Friday, August 24, 2007

Non-profit organization trains service dogs for the visually impaired

Pedestrians took notice one morning last week when Seymour crossed Avenue E.
They slowed down and stared as Seymour waited at the curb and then proceeded across the street with his companion, Jamie Landy.

He ambled along the sidewalk in a straight line, prepared, if necessary, to navigate around any obstacles. He stopped for low-hanging branches and sloping sidewalks.

As Seymour walked alongside Landy, he didn't tarry, and he knew it wasn't time to play. The 18-month-old Labrador and golden retriever mix was still in training — learning how to help people walk with more freedom and a bit more confidence.

Seymour is about to graduate from Guide Dogs of Texas, a nonprofit organization based in San Antonio. One of 18 canines in training, he'll soon be matched with a visually impaired client who matches his personality.

While some people are uncomfortable around people who have disabilities, unsure what to say, guide dogs tend to bring people out, said Sandy Merrill, director of training.

"People come over and say, 'How are you? I love your dog,'" Merrill said.

Merrill and two apprentices, Landy and Sarah Mumme, provide one-on-one instruction for the only guide dog training team in Texas. It costs about $40,000 to train just one dog, paid for through donations and gifts.

Jamie Landy, an instructor with Guide Dogs of Texas, motions forward to Seymour during a walking training session in downtown San Antonio recently. Volunteers raise the dogs from 8 weeks to when they are 16 months and ready for advanced training.

Volunteers, called "Puppy Raisers," rear the dogs from 8 weeks until they are 16 months old and ready to begin advanced training.

Merrill and both her apprentices started as volunteers.

Merrill, who worked with seals at a Wisconsin zoo, came to San Antonio for a visit and never left. Mumme helped out when on breaks from college, grooming the dogs.

And witnessing how a guide dog drastically changed her visually impaired father's life drew Landy to the group.

Trainers take the dogs downtown and to residential areas to master the various environments they will encounter.

Last Wednesday, they spent the morning walking Seymour and five others around the city's sun-drenched streets.

Landy led Seymour through his exercises, as Audio, Huey, Annie, Jazz and D.J. peered from a tinted window in their waiting white van, cooled by the air conditioner.

Trainers teach the dogs how to recognize objects through verbal commands, instructions such as "find the bus" and "find the door."

With a black leash in one hand, Landy added swift gestures with the other.

Seymour met every command without fail. One by one, the 12 puppies and six dogs in advanced training will be matched with new owners across the state. The cost for a guide dog — $1.
But first, there is still work to be done.

At the end of their walk, Landy, 21, fished a treat from her hip-pouch. She praised Seymour, and then opened the van door for him.

He squeezed inside beside his mates and lapped cold water from a bowl as wide as a cake pan.
Landy ruffled a handful of his light yellow fur, steadily scratching his back as a final reward.

It's difficult, the trainers said, to form bonds with these dogs, then let them go. They're proud, yet sad, when their companions receive white, reflective harnesses at graduation, knowing the time has come to say goodbye.

But watching them leave with a special match compensates for their bittersweet reality.

"It's like how people might feel when their kids go off to college," Merrill said. "You've done your part and are really happy that they're out in the world doing what they're meant to be doing."

Visually impaired teenagers enjoy camp!

Busing his lunch tray took both hands, so Chris Maae tucked his distinctive white cane under an arm and walked to the conveyor belt that would take away the remnants of his sloppy Joe and popcorn chicken.As he did, he bumped gently into a pole. He heard whispers around him. “Does he need help?” one girl quietly asked a friend. “Should we help him?”

Take a blind kid like Chris out of his normal life, send him to college, and up pop all sorts of obstacles. New stairs. New bureaucracies. And lots of people who aren’t sure how to act around a blind kid like Chris. “I mean, they could have just walked up to me and said, ‘Do you need help?’ ” he said a few moments later. “They didn’t have to be all whispering.”

Chris, 17, has Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, an eye disease that affects about 3,000 people in the United States. He and about 30 other visually impaired Southern California teens are living at UC Irvine this week for Independence University, a weeklong camp put on by the Braille Institute’s regional center in Anaheim. They’re doing laundry, eating dorm food, going to classes and climbing the rock wall – yes, really – in the university recreation center.

The program is as much about motivation as it is about teaching. And it represents the maturing ethic of the institute’s Orange County chapter. In recent years, the institute’s youth center has been recast as a youth-and-career center so it can help teens prepare for the obstacles they’ll face as independent adults. This is the third year it has organized Independence U and the first time it has taken place at UCI.

The result, the institute’s leaders hope, will be a group of teens mentally ready for college.“We realized, on the longitudinal studies, that playing games and giving them gifts because they’re blind isn’t going to get them anywhere. It only demeans them,” said Christina Tam, who organized this year’s Independence U.If the program succeeds, Chris will be better prepared for college.

