Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Visually impaired students accepted by College

In a landmark decision, the Wesley College ( WESCO) in Kumasi has admitted its first batch of blind teacher trainees after more than eighty since its establishment. The students are five in number, three male and two female.

They were admitted in the first semester in October 2005, and are now in the second semester, offering subjects like Education, Religion, Social Studies, Vocational Skills, English and Arts related subjects. Unfortunately, science and mathematics have not been included.

This information was revealed to me by the Resource Person for the blind trainee teachers, Bede Bugase de Venerable, a professional visually-impaired teacher. Considering how the five blind teacher trainees were adjusting to their new environment, Bede Bugase said they were making friends and getting used to the environment. The layout of the College was "blind friendly" and the other sighted students were of immense assistance to the blind themselves getting used to the newly admitted visually impaired colleagues.

Resource Person Bugase, who has taught previously at the Wa School for the Blind at Wa in the Upper West region, stated that educating the blind was rather expensive. Wesco had not got the total equipment necessary to handle the students. He said, for example, that the college has only a few equipment for teaching the visually impaired. "Even paper has to be bought. Instead of using the brailler, they are making do with the framer and style (pen for writing for the blind).

Bede de Venerable stated also that "government is doing very little towards the education of the physically challenged in general and the situation of the visually impaired is much worse." He further said they the blind pay for the WAEC examinations just like their sighted colleagues but are not supplied with Braille paper but rather have to buy, "this is a case of neglect, injustice and unfair treatment because the Braille paper is quite expensive."

The Principal, B. F. Anyan, said admitting the visually impaired after 84 years and more of the college's existence was done after careful thinking, thorough planning and the need to cater for the blind in the middle-belt region of the country. "Two more untrained teachers who should have been admitted in December 2005 would now be admitted in April 2006. Education for the visually impaired is quite expensive government has adopted a non-challant attitude to their education and so we have to rely on assistance form the outside world mostly.

He enumerated the teaching materials needed as one brailler, five stylos, and hand framers, brailler sheets and Braille stationery for the trainee students. That apart, it would be necessary to expand the Resource Centre at the college with a well-equipped library, a thermophone, which costs thirty-five million cedis, perkins at six million cedis each, grant stapler at thirty-two thousand cedis, perforator at one hundred and eighty thousand cedis and dictionaries.

In a related development, the principal of WESCO has made a passionate appeal to individuals, non-governmental organizations and philanthropists to contribute positively towards education in the college and other institutions of learning with the hope of turning them into places of academic excellence.

In a letter of acknowledgement and gratitude to three NGOs, International Foundation for Federation and Self-Help (IFESH), Ghana, HERSHEY and the World Cocoa Foundation for providing a number of items to enhance teaching and learning in three teacher training colleges in the country, the principal, B. F. Anyan, stated that the items would help the institutions "to expand their Resource Centres which are now places of academic excellence".

The other two colleges are Wiawso Training College in the Western Region and Bechem Teacher Training College in the Brong Ahafo Region. He assured the benefactors that "the items would facilitate teaching and learning not only for staff and students but for basic schools in the neighbourhood especially those in the cocoa growing areas and anyone pursuing academic research." The principal therefore appealed to individuals, NGOs and philanthropists with interest in modern education to furnish the Resource Centre of WESCO with a television set, video desk, camera and power point to enable the college provide quality education to numerous learners.

The items provided to the three colleges included canon photo-copiers, HP DeskJet 3845 hundred and eighty-seven thousand, six hundred and fifty pesewas (¢65,187,650) per set. So far, students of Wesley College have started benefiting from the items, and so have students in schools in the neighbourhood and also farmers. He concluded. "Our staff and students who come from cocoa growing areas go back to put into practice what they have learnt."

So far, apart from the assistance from the three non-governmental organizations, two kids from the United States of America, through their mother, have also donated two cassette recorders and one micro-cassette for the students, promising to assist further in the future. The Government of Ghana releases quarterly, an amount of thirteen million cedis, donors give one hundred and eighty million cedis whilst internally generated funds from the use of the Resource Centre come up to about six million cedis.

Two of the visually impaired students, Fianyo Patrick from Dzodze and Afisatu Adams, both agreed that they were comfortably settled, the lessons were good and enjoyed co-operation from their colleague students, however, they complained that the Resource Centre was not only small but also lacked requisite educational material.

A former accountant and now a blind English teacher at Wesco, Kwasi Subi, had some interesting ideas, English, he said, was his profession and hobby. Subi has so far authored three books in English for students of the language.

He opined that each blind teacher trainee needed to have the brailler instead of the framer. The fact that the college did not have the required teaching material was an impediment to their education and progress. He expressed the hope that one day, the college would have to set up its own Braille press too serve the students, those in the northern part of Ghana and others in the Universities.

He added that the courses should be diversified so that the blind can read both Arts and Science subjects. More than one resource person was required; particularly a House Mother "because a male resource person cannot meet the entire needs of female visually impaired students at the college. A House Mother would be very important and strategic in helping them bath, cook for them and help in other departments."

The former accountant, now teacher and author, quickly pointed out that the current Resource Centre would require more teaching personnel, toilet facilities and a vehicle to case transportation. They would require a vehicle to go marketing and during vacation need to be transported to convenient places to board buses to their respective home-towns. "Above all," Kwesi Subi said, "an exchange programme for the blind in the outside world would be a very big assert an enhancement to their education and progress in life."

In admitting visually impaired trainee teachers. Wesley College has gone a long way to fulfilling the educational and research ambitions and aspirations of students, pupils and the people of the middle-belt region of Ghana, particularly education of the visually impaired. The vision of the college is undoubted and clear: "The College shall stand out as one of the best colleges of education in Ghana, which combines professional training with special training and discipline. The college shall ensure that students on admission are provided with quality education that will enable them to perform credibly in any basic school in the country."

Is education expensive? The saying goes that "if education is expensive, try ignorance." Ghana needs an unrestrained educational package for the physically challenged, especially the blind.

Trail now ready for the visually impaired people to enjoy as well

Ten volunteers visited Chattanooga on Sunday, March 19 for a unique chance to enjoy the beauty of Chattanooga in the springtime while rehabilitating trails to make nature accessible to all.These American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacationers stayed at the Tennessee River Gorge Trust’s Pot Point House for one week. There, they spent the day helping to prepare the land trust’s trail network to host nearly 30 visually impaired students from Hamilton County Schools for a field trip on April 5.

During the evening, they enjoyed some of the sights and sounds of the Scenic City. This Nature\Braille trail will provide access to the visually impaired as well as all residents of Greater Chattanooga.American Hiking opened a regional office in Chattanooga in 2003. While the primary focus of that office is the development of a 5,000-mile regional trail network, American Hiking has also worked locally to open up trail opportunities for the visually impaired.

“Last year we organized a Field Trip for the visually impaired along the Cumberland Trail. It was so successful, that we decided to do it again this year, but with some new partners, including the Tennessee River Gorge Trust”, said Jeffrey Hunter, American Hiking Society’s Southeast Trail Programs Director.

According to Jim Brown, Executive Director of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, “The Trust has long wanted to prepare a trail that will address the needs of the visually impaired community. By taking an existing trail that was for the mobility impaired, and upgrading it to a visually impaired trail, the Trust feels it can provide a unique service to the Chattanooga area. Of course none of this would be possible without the wonderful help of the American Hiking Society.

