Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chess Tournament for the visually impaired

The National Association for the Blind (NAB) and the Madras Coastal Round Table - 162 will jointly organise a State-level chess tournament for the visually impaired on February 25 at Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium.

Meyyammai Murugappan, president of NAB, said the programme would give the participants a moral boost while improving their intellectual capabilities.

"This will go to prove that the visually impaired in no way fall short from people with vision," she said, adding that the programme will also give them the sheer joy of playing the game.

Car rallies

The association also organises car rallies in which the visually impaired navigators give drivers with normal vision directions from Braille sheets.

The logistics for the rally are organised by the Motor Sports Club.

Ms. Murugappan said that the visually impaired were provided integrated education in a regular school, vocational training at Madhavaram and community-based rehabilitation, which included blindness prevention and counselling programmes.

Ganesh Ananthakrishnan, chairman of the Madras Coastal Round Table - 162, said that theirs was a political organisation of young men in the age group of 18 to 40.

Though `Freedom through Education' was the central theme, the three-year-old organisation has embarked into several community service projects too. He said that they would be interested in associating with the NAB on several long-term projects.

M.C. Sriram Rammohan of the Madras Coastal Round Table - 162 said that they constructed a school at Natham village near Kumbakonam at a cost of Rs.4,50,000 and another school at Padur village in Chennai at a cost of Rs.7,50,000.

The chess tournament, sponsored by Coke will be inaugurated by R. Nataraj, Commissioner of Police, M. Ezhil, treasurer of the association, said.

Voice technology to assist the visually impaired

VASCO sells 20 millionth unit of its Digipass strong authentication product range Woking, Surrey: 23rd February 2006 - Wick Hill announces the UK launch of VASCO's Digipass 300 Comfort Voice. This new development brings speech to VASCO's existing strong authentication Comfort tokens, which are designed to help the blind and visually impaired securely access corporate networks and secure web sites.

The 'Voice' version can read one-time passwords to the user via a speaker or headset and gives acoustic feedback whenever a key is pressed. Other features include extra large keys and an LCD display. Ian Kilpatrick, chairman of Wick Hill Group, commented: "Identity management is a fast growing market sector. The Digipass 300 Voice provides an authentication solution which is ideal for companies and public sector organisations needing to meet regulatory and access requirements." 20 millionth sale.

Other news from VASCO is that the company has sold its 20 millionth unit in the Digipass authentication product range. Jan Valcke, VASCO's President and COO, said: "In 2005, Digipass clearly became the most popular authentication product all over the world.". About Wick Hill Established in 1976, VAD (value added distributor) Wick Hill specialises in secure infrastructure solutions. The company's portfolio covers security, performance, access, services and management.

Wick Hill sources and delivers best-of-breed, easy-to-use solutions through its channel partners, providing customer support, implementation, training and technical services. About VASCO VASCO designs, develops, markets and supports patented user authentication products for the financial world, remote access, e-business and e-commerce. VASCO's user authentication software is delivered via its Digipass hardware and software security products.

With over 18 million Digipass products sold and delivered, VASCO has established itself as a world-leader for strong User Authentication with over 420 international financial institutions and approximately 2,100 blue-chip corporations and governments located in more than 100 countries.

Promise of audio technology for visually impaired sports fans has not become reality yet!

Many fans might feel relieved now that the Football Association has accepted that Wembley stadium will not be ready for May's FA Cup final; at least they know in which city they'll need a hotel. But the news is less good for blind and visually impaired sports fans, for access facilities at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium - the Cup's temporary home - fall well short of what had been promised at the new Wembley.

The key to blind fans' enjoyment of live sports is audio description, a technology using portable receiver packs to pick up a live commentary transmitted by infrared or radio. The lightweight packs let visually impaired fans follow the game through an earpiece while still soaking up the atmosphere.

Wembley's developers have promised disabled supporters' associations that the new stadium will feature a state-of-the-art, high-frequency radio system transmitting live commentary to all parts of the ground, in what would be the world's biggest system of its kind.

But an investigation for the Guardian by specialist publication E-Access Bulletin ( has found that the system's contractor, Sennheiser, has not yet begun deployment. That casts doubt on the stadium's ability to offer a working system even once it opens.
Wembley's original plan was to use infrared to relay the commentary around the ground. That was scuppered when technicians realised that sunlight would interfere with the signal whenever the retractable roof was open. Another plan, a large-scale wireless network, might interfere with equipment such as car alarms or microwave ovens in the area. Finally, using a broadcast-band frequency could be too costly: the communications regulator Ofcom has told the FA it would have to purchase a broadcasting licence for every event.

But the Millennium Stadium is hardly any better. In 2003, Wayne Busbridge, of the Visually Impaired Supporters Association, sued the stadium on the basis that it had broken a promise to provide audio description facilities for that year's Cup final. He received £700 compensation in an out-of-court settlement - which he accepted on the basis that the stadium installed modern equipment. Yet three years later, Cardiff still only provides radio coverage of the match with receivers tuned to BBC Radio Five Live. "It's a lot better than it was," Busbridge says. "But it still leaves a lot to be desired."

Wembley does have time to get it right before it opens. A spokesperson for Wembley National Stadium Limited said the ground still intends to have a functioning audio description service on from the moment the first ball is kicked.

Visually impaired fans will be hoping this promise is kept. But like the millions of fans who have already heard so many unfulfilled promises about the stadium, their expectations will not be high.
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New tactile signs will be helpful to the visually impaired

How would you cope with doing the day-to-day chores with little or no eyesight? For most of us who are fortunate to have normal eyesight, it is hard to imagine not being able to find something you’ve dropped on the floor. Or even see the features of a loved one.

Deniece Furber, president of Quesnel Visually Impaired Society, said the purpose of their support group is to help solve problems that arise. “It is much more difficult for someone who has suddenly lost their sight.” Furber has been legally blind since birth. With the help of her husband, Fred, she can do many things at a slower pace.

When it comes to such things as sweeping the floor, she takes off her shoes and goes barefoot so she can feel where she may have missed. QVIS has tactile washroom signs available for $64.12 per set. They have been installed at the Seniors’ Centre, the Wee Chippee Restaurant and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 94. Denny’s Restaurant had these signs installed when it was built and this gave the support group the idea.

Their regular meeting takes place the second Monday of every month at the Seniors’ Centre, 461 Carson Avenue, at 12:30 p.m. They also meet the fourth Monday of the month for a social get-together at 1:30 p.m. when they bowl with a special bowling table, do crafts, or just visit. Membership is $10 a year. Their annual fundraising drive is through craft and bake sales in November. Currently, they are down to 12 or 13 members.

Sighted people are needed to help them and to come up with fresh ideas. Each year, they donate $200 to our local public library toward talking books. Those who are legally blind benefit by registering with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for things such as a free special CD player to play talking books.

There is a discount on the city transit bus and Greyhound Canada allows two to travel for the price of one. Speaking of books on tapes, our local library has a large variety of tapes to choose from. If you can assist the local visually impaired support group in any way or for more information, call Furber at 992-5078.

According to the law, school for the visually impaired can't be shut down!

Federal disability laws would be violated if state officials close the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton, according to a memorandum sent Tuesday to the Board of Regents.The memo from the Legal Center for Special Education says that restricting residential services to visually impaired Iowa students would violate the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Curt Sytsma, legal director of the Des Moines center, a nonprofit group that provides legal advice and advocates for parents of disabled children, wrote that legal precedent exists for maintaining the Vinton facility."The law mandating a full continuum of placement options, including specialized residential schools, has been the established law of the land for more than three decades," Sytsma wrote in the memo, a copy of which was provided to The Des Moines Register.

Concerns have been mounting that state officials will close the school for Iowa students who are blind. The fate of the school, which opened in 1862, has been under study for more than 18 months by the regents. No decisions have been made regarding the school.State Rep. Dawn Pettengill, D-Mount Auburn, said she is concerned that the school will close.

She said the regents have done little to boost the school's enrollment."They wouldn't allow declining enrollment like that at the University of Iowa," Pettengill said.Thirty-four students live on the 55-acre Vinton campus during the school year. Twenty years ago, 66 students attended the school.Gary Steinke, the regent's executive director, said about five students at the Vinton facility have blindness as their only handicap. Others have two or more disabilities, some severe, he said.

The school receives $4 million in state aid, the bulk of which is spent at the Vinton facility. About $1 million goes toward providing services to the 525 other Iowa students who are blind."The regents have to look and see if that's a responsible way to spend money," said Steinke, who hadn't seen the memo from the legal center.The regents also oversee the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs. That facility, with a budget of $9.8 million, has 103 students.

