Thursday, January 26, 2006

Begging, not in the future of visually impaired people anymore

On a morning her peers are going to school, 12-year old Rita Moses, whose father died a couple of years ago, is torn between worlds: to go to school on an empty stomach and return hungry or escort her blind mother from their Gangala residence in Bangwe to town to ask for alms—a means which for sure brings something to eat. The latter often turns a priority. Out of complete destitution and lack of alternatives, many visually-impaired people have gone into the country’s streets begging for alms.

But one day things might work out and see the visually impaired make destitute street life a thing of the past. Tithandizane Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Tabvi) at Bangwe in Blantyre is turning the wheels of fortune.It is pushing through efforts to redirect energies of the visually-impaired from begging for alms to proper ways of generating cash and fending for themselves.

Tabvi has more than 50 members with visual-impairment and 28 of these are breadwinners. Some of the visually-impaired members have taken tall responsibilities, leading the walk from destitution to self-reliance.Rocky Gauti is the finance manager and spokesperson, Fletcher Dick is secretary, Iness Macheso heads Tabvi’s women’s wing while Heaven Alfazema is chair of the executive body.“We are aiming at raising the membership of the visually-impaired to about 300.

But that means we need more materials,” said Gauti in an interview Tuesday.“We want to completely walk away from begging. We have the skills and there is no reason to despair. We only need a push to get us going,” he added. He says the visually-impaired need to move to self-reliance because destitution exposes them to stigma and abuse.“Plans for a weaving factory are in tune, by June we will have done much on this.

We plan to get those still in the villages to help us with work here. You would be amazed with the vast talent lying idle in the rural areas,” explains Gausi.Alfazema says another potential area is poultry farming. “It can complement art and craft. This means we could make enough money for our survival,” he says.His counterpart Macheso says activities to direct women towards self-reliance are under way.“We meet every Thursday for drills in homecare skills, pottery, baking, knitting and embroidery.

We have already learnt how to bake buns, for example,” says Macheso.She says the human rights lessons they undergo are playing a major role in helping visually-impaired women guard against abuse. “Many men take advantage of our misfortune and rape us. Even the children who escort us are sometimes snatched away from us by abusers knowing there is little we can do to rescue them,” said Macheso. She says sometimes even their own sons, who escort them on begging sprees, go naughty and turn against them.“These are painful experiences.

Life on the streets is tough. We have to go into better ways of generating income,” she said adding that even at home women are exposed to violence. One of the organisation’s trustees, Bettie Mbagalira, says the women have shown considerable skills in their training.Tabvi director, Eric Trinta, says the organisation is set to extend its operations nationwide and impart business acumen to the visually-impaired.“Macoha [Malawi Council for the Handicapped] is doing its part. It can train people and instill in them high class skills but does not empower them.

That is where we will come in and help lead the beneficiaries into money generating activities,” said Trinta.The organisation is currently running on membership fees from trustees and sponsors and other small-scale fund-raising activities.Trinta hints that other projects in the offing are carpentry, tinsmith, and wine production. “We are set to revive some of the outlets through which Macoha used to sell its products,” says Trinta.As they take one step at a time, walking towards the day they shall sing a song of self-reliance, the visually-impaired are leaving no stone un turned to wipe stigma out of society.

One of these days it might be their choral group storming your church, mosque, temple or neighbourhood just to say “lack of vision is not lack vision, we have a vision.” ––Note: This feature is part of a project Stanbic Bank is carrying out in conjunction with the media. The project, called ‘Inspiration lives in Africa’.

Student, an inspiration for visually impaired people

One visually impaired student of Shree Primary School stunned the media personnel with his unmatched singing dexterity. His three peers musically accompanied Ram Bahadur Dangi, who touched the hearts of audiences with his melodious lyrics. Suprisingly, all his friends including Lokendra Mahara, Chitra Bahadur Dangi and Bimala Bika are also deprived of eyesight.

Ram Bahadur Dangi, who is studying in the first grade, lost his eyesight due to severe illness. He was just 4 years old when the traumatic ailment beset upon him. The 21 years old Dangi is equally perfect at playing other musical instruments like Sarangi, Madal and Flute. Dangi unleashed his hidden talent by learning to play four musical instruments in a very short span of time.

Within the period of eight months, he was well versed with these instruments. This is indeed wonderful if one is to consider the fact that Dangi needs other’s support to accomplish his daily tasks. The credit for his achievement undoubtedly goes to Om Bahadur Sen. Sen, teacher of Dangi, has helped him in numerous ways. Firstly, Sen taught him how to play musical instruments. Sen also took the responsibility of arranging these instruments for his brilliant student.

Wind chimes provide answers to visually impaired man

Student Toshiro Yamamoto found the answer to his problem blowing in the wind.
While the delicate music of wind chimes heard throughout the campus since early December may be an aural treat for the ears, they also serve as a navigation tool for persons with visual impairments like Yamamoto.

The senior majoring in kinesiology uses a cane and counts intersections to find his way between campus and his Sunset District home. "But on the way home one day, I was distracted, lost count and turned down the wrong street," Yamamoto said. "I wound up trying to get into someone else's house!"

Shortly thereafter, he noticed the sound of wind chimes hung from a neighbor's house and has since relied on them to verify the location of his own home.

"These chimes have been a 'guiding light' to me," said Yamamoto, who has been blind in one eye since the age of 12 and is rapidly losing sight in the other. Wondering if wind chimes might be helpful on campus to others, Yamamoto met with Phil Evans, manager of campus grounds; Geoff Brown, a coordinator of the
Disability Programs and Resource Center; and Ricardo Gomes, chair and associate professor of design and industry, to discuss the possibility.

The pilot program consists of chimes hung from a light pole near the library, where students who are blind or have other impairments use adaptive computer equipment. Chimes at the east entrance to Burk Hall, across from the student center, are a reminder that the steep, wide staircase leading down into the building is nearby. More sets were hung near the humanities and student services buildings.

This is not the first time SFSU has explored offering audible clues to visually impaired persons. In 1990, Evans collaborated with design and industry faculty members Brian Donnelly and Robert Natata on a study funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The project, entitled "Accessible Landscapes, Designing for Inclusion," explored such multipurpose campus enhancements as talking maps and furniture that would accommodate wheelchair users. Not long after, design and industry students constructed two examples of accessible outdoor study tables on the Fine Arts building patio. The project also spawned a book and an
accessible landscapes Web site, which are routinely consulted by designers worldwide.

"The wind chimes will provide a multi-dimensional experience for everyone," Evans said.
While the chimes were an easy innovation to implement, the pilot program has revealed a few kinks that need to be hammered out. The weight and design of the test chimes doesn't guarantee regular ringing in campus winds, and the sounds of each set are too similar for users to make a distinction about which location they represent. Evans hopes to find
engineering and industrial design classes that could take on these refinements as class projects.

