Sunday, August 27, 2006

Visually impaired man asked for vain!

I'm blind in one eye and legally blind in the other. I've asked the mayor and street department to trim the low trees by my house for the past year. They could put my good eye out. My leader dog is still in training and sometimes doesn't take me around them.

I'm on a fixed income. I've got to feed my dog. I had to buy a house so I could get him. I asked welfare to help. Been turned down twice. I went to Vocational Rehabilitation for a part-time job to make ends meet. No luck. I've applied for part-time work, but no luck. They tell you they're interested, but they just lie.

I called the inspectors about a rental house next door that needs a lot of work, but nothing happened. If it was me, the city would fine me. The city spends the taxpayers' money, but can't help us. They raise taxes and want to add $6 to our water bill. I feel like I need to get a tin cup to go out and get help.

I didn't ask for my sight problem. To me, this town doesn't help the handicapped. After my house payments, utilities and food, I'm lucky to have anything. I never asked for help before. I worked since I was 12 and paid taxes and was in the Navy. I've been trying to get a GED but it's hard. You need to ask paratransit for a ride 2-3 weeks ahead. I try taking the bus but miss it, so I have to use a prepaid taxi card -- not cheap on a fixed income.

Work in Richmond stinks. We've got too many malls and restaurants. Not much factory work. Too many temp services too. You're lucky to make $5 in any job.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Computers give hope to the visually impaired and their future

Using a computer is a challenge for some people—and even more so for the handicapped. Special electronic aids have been devised to help compensate for extreme movement deficits or poor vision.

"Special devices can compensate for or at least mitigate many hurdles in operating a PC," says Christoph Jo Mueller from the German Association for Electronic Aids for the Handicapped (BEH) based in Hamm.

Extra large or small input devices are often needed or those with special functions like a keyboard delay, Mueller explains. An inability to read what's on the screen is no longer a real hurdle for the visually impaired or blind.

"Even with the best aids, you're not just as quick as a user who can see. But the blind can also work very well with the PC," explains Michael Lang, deputy chair of the Interest Group for Visually Impaired Computer Users (ISCB).

Tools like enlargement software are helpful. A simple magnifying glass for the monitor is included in Windows. Those with more extreme visual problems can be helped through screen or web readers.

"A programme reads text and links over the soundcard, or transfers signals to special Braille readings devices," says Lang.

The Internet is also helpful in tracking down the right product and retailer. The BEH search engine at can be used to find suitable providers. Tips for visually impaired users can be found at the ISCB website at or at INCOBS, the Information Pool for Computer Aids for the Blind and Visually Impaired (

The project, supported by the German federal government, offers a market overview, product test, buying guides and other information.

"It's important for users to compare products, since the market for aids offers a great many different choices," says Heike Class, INCOBS project director at DIAS GmbH in Hamburg.
Good advice should be individualised and free. Customers should insist on trial phases and in-house orientations.

Buyers should also check whether customer service is offered, Mueller adds.
The aids are generally very expensive because they are only manufactured in small batches. In some extreme cases, a handicapped-accessible PC can cost as much as a mid-sized car, Mueller says. A large-field keyboard with large keys can cost more than $100.

Screen readers sell for upto $1,500. A Braille reading device upto $16,000.

Those in need can apply for financial aid. "Depending on the particulars, there are various different potential sponsors," says Katja Kruse, a lawyer from the German Association of Physically and Multiple Handicaps (BVKM) in Duesseldorf.

Tamkeen Centre honoured visually impaired students

The ceremony which was held under the patronage of Dr. Abdullah Al Karam, Secretary General of DEC and Director of "Tamkeen" Center was attended by the excelling students along with their friends, instructors and teachers of "Tamkeen" Center. In his congratulating speech, Dr. Abdullah Al Karam, said, 'We, at "Tamkeen" Center, have focused on the training and rehabilitation of the visually impaired.

We provide our ambitious students with the professional skills required to achieve the best results and make the best of all the provided opportunities.' '"Tamkeen" has enjoyed working with this excellent group of visually impaired students and has trained and provided them with the required skills to continue their education. They have proved to be a great success by intense study and focused training,' he added.

Additionally, Dr. Al Karam stressed on the importance of empowering the visually impaired with education, saying, 'The visually impaired have equal capabilities and potentials as their peers, if and when nurtured correctly; the visually impaired will become a productive member of the society. "Tamkeen" will continue its mission with these visually impaired students throughout their university education and career development to allow them to obtain the highest and best academic degrees.'

Dr. Al Karam concluded his speech to the honored students by saying, 'Your new stage in life has just begun; the high school certificate is your passport to the future which lies in the academic education. "Tamkeen" will continue its mission throughout your university education. Hence, your visual impairment should not become an obstacle in your future; it should rather motivate you to building a brighter future.'

On their part, Mohammed Rashed and Ahmad Rashed, of the honored students, expressed their great gratitude to "Tamkeen" Center for its advanced training and support for their studies. Mohammed Rashed said that "Tamkeen" initiative comes as part of efforts to provide assistance and support to the visually impaired through various services provided by the Center.

Ahmad Rashed highlighted the importance of "Tamkeen"'s training methods in motivating students, saying, 'the visually impaired owe this great opportunity of acquiring advanced training to "Tamkeen" Center. Tamken applies progressive training methods that have eliminated many of the difficulties before us.' At the end of the ceremony, the honored students thanked "Tamkeen"'s partners and staff for their commitment to support the student throughout their university studies. And they promised to devote their mind and energy for the coming phase of their lives in order to prove they are capable of being productive and creative despite of their disability.

Disability will not be a barrier in their future. "Tamkeen" provides facilities and services to vision impaired peoplepeople aiming at empowering them to optimize their independence and enhance the quality of their lives. Additionally, "Tamkeen" offers training, support, counseling and consultations to organizations to create meaningful job opportunities for them in the UAE. "Tamkeen" focuses on creating better awareness of the abilities of the vision impaired peoplewithin the community in order to provide better levels of cooperation between the two.

