Saturday, January 26, 2008

New technology for the visually impaired will make bus rides easier for them

A year ago, Rob Sleath was riding a bus heading down Granville Street. The visually impaired man asked the driver to call out his stop, Granville Street and Fifth Avenue.

"By the time the driver realized he had forgotten, we had passed Granville Station [in downtown Vancouver]," Sleath says.

Sleath stayed on the bus until it completed its entire route, just to get to his stop. He says this is something that he -- and other visually impaired transit users -- experience on a regular basis.

However, an end to this headache is in the works. "The annunciator," an automated female voice announcing coming stops, is being tested on select buses until the end of January as part of a TransLink pilot project.

"I'm thrilled. This has been a long time coming," said Sleath, past president of the Committee to Promote Accessible Conventional Transit, which advises TransLink on accessibility issues.

"[It's] very necessary, particularly for people living with vision loss," Sleath said. "But I see it as an enhancement for all transit users -- for seniors, for people who maybe don't use the transit system on a regular basis."

The project, which includes a voice announcement and a computerized readout of the next stop, is being tested on 23 buses throughout Metro Vancouver while the transit authority gets customer feedback and works out the bugs. TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said the goal is to eventually put the annunciator on all buses as part of TransLink's commitment to make the bus fleet completely accessible.

"Accessibly means a lot of things to people and this is one of them: Making sure that people do not get lost, don't feel like they can't take public transit or have to rely on something more expensive," Snider explained.

Robert Ponto, a visually impaired volunteer with the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, has already heard the annunciator a few times.

"It's good," Ponto said. "I hope for one thing that they continue it. I don't want it to be just another project."

Ponto rides the bus to work in the morning, and often all day long, since he works as a courier with the advocacy group. He said he usually just relies on his knowledge of the routes to figure out where to get off the bus, but added that sometimes he gets distracted and misses a stop.
The annunciator is one of several improvements to TransLink's communication system announced Friday.

Also to be tested on some buses is a global positioning system -- or GPS -- that will more accurately determine the location of buses in an emergency, Snider said.
GPS will also improve the "next bus" service, which allows transit users to send a text message to "33333" along with the bus stop number to determine the next six buses to arrive. Now, instead of finding out the schedule, riders will know when those buses are expected to arrive based on their locations.

Snider said the costs of the new features are likely to be on top of the $40 million TransLink has committed to its communications improvements.

New technology for the visually impaired

Disablement, needless to say, significantly reduces the life quality of a person as it substantially diminishes their work ability. Assistive or adaptive technology, however, can bring back the individual's employability at an acceptable level. Unfortunately, most people, even the disabled themselves, in the third world countries are not aware that assistive technology may become their real friend in assisting them in everyday life.

I would like to highlight in this article some assistive technologies for different types of disabilities; before that it is worth mentioning what an assistive technology means.There is no specific definition of Assistive Technology (AT). It simply denotes any item, piece of equipment, or system that is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.The definition does not necessarily imply that AT must include computers, or that it must be expensive, or that certain medical professionals can only prescribe it.

This definition permits AT to be restricted by your own creativity and imagination.The followings represent samples of the many types of AT, grouped by the nature of a user's disability, that are available.AT for visual impairmentsVisually impaired users face a great challenge when interacting with graphical user interfaces. Typically, they use software applications known as screen readers that turn the texts, events, and elements in applications and websites into synthesised speech.

For example, when a user opens a new window in Microsoft Internet Explorer, a screen reader such as JAWS (Job Access with Speech) or Home Page Reader might say "new browser window".A physically challenged person, I took part in a specialised training program last year, where 19 other physically challenged people also participated. Of them, 12 were visually challenged. I observed with sheer astonishment how my visually impaired friends worked smoothly on computer using screen reader software like JAWS or FSB reader.

They used special key combinations to move around screen in order to direct the screen what to read. By listening to this speech, they were able to understand a screen's content.Another AT for the visually challenged is refreshable Braille display, which may be used as an alternative to screen reader. These devices convert screen text into Braille and display the Braille on a number of cells comprised of independently controlled pins.

