Saturday, March 31, 2007

IBM to help out the visually impaired

Technology and software giant IBM has announced plans to launch a multimedia browser to make audio and video content accessible to the visually challenged. Codenamed Accessibility Browser, or A-Browser, the software is being created by Dr. Chieko Asakawa, a blind IBM employee in Japan.

The A-Browser, according to the BBC and The Times, will give blind and partially-sighted people the same control over multimedia content that sighted people have using a mouse. IBM says it will be available later this year and hopes it will be free. Dr Asakawa says that she was becoming increasingly frustrated by the amount of web content that she was unable to access, and this propelled her to work on software friendly to the visually impaired.

For the time being, she and her team are concentrating on content that is compatible with Real Player and Windows Media Player. Using the A-Browser, a vision-impaired person can control media content by using predefined shortcut keys, rather than having to look for the control buttons using a mouse. The browser also allows video to be slowed down, speeded up and can accommodate an additional audio description or narration track that is often included to make films and television programmes more comprehensible to blind people.

The volume controls also allow the user to adjust the sound of various sources independently - for example the main audio track, an audio description track and output from a screen reader. "We're beginning to look at accessibility as a very important business area," said Frances West, director of IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre.

It is estimated that there are over 160 million blind and partially sighted people around the world who could benefit from such a development. IBM is yet to decide whether the A-Browser will have a worldwide launch or whether it will be introduced in selected countries first.

Nanoscience taught to the visually impaired

Nanoscale objects are much too small for us to see them. So, according to educators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, nanotechnology is a research field where blind students and sighted ones are equal. After all, "we're all blind at the nanoscale," says a member of the educational team. They've built 3-D models of nano-surfaces which can be explored with the hands.

These plaster models, which are several inches long — even if the structures they represent are millions times smaller — replicate an earlier version of 'NanoBucky,' a nanoscale version of the UW-Madison mascot, Bucky Badger. The goal of this project is to encourage blind and visually impaired students to pursue science, technology and engineering.

These 3-D models are the 'nanobabies' of Andrew Greenberg, education and outreach coordinator for the UW-Madison
Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) and Mohammed Farhoud, a senior biochemistry student working with the Center for Biology Education (CBE).

On the left is a photo of a "3-D model of "NanoBucky,' a nanoscale version of the University of Wisconsin-Madison mascot Bucky Badger made entirely from tiny carbon nanofiber 'hairs.' To create the 3-D model, Mohammed Farhoud, a UW-Madison senior in biochemistry, converted the 2-D information contained in a scanning electron microscopy image of the original NanoBucky into 3-D, and then used these data to 'print' the model in plaster with an engineering tool known as a rapid prototyping printer."

Here are two links to
a larger version of this photo and to other related pictures. And if you want to learn more about the original NanoBucky, you can read a previous article from UW-Madison News, "The World's Tiniest Badger?" (August 29, 2005) and look at some photos.

Now, how the new NanoBucky was built?

Starting with a 2-D, grey-scale picture of the nano-mascot taken with scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Farhoud first reversed the image, making the blacks appear white and vice versa. Next, he used the various shades of grey in the image to confer heights on the carbon nanofibers: the blackest black was assigned a maximum height, white got a value of zero, and the computing program MATLAB calculated all the values in between. Farhoud then sent these newly acquired 3-D data into the rapid prototyper, which lays down plaster layer-by-layer to "print" 3-D models.

The goal of this program is to open science and technology careers to all students. "Greenberg hopes the models will encourage more blind and visually impaired students to pursue science, technology and engineering. Because current learning and research tools don't allow them to experience science on their own, many blind students don't consider science an attractive career choice."

This research work has been presented on Tuesday at the
233rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (March 25-29, 2007, Chicago, IL) in one of the sessions focused on Teaching Chemistry to the Visually Impaired. The title of the presentation was "Teaching nanoscience to the blind and visually impaired." Here is a link to the abstract.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Movies for the visually impaired!

The blind and visually impaired can get much more out of television shows and movies with the help of audio description, where the on-screen action is described verbally. But Germany is lagging behind the UK in making films and TV accessible.

Red carpet, bronze trophies, exotic canapés -- at first sight, the award ceremony in the atrium of the Deutsche Bank in Berlin looked like any other swish film event. But the Braille characters on the invitations and the Golden Retriever guide dog mingling in the crowd revealed that this was no ordinary occasion.