Meanwhile, Yamamoto hopes the project makes it past the pilot stage."Perhaps someone will have a problem with the chimes ... maybe some will find them annoying," Yamamoto said. "But I think that the benefits far outweigh any negative effects."

Future does not look too promising for visually impaired man

THE adage “appearances are deceptive” goes well with V K Abdullah’s case. When you first meet him, you may not realise that the man is living in a world that is completely dark.

Struck with diabetes, a few years ago, the 43-year-old visually impaired Indian from Kerala cannot move around without proper assistance.

His sponsor has been gracious enough to employ him as a car cleaner and Abdullah supplements his meagre income by “helping” children of Birla Public School (BPS) board the bus.

“As the school management is aware of my condition they allow me to remain on board while the bus moves,” he said.

“Moreover, the children, who I am supposed to help, have been very supportive,” said Abdullah.
Abdullah initially worked as a driver for his sponsor but the gradual decrease in his sight forced him to leave the country in search of better eye care in India. He was treated at major eye hospitals but the doctors observed that nothing could be done to help restore his vision.

Not the one to give up meekly, Abdulla underwent Ayurvedic treatment under a reputed ophthalmologist. But, by then, retinal disorders had already done irreparable damage to his eyes
Financial insecurity and the promise of another job by sponsor brought him back to Doha last year. But his condition worsened with each passing day. “Let alone crossing roads, now, I cannot even see what is happening right in front of me,” he said

Recently, a Russian doctor also tested him but without much success as the patient’s nerves are too weak for a recovery.

With little hope of regaining the sight Abdullah has no clue as to what to do to support his family which include his old parents, wife and a teenage daughter.

Thoughts about his family make him think twice before taking the decision to leave Qatar.

Explaining his predicament, Abdullah says, “At this stage, I will do whatever it takes to support my family.”

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ambitions not affected by visual impairment

Ahshira Santos' life changed one morning, eight years ago, when, on her way to class, she bent down to tie her shoes. "When I got up, everything was black, and I said, 'Oh my God, what's going on?'" What was going on was that one of Santos' retinas had detached, and even repeated surgeries could not completely save her vision, which was already weakening because of a related diabetic condition.

Santos, now 27, is legally blind, but like a growing number of visually impaired people, she is not letting her disability keep her from setting her sights high."I want to finish my B.A. and get my master's in international business," Santos said. After recently completing her two-year degree at Los Angeles City College, Santos applied to USC, where she is now waiting for word on her acceptance for the 2006 fall term. "I'm in love with everything about USC.

The football team, the campus, the school colors - everything," she said. "USC is where I want to be."Santos, who would be the first person in her family to graduate from a four-year college, is aware of the extra effort needed to succeed at USC. Carmen Apelgren, a community relations coordinator for the Braille Institute who is visually impaired herself, said research shows that a blind person must work four times as hard as a sighted person to get to the same place in the workforce.

Yet, when visually impaired people graduate, they really know their stuff, she added. Apelgren, a co-worker of Santos' at the Braille Institute, said Santos is creative and intelligent and will no doubt succeed at the university level.Santos thanks the Braille Institute in Los Angeles for the special training they provided her for adjusting to a visually impaired way of life and also for their inspiration. "Just because you're visually impaired doesn't mean you can't do almost anything a sighted (seeing) person can do," said Adama Dyoniziak, regional director of the Braille Institute.

One of the key philosophies of Braille is to empower visually impaired people to get out in the world and live full, active and productive lives, Dyoniziak said."The sky really is the limit for the visually impaired," Apelgren said.She said there are visually impaired lawyers, teachers, psychologists and physicists."There are even blind computer geeks, and a computer geek - blind or not - is still a computer geek," she said.

What are the challenges for a visually impaired student? For starters, Santos said looking at the chalkboard is tough. Santos manages, however, by always sitting up front and using a monocular (a magnification device for one eye). Santos also said it helps to ask the teacher to speak loudly when he or she writes something on the board.To help read textbooks or handouts, Santos has two devices. The first is a Closed Circuit TV, a machine where written material is placed underneath an optical apparatus that projects the text onto a monitor.

Additional controls allow the user to manipulate text size and clarity.And with special software, Santos can scan virtually any text into a computer and literally have the computer read it out loud to her. Santos said she especially likes that she can change the voice to either male or female. Santos said that exam-taking can usually be arranged through the Office of Special Services, a department on most college and university campuses. USC's Disability Services and Programs offers assistance for many students with disabilities.

For the visually impaired student, these services include "books in alternative format (either digital format, on tape or in Braille), extended time on exams, note-takers, CCTV, large print, readers, scribes and screen readers," said Katherine Hammons, interpreter coordinator for DSP.Hammons said there are currently 12 visually impaired students registered with DSP, "but I am quite sure there are other students out there who don't use our services." With moist eyes, Santos said that her hero and role model is her mother. "She's been there for me through the good and the bad," she said.

The good was when Santos recently graduated from Los Angeles City College with her two-year degree. The bad was last July, when because of diabetic complications, Santos was rushed to the hospital and remained in intensive care for a week, with her mother by her side. "She's everything to me," Santos said. "When I'm sad, I sometimes know that she's sad, but she will never show it to me. I want to be strong like her."

What sometimes makes Santos sad is that she cannot go out at night when it is dark to visit friends or go to restaurants. But, keeping a good sense of humor is important to maintaining a cheery disposition, she said. "Sometimes my mother will make a silly mistake, and I'll joke and say, 'Hello, Mom, I'm the blind one here - not you.'" Santos also said her friends even joke that there is a place in San Diego called "Chula Vista" (beautiful view) that Santos can never visit because she doesn't have beautiful vision.

Santos said the banter is all in fun, and she does not feel hurt or insulted about it. Santos said when her doctor told her she was going blind, she cried and became depressed, but then she finally told herself that this was not the end of the world, and she could continue on. And whenever she gets down, Santo said she always cheers herself up by saying tomorrow is another day. "You can do it. You can achieve more. You can set your sights even higher," she said.-"Blind Ambitions" is the first in a three-part series examining students with disabilities at USC. The series concludes on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Network announces support to the visually impaired

Cynthia Lamberton, Chairwoman of the Iris Network Board of Directors announced the appointment of Sherry MacKinnon as the new Vice President of Program Services yesterday. “I am very excited about this opportunity to serve The Iris Network in this capacity,” said Ms. MacKinnon,“ I look forward to working with the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired and our other partners in the community.”

