Thursday, May 31, 2007

Braille in the washroom?

THE wonderful thing about being a disabled person in Malaysia is that when you require assistance, four out of every five Malaysians will come to your aid. The only problem is that you sometimes have to call out to them for help.

But people who see you struggling, in your wheelchair, with a heavy bathroom door, may not rush forward to help you. I’ve been told by many able-bodied people that it’s because they do not know if they should help, fearing that the disabled person might snap at them for thinking that they can’t do it themselves.

Others tell me that sometimes they only realise, too late, that the disabled person needs help.
Whilst most disabled Malaysians appreciate a helping hand when it is needed, the truth is, we don’t want to be dependent on the able-bodied. It is for this reason that Malaysians with disabilities are always pushing for the authorities to improve disabled-friendly facilities in the country.

So you can understand why I was thrilled when I read that the Housing and Local Government Ministry plans to include signs in Braille in public toilets all over the country. According to the news report, the visually-impaired will find it easier to use loos with signage in Braille indicating where facilities such as bidets, urinals, soap dispensers, hand dryers and garbage bins are located.
A top official from the ministry commented that without Braille signs, the blind have to rely on others for help.

So thumbs up to our government and the National Toilet Cleanliness Cabinet Committee for considering the special needs of the blind patrons in restrooms.

Meanwhile, Kapt Abdul Karim Stuart Russell, secretary of the Support Group Society for the Blind of Malaysia, has raised the following points for the committee to consider:

Tactile ground surface indicators for the blind help orientate them to the location of public toilets. These must be properly placed and maintained. Note: Tactile markings are only of limited help if no information in Braille is provided outside and inside the toilets to help the blind use the facilities.
Standard uniform layout is essential in assisting the visually-impaired to overcome difficulties when using public toilets. Even slight differences can cause serious problems, distress and pose a possible danger to the blind.

Floors should be free of obstructions such as steps, open drains, and broken or missing tiles.
Designs should ensure that counters, cubicles, doors, etc, are free of sharp edges and other dangers.

Locking devices of toilet cubicles must be simple but effective. The designs must provide tactile evidence that the door is locked.

There should be regular maintenance to eliminate any defects in the facilities.

It would be useful to include sound orientation devises in public toilets to help the blind find what they are looking for.

The user-friendly facilities should include non-touch sensors for flushing. It must be noted that it is difficult, unhygienic and potentially dangerous if the blind have to use their hands to search for the facilities.

Other “musts” include observing international standards. For example, Braille signs should be placed at a uniform height, fittings should follow a standard layout, and facilities should be provided in an ergonomically designed environment.

“When it comes to the blind, the key word is ‘independence’,” stresses Karim. The issue of safety and hygiene, and the importance of self-assistance are some of the key considerations.

“Just like sighted persons, the blind need access to clean, safe and convenient public toilets. This is their basic right,” he added.

Ultrasonic device help the visually impaired to "see" better!

The device actually assists blind and visually impaired persons to perceive their surroundings in the same way that a flashlight enables sighted people to see in the dark. By listening to the sounds produced by the device, blind and visually impaired users can determine not only the distance and location of an object, but can also learn about its features and achieve object recognition.

The system sports headphones providing audio feedback to the user. The pitch of the sounds changes proportionally as the user moves to indicate distance to the object being encountered. The system's accuracy ranges between 6 to 16 feet. 'With every introduction of a new technology, blind and visually impaired people move closer toward achieving total independence.

With such an ultrasonic device blind users can start seeing the world with sound', said Auda Hazeem, CEO of Nattiq Technologies. The device is available for demonstration at Nattiq's offices at Crystal Tower in Corniche Road in Sharjah's Buhaira area. Blind users from all over the Middle East region continue to visit Nattiq technologies in order to test the latest adaptive technology offerings. The ultrasonic device is expected to be one of their favorite items.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

New shopping tags will be helpful to the visually impaired!

An RFID wireless tag with embedded memory from Cirencester-based Innovision Research and Technology has been used in a system to help visually-impaired people when buying items in shops.The system, which is called Seeingeyephone, uses near-field communications (NFC), the RFID tag reader and tag emulation technology to allow handhelds, predominantly mobile phones, to connect to and interact with tagged objects and tag readers by magnetic coupling.

Seeingeyephone is aimed at customers unable to read product information in shops. A Topaz RFID tag containing an ID, address and product-specific data such as the price, use-by date and nutritional values, is attached to the shelf next to each product. When the customer holds an NFC-enabled handset to the tag, the text-based information is retrieved, and the phone’s text-to-speech synthesiser feeds the information to the user in his or her chosen language.

“We were inspired not only by the creativity and practicality of some of the applications on display, but excited by the very positive response we got to our Topaz tag,” said Marc Borrett, business development Director at Innovision.At least one chip firm, NXP Semiconductors, believes NFC will become a standard technology included in every mobile phone.Developed by the Technical Research Centre of Finland, the project recently won ‘Most Innovative NFC Proposal of the Year’ at the Wireless Information Multimedia Applications 2007 event in Monaco.