The Deutscher Hörfilmpreis award is awarded to films which particularly help the blind.Last week's Deutscher Hörfilmpreis (German Audio Description Prize), which is organized by the German Federation of Blind and Visually Impaired People (DBSV), paid tribute to achievements in the field of audio description -- describing visual information in a film or television show on an extra audio track for the visually impaired.

The event, which was attended by illustrious guests like German President Horst Köhler -- whose own daughter has a visual impairment -- and veteran German actor Mario Adorf, billed itself as a mini-Oscar with a social message. Sighted guests were given special glasses with plastic lenses that mimicked a visual impairment, so they could experience being partially sighted for themselves.

At the awards, two trophies -- each weighing a hefty six pounds -- went to the regional broadcaster Central German Broadcasting (MDR) and the German low-budget film "Netto" for applying audio description to their productions. The MDR, a public service broadcaster, has added audio descriptions to all of its in-house TV movies and series since 2002.

"You never know who shot whom"

"A tall man, dressed in dirty overalls, quietly sneaks into Jane's house. She is doing aerobics in her upstairs bedroom, blissfully unaware as the man creeps silently, toe by toe, up the staircase, looking left to right."

The above example, taken from a
BBC guide to audio description, demonstrates the extra dimension audio description provides for the blind and visually impaired. Thomas Nicolai, a visually impaired journalist, says that it helps him follow the plot of a film without having to rely on the explanations of sighted people. "Otherwise you're left in the dark," he says. "You never know who shot whom." And, he adds, it enables him to participate in conversations about television events or films.

Although jurors at the film awards spoke with optimism about increasing access to culture for blind and visually impaired people, there is still a long way to go. According to Deutsche Hörfilm gGmbH, a non-profit organization which makes visual media accessible for the visually impaired, 155,000 people in Germany are blind while a further 500,000 are visually impaired.

And although 80 percent use television as their primary medium for information or entertainment, their needs are not well served. On any given evening, there only one or two programs with audio description on air in Germany, bringing the annual total to a mere 546 -- including repeats.

According to audio description author Holger Buck, the situation is even worse when it comes to the silver screen: less than 10 films are screened with audio descriptions in Germany per year. DVDs offer a slightly broader choice: there are currently between 35 and 40 audio-described titles available, including classics like "Chinatown" or recent German productions such as the 2006 soccer World Cup documentary "Germany -- A Summer's Tale."


German President Horst Köhler (r) congratulates "Netto" director Robert Thalheim at the Deutscher Hörfilmpreis.Having such a limited choice can be frustrating, says Thorsten Wolf, who has been blind from infancy. "I'm not so much into TV crime series," he says. "I would like to be able to go to the cinema more often." But even in Berlin, this is difficult: there are only two movie theatres which have the necessary technology to screen films with audio description.

Creative potential

Some feel that audio description could benefit sighted people, too. Film researcher Gerhard Lechenauer thinks that the extra narration could be used as a tool to guide the viewer to more selective viewing. He is, however, concerned about the dry and objective language in audio description: "How do you solve the problem of different colors or atmospheres?" he wonders.

Andreas Heinecke, who runs the popular Hamburg exhibition "Dialogue in the Dark" also believes that those who can see can gain much from engaging with disability. "In my eyes, disabled people are the social avantgarde," he says. He talks with enthusiasm about the creative potential that the encounter between the two groups can have.

The success of his seven-year-old exhibition, subtitled "An Exhibition to Discover the Unseen," proves him right. Each year, 500,000 visitors come to experience the unusual concept, where blind people guide sighted visitors through darkened rooms to experience smells, temperatures or sounds.

Not enough commitment

Still, there is not enough public commitment to promoting access to blind and visually impaired people, thinks Bernd Benecke, who works for the public broadcaster Bavarian Broadcasting as Germany's only specialist audio description editor. "Everybody is always very much in favor of the idea but when it comes to giving money, the enthusiasm quickly fades away," he says.

In Germany, audio transcription -- which costs €4,500-5,000 ($6,000-6,660) per film -- is primarily funded by public broadcasters and sponsors, as there is no direct state support. The total sum invested, estimates Benecke, is only between €500,000 and €1 million per year -- practically small change when one considers that a single episode of a television crime series can cost €2 million.
The lack of political commitment is also reflected in the half-hearted political discussions about audio transcription.

Even though German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said at the Hörfilmpreis awards that audio description needs to be promoted, Germany still lacks clear political guidelines about audio description, such as the quotas which other European countries have adopted. "There are many 'should haves' and 'could haves,'" says Benecke with a sigh.

