Sunday, October 29, 2006

Teenager involved in sports is going blind

If Vaughn Beck weren’t going blind, he’d probably be just like any other 16-year-old high school kid in love with sports.

Beck suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease. But Beck is a competitive athlete in a nationwide sport — when he’s not skateboarding, riding his bike or wrestling.

Beck’s game of choice is goalball, a game for the blind and visually impaired. Goalball is a bit like dodgeball, only the point is to block the ball, thus preventing the other team from scoring, rather than to get out of the way.

Two teams of three blindfolded players face each other on a volleyball-sized court. Everyone is blindfolded because some people may have some degree of sight. A player rolls a weighted ball toward the opposing team. Bells jingle inside the ball, so players can hear it coming. The object is to roll the ball past the other team and into a net to score points. The defending team, waiting, crouched and ready, listens for the ball as it rolls toward them, then tries to block it using arms, legs or body.

At high levels of play, the ball is rolled up to 35 mph and defenders make diving blocks like a soccer goalie saving a penalty kick.

Beck, who attends Wasilla High, is attempting to play at such a level. In July, he traveled to Michigan to play in a goalball state tournament. He competed there because Alaska has no goalball team. Beck’s team won the age 15-17 championship, qualifying for the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes’ Youth National Goalball Championships. The tournament is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Fla.

Beck’s ultimate goal is to someday play in the International Blind Sports Association World Goalball Championships.

One day after school last week, Beck and a number of students played goalball in the Wasilla High commons area. With no Alaska team, Beck needed some practice. He watched as students, many of whom were his friends, pulled on padded hockey pants and wrapped heavy blue blindfolds around their eyes. Rope was taped to the floor to mark off the court and to help players feel where they were to orient themselves. Using a fast bowling motion, players rolled the heavy rubber ball, trying to get it past the opposing team. Players dove to block it. To pass the ball to a teammate, the person with the ball would call out a teammate’s name and that teammate would slap the floor. The person holding the ball would then turn toward the sound and gently roll the ball to his or her teammate.

“I hate not being able to see,” said one student after he rolled the ball out of bounds.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” said Jacinda Danner, a teacher for the blind and visually impaired with the Mat-Su School District.

Another student said goalball was “fun, but scary” because it was difficult to judge the ball’s speed. Players often dove too late as the ball rolled underneath. Or they dove and the ball struck them unexpectedly.

Danner taught players to dive with hands outstretched and arms covering the face, to prevent injury.

Danner wore a hooded sweatshirt with the slogan “A loss of sight, never a loss of vision” in white lettering on the back.

Danner helped Beck get involved in goalball.

She runs a yearly camp where sports like goalball are introduced to impaired athletes.

Danner saw Beck’s ability at the game — he wings the ball with force and is quick to dive — and connected him with a professor she knew at Western Michigan University who was involved with goalball there. Through the professor, Beck was able to join a team at the Michigan tournament, and was later selected for the Michigan state team that will compete in the goalball nationals.
It took some convincing to get Beck to come out for the camp. “I thought he’d be too cool,” she said.

Beck was still coming to terms with his condition. He still has some sight. A thick dark ring, like a doughnut, covers his vision.

Beck sat on a bench and looked at Danner standing about 3 feet away. He said he could see only her nose. At the far periphery, he could see a reporter sitting next to him on one side and his mother Nicole on the other.

The ring of darkness is slowly expanding, he said, and filling in.
Nicole Beck said a gym teacher first noticed Beck’s vision trouble and suggested he get his eyes checked.

“It’s something he’s adapting to,” she said. “He’s still breaking canes all the time.”

Beck decided to attend the camp when he realized he could no longer play the sports he loved — basketball, football, soccer.

“It was getting dangerous,” he said. “It was becoming a safety issue.”

Beck wrestled for the Wasilla High team last year but found it frustrating because he could not see when his opponent was about to shoot in on him for a takedown. Coaches taught him to keep his hands low to feel when opponents were about to shoot, but he still found himself at a disadvantage. He doesn’t plan to wrestle this year.

Reluctantly, Beck attended the camp two years ago. “I was afraid they would not be the type of kids I hang out with,” Beck said. “I was afraid they wouldn’t be very athletic. I was scared they wouldn’t be very active — the kind of kids who didn’t get out and do anything.”

He found the opposite. He also learned something. Beck, who loves activity — he still rides his bike, skateboards with a cane at the Wasilla skate park and says he wants to learn to snowboard — discovered he could still be himself.

“(The camp) helped me to look at it a little different,” he said. “It helped me to accept it.”

Nicole Beck said Vaughn trains for his sport — lots of sit-ups and push-ups — just as he would for basketball, football or soccer.

“He may be visually impaired, but it hasn’t stopped him from doing what other people do,” she said.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sports tournament set up for the visually impaired

Twenty-one students from schools in Tarrant and Denton counties will join 200 children in the eighth annual Sports Extravaganza for Blind and Visually Impaired Students in Irving.

The event begins at 5 p.m. today with a goalball tournament at Irving High School and Bowie Middle School. Goalball is a sport designed for visually impaired students.

Events on Saturday, which include a wheelchair obstacle course, tennis ball throw, races and archery, will be at Nimitz High School.

The event is attracting students from 50 school districts in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado.
It is sponsored by the Region 10 Education Service Center and Lions Clubs International.
The largest Tarrant County team will be from Birdville, with nine students. Other districts represented include Fort Worth, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Mansfield, Lewisville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Arlington.

School for the blind gets a makeover

From the outside, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is a brick wall and iron-rod fencing that protects its 36-acre campus from the traffic at the busy intersection of Lamar Boulevard and 45th Street. Inside, it's a place where students come from across the state to live and learn to function on their own.

In the cooking classroom, students listen to the sound of their knives on the cutting board to help them slice fruit and cheese and feel their way around the cabinets to put supplies back in place. During a weekly reading session, about 15 elementary students take turns sharing poems and stories in Braille aloud.

Misty Schmidt, a fourth-grader at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, practices reading a story written in Braille under the watchful eye of teacher's aide Karen O'Quin.

Administrators plan to ask the Legislature for $68.5 million to create a town square atmosphere.
In the gym, high school cheerleaders stretch their arms out at their sides to form perfectly straight lines for a routine.

"They provide a lot of normal experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten," said Brandy Wojcik, a 1999 graduate who's getting her teaching certification from the University of Texas at Austin.

As the school wraps up its 150th anniversary year, administrators say that plans to improve the outside of the campus will further its mission inside.

The school received $36.5 million from the state Legislature to replace the 90-year-old dorms with home-style residences where students can learn independent living skills.