All but nine states and the District of Columbia offer schools for visually impaired students; in 13 of those states schools for the visually impaired and deaf share facilities.Ellyn Ross, president of the Division on Visual Impairments, said that while officials in some states have considered closing facilities for blind students, none has been shuttered.

The regents appointed a coordinating council to review the services that support the education of students who are blind or visually impaired.Among the ideas being considered by the coordinating council:• Developing an academic program at the University of Northern Iowa for middle and high school-age youngsters.• Locating the schools for the blind and deaf on the same campus, either in Council Bluffs or a central location.• Providing regional resource centers with comprehensive vision services including training for teachers and parents.• Creating a group home for visually impaired students who struggle in public school settings but who, when they become adults, could live independently.

As vision worsens, the person gradually realizes what the disability is all about!

George Cavanagh, a self-proclaimed “old farm boy” from Massachusetts, often can be spotted around town from Weirsdale to Wildwood, enjoying boot-tappin’ country-western music with his wife, Cynthia. He has even begun taking guitar lessons.“I get around very well. I do an awful lot of stuff,” said the Village of Woodbury resident. “I haven’t let the fact that I’m blind totally stop me.”

Cavanagh lost his sight in 2000 through the doubly devastating impact of diabetes and glaucoma.On a Thursday morning, he is the only completely blind person attending a Lighthouse Central Florida Independent Living Skills class at Saddlebrook Recreation Center. Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization that develops and provides state-of-the-art vision rehabilitation services free of charge, holds rotating classes in The Villages every six weeks.

The organization’s services are in constant demand, considering that every seven minutes the world goes dark for one American.At least 10 million people nationwide are blind or visually impaired — 5.5 million of those are seniors, reports the American Foundation for the Blind, a national nonprofit group.“The class has been fun,” said Cavanagh, who is vice president of The Villages Visually Impaired Persons support group. “I didn’t think I’d enjoy it because I’ve been blind now for six years — you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks.”

However, the small but sweet successes of cooking grilled cheese sandwiches, toasting bagels and cutting up apples, celery, grapes and walnuts for a Waldorf salad; and learning to write inside the lines of a legal pad, sign personal checks and fill out birthday cards to loved ones, has made the six-week endeavor worthwhile for Cavanagh.

“It’s a hands-on class where you actually — instead of just sitting and being lectured — get up and do,” he said in a thick Boston accent. “Every day is a learning day.”Cavanagh and his classmates, Ronnie Chiles, Beverly Arber and Bobbi Hill, wrapped up their final class together last week and brushed up on the integral skills they digested in such a short period of time.Arber was amazed she hadn’t realized the two outside knobs on the stove are for the front burners.

It would be a simple fact she would put to good use with the new double-sided spatulas geared toward the visually impaired that the class purchased.“You take a lot for granted when you can see,” she said.Instructor Jeanne Roop explained there are countless techniques the visually impaired can learn to help keep their independence, and prevent anger and resentment.“We’re not just drilling skills here,” said Roop, whose father suffered from macular degeneration for a decade. “We’re really teaching concepts.

”Looking aheadTo better support organizations like Lighthouse, state Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, introduced legislation in the Senate and House that would create a specialty license plate called “A State of Vision.”The colorful tag features a lighthouse and a shining beacon, and if signed into law, would be authorized by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Proceeds from a $25 annual fee for the plate would benefit the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind Inc., which consists of 15 statewide agencies including Lighthouse Central Florida.“

These agencies that serve directly to blind people are usually struggling to survive,” said Baxley, who is behind the legislation.Baxley was inspired by his adopted son, Jeffrey, who at the age of 8 months lost his vision because of shaken baby syndrome. Today, Jeffrey, a 19-year-old senior at The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, is doing well, his father reports.

“He came to our home and opened a whole new world of understanding,” Baxley said.The legislation has “broad support” in the House, which recently formed a vision caucus, and a required market survey indicated the plates would be “sought after” in Florida, according to Baxley.Baker, whose district includes a portion of The Villages, said many residents have taken advantage of the services of Florida’s agencies for the blind.“Many of them have progressive eye disease, so that means if they’re not blind now they probably will be,” Baker said, “so these services have really prepared them for their upcoming blindness.”

The legislation has made it “very rapidly” through the necessary committees and is ready for a vote on the Senate floor when the session begins in March, Baker added.The plates could hit the streets within one year.The state first produced specialty plates in 1986, with a tag commemorating NASA’s Challenger tragedy.

Through environmental, university and team plates affixed to automobile bumpers, Florida specialty plates generated $29 million last year alone.Lee Nashei, executive director of Lighthouse Central Florida and president of the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind, is hoping to raise the reasonable sum of $1 million, split 15 ways.“In a few years’ time maybe we could reach the million-dollar mark, but that’s going to take a lot of work,” Nashei said.

“The challenge for us in this field is that the prevalence of severe vision loss is increasing dramatically and we don’t have nearly the resources we need to address this growing public health issue appropriately. I hope the license plate will create a new source of revenue for us.”Lighthouse’s programs include lifestyle lessons on meal planning, grocery shopping, pre-Braille, public transportation, computer skills and more.“We teach people how to do things differently so they can still have independent, productive lives,” Nashei said.

Because Lighthouse’s budget largely comes from fundraising and donations, public visibility is key. Nashei said Lighthouse plans to embark on a “fairly elaborate marketing” campaign to promote the State of Vision license plate.An increasing problemThere are at least 50,000 people who suffer from vision loss in Lake, Sumter, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, Nashei said. But a recent Duke University study appears to indicate that figure could be staggeringly higher.

The study of people aged 65 years and older found nearly half of them developed one of three major eye diseases leading to blindness within a nine-year time span. According to those numbers, Nashei estimates 130,000 people could be experiencing vision loss in the five counties.“That’s really scary, and it’s significant,” she said.Cataracts are the top cause of blindness worldwide, affecting more than 20 million Americans and climbing, according to a 2003 Review of Optometry study.

Macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy rank closely behind.However, Villager Donald Faehn, president of the Visually Impaired Persons group, lost his vision six years ago to optic neuropathy caused by a rare side effect of prescription heart medication.Faehn, who describes himself as “way past legally blind,” said he would cherish the opportunity to support statewide organizations for the blind on the back of his vehicle.

“I’m already inclined to get that license plate for sure,” he said. “I’m sure we’d have quite a few members in the VIP support group who would be interested in purchasing the plate.”Faehn said as The Villages’ population grows — and grows older — his group, which has 60 members, continues to expand.Faehn also sits on the board of directors for a newly created nonprofit, New Vision for Independence, which already has been chartered, he said.

The organization, which will teach independent living skills to the blind and vision impaired, now awaits the IRS stamp of approval for tax-exempt status. He expects classes to begin in April in The Villages.“Many of the instructors have a lot of experience in training people with limited vision — many of the instructors themselves are either partially to totally blind,” Faehn said.

Residents interested in the VIP support group may contact Faehn at 259-3430, and those wishing to attend Lighthouse Central Florida’s Independent Living Skills classes may call 365-1544.Elisha Pappacoda is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9268, or at

Library encourages reading skills of visually impaired

Inclusion is a buzz – word for many, just another in the lexicon of ‘pro – active’ terms used to encourage the belief that the fight against exclusion and prejudice is being successfully carried on.
Further Education faces an awesome responsibility in this respect.

The sector’s very nature as a flexible and forward – thinking model for education allows it to reach anyone and everyone, including those who for whatever reason found it difficult to learn what they wished and how they wished within the school system. A library in Portsmouth has taken the initiative, playing host to the meetings of both the Portsmouth Visually Impaired Writers` Group each week and to the Readers` Group once a month.

Essential Skills

The Writers` Group has been meeting for nearly two years. The group is made up of approximately ten members who are either blind or visually impaired and their four guide dogs. The group is led by Fran May, Head of Essential Skills at Portsmouth College, and is a very mixed group in terms of age, experience and ability. Some members of the group are braillists, and a couple of members of the group are experienced writers. Others are not braillists, and some others have a much lower skill set when it comes to literacy.

The weekly sessions usually split into three sections: some work on essential English, some time spent analysing a passage read aloud by Fran, and some time reading and comparing short stories, poems or other pieces of writing. The group has focused on spelling, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, which was either a useful refresher or a new skills set for others.