Accessible Britain

He points to Great Britain as a role model: on television, a dynamic quota -- currently 8 percent -- for the main channels ensures that a set proportion of all TV programming is shown with audio description. Accessible DVDs and videos, too, are much more plentiful in the United Kingdom: the BBC lists over 150 titles of DVDs with audio description, including blockbusters like "Borat", "Casino Royale" or "Pretty Woman." Visually impaired cinephiles are also catered for: around 8 out of 10 films released each week have audio description and 160 cinemas across the country hold accessible screenings, according to the BBC.

Audio description is increasingly being adapted for theatre, too. Although there are only a couple of productions per year, they are very popular, with blind and visually impaired theatre fans often traveling long distances to attend performances. Nicolai, the visually impaired journalist, traveled over 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Berlin to Osnabrück to see an audio-described version of Goethe's "Faust" -- but he says it was well worth it.

"It was a great experience," he says. "These events are so special that people make huge efforts to go there, no matter how much time and money it costs."

Talking boxes for signs to help the visually impaired

With work underway for the latest addition to Harrisburg University, the school wants to make sure that everyone is safe, both driving and walking by the construction.

Signs have been posted for both cars and pedestrians around the construction.

One unique feature will greatly help visually impaired folks walking near the work.

"We provided audio boxes that provide verbal warnings to the visually impaired to warn them that hey there's an issue in front of you and the sidewalk's closed," says Eric Darr, Harrisburg University.

The newest facility is expected to open in late 2008.

Love against poverty for the visually impaired couples

A small hamlet in southern Madurai holds special significance in the life of 36 visually challenged couples. All the 36 couples fell in love while studying in a special school for the visually impaired in Tamil Nadu's temple town and got married.For the last 25 years, they've been living together in the Sakkimangalam Panchayat like an extended family."We have better facilities here. It is a safe haven for couples.

The locals are very helpful," said C Thaipoosam, Panchayat Leader. The local villagers have been good samaritans."In other places they disrespect us. Here, they are respectful and responsive. That is why we have been living here for the past 25 years," said Utsamma, resident.Many of these families have children with normal vision. Getting them properly educated is a challenge. Weaving plastic chairs, selling candles and agarbattis fetches about Rs 50 a day.

That's hardly enough to make ends meet."We have to travel quite far for work. Many of us have 3-4 children. If the Government gets us some jobs here it will be a big help," said Chinnaswamy, resident.Despite their poverty, they trudge along with a smile showing the world that disability is no liability.

Making travel plans much easier for the visually impaired

BENJIE SANDERS / ARIZONA DAILY STAR 1992 Dennis Shepard understood the issues a blind person confronted when using public buses. So Shepard, blind since birth, created the "Bus Hailing Guide," a tool to allow waiting passengers to signal their route to approaching bus drivers.

Robert LaRoche, a volunteer with the Tucson Association for the Blind, demonstrated using the guide on March 27, 1992. Earlier in the month, the association presented Sun Tran with an award for its help in developing the guide. For information on obtaining a guide call Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired at 795-1331.

Program available to teach the visually impaired

The Center for the Visually Impaired will present a group instruction program at the Forsyth County Senior Center, designed to teach daily living activities to those with vision impairment.

Certified Vision Therapist Diana Estrella will teach the classes, which are designed for persons who have a vision-impairing condition such as macular degeneration, glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy, and some degree of usable sight.

Participants will learn how to perform daily living activities such as writing a check and operating appliances. They will do so by using low vision devices and aids, new techniques and resources.
Upcoming Group Instruction Classes at the Senior Center10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.Friday, April 13 – Money identification and safe usage; checking account maintenance

Friday, April 27 – Medication management; applying toothpaste; nail care

Friday, May 11 – Eating techniques; pouring techniques; operation of a washer, dryer and thermostat

Friday, May 25 – Identifying cans, boxes and freezer items; helpful and safety-oriented kitchen devices; clothing identification; needle threading

Date to be announced – Leisure activities: talking book players; Georgia Radio Reading Service (GARRS); cards; board games; crafts; closed circuit television (CCTV) and other adaptive technology

The program is open to all interested persons at no charge. Program funding can only be used to provide low vision devices/aids and other low vision services to persons who submit an application and are determined eligible.

Application packets may be obtained from:1. Laura Bagwell, wellness team leader at the Forsyth County Senior Center2. Client Services at the Center for the Visually Impaired at 404.875.40113. Diana Estrella at class meetings

Completed applications may be:1. Faxed to 404.875.45682. Mailed to: Client ServicesCenter for the Visually Impaired739 West Peachtree Street NWAtlanta, GA 303083. Submitted to Diana Estrella at a class meeting

The Forsyth County Senior Center is located at 595 Dahlonega Highway in Cumming. For additional information please call 770.781.2178.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Visually impaired writer uses sensory descriptions

Writer Candy Hamilton of Rapid City will spend this week as an artist in residence at the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen.

