Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wrecked pavements deemed unsafe for the visually impaired

BLIND charities are calling for pavements in Wakefield city centre to be made safer for visually impaired people.

Last Friday, voluntary groups, including the West Riding Blind Association (WRBA), held a Pavement Day – an event to highlight the dangers faced by blind people in public areas.Campaigners say lampposts, flower tubs and signs at head height can all

pose a danger to visually impaired people, and should bear brightly-coloured markers.And they are calling for the steps in the Cathedral precinct to be given white edges.Pam Walters, chief executive of the WRBA, said the group was hoping to work with Wakefield Council to tackle the problemShe said she was keen to encourage bar and cafe owners to be aware of the dangers of stray chairs and other objects on pavements.

She said: "Over the next year we are going to be taking photographs across the district to highlight the range of issues about pavements."Sometimes there are cultural issues. There is more smoking outside now, for example, which means there are a lot more cafe chairs and other things outside."Voluntary groups across the country are calling for pavements to be made safer.

A spokesperson for the National Federation for the Blind said: "In the past 30 years pavements have got steadily more cluttered and less money has been spent on maintenance, leading to thousands of accidents where pedestrians have tripped, resulting in serious injuries and even deaths."

Coun Denise Jeffery, Wakefield Council's deputy leader, said: "We are committed to ensuring equality of access to public spaces and buildings. We constantly review and further develop how we make streets safely accessible for everyone."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

New class gives hope to the visually impaired!

As an optometrist, Dr. Kelly Thomas often had to diagnose and treat patients who were losing their vision. Little did she know that one day she would be in the same position, struggling to deal with visual impairment after a stroke.“I can see both sides of the coin now,” Thomas said.

Like many of her patients who lost their eyesight, Thomas began to withdraw. She said she felt like she never would be able to live a full life again, so she stopped living.“When my eyes went bad, I shut myself down from doing what I love,” she said. “I retreated from everything.”Finding new confidence.

These days, Thomas has started to reclaim her life, and said she realizes that it might be different with a visual impairment but still can be fulfilling. Thomas, along with three other people, recently graduated from the Lighthouse Central Florida Independent Living Skills Class for the Visually Impaired.

The five-week course is offered to visually impaired Villagers at Lake Miona Recreation Center, and Brian Runk, an orientation and mobility specialist and low vision therapist, said the free course is designed to help visually impaired people deal with their vision loss beyond their medical appointments.“If you’re diagnosed (with visual impairment), this is the next step,” Runk said after passing out diplomas to his graduating class.

“The main goal is to build up their confidence and to show them they can do everything they used to do. They just need to use different techniques.”After losing much of her vision, Thomas said tasks that were once simple, such as cooking in an oven, proved to be a challenge. But with the help of the class, she said she has gained back her confidence and has started to cook and do other activities she thought she couldn’t do anymore.“The class is phenomenal. It gives you strength. It makes you feel like you’re not alone,” she said.

Other than relearning how to accomplish ordinary tasks, Thomas said the class has given her the confidence to find new ways to continue some of her old hobbies, including horseback riding.“It helps you get out and do things again. I now feel confident. I thank the Lord for this. It has changed my life,” she said.Reclaiming lifeOne of Thomas’ classmates, Marge French from the Village of Glenbrook, said she is happy to be able to cook again, and her husband is pretty happy about that, too.“I found that it was difficult to cook.

I was a little afraid of it, and that was one of my passions — cooking,” French said.French was diagnosed with macular degeneration and is developing glaucoma. Before the LCF class, she said her vision loss was eroding her confidence in herself.But that has changed now that she is a graduate of the LCF course. She said the class taught her a lot of “tricks” to help her cope with everyday life.“I feel much more free to do things I can do. It was an enlightening thing for my daily life,” she said. “I learned an awful lot. You can do anything you choose to do, so I’m going to cook again.”French also is looking forward to another important step toward further independence in her life.“I can’t wait to get my cane,” she said.

