Saturday, June 24, 2006

Could speaking mobile phones become an important tool for the visually impaired?

Acapela's text to speech (TTS) chosen by ONCE, the Spanish National Organisation for the blind, to voice enable its mobile phone offer...Mons, Belgium, 21 June, 2006 - Acapela Group, the first European Speech group, announces today that it has been chosen by ONCE, the Spanish National Organisation for the blind and one of the biggest of its kind in the world, to provide visually impaired people with speech enabled mobile phones.

These telephones, which are based on the Symbian platform, automatically make key features of the handset accessible by voice thanks to Acapela's golden tones and Code Factory's Mobile Speak software. *This new agreement reinforces the partnership established between ONCE and Acapela in 1998, which aims to provide visually impaired people with high tech solutions helping them to become more autonomous, and facilitating access to information and communication tools.

The use of mobile phones will finally become accessible to the visually impaired thanks to text to speech, by rising above the "all-visual" concept barriers, and available at an affordable price. From now on, end-users will be able to easily access basic information such as battery or network indicators and, of course, take full advantage of the functionalities on his/her mobile phone including SMS vocalization or online services.

The natural golden tones of Acapela's high quality text to speech will ensure intelligibility and comfort by transforming menu and phone features into vocal instructions."Visually impaired people make daily use of text to speech software and this has now become an essential vocal companion. It is therefore of vital importance that they feel at ease with the system.

Acapela's high quality speech synthesis is a perfect solution to our criteria: comfortable, intelligible and with natural sounding voices, - the three key elements that helped us to make our choice." said José Luis Fernandez Coya, CEO from ONCE.* Mobile Speak, a screen reader for mobile phones that provides speech feedback as you navigate through the phone's user interface, is compatible with the following series: Nokia 6680, 6260, Ngage QD, Nokia 3230, 6600, 6630, 6670, 7610, Panasonic X 700, and Samsung SGH D 720.Acapela Group also provides Code Factory with speech technology to voice empower the Mobile Speak Pocket, a similar product specially developed for the Pocket PC platform.

Mobile Speak was developed by Code Factory, a leading supplier of mobile solutions for the blind and visually impaired and is based in Barcelona, Spain.

Visual impairments seem to be linked to poverty!

Blindness or visual impairment is often a precursor to poverty in Canada, according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

"In a nationwide study we determined 25 per cent of those who were asked had a university degree, but many are still are unemployed and usually if you have a university degree you’d have a better chance for a job," said Cathy Moore, national director of consumer and government relations for CNIB.

"There is a stigma associated with visual impairment," Ms. Moore said Tuesday after a Halifax news conference to release the results of a study.

The study, An Unequal Playing Field: Report on the Needs of People Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired Living in Canada, involved 352 adults from across Canada.

Results showed that 48 per cent of participants had gross annual incomes of $20,000 or less.
The attitude of potential employers toward the blind was mentioned as the most common obstacle, with 27 per cent of respondents saying employers don’t believe a blind applicant has potential. Another 26 per cent said employers don’t want to hire people with a vision impairment.

"We wanted to release the results of the study in the different provinces and municipalities across Canada because they are the levels of government who are in the position to do something about the problems," Ms. Moore said.

"One of the biggest unmet needs is for public transportation for the visually impaired, and that is true among those who live at the poverty line everywhere."

Ms. Moore said solutions can be found within government and in the business community.
"Some people with vision problems need help shopping or paying bills and since vendors want people to pay bills and shop, they can come up with solutions, like bigger print and other ideas to make it easier," she said.

Ms. Moore said one of the CNIB’s most important functions is education.

"Like how green leafy vegetables are not only good for your heart, they’re good for your eyes — that knowledge can help to reduce the risk of vision loss," she said.

"A once-a-year eye exam can help prevent glaucoma, which is very detectable and very treatable if caught in time."

Ms. Moore also pointed out that quitting smoking can reduce the chances of age-related vision loss by 30 per cent.

"Many people don’t know smoking can make you blind," she said.

New satellite technology to assist the visually impaired

Seen from a distance, a blind man guided by his dog on the streets of Madrid, Spain, seems quite sure of his way. In fact, he is not listening to music with his headphones, but is receiving directions to his destination: turn to the right, turn to the left, continue straight ahead ...

Thanks to a mobile phone combined with a position receiver and a voice synthesizer, he can walk confidently through the city while being guided by a prototype satellite navigation system that is accurate enough to direct vision-impaired pedestrians to their destination.

