the Seniors Call to Action Team has offered the classes, said Bob White, president of the nonprofit group. They allow disabled people to get out in the community, to meet other people and to learn something new.

Together, they create works of art, respectable paintings that seeing folks would never know were painted by those who cannot see.

A grant from the Arts Council of Fayetteville/ Cumberland County, combined with matching funds from the action team, have supported the program for the last three years, White said.

Two similar classes are offered for Hispanic people who speak little English and for poor minority seniors, White said.

On Monday, John Denver Christmas songs sang out from the boom box as the artists worked on their paintings. A slight smell of oil paint lingered. They sat in folding metal chairs around a long table.

They all painted the same scene, but each work was unique. Cowger helped here and there, filling in bare spots in her students’ seas.

Frances Cooper dabbed blue paint onto her canvas. She could not see her pink and purple sky or the perfect clouds. She can distinguish light from dark, she said, but she can no longer see colors.
Cooper, who worked for years as an accountant, is losing her sight to macular degeneration. “I’m thankful,” Cooper said. “The Lord has left me enough to be able to get around.”

Art is new to Cooper. “I don’t know much about art. This is my first experience. We’re at the beach today. Last week we were at the mountains.”

Frank Dallas, a retired Army lieutenant colonel stood before his easel, looking intently at his canvas. His hands shook, a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. He gripped the easel with his left hand. With his right, he dabbed yellow paint where his sky was appearing.

When his eyes were good and his hands less shaky, he used to be a woodcarver, Dallas said. He whittled all sorts of songbirds and beautiful crosses. He painted in oils, too, and taught Cowger when she was just starting out.

Cowger teaches at Fayetteville Technical Community College and at Michael’s Arts & Crafts stores. She teaches an oil painting technique called wet on wet that was popularized by Bob Ross, the artist who is the star of the show the “Joy of Painting” on public television.

Before they painted on blue, each student brushed white paint onto the canvas first, part of the technique.

Levon Harris is another student in Cowger’s class.

“Levon, you know where your paintbrush is,” Cowger asked him. “Take that brush and scrub it in hard. All right, Levon, go down. Let me pick up some more paint for you. Don’t forget the right side of your canvas.”

Harris said he remembers what sky and sea look like. He can imagine. But when he could see, he “couldn’t draw a straight line.”

Cooper said something about sand. She thought there would be sand. Cowger said no, just pretty water.

Still water? Cooper wanted to know. Calm water?

“Well, honey, we’re going to put some waves in there.”

Cooper called across the table to Smith. “Ok, Timmy, how much are you going to charge for yours?”

He just laughed.

Bob White said the Seniors Call to Action Team has received another grant for $2,400 that will take the art program into another year. They want to expand the program and eventually turn it over to the Vision Resource Center. He said the action team depends on community support to provide the matching money that is required to receive the grant money from the Arts Council.

Desperate visually impaired man takes matters into his own hands

A visually impaired man's persistent struggle to obtain a family ration card in the last five years has made him desperate. It drove him to make a vain bid to immolate himself in front of top revenue officials at the Collectorate here on Monday.

R. Selvakumar of Melaponnagaram, in his late 30s, quietly trotted into the grievance day meeting hall, clutching his white cane, assisted by his wife and accompanied by his two children. He submitted a petition to the Collector, D. Raajendiran, seeking a ration card.

The Collector summoned the personal assistant to district supply officer and directed him to provide Mr. Selvakumar with the card soon.

Mr. Selvakumar threatened to immolate himself, if the card was not given at once. So saying, he produced a matchbox and made a vain bid to set fire to his dress. However, the alert officials foiled his attempt and handed him over to the police.

Mr. Selvakumar, a lift operator at a private hospital here, claimed that he had petitioned revenue and civil supplies officials repeatedly in the last five years for the ration card. But his attempts had come to naught.

"Lack of proper response from the authorities had forced him to resort to this extreme measure," he said.

"He sent his petition in 2001 to the district officials through registered post. And it was forwarded to Chennai for printing," an official at the Collectorate told The Hindu.