The LCF classes are offered every six weeks and take place 9 a.m.-noon twice a week for five weeks. LCF also offers services on an in-home basis.Although Runk has taught 15 independent living skills classes in The Villages, he said it is always wonderful to see his students meet their goals.“They’re ready to go home and live the rest of their lives as a visually impaired person,” he said. “It’s all about keeping them living the lifestyle they’re used to.”The next Lighthouse Central Florida Independent Living Skills Class for the Visually Impaired in The Villages begins June 16.

For information, call Brian Runk at 348-3677 or contact him via e-mail at Klapper is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9018, or

Not enough teachers for the visually impaired

Francis Howell School District teacher Terri Bales has been instructing blind and visually impaired students for nearly 25 years.The Dallas native - whose accent sounds like a smile - said it has always been difficult to find instructors in her field.

After a three-month search, the Francis Howell district was able to add another teacher for the blind and visually impaired to its staff."I think that's fast. If you were in a rural area I think it would take three years," Bales said.The need for teachers certified to teach the visually impaired has increased for a variety of reasons, and St. Charles County districts are adapting to that rising need.


Kevin Hollinger is a teacher for the visually impaired certified in orientation and mobility at Francis Howell.Hollinger teaches braille, and instructs blind students to move safely and independently.

Hollinger said baby boomers are retiring from the profession in droves as more children are born with visual impairments.More premature babies are surviving than ever before, but many with cortical visual impairments resulting from brain damage.Cortical visual impairments can result from lack of oxygen at birth or infection, according to the American Foundation for the Blind.The low incidence of blindness in the disabled community is another contributor, Hollinger said, many teachers being drawn to areas where the need appears to be greater.

Karen Carl has been an instructor with the Fort Zumwalt School District for 15 years and is thankful the district hired another instructor to take on part of her case load."I finally have help this year, so we are fine," Carl said.Rural school districts have a greater difficulty finding teachers, Carl said.To put the shortage in perspective, Carl said providing five braille-reading students of varying ages with adequate instruction is challenging.

Carl said that in rural areas sometimes a single teacher covers several counties.Hollinger said 73 teachers in Missouri belong to the professional organization for educators of the blind and visually impaired.Hollinger estimated there are only about 100 instructors for the blind in the entire state."By law, the district has to provide (instruction for the blind), and I don't know how they're doing it in some cases," Bales said.

Recently, more online courses have been offered for teachers who want to become certified to teach blind and low-vision students, Bales said.Oftentimes, the online courses don't prepare instructors comprehensively, Bales said.Fort Zumwalt and Francis Howell are making strides to make sure blind and visually impaired students aren't left behind.


Fort Zumwalt Deputy Superintendent Patty Corum said the district's Grow Your Own Teacher program can be tailored to recruit teachers interested in educating the visually impaired.The Grow Your Own Teacher program is a scholarship spearheaded by Corum that pays college tuition for students who elect to come back and teach "high need" subjects for the district.

At Francis Howell, which has the largest program for blind and visually impaired students in St. Charles County, Bales said the staff has used creativity to meet the challenges in staffing the department.Hollinger's undergraduate degree was in a different field, but with direction from Bales and the director of special education at Francis Howell, Hollinger decided to become certified to teach the visually impaired.

Hollinger earned dual certification at limited cost by taking advantage of several programs, one at Western Michigan University and another at Missouri State University with a scholarship called Project Diverse.Julie Ituarte, instructor with Project Diverse at Missouri State, said only eight applicants of upwards of 60 who apply for the scholarship program designed to instruct teachers for the visually impaired can be accepted."We were given funding to teach 32 students and we just excepted our last eight people on the grant," Ituarte said.

The school is reapplying for another grant to extend the program, but for now, the future of the scholarship, which has trained teachers from Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, is unknown.A representative with the Wentzville School District could not be reached for comment on this story.Bales said the small size of the blind and visually impaired community offers teachers a unique opportunity educators normally don't get.Bales said she's been able to build a personal relationship with students from grade school through high school."There's a love," Bales said. "It's a great field. I wish more people would go into it."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Visually impaired man and his son were rescued!