New minister is visually impaired

Former President of the Northern Council for the Disabled Elder Rudolph Hanna was deemed minister at the First Holiness Church of God convention celebration last month.

Though physically handicapped, Hanna never allowed his visual impairment to taint his quest on becoming a minister.

"I've always taken an active role in teaching the Bible, Sunday school and the gospel," said Hanna.
"However, it was the work within the infrastructure of the church that had led to my current role in the assembly."

Hanna, affectionately known as "Rudy" said he was decreed the title after long time service with the church.

Amazed, but not surprised at the ordination, Hanna said that the convention's overseer, Bishop Edward Missick and Lucile Woodside announced his title at the end of the convention's service.
"They gave me a certificate and a licence after seven months of being in the assembly of the church," he explained.

"And now that I am a minister, my main objective is to continue ministering the word of God."
Now a Sunday school superintendent, Hanna said that his visual impairment did not waiver the goals he had set for himself and for the church.

Hanna also added that he plans to go past his own disabilities with his new rank in the church.
"As an individual who is physically challenged, I plan to do all that I can do to minister the word of God in my church. I want to go above and beyond."

Blind since age 17, Hanna attended the school for the blind in Nassau before furthering his education in an academic institution in Canada where he studied business.

Hanna said that it was only through education and a strong relationship with God that his accomplishments surfaced in his life.

He said that with his new ordination as minister for the First Holiness Church of God, he hopes to be a role model for those with physical disabilities.

"I hope through this story, other blind persons would take the initiative to be educated," he advised.
"They can be more stronger in the job markets and through God they can direction on the path of life."

New navigation system to help the visually impaired

This system uses combination of robotic technology and auditory signals. Finding your way around a city you have never been to before will be quite tough. Then you can imagine how difficult it will be for visually impaired people. System for Wearable Audio Navigation (SWAN) is designed to help the visually impaired, firefighters, soldiers and others find their way in unknown territory, particularly when vision is blocked or impaired.

This system is being designed by the Georgia Tech researchers. The SWAN system comprises a small laptop, a proprietary tracking chip and bone-conduction headphones. It imparts audio signal to guide the person from place to place, with or without vision. "We are excited by the possibilities for people who are blind and visually impaired to use the SWAN auditory wayfinding system," said Susan B. Green, executive director, Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta.

"Consumer involvement is crucial in the design and evaluation of successful assistive technology, so CVI is happy to collaborate with Georgia Tech to provide volunteers who are blind and visually impaired for focus groups, interviews and evaluation of the system." Collaboration In an unusual collaboration, Frank Dellaert, assistant professor in the Georgia Tech College of Computing and Bruce Walker, assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Psychology and College of Computing, met five years ago at new faculty orientation and discussed how their respective areas of expertise -- determining location of robots and audio interfaces -- were complimentary and could be married in a project to assist the blind.

The project progressed slowly as the researchers worked on it as time allowed and sought funding. Early support came through a seed grant from the Graphics, Visualization and Usability (GVU) Center at Georgia Tech, and recently Walker and Dellaert received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further develop SWAN.

Dellaert's artificial intelligence research focuses on tracking and determining the location of robots and developing applications to help robots determine where they are and where they need to go. There are similar challenges when it comes to tracking and guiding robots and people. Dellaert's robotics research usually focuses on military applications since that is where most of the funding is available.

"SWAN is a satisfying project because we are looking at how to use technology originally developed for military use for peaceful purposes," says Dellaert. "Currently, we can effectively localize the person outdoors with GPS data, and we have a working prototype using computer vision to see street level details not included in GPS, such as light posts and benches. The challenge is integrating all the information from all the various sensors in real time so you can accurately guide the user as they move toward their destination."

Walker's expertise in human computer interaction and interface design includes developing auditory displays that indicate data through sonification or sound. "By using a modular approach in building a system useful for the visually impaired, we can easily add new sensing technologies, while also making it flexible enough for firefighters and soldiers to use in low visibility situations," says Walker. "One of our challenges has been designing sound beacons easily understood by the user but that are not annoying or in competition with other sounds they need to hear such as traffic noise."

SWAN System Overview The current SWAN prototype consists of a small laptop computer worn in a backpack, a tracking chip, additional sensors including GPS (global positioning system), a digital compass, a head tracker, four cameras and light sensor, and special headphones called bone phones.

The researchers selected bone phones because they send auditory signals via vibrations through the skull without plugging the user's ears, an especially important feature for the blind who rely heavily on their hearing. The sensors and tracking chip worn on the head send data to the SWAN applications on the laptop which computes the user's location and in what direction he is looking, maps the travel route, then sends 3-D audio cues to the bone phones to guide the traveler along a path to the destination.

The 3-D cues sound like they are coming from about 1 meter away from the user's body, in whichever direction the user needs to travel. The 3-D audio, a well-established sound effect, is created by taking advantage of humans' natural ability to detect inter-aural time differences. The 3-D sound application schedules sounds to reach one ear slightly faster than the other, and the human brain uses that timing difference to figure out where the sound originated. The 3-D audio beacons for navigation are unique to SWAN.

Other navigation systems use speech cues such as "walk 100 yards and turn left," which Walker feels is not user friendly. "SWAN consists of two types of auditory displays – navigational beacons where the SWAN user walks directly toward the sound, and secondary sounds indicating nearby items of possible interests such as doors, benches and so forth," says Walker. "We have learned that sound design matters.

We have spent a lot of time researching which sounds are more effective, such as a beep or a sound burst, and which sounds provide information but do not interrupt users when they talk on their cell phone or listen to music." The researchers have also learned that SWAN would supplement other techniques that a blind person might already use for getting around such as using a cane to identify obstructions in the path or a guide dog.

The researchers' next step is to transition SWAN from outdoors-only to indoor-outdoor use. Since GPS does not work indoors, the computer vision system is being refined to bridge that gap. Also, the research team is currently revamping the SWAN applications to run on PDAs and cell phones, which will be more convenient and comfortable for users.

The team plans to add an annotation feature so that a user can add other useful annotations to share with other users such as nearby coffee shops, a location of a puddle after recent rains, and perhaps even the location of a park in the distance. There are plans to commercialize the SWAN technology after further refinement, testing and miniaturizing of components for the consumer market.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sixty years of dedication to the visually impaired

Edna (Keough) Mulrooney has dedicated more than six decades of her life to helping blind and visually impaired individuals live their lives to the fullest.

Mulrooney was recently recognized by the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), Newfoundland and Labrador Division for 60 years of volunteer service with the organization.

She began her career as registrar with the Newfoundland and Labrador Division of the Canadian National Institute of the Blind (CNIB) on April 1, 1946.

“Mr. Redmond Kelly who lived in my neighbourhood on Victoria Street — he was totally blind and a very social person, as well. We always had a little chat if we met in the store or on the street. He asked me if I’d like to work with the CNIB,” Mulrooney recalls.

In order to ensure blind people were given an opportunity to contribute to society, the CNIB ran a mop factory, a broom factory and a mattress factory in those days, Mulrooney says.

“The blind people also did basketry and handicrafts. They’d lace wallets and covers for books.”
In addition to her duties as registrar, Mulrooney accepted numerous special assignments which brought her into closer contacts with blind and visually impaired children.

She escorted several students travelling between their homes in rural Newfoundland to the School for the Blind in Halifax.

“I travelled from here to Halifax in June with a couple of nurses and the welfare officer. We went to the School for the Blind (in Halifax) and then we came by train (from) Port-Aux-Basques with all the blind children. Then, in September, I’d leave St. John’s and go to Argentia and pick up all the blind children (along the way) who were going back to the school.”

Mulrooney recalls her first trip with the blind children occurred in September 1949.

“I always remember that I left on the train at eight o’clock in the morning and arrived in Argentia three o’clock in the afternoon. The train stopped at just about everybody’s back door,” she says, laughing.

As most of the travel was by coastal steamer, it gave Mulrooney an opportunity to get to know the children and their families in the rural communities.

Mulrooney’s travel with the blind children soon inspired her to help other special needs children.
“In June, the director of child welfare asked my boss if I could pick up the deaf and speech-impaired children who came down from the School for the Deaf in Montreal to Port-Aux-Basques. I’d pick them up and take them to their homes.”

Mulrooney learned sign language in order to communicate with the deaf and speech-impaired children.

While these duties weren’t in her job description, she has fond memories of reuniting the children with their ap- preciative parents.

“There were two children from English Harbour West. Their father was a merchant there. They were beautiful children, but they couldn’t speak. But, no matter what time we reached English Harbour West, their father would come down and invite me up for a meal.”

Another special assignment Mulrooney happily undertook was providing practical nursing services to blind people living at the CNIB residence in St. John’s.

She also spent time visiting blind individuals in hospitals and in their homes.

While she looked forward to the time she spent with blind and visually impaired Newfoundlanders, in 1955 Mulrooney met one special blind woman who became a role model for millions of people.
Mulrooney was representing the CNIB at a national conference at the time.

“Helen Keller was at the banquet. She met everybody and she was the guest speaker. It was a wonderful experience for me to meet her.”

After 13 years working full-time with the CNIB, Mulrooney resigned her paid position in order to devote her time to her young family.

However, her role as wife to her late husband, Capt. Edward Mulrooney, and mother to her three sons (Sean, Brian and Fabian) was enriched by her continuous volunteer service.

One wall in Mulrooney’s home is covered with local, provincial and national certificates, plaques and other awards highlighting her volunteer service with the blind.

In 1982, she received the award of merit gold medal and was inducted as a honorary lifetime member of the national CCB.

The citation reads, “We, the council, are pleased to present this award in recognition of your dedicated life of service which has earned you the love and respect of blind persons throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and indeed the esteem of all blind Canadians who will learn about your generous commitment through the presentation of this award.”

In the true spirit of volunteerism, Mulrooney, who recently celebrated her 84th birthday, says she got much more from her experiences than she gave.

“Volunteering makes me feel wonderful. I often wonder what would have been down the other road for me had I not gone to work with the CNIB. … I give God thanks every day for the gifts he gave me to work with the blind and the visually impaired. They’re wonderful people and they’re all my friends today.”

Visually impaired children get a tour of Miller Park

A special group of children got a unique opportunity at Miller Park Tuesday.

A group with the Badger Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired got an exclusive touch tour of the stadium.

The trip was part of their Summer of Discoveries program.

The children got to see, or feel, what it is like to be in the dugout, the luxury suites, the clubhouse, the press box, the broadcast booth, and to be on the field.

The tour was designed to help them get a better understanding of the principles of baseball.
"My favorite part was just looking at all the stuff and touching all the equipment that they have," Rob Collett said.

"It's awesome. There were a couple kids that said, 'This is my dream come true.' That's what it's all about," program development director Jim Otepka said.

Tuesday's tour also focused on travel safety, social interaction and the use of adaptive technology.

New software to help the visually impaired

A software technology termed 'Sonique' developed by Indian students would help improve the lives of visually challenged people by enabling them to move around more freely and perceive their surroundings better.

Four students of the Dhirubhai Institute of Information and Communication Technology have developed the software for global software giant Microsoft's technology competition 'Imagine Cup'.
The Sonique software would help the visually impaired to sense the environment around them and calculate the distance to objects present around them using an ultrasonic sensor technology. The users need to have a palmtop PC cum mobile phone for this software solution to work.

Sighted guides made available to the visually impaired

Spring Light 5K, 8:30 a.m., Spring Grove Cemetery, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Winton Place. Registration 7 a.m. Kids Fun Run after 5K. Sighted guides provided for visually impaired. Benefits Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. $25. 513-777-1080.

