Saturday, September 13, 2008

Special friendship keeps the visually impaired well informed

IT has long been the talk of Moray, but now the area's very own talking newspaper is going nationwide.

As well as dropping through the letter boxes of hundreds of listeners in Moray, copies of the The Moray Companion wing their way to Devon, Bedfordshire and Kilmarnock.

The audio cassette has come a long way since its inception 29 years ago, when just 14 readers in Elgin received the first hour-long edition.

Now, around 200 people receive the twice-monthly cassette by Freepost, keeping them up to date with local happenings – and the 677th edition was recorded last night (Thursday).

The longevity of the service speaks volumes for the dedicated band of volunteers who ensure that the visually impaired get their fortnightly fix of local news and views.

And their efforts have been applauded by Elgin listener Fiona Kyle (33) who described the Moray Companion as a "lifeline" for the visually impaired.

The complementary therapist, who is registered blind, was full of praise for the local service, ahead of Talking Newspaper Week, which begins this Sunday.

She said: "I used to work for the Grampian Society for the Blind as a social worker and I have a lot of experience of referring people.

"A lot of people miss reading when they lose their sight and this is one way of keeping up with local news.

"People can read for you, but sometimes people want the independence and to read what sighted people are reading.

"It is a good thing for the community in general, it is really a lifeline for people."

A fan of the spoken word, Miss Kyle subscribes to national talking newspapers and magazines, but has to pay for those services, whereas the Moray Companion is provided free of charge.

Project manager Pauline Taylor scours Moray's local newspapers – including 'The Northern Scot' – for snippets of information to feature in the 90-minute tape, as well as going on-line to tap into other resources. When she goes on holiday, her newsagent in Glenmoray Drive keeps all her newspapers in a box under the counter for her to collect on her return.

"He says that if they were posted through the letter box, then I would never get in the door," joked Mrs Taylor, a retired nurse.

"The Moray Companion is more of a magazine and we have a policy of no bad news.

Moray Companion fan Fiona Kyle gets set to listen to the latest edition.

"Sometimes when people who have lived in Moray move away, they ask if they can get the tapes sent to them, so it goes out not just in Moray, but other points south."

As well as her research work, Mrs Taylor is also one of the readers who regularly goes to the Companion's recording suite at the Moray Resource Centre in Elgin to compile the master tape filled with local news and views, which is then copied, inserted into addressed plastic wallets and taken to the Post Office for delivery.

When the tapes are returned using the Freepost service, the next edition is issued for listeners to enjoy.

The Moray Companion is a best friend to many in other respects, too.

It offers a fast reading facility for print material, ranging from official forms, information leaflets or instruction manuals for household equipment.

There is a postal cassette lending library for a collection of 1,800 audio books. The library has outgrown its premises and would love to find a suitable home for what is a valued service.
The Companion team also record the audio version of the Thistledown newspaper for Glenlivet and Inveravon.

While both the Pensions Service and the Grampian Society for the Blind are very good at recommending suitable people, there may be others in the area that would appreciate the tapes.
The committee would also like to form a small bank of volunteers who could stand in for readers absent due to holidays or illness.

For more information, contact Mrs Taylor on Elgin 01343 541885.

Visually impaired Paralympians receive help from guides

Wu Chunmiao, a blind Chinese runner, was thrilled to win a Paralympic gold medal, but regretted that her guide runner, who helped her to win, couldn't get one as well.

It is common for athletes to credit families, coaches or friends for their success, but the Paralympians who are visually impaired may have more people to acknowledge -- their guides.
On the podium, Wu placed her gold medal, earned from women's 100m T11 on Tuesday, around the neck of her partner Li Jiayu.

Paralympic rules allow runners and cyclists with visual impairment to be helped by guides in their competition. In running, the athletes and their guides are tied together with strings around their wrists or fingers. In track cycling, the guide rides on the front of the bike while the athlete pedals at the rear.