”The plan is to install Braille signage so that the ecology of the river gorge could be interpreted by someone with a visual impairment. For a complete listing of the 110 Volunteer Vacations scheduled in 2006, please visit American Hiking Society’s website www.AmericanHiking.org. Projects are rated by difficulty level, ranging from ‘easy’ to ‘extremely strenuous’, however no previous trail work experience is required. To learn more about the Tennessee River Gorge Trust and the valuable work they do in the Chattanooga area.

About American Hiking SocietyFounded in 1976, American Hiking Society is the only national non-profit organization dedicated toestablishing, protecting and maintaining the nation’s footpaths and promoting the hiking experience.With a strong membership base of individual hikers and hiking clubs, American Hiking represents a half-millionoutdoors people and serves as the voice of the American hiker.

Volunteer Vacations is supported in part through a grant from REI, a nationwide outdoor retail co-op. REI stores are an excellent resource for trip planning and obtaining the required personal camping gear. Rental equipment is also available. For a complete list of the 2006 Volunteer Vacations projects and to schedule a trip or for additional information, visit American Hiking Society’s website www.AmericanHiking.org or call 1-800-972-8608, extension 206.

About Tennessee River Gorge TrustFounded by local citizens in 1981, the Tennessee River Gorge Trust works to protect the 27 mile long 27,000 acre River Gorge. Located in Southeast Tennessee just to the west of Chattanooga, the River Gorge is home to one of the most scenic areas in Tennessee as well as thousands of species of plants and animals, many rare, threatened or endangered. To date, TRGT has protected over 16,300 acres of “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon.”

Thursday, March 23, 2006

New lottery system for visually impaired retailers in Illinois

The Illinois Lottery is introducing a new system for visually impaired retailers as part of its ongoing recruitment initiative.

The Lottery on Thursday unveiled a software program that helps visually impaired retailers verify winning tickets, an inability in the past which has prevented them from participating in the state lottery. A visually impaired retailer in downtown Chicago lamented that she was at the mercy of employees and customers to verify winning tickets.

Now a software program developed by Rhode Island-based GTECH Corp. will use a computer to read and speak ticket numbers.
It’s a development that has the attention of the 100-member Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors, which expects to see some retailers join the Lottery program.

“Anything that talks and that is adaptive they are interested in having,” said John Gordon, chairman of the Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors. “They are always interested in accessibility.”

The product won’t bring a significant number of new retailers to the Illinois Lottery program, but it will help the organization maintain its record–setting sales pace. The more than 7,700 Lottery retailers sell an average of $254,000 tickets each year, said Courtney Hill, an Illinois Lottery spokesman.

“Every retailer we can add makes a big difference,” Mr. Hill said. “One of the Lottery’s focuses this year is on retail recruitment.”

Current Lottery sales of $1.4 billion are $141 million ahead of sales for the same period last year. The
Illinois Lottery had $1.84 billion in fiscal 2005 revenue, its second consecutive record year.
The GTECH software is free, but all Lottery retailers pay a $50 application fee and $10 a month if they chose to get results online.

The software for visually impaired retailers is part of a program to recruit more retailers and drum up more sales. The
Illinois Lottery has added 235 new outlets this year and tweaked or introduced new games to attract players. The latest game called Pick’n’Play will be launched next month.

Visually impaired girl wins medal in bowling

For 14-year-old Mesa resident Sarah Rowin, a strike in bowling and a shiny medal were enough to make her a big winner.

Rowin, who has been visually impaired since birth as a result of retinopathy of prematurity, competed in goalball (a game developed specifically for the blind and visually impaired) and bowling during the Junior Blind Olympics Saturday in Los Angeles."I am a big advocate of Sarah having all the experiences that any visual teenager would have," her mother Becky Rowin said.

Becky and husband Ken have adopted six children over the past 25 years, including Sarah, who is in the sixth grade at the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, and her twin brother Caleb, who is also visually impaired.According to Emily Schwartz, one of the event organizers, Sarah "did get a fabulous strike in bowling and went home with a shiny 'Believe It; Achieve It' participation medal."

Becky did not make the trip to Los Angeles, but was at home nervously awaiting word of how Sarah had done."I want her to experience life as it is and I don't want her to be held back because she has been treated like she was blind."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Recommendation in favour of school for the visually impaired remaining open

A smaller, leaner Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School should stay in Vinton, a task force recommended Monday.The school, with 34 resident students, could consolidate into two buildings so the state can lease the other three, Jeananne Schild, the school's interim superintendent, told the Iowa Board of Regents on Monday.

The recommendation — the regents will vote on the school's future in June — was the work of a regents-appointed task force that has studied how to best provide services to Iowa's visually impaired students. The state spends nearly $7 million to educate Iowa's blind and visually impaired students; about $4 million goes to Iowa Braille.Money saved through the recommended consolidation and some layoffs would be spent to beef up academics on campus and programs for the 427 visually impaired children who do not attend the Vinton school, Schild said.

"We believe these actions would be a first step in addressing questions of effectiveness and efficiency," she said.The regents' chairman, Michael Gartner, said he gets more mail, e-mail and telephone calls about the fate of the Iowa Braille school than any other issue."Let me summarize: The Vinton school will remain open?" Gartner asked."Yes," Schild replied.

Parents of visually impaired students were pleased with the news."As a parent, I'm just worried about them doing something drastic, like shutting down the school and having the whole system fall apart because there's not that main place that people know about," said Tom Howsare of Solon, who uses resources and experts at Iowa Braille for his 7-year-old son, Jalen.Task force recommendations include:

• A consolidation study of Iowa Braille buildings.

• Improved classes in math and science.

• Short-term courses, such as sports camps and technical training seminars, in other parts of the state.

A personnel study to determine what positions can be eliminated.

• Traveling vision specialists to work through the state, rather than through separate agencies.

• System-wide professional development."We will have assessment, and we'll be able to tell you what you're getting for the dollars you are spending," Schild told the regents.The debate is similar to ones in Washington and Virginia, where education officials try to match limited resources to visually impaired students. Nationally, 41 states have schools for the blind; in 13 of those states, schools for the visually impaired and deaf share facilities.

Enrollment in state institutions such as Iowa Braille began to decline nationally after passage of a 1975 federal law that ensured disabled students had the same educational opportunities as their peers. The law led to more disabled children to attend neighborhood public schools.Iowa Braille supporters say the school's staff is better trained to provide the specialized instruction students require.

In addition, they said, if officials publicized the school's services, more parents would opt to send their children.Terry Anderson of Ankeny, whose 19-year-old son is blind and has cerebral palsy, was upset Monday that the regents would consider the recommendations, which he says discriminate against the most needy children.He said school leaders should not need to resort to downsizing, and should use available federal money to get the same result.

Visually impaired skier wins 4th medal at Paralympics

Canadian skier Brian McKeever won his fourth medal of the Torino Paralympic Winter Games Sunday, finishing second in the 20-kilometre visually impaired cross-country race.

Oleh Munts of Ukraine won the gold medal, finishing with a time of 56 minutes 55.9 seconds at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy. He was 11 seconds faster than McKeever.

"That was as hard as I could have gone," said McKeever, of Canmore, Alta. "I didn't have another 11 seconds in me. It's still disappointing to come in second. That's racing."