Developed by ESA, with the Spanish firm GMV Sistemas, the device offers greater autonomy for the visually impaired. The system is not intended to replace a white cane or a guide dog but to complement them with an audible map. The user no longer needs to seek frequent guidance from other pedestrians; the guidance equipment follows his every move and advises him accordingly.

The system, designed with the advice of the Spanish National Organization for the Blind (Organisacion Nacional de los Ciegos de Espaa - ONCE), is based on EGNOS, a positioning system that processes GPS data to provide improved accuracy.Accuracy is critical for a blind person, because an error of only 1 meter can make the difference between being on the path or in the road.In addition, EGNOS, a preparatory program for Galileo, offers a guarantee of quality of service.

This continuity is reinforced by another system being developed in parallel by ESA: SISNeT (Signal In Space via Internet). In an urban environment, buildings often prevent or interfere with reception of satellite signals. SISNeT overcomes this problem by providing data via the Internet.In this application for the visually impaired, the processing of the positional data is performed by a central computer that then sends back information to the user.

A handicapped pedestrian might be given directions to follow after programming his or her destination into the device.The project is currently in a demonstration phase and the receiver exists only in prototype form. ESA, GMV Sistemas and ONCE intend to continue their work so as to develop a single device that will integrate all three technologies: an EGNOS/SISNeT receiver, a pocket computer and a mobile phone.

EGNOS, a joint project of ESA, the European Commission and Eurocontrol, consists of a network of around 40 ground stations scattered throughout Europe designed to record, adjust and improve data from the American GPS system.The modified signals are relayed by geostationary satellites to the receivers of system users.

In contrast to the 15-20 meter accuracy offered by GPS, the European system is accurate to less than 2 meters, and unlike GPS, which originally was developed for military use, the European version offers guaranteed signal quality.EGNOS, currently in pre-operational service, represents Europe's first step in satellite navigation as it prepares for Galileo, which will be the first fully operational civilian navigation system, comprising 30 satellites.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Canada Post honoured for their services to the visually impaired

Since the late 19th century, Canada Post workers have been hauling heavy novels and non-fiction books -- lovingly transcribed into braille -- to visually impaired Canadians across the country free of charge.

Now, after more than 100 years of unfailing service to the blind and visually impaired in the country, Canada Post is being honoured for its commitment.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the country's largest organization serving the visually impaired community, will present Canada Post with an award today.

"It's a great service," said Graham Stoodley, 67, a Toronto resident who has been blind since childhood.

"I don't know how we would . . . manage to stay literate and stay current with reading if it were not for the postal service."

Rod Hart, director of product management for Canada Post, said it's a great honour to be recognized for the work mail carriers have been doing since the 19th century -- connecting "visually impaired Canadians no matter where they live with books and information."

The CNIB will present the Dr. Dayton M. Forman Memorial Award to Canada Post during the Canadian Library Association's annual conference in Ottawa.

"Canada was the very first country in the world to legislate for post-free delivery of materials for people who are blind," said Shelagh Paterson, director of advocacy, sales and marketing for the CNIB Library.

In 1898, Post Master General Sir William Mulock introduced the legislation that's offered the service to the visually impaired ever since.

About 5,000 books and other materials for the visually impaired are moved by Canada Post each day.

Satellite services to help the visually impaired

A prototype satellite navigation system accurate enough to direct vision-impaired pedestrians to their destination has recently been successfully demonstrated in Madrid. Seen from a distance, a blind man guided by his dog in the streets of Madrid seems quite sure of his way. In fact, he is not listening to music with his headphones but receiving directions to his destination: "turn to the right, turn to the left, continue straight ahead…" Thanks to a mobile phone combined with a position receiver and a voice synthesizer, he can walk confidently through the city while being guided by satellite.

Developed by ESA, with the Spanish firm GMV Sistemas, this device offers greater autonomy for the visually impaired. The system is not intended to replace a white cane or a guide dog but to complement them with an ‘audible map’. The user no longer needs to seek frequent guidance from other pedestrians; the guidance equipment follows his every move and advises him accordingly.

This system, designed with the advice of the Spanish National Organisation for the Blind (Organisacion Nacional de los Ciegos de España -ONCE), is based on EGNOS, a positioning system that processes GPS data to provide improved accuracy. This is rather important for a blind person, since a one metre localisation accuracy makes the difference between being on the path or in the road.

