Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hybrid cars, a growing problem for the visually impaired

The soaring popularity of hybrid cars is a growing problem for the visually impaired.Since 2000, the U.S. hybrid market has grown almost 2500%. According to one study, it's gone from about 9400 passenger car sales in 2000 to almost 250,000 in 2006. While that total still represents just over 1% of all new car sales, industry analysts predict it could jump to as high as 30% by 2015. And that has some advocates for the blind concerned.

Hybrids may be great for the environment, but they aren't always great for pedestrians -- especially those who are blind or visually impaired.The reason? They're too quiet.Low Vision Council President Michelle Mason uses a cane when crossing the street. She also listens for car motors to tell when it's safe, which is why she says hybrids pose a potentially deadly hazard for the visually impaired. The problem? Hybrids are too quiet.

"If a hybrid was making a left turn over here," says Mason, "and there was a person with a visual impairment, they wouldn't know. And if the driver wasn't paying attention, you could have an accident occur."Hybrids are significantly quieter than traditional cars, especially when idling or running at low speeds. Mason says currently most Central Coast streets are not pedestrian-friendly. She expects it will get even worse as hybrids grow in popularity. That's why she's advocating for more pedestrian-friendly signals.

Located at Santa Barbara and Upham in San Luis Obispo, Mason says this is the only audio signal in the entire county. The $8,000 signal is supposed to emit an additional sound, but city staffers say they turned it off because a nearby restaurant complained about the noise.While it's unlikely they'll be added downtown because the signals are timed to keep traffic flowing, staff say it's now a city standard to use them at new signals."It's just a new thing coming out, you know," says City Traffic Engineer Dario Senor.

"That's why you don't see them all over yet. But you should. And we will."Advocates like Mason hope they come sooner rather than later, especially with more of these potentially silent hazards hitting the road.Advocates want manufacturers to build hybrids so they emit some sort of sound. However, manufacturers are reluctant to do something that adds noise pollution.City traffic engineers say an audio traffic signal costs $8,000 to install.

Travelling is now an option for the visually impaired

Leeds, UK, and LONGUEUIL, Canada, Feb. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Traveleyes, a company that specializes in organizing overseas trips for the visually impaired, now provides its clients with HumanWare's Trekker Talking GPS system. Recognized internationally for helping blind people move around, Trekker will offer more autonomy and independence to travellers using Traveleyes by enabling them to enjoy the places they visit even more.

The mission of Traveleyes, founded in 2005 by Amar Latif, who is himself visually impaired, is to offer people with visual impairment a wonderful travel experience without the usual restrictions and limitations. Before the emergence of Traveleyes, very few customized holidays were available for visually impaired people. Those that did exist were generally restrictive in terms of destinations, and often tended to be inflexible and very expensive. With Traveleyes, the visually impaired world traveller is no longer required to "tag along" as either a welcome or tolerated appendage to the peer-group holiday.

"I strongly believe that blind people do not just have to follow in the wake of the sighted, but that they can indeed be trailblazers," Amar Latif said.

The GPS Trekker system seamlessly integrates into Traveleyes' services, offering more than just a simple tour, but rather allowing blind tourists to actively and independently participate. Thus, with Trekker, Traveleyes globetrotters will have even more freedom and autonomy when visiting tourist sites. For example, they can make their way from their hotel to a museum by relying on the information provided by Trekker.

Introduced by HumanWare in 2003, Trekker is a talking GPS system that uses digital maps to help blind persons find their way everywhere in the world. The users can pinpoint exactly where they are, learn about area attractions, and find out in real time how to get to specific destinations. Fitting in the palm of the hand, Trekker offers the visually impaired greater freedom, raising their confidence in their ability to travel. It also helps them access and enjoy the most valuable and interesting opportunities their surroundings have to offer.

"Accessible travel guides, GPS technology and electronic tactile maps can now open up new horizons to the visually impaired traveller," Latif said.

About Traveleyes

Traveleyes (http://www.traveleyes.co.uk/) is a revolutionary service, arranging independent world travel for visually impaired and sighted travellers. Based in the UK, Traveleyes offers holidays to many destinations, including America, Africa and Europe, all with quality of experience as the central ingredient and at affordable prices. With Traveleyes, the needs, desires and fulfilment of the blind traveller are at centre stage.

About HumanWare

HumanWare (http://www.humanware.com/) is the global leader in assistive technologies for vision. HumanWare provides products to blind and low vision people and students with learning disabilities. HumanWare's many innovative products include BrailleNote, the leading productivity device for blind people in education, in business and in their personal lives; the Victor Reader product line, the world's leading digital audiobook players; and SmartView Xtend, the first fully modular and upgradeable CCTV-based video magnifier.