When editing and reviewing text, refreshable Braille displays can be much better to work with because a vision-impaired user can easily reread characters on the same line and check spelling. Screen readers are capable of reading words character by character, but the process of moving backwards in text to review and then moving forwards can be cumbersome. Despite their potential advantage, refreshable Braille displays are less common due to their higher cost.

In addition, a Braille embosser converts computer-generated text into embossed Braille output. Braille translation programs convert text scanned in or generated via standard word processing programs into Braille, which can be printed on the embosser. The results on thick paper are the individual dots that constitute Braille characters. However, choice of appropriate hardware and software will depend on the user's level of functional vision.

Put another way, it relies on the intensity of impairment. For example, low-vision users can use hardware such as large monitors, adjustable task lamp, Copyholder, closed circuit television, modified cassette recorder, and scanner to improve visibility. Moreover, this can be helpful to people who have difficulty reading or seeing self-voicing applications such as talking web browsers. AT for the hearing challengedAlthough hearing impaired individuals encounter less accessibility than the visually challenged do, they face tremendous difficulty in terms of learning, job access and social inclusion.

These are due to the traditional way of learning. However, computer technology has emerged as blessing to the hearing impaired. As computer prompts such as spoken messages and beeps can be misunderstood or go unnoticed by hearing impaired individuals, this problem is solved through the use of tools that produce visual warning when the system plays a sound and/or display captions in place of a spoken message. Light signaller alerts the computer with light signals. This is useful when a computer user cannot hear computer sounds.

As an example, a light can flash alerting the user when a new e-mail message has arrived or a computer command has completed.In addition, hearing impaired person can use TTY/TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf), which is an electronic device for text communication via a telephone line, telecare, closed captioning, teletext and multimedia projector to address accessibility problem. Moreover, newer text-based communication methods such as short message service (SMS), internet relay chat (IRC) and instant messaging have also been accepted by the deaf as an alternative or adjunct to TDD.

AT for mobility impairmentsMobility impairment refers to any condition that limits an individual's ability to navigate through their environment. Mobility assistive technology products and services for the physically challenged are used to ensure freedom of movement around the home or office. For example, persons with mobility impairment can use wheelchair or electric wheelchair to overcome challenges to daily activities.

A permanent or portable ramp can also help in this regard.In addition, alternative pointing devices allow mobility-impaired individuals to control the mouse pointer via a mechanism other than the mouse. These are typically used when someone lacks dexterity to manipulate a standard mouse. Again, some software exists that converts the keyboard arrow keys into directional movements for the pointer. Other keys are used to signal a left and right mouse click.

Besides, for individuals with severe impairments who are entirely unable to manipulate the mouse and/or use a standard keyboard can use HeadMouse wireless pointing device that converts the movements of a user's head into corresponding movements of the mouse pointer by tracking the motion of a single point on the user's head.

A standard keyboard may be completely replaced by using this system in conjunction with software that produces an on-screen keyboard. Mobility-impaired individuals may utilise speech recognition applications. This software can be used to both control applications via speech commands and as a means to dedicate text, with speech converted into text in real time.Disability is not inability; rather, it is a blessing in disguise. If the disabled get some opportunity, they can also prove their potential in the real field.

As evidenced by the above descriptions, assistive technology services address a variety of disabilities in numerous ways. Regretfully, technology, created without regard to people with disabilities, often creates undesired hindrances to hundreds of millions of people. We should know that assistive technology, or more specifically universally acceptable technology, equally yields great rewards for the typical users.

One example is the kerb cuts in the sidewalk at street crossing. While these kerb cuts enable pedestrians with mobility impairments to cross the street, these also aid parents with carriages and strollers, shoppers with carts, and travellers and workers with pull-type bags.And here in Bangladesh, though the availability of disabled friendly or assistive technology is alarmingly low, YPSA -- a specialised non-profit social development organisation -- is doing some exciting work in this respect.

As a result, the organisation has been selected by DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) Consortium, to ensure information in accessible format for people with disabilities (PWDs), especially for the print disabled. We sincerely hope that other organisations would follow YPSA's effort in this regard to make the PWDs lives somewhat easy and enjoyable. The author, a physically challenged person, is a trainee at Thakral Information Systems Pvt Ltd, Dhaka.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Canadian visually impaired skier won IPC World Cup ski race in France

Chris Williamson acknowledged he was pain after suffering an ankle injury Tuesday in preparation for an IPC World Cup ski race Thursday in Queras, France.