Prototype satellite guidance equipment for the visually impairedAdditionally, EGNOS, a preparatory programme for Galileo, offers a guarantee of quality of service. This continuity is reinforced by another system being developed in parallel by ESA: SISNeT (Signal In Space via Internet). In an urban environment, buildings often prevent or interfere with reception of satellite signals. SISNeT overcomes this problem by providing data via the Internet.

In this application for the visually impaired, the processing of the positional data is performed by a central computer that then sends back information to the user. A handicapped pedestrian might be given directions to follow after programming his or her destination into the device.

The project is currently in a demonstration phase and the receiver exists only in prototype form. ESA, GMV Sistemas and ONCE intend to continue their work so as to develop a single device that will integrate all three technologies: an EGNOS/SISNeT receiver, a pocket computer and a mobile phone.
EGNOS, a joint project of ESA, the European Commission and Eurocontrol, consists of a network of around 40 ground stations scattered throughout Europe designed to record, adjust and improve data from the American GPS system.

The modified signals are relayed by geostationary satellites to the receivers of system users. In contrast to the 15-20 metre accuracy offered by GPS, the European system is accurate to less than two metres, and unlike GPS (a military system), the European version offers guaranteed signal quality.

EGNOS, which is currently in pre-operational service, is Europe’s first step in satellite navigation as it prepares for Galileo, which will be the first fully operational civilian navigation system, with a network of 30 satellites.

Employment and visual impairment do not go hand in hand

In an age of enlightened business practices and corporate responsibility, it seems ludicrous that any organisation could argue against equal opportunities. If anything, the opposite is true, with employers of all shapes and sizes falling over themselves to offer diversity-friendly mission statements and policies.

But Neana Lawson, a visually impaired student at Nottingham Trent University, has found that, regardless of how good a company's intentions are, a commitment to equal opportunities does not always translate into best practice.

"I applied to one of the biggest computer firms in the UK and they were great because there was an email address if you needed any adjustments made to the online aptitude tests they had set. The test was 32 questions in 30 minutes, but it would take me double that. So, I emailed them before Christmas to let them know I was doing the test and needed extra time. The company's response came in January when the deadline had passed. They had the right intentions but they didn't have the person there to back it up."

Recent statistics for blind and visually impaired graduates would seem to suggest that Lawson is not alone in finding barriers to employment. First-destination statistics for disabled graduates, published in the AGCAS What Happens Next report, show that disabled graduates are still far more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled graduates, with 48% and 55% respectively entering full-time employment six months after graduation; for blind and visually impaired graduates this falls to 44%. The same graduates are also more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled graduates. Some opportunities are more equal than others, it seems.

Blind in Business employment coordinator Genevieve Herga says that, despite the gloomy statistics, there is cause for optimism - advances in technology are creating a level playing field for blind graduates and great strides have been made from the days when employing someone with a visual impairment was perceived to be a time- and resource-consuming chore.

"Companies are definitely getting better at diversity but they're still learning which means that they're going to get things wrong. I've seen a really positive change in the last year alone; Blind in Business has become a lot busier and companies are starting to pay to come to our events now which means that they're obviously starting to give the issue a higher priority."

One such event the charity held recently allowed blind and visually impaired graduates to practise adapted assessment centre tests. The event not only allowed students such as Neana the chance to see how they would fare with psychometric testing, but it allowed the test designers to see how, and if, their adaptations would work.

As a managing consultant at OPP, John Hackston is one of the people you should blame if you've been confounded by an assessment centre test. "We've had a welcome increase in awareness from companies realising that all people need to be catered for in assessments. We don't develop tests specifically for people who are visually impaired; what we've done is taken the tests which seem to be best at predicting job performance and asked, how can we fairly adapt them?"

The adaptations range in complexity. One of the most immediate and easiest changes that can be made to the papers is to simply increase the font size and allow visually impaired candidates more time to sit the tests.

"It's the simple things like being able to access the materials and tests," explains Lawson. "Some of the tests we've tried today were fine when it came to the words but some had graphs in them and they weren't brilliant; they were quite hard to read." Another simple solution is to print the paper in Braille, although again this doesn't resolve all issues.

"Braille doesn't work very well as a medium for presenting graphs and pictures. What we'd look at there is possibly finding another way to test for that particular competency which could be presented in words or numbers," explains Hackston.

Recent business management graduate Sunny Bains hopes that by practising psychometric tests he will have a clearer idea of what to expect when it comes to the real thing - he has an assessment with BT looming. Sat in a separate room from other candidates, Bains is trialling a system in which Herga acts as his reader and scribe; when prompted she reads the test questions clearly while Bains commits his thoughts on to his Braille notetaker. He can also follow along on a Braille version of the paper. Once he has digested the information he gives his answer to Herga, who notes it down and they continue - Bains' guide dog Mac watches proceedings from the corner of the room.

Herga has acted as a reader and scribe for candidates at assessment centres before and says that the job requires a good understanding of what the graduate is being asked to do.
"It all depends on the person and the assessment. They might just need me to read or to scribe. One of the most common issues you come up against is a diagram or a graph that can't be translated into Braille and so you'd need to describe it very clearly without giving away the answer; so you describe the title of the diagram, read the X and Y axes and the key to the candidate."

Vickie Chamberlain, graduate recruitment manager for Simmons and Simmons, the firm hosting the assessment event, says that turning diversity policies into action is not just a case of writing the policy and hoping it comes to life. "It comes down to resources - if a company is going to successfully tackle diversity it needs to provide the resources to do that.

We have a diversity forum, which meets to look at what we're doing and each member of our graduate recruitment team has a speciality in each area of diversity. In many cases it's not until you host an event like today that you realise the sort of minor changes that you need to make. For instance, we've been meeting the candidates in the main entrance of the building rather than letting them come upstairs to the company reception."

While the statistics and the experiences of some visually impaired graduates show that there is still a long way to go before the true definition of equal opportunities is realised, even the minor changes implemented by companies can go a long way to ensuring that diversity doesn't become a pipe dream.

Says Bains: "It all comes down to planning for the problems that you're going to come across."
Bains has since been recruited by BT, which suggests that with better planning by employers and candidates the future needn't be as bleak as the statistics suggest.

Moving school for the visually impaired raises fears concerning safety issues!

A proposal to move the Oregon School for the Blind from the Salem campus it has occupied since 1895 is stirring safety objections from parents of visually impaired students.

They say the proposed relocation site in North Salem, the 52-acre campus of the Oregon School for the Deaf, is within a neighborhood that lacks adequate sidewalks for blind people.

Another worry is that blind students would have to cross train tracks to catch city buses.

And some parents fret about the presence of a halfway house with sex offenders, about a block away from the deaf-school campus.

A committee appointed by the Oregon Department of Education favors relocating the blind school to the deaf school campus.

The 2007 Legislature will decide the issue. If lawmakers approve the move, the state could sell the 7.5-acre campus southeast of downtown, nestled between Salem Hospital and Bush's Pasture Park.

The idea isn't new. Similar proposals surfaced several times during the 1990s. All died in the face of strong criticism from parents and other critics.

Parents oppose move

Today, in Salem, the Education Department will hold the first of three public hearings about proposed relocation of the blind school. Two more hearings are set for next week.

State schools superintendent Susan Castillo will evaluate public testimony before making any recommendations to the 2007 Legislature, which convenes in January, education officials said.
Joel Miller, a mental-health therapist whose daughter, Molly, 20, has attended the blind school for two years, said he was concerned, but not alarmed, about the halfway house.

"I worry a little bit about sex offenders being that close to where blind kids are because some of them are kind of vulnerable," he said.

More worrisome, Miller said, is the lack of sidewalks along streets near the deaf school campus and safety hazards that blind students might encounter trekking to city bus stops and other destinations.

"It's going to mean kids, in terms of their mobility and independence, are always going to need to be escorted places, which seems to me to defeat the purpose of any kind of independent-training situation," he said.

Proposed relocation of the blind school is roundly opposed by parents of the 36 students who attended the facility during the just-completed school year, Miller said.

"Every parent I've talked to who has kids at the School for the Blind and has seen the School for the Deaf has the same concerns," he said. "The blind school being where it is now, so close to downtown and the sidewalks and the city bus service, is so much better for the kids."

Jane Mulholland, director of the deaf school, confirmed that sidewalks are lacking in some areas near the campus.

"This is an older neighborhood, so there are some streets that have sidewalks and some that don't," she said.

Mulholland said the nearby halfway house hasn't posed any problems for deaf school students or staff. It has operated for 13 years and now is owned and managed by Stepping Out Ministries.
"Probably the individuals who are part of that program are better supervised and more closely monitored than you would find most places," she said. "We have never had a problem with them."
The Oregon Senate budget subcommittee on education last year directed the Education Department to examine moving the blind school to the deaf-school campus.

Potential cost savings prompted the budget directive, said Nancy Latini, assistant state school superintendent.

"Cost, absolutely," she said. "There's not any question that we shouldn't continue programs for these kids. The question is really about whether we should have two separate campuses."