Administrators also are asking for $68.5 million at the next legislative session. They want to create a town square atmosphere with a fine arts center, dining hall, swimming pool and activities center around an administrative and classroom building. The setup will cater to the school's mission of serving students 24 hours a day.

"Every waking moment on this campus is an opportunity to learn," Superintendent Phil Hatlen said. "It doesn't matter if it's the classroom or the dorm."

The Sixth Texas Legislature established the school in 1856 as the Blind Institute. By 1857, the school had three students.

This year, the school hosts about 150 of the state's 7,800 people younger than 22 who are eligible for special education services because of visual impairment, which includes blindness and low vision. Most live on campus and are bused home on weekends.

The school also provides resources for all the state's visually impaired students, such as summer camps, curriculum guides and teams that assist teachers at local schools.

William Daugherty, president of the Council of Schools for the Blind, said the Texas school is recognized nationally for its faculty and development of teaching strategies.

Many classes have teacher's aides, and none has more than seven students, so teachers can focus on each student's needs.

In a morning Braille class, teacher Jeri Cleveland sat at a table surrounded by three students. She guided 19-year-old beginning reader Calvin Scott's hand along a row of Braille, stopping to help him figure out words when he had trouble. Every once in a while, she would answer questions of two more advanced students.

At another table, a student worked one-on-one with a teacher's aide.

"When you're learning Braille, it's an individual thing," said Cleveland, who attended the school in the 1960s and has taught there for 15 years.

The school also provides resources such as speech-language therapists, social workers and a full-time residential staff that plans after-school activities and stays with students in the evenings.

These amenities, along with education and operating costs such as transportation, food and health services, break down to about $70,000 per student per year. That average includes the cost of the programs that serve all 7,800 students with visual impairments statewide, Hatlen said.

Parents and students say the extensive resources make a difference. Teresa Kashmerick and her family moved to Elgin so her daughter, who is hearing- and visually impaired, Natasha, could attend the school as a day student at age 6.

Kashmerick said that in her daughter's kindergarten class at a public school in Bellingham, Wash., she got special education services only once a week.

Since Natasha, now 12, has attended the blind school, Kashmerick said, she's noticed a huge improvement in the girl's communication skills.

"(Staff members) know how to get into her world instead of trying to make her fit into our world," Kashmerick said. "She knows that people are there to help her."

The nature of the student body has changed over the years. For the first century, the school's students were just blind or visually impaired. Today, administrators say, about 70 percenthave at least one other disability, such as deafness or autism.

Students must be referred to the blind school by their parents, teacher and public school if their needs are too great to be met within their local districts.

While they're on campus, the goal is to make students confident and self-sufficient, said Gloria Bennett, director of community resources. Teachers focus on helping students use other senses to compensate for their impaired sight.
Paulette Kamenitsa, who has taught at the school for 37 years, imports authentic instruments to help her fifth- and sixth-grade class learn about indigenous cultures. In a recent class, four students sat in a semicircle on the floor around her, passing around a rain stick, drum and rattles.

To help students with higher-level math, a tough subject for many students who are blind because of its abstract nature, Susan Osterhaus, who has taught at the school for 28 years, uses multisensory tools such as an audio graphing calculator and materials to create geometric shapes.

Hatlen said the school will continue to build upon the success it established over 150 years. He wants to add outreach efforts such as a team that travels the state to help local schools assess children with visual impairments and offer training on strategies for teaching math.

"We're really very proud of our past, and we're satisfied with our present," Hatlen said. "But we look for a future that will make this an even better school."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

$23,000 gift to the visually impaired

After spending many years of her life volunteering for the Lynn Association for the Blind, Margaret Greehan said she wanted to do something more.

So the 90-year-old mother of seven decided to donate $23,000 to provide equipment and direct services to blind and visually impaired students of the Lynn Public Schools.

Greehan, the only surviving member of the association, felt there was no better place to give the money than to the schools.

"We thought it should go back to the community where it started from," Greehan's daughter Pam Ferebee said. "It was just an obvious choice to give it back to the school."

Ferebee said her father was a Massachusetts Commissioner for the Blind, and her mother took on the initiative to help. After the death of the other members, her mother remained the only one in charge of these funds.So after many years, they decided that giving to the kids was really the best way the money should be spent.

"It was so suited to what she has done," Ferebee said. "After all the people who donated to the association, we felt we should give it back."

Superintendent Nicholas Kostan said a gift such is a rarity to a public school system, and he is thrilled at the family's generosity,

"The Lynn School Department is very thankful for the very, very gracious donation," he said. "These funds will go a long way to enhance our Special Education program for vision impaired students in our school system."

Administrator of Special Education Cheryl Meninno said this is a wonderful way to help the SPED students to enjoy "the little things."

"We always do the best we can to provide for our students," she said. "I think this is going to give us the opportunity to give them the extra kinds of things that public schools can't normally provide."

Deputy Superintendent Jaye Warry also expressed her gratitude, saying that she's extremely grateful for the gift.

"We appreciate this very much," she told Greehan. "And I can guarantee this money will be put to good use."

"I appreciate doing it," Greehan said.

Greehan said she does not feel the need to be praised, and her daughter spoke of her modesty.

"She has done a lot for children throughout the years," she said. "She would dump out her wallet right now and give it to any child in need. It's just the way she is."

National white cane safety day observed by the visually impaired

The six women made their way gingerly through the grass in Monday’s noonday sun, stopping at the edge of four wide, bustling lanes of Military Highway traffic.

Their mission: to cross from the Golden Corral at Norview Avenue to the Food Lion and back again. The hitch: They were making the walk in their personal darkness, each following the lead of a slender white cane.

“What you don’t find with your feet,” Hazel Burton said, “you feel with the cane.”

The women, all members of the Virginia Association of the Blind, were walking in celebration of National White Cane Safety Day. The goals: solidarity and raising awareness.

The white cane

Oct. 15 is White Cane Safety Day, honoring the achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans.

The white cane is both a symbol and a tool, alerting others to the fact of one’s impairment and alerting the blind to obstacles in their path.

CORRECTIONSThe original version of this story should have said that the mission of a visually impaired group was to cross from the Golden Corral at Norfolk's Norview Avenue to the Food Lion and back again - not to Farm Fresh.

As two policemen stopped traffic, Burton took the arm of sighted volunteer Nancy Gray and set her cane moving in short sweeps and staccato taps along the pavement. Next came Mildred Jackson and Barbara Davis, who each have partial sight, then Anita Burnell, who was holding the arm of Joan Bright.

They traversed the pocked asphalt and slight decline into the Food Lion parking lot. After a momentary rest, they started back to the Golden Corral.

Jackson broke into song: “We’ve come this far by faith …” she began, and Bright chimed in on harmony.

Then Gray halted. “Hold on, I found a penny!” she said. “And it’s heads up, so you’re all going to have good luck.”