Hamilton's visit is part of the South Dakota Arts Council's Artists in Schools and Communities program.

While at the school, she will work with students of all ages.

Hamilton is a published poet and writer. In addition to completing her master's degree at the University of South Dakota, she has worked as a researcher for film companies, serving as a consultant to the films "Incident at Oglala" and "Life of Leonard Peltier."

Her poetry was included in "Woven on the Wind" in 2001 and "Prairie Peaks and Skies" in 1998 and a variety of other collections. Her articles and stories have been published in the Christian Science Monitor, People, South Dakota Magazine and Winds of Change, among others.

Hamilton's residency will focus on the impact of reading and writing. She suggests using sensory descriptions to enliven short fiction, personal essays and poetry. She believes that using the five physical senses and emotions improves writing. Reading skills, vocabulary, observation skills and general communication also create strong writing, according to Hamilton.

Her residency is sponsored by the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, with support provided by the South Dakota Arts Council, with funds from the state of South Dakota, through the Department of Tourism and Sate Development, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Could a channel for the visually impaired be available soon?

An application for a new TV channel catering to the visually impaired is pitting the two biggest English-language private broadcasters against each other and drawing opposition from the country's two largest cable operators.

It has also prompted advocates for the disabled to question whether more could be done with the money the channel is proposing to raise through a 20? monthly subscriber fee.

The application is from National Broadcast Reading Service Inc., a not-for- profit organization with a mandate to enhance media access for the blind and visually impaired. It already operates Voice Print --an audio programming service whereby volunteers read articles from newspapers and magazines. Cable and satellite providers are obliged to carry Voice Print, and their subscribers are charged 4? a month for the service.

Now, NBRS wants the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to approve a licence for the Accessible Channel. It wants the proposed specialty service carried on a revamped basic cable regime-- to be determined through CRTC hearings starting on Tuesday -- and has asked that a 20?-a-month subscriber fee be levied.

The Accessible Channel would air programming accompanied by described video technology, which offers a narrative description of a movie or TV program's key visual elements.

(Since 2001, English-language private analogue broadcasters have offered at least two hours per week of described video programming and have committed to four hours per week by 2008.)
NBRScites data indicating the number of Canadians classified as legally blind is set to climb from current levels, roughly 611,000, to 828,000 by 2020. And the proposed channel would be in line with the objectives of the Broadcasting Act, which states that programming accessible by disabled people should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system "as resources become available."

The Accessible Channel has a major backer in CTV Inc., the country's largest private-sector broadcaster. CTV has agreed to be the "major program supplier" to the channel--or a minimum of 33% of all content. CTV has also pledged the fees it receives from NBRS will be directed to the Canadian Television Fund, which finances the production of Canadian content programming. In return, CTV is slated to get two of the five seats on the channel's board of directors.

The application has drawn fierce opposition, led by CanWest Global Communications Inc., the country's second largest conventional broadcaster (and owner of the National Post).

In a submission to the CRTC, Can- West said it was "disappointed" to learn NBRS entered into a pact with CTV, even though the Winnipeg-based company has provided funding to NBRS in the past and granted permission to NBRS's Voice Print to read from its 39 newspapers. "The benefits of this application inexplicably accrue almost entirely to one broadcasting entity," the CanWest submission said.

"Surely the Canadian broadcasting system would benefit from a more diverse programming approach on this proposed service, especially since the technological advances promised could certainly benefit a number of parties --not just CTV."

The Web gives new options to the visually impaired

The Indonesian media has reported on several gory and shocking events in the last month. The story of a mother in Malang, East Java, driven by financial hardship to poison her four children before killing herself; and the shooting of a police commander in Semarang, Central Java, by a subordinate resisting a transfer are just two examples. The Jakarta Post asked some people what they thought about the state of Indonesian society.

Ingrid Esmeralda, 24, works for a private bank. She lives in Cempaka Putih, East Jakarta, with her family:

I think what's going on in Indonesia in general is affecting people. We are going through tough times and that can influence people's emotions.

Another thing is most Indonesians believe in mysticism. People are fooled by their emotions, they don't use logic.

A lack of education is part of the reason why Indonesians are not thinking straight. There are a lot of college graduates, but we can still question the quality of their education.