Ms. MacKinnon has been at the Iris Network as an Occupational Therapist and was responsible for designing and implementing the Low Vision Clinic that opened in May of 2005. Prior to her arrival to the Iris Network, Ms. MacKinnon was Director of Rehabilitation Services at for rehabilitation companies contracted to provide services in skilled nursing facilities in the Greater Portland Area. In addition to being a licensed Occupational Therapist, Ms. MacKinnon holds a Master’s degree in Health Policy and Management from the Muskie School of Public Service.

Ms. MacKinnon fills the spot left vacant by Anisio Correia, who served at the Iris Network for six years and has taken a position as Director of Rehabilitation Services for the Center for the Visually Impaired, in Atlanta, Georgia. “I have worked with Sherry closely for over a year now and know she will do a wonderful job,” Mr. Correia remarked, “ Sherry brings with her a unique blend of skills and experiences which will be instrumental as The Iris Network continues positions itself to meet the ever increasing needs of people experiencing vision loss.”

The Iris Network is a statewide organization working to bring genuine independence and unlimited promise to the lives of individuals who are visually impaired and blind. Headquartered in Portland, outreach offices are located in Bangor, Brewer, Ellsworth, Houlton, Lewiston, and Saco.

Braille not always accessible for students in Nigeria

Majority of visually impaired children in Nigeria’s special schools, have little or no opportunity to develop braille reading skills, which are keys to accessing information for their educational advancement. Most of them, in primary and secondary schools, do not have textbooks in braille.They do not have access to general reading books like their well-sighted counterparts either.

Apart from these, those that manage to go through the rigours of tertiary institutions are denied the privilege and joy of working in the same environment with well-sighted individuals. This, to a great extent, is based on employer’s doubt of their productivity, and the liability they might pose to such an organization.

This too, has hampered to an extent what they can contribute not only to themselves, but to the nation as a whole. Based on the challenges and stigmatization encountered by these disadvantaged individuals in the society, a group of foreign women, known as Nigerwives Association of Nigeria, (Nigerwives), a non-government Association for women of different nationalities, married to Nigerians and resident in Nigeria, have taken the bull by the horns, by confronting ‘ begging and dependency’ among the visually impaired in the society.

The group, which is involved in a number of humanitarian projects, that contribute, not only to the development of communities in which they reside, but to the country generally, has special interest and love in developing the visually impaired to become useful to themselves and contribute meaningfully to the society. These they have been able to achieve by promoting braille literacy among primary and secondary schools across the country, through various programmes, and by providing computer training to prepare visually impaired applicants for job opportunities.

Daily Sun visited the centre set up in 1995 at Kings College Annex, Victoria Island, Lagos and was conducted round the centre, whose services cuts across the geo-political zones of the country. There was also opportunity to speak with some graduates and students who have benefited from the centre’s benevolence. The coordinator of the centre, Mrs. Obi, told Daily Sun that the centre was set up to give tremendous boost to braille literacy among the visually impaired, and which would greatly, in turn, enhance their educational potential and independence in the society.

According to her, the centre produces braille books for 13 states and sells them at the same price even though the cost is higher. This, she says, is achieved through books supplied to the centre from the Braille Institute Press in California, which is later distributed to the Nigerwives branches and contacts in various states. “ Apart from that, we also undertake the compilation of statistics of the blind to help better provision for their educational needs”, she added.Mrs. Obi noted that the pioneers of the centre can look back and be proud to see the dimensions that has been added to the activities embarked on by the association.

These, she says, includes: Production of brailled textbooks for the primary level, Braille literacy programme for children in state primary and secondary schools, Braille reading competitions; Math’s workshops for visually impaired students with regular maths teachers; Computer training programme aimed particularly at visually impaired graduates and exploring the challenges of providing employment for the visually impaired.Mrs. Megan Olusanya, the administrator of the centre, spoke extensively on major challenges facing the centre. According to her, financing the salaries of the staffers has not being easy, as the centre has nine workers currently in their employ, out of which four are visually impaired graduates. “

It is pertinent to note that no matter the equipment in the centre, it is useless without staff to operate it, and the employment is basically to give the visually impaired staff a reason to live and hope”. She also noted other challenges facing the association, the most disturbing being the inability of visually impaired graduates to get equal opportunity with their sighted peers when it comes to securing jobs to commensurate with their qualification.“ It is disheartening to these disadvantaged individuals to have their hopes of better life dashed, after training to achieve their optimum potential educationally.

To fight this trend, Mrs. Olusanya, said that the centre has set up computer training programme to better equip them. According to her, the training involves the use of a scanner, regular computer system, and a screen reading software that enables them to access printed documents and respond to them accordingly. “ Right now, we have Mr. Ope Akinola, a visually impaired graduate, as the head of the computer training programme, he was trained by the centre”Another challenge that comes up, even after acquiring a computer education, she noted, is the ability to convince potential employers that the graduates can operate effectively in sighted work environment alongside sighted colleagues.

“To pursue this issue further, we recently held a forum for human resources personnel from some companies, tagged: “Employing the visually impaired- Challenges to employers and employees”.Mrs. Olusanya, however, made special appeal to corporate bodies and organizations that recruit graduates into their workforce, to consider the visually impaired applicants as they can equally fit in, if given the chance. She also enjoined the public, to come to the aid of the centre by financing some of the projects and donating old calendars for production of braille books for the visually impaired in the country.

Training the visually impaired to use ATM machines

Chase, Chicago's largest bank, and the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired are partnering to train the visually impaired on using automated teller machines. Chase has installed a fully accessible, state-of-the-art ATM at the Chicago Lighthouse, 1850 W. Roosevelt Rd -- the first ATM at the site.

Visually impaired customers plug a standard set of earphones into the ATM to hear voice prompts that take them step by step through a transaction. The earphone outlet is easily accessible on the front of the ATM. Chase bankers will train Chicago Lighthouse staff on using the ATMs, and the staff will train hundreds of employees and individuals served by the Chicago Lighthouse on an ongoing basis.

Chase also will donate up to 300 sets of earphones, which the Chicago Lighthouse will distribute. The earphones can be used at any accessible ATM.

"This initiative allows people who are blind to utilize ATMs throughout the metropolitan area," noted James Kesteloot, president and executive director of the Chicago Lighthouse. "It's significant because it mainstreams people who are blind or visually impaired and gives them the independence to be able to handle banking transactions right in their own communities."
Chase predecessor Bank One was a pioneer in providing accessible ATMs for the visually impaired, installing the first "talking" ATMs in Illinois and Ohio in 2001. Today, all 1,200 Chase ATMs in the Chicago area are accessible to people who are blind. Chase customers can obtain earphones at any Chase branch.

"Chase is committed to delivering service, convenience and choice to all of our customers," said Michael Cleary, Chief Operating Officer of Chase's Consumer Bank. "Our partnership with the Chicago Lighthouse will help us equip more visually impaired individuals to manage their own financial needs by taking advantage of the convenience of our extensive ATM network."
Chase's Access Ability Resource Center, which serves to identify ways to make products more accessible to disabled employees and customers, worked with Chase's Consumer Bank to place the ATM at the Chicago Lighthouse.

