Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New signs in Dublin threathen the safety of the visually impaired

Newly installed advertising panels in Dublin city are being described as a hazard for the visually impaired.

The panels have been erected on footpaths and strong safety concerns have been expressed in recent weeks.

The National Council for the Blind says the advertising panels, erected by JC Decaux and sanctioned by Dublin City Council, are making life harder for the visually impaired.

The wide, freestanding billboards are part of a deal the city has made in exchange for free bicycles and tourist signage.

The Council has said it will re-examine the positioning of the signs.

New software helps the visually impaired to view web pages

Lighthouse International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to help visually impaired people, today announced the launch of a new add-on software tool that helps visually challenged to view all types of Web pages.

The new software tool, LowBrowse, enables people with moderate to severe vision problems to view Web pages in their optimized form, according to the company. This is the first of its kind open source program, said Lighthouse officials.

LowBrowse officials say it’s part of a research project aimed at designing interfaces for users with low vision. The project is funded by National Eye Institute. While many other programs available for visually impaired people are aimed at blind people, LowBrowse targets people with some vision, officials say.

LowBrowse allows the special users to alter Web pages according to their specific needs, according to the company.

Using LowBrowse technology, they can set preferences for font, text size, color contrast and letter spacing. The tool can be applied to Web pages with graphics and photos. While making the above changes, semantic text features such as link color, italics and bold are preserved in the reading frame. To view an image in the enlarged form, users need to just press a button or move the mouse. The software provides a speech capability feature for people with extremely low vision.

LowBrowse is intended for Mozilla Firefox, Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. Lighthouse also plans to offer it as an add-on to Firefox by fall 2008. The program is simple to use and easily downloadable from anywhere on a flash drive, said Lighthouse. The company says it plans to offer the software in multiple languages as well.

“This technology enables all the text on a Web site to be presented in the same readable format – size, color, font and spacing – regardless of which page is being viewed and without having to navigate to the next line,” said Aries Arditi, senior research fellow in Vision Science at Lighthouse International.Arditi, the head of the project, said that the system “further democratizes the Internet and empowers millions of people with low vision.”

Tara A. Cortes, president and chief executive officer of Lighthouse International, said that the technology finds a lot of relevance as millions of people worldwide suffer from vision loss daily from age-related problems and diabetes.

According to a national survey conducted by Lighthouse International, 16.5 million people of age 45 and above suffer from vision problems even with the help of glasses or contact lenses. The number is expected to rise to 20 million by 2010.

India: Central Railways install beepers for the visually impaired!

Central Railway will lay down rough tiles on all the platforms of suburban railway stations to aid visually impaired commuters locate the coaches meant for handicapped.

Qasim Mehdi

The decision of Central Railways to install beepers at all the suburban railway stations to aid the visually impaired to locate the coach meant for the handicapped was received well by the commuters.

The platform stretch outside the handicapped compartment will soon have chequered tiles to aid the visually impaired

However, just after a few months of the installation most of the beepers stopped working due to several technical problems.

And thus, the visually impaired commuters had to again rely on other commuters to guide them to the handicapped’s coach.

Thus, to help the blind commuters, the railway has come up with a novel idea of laying down chequered tiles around the compartments mean for handicapped commuters.

The chequered tiles will be rough in nature and hence the blind, with the help of their sticks, can easily locate the area where their coach will halt.

S Mudgerikar, CPRO of Central Railway, says, "We have received complaints about the beepers not working. We'll first repair these beepers. Moreover, we have also decided to use these tiles around the area where their compartment for handicapped halts."

Speaking about the benefits of the tiles, Mudgerikar says, "As the tiles would be rough in nature, the blind commuters can easily locate it with the help of their sticks.

Moreover, they will be easy to maintain." He further added that they have already floated the tenders and the construction work will start within a period of six months.

When we spoke to a few blind commuters about the would-to-arrive chequered tiles, they were delighted to hear the news. V Singh, a resident of Thakurli who travels daily to a blind school in Dadar, says, "Though we are now habituate to locate our coaches, but still it will be of great help.
" While R Gupta, who commutes regularly from Kalyan to his work place in Thane, says, "The beepers installed by the railways don't work due to technical problems.

During peak hours it becomes really difficult to locate the compartment. Now that there were be rough tiles laid at the place where our compartment halts, it will greatly benefit us."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Inmates learn Braille to help visually impaired children

Prison inmates are learning Braille so they can translate printed school books for children at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. "When you look at it, all you see is dots on a paper," said Michael Royce, who is one of nearly 20 men at the Miami Correctional Facility working on the Miami Braille Project. The men work on small blue typewriters, putting together a series of raised dots that blind children can read later. Royce, 38, was convicted of rape when he was 18 years old. He has 12 more years before his sentence is up, but he looks forward to using his Braille skills once he is released from prison.