The athletes work hard to push for their limits, and guides aid them alongside. But rules have been put in place to keep such aid in check to ensure equality. For example, a guide runner can not cross the finishing line ahead of the runner and a guide cyclist can't be chosen from the top-calibre athletes who are believed to be over-enabling.

Before the men's 100m final, Chen Liang, a guide, told his partner Liu Xiangkun where to put his hands at the starting line, and helped Liu to face the right direction. He also kept murmuring to Liu: "Relax, relax."

A string was tied to their hands as the two sprinted down the track in tandem. When the scoreboard flashed a near-personal best for Liu at the fifth place, Chen reported the scores to Liu as both were gasping.

"I work as his eyes. I follow his rhythm. And my job is to make sure he doesn't cross the lanes or foul in any way," said the guide. Chen is not discouraged by his supporting role, but prides himself in representing his country together with a Paralympian, and helping him to perform to his best.

It is true that sports are about individual feats, but the Paralympic Games have aptly proved that they are also about the cooperative spirit. The outpouring of brotherly love brought about by the bond between the guides and the athletes has become one of the most touching scenes at the Beijing Games.

"He is not my brother by blood, but I should say that he is more close than a brother," said Liu Xiangkun of his guide.

The two started training together just about nine months ago. Before having Chen as his guide, Liu had to train by following the hand-clapping sounds of his coach. A competent guide helped him to break the national record earlier this year and move closer to the world record.

Both Liu and Chen said they are like two people in one. "We train together, eat together and share the same dorm," Liu said.

Both were grateful to each other. "I only had to run out there, and he was the one doing all the thinking. And when I get moody during the training, he talks through," said Liu of his guide.

Meanwhile, Chen said that through training with a Paralympian, he has learnt more about how to overcome adversities. "He (Liu) is a man with will and guts. He is not young, but still manages to keep himself in excellent form. That's what I admire in a Paralympian," Chen said.

For the Paralympians, the guide is a trusted planner. "Barney is a very good tactician. To be the fastest in the world, you have to be very honest with each other," said partially-sighted British rider Anthony Kappes, who won a gold medal on Wednesday with the help of his guide Barney Storey.
The two use non-verbal languages and signs to communicate with each other, and often sit down to analyze technical details, Kappes said.

The guide is also a close friend to the athletes they help. Kenyan runner Henry Wanyoike put a strong performance with his guide to win a bronze in men's 5,000 meters T11.

"We are childhood friends," he said. "We've been training together for seven years."

Sometimes, the role of a guide is taken up by family members of the athletes. For example, Brazilian T11 women's 100m bronze winner Adria Santos has her husband as her co-pilot.

"He is not only my guide in the competition, but also in my life. We are always hand in hand in our lives and it's our fate to be together, both in competitions and life," she told a news conference.

Sometimes, the guide is also the interpreter for the athletes. French judoka Cyril Jonard, who has little sight and poor hearing due to the Usher Syndrome, answers questions through his trainer Patrick Lacombe. The two communicated in a sign-tactile language that is unintelligible to others.
Lacombe was not exactly on the mat competing along with Jonard, but he made movements with his arms besides the mat to guide the Judoka on when to attempt a throw or a footsweep.

"When my coach is on the carpet, he can communicate with me, he can work with me," said Jonard, who also teaches judo to able-bodied children.

Lacombe said he can forward information for his protege, but Jonard himself is also well integrated into the world of full-hearing people. "It's easy to be a good coach when you are dealing with a grand champion," said Lacombe.

The "duet" won a silver in the Judo 81kg event at these Games.

(Xinhua News Agency September 10, 2008)

Volunteers are crucial in assisting the visually impaired

Paul Slone wants to provide the Huntington area with a greater awareness and understanding of just what the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind (CWAB) is and does for the community.
As executive director of CWAB, Slone said that too many are unaware of the services it provides and the support that it needs.