Cost savings unknown

Potentially, budget savings might come through reduced maintenance costs at the blind school and by consolidating some services, such as food service and nursing, at a single campus, education officials said. No specific dollar amounts have been determined.

Supporters of the single-campus proposal want any cost savings, as well as proceeds from possible sale of the blind school campus, to be used to bolster statewide programs serving sensory-impaired young people.

"That's one of the recommendations," Latini said. "An example is mobility training. There's a limited amount of services, and the committee was saying, well, if we had some savings could that go into the programs for sensory-impaired kids statewide? That was something they really did want to see."

As it stands, the two specialized schools for deaf and blind students serve a fraction of young Oregonians who need services.

The School for the Deaf serves about 125 students.

The School for the Blind serves 35 to 60 students each school year. They come from throughout Oregon to learn Braille, vocational skills and independence.

"We're serving 36 of somewhere in excess of 850 visually impaired kids in the state," said Don Ouimet, director of the blind school. "So we're serving a pretty small percentage of those students. Typically, students come to us because their needs are beyond what their local programs are able to provide."

Miller said attending the school has worked wonders for his daughter. "She has developed all kinds of skills, skills that are going to help her live on her own," he said.

A prime factor to consider in the debate about the blind school's fate is the aging condition of the facilities there, officials said.

"The deaf school is a much, much, better campus than the blind school," Latini said. "That's a really old campus with not a lot of (upgrading) having been done for a long time."

Eight buildings, most dating to the 1950s, are scattered across the tree-lined campus of the blind school. Students live in a dormitory that opened in 1936.

"They're maintained very well," Ouimet said. "However, they're old buildings, and they have some of the issues of older buildings."

Ouimet said he thinks both schools could maintain separate programs and identities if they shared one campus.

"The methodologies for deaf students and students who are visually impaired are different," he said. "What I would envision would be separate instructional and residential programs and probably some combined services in areas like food service, nursing and maintenance."

Services won't be cut

The Education Department panel that favors moving the blind school also recommends that both schools continue to provide instructional and support services for their students.

"We're not into cutting teachers or cutting services for kids," Latini said.

Another proposal by the committee is that the Education Department contract with a public-education agency to run the two schools while retaining its oversight.

Combining the two schools at one location may save money, but it's not in the best interests of blind students, Miller said.

"I just have concerns that someone is thinking, well, you know, handicapped kids, put them all together and we'll save ourselves some money," he said.

Latini emphasized that no decisions have been made. Public comment and detailed reports delving into the issues are yet to be considered.

"That stuff seems so far down the road," she said, "and we want to make sure we bring the community along with us."

Camp for the visually impaired!

Slippery Rock University has taken over an annual sports camp for visually impaired youngsters, expanding some of the offerings.

Running the camp adds another dimension to the university's minor in adaptive physical activity, said Wendy Fagan, associate professor of exercise and rehabilitative sciences and camp director. That minor prepares students to adapt sports for adults and children who have physical or mental disabilities.

Bob Donaldson, Post-GazetteGuide Charlie Brantner encourages Jenna Sefcik, of Poland, Ohio, last year while they run attached by a tether as she competes in the 100-yard dash at a camp for visually impaired youngsters at Slippery Rock University.Click photo for larger image.

"This allows our adaptive physical activity students to be involved in all aspects of developing a program for not only kids who are blind and visually impaired but kids with all different types of ability," she said of the university's takeover of the camp.

In previous years, Slippery Rock ran the camp with Camp SportVision, a nonprofit Pittsburgh organization.

"We've been having sports camps and clinics for athletes here for the last three years. This year, we just formalized it so that VIP Sports has a permanent home here at the university," Ms. Fagan said.

The camp began yesterday and will end Saturday with a competition.

The 48 youngsters attending VIP Sports from Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland will participate in track and field, horseback riding, swimming, tae kwon do, rock climbing and tandem bicycling.

Some sports have been adapted specifically for people who have visual impairments, such as goal ball and beep baseball.

Goal ball uses a ball with bells inside. The players on one team roll the ball, while those on the other team dive at the sound and try to stop it.

Beep baseball uses beeping balls and bases to help guide the batters and runners.

The camp is open to those age 5 to 18. The campers stay on campus, and the sports activities run from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The program will be expanded this year in several ways, Ms. Fagan said.

For one, the university has built the Storm Harbor Equestrian Center and acquired horses for the equestrian events. In the past, horses were brought to the camp in a trailer.

