Saturday, February 23, 2008

Magazine in Braille

Most visually impaired persons have the same problems that they do not get quality study materials in Braille. For this reason they depend on the recorded version of the lessons. However, the recent launch of a periodical in Braille would definitely bring cheers for those visually impaired persons who have the passion for reading.

Salim Sheihkh, student at Xavier's says, "Such a periodical can be of great use in libraries. There are smaller
magazines in Braille kept here. But such a periodical will help access much more information."

This fortnightly named 'Sparshgyan' will be read by many blind people with their elevated heads. Lively fingers will do the reading, sincerely running through the dotted lines on white sheets of paper. The 100 page periodical will be distributed to all 79 schools for the visually impaired through out the state and the related institutions.

The editorial policy of the periodical ensures that the news content is poised. It covers various topics including current news, topics on sports, music,
literature and many more. The news published in the first issue reflects the policy: Anna Hazare gets important space to describe his plan to move forward the chief minister amid problems of the blind people. Just two days after its publication, 180 copies were purchased.

Parimala Bhatt, chairperson, Snehankit helpline for the visually handicapped, said, "Most of the time, one can not read out the news in detail. It is a great venture to enable the blind get to the heart of the matter. It is way to get acquainted with the national, local, political and social issues."
Many people, working with the blind persons, also see the periodical as a landmark in making literature in Braille.

Woman suffers abuse because she is visually impaired

BRICKS through the windows, a football kicked into her face, stones thrown in the street - this was the constant barrage of abuse suffered by mum-of-two Denise Jarrett in her Erdington home.
And the only reason for the invective directed at her was Denise's disability because the 43-year-old is virtually blind.

Subject to taunts from youths, she faced years of harassment before being helped to get away from her abusers and has now happily moved to the south of the city.

Denise has faced discrimination since losing her sight seven years ago after a blow to the head. And she is not alone - research shows that nearly one third of visually impaired people have suffered abuse and nearly one third are unable to find work.

"I was always very shortsighted and wore glasses," recalls Denise. "But I went totally blind in one eye and can see things only if I am very close to them in the other.

"It's at its worst when I am out in the road. If I am trying to find somewhere I have to go across the road to see the sign. And if cars are coming quite fast on the road when I am crossing, it scares me. It happens if I step out and someone shouts at me 'are you blind?' and they don't know what to say when I answer 'yes'."

Denise admits she has a stick for such circumstances but she is unwilling to use it.

"I get about all right the rest of the time," she says.

"You just learn to manage. I can do most things."

Which is why it was such a surprise when Denise found herself at the receiving end of a campaign of harassment.

"I moved to a house in Erdington about three years ago," she remembers. "On the first morning I had eggs thrown at the window. I didn't think it was anything to do with me as I had only just moved there with my son Aubrey. I didn't really pay any attention because it could have been to do with the people from before.

"But then there were bricks thrown at the house and stones at me. I finally realised why when one day when they kicked a football right in my face, breaking my glasses, and I heard them saying to kick the ball in my face because I couldn't see.

"The problem was that being short-sighted I didn't know who had done it. All I could see were people in hoods, I think they were just youths.

"I did report it to the police. But because I wasn't able to identify anyone, there was nothing they could do."

Denise, who separated from the father of her two children, Aubrey, now 18 and Flavia, 24, was also facing frustrations with her attempts to give up being a full-time mum and looking for a job.

"I would phone up for an application form and would ask for it in large print and then there would be a pause before they said they didn't do forms in large print and if I couldn't see properly they didn't think I would be able to do the job," she says. "I would say that I could do things as long as they were in large print, but I never got anywhere.

"Even the Job Centre didn't have forms in large print. They offered me Braille but I am not blind and I don't know Braille. But the Job Centre did tell me about someone who could help me, a group called Action for Blind People, and they gave me their details."

Here Denise finally found some practical help.

She explains: "I went to see my case worker Zalika Shand and she was brilliant. She asked me what job I would like to do and I talked about how I loved music and she said, 'what about radio?'."
Denise signed up for a college course but was then told she was the only student on the course so it would not run. But undeterred, Zalika found another option for her.

"She had seen an advert in the Birmingham Mail for Switch Radio in Castle Vale.

"Because all of the training there would be hands-on, it wouldn't matter about needing large print.
"I was a bit worried as a lot of people were going for the job but a few days later they called to say they could offer me a place."