Visually impaired graduate, an inspiration to others

A visitor recently entered the Orientation and Adjustment Center for the Blind on Dunn Avenue and told several people milling around in the cafeteria that he was looking for Peter Cerullo.

When none of the visually impaired people said anything, a few people snickered. A man with a gray ponytail and a cane made his way to a wall, grabbed a microphone and announced over the PA system: "Paging Peter Cerullo. You have a visitor. Peter Cerullo. You have a visitor."
Then he made a mock surprised expression and said, "Wait a minute, he's already here. I'm Peter Cerullo."

Such is Cerullo's humor. He makes people laugh all the time:

· at the center for the blind;

· at Daytona Beach Community College;

· on the city buses he uses to get around town;

· and as a frequent caller to radio talk shows where he's become known as "Blink."

Though visually impaired since birth, Cerullo's led an active life, working as a booking agent for several bands in the 1970s and early 1980s, including B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Fleetwood Mac. He also owned a restaurant in Atlantic City, and worked as a front-end manager for a chain of optical supply stores.

And while Cerullo can tell some lively stories about his days in rock 'n' roll, it's his infectious sense of humor and sincere caring for his fellow visually impaired people and students at DBCC that has won him the friendship and admiration of many.

"What an incredible person, probably the quickest wit I've ever known," said Suzanne Amsel of DBCC's student disability services. "His sense of humor has certainly boosted him over many hurdles he's encountered due to his visual impairment."

Despite his active past, Cerullo recently completed what he says is his biggest accomplishment, earning an Associate of Arts degree from DBCC. When he crossed the Ocean Center stage May 7, college President Kent Sharples presented Cerullo with his diploma, then immediately urged him to keep working and earn a bachelor's degree at the community college.

"I don't know about that," Cerullo says. "I'll have to talk to my counselor. But I'm 55. What am I going to do? Get another degree just to retire?"

Still, Cerullo has come a long way since he was born prematurely, weighing 2 pounds, 6 ounces. That led to him having retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP. He has always been extremely near-sighted, but his condition has worsened through the years.

After losing sight in his left eye and barely retaining sight in his right eye, Cerullo came to Daytona in 1997 to visit his brother's father-in-law and tour the Orientation and Adjustment Center for the Blind, which Cerullo says was listed as the third best such center in the nation.

"I immediately fell in love with the facility," Cerullo said.

He became a student in 1998, and now is an instructor, working the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift.
"They actually opened up a whole new world to me. What I didn't know was how to deal with blindness, getting across the street, getting around," Cerullo said.

With only limited vision in his right eye, Cerullo can only see the world in shapes and colors. But he said he uses his ears to bring everything into focus. "I listen, and I can see everything," he said.
Soon after he came to the center, he was working on computers. Then a longtime center supervisor, Debbie Armstrong, recommended he go back to college. Cerullo had completed some work in a small college in New Jersey, but left to pursue the entertainment business.

Cerullo agreed to try, and it changed his life, he said.

"I got drunk on school; I got addicted."

And it's an addiction he's actively tried to pass on to fellow visually impaired students.

"Pete came back to school for several reasons," Amsel said. "To get a degree, make a career change. But the underlying goal was to help others. He's always there to encourage other students, to help them conquer their fears, to give them hope."

"I feel like a Pied Piper" Cerullo said.

He and Amsel said he has convinced at least 40 other visually impaired people to attend school, many of whom have graduated with high honors and some of whom have earned master's degrees.

While Cerullo said he felt a lot of satisfaction when he received his diploma, he was even happier for his fellow students.

"It was wonderful; I was very proud of all my peers," he said.

Cerullo said he wishes people would reconsider how they view visually impaired people.
"It's more of a nuisance, not a handicap. I hate the word, 'handicap,' or 'disabled.' It's just a nuisance."

When Cerullo was nearing graduation, several teachers and fellow students wrote letters to Sharples hoping he would mention Cerullo in his commencement address. Sharples didn't, and Cerullo was glad.

"There were several others that really deserved it," he said.

But the letters are testament to the impact Cerullo has had on so many people.

"With Peter's help, the mathematics department has implemented lab activities for the classroom and the Academic Support Center to enhance the learning of the visually impaired students," mathematics chairman Marc Campbell wrote.

"His positive disposition must surely rub off on anyone lucky enough to become acquainted with him," fellow student Jim Bishop said.

"Rather than any recognition for rising above his own perceived obstacles, he is more pleased with inspiring a number of visually impaired residents at the Blind Center to take the plunge and go to DBCC," wrote John Petellat, a psychology instructor.

During his late-night shifts at the center, Cerullo comforts students with insomnia or problems that are keeping them awake, acting as an instructor, mentor and friend.

While his impairment has brought him a lot of joy through the years working with others, he said it was not a godsend.

"Absolutely not, but I've learned to live with it," he said.