Armed with that protection, they crossed safely back under the officers’ watch, walking between four lanes of idling cars, and filed into the restaurant as Jackson held the door.

“You know the last one in pays for everyone,” Gray told her.

“I can’t see, but I can run,” Jackson replied.

New facility should help the visually impaired

THE National Council for the Blind has officially opened its new state-of-the-art library and media centre in Finglas.The celebration, which Taoiseach Bertie Ahern attended, coincided with the organisation’s 75th anniversary.The library provides Braille, audio and large print books on a non-profit basis for its members.

The impressive new facility, located in the Business Centre on Jamestown Road, is now Ireland’s largest provider of Braille and audio material.More than 1,500 subscribers will benefit from the library’s Braille unit, five recording studios and over 250,000 books, newspapers and magazines.NCBI’s chief executive, Des Kenny, thanked those responsible for funding the facility.“The move to these superb new premises is a major step which we wouldn’t have been able to take without Government and private sponsorship,” he said.

The new facility also houses the development of audio narrations used to explain visual content of films and programmes.Describing facial expressions and body language is expected to greatly enhance the entertainment experience for the viewer who is blind or visually impaired.NCBI also works with public and private organisations to meet their obligations under the 2005 Disability Act.They convert written documents and information into Braille, audio and digital formats so that they are accessible across the board.

Mr Ahern paid tribute to the National Council for the Blind for all their good work over the years.“From an early age they have believed that a vision impairment did not need to mean the end of a person’s independence,” he said.“I am sure that those with the foresight to establish the council all those years ago could never have imagined the extent to which it would flourish.”

Discrimination, a difficult situation for the visually impaired

As the world celebrates White Cane Safety Day today, many visually-impaired people in our society feel they are still discriminated against by the general public.

Jyoti Naidu, 25, of Kennedy Avenue, Nadi, said members of the public should have a positive attitude towards people with disabilities.

Ms Naidu said despite awareness on the treatment of persons with disabilities, she was still experiencing discrimination.

Ms Naidu said when she calls her friends to go to town with her, they always give excuses and stay away.

"With the excuses I know that people do not want to come with me," she said.

"Once I went to the market to buy vegetables and asked the market vendor for the price. I was given a very rude response that if I was visually impaired why I did I come alone," said Ms Naidu.
Ms, Naidu, who is staying with her sister, said self-confidence and support from her sister has kept her going in life.

She said the major support in a visually-impaired person's life is the white cane, which they use to walk.

Another visually impaired student Ruci Senikula, 21, of the University of the South Pacific shared similar sentiments.

Ms Senikula said at the beginning when she joined USP, she used to face discrimination but now her friends at university were very understanding and she had no difficulties.

Good eye care can help your sight

WORLD White Cane Safety Day is being observed today. The purpose of observing the day is to stimulate the general public to better understanding of blindness/visual impairment and to make them more aware of the white cane as a mobility aid. The white cane works as a tool as well as a symbol for the blind.

The blind people use it to alert themselves of obstacles in their path and as a symbol to alert people of their blindness. But safety should not be confined to roads alone. It has much wider connotation. This is why it should be the policy of the government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the civil society to encourage and enable the blind to participate fully in the social and economic life and also to engage them in remunerative employment to make them empowered.

The blind or the visually impaired children or adults have the same right as the general people to the full use of streets, public buildings, transportation, amusement, i.e., in everything. The public and private transport authorities, drivers, helpers, conductors, supervisors and countermen should get briefing and acquire practical knowledge about the white cane user, what type of help is needed and how to offer that to the blind.

To keep the footpath clean, manhole covered and to put dustbin in appropriate places are the related responsibilities of the City Corporation authorities, Union Council Chairpersons, Members, Ward Commissioners and conscious people for safe movement of the blind. They need to be aware about the white cane to bring the blind in the mainstream of education, equal rights, empowerment and development.

So, a social awareness is needed to prevent blindness too as prevention is better than cure and it would help save sight and lives of thousands of children and adults in our country.Inventing white cane: James Biggs of Bristol claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. In 1930, a Lion's Club member watched a blind man attempted to make his way across a busy street using a black cane. After realising that the black cane was barely visible to motorists, the Lion's Club decided to paint the cane white to increase its visibility to oncoming motorists.

In May 1931, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) suggested in its Radio broadcasts that blind individuals might be provided with a white stick, which would be universally recognised as a symbol of indicating that somebody was blind or visually impaired. The then president of USA, Lyndon B. Johnson went down in history as the first to proclaim October 15 as 'World White Cane Safety Day'. In fact, children and adults become visually impaired or blind for some of our ignorance, poverty, lack of awareness, proper attention, preventive measures, adequate nutrition, optimal diet, food security, sanitation, due to vitamin A deficiency, diarrhea and measles.

Besides, low calorie intake by the girls than boys, unavailability of free of cost eye-care facilities and treatment at the doorsteps of the poor, less education and scarce participation of girls and women in decision making and their slow or no empowerment are some of the contributing factors. Helen Keller International highlighted in its report that malnutrition is a leading cause of childhood blindness and mortality. Yet combating it is one of the most cost-effective health interventions.

Homestead gardens, food fortification and other strategies should be the components to prevent blindness. Generally, the blind or disabled are treated as double burden. That is why, in principle we should prevent blindness, restore sight of the blind through proper treatment or operation. Thus the rate of blindness and using white cane can be low. So, let our children and people take care of eyes everyday-- keep the blindness and white cane away.

National Eye Care Plan of Bangladesh (2005) mentioned that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, 40,000 children are blind in Bangladesh. Cataract is the leading cause of childhood blindness. Over 12,000 children are suffering from unnecessary blindness due to un-operated cataract and in need of surgical care from well-developed eye care facilities.

On the other hand, 10,000 children are blind in our country due to corneal scarring, which could have been entirely prevented through effective primary health care and eye-care services in the community. About 300 children are blind for every million population and 100 of them are blind from cataract. Between 100 and 200 bilateral cataract surgeries per million populations are needed to restore eye sight of these children.

Cataract is a major treatable cause of childhood blindness, which can be avoided with intervention strategies in line with the priorities set by the VISION 2020--'the right to sight' of the WHO. Community-based preventive measure is required to prevent 25 per cent of all childhood blindness, which is related to vitamin A deficiency disorders, diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition and measles. Dear reader, for this write-up this scribe has interviewed a blind boy with congenital cataract, named Arif of Mirzapur, Tangail.