Delighted at finally being given a chance, Denise is now on her course and hoping to continue her studies and gain voluntary work in radio.

"I am really excited about it. I couldn't believe it when they called me," she says.

"Once I have my certificates I can work on any radio station which would be excellent. What I would really like to do is world music."

And Action for Blind People were also able to help with Denise's housing difficulties.

"I was given another case worker, Angela Demetriou, and she put me in touch with Victim Support. They suggested a house swap and gave me some advice about that. Three different people got in touch and I was offered a swap to a house which seemed perfect."

Denise, who moved a couple of weeks ago and is happy in her new home, is only too grateful for the help she has received.

"I don't know what I would have done without Action for Blind People," she says.

"The problem is that there isn't much understanding of visual impairment. You just fall in the middle. All it takes is to print forms in large print but people just don't think of that. They offer you Braille but don't think about people who can see a bit. But by not having information in large print they are discriminating against people like me."


* There are nearly 2 million visually impaired people in the UK, of these 32,000 are in the West Midlands.

* One third of visually impaired people of working age in the UK are unemployed.

* Nearly one third have experienced verbal or physical abuse at some point in their lives.

Visually impaired children experience special activities

Visually impaired children have been reaching for new heights as they enjoyed birthday celebrations with a difference.

Sunderland Actionnaires – the sports club for visually impaired children and teens – marked its fourth birthday with a climbing session at Sunderland Marine Activities Centre.The group, part of Action for Blind Children, was the first of its kind in the North East.There are now 29 Actionnaires groups across the UK giving blind and partially-sighted children the chance to enjoy sport and make new friends.

Deputy sports manager Lesley Inganni said: "Visually impaired children don't necessarily get a chance to play sports at school so they can play here in a safe, fun environment."It's really good for their self-confidence. They do get a strong sense of friendship and self-esteem."Sunderland Actionnaires meets every Saturday at the Raich Carter Centre in Hendon.Its 15 members, aged up to 16, enjoy climbing, goal ball – a version of football played with "audio balls" – and swimming.To find out more or offer your services as a volunteer, contact deputy sports manager Lesley Inganni, tel. 0770 309 9354.

Visually impaired athlete brings gold medal home to Canada

Kimberly Joines took home a gold medal Monday in the women's sit-ski slalom at an International Paralympic Committee World Cup in Kangwonland, Korea.

Joines, from Edmonton, finished in a two-run time of one minute 54.37 seconds to capture her third victory in four races at the IPC event in Korea.

Lauren Woolstencroft of North Vancouver, B.C., and Andrea Dziewior of Nanaimo, B.C., finished third and fourth in the women's standing category. Woolstencroft finished the day with a two-run combined time of 1:55.95 with Dziewior only 0.02 seconds behind last season's women's overall champion. Germany's Andrea Rothfuss won the event in 1:48.21.

Kimberly Joines
Vancouver Sun file

Chris Williamson of Markham, Ont., and guide Nick Brush of Panorama, B.C., finished in fourth place in the men's visually impaired category with a two-run combined time of 1:46.71.

Ottawa's Kathleen Forestell and guide Sebastien Michel of Mont-Tremblant, Que., crossed the finish line in 2:01.05 to win the female visually impaired category after the rest of the competition failed to finish their run.

Over the course of the four-day event, Canadian athletes won eight gold, five silver and four bronze medals.

Woolstencroft, Joines and Williamson are all currently ranked first in the slalom for their respective categories.

The Canadian team, with 6,540 points, is currently ranked second behind Austria's 9,016 points in the Nation's Cup standings. Germany is third with 3,873.

The final IPC World Cup stop takes place in Hackuba, Japan from Feb. 23-26.

© Canwest News Service 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Third graders experience visual impairment

For the sixth year the third graders at Dennett Elementary School in Plympton participated in a disability day where they learned what it would be like to be visually impaired or blind. Although they had the ability to open their eyes if they were scared or felt uncomfortable, they also experienced how different getting around their classroom would be if they didn’t have the ability to see.

Divided into small groups the children received different lessons on visual disabilities. In one classroom children participated in hands-on activities where they closed their eyes and tried to feel their way around the classroom using a guide cane. In order to get the feel for the different levels of visual impairment the children also looked though special goggles designed to demonstrate the various points of vision loss.