If not, the numbers say, he could struggle with college and employment for the rest of his life.Blind teens – even the ones who do well in high school – are rarely prepared for college or the workforce, says John Zamora, a former coordinator of the Braille Institute’s youth programs.Federal laws force high schools to provide materials and services to blind students. Those materials must be accessible in college, but the standard is lower.

High schools must identify students who have visual impairments; college students must identify themselves, and have the paperwork to prove it.Anecdotally, Zamora says, he saw smart high school students drop out of college at alarming rates. Sixty percent of blind people between the ages of 18 and 55 are unemployed, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. Visually impaired kids aren’t usually involved in athletics, where most teens learn about teamwork.

And most entry-level jobs, which teach kids about punching clocks and obeying a boss, require sight. “Of all the disabled groups, this is the most educated. But it’s the most unemployed,” Zamora said.Chris blames the way parents treat blind children. “They overprotect the child. ‘I’ll cook you dinner. I’ll make the bed. I’ll fold the laundry,’ ” he says. “They don’t learn the skills of being an adult.”More than anything, Braille Institute leaders say, visually impaired teens aren’t accustomed to advocating for themselves.

If the professor doesn’t have a syllabus ready for them in Braille, they aren’t prepared to request it. That’s a big theme at Independence U.“In K-12,” Christina tells them at one seminar, “success is more of a right for a student. In college, there is no guarantee of success. Nobody knows (you are blind), and in some ways, nobody cares. They may see you with a cane, but they may be like, ‘so what.’ ”“Jesus,” Chris mutters.“When you’re in college, it’s up to you to succeed,” Christina continues. “You are now on your own, and you need to take care of yourself.”

Chris isn’t worried. He’s going to be a senior at Bolsa Grande High School this year, and he’ll be filling out applications to UCLA and Arizona State University. Since birth, he has been unable to see anything but light. Still, he plays percussion in his school band and listens to bootleg Bob Dylan albums at home. He describes a Braille Institute staff member as “the guy with the tattoos on his legs” – even without sight, he’s observant.“I take the Metro. I take public transportation. I take the bus to Griffith Park on my own,” he says, while his Independence U classmates climb the rock wall. “I’m most nervous about the stress (of college) and having a lot of books to read.”

But what about the numbers that say blind college students are more likely to drop out and less likely to work? “Those are just numbers,” he says. “We can beat the numbers.”Look around, he says. “None of these people are even afraid of this rock climbing. We can feel all the ropes. We can adapt to it.”

A few minutes later, he steps into a harness and begins his own slow climb up the wall. An instructor hollers directions until he reaches the top, where his sweaty hands clutch a metal bar. The rest of the teens cheer.No big deal, he says when he returns to the ground.“It’s scarier for staff (to climb),” Chris says. “They know how high they are.”

Canadian visually impaired swimmer breaks world record!

Valerie Grand'Maison of Montreal broke the world record in the women's 400-metre freestyle for the visually impaired to highlight a 15-medal performance for Canadian swimmers Wednesday at the Para Pan American Games.

Canadian swimmers have claimed 22 gold, 11 silver and nine bronze after three days of competition. On Wednesday, Canada earned eight gold, five silver and two bronze.

Also Wednesday, wheelchair racer Jessica Matassa of Windsor, Ont., won two gold medals, while Kris Vriend of Edmonton and Kyle Pettey of Kingston, Ont., claimed shot put gold medals.

Grand'Maison won in a record time of four minutes and 36.51 seconds to eclipse the previous mark of 4:37.62 which had stood since 1992. Chelsey Gotell of Antigonish, N.S., won the silver in 4:57.47.

"I added the 400 freestyle this year which was a bit of a risk," said Grand'Maison, who won her third gold of the competition. "Swimming the longer distances is actually more natural for me than a 50 or 100-metre sprint. But it is hard to train both short and longer distance swims. They are very different races.

"Tonight I took it out harder than I would my 200 freestyle race and played it by ear. I felt less pressure and had fun."

In the women's 100 breaststroke for visually impaired, Kirby Cote of Winnipeg was the winner in 1:20.39 with Grand'Maison second in 1:24.77 and Jacqueline Rennebohm of Regina fourth in 1:35.80.

Canada swept the medals in the women's S9 disability category 100 freestyle with Darda Geiger of London, Ont., winning in 1:06.37, Stephanie Dixon of Victoria second in 1:06.46 and Brittany Gray of Barrie, Ont., third in 1:11.69.

Anne Polinario of Montreal led a double Canadian medal performance in the S10 freestyle with the win in 1:03.83. Jessica Hodgins of Tecumseh, Ont., was third in 1:09.24.

Andrea Cole of London, Ont., took the women's S8 200 IM in 3:12.13 while Laura Jensen of Fort St. John, B.C., was fourth missing a berth on the podium by 0.11 seconds.

Other winners were Donovan Tildesley of Vancouver in the 100 butterfly for visually impaired, Drew Christensen of New Westminster, B.C., in the S8 200 IM and the women's 4x100 medley relay with Dixon, Katarina Roxon of Stephenville, N.L., Gray and Cole.

Devin Gotell of Antigonish won silver in the 400 freestyle for visually impaired. Benoit Huot of Montreal was second in the S10 100 freestyle in 53.60. Andre Esteves of Brazil won the race in a world record 52.35.
Brad Sales of London, Ont., and Andrew Haley of Toronto were fifth and ninth in the S9 100 freestyle.

In the women's 200-metre wheelchair race for paraplegics, Matassa won the gold medal in 31.24 seconds with Gloria Sanchez Alcantar of Mexico second in 31.77 and Yazmith Bataz Carballo of Mexico third in 32.43.

In the women's 800 wheelchair race, Matassa prevailed again in 1:56.72 with Ariadne Hernandez Rodriguez of Mexico second in 2:03.31 and Evelyn Enciso Cervantes of Mexico third in 2:11.78.
"They were both satisfying wins," said Matassa. "In the 200 I had been stalled at 31.9 for awhile so I wanted to break out of that. And for the 800, that was fastest time without drafting on another racer. I don't think I've ever gone under 1:59 on my own."

In the men's shot put for athletes with CP, Pettey won the gold with a 9.87 metre toss on his third of six attempts which broke his previous Canadian record of 9.23. Robert Hughes of Mississauga, Ont., was second and Carlos Leon of the U.S., third.

"The win feels amazing," said Pettey. "It's the first time I've been on the top of the podium at a major Games and heard the anthem played for me. It's a big confidence boost for the Paralympics next year but I still have a lot of work to do."

In the women's shot put for cerebral palsy athletes, Vriend was the winner with a 7.73 metre toss achieved on her fifth of six throws. Shirlene Coelho of Brazil was second and Perla Munoz of Argentina third.

"That was my best throw at an international competition in three years," said Vriend. "In that way, it was good. But it wasn't near my personal best. I was confident that I could win the competition, and my throws just got better and better in each round."

In the women's 100 dash for amputees, Stefanie Reid of Kingston, Ont., was fourth and Andrea Holmes of Vancouver fifth. The final was a combined disability class and Reid and Holmes ranked second and third in their class.

Barry Phelan of Wingham, Ont., qualified for the 100 final for CP athletes ranking second overall in the semis with a time of 12.71.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Alaska: Museum adapts to the visually impaired's needs!

The Anchorage Museum of History and Art has made it possible for the visually impaired to experience Alaska's history through a partnership with the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

The museum now offers Braille scripts for a self-guided tour of the Alaska Gallery, joining only a few museums around the nation that accommodate the visually impaired.

Museum volunteer coordinator Pat Sims said the service isn't just for those who speak English.
"Currently we have translations of the gallery in about eight different languages, so when someone comes to the museum we can hand them one and they can come up and use it while they're in the gallery," Sims said.

According to the American Foundation for the Blind, there are about 10 million blind or visually impaired people in the United States.

Cuba helped thousands of visually impaired people

More than 14,000 visually impaired people have been rehabilitated in Cuba since the creation of the National Association for the Blind (ANCI) in 1975. The island's initiatives aimed at the full social integration of those citizens include the National Center for the Rehabilitation of Blind and Visually Impaired People, which has hosted over 1,500 students over the last 16 years.

There are also municipal rehabilitation facilities where the blind are taught to use electronic canes, to calculate using abacuses and to write using the Braille system.
Likewise, occupational and visual rehabilitation therapies are put into practice with those who are not completely sightless.

Computer course is adapted to meet the needs of the visually impaired

The Helen Keller Institute For The Deaf And Deaf-blind (HKIDB) will soon come up with a full-fledged 3-semester course in computers by early November.

“Until now, communication skills were taught the old-fashioned way using books or charts in Braille. Today, computers have become an important part of the educational process at the institute,” explains Beroz Vacha, founder and director, HKIDB.

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Vacha and along with the institute’s dedicated team of teachers will now open doors to students across the continent. “Dually-impaired students from across the country and also from elsewhere in Asia are welcome for the course,” said Ram Agarwal, technical advisor, HKIDB.

An integral function of the Helen Keller Institute is the Computerised Mini Braille Press. Set up in January 2002, it is a pioneering project which teaches the specially-challenged children to use computers and undertake computer-related programming and designing.