CONTACT: Traveleyes: Amar Latif, +44 (0) 8709 220221,amar@traveleyes.co.uk, Web: http://www.traveleyes.co.uk/; HumanWare: NicolasLagace, (450) 463-1717, nicolas.lagace@humanware.com, Web:http://www.humanware.ca/

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cellphones for the visually impaired

You could soon navigate your way around town blindfolded. The International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIIT-B) and Chennai-based companies, Lattice Bridge Info and Spatial Data (Spinfo), are jointly developing cellphone-based technology designed to help the visually impaired and tourists find their way in a particular location. Call a designated number and ask a question like 'Where am I?' or 'Where is the nearest ATM?' and disconnect.

In a few seconds, you will get a call with an automated voice saying, 'You are at 39A Cross, 5th Block, Jayanagar' or 'The nearest ATM is two blocks ahead. Go straight down Jayanagar 5th block main road, take the second left and it's the third building on the right'. IIIT-B is developing the server application, and Lattice Bridge is designing the voice engine (which converts text messages to speech). Spinfo will provide the geographical content.

"The only thing that needs to be worked out now is the business model. The investment in this whole set-up will have to be met by the subscribers. We have all the technology pieces ready. The service provider can host the software,'' said Prof S Rajagopalan of IIIT-B. The group is in discussion with various service providers. The project will initially be tested in Bangalore or Chennai and then extended to other cities. The pilot phase should be up and running in six months. If the user has a GPS-enabled phone with bluetooth capability, then the software can ascertain the caller's location more precisely.

Else, it will have to use the nearest cellular towers and determine the location. The estimated cost of development of the application, database and the server hosting charges is Rs 15-20 lakh per city. The real challenge, however, is converting text to speech and the accent neutrality needed to deliver the message back to the caller. According to Prof Rajagopalan, Spinfo already has about 8,000 key points of Bangalore marked on its geographic database. It's expected to double to 16,000 points soon. The entire application will be a joint IP (intellectual property) of IIIT-B, Spinfo and Lattice Bridge but all rights will be assigned to IIIT-B so that it can license the application to others at a nominal cost.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Preschool program for the visually impaired is in jeopardy!

The Arizona Legislature is considering eliminating the funding for a preschool program that serves about 75 blind and visually impaired children in the Phoenix metro area.

A state agency recommended axing more than $1 million in state funds for the preschool program at the Foundation for Blind Children.

The proposal came from the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, which cited "cost and liability issues." The proposal is part of the state's budget, which has to be approved by the full Legislature and signed by the governor.

For more than two decades, the Foundation for Blind Children has contracted with the state agency to provide preschool instruction.

The foundation's annual budget of about $7 million is funded by grants, school districts and contributions.

The children in the program put together puzzles, work on motor skills, and take field trips to grocery stores and post offices to learn how to use touch, sound, and smell to discover the world around them.

Chris Tompkins, who runs the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix, said the proposed budget cuts caught him by surprise. The last time he said he heard discussions about the state agency pulling out of the agreement was November.

"They were only discussions," he said.

He said there have never been liability issues raised in the foundation's 33-year history.

Hal Hoff, the superintendent for Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, said in an e-mail statement that the two organizations must work out issues between themselves.

But if they don't, the 75 blind and visually impaired preschoolers would have to turn elsewhere for an education and four teachers would be without jobs.

State documents suggest that affected students could be absorbed by their local school districts, which could contract with the foundation or another agency for services.

Visually impaired man, evicted and abandoned

THE Police are appealing to the public to help trace any relatives of Patrick Rooi (31), who arrived in Namibia from Upington, South Africa, on Saturday.

Rooi, who is visually impaired, was travelling by bus and says he was put on the bus by the woman he had lived with.

The woman, a certain Maria Van Rooi, had apparently evicted him from her house, he said yesterday.

Both his parents are dead, Rooi says.

His father's name was Pikkie Bailey and his mother was Annetjie Rooi.

Anybody with information about his relatives, or anyone who recognises him, is requested to contact the Namibian Police's Woman and Child Protection Unit at (061) 209 5226 or 081 129 3997.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Visually impaired cyclist to participate to cyclist challenge

Visually impaired, blind and normal-vision cyclists will take to the road on Friday morning for a cycling challenge to raise money for research into retina degeneration and hereditary eye diseases.

In conjunction with Foresight, the Emirates Association of the Blind and Tamkeen, the coast to coast challenge is sponsored by Emirates Bank and Wolfie's Bike Shop and will start at the Meridien Mina Siyahi hotel and finish at the Meridien Al Aqah hotel in Fujairah.