The foundation of the group was not simply to offer the opportunity to develop fiction writing skills, however. The initial aim was to develop the quality of the contributions of the group to a local Newsletter called EYE2EYE which is produced in Braille, on tape and in print and contains stories, autobiographical pieces, general articles on matters of common interest and advice.

Several of the contributors were conscious of their level of ability, and felt that they needed and wanted to improve their writing skills in order to contribute more effectively to EYE2EYE.

They made contact with Portsmouth College, with the help of a local Training organisation, LearningLinks, to see if support could be provided. Fran May was the individual to step up to the plate, so to speak, and the Writers` Group was born.

The confidence levels of the group members has scaled new heights. They have recently begun to work towards their adult literacy certificates at either Levels 1 or 2. This project seems set for a bright future in helping the visually impaired to make the contribution that they wish to, and those who believe that FE is simply about targets, deadlines and goals would do well to take note of this.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Craft website for the visually impaired

Dynamic Resource Group of Berne has reformatted its free pattern Web site,, to be accessible to the visually impaired. The new feature became available on Feb. 6, 2006.According to the American Federation for the Blind, there are at least 1.5 million visually impaired computer users, including a large number who are blind. Blind and visually impaired persons are able to surf the Web using technology that translates information from their computer screen into either speech or Braille.

DRG, publisher of books, magazines and pattern booklets in a number of special interest areas, recently received an e-mail from an avid knitter, Eileen Scrivani, who also happens to be blind. Scrivani expressed concern that the company’s Web site lacked vision-impaired access.As a result, the company researched vision-impaired accessibility and made the necessary technological changes. Now, all of its free patterns are tagged to enable screen readers to translate them into audio. “

After exchanging e-mails with Eileen, I realized what a difference it could make if we upgraded the patterns to a version that allowed for text tagging,” said Marylee Klinkhammer, Web developer and internet services manager for DRG. “I am very pleased that every pattern on is now tagged to enable screen reading. This is a great resource for visually impaired crafters because there are nearly 2,000 craft and needlecraft patterns to download from the site.

” is available to the general public at no charge, and includes patterns in knit, crochet, paper crafting, quilting, sewing, tatting, plastic canvas, woodworking and general crafts. Members can download patterns from the Web site at is headquartered in Berne and owned entirely by the Muselman family. It is now in its third generation and has two major business divisions; one in magazine and book publishing and consumer catalogs, and the other in subscription and product fulfillment.

The company Web site is located at Dynamic Resource Group (DRG): Dynamic Resource Group is an 80-year-old family business, headquartered in Berne, Ind., and owned entirely by the Muselman family. Now in its third generation as a privately owned company, DRG has two major business divisions; one in magazine and book publishing and consumer catalogs (DRG Publishing), and the other in subscription and product fulfillment (Strategic Fulfillment Group). SFG is located in a 140,000-square-foot fulfillment facility in Big Sandy, Texas, 100 miles east of Dallas. I

t offers clients a state-of-the-art unified database that facilitates the marketing and fulfillment of magazines, continuities and products, all under one roof.DRG Publishing encompasses leading brands, including Annie’s Attic, American School of Needlework, House of White Birches, Clotilde and The Needlecraft Shop. DRG publishes 15 magazines in the quilting, crochet, plastic canvas, knitting, nostalgia, woodworking, paper craft and cooking fields. It also publishes hardcover consumer books and instruction books that are sold direct to consumers and through wholesale and trade channels.

Touch tours are an experience for the visually impaired

Visiting an art gallery can be eye opening and the Walker Art Center is making sure even those with disabilities have that experience. The Walker is offering "Touch Tours" for those who are visually-impaired. Select sculptures are available for people to touch. "When people can touch the art the rest of us can only observe visually, the whole range of experiences that are different," said Sunny Fluom, a touch tour guide.

LeRoy Gray and Justin Greenwood have suffered brain injuries that impaired their vision. They recently took their first visit to the Walker. With gloved hands, they were able to get much closer to the art than anyone else. Each piece presents a new surprise, as the pair tried to guess what the sculpture was and what it was made out of. The experience left them feeling differently about art and the world around them. "I'm lucky to be alive and I just want to see what's out there and take advantage of this as a way to broaden horizons," one of the men on the touch tour said.

Parents demand facility for visually impaired children

Absence of proper facilities for visually impaired children at the Al Noor Training Centre for children with special needs in Dubai may have forced 13-year-old Ayesha Zarnosh, a Pakistani expatriate girl to stay home, but the inability to accept such children by centres catering to children with special needs in the UAE has raised concerns about the future of education for blind children in the country.

Centres offering education facilities for visually impaired children do exist in several parts of the country, but lack of awareness on such centres and the intake procedures are the big problem facing parents of children with vision impairment, complained Zarnosh Khan, father of Ayesha.

The Al Noor Training Centre has no information on the existence of special schools for the blind in Dubai or the Northern Emirates, he complained, adding that lack of awareness about such centres has forced many expatriate children like Ayesha to stay home with bleak schooling prospects.
Isphana Al Khatib, Director of Al Noor Training Centre, told Khaleej Times, that she was unaware of the existence of any school for the blind in the country.

“However, we do not have the facilities for visually impaired children at Al Noor and therefore were forced to make Ayesha graduate since the facilities available at the Centre was not benefiting the girl," said Isphana.

An official of the Ministry of Education also said she was unaware of any special schools set up for blind children in the UAE. The official said she was aware of some centres for the handicapped run by the Ministry of Labour but they were shut down a few years ago, forcing children to seek places in public schools in the country which lack special facilities such as books in Braille and specialist teachers to teach these children.

However, an official at the recently formed Ministry of Social Affairs disclosed that the ministry ran a centre each in Dubai, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Dibba-Al Fujairah, catering to blind children in the UAE.

The source from the Ministry's Special Categories Department said that the ministry offers education to blind children up to grade 3. After that these students are transferred to pursue their learning in government schools, but the ministry continues supervising them via its instructors.
"The instructors visit these children at their schools twice a week to help them if they have any difficulties," she said.

The ministry organises the text books in Braille in coordination with the UAE Red Crescent, she noted, adding: "We follow up with all of the ministry's centres to know about the number of blind students and to the level they are promoted to, in order to arrange with the Red Crescent their textbook copies for each level in Braille."

“These centres have the capacity to accommodate any number of blind students,” she noted, denying any shortage in educational services for the blind.

"We do not have a waiting list for blind children as well as those suffering from other disabilities. In the past there was a waiting list at Ras Al Khaimah centre in particular. But the waiting list was only for children who suffer from mental disorders. After the expansion of the centre, this problem was solved and the ministry caters to all children with special needs," she said.

Jasim Habib Al Khalfan, Director of the Dubai Rehabilitation Handicapped Centre, said that currently seven blind children were studying in the centre in grades one, two and three. Other 15 blind students were referred to different government schools and are studying from grades 4 upwards.

They are studying in different government schools including Al Maaref, Dubai Modern Education, Asma bint Amis, Hotteen, Al Maktoum, Ibn Al Haitham, Alwaham Women Association, and Al Noman bin Basheer schools.

The transfer is aimed at merging these children into society and enable them to communicate with other children and society in general, she noted.

"Instructors from the centre visit the 15 students twice a week to ensure that all their problems are solved," he said.

“The Ministry of Education's textbooks are prepared for these children by the UAE Red Crescent in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs,” he added.

"We supply the ministry with the names of those blind children who are still studying in the centre or those who were transferred to public schools, as well as the levels they are promoted to in order to arrange for them the needed textbooks," he said.

There are some blind students who are currently studying at Ajman University Colleges and the UAE University while some others are seeking to pursue their studies abroad, said an official from the Ministry's Special Categories Department.

There are some students who obtained their bachelor's degrees from Sharjah University and Al Ain University specialised in sociology, English literature, history and Islamic Shariah and law, she said.

These students study with the help of computers custom-made for the blind. Others use tape recorders to tape the lectures, she explained.

She said that these students did not face any problems in their education, especially now that Tamkeen — a centre set up in the Knowledge Village by Dubai government — helps empower the blind with short courses in computer and English language enabling them to study easily and communicate with the world.

However, several parents of such children still believe that there exists very little information on such centres catering to the blind. “We don't know whether the existing centres for the blind cater to expatriate children as well,” said the parent of a blind boy in Dubai.

“We only hope that the authorities look into the issue more carefully and, like other developed countries, build more centres and schools dedicated to imparting proper academic education to the visually-impaired children in the UAE,” said the parent.

Claim, counter-claim

Authorities say there are adequate schooling facilities for the blind in UAE and that they are being given special care and attention.

But the parents of such children beg to differ: they feel even if the claim is true, there is not sufficient information on facilities for blind students in the country.

Expatriate children with blindness are thought to have dim schooling prospects.

Authorities are asked to build more centres and schools dedicated to imparting proper academic education to the visually-impaired children.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

New service offered to the visually impaired

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and theCanadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) announced today that effectiveimmediately, the CRA will offer a new multiple format service for visuallyimpaired individuals. The new multiple format service will allow visually impaired Canadians toself-identify to receive CRA printed material in the alternate format of theirchoice by making a one-time alternate format request to the CRA.

Once an individual has self-identified, the CRA will send all subsequentmaterial that is specific to the individual, such as a Notice of Assessment,in the alternate format of choice. To obtain publications that are not client-specific, such as generic tax information publications, visuallyimpaired individuals will be required to make a separate request.

The new alternate format service will enable the CRA to mail certainpaper and alternate format material together. Some material will still requireseparate mailing of the paper and alternate format. If printed and alternateformat material cannot be sent together, the alternate format will be mailedwithin 5 days of the mailing of the paper material.

The CRA listens to Canadians in its commitment to continuously improvehow it delivers its programs and services. The new alternate format procedureprovides consistent and timely service to visually impaired Canadians.

Voting technology helpful to visually impaired voters

The Dallas County commission addressed a packed agenda and an editorial regarding the Selma-Dallas County library during Monday's meeting.

The first item of business was a presentation by William Bowman, president of Visually Impaired People (VIP), an organization that works to provide services for the visually impaired. Bowman praised the commission for its support. "I want to thank you on behalf of all visually impaired people for purchasing voting equipment," for the visually impaired.Bowman presented each commission member with a certificate of appreciation.

He also presented a certificate to Brett Howard, Emergency Management Agency director for his work on a program to ensure that visually impaired persons will receive notification from the EMA when inclement weather threatens the area. Lastly, he presented certificates of appreciation to county commission office staff Sarah Freeman and Glenda Collins.

Bowman suggested the city of Selma was not as receptive to VIP as the county has been. "Y'all have done more for VIP than the city ever has," he said.In other philanthropic business, Sarah Harris, March of Dimes organizer, approached the county commission to announce the goals for this year's march. The march will be held on April 8 at 9 a.m. and start at Bloch Park Stadium.

Last year, Harris reported the group met its goal to raise $42,000 for the March of Dimes with 15 teams. This year 20 teams will work toward meeting a fund raising goal of $43,000.Johnny Jones, commission chairman, assured Harris the county would do all it could do to ensure they meet their goals.Commissioners approved a rent increase for the low-income Jim Minor Garden homes of $25 per month to cover an increase in the cost of operations.In other new business, the commission also confirmed and approved its backing of the new Home Rule Bill, which is a new law that will grant additional local authority to county governments to control nuisances in unincorporated areas.

These include junkyards, excessive weed growth, litter and rubbish, noise, pollution, unsanitary sewage and animal control, according to Gov. Bob Riley's press office. The home rule law does not grant authority to counties to levy taxes or establish a planning and zoning program. More information on the self-governance law and how it affects county government can be found by logging on to recent letter to the editor that ran in The Selma Times-Journal made a surprise appearance on Monday's agenda.

Jones indicted he was distressed by a "gross" misrepresentation of the facts. He said the letter claimed the county commission had voted on granting additional funding to pay for the library utility bill, which has been in arrears for several months. In addition, the letter plays the race card and claims the vote was 3-2, with the two black commissioners, Connell Towns and Curtis Williams, voting for granting funding from county coffers.

Jones stressed that this allegation is not true and that the commission had decided unanimously that it could not provide any additional funding beyond the $115,000 it has already provided for the library."This commission has been very up front with the library and told them what we could do," emphasized Jones.Commissioner Kim Ballard agreed that the accusations were bogus and that race doesn't dictate its votes. He indicated that minutes from meetings over the past eight years would prove the commissioners aren't divided. "I don't ever recall us voting along racial lines," he said.Jones also pointed out that several road projects and other items that have cost the county more than anticipated has caused the county's budget to drift into the red.

While a tightening of the budget, suggested Nancy Wilson, county financial director, is likely in order, the county also needs to recoup some funds that went awry. Wilson indicated that beer taxes to the tune of $51,175.86 were paid to the Town of Valley Grande when it should have gone to county coffers. Wilson asked the commissioners how the county should go about collecting the misdirected funds.Commissioner Roy Moore explained that the county attorney should discuss it with Bama Budweiser, the company that misdirected the funds and that it would be up to them to rectify redirecting the taxes.

"They (Bama Budweiser) need to collect and correct the error that was made," he said.While the county has several road projects in the works, its engineering team is one man down. The county inspector recently had some serious surgery and is expected to be out on extended medical leave while he recovers. George Jones, county engineer, approached the commission to request authorization for him to use "on call" consultants that are currently available through the Alabama Department of Transportation at no cost to the county.

The consultant would fill in for the county inspector. The commission approved his request.

Visually impaired teenager finds more than clay in her creations

This Valentine's Day Molly Burke already has her gifts planned.

Necklaces with clay hearts and three dots stamped on the back -- the braille letter M.
The 12-year-old Oakville girl, who has retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease that is slowly damaging her retina and will likely leave her blind, is the queen of the kiln.

"You really don't need to see to do pottery. It's all about the way it feels," said Alex Travnickova, creator of Blind Kids Art, pottery classes for visually impaired children in the GTA.

Travnickova started the free classes this September in her Toronto studio after going to an art museum in the Czech Republic.

"They didn't just want us to look at the art; they let us touch it. I thought this would be a great thing for kids who couldn't see," she said.

Between drumming, singing and skiing lessons, Molly makes room for a two-hour pottery class every week where she gets one-on-one attention from Travnickova and a group of volunteers.
"She's really busy but she always makes time for pottery," her mom, Niamh Burke, said.

Travnickova's students do more than build bowls, plates and valentines gifts; they also build self-esteem.

"They realize that if they can do this they can do anything," said Travnickova, an artist who pays for the program mostly out of her own pocket.

"Families with disabled children already pay enough for other things," she said.
But running the classes is not cheap.

Blind Kids Art is having its first major fundraiser Feb. 15 at the Arts and Letters Club on Elm St. The night includes private wine tasting and live entertainment.

Molly's mom said her daughter uses her pottery to help her relate to kids at school.
"She is just so proud of what she does," said Niamh.

"We're talking about buying her a pottery wheel of her own."

Visually impaired people completed special training

The Regional Centre of the National Institute of the Visually Handicapped here celebrated the completion of vocational training of 20 visually impaired youngsters on Wednesday. At the event, instruments worth around Rs.80,000 were presented to them to support their subsequent employment. The event was presided over by K. Namagiri, Deputy Director, SISI, Chennai. The 20 young people had completed year-long courses.

The Regional Director of the Centre, A.K. Mittal, appealed to employers to provide work opportunities to the visually impaired as a fulfilment of their rights.

The Centre is currently considering ways to provide loans on easy terms for trainees to take up income generation activities. It has taken up a project to provide visually impaired people in rural areas training at their homes to make them economically self-reliant. It is also planning the introduction of new training courses in FM Broadcasting and a B.Ed. in Special Education (Visual Impairment).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Scottish woman introduces new concept for the visually impaired

One have always thought of India as lagging behind in almost all the spheres of life, barring a rapidly increasing population! But contrary to common belief, so far as community sensitivity towards the visually challenged is concerned, India is a role model for social activists from Scotland! Ms Lorraine Nicholson, a young Scottish activist associated with the Edinburgh-based Scottish National Federation for the Blind, says she was moved by community efforts aimed at the well-being of the visually challenged that she witnessed during her stay in Darjeeling in 1999.

From the lessons she learnt here, Ms Nicholson made sure special mountaineering courses for the visually impaired were introduced in leading training academies in her country. For the last six years, National Outdoor Centre, Scotland has been successfully running a week-long course on Mountain Craft for the Visually Impaired, which Ms Nicholson calls “a pioneering step” in Scotland. And she gives all credit to India.