Cincy Blues Cookout, 12:30 p.m., Goebel Park, Sixth and Philadelphia streets, Covington. Includes grilled food, pig roast and drinks. Music by Cincy Blues Guitar Pull, Jerry Hedge and Friends, II Juicy and others. Bring seating. Benefits Blues in the Schools program. $10, $5 members and festival volunteers, ages 15 and under free with parent.

silentART, 1-5 p.m., Behringer-Crawford Museum, 1600 Montague Road, Covington. Juried show and silent auction of works by local artists. Benefits Behringer- Crawford Museum. Through Sept. 10. $5, $4 ages 60 and up, $3 ages 3-17. 859-491-4003.


Canine Potraits, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Hyde Bark Fashions, 2727 Erie Ave., Hyde Park. Benefits Save the Animals Foundation of Cincinnati. $75. Registration required. 513-533-0800;


Rock Out for Redwood, 8 p.m., Madison Theater, 730 Madison Ave., Covington. With Sullivan Janszen Band and Gardenhose. Pete Scalia, master of ceremonies. Benefits Redwood. $13, $10 advance. 859-331- 0880;

Abracadabra Gala, 5:30 p.m., Playhouse in the Park, Robert S. Marx Theatre, Eden Park. "The Jewel on the Hill" pre-show reception with strolling magicians, costumed entertainers, gourmet dinner and music by the Airwave Band. Benefits Playhouse in the Park. $250. Reservations required. 513-345-2242.

W.H.O.'s Coming to Dinner with Catherine Crier, 6:30 p.m., Cincinnati Airport Marriott, 2395 Progress Drive, Hebron. Cocktails and 7:30 p.m. dinner. Benefits Welcome House of Northern Kentucky. $100. 859-431-8717.


Charity Car Show, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tom Gill Chevrolet, 7830 Commerce Drive, Florence. All car types welcome. Car registration $15, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Awards at 5 p.m. Benefits Wood Hudson Cancer Research Laboratory. Free. 859-250- 0076;

Cincy Kids 4 Kids Carnival, 11 a.m., Winnie the Pooh Children's Center, 3962 Britton Blvd., Union Township. Games, food and raffle. All ages. Benefits Cincy Kids 4 Kids. 513-325- 0511;

Ultimate Cornhole Challenge, 4 p.m., Dave and Buster's, 11775 Commons Drive, Springdale. With Rich Franklin, Ultimate Fighting champion. Prizes. Registration begins 3 p.m. Benefits Keep it in the Ring Foundation. $25. 513-792-9610;

Golf Scramble, 4:30 p.m., Glenview Golf Course, 10965 Springfield Pike, Glendale. Nine holes. Benefits Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. $3 donation and green fees. Tee time reservations required. 513-742-1694;

Red Cross Biker's Ball, 7:30 p.m., Miami Boat Club, 6071 Second, Miamiville. Auction, food, drinks and dancing. Benefits Red Cross. $75, $65 advance. 513-579-3085;

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Visually impaired athlete hopes to get gold in archery

Dot Cooper has come a long way since watching Robin Hood on the telly as a little girl and playing bows and arrows over the fields.

Dot Cooper, a British Blind Sport national champion, says she knows roughly where her arrows have gone by the sound they make.

Although she is now 55 and blind, she has just become the first woman ever to be selected to represent Great Britain in an international archery championship for visually impaired athletes.
Today, ahead of the European Archery Championships in Prague, Dot is putting in some last-minute practice at the office — a huge disused animal shed on the outskirts of Cheswardine.
Thirty yards away at the far end of derelict building there is a makeshift target. Dot stands stock still on her sight spot, her face the picture of concentration. Silently, and in one fluid movement, she raises the bow, draws, then releases.

Red, three o’clock. That would be the verdict of a sighted spotter, a person whose job it is to stand behind blind archers and tell them where their arrows have landed.

“I can tell by the sound roughly where it’s gone,” she says, joking that if there’s no sound at all it’s probably because the arrow has flown straight out of the open window at the other end of the shed and out into the field. Not that it’s ever happened of course.

But watching her in action, you quickly forget that she is blind. Dot began losing her sight when she was 21 after suffering from a degenerative eye condition known as RP.

“I’ve lost probably about 98 or 99 per cent of my peripheral vision but it’s amazing what you can do with those couple of degrees left,” she says.

In one fluid movement she raises the bow, draws and then releases.

Her sight loss, she admits, was life-changing. A former accountancy worker, she took stock of her lot and went back to school.

“Before I lost my eyesight I didn’t have time to think about doing much other than bringing up the family, but after I lost my vision I went to university and got a first class degree in Business and German Studies.

“I graduated when I was 50 and I felt quite pleased.”

Dot continues: “It makes you re-think your life. You’re not quite sure what direction you are going to take but since I graduated I felt that I wanted to explore what I could do having lost my vision.”
Around this time she met Harry — full name Harry Heeley — a sighted spotter who convinced her to try her hand with a bow and arrow.

Dot had a natural talent. In May 2003 she became the British Blind Sport national champion just nine months after first picking up a bow. All those hours playing bow and arrows clearly paid off.
At the time she told the Shropshire Star that she took the sport up because it was “suitable” for visually impaired people, which on the surface of things seems rather strange.

“I cannot remember saying ’suitable’,” she says. “I just new that archery for visually impaired people was there and I could get into it.

“It’s been a bit of an eye-opener, if you like, for me.”

Dot describes how archery has been her passport to visit places she would not otherwise go, half-jokingly pointing out that sometimes it’s difficult to even get a bus out of Cheswardine.

Harry Heeley is her "sighted" spotter in practice and competition.

Next stop Prague then. Dot is able to compete on the world stage after her sport was recognised by the International Paralympic Committee.

Her trip to the championships may now be just a few days away but her journey began last November when she was invited to a residential training course at Lilleshall, the headquarters of the Grand National Archery Society.

Her talents were noted and last month she was selected for the European championships following trials in Maidenhead held by archery selectors for visually impaired athletes.