No statistics on the number of blind or visually impaired people in the UAE currently exist, said Sally Prosser from Foresight - a UAE-based non-profit organisation. "Statistics are lacking on this, but we do know that a lot of people are visually impaired," she said.
Verge of cure

Catherine Fasser from Retina International, based in Switzerland, which is looking for a cure for retina pigmentosa, came especially to the UAE to take part in the cycling challenge.

"A lot of research is going on and we are on the verge of finding a cure. Just a 10 per cent slowdown would give people ten more years of sight," said Fasser.

Three special tandem bikes have been brought from Germany to accommodate the visually impaired cyclists.

Between 15 and 20 normal-vision cyclists on standard racing bikes will also take part, led by Wolfgang Hohmann from Wolfie's Bike Shop.

The team aims to complete the journey in 7 to 9 hours.

Katie Newitt, chairwoman of Foresight, a branch of Tamkeen and lobbies to improve the lives of people who are visually impaired and blind in the UAE, said she was looking forward to riding a bike again.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Dell provides computers to visually impaired children

Visually impaired children at the Institute of Blind here Wednesday had their first experience of technology when global IT major Dell Computers opened its computer centre for them.

Set up with funds from Dell Foundation, the centre is fitted with 12 Dell desktops and 2 Dell Latitude laptops.

The hardware is enabled to support software programs for the visually impaired children to aid their education.

'We have made Chandigarh our home for the last two years and we have grown significantly here. We have a resolve to actively contribute to the local community,' Dell International Services managing director Romi Malhotra said after Punjab Governor S.F. Rodrigues and his wife Jean Rodrigues inaugurated the centre.

Malhotra said that the effort was to make the visually impaired children part of the rapidly expanding IT services.

Dell had earlier set up similar computer centres in Hyderabad and Bangalore.

Reading with a special touch!

Their fingers hustled back and forth from the pages on the table to the six-key Braille machine in front of them.

No one seemed to mind the random sound of keys striking the beige paper for 25 minutes as students completed their individual tests.

It was the third challenge of the day, but for most of the students, their concentration remained intact.

Thirty-six students from Utah school districts and Utah School for the Blind competed at the Utah Foundation for the Blind & Visually Impaired in Salt Lake City at the third annual regional Braille Challenge.

"I got kind of nervous until the test started, and then I just relaxed,'' said fifth-grader Caroline Blair. Born blind, Caroline began learning Braille when she was 3. The students in grade levels from kindergarten to high school tested their Braille literacy skills through reading speed and comprehension, Braille proofreading and Braille charts and graphs challenges.

UFBVI started the regional challenge in conjunction with the Braille Institute in California in an effort to promote Braille skills among Utah's blind students.

"We want to encourage students to learn Braille. It's a lot of work and we want to reward them for learning it," said Merrilee Petersen, Braille Challenge coordinator.

The event also gives students a chance to interact with other visually
impaired students. Petersen said often they may be the only ones in their schools who may know Braille or be visually impaired.

Marla Palmer brought her two visually impaired children, Megan, 10, and Adam, 7, and family friend Asia Fowler, 8, to the challenge.

"All three can visually read large print but we wanted them to learn Braille so when their eyes get tired they have an alternative way to read," Palmer said.

As their eyes get tired, letters seem to get smaller, the children said. "I see double," Asia said.
By noon some of the younger participants were happy to be finished with their challenges. For 8-year-old Asia, her proofreading test was a bit more difficult than she expected.

"It was too hard and I didn't understand what to do," Asia said. The second-grader, who began learning Braille in preschool, was born without pigmentation in her eyes due to a form of albinism.
"It's all finished and it was fun. I feel pretty good," Asia said.

Top students from each age group receive prizes. The top 70 scorers across the country are invited to compete in the National Braille Challenge.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sports clubs for visually impaired children will open soon

BLIND and partially sighted children in the South West have received a boost to their sporting dreams this month.

Action for Blind People, a national charity running sports clubs for visually impaired children is to open new clubs in the South West, helped by a generous grant of £4,380 from the National Lottery's Awards for All.

The sports clubs, called Actionnaires, offer multi-sports in a safe and structured environment for visually impaired children aged eight-16 who might be excluded from sports in their mainstream schools.

For more information or if you know a child who might benefit from joining Actionnaires, go to the link below to locate your nearest club.

Alternatively, call Action's freephone information line on 0800-9154666 or Rebecca Frost for details of clubs in the South West, including upcoming clubs in Bristol and Swindon on 07894-390288.