Logically he represents the status of thousands of blind children in Bangladesh. After collecting his name and address through Child Sight Foundation, I, along with my cousin Daizy, went to see and speak to Arif from Dhaka to Mirzapur on September 19. It was 11.30 AM. The sunshine was reflecting on the water of the river Bongshai. Some boats were crossing the river, the boatmen were happy to get favourable wind to hoisting the sail to reach their destination quickly and happily. Watching the lovely scenery of the village Chukuria of Jamurki union at Mirzapur sub-district of Tangail and getting cooperation of the people there, we were very much impressed.

Luckily we got Arif at his class of Chukuria primary school. Arif's teacher Ms Sufia Khan informed us that Arif reads in class two. Though he is blind due to congenital cataract, but he is meritorious and can memorise the text listening to the teachers and answer to the questions in the examination verbally. At the age of four, Arif faces difficulty to move freely and normally. Moving a few steps forward, he falls on the ground.

His father, day-labourer Usuf Ali noticed that Arif does not see anything but darkness with his eyes! He felt tense, but could not arrange funds money to take Arif to visit an eye specialist. He took Arif to a kabiraz (an ayurvedic physician) and applied some medicine in Arif's eyes, but did not improve the condition of eye sight.

As the school is adjacent to Arif's home, his parents helped him to go to school. Realising the disease seriously, Arif's teacher Ms Sufia Khan gave Tk 500 and students of the school contributed more than Tk 100 for Arif to get better treatment by a doctor at Mirzapur. Ms Sufia advised Arif's father accordingly. Examining the eyes of Arif, the doctor diagnosed the disease as congenital cataract.

He prescribed an eye ointment and advised for operation, but demanded Tk 10,000 as the operation cost. But Arif's landless parents do not have any means to collect the money. As a result Arif is going to be permanently blind. But smart and optimistic Arif said, "I want to continue my study aiming to be a doctor (eye specialist) and to offer free treatment to the poor patients like me as nobody gets blindness". Child Sight Foundation (CSF) collected nationwide data on childhood blindness and Arif was also included in that survey (2003).

Dr. M.A. Muhit of CSF said: "31 percent of the childhood blindness is due to cataract. We need many things to help avoid this unnecessary blindness: Such as making awareness that cataract is treatable through operation, but for the lack of free of cost treatment and operation facilities -- especially for the poor children and due to shortage of pediatric ophthalmologists -- they will be permanently blind if effective measures not taken timely.

After being blind they cannot be enrolled in inclusive education because of inadequate Braille teaching institution, supply of Braille books and negative attitudes of the society towards them, hindrance to their proper education, to be self-reliant, rehabilitated, empowered and helpful part of mainstream of development". What is Cataract: Cataract is the clouding of the normally clear lens in the eye.

While the cause of cataract is unknown, it can be effectively treated by surgery. The number one cause of blindness worldwide, nearly 20 million people are blind as a result of cataract, and 100 million are in need of sight-restoring surgery. Globally, there are 190,000 children who are blind from cataract. Cataract in children may be present at birth (congenital cataract) or may appear anytime during the first five years of life (developmental cataract).

A recent national study in Bangladesh showed that one in every three blind children is blind from congenital or developmental cataract. There are as many as 1.5 million blind children in the world, of which one million live in Asia.New borne babies and children can get cataract, because it is not limited among the adults only. An infant may have birth with congenital cataract or she/he may get developmental cataract during first few years of life.

Cataract can run in families, and more than one child in the same family can be affected. If any one notices a white spot in child's eye(s), or if the child cannot see properly, should take her/ him to the hospital earlier. Never use any kabirazy zharfuk (means of exorcism), natural (quack's) treatment. Though I returned from Chukuria to Dhaka on the same day (my cousin Daizy stayed in Tangail), but still Arif's voice reminds me of him as he recited a poem of our national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam: "ami hobo sokal belar pakhi, sobar age kusum bage uthbo ami daki…" ("I will be the bird of morning time, to wake up calling at the garden of flowers first of all…").

But the sadness is that Arif cannot see his beloved parents, teachers, class mates, books, green and beautiful village Chukuria, nice birds, flowers, tides of river Bongsai. He does not have the scope to visit his friends even on their birthdays and Eid day because he is incapable of moving alone without the help of others, but a free of cost operation can restore eye sight of Arif and thousands of visually impaired or blind children like him.

Worldwide acclaimed blind and deaf person Helen Keller says: "God has given us a task, which we can perform better than anyone else. We must find out what that task is, and how to do it in the best way possible".

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Special guided tour for the visually impaired is offered by village

A special tour for people with impaired vision will be offered at Upper Canada Village on Saturday afternoon, October 14.

This tactile tour centres on the village's current costume exhibit, "Ghosts of Fashion Past," at Crysler Hall. The 19th-century costumes come from the collection of Diane Gallinger, of Jordan Heritage Resources.

Gallinger has worked with Upper Canada Village (UCV) for the past two years, helping to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. It was her idea to create a tactile tour to make the museum experience more rewarding for people with vision loss, said UCV staff member Gabriele Thomas.

The tour begins with the costume exhibit, where participants can get the general feel of the costumes while wearing gloves. Gallinger worked with Tactile Vision Inc., of Oakville, to produce raised tactile diagrams of the heritage gowns on display, as well as a raised floor plan diagram of Crysler Hall, to enhance the experience.

During the tour, participants have the chance to learn about fashions and the role of the village dressmaker at the Dressmaker's House and then handle period textiles (silks, velvets and so on) and try on various reproduction costume items in the costume department, all at UCV.

In preparation for the tours, which she leads, Gallinger offered training sessions to staff and interpreters, helping those who would be part of the tour to understand how to present the material to people who can't see well or at all. To enhance this presentation, she sought the assistance of someone in the area with visual impairment.

Through the grapevine she learned of Brockville's Debbie Warren, who lives with severe vision loss. Warren, a longtime volunteer with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and a former chairman of the CNIB's Kingston District board, agreed to attend the sessions and offer comments from a visually impaired person's point of view.

For instance, when Gallinger would explain that staff should ask a blind person if it's all right to take his or her hand to guide it to an object, Warren expanded on that so the interpreters could understand why it's best not to just grab a person's hand.

"Diane is a passionate, down-to-earth lady with a commitment to make museums accessible," said Warren in a telephone interview this week. "In those training sessions, I basically validated what Diane was saying, and expressed the need for museums to be inclusive."

Warren said it's important for visually impaired people to know there are museum settings where they can experience what sighted people do.

"Upper Canada Village is the perfect place. A visually impaired person can drink in the fragrances, hear the horses and listen to the honking geese overhead. They can experience the tranquility and the excitement of this country place, if that makes sense," Warren said.

Gallinger also told staff not to shy away from talking about the colour of items, because often blind people have formed an association with certain colours and knowing the colour of something helps them visualize it better. For example, a visually impaired woman on the first tour, in late September, equated the smell and taste of licorice with the colour black.

Thomas said that first tactile tour went very well.