I think the cure for the situation we're in is proper education, of both a scientific and spiritual kind.
Obby, 29, works at a private bank in Central Jakarta. He lives in Ciledug, Tangerang:
I believe that many unsolved social problems are contributing to the sickness of our society.

Economic hardship, particularly high unemployment, has increases people's stress. The economic gap in our society is also important, and could lead to more crime and violence.

It's important the government provides more jobs and reduces that gap. That would bring down stress and stop our society from getting sicker.

Honouring guide dogs!

PHILADELPHIA Canine companions, who aid visually impaired people, were honored Friday for their remarkable service.The Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ASB) celebrated the 13th Annual Guide Dog Appreciation Day on March 23rd.

Local guide dogs were rewarded for their hard work with treats and toys at the Philadelphia ASB building at 9th and Walnut on Friday afternoon.ASB is the largest non-profit organization in Southeastern Pennsylvania serving the visually impaired.

The visually impaired get support from lawmaker!

When a group of blind and vision-impaired advocates came to the House to press their issues today, they went to the top.Wielding white-tipped canes and guided by service dogs, the group found a champion in Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and the speaker pro tempore.“We want to thank you for coming to our convention,” said Kathy Davis, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. “You have been a real hero.”

Baxley is the father of a 20-year-old adoptive son who is blind and the founder last year of the 25-member “Vision Caucus” of the House, lawmakers dedicated to getting more services for the blind. The caucus includes Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, who has a son who is visually impaired.The federation’s legislative agenda includes increasing the penalties for motorists who strike blind pedestrians in crosswalks, making the state’s “My Florida” Web site easier to read for the visually impaired, and encouraging more Braille instruction for blind students.

Baxley has a bill (HB 883) that would make it harder for school administrators to offer alternatives to Braille instruction, but he gently suggested to a group of advocates meeting in his office that its success is still up in the air.The Department of Education is studying the measure, but the bill has yet to move through the education committee, and time is running out as the current session nears the halfway mark, Baxley said.“Around here, a bill has a 10 percent chance of surviving.

Sometimes it takes four or five years,” Baxley said. “But I’ve learned that just by filing a bill, you can start an important discussion.”Baxley promised to continue working the legislation, and jotted down notes about improving the state’s Web sites.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Donation of school supplies to visually impaired students

This was one of many items that members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hemecinto Aerie No. 4055 presented to teachers of the visually impaired on Thursday.

Carol Brock and Molly Morton continue to work with students even though both have officially retired from the Riverside County Office of Education program that serves hundreds of students.
"Each teacher used to have eight to 10 students but now they have 20 to 30," Brock said.
Joe Owens, a past worthy president and current vice president of sires, said the charitable group contacted Brock toward the end of 2006 to request a wish list. One of the Eagles' pet projects is assisting the junior blind.

"After we got Carol's list we determined the cost and presented it at our meeting -- it was approved so I ordered everything," Owens said. The cost was $1,864. he said.

Brock thought it was important to add card games, bungee balls and other toys to the more traditional educational items because there are not many readily available.

A Perkins Brailler was purchased for a 5-year-old girl in Anza who is starting kindergarten.
"This is like their pencil," Brock said. "It was a pipe dream for me to be able to get it for her."
Amanda, 7, and Ulises Gomez, 20, both of Hemet, received Braille watches along with the calendars and other items collected for six students.

"This is absolutely wonderful," said Amanda's mom, Cassie Knilans. "She's advanced and this is fantastic for her to have."

Brock said she always wanted to work with the visually impaired, but when she was in college more than 50 years ago, ophthalmology wasn't a field many women entered.

Morton is in demand because she has a dual credential and is able to teach blind students how to use canes and read Braille.

"They just need their own tools to do what everyone else does," Morton said.

Timelines for visually impaired students are the same as other students, she said.

"Subjects are just all in Braille."

The Fraternal Order of Eagles is a nonprofit beneficial and charitable organization founded in 1898. There are more than 1 million members worldwide. Since its beginning, the group has given more than $100 million to local and national charities ranging from buying schools supplies for homeless children to supporting St. Jude Children's Research center.

Eagles also support the armed forces, police and firefighters and others who protect and serve the community. Money is also raised for research in heart and kidney disease, diabetes and cancer.
Information, 951-929-4055.

Reach Diane A. Rhodes at 951-763-3456,

IBM builds new technology for the visually impaired

IBM has announced a new emerging technology that helps blind and visually impaired people experience streaming video and animation on the Internet. Designed at IBM's Tokyo Research Laboratory, the new multimedia browsing accessibility tool potentially opens a world of rich content to visually impaired people around the world, who number more than 161 million.

