Monday, July 31, 2006

Visually impaired swimmers go to the World's Championship

Osman Çullu, the national coach for the Turkish disabled swimming team, said visually impaired athletes would be among the squad representing Turkey at the World Swimming Championships for the Disabled to be held in South Africa in November. Çullu said it was the first time visually impaired swimmers from Turkey would take part in an international tournament following a selection process to whittle down the hopefuls.

Çullu stated that a total of 12 athletes would be selected for the national team, four out of whom will be competing in the visually impaired category. The squad will undertake a 15-day training camp at Konya where the final selections will take place.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

New program called Computer Eyes has been created for the visually impaired!

Visually impaired students seeking to become computer proficient could be helped thanks to the efforts of Resources for the Blind Inc. (RBI), a nonprofit, charitable organization serving the blind, and IBM Philippines which continue to pursue a computer training program called Computer Eyes.
Launched in 2000, the project aims to instill interest in computers among visually impaired students. It also seeks to show that with appropriate technology, blindness is not a hindrance to computer competency.

Now on its fifth year, Computer Eyes has more than a hundred graduates, some of whom are already employed in jobs requiring computer skills and knowledge.

Some of our volunteers are now enrolled in computer science courses, said Randy Weisser, executive director of RBI.

This year's intensive two-week, eight-hours-a-day crash course formally opened last May 16, with 10 elementary students from the Metro Manila area joining high school and college students representing schools from Pangasinan in the north to Davao in the south. The program will end on May 27.

Computer Eyes was formerly a computer camp for high school and college students but last year, RBI and IBM decided to include elementary pupils. 'The earlier we can introduce computer skills to students, the better success they're going to have in the future,said Weisser.

The 30 participants were welcomed by Weisser, IBM general manager and president Joaquin Quintos IV, and IBM country
marketing manager Chestnut Andaya. Quintos said IBM, which initiated Computer-Eyes, plans to continue the project for several more years.

IBM has been very supportive of and enthusiastic about this project,Weisser said, adding that this is one of the most productive partnerships they have.

This year program will consist mostly of intensive training sessions in computer literacy and the use of the adaptive software called JAWS made specifically for the blind. Short for Job Access With Speech, JAWS is a screen reader available for Windows which provides access to software applications like
Microsoft Word, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer. Through its internal software speech synthesizer and the computer sound card, information from the screen is read aloud, allowing blind users access to various information.

Roselle Ambubuyog, a consultant at Freedom Scientific, the maker of JAWS, shared the difficulties of being a blind student. Technology is growing, it is developing; fortunately, it is helping us,she said.

Ambubuyog demonstrated how Mobile Speak, one of the latest technological developments for blind people, helps her. Mobile Speak is a screen reader for cellular phones which has a pronunciation dictionary that can be programmed to read and pronounce Filipino words properly and decode
SMS (Short Message Service) abbreviations that Filipinos are fond of using.

JAWS, which is exclusively distributed in the country by RBI, and Mobile Speak are just some of the solutions that are now available for the visually impaired. We don't have to worry anymore if there will be a way to access things, said Ambubuyog, who asked the camp participants to follow the example set by two blind Freedom Scientific executives who made the most of the opportunities that came their way.

For his part, Weisser said RBI is pleased with the way JAWS has helped blind students, noting how the
software has given them a good jump start in their computer skills.

'We don't want them to get left behind, he said.

Expressing his expectations from the camp, 19-year-old Julius Ceasar Tan, a fourth year high school student at the Ramon Magsaysay High School in Manila, said: I would like to know more about computers,
downloading and research, which I hope I can apply in my life.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Visually impaired experiences her first rocket launch

Mika Baugh hears questions every now and then about whether the visually impaired need help with basic functions, such as eating or walking.

Not at all, the 16-year-old Greenwood girl replies. While others worry about simple things, Baugh spent last week notching a new experience on her path to becoming a scientist.

She participated in the National Federation of the Blind's weeklong "Rocket On!" Science Academy in Baltimore and the Virginia coast. She was among a dozen high school students who worked with NASA scientists, engineers and other volunteers on a project unlike any she had attempted before.

"First time I've ever launched a rocket, yeah," she said Monday.

Baugh, who will be a junior at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, reveled in the run-up to the launch last Wednesday of a 10-foot rocket.

She already knew there were many blind and visually impaired scientists and engineers. But working with the group's mentors -- some of them blind -- reaffirmed her career aspirations, she said.

"Right now, I'm looking at genetic counseling or something in that arena," said Baugh, whose family lives near the Greenwood Park Mall.

Baugh has limited vision because an optic nerve did not develop correctly. "I can see colors and light and shapes and everything," she said. "I just can't see the details."

In the camp -- as at school and in life -- she relied on her hands as much as basic visual cues.
The students built the rocket at the federation's Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. They used calculations to predict the larger rocket's trajectory and installed circuits and sensors to measure things such as altitude and temperature.

On launch day, they started at 2 a.m. at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, launching at 6 a.m. The rocket's top altitude was about 5,900 feet.

"This is our third year doing this, and the parachute has chronically been an issue," said Mark Riccobono, the federation's director of education. "But these guys got it right."

The camp puts the students in leadership roles. On launch day, Baugh was the project manger.
"A lot of times, blind youths aren't given the opportunity to be leaders," said Riccobono, who is blind. "They have to know that vision is not a requirement for success."

The camp has a public benefit, Baugh said, because it challenges misconceptions.
"Things like this really show the public and everybody that it's OK to be blind."

A visually impaired woman finds a job as a piano tuner

Hsiang Chi is a visually impaired person who works as a piano tuner in a job that she secured through the Council of Labor Affairs' Multi-Employment Promotion Program. This job has enabled her to use her sense of hearing to find a new life. Hsiang was born blind. From the time she was young, her biggest wish was to become a musician. When she was young, she learned how to play piano. In addition, she studied in the department of music when in university.

After graduation, she performed in a band. However, life was hard for her. There were some months in which she earned only NT$6,000 or NT$7,000. It was only when she found the possibility of becoming a piano tuner, which would make the best use of her keen sense of hearing, did Hsiang Chi successfully find a new path in life. The Council of Labor Affairs introduced its Multi-Employment Promotion Program in 2002. Since the unveiling of the plan, it has helped find 72,000 employment opportunities for people throughout Taiwan.

A Council of Labor Affairs official said that the employment program aims to provide an avenue to tide over those who are unemployed while they learn new skills. Upon the completion of training, these people will them return to the workforce. This year, for example, private groups can submit applications throughout the entire year, while government agencies must submit plans before the end of April. In May and September, the Council screens the applications.

Those agencies or groups that put in an outstanding performance until the Multi-Employment Promotion Program also receive awards from the Council to cite their excellence. The Parents' Association for the Visually Impaired, which was established by parents of visually handicapped children, decided to best utilize the advantage that the visually impaired have in terms of their sense of hearing to successfully train a number of piano tuners.

This project has resulted in a number of employment opportunities for the visually impaired. The project has been so successful that the Parents' Association for the Visually Impaired was singled out by the Council of Labor Affairs for its excellence in the piano tuner training program. The chairman of the Parents' Association for the Visually Impaired, Wang Ching-wen, said that the association originally developed a plan to compile and edit books in brail for the blind. The association aimed to transfer a wide range of reference and text books into brail.

However, given the huge number of books to be transferred into brail, there was too much editing work to be done. As a result, the association began considering other professions that would be suited for the visually impaired. After carefully looking at various possibilities, the association discovered that the serving as piano tuners is a key profession for the visually impaired overseas. The association added that they on Taiwan, too many blind people relied on working as masseurs. The association therefore decided to arrange for visually impaired persons here to undergo training to become piano tuners.

Presently, three people have been trained in the profession by the association and have found employment through the Multi-Employment Promotion Program. These visually impaired piano tuners use their outstanding sense of hearing to adjust the pitch of pianos. The result has been that the adjustments that they carry out make the sound of pianos even more beautiful than that of mechanical tuners. Presently, there are four visually impaired persons on Taiwan who have received professional licenses as piano tuners, while there are six or seven visually impaired persons who have not received licenses, but work as piano tuners.

Hsiang, who is 28 years old, worked as a musician in a band after she graduated from university. The work was not steady, however, and her monthly income oftentimes was a reflection of luck. If the weather was bad outside, the number of gigs that the band would have would fall substantially. Hsiang was always on a tight budget, as her income was sparse. Since becoming a piano tuner, however, she now has a steady income and she often has a smile on her face. "I no longer have to rely on luck, since I am now a piano tuner," she said.

New on/off switches built to meet the visually impaired needs

EAO has added a black-and-white double on/off switch to its series of RoHS-compliant Series 44 industrial controls to meet new regulations for visually-impaired users.

The Series 44 switch is intended for use particularly in machinery and process control applications, where manufacturers should replace the red/green versions to comply with new regulations for visually-impaired users who may find it difficult to distinguish between red and green on/off positions.

The Series 44 on/off switch is offered with a self-cleaning, slow make switching element and lamp block. Illumination is provided by either LEDs or Ba9s (T-3-¼ bayonet base) lamps. It also features a large, illuminated central lens to indicate the status of equipment. It can be supplied with or without the engraved "I and 0" symbols, and with either a matte grey or chromium-plated case.
EAO also offers a similar switch in a red/green combination. Other control switches from the Series 44 range include pushbutton switches, indicators, selectors, mushroom-headed switches, potentiometer drives and EN418-rated emergency stop switches.

All products use screw terminal connections and are sealed to IP65 standards.
Completely sealed Series 44 dual pushbuttons with 1 NO/1 NC contacts, start at approximately $25 per unit in small quantities. Delivery is from stock.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Microsoft helps the visually impaired in Florida

Daytona Beach and Brevard County, Florida communities now have greater access to technology thanks to three grants from Microsoft. These grants, worth more than US$295,000 in cash and software, to the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), WORC/United Cerebral Palsy of East Central Florida (WORC/UCP) and Brevard Workforce Development Board (BWDB) are part of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential program, aimed to promote digital inclusion and increase access to technology skills training in communities underserved by technology.

These most recent donations are in addition to more than $29 million in cash and software provided by the company to organizations in Florida since 2003. These contributions support technology access, IT skills development and building the IT capacity of nonprofit organizations.
“We are thrilled to support these three Florida-based organizations and applaud their work to improve local workforce readiness and help train their citizens in the use of technology,” said Pamela Passman, vice president of Microsoft’s global corporate affairs. “Our goal is to broaden digital inclusion so a quarter of a billion people underserved by technology have technology skills by 2010 and can realize their potential through the power of technology.”

“These generous contributions are a tremendous asset in fulfilling Florida’s commitment to provide meaningful educational and employment opportunities to all,” said Toni Jennings, Lieutenant Governor of Florida. “The advanced technology made possible by Microsoft empowers the recipient agencies to open the door to success in ways never before possible by leveling the playing field for people with special needs. Governor Bush and I are deeply grateful.”

CVI, a Daytona Beach-based organization that assists the visually impaired through mobility training, daily living and computer courses utilizing specialized technology, received a grant worth more than $80,000 in cash and software. This grant will be used to develop a new technology learning center, providing access and services for blind and visually impaired youth and adults. The facility will help increase knowledge, skills and competency related to computer technology, enhancing potential employability for vocationally oriented visually impaired individuals.

“We are grateful to Microsoft for its generous donation,” said Ronee Hudson, executive director of CVI. “As a result of this grant, the new computer center will offer technology training and programs to the hundreds of blind and visually impaired clients we serve, improving day-to-day living and increasing their ability to remain competitive in the workforce.”

WORC /United Cerebral Palsy of East Central Florida in Daytona Beach received more than $95,000 in cash and software. This organization, an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, strives to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities helping them to achieve “life without limits.” WORC/UCP will use the grant to enhance its technology center by adding Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant work stations, voice recognition software, reading magnifiers and several larger trackball mouses. The center will focus on providing job readiness and employment by enrolling participants in computer training, assisting participants with job placement according to their individualized career interests and track their job retention.

“With the support of Microsoft, our interactive technology center will address the increasingly poignant need to narrow the technology gap that persists in the disability community,” said Barry Pollack, president and CEO of WORC/UCP. “Utilizing the benefits of technology, the grant will help increase our clients’ independence and enhance the quality of their lives.”

Brevard Workforce Development Board, focused on improving the quality of the Brevard County community and workforce, received more than $120,000 in cash, software and curriculum through a U.S.-wide partnership with Microsoft and the Department of Labor. The grant is part of Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the U.S. workforce and boost the ability of the nation’s companies to compete in a global economy.

Throughout the three regional Brevard Job Link locations, instructors will offer Microsoft’s educational seminar, Digital Literacy, to Brevard County residents further improving their workforce readiness as it relates to technology training. The training in Brevard is aimed at, but not limited to, those who have barriers to obtaining employment. This includes mature workers, individuals who are currently unemployed and those in low-wage jobs. BWBD hopes to train at least 500 people in one year, with courses beginning July 27.

“We are very thankful for this grant and Microsoft’s support in providing IT training to the citizens in our community,” said Lisa Rice, president and CEO, BWDB. “Our goal is to enhance workforce productivity throughout the county, better preparing our community members for job opportunities and improving the economy.”

“Computer knowledge and know-how are vital for those preparing to enter the workforce,” said U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, M.D. (R-FL). “By targeting those who are least likely to have access to computer related technology, these grants will help give more Brevardians the ability to compete in today’s job market. That’s good news for our families and our community.”

All three grants will be announced on July 20, beginning with the BWDB grant at 10 a.m. at the Brevard Job Link office located at Byrd Plaza, 801 Dixon Blvd. in Cocoa. The CVI and WORC/UCP will celebrate their grants during a joint announcement at 3 p.m. at the WORC/UCP facility, which will take place at 1100 Jimmy Ann Drive in Daytona Beach. Microsoft’s Pamela Passman will participate in both announcements to the Florida community along with Lisa Rice and George Mikitarian, Board of Director’s Chair, BWDB, Ronee Hudson of CVI and Barry Pollack of WORC/UCP.

About CVI

Established in 1985, Center for the Visually Impaired has provided comprehensive adjustment services to blind and visually impaired individuals in Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and Brevard counties. CVI offers independent living services that help all blind and visually impaired individuals and their families adjust and cope with vision loss.

About WORC/ United Cerebral Palsy of East Central Florida

WORC/ United Cerebral Palsy of East Central Florida is an affiliate of the United Cerebral Palsy Association, the leading source of information on cerebral palsy and is a pivotal advocate for the rights of persons with any disability. This national organization and its nationwide network of affiliates strive to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in every facet of society – from the Web to the workplace, from the classroom to the community.

Its mission is to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities which promote choice, increase independence and enhance quality of life. WORC/United Cerebral Palsy of East Central Florida has provided services to individuals with disabilities for over 36 years.

About Brevard Workforce Development Board

Brevard Workforce Development Board (BWDB) is a not-for-profit corporation designated as the administrative entity and grant recipient for workforce investment programs in Brevard County. BWDB focuses on improving the quality of the Brevard County workforce, reducing welfare dependency and enhancing workforce productivity and competitiveness.

About Microsoft

Microsoft and its employees have long recognized the importance of being engaged in supporting communities around the world. Last year the company donated $61 million in cash and $273 million in software to 9,000 nonprofit organizations. A majority of the company’s community investments are made in support of Unlimited Potential, a global program that supports community technology centers in IT skills training. Unlimited Potential is part of the company’s commitment to broaden digital inclusion and enhance workforce development to a quarter of a billion people underserved by technology by 2010.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

Accessibility Search...a wonderful Google service for the visually impaired

In its continuing quest to attract new users, Google has taken the wraps off a new beta project that will make it easier for those with disabilities to use the Web. Google's new Accessibility Search retains the familiar Google interface but optimizes the results for the visually impaired.

The site operates much like the traditional Google search, but it considers
extra factors when deciding where to rank a particular page. Those factors include the overall simplicity of a page, the number of graphic elements, and whether keyboard navigation of the site is possible. The results are designed to prevent those with eye trouble or blindness from having to navigate through scores of non-accessible pages in their quest for information and services. The new search means that top results should more often lead to pages that are compatible with screen readers and keyboard navigation.

Google Accessible Search is built upon
the company's Co-op technology, which is designed to make specialized searches more accurate. Those interested in making their sites more accessible to the visually impaired can consult the W3C primer (among others). The simplest way to get started is to consider the following quick tips from the W3C:

Images & animations: Use the "alt" attribute to describe the function of each visual.
Image maps. Use the client-side map and text for hotspots.

Multimedia. Provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video.
Hypertext links. Use text that makes sense when read out of context. For example, avoid "click here."

Page organization. Use headings, lists, and consistent structure. Use CSS for layout and style where possible.

Graphs & charts. Summarize or use the "longdesc" attribute.