This computer training unit-cum-mini Braille press produces a variety of materials to suit the needs of deaf-blind, blind, low vision and hearing-impaired individuals.

With its current capacity of 10 monitors, the course will start on a ‘one-to-one’ teaching basis. Students aged 14 onwards, having a basic knowledge of typewriting—taught at the Helen Keller Institute at Mahape—will be trained in this system.

“They will be taught to work on normal keyboards. They can feel whatever appears on the screen on a ‘focus Braille’ attached to the monitor and errors can be corrected through Braille,” said Agarwal.

The course syllabus will have communication skills, office applications, and internet surfing. Those graduating from the course will be encouraged to coach other students as there is a serious dearth of teachers in India. They will also be equipped to set up private Braille transcription centres.
The experiment was a success with two students—Pradeep Sinha(29) and Zamir Bhale (32)—passing their SSC exams through National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) in 2003. Today Zamir, working with an NGO, is an advocacy officer of deaf-blind and earns a handsome Rs 12,000 per month whereas Pradeep is assisting his teachers take classes for other special students.

“We are looking for accreditation from the Rehabilitation Council of India as they have recognised MSCIT (Master of Science in Computer Information Technology) course for the blind alone,” added Agarwal.

According to the official figures there are 4,50,000 dual-sensory impaired students, and students having associated disabilities in India and only 37 organisations in 19 states to teach basic communication skills.

The idea is to break the barriers of communication.However another barrier that they will have to overcome is the lack of funds from the government. “If education has been made compulsory under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for normal students, why not for the deaf-blind?” asked Agarwal.

Blind-user friendly materials like maps given out by several government-recognised Non-government Organisations (NGOs) actually do not serve the purpose. “There is no uneven surface for rivers in the map, only mountains are highlighted also the Indian boarder is in plain black ink and the whole thing costs the institute Rs 2500. Even the medicines do not have a brailled name, price and expiry date,” said Vacha.

On Saturday the union minister for social justice and empowerment Meira Kumar visited the institute and promised to provide them with the necessary basic facilities.

Sony makes TV for the visually impaired

We are all familiar with subtitles, those little captions on TV that narrates what characters are doing and saying, but what people don't know is that a similar technology is available for the bBlind. Audio Description is like subtitles that provides additional soundtrack for blind or visually impaired people.

During a break in a program's dialogue, a voice explains visual plot points that can help visually impaired people to follow and understand the plot more fully. Sony is now providing for this technology in all of their Bravia televisions. Audio description used to be only accessible through the use of a separate set-top box or a satellite receiver.

However, audio description must also be supported by the broadcaster distributing the TV program. Most TV manufacturers provide support for Integrated Digital Television (IDTV) but only few provide audio description access. In Europe, a variety of programs offers audio description but it is only the United Kingdom that has a law that makes it a requirement for main broadcasters to provide for audio description.

Currently, BBC channels are required to have 8% of their programs audio described. According to Sony, one of the challenges facing audio description is low awareness before visually impaired viewers can claim to enjoy the same kind of service that subtitles provide for the deaf. In 2006, an Ofcom research study said that only 22% of the visually impaired respondents who have heard of audio description claims to have used it while 63% of those least visually impaired people have never heard of it.

Sony is now calling on the Television industry to join its campaign to provide products and services for the visually impaired people. With Sony's introduction of the audio description technology in its Bravia series, the company hopes to put an end to broadcasters and legislator's argument that there is limited need for channels to feature audio description because of the lack of products with the technology to play it. Sony is now on a Europe-wide PR campaign to raise awareness amongst consumers, media, legislators and manufacturers.

A lot of people welcomed Sony's initiative to make blind and partially sighted people enjoy television. Andreas Ditter, Vice President of Sony's TV Operations in Europe said, "With the opportunities presented by digital broadcast channels today, Sony believes that the ability to enjoy a great televisual experience should not be the preserve of those that can see, but should also be accessible to blind and partially sighted people."

SOURCE:Sony press release, Sony Introduces Television For The Blind. URL: (

Talking newspaper needs people to deliver it to the visually impaired

VOLUNTEERS are needed to help distribute talking editions of the Echo to the blind.
The Cardiff Talking Newspaper for the Blind delivers weekly cassettes of news from the Echo to hundreds of visually-impaired customers.

A spokesman for the operation in Newport Road, Cardiff, said: “On Monday and Thursday mornings we need additional help in preparing the cassettes for the post.

“On Thursday afternoon help with simple administration work, requiring basic computer skills would be gratefully accepted.”

Contact 029 2075 4805.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Technology based on bats could help the visually impaired!