Chase offers the following additional services to visually impaired consumers:

-- Account statements in Braille;

-- Account statements in large type;

-- Checks printed in large type.

Ongoing Partnership

The ATM is latest step in Chase's ongoing partnership with the Chicago Lighthouse to assist blind and visually impaired individuals with life skills. Earlier this year, Chase employees began teaching resume writing skills and performing mock job interviews at the Chicago Lighthouse to help prepare visually impaired people to seek employment.

"Chase is committed to a diverse workforce, as well as to serving our diverse customer base," Cleary said. "Resume and interview help prepares individuals for the experience of seeking a job while it also helps our staff prepare to work with potential job candidates who have different needs."

"With unemployment rates among people who are blind or visually impaired hovering around 70%, the most important thing any blind person wants is a job," Kesteloot maintained. "Thanks to Chase, job seekers who are blind or visually impaired have had access to additional training that can make the difference in whether they get a position or not get one."

About Chase

Chase, the U.S. consumer and commercial banking brand of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), has more than 100 million credit cards issued and serves consumers and small businesses through more than 2,600 bank branches, 7,100 ATMs and 225 mortgage offices as well as through relationships with over 15,000 auto dealerships, 2,500 schools and universities, and 2,100 insurance agencies. It also serves more than 25,000 commercial banking clients, including corporations, municipalities, financial institutions and not-for-profit entities with annual revenues generally ranging from $10 million to $2 billion.

About The Chicago Lighthouse

Celebrating its centennial in 2006, The Lighthouse is one of the oldest social service agencies in Chicago. It offers 23 different programs that in fiscal year 2005 provided direct service to 23,688 individuals. Among them are a vocational services program; a clock-making facility; a school for multi-disabled infants and children; a low vision clinic; a legal clinic; a Braille library and CRIS Radio, a reading service for people who are blind or visually impaired. Because of the scope and breath of its services, The Lighthouse is regarded as the most comprehensive agency of its kind in the Midwest and a model agency nationally.

New TV show to read along with the visually impaired

Richard & Judy's Best Read has kicked off on Channel 4 TV and, thanks to a joint initiative with the National Library for the Blind (NLB), visually impaired people are able to read along too...Did you know that only 5% of books published in the UK every year ever make it into a format that the 2 million blind and partially sighted people in the UK can read?Channel 4's Richard & Judy programme has joined forces with the National Library for the Blind (NLB) and top publishers to ensure that blind readers are able to join in with their popular Best Read book club.

With such a limited number of books produced in formats that visually impaired people can read, such as Braille, Audio and Giant Print, blind and partially sighted people are often excluded from popular reading activities.However, the third annual Best Read book club will feature ten books which will also be available for visually impaired people to read along with their sighted friends.

As charities such as the National Library for the Blind are the main producers of books in alternative formats they are dependent on donations and funding to produce books for blind people.Featured publishers have agreed to fund the cost of transcription of the book club titles into Braille, meaning that visually impaired people will be able to fully participate in the programme and take part in reading groups to discuss the chosen titles.

Amanda Ross, Exec Producer has insisted from the beginning that this is a condition of acceptance to the book club.Claire Briscoe from the National Library for the Blind said: " We are very excited about the work we are doing with the Richard & Judy programme, and also the support we are getting from publishers. As a charity with no regular government funding we can only continue our work thanks to generous donations and the support of projects such as the Richard & Judy Book Club."

She added: "We believe that visually impaired people should be able to read the same books, at the same time and at the same price as sighted people and we hope that publishers will continue to support our work bringing the magic of reading to blind people throughout the UK."NLB are producing each Braille book in time for the appropriate Richard & Judy programme. Visually impaired people wishing to borrow or buy a copy, or who wish to find out more about the initiative should contact NLB on 0161 406 2525 or email

New program for the visually impaired!

It was a bad omen.

That was all Hellen’s family could think when their 2-year-old daughter lost her eyesight after contracting measles, a highly contagious viral disease controlled by vaccinations in most developed countries.

In Kenya, where the family lives, blindness is a hindrance believed impossible to overcome. Hellen’s family wanted little to do with their blind child.

Because of the stigma attached to the disability, many blind children in Kenya are cast aside by their families. They do not attend school as young children, and if they do ultimately commence schooling the child is teased and often drops out.

But Hellen was lucky.

The Marigat program community established a school for blind children in 1998.Christian Children’s Fund first began assisting Hellen in 1990, when she was seven. CCF eventually enrolled her in a school designed for those with partial or total loss of eyesight.

The Marigat program community, located 160 miles northwest of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, established a program for blind children in 1998.

The Baringo Integrated Programme for Visually Impaired Children is overseen by the Ministry of Education under the auspice of the Kenya Integrated Education Programme.

It is supported by Sight Savers International through the Kenya Society for the Blind.

The program’s aim is not only to educate the children, but also change the perception of blindness through acceptance, recognition of the child’s potential and their right to education.

Hellen excelled in the program and was admitted into Asumbi Teachers College, one of the largest colleges in Kenya.

She received her teaching degree in 2005.

“Being involved with CCF’s educational programs, made a positive difference in my life,” Hellen said. “I was able to commence schooling despite the hardships that existed in my family and the fact that I am blind. Immediately when I joined school I was able to continue because I was quite bright and didn’t take much time before I joined the secondary school.”

While waiting for her government-assigned teaching post, Hellen, who is now 22, is volunteering for CCF and teaching young children in the program.

“There are many problems facing children who do not have a good educational start in life,” Hellen said. “For example, a child, who does not pass through early childhood development, lacks proper foundation. Thus, when they join primary school he is well behind those who had a chance to pass through early childhood development.

“Though I am a blind girl, with education I know disability is not inability.”

Monday, January 16, 2006

DVD offer descriptive video feature for the visually impaired

The Adult Services Department of the Rosenberg Library has added new items to its collection to serve those who are blind or have difficulty seeing.The library has begun to collect DVDs that are known as “descriptive video.” These are movies and documentaries that are narrated to give the viewer a better idea of what is happening on the screen.

PBS is the leader in this technology, library officials said, so most of the videodiscs the library has acquired have been aired on local public broadcasting stations.The discs may be viewed as regular DVDs but contain closed captioning for the hearing impaired and have added narration for those with sight handicaps.Titles added include “Dogs and More Dogs,” “America’s Stone Age Explorers,” “Anna Karenina” and “Good-bye Mr. Chips.” They may be borrowed for three weeks.