And being around his students has given him something he's always pursued.

"I want to learn to be happy, and I've learned to do this with the students," Cerullo said.

The Cerullo File

NAME: Peter Cerullo

AGE: 55

OCCUPATION: Residential instructor, Orientation and Adjustment Center for the Blind.

EDUCATION: Associate of Arts degree, Daytona Beach Community College

VOLUNTEER: Fundraiser for St. Jude's Children Hospital and the Lions Club; Talking Book Library; Habitat for Humanity in Daytona Beach.

HOBBIES: Hiking, canoeing, and Beeper Ball, a baseball-like game for the visually impaired in which the ball beeps and there are only two bases.

Young visually impaired woman meets her hero!

She strode out of the door of the Baytown Police Department, and walked purposefully forward to meet someone she couldn’t really see. She is legally blind, but Jaymie Rhoades knew she was looking at the man who saved her life. Rhoades was only 6 months old in 1991 when she suddenly stopped breathing. Her older sister and her mother Cheryl ran out the door screaming, looking for help.

They found Mark Dugat, then a patrol officer with BPD who was at an apartment complex at James Street and Kilgore on another call. Dugat performed CPR on the infant, who began breathing again. Now, 17 years later, Rhoades is a vibrant, bubbly young lady poised to become a teacher for visually impaired students, and Dugat is a technician at Bayer.

But on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the two embraced in a hug 17 years overdue, reunited by yet another twist of fate in this improbable tale. “God had him there for a reason that day,” said Jaymie’s grandmother, Beverly Davis. “And God had Mr. Park at the hospital for a reason.” Sgt. Roger Park was on duty at San Jacinto Methodist Hospital a few weeks ago when Cheryl Rhoades, who was there with her youngest daughter, Lisa, approached him with a question. Did Park know how to get in touch with Mark Dugat?

“I made a few calls, and somebody tracked Mark down,” Park said. “It’s just an absolutely amazing thing.” Dugat, 45, had been looking forward to the meeting for days. He’s often wondered what had become of that beautiful little girl whose head lay in his hands, her body laying across his arm. He found a girl who talks and laughs all the time, looking a bit older than her age. Jaymie didn’t know how she would react to seeing Dugat. What do you say to someone without whom you would not be alive? “Nice to finally meet you,” she said, shaking his hand.

Jaymie was in the hospital for weeks, and doctors told her she probably wouldn’t live past the age of 4, or 5 at the oldest. She suffered severe nerve damage, including her optic nerve, and was completely blind until about 8 years old, when she regained some of her sight. She is now in the ninth grade — she had to repeat several grades because teachers chalked up her problems to a learning disability. She is planning to go Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin. Her family lives in Daisetta near Liberty.

Dugat left police work in 1999 — he said the money was a lot better — but he still looks fondly on his days as a cop, and on people like Jaymie who he was able to help. “If they had called an ambulance or driven her to the hospital, she would have been dead,” Dugat said. “And now look at her. I don’t really have words for it.”

Audio and Tactile Art is being taught to the visually impaired!

The idea for the project originated with Charter's art teacher Loren Abbate, who has worked with eight seniors and one junior since November of 2006 to create the exhibit.

The exhibit includes thick thread hanging overhead and a bubble-wrapped floor that students walk across before feeling their way along a multi-dimensional wall consisting of an array of fabrics, wires, plastics, and even scented oils. In addition to giving students at St. Joseph's a chance to experience art in a creative fashion, the charter school students also learned about the different degrees of blindness, the physiological and psychological sources of it, and the challenges visually impaired individuals face in society.

"As a service-learning school, our goal was to reach out to others in our community and give the experience of art to a population that's challenged," said Abbate. "At the same time, I think my students became more appreciative of the abilities they possess in the process." She said the materials used in the exhibit were collected through student-led field trips around Hoboken.

Students from both schools react

The general consensus among the approximately 50 St. Joseph students who took part in the interactive exhibit was enjoyment and gratitude, although one or two of the younger students cried while feeling through the display. "It was great; I had a lot of fun!" said an ecstatic Tamilah Alexander, a 19-year-old from Irvington who enjoyed the bubble-wrapped floor so much that she stomped her way across it twice.

"I was jumping and popping on them; it sounded like popcorn, but you couldn't eat it." Another student who had a good time walking through the exhibit was an 18-year-old from East Orange named Antoine Israel Love. "They did a good job. It would be nice if more schools did things like this," said Antoine. There was some visual art on display, for those with partial vision. Abbate said that black and white works were shown because the partially blind can better appreciate the contrast they create, whereas colorful displays generally appear like shades of gray.

The teens from the charter school also appeared to have had a rewarding time. "Helping other children experience art where otherwise they might not made me feel good and at the same time sad to see them," said 18-year-old Bianca Cabrera of the charter school. One of Cabrera's peers, 16-year-old Simone Longoria, a self-proclaimed artist who draws, sings, and writes her own music, shared the overall sentiment. "It felt really good to see [the students] taking part and going through the exhibit," she said.