McKeever, who has less than 10-per-cent vision because of a genetic eye disorder, said his brother Robin – who acts as his guide – was battling a cold.

Bulgarian Vasili Shaptsiaboi claimed the bronze medal.

Earlier in Turin, McKeever won both the five-km and 10-km visually impaired cross-country skiing races. He also won a bronze medal in the men's 7.5-km visually impaired biathlon.

Russians take gold, silver in men's standing 20-km race

Russians finished first and second in the men's standing 20-km race.

Kirill Mikhaylov and Alfis Makamedinov were the first two skiers across the line, just ahead of American Steven Cook.

Earlier in the Games, Mikhaylov won a bronze medal in the men's standing 10-km race. Makamedinov won two silvers, in the standing 12.5-km race and the standing 10-km race.

Poland's Rogowiec wins women's standing 15-km race

Poland's Katarzyna Rogowiec won the women's standing 15-km race, crossing the finish line just ahead of Russian Anna Burmistrova and Ukrainian Yuliya Batenkova, respectively.

Earlier in Turin, Rogowiec won Poland's only other medal – a gold in the women's standing five-km race.

Russian wins women's visually impaired 15-km race

Lioubov Vasilieva of Russia won the visually impaired 15-km race while Bulgarian Yadviha Skarabahatava finished second and another Russian, Tatiana Ilyuchenko, placed third.

The medal was Vasilieva's third of the games. She also won a gold medal in the visually impaired 10-km and claimed a bronze in the visually impaired five-km race.

Group to help out the visually impaired

A high level talks committee led by the Secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare has been constituted Friday as a positive initiative towards resolving the various problems facing the unemployed visually impaired people. It may be noted that the unemployed visually impaired people had been agitating with various demands including among others to provide them with employment, set up vocational training centres with residential facilities in all the five development regions and provide necessary capital grant for running business.

Following a discussion held in connection with the demands at the office of Minister of State for Women, Children and Social Welfare Dr Durga Pokharel today, the agitating visually impaired people agreed to resolve the issue through talks within a month and temporarily suspend the agitation. An agreement towards this end was signed by Nar Bahadur Limbu on behalf of the visually impaired.

Keeping a positive approach to the demand of the unemployed visually impaired people, Minister of State Dr Pokharel had on Thursday called on the agitators to come for a dialogue. Talking to RSS following the agreement, Minister of State Dr Pokharel expressed happiness over the positive outcome of the talks and said that the Committee was constituted as it was essential to coordinate with other Ministries as well.

She also expressed the confidence that positive results would come out within a month. Coordinator of the unemployed visually impaired group Krishna Dhakal welcomed the positive approach shown by the Ministry towards their demands.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tate provides new interactive services for visually impaired people

i-Map, the award winning arts resource for visually impaired people, has been updated to provide visitors with audio and new interactive content. Available at Tate Online (www.tate.org.uk/imap), i-Map is aimed at blind and partially sighted people with a general interest in art as well as art teachers and their visually impaired pupils.

The site originally launched in 2002 when it became the UK’s first online art resource for visually impaired people. Since then, it has received widespread recognition including winning a BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Award for Accessibility in 2002, being short-listed for the Visionary Design Awards in 2002, and receiving a special commendation at the Jodi Mattes Awards 2003.

Working in conjunction with BT, Tate Online has extended the original site with an additional section called The Everyday Transformed which explores the works of six twentieth century artists – Giorgio de Chirico, Fernand Leger, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, Natalya Goncharova, Patrick Caulfield and Francis Picabia. The original resource, which focused on the works of Matisse and Picasso is also still available. An integral aspect of the BT facilitated i-Map is raised drawings.

Used in conjunction with the text-only facility on the website, the drawings bring to life the visual elements of the art works for those people who have no useful sight. They can be accessed from the raised images on the website and can be ordered from the RNIB Raised Images Service.Commenting on the initiative, Caro Howell, former Curator for Special Projects at Tate Modern, said: ‘i-Map aims to provide a tailor made resource for visually impaired people to engage with the ideas and debates of modern art.

Approximately two million people in the UK have difficulty seeing and Tate believes that this should not prevent them from enjoying art.’Tate Online, is the UK’s No 1 art website, regularly attracting over 800,000 visitors a month. Through the provision of cutting edge online technology, BT has worked with Tate to make art accessible for everyone and the recent additions to i-Map demonstrate this rationale.

In the past two years, Tate Online has won two BAFTA interactive entertainment awards for online content. Visitor figures continue to grow and the online gallery attracted over 7 million unique visitors in 2005.

Bank provides financial support to visually impaired children

WESTPAC Bank has donated SBD$5000 to support the purchase of essential computer equipment for the Disability Support Centre.Westpac General Manager Peter Warnett, last week handed a cheque worth $5,000 to Vice President of the Disability Support Group Joy Dyer for the computer equipment.Mr Warnett said the donation was one way Westpac could contribute to the community beyond providing a wide range of banking and business services to Solomon Islands.

“Westpac hopes this donation will help the Centre and the children attending it,” Mr Warnett said.The annual donation from the Westpac Bank and its involvement in the other fund raising activities undertaken by the Disability Support Group plays a significant role in the successful continuation of the work of the Disability Support Group.

The Disability Support Group, who have a commitment to assist the visually impaired children of the Solomon Islands, undertook a building program which resulted in the successful completion of the Disability Support Centre at Panatina Fields in mid-2005. Since that time resources and equipment have progressively been gathered and installed in readiness for the opening of the Centre.

The first high school age students commenced classes in late 2005 with a teacher from the Community Based Rehabilitation Service who now works from the Disability Support Centre. Following the fencing of the Centre’s grounds the facility has now been opened to younger children and the first preschool and primary students have commenced in the last few weeks.

The specialist teacher and support staff at the Centre will work with the children and their families to assist them in educational and daily life skills to ensure that the children have the best chance of attending normal school successfully.Parents who think their child may benefit from the services of the Disability Support Centre should make an appointment for review with the Eye Clinic at the National Referral Hospital.

Dr Adu, Head of Department at NRH, and the DSC team work closely together to ensure that appropriate support will be given to visually impaired children and their families.

Sculptor share art with visually impaired students

"She could never live without it!" said Rhonda Kap's husband, Alisha Volotzky, when friends suggested that Kap might be compelled to forgo her work as an art instructor at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles.

Success as a metal sculptress has brought Kap multiple commissions from the East and West coasts. Examples of her work in bronze and copper are on permanent display at Chabad of the Conejo in Agoura Hills, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks and in private residences in Westlake Village and Hidden Hills.

Kap has also exhibited her work at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village and Temple Aliyah in West Hills.

"But the work I do at the Braille Institute is so important," said Kap, who's chosen to prolong her commitment to help the visually impaired there.

"It gives me an opportunity to share my love of art," Kap said. "Art is such a wonderful process for the visually impaired. It's another window to the world."

Kap said the visually impaired are an inspiration to her when they attend class and overcome the obstacles they've encountered in life.

"Oh my goodness! I couldn't do this even though I'm sighted!" said a Braille Institute visitor about a tile painted by one of Kap's students.

Kap, who's commuted from her home in Agoura to the Braille Institute in Los Angeles for 13 years, coaches the visually impaired to perform in plays before audiences at schools and community centers. Assisting them in making their own costumes, she said the visually impaired not only become successful at acting in plays, but they "learn to walk into a different environment at each performance."