"We are the only agency in this area providing transportation, computer training, rehabilitation services, mobility education, voice enhanced videos, social activities and more for the blind and visually impaired of Cabell and Wayne Counties. We do this without federal, state or local funding," said Slone, who mentioned that transportation costs alone amounted to over $20,000 last year.

It's easy to understand how fundraising is a vital part of keeping the lights turned on at CWAB. One of its major funding endeavors is renting its new building for wedding receptions, family reunions, dances and parties. The building is 3,500 square feet with ample paved parking, a well equipped kitchen and private patio area. For additional information about this building, call 604-522-6991.

CWAB is committed to promoting and supporting the economic, educational and social concerns of the blind and visually impaired so they are able to maintain a lifestyle comparable people with normal vision. On a monthly basis, CWAB will address the needs of more than 600 visually impaired individuals, prepare over 700 newsletters for bulk mailings, organize and conduct support groups for numerous categories of visually impaired clients, and provide free prescription glasses as needed. The agency also supports annual events such as the Halloween party, Christmas dinner and summer picnic. All require funding to make them happen.

CWAB believes that even if someone has limited vision, that person should still be able to have an active lifestyle. Their clients are exposed to training in cooking skills, riding local buses, housekeeping, appearance, money management, and an assortment of daily routines which provide the ability to operate in mainstream society. They even get to know the joy of being able to go bowling.

A large part of CWAB services are promoted through the efforts of Jerry Crabtree. For 10 years he has been the media marketing manager.

"We all wear more than one hat around this organization to get the job done," said Crabtree, who is always looking for more volunteers.

Crabtree needs people who love to read. One of his responsibilities is producing a rather lengthy, detailed and informative monthly in-house publication. Readers are needed each month to vocalize this publication onto audio tapes for distribution to visually impaired clients. Some past readers have included former Gov. Bob Wise, Sandra Cole from Channel 13 News, and area sports personalities.

Another hat Crabtree wears is maintaining a Web site, which can be viewed at Information on this site relates to staff information with pictures, history and organization, bylaws, fundraising, monthly events, future plans and area activities.

The annual 5K run/walk sponsored by CWAB is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 20. Runners wishing to sign up early for this event can print their application form directly from the Web page.

"This is another fundraiser for us," said Slone. He also stressed the need for volunteer support during this event. Those wishing to help are given free T-shirts. Call (304) 522-6991 to volunteer.
"We can use volunteers for as little as one hour a week, or all week. Whatever amount of time someone feels comfortable sharing, we will take it," Slone said.

Volunteers help clients on field trips, the annual 5K run, helping with support groups, office work, and the annual spring flower beautification "Potting Party" project.

Clyde Beal is a freelance writer living in Huntington. This is part of a series of articles bringing attention to those who volunteer their time supporting organizations in our community who would perish without their support. If you wish to become a part of this series, contact Night Local Editor Ben Fields at 304-526-2773 or by e-mail at

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Some of the athletes at the Paralympic Games are visually impaired

Banners and bunting for the Paralympics have replaced those of the Olympics on Beijing's streets, and the first of the 4,200 disabled athletes who will compete in the Games have started arriving.
Yet with less than a week to go before they open, China's vast and growing army of disabled citizens has little cause to celebrate.

Hosting the Paralympics has been talked up as an opportunity to challenge the deep-seated prejudice which the disabled face in China, just as the Games themselves were supposed to spur China to improve its dismal human rights record.

Yet in May, an official guide for Olympic volunteers characterised the disabled as "stubborn and controlling" and "unsocial", and last week Li Caimao, the director of the city of Beijing's Disabled Person's Affairs Committee – himself a polio victim – admitted that "there is still discrimination".
For years, disabled people were prevented from attending university, because all Chinese had to pass a medical examination before being allowed to take the college entrance exam. "I was lucky because I was able to attend a normal school. But when I graduated I had to rely on a friendly doctor, otherwise I wouldn't have passed the medical," said Gao Shan, who has been visually impaired since birth.