Scripts, applets, & plug-ins. Provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.

Frames. Use the "noframes" element and meaningful titles.

Tables. Make line-by-line reading sensible. Summarize.

Check your work. Validate. Use tools, checklist, and guidelines at
Google's tool is certainly a step in the right direction. Though it should work well when a piece of information is available at many different locations, the new search tool is obviously of limited power.

For services like government assistance and online banking, there may be no alternative sites which people can use. In these cases, it is up to the institutions in question to make sure that their sites are accessible to visually impaired users. If they're not, Google Accessible Search can do little to help.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Teaching all about life to the visually impaired

A summer camp at the University of Evansville is helping high school students with visual impairments and other disabilities adjust from life at home to life on campus.

Tuesday's lesson: How to make an omelet without mom's help.

Laughs bounced off the walls of Hale Hall's kitchen as students chopped up onions, squashed sausage and whipped eggs. They prepared their own full-scale breakfast with a smidgen of help from Krysti Hughes, orientation mobility director for the Evansville Association for the Blind.

"We're getting our hands dirty - literally," Hughes said.

Fourteen students are in town for this year's six-week camp. It's been larger in other years, but 14 is an ideal number because of the individual instruction time it allows, said Diane Hagler, vocational specialist.

It's a camp that doesn't limit itself to incoming UE students, nor to students from the Evansville region.

Michael Lacoursiere of New Albany, Ind., will be a high school senior this fall and is interested in attending Purdue University. He said he's enjoying the "freedom from my family" that the camp offers. "I can do anything, man," he said. "It's awesome."

The students take two freshman-level courses during their six-week stay, which can apply at UE or be transferred to other institutions.

That's only part of the experience, though. Outside of their classes, the students work with Hughes
on how to get around safely on a college campus.

They also learn about study habits and time management, the sorts of things all college students must know - disabled or not. Those are lessons that got the attention of Justin Hodge, who lives near Kokomo, Ind., and will be attending UE in the fall.

"I've learned how college is different from high school, effective ways to study and how to interact with professors," Hodge said.

Students who come to UE for the camp come from varying backgrounds, with varied experience at dealing with their disabilities.

"Some of them have a pretty good idea of how to live; others, we start from the drawing board," Hagler said.

Instructors work with them all, and they try to help students decide if a four-year college or some other alternative is best for them.

Henderson County (Ky.) High School graduate Sam Moore, who was his class valedictorian and is bound for Western Kentucky University, is taking psychology and environmental science this summer and said the camp has been a preview of what college life will be like.

"We're learning study habits, and what we have to do to do well (in college)," Moore said.

Government gives financial help to visually impaired students

The government will allocate RM3 million to help visually impaired students, mainly to provide access to Information Communication and Technology (ICT) facilities, Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said Sunday.He said that although the allocation was small the government would consider reviewing the amount if needed.

"The RM3 million is for the ICT development of blind students in all schools."We can make a difference, we can close the digital divide between them and the others by using the latest technologies available and improving teachers training and infrastructure," he said in his opening speech at the 12th World Conference of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments, here today.He said there are 823 blind students studying in normal schools nationwide.

At the function, Hishammuddin also launched the Education for All Students with Visual Impairment Global Campaign.Meanwhile on another matter, Hishammuddin said the de-classification of government documents regarding the scenic bridge to replace the Johor causeway, which had been aborted, was necessary to explain to the public to dispel any misconceptions."Now we hope the people can decide for themselves the facts and hope there are no misconceptions anymore regarding the matter," he said.Asked if more documents would be de-classified, he replied that if the need arose, then the Cabinet would deliberate it further.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Visually impaired camping trip and hike in crater

A group of blind and visually impaired youths will undertake an unprecedented four-day hiking and camping trip into Hale-akala Crater starting Monday.
The venture was organized by the Ho’opono Services for the Blind Branch of the state Vocational Rehabilitation Division and by Haleakala National Park staff.
“They’re all excited,” Ho’opono spokeswoman Geri Mitomi said Friday by phone from Honolulu. “It’s more the hike if anything – being in the crater, sleeping over.
“They’ve done many practice hikes on Oahu, so they’re really geared to go,” she said.
Participants will include seven adult chaperons and five high school students, ages 14 to 17, including one each from the Big Island and Kauai. There will be five sighted staff members and two who are visually impaired, including one volunteer.
Activities will feature hiking into the crater, staying at a cabin, performing a service project of removing alien plants near Kapalaoa Cabin, and hiking out.

Although the food already will have been transported into the crater, the youths will carry backpacks along with wearing hiking boots. They received hiking poles, but most will use their own canes, Mitomi said.

“They know already it will be a challenge, but 20 miles will be even more so,” she said.

She said the students practiced hiking, removing alien plant life and performing survival skills during an annual youth camp at Camp Erdman, Oahu, in early June.

“Even though they’re visually impaired, the service project of clearing brush – they’re looking forward to doing it,” she said.

Mitomi said the first-ever event was organized through the friendship of Ho’opono branch Administrator David Eveland and Haleakala Park Resource Management Chief Ron Nagata.
The youths stand to gain renewed confidence, an experience of the crater’s rarefied environment and a heightened sense of their own capabilities.

While some of the youths are blind, “some of them may have some sight. They may see shades or shadows,” Mitomi said.

But when out and about, “normally they all are equal. They all use canes,” she said. “I believe they’re all ready. They’ve been waiting for the day to come. They’re all looking forward to it.”

Web Radio, a great feature for the visually impaired

The Internet Radio Information System receiver is from Netherlands-based Solutions Radio. It allows blind or visually impaired people to listen to audio books, newspapers and magazines via the Internet without a computer.

A telephone line is the only requirement. The device can also be used with Ethernet or even with a wireless connection.