The emergence of multimedia content has risen dramatically in the last two years yet people with low or no vision have not been able to enjoy the benefits of these advances. Screen-reading software and self-talking browsers cannot handle multimedia applications, which are designed for intuitive visual use.

Visually impaired users cannot see multimedia control buttons appear on a screen. In addition, the audio of a streaming video — which automatically starts playing after the page is loaded — interferes with a synthesized assistive voice from screen-reading software, a vital assistant for visually impaired users. Furthermore, most multimedia content operates with a mouse rather than keyboard, making it impossible for visually impaired people to use it.

The new multimedia browsing accessibility tool offers people with visual impairment the same multimedia control features sighted people see and operate with a mouse. To enjoy a streaming video on video sharing websites, for example, visually impaired people can select the "play" button by simply pressing a predefined shortcut key to control the media instead of roaming the content to search for buttons to control the video. The tool also allows users to control video replay speed, volume and even speed up the sound since to people with visual impairment, listening to the sound streaming video offers is painfully slow.

"The new multimedia browsing accessibility tool will enable persons with visual impairments the opportunity to access dynamic multimedia web content, quickly and easily," said Frances West, director, IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center. "IBM has a long history of developing innovative solutions for persons with disabilities, and this tool is another example of IBM innovation that will enhance the web experience for persons with visual impairments."

The new multimedia browsing accessibility tool can adjust the volume of an individual source, allowing users to identify and listen to different sound sources including screen-reading software and the sound of a video. If a content creator wants to offer a voice narrative to a video, the new accessibility tool provides the flexibility of utilizing the metadata, which contains a text script explaining what is happening on screen. The tool automatically makes adjustments to let voice guidance synchronize with the video, even with the speed control capability.

IBM has plans to open source the new multimedia browsing accessibility tool to accelerate the enhancement and adoption of the tool to make multimedia contents accessible for visually impaired.

Can video games benefit the visually impaired?

According to a new study from the University of Rochester, playing action video games sharpens vision. In tests of visual acuity that assess the ability to see objects accurately in a cluttered space, game players scored higher than their non-playing peers.

"Action video game play changes the way our brains process visual information," says Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. "After just 30 hours of training, people who normally don't play video games showed a substantial increase in the spatial resolution of their vision, meaning they could see small, closely packed letters more clearly."

Most of the factors that affect a normal person's ability to read an eye-chart are optical (size of the eye, the shape/thickness of the cornea and lens) and video games will not change those factors. However, there are some types of visual deficits that aren't optical in nature but are instead neural. "It is our hope that video game training can help these people," says Bavelier. Only certain games create this effect; first-person action games.

Shooting games, such as Unreal Tournament, improved vision. More sedate games, such as the puzzle game Tetris, showed no effect. "When people play action games, they're changing the brain's pathway responsible for visual processing," says Bavelier. "These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it. That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life." This could mean that video games will find a future role in the medical world. Patients with visual impairment from conditions such as amblyopia (commonly known as 'lazy-eye'), or even normal aging of the brain, could use video games as rehabilitation therapy.

This study is published in Psychological Science. Daphne Bavelier is an associate professor of Brain & Cognitive Sciences with the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester and is the associate director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging. With a citation ranking/impact factor placing it in the top ten psychology journals worldwide, Psychological Science is a leader in the field.

The flagship journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society), the journal publishes authoritative articles of interest across all of psychological science, including brain and behavior, clinical science, cognition, learning and memory, social psychology, and developmental psychology.

For more information, please visit Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading society publisher, partnering with 665 medical, academic, and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 800 journals and has over 6,000 books in print. The company employs over 1,000 staff members in offices in the US, UK, Australia, China, Singapore, Denmark, Germany, and Japan and officially merged with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.'s Scientific, Technical, and Medical business in February 2007.

Blackwell's mission as an expert publisher is to create long-term partnerships with our clients that enhance learning, disseminate research, and improve the quality of professional practice. For more information on Blackwell Publishing, please visit or

An inspiring story!

Some people have sight, but no vision. Other people have no sight, but great vision. Harry "Tom" Heery is visually impaired but has the vision and passion to be an inspiration to others. Heery lost his sight three years ago and refused to let it hold him back. I like to tell people, i'm just a blind person, putting one foot in front of the other to keep on going," said Heery.