"We will definitely continue these tours, with different themes. Perhaps there could be one on tools. We're not sure exactly where it's going," she said.

To reserve a space on Saturday's tour, call Thomas at 613-543-3704, ext. 2234. The tour runs from 1 to 4 p.m. and costs $9 per person (with one support giver admitted free of charge). Service dogs are welcome. Crysler Hall is not wheelchair accessible, and some walking is required between buildings; terrain includes stairs, gravel paths and wooden sidewalks. Refreshment facilities are on site.

Art Exhibit attracts the visually impaired

The blind and visually impaired are often left out of the art museum experience because of do not touch rules. But six month ago, the Art Institute of Chicago agreed to bend those rules.

For years, the Art Institute offered a touch gallery of sculptures for blind and visually impaired patrons. Now, with the touching replicas called Tactiles re able to "see" art.

Art institute staff member Mikie Silverstein is explaining Renior's 'Two Sisters (on a Terrance)' while Marcia Trawinski and Hanna Bratman follow along using the eight-inch by ten-inch light weight tactiles.

"You actually feel like you're touching the whole painting, it's not just a line design," said Mikie Silverstein.

The Tactiles were developed by a student from the School at the Art Institute from recommendation by members of the blind and visually impaired community.

So far, there are five Tactiles available.

"We selected them because we wanted to have a variety of cultures and a variety of techniques," said Mikie.

Museum volunteers escort blind and visually impaired patrons to the Tactiles arts.

Joan Miro's 'Personages with Stars' is another painting that has been re-created on Tactiles.
Marcia says the Tactiles are helpful.

"They allow me to experience the painting with my fingers the way you experience if with your eyes. I can travel across the painting. I can travel within the depth of the painting and I can get a feel for what they artists was doing with their lines and drawings," said Mikie.

Hanna can see only colors and some shapes.

"I don't see the details and I could feel the greenery in the background, the trees and a rail and I could feel the size of the hats and the people and I thought that was really, really neat," said Mikie.
With the 'Stone of the Five Stars' Aztec tablet being enclosed, Tim Paul had the opportunity to 'touch' it.

"I can see the different shapes and the different textures and it really makes me want to learn more and experience more," said Mikie.

The Art Institute of Chicago is the only museum that has Tactiles. If you want a tour with the Tactiles, you need to make arrangements ahead of time. The number to call is 312/443-3929.

The voices of the visually impaired can now be online

Students of the Erin H. Gilmour School for Blind and Visually Impaired Children now have the latest learning equipment allowing them to interact with voices online, thanks to the generosity of a corporate donor.

Citigroup Bahamas presented state of the art learning tools to the school, enabling those who are visually challenged to hear words they have written on a standard Braille machine and to listen to books through their computers.

"For years, we have followed the progress of students at the Erin H. Gilmour School for the Blind and have great respect for the role The Salvation Army plays in affording visually challenged and blind persons the opportunity to receive a well-rounded education," said Margaret Butler, Citigroup Country Officer (CCO) for The Bahamas. "We are pleased today to present the sophisticated Braille 'n Speak and Kurzweil 1000 educational systems and trust these tools will allow the students to reach their goals effectively and with greater ease and joy."

The Braille 'n Speak system, a new and immensely popular note-taker, combines speech with a standard Perkins-style keyboard. It works through a built-in synthesizer that allows the user to input and edit information that is read back to them at the press of a command.

While the Braille 'n Speak tool allows students to interact with their computers in order to manage their own writing whether for notes, an essay or exam, the second piece of equipment, a Kurzweil 1000 system, reads back to them not what they are entering, but material that is printed, scanned or electronic text.

One of its applications is similar to books on tape, allowing the user to sit back and listen to the book being read in a human voice.

"This is the first time that we've had equipment of this nature," said school Principal, Maria Deleveaux. "These educational tools will definitely facilitate the students learning process."
Despite challenges, students at the school have excelled. Alvin Forbes left The Salvation Army facility on Mackey Street a top student by any standard, completed course work at The College of The Bahamas and last fall entered Huron University in Canada where he has earned respect and a scholarship to study theology.

A young student at the school now, Rickia Arnette, recently earned high scores during the BJC exams including an A in Social Studies.

The Erin H. Gilmour School for the Blind was named after a young Canadian woman who was tragically killed in The Bahamas, where she and her family had carved touching memories. It was her father's mission to remember Erin in a way that would impact lives in years to come.

The school's mission statement is to ensure that blind and visually impaired children at every stage of life be empowered to acquire specialised skills that will enable them to participate successfully in the mainstream of society.

New technology helps the visually impaired at home

Advances in technology are making life a little easier for those who are visually impaired. CBS 11 News took a look at a model home that's also a teaching tool.The house uses ‘audio eyes’… sounds that function almost like sight and is full of other gadgets that help lead the visually impaired to independence.The model home -- which includes a living room, dining area, kitchen, bedroom, closet and bathroom -- offers ideas on how to make daily life more manageable for those who are blind or losing their vision.

Lights are placed inside kitchen cabinets to make the contents more visible, a knife is affixed to a cutting board for safety and another device tells you when a cup is filled to capacity.Ed Brock was diagnosed with a rare eye disease six years ago. He has some vision left but says, “It’s kind of like looking through a straw. I continually break things and I can't find anything.”Brock he knows that he and Vermont, his guide dog, will have greater needs, soon.“One thing that I'll definitely need in the future is some way to figure out what's inside a can,” he says.

Technology now offers a brand new solution to that problem. It's a scanner device that can read bar codes on cans, or you can record your own voice to tell you what it is.There's also a color identifier to help the visually impaired. If you want to tell what color it is, all you have to do is point it at the object, and it says the color.Some of the items, on display at the new Center on Vision Loss, cost a thousand dollars or more… others are simple inexpensive solutions, such as color contrasting.

“Because if someone cannot see one color, they may be able to see another,” said Judy Scott, Center on Vision Loss. Brock says each way gives his quality of life a boost. “This is a great time to go blind. All these little technology-driven devices are incredible.”The model home is now open for tours and will hold its grand opening Oct. 27.The Center on Vision Loss doesn't sell the various gadgets featured, but lets visitors know where to purchase them.

Charity for the visually impaired gets a royal visitor

THE Duke of Gloucester helped a local charity celebrate its 85th birthday on Tuesday.
The Middlesex Association for the Blind (MAB) welcomed the royal visitor and other esteemed guests for a guided tour and demonstrations of technology which helps visually impaired people live independently.

Set up in 1922, the MAB has helped thousands of people and now operates in nine London boroughs, providing home visits, support and advice, IT training, Braille courses and more to people who can become isolated from mainstream society.