Children who are used to seeing clearly had to describe how a person or objects in the room looked through the goggles from stages of 20/40 vision to 20/200 vision. One child described their teacher as looking like a monster when looking at her through the distortion of 20/200 vision goggles.

“The goggles show the children what it would be like with different vision types,” Julie Narciso, an Orientation and Mobility Instructor conducted the hands-on lessons at the Dennett said.

Narciso and Joanne Hutchinson, who both work with blind and visually impaired children, teach visually able children about what it is like to live with a visual disability. The goggle exercises allow the children to see through the eyes of a visually impaired person Narciso said. After the children have seen through the eyes of the many stages of visual disabilities they take on the role of a blind person and complete exercise using a guide cane and the use of a guide person. Each child takes turns as the being the guide and the visually impaired student to understand the trust involved in relying on another person and other sensory organs.

“You can open your eyes at any time, a blind or visual impaired person can’t do that,” Narciso said to the children as they used guide canes to feel around the classroom. “This is a snapshot of what challenges visually impaired persons face.”

In another classroom children were set up in different learning station. Third grade teacher John Girard gave a lesson on the parts of the eye and stages of being visually impaired.

Over on the other side of the room third grade teacher, Diana Seyfert, helped the children type their names on the Braille typewriter. Each child was able to feel how their name would be in Braille and see some of their favorite storybooks, like the Bernstein Bears, with both words and Braille words in them. The children learned the letters of the alphabet in Braille, and experienced eating their lunch and opening food containers without being able to see what they were doing.

“The books with both Braille and written words were made so blind children and children of sight could read and enjoy a book together,” Seyfert said.

According to The American Foundation for the Blind, the term “blind” and “blindness,” be used for persons with no usable sigh at all, and the terns “visually impaired,” “low vision,” or “partially sighted” be applied to person who have some usable vision.

Hutchinson explained there were many phases of visual disabilities and many variations on individual people. Visual impairment may be due to a loss of visual acuity, the measurement of how clearly people see. If a persons visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye after correction with conventional glasses, he/she is considered legally blind. Visual impairment may also be due to a loss of visual field. Visual field is the total area that can be seen without moving the head or eyes. If a person has a visual field of 20 degrees or less, he/she is considered legally blind.

“This exercise is to help teach children what it would be like to have a visual disability,” Narciso said. “It exposes them to different kinds of people.”

State school for the blind takes care of visually impaired dog

A dog with severe eye problems is getting help from some sympathetic friends _ students at the state School for the Blind. The students were looking for a fundraising cause when a school retiree e-mailed them about Spirit, a local dog suffering from blindness in one eye and losing sight in the other. The 2-year-old Labrador retriever was rescued from a shelter last fall by a group _ Volunteers for Animals _ that took him to an animal eye care specialist who said Spirit had a progressive eye disease, ocular skeletal disorder.

The group paid $3,000 to treat Spirit and about $1,300 has been donated to help cover the cost. Now the students hope to raise another $1,000 by hosting a bake sale and collecting donations. "It's great they wanted to help Spirit. Dogs have been so much use to people with visual problems," said Brenda Cromwell of Volunteers for Animals. "I couldn't imagine not treating him. He's a regular dog. He's got a lot to offer."

Faculty at the school in Batavia, 30 miles southwest of Rochester, will be encouraging additional donations during the bake sale Wednesday. Students have worked hard this week to make cupcakes and other goodies. The hardest part, though, was "not eating it before selling it," they told the Daily News of Batavia. The project will not only help cover Spirit's surgery, but it will also help the students with everyday life, said faculty advisor Bethany Burgess. "It's good for them not only to relate to their peers, but those outside the school. It has opened their eyes that animals have some of the same problems they do," said Burgess.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Most websites do not meet the needs of the visually impaired

Simpleweb a Bristol(UK) based web design and development specialist, recently discovered that over 75% of local web design companies have websites that are not accessible to the visually impaired or people with disabilities.Mark Panay, MD of Simpleweb Ltd, revealed how he and colleagues tested hundreds of websites from web design companies offering website solutions that should be accessible to people with disabilities, but the majority of the time were found to be severely lacking.

"Out of the 200 websites that we checked we found that more than 75% didn't validate with W3C compliance (correctly made websites), with approximately the same percentage again not passing any of the current web based accessibility tests. We find this very disheartening for the current wave of websites being built for small businesses and their potential users."Accessibility has now become an intrinsic part of building a website. While accessibility as defined by the RNIB and UK government has become a standard requirement for public sector websites; the private sector, especially small to medium sized businesses, are being left in the dark by website design companies that are not practicing what they preach.

