Sunday, August 31, 2008

Visually impaired woman wins fight over therapeutic ferret

An Ottawa woman who travels with a therapeutic ferret has won her fight to be allowed back on city buses while holding the creature close.

Frances Woodard, 54, suffers from agoraphobia, anxiety and panic attacks. According to her doctor, having Gyno with her eases her symptoms.

Last fall, municipal officials issued Woodard a special pass to take the animal on the bus. Then, even though nobody had complained, the permit was revoked when it was determined Gyno didn't qualify under existing city bylaws as a "service animal" such as the guide dogs used by the visually impaired.

But the city's transit committee decided Wednesday to give Woodard a special exemption.
Woodard said Wednesday she was pleased with the move. She said last fall when she was allowed to take the ferret on the transit system, she gained her "freedom" for the first time in years.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New type of camera for the visually impaired!

What a unique idea. Designers Chueh Lee and team from Samsung, China came up with Touch Sight, a digital camera for the visually impaired. The cam records sound when the shutter button is pressed and can be used as a reference for managing the photos.

The device has a lightweight Braille display sheet with a 3D image instead of an LCD. Once taken, the images can be down or uploaded for sharing. The team discovered that the forehead is the best place for this device to aim and stabilize. We can’t wait to see the results if the prototype becomes reality.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Printers for the visually impaired

When you think of a printer, you probably imagine high-resolution graphics, crisp text and dazzling color -- most sighted people take for granted their ability to see these results. But for the blind and visually impaired, amazing advances in desktop publishing don't translate into better communications.

Braille Index Embossers as Used in the Bejing Olympics

What makes the difference for the blind community is the advances in
Braille Printer technology - and Braille Works is staying on top of them. The company is now a certified sales and service center for all Index Brand Braille Embossers - the same type of printers selected for use in the Olympic Village by the Beijing Olympic Committee.

Braille, raised dots on paper specially positioned to follow a language system, gives blind people the ability to read and write. Braille documents are created by Braille printers or embossers that produce the raised dots by pushing the paper up with hammers in the pattern dictated by the Braille transcription file.

A Local Braille Embosser Connection

Braille Works was founded in 1994 and offers a full range of Braille and alternative format transcription products and services. Whether you need a desktop embosser and the Braille software to communicate with clients or an industrial size embosser that can handle large volume jobs, Braille Works can meet the need.

Translating from Print to BrailleTranslating a print document to Braille can be challenging, says
Lou Fioritto, co-founder of Braille Works:

"There is software to make the technical translation much faster," he states. "The real art starts when you need to make a user manual intended for the sighted understandable for a blind person. If the manual tells you to press the red button, that does not help the blind user. The text must be interpreted to direct the blind user to where the red button is located without the color reference."
Braille Works helps customers meet that challenge.

The company also provides other alternative formats in addition to Braille, including
large print, audio recordings and electronic or computer accessible formats. New technologies are being developed everyday to assist the blind and visually impaired, and Braille Works is one of the companies leading the way to a more accessible future. The company recently expanded its facilities to serve customers better and took steps to ensure the security of confidential information:
"We are constantly looking at new technical advances that can provide better, faster, and less expensive access to needed documents. That is what our new facility is all about," Fioritto states as he stands in the center of the secure facility.

The top-quality production plant was constructed to meet the standards required by financial and government clients to maintain the security and privacy of customer information. Braille Works is proud of its International Standards Organization (ISO) 17799 certification.

Fioritto adds, "The Braille and alternative format production industry is no longer the garage-based charitable business it once was. It can't be; economics, technology, privacy and quality requirements will not allow it.

With the growth of the population needing alternative formats, we expect a bright and accessible future. The Baby Boomer population will work and play a vital role in their communities longer than previous generations, and they'll rightfully demand equal access. Braille Works will be there to provide the access in a cost effective, quality driven and timely manner."

About Braille Works

Braille Works is truly dedicated to Braille literacy and making the world a more readable place. Client projects are given careful consideration to make every page easy to read and handle, giving readers the respect and independence they so rightly deserve. From the layout of a Braille document to the brightness of the paper for a large print document or utilizing professional readers for audio projects, our organization strives to meet the needs of client customers with visual and reading impairments.