Kap, who shares her studio/ home with her husband, a stained-glass artist, said her love of art has been nurtured since childhood by her parents. Kap's mother has saved her drawings since she was 4, and her father, William Kap, was Rhonda's inspiration as a painter.

"I've always felt like I was an artist," Kap said.

After studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, Kap continued her education with Judaic artists in Israel and California.

She's taught art at Head Start day-care centers and at various youth camps for at-risk youth.
She believes art is a method to reach others and that her classes help people overcome their grief process. "My main purpose is to get them in touch with themselves."

For information about performances by the Braille Institute's visually impaired or about Kap and her studio, please call (818) 706-2373.

Two visually impaired Canadians win medals at Paralympic Winter Games!

The Canadian Paralympic cross-country team racked up two more medals Wednesday at the Torino Winter Games.

Brian McKeever of Canmore, Atla., captured his third medal and second gold of the Paralympics as he won the men's 10-kilometre visually impaired event.

On the women's side, Saskatoon's Colette Bourgonje captured the bronze in the 5-km sitting competition to improve Canada's medal count to eight.

McKeever was brilliant once again as his guide and brother, Robin, led the 26-year-old down the Pragelato Plan course in a time of 26 minutes, 9.5 seconds.

McKeever was so dominant that he beat silver medallist Vasili Shaptsiaboi of Belarus by 46 seconds.

Russia's Valery Koupchinsky won the bronze in 27:10.2.

McKeever won his first gold in the five kilometre visually impaired competition Sunday. He followed that performance up with a bronze medal in the 7.5-km visually impaired biathlon event.

McKeever competes in the B3 classification for visually impaired athletes. He was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Stargardt's disease in which his eyesight significantly deteriorated.
McKeever's father also suffers from the disease.

Athletes that are in the B1-3 classifications compete with a guide who ski directly in front of them.
The guide directs the skier by voice or radio through all the course changes. No physical contact between the guide and the competitor is allowed except in selected holding zone areas.

Bourgonje looked to be in good position for a silver medal at the halfway point of the race, but was passed by eventual second-place finisher Liudmila Vauchok of Belarus.

Ukraine's Olena Iurkovska won the gold in 16:39.7. The Ukrainian has been the story of these Games, winning four gold medals in dominating fashion.

Shauna Maria Whyte of Hinton, Alta., finished eighth in 18:31.2.

Cook dominates men's standing race

In the men's 10-km standing race, American Steven Cook won the gold in a time of 27:22.8. Cook took the lead at the 5-km mark and beat silver medallist Alfis Makamedinov by 37 seconds.
Makamedinov's teammate Kirill Mikhaylov claimed the bronze in 28:06.5.

Russians finished 1-2 in the 10-km sitting competition.

Taras Kryjanovski overcame a strong performance by compatriot Sergei Shilov to win the gold medal. Shilov was leading the race with less than four kilometres remaining but couldn't hold off Kryjanovski down the stretch.

Ukrainian Iurii Kostiuk prevented a Russian sweep by taking home the bronze medal.

Jean-Thomas Boily of Orford, Que., placed 24th while Jimmy Pelletier of Val-Belair, Que., finished 28th.

Russian's claim standing and sitting events

Russian Anna Burmistrova quickly skied out in front of her competitiors and never looked back as she won the women's 10-km standing event.

Burmistrova beat silver medallist Yuliya Batenkova of Ukraine by 18.6 seconds while France's Anne Floriet claimed bronze.

Lioubov Vasilieva of Russia won the gold medal in the 10-km visually impaired in 32:40.6. Her teammate Tatiana Ilyuchenko took home the silver and Belarussian Yadviha Skarabahataya claimed the bronze medal.

Competitors in the sitting event use a sled or a sledge that is attached to a pair of skis. Athletes thrust themselves with two poles but are never allowed to use their lower limps for an advantage.
Athletes in the standing classification compete with a limb disability and ski the classical and free technique.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

School for visually impaired children may close its doors

Amber Smith worries she'll be forced to attend school in her hometown if Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School closes.It's not that her hometown has poor schools, said 15-year-old Amber, who is legally blind and is from Fort Dodge. Rather, she said, she doesn't fit in.When youngsters in gym played basketball or softball, Amber walked the track. She fell behind in math.

Friends were few. "I got bad grades," she said.Two years ago, Amber began attending Iowa Braille in Vinton. Her grades improved, and she now has several friends, she said. At the Vinton school, Amber can swim, run and play ball.But Amber fears Iowa Braille will close before she graduates. State education officials are trying to decide how best to spend the nearly $7 million used to educate Iowa's blind and visually impaired students.

About $4 million is spent on Iowa Braille and the services provided to its 34 students. The remaining $3 million goes toward services for Iowa's 427 other visually impaired students.The debate is similar to ones occurring in Washington and Virginia, where education officials are trying to decide how best to serve visually impaired students. Nationally, 41 states have schools for the blind; in 13 of those states, schools for the visually impaired and deaf share facilities.

Enrollment in state institutions such as Iowa Braille began declining nationally after passage of the 1975 federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The law ensured that disabled students had the same educational opportunities as their peers and led to more special-needs children - including the blind - attending their neighborhood schools rather than state institutions.In Iowa, animosity is growing between Iowa Braille supporters and those deciding its fate.

Legal action has been threatened if the school closes. Those studying the issue say they want only to equalize services provided to visually impaired students."Really annoying""They're not thinking about us — all they are thinking about is the money," Amber Smith said. "It's really annoying."If the 144-year-old school is shuttered, Amber and the school's 33 other students would likely return to their neighborhood schools or other residential facilities. It would also mean the nearly $4 million used to operate Iowa Braille could be spent on hiring more instructors and equipment for the state's 461 visually impaired students.

Blind and visually impaired students who attend their neighborhood schools don't all receive the intense services they need, said Glenn Grove, one of 20 people on a Board of Regents-appointed committee studying how to provide services to Iowa's visually impaired students. Grove also is administrator of the Loess Hills Area Education Agency in western Iowa. The agencies provide educational services to students including those with vision disabilities.

"We need to make those services uniform across the state and provide services students need in a uniform fashion," Grove said. "I don't know that that is happening now, and I don't know if that means closing Iowa Braille. It does mean asking what the role of the Vinton school should be."Many families with children who are blind prefer that the youngsters attend their neighborhood schools rather than Iowa Braille, a residential facility where students live during the week.

"We want to raise our own child," said Matt Hirschman , whose 10-year-old daughter Marissa has been blind since birth.Hirschman, who with his family lives in Fort Madison, said the school district has provided Marissa with an aide who does such things as converting worksheets into Braille and explaining classroom assignments."We've been real lucky and gotten all of the services we need," Hirschman said.Grove said many blind students do well in their home schools.

Others need more specialized services that could be provided at regional centers, Grove said.Iowa Braille supporters say the school's staff is better trained to provide the specialized instruction students require. In addition, they said, if officials publicized the school's services, more parents would opt to send their children to it."If other parents understood the potential their children could gain from that school, it would make a huge difference," said Terry Anderson of Ankeny, whose 19-year-old son Ben attends Iowa Braille.