But the 35-year-old Markham resident did not let it with his performance in the men’s visually impaired category event as he went on to win the race.

Williamson and his guide, Nick Brush of Vernon, B.C., recorded the fastest first run and won the race with a two-run combined time of 1:43.72.

As last season’s overall men’s champion in the visually impared division, Williamson acknowledged his injury was still bothering him a little during Thursday’s race.

“I’ve been doing physio with our medical staff and that’s been great. It’s coming along, but it still hurts so I have to grin and bear through it,” he said.

Williamson’s triumph was one of four medals Canadian participants earned yesterday.

New Delhi, India: A teacher rapes visually impaired student

A visually impaired teacher was arrested in Delhi on Wednesday for allegedly raping his visually impaired student in a north Delhi school, the police said.

Rajender Prasad, 38, was arrested on the compliant of a 20-year-old girl, who accused him of raping her on January 11 in the storeroom of the school-cum-hostel for visually impaired, run by an NGO, Vinayak Mahila Kalyan Samiti, in Timarpur.

According to the police, the girl complained that Prasad had also molested her on several occasions earlier.

The victim, a resident of Uttam Nagar area, was studying and staying in the school for the past eight months, said Prasad threatened her with dire consequences if she revealed the incident to anyone.

After the incident, the girl stopped attending classes but on a request from Prasad's wife resumed her studies.

"On Tuesday she somehow managed to come out of the hostel and called her sister to inform her about the incident. The sister then approached another NGO, called Jagriti Mahila Samiti, located in west Delhi's Raja Garden area," said a police official.

"The sisters with the help of the NGO registered a complaint at the Timarpur police station. The girl was then taken for medical examination, which confirmed the rape," the official said.

According to the police, Prasad hails from Lumbini, Nepal, and was secretary of the Vinayak Mahila Kalyan Samiti.

American Idol for the visually impaired

The human body, alas, tends to degrade with age. As we get older our waistlines expand, our memory worsens, and senses like hearing and sight can often diminish, thanks to a range of different complaints. When it comes to eyesight, the most common cause of loss of vision is a condition called macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness for those over 50. As you might imagine, patients with macular degeneration have problems when it comes to that great American pastime, watching TV.

But that might soon change, thanks to the work of some researchers at Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, MA.Macular degeneration is a disease that affects the center of the retina (or macula), the part of the retina that is responsible for fine detail in the center of our focus. Central vision begins to become blurry and distorted, and eventually a blind spot forms. This grows, distorting peripheral vision until sight is lost. Obviously that makes actions such as reading or watching TV more than a little difficult, yet patients with this disease are no less likely to enjoy these activities than you or I.

Now, thanks to research from a team of scientists in Boston, patients with macular degeneration may be able to look forward to settling in for the evening with their digital TVs and American Idol. This is possible thanks to the development of a filtering algorithm that increases the contrast on an MPEG-2 stream in real time, with the result that patients suffering from macular degeneration have a much better chance of discerning the image. Unlike simply boosting the contrast control on your TV, this technique specifically increases contrast over a range of spatial frequencies that people with vision problems have trouble seeing.

24 patients with diminished vision and six healthy control subjects were given a remote control that altered the level of contrast enhancement, and were shown a series of videos. The volunteers could increase the contrast to the point at which the image was most watchable to them. Even the control volunteers reported that increased contrast made the image more easily viewable, and for the vision-impaired, it was found that those with worse sight preferred the highest contrast increase. You can see an example of this filtering in this movie clip.

The lead investigator of this study, Dr Eli Peli, is now working with Analog Devices Inc. to create a chip that could be added to TVs to aid people with affected eye sight. Dr Peli confirmed that the technology is also being adapted to work with newer compression formats such as MPEG-4 and H264, and that interestingly, the results with H.264 were even more promising.