“During my stay in Darjeeling, I came across Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (HNAF). I also attended a nature study camp for the blind in Darjeeling. The camp was jointly organised with Society for the Visually Handicapped, Kolkata (SVH). After witnessing the efforts, I discovered how much we, the Scottish, were lagging behind so far as welfare of the blind was concerned. I was determined to take a similar initiative in Scotland,” Ms Nicholson said. As an activist working for the visually impaired in Scotland, Ms Nicholson feels methods like nature study for the blind, which is being done by various voluntary organisations in Bengal, is an effective tool to build the confidence of visually impaired people.

Ms Nicholson and her fellow activists make it a point to be present at the annual nature study camp organised jointly by SVH and HNAF every year. This time too she is present at the 4th Annual Nature Study Camp for the visually challenged, which began in Panachavati today. Around 41 visually impaired persons in the age group of eight to 35 are participating in the three-day camp. In addition to the already established tools for imparting nature education to the blind, music therapy has been made a part of the study this year, said Mr Animesh Bose, a senior HNAF member.

Run to collect funds for visually impaired athletes

Standard Insurance Company ("The Standard") and Rachael Scdoris, a legally-blind sled dog racer, are raising money for other athletes who are blind or visually impaired through her participation in the 34th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. People are encouraged to visit Scdoris' Web site,, to pledge as little as $.01 for every mile of the race that Scdoris completes. All donations will benefit the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA), and The Standard will match donations up to a total of $50,000.

"I couldn't compete in the Iditarod without the financial support of The Standard and my other sponsors," said Scdoris. "I'm asking sled dog fans and anyone who has ever dreamed of being a champion to enable other visually- impaired athletes to compete by making a donation to the USABA."

The USABA, a community-based organization of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is dedicated to increasing the number and quality of athletic opportunities for Americans who are blind or visually impaired. The USABA provides athletic opportunities for all Americans who are blind or visually impaired in 10 sports, from the grassroots level for children and youth to the elite Paralympic level. The USABA is also sponsoring Scdoris as she competes in the Iditarod.

"The Standard is proud to sponsor Rachael in her quest to complete the Iditarod," said Greg Ness, senior vice president of Standard Insurance Company's Insurance Services Group. "The Standard has a history of helping people with disabilities overcome obstacles so that they can pursue their dreams. By teaming up with Rachael, we will be helping other blind and visually-impaired athletes achieve their dreams."

Scdoris will race in the Iditarod with the assistance of a visual interpreter, who will run a team of dogs ahead of her team, communicating upcoming obstacles by two-way radio. Last year marked Scdoris' first effort to complete the "Last Great Race." After completing more than 700 miles of the trail, she was forced to withdraw when her dogs became ill.

About The Standard

StanCorp Financial Group, Inc. through its subsidiaries marketed as The Standard -- Standard Insurance Company, The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York, StanCorp Investment Advisers, StanCorp Equities, Inc., StanCorp Trust Company and StanCorp Mortgage Investors -- is a leading provider of financial products and services.

The Standard serves more than 7 million customers nationwide as of December 31, 2005, with group and individual disability insurance, group life and dental insurance, retirement products and services and investment advice. Founded in 1906 as Oregon Life Insurance Company, The Standard is celebrating 100 years of helping people achieve financial security.

New software to assist the visually impaired!

'NEIL', a new technology now allows visually challenged, a talking companion to work in the BPO industry. The technology involves transformation of coded data into voice format through a landline telephone instrument. The caller first listens to the information and then makes a call to the customer.

The companies map mainstream job workflows through a remote voice server and help the visually impaired person to access the information needed using the touchstone phone. The technology was utilised by the employment department of the National Association for the Blind (NAB) to impart call centre training to the visually impaired who were trained in marketing skills and later absorbed as telemarketing executives by Tata Teleservices.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Feeling by touch provides vision to the visually impaired

WARREN Logan's hands skim the 15th-century marble bust, tracing the lifeless eyes, the slightly agape mouth, the precisely chiselled fur.He is blind, but he can see.

A new touch tour at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, is among programs at more than 100 US museums that attempt to do what once was thought impossible: make art accessible to those with little or no sight.

"I get a good picture of the art," says 14-year-old Logan. "I can actually visualise it."
In the Nelson-Atkins program, participants first feel pieces of slate and marble, the materials from which the works they will touch are made.

Later, specially trained teachers guide the hands of the visually impaired across 500-year-old Spanish tomb covers, an Italian bust of St John the Baptist and pieces by celebrated modernist sculptor Henry Moore, asking them questions about their perceptions and filling them in on the history of the piece.

Tina Jinkens, who is blind, dreaded class trips to the museum as a child. But now her face fills with delight as she comes into contact with art.

"I always felt like I didn't get that much out of it," Jinkens recalls. "But if someone can put their hands on a sculpture and really get something out of an exhibit, it may open up new worlds to them."

Art museums first began to make their collections accessible to the visually impaired in the early 1970s, but the concept took its time to catch on; it is only now that leading museums such as Nelson-Atkins are implementing such programs.

The Form in Art initiative at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was among the first to reach out to the blind. The three-year program combines the study of art history, tactile examinations of objects in the museum's collections, and participants' own creation of artwork.

Because original paintings can never be touched, the Philadelphia Museum makes reproductions that may emphasise the heavy brush strokes of van Gogh or another artist's signature elements, or models that use materials such as glass to represent water or cloth for a lamb, or black-and-white interpretations that allow someone with limited vision to more easily see the contrast.

The museum offers tours for the visually impaired that include more than 50 touchable pieces.
Street Thoma, who heads the Philadelphia Museum's accessibility programs, says a blind person's initial visit to the museum can yield a strong reaction. "When a blind person thinks of an art museum in society, they think, 'That's not for me'," Thoma says. "The feeling that the person [now] gets is, 'Wow. I can be a part. I'm not cut out of this. I'm not isolated. I'm not alone."'
The sentiments are repeated in other art museums. In Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts' tour for the blind sometimes makes use of poetry or music.

At the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin, Texas, visually impaired visitors can listen to an audio guide that instructs them where to reach, what to feel and the history behind the piece.
And at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where touch tours have been available since 1972, those without sight can lay their hands on masterpieces by such important artists as Picasso, Matisse and Rodin.

"Really, what these individuals are doing is what many people want to do when they visit the museum, which many people do when the guards aren't looking," says Francesca Rosenberg, head of MoMA's accessibility programs.

There has been resistance, however, to the idea that blind or visually impaired people can benefit from the visual arts and develop a mental image from it. When Art Education for the Blind was founded in New York in 1987 to advocate access to museum collections, many questioned the group's mission.

"People would laugh," says Nina Levent, associate director of the organisation. "They thought it was a ridiculous idea."

John Kennedy, a University of Toronto at Scarborough professor whose 1993 book, Drawing and the Blind, is considered the seminal work on the subject, says those without sight can often experience art with the same level of understanding as those with full vision.

"Sculptures make perfect sense for the blind, but blind people also understand pictures," he says. "The image formed in the blind person's mind is, in most important respects, identical to the image formed in the sighted person's mind."

Kennedy doesn't find it easy to convince people of his stunning claim that a blind person might come up with a mental image close to that of a sighted person.

There were no naysayers, however, when a small group of young people crowded the Nelson-Atkins museum's mezzanine sculpture gallery for a tour.

Shirley Cottrell beamed as her nine-year-old granddaughter, Brooke, reached to caress a piece taller than her. She could feel every little groove, Cottrell said. She could see.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Visually impaired with a vision

Mauricio Molina is losing his sight, but he has a vision for his future.

More than a decade ago, when hewas an award-winning letter carrier in San Jose, he pictured himself retiring from the U.S. Postal Service.

Now, the Modesto man sees himself as a history teacher — a career he said should not be hampered by his impending blindness.

A full-time student at California State University, Stanislaus, Molina is majoring in history and plans to apply for the school's teaching credential program this fall.

He spends days and evenings learning not just what he's taught in the classroom, but how to cope with his increasing visual limitations.

In 1993, Molina was delivering the mail. He began noticing his low-light vision wasn't as good as it should have been.

He already wore glasses for an astigmatism, so he went to his ophthalmologist, who sent him to a specialist, who sent him to Stanford for tests.

There, doctors told him he had retinitis pigmentosa. It's an inherited disease — Molina's older brother also has it. RP means the rods and cones, the retina's photoreceptors that capture and process light, are dying.

There's no cure.

Experts say most people with RP lose peripheral vision first, their sight narrowing gradually, as though looking through a straw, and are legally blind by the time they turn 40.

Molina's disease is atypical — he's losing the center of his sight first. Right now, he said, he can look straight at people and not see their heads or shoulders, but see a door four feet to the left of them.