Officials insist that barrier has now been removed, but the attitudes remain. And it is not just education that China's estimated 83 million disabled have difficulty accessing: jobs and healthcare are also in short supply.

With 12 million blind people, China has the largest blind population in the world. But for most, their only option is to work in the many blind massage parlours that dot China's cities. "The biggest problem disabled people in China have is that they don't have the same opportunities as able-bodied people," said Mr Gao.

Their most visible presence is normally on the streets of Chinese cities. In Beijing, disabled beggars, some of them children, congregate near tourist hotspots like Tiananmen Square. But their desperate existence is at odds with the image of the modern, developed China the authorities wanted the world to see during the Olympics, so they were cleared from the capital's streets before the Games.

As a result, even though more than 6 per cent of China's population has some sort of disability, over the last few weeks they have been all but invisible in Beijing.

Xie Yan knows what it is like to be looked down on by society. The strongly-built, 6ft 1in Beijing resident had little understanding of the problems the disabled faced until he was 27, when he was diagnosed with bone cancer and his left leg was amputated above the knee. Now, the former basketball player has a prosthetic leg and gets around on crutches.

"At first, I didn't want to go outside and spent almost all my time in my apartment alone, because whenever I went downstairs the people in my building looked at me as if I was strange, or they tried to avoid me altogether," said Mr Xie. "I lost almost all communication with the outside world. Then one day, I realised I had to get out and start living again."

In March 2006, the 34 year-old joined forces with Mr Gao to found 1+1, an organisation that produces a weekly radio show on disability issues that is broadcast across China. Operating out of a tower block in unfashionable south Beijing, the presenters and producers are all blind or visually impaired. They encounter prejudice daily. "I've gone up to people in the street to interview them and when they've seen that I'm disabled they've walked away," said Mr Gao.

Until recently, the Chinese used the phrase "can fei", meaning deficient and useless, to describe the disabled. The pejorative term dates back to the 1950s and the Mao Tse-tung era, when the communist party was determined to project an image of a healthy, strong population. Forced sterilisation of the disabled was common, while marriages between disabled people were forbidden.

Some 75 per cent of disabled people live in rural areas, where prejudice against them is especially strong. "It would have been impossible for me to start this radio station in my hometown," said Mr Gao, who comes from a small town in southern Fujian Province. "I think there's a big gap in understanding between the cities and the countryside. We're still a largely agricultural society and disabled people are always going to be discriminated against in farming areas."

Emily Oelrich, 20, a student from Northampton who recently spent three weeks on a clandestine Christian mission trip to China, said: "It is a very hard country for the disabled people we were working with, as false impressions mean many people believe that disfigurement is a sign of bad luck which can be infectious.
"Missionaries described to us how when they first began their work, the people would shun them and not want to be touched out of a deep seated shame. Until recently people with leprosy would be banished to government compounds and in more remote areas people with that disease still take themselves away from their families to live with other sufferers, fearing that otherwise they will infect their relations."

China topped the medals table at the Athens Paralympics, with Britain a distant second, and is fielding a team of 332 athletes next weekend - a team which it hopes will once again win more golds than that of any other country. But there is little sign so far that the Chinese public will embrace them in the way they embraced their Olympic heroes. Despite pricing even the most expensive tickets at just 80 Yuan (£6), so far less than one third of the 1.66 million Paralympic tickets available have been sold.

Wanted: Contractors for the visually impaired

The Isle of Wight Council invites tenders from suitably qualified contractors for the provision of Support Services for Blind and Visually Impaired People on the Isle of Wight.

The contract will run for three years with an option to extend for a further period of up to two years.The contract will involve the provision of relevant advice, practical support, specialist counselling, rehabilitation and training support.

For further details please visit: or email

The closing date for receipt of completed tenders is 19th September 2008.

Pavements' bad condition are dangerous for the visually impaired

THERE are none so blind as those selfish to the plight as those who cannot see... ask Carole Holmes, who is visually impaired, of Squires Gate.