New decoder will enhance television experience for the visually impaired

Scientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have found that people with low vision can improve their ability to see and enjoy television with a new technique that allows them to enhance the contrast of images of people and objects of interest on their digital televisions. A new study demonstrates that patients with macular degeneration prefer watching TV with this contrast enhancement and that the level of enhancement they choose depends on how much vision they have lost with their disease.

Nearly four million Americans suffer from vision loss from diseases--such as macular degeneration--that impede their central vision and their ability to comfortably view the images on any television, cutting them off from a significant source of information and entertainment enjoyed by the mainstream. Often such patients cannot see faces of characters or other details that make a broadcast understandable. Some solutions have been special telescopic glasses, which can help patients see details but often cut off parts of the image, lessening context, and large television screens, which can be quite costly.

The new method--developed by Dr. Eli Peli, the Institute's low vision expert, the Moakley Scholar in Aging Eye Research, and a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, is the latest of several image-enhancing innovations his research team has created to improve TV watching for the visually impaired. It is also the first developed for digital television images. "We knew it was time to address the changing technology," says Peli, who pointed out that digital television will replace traditional television technology over the next few years due to government mandate.

Working within the "decoder" that makes digital television images possible, Peli and his colleagues were able to make a simple change that could give every digital TV the contrast enhancing potential for the benefit of the visually impaired. "The same modification could easily be made to new HDTVs, and digital cable set top boxes," says Matthew Fullerton, the paper's first author, and a student of electronic engineering from the University of York in England who is currently working on his Master's degree in Peli's lab.

To test their new technology, the team presented eight digital videos to 24 subjects with vision impairment and six with normal vision. Each patient was given a remote control, which allowed him/her to increase or decrease the contrast of the image. Patients manipulated over-enhanced and blurry images for the greatest clarity.

The research team learned that even subjects with normal sight selected some enhancement and that the amount of enhancement selected by those with visual problems varied depending upon the level of contrast sensitivity loss they experienced due to their disease. All this demonstrated to the team that the device was both usable and useful to the subjects, even those without vision problems.

Peli is now working with Analog Devices Inc. to create a prototype chip that could be included in all future generations of digital television. "The technology we created is quite simple and can easily and cheaply be incorporated into even the newest technologies for television and internet video."

Peli adds that he believes that as the population ages, this technology will be used by more and more of those whose eyes are going through a normal change as they get older as well as those more severely impaired.

To see examples of how images are enhanced go to

This research was published in the edition of the Journal of the Optical Society of America published online in November 2007 and issued in print in January 2008. Other members of the research team include Russell L. Woods, and Fuensanta A. Vera-Diaz of Schepens Eye Research Institute.

Adapted from materials provided by Schepens Eye Research Institute, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New book for the visually impaired is about Yoga

A do it yourself book on yoga for the visually-impaired has been written in Braille, but the language is Marathi.The writer Mangala Sarda is a yoga instructor with 10 years of experience working with the National Association for the Blind.Her book is an attempt to help her students, learn yogic postures better and to teach it to others like themselves.

''The instructions need to be simple so that they can grasp them. They need to follow my voice to do the exercises,'' said Mangala Sarda, Yoga Instructor.And so, she teaches yoga through reading sessions in a classroom setting. Theory is put to practice in pairs where one reads and the other performs.Sarda believes such interactive sessions lead to quicker learning.

And these students who work with heavy machinery at the NAB workshop say, the classes helps them to concentrate more on their work and keeps them energetic the entire day.''Learning Yoga has been made it easier due to the book,'' said a local. ''Yoga benefits me more than other exercises,'' said another.The book costs Rs 30 and can be bought through the National Association for the Blind.

It's the first book in the country written in Braille, which gives simple instructions on how to do yoga.Learning has no language barriers and this class proves that now about 100 centres of the NAB are going to use this book in order to teach yoga to their students.

New software for the visually impaired!

Using technology he brought “sight” to hundreds of visually impaired students.

The amazing young Vietnamese man's name is Dang Hoai Phuc, aged 26.

He is the On-net Technical Initiative Project Coordinator, in charge of On-net’s Southeast Asian programs.

Phuc is a lecturer at the Regional Jaws Scripting Development Workshop, which gave IT-for-theblind training to seven IT teachers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
The workshop took place at Sao Mai (Morning Star) School, a school in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) that provides free IT classes to visually impaired people.