The IRIS is also capable of receiving podcasts and other stored programming from a server which can be played on demand. It can receive any Internet stream from any station in the world. The box is MP3-capable and each radio has an ID number that is recognized by the streaming platform. Most software changes can be made remotely.

In the United States, Solutions Radio is represented by Talking Solutions Corp.

Tandem Bike Program for the visually impaired

For Lygia Bohan, of Sunrise, who lost her eyesight at birth, bicycle riding is an outlet that helps her escape from the daily stresses of job and family."Riding through the park, you can see the cars go by, the birds flying or an airplane go by," she said. "I can sort of sense these things, I can hear the cars go by and I can smell the barbecue at a park."

Though blind, Bohan is able to enjoy bicycling through a Broward County Parks and Recreation program that teams blind riders with volunteers who can see.Started in 1997, the program uses two-seated bicycles called tandems. Volunteers, known as captains, sit on the front seat and steer. Visually impaired riders sit on the back seat.

As the program starts a new season, coordinators are looking for volunteers older than 16 to serve as captains. Volunteers must have good eyesight and know the basics of bicycle riding. The park offers the bikes but helpers can bring their own tandem bikes if they have them. Tandem teams need "someone who can see to drive," said Elly Du Pre, the executive director of Lighthouse of Broward County, an agency that helps the visually impaired.

Lighthouse teaches blind and visually handicapped people the skills they need to live independent lives."There are many people who have benefited from the program," said Rachel Bash, special projects coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Division. New volunteers and riders go through a five- to six-week orientation session and plan future biking sessions.Judy Wolgang, of Margate, has been with the program since it started.

She suffers from glaucoma, but has been tandem riding for eight years. "When I got on the tandem, I felt like I could fly," Wolgang said. "It feels freeing doing something that I thought only a sighted person could do."Sanford Rosenthal, of Fort Lauderdale, has tandem biked for about eight years. "This program evens the playing field," he said. Rosenthal, who is visually impaired, also participates in aided rock climbing and kayaking.

Camp VISION for the visually impaired

Ten-year-old Keenan Provencher is just like any other boy his age. A soon-to-be fifth-grader at Allendale Elementary School, he likes the Boston Red Sox and playing baseball — even though he can't see.

"A lot of people don't understand. They can't pitch the ball to us. We have to hit it off a tee or a cone," he said yesterday.

And now, just like any other kid, he and others can enjoy a full summer camp experience thanks to the creators and supporters of Berkshire County's Camp VISION — Visually Impaired Students in our Neighborhoods.

The nonprofit camp, which operates out of Allendale, was started by Lynn Shortis and Wendy Provencher, Keenan's mother, through local donations gathered about two years ago to provide a safe,

Anthony Pansecchi, 16, listens to the time from Celeste Wheelock's watch. Pansecchi and Wheelock are blind, however Wheelock is a councilor. Photos by Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff

social and educational setting for blind and visually impaired youth.

Shortis, the only full-time teacher for the visually impaired in Berkshire County, estimated there are 12 to 15 visually impaired youths in the county's kindergarten through Grade 12 schools, four of whom are participating in the camp.

Aside from Keenan, the camp is attended by Hope Daniels, 7, and Kara Curtin, 10. Daniels also attends Allendale and Curtin goes to St. Mary's School in Lee.

"I think it's a great idea," said Anthony Pansecchi, 16, who both helps and participates at the camp. He will be a freshman this fall at Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire.

He and Celeste Wheelock, 21, a recent Pittsfield High School graduate who will be a sophomore at Berkshire Community College, said that they never had a local camp experience like the three youngsters do now.

The two next closest programs for students are at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton and the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown.

"If this program wasn't here, then Hope and the other kids wouldn't learn how to take care of themselves with everyday life like cooking, cleaning, getting around town, etc.," said Ronda Finger, Hope's mother.

"I think it's the best camp for us," said Keenan. "And there's people here that I know I can trust."
Though the camp activities and games help the youth develop their orientation skills, the most important part of Camp VISION, it seems, is helping campers see themselves as confident, can-do individuals.

Incidentally, all the campers were born prematurely, which caused their impairments. But they all attend classes with their seeing classmates. They have since learned to use Braille and other "talking" gadgets such as watches and computers. They also rely on their other senses, as well as canes and other guides to move around.

Though they have accepted the fact that they lack vision, they still struggle with accepting it as a way of life.

"I want to see, but I can't," Hope said.

"Sometimes it makes me feel bad that I'm blind," she added. "Everybody at my school can see and it makes me feel like I can't fit in. It makes me feel like an ugly duckling. ... I wish I would have a quiet life instead. I would like to just be me."

Keenan said he would like kids of all abilities to come to the camp so they can share their differences and similarities.

Keenan's brother Isaiah, 6, and Kara's sister, Anita, 7, who both have vision, do attend camp on occasion.

"Some kids don't understand the concept of differences," said Kara's mother, Helen Coty-Curtain. She said that it was good for both her daughters to have this experience.

Rachael Wilson and Caitlin Hammond, both 16, of Lenox, volunteer at the camp. Both have vision and said they've learned at lot from working both with the younger campers and someone like Wheelock who is closer to their age group.

"Celeste can show them things we can't, like how to use Braille or fold bills," said Hammond.
"You realize they can do the same things as any other kid," said Wilson.

"No matter what happens, no matter what I am, that doesn't mean I'm not a normal person. Just because you're blind doesn't mean you're not a human," Keenan said.

The camp runs one 12-week session in the summer and holds an after-school program on Tuesdays, as well as other special events during the year.

NASA helps the visually impaired

Twelve visually impaired or blind high school students will have the opportunity to explore careers in rocketry as part of a partnership between NASA and the National Federation of the Blind.