"I felt like I was doing something good for someone else." Seventeen-year-old Jamil Torres added, "I enjoyed it very much, I got to see a lot of how the children feel. There are a lot of people who see art at face value. Because [the visually impaired students] can't see, their version of art goes deeper, focusing more on how it actually feels rather than just how it looks."

Hoboken Charter School

The Hoboken Charter School is one of two charter schools in town, having opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 8, 1998 after being created by parents who wanted an alternative to the city's other public schools. Although the school receives most of its funding through the Hoboken Board of Education from state and local tax dollars, it does not report to the city's Board of Education. Instead, it has its own Board of Trustees who handle the school's curriculum and administrative issues.

The school, which shares its current space at the Demarest Building with high school kids enrolled in the Hoboken Public School's Alternative Program, does not charge tuition, but rather holds fundraisers. The proceeds are used to finance an array of school services for students, who are selected through a random lottery held before the start of every school year. There are 249 students currently enrolled in Hoboken Charter, with 191 in the middle school and 58 in the high school.

Michael Mullins can be reached at

Volunteers Braille Institute!

Ever wanted to be an actor, recording star or newscaster? The Jewish Braille Institute may be able to help fulfill that aspiration.The institute is opening a recording studio for its Talking Books, and community members may be selected to record some of them.

"We will need volunteers to help at our new recording studio, which is located at the [David] Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie," said Goldie Witrock, the institute's outreach coordinator.The recording studio will put books on tape for more than 53,000 blind and visually impaired residents in Broward County and more in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

"Our mission is to provide large-print and audio books of Jewish interest to anyone who is visually impaired or physically unable to hold a book for any reason," Witrock said.The organization provides these books free of charge and offers services to people with Parkinson's disease, as well as those who are blind or visually impaired.The institute is looking for volunteers to become readers in Spanish and English for the new studio.

"Not everyone's voice is suitable for recording, but we have other volunteer positions available in the recording studio," Witrock said.The institute will need volunteers to provide technical assistance and serve as directors and narrators. "The JBI collection includes liturgical materials and a cultural arts series, where we collect the best of Jewish poetry, drama and music," she said. "This series is available on a monthly basis. All the participants have to do is sign up for the series, and it is mailed out free."

The institute's collection also includes biographies, fiction, self-help, cultural and history books.Witrock also is in charge of several groups in Broward County visiting retirement homes and condominiums and leading discussions on books.Leo Goldman, 89, of Boca Raton, drives to Coconut Creek every month to participate in the book discussion group."The book club is wonderful," he said. "Goldie picks a book and gives us all copies of it, and then we discuss it."Shirley Schwartz, 86, of Deerfield Beach, attends a book discussion group at The Forum, the retirement home where she lives."

Goldie's book discussion is fabulous," Schwartz said. "I also enjoy my books on tape, which includes news of Jewish interest and Israel. They also send me a tape with Hadassah magazine. I love that magazine but can't read it anymore."For more information, call Witrock at 954-689-0207.Forum Publishing Group is a subsidiary of Sun-Sentinel Co.Phyllis Steinberg can be reached at or 954-563-2862.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Talking menus could improve the dining experience for the visually impaired


Susan Perry, founder of the firm that produces Menus That Talk, holds one of her menus.

The light-bulb moment came over lunch and laughs last summer at the Olive Garden in West Miami as Susan Perry struggled to read the menu to her visually impaired niece.

Jessica MacWithey, 24, has macular degeneration, Perry, 50, had forgotten her reading glasses, and the blind-leading-the-blind scenario cracked them up.

''I joked that we needed a braille menu,'' Perry says. 'But Jessica informed me that most legally blind people don't read braille. Then I thought, `Wow, what we need is something that speaks.' ''
Less than a year later, Perry is heading to Chicago to launch her invention, Menus That Talk, at this weekend's National Restaurant Association show.

Perry says she's invested $250,000 into the project and bets she can turn a profit before the year is out.

Her aim is to convince some of the nearly one million U.S. restaurants -- roughly a third are chains -- to buy talking menus to serve visually impaired Americans.

''It helps people do easily what we take for granted,'' Perry says in her Kendall office, skimming her fingers over the hand-held device, which could be mistaken for an oversized Game Boy. Buttons correspond to food categories -- burgers, salads, desserts, etc.

She pushes ''Appetizers'' and a pleasant female voice begins, ``Thai Phoon Shrimp. Tender, crispy shrimp with a sweet and spicy chile sauce, $7.99.''

Press the ''español'' button, and appetizers become aperitivos, expanding the target market to language-limited as well as visually impaired diners.

''Two of my daughters married Cubans,'' Perry says. ``Whenever we went out to eat with the whole family, there was always someone who had trouble ordering.''


Menus That Talk ( has no signed contracts, but is generating interest. A number of purchasing managers have promised to stop by the booth at the show, Perry says.
It would cost a restaurant about $4,000 a year, including menu updates and insurance, to purchase five units.