Fozeea Rajput, 26, of Clifton Road, Kenton, did not know what to expect when told her newborn baby, Zaynab, now five, was unlikely to see more than light and dark.

But after working closely with MAB and the Harrow Sensory and Communications Team (for the visually impaired) her daughter's confidence and ability has grown to allow her to recognise colours and has given both mother and daughter the chance to learn Braille.

Fozeea said: "It has been amazing, she has surprised everyone."

Zaynab and her brother, Junayd, eight, are pupils at Elm Grove School, in Kenmore Avenue, and the family have been helped enormously by the charity.

"We come to story telling so Zaynab can meet kids with similar problems. In her school she is the only one with visual impairment and to come to places like this she knows she is not the only one," the proud mum explained.

The centre in Raeburn House, in Northolt Road, South Harrow also has a resource centre, staffed by dedicated volunteers.

Selling items like talking clocks and microwaves and close circuit television which projects words onto a computer screen, visually impaired people quickly learn that the loss of sight does not necessarily mean the loss of a life they once loved and an important aspect of the centre is the interaction between clients and staff.

His Royal Highness ended the visit by saying: "Association is a long word but it means coming together to share expertise and problems.

"I congratulate this association for all that they have done and wish them the best of luck for the future."

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Visually impaired chess player gets support for the World Championship!

VISUALLY-impaired Greenock chess wizard Stephen Hilton will represent Inverclyde when he jets off to India for the World Championships tomorrow. The 44-year-old Morton fan, who damaged his sight during an accident as a child, will battle it out at the world event against around 150 other blind or visually-impaired chess players from approximately 40 countries. The event will be held in Goa, India, and will run from Sunday to 19 October over nine rounds.

He said: "A world Championship is the pinnacle for anyone in any sport and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead. "I have prepared for the event with the help of International master Richard Palliser and International Master of Correspondence Chess Kenny Harman. These players have helped me in my opening preparation for this event.

They have also helped me to become more methodical in my approach to the game. "I could not have had the help of Richard Palliser without the support of Chess Scotland, as they funded this part of my preparation. "I have also had vital support of my chess club Inverclyde Central and they have been very supportive of my efforts in braille chess in the past. "However, I would never have been able to get to this event without sponsorship. "

I want to thank my main sponsor for financing the trip, Chess Scotland for financing the training with Richard Palliser, Craig Wright and the Scottish Cricket Union for supplying the Saltire clothing for my use on chess trips and Douglas Rae and Greenock Morton Football Club for donating football tops for my use during the tournament. "These are the best symbols of Inverclyde that we have and I will wear them with pride, as I will with the Saltire clothing too. "Finally, I would also like to thank the Provost, Ciano Rebecchi, for helping me to find a laptop to use and also for his encouragement to me in my endeavours."

New product for the visually impaired must ensure quality by respecting certain criteria

My Reader, released by Nightside, is designed to benefit people suffering from eye conditions such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma.

In order for the product to be fully effective for the visually impaired, it needs to adhere to strict quality control standards for focus, colour, colour banding and noise. “Nightside brought a system solution approach that helped us define our strategic needs before delving into the technical details”, Adam Palm, Quality Assurance Manager of Humanware, said. “They also weren’t afraid to take some risk to work out exactly what we needed. It wasn’t easy.

There weren’t any clear industry standards about what we were trying to do, so we had to define them in-house. We would definitely call them first for future testing and measurement needs.” Nightside, who is a National Instruments Certified Alliance Partner, employed NI's capture card, LabVIEW software, Vision development module, and TestStand test management software to create the system. myReader is the world’s first low-vision auto-reader.

New software to allow visually impaired students to meet their goals

For most FC students typing out an assignment, interpreting a chart, or viewing a PowerPoint presentation for a class is a task that is viewed as boring or even torturous. Visually impaired or hearing disabled students, on the other hand, find these tasks nearly impossible to accomplish. This is about to change.Software that allows visually and hearing-impaired students to enjoy the same learning experience as the rest of their fellow classmates is making access to classroom material more universal.

Job Access with Speech is a software program that translates strokes of the keyboard into real-time auditory signals. As a student types an assignment, a converter ends a signal to a set of headphones. The student then hears the letters as the words and punctuation are being typed. For visually-impaired students this is a major benefit.Patricia Quintero, a Cal State Fullerton graduate, lost her vision due to complications from diabetes.

As a result, Quintero was plunged into a world of darkness. Thanks to the JAWS program, however, the Spanish/Latin American studies graduate is able to type an assignment for her playwriting class."[JAWS] enables me to listen to what I'm typing and I am able to use some of the programs that did before I lost my vision," Quintero explained.Quintero ticked away on the keyboard as she worked on her play. Her actions were translated into spoken letters and punctuation marks by a robotic voice via the headphones.

For Quintero, the ability to write has given her a way of reaching out and connecting with her environment, something that would not be possible without the JAWS program. "After my vision loss I've always liked writing and I use it as an instrument. As a matter of fact I keep my diary using JAWS… Christmas is coming so I'll probably be coming over here and doing my Christmas cards," she said.Paul McKinley, Disabled Student Services lab instructor, welcomed this technology.

He explained that in addition to the JAWS program, a newly acquired Microsoft Web Accessibility program will enable students who are visually impaired to access PowerPoint presentations, charts, or any other visual aids that are used in the classroom. The new software is compatible with the Excel, PowerPoint and Microsoft Word programs.

"[Instructors] can take a PowerPoint display and with a little bit of manipulation they can make accessible to visually impaired students," McKinley said.The MWA program simply requires that instructors write a title for the presentation, a brief description of the visual aid, and they outline any key points. McKinley prepared a brief presentation in less than five minutes using MWA to write a pseudo description of class project."How do I get the point across to a blind student? Visually you can see it.

So what [instructors] do is go to the 'Save As' feature and you'll notice it has a 'Save as an Accessible Web Page.' That's new and that's because I have the new [MWA] software," McKinley explained. The program is flexible and allows instructors to customize the settings to "Text Only" (for students who are blind), and "Text Mostly" (for students with some vision). In the past, instructors were reluctant to adapt the new technology since it meant that all students would have access to the visually-impaired version of the lecture.

For students who were not visually impaired it meant sacrificing visual aids. That, however, will no longer be a problem."Here's the beauty of [MWA]… this is where instructors used to fight us on it, but now they don't because now [instructors] can have two links. One link can have the regular PowerPoint display and the other link can have the [MWA] version," he said. McKinley saw the new software as a way to extend distance learning through online courses.

This, he said, could encourage students who are visually impaired to pursue their educational goals from the comfort of their home. "If you were a visually impaired student," he asked, "would you rather travel to Fullerton College, traverse the campus on a rainy wet day, with construction going on; or would you rather sit in the comfort of your home and take an online course? 95 percent of the blind population would like to do that," McKinley said.