To access the titles in the Rosenberg Library online catalog, choose subject keyword and search “descriptive videos.”The library also acquired a Merlin Plus Color CCTV, a full-color, auto-focus, desktop video magnifier.The device is designed to help people with low vision to read, write, view photos and enjoy crafts.The vision enhancer is on the second floor of the library. Information is available at the reference desk.

New technology for visually impaired voters has some glitches!

Will County Board Chairman Jim Moustis doesn't have a mouse or a moose in his name.
Just ask the employees in the county clerk's office who have given the chairman's name an awful lot of thought recently.

First the clerk's office tried "Moustis," but the computer software system designed to pronounce names for visually impaired voters said "Mouse-tis."

"Moohs-tis" didn't work. Neither did "Myus-tis."

After several more stabs at spelling the name phonetically, staffers in the county clerk's office cracked the code and came up with "Meus-tis."

Spelling Moustis' name phonetically hasn't been easy. But it's something County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots has to do now that she's embroiled in a high-stakes version of the name game.
For years, the clerk's office has worked to make sure ballot names were spelled correctly. Now pronunciation counts, too.

Dozens of names will have to be spelled phonetically for new voting machines for visually impaired voters. The machines will read ballot choices for the first time ever in next year's elections.
Moustis isn't the only ballot troublemaker.

Sheriff Paul Kaupas will be "Koh-pas," and county board member John Gerl will be "Girl."
Voots recently purchased 390 new voting machines for disabled voters with a grant from the federal Help America Vote Act. Election officials throughout the country have to have similar systems.

For the software to get all the ballot names right, the clerk's office has to spell the names phonetically so the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) software will pronounce it correctly.
"We never had to worry about pronunciation, so this is new," said Terry Carr, chief deputy clerk.
This may be quite a task in March when all 452 precincts in the county have precinct committeemen slots open.

Those races, added to all the county and state races, could mean that more than 1,000 names have to be pronounced correctly for visually impaired voters.

Voots will ask all candidates who drop off nominating petitions next week to make sure the system is pronouncing their names right. Candidates who mail in their petitions or send them with others will get a letter in the mail.

Voots said she doesn't want someone who loses an election to file an objection arguing that his or her name wasn't pronounced correctly on the ballot.

"If they lose, I'm not getting blamed for it," she said.

If candidates have any concerns about pronunciations, they can come to the clerk's office in the county building to hear for themselves how their names will be pronounced on Election Day, she said.

So far, Moustis was the toughest, Carr said. She tried 15 different combinations until "Meus-tis" finally worked, she said.

"It's trial and error," Carr said.

Democrats Dale R. Vollmer and Richard Girot, who plan to challenge Kaupas, also had pronunciation issues. Vollmer's middle initial will be "Ahr," and Girot will be "Juraut."
Several other county board members also posed pronunciation problems. Tom Weigel will be "Whygle," Chuck Maher will be "Mayer," Walter Adamic is "Addemik" and Ann Dralle is "Drayl."
Voots said she's working hard to make sure all ballot names are pronounced correctly. The phonetic spellings will not appear anywhere on the printed ballot.

Moustis may have been the toughest name, but there was one name that didn't cause a pronunciation problem at all.

"Voots was fine," Voots said with a smile.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New software to help the visually impaired

Susan Knight is completely blind. But with the help of a computer, high tech software, and a scanner she can read any magazine, book, or newspaper. But even then there are more possibilities.

"Maybe it's a bank statement. I don't want people helping me to read my mail to know about my finances. So here I can scan it into the computer and the computer will read to me what it says," says Knight. Using control keys she can back up to the top, slow it down, or speed it up. "It gives me some independence in mastering the world of print," she says.

Mastering the varying software systems though is not always easy. Knight admits it's sometimes difficult to learn the control keys on different keyboards. "A lot of people are frightened by it because it is so new here," says Suzanne Barnes, the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System's Outreach Coordinator.

Another new software program is one that allows the visually impaired to surf the web. On command and using control keys Knight types in the website she wants to visit. Within a few seconds it pops up. "Someone who is totally blind can come in and learn how to use it and do basically anything a sighted person can do," adds Barnes.

There are only two of these computers in the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System. That's because the software and computer equipment can get very expensive. However, it is the library system's goal to equip all libraries in the Valley with at least one so more people will have access.

Actress Debra Winger promotes care for the visually impaired in India

Hollywood actress Debra Winger, who is here to promote eye care, is planning to approach Indians abroad to help visually impaired people in their native country."India has the highest percentage of visually impaired people and 80 percent of them are curable. When I go back I want to spread the message, especially among Indians abroad, to come forward and help these people," Winger said Thursday.

Winger, who at the age of 17 met with an accident that left her temporarily blind but she came out of it, is today a global ambassador for Sight Savers International."The purpose of my trip is not to promote but to learn because I have not been to India before," said the actress who starred in such films as "An Officer And A Gentleman" and "Terms Of Endearment".

"India is important because of the partnership between Sight Savers International and Venu Eye Institute and Research Centre (VEIRC) and for their work," she added.She went to Rewari in Haryana Jan 5 to see a community-based programme run by Venu - the Indian partner for Sight Savers - for visually impaired people. She visited camps for cataract operations and spent time with the patients and she was moved by the work of field workers.

"I met the field workers in Rewari district, the important link in this chain that works. They are being trained by Venu and doing a great job. They travel to the remotest area to help these visually impaired people."She was surprised to see them travelling by bicycle and suggested to former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who was also present at the conference, that the roads should be improved. Pataudi, who has a false eye, has been associated with Venu as its Sight Ambassador for the last 10 years.

He said: "This is a global problem and lots of people are affected. Me and my family is associated with Venu for more than a decade and have been working for these people."The actress who has been involved in a lot of charity work joined the organisation two-and-a-half years ago and before coming to India she went to Kenya.Debra started her acting career at the age of 17 but it was the John Travolta- starrer "Urban Cowboy" that made her a star.

Later she worked in successful films like "An Officer And A Gentleman", "Terms Of Endearment" and "Shadowlands". But she quit films when she was at her prime and settled with actor Arliss Howard.Anil Tara, CEO of VEIRC; Tanuja Joshi, managing director of VEIRC; and Neil Thorns, communications manager of Sight Savers International also attended the press conference.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

TV celebrities join forces with charity for the blind

A Stockport-based charity was today celebrating after joining forces with TV stars Richard and Judy to ensure visually impaired people can take part in their "Best Read" campaign.Richard and Judy were today kicking off the hugely-popular Best Read book club on their Channel Four show and after joining forces with the National Library for the Blind (NLB) were set to welcome even more readers.

Now in its third year, the book club will feature ten books for fans of the show to read and then join a national debate with the famous pair.However, this will be the first year visually impaired fans will get to take part as all featured publishers in the initiative have pledged to fund the transcription of their books into braille by the NLB.