Dot says she was thrilled at the news, but not as thrilled as when the postman brought her Great Britain tracksuit. She takes it out of the packet and proudly displays it.

“My shooting top will just have the word “Dot” on the back,” she adds.

Proud of her achievements, the ever-present Harry — who mentally fires every arrow Dot fires and who is described by Dot as her “guide dog on two legs” — will of course be at the championships this month.

He says: “It’s a bit of history. She is the first woman to be selected — nobody else can be the first woman.

“There’s no pressure, but she’s got to come back with a gold medal.”

Dot says: “You’ve got to learn to relax. It’s very tiring firing 144 arrows between 8.30 in the morning to 5.30 at night. You’re wiped out at the end, particularly if you’ve battled against the elements like thunder and lightening.

“I will be nervous but if I get off to a flying start I will be more relaxed. I’m confident that I’ve worked hard and put in the training.

“I’m very positive and I will enjoy it if it’s going well. It’s a totally new experience for me and I’m going out there with the objective of winning a medal.

“I just hope I come back with the right colour.”

What does work really means to the visually impaired?

Volunteering my time at Melanie Massey Physical Therapy Inc. went a long way toward giving me a sense of fulfillment, so when they offered me a job, I couldn’t have been more excited. You see, due to my visual impairment, it had been more than two years since earning my last paycheck. Now, since my coworkers and I have adjusted well to my employment, I am using my experiences to increase understanding related to visual impairments at work.

The first thing that everyone at work should understand is that to the visually impaired, a job is much more than a means to a paycheck. In my case, I stopped being a bricklayer when I lost my vision, and since I no longer associated with bricklaying co-workers, I felt an emptiness that could only be filled with other adult relationships. These relationships are important because they helped give me a sense of connection with the world outside my home.

The next thing that should be mentioned here is new co-workers and employers alike will have questions. If you’re visually impaired, how can they know what to expect from you if they don’t ask you any questions? The answer is, they can’t. So expect and encourage questions.

That said, I found truthful answers go a long way toward building good working relationships, and I’ve answered questions regarding things like; how much I can see, why I became impaired, if I can do specific things, and if there are things that can be done for me that will make my life easier. The information gained by asking these types of questions is very important, so I encourage sighted co-workers and employers to ask away.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, some co-workers and even supervisors may feel apprehensive about asking questions. If you are visually impaired, therefore, it’s imperative that you educate those around you about your condition by tactfully verbalizing problems you may encounter, and (as noted above) encourage questions.

I must mention here that my co-workers have been very helpful and sensitive to my plight by going out of their way to help me. For example, I have to clock in and out, and early in my employment I always had to get someone to do it for me. This went on for a couple of months until the secretary started marking my card in a way that allowed me to punch it myself.

Another small issue that my co-workers assist me with is related to inter office/clinic communications that are sometimes executed via posted memorandum. Instead of missing out on what is said, I simply inquire with a co-worker.

As noted, I am legally blind, so I have a talking watch that is both a blessing and a curse. As a blessing, it has entertained many children, and its voice has been used as a reward numerous times to coax additional exercises from them.

As a curse, I find myself loudly checking the time more and more frequently as either lunch or 5 pm approaches. This in its self isn’t a problem;. The problem arises when I find myself repeatedly checking the time while unknowingly standing near my boss.

As an employee, I’ve been surprised by how well clients have accepted me. For the most part, they aren’t concerned that I am legally blind, but the children are mildly interested in who I am always talking to when I address them. It’s unnerving for me to notice confused expressions on their faces when they look behind them to see who I am talking too and there is no one there.

The reason for this is I see them best, using my peripheral vision, when looking over their left shoulder, and although I often forget I am doing this, the children I work with don’t let me forget for very long.

Another issue the impaired will deal with is correctly identifying surrounding people. One way I identify people around me is by using body shapes. Since I found this to be somewhat inaccurate, I also identify people by their voices. Let me tell you, if there is one voice a blind employee should recognize, it’s the bosses! One afternoon, I heard a voice calling me from across the room, so I asked, “Who is that?” She said slyly, “You better know who this is!” I immediately understood, and recognized.

As I hope you have noticed, I do not allow my visual condition to create tension at work. This tension is created when visually impaired people are overly sensitive about their condition and without thinking, get angry and snap at unsuspecting co-workers.

That said, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught co-workers saying something like, “Look at that ‘whatever’ in the parking lot.” Angry knee-jerk reactions to innocent comments like this will only serve to alienate the offended employee. So if you are visually impaired, keep the workplace from becoming tension filled by allowing such unintentional verbal blunders.

It should be noted that everything that can occur at home related to blindness can also occur in the work place. Problems like not being able to find things, losing things in plain sight, knocking over unseen objects, and tripping over movable obstacles should be expected and tolerated.

Because accidents such as these can occur visually impaired people will need time and help becoming familiar with the workplace layout, but will require less and less assistance as time progresses.

Employers, co-workers, as well as the impaired employees, should expect issues such as those noted above to arise. When they do, it’s comforting to realize how trivial they are, so they can be resolved without incident.

Unfortunately, there are some issues that aren’t as easily overcome. In my case, for example, public transportation to and from work is not as dependable or as flexible as I’d like it to be. Therefore, my employer has made allowances in this area which has helped me feel more secure in my employment.

Finally, let me assure all of you at work, when it comes to the things that the visually impaired can do, nine times out of ten the saying, “Where there’s a will there is a way” applies. So don’t be alarmed if you find yourself at work, face to face with someone holding an orange and white cane, and try not to worry if this person is you, because I have discovered that the visually impaired can perform successfully as a creative, productive and valued member of a team.

Chess tournament for the visually impaired

Sports are everyone's favourite pastime. Visually impaired persons are not an exception to this. Nethrodaya, a voluntary organisation, is conducting a "South India Level Adapted Chess Tournament for the Visually Impaired."