"I can't undo what I did," he said. "But now I have the opportunity to do something positive and good for other people." The project will provide textbooks and other education materials for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The project aims to give inmates a chance to learn a skill and help the community -- while providing the school for the blind with cheaper books than those available through Braille companies.

"The savings will be astronomical," said Robert Eutz, a contractor for the school for the blind. About 750 children in Indiana are legally blind, and 162 require Braille, said Jim Durst, superintendent of the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Curtis Nimmie, a 43-year-old convicted sex offender, is also working on the Braille project. He hopes to learn how to transcribe music into Braille.

"It gives me a sense of purpose," he said. David Donahue, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction, said prison work programs often give inmates a work ethic and job skills they can use once they are released. "Not only can (former inmates) take care of themselves, but they can give something back," Donahue said.

Big Brother UK: Experience the challenges of the visually impaired

The housemates are in high spirits after regaining their sight - and winning the blind task.
On Sunday, Big Brother set the group a task called Blind Leading the Blind, in honour of visually impaired housemate Mikey.

Kathreya, Rachel and Jennifer take part in the task.

The group divided into pairs for the challenge, which required one member of each pairing to be blindfolded, while their partner helped them adapt to life in the house without vision.
Then after three hours, housemates swapped places.

Mikey had a separate role as the director of the task.

The 33-year-old Scot was responsible for selecting which housemates would be paired together, grouping Kat with Mohamed, Luke with Darnell, Mario with Rebecca, Lisa with Stuart, Rachel with Dale and Rex with Jen.

Rebecca feels her way around the house as her partner Mario assists her
Rex audibly groaned upon hearing his partner's name.

And after winning a token for their successful efforts, the group admitted the mission had taught them a great deal about their fellow housemate Mikey and his disability.

"You can hear everything," Rebecca said.

"It's really weird."

Stuart claimed he found it hard to adjust to his surroundings, adding "everything seems huge" when blindfolded.

Housemates tuck into a Sunday roast dinner prepared by Jennifer and Stuart, as the house looks more like a happy family again.

Lisa pondered how Mikey manages to live his daily life, crossing roads or walking down busy streets.

"I'd have to have someone constantly there," the 40-year-old said.
"They'd have to be dead caring."

"You just need to have your wits about you," explained Mikey.

"How would you have a relationship?" asked Lisa.

"It affects everything."

Visually impaired students enjoy chemistry workshop!

If seeing is believing, then these high school students show you don't have to see to learn.
Nine high school students from all around the state spent a week at Cal Poly getting hands-on experience in the school's chemistry labs. But their instruction required a different kind of teaching, since all the students were visually impaired.

Dennis Fantin is a chemistry instructor and organizer of the workshops. He too is blind.
"I want students to feel empowered to be able to learn about the world around them and not be deprived from information," said Fantin.

Students were able to use their other senses during the workshop. One experiment allowed students to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats just by touching them.

England: Tournament for the visually impaired was a huge success!

FOURTEEN teams from as far afield as Cornwall and South Wales competed in Bridgwater's fourth annual Visually Impaired Tournament at The Parks recently.

Organised by Eric Shackleford (chairman) and Pat Lovell of Bridgwater's visually-impaired section, the tournament was opened by Bridgwater BC president Harold Punch bowling the first wood. Members of the Club assisted with marking, scoring and record-keeping.

The Turner Cup, presented by Turner Opticians who also sponsored the event, was presented by the president to Forge A, from Cirencester, the tournament winners.

Runners-up were Yeovil A. Eric Shackleford thanked all the helpers, especially the refreshment ladies who worked throughout the day; Strings'n' Things for supplying the loudspeaker equipment; the other helpers and Gerber of Bridgwater for a promised donation towards the cost of the event.

Experiencing the challenges of the visually impaired

Sighted students at Brookfield High School sit side by side with visually impaired peers to study the Braille alphabet and learn about daily challenges facing the blind. This is extremely unusual, according to teacher Kathryn Sudol. "Brookfield High School has the only sighted Braille program in Connecticut," said Sudol, who works with blind and visually impaired students from Brookfield and Monroe. The program, which began in January 2007, is open to town residents and non-residents, but non-residents must pay tuition to attend the school, she said.

When the BHS Braille program was created in 2001, it met in the corner of an office and was only open to visually impaired students. Three years ago the program was given its own classroom. That was when Sudol first entertained the idea of making it available to all students. "We only had three visually impaired students left in the school," said Sudol, a Southbury resident. "To make a larger class, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to bring sighted students into our Braille room." She couldn't have been more pleased with the result. "The sighted students learned first hand what it was like to be a blind student," she said.