"I'm way beyond legally blind," he said. "Unless there's a cure, I will lose my vision. All of it."
He knows he faces challenges in the new career he has chosen for himself. Teachers do a lot of reading and grading papers, for example.

But he said he doesn't see obstacles.

Molina said other people who have been blind and taught found ways to do their jobs, and he will, too.

"If I do have a concern, it's getting past people's perceptions that visually impaired people are not capable," he said. "We are."

Molina kept his letter-carrier route after his diagnosis. But he noticed the disease progressing from small slashes through the letter "a" in books he was reading, to a ring-shaped blind spot around the center of his vision.

The ring is slowly closing.

In 1998, when driving wasn't safe anymore, he asked to work in the mailhandling area, where he wasn't required to drive or do much more than move mail around the warehouse area. It wasn't easy, he said, admitting that was the limit of his ability.

He asked his supervisors if they would keep him working as he lost more sight, and they said no.
"Just no," Molina said. "Reasonable accommodation only goes so far."

After 18 years, he retired. He had no job to go to.

Through the state's vocational rehabilitation program, he went for job retraining. He took computer classes and thought he'd study computer science.

His loss of income, though, forced more change on his family. In 2000 he and his wife, Deborah, sold their Morgan Hill house, and early in 2001 moved with their two children to Modesto, where Deborah has family.

It took Deborah time to find work as an instructional aide, and Molina got a job working with a startup company called "Apartment Daddy," which listed rentals.

But the software the company used wasn't designed for people with visual impairments, he said, and "if I can't do a job well, I don't want to do it at all."

The business went under the following year, Molina said, so he'd have been unemployed again anyway.

He kept looking for work, but when he told prospective employers about his visual problems, "the interview just changed," he said.

Molina said he needed a change.

With some vocational classes behind him, in 2002 he enrolled at Modesto Junior College. He participated in disabled student programs that let him practice using computer programs designed for people with vision limitations.

He had more change in mind, though.

After winning the 2004 Disabled Student of the Year award and graduating with an associate degree, he transferred to Stanislaus State.

He's more than proficient with such programs as JAWS, which provides, among other things, a "reader" that tells Molina what he would be seeing on his computer screen.

And he developed a love for teaching while working with other visually impaired students, showing them what's available.

But when he thought about the immediate future and how to get working again relatively quickly, he envisioned a different path.

"I'm a history buff, too," he said.

Now 44, he's close to his bachelor's degree. He's on the waiting list for two required classes. If he can squeeze them in on top of the four courses he signed up for this spring, he'll graduate in May.
He doesn't doubt he can do the work.

Education is part of who he is now.

"I wish I would have done it sooner. I'll probably keep going to school, even after I'm working," Molina said. He's thinking about a master's degree.

He won $5,000 from the Dale M. Schoettler Scholarship for Visually Impaired Students last year, given through the California State University system to several students across the state. The money is much needed because his only job is part time, scanning books page by page for other disabled students to use.

Michelle Sanchez-Stamos, the university's disabled students coordinator, is Molina's work-study boss.

"One of my star students," she said at the mention of Molina's name.

He rides the bus from Modesto to school every day, a trip that takes about an hour and a half with transfers. It gives him time to listen to the class lectures he always records to help him study.

Economics professor Kelvin JasekRysdahl praised Molina for always having his work done early, for being a student leader and for never asking for exceptions because of his impairment.

As for Molina's plan to teach history in grade school or high school, JasekRysdahl said he has no doubt his former student will succeed.

He thought about parts of his own job that might challenge Molina, such as the amount of reading teachers have to do, but said he doesn't foresee problems.

"(Molina) just seems to be able to adapt," the professor said. "I think he'll just find a way."

Molina's brother keeps him up to date on the latest technology for the visually impaired, and Molina volunteers sometimes with the VIPS House in Modesto, a learning center for the visually impaired.
And he continues learning his own increasing limits — a prospect that isn't always easy.

"The blind spot is getting larger, and my peripheral vision isn't as crisp as it used to be," he said. "I get frustrated, and it might last 15 minutes or an hour, or I might laugh it off, depending on my mood."

His life has become about adaptation, from being organized to the nth degree, to having his family give him directions inside stores.

He said he doesn't know how long his remaining sight will last, but he plans to make the most of what he's got left.

"Losing your sight is like part of you dying all the time," he said. "I could sit in my room and mope all day, but that's no fun."

Car rally for the visually impaired

It was a car rally with a difference as the cars were navigated by people who cannot see but use the Braille for navigating the car.
As many as 75 cars were flagged off as part of the rally, which took place in Ahmedabad, with the drivers getting the direction from their blind navigators.
The rally was organised by the Blind Peoples' Association and Round Table India.
A blind navigator Haresh Patel says, "I have been preparing for this for a long time. Its the first time that I am taking part. I am confident that I'll win this rally."

Harsha Vyas has been driving for blind navigators for the past three years ans she has even won a rally.

She says it is all about co-ordination between the driver and the navigator.

Also, what comes across clearly is blindlness does not prevent them from doing things that others do.

"Its all about co-ordination. I feel really good to be part of this rally. We will definitely try and win this event," Harsha said.

The executive director of the Blind Peoples' Association, Ahmedabad, Bhushan Punani says, "This rally has been growing every year over the past ten years. It has also helped create an awareness that blind people can be part of society and can do everything that others can do."
The rally covered a distance of over 50 kilometres and the speed limit ranged between 20 and 35 kilometres per hour.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Art and Museums, now welcome the visually impaired

Warren Logan's hands skim the 15th-century marble bust, tracing the lifeless eyes, the slightly agape mouth, the precisely chiselled fur.

He is blind, but he can see.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art's new touch tour is among programs at more than 100 museums across the country that attempt to do what once was thought impossible: make art accessible - even visible - to those with little or no sight.

"I get a good picture of the art," 14-year-old Logan said after a recent tour. "I can actually visualize it."

The Nelson-Atkins program has participants first feel pieces of slate and marble - the materials from which the works they'll feel are made. Later, specially trained docents guide the hands of the visually impaired across 500-year-old Spanish tomb covers, an Italian bust of St. John the Baptist and numerous pieces by celebrated Modernist sculptor Henry Moore, asking them questions about their perceptions and offering them history on the piece.

Tina Jinkens dreaded class trips to the museum as a child. But now, the 35-year-old blind woman's face fills with delight as she touches art.

"I always felt like I didn't get that much out of it," Jinkens recalled. "But if someone can put their hands on a sculpture and really get something out of an exhibit it may open up new worlds to them."

Art museums first began to make their collections accessible to those without sight in the early 1970s, although with major museums like the Nelson-Atkins only now implementing such programs, the spread across the country has been slow.

The Form in Art initiative at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was among the first to reach out to the blind. The three-year program combines the study of art history, tactile examinations of objects in the museum's collections and participants' own creation of artwork.

Because original paintings can't be touched, the Philadelphia Museum makes reproductions that may emphasize the heavy brush strokes of van Gogh or another artist's signature elements, diorama-like models that use materials such as glass to represent water or terry cloth for a lamb, and black-white interpretations that allow someone with limited vision to more easily see the contrast.

The museum also offers tours for the visually impaired that include more than 50 touchable pieces. Street Thoma, who heads the Philadelphia Museum's accessibility programs, said a blind person's initial visit to the museum can yield a strong reaction.

"When a blind person thinks of an art museum in society they think, 'That's not for me,' " Thoma said. On a touch-tour, however, "the feeling that the person gets is, 'Wow. I can be a part. I'm not cut out of this. I'm not isolated. I'm not alone.' "

Those sentiments are repeated before pieces of art tucked in museums across the country.
In Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts' long-standing tour for the blind sometimes makes use of poetry or music. At the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin, Tex., visually impaired visitors can listen to an audio guide that instructs them where to reach, what to feel and the history behind the piece.

And at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where touch tours have been available since 1972, those without sight can lay their hands on masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin.

Visually impaired triathlete pushes own limits

It's one of the most grueling races in the world where athletes are pushed to their limits.There's the one mile swim through the ocean a bike ride up and down a volcanic mountain and a run across treacherous terrain.Now imagine doing all of this blind.Meet Bobby McMullen. He's completely blind in his left eye and the vision in his right eye is 20 over 1200."It's like looking through a toilet paper roll with Vaseline on the lens that would give you an idea," said Bobby.