About 200 visually challenged persons are expected to participate in the event on August 13 at Radha Park Inn. To be inaugurated by Radio Mirchi fame Suchitra, the tournament calls for visually disabled to enjoy the experience and realise their ability. N.S. Palaniappan, Social Welfare department secretary, would preside the valedictory function.

Nethrodaya, which was started by C. Govindakrishnan, has organised similar sports events such as cricket and volleyball to prove that visually impaired overcame disability with their perseverance and hard work.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Visually impaired swimmer heading to Texas

A New Hamburg girl is heading to San Antonio, Texas this week to compete in the U.S Paralympics Swimming National Championships.

Lindsay Buhr, a visually impaired swimmer who competes with the Brantford swim club, said she is excited about the event.

"I'm ready to go, to leave today," she said, taking a few minutes away from her part time job at The Food Outlet where she works with her mom Karen.

Buhr will be competing in the 50m, 100m, and 400m freestyle races, as well as the 100m back.
The event, which runs from Aug. 10 to Aug. 12, is held at the Palo Alto Community Collage Natatorium in Texas.

The swim competition is hosted by the U.S Paralympics team, and will attract competitors from North America and other countries around the world.

The meet is for people with physical disabilities, or those who are blind and visually impaired.
Buhr qualified for the meet through hard work with Brantford Aquatics.

She said her coach told her "if you want to go, you have to step it up a bit."

So, Buhr spent some extra time and effort in the pool, and managed to make it for this years national meet, the first one she's ever been to.

A competitive swimmer for the past five years, she attends W. Ross School For The Blind in Brantford.

Buhr said she got into swimming through a club at school, and it blossomed from there.
"They just kept pushing me up, and pushing me up."

Buhr said there will be a lot of stiff competition at the meet, but she expects to remain competitive.
"I hope to bring home some gold," she said.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Students create new software to help the visually impaired

Technology has no boundaries, and this has once again been proved by a group of four students of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology (DA-IICT), who have developed a software solution enabling blind people to dynamically move around and perceive their surroundings.

Participating in the finals of Microsoft Imagine Cup being held here, students of DA-IICT including Deepak Jagdish, Mohit Gupta, Rahul Sawhney and Shreyas Nangia, in an attempt to bridge the gap between those visually-impaired and those not, have taken an initiative to develop a software to help 160 million visually-impaired people all over the world.

"We used ultrasonic sensors to map the place around the visually impaired person, and then provide a real-time 3D sound feedback of the environment, using a PocketPC running on Windows Mobile 5.0. The solution also extends to other platforms running on .NET Framework, and leverages accessibility of computers to the blind, using frequency grids and speech support," team members said while talking to reporters here.

An extensive exercise was done at Blind Peoples Association, Ahmedabad in an attempt to provide them with an application to give them a sense of space, they further said.

The solution would cost around 100-110 dollar and will help blind people to interact with the machine as well as the real world.

During the inception of the project concept, we were looking for a target group to which our solution would cater to, they said adding that the initial rounds of the competition in the month of February were important for them.

The technology will help blind people, both in the real-world of day-to-day navigation, and also in the virtual world of computers empowering them to use a mouse in their day-to-day life.

Being programmers and technology-enthusiasts, each member of the team has a unique role, with Deepak as the Team Leader, Mohit as the User Research Lead, Rahul as the Lead Programmer, and Shreyas as the Hardware Expert.

The prize amount for this category (software design) is 25,000 dollar for the first place, 15,000 dollar for the second place and 8,000 dollar for the third place.

Comprising a total of 41 teams in this category, the winner will be announced on August 11 at New Delhi.

Newspapers online now available to the visually impaired

Four mornings a week, James Johnson of Greenwood reads the Tribune-Star’s online edition aloud into his telephone, where it is recorded so it can be replayed by listeners who can’t read.Johnson, a retired high school teacher, reads the obituaries while other volunteers elsewhere in Indiana read other sections. He volunteers for Indiana Reading and Information Services, a service that gives people in Indiana with visual impairments or other reading difficulties the option to listen instead.Recording a reading takes about 15 minutes, Johnson said.

“I think this is very important for folks who are print-challenged,” he said.“It’s just wonderful that people can have access to printed material who either can’t read or can’t see very well,” Johnson said. “It’s a wonderful tool for people who miss the opportunity to read a newspaper or magazine.”Through the IRIS communication link, people can stay in touch with local news, current events and TV schedules. One can listen to recordings of various statewide newspapers’ publications being read on IRIS’ Web-based audio-streamed broadcasts, through the “Dial-up” toll-free phone line or by listening to IRIS’ live-radio broadcast out of Indianapolis.

Schedules of readings are posted online and telephone recordings are updated monthly. All three mediums are available 24 hours a day.“The schedule is pretty much set in stone, so you know what you’re going to hear when you call,” said Don Newman, IRIS’ statewide dial-up manager. Volunteers throughout Indiana are recorded in studios or from their home telephones.

The recordings are made available through IRIS.In addition to news coverage, listeners are provided with readings from newspapers’ advertisements, obituaries, comics and sports pages.Users have access to literature through IRIS’ book program. Volunteers select a book to read aloud while being recorded. The recordings are heard in one-hour increments throughout IRIS’ systems.“It’s very good for people who are still active and don’t have time to listen to entire recordings,” Newman said.

“Sometimes a broadcast might interfere with something else they have going on, so they are not bound by a schedule.”Callers accessing the dial-up are provided with an option to skip forward or backward through parts of recordings by pressing the eight and nine keys on a phone.Because of broadcast limitations, radio broadcasts can be heard by people living only within a 45-mile radius of downtown Indianapolis. People must apply to get an issued receiver from IRIS to have the capability of hearing the broadcast.Not just anyone can use the services IRIS provides.

Its use is limited to people who have visual or physical impairments, difficulty reading or lack of dexterity to turn pages, Newman said.“The certification process is real simple,” he said.Potential users are given a one-page application to complete. If approved, people are given access to its broadcasts and recordings, Newman said. People are issued a four-digit pass code and then they have access to the broadcasts and recordings.“Even though you live in Terre Haute, you can listen to anything on there,” Newman said. “By all means listen to as many recording that you’d like.”The program began in 1982 with radio broadcasts in Indianapolis by Thomas C. Hasbrook, a local politician blinded while serving in the U.S. military, Newman said.

“He knew the importance of staying in touch with one’s community.” Newman said.Jim Bertoli of the United Way said volunteers from the Wabash Valley are needed to continue the readings of local news. “We need to find volunteer readers who call in to an 800 number and read the front page articles, sport pages and obits while being recorded,” he said. “Volunteers would be responsible for reading particular sections and on specific days.”

Financial management course now offered to the visually impaired

Pam Boss began playing the piano in the third grade.

She went on to earn a degree in music from the University of Memphis in 1998 and currently works as a communications skills instructor at the Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired.
Despite her accomplishments, Boss, 52, who is legally blind, sometimes relies on others to help her pay bills.

When I was blind ...

When she first started working, managing her finances was especially challenging, Boss said. Fortunately, she made friends with a trusted teller at her bank who helped her write checks and address bills, among other things.

"If it hadn't been that way, I don't know what I would have done," she said.

Though she now lives with family who help with her bills, Boss' situation is not unique in the blind and visually impaired community. Rose Landey hopes to change all of that by offering a financial education program at Clovernook that will begin at the end of this month. Landey, the center's fund development manager, knows how important financial independence is, whether an individual is visually impaired or not.

"Unfortunately, many of the problems the blind and visually impaired face, as far as financial literacy goes, are also faced by most of the Mid -South," Landey said. "It's not endemic to the blind and visually impaired."

The MoneySmart program, funded by an $20,000 grant from the United Way of the Mid-South, consists of a series of workshops that begin Aug. 31. Landey said the aim of the free program will be to offer classes with the right tools, so blind and visually impaired individuals can learn how to manage their finances despite their impairment. She said the classes will not involve counseling for personal financial problems, but that attendees would be welcome to talk to counselors before or after classes.

"Our mission is to promote independence and to foster the highest quality of life. And I think the first step in independence is financial independence."

- Rose Landey

Fund development manager for the Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired
MoneySmart Program

Aug 31 - Gaining Valuable Budgeting SkillsOct. 5 - Choosing and Maintaining Your CreditNov. 2 - Improving Your Credit and Tips for a Finding Better JobNov. 9 - Holiday BudgetingAll classes are free and open to individuals with visual impairments. Participants are allowed one companion. Classes begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be held at the Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired at 346 St. Paul Ave.To register for the program, call 523-9590. For more information on Clovernook, visit

On the agenda

The workshops will take place each month through November. Topics will include basic money management, choosing and maintaining credit, how to improve credit and holiday budgeting.
Representatives from ClearPoint Financial Solutions in Memphis will teach the workshops. ClearPoint is a Virginia-based organization that educates consumers about credit and helps them resolve financial problems. Ann Buggey, a financial specialist with ClearPoint, will be teaching some of the workshops.

"The information itself is just good information for everybody," Buggey said. "How we will present it will be really geared toward the blind and visually impaired."

Worksheets or PowerPoint presentations will be tailored to participants.

Some of the financial management tools already available to people in the blind and visually impaired community include guides that help with writing checks, writing letters and addressing envelopes. A guide instrument works by sitting on top of a check. Guides have openings in the spaces where a check would need to be filled out, such as for a signature. For those who have some sight, magnifying glasses can help. Computer software also can assist both blind and visually impaired people with other aspects of managing their finances.

Blind faith no more

Ken Hoover teaches computer technology at Clovernook. He said programs such as screen magnifiers can help those with visual impairments by making images on a computer screen appear from two to 20 times larger. He said screen readers such as JAWS - which stands for Job Access With Speech - particularly are helpful for those who are blind.

There are times, however, when people with visual impairments will need help no matter how independent they are. Boss gets help from her mother now that she lives at home. She said she is one of the lucky ones because she has someone she can trust to help her. Many people in the blind and visually impaired community do not, and she said it is that lack of trust that keeps many from even putting their money into a bank. Some people, Boss said, use money orders or only keep enough money in the bank to write checks. Banks such as First Tennessee and BancorpSouth have employees in place to help the visually impaired, Landey said.

Boss said at one time she kept a notebook in Braille as a way to keep track of her transactions. She said a problem for many people like her is that they don't have a good way to balance their checkbooks.

"A lot of people don't think about managing money," said Boss, who will be volunteering at the workshops. "I'm hoping this might help them to develop better financial habits."

Landey said that is exactly the goal of the workshops, which is right on a par with the goal of Clovernook. The center, which also has a campus in Cincinnati, Ohio, helps prepare blind and visually impaired people to be independent.

The center also provides jobs through its on-site production centers, where sighted, blind and visually impaired workers assemble paper cups and file folders.

The folders are produced for government agencies, doctors' offices and law offices. The cups are produced for businesses all over the country. The items are not sold through the center, but are produced and then sent to customers.

The center employs about 50 people, many of whom are blind or visually impaired.

"Our mission is to promote independence and to foster the highest quality of life," Landey said. "And I think the first step in independence is financial independence."

Monday, August 07, 2006

All new talking medecine bottle!

It's a medicine bottle that talks, a medical miracle for the visually impaired. The bottle lets pharmacists record instructions to a patient, making sure they take the right medications at the right time.

The inspiration for the bottle came from a blind man who accidentally took the wrong medication. His idea is now helping 30,000 others prevent the same mistake.

Greg Smith, Kaiser Permanente Pharmacy Manager: "It allows you to record 32 seconds, so we can get all the pertinent information the directions, the name of the drug, the strength, the quantity and also the prescription number, but most importantly, the patients name."

The talking pill bottles are only $4, a small price some say to gain their safety and independence.

What you dont see is not always what you expect to get!