Braille Works consists of top-notch Braille technology and people with Christ-centered standards. We understand some customers may not follow these beliefs, but we state this simply to let customers know what kind of expectations they can have when they use our services. Visit for more information or email brailleworks @

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Sensory Trail for the visually impaired: A treat for the senses!

While walking down the Sensory Trail for the visually impaired at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, a visitor can listen to the delicate scamper of a chipmunk harmonize with melodic birdcalls.

Woven fibers of the rope railing, installed so someone without sight can follow it on their own, tickle your palm. An aroma of sweet wild flowers laced with rustic pine surround the visitor.

On May 29 the Sensory Trail opened at Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary and Bristol Blake State Reservation in Norfolk. The Sensory trail is a self-guided post and rope nature path, designed for the enjoyment of people without sight or impaired vision.

In attendance at the grand opening were Senator Scott Brown and State Representative Richard Ross. The trail is a product of the collaborative effort between Mass Audubon, the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Perkins School for the Blind, visually impaired consultant Jerry Berrier and local Lions’ Clubs. Employees from Timberland laid down the stone dust on the trail while Eagle Scouts from Troop 61 assisted in the post installation. Doug Williams, Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary director, joined the project about a year ago and served as a catalyst in getting the trail finished.

The trail treats each sense to its own wildlife exploration. “The Sensory Trail not only provides an opportunity for the visually impaired to experience nature by themselves if they care to, it also provides context for each of us to understand nature more carefully by using all of our senses,” said Mass Audubon President Laura Johnson at the dedication. “Mass Audubon hopes that every individual who traverses this accessible trail will be inspired by the fascinating natural wonders that surround us daily.”

Replacing the grown-over “Trail for the Blind” at Stony Brook, the Sensory Trail is meticulously planned. Before beginning the adventure, Sensory Trail guidebooks are available in round top brail, large print text or an audio version at the Nature Center on the top of the trail. With a rope to the right of the path directing the way, the wide compacted stone dust path travels along a gradual slope for 300 feet. Along the rope there are round wooden floats indicating an area where the visitor can pause and experience nature in a new way.

He or she can feel the soft, wispy bark of gray birch or hear the water spilling over the dam into the Stony Brook Pond. When the rope bears a square float, it is a signal that a bench is available at the opposite side of the trail. The path then levels out at a fifteen-foot bridge where the guide rope switches to the left side. Accompanied by the scent of pine tress, the visitor continues through the trail in the knoll and enters a boardwalk that ends at a deck with a view of the intricate ecosystem of the Teal Marsh and Kingfisher pond.

The independence the trail grants to the visually impaired is profound, said Doug Williams. By providing the rope and post system and brail on the guidebook and station signs, a blind person could stroll down the trail by himself or herself if desired. Jerry Berrier, a birdcall enthusiast, is the voice on the audio guide for the trail and also happens to be visually impaired.

“I’m really excited about the trail,” said Berrier, “Its a trail that can be enjoyed by the broadest possible amount of people. If I lived closer, I’d go all the time.” Berrier loves the scent present at the trail and listening to the sounds of the diverse habitat, he said. Berrier celebrates the fact he can now enjoy the organic music produced by the birds without having to bring someone else along who does not share the same interest, said Williams.

“DCR has long been in the forefront of providing accessible facilities and programs that allow people of all abilities to enjoy outdoor recreation experiences in our Massachusetts state parks,” said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “This new Sensory Trail offers a wonderful opportunity for people with limited vision to experience the outdoors in a meaningful and rewarding way. DCR is very proud to have been a partner in this project.”

Special computer mouse helps the visually impaired

Jim Rossman is technical manager for Macintosh support for A.H. Belo Corporation.

I like to write sometimes about the computer issues of my family.

Every now and then a call from my wife or my mother is a plea for help with a computer issue.
Now for the first time they've had the same issue, and if they both fell victim to this problem within a month of each other, I feel I must share.