But that hasn't stopped bobby from doing what he loves which is racing. So this fall, he decided to take part in the Xterrra world championships. His friend Mark Shaw would be his guide.Mark says that the downhill part was pretty scary because everyone was falling. He says it was a relief to get off that mountain."We finished the bike course and Bobby was in one piece. I was like ‘yes’," said Mark.After the bike ride came the run. They'd run arm and arm like this...which, I found out is very disorienting.Now bobby hasn't always been blind.

He lost his sight when he was 29 as the result of type 1 diabetes. He's also undergone a kidney and pancreas transplant. And yes, he's taken many falls but he says you've got to keep on going."I've had a lot of problems with gravity. I've met the earth head on but I think the important thing is to get up and dust yourself off. Like everything--transplant, visual impairment--you get knocked down seven times you get up eight," said Bobby.

That day in Hawaii the pair would finish last, they did prove that anything is possible."For him to be the first visually impaired athlete to attempt it, let alone finish it, it's a fantastic feeling of elation and pride,” said Mark"It was magic. It was magic," said Bobby.

Transportation, a problem for the visually impaired

Each day, Piper, 25, has to arrange to get to his job at Dilly's restaurant and the supermarket. What complicates matters for Piper is the fact that he has been totally blind in his left eye since birth and has only limited vision in his right eye. Even though he is able to work and do most things "fairly easy," he can't drive.

"It's difficult getting across town without public transportation and not being able to drive," Piper said. About 14 visually-impaired residents in Chambersburg attended the Franklin County Association for the Blind's community meeting Friday to discuss the need for public transportation for the disabled.

The gathering focused on the lack of subsidized transportation for low-vision citizens under age 60, following the demise of the Chambersburg Transit Authority.

The CTA, which shut down in July 2004 after accumulating an estimated $1 million in debt, provided public transportation to local residents for more than 12 years. The heavily subsidized bus service provided the elderly, disabled and poor with transportation to doctor's appointments and stores.

Life skills coordinator Jim Fennen said since the end of the CTA, transportation for low-vision and legally blind residents has been minimal at best.

"Many people with low vision have received rehab training to improve their orientation and mobility, and with the help of aides, canes and guide dogs they can lead more independent lives if only they had the same access as you and me," Fennen said.

Currently, the Franklin County Integrated Transportation System, which is funded by the Pennsylvania lottery and departments of transportation and public welfare, offers shared-ride transportation by appointment to seniors 60 and older to medical appointments, senior centers, supermarkets and senior centers, among other places.

Others, including medical clients, are also eligible for county services. Still, residents said Friday they have trouble paying the trip fees implemented by the county system. The one-way fee increased from $10 to $13 on Wednesday. The Franklin County Area Agency on Aging also announced this week that one-way transportation co-payment costs for the elderly will increase from 50 cents to $1.50 beginning March 1.

Chambersburg resident Susanne McKinney, who has been legally blind for more than 12 years, said low-vision residents often have limited incomes and are unable to pay for multiple trips through transportation provided by the county system.

"If someone here were to go to a fitness gym and back three times per week, it would cost them about $75," McKinney said. "A lot of us can't afford those fees and without transportation, it limits our independence."

Susie Bulger agreed that the lack of public transportation has affected her ability to run errands independently. Bulger, who has been totally blind in her left eye for more than 26 years, relies on her daughter to get to work at the First United Methodist Church during the week. Because her daughter works late and is unable to pick her up, she has to ask her co-workers for rides home.
"Because my daughter has to be at work on time, I have to get up earlier in the morning to catch a ride with her. I only make $75 per month at the church because I'm on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) so it's hard for me to afford transportation from the (Franklin County) integrated system," Bulger said.

According to recent figures from the National Eye Institute, blindness or low vision affects 3.3 million Americans aged 40 and older. The Franklin County Association for the Blind estimates that more than 1,129 county residents have low vision or blindness, including 941 seniors and 188 people under age 60.

"You only need to lose the ability to drive your car to realize just how bad the present situation is for those who do not have affordable transportation," Fennen said.

Fennen hopes Friday's meeting will be the first step toward gaining more supporters for solving transportation issues for the blind in Franklin County. Fennen said association members will meet again in October prior to the November elections to highlight the issues and offer solutions.
"We want to form a venue and put a face on the problem and (offer) solutions and offer it to the people that count, such as state and county officials," Fennen said, adding that he would like to see personalized cab services available to low-vision residents.

McKinney said improved transportation services are needed immediately.

"It's about independence. We want to get back in the habit of getting to our doctor appointments and going to the supermarket to pick up dinner without being an inconvenience on others," she said.

It's about time to treat visually impaired as equals...after all, they are!

In April 2005, the updated Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) became law, amending and extending provisions in the DDA 1995. Some parts came into force last December, but perhaps the most significant is a new requirement on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people under the Disability Equality Duty (DED).

This takes effect on 5 December 2006, and will affect public bodies, ranging from local authorities to healthcare and education providers in England, Scotland and Wales. They will be required to give "due regard" to the need to eliminate discrimination against and harassment of disabled people, promote positive attitudes towards the disabled, encourage them to take part in public life and integrate them in policy-making from the outset.

Whose responsibility?But how will this affect purchasers? According to The Duty to Promote Disability Equality, Statutory Code of Practice, published by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), there will be many situations where contractors are providing services on behalf of the public authority. In such cases, the obligation to comply with the duty remains with the public authority.

Therefore, they will need to build relevant disability considerations into the procurement process, to ensure it is meeting the DED. But there is widespread complacency. A recent DRC survey revealed that chief executives and public-sector managers had a low level of interest in the DED and lacked the personal commitment to see it through. They were also found to be transferring responsibility in implementing new duties to HR directors and equalities officers.

The findings came as no surprise to Bela Gor, head of legal policy at the Employers' Forum on Disability. The not-for-profit advisory body has more than 400 private- and public-sector members, which means Gor is well-placed to hear what is happening on the ground."The DDA puts new duties on the public sector and this is something procurement departments have been slow to deal with," she tells SM. "There's a need for joined-up thinking, especially in large organisations, as things can go wrong."She recounts the unfortunate circumstances one organisation found itself in because of a lack of communication.

"One of our members had employed three visually impaired people to answer telephones and enter data on a computer. HR had also offered jobs to two other visually impaired people."Unknown to them, the procurement department was purchasing a new telephone and computer system. It had been bought and installed before they realised it wasn't compatible with the previous software used by the visually impaired people.

So they could no longer do their job. The organisation didn't specify that the system needed to be compatible, so there was no comeback and the organisation was left with five DDA claims," she says. "There's a need for checking with and talking to other departments and building disability into all decisions.

Every project manager should have a checklist."Thinking aheadMarie Pye, head of the disability equality duty at the DRC, believes a lot of work needs to be done to build disability into the contract writing stage. She recalls the time a local authority outsourced its waste collection to a new contractor. There was a disabled resident who couldn't carry her recycling box to the end of her garden, but the new contractor refused to walk up the path to collect it because it wasn't in the contract. "If you want it, you have to put it in the contract," says Pye.

"This caused a controversy and cost the local authority a whole lot of money. "The public sector must make sure that anyone they contract doesn't get them into trouble. Firstly, make sure people who are commissioning are aware of the Act; often they haven't thought about disability. Then target the procurement officers drawing up detailed procurement.

These are two ways of getting disability awareness in."However, Dr Gordon Murray, procurement programme manager at development agency IDeA, thinks the DDA should be considered much earlier than at the contract-writing stage, otherwise main opportunities to make a difference will have been missed."When designing the need, there should be a clear statement of the desired outcomes - the problem to be solved as opposed to the solution," he explains. "At that stage procurement professionals can really challenge and add value.

"When developing the business case, Murray believes there should be a meaningful options appraisal, which includes looking at the potential impact on disabled people."The appraisal should reflect the need for practical solutions for all concerned with delivering and receiving goods or services. The specification should be performance- based and reflect the same needs. Clearly the evaluation of bids can then reflect compatibility and best fit."Although the organisation is not in the public sector, Dave Wilson, head of people and policy at BT, is already taking steps to ensure his organisation is up to speed with the amendments.

BT uses several agencies to supply temporary workers, but he wanted to ensure disabled people had access to job opportunities. "We want disabled people to be in the thought process of our procurement teams," he says. "A year ago, working with our procurement team, we carried out a mystery shopper experience - a disabled person reviewed the accessibility of the agency websites and we fed back the results. We are now working to ensure that accessibility requirements are built into our contracts. Embedding requirements into procurement contracts makes it part of the bidding process and it starts to become real."