Overcoming fate

Phuc lost his sight as a nine-year-old.

After the accident that destroyed his sight, his family sent him to Bung Sang School for visually impaired children in HCMC's District 10.

He learnt to read Braille there, then went to an ordinary school and completed secondary school, high school and entered the English Department at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

In 1999, Phuc was one of the first visually impaired students to take an IT course organized by an Italian charity agency.

In less than a year, Phuc had learnt how to write programs, design web pages, write music and teach IT to children at Bung Sang School.

He became deputy director of Sao Mai Center for the Blind at the age of 22.

So far Phuc and his colleagues, most of whom are also blind, have given free training to more than 500 blind people.

Many of the former students at Sao Mai Center have becometeachers for the blind in such provinces as Tay Ninh, Ben Tre, Dong Nai and An Giang.

In October last year, Phuc was promoted to director of Sao Mai Center.

He has won several awards in Vietnam and abroad.

Phuc said that he took part in the competitions for two reasons: to seek sponsorship for the center's projects and to promote Sao Mai's work to blind people in order to encourage them to take free classes there.

Getting “sight” from the digital world

Phuc realized that there weren't many software programs for blind people.

Most of the existing programs were in English and very expensive.

So he developed a digital speaking-book library and a Vietnamese screen-reading program, which won the Samsung DigitAll Hope in Asia competition.

The screen-reading program can read aloud what's on the screen.

It's especially useful for blind Vietnamese people because other screen-reading programs, such as Jaws and Window-eyes, only read English, French and German.

Even better, it's an open-source program which encourages soft-ware programmers to develop it further.

The program is also useful for blind people overseas because it can be used to read other languages by inputting clusters of sounds.

Phuc and his colleagues believe digital technology can become the eyes of the blind, to help them “see” everyday changes of the world.

“IT can give blind people an opportunity to be equal in society,” Phuc said.

“The digital world does not only bring eye sight to blind people, it but also helps blind people like us have more independent lives and we can make positive contributions to the common good.”

Phuc is not only an IT wizard but also an accomplished musician, able to play drums, violin, guitar and piano.

He has written and recorded a 12-song album Nu Tinh oi that he distributes for free.

Full of enthusiasm, ambition and dynamism, Phuc and his friends at Sao Mai Center have found a way to improve their lives of other blind people.

It was also his enthusiasm for IT that has brought Phuc and his sighted colleague, Thu Trang, together.

They married in 2007.

Crooks vandalized only car of family living with a visually impaired child

A CAR used to take a baby for specialist therapy has been attacked by thieves.

Danielle Mackenzie, of Madoc Close, Brackla, was distraught after they smashed the window of her Citroen Picasso and stole a laptop computer containing precious photos of her son Bradley.
The 18-month-old is undergoing £4,400 of treatment at the Bobath Centre in Cardiff for cerebral palsy, where therapists are teaching him to sit.

Thieves broke into the car last Thursday night, after 26-year-old Danielle and her husband Richard returned home from the centre and accidentally left their laptop and satellite navigation system inside.

The laptop contained photos of Bradley, who is also visually impaired and has epilepsy, plus posters to help raise money for his treatment.

Following the break-in, the family suffered another blow after discovering the theft of the laptop was not covered by their insurance.

“We went for Bradley’s treatment in Cardiff and we completely forgot about the things in the car,” said Mrs Mackenzie, who is a full-time carer alongside her 37-year-old husband.

“We feel stupid as we never do that, but we were just so tired.

“It’s really annoying. We were up all night with him that night and we didn’t hear it.
“ I felt really horrible that someone had been in the car – it’s an intrusion.

“They don’t know how much damage they have done.”

Mother-of-two Mrs Mackenzie had to ask her parents to take Bradley for his treatment the following day as she and Richard were unable to use the car.

The couple are now trying to get their satellite navigation system replaced, but have been told their laptop will not be replaced by their insurers.

Mrs Mackenzie is particularly upset at the theft of the computer as it contained photos of fundraising events held for her son, including the recent Stand Up for Bradley concert at Bridgend Recreation Centre.