''I predict this is going to be very hot. It's catering to a huge market,'' says Renée Rentmeester, president of Miami's Vision World Foundation and creator of the public television show Cooking Without Looking, noting that an estimated 17 million Americans are visually impaired.

Others are not so sure. Richard Lackey, a veteran restaurant consultant with offices in Palm Beach Garden and London, questions if there are enough visually impaired diners to prompt restaurants to buy the menus.

''At first blush, I would say the jury is certainly out,'' Lackey says. ``But if they are able to sell to a chain like T.G.I. Friday's or Chili's then they will automatically create a home run for themselves, because other chains won't be one-upped or appear to not be socially conscious.''

Perry has models for Outback (with Australian announcer), Hard Rock Cafe (Elvis impersonator) and Olive Garden (you guessed it, Italian accent) to show off in Chicago.

''We tried to have some fun with it,'' she says. ``You go to a restaurant to be entertained and relax.''


She developed the device with friend Richard Herbst, whose Kansas company, Control Vision, manufactures GPS for small airplanes. The talking menus will be tailor-made for each restaurant, which can program its own voice or leave it to the professionals.

Menu changes won't be a problem.

''The whole updating process takes about 24 hours,'' says Perry. ''A voice actor e-mails an MP3 file of the recording, which we download to a data key'' that's sent to the restaurant and slipped into the machine.

Perry's niece, for one, is stoked.

''You want to eat something new and hear the description, but having someone always read to you is embarrassing,'' says MacWithey, who works with her aunt. ``I always ended up with something simple that every place had -- like grilled cheese, soup or salad.''

Another ingenious feature for the whole dining party is a service light that blinks to summon the waiter. About time, no?

''I'm actually surprised this hadn't been invented yet,'' Perry says. 'But it wasn't so long ago that we were dragging around suitcases in airports. One day someone said, `Let's put on wheels.' Ideas come to you, and you have to run with them.''

Visually impaired man receives special clock

Life just got a little bit easier for Walter Janes, originally of King’s Point, who is currently a resident at the Springdale Retirement Centre. Mr. Janes, 84, is visually impaired and was having difficulty telling time with a conventional wristwatch. Staff came up with an idea to help Mr. Janes by purchasing a watch for the visually impaired, which says the time out loud so Mr. Janes will always be able to tell what time it is.

Gerald Rideout, manager of the Springdale Retirement Centre said the idea came from the staff members themselves. “They noticed Mr. Janes was having some difficulty and they decided to raise the money for an appropriate CNIB watch for the visually impaired. All he needs to do is press a button and he can tell the time,” said Mr. Rideout.

On hand for the presentation, made Wednesday, May 9, were many of the staff who raised the money, Mr. Janes’ daughter Selma, his sons, Dennis and Wade, his sister Annie Chipp, Alice Arnes, a specialist for orientation and mobility and independent living skills with the CNIB in St. John’s who was at the retirement centre to provide Mr. Janes with a support cane, manager Gerald Rideout and owners, Ron and Jean Sheppard. Mr. Janes’ son Dennis said he thought the gift was excellent and that he highly recommends the retirement centre, noting how wonderful the staff have been to his father. Ms. Arns with the CNIB said Mr. Janes did really well with the cane she brought out to him and noted the watch was a common item for those who are visually impaired.

“It just makes life easier,” she said. “He can just press the button to find the time. It is also really good for him at night.” For his part, Mr. Janes’ jovial nature and good humour were on hand during the presentation. “They must think something of me,” he said with a chuckle.

New glasses may help the visually impaired to get their license more easily!

Officials with the Division of Motor Vehicles say they're considering whether to allow poor-sighted people who wear bioptic lenses to get a driver's license, citing reports of better technology and improved on-the-road training.

Deputy DMV Commissioner Steve Dale said if the Legislature hadn't called for an interim study of the issue, then the DMV would have.

"We are not totally against it," Dale said. "But we think that the issue deserves additional study."
Bioptic lenses are like small telescopes attached to eyeglasses that help people with poor vision see at a distance. People with cataracts, corneal diseases and macular degeneration are among those who use them.

Dale estimated there are probably several hundred people in the state who wear the lenses.
Staff attorneys recently

a legislative interim committee -- already at work on a possible bill -- that 35 other states now issue restricted driver's licenses to people who use bioptic lenses.

Two bills that were introduced last session in the House of Delegates would have given West Virginians with the special lenses a chance to drive, but the proposals didn't make much headway among lawmakers. Dale said legislators brought out the bills without giving DMV officials any notice, so the agency couldn't get on board.

"It kind of hit us a little bit cold," he said.

But Dale said after talking to doctors and people who use the lenses and seeing some professional and federal agencies warming up to the idea, the division is keeping an open mind about any future legislation.

Both the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Academy of Ophthalmology now say that driver's licenses should be given to people who wear the lenses, but only after a road test.