Bats' super hearing powers could also help sight-impaired people to see the world through their ears.The mysterious nocturnal creatures locate objects using ultrasonic waves – but ultrasound is too high pitched for us to hear.Now researchers have translated ultrasonic data in the virtual world into frequencies people can hear.

Virtual ultrasound that bounces off the surfaces of 3D virtual models is converted into audible clicks heard by a visually impaired user through headphones - so they can navigate the real environment.Bats use the time delay and volume of echoes - called echolocation - to determine how far they are from the objects that reflected them.

Ultrasonic waves diffract - or spread around obstacles - much less than audible frequencies allowing the bat to perceive the objects around it clearly.Dr Dean Waters, of Leeds University, has developed a sensor for a visually impaired user to wear that tracks their position and motion as they explore the real-world environment.Research has shown that data from the sensor directs a virtual representative - or avatar - in the virtual environment to reproduce the user's movements, reports New Scientist.The avatar emits virtual ultrasound that bounces off the virtual surfaces of the environment to produce virtual echoes which are then converted into audible clicks that the real-world user hears in headphones.

The stream of clicks changes as the user approaches an obstacle so the system will enable them, with practice, to navigate the environment.But Dr Mikael Fernstrom, an aural display specialist at the University of Limerick in Ireland, doubts the idea which is due to be published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies will prove popular.He said: "The last thing visually disabled people want to do is put ear-plugs in their ears. They want to experience the world immediately, as it is."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Beep baseball makes a difference in visually impaired baseball players

Former beep baseball player Kevin Barrett possesses a vast knowledge and appreciation of the sport that has become a huge part of the life of visually impaired athletes across the United States.
The National Beep Baseball Association formed in 1976, and since that time, the sport has grown across the U.S. and has ventured into countries like Taiwan and Puerto Rico.

Barrett picked up the sport in 1984, formed the Cleveland Scrappers with Marty Skutink, and the team joined the NBBA in 1987.

Barrett and the Scrappers are in town for the Qwest 2007 National Beep Baseball Association World Series at the Fuad Mansour Soccer Complex.

Now recently retired, Barrett still serves as the treasurer of the Scrappers. The team finished competition on Friday with a 2-5 record and a 10th-place finish.

But more important than the team's finish is the confidence and self-esteem the players have gained by playing beep baseball.

"Beep baseball is so wonderful," Barrett said. "In society, the blind and visually impaired have been kept on the sidelines. It has been ingrained in their minds that there are just some things they can not do.

"But beep baseball enhances self-esteem and the athletes become more dependent. They try new things, in society, in school, or at work, and by doing something like playing baseball, show others they can do the same things others can."

Barrett, 51, of Cleveland, Ohio, has visual acuity of 20/200. Born with Lateral Nystagmus, Barrett suffers from rapid eye movement.

He pitched for the Scrappers for years but finally had to hang it up after last season as, "the sun was too tough to deal with when I was pitching."

Barrett continues to be a big supporter of the sport and has served on the NBBA's board of directors.

The players not only have to overcome their physical limitations, but the ignorance of others, Barrett said. Barrett told the story of a player in Cleveland.

"In Cleveland, visually impaired riders receive a lower bus fare. But when a player boarded a bus with his game uniform on, the driver asked, 'What is this? Is this a joke?, you can't be blind and play baseball,'" Barrett said.

The player didn't fight it and paid the fare. But the story is just one in a line of occurrences that a visually impaired person may incur on a daily basis.

"The visually impaired will always have to deal with ignorance, but the sport has started to open doors and is breaking down barriers," he said.

Former Scrapper Elwood Walters embodies the confidence building that can happen when a player finds beep baseball.

Walters was diagnosed with diabetes and lost his vision. He then fell into an emotional tailspin, contemplating suicide. When Barrett heard of Walters' condition, he swooped in and introduced him to the game.

"With Elwood, we brought him down to practice, and put him in the batter's box," Barrett said. "On pitch one, he got a hit. Pitch two, got a hit. He was happy as can be.

"He played three years and was a great defenseman. He eventually passed on, but his story really shows what this game can do. Here was a guy on the brink of suicide, and he found a support group here and built his confidence."

The tournament's championship game was scheduled to start at noon today. Former Minnesota Twins player Tim Laudner will throw out the first pitch.

Angola is now represented by visually impaired athletes!

Angola starts competing at the third Visually Impaired Athletes Championship of Brazil, which started last Monday at São Paulo and São Caetano do Sul.

Angola will be particularly placing a special focus on the defence of the triple record in athletics set by the Angolan José Sayovo Armando in the Paralympic Games of 2004, held in Greece.

After beating the world record at the championship's second edition in Quebec/2003 (Canada) in 400 metres, timing 51.29 minutes in 2004, Sayovo broke other records in Greece, in the categories of 100m (11.37 min.), 200m (23.04) and 400 metres.