The students are participating in a weeklong rocket science camp, July 14- 22, at the federation's Jernigan Institute in Baltimore and NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

The camp is called "Rocket On!" At the camp, students will learn about rocketry during classes and workshops. The students will also develop and build sensors for a payload on a rocket launched from Wallops.

While at Wallops, the students will assume the roles of NASA mission control personnel as they conduct the mission. Students will participate in various reviews, practice countdowns, final rocket and payload preparations. The launch is scheduled between 6 and 9 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 19, with July 20 as the backup date.

"NASA believes every student has endless capabilities, and we try to reach all students. This is the third year NASA has used its unique educational resources to support the Rocket On! camp," said John Hairston, Jr., the agency's acting assistant administrator for education. "NASA will continue to explore educational opportunities that compete for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America's young people."

The students will use MathTrax software, a calculator that enables them to visualize data by translating information into an easily accessible text or audio description. Developed by NASA's Learning Technologies Program at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the free MathTrax computer application may be downloaded for Windows and Macintosh platforms at:

The Wallops launch will be webcast live beginning at 5 a.m. EDT July 19, at:

For information about NASA, agency education and other programs, visit:

Braille Art

If you thought a visually impaired person would never be able to see an artwork, then you should think again. What has become known popularly overseas has now been introduced to Namibia where even the 'blind can see'.

You might be guessing what this interesting concept is and how it can work for the visually impaired to enable them to see in the first place. Well, it's called 'Braille art' - something initially introduced to Namibians at the ongoing National Disability Conference under way in the capital this week.

Currently, there are six Braille artworks being displayed at the conference, amazingly drawn by persons with visual impairments from different countries around the world.

Normally, when you step into an art gallery, you are asked to look and not touch. But with Braille art if you are visually impaired, you are allowed to touch and 'see' the artwork.

How it works for someone visually impaired is that the elevated relief paperwork outlines, for example, a baby's face or that of a cat and dog. By touching these strips of elevated paper, one can tell what kind of an artwork it is. Braille art in essence allows art access to the blind, while strengthening their sense of touch.

"You can actually see the artwork through the sense of touch," said VSO's Senorita /Gases while showing pieces of art in the conference room.

She said this is an innovative way through which Namibians can learn how to do Braille art in order to make life a little bit brighter for those that cannot see at all.

"The artworks came three weeks ago from Kenya and this is the first time it is being displayed in Namibia through the VSO," said /Gases, adding that all the six pieces were framed free of charge by the National Art Gallery as its contribution to the conference.

Quite intrigued by the artwork, the Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Richard Kamwi said he was amazed. "It's simply amazing," he said as he touched an artwork by Canadian artist Lisa Milroy entitled, "Short-sighted Cat Knitting a Sweater."

For visually impaired Namibians at the conference, such initiatives were keenly welcomed as they expose them to the world of art, while at the same time giving them a 'picture' to 'see' art through everybody's eyes.

Silvanus Haufiku of the National Federation of the Visually Impaired said more such creative and innovative ways of assisting Namibians like him are needed, in order to create an all-inclusive society.

Although the disability conference is new to him, Haufiku saw the importance of pushing the fight for having important information to be printed in Braille.

"We only hear about HIV/Aids on the radio and television, but there is nothing written in Braille like in newspapers or pamphlets," he noted.

Although efforts have been made to have the Namibian Constitution and Vision 2030 in Braille, there is a call for HIV/Aids information to be made accessible to visually impaired Namibians. Others at the conference suggested that condom packets be printed in Braille as well, as there is a fear that they could be at risk of using expired condoms.

"If I get the virus who's fault will it be," asked one participant. However, these are but just a few of the many challenges facing visually impaired Namibians.

To tackle such issues head on, it is hoped that the ongoing National Consultative Disability Conference will make such voices to be heard and acted upon in future.

Visually impaired woman assaulted!

Police in Upper Hutt say they're disgusted by an attack on a visually impaired woman. The young victim was sexually assaulted as she made her way home from Trentham train station on Monday evening.

Police say the woman, who does not carry a cane, became aware of a man walking near her on Brentwood Street, just after 6pm. She was then grabbed from behind and dragged into the grounds of the now closed Brentwood School, where she was attacked by a man who is described as Maori, possibly in his 20s and wearing a cap. Following the attack, the terrified young woman walked home to call police.

Constable Christine Woodney from the Upper Hutt CIB, says the attack happened soon after 6pm and there would have been people about, including other commuters coming off the train, walking or driving home. Police are anxious to hear from anyone who remembers seeing anything untoward in the area that night or who may have information about the offender.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

New laws in the works to help the visually impaired

Nearly 250,000 Pennsylvanians are either blind or visually impaired to varying degrees. 58,000 of them are children, and of those, only nine percent are literate.It is those statistics, among others, which prompted a group of about three dozen Pennsylvania legislators, from both parties, to propose the creation of a Commission for Employment and Rehabilitation for the Blind.One of the measure's sponsors is Democratic Representative Curtis Thomas of Philadelphia, who said, "Over 56,000 of these individuals are children, under the age of 18, and fewer than nine percent of them are literate. Over 150,000 of these individuals are of working age, and about 75 percent are unable to find meaningful employment."The group's efforts have the backing of James Antonacci, president of Pennsylvania's National Federation for the Blind. He says the lawmakers have pinpointed a serious problem. "Blindness rehabilitation in Pennsylvania continues to be based on a model of charity and low expectations rather than one of self-determination and appropriate behavior," Antonacci told Public Radio Capitol News' Damon Boughamer.The commission would work to enhance employment opportunities for the blind, and would be governed by a seven-member commission. Four of its members would be legally blind.