About 10 years ago, the safety administration sent a letter to former state DMV Commissioner Joe Miller advising that it could not support licensing bioptic wearers from a safety standpoint. The letter said such drivers were 2.2 times more likely to be involved in crashes than people with correctable vision and 2.3 times more likely to be involved in crashes that caused serious injury or death.

The DMV and the State Police conducted a pilot program in the early 1990s that allowed some people with the lenses to get behind the wheel.

Thirteen West Virginians who use the lenses still have restricted driver's licenses from participating in the program, Dale said.

The state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation prompted the project, which gave licenses to 18 people who use bioptic lenses. Of those drivers, seven were involved in car crashes and 10 had received traffic tickets, according to the state.

Dale could not immediately provide information on the severity of the crashes, or who was at fault.
One of the drivers who participated in the program had a suspended license because of a "multitude" of unpaid citations, Dale said.

Dale said the DMV decided not to push for a continuance of the program because of the warning from the federal traffic safety administration and because of a 1997 study by the California DMV that found drivers with bioptic lenses were three times more likely to be involved in car crashes.
Dale said so far he hasn't seen any hard evidence that suggests crash rates have improved, but he has heard recently there have been developments in the field that may increase the safety factor of the lenses. That's what the DMV hopes to learn through the interim committee's research, he said.
"It may be a situation where with the appropriate restrictions and appropriate requirements and annual recertification, it may be very feasible in West Virginia," he said.

One of the things the DMV might consider is to restrict the licenses of bioptic lens wearers so they could only drive during daylight hours.

The state Division of Rehabilitation Services already trains other states that are setting up programs to license bioptic lens wearers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Visually impaired man has Everest marathon in sight

An Irish man, who lost his sight nine years ago, is aiming to become the first visually impaired person to complete the highest marathon at the Everest base camp at an altitude of 5,000 metres.Thirty-one-year-old Mark Pollock, who hails from Dublin, will try his luck in the Everest region on May 29 when the anniversary of the first human ascent to the Mount Everest is celebrated.

Mark will be relying on his tracking sticks connected to compatriot John O'Regan and his guidelines to complete the marathon that starts from Everest base camp at an altitude of 5,150 meters, according to officials.John, who also hails from Dublin, is trained in arctic survival techniques and has trained Mark since 2003 when Mark undertook six marathons a week in the Gobi Desert.

"We have come here to finish the race," says Mark with a determination when asked about the possibility of finishing the race for a man who has not gone above 3,500 meters.Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Mark could not see with his right eye initially but in April 1998, he completely lost sight when his left retina became detached. Before losing sight altogether, Mark was a rower and within six months of the incident returned to sports.

"When I lost my eyesight, I didn't think I would be able to do anything. I feared I would not be able to even get out of my house," he recalls upon arrival at the Kathmandu airport yesterday.Mark also completed the North Pole marathon in 2004 and is in Nepal to complete the second part of his twin challenge of completing the lowest marathon on Earth as well as the highest.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Rogers creates talking mobile phone for the visually impaired

Rogers Wireless has unveiled the new Nokia 6682RVA mobile phone that “talks” in order to accommodate the visually impaired.

The phone comes equipped with Nuance TALKS software that converts menus, insutrctions, and content displayed on the screen into audio output through the internal speaker or an optional wired or Bluetooth headset.

Available in English and French, the talking function provides audio feedback for sending and receiving e-mail and text messages as well. The voice synthesizer volume can be increased or decreased, as can be the speaking rate.

"As Canada's largest wireless carrier, Rogers Wireless continues to offer the latest innovations in mobile communications,” said John Boynton, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, Rogers Wireless. “The 6682RVI levels the mobile playing field by giving our customers with vision loss the ability to independently access and interact with some of the most advanced wireless features and services available today,"

"CNIB applauds Rogers for its leadership in creating an accessible cell phone," added Jim Sanders, CNIB President & CEO. "Technology holds great potential in increasing independence for people with vision loss; however this potential is only realized if a product is accessible. Devices like this are invaluable for anyone, particularly seniors, who experience difficulty reading small print."

"We are pleased to be working with Rogers Wireless and the CNIB on such an important initiative," continued Paul Chapple, General Manager, Nokia Canada. "As a mobile phone manufacturer, we are committed to always keeping our customers connected, be it with friends, family or loved ones. A mobile phone that is accessible to consumers with vision loss is an important part of this commitment."

Customers can also enjoy status indicators for battery and network coverage; call log and phone directory management; calendar and notes; and customizable phone settings and profiles.
The Nokia 6682RVI is only available at or by calling 1-888-764-3772 or 1-888-ROGERS-2. It sells for $199 with a three-year term.

Thieves were the ones tricked by visually impaired employee

CINCINNATI Every once in a while, somebody tries to cheat the visually impaired operater of a deli in the Hamilton County Courthouse.Nevermind that security cameras are trained on the cash register and there are about a dozen sheriff's deputies a few steps away.