"All 48 athletes will get the opportunity for an hour horseback riding lesson," she said. "We have our own barn and our own horses. That's all part of the adaptive physical activity minor. We have all of it right here on campus."

Tandem cycling also will be expanded this year, with the goal of getting more kids into the competition, she said. "We want to try to get them to really understand that they can go fast."
In the tae kwon do competition, participants will break boards.

"If you could see their faces," Ms. Fagan said. "Holy cow, I almost cried last time. It's so wonderful to see these kids get so excited when they break a board."

Friday, June 09, 2006

Man ready to learn how to fix braille

Brunei Darussalam National Association of the Blind (BDNAB) has sent two of its members to attend a workshop in repairing the Braille in Kuala Lumpur.

They are Hj Asmat bin Pengarah Mukim Hj Naim, and Wan Ali Bin Wan Ibrahim as his escort. Hj Asmat will be the first visually impaired person from Brunei to attend the Braille repair and maintenance workshop.

He will then be able to assist in fixing brailles at various institutions in the country, and pass on his skills to his counterparts.

The workshop runs from May 29 to June 9. It aims to equip the visually impaired with the skill to repair the Braille and keep it in good condition. The Braille is a machine which helps the visually challenged by using a system of writing and printing. It has varied arrangements of raised dots representing letters and numerals identified by touch.

BDNAB joins the workshop because in Brunei there is no visually impaired individual who is officially certified to conduct the repairs and maintenance of the Braille.

After going through an assessment Awg Hj Asmat has proven that he has the ab;ity in this field. He needs to gain more exposure through this workshop to get a certification. He is poised to teach other fellow visually impaired mates on the skills and knowledge in repairing the Braille.

The workshop is organised by the Organisation for the Blind of Malaysia in cooperation with the Association of the Blind of India.

Royal Brunei Airlines has sponsored two return tickets to Kuala Lumpur for the two workshop participants. Jamary Danggat, President of BDNAB contributed to the story.

Visually impaired man intends to participate to the 5K run

LAYTON Distance runner Blaine Shelton has collided with trees, cars, bridges, other people, dogs and - worst of all - a soccer goal post in his competitive running career. But those obstacles are nothing compared to what the visually impaired athlete from Layton faces as he tries to regain his status as one of the top blind distance runners in the world.

The biggest roadblocks standing in Shelton's way are the lack of an adequate treadmill and the lack of willing guide runners who are capable of keeping up with the 26-year-old college student. "The desire and commitment are there, and my coach says the ability is there, too," Shelton said. "I just need a [$5,000] treadmill that can go 15 miles per hour and some guys to run with on a consistent basis."

Shelton will run in the 5K race that is part of Saturday's Salt Lake City Marathon events. Because a large field of runners is expected for the 5K, and because he ran the same course last year, Shelton will compete without a guide runner - unless he finds someone willing between now and then.

"I should be OK," he said. "I will probably carry a walkie-talkie and keep in close contact with my dad, just in case."

Shelton is not at his best, having pulled muscles in his chest a few weeks ago while running in the Race for the Cure. But he doesn't want to miss the opportunity to run in the 5K with some of the state's best sighted athletes.

"If you're a runner, you don't dream of missing these kind of races," he said.

Shelton has been running competitively since he was 7, when his mother began taking him to the "Braille Olympics" in Los Angeles. He ran track at Central Davis Junior High School and cross country at Layton High, where he nearly qualified for the 1,500 meters at state against sighted runners.

He ran briefly for Westminster College after an LDS Church mission to Birmingham, Ala., but an injury to his ribs when he ran into the aforementioned soccer post derailed those plans, and he is now studying at Utah Career College to become a massage therapist.

"It's been quite a journey," he said. "You name it, and I have run into it. I've even run into trees while I've had a guide with me."

The journey is far from finished, however.

Shelton's coach, former U.S. Paralympic Track and Field coach John Kernan, of Pleasant Grove, says Shelton is an "emerging elite runner" who has the ability to compete at the Pan-Am Paralympic Games in Brazil and has an outside chance to make it to the Paralympic Games in 2008 in China.

"We're sort of riding the roller-coaster now with Blaine," Kernan said. "He's not as fit as he has been in the past, due to injuries and other factors. . . . But he is a national-class athlete trying to take the next step up to the elite class."

Shelton is what the United States Association of Blind Athletes classifies as a B-2 runner. He can distinguish his hand in front of his face, and some shapes, but his vision is worse than 20/600. He's been visually impaired for most of his life.