The official said Mr. Selvakumar's card was among 25,000 new applications sent to Chennai for printing of new cards, which were yet to reach the Collectorate. Mr. Raajendiran directed the police not to detain him but let him off after obtaining a letter assuring that he would not attempt suicide. Mr. Selvakumar was released once he tendered the letter.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Target 5 makes this season a special one for a visually impaired woman

Faced with a mound of medical bills, a legally blind woman was worried she wouldn't be able to spruce up her home for the holidays or buy presents for her grandchildren.

But with some work from Santa's helper, Target 5's Tom Sussi, she was able to see a Christmas wish come true.

Lisa Holcomb called Sussi on behalf of her mom, Joyce Race, who's had several eye surgeries in recent months.

"She's going to be really surprised," Holcomb said. "She's probably going to cry."

And cry she did after Sussi gave her some good news. Johnny's Toys donated $175 in gift certificates for Race to spend on her grandkids, and Keely Feeman, owner of Merry Maids in Butler and Warren counties, cleaned Race's house top to bottom.

Race was overwhelmed by the companies' generosity.

Visually impaired participated to a car rallye

Visually impaired people in Kolkata on Sunday participated in a unique car rally, acting as navigators.

In an inspirational attempt, at least four dozen cars navigated an 80-km long route in a car rally jointly organised by the National Association for Blind (NBA) and a city club.

The participants who were clueless about the path took directions from visually challenged people who were beaming with excitement at the adventure ahead.

"In this car rally my work is to be the navigator. The navigator gives route directions, I have to read the navigation charts and give directions to the driver, " said Shamim Akhtar, a visually challenged.
The rally got tremendous support from the locals and participants who said such initiatives should be encouraged.

"It's an excellent concept. It's a very unique initiative that has been taken up and we are playing a supportive role here, " said Haimanti, a participant.

Elsewhere in Bangalore, 30 vintage beauties came out on roads, attracting attention of curious onlookers.

Heads turned as classic cars, motorcycles dressed elegantly paraded majestically on streets on a winter morning.

"We are a part of the Karnataka Vintage club. We have rallies regularly. This time it's nice to be a part of the Bangalore rally, "said Sabina Prakash, a participant.

The rally organised by the Vintage Car Owners Association saw cars like Ford, Austin, Fiat, Jaguar rolled out on streets to the cheers from the crowd.

Music show offers help to the visually impaired

The National Association for the Blind (NBA) is completing its 53 years of providing its services to the visually impaired. As part of its fund raising programme, the association is organising a light music show by Komagan and his blind orchestra.

Speaking to media persons, Alagu Muthu, honorary secretary of the NBA, said that the show is aimed mainly at raising funds for their organisation to improve their infrastructure facilities. The Raack Dance Academy will also participate with Komagan's troupe.

The programme will be held at the Kamaraj Memorial Hall, Teynampet on 9 December at 6.30 pm. Celebrities like Anuradha Sriram, AV Ramanan and Pop Shalini will participate in the show. Tickets are available at Landmark and Odyssey. Komagan, a visually impaired leads the troupe of orchestra, said that it would be his 1,518th show and they will sing the latest hit songs.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Group help visually impaired children

Sometimes, even angels need help. Ken and Becky Rowin of Mesa have seven kids. Six of them are adopted. Three are visually impaired, including one who is blind.

The Rowin children, who range in age from 8 to 24, are doing beautifully. A lot of the credit for that belongs to the Foundation for Blind Children. "My kids wouldn’t be where they are today without the foundation,’’ Becky Rowin said. Founded in 1952, the Foundation for Blind Children has become a national model for agencies serving the blind.

As the only Arizona agency of its kind, the Foundation for Blind Children is an essential resource to families and children with blindness or low vision. Otherwise, blind children might not get the opportunities that should be available to every child: To learn, play sports, participate fully in the world around them and become successful, productive adults. Tribune readers can help ensure that programs such as the Foundation for Blind Children are always there to lend a helping hand.