The executive producer of the show, Amanda Ross, supported the NLB by insisting from the beginning that this was a condition of acceptance to the book club for publishers.Claire Briscoe, from the National Library for the Blind, said: "We are very excited about the work we are doing with the Richard and Judy programme, and also the support we are getting from publishers."As a charity with no regular government funding we can only continue our work thanks to generous donations and the support of projects such as the Richard and Judy Book Club.

"We believe that visually impaired people should be able to read the same books, at the same time and at the same price as sighted people and we hope that publishers will continue to support our work bringing the magic of reading to blind people throughout the UK."The NLB is producing each braille book in time for the appropriate Richard and Judy programme.

Visually impaired people wishing to borrow or buy a copy, or who wish to find out more about the initiative, should contact the NLB on 0161 406 2525 or email reader.advice@nlbuk.orgOnly 5% of books published in the UK every year ever make it into a format that the two million blind and partially-sighted people in the UK can read.With such a limited number of books produced in formats that visually impaired people can read, such as braille, audio and giant print, blind and partially-sighted people are often excluded from popular reading activities.

The National Library for the Blind provides a free postal library service to blind and partially sighted people worldwide.The charity houses Europe's largest collection of tactile books and music and offers a range of innovative electronic library and information services via the website at www.nlb-online.orgFor more information on the Best Read visit

Scholarship given to visually impaired students

California State University, Stanislaus, student Mauricio Molina, who is visually impaired and training himself to be a technology expert so he can help others like himself, is one of 15 people chosen by the California State University Foundation as a recipient of the Dale M. Schoettler Scholarship for Visually Impaired Students.

The scholarship is named after Dale Schoettler, a visually impaired businessman who decided to help other blind adults. It is awarded by the CSU Foundation through the chancellor's office. A total of 15 Schoettler scholarships were awarded to students from all 23 CSU campuses.

"I'm so grateful that the scholarship was available," Molina said. "Finding employment for someone who is visually impaired is just impossible. I needed the help and don't know what I'd do without it."
Molina, a former postal worker and now a full-time student at CSU Stanislaus, is thrilled to be a recipient and has high hopes the scholarship will help him prepare for a new career.

A few years ago Molina was an average guy with a family, stable job and good health until he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in 1993. After learning about his disease, Molina faced much more than just losing his sight. He lost his job and had to leave his hometown of San José to find a more affordable place to live. He and his family moved to Modesto in 2001, and by 2002, Molina was enrolled at Modesto Junior College.

Molina earned his associate of arts degree in general education from MJC in 2004 where he was named the Disability Student of the Year. He transferred to CSU Stanislaus and plans to earn a bachelor's degree in history. For the past year at CSU Stanislaus, Molina, who has found that accommodations and accessibility for the blind are limited in most places, is pleased with all the university has had to offer him through its Disability Resource Services program.

"The university has provided me with everything I have needed," Molina said. "It's more than anything I could have hoped for. Everyone at Disability Services is great and has gone above and beyond."

In addition to having a supportive wife, two caring daughters and a university that accommodates him, Molina also has an older brother with RP who inspires him to persevere through the difficulties facing him.

"He's the one who's paved the way for me," said Molina. "He doesn't have to go through it alone and I don't have to go through it alone. We've been there for each other."

Molina is a senior at CSU Stanislaus, planning to graduate in the fall. He hopes to enroll in the Single Subject Teacher Credential program at CSU Stanislaus and wants to teach high school history.

Molina's battle with RP has not only brought him back to school, but he also feels it has given him new aspirations and desires. The former postal worker has refused to lose hope and focused on going to school and educating himself about technology for the blind so that he can help other blind adults who are technologically illiterate.

Molina has volunteered at the Stanislaus County Library in Modesto to teach other visually impaired people how to use technology and encourage them to experience life to the fullest.
"I like showing blind adults who have no knowledge about what a computer can do for them, how it can make life a bit easier," Molina said. "That's where I get pleasure because it's important for them to know that you don't have to sit at home and listen to books on tapes. There are other things you can do."

Molina has already lost his central vision and is slowly losing his peripheral vision, a view that resembles looking through a porthole. He is not, however, the typical visually impaired person with a cane. Molina still wears his glasses.

"I've noticed more of my visual sphere is going away," said Molina. "There is no telling of how fast it'll go. I'm a blind guy with glasses and it really throws people off, but I like to make use of whatever vision I have left."

Radio shows facilitate the news transmission to the visually impaired

Approximately a half of million people in the Chicago area have a print-related disability. It ranges from reading printed pages to turning pages. But this should never stop them from finding out what is in newspapers because there is a radio program that takes care of that.

Chicagoland Radio Information Service has been bringing news from newspaper and magazine since 1977. Last year they made news as they moved from Randolph in the Pedway to the Chicago Lighthouse for people who are blind and visually impaired.

Art Kovarik and Kathy Snyder volunteer for Cris Radio. It is a not-for-profit organization that relies on volunteers to produce their radio show.

By using a special radio receiver it picks up Cris Radio broadcasts through a sub-carrier. Listeners have access to the same written news that sighted individuals have.

Every listener has their favorite. Marcia Trawinski likes the comics.

"Because no one gives us comics on the news line or if one gets it through the computer, comics do not come through," said Marcia.

Maureen Comiskey Perfers listening to people reading sports news.

"I have JAWS and a computer at home and I can go on newspaper website to read by using JAWS as my screen reader but its not the same thing because reading something that is written from text is different from listening to somebody giving you a little personal touch as these volunteer readers do," said Maureen.

The next step for Cris Radio is to expand 24/7. Jim Kesteloot, president and CEO of the Chicago Lighthouse, wants people who are blind to be involved.

"In fact, one day we have a new broadcast assistant starting who's legally blind and we're planning on having a number of programs actually produced by people who are blind'," said Jim.

Volunteers are always needed. Bonnie Barnes, manager of Cris Radio says most of the volunteers are dedicated.

"Obviously, we are looking for people who can read out loud which is why we hold auditions," said Bonnie.

"We are here to help each other and I think people who are unable to read for some reason or another I can be their eyes or their hands turning the pages or whatever has to be done, so it's very rewarding experience," said Art.

New machine for voters that are visually impaired and more

Wayne County residents took an early look at voting equipment that could be used in the next election at the county's Board of Elections board room Tuesday.

Board of Elections director Gary Sims said the board chose the cheapest configuration of voting machines to accommodate voters, but no matter which purchase is made by the county, the equipment will need to last.

"We have to make a purchase on equipment that will carry Wayne County five to 10 years into the future," Sims said.

New equipment will be needed throughout North Carolina following a state mandate that made many counties' voting equipment obsolete. The mandate requires counties to count absentee ballots by precinct and to provide a paper trail so voters can verify the ballots, Sims said.