After 19 years of walking alongside one of the busiest main roads in Blackpool and navigating various hazards Carole had an accident – on the pavement – earlier this summer and is only just getting back on her feet.While her faith in her cherished guide dog Ike is unswerving her confidence has been badly shaken and she says there's more others could do to help her – and other blind and visually impaired people – to feel safely part of mainstream society.

Carole is the first visually impaired chairman Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Society has had since 1910 and has long been a stalwart campaigner for a better deal for blind and visually impaired people locally.A national campaign was launched this summer to clear Britain's street of clutter and other hazards. And while Carole applauds that she also offers a valuable insight into how the closures of valuable local amenities such as post offices and libraries and community centres can really throw customers off course too.

Thoughtless placing of potted plants and pavement "furniture", as well as kids and teenagers riding bikes on pavements, motorists parking on, and even driving over, pavements, trees left overhanging, bushes blocking the path, road and pavement works leaving potholes, and wheely bins straddling the right of way can all prove potentially hazardous.

As Carole has learned the hard way.She explains: "When my eyesight deteriorated in 1988 I was lucky to train with a guide dog. His name was Fenton and in the six years we were together he guided me safely around South Shore, Blackpool town centre and St Annes."Fenton gave me confidence to get out and about independently, get fresh air and help keep fit. About the same time I became involved with Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind and at least three times a week Fenton and I would walk from the Halfway House area, along Squires Gate Lane to reach the society.

"I always enjoyed this walk and found the pavements wide and uncluttered. Towards the end of the working life of my second guide dog, Petra, which was four years ago, my local Post Office and Highfield Library closed."Ever since then walking my routes has become quite stressful. When I started walking with my present dog Ike, the wheely bin culture arrived on some of my routes and I had to avoid collection days as once the bins were emptied, they blocked the pavements."

Also people seemed to forget or not notice that their bushes and trees were overhanging the pavements and I was regularly scratched and cut by overhanging branches."I have regular bruises on my forearm when cars park opposite to the many electric boxes which have appeared on the pavements."Also, cars actually park fully on the pavement, making it impossible to carry on as they only leave a narrow gap. Wing mirrors don't seem to have much give in them.

I'm sure they used to be on a spring.“In the past 12 months I have narrowly missed being knocked over by cars driving in front of me across the pavement and had one narrow miss with a scooter.“My final hurdle is the teenagers that ride their bikes on the pavement and don’t think to slow down when approaching or passing me and my dog.

“The route I use the most has now become a big worry to me. Last year a businessman erected a row of metal posts to prevent cars driving past his shop.“He’s within his rights but it’s made the natural pavement rather narrow.

“Something on this part of my route did not feel right and many times I would catch the bus to avoid this area.“But one day I stupidly decided to walk home and somehow caught the outside of my left knee on one of the metal posts. I jerked my leg backwards and fractured two bones below my knee. I have spent 14 weeks in a full leg brace, unable to put any weight on my leg.“Happily, I am now recovering and learning to walk again. Now I will have to regain my confidence so I can get out and about with my dog."

“Ironically, since my accident, two more obstacles have appeared, one post showing the way to schools, the other indicating a cycle path.“I really think that the time has come when before any more clutter appears on the pavements,there should be consultation with the local Blind Society or the disability services in Blackpool.“If you’re reading this, for our sake go outside now, and park your car on the road, not on the pavement, and never drive over the pavement.“If you have a garden, go out and check that the trees have been cut back and no bushes are sticking out.“Just have a care. It could be you in this situation one day. And you know the strangest thing of all? I may be visually impaired but most people who run into me, or cut across my path, say they didn’t see me...!”

The National Federation of the Blind in the UK launched the Give Us Back Our Pavements in summer to draw Government, local and central, and the public’s, attention to hazards that confront blind and partially sighted people each day.The federation points out pavements have become more cluttered and hazardous in the last 30 years, resulting in thousands of accidents.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Scouts' organization help visually impaired boys while camping

Marietta’s Sam Hogle is a 17-