Ben, who has cerebral palsy and is visually impaired, attended neighborhood schools until three years ago when his father learned about Iowa Braille's program.Since attending the school, Ben's vocabulary has expanded and his social skills improved, Anderson said. "You kind of feel like a bad parent, sending your child away for a week and only having them home on the weekends. It's very hard to do.

But when you see the difference it makes, it's well worth it."During the school year, students are bused to Iowa Braille on Sunday evenings and return home on Friday nights. Students, whose ages this year range from 8 to 20, work on academic and mobility skills. They also gain independent living skills such as cooking and cleaning. Recreation is available. The facility's recreation building includes a swimming pool, basketball court, wrestling room and two bowling lanes.

Dormitories include kitchen facilities and a laundry area.Some Iowa Braille students attend Vinton-Shellsburg schools for part of their day.For the past 18 months, regents have studied how services are provided to visually impaired students. Declining enrollment at the school and the amount of money spent on it spurred the study. A committee is expected to make suggestions for changes this summer.Workloads varyOne issue the committee has studied is teacher workloads, which vary year to year and among area education agencies.

Reid Frey, an orientation/mobility specialist in southeast Iowa, has 17 students this year. He meets with some twice weekly; others he sees monthly. Sessions usually last an hour, said Frey, who a year ago worked with 30 students."I think the kids are getting good services now," he said.Kim Brown, who also works out of Great River AEA, is a teacher of the visually impaired. Like Frey, she has 17 students this year."Most of the time I have enough time in the week to do everything I need to," she said. "But there are times when I should be here, when I am there.

"But even with extra help, some visually impaired students can struggle at their home school.Jared Nylin, 13, said he fell behind in math when he attended his neighborhood elementary school. "They didn't know how to teach math. (At Iowa Braille) there's not as many kids, so the teachers can work with you."Many of Iowa's teachers of the visually impaired are paid by the regents even though the teachers work out of area education agencies.

That's because the regents pay more than do the area education agencies, officials said."The vision teachers in our state can go anywhere they want to go," said Lana Michelson , the Iowa Department of Education's bureau chief of Children, Family and Community Services. Michelson is also a member of the regents committee.Teachers of the visually impaired are in great demand nationwide, and salaries are usually higher in other states, Michelson said.

About two years ago, the University of Northern Iowa began a training program for teachers of the visually impaired."We're trying to grow our own," Michelson said. No teachers have yet completed the program.Because of the scarcity of teachers of the visually impaired, it's important that they reach as many students as possible, education officials said. Having 11 instructors for 34 students at Iowa Braille may not be the best way to use resources, they said.

Officials need to decide the best way to provide services to Iowa's blind and visually impaired students, Michelson said. "It's always been about services. How are we going to make sure that children who are visually impaired in this state get the direct instruction they need?"Many teachers of the visually impaired spend one or two hours weekly with their students. That amount of time likely isn't adequate for a young child learning Braille, Michelson said."We are limiting these children ourselves by not providing appropriate programs."

Visually impaired children have a special visit at the circus

The daring feats of trapeze artists, the skills of the jugglers, the colorful costumes and the other spectacular sights when the circus comes to town mean little to visually impaired and blind children.
But six such children from Cincinnati Public Schools got a special tour by touch at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.

Sam Peterson, 7, got to try on a clown's costume, wearing a pink-and-blue striped coat and some extra, extra-large shoes.

"Do you think they'll confuse me with one of the actors?" he asked.

Quentin Thomas, a first-grader, walked around with clown Nathan Holguin and touched such things as a conga drum and Asia the elephant's trunk during an off-hours tour of the show earlier this month at U.S. Bank Arena.

Holguin took the boy's hand and guided it along the elephant's skin.

"She doesn't have fur," Quentin said. "She's not even soft."

The children also felt clowns' noses and ran their fingers along their costumes to feel textures.
Six-year-old Dionna Payne sat with the senior clown and made music on a saw, using the bow of a violin.

Joy Spite, a teacher for visually impaired students, said the experience was a valuable opportunity for the children.

Resident Catherine Johnson accompanied her daughter Caitlynn, 6, as she touched Smiley the clown's soft coat and tried on a clown's jacket.

"They got a lifelong experience," Johnson said.

Parents of visually impaired children now can learn braille

There is a special program that teaches partents of visually impaired children how to use the Braille system -- the hard way, KMBC 9 reported.

Four years ago, Jay and Amber Seaton learned that their girl, Kate, had very limited vision.
"We had suspicions when she was about 3 months old," Jay Seaton said. "Then, we watched our pediatrician write, 'Blind' and circle it on her chart. We knew from there she would be a Braille reader."

Kate, now 4-years old, learns Braille at the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired, the same place where her parents are getting a Braille Boot Camp crash course.

At the course, where those in charge wear military fatigues, parents learn the system by punching holes into cards. The arrangement of the holes creates words and messages.

"It's intimidating, but not impossible," Amber Seaton said. "It's her entry into the world to be able to read Braille, so we want to not only teach it, but communicate with her; send her notes to tell her we love her."

"When she's away at college we want to be able to send her a letter that says we love you and do it in a means she can read," Jay Seaton said.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Visually impaired elders lose their care home

ELDERLY visually-impaired residents of one of Felixstowe's best-known care homes today received the heartbreaking news that it is to close.It was an emotional day for the 13 residents of the St Felix Home for the Blind, who will now be found new homes in other centres in the area.The home has been a part of the resort since 1948 and has twice before staved off closure when changes to fire regulations and other rules threatened its future.

This time though managers of the charity-run home in Princes Road say there is no saving it and it has become economically unviable.Chairman of the board of trustees Mark Davis said the charity very much regretted the decision and it was a very sad day for the remaining residents and their relatives. “The home has made enormous strides over the last five years to meet the ever-changing and demanding regulatory requirements and has to a large extent succeeded,” he said.

“It has always had a reputation as a very 'homely' home and has boasted a fabulous garden that the residents have much enjoyed over the years.“However, it is only a 16-bed home and it has only ever been a viable economic proposition because it is owned and run by a charitable organisation with a lot of voluntary input.“

Even so, it has always depended on a very high occupancy level and sadly over the last 15 months the home has not only seen an increase in the number of vacant beds, but it has seen a change in the world around residential care homes.”Two things had conspired to force the closure - the increasing impact of “care in the community” with more people staying at home instead of going into care homes, and the need to improve the century-old St Felix building.

A lot had been done over the years but potential residents and their families now expected en suite rooms and floor-to-floor lifts, which could not be provided.Mr Davis said the home's management team would be working closely with social services to minimise the distress to residents and their families and to help the residents get settled into alternative accommodation which best suits their needs.St Felix had enjoyed tremendous support from the community.“

All involved at the home would like to sincerely thank all those in the community who have given so much of their time and effort for the benefit of the residents over the years. It has been much appreciated,” said Mr Davis.What do you think of the loss of the St Felix? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

Friday, March 10, 2006

Visually impaired woman, victim of sexual assault!

It is understood that the woman was assaulted by a man who had offered to escort her to her home. But instead of leaving the woman at her gate, the man forced his way into her house where he proceeded to assault her. In a statement released Friday morning, the organization expressed outrage and concern for visually impaired persons.The organization contends that its members are becoming victims of what it describes as the moral decay that continues to plague the society.

Is there a future in call centres for the visually impaired?

"If you think that finding a job is hard for a physically able person, I have news for you: it is twice as hard for a physically disabled person."

Anton Mijatovic speaks bluntly about his search for work as a visually impaired young man. Until recently, the only experience he had acquired was a co-operative job assignment arranged through his high school.

Set to graduate from the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont., Mijatovic had worked in the city's land registry office during his co-op term, which whetted his appetite for full-time employment and the independent lifestyle it would afford him.

But once he was out on his own, the world wasn't quite so accommodating. Mijatovic recalls meeting with an employer in his native St. Thomas, Ont., who politely rebuffed him.


"The employer kept coming up with excuses not to hire me," he remembers.

Undaunted, Mijatovic took some computer courses in nearby London and joined a government-funded program for youth. He was counselled to look for work in massage therapy or radio dispatching -- two fields where visually impaired persons traditionally do well in their careers.
"The massage therapy courses I found were too expensive, and while I considered 911 dispatching, I thought it might be too stressful for me," he says.

Searching the Internet one day -- Mijatovic uses software called JAWS to read the on-screen text to him in a synthesized voice -- he came across Centennial College's Call Centre Operations program.

Only one year long, it is quick and intensive training, and offers a 15-week work placement with leading organizations that operate large, integrated call centres.

Mijatovic also liked the fact that Centennial had built a state-of-the-art call centre training facility on campus, powered by Avaya technologies. He enrolled in 2004 and never looked back.

"Centennial proved to me that I am just as equal as a physically able person. I cannot thank the wonderful, friendly teachers and classmates enough for making Centennial a great place to be in and learn in," he says of his college experience.

Keen to gather the required 500 hours of workplace experience prior to graduation, he applied to 10 companies and heard back from three. He chose to work with Union Energy upon the advice of faculty.

Mijatovic started at the firm's Toronto call centre last May and quickly racked up his hours. To his surprise, he was offered a full-time job in November.


Union Energy has been very supportive of Mijatovic and his disability. He works in the telemarketing department, promoting the company's furnace rental program and warranty products.

"It's a good working environment," he says. "It's the greatest feeling getting hired and not relying on government disability support programs."

Mijatovic still lives in Centennial's student residence because he needs one credit to graduate. He's established a flexible schedule with his employer to allow him to attend classes while still working full-time hours.

"Centennial, along with Union Energy, gave me the opportunity to come out of my shell, create my identity and establish myself," Mijatovic says.

His self-confidence shows when he thinks back to the early days of his job search after high school.

"There's still a lot of ignorance and discrimination when it comes to how the disabled are treated. We can do a lot of jobs an abled person can."

Use of guide dogs over the last 75 years!

75 years ago in 1931 a journey of faith began in Wallasey, Cheshire, when four blind pioneers Allen Caldwell, G W Lamb, Musgrave Frankland and Thomas Ap Rhys took the first tentative steps into a new world of opportunity with four very special German Shepherd dogs; Flash, Meta, Judy and Folly – the first guide dogs to walk the streets of the UK.

The first partnership between a dog and a blind person is lost in the midst of time. However, one of the earliest known examples to man is depicted in a first-century AD mural in the buried ruins of Heculaneum, near Pompeii in Italy.The first formally recorded training of guide dogs was started in Germany during the First World War by Dr Gerhard Stalling who began training German Shepherd dogs to help soldiers blinded at the Front.

In 1928, Mrs Dorothy Eustis, an American trainer of police and army dogs, established her own centre called “L’Oeil qui Voit” (The Seeing Eye) in Vevy, Switzerland. In 1930, two British German Shepherd enthusiasts, Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond contacted Eustis, having read an article she wrote about L’Oeil qui Voit, to see if a scheme could be introduced into Britain. Eustis sent over one of her dog trainers, William Debatez, who arrived in England on 01 July 1931. It was decided to conduct the trial scheme near Muriel Crooke’s home.

A piece of land and garage were rented in the New Brighton area of Wallasey and so began the journey of faith by four blind pioneers Allen Caldwell, G W Lamb, Musgrave Frankland and Thomas Ap Rhys who took the first tentative steps into a new world of opportunity. Their four very special German Shepherd companions were; Flash, Meta, Judy and Folly – the first guide dogs to walk the streets of the UK.

The independence, liberty and freedom the pioneers found was profoundly described six months later by each of those first four guide dog owners who qualified in October 1931.'Flash has revolutionised my outdoor life’, wrote Allen Caldwell. ‘Not only has my dog given me glorious freedom and independence, never known since pre-war days, but delightful companionship.' 'After negotiating an obstacle,' wrote G W Lamb, 'we went away merrily, the crowd saying what a good dog it was.’Musgrave Frankland declared simply, '

A guide dog is almost equal in many ways to giving a blind man sight itself, Judith has been worth her weight in gold ...I would not be without her for a day.''With Folly,’ wrote Thomas Ap Rhys, 'I do not mind walking at the fastest pace or even running with her.’ He was to use guide dogs for the next 48 years and died in 1979 at the age of 82 while retraining with his sixth dog.In 1932 Russian Captain Nikolai Liakhoff, a trainer from L’Oeil qui Voit, arrived in the UK and was instrumental in the successful development of guide dog training in the country.

In 1934 The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was founded. /moreGuide dog owner Derek Beauchamp, 74, from Birkenhead, Cheshire, has been a guide dog owner for over 50 years. Derek and his first guide dog, Simon, were trained under the watchful eye of Liakhoff who qualified them as a partnership in February 1954.Derek remembers: ”Liakhoff had an amazing understanding of animals which helped him to achieve his incredibly high standards of training. He was a perfectionist and dedicated to his work.”

Describing the importance of the matching of a guide dog and its visually impaired owner, Liakhoff once wrote: ‘Many people consider that the Association's main work is in training dogs and that once the dog is trained everything is practically accomplished. This is not so. The preparation of the dog ...may be compared with the making of a surgical instrument; it is very necessary, but in itself only a preliminary. The joining of the man and dog into one inseparable unit is the Association's real work, comparable not with tool-making but with skilled surgery, because it brings ...healing and relief.'

Olga Bibikoff, grand-daughter of Captain Nikolai Liakhoff, is helping the charity to mark the special 75th anniversary. Says Olga: “It’s been a wonderful experience to delve so deeply into the history of my family’s involvement with guide dog training. I am extremely proud of my grandfather’s work. His ambition was to help blind and partially-sighted people and he left a priceless legacy of transforming thousands of lives.”

In 1941 the first official training centre was established in Leamington Spa – the start of a process which is today reflected in the charity’s 29 district teams – and in 1970 a purpose built breeding centre was opened at Tollgate House, near Warwick. Although the concept of guide dog training began with German Shepherds, the breeds now most commonly used by the charity are Golden Retrievers and Labradors, and first crosses of those.Seventy-five years on from those pioneering days in the lock-up garages in Wallasey, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is the world's largest breeder and trainer of assistance dogs.

There are currently around 4,700 working guide dog partnerships in the UK including a handful of dual-purpose hearing and guide dogs, born out of a partnerhsip between Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association to assist deaf-blind people. Around 1,000 guide dog pups are born in the homes of the charity’s 210 volunteer brood bitch holders every year.Over the next few years, the development of a new puppy breeding centre and investment in new dog supply units will ensure the best possible guide dogs for the future.