When Shelton was 22 months old, doctors misdiagnosed him with an ear infection. Turns out, it was spinal meningitis, and it damaged the brain cells that receive messages from the eyes. So, his eyes are healthy, but the part of the brain that helps him distinguish shapes "is fried," Shelton said. "I had two of the four types of spinal meningitis, and the second [disease] did some real damage."

Just after high school, in 1998, Shelton set a pair of world records at a USABA indoor meet in Colorado Springs, Colo., running the 3,000 meters in 11 minutes, 19.74 seconds and the 1,500 in 5:05.35. He also owns the national indoor record in the mile for B-2 runners, having posted a 5:12.26 in 2003.

"When I have the ability to properly train, I can accomplish some things," he said. "But lately, that hasn't been possible."

Because Shelton can't drive, it takes him 2-3 hours on a bus one way just to make the trip from Layton to Pleasant Grove to see his coach. He can train by himself around Layton, but that is getting increasingly more difficult, partly because the Layton High track he runs on is in disrepair.

That's why he so desperately needs a sponsor, an individual or organization that will step in with some funding for a treadmill and perhaps cover some other expenses, such as travel.

"For a blind person, a treadmill is really fantastic," said Kernan. "One of Blaine's biggest stumbling blocks is transportation."

Then there's the guide problem.

In high school, two-time Olympian Ed Eyestone frequently ran with him in races. But Eyestone is now a member of BYU's coaching staff, and Shelton has struggled to find a qualified replacement. Kernan, who also coaches Pleasant Grove High's track team, says his guiding days are over as well.Not just anybody can be a guide runner, Shelton said. He was running in the Salt Lake City Classic a few years ago with a reporter from a northern Utah newspaper who had volunteered to guide for him.

"He said he worked out three times a week and was in good shape," Shelton said. "We went through the mile marker at 8 minutes and he was dying. He stayed with me a little while longer, then I just asked him which way I should go. He told me to take a left and then go straight. That's the last thing I heard."

The last thing Shelton wants to do is give up on his dream of making it to the Paralympics. He hopes to compete in the USABA National Championships in Colorado in early August, where the pressure will be intense.

"There's some politics involved [when the U.S. Paralympic team is chosen], so I have to win every blind race I get into," he said. "I have to go undefeated, so there's no doubt."

Visually impaired teenagers easily victimized by sexual predators

A 69-year-old visually-impaired man was released after his statement was recorded for allegedly outraging the modesty of a 14-year-old visually impaired girl at a special centre for physically challenged people at Bagan Jermal.

North-East district OCPD ACP Hamzah Md Jamil said the suspect, who is also a resident at the centre, was said to have repeatedly asked the girl to visit his room there, before fondling her breast and touching her private parts.

"The girl's parents, who live in Selangor, lodged a police report over the matter on May 30 after they were alerted of the incident by the centre's management the same day.

"We have already sent the girl for medical examination. In the meantime, the suspect has been released as he cooperated with us when called up for questioning," he told reporters.

"The investigation has been completed and we have handed the investigation papers to the deputy public prosecutor who will decide if there are grounds to charge the suspect," he added.

Meanwhile, a hearing-impaired swimming instructor was charged with molesting a 12-year-old girl in the magistrate's court here Thursday.

Cheah Ee Kew, 40, allegedly used criminal force to outrage the modesty of the girl in the swimming pool at the Chinese Swimming Club in Tanjung Bungah at about 8pm on April 30.
Due to his disability, the charge was not read out to him so magistrate Ainul Shahrin Mohamad set July 12 for a deaf-mute interpreter to read out the charge to him in sign language.
She also allowed his bail at RM3,000. Cheah posted the bail later in the afternoon.

Exciting opportunity for visually impaired child

Visually impaired since birth, four-year-old Mitchell Villanueva can experience playing baseball thanks to the Giants Community Fund's Junior Giants program, which openly accommodates Villanueva's desire to play America's favorite game.

Mitchell can feel the intensity of the California sun thumping down on his brow as he trots out to his position on the baseball diamond. The exuberant cheers of supportive fans only intensify his excitement at the Junior Giants program of the Visalia Police Activities League. Mitchell's grandfather, John Villanueva, and his father, Chad Villanueva, serve as coaches for Mitchell's team. When Mitchell is situated in his regular outfield position, he listens for his grandfather's or father's directions when a ball is hit his way. Upon fielding the ball, Mitchell then listens to instructions about how to maneuver his body in order to throw the ball in.