He is modest about his role in helping the visually impaired, but has become a voice of reason. Mildred Session says when she was losing her sight, Heery was there. He became her voice of reassurance and her counselor. Tom Heery is married with two children, he says that is where he found his strength. For ten years the retired warehouse manager fought hard to save his sight. He said he got his vision back four times before he totally lost it to diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

After rehab classes Heery began volunteering. He volunteers with a support group, he plays santa claus, he founded a talking book club and takes part in the annual vision walk. He has even found time to learn the guitar. Heery says he wants to be able to play 'Amazing Grace.' As the writer John Newton said, "I once was lost, but now i'm found, was blind, but now I see." He says he would like people to know that blindness is not the end of the world. That is why Harry "Tom" Heery is one of our 12 Who Care.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Budget cuts will be fought by the visually impaired

The blind and their advocates are vowing to fight tens of thousands of dollars in proposed cuts to programs that provide access to books and newspapers for the visually impaired. Gov. Deval Patrick's $26.7 billion budget proposes cutting $100,000 from the Braille and talking book library program at the Perkins School for the Blind and $18,000 from the $390,000 talking book program at the Worcester library. "This is the way blind people have access to information," Paul Parravano, who works in the president's office at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Boston Herald.

Parravano, 55, who is legally blind, said he calls Newsline, a state-funded service that plays recordings of newspaper articles, at least a dozen times a day. "It's like you just pick up the newspaper. I pick up the phone," he said. Less money for the Perkins library means fewer books for fewer people, said Steven Rothstein, president of the Watertown school. Thousands of people use the library each year, but it could serve thousands more, he said.

A Patrick spokeswoman said the governor's budget makes cuts across the board as he tries to close a projected $1.3 billion deficit. "We understand that behind every dollar is a person and unfortunately we had to make cuts to several agencies," Cyndi Roy said. "And we're glad this one wasn't as severe as it could have been." She noted that former Gov. Mitt Romney cut talking book funding by $263,000 last year, but Patrick restored it when he took office.

State Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called access to talking books a civil right and said the programs should be at least level funded. Patrick has been accused of excessive spending on his official car and office furnishings. "It's sad to see he has money to go out and lease a Cadillac and he decides to make a cut in books for the blind," said Bob Hachey, president of Bay State Council for the Blind.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

What could be the top inventions that could help the visually impaired?

Being visually impaired, I’m always encountering situations that could be made more efficient (if not easier) with the help of new inventions. The following are some situations and their corresponding inventions that I wish someone would create.

Okay, I’m in the shower and I reach for the shampoo which is room temperature, so I can’t tell whether or not the shampoo bottle has yet relinquished its contents into the palm of my hand, and if it has, how much I have is a mystery until I plop about a half a cup onto my balding scalp. The next thing I know, I’m sliding around in a suds filled tub clutching at the shower curtain, holding on for dear life.

The invention in this case is a cap of some sort that can be attached to the top of shampoo bottles that allow only a measured amount of shampoo to come out at a time.

Next, I’m in the grocery store with my wife, and I’m impatiently waiting for her to choose between the vast arrays of toilet tissues. Suddenly, I decide I want to go get a jar of pickles and assuredly walk away from my wife as she complains about a brand of tissue being a “rip-off” (no pun intended).

So far so good (as they say) until I emerge in the wide center isle and realize I can’t distinguish which Isle contains the pickles that I want. So I begin the hunt, snaking in and out of the isles too self conscious to ask passing strangers for directions. To top this situation off, I finally enter the correct isle just as my wife comes into view saying, “The pickles are right here.”

The invention in this case should be placards placed on posts, at isle entrances, giving visually impaired shoppers the opportunity to press a button and hear recordings of each isle’s main contents.

Yet another: Okay, I’m at a department store trying to choose a birthday card for my wife and hesitantly buy a card that I think says, “I love you, and always will.” Later that evening when presenting it, I discover to my horror that the card actually says, “I love you even though you’re over the hill.” The invention in this case might be an electronic scanner of some sort located nearby that will read each card for me.

Here’s another one: Okay, I’m on the phone with my mother who is talking about her gas and how it makes her butt feel like she’s wearing a flaming thong backwards, and I get a beep meaning I have a call waiting on the other line. So I interrupt my mother saying, “Hold on a sec. I got a beep.”

Then I try to look at my phone actually thinking I can find the flash button which is hidden amongst 20 other identical buttons; save the talk button which is the largest button I see. So panicking, I hastily reach for it like it’s` a life preserver and press it; both hanging up on my mother, and missing the incoming call.

Here the invention could be to give the flash button, the talk button and the redial button distinctive shapes that can be easily recognized by blind and low vision telephone users.