It will also enable the charity to increase its capacity as it reaches out to a diverse mix of visually impaired people in every corner of the country.The charity will continue to meet the changing needs of blind and partially-sighted people. This will include visually-impaired people with additional disabilites through collaborative work with other Assistance Dogs UK organisations, such as Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.Angela Hassall, from Crewe in Cheshire, has been deaf since she was eight years old and more recently began to lose her sight. She is now the very proud owner of the first-ever dual purpose guide and hearing dog, Roddy.Angela says: “Roddy has given me a new lease of life.

My future is much brighter than it was, and I am so much happier because of him. He means so much to me – he is my ears and eyes. He is a very special dog.”There are many extraordinary partnerships within Guide Dogs that work together to enable lives to be transformed. From volunteer brood bitch holders, puppy walkers and boarders to trainers and mobility instructors; from local community fundraisers and branch members to corporate sponsors. Every partnership helps Guide Dogs to give visually impaired people back a life-transforming degree of independence, confidence and freedom of mobility they may have not thought possible.

The charity will be marking this milestone in UK history with memorable displays in the Crufts’ Special Events Ring on Friday 10 March at 2.45pm and Saturday 11 March at 1.25pm.Says Bridget Warr, chief executive of Guide Dogs: “We are very much looking forward to bringing our celebrations to Crufts, and dog-lovers from all over the world, to mark this milestone in UK history.”Stephen Kirk, the charity’s operations director comments: “We will continue to concentrate on the future needs of blind and partially-sighted people in order to provide the best possible Guide Dogs’ service for many years to come.”

Monday, March 06, 2006

Braille now available in Arabic!

This is part of ITEP's efforts as an organisation devoted to enhancing IT literacy in the UAE. Developed as part of a path breaking initiative by ITEP and Tamkeen, the courseware seeks to improve IT literacy among the region's visually impaired by providing ICDL's curricula in an accessible format. 'In today's information-rich age, widespread IT literacy is key to the progress of any country,' said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Director of ITEP.

'We are delighted to launch this world-leading initiative, which will assist visually impaired people in gaining basic IT skills that will give them greater access to IT education. This is one of a series of initiatives that ITEP and Tamkeen are working on,' he added. 'Tamkeen is building the resources to help visually-impaired people contribute actively to our country's social and economic development,' said Awatif Akbari, Head of Training, Tamkeen. 'Through initiatives like the ICDL courseware in Braille, we are keen to equip visually-impaired people with the skills necessary to take advantage of the information economy.'

The ICDL courseware will enable the visually impaired to study for obtaining the International Computer Driving License (ICDL), a globally recognized credential that certifies an individual as competent in using computers. Accepted as the standard for computer literacy in over 140 countries, the ICDL is designed for a person to 'drive' a computer with the same ease as they might drive a car. There are more than 13 million ICDL-certified people in the world today.

ITEP and Tamkeen will display a sample of the unique courseware at their stand at REHAB 2006, the region's premier rehabilitation show to be held in Dubai from 7-8 March at the Dubai International Exhibition Centre. ITEP and Tamkeen officials will be present at the stand to demonstrate the use of the new Braille ICDL courseware.

They will read from the courseware and demonstrate adaptive technologies that enable the visually impaired to use computers and access the internet. ITEP has been instrumental in promoting IT literacy with learning solutions that provide IT training to various sectors of society including students, teachers, public sector workers and those with special needs.

It is now the largest IT training provider in the UAE and has trained around 76,000 people since its inception. ITEP has also provided training to physically-challenged members of the Al Thiqah Club for the Handicapped.

A lot of helpful resources are available to the visually impaired!

I am a visual person. At the age of 4, a new box of 64 Crayola crayons could make me delirious. (I was wild about aqua!) At 6, I won second prize in a Heidi coloring contest - a Swiss watch large enough to fit around my thigh.

As a freshman art major, I followed my professor's instruction to place one dot on a clean page of a newsprint. Mine, he exclaimed, was in the perfect spot. I love Van Gogh, the trees in Delaware Park, the faces of my children.

But in my 30s there was a period of three days when vision was taken from me, when I was blindfolded to allow a scratched cornea to heal. These were the first precious days of my son's life, and I was distraught at not being able to see him. I remember groping along the walls from one room to the next, and a tearful 20 minutes blindly chasing my noodles around the plate with my fork as they slid onto the table.

There were two positive aspects to this sobering experience - the memory of the heavenly fragrance of peonies from a friend's garden, and an empathy for the challenges of people with vision loss.

My grandmother lived with glaucoma for 20 years. She had been a marvelous baker, but eventually had to give it up because she couldn't read the recipes or see to measure. And my cousin Michael, a librarian, had to substitute music for books as his eyes failed. Fiercely independent, but no longer able to drive, he was often endangered by venturing forth on foot at night or in unsafe weather conditions, always unsure of what lay ahead.

Twenty years after my blind experience, I revisited some of those same emotions under very different circumstances. When I started working at the Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired, one of the first activities of my orientation was to travel down the block blindfolded and cross the street. Even though I had a cane and a mobility instructor with me, the cars roaring by created sheer panic. Eventually, I was calmed by the reassurance of the instructor, and I began to learn how to find my way.

Since that first day, I've had the opportunity to see many people with visual impairments come through the doors like me - uncertain and anxious - but leave with a new assurance.

One woman was happily tearful that telescopic lenses let her recognize her husband's face again. During a home visit with a rehabilitation teacher, another client was thrilled with his talking watch, large-print check register and "Say When" device that told him when to stop pouring hot coffee into his mug. Children of clients breathe a sigh of relief that their elderly parents are more independent, safer and able to enjoy life again.

So I've learned about hope and help for people who are losing their vision. They don't have to chase spaghetti around their plates, trip over footstools, burn themselves cooking or depend on their children to read their personal mail or manage their finances. They can learn how to prevent injury, dependence and institutional care - how to remain safe and self-sufficient in their own homes. I only wish that many more people struggling with visual impairment knew how much help is available.

My office has lush plants and colorful pictures, and I truly appreciate being able to enjoy them. And outside my office are people who appreciate being able to see a clearer path to their highest levels of independence. For more information, contact the Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired at 882-1025.

Over 100 visually impaired people arrested for their participation to a protest!

Police on Sunday arrested more than 100 visually impaired people from a demonstration in the capital.

Dozens of the demonstrators were injured, two seriously, when the police used force to break up the demonstrations staged demanding employment at Padmodaya Mode, Kathmandu this afternoon.

The group was demanding that the government provide jobs to some 500 visually-impaired persons and provide ‘unemployment allowance’ of Rs.2000 per month to others.

Bhakta Gautam and Prativa Lama, who were seriously injured in the police baton charge, were rushed to the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Nepal Human Rights Commission today criticized the government for its intervention in the peaceful rally organized by the visually impaired people.

Police said they were forced to intervene in the rally because the demonstrators attempted to enter in the probated area.

As, the government is not responding to the demands for the provision of their employment for the visually impaired people at the policy level, they have begun a weeklong protest programmes.
The protestors are also planning to take to the streets on Monday at Bhrikuti Mandap in Kathmandu.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

New technology offered to the visually impaired

Nandini Voice For The Deprived, a city-based non-governmental organisation, which runs six computer schools for the deprived in Tamil Nadu, will be opening a computer school for the visually impaired on April 14 at Perungudi.

Nandini also offers free computer courses for poor students.