McKinley has scheduled a training session for instructors on October 17 from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. He pointed out that FC has made great strides, but that "faculty still needs to come up to standard." McKinley estimates that 750 are registered in the DSS program, but that overall figures indicate that disabled students make up as much as 10 percent of the student population at FC.Cindy Vyskocil, Director of Equity and Diversity, agreed that the online benefits of the new software would boost enrollment for disabled students.

"Certainly, with this type of access, students will be able to take advantage of [FC's] programs and courses at their convenience. If [visually impaired] students take the classes and are successful that will encourage more [enrollment]," she said. One of the upcoming upgrades to FC's classrooms is a closed caption decoder for "The problem is that unlike the old televisions and VCRs that we had on campus, which had a [closed caption decoder], the newer overhead projectors do not have them," Vyskocil explained.

She worked with FC President, Dr. Kathleen Hodge, and Janet Portolan, Vice President of Operations, to asses the nature of the problem and to come up with a solution. Vyskocil stated that the closed caption decoders should be in the classroom by the end of this semester, or by the beginning of next semester.

For Vyskocil, being able to serve disabled students is something that makes her job rewarding."Truthfully, working with our disabled population that's always been where my heart is. I love trying to meet those accommodations and trying to improve access. That's always been not just a great source of pride for me, but that's probably one of the best parts of my job," she said.

Sunshine Club for the visually impaired

Mary Pearl Knight sat in a chair and cried for two weeks after she lost her eyesight.
The 76-year-old Fairfield resident, a bartender at the local Veterans of Foreign War post at the time, thought her life was over.

Instead, sunshine entered her life.

That's the power of the Sunshine Club.

Its members, all of them visually impaired, meet for lunch once a month at the Lobster Trap restaurant. The gathering often is an opportunity to get helpful tips and information courtesy of professionals from the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired -- a part of the Maine Department of Labor.

But more than education, the Sunshine Club is a chance to talk, a time to socialize with others who understand the struggles of the blind, as well as the importance of being able to discuss the ordinary highs and lows of life.

Monday the club met at the Lobster Trap to celebrate its 10th anniversary. A festive cake accompanied the meal and the dining room -- reserved for the club -- was decorated in colors bright enough for those with limited sight to appreciate.

"It gives you a big lift," Knight said of the club. "You meet a lot of people who are worse off than you."

Knight, who has some peripheral vision, is one of three surviving original members still active in the club. Mable Murphy of Winslow and Ann Rummell of Waterville are the other two.

June Plisga, the Winslow woman who founded the group, died about three years ago, although members still talk about her with reverence.

Betty Soule, who is not blind, took over as president last fall.

Soule has been involved with the club for 10 years. For the first eight years, she would drive her mother, Eleanor Nadeau, and fellow member Murphy to the monthly meetings.

Her mother died about two years ago, but Soule remained involved with the club. She couldn't imagine doing otherwise.

"I'll be honest," she said. "I didn't want to be president, but they are such a wonderful group of people that I couldn't take this away from them."

Plisga, who realized the tendency for blind people to withdraw and isolate themselves, formed the group from the people who attended a class given by the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired. That class, which met at First Congregational Church in Waterville, ended September 1996.

The following month Plisga held the first luncheon of the Sunshine Club.

A close relationship continues between the Sunshine Club and the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired -- Knight said the agency was the key to helping her overcome her initial depression.

Carolyn Bebee, who supervises the division's Augusta and Rockland offices, attended the anniversary celebration, as did Leona McKenna, a rehabilitation counselor who works under Bebee.

McKenna, who is blind, knows intimately the importance of teaching the newly blind how to function in a world of darkness.

"I love my job," she said. "It is a wonderful job, because I can understand what someone is going through. I understand what they are talking about, because this all happened to me."

McKenna and others from her agency teach clients how to use skills and techniques to overcome their blindness. Thermostats, oven dials and microwaves, for instance, can all be outfitted with tactile markers to indicate when a certain temperature or time is triggered.

Knight, who has been blind for 12 years, still appreciates the advice that McKenna and her colleagues provide.

"Quite often these girls from Augusta will come up to visit us and find how we are doing," she said.
McKenna, the client turned counselor, said when people lose their sight they inevitably grieve for a period. Once that process is over, recovery is possible as long as support is available -- that's when the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Sunshine Club enter the picture.
"When I first lost my vision," McKenna said, "I thought I would just sit in a dark room for the rest of my life. It is not like that at all. I don't see myself as living in a world of darkness at all."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Visually impaired students reach for the stars

Five visually impaired students from school districts here in Central Washington had the chance to reach for the stars.

They have just returned from a five-day space camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

They engaged in trust building and team building activities. They also got hands on experience with the tools and equipment used by astronauts.This was the first time visually impaired students were able to go on a trip like this. The program was organized through ESD 105 and funded through private donations.

Visually impaired and the arts

Jorge Paez, age 11, sat at a banquet table at the Jewish Museum running his fingers tenderly over a brass reproduction of an ancient menorah. That he was encouraged to ignore what amounts to a commandment — "Please do not touch the art" — is, in this case, understandable: The museum's goal is to help the visually impaired experience the joy of art. The goal is met this month — which is Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month, an international initiative to make art more accessible to those with sight loss — and every other month of the year, as well.

At the Jewish Museum, Jorge and others examined reproductions of ancient artifacts made of clay, stone, and brass. The slow, controlled motion of fingers upon the objects conveyed the intense curiosity and reverence of the several attendees, and the items are passed with the help of trained volunteers who follow each piece along the table with vivid explanations as to the piece's ritual, social, and practical significance.

"It's a joy to touch this stuff at last," Karen Eisenstadt, 62, of Forest Hills, said. "I've been to an awful lot of museums where I can't touch, and it's wonderful to be told I can touch for once," she said. At her feet sat her guide dog, Jessa, a three-year-old black lab retriever.

This isn't the only access program for visitors with disabilities, the director of education at the Jewish Museum, Nelly Silagy Benedek, said: "In addition to the touch tours we also offer verbal imagining tours where educators describe the works of art in the galleries."

Ms. Benedek believes that the feeling of being present in the gallery is a vital component of the experience. "Participants get the feel of walking through the gallery, the smells, the sounds, which are all part of the museum experience," she said.

Jorge's group was organized by the staff of the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, which is one of America's oldest and most relied upon facilities for the blind or visually impaired. The library began life more than a century ago when the New York Free Circulating Library for the Blind was established in 1895 by Richard Randall Ferry, a wealthy hat manufacturer who suddenly became blind.

The library serves approximately 12,000 blind or visually impaired people each year, and circulates annually through the mail roughly 300,000 books to anyone whose condition disables them from reading standard print.