For most people, traveling across the country on Greyhound busses is not all that difficult. However, for the visually impaired, situations that should be a breeze can sometimes become confusing and downright frightening. That said, I am visually impaired and I recently traveled by bus from Louisiana to New York and back, so I thought it would be great to document my experiences, letting visually impaired people everywhere know what to expect, as well as offer helpful advice to consider when going Greyhound.

As you might expect, bus stations can cause more anxiety than any other portion of a bus trip. In my case, I was taken by surprise at how uneasy I felt arriving at some of the larger ones along the way. Upon entering them, sensing their size, I simply froze, unsure of how I would find the bathrooms or the ticket counters, not to mention cafeterias and those all important departing gate numbers.

On those few occasions when I couldn’t find an information booth or a passing Greyhound employee, I reluctantly ask passing strangers for needed information. Unfortunately, the information I received wasn’t always correct. That said, for safety sake it’s preferable to make inquiries to Greyhound personnel rather than strangers, but because some of the bus terminals are so large, and because you may be pressed for time, you might not always have a choice.

If you find yourself in this situation, my advice is to ask whom ever is standing near you to direct you to the nearest information booth or ticket counter where needed information will be most accurate.
It should be noted that to less confident visually impaired passengers, approaching strangers might be completely out of the question. People falling into this category could very well miss out on opportunities to utilize dining facilities, restrooms, or worse, they might miss their departing bus.
Another point worth mentioning is even though I was walking around with a short red and white cane, I wasn’t always recognized as being visually impaired.

That said, on more than one occasion I had to ask food venders at bus station cafeterias for the price of one thing or another only for them to impatiently point at the large wall menu while growling, “Can’t you read?!” Each time I had to awkwardly explain my visual situation embarrassing the employee as well as myself.

Another issue I discovered is the restrooms are sometimes difficult to find. That said, once they are found, it’s not always easy for me to distinguish which bathroom is for men. Most of the time the bathrooms are side by side, and unless I see someone come out of one I have to choose one to walk toward till I get close enough to see the picture of the lady in the skirt or the dude standing there on the blue plaques which I cant make out till I am only about one foot away. It is my ultimate fear to accidentally walk into the wrong bathroom, it is also a fear of mine that I will unknowingly approach the female bathroom only to be accosted by someone thinking I intended to continue and go inside.

For the most part, riding the bus is uneventful since all busses have similar designs and there is no question where the lavatory is. I did experience a situation though that I think deserves some attention:

I could be wrong, but aren’t the front seats of each bus reserved for handicapped people who may need the assistance of the bus driver? That’s what I thought, but I left my things where I was sitting in the front seat at a terminal one afternoon only to return to the bus finding my things were gone!
At first, I was frightened because I thought I was robbed. Fortunately, after a few moments a few passengers, observing my reaction, helped me find my things which were placed 4 seats back. I soon learned what had occurred when another bus driver got on the bus and sat in the seat where my things were.

Sure I realize being a bus driver should have its perks, but displacing a handicapped person from his/her seat and handling the person’s belongings without their knowledge or permission seems to be disrespectful and unprofessional to me. To be fair though, I did observe a bus driver on another occasion respectfully sit in the back of the bus with the rest of the passengers when he had to ride.
My advice to the visually impaired here is to beware of this practice, and don’t count on this front seat privilege applying to you since you may be displaced by any Greyhound employee at their discretion.

I have a few suggestions that may help visually impaired passengers: First of all, if there are any visually impaired passengers on the bus, when arriving at each station, it would be helpful for the bus driver to quickly describe the lay out of the terminal. Since this is not a current practice of Greyhound, and if you are allowed to sit in one of the front rows, you could quickly ask the driver some simple questions about the next station. For instance, you could ask, “When I walk through the doors at the next station, which way to the information booth?”

Another suggestion is to place telephones beside terminal entrances where visually impaired people could access information related to the terminal and bus schedules. A simple repeated recorded message indicating the layout of the bus station could go a long way in making the visually impaired feel more confident and even more independent.

Additionally, when blind or visually impaired passengers pick up their tickets, Greyhound might consider offering identifying stamps or tags of some sort indicating the passenger’s visual impairment to all Greyhound terminal employees.

Fortunately, visually impaired passengers don’t have to wait for Greyhound to come up with a policy that identifies them to all their employees. That said, prior to making the trip, the visually impaired traveler could make a tag of his/her own. Simply laminate a piece of paper reading, “Visually Impaired” in large block print, then attach it to clothing by safety pin when traveling. Doing so could go a long way toward avoiding some of the difficulties I experienced.

All things considered, my trip was a huge success. I met all my connections, kept track of my luggage and found things to eat and drink along the way. To that end, if you’re visually impaired, I firmly believe that although your courage, patience and perseverance might be tested, you too can successfully travel Greyhound.

Friday, August 04, 2006

New services now available to the visually impaired

In order to raise awareness for the thousands of people living with vision loss, Peak Vista Community Health Centers have releassed the Resource Guide for the Visually Impaired.While the centers' Second Sight Vision Services are mainly for the elderly, one young woman spoke at Thursday's presser, offering up an inspiring answer to a common misconception about the visually impaired.

When asked 'What is a common misunderstanding,' Jennifer Bond's response was, "That a lack of sight implies a lack of insight."The service offered include Braille mobility, adaptive computer technology, and one-on-one teaching of independent living skills.For more information, or to find out how to utilize these services for you or someone you know, click on the above link.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Visually impaired man wants changes at Sky Train stations

A volunteer with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind says there needs to be safety improvements on SkyTrain. Rob Sleath, who lost his vision in 1992, was behind the push to put those tactile warning strips at the stations. He also wants way-finding tiles, which will help direct blind people to the exits.

Sleath made 40 recommendations to SkyTrain in 2003, but so far only the tactile warning strips have been installed. A visually-impaired man fell on the tracks at the 29th Avenue Station and was almost run over by a train Monday night.