Both calls started with the same complaint, "When I move my mouse, the entire desktop moves along with it."

Before I go much further I should mention this is a Macintosh issue. I finally got my mom to switch to a Mac, and her level of family tech support is much greater.

I've been a Mac support person for more than a decade, so I get Mac problems thrown at me all day.

There's virtually no problem I haven't at least heard of before, and this one was no exception. We had this happen to a few Mac users at the paper.

The issue here is a system setting called Zoom that's designed to help visually impaired users.
The Zoom mode is what it says: It zooms the screen to make everything bigger.

There are several modes of Zoom, but the default is to make the larger screen stay centered on the mouse. So when Zoom gets activated, moving the mouse scrolls the entire desktop. It's a strange thing if you ever see it.

What users don't understand is how they enable Zoom by accident.

Apple has assigned a keyboard shortcut to enable zooming. It's option-command-8.

Apparently it's easy to mistakenly hit this combination. The hard part is realizing what is going on if you've never seen Zoom in action.

To turn off zooming, press the option-command-8 combination again or open the system preferences and you'll find the Zoom controls inside the Universal Access preferences.
Jim Rossman is technical manager for Macintosh support for A.H. Belo Corporation.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Visually impaired children learn how to surf!

For two days on the Dutch coast, 24 blind and visually impaired children took to the ocean and were taught how to surf as part of The Out of Bounds program within The O’Neill Surf Academy.
For 10 year old Dion Terlingen, who is completely blind and autistic, it was not only his first time on a surfboard, it was also his first time in the sea, the enjoyment of which he could not hide. “We were encouraging him to stand up on his board,” said O’Neill volunteer Femke Terpstra. “As soon as he stood up, he said ‘I’ve done it, now I want to play in the water’. He was playing around in the waves non-stop for the rest of the day.

Eva Van Den Berg, 17, who is completely blind, arrived at Out of Bounds, shy, her head down, saying she was not good at sports. After two hours in the water, elated from standing on her board, Eva declined a rest: “I can rest for the rest of the holidays,” she said.

Out of Bounds came from the inspiration of Santa Cruz native, Yael Dahan, a photographer and a surfer who worked with O’Neill to create the first program of its kind in Europe.

“There were moments in the water where I looked around and I could not find a single face with out a smile on it,” Yael said. “There is just something about the ocean that affects us all in such a positive and profound way. Through this project my respect grew stronger not only for the kids but for the power of the ocean as well.”

Each kid was paired with an instructor as well as two volunteers from O’Neill – a ‘buddy’ and a ‘catcher’ to be there at the end of their wave. They were guided through the day and safety in the sea by local Santa Cruz surfer, Joey Hudson.

“This is my seventh year on The Surf Academy,” said Joey, “but my first time teaching blind kids to surf. It’s a different experience in some ways – like having to describe the motions rather than just demonstrating,” he said. “But essentially it’s the same as teaching fully sighted children. It’s about getting in the water, having fun outdoors on the beach, and getting a thrill from standing up on the board.”

Also involved in the day was Adil Latif. The Glasgow born 27 year old was there as inspiration for the kids, sharing his adventures. Adil, who has been losing his sight since the age of 14 and now has just 3% of his vision left, recently took a heli-drop and snowboarded down a glacier. “I wanted to share my experiences so these kids realise that we can all push the boundaries we think we have.”

It was not just the kids, who came from all over Holland, who benefited from the day in the water. O’Neill volunteers, instructors and also the parents of the kids walked away with a smile from the whole experience. “It’s so great to sit here and watch Vince laugh and really have fun out there,” said the father of 10 year old Vince Jansen. “It’s also great to know that he’s safe with three people looking after him, so we don’t have to worry,” he said. “It’s a 24 hour a day job caring for him, so this has been an incredible experience for him as well as us.”

For Bernhard Ritzer, O’Neill’s global events manager, the experience is something that he will never forget: “It was far beyond my expectations. I could never have imagined how impressive the kids were – their intuition, their trust and their attitude of just going for it. It was an amazing two days.”