A visually impaired father and his 13-year-old son fishing near Highway 58 and Lokern Road were rescued by helicopter late Sunday night when they became lost.

The two were fishing in the area when they became lost at about 11:30 p.m., and were unable to direct Kern County Sheriff’s officials to their location, according to Sheriff's Department reports. A helicopter responded, and using night vision goggles, found the two about one mile north of Lokern Road. They were in an area that was inaccessible by vehicle.

The aircrew landed close to the two and flew them separately to the road where deputies and family awaited. The rescue caused a closure of the road for about 20 minutes.

Visually impaired enjoy cycling event, tandem style!

LeeAnn Buckingham used to compete in running and bicycling marathons.When she began to lose her sight and later was declared legally blind, Buckingham thought her days of being athletic were over.The Okemos woman was one of 20 blind or visually impaired children and adults who participated in Saturday's second annual Camp T. Tandem Cycling Weekend at the Greenville Area Community Center and on the Fred Meijer Flat River Trail.Camp Tuhsmeheta and Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind organized the event.

"Bike riding was something I used to really enjoy. Now I can do it again," said Buckingham with a smile filling her face. "I can exercise, I can get outdoors, I'm excited. There are a lot of us here that are really enthused."Her husband, Jim, and the other sighted team captains received instruction from another husband-wife team, Nino and Marie Pacini of Detroit, who are amateur bicycle racers.

They both are also legally blind."Nino and I ride a number of marathons each year and wanted to be able to share the opportunity with other blind or visually impaired," Marie said. "Just because you are blind doesn't mean your life is over. There are downhill and cross country skiing competitions, kayaking and cycling races all for blind participants. You can be as active as you want to be."The participants also received instruction about the various sized tandem and the three-person bikes."The captain tells the stoker when they are turning or when to stop pedaling," Marie explained.

"You don't want one rider braking as the other is pedaling furiously."Captains also were told how to help visually impaired riders enjoy the scenery. They were instructed to describe the meandering Flat River, a group of three ducks bobbing on the water and water bubbling over a fallen log.The blind riders also used their ears to hear echoes as they rode under a bridge and felt the wind on their faces as they sped down the trail."I loved the sounds of the water and how the trees were blowing and feeling the wind blow my hair," said Chelsea Henrizi, 16, of Mulliken, who was born blind.

Socialization is also important for the blind and visually impaired."I go to a sighted school where I am the only blind person there," Henrizi said. "Coming to things like this reminds me there are other people out there that are just like me.""The one unique thing about our camp is it is a camp of blind people who are teaching bind people about blindness," said George Wurtzel of Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind and Camp Tuhsmeheta.Like most of the employees there, he is also blind.

"Events like this lets blind people be on the same playing field as the sighted person," Wurtzel said. "The sighted person in front can't ride without the second person in back. They are dependent on each other to work together."Following the trail ride and a picnic lunch, riders returned to Camp Tuhsmeheta for an opportunity to do off-road mountain biking.

Six years old girl takes good care of visually impaired sibling

At an age when most children may not even understand the meaning of word ‘responsibility’, six-year-old Hiral is busy taking care of her 15-day-old sister. Sounds ordinary but only until one is told that both of her parents are visually impaired and it is Hiral who looks after them.

The girl brings home the point that the girl child must be saved as a precious gift of God. She studies in Class II in a municipal school and does not complain about not having access to certain things in life, which kids of her age enjoy.

While Hiral’s mother Kusumben is a housewife, her father Bhikhabhi Chauhan carries a portable weight machine and charges Re 1 from the weight-conscious people.

“I earn around Rs 15 to 20 in a day. We have no relatives or anyone to help or support us,” said Bhikhabhai, who had studied till SSC. Kusumben, on the other hand, could not get any work even as she had studied up to third-year in college.