Twice in the past two weeks, somebody gave Kent Parker a one-dollar bill and said it was a ten. Parker made change, then asked an employee to verify the denomination. Both times, a woman was arrested within minutes.

The 43-year-old Parker has been operating the Courthouse Deli for about eight years. He says people in the courthouse watch out for him. And the surveillance cameras catch everything.
When a theft victim is impaired, a charge that usually is a misdemeanor is elevated to a felony. Parker says scamming him for nine dollars just doesn't make sense.

Visually impaired kids experience fishing!

Yesterday was William Mitchell's first experience fishing, although he never did see the rod in his hands, the morning's overcast sky, or even the trout pond.

William, 6, a kindergartner at Wynn Elementary School in Oregon, is completely blind from a genetic condition.

Yet he certainly didn't miss the hard, deep tug on his fishing line, or the ensuing commotion of splashes.

William was bursting with excitement and anxious frenzy as he and his father, Ted Mitchell, worked together to reel in the rainbow trout as fast as they could.

Standing with them on shore was a supporting cast of Merickel-Farley Trout Club and Maumee Lions Club members.

"Oh boy, look at that!" yelled club member John Sebian as William and his dad pulled the squirming trout from the water. "He's a big one."

William was among the half-dozen children with eyesight disabilities who spent their morning along the bank of the Merickel-Farley Trout Club pond in Swanton Township for the third annual Visually Impaired Children's Fishing Adventure.

The event is co-sponsored by the trout and Lions clubs to provide a traditional childhood fishing experience to those whose disabilities might otherwise preclude them.

Richard Veitch, Jr., right, offers William Mitchell a trout. The touch sends the boy, who has been blind since birth, into a fit of giggles. Club members gathered to help the children with everything from baiting their hooks and casting their lines to pulling the fish to shore. They later cleaned the trout over picnic benches, and then packed them in ice for the children's families to take home for supper.

"It's all about the kids and to see the smiles on their faces," said Jim Eichner, the trout club's vice president.

But it wasn't all smiles.

Landing fish can be tricky, and from the distressed expression that 9-year-old Alex Schroeder wore as he struggled against a rainbow trout, it was hard to tell just who was pulling who in or out of the water.

"Keep going," urged Alex's dad, Mike Schroeder, as his son's rod bent and strained. "Keep backing him up."

The fish finally hit land, and Alex, who was born with partial vision and lives in West Toledo, tried making out what exactly he had brought to shore.

"He's a biggie," Alex said, still in disbelief. "Is it a real fish?"

Indeed, the pond was stocked yesterday with more than 1,300 live trout, bass, and catfish. They were biting a lot quicker than in past years, when most children waited until noon before they caught the five-trout limit, said Dr. Robert Goulding, an optometrist and chairman of the event for the Lions Club.

Organizers also said that the number of participants has grown, although not as fast as some had hoped, because of the difficulties of locating and notifying all area parents with visually impaired children about the event.

Scott and Stacey Young of West Toledo have taken their daughter, Schyler, to the event every year. The 8-year-old has hearing as well as vision loss.

"The very first year, we were the only ones who came," Ms. Young said.

William's mother, Andrea Mitchell, said that along with the thrill and excitement, the fishing adventure gives her son a chance to make friends with other visually impaired children.
Many school districts in northwest Ohio have only a handful of students with similar visual disabilities.

William attends regular kindergarten classes at Wynn Elementary School in Oregon, where he receives Braille lessons from a visiting tutor, Mary Dodds, who was also watching him fish yesterday.

As a visually impaired child, "there's not a lot of activities for him to do," Mrs. Mitchell said. "I wanted him to get the sensory experience and meet other kids like him."

Bus drivers insensitive to the needs of the visually impaired!

A Palmerston woman claims the Northern Territory Government's promise to make bus travel easier for blind people has made little difference.

Toni Davison is visually impaired and is often left waiting at bus stops because she cannot see buses in time to wave them down.

She says the drivers do not see her either, even though she has a white cane.

In March, Mrs Davison thought she had scored a victory when the Transport Minister, Delia Lawrie, announced it would become a driver's responsibility to pull over whenever there is someone waiting.

But Mrs Davison says drivers still tell her it is up to her to signal she wants to get on.

"Now this is not what the Minister agreed to, she agreed that buses pull up if there's somebody at the stop," she said.

The director of public transport, George Timson, says the logistical changes are well under way.
"We've been working since Minister Lawrie made the announcement to stop at every stop where there's a passenger," he said.

"We've been working hard in our scheduling area to do the reschedule, we've got probably three quarters of the way through that now and we're hoping to have something out to our bus operators for comment in the next few weeks."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The use of guide dogs services

When Ron Colombo, 68, goes out on his own, it's not the first time that he bumps into a lamppost or slips on a pavement, but he gets around.

However, possessing poor eyesight - he is blind in one eye and has one-tenth vision in the other - means he would be able to move about much easier with the help of a guide dog, a crucial aid that is missing in Malta.

Having recently being appointed chairman of the new non-profit group the Foundation for Guide Dogs and Services for the Blind, Mr Colombo is planning to introduce the first guide dog service on the island.

Mr Colombo, who is also president of the Malta Society of the Blind, has established contact with a guide dog school in Bratislava, Slovakia, to bring the first three guide dogs to Malta in September next year.

Guide dogs are an expensive business and each one will cost the foundation €10,000 (Lm4,347). Luckily, the foundation is counting on receiving about Lm16,000 from the money raised through last year's TV charity marathon L-Istrina.

Mr Colombo points out that training a puppy to become a guide dog is a lengthy process. Pedigree puppies, usually Labradors, are specifically bred for a temperate bloodline. When merely a few weeks old they're homed with "puppy walkers" for a year to learn basic obedience, after which they start a guide dog school for another eight months. This intense process usually only reaps four dogs that can work as guide dogs from every 10 trained.

They then undergo three to four weeks training with their new owner. Guide dogs usually work for eight to nine years, before getting tired.

"At the moment we cannot breed our own guide dogs and to change the situation we are planning to send someone abroad for a three-year training course," Mr Colombo said in an interview.
The foundation estimates that it needs 45 to 50 guide dogs in Malta, a number that would give a new lease of life and independence to blind people or those with impaired vision.

Mr Colombo explained that in Malta there are about 800 people with sight problems who are registered and receiving benefits. However, the society believes that if one takes into account the number of people with acute sight impairment, the figure would rise to 3,000.

"Not everybody would need a guide dog. There are two categories of potential guide dog owners: The first are those with tertiary education who are working; and those who are in their mid-50s and 60s who lost their sight due to degenerative diseases such as diabetes. Unfortunately, there are many people with impaired vision who stay indoors and do nothing - with a guide dog you can go anywhere at any time," he said.

So what has taken the introduction of such a service so long?

"We have even more fundamental things that don't exist, such as the lack of a mobility and orientation service for blind people in their homes and neighbourhood," Mr Colombo said.
This service exists in all the other 24 EU member states and, despite battling with the Family Ministry for the past three years to introduce this service, nothing has materialised yet.

"Basically, the government has to budget to send people on a two-year training course to start providing this service. We have made our proposals and we're not giving up on this, nor are we going away," he insisted.

"The whole ethos in Malta seems to be that when you lose your sight you get state benefits and that's it."

Bringing guide dogs to Malta is just the first step. Mr Colombo believes the public's attitude towards allowing guide dogs to enter most places will also have to change.

"I think there will be some resistance initially, but not much I hope. An Englishman in Gozo has been testing to see where he can or cannot go accompanied by a guide dog and he got more favourable results here than in the UK. The problems he encountered were in the odd restaurant," he added.

Another wall the foundation has to breach is persuading Air Malta to allow guide dogs to travel alongside their owner for free and not placed in the hold.

"Other airlines have no problem with this. An EU directive stipulates that by 2010 all public transport has to be accessible to the blind, so we hope Air Malta will change its views," he said.
"It's a question of attitude, that's what we have to chip away at. Once we have the service of mobility and orientation, together with the guide dogs, there will be no limitations."

Sports Club for visually impaired children

A SPORTS club aimed specifically at blind children has been kick-started in the town.
The Swindon Actionnaires has been set up by national charity Action For Blind People with support from Swindon Council.

Visually impaired youngsters will be able to enjoy a different activity every week from football to trampolining and swimming, climbing and ice-skating.

The children marked the event with a kickboxing session at the Link Centre, where the meetings are held, and worked up a sweat while having fun.

Rebecca Frost, sports development officer for the charity, said: "It has been really good. Everyone seems to have really enjoyed themselves," she said.

"This is the fifth week the sessions have been running and they seem to be getting more popular by the week."

The idea of the group is to allow blind and visually impaired children the chance to try different sports in a fun, safe and encouraging environment.

"We hope visually impaired kids from Swindon and the surrounding area will take this opportunity to join the club, whether they are budding Paralympians or they have never tried sport before," said Rebecca.

A club like the Swindon Actionnaires is something that Lesley Kay, teacher for the visually impaired, has wanted for many years.

"When I first heard the charity wanted to set the group up I didn't think it would happen," she said.
"Coming to a club like this gives visually impaired students the chance to be good at a sport, something they might not be able to achieve in a mainstream environment alongside fully-sighted children.

"We've found that when we have run taster sessions on different sports children have found they are good at it and it encourages them to take it up in a mainstream club."

The group is open to children aged eight to 16, and they are welcome to bring fully-sighted siblings and friends.

Children under eight are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.

Due to the popularity of the sessions the organisers are hoping to set up another group.

They are looking for volunteers who are able to help out on a Saturday afternoon for two hours and they also need another co-ordinator who can work five hours a week.

Anyone interested in either of these roles, or wants to attend the group, can contact Rebecca on 07894 390288 or email her at