Miguel Francisco and Evalina Alexandre, both got bronze medals from the just ended Pan-African Games of Algiers (Algeria), Octávio dos Santos, Estefânia Matias, Alayne Baptista, Jorge Amaro and Beatriz are also participating at the event.

The national team, coached by José Manuel, will participate in 100m, 200m and 400 meters races and long jump.

The athletics competition happens at Icaro de Castro Melo Stadium, at Ibirapuera, south of São Paulo.

The mentioned stadium, inaugurated in 1974, has the capacity to host 13.400 seated spectators.
With a delegation of 27 people in which eight are athletes, Angola competes only in the athletics discipline.

Swimathon for the visually impaired

The Kingdom Swimathon for Brightness 2007 will be held in Hong Kong on 14 October, 2007 (Sunday) at La Salle College Swimming Pool. This is the first ever swimming relay event in Hong Kong organized for the visually impaired and the sighted people.

Local famous Pop Singer, Mr. Kenny Kwan, has been appointed “Ambassador for Brightness” for the Kingdom Swimathon for Brightness 2007 while Sun Boy’z and Sherman Chung have been appointed the “Energetic Stars”.

Sun Boy’z will participate in the swimming relay along with other guests and visually impaired swimmers, aiming to break the current Guinness World Record of Most Participants in a Swimming Relay in 1 hour with at least 18-meter, which was set by 137 Australians in 2005 with each completed 18-meter of swim.

"I am very pleased to have this first-ever swimming relay for the visually impaired and the sighted people held in Hong Kong with support from both Chinese and Hong Kong government and the community. All funds raised will be used on projects for the blind including prevention of blindness, blind education and vocational training in Hong Kong, Guangdong and the Asian region,” said Mrs. Grace Chan, JP, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Society for the Blind and Chairman of the event Organizing Committee.

Mr. Sun Kwok Wah, Peter MH, Chairman of Kingdom Group Limited, the Title Sponsor, echoed Mrs. Chan’s view by saying that, “blind and visually impaired people are in great need of our help and support to help them integrate into the community. Through our title sponsorship for this great event, we aim to arouse public awareness about the needs and potential of the blind and visually impaired people as well as to create harmony within our community."

A visually impaired person, Mr. Kim Mok, who won the honorable Top Ten Outstanding Young Persons Award in 1999 shared his thought about the Kingdom Swimathon for Brightness 2007. “Potentials of the visually impaired persons can be unleashed with appropriate help and support from local community so that they can integrate into the society and make contributions. The theme of this event is to promote a message that sighted persons and visually impaired persons can collaborate with each other to break the Guinness World Record in this event” he said.

Registration of the Kingdom Swimathon for Brightness 2007 is open until 28 September, 2007. Participants, in a group of six persons, may participate in the relay swim. There are several categories: 1) primary school 2) secondary school 3) senior (aged 60 or above) teams and 4) corporate business teams.

Registration fee for categories 1 to 3 is HK$250 per person and HK$500 per person for a corporate business team. Each participant will receive one attractive gift pack (with a value of more than HK$680), while a fashionable waist bag will be awarded for those registrations made on or before 10 September, 2007 on a first-come-first-served basis until stock lasts.

Golden strokes for visually impaired swimmer

Visually impaired swimmer Daniel Holt has blitzed his competition to win four gold medals at the International Blind Sports Federation World Youth and Student Championships in the United States.

In fact, the year 10 Long Bay College student won every race he competed in but was disqualified for a false start in the 50m freestyle.

The 14-year-old swimmer has had albinism since birth.

Vision problems in albinism result from abnormal development of the retina and abnormal patterns of nerve connections between the eyes and brain.

Daniel competes in the B3 category since he has partial or 6/60 sight. This means that what most people can see at 60 metres he has to be six metres away from to see.

He has been swimming most of his life but only decided to start swimming competitively six months ago.

Daniel trained hard for the event and set two New Zealand Paralympic records for the 50m and 100m backstroke.

In the 100m freestyle he romped home in 1.06.78 ahead of the second placed swimmer who finished in 1.13.26.

His excellent form continued in the 200m freestyle with a win in 2.30.96. The next best swimmer clocked 2.44.58.

Daniel beat all his previous personal best times at the games.

"I was pretty stoked," he says.

More than 250 athletes from 21 countries competed in the games which were held in Colorado Springs.

"The competition was quite tough because we were competing at altitude so the air was thinner," he says.

Daniel's long-term goals include competing in the 2012 Paralympics in London.

Sports for the visually impaired

PEOPLE with visual impairments can try their hand at football, trampolining and archery during a sports challenge.