The Chauhans are contented with the birth of another daughter. “With a daughter like Hiral, we don't have to worry about anything,” they said proudly.

Dr Rajal Thaker, associate professor of gynaecology at V S Hospital, is all praise for the girl. “She runs around doing small chores for her parents whenever they need something,” he said.

While a widespread campaign is going on to save the girl child, Hiral proves its importance by setting a perfect example of how a girl child can save her parents.

Summer camp for visually impaired children

It's hard enough to send a child to summer camp for the first time, much less a boy who has trouble seeing anything 2 inches in front of his face."He's very independent. It isn't until he runs into a tree that you realize he can't see," said Yvonne Hrabe, whose son Graham Kope is legally blind and will attend Camp Bloomfield for the visually impaired this July.

About 800 children attend the camp, run by Junior Blind of America, each summer. The event gives campers a chance to ride horses, swim and hike under the supervision of specially trained staffers and an opportunity to make new friends and boost their self-esteem."I would like him to be a little more outgoing. He's a little on the shy side," Hrabe said of her 5-year-old.

Hrabe discovered that Graham was legally blind when he was 4 months old. He would scream every time he went outside because the light hurt his eyes. He also has albinism, a lack of pigmentation, which makes him especially sensitive to light.She and Graham attended the camp in Malibu during a session for families last year, and Hrabe was so impressed that she decided to send her son to camp this summer on his own.

All of the nearly 40 camp staffers go through a week of special training during which they learn special communication skills and do camp-related activities blindfolded."These counselors were absolutely incredible; they have tons of energy," Hrabe said.Still, Hrabe said she couldn't help but be a little worried, especially about a dry creek bed."It's a 15- or 20-foot drop, and he doesn't know that the land ends and goes down.

So that's a concern," she said."But he's going to have to grow up and be independent, even more than a sighted child, so it will be a good experience for him," she said.Berenice Cotera understands Hrabe's apprehension. She was also nervous when she sent her 11-year-old daughter, Triana, who was born blind, to camp for the first time two years ago."But it's something that she looks forward to every year. She really loves it there," Cotera said.This year, Triana's younger brother Luis is going to camp with her.

Luis' vision is fine, but he's going so he can spend more time with his sister."We're going to have a lot of fun," Triana said.The Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign gave $12,000 to the camp last year. Thanks to $1.7 million raised last year by the campaign, about 8,000 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.The annual campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar.

Unless requested otherwise, the Los Angeles Times Family Fund makes every effort to acknowledge donations of $100 or more received by Sept. 1 in the newspaper.All donations will be acknowledged by mail in three to four weeks. Donations are tax deductible as permitted by law. Addresses will not be released or published.

For more information, call (800) LA TIMES, Ext. 75771, or e-mail family fund@latimes.comMail donations (do not send cash) to:Summer Camp CampaignFile 56984Los Angeles, CA 90074-6984Or donate online now at

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Paper money is unfair to the visually impaired!

The look and feel of America's paper money may have to change, now that a U.S. appeals court here has ruled that blind and other visually impaired people are discriminated against by the nation's currency.Canada has put "embossed dots" on its bills that vary by denomination, while the Euro includes a foil feature that can be detected by touch, the judges said. The United States is nearly alone in the world in using bills that are the same in size and color in all denominations, they added."

A paper currency designed for the sighted means that millions of visually impaired individuals are dependent on the kindness of others . . . in using U.S. currency," Judge Judith Rogers said Tuesday in a 2-1 decision. This "denial of meaningful access to U.S. currency" for blind persons violates a 1973 law that prohibits the government from discriminating against people because of their disabilities, she concluded.

The court did not say what must be done to cure the problem. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, or more likely his successor, can "choose the means of bringing U.S. currency into compliance," the judges said.The Treasury Department said it was reviewing the ruling and had no comment. The government could ask the full appeals court to reconsider the matter, or it could appeal the issue to the Supreme Court. It has 90 days to decide its next step.