The incident has upset her six-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who is also visually impaired.
“She was crying her eyes out asking, ‘Why did they smash the window?’ It’s gutting.”
Acting Det Insp Richard Jones said: “The circumstances are upsetting and we will look to investigate this matter.”

Anyone with information on the break-in should call (01656) 679528 or CrimeStoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

l To donate to the Stand up for Bradley appeal, which has Carwyn Jones AM as patron, ring 01656 304921.

One of three visually impaired people are victims of abuse in the UK

MORE than 1.2 million blind and partially sighted people in the UK have experienced physical and/or verbal abuse, according to a survey by Action for Blind People.

In one day nearly 20,000 (4%) blind and partially sighted people were physically abused, compared with less than 1% of sighted people.

In one week almost 180,000 (16%) blind and partially sighted people were verbally abused, compared with only 7% of sighted people.

The survey also revealed a visually impaired person is three times more likely than a sighted person (24% v 8%) not to know where or who to turn to, and almost twice as likely not to be taken seriously (31% v 17%) if they told anyone about their experiences.

One of the people who took part in the survey says the charity is helping rehouse her as a result of abuse and harassment.

She said: "I have had bricks and stones thrown at me, a football kicked at my face, eggs thrown at my window and kids spitting at me.”

The charity's chief executive, Stephen Remington, said: "Unfortunately, visually impaired people can be seen as vulnerable and an easy target for anti-social behaviour.

"The impact this can have on a visually impaired person, who may already feel vulnerable, can be devastating.

"Many people will be as horrified by these results as we are. All of us can play a role in helping to combat such disgusting behaviour."

If you, or anyone you know, are visually impaired and experiencing verbal and/or physical abuse contact Action for Blind People on its Freephone helpline 0800 915 4666 or visit the website:

Adding Braille in the household to help the visually impaired

During National Braille Week, a charity has said that while Braille can help those who have been blind from early life, older people may find it difficult to learn.Charity Royal Blind says that as sensitivity of touch diminishes in later life, it may be hard for the elderly to learn Braille, but adds that there is plenty that care homes can do for their older tenants who are losing their sight.

"Sensitivity of touch, governs the extent to which Braille is used. Those educated in schools for the blind use Braille far more naturally and easily than those who lose their sight in adult life and are almost invariably slow readers," said Richard Hellewell, chief executive of Royal Blind.

"The older people are, the more difficult it is for them to acquire the sensitivity of touch necessary for ease of reading," he said.

However, he added: "Elderly people with a sight impairment have mostly suffered loss of sight later in life, which makes it hard for them to learn Braille.

"There are many other things that can be done to make life in a care home better for those with a sight impairment such as using tactile signifiers at doors and providing handrails or guidelines in contrasting colours."

Age-related eye conditions are the most common cause of sight loss in the UK and 95 per cent of people with sight problems in the UK are 65 or over.

Macular degeneration or cataracts are major causes of sight loss in older people.

Foster families to care for guide dogs for the visually impaired

Two eight-week-old Labrador retrievers flew to Calgary this weekend, to kickstart a puppy-raising program for Alberta Guide Dog Services.

Littermates Nelson and Tucker stepped off a plane from Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday to meet their Calgary foster families, who will raise and train them for the next 15 months.

Lisa and Graham Lindgren and their two kids, Robert, 9, and Laura, 6, are tasked with socializing Nelson to prepare him for his future role as a guide dog, as well as taking him to obedience classes.

Wearing a blue vest that indicates his status as a guide dog in training, Nelson will accompany the family on their daily travels -- to the grocery store, the movies, the mall, public transit, etc.

"It's for the greater good -- we're doing this for the benefit of a person who is visually impaired," the stay-at-home mom said yesterday.

Families like the Lindgrens are fundamental to the success of the program, said Linda Thornton, puppy raising manager for Alberta and B.C. Guide Dog Services.

"We need to produce more dogs because we have a huge waiting list of visually impaired people," she said. "We're always looking for puppy raisers."

The puppy-raising program in Calgary has been made possible by a grant from the Wild Rose Foundation, said Thornton.

For more information about the program, call 258-0819.

Radio for the visually impaired!