British Blind Sport, together with Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire Visual Impairment Service, are holding a "have a go day" at Chesterton Sports Centre in Cambridge for people to try out different sports. There will also be prizes for various challenges as well as family races.

The event coincides with the launch of British Blind Sport's "Seeing a healthier future" project, funded by the Big Lottery, which is aimed at improving sporting opportunities for 11-25-year-olds with visual impairments.

Sports could include football, cricket, trampolining, athletics, tri-golf, archery, racket sports and races. The event runs from 10.30am-3pm on August 18.

To book a place contact Ryan Armes, east regional development officer (young people) for British Blind Sport, on (01487) 843344 or email

People can also get involved as volunteers or coaches.

Summer camp for the visually impaired

Some campers are getting to experience things they normally don’t get to do.The Oklahoma League for the Blind is holding the Oklahomans Without Limits Camp at the Central Christian Camp near Guthrie.Tanya Stewart, coordinator for the camp, said 16 campers who are visually impaired and about 40 members of the Woodland Hills Baptist Church youth group are attending.

The purpose of the camp is to bridge the gap between the sighted and visually impaired. The campers participate in a variety of activities, including arts and crafts and swimming and boating. Stewart said it gives the sighted youth a chance to see that blindness is a disability and a chance for the visually impaired to work with sighted peers.

“Ultimately, everyone has a difference but some are more overt than others,” Stewart said. She said many of the campers are used to having a lot of things done for them. However, at camp they are expected to dress themselves, clean their rooms, make their beds and go through the buffet line in the mess hall. Jamie Phares, youth minister of Woodland Hills Baptist Church, said the CEO of Oklahoma League for the Blind attends his church and approached him nine years ago about starting the camp with the help of his youth group.

“She had this idea to do this camp for blind students,” he said. “When we first started, some of these kids had never been in a boat, caught a fish, picked up an acorn or gone hiking.” He said one of the challenges of having the camp is challenging the campers safely.“When I first told people we were doing archery they looked at me like I was mad,” he said. “We found the kids were up for whatever we laid out for them.”

Phares said he is trying to teach his youth group to grow spiritually by being selfless and volunteering their time for a week. He said many members of his youth group keep in contact with campers they have met even after camp is finished. Camper Sierra Whitting said the confidence and team building classes are challenging for her.

“It’s hard to trust people you don’t know,” she said. Whitting said she has attended camp before but this is the first year she rode in an oar boat. “I’ve met a lot of friends here and I like to meet people,” she said.Cody Werenburg, a member of the youth group, said he’s been helping with the camp for the past five years. “It makes me thankful for sight,” he said.

“I watch them get around pretty well but it would be hard for me to do.” He said one thing he enjoys about the camp is watching the campers dive off the diving board and how excited they get at doing something they don’t normally get to do.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Teachers for the visually are not plentiful!

Cheryl Edmonds is not, at first glance, the sort of person who would plunge her hands into her salad bowl. But Wednesday evening, at the Olive Garden in Vancouver, Edmonds was blindfolded and desperate to connect with her entree.

Edmonds, of Vancouver, was among 37 people, most of them educators, who agreed to a blind dinner. The exercise is part of a five-day intensive workshop on blindness.

By the end of the meal, Edmonds, who was seated with two other blindfolded women, had ditched etiquette.

"I'd like to touch it all," she said, fingering a leaf. "I don't even know how much I ate. Oh! There's a lot left."

Sitting next to her, Diana Graham, a kindergarten teacher from the North Mason School District, north of Olympia, used her fingers to wrap fettuccine noodles around her fork.

And Heidi Stump, a paraeducator seated at their table, was taking sips from various glasses of soda.

The three women, poised and socially aware without their blindfolds, behaved like giddy children learning table manners.

The idea behind the blind dinner was to provide a blind experience, and also to help explain how specific directions ("Your iced tea is 5 inches in front of you with the straw bobbing out") are key to working with blind students.

Educating the teachers

Dee Amundsen, director of outreach at the School for the Blind, said the five days are a time for teachers who work with blind students to learn about blindness.

In Washington, there are 80 teachers for 1,300 visually impaired students, Amundsen said.

"Finding teachers for the visually impaired is like finding a needle in a haystack," she said. "A lot of kids don't get services. All these people who are teaching visually impaired kids don't know anything about blindness."

At the restaurant, the educators learned they can't just "say when" to a waiter grinding pepper over their entrees. Someone must read the menu to them. And then there's going to the restroom - an awkward dance that involves dodging patrons, slinking into a stall and finding the toilet seat.

For Graham, the veteran kindergarten teacher from North Mason School District, the five-day stint is worth it. She will have a blind student in her class come fall.

"I want to figure out how best to teach a child," Graham said. "I want to get her reading for Braille. I want to get some academics into her."

Then she paused.

"Are you still there?" she asked, also attempting to land a small pile of fettuccine into her mouth.
Yes, everyone was still there.

"I feel stupid," Graham said. "I don't normally miss my face when I eat."

Cheryl Edmonds, a consultant, agreed.

"I get a sense for the independence thing," she said. "If the lights went out tomorrow, I don't know what that would mean for me."

Did you know?

There are 1,300 visually impaired or blind students in Washington.

Eighty teachers are trained to teach blind students in the state.

About 70 students attend Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver. The school serves about 600 students per month statewide.

Isolde Raftery writes about education. She can be reached at 360-759-8047 or

Camp for visually impaired children

Ask Lauren Brierly and Jen Evans to talk about Camp Marcella, a state-run summer camp for the visually impaired in Rockaway Township, and watch the enthusiasm just bubble forth.
"Camp is where I lost my shyness," said Evans, 19.

Both South Jersey teens are now counselors at Marcella, but were campers for years before that.
Here, they said, you were surrounded by people with challenges similar to your own. Here there were people your own age, they said, unlike the elderly patients they would encounter at their eye doctors' offices. Here, no one pities you.

"They're actually, like, understanding," Evans said.

"Not to mention it's also a blast," interjected Brierly, also 19.

For 60 years, Camp Marcella has been turning out happy campers from across the state with its free program for clients of the state Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The camp is a partnership between the commission and the New Jersey Camp for Blind Children, a nonprofit group that owns and maintains the grounds.

"We've been able to provide children who are blind and visually impaired a camping experience, but more important than that, what we've been able to do is provide them an opportunity to see other blind children," said Vito DeSantis, the commission's executive director.

Camp Marcella was born in 1947 when a Passaic mother decided she wanted a proper camping facility for her visually impaired son, said Carl Sokoll of Oradell, who wrote a history of the nonprofit group and the camp 10 years ago.

The mother, Florence Greenberg, and her attorney, Walter Margetts -- whose son Thomas is still on the group's board -- started raising money. They found a plot of land that was built originally as a vacation area, Sokoll said.

In that first season, some 1,300 organizations contributed to the group. "It was a tremendous response," Sokoll said.

In later years, local Lions Clubs became major funders for the camp, he said, continuously contributing two-thirds of the costs of operations.

The arrangement between the state and the New Jersey Camp for Blind Children has been in place since 1955, with the state paying $1 a year in rent. That lease expired in December, and the two sides are now negotiating a new lease.

This time around, the nonprofit is asking for more rent. Their initial suggestion, said board Vice President Robert Treptow, is for the state to pay $5,000 a month. That would cover about half of the group's annual costs, he said.

The extra money is needed because donations have begun to decline.

"Everybody is watching their pennies now," he said. Costs have increased as the camp has grown from one main building to 23 buildings on 200 acres, with a 7.5-acre lake. Just last year, the group put in a brand new pool, and items like paging systems and updated alarm systems come with a high price tag.

"We put an awful lot of money into that camp every year, and the demands of the state are getting more and more," Treptow said.

The two sides met last week to negotiate, and both sides said the meeting was positive. A spokeswoman for the Division of Health and Human Services described the sitdown as "congenial," but declined to be more specific.

DeSantis declined to comment specifically on negotiations, saying only: "I'm personally dedicated to the notion that this camping experience ... is something we need to do."

He noted that the state has steadily been improving the program through the years. In the last five years, he said, the state's budget for running the camp program -- eight weeks, plus a one-week orientation session for counselors -- has gone from $275,000 to nearly $500,000, he said.

In addition to traditional counselors, the camp has full-time staff on site, and the program has gone from just traditional camping to incorporating skills like cane travel, assisted technology and Braille, DeSantis said.

The camp has also been working toward meeting the accreditation standards of the American Camp Association, which has a set of national standards designed to improve camp facilities and their staffs. "We've been able to elevate (the camp) through additional resources and programs," DeSantis said.

The state's eight weeks is divided into three two-week sessions for the blind and visually impaired between the ages of 5 and 16, and then two one-week sessions for visually impaired children who have other disabilities.

A regular day at camp goes something like this: Campers wake up at 7:15 a.m. as a camp "morning show" featuring weather and music plays over the public address system. At 7:45, they raise the flag then go to breakfast. After that they go back to their cabin for cleanup, which they are scored on every day.

Then there are all kinds of activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, arts and crafts, physical education, music and nature. Every group gets a chance to go "camping" in tents and have cookouts over the campfire. The older kids even have "proms," said camp Director Sarah Wolff.
The main thing for the campers, she said, is the camaraderie. "For once in their life, they're not alone," she said. "They form friendships. It's wonderful to watch and see."

Paula Saha may be reached at or (973) 539-7910.