"We even have three recording studios on the fourth floor," the head librarian, Bob McBrien, said. In the recording studio, volunteers from the world of theater record about 50 titles per year of books of local interest to New Yorkers.

Today, the library opens a month-long exhibit, "Sense & Sensuality," which features multisensory works of art on loan from BlindArt, a British nonprofit organization. The exhibit was organized by Art Education for the Blind, which was founded by Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel in 1987, when her grandmother, who was an artist and lifelong aesthete, began to lose her sight. AEB's mission is to make art, art history, and visual culture accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired, and to provide and promote the tangible benefits of art education, museum visits, and the actual creation of art for children and adults with sight loss.

On the museum side, MoMA has a long history of innovative access programs for the blind or visually impaired. In 2003, the museum hosted a multisensory art history program on the Matisse/Picasso exhibition. As part of the program, participants used tactile diagrams that consisted of patterns with raised dots and lines to examine famous paintings such as Henri Matisse's "Piano Lesson" and Pablo Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."

Participants were also invited to touch selected sculptures, and MoMA educators shepherded gloved visitors with elaborate descriptions as they touched the surfaces of sculptures by Matisse and Picasso.

In addition to touch tours, MoMA also features an audio program that provides vivid and detailed descriptions of key works from the museum's collection. Expert commentary, musical accompaniment, and historical references enhance the experience.

MoMA Audio is available free of charge, and transcripts of this and all museum audio programs are available in regular and large print upon request (for free). For those more interested in hands-on experience, MoMA periodically offers art courses for children and adults featuring the work of major modern and contemporary artists, where participants are treated to touch tours, verbal description, tactile diagrams, enlarged color reproductions, and actual art production activities.

To its programs for blind and partially sighted adults, MoMA has added "Art inSight," a monthly program held in the museum's galleries. This program engages participants though extensive verbal description.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the permanent collection can be experienced through verbal imaging tours for blind or visually impaired art lovers. Last week, the Met held its monthly "Picture This!" workshop, where four guides led 26 blind or partially sighted visitors on a two-hour tour of the "Cézanne to Picasso: Ambrose Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde" exhibition. The specially trained guides escorted individuals through the galleries, vividly described the art on view, and gave exciting biographical and contextual information.

The Met also offers a book for children combining color reproductions, large print, Braille, and tactile pictures. The book introduces many of the museum's masterpieces, and a limited number of copies are available free of charge to teachers of students who are blind or partially sighted and eligible organizations.

Across the River, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has been cultivating The Alice Recknagel Ireys Fragrance Garden for more than 50 years. This 60-foot-by-100-foot space was the country's first garden created for the visually impaired and blends the fragrances of an eclectic range of plants including lemon verbena, marigold, and lavender. Visitors are encouraged to reach out and touch a fuzzy oval of Lamb's Ear, or a few tendrils of mint.

Braille labels etched on brass plaques identify the specimens. The Fragrance Garden has its very own curator, Caleb Leech, whose task to keep the garden exciting involves a plethora of important considerations such as color. Ms. Leech explains that while color might seem like a superfluous component to the cultivation of a garden for the visually impaired, it is used by nature to attract pollinators, which means a seasonal concert of birds, bees, and dragonflies. The soft explosion of petals, the weight of a flower in the hand, and the rush of its fragrance is a warm reminder that beauty can be captured by many senses — not just sight.

Home for the visually impaired

For Martha Templeton, a tour through a model home designed to make life easier for those losing their vision gave her a "wish list" of ideas on how to cope with her own failing vision.

"I want a talking thermometer for sure," said the 84-year-old Dallas woman who has been losing her vision to macular degeneration for three years. "There's just so many things over there. I would take them all if I could."

While there are magazines showing gadgets that can help people like herself, she said seeing and touching the items in the model gave her a better idea of what would work for her.

The model home - which includes a living room, dining area, kitchen, bedroom, closet and bathroom - offers ideas on how to make daily life more manageable for those who are blind or losing their vision.

Lights are placed inside kitchen cabinets to make the contents more visible, a knife is affixed to a cutting board for safety and another device tells you when a cup is filled to capacity.

"It's about giving people new ways to do very familiar tasks," said Kelly Parisi, vice president of communications for the American Foundation for the Blind, which operates the model. The Dallas home is the first of its kind sponsored by the New York-based nonprofit foundation.

Offerings range from the simple - placing a light directly over a notepad - to the high-tech - a device that tells you what color clothing you are wearing. The foundation doesn't sell the various gadgets, but lets visitors know where to purchase them.

One idea Templeton plans to implement is marking her back steps with tape in anticipation of her eyesight degenerating further.

"All these little helps are so wonderful," said Templeton, who can't see to read and has given up driving.

Since the model opened in March, visitors have included retirement center administrators and architects hoping to make facilities friendlier to those with impaired vision, foundation officials said.

"The goal is to help people function as independently as possible," said Judy Scott, director of the foundation's Center on Vision Loss in Dallas.

The model home, which has already had hundreds of visitors since opening for tours, will hold it's grand opening Oct. 27.

Scott said those who go through the model home are often heartened that many of the changes they can make are simple, like changing the color of placemats on a dining table to contrast with the plate.

"People will say things like 'I can go home and make this change tonight,'" Scott said.

Reasons for vision loss as people age include macular degeneration, which affects central vision; glaucoma, which affects peripheral vision; diabetic retinopathy, which distorts vision; and cataracts, which makes vision cloudy.

There are currently about 10 million blind or visually impaired people in the U.S., and foundation officials say those numbers are expected to soar as the population ages.

"The chief cause of eye problems is simply in one word: age," said Dr. H. Dwight Cavanagh, professor of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern who is also on the board of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Dr. Lylas Mogk, director of the visual rehabilitation and research center of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, said the visually impaired population has shifted over the past several decades. In the 1950s, injured soldiers and children suffering from disease made up the bulk of cases, she said. Today, it is the elderly.

"All of the organizations are working on incorporating this group of people into their whole dynamic," Mogk said.

Mogk, chair of the American Academy of Ophthalmology's vision rehabilitation committee, is part of the academy's task force to get more information to ophthalmologists about helping patients deal with vision loss.

While touring the model home, Nancy Shugart discovered a simple item that made her 90-year-old mother, whose vision has been damaged by glaucoma, more independent: a dome magnifier that allowed her to read mail.

"The first thing out of her mouth was 'I can't believe how easy it is to see,'" said Shugart, 49, of Austin, who toured the center as a member of the Texas Gov.'s Committee on People with Disabilities.

Even Shugart, who has been visually impaired since she was 8, said she learned a few things on her trip through the model.

"It was fun to see all the gadgets," Shugart said.


American Foundation for the Blind: