Saturday, April 28, 2007

Job hunting is no easy task for the visually impaired!

Visually impaired social workers are unable to get employment in Jamaica, complains Doreen Reid, a graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI) who has been trying unsuccessfully for years to gain employment in guidance and counselling or social work.

Claiming she has been discriminated against, Ms. Reid, who has been employed in several
part-time jobs, the last of which was replacement telephone operator at the Auditor General's office, told The Sunday Gleaner she had been called for many interviews, but was always turned down.
"I am visually impaired and I am desperately in need of help ... I have no money ... It's rough on me ... I badly need a job - anything in counselling or social work," she pleads.

Gloria Goffe, coordinator of the Combined Disabilities Association, said employment of the disabled is always a problem, whether you are a college graduate or not.

"It's sad that she (Reid) cannot get a job and she has been trained. But, it takes a lot more out of us to succeed in the system," argued Ms. Goffe. "We have to work extra hard to make it. She has gone for interviews. I have no proof that in her case it is discrimination, but I know there are cases where persons are turned down because they are disabled. Usually it is done in such a manner that what is done does not appear to be discrimination."

Doreen Reid's academic career started with success in six GCE O' Level subjects. She subsequently enrolled at Mico Teachers' College and achieved a diploma in guidance and counselling. After graduating from Mico, Ms. Reid spent one year trying to get a job in counselling. Unable to secure this, she obtained a loan from the Students' Loan Bureau and attended the UWI as a full-time student and pursued a degree in social work, graduating in 2005.

However, in spite of her additional qualification, her job applications are still being turned down by potential employees. "Believe me, I am in the same situation, seeking jobs and only to be told by several agencies that I cannot manage the travelling - without even being given a chance to prove myself," she said. "Based on the questions, I know it is high discrimination," Miss Reid added.

Difficult to adjust

Doreen Reid's degree. The trained woman has been unable to find employment, despite her qualifications.

At interviews with the National Youth Service and the Correctional Services, she reported: "The interviewee told me that she did not know that she was shortlisting a
visually impaired person. They said it would be difficult for me to get adjusted, and asked if there were a fire, how would I escape it? They also asked how would I stop a child from escaping?"

Gloria Goffe notes that there are several other university students who are
disabled and unemployed. "I know four right now who are in a similar position. It's unfortunate. We are a small percentage and yet it is so difficult. Her case is not an isolated one."

Jacqueline Reid, sister of Doreen Reid, is also a graduate of the UWI who has been unsuccessful in finding employment in social work. Currently, a telephone operator in the government service, she says she would like to be employed in the field in which she was trained.

According to Gloria Goffe: "Quite a number of those who are employed are employed by the Government or organisations run for the disabled. Many are also underemployed. You are unable to use the additional skills gained in training."

Goffe noted that the National Disability Act is now being drafted and that there is a disability policy that says government should employ a percentage of the disabled.

"Two per cent of the labour force are disabled and the policy reflects this. But, as far as I know there is no legislation affecting the wider private sector," she disclosed. "The policy encourages them to employ, but onecannot force them. In the National Disabilities Act, employment is a subject we have not seen the draft yet."

Gloria Goffe, also a graduate of the UWI majoring in psychology, was formerly employed to Deloitte and Touche before her current job.

She states: "Employment among the disabled should be a major focus by the Government and the rest of the society. We have been trying to qualify ourselves. We need a chance to self-actualise, get our house, take care of our families and look after ourselves."

High School students raised funds to help the visually impaired

Victoria Giordani walked around the pond at Eugene Levy Memorial Park yesterday not only to enjoy the sunny, spring weather, but because she and other members of Ramapo High School's ASPIRA Club were raising money for a cause.

The event supported organizations including VISIONS Vacation Camp for the Blind, and was part of the Monsey Lions Club's Campaign SightFirst program.

The walk featured volunteers from the club and students from Ramapo High School and Pearl River High School's Honor Society.

"We're helping blind people, and helping them get glasses," said Giordani, a 17-year-old senior. "It feels great."

Maybelle Twohie, president of the Lions Club, said the Lions' SightFirst program is a global initiative, and yesterday's walk included Lions members from numerous counties in the state.
Twohie was not certain about when the event first began, but she has been involved with it since 1974.

Including volunteers and the 125 members of VISIONS Vacation Camp for the Blind, Twohie said the event would draw well over 200 people. She hoped it would raise nearly $10,000 to benefit the camp and other organizations and schools for the visually impaired.

"The fact that they're giving of themselves," Twohie said of the young volunteers, "it's like they're saying, 'I don't want something back, but I did get something from just sharing with you, this day.' "
Although the event was primarily focused on the walk, there were other activities to entertain the crowd. Children played at the park's playground while other people enjoyed doughnuts, coffee, hot dogs and soda.

The Lions also raised money by selling raffle tickets for $2 apiece, each ticket giving participants the chance to win small prizes.

Joy Vazquez Pierre-Louis, a math teacher and ASPIRA adviser at Ramapo High School, has involved herself and her school's club with the walk for six years. She said that it is a valuable experience not just for those in need, but her students as well.

She said that her students were each responsible for raising $20 for the walk and that, combined, they were able to raise $500.

"It shows their character and what they're committed to," Vazquez Pierre-Louis said of the students. "They are very fortunate in their situations and they know that there are people who are less fortunate. ... I hope that they continue doing that."

Vazquez Pierre-Louis said her group was on hand not only to benefit the Lions Club and VISIONS Vacation Camp for the Blind, but also organizations such as Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a group that trains guide dogs.

Although students and volunteers benefited from the walk, perhaps the people to benefit the most were the camp members themselves.

Kathryn Devlin has been a VISIONS camp member and has participant at the Lions' annual walk since the 1970s. She and her husband, Reed Devlin, also a camp member, said that they enjoy such walks because they can catch up with friends.

"We love it," Kathryn Devlin said as she walked around the pond with her arm wrapped around her husband's. "The weather is beautiful."

"We've been looking forward to this, and the beautiful weather is just frosting on the cake," Reed Devlin said. "It doesn't get better than this."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The visually impaired now have a dating website!

All joking aside, a San Antonio-based Web site could give you the hookup on a great blind date.
The American Foundation for the Blind estimates there are currently 10 million blind people living in the United States, and it's believed that half of them have computers with access to the Internet. Those in search of love can now log onto a site created by a San Antonio man to find their match.
Dominic Carrejo was a basic trainee in his 20s planning a long future in the Army.

"I was running into things more. I was bumping into things below me," Carrejo said.

Carrejo developed an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, and his vision was deteriorating.
"I was in denial for quite a long time," he said. Eventually, Carrejo found love and married, but he noticed some of his blind friends were struggling.

"When I left Hawaii they were single. When I came back they were still single. And I thought I'd give them a hand," Carrejo said.

So, he created the Web site
Love is Blind.

"The attraction begins with appearance and right there a blind person can't see how attractive you are, that makes it a little harder with them," Carrejo said.

Those who aren't visually impaired are welcome as well. Every month the site has a featured member and clients can determine whether someone has what they're looking for in terms of love or marriage.

"If you're tired of relationships where you have a boyfriend who's always looking at other women, you might consider a blind person," Carrejo said.

So far the site has attracted clients from Canada and Australia.

"We have a woman who is a senator's aid. We have a 98-year-old woman looking for marriage," Carrejo said.

Although the name of the Web site is Love is Blind, the address is

Visually impaired teenager may have set Guinness skating record

A visually impaired boy in Indore has set a world record in skating by passing under a seven-and-a-half inch high ribbon.Thirteen-year-old, Indrapal Ahirwar, has been practising very hard for several months to achieve this goal and is ecstatic that he has emerged triumphant."It doesn't matter if God has not given me sight.

We are not lesser than normal people. As a matter of fact we are better than them. I want to become a skating coach when I grow up," said Indrapal, a class-four student of Helen Keller Shiksha Academy. Indrapal's coah, Naresh Parekh, who has been training blind students said that the boy has a promising talent."We have worked very hard to polish the skating skills of this child.

He has worked really hard. I teach other blind students as well but he's the best because of this flexibility and disciplined nature," Parekh said. Acknowledging the boy's effort, the Guinness Book of World Records has already called for a video clip of his performance.Indrapal's father works as a mason in New Delhi while his mother and four siblings live in a remote village in Uttar Pradesh. His parents sent him to the Indore school, since it provides free education to visually impaired.

Samsung designs new Braille phone for the visually impaired!

The “Touch Messenger” is a product designed by Samsung Design China based in Shanghai , China , a country with about 9 million visually impaired people. The product is assessed as a successful result of Samsung's global design strategy, That is, products suited for local needs and characteristics should be designed and planned by obtaining inspiration from local markets in countries around the world.

The innovative Touch Messenger enables the visually impaired users to send and receive Braille text messages. The 3×4 button on the cell phone is used as two Braille keypads and text messages can be checked through the Braille display screen in the lower part. Once this product is commercialized, it is expected to dramatically boost the quality of life for visually impaired people, numbering as many as 180 million worldwide.

Samsung's mobile phone for the visually impaired, “Touch Messenger,” is regarded as a demonstration of the company's future design direction, “human-oriented high-tech products.”

Safe technology adopted by public transportation system

Adopting the best of practices from around the world, it has been benchmarked to the Metro systems in Hong Kong, Copenhagen, Paris and Singapore. Abdulredha Abu Al Hassan, Director of Planning and Design, Rail Agency, RTA said: "Optimum care has been taken by the HQSE team to design the tunnel and station ventilations whereby the air quality is being tested using the most advanced technology to ensure that the air is clean and free from any dust or pollution.

Cooling systems for the station boxes have been designed and a special type of air conditioning will treat humidity, high temperatures, and other dusty weather conditions ensuring compliance with international standards." After in-depth studies plans are being put in place to deal with emergencies.

To ensure that all commuters, especially those with special needs, travel comfortably, trained wardens will direct and escort people wherever necessary. In support of its vision of providing 'Safe and Smooth' transport for all, the rail agency of the RTA, has developed a 'Barrier Free Access System' to make the Dubai Metro accessible to all regardless of physical impairment. Lifts will be available at station entrances, at concourses and platforms. The lifts will accommodate 17 people at all levels, and will have clear signage-both audio and visual.

All the Escalators will have warning signs, and directional indicator lights. Tactile Guidance Path laid on the floor will aid the visually impaired from the entrance to the platform. Wide fare gates and automatic fare collection systems will aid those wheel chair bound to commute easily. . Ticket counters will be within wheel chair reach and the windows will have speech holes, perforated glazing and voice amplifiers.

Platform screen doors (PSD) will have audible bleeps as the doors close to alarm those visually impaired and Light Emitting Diods (LED) signals will flash as the doors close for the hearing impaired, while flashing PSD lights will function to notify door failed warnings. Visual and audio announcements will be available inside the train with space and a hand rail for wheel chairs and while priority seats will be available for the elderly and impaired. Health, Quality, Safety and Environment (HQSE) OF Dubai Metro system is paramount.

It provides regular checks on the quality assurance of the design and construction activities to ensure compliance with International Standards and best practice. Other unique features of Dubai Metro include provision of air conditioning of all elevated railway station concourses and platforms, also provision of wash rooms and toilets in the station paid areas. To provide further comfort to passengers and station users all foot bridges will be air-conditioned and equipped with modern travellators.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

New invention could give some sight to the blind

A tiny electronic device could allow people who've lost some of their vision to see again. The technology has already helped restore partial sight in blind people. Now scientists are building on that initial research.

Diseases that damage the retina are the primary cause of vision loss. For Hymen Marder, macular degeneration has left him with just a small amount of peripheral vision.

Hymen Marder, Visually Impaired: "There are times when I think I see something, but I really don't until I move my head to a certain point."

But researchers at USC's Doheny Eye Institute are working on a computerized eye implant to bypass the retina. It consists of a chip that's surgically implanted in the back of the eye. A small camera mounted on a pair of glasses transmits images to the chip, which sends the signals along the optic nerve to the patient's brain. An early version of the device helped patients with total vision loss see light. That version had only 16 electrodes. Now Dr. Mark Humayan is testing a new version with a 60 electrode chip.

Mark Humayun, M.D., Professor of Opthalmology: "We hope and we believe that the 60 electrode will allow much more detailed resolution, but it still probably will not allow someone to read or recognize faces."

Dr. Humayun's new version is four times smaller than the original, but can send even more visual information to the brain. The FDA has approved clinical trials for the device. Trials Dr. Humayan believes will help his team design even more powerful devices.

Mark Humayun, M.D.: "250, 300 or even 1000 electrodes - that's where we're headed. So we can get to the point of allowing the patients to read and recognize faces."

Meanwhile, Humayun hopes to have the current implant that restores partial vision on the market in two to three years. By the end of the year, the researchers will be testing the new implant in more than 50 people.

Speaking website a hit amongst visually impaired users

DISABILITY groups have given the thumbs-up to Lancashire Police Authority's new website after being allowed to roadtest it.

New features of the police site include a facility where the contents of individual pages are read out to users.

The visually-impaired can alter the colour of the backdrop to suit their needs or the size of the text can be enlarged.

Before it went live this week, the police authority enlisted the help of Penwortham-based Galloway's Sight Advice Centre.

Ken Lonergan, who tried out the site, said: "We are delighted that the police authority has considered the needs of visually-impaired people when developing their website.

"We hope more and more companies will recognise that by complying with the Disability Discrimination Act they could be reaching thousands more people."

In the coming weeks the site will be made available to British Sign Language users.

"Untrainable dog" according to ex-owners may become guide dog for the blind

When Sadie, a 14-month-old German Shepherd mix, was dropped off at the Donald Reese Animal Shelter, her owners said she was difficult to train and they could do nothing with her.Sadie, however, proved to be friendly and intelligent with a willingness to learn, so the Otsego County animal shelter staff and the Lions Club of Gaylord teamed up to take Sadie down to Leader Dogs for the Blind. Leader Dog, located in Rochester, trains dogs for the blind and visually impaired.

After arriving in Rochestser earlier this week, Sadie passed an initial behavior test meant to weed out dogs unsuitable for the program.“I think the message to be learned is that there are a lot of animals out there that have a lot of potential and just need the right person to bring it out. Many dogs seem difficult to handle, but that does not mean they are not trainable,” said Otsego County Animal Control Director Angel Oppermann.

She said the Lions have several volunteers who drive dogs to Rochester for testing.According to Leader Dogs kennel manager Steve Solwold, the behavior test — part of graduating about 275 dogs annually — is meant to ensure a dog is friendly, confident and “sound’ enough for the job. Tests of the dog’s behavior include walking the dogs along roadsides with 40-mph traffic, or walking up stairs toward a mirror and its own reflection, explained Solwold.While Sadie passed her first test, she has a few other hurdles before she would be able to guide a blind or visually impaired owner.

An extensive medical evaluation, which disqualifies many of the dogs, and a five-month training program lie ahead for Sadie, who now is one of about 200 dogs donated by the public each year, according to Solwold.“We have high hopes, even though a small number (of dogs) complete the intense training,” Solwold said, referring to Sadie’s chances of becoming a leader dog.He said the odds are against Sadie completing the program successfully, considering about one in 10 dogs donated from the street graduate. (According to the Leader Dog Web site, about 90 percent of the dogs graduated each year are bred by the organization, with the remaining coming by donation.)

Solwold explained that the screening process has to take into account many behaviors non-blind owners may not need to address as the dog provides a lot of visual behavioral clues. He noted many “good” dogs will fail because the scrutiny must by high to produce quality leader dogs who are able to meet needs of the visually impaired.Even if Sadie does not complete the program, Leader Dogs ensures the donated pets will be found an adoptable home.

The visually impaired get help to learn how to read Braille

The Brunei Darussalam National Association of the Blind yesterday received a contribution in an amount of $8,000 from the Standard Chartered Bank.

On hand to accept the contribution was the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Dewa Major General (Rtd) Dato Seri Pahlawan Awg Hj Mohammad Hj Daud who then handed it over to the President of the association, Mohammad Jamary Danggat.

The contribution was made possible through a fundraising campaign during the 2006 Brunei Marathon, "Seeing is Believing" Tiew Siew Chuen, SCB Chief Executive Officer said, `A milestone of the success of our partnership is our sponsorship of the Brunei Darussalam National Association's headquarters at Wisma Haji Mohd Taha Building in Gadong as well as the necessary equipment which allows classes to be held specifically to train the visually impaired to read Braille and familiarise themselves with computers with specific access technology programmes. "

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cell phone recycling to help the visually impaired!

A NEW mobile phone recycling scheme to benefit visually impaired children has been launched.
Kent Libraries are working together with the Kent Association for the Blind (KAB) to start the scheme across the county's 106 libraries.