The web designers and agencies used in the test were picked out at random from local web design directories in the South West of England, with many having beautifully designed pages but with no thought for the visually impaired or handicapped.The UK's Disability Discrimination Act 1995 states that it is the duty of a company providing services to the public to make reasonable changes to "practice, policy or procedure" if a service is unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to make use of.

The findings from Simpleweb show that the majority of web companies essentially violate this act with their own website, which in turn puts businesses getting online for the first time in a precarious position.There are over nine million disabled people in the UK, two million of which have sight related problems, with an estimated £50 billion worth of disposable income. With just a basic understanding of the current web standards from online agencies, every new website could offer a decent experience for all visitors, the economic benefits alone should encourage any website designer or agency to learn the new skills necessary.

--64 Alma RdCliftonBristol, UKBS82DJ

Simpleweb Ltd ( ) is results driven web design company based in Bristol, UK. Established in 2006, Simpleweb has built accessible websites for large government organisations though to small champagne bars. Simpleweb combines accessibility, content management and simplicity into affordable solutions for small to medium sized businesses, public and private.

Art for the visually impaired

It was just about five years ago that Elizabeth Arseneau began creating artwork as a means of therapy for herself, and already she's helping others with it.Arseneau said that when she dove into the world of art, she had no intent other than to pick up a hobby that just made her feel good inside while coping with a series of life-altering changes. But the rewards have gone much farther.
"My epiphany took place in 2003 when I picked up my first paintbrush," she said. "I discovered the key to my soul through my art. Painting my way through the challenges of life has opened many doors and has taken me from merely existing to living life to its fullest."

Forging full steam ahead in her new-found hobby, Arseneau received an award of merit in the Attleboro Arts Museum's 2005 Members Show and was selected as one of the exhibiting artists in the museum's 2006 Eight Visions Exhibit.To date, Arseneau has created more than 60 paintings in her home studio, based on a theme of emotions ranging from rage and depression to peace and happiness.She says her most rewarding work, however, is her latest exhibit, titled "Art You Can Feel," which was recently exhibited at the TseTse Art Gallery in Providence. The exhibit consisted of 12 paintings created specifically with the visually impaired in mind.

Arseneau used various textures and depths to give the visually impaired a better idea what is on her canvas. The exhibit also included five sculptures that could hold to feel various shapes and textures.Born herself with a sight impairment that affects her depth perception and overall vision, Arseneau said creating art that the visually impaired can appreciate is extremely rewarding.According to Therese Lavalle, executive director of the TseTse Art Gallery, Arseneau is a "master in her own right, having created an art form that is truly unique and skillfully implemented."

"Elizabeth shares her art with all the people," Lavalle said. "As non-artists share through conversation, she shares herself and her art through sight and touch. Allowing the viewer to touch her tactile art allows the viewer-feeler to be connected to that art on their own level of appreciation."One of the ways Arseneau creates artwork for the visually impaired is through the use of various layers of paint and special techniques, as she did with a painting she calls "Sea of Defiance."

The painting depicts a woman with sea creatures flowing through a mass of long, wild hair. Arseneau says she named it after her own defiance in the use of the paints she applied."It was done with different epoxies, and, if on the directions it said 'Do not use with acrylic or oil,' I would," she said. "And what happened is it started to bubble and the bubbles hardened, and what I did was looked at the shapes that were bubbling and then enhanced them with paint and that's how I got the effects."Even in simpler paintings, however, Arseneau says her artwork can be appreciated by the visually imparied through more subtle textures and depths, as in "The Dance."

The painting depicts a smooth, black and white face with dancing bodies almost secretly painted into very long and colorful textured hair of green, black, orange and yellow."Blind people have very sensitive fingers, and even though this looks very flat, to somebody without vision, they're seeing with their fingertips," she said of the painting.Janette Sears can be reached by phone or fax at 508-222-2442 or by e-mail at

The Women at Work Museum on Country Street in downtown Attleboro is currently showing some of Elizabeth Arseneau's work, including pieces intended for the visually impaired, in an exhibit titled "Past, Present and Future."