The last situation that needs addressing is more of a requested service than an invention, unless an invention can be created Addressing the following inconvenience:

Okay so I’m in the kitchen listening to “Good Eats” on television’s Food Network trying to prepare the same meal as the host when suddenly a huge blurb of text is displayed across the screen that I can’t read. Believing I missed something important, I find myself involuntarily yelling at the screen, “Why doesn’t someone just read that aloud?!”

This leads me to the requested service of not just displaying the text in television shows (and movies), but reading the text aloud for the benefit of those of us who can’t read the words ourselves. If this can’t be accomplished, the producers of such content could invent a special audio channel containing vocalized text that the visually impaired could receive with specialized televisions.

Finally, the inventions listed above serve to remind everyone that no matter how silly they are, things can always be done to make the lives of the visually impaired easier. That said, if you are an inventor, and I inspired you with the above ideas, I want to thank you in advance for seeing the inventions through. My only request is that you remember me when you are making a fortune selling the finished products.

Visually impaired woman receives compensation due to skating accident

It was the state's idea to take a group of visually impaired citizens roller-skating during an outing in 2004.

The adventure ended in disaster, by one skater's account. Judy Wassenaar, a blind Chesapeake woman, says she fractured her wrists and injured her shoulders, back and neck when she was sent off alone around the roller rink.

Taxpayers will pay $50,000 in a partial settlement of a lawsuit Wassenaar filed in Chesapeake Circuit Court against The Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired. Wassenaar's lawsuit is still active against a second defendant, Skate America Inc. in Mechanicsville, according to her attorney Kevin Martingayle.

According to the settlement, the state admits no liability for the April 2004 incident at Skate America.

Wassenaar could not be reached for comment. The 49-year-old woman is categorized as completely blind after losing her sight as an adult.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2006, sought $1.5 million, alleging that the state was negligent and reckless during the skating excursion. Wassenaar was not particularly athletic and had not skated in more than 30 years when her instructor turned her loose, according to the lawsuit.

Wassenaar, without safety gear, went around the roller rink once with an escort, according to her claim.

"The instructor then turned her loose and told her to go around the outer edge of the skating rink, without providing one-on-one or adequate assistance," according to the lawsuit.

She fell hard on the skating surface, the lawsuit said. She was one of about six students at Skate America.

The Chesapeake woman was enrolled as a student in the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired, which was established to help visually impaired people. The center teaches strategies and skills so blind people can lead more independent lives.

Wassenaar was a live-in resident at the state-financed and state-run program.

Joseph Bowman, commissioner of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, said he still believes the students there should have every opportunity to enjoy full lives.

"They need to be active and involved in their community and that includes recreational activity," Bowman said. "We do offer recreational activity from time to time for the students' benefit."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Audio tour is now another option available to the visually impaired

A special audio tour of the Monmouth County Arts Council (MCAC) Juried Art Show will allow audiences with low vision or visual impairments to enjoy a firsthand experience of the art exhibit.
Thanks to the generosity of Community Foundation of Monmouth County, the New Jersey Blind Citizen Association, in collaboration with MCAC, has created and donated an audio description of the MCAC 28th annual Juried Art Show and Sale.

Providing the technology to record and edit the audio tour, Tom Brennan of 90.5 The Night was instrumental in MCAC's initiative to enable many more people with sight loss or impairments to enjoy the art exhibit, according to a press release.

"When organizations team up to deliver services to the community, everyone benefits from the experience," said Mary Eileen Fouratt, MCAC executive director. "While the MCAC Juried Art Show has always been an accessible event, this year the show's audio description will be equally engaging for people with visual impairments and anyone who wants a description of the art in the exhibit."

The audio description, which runs about 18 minutes, concentrates on relaying information on the show, juror and artists, as well as the visual appeal of the artwork.

Narrated by Sue Ferraro, an art teacher at Camp Happiness, the audio tour describes not only the visual aspects of the work, but also its emotional context. In addition, several sculptors have granted permission to allow visually impaired visitors to touch their artwork.

"We are pleased to have this opportunity to serve the blind and visually impaired community directly," Fouratt said. "We hope that the audio description will enhance their imaginations and increase their enjoyment of the exhibit."

Listening devices are available at the Monmouth Museum or art enthusiasts can audio tour the exhibit online at MCAC's Internet Web site or download the audio description to their own mp3 player. Works will continue to be on display and available for purchase until the end of the exhibition on March 4.

The Monmouth Museum, 765 Newman Springs Road (Route 520), Lincroft, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Admission is $6 per person; Monmouth Museum members and children under 2 are free.

For more information or group visits contact the museum at (732) 747-2266.