If anyone knows the impact that the Foundation for Blind Children can have on the quality of life for visually impaired kids, it is the Rowins. Their association with the foundation began almost 14 years ago, shortly after they became foster parents to twins Caleb and Sarah, then 6 months old. The Rowins later adopted the children. Caleb is visually impaired. Sarah is blind. At every step, from infancy to adolescence, the foundation was there, Becky Rowin said.

Beginning with an infant program and continuing with preschool and school-age programs, the foundation provides education, therapy, assistance, testing and support for the child and the parents. The foundation also helps blind adults with job training, education and programs geared to help them live independently. The foundation, which has three Arizona locations including a campus in Chandler, is the largest organization for blind children in the nation.

Last year, it provided services for 1,800 Arizona children and 400 adults. Rich Kenny, the foundation’s community relations coordinator, said the demand for services is increasing. Toward that end, the foundation is looking to expand its operations. The foundation faces a unique opportunity to achieve that goal this month. "Earlier this year, we received a matching gift donation of $500,000 from an anonymous donor,’’ Kenny said.

"For each dollar we raise by Dec. 25, this donor will match it dollar for dollar.’’ No one is more excited about that than the Rowins. "Really, I can’t imagine what families who live somewhere else, where they don’t have an organization like this, do,’’ Becky Rowin said. "We would have been completely lost without them.’’ How to donate • Contributions can be mailed to Our Children Matter, 137 E. University Drive, Mesa, AZ 85201.

Checks should be made payable to Our Children Matter. • The Tribune will match 50 percent, up to $10,000 total, on contributions from the community. • Agencies that wish to apply for funding can call Mesa United Way at (480) 969-8601 to be put on the list to receive a request for funding. Requests will go out once the campaign is completed in early January. • This is the third year the Tribune has held the Our Children Matter campaign. More than $27,000 was raised the first two years, which went to programs that help low-income, disabled, foster and other children.

Visual impairment is both misunderstood and a source of prejudice

Some 20 years later, it still ranks as one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever had to deal with. I was about 18 years old and in search of a part-time job to pay my tuition. A friend of my sister’s suggested that I apply for a job as a typist at the Montreal hospital where she worked, so off I went.

Her boss figured out that I had a visual impairment and asked about it. I explained that I’m nearsighted but able to work just fine with a combination of contact lenses and glasses. I then assured him that I could do the job for which I was applying. “Well, if you have to go outside and stand in the sunshine to see well enough to read, you could do the job but it would take a long time,” he shot back. Huh? Who said anything about running out into the sunshine clutching a piece of paper? I sure didn’t.

In fact, the comment was so beyond me that it took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about. Whenever I need to read anything, including a number in the telephone book, I just park my eyeballs above the page and put them to work. I tried to set my interviewer straight, assuring him that I had absolutely no need to go stand in the sun to read. But he wasn’t about to let some young woman with a disability tell him how she sees the world. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job.

Apparently attitudes towards people with disabilities in the workforce haven’t changed much in the past three decades – according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. They released a study in November indicating that many educated people who are blind or have visual impairments are living in poverty because they can’t find work.

Many of the barriers they faced 30 years ago still exist today. The report is titled “An Unequal Playing Field: Report on the Needs of People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired Living in Canada.” It found that only 25 per cent of blind or visually impaired adults aged 21-64 have jobs. This compares with 51 per cent of people with disabilities (aged 25–54) and 82 per cent of the general population (aged 25–54) who are gainfully employed.

A lack of education doesn’t explain why only a quarter of blind or visually impaired adults of working age are bringing home the bacon. Nearly 20 per cent of the people the CNIB interviewed had completed one or more university degrees. In fact, 13 per cent had an undergraduate degree, six per cent had a master’s and 0.5 per cent had a PhD. Another nearly 18 per cent had successfully completed high school, and 14 per cent had graduated with a community college diploma.

While 19.5 per cent of folks with visual impairments have a university degree, so does 25 per cent of the general population. Therefore, people without disabilities are not significantly more educated than people with visual impairments. So why are the latter having more trouble finding jobs? One reason is the attitudes of potential employers.