"This is an important victory for people who are blind and visually impaired," said Mark Richert, director of public policy for the American Council of the Blind. "We . . . look forward to the day when people with vision loss have as reliable access to paper money as everyone else."His view is not shared by all advocates for the blind. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, sharply criticized the rival group's lawsuit as a "publicity stunt" last year.It is "damaging to the blind not only because it focused attention on a putative problem that did not exist but also [because] it would present the capacity of the blind in a false and misleading manner," said Maurer, who is blind.

In his view, handling currency can be a "challenge, but it is largely a manageable one."About 3.7 million people in this country are visually impaired, according to a National Academy of Sciences study cited by the court, and 200,000 of those have no vision at all.The Rehabilitation Act and its ban on government discrimination against the disabled had a major effect across the nation in the 1970s and '80s. It forced public buildings, libraries, schools and colleges to add ramps, walkways and elevators to accommodate people in wheelchairs and to add aural or visual signals to aid those who were blind or deaf.

Six years ago, the American Council of the Blind sued the Treasury Department on behalf of two men whose vision was badly impaired. They said that using money is "an essential ingredient of independent living," yet "for millions of Americans with blindness or low vision, it is impossible to recognize the denomination of bank notes."They sought a court order that would require the government to accommodate their disability by changing the size, color and feel of paper currency above the $1 bill.

They argued that this would not pose a great burden for the U.S. government, noting that most other nations had already made such changes. A federal judge ruled in favor of the blind plaintiffs two years ago, but the Treasury Department appealed, arguing that the change would prove costly. About 7 million vending machines dispense food and beverages across the nation, and retooling or replacing them to take bills of different sizes would cost $3.5 billion, an industry group said.

Government lawyers also questioned whether embossed bills would last long enough to be worthwhile. And they said blind people can use credit cards or rely on sales clerks for help.But the appeals court on Tuesday rejected the government's claims as unconvincing.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

New Microsoft software makes life easier for the visually impaired!

Corporations are starting to take customer needs, social concerns, and the dream of being good corporate citizens into account—that’s pretty cool. We’ve seen some interesting developments providing evidence of this trend in the past few years. Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Hewlett-Packard, and other giants have gone greener. Dell launched regeneration, where social media and green come together (double kudos), and dozens of other companies are launching blogs and making other attempts to really address customer needs. But what, if any, corporate goodwill has Microsoft been dishing out lately?

The answer comes with the launch of a new product that, while not revolutionary or overly new, could make life a lot easier for people with reading disabilities. The product is a free, mostly
open source solution called the Save as DAISY XML add-in for Microsoft Office Word. In a nutshell, the add-in consists of an XML converter to turn your Word content into content formatted as Digital Access Information System (DAISY)—the standard for digital talking books (DTBs). The add-in works with the DAISY Pipeline software tool, which lets you convert DAISY XML into a DTB file. And, although Microsoft is not the only partner in the program, it’s obviously a major contributor to the product’s universal potential.

You can download the Save as DAISY XML converter
here. Of course, to do anything very interesting (i.e., convert the content to audio), you’ll also need to download the DAISY Pipeline software here. The full package is a simple, seamless way to do something special with good ol’ Word. (Note that if you’re still holding a cross to Windows Vista with a string of garlic around your neck, you’ll need to at least download the Office 2007 compatibility pack to be able to use the Save as DAISY XML converter and DAISY Pipeline software.)

The converter isn’t the real news. What’s exciting is that Microsoft is facilitating widespread distribution of software that addresses a real social issue. According to Microsoft and the DAISY Consortium, 160 million people worldwide are blind or nearly blind, and that number doesn’t even take into account people who can’t hold
print (due to disability) or those who can’t read.

The point is that with Microsoft backing this horse, there’s a real opportunity for change: essentially, easy access to Web or audio content on a global scale for people with reading difficulties. It won’t bring back the rainforest, but I give Microsoft points for acting in a way that goes beyond the bottom line.