"One of the ways they did this was by engaging in blindfolded activities throughout the course of the year." These included learning to prepare, cook, and eat meals by relying on senses other than sight. "Students also learned how to walk with a cane and were taught how to guide both blindfolded and visually impaired students through the hallways," Sudol said. In addition, they were taught the importance of giving detailed verbal descriptions of everything they see.

They were able to put what they learned to the test on a class trip to the Bronx Zoo in May. "When I first started describing what I saw, I wanted to make sure (the visually impaired students) understood me," said sighted student Erin Connolly, 18. She figured out how to do this on her own by "comparing sizes to them _ hand, head, leg, fingernail, and, in the case of the tiger, taller than your whole body stretched up," she said. Not only was the sighted Braille class a huge success from an academic standpoint, it provided many unexpected benefits as well. "Bringing the sighted kids into the room changed the whole dynamics of the class," said teaching assistant Gene Zager of Sherman.

By being a small group and working closely together every day, students got to interact with each other in ways they never had before. They learned one another's likes and dislikes, hobbies and talents, and became very comfortable being around each other. "Getting to know the blind students gave me a newfound respect for them," said sighted student Courtney Parente, 17. "By seeing how independent they are, it changed my whole perspective towards people with disabilities." Courtney plans to become a Braille teacher after college. Hamit Campos, a 19-year-old blind student, said he got to show off all the "cool" stuff he has, such as his PAC mate, to all his new friends in the class.

A PAC mate is a hand-held computer with a speech and Braille display that blind students can use for assignments. In addition to the Braille 1 and Braille 2 classes the school now offers, Sudol is currently developing the curriculum for Braille 3, which will be offered in the fall. Those who complete Braille 3 are qualified to be a Braille transcriber, a job that's in high demand throughout the country.

According to the American Foundation for the Blind, the U.S. currently needs about 380 full-time transcribers. It will need 735 more in five years, and another 1,020 more in 10 years. "I would like to make people in the community aware that a sighted Braille program exists at Brookfield High School," Sudol said. "This has been a great experience for all of us," said Courtney. "We've all had a lot of fun."

Monday, July 07, 2008

New medical device helps the visually impaired!

From cell phones to office equipment, medical devices and home appliances, we live in a world filled with small digital display screens.

Most of us likely take them for granted, but for those with visual impairments, such screens can present major challenges.

Marshall University and the American Foundation for the Blind Technology Employment Center in Huntington have unveiled a new device that measures the contrast on small visual displays.
"The problem with small screen displays is that they are found on an incredible number of products," said Mark Uslan, director of AFB TECH. "The reason it's a problem is the contrast. Manufacturers don't have standards for contrast. That's the most important variable in the readability of a display."

The new device was developed by Marshall physicist Thomas Wilson and engineered by AFB TECH personnel and faculty and students in the Marshall College of Information Technology and Engineering.

Officials from Marshall, AFB TECH and the American Foundation for the Blind office in New York City announced the development of the new device during a news conference June 25 in Huntington.

The device works by placing an instrument with a digital display in front of it, said Lee Huffman, national technology associate for the AFB. A camera that is connected to light-sensing equipment determines the contrast on the display screen. The machine then gives the user a percentage of contrast.

During the news conference, the AFB TECH staff tested a blood pressure monitor that had a contrast of 45 percent.

"That's less than half," Huffman said. "That's not enough for those with vision loss."

At this time, however, no studies have been completed that determine what percentage of contrast is acceptable, Uslan said. That is why the AFB is working with the Veterans Administration Hospital in Atlanta on just such a study.

When that study is completed, the AFB will be "able to go to manufacturers with the measurements," Uslan said. "... The whole idea is to get manufacturers to enhance their displays."
The new device and the Atlanta study will affect a large segment of the population that has impaired vision, Huffman said. The AFB estimates that 8 million people in the U.S. have such impairments.

Those problems hamper their ability to use digital cameras to take pictures, use cell phones to call loved ones or use debit card readers at the grocery store. A lot of those with visual impairments tell cashiers their personal identification numbers because they can't see the displays.

And it goes beyond that, he said. The visually impaired often guess at the reading on their glucometers, which could lead to serious health problems. It's the same for insulin pens.

"How would you feel if you couldn't do that? How would you feel if you could?" Huffman asked.
But the potential advancements go far beyond the visually impaired population, Uslan said. When the contrast benchmark is determined, it could help the general population.

"We think it will," he said. "We think everybody needs displays that are as readable as possible."
The Atlanta study is expected to be completed by this fall, Uslan said.

The Huntington AFB TECH lab was founded in 2001.