Like the man at the Montreal hospital where I had applied for work, some are blinded by the disability. They are unable to see past it. In their eyes, the person’s disability overshadows whatever skills and abilities the individual can offer. Employer attitudes are an obstacle. More than half of working age participants in the CNIB study said that employers don’t see the blind applicant’s potential and a significant number are even unwilling to hire someone with a visual impairment.

This is likely where having personal connections or contacts becomes even more important for landing a job. Among more than 35 per cent of those in the study who did find work, it was through connections, word of mouth a family connection or friend. Technology has made it easier for people with visual impairments to get around in a sighted world.

I use a monocular (like binoculars but for only one eye) to read street signs and see things that are too far away, allowing me to stretch my minimal eyesight. I also bump up the font on my laptop to ease the strain on my eyeballs. According to the CNIB study, I’m not alone. About 85 per cent of people they polled use technical aids such as tape recorders (56 per cent), handheld magnifiers (52 per cent), screen readers (36 per cent for working-age adults), closed circuit televisions (15 per cent for working-age adults) and digital book players (29 per cent for working-age adults), among many others.

As the authors of the report state: “People with low vision can independently shop, do their banking, and order food in a restaurant if they have access to the portable magnification devices available to assist them with these activities.” I do all of that – and more. When I was 24 I quit my job, filled up my backpack, grabbed my passport and monocular and travelled around Europe on my own for more than six months.

Granted, most people who are blind or have a visual impairment don’t do that. But if we can get through a community college or university, surely we can adapt to a workplace. Chances are that we have far more experience adapting and finding creative solutions to challenges than most employers do. After all, we’ve been doing it all of our lives. If I can travel on my own, I think I can I adapt to a workplace – rain or shine.

New space book for the visually impaired

HOST: National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute

WHO: Joseph Henry Press, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and VIEW International Foundation

WHAT: An educational workshop and media event to launch Touch the Sun and celebrate ten years of Sun observations by Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

WHEN: Friday, December 2, 2005, 10:00 a.m.

WHERE: National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute1800 Johnson StreetBaltimore, Maryland

Touch the Sun: A NASA Braille Book by Noreen Grice is the third in her series of tactile graphic books about space and astronomy. Innovating beyond her previous books, Touch the Stars and Touch the Universe, Touch the Sun is a great leap forward in tactile graphic technology.

Both TTU and TTS are published by the Joseph Henry Press, a division of the National Academies of Sciences.

The December 2nd workshop will enable fifty visually impaired students, parents and teachers from around the USA, to learn about the Sun at "activity stations" staffed by NASA scientists, volunteers from the Maryland Science Center, and blind mentors from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Reporters can meet students and officials from NASA Headquarters and the Goddard Space Flight Center as well as the NFB. A model of the SOHO spacecraft, a satellite that provides spectacular movies and critical science data on the Sun and its Earth-influencing eruptions, will be on hand.

Noreen Grice, author of four books including Touch the Sun, is a pioneer in making the planetarium environment welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities. She has a B.A. in Astronomy, Boston University, and M.S. in Astronomy, San Diego State University, as well as more than twenty years of experience presenting programs and creating accessible astronomy materials for the visually impaired at the Museum of Science, Boston.

Notable attendees:

Ms. Angela Diaz, Associate Administrator for Education, NASA HQ
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind
Mr. Stephen Mautner, Executive Editor, Joseph Henry Press
NASA TV is booking live satellite media interviews for Friday morning December 2nd, featuring two SOHO scientists discussing the upcoming "Touch the Sun" book and ten years of SOHO solar observations.

B-roll video highlights of SOHO imagery, animation, and Touch the Sun in use will be uplinked December 2 at noon, 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. ET.

In the continental United States, NASA Television is carried on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal on AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, Transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. In Alaska and Hawaii, it's on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal accessed via satellite AMC-7, transponder 18C, 137 degrees west longitude, 4060 MHz, vertical polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder is required for reception. Analog NASA TV is no longer available.

For further information please contact:

Patricia MaurerDirector of Community RelationsNational Federation of the Blindcommunityrelations@nfb.org410-659-9314, ext. 2272
Skip BarkerChairmanVIEW International Foundationsbarker@viewinternational.org401-742-8347