Helping the visually impaired to reach out to the world was the motto of the day for The National Association for the Blind (NAB) who, along with Rotary Club of Bangalore, distributed around 1,000 FM radios to visually challenged persons at the NAB Rehabilitation Complex here on Saturday.

It is part of Rotary Club’s ‘Support the Challenged’ initiative, which in turn was supported by Mitra Jyothi and Matru.

Madhu Singhal, managing trustee of Mitra Jyothi, who is visually impaired, said: "When I was a small girl, I used to listen to the radio all day because that was my source of entertainment. I especially liked listening to cricket commentary. Listening to it on television is not as exciting because they don’t explain in detail."

Jayanthi Mahesh, an administrative officer at NAB, agreed that the gesture would definitely make a difference to a visually impaired person. I. Krupakaran and Karthick M., second year students of the organisation’s Technical Training Institute (TTI), said they were grateful for the support given by NAB. Krupakaran said: "They have provided me with food, clothing, a place to stay and education. I can’t possibly ask for more."

Krupakaran, who lost his eyesight at a very young age, hails from Thiruvarur near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. He said: "There are so many people from small villages suffering from blindness who don’t know about organisations like NAB. My greatest desire is to spread awareness in these villages as I can empathise with such people."

Karthick added: "We want people to see us for what we are or what we have done with our lives, and not for our disability."

Mahesh Joshi, director of Doordarshan Kendra in Bangalore, was the chief guest. He distributed the radios along with S. Nagendra, Rotary District Governor nominee.

Las Vegas Expo introduces new gadgets to help the visually impaired

Representatives of local high-tech companies are traveling to Las Vegas this weekend for the world's largest consumer electronics show -- an event they hope will be a showcase for some of their products.

The 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show, from Monday through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo Convention Center, is expected to draw 2,700 exhibitors and 140,000 attendees from around the world.

During the show, Melbourne-based Harris Corp. is scheduled to announce what it is calling a "global accessible radio technology" initiative with National Public Radio and Towson University. The initiative is designed to make radio more accessible to hearing-impaired and visually impaired people.

Harris said the technology enables hearing-impaired listeners to "see" live radio content on specially equipped receivers by applying television closed-captioning to radio broadcasts.
The technology also will give audio cues and voice prompts, as well as advanced radio reading services, for visually impaired or blind listeners, according to Harris.

Harris and its partners will demonstrate the radio technology during a news conference at the show.

Other local companies -- including AuthenTec Inc. and Intersil Corp. -- are sending representatives to attend the show, either to exhibit their products or to monitor the latest trends in the electronics industry.

AuthenTec, a Melbourne-based maker of fingerprint sensors, will help staff a group exhibit featuring products that use its sensors.

"There's a variety of cell phones, as well as a personal navigation device, that use our fingerprint sensors," AuthenTec spokesman Brent Dietz said.

Also, Intersil Corp., a California-based maker of semiconductor chips with facilities in Palm Bay, is sending several representatives to the show to scout the latest trends in the electronics industry, said Adam Latham, Intersil's director of communications and marketing.

Intersil's chips are used in various consumer electronics by some big industry players at the show, including Apple, Samsung and Toshiba.

"We're sending some of our salespeople to look around and see the latest technology and see how chips are being used," he said.

Also during the show, the group that includes Harris will detail plans for a new research center for developing future technologies at Towson University near Baltimore. The initiative calls for establishing an international consortium of equipment manufacturers, broadcasters and others to help foster broad adoption of the technology.

Harris is sending about 12 representatives to the show, led by Howard Lance, the company's chairman, president and chief executive.

Harris usually does not attend the annual show, which is geared more to makers of consumer electronics. Harris makes communications equipment and other electronic products primarily for use by government and industry customers.

"We are participating this year because Harris Broadcast Communications has teamed with companies that are consumer-oriented to announce products and services in the radio and television broadcast arena," Harris spokesman Jim Burke said.

That will include an update on a separate initiative by Harris and partners LG Electronics and Zenith Corp. to develop a mobile television system, called Mobile Pedestrian Handheld.

Unveiled in April at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, the system enables television stations to transmit programs to cellular phones, personal digital assistants and other mobile devices.