However, each county is also required to comply with federal voting mandates, which require each county to provide equipment that could be used by the visually impaired, illiterate or other handicapped voters.

All voting equipment is required to be in place before the May elections, for which early voting begins April 13.

To assist the counties in reconfiguring its voting systems, federal and state grants have been issued. Wayne County will receive more than $400,000 in grants. However, the county still is expected to pay the remaining $100,000 for the equipment.

On Tuesday, Tom Janyssek, a regional sales manager for New Bern-based Printelect, presented the equipment Wayne County could be using in the next election. The voting machines are made and distributed by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software, which was the only bidder for the state elections equipment contract.

Printelect employees will assist all 100 counties during the purchase and implementation of voting machines during the next year, Janyssek said.

"With our two offices in North Carolina, you will have in-state support. We will do a full turn-key operation of help when it comes to the elections," he said.

However, most of the assistance would come from the actual voting equipment.

A lot can happen to a ballot from the time it is handed to a voter to the time it is cast, especially an absentee ballot, Janyssek said. These problems can slow down the election day process and prevent a person from voting.

With new technology, however, voting equipment, such as the M-100 precinct ballot counter presented Tuesday morning, can read a ballot that is torn or marked incorrectly, Janyssek said.
"Let's say you vote for two people in one race. Place the ballot into the machine, and it will beep quickly back at you. Then, the screen will tell you exactly what is wrong. If you hit the return button, the machine will give back the ballot, and the problem can be fixed," Janyssek said.

Any other questionable mark, such as marking an X instead of marking the blank, would be caught by the tabulator, he said. As for tears in the ballots, if the tear does not impede on the machine's ability to read the ballot, then the machine will accept the ballot because of its Intelligent Mark Recognition visible light scanning technology.

Sims said one of his main concerns for the May election is that the machines would not be able to handle the possible number of ballot styles. Since Wayne County has many districts and precincts that intersect, Sims said there could be 200 more ballot styles than the county has ever been asked to handle for one election.

"A new part of the state law says that you have to report absentee ballots by precinct. Wayne County has many jurisdictions. We could go from managing 25 to 30 ballot styles to the Board of Elections ending up with several hundred in the primary election," Sims said.

Janyssek said the M-100 model is equipped with a card that could be programmed for each precinct.

Another model, the M-650 central ballot tabulator, would allow the board to count a large number of absentee ballots or ballots during a recount from the board's central office, Sims said.

The board would want to purchase the M-100 model for each of the county's 30 precincts, Sims said. The same amount would be necessary for the AutoMARK voter assist terminal to comply with federal voting requirements.

According to the Help America Vote Act, each county needs voting equipment that assists blind, paraplegic, illiterate and other mentally and physically challenged voters in casting their ballot.

Janyssek said the AutoMARK is able to meet those requirements because it can help anyone from a voter who is completely visually impaired to a person with a broken arm fill out a ballot.

For the blind, the machine scans and reads the ballot in a computerized or human voice based on the voter's preference, Janyssek said. Both voices are specially recorded at ES&S's headquarters in Omaha for each district that uses the company's voting equipment.

The voter would listen to either one of the voices through headphones and make selections from a Braille keypad. After selections are made, the voter would be able to review the answers before submitting the ballot to the tabulator.

Since the M-100 model was created to accept a ballot fed into the machine upside down or backwards, blind voters could complete the voting process by submitting their own ballot, Janyssek said.

If a voter is visually impaired, but not blind, the screen's font can be increased, Janyssek said. If the font is not large enough to be read, then that person could also use the headphones, he said. The machine even includes a sip/puff tube for paraplegic voters who are unable to use the touch screen or touch pad. Janyssek said.

Billie Bethea, a member of the Wayne Federation of the Blind, was the first blind county resident to use the machine during the forum, and he said he was happy with the results.

"I think it is a great machine," Bethea said. "I think it is a real good gesture, and it provides help when you need help."

Sims said he and the county's Board of Elections members will present their findings to the Board of Commissioners concerning what equipment the county needs and the money needed to purchase that equipment.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said any additional costs aside from state or federal grants for the equipment might need to be taken from county reserves or the county's savings.

"It's not budgeted. We had actually put in our capital improvement plan in two years to replace the machines at a cost of $950,000, and we may have to do that anyway. But this has been thrown at us after July 1, so it's not budgeted," Smith said.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New technology facilitates reading for the visually impaired

3M MicroTouch(TM) Plays Leading Role in Enabling Award-Winning Reading Technology...Abingdon, UK, 9 January 2006 – 3M Touch Systems monitors have been used to create an award winning reading station for the visually impaired, and other groups with reading difficulties. Silvercreations Software AG and Tagarno A.S have chosen the 3M M170 MicroTouch (TM ) touch monitor as the interface for their LiveReader (TM ) reading station, that helps people who are unable to read or understand material presented in text format, to benefit from otherwise inaccessible information. These include people with impaired vision, as well as dyslexics, non-native speakers, those with low literacy, and other groups who have reading difficulties.

LiveReader’s developers cited the superior performance of 3M’s MicroTouch capacitive touch sensor technology, and in-depth technical support as the major reasons for choosing MicroTouch. Large, clearly visible buttons displayed on the screen enable the user to quickly and easily navigate the LiveReader menus using the MicroTouch touch monitor. The user then puts the document to be read or edited under an integrated digital camera.

The system then scans and processes the text within seconds and reads the words to the user.Patrick Hoffmann, Marketing Manager of Silvercreations Software said, “High contrast quality and readability are the most important features for visually impaired people, and the M170 delivered the best performance in each respect. The accuracy of MicroTouch, as well as its short reaction times, also enhance the performance and usability of LiveReader.”Nick Hughes, European Marketing Executive for Monitors at 3M Touch Systems, said, “LiveReader provides an excellent example of how to design for touchscreen.

The creators have intelligently combined good touchscreen design principles with their own insights into the needs of their target market, and have also exploited the properties of large screen sizes and graphical software capabilities to maximise the effectiveness of touch-driven computing.”Examples of design features optimised for use with touchscreen technology include large and easy to understand symbols, which help the visually impaired or people with other reading difficulties to make use of all the system functions.

Silvercreations Software and Tagarno have also implemented features supporting easy on-screen instruction entry, reader-friendliness, and uncomplicated, intuitive, easy to recognise user guidance.The MicroTouch monitor allows users to adjust controls such as contrast, colour settings and font size using just a few finger touches, allowing users to quickly and easily set-up LiveReader to meet their needs. For example, some visually impaired people prefer white text on a black background, and this can be easily set-up using the touchscreen.

LiveReader has won awards for its contribution to inclusiveness. Potential applications include workplaces, allowing visually impaired workers to realise their full potential, or in education for adults or children. Here, the easy controls, engaging appearance and rapid progress create an effective motivator for learning. Further possible application areas are public institutions, particularly those responsible for enabling migrants, who can speak the host language but cannot read it, to access information and get help with official forms.