The British Printing Industries Federation has also begun to address DDA requirements and recently held an event advising members about the opportunities change could bring. According to Lizzy Hawkins, public affairs officer, there is a lot that printers could be doing. "Printers can produce information in alternative formats such as Braille and many different types of media.""Software company Adobe has been doing a lot of work to make PDFs accessible to visually impaired or blind readers.

Words on the screen are converted into audio and the user can tab through."And as public authorities gear up for the Act, they will need to make their websites and leaflets accessible to everyone. By offering products in a variety of formats, printers will have an opportunity to tap into yet another market. "This is a way for printers to differentiate themselves and create a longer-lasting relationship with their supplier," says Hawkins.

Although December might seem a long way off, procurement departments must take action now to comply with the duty. But it doesn't have to be daunting. A raft of information has been published by the DRC, and new guidance by the Office of Government Commerce and the IDeA will be published over the coming months. As long as procurement departments are well-informed and observe the recommendations, there shouldn't be any problems.


Revise any standard terms and conditions for contracting services to include information about the Disability Discrimination Act 2005

Ensure the relevant government guidance on social issues or equality issues in procurement is considered

Include a requirement in every contract that the contractor must comply with the anti-discrimination provisions of the Act

Where relevant, specify what evidence the contractor may need to gather for the authority to demonstrate its compliance with the general or specific duties

Ensure that disability equality is given due weight in the specification, selection and award criteria, and the contract conditions, in a way which is consistent with EC and UK procurement rules

Ensure that contractors fully understand any disability equality requirements of the contract

Monitor performance of disability equality where relevant to the contract

Provide training for all staff involved in procurement work so that they understand the provisions of the Act and the relevance of the Disability Equality Duty to their area of work

Visually impaired man gets successful position in business world

Atul Ranjan Sahay has been a first among equals, and unequals.

The 40-year-old is the first visually-impaired person to obtain a postgraduate degree from the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. He is also the first-known visually impaired individual in the country to get an Executive Diploma in General Management, in 2004, from XLRI.

Sahay is the head of business excellence of the Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company (Jusco); another first for him and the company.

For Sahay, visual impairment has never meant losing sight of life.

And this found him a place among the top 40 achievers of the country, on whom a book was published by the All-India Confederation of the Blind.

Abilities Redefined: Forty Life Stories Of Courage And Accomplishment was released in English and Hindi on the occasion of the silver jubilee celebrations of the All-India Confederation of the Blind. To do the honours were President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and the Union minister of state for information technology, Shakeel Ahmad, at Delhi last year.

The story on Sahay has been titled Exploring the Limits of Human Potent, and was written by Priya Varadan.

Another remarkable thing about Sahay is that he was not blind by birth. “I was born like any other child. But at the early age of 14, I lost sight in my left eye due to a retina detachment. I lost my right eye at the age of 23,” said Sahay.

Recollecting his experience just before losing vision, Sahay said: “Whatever I used to focus on something, my vision blacked out and I realised that something was wrong. But I knew this was not the end of the world and never allowed disappointment to get the better of me.”

Later, he joined the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehra Dun, in early 1990s and learnt Braille. He won the best trainee award there.

As career options for the visually-impaired were limited in India, he decided to create an opportunity for himself.

“I sought an audience with the then joint managing director of Tata Steel, J.J. Irani, and asked him to give me an opportunity. It was because of him that I joined Tata Steel in 1992 as an officer.”
Today, he has been entrusted with the job of assessing Tata Group Companies for the business excellence honour.

Sahay reasons that despite all odds, people with disabilities are doing very well in India, but there is no place for complacency and suggests to people who are physically-challenged that they take on life as a challenge.

“The more you struggle the more you live,” is his mantra.

The visually impaired tell tale about experiencing adventurous sports

A teenager from Maharashtras Panvel township has exemplified the fact that strong will power can help to surmount natures aberrations.

Eighteen-year-old Pawan Bundela, a visually impaired student, crossed a 600-feet long valley using a ropeway recently, creating a history of sorts.

Bundela, with a penchant for adventure sports since his childhood, has dabbled in rappling, trekking, river crossing and other adrenaline-pumping activities.

He, however, had to put in a lot of effort to accomplish this rare feat.

I am experienced in rappling. Once I did rappling for 350 feet. It wasnt easy but a different and nice experience. Just last week, I practised for the valley crossing which I accomplished today. It was a good experience and I became very much confident after that, said Bundela.

The rope was tied 23,000 feet above the sea level. Bundela crossed the massive valley, which lies between the famous Prabhal and Kalavantin peaks, within a few minutes.

The gritty youth was introduced to the world of adventure sports by his father, a professional trekker.

Since I am myself a trekker, I think he should also learn the nitty-gritties of adventure sports even though he is visually impaired. He should know everything and have the courage of indulging in adventure activities, said Lalit Bundela, Pawans father.

Lalit Bundela claims that his son has achieved a rare success and no blind person ever attempted to indulge in valley crossing, let alone crossing a 600-feet-long valley.

India is a country of more than a billion people where millions of disabled live on the fringes of society, struggling to make a living.

Critics say the government still grappling with massive poverty and trying to provide basic needs such as clean water and education to the populace cannot chart proper rehabilitation programmes for its differently abled sections.

According to Blind Foundation in India, there are more than 13 million people in India are visually impaired, constituting one-third of the worlds blind population.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Namibia school for visually impaired students, unique in its own way!

The Windhoek Technical High School has become one of the most reputable schools in the country, affording students the unique opportunity to excel in various technical fields.

The school's mission seeks to provide the best possible education for the Windhoek community as well as the rest of Namibia. The learning centre perceives its mission as being primarily the preparation of its scholars for tertiary education, whether in formal institutions such as universities, colleges or technikons, and ultimately - the workplace.

The school started with humble beginnings as an extension of Jan Möhr's technical block.
On March 8 1974 Windhoek Technical High School (WTHS) was officially inaugurated. The school started out as an all boys' school. However, with the introduction of agriculture into the curriculum in 1987, the first female pupils enrolled at the school. The school has a staff of 32 teachers and 630 pupils.

This well-oiled educational machine has a female principal Retha Landsberg. In 1970, she started off by pursuing her studies at Potchefstroom University in South Africa where she obtained her B. Sc. Ed. Degree, majoring in domestic science, interior design, dress design and food technology. Thereafter in 1975, she started her teaching career at Augustineum. From 1979 until 1980, she went on to teach at Academia. In 1981, Retha began as a lecturer at the teachers training college up until 1986.

This is clearly a woman of many talents as she not only is a veteran in the field of education but also became an entrepreneur by running her own computer-based Math Centre up until 1991.
In 1994, Retha Landsberg was appointed at the school she is now successfully running as principal since 2003.

"Our school is pioneering the way to inclusive education," she told New Era proudly.

This year WTHS became the first school in Namibia to make provision for blind and visually impaired students. The principal admits that adjusting to these pupils requires enormous commitment.

"However, I still feel honoured to be part of the collective decision that was taken by the Ministry of Education, the school board of WTHS, the Namibia Institute of Special Education and the School for the Visually Impaired to accommodate and provide further education for visually impaired students. Nine teachers volunteered to be trained in Braille and it is worth all the effort because the students are truly assets to the school," says the principal.

The annual golf day charity event is an important one to raise funds to assist individuals with extreme physical disabilities and handicaps.

This year's charity event will be held on August 19 in honour of one of the school's students, Tinus van Wyk, who became a paraplegic after a tragic rugby injury.

Others at the school who have benefited from this charity event in the past were Enrico Smit , Matthew Paulsen and Alfred Visser, who are pursuing their education at the school.

Extra-mural activities are high on the agenda at the technical high school as the students are indeed very much involved in these activities such as cricket, athletics, cross country, golf, rugby, netball, soccer, tennis and hockey.

On the cultural scene, students can occupy their time by joining the debating clubs, orators clubs, quiz clubs, chess clubs, Teenagers Against Alcohol and Drugs Club, Aids awareness clubs or even the choir. Launa Vlok walked away with the ATKV national orators award for 2005, which ceremony was held in South Africa.

The school excels in academics and is going to be the host of the National Bridge Building Competition for the third consecutive year, wherein young scientists are afforded the opportunity to partake.

An upcoming event to look forward to at the school is the WTHS sports tournament held from March 9 - 11.

The school is also planning a freshman concert that will be held on February 8th and 9th..