Samsung wins award because of new technology for the visually impaired

Korean technology giant Samsung Electronics announced on Monday that it had won a gold award at the Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) sponsored by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and Business Week.

Samsung won the gold award for its Braille mobile phone, the Touch Messenger, which was designed by the company's Shanghai-based Samsung Design China division.

The Touch Messenger allows visually impaired users to send and receive Braille text messages, with the company revealing that the product was developed in line with its global design strategy of gaining inspiration from local needs, in this case the needs of the nine million visually impaired inhabitants of China.

It is anticipated that once the Touch Messenger is commercialised it will increase the quality of life for the world's 180 million visually impaired.

Users will be able to use two Braille keypads on the phone to send messages, while a Braille display screen on the lower part of the phone will allow them to read incoming messages.

New technology make books available to the visually impaired

Visually-impaired students are increasingly joining mainstream education, but most cannot instantly access the same books as their sighted classmates. Help is at hand from online transcription tools and a new digital library that offers secure documents that can be quickly transcribed and distributed to those who need them.

“We are mainly talking about paper-based books,” says Dominique Archambault, coordinator of the IST project VICKIE, “although sometimes books are also released in digital versions that a computer can read. But of course books first need transcribing into Braille or a digital format, a job undertaken by specialist transcription centres with only limited staff.”

As a result, visually-impaired students must often wait several months at least before they can get hold of a newly published text which may crucial for their coursework. “This lack of access to documents makes life much harder for students like these,” adds Archambault. “It also runs counter to the idea of an inclusive European education environment.”

Under the project, six partners from France, Italy and Ireland joined forces to tackle the problem, focusing on extending access to written documents. The main fruit of their work is Hélène, an online library launched in January 2006 and now offering readers more than 2,200 books – mainly in French, though with a small selection in English too.

Key project partner Braillenet, an association dedicated to increasing access to documents over the internet, runs the library. Any blind or partially-sighted readers who own an IRIS – a high-tech Braille-reading machine developed by the company Eurobraille, which also took part in VICKIE – can subscribe for free to the library and ‘borrow’ digital books by first registering for an authorisation certificate.

English and Italian versions of the server interface were developed for demonstrations to partners. The software is designed to run on a big national server and can be installed anywhere.

Security a priority Creating Braille or digital versions of a book is not hard. But placing them in a digital library inevitably raises concerns among their publishers. “Before Hélène could get off the ground, we met lots of publishers in France,” says Archambault. “We needed their contractual agreement to put documents online with us. In an age when digital files can be distributed globally for free, publishers naturally want assurance that their documents will only be read by those with authorised access.”

To assuage publishers’ fears, the project developed e-book software. Offering secure transmission and now marketed by one of the partners, this allows users to download any copyrighted book from the Hélène server to read on their Braille terminals. The website also offers a demonstration of online reading using text placed securely on the server.

The partners have published the specifications of their security process. This enables any Braille-display manufacturer to include the software in their devices.

Transcription tools A number of publishers that were initially approached gave complete digitised books to the project. But because each came in its own variety of XML format, the partners decided to build a set of special transcription tools in English, French and Italian. Students can now download software from the Hélène server for converting any kind of XML book file into a format of their choice. Formats include Braille, Big Print and even XHTML, for use with speech-synthesis software.

“XHTML is ideal for the Digital Talking Book [DTB] format, used widely by the visually impaired,” says Archambault. “A multimedia representation of a print publication with a human voice, DTB lets users navigate around text. This helps when reading textbooks that present information hierarchically, such as in sections and chapters.”

The project partners also came up with a set of macro tools to work in Microsoft Word. “Most transcription centres scan using this software before printing in DTB. Previously they opened files in MS Word and then used Braille tools.”

Student environment “Uniquely, our tools allow a visually-impaired student to view a book’s specific page as a page on their Braille reader,” says Archambault. “The software enables online transcription, synchronising a graphical view that includes maths symbols with a 40-cell Braille screen. This makes it easier for teachers and students to work together.”

One specific challenge is doing mathematics in Braille. “Very few blind pupils can do maths in Braille today,” says the coordinator. So the project created different programming libraries to transcribe figures and formulae in this language. Various software prototypes were developed and will be tested in autumn 2006 in France and Sweden under the follow-up IST project Micole.

Lastly VICKIE helped set up and worked with the International Group for Universal Math Accessibility, involving universities in Europe and United States. The group is developing a programming library (the UMCL pack) that works under Linux and Windows, for transcribing different forms of Braille from language to language, or country to country.

Visually impaired saved from certain death

A visually impaired South Korean man who jumped onto railway tracks in an apparent suicide attempt was rescued just seconds before a train passed, subway officials said on Tuesday.The 47-year-old man, identified only by family name Seo, threw himself onto the tracks Monday morning in Daegu, 302km south-east of Seoul, but two subway officials rescued him."Seo attempted a suicide out of despair how to live," Seo Jae-un, an official of public relations bureau at Daegu Metropolitan Subway Corporation said.Seo, the visually impaired man, was released from a police station after investigation and was safe, according to subway officials.

Police officials were not immediately available for comment.In recent weeks, dozens of visually impaired South Koreans have protested almost daily under a bridge in Seoul against a court decision in May legalising all massage parlours. Visually impaired masseurs fear the competition will drive them out of business.In June, one masseur committed suicide by jumping from a building in an apparent protest, and authorities fished other protesters out of a river after they dove in during a demonstration in Seoul.More than 6 800 visually impaired masseurs are now registered across the country, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

New technology to assist the visually impaired in libraries

The Appalachian Regional Library (Ashe, Wilkes and Watauga counties) now has assistive technology that will allow those with visual and physical disabilities to access computers and the Internet, thanks to a $3,985 Library Services and Technology Act grant.Libraries in West Jefferson, North Wilkesboro, Boone and Sugar Grove now have JAWS screen-reader software, which allows those with visual impairments to use the Internet as well as computer programs such as Microsoft Word found on the libraries’ public access computers.