Library customers will be able to collect special pre-paid envelopes at issue desks, which can hold up to three handsets.

They can post them free-of-charge to KAB, who will send the handsets on to developing countries where they can be reused.

A small amount of money will be raised for KAB for each handset sent on, which the group will use to fund voluntary projects, including Kent Talking Newspapers and a new toy library for visually impaired children in the county.

Kent County Council cabinet member for Community Services Mike Hill, said: "This scheme is an excellent way to recycle unwanted mobile phones and it will really benefit those in developing countries where such items are useful but well beyond the means of many people.

"I hope that many of Kent's residents will have old handsets spare, particularly as they may have bought new ones but have not been sure how to dispose of the old ones."

Any handsets donated should be in good working order with the SIM cards removed.
For further information please contact your local library.

Visually impaired artists publish first album

Their disability did not come in the way of their ambition to achieve prominence in music field.
Fifteen visually impaired persons joined hands to bring out a Tamil music album, `Irai Vaasam', said to be a first of its kind effort in the city.

Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Commissioner T. Pitchandi launched the devotional music album here on Sunday. Music director Gangai Amaran received the first copy.

"Dedicated efforts"

Recalling the hard work that went into the album, president of the All India Louis Braille Association of the Blind S. Murugesan said their dedicated efforts over two months paid rich dividends with the launch of the album.

Mr. Murugesan, who is also the music composer and lyricist of the album, said the composition was done under different situations. One song was composed during a train journey and another after a temple visit, he added.

He appealed to the government to provide land for setting up a recording studio for the visually impaired artistes.

Mr. Pitchandi said such efforts of visually challenged persons must be encouraged. The demands of the association would be taken up with the officials concerned.

Tamil poetry book

He also released a Tamil poetry book, `Agalveli', authored by Mr. Murugesan.

Proprietor of Kannadasan Pathipagam Gandhi Kannadasan said books of lyricist Kannadasan and Tamil poet Bharathiyar would soon be published in braille form and distributed free to associations and schools for the visually challenged.

Vishranthi Charitable Trust Chairperson Savithri Vaithi participated.

The All India Louis Braille Association of the Blind plans to bring out more such music albums.

Garden of fragrances for the visually impaired

A fragrant garden developed specifically for the visually impaired by Islamabad Horticulture Society (IHS) founding member Ghazanfar M Khan and his wife Naeema, was handed over to the CDA on Saturday.Ghazanfar and Naeema have set up the beautiful garden named Khizer-e-Rah in the G-6/4 sector, which is perhaps the first of its kind in Pakistan.

Environment Director General Mazhar Hussain said the couple had shown the Capital Development Authority (CDA) a new direction by making this garden. The CDA had not done much for special people and sought suggestions from the public for establishing a similar facility at an appropriate location, he added.Khan, whose love for gardening and flowers was evident from his speech, said that the idea of making such a garden came to him during his visits abroad.

“Abroad they have these facilities, but not here, that’s why I initiated it,” he added.A group of volunteers will be constituted to conduct visits for the visually impaired. “We are stepping into uncharted territory and will evolve a system through trial-and-error,” said Khan, who is also the IHS senior vice president.The visually impaired would be able to identify plants and flowers through their fragrance. The garden, dedicated by Khan to his parents, has been designed in a way that the visitors wouldn’t have to encounter any hurdles while going around.

Hussain agreed to a request for providing transport to Al-Makhtoum Special Education Centre students for the visually impaired. Nazmina, a visually impaired teacher at the centre, had earlier also made the request. She said that visiting parks around town was quite a hassle, as they had not been made specifically for them. “But here, I am sure we wouldn’t face any problems; we can touch the flowers and smell their fragrance,” she said.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Raja Zulqarnain Khan, who was the chief guest on the occasion, appreciated the CDA’s efforts regarding this. He called upon horticulturists to help to them to launch pilot projects for raising flowers and plants in earthquake-devastated areas.Former IHS president Shaukat Malik and National Horticulture Society head Islamullah Khan also spoke on the occasion.

Winner of the All Pakistan Na’at competition and a Al-Makhtoum Centre student Adnan Rasheed gave a fine display of his na’at reciting skills.The ceremony also featured the formal signing of documents between Khan and the CDA officials while Raja Zulqarnain announced a donation to the hosts for running the garden.Among the audience were students, horticulturists, women and children.