The six-month free computer course is for students from lower income group with a monthly income less than Rs. 3,000.

The students should have completed class XII, according to a release.

The course content includes WordStar, Pagemaker-5, MS Office, Coreldraw, DTP and Tally and enables the students to take up jobs as data entry operators.

The school offers placement services also.

The schools are located at Dindigul, Nagercoil, Perambalur and Perungudi, Korattur and Tiruvotriyur in Chennai.

Admissions are now open with more seats at the various centres.

Applications may be sent immediately.

School for visually impaired offers important services

In response to some of the information that has been floating throughout the halls of the Legislature since the release of the study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, or WSIPP, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a story of success.

It is our hope the controversy that this study has created can be used to expand quality services for blind and visually impaired children, and therefore provide more options for success.

As the WSIPP researchers discovered, trying to analyze data on a somewhat small number of students with a wide range of needs is very difficult. There doesn't appear to be any one approach that works the best for any one blind or visually impaired child at any particular time in his/her educational program. This is confirmed in the literature review that was conducted as part of the study.

The development of strong partnerships between residential schools and local education agencies to find ways to provide for the comprehensive needs of children seems to be one of the best solutions. WSSB has developed hundreds of partnerships over the years and is currently serving about 600 students per month from throughout our state.

The services these children receive range from intensive short-term placement options on campus; to providing trained teachers that work with children in their local districts; to providing equipment, materials, consultative services, distance (digital) learning class options, summer school programs, etc., wherever the needs arise.

WSSB has always had a philosophy that if a child needs a service, we are going to figure out a way to assist that child, parent, or district, even when the state has not provided the funding. Therefore, we have a moral obligation to be creative and make a difference for that person in helping them achieve success.

Due to WSSB's national reputation, families from throughout our state and from other states have relocated to Vancouver or Washington, so their child can access quality intensive services either at or through WSSB. The gains that can be made through the 24-hour program in short periods of time are amazing, as is the success rate of children at WSSB.

Employment success

On a national basis, some of the data suggest that there might be as high as 70 percent unemployment within the blind community. Contrary to this data, for students who have graduated from WSSB since 1998, the success rate ranges from 76 percent (post secondary educational program, employed) to 87 percent if you consider those who have chosen to be homemakers.

WSSB challenges the belief that residential schools (on-campus programs) are much more expensive than those provided in the local districts. To the contrary, when examining the amount of specialized services provided to comparable high-needs students, the residential school should be viewed as a very efficient model in meeting blind and visually impaired children's comprehensive needs.

Through intensive comprehensive short-term education placement, blind and visually impaired children are able to build a base of skills that allows these children to experience a higher level of success in a shorter period of time and therefore transition back to the local district with the skills needed to be successful. It is important to mention that the typical student that attends the residential school is usually not the lower-cost, low-vision students that account for the largest percentage of visually impaired children in the state.

WSSB has had a great track record in the implementation of initiatives that have made a huge difference in the lives of blind and visually impaired children in our state. The leadership for these statewide changes has come from the Washington State School for the Blind working in partnership with teachers of the visually impaired and the blind consumer organizations from throughout our state.

Please review the complete study and comments at www.wssb.wa.gov. I invite you to check out the school and see what is really happening statewide for blind and visually impaired children.
Dean Stenehjem is superintendent of the Washington State School for the Blind.

Help wanted for visually impaired students

The task of educating visually-impaired students rests with 21 special-education teachers in Miami-Dade, but some complain the district has not done enough to attract much needed help.
The teachers visit up to six schools per day, providing services that foster Braille literacy and visual instruction. Many say they rack up to 600 miles per month.

''Some of the teachers are losing their minds,'' said Linda Rose, who has been teaching for about 30 years. ``We're just being stretched too thin.''

Added Caren Lyman, who teaches and chairs the department for the visually impaired: ``Some of the teachers can't find time to assist all the students.''

Rose said she believes long work hours and no extra pay have deterred some who work with the visually-impaired from seeking work in the Miami-Dade district.

Since last school year, the group has been lobbying district officials for additional pay. Lyman and Rose pointed out that some other special-ed teachers, such as speech language pathologists and sign language interpreters, receive supplemental bonuses.

In Broward County, teachers of the visually-impaired receive an annual $3,000 bonus, said Valerie Scott, head of the program. There are currently five teachers serving the visually-impaired. She said the bonus stems from a need to attract more special-ed teachers to the program. Scott said there is a nationwide shortage of about 3,000.

But Miami-Dade school officials say no bonus has been approved because there has been no such shortage in the district.

''We give the other two types of employees the supplemental because those positions are harder to fill,'' district spokesman Joseph Garcia said. ``It's a market-driven decision.''

Garcia said there is currently only one vacancy among the 21 positions.

In October, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to increase the group's gas mileage reimbursement rate after a recent story in The Miami Herald detailed the group's concerns.

Some teachers say they need more -- especially more help.

''I love working with the kids,'' Rose said. ``We're just asking that the district do their part in helping us meet the needs of the students.''

Story of a visually impaired leader

After almost being struck by a car while crossing Glendale Boulevard at Calumet Avenue last spring, Julia Young wondered if there is a safer way for the visually impaired to cross busy intersections.Young, a retired special education teacher, frequently walks to Walgreens and to the nearby bank with her greyhound Suzy. Legally blind as a result of macular degeneration, Young can't see what color the traffic signals are or rely on the normal crosswalk signals used by sighted people.

While in San Francisco visiting a cousin recently, Young was waiting to cross a street when she heard an odd warbling sound. She asked her cousin what caused it and was told it was an audio signal to let the visually impaired know when to cross the street. Young thought it would be wonderful if Valparaiso had something like that.Back home, she called the county courthouse and asked who she should talk to about her suggestion. They referred her to Stuart Summers, executive director of the city's Redevelopment Commission.

She called him at 8 a.m. recently, and Summers asked if he could call her back in a few minutes."He called back, and I was so impressed," she said. "I told him about the warblers, and he said it sounded like a wonderful idea and to let him put it in front of the commission. I figured that would be the end of that."The idea was presented to both the city's Traffic and Safety Committee and the commission. The committee wasn't ready to make it a citywide policy just yet, but the commission quickly voted 5 to 0 last week to include the warblers on all their intersection projects. Fortunately for Young and others like her, the commission has a lot of intersection projects.

Most of the road reconstruction work being done in Valparaiso these days is being done by the commission. It's downtown streetscape project is improving all the intersections on Lincolnway from Napoleon Street to Morgan Boulevard. The commission also is reconstructing Lincolnway from Roosevelt Road east and building Vale Park Way between Campbell and Valparaiso streets.The warblers cost about $350 each and eight are needed for each intersection.

With the cost of new signals for an intersection starting at about $100,000, the commission decided the $2,800 for the warblers was a small price to pay, literally, to help the visually impaired. The commission also will look at putting them in intersections already completed.The Calumet and Glendale intersection and the Campbell and Bullseye Lake Road intersection were done last fall, but they were funded by the city using economic development income tax revenue.

City Engineering Director David Pilz said the commission would have to look into whether it is willing to fund the warblers for those intersections too.The Traffic and Safety Committee balked at requiring them for all intersections because of the cost of retrofitting the systems and because of the potential liability it would create if some intersections are done and others aren't. Pilz said the Indiana Department of Transportation has similar concerns.