Cellphone and reading team up to meet the needs of the visually impaired

K-NFB Reading Technology, an affiliation between the National Federation of the Blind and Kurzweil Technologies, has a product lined up to aid the visually impaired and the learning disabled. The company has paired with Nokia (News - Alert) N82 to unveil a small and sleek gadget that converts text to speech.

The fully loaded smart phone reads text and converts it into clear speech to aid blind users. It can be used to scan bills and interpret the value of the bill and also to scan other documents like restaurant menus etc. For those who can see but who need assistance in reading, the phone displays the converted text and also has features to enlarge and highlight text. This convenience would appeal to kids with learning difficulties specially dyslexics, and it would help them improve their reading skills.

The Nokia N82 phone is easy to use and the conversion from text to speech can be done with a click of a button. One of the first products offering the text-to-speech technology was developed by Ray Kurzweil in the 1970s. While some of the products available in the market today offer similar features as Nokia N82, not all of them are compact. While there are numerous gadgets to aid the visually impaired, this phone combines lot of features into a single device that can be easily carried around in pockets. Ray Kurzweil, CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, who has developed the current Mobile Reader Product line, is a pioneer in assistive technologies.

"What's new here is both blind people and kids can do this with a device that fits in their shirt pocket," Kurzweil said. According to Kurzweil, the current product is just the beginning of a series of innovative products to assist the blind. In the future, products that can recognize people can also be expected. There are about 10 million visually impaired people in the United States and the number is expected to double in the next 30 years.

"We've had reading devices before," Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind said, noting similar software is already available in a larger handheld reader housed in a personal digital assistant."It is the next step, but this is a huge leap," Gashel, who is blind, said in a telephone interview. "I'm talking to you on the device I also use to read things. I can put it in my pocket and at the touch of a button, in 20 seconds, be reading something I need to read in print."The speech recognition software for the product is provided by Nuance (News - Alert).

K-NFB Reading Technology would market the product. While the software is expected to cost around $1,595, the cell phone would be priced at around $500.

"As you can harness the power of remote environments and do that so quickly with the Web technologies, it gives a lot more capability, flexibility and options to the way you solve these type of problems," Strammiello, the director of product management at Nuance said.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Keyboard training for visually impaired students

It’s difficult to concentrate on anything in this noisy cyber café in Hauz Khas. But a group of five visually impaired girls is hard at work. Even the noise fails to drown their enthusiasm as they sit typing on the keyboard.

The keyboard is not Braille enabled but the software is a special one. The girls are browsing with a screen-reader software that transcribes whatever is on the screen into spoken words. “The visually challenged can use a standard computer. They don’t need to buy any thing extra except a screen reader software,” says Rajiv Kumar Sharma, the cyber café’s manager. The cyber café, run by the Centre for visually impaired women, is open to all but it gives computer training only to girls. “Technology basics will help women with a visual impairments to be independent,” says Shalini Khanna, director of the centre.

“Eight to ten students are trained to use the Internet, Word or Excel in the three-month-long certificate courses or they are taught to use PowerPoint, download and install programmes in the six-month-long diploma courses,” says Sharma.

The cyber café, which was opened in 2003 by the National Association for Blind (NAB) and Microsoft, is the only one of its kind in Delhi. “Apart from computer training that is dedicated to visually impaired girls only, the cyber café is open to all,” says Sharma, 30, who too has an eyesight problem. “I use a screen magnification software, which allows me to resize letters or to change the colors,” Sharma explains.

Computer training is one of the many activities initiated by the centre for the 60 girls who live in its hostel. “We try to rehabilitate them by integrating them in higher education or finding them employment,” says Khanna.

“We believe that training has to be customised. Most of the women here are not financially independent even if they have a college degree,” says the centre’s director. The girls at the cyber café agree. Checking her email, thanks to the reader screen software, Phool Mati, 22, says she lost her sight when she was four. Mati, who wants to be a receptionist, is studying English, Hindi and political sciences through correspondence at Delhi University. “I have learnt so many things here like handicraft and theatre,” she says. And now she is learning computers.

But even with the software that enables them to read, the girls are encountering problems. For the software to transcribe words from a website, the website has to have certain features but most don’t have them. “I will give you an image. As a paraplegic, my wheelchair doesn’t help me to go up in a building where there is stairs but no ramp. The visually impaired may know how to use the Internet and have tools like software. But unless the very websites have not been encoded to be read by them, there is no point really,” says Javed Abidi, director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).