Other groups likely to benefit by using LiveReader include dyslexic students, who would otherwise suffer restrictions in their studies, as well as those who experience trouble with tired or irritated eyes when reading for long periods.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Is the technology meant to help the visually impaired is actually meeting their needs?

A situation has developed that has caught my eye in recent months and has made me realize that I could no longer keep silent concerning several things troubling me. I am visually impaired and a PC user, and I cannot see well enough to work with a PC without using JAWS for Windows and MAGIC for Windows Assistive Technology Software.

I have read recent articles vilifying Peter Quinn, CIO of the ITD of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who wishes to make all Commonwealth documents accessible to all. But are those who tout JAWS for Windows to defend the rights of the visually impaired community speaking because they use this system every day for employment, or do they have some other hidden agenda?

In the case of use of Assistive Technology in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it would seem that fiscally responsible politicians would want to provide the best solution for their respective constituents at the best price. But it appears that in all the arguments about the OpenDocument file format versus Microsoft's OpenXML file format and accessibility to the visually impaired community that something has been missed.

The sighted community, in its attempt to be magnanimous to the non-sighted and fill our needs, has completely ignored the issue at hand. Does the system that has been selected meet the needs of the community toward which it is directed? Or is there something else that could be designed that would work more effectively and at a lower price for the consumer or taxpayer? According to the debate and its conclusion we, as visually impaired people, may never know what "could be better done to meet our needs."

To illustrate my concerns, I was perplexed several months ago by problems I was having with my PC. First, it would crash multiple times in everyday use. I frequently found it necessary to restart Magic or JAWS--or both--or reboot my Windows XP PC because of an instability in my system. Even following a fresh re-installation of all software, this application suite refuses to provide an acceptable level of system stability.

The crashes are devastating because they cause me to lose vital files I had created and have to start work over again after having nearly completed it. This costs me precious time that I could otherwise spend elsewhere. The files should have been saved because I periodically save my work out of habit, but Microsoft products do not for some reason seem to work this way no matter what one tries.

Secondly, my PC often begins to run slowly and the Assistive Technology (AT) programs will not function correctly. (i.e., settings I had enabled would fail to function or would change unexpectedly). This results in the necessity to frequently reboot the computer--wasting more precious time.
Finally, my system gets bogged down apparently with too much running in the background--no matter what function I disable.

I have a 2.4-gHz P4 processor and 512 Mb of RAM, so things should run efficiently. I have Windows XP Home Edition because that is what my state government's Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired had provided for my employment needs. (I would have preferred XP Professional since it was purported to run more efficiently.)

This recurring series of time-wasting problems caused me to call a friend who is experienced in technical matters in programming and in support for MS Windows. He came out to look at my problem. After "scrubbing" clean my hard disk, installing Microsoft XP Professional, and reinstalling all my software we thought everything would be fine. But this was not the case at all. On the contrary, in fact.

Apparently my AT software was only licensed for Windows XP Home Edition, and I would have to spend another $200 in order to license it for XP Professional. Like most other people I know I do not just have $200 lying around waiting to be spent on AT (or any other software). So we reinstalled Windows XP Home Edition and started over.

The AT software has a very complicated system of registration and activation. If one does not go exactly through their several steps then you can't run their software. Apparently they are extremely afraid of people using their software illegally. At the prices charged for AT software it is no surprise that anyone might attempt to use it in violation of the software licensing terms.

The above narrative illustrates the point that for people who depend upon this type of AT to communicate at work such as me, the cost is often too high. The industry in my opinion is utterly too dependent upon state funding rather than producing competitively priced marketable software.
The system works this way:
The state government, subsidized by the federal government, pays exorbitant amounts of money for products that assist the disabled community.

The AT software companies depend completely on the states and not the private sector for their consumer base--a dangerous cycle to say the least.

The consumer gets the product but very seldom realizes how much it costs. For example, a watch that I own from one AT company would cost the state over $100 but through a private-sector company cost me less than $20 + shipping. In other words, prices are out of range of most visually impaired people. The JAWS screen reader which I use cost the state $1295 and the screen magnification system, MAGIC, which I also use cost $210. Another common screen enhancement package called Windows-Eyes costs $1054. These prices are too high for the ordinary visually impaired consumer, placing us in the realm of dependence upon "big business" or government; or forcing us to take out a loan, thus incurring more debt to be paid off later.

The overall cost the state incurred giving me my entire system was close to $15,000! This includes approximately $5,000 for my entire PC system of software and hardware, a PDA costing close to $6,000 and a closed-circuit reading system that cost close to $4,000. If someone set out to provide these products through the private sector they would incur possibly half this cost. All AT is expensive--not merely the software. Furthermore, the operating systems are expensive. The Windows-based system noted above includes all the software necessary to operate the computer system.

"But," you might ask, "Can't you just use the integrated software that comes with Windows XP or some other operating systems?" The answer is, in the case of Microsoft, a most emphatic "NO!" The integrated platform software for Windows XP is problematic at best. None of the technologies work in all applications (text-to-speech ceases to work altogether in some cases without warning). Screen enhancement works only in some cases and not for the whole screen and not for all menus.

Visually impaired bowler can strike as well as anyone else!

A blind ten-pin bowling enthusiast was today planning to share her passion for the sport with other sight-impaired people through a series of training sessions in Cambridge.Jo Dixon, who is a member of a blind ten-pin bowling team, claims the sport has turned her life around.

The devoted bowler competes in tournaments in the UK and overseas and volunteers with British Blind Sports, a charity that encourages visually impaired people to get involved in sports.Ms Dixon, along with other members of a bowling team from British Blind Sports, has joined forces with charity Cam Sight to run ten-pin bowling sessions for sight-impaired people in Cambridge on January 10 and January 11.

Cam Sight is hoping to hold regular sessions with the aim of forming a team to compete in ten-pin bowling leagues.British Blind Sports encourages blind and partially sighted people to participate in sport at every level, from grassroots to the Paralympics. The charity believes sport can offer numerous benefits to blind people including improved health and mobility, the opportunity to make new friends and greater independence.Ms Dixon said: "Ten-pin bowling gets me out of the house. I meet people, and I have friends all over the country."I am treated the same as everybody else. I compete on an even playing field, and actually I just like to socialise."

Pam Buckridge, from Cam Sight, said the charity has seen a flurry of interest in the bowling sessions, with around 25 people signing up.Ms Buckridge said: "We are hoping to get our members into league competitions, and for it to change their lives as it has changed Jo's."Isolation and lack of social contact is the greatest issue affecting visually impaired people, and we have found that our members, like the rest of the community, really appreciate the opportunity to take part in sports."