Harris also will accept a special technical Emmy Award on Monday for developing transmission filters designed to improve digital television broadcasts.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Employers don't recognize the abilites of the visually impaired

Ray Campbell extends his 5-foot cane in front of him, tapping to feel manhole covers, street poles and other familiar landmarks that his fellow commuters speed past.The help desk technician, who has been blind since birth, travels each morning from his suburban Glen Ellyn home, taking a bus and two trains before walking to his Chicago office."It's my responsibility to get up and get to work and do my job to the best of my ability and go home just like anybody else," said Campbell, 42. "So from that perspective, I don't really think my day is a whole lot different."

But there is one thing that sets Campbell apart from most blind Americans: He has a job. Seven in 10 working-age blind people in the United States are unemployed, according to the National Industries for the Blind.Jim Gibbons leads that non-profit group, which helps find jobs for the visually impaired, and says employers don't know and recognize the capabilities of people who are blind.

There are often low expectations of blind people, he says, and opportunities can be limited if, for example, the job requires driving.The jobs that have traditionally been offered to blind people have been in manufacturing or service work. Agencies have provided and trained blind people in jobs making notepads, clocks or clothing.But despite technological advances that enable them to perform much more complicated work, many blind people haven't found employment in the business sector in finance, marketing and management, Gibbons said.

Even after she earned an MBA, Cynthia Watson of Houston had a hard time finding a job in marketing. Watson was diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration at age 9."I think that one of the big barriers was my blindness," said Watson, 35. "I know it's possible because I have landed jobs before. It just takes more time and more persistence. So, I mean, sure, you get discouraged, but you have to just stay persistent."A properly qualified blind person is capable of doing such white-collar work if given the chance, Gibbons said.

"We missed the boat until recently in terms of recognizing that's where the opportunities are, so that's where we have to go," Gibbons said. "Upwardly mobile careers and jobs with real responsibility and jobs where you really leverage your leadership, your communications, your analytical skills."With his technical skills, Campbell has been able to find jobs. He worked for more than 15 years as a software engineer before he took his current position at The Chicago Lighthouse, an agency that provides services for the blind and visually impaired, answering a technical and computer help line.

In his cubicle, he uses a variety of technical advances that have helped the blind keep pace in a high-tech workplace. His computer can read aloud all the type displayed on his monitor. He wears two sets of headphones, one to hear the computer voice and the other, attached to his phone, to listen to his callers.He also has a printer that produces documents in Braille.Another tool attaches to his keyboard, constantly refreshing in Braille what's on the computer's desktop. Campbell runs his fingers over it to read the information. Two dots on it move up and down to let him know where the cursor is."I read my e-mails," he said.

"I can do Word documents. I use a database for this job. I go in, I keep records in there."Campbell never uses a mouse, but he does scan all of his bills into the computer so they can be read back to him to pay with online banking programs. Otherwise he would have to get outside help."I can do it independently," he said. "I don't want anybody knowing how much I spent on my credit card last month."After work, it's back home again, sometimes stopping for a beer before boarding the trains and bus. Nothing different, he stresses, than any other suburban commuting worker."I think the biggest misconception is that people who are blind, they can't work or they aren't as dependable, aren't able to be as productive," Campbell said.

"That we can't hold down a 9-5 job in a major corporation just like everybody else can -- and we certainly can do that."Gibbons says the high unemployment rate among blind adults can drop if mind-sets can be changed. And that's important because unemployment, as with any person, has a negative affect on the blind."Work is dignity," he said. "It's part of our identity. It's part of our dignity. It's critical."

Japanese trade show introduces new technological devices for the visually impaired

A trade show held in Japan recently called AMEDIA showed off 18 new products aimed at helping the visually impaired better utilize technology.

Among the devices on offer were an adaptive Braille display, which can convert text from a PC screen into the hand-read alphabet in real time, the REHA Vision "Color Talk," a handheld scanner which can recognize 220 colors and speak them to the user, and what appears to be GW Micro's VoiceSense PDA (here being employed to help those with visual impairments in the IT sector).

The collection of gadgets clearly illustrates the kind of time and energy being put into making modern technology more accessible to everyone. Hit the read link for a (translated) tour of the show.