The Out of Bounds program will return to the beach next year, to not only provide these 24 kids with another opportunity in the water, but also to open up the joy of surfing to a new group of kids and other disabilities.

Dolphins and the visually impaired: what a unique experience!

Twenty-eight teenagers, ages 14 to 18, from Miami Lighthouse for the Blind summer camp will have the opportunity to partake in the Dolphin Encounter of a lifetime on August 7th at 11 a.m. at Miami Seaquarium, 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne (Tel: 305-361-5705).

The teenagers will get a chance to touch dolphins, feed them, play with them and get up-close and personal with these loving creatures. Photo opportunity available.

"We are very grateful to Miami Seaquarium for offering our blind and visually impaired teenagers this wonderful opportunity to experience the use of their other senses by swimming with the dolphins. We want to give our transition teens an unforgettable experience and show them the unlimited opportunities that lie ahead of them,” said Virginia A. Jacko, a former client of the Miami Lighthouse who has been CEO of the organization since 2005. Ms. Jacko is the only blind female CEO in an agency serving the blind or visually impaired in South Florida.

“We want to stress that these kids can do as much as a sighted kid does. This is an event that helps them understand the importance of gaining confidence and taking on more challenges in their lives. Having these teenagers actually swim hands-on with the dolphins sends out that message loud and clear," said CEO Jacko.

“We are very excited to have the teenagers come out to the park and experience the magic of these animals. Interacting with dolphins truly is an unforgettable experience. We hope the se campers will leave Miami Seaquarium with a heighten sense of appreciation and understanding of these incredible animals,” said Eric Eimstad, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at Miami Seaquarium.

Members of the media are invited to join us in this wonderful opportunity to watch our blind and visually impaired teenagers have one of the most exciting and empowering experiences of their lives.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Company sponsors service dogs providers for the visually impaired

The web development company Abakus Solutions has provided the Malta Guide Dogs Foundation with a new website which has just been launched.The Malta Guide Dogs Foundation is a registered NGO with the aim of offering services to visually impaired persons and where most of the volunteers who work within the organisation have lost their sight themselves thus fully understand the needs of persons who like them have lost their sight.

The Malta Guide Dog Foundation has a proposed programme over five-years for the acquisition, training, supply and support of guide dogs for selected Maltese clients who are blind or visually impaired.The new website for the foundation was developed with such a target group in mind and thus offers high contrast and high visibility versions and was developed with great care in order to be compatible with software that aids accessibility such as screen readers.

The team at Abakus Solutions finds great satisfaction in helping non-profit organisations with a noble aim. Throughout the years that it has been in operation, Abakus Solutions has helped several organisations establish their online presence. The new website can be accessed at the web address;

Olympic kits provided to visually impaired children

A charity has come up with an idea to enable blind and visually-impaired children to share some of the drama of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics.

Living Paintings, in Newbury, Berkshire, is producing a pack that uses sound and touch to bring the Games to life.

They include raised images of scenes ranging from hurdlers to show-jumpers.

Paddy Elliott-Walker, who is partially-sighted, said they helped him visualise what the Games would be like.

"Say there's a sport I don't know much about, they help me to imagine what that sport's going to be like," he said.

Opening ceremonies

He added: "I can tell what sport the person's doing by looking at these pictures."

The kits also include audio information about different Olympic and Paralympic sports, the history of both Games as well as personal recordings by athletes taking part.

Camilla Oldland, the charity's director, said: "How does a visually-impaired child or a blind child know what these images are - the opening ceremonies, the Olympic torch, what does it look like to see a hurdler?

"So we went away and we thought 'right, we're going to do something about this, we're going to help them be part of this'."

The Olympic Games start in Beijing in nine days' time and the Paralympics start on 6 September.

Drivers volunteer to help out the visually impaired

The Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired says it has an immediate need for volunteer drivers to get blind and visually impaired people where they need to go.The volunteer transportation program provides free, personalized transportation services to the blind and visually impaired when no one else can or will, or when family is working or too far away, or when friends and neighbors are not available.