When batting, Mitchell receives four pitches from a coach or hits off a tee and relies on his grandfather's voice to tell him when to swing. After contact, Mitchell listens for his father's voice at first base, and he runs to the bag with the occasional aid of a coach who runs along side him. A similar journey continues as Mitchell rounds the bases. On his way to home plate, Mitchell listens to his father's voice and usually runs unaided to score.

Adding joy to the scene is the fact that Mitchell has the opportunity to play baseball with his brother, Jonathan, and his cousin, Eddie Quezada, who are both visually able.

"We want Mitchell to enjoy the opportunity to play with his brother and cousin while he can," says John Villanueva. "Mitchell is a big fan of them, and they are big fans of Mitchell."

Junior Giants also gives Mitchell and his teammates the opportunity be involved in a constructive activity that allows for social development.

"The kids make the program," says John Villanueva. "It's wonderful to see them learn about each other, about baseball and about life. We do it for them."

Junior Giants, presented by Bank of America, is a non-competitive baseball league run by the Giants Community Fund. More than 13,000 youth in over 70 leagues across California, Oregon and Nevada are involved in this exciting summertime baseball tradition. The Junior Giants' unique combination of instilling confidence, teamwork, leadership and integrity in its players while introducing them to America's favorite pastime makes it an all-star program.

Among the league's awards, the Junior Giants Program was inducted into the World
Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame as the "Best Single Program" run by any professional sports team.
The Fresno Grizzlies in association with the Giants Community Fund will host the Junior Giants Glove Drive on Thursday, June 1, 2006 at Grizzlies Stadium.

Fans are encouraged to bring an old or new glove to the ballpark and drop it off at any of the glove bins located outside the stadium's entrances or inside at the Courtesy Booth. The Grizzlies will also host the Coaches Clinic Saturday at Grizzlies Stadium from 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.

Teenager trains labrador puppy for the visually impaired

With her little button nose, puppy-dog eyes and floppy ears, Sweet Pea looks like a cuddly pet.But the dark blue bandana around her neck means she is all business.That’s how the 13-year-old Sarah Rankin is raising the black Labrador retriever puppy.“When she’s a working dog, she’ll have to wear a harness instead,” Rankin said, holding Sweet Pea’s leash at Somerset Drug Co. on Wednesday. Sarah, a seventh-grader from Listie, will spend a year socializing the 4-month-old puppy and teaching her basic commands.

The canine eventually will become a “leader dog” for the visually impaired.Sarah’s brother, David, and parents Paul and Debbie are doing their part, too.Leader Dogs for the Blind, a Rochester, Mich., based organization, trains dogs after volunteers help them adapt to working in the community. The group works with the support of Lions clubs across the country.

Sarah traveled in March to pick up Sweet Pea in Michigan, where there is a kennel so big it could house 300 dogs.A month later, she and her family began taking the dog to local businesses so the future leader dog can learn to handle social situations. Once a month, the family is visiting a puppy counselor who lives near Washington, Pa.“I got the idea watching a TV show, ‘Animal Adventures,’” Sarah said.

The family was considering adopting another pet to keep their dog, cat and rabbit company.“We decided to look into this first,” she said.After she studied a puppy manual from the Michigan organization and watched an instruction video, Sarah was ready. On Wednesday, Sarah and her mother, Debbie, took the pup for her fourth trip to Somerset Drug.“We come prepared,” Debbie Rankin said, carrying a canvas tote of plastic bags on her shoulder.

The employees there are glad to be part of the training, though it is difficult to resist petting Sweet Pea. When acting as a “professional” leader dog, Sweet Pea is supposed to avoid the affection normally showered on puppies.“The job they’re doing is important,” drug store administrator Amy Weimer said. “She has to go in public places to train.”Debbie Rankin said her daughter is a natural for working with animals.“We knew it would be a big responsibility, but animals are her gift,” she said.

Sarah has been riding horses at a farm in Berlin for about four years and is planning a career that will keep her close to animals: Horse racing.Bill Felix Jr., Boswell Lions secretary, has seen Sarah and her trainee in action at church.“Sarah is a regular trooper,” Felix said. “That dog goes wherever she goes.”

The Lions Club District 14M, which includes Somerset County, pairs dogs with people who need them and facilitates the puppy program.“I think she’s the first one we’ve had in Somerset County for a couple of years,” Felix said.People interested in more information can visit or can contact the chairwoman of the Lions Club’s dog program, Melinda Ogburn, at (724) 225-6985 or