In addition, all ARL libraries, including the Ronda and Traphill branches in Wilkes County, have at least one computer with a touch-screen monitor for those who find it difficult to manipulate a mouse.“We want our libraries to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible, and it is our hope that the new assistive technology will help us meet this goal,” said Regional Library Director Mary Sizemore. For more information about this or other library services, contact the Ashe County Library at 336-846-2041 or the Watauga County Library at 828-264-8784.

New switches for the visially impaired

EAO has introduced a new black-and-white double On/Off switch to the Series 44 range of industrial controls. This product features a large, illuminated central lens to indicate the status of equipment. It can be supplied with or without the engraved 'I and 0' symbols, and with either a matt grey or chromium-plated case. It is intended for use wherever there is an on/off function, particularly within the machinery and process control sectors, where manufacturers should replace the red/green versions to comply with new regulations for visually-impaired users.

These regulations govern the use of equipment by those who may find it difficult to distinguish between red and green on/off positions.This IP65-rated product is offered with a self-cleaning, slow make switching element and lamp block; illumination is provided by either LEDs or Ba9 lamps. EAO also offers a similar switch in a red/green combination.

New specialty license plate in Florida will raise funds for the visually impaired

Florida drivers soon will be able to support agencies that work with the blind or sight-impaired by purchasing a special license plate.Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed House Bill 281 into law Friday. The bill establishes “A State of Vision” specialty license plate that can be purchased for an annual fee of $25. The plate depicts a lighthouse with a shining beacon.

Fees collected for the new specialty plates will benefit 15 Florida agencies that provide special services for the blind or sight-impaired. The agencies are affiliated under the umbrella of the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind Inc.Legislation establishing the new plates was introduced in the Florida Senate by Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and in the Florida House by Rep.

Dennis Baxley, R-Belleview.Baxley and his adopted son Jeffery, 19, attended the signing ceremony in Bush’s office. Jeffery Baxley, a recent graduate of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, lobbied for the bill when it was under consideration. He was given an autographed Braille copy of the bill by the governor.Rep. Baxley said he was “just real excited” about the bill’s passage.

“The potential for generating funds to help the blind remain independent could be millions over time,” Baxley said. “I am pleased to be able to help these 15 organizations.”Baxley pointed out that when the blind or sight-impaired develop skills that allow them to live independently, their lives are more joyful, and that the cost of supporting independence is much lower than the cost of supporting dependence care.Lee Naeshi, executive director of Lighthouse Central Florida and president of the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind, two organizations that pushed to get the license plate approved, also attended the signing ceremony.

Naeshi said that when the groups began pushing for the plate a year ago, it was “just a dream,” but as she stood in the governor’s office, reality set in.“We were just thrilled,” Naeshi said, stressing that fees from the plates will “create much-needed revenues.”But while approval of the bill marked the achievement of one goal, it also presented a new challenge.“We have a lot of work ahead of us to sell the plate,” Naeshi said, adding that Lighthouse Central Florida and similar organizations are developing marketing programs to make the public aware that the plates soon will be available, and of the valuable support the revenue would provide for the blind and sight-impaired.

Villages resident Doris Turlo, past president of the Orange Blossom Gardens Lions Club, gave the license plate her stamp of approval.“It’s a great thing,” Turlo said.Although Lions Club International is not an affiliate of the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the Blind, the Lions are well known for their fundraising efforts on behalf of the blind and visually-impaired and for blindness-prevention programs like vision screenings in schools.

Donald Faehn, president of the Visually Impaired Persons support group in The Villages, also was pleased to learn that the plate had been approved.“It’s another good thing to raise money for organizations that are working in this area,” Faehn said. “I’m glad it went through.”Naeshi said Florida now ranks third among all states in its number of visually-impaired residents, and within five years it is expected to have the highest number of any state in the nation.“We need more money to help more people,” Naeshi said. “That’s the bottom line.”

New handheld document reading machine may be of great help for the visually impaired

A new handheld document reader from Kurzweil can "speak" everyday documents like receipts, tickets, schedules, menus, cards, and more for the visually impaired.

Kurzweil and the National Federation for the Blind have announced the Kurzweil-National Federation for the Blind Reader, a handheld reader which can take pictures of everyday printed materials and read those items to visually impaired users using a combination of character recognition and speech synthesis software.

Users just hold the reader over the printed materials, and in a few seconds the reader takes a picture of the item and begins reading back the document. The reader can store thousands of printed pages (expandable via
SD memory cards) and can transfer files to both computers and Braille notetakers, and read files transferred to it from computers and other devices; the reader also sports a headphone jack so users can more easily hear the reader over background noise, and use the system without disturbing others.

A handheld reader for the visually impaired opens up a world of everyday possibilities that sighted individuals often take for granted: the ability to check receipts, glance at business cards, reader restaurant menus, confirm tickets, and much more. The Kurzweil
portable reader was demonstrated at the June 2005 conference of the NFB; this year, the unit will actually be available for sale, albeit at a price which would startle most consumer electronics aficionados: retail pricing is expected to start at $3,495, with availability scheduled for July 1, 2006.

Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said:"The world of the printed word is about to be opened to the blind in a wayit has never been before. No other device in the history of
technology forthe blind and visually impaired has provided quicker access to moreinformation.

The NFB promotes a positive attitude towards blindness, andthis Reader will make blind and visually impaired people dramatically moreindependent. The result will be better performance at work, at school, athome, and everywhere else we go. This Reader substantially improves thequality of life for the growing number of blind and visually impairedpeople."