VABVI volunteer drivers work on an "as needed" basis and are free to accept or reject any trip to suit their own schedules. Drivers receive mileage reimbursement for the use of their cars. Drivers are in short supply, and there is an "urgent, on-going" need for drivers in and around Burlington, said VABVI officials.For more information, call Laurie toll-free 1-800-639-5861 ext 11. VABVI is a non profit organization providing a wide array of services to visually impaired Vermonters. There are about 10,500 visually impaired persons in Vermont.

Camp allow visually impaired children to become more independent

'Mix! Mix! Mix! Mix!"

Seven students gathered around a table chanting encouragement as Julia Figueirido whisks together a bowl of ingredients for pot roast seasoning.

Leading the chant is Nancy Dunbar Sogan, a short woman brimming with energy. Once the roast is cooking, she helps the group blend a rice pudding, then leads a rousing chorus of "We are the champions."

Making pot roast and rice pudding is cause for celebration because the students whipping up the meal are all blind or visually impaired.

They're taking part in a week-long camp at W. Ross Macdonald School that teaches independent living skills. Dubbed Camp Freedom, the camp moved from Orangeville to Brantford this year.
The 19 campers have come from across the province. Many of them are students at integrated schools, where the focus is on curriculum and not skills like cooking, laundry and personal hygiene that they'll need to live on their own.


"A lot of them have never washed dishes before," says camp director Julie Spry. "Now they've learned to turn on the water, adjust the temperature and add the right amount of soap."
Julia Figueirido, 12, says her favourite part of the camp is doing laundry. She has never washed a load of clothes on her own before.

"I only put the clothes in the washer. Mom would put the detergent in and move the clothes from the washer to the dryer."

The camp isn't all about learning skills. They have also gone swimming, roller blading, and had a water fight, with the kids calling "Here!" to help the others aim water balloons at them.
"We try to do it in a really fun way," says organizer Kelly Henderson. "It's camp, so we want it to be fun."

Henderson started the camp two years ago. An orientation and mobility instructor for 15 years, she saw that instruction in basic skills was lacking.

Julia is one of the low vision campers. She says she can see about half of what a person with 20/20 vision can see.

Only six of the children taking part are blind. The rest range somewhere along the spectrum of low vision, including some with tunnel vision or light perception.

"We have the full gamut from pitch black to children that have small areas of acute vision," Spry says.

Spry is president of Views Ontario, which is funding the camp. The organization is made up of parents of low-vision children and professionals who work with them.

The charge per student is $250, but the actual cost is closer to $1,000. Views is making up the difference.

When all the roasts are cooking, the students head outside to the courtyard where there are four blue picnic tables set up with woodworking kits and flower planters. Molly Burke, who opted for
woodworking, waits patiently while the instructor sets nails into the sides of her wooden box. Her guide dog, Gypsy, relaxes in the shade under the picnic table.

"Do I get to hammer again?" she asks.

The instructor passes her the hammer and guides her hands to the box. Careful not to nick the fingernails she has painted black with white polka dots, Molly hammers the nails the rest of the way in.

Spry acknowledges the students won't suddenly be able to cook a full meal or build a wooden box by themselves, but says it's an important step.

Many of the children taking part in the camp are tactile, meaning they "see" the world through their fingertips. They're often cautious about touching things because well-meaning but overprotective friends and relatives warn them away.

Spry says that's like telling a sighted child not to look at something.

"This is really about taking away their fears." A side benefit, but an important one, is the
chance for the campers to meet other visually impaired kids. Students who go to integrated schools are often the only visually impaired people there.

Spry says they're busy swapping e-mails and MSN addresses so they can keep in touch.
Molly Burke has to leave early, so she starts saying her goodbyes when her wooden box in finished. She slips off Gypsy's harness, signalling the dog is off duty and the other students can give her a farewell pat.

It's not goodbye forever, though; Molly is starting Grade 9 at W. Ross Macdonald in September.
"When I'm sitting in that social worker's office for new students, you'd better be sitting beside me," warns Michelle Woolfrey.

"I'll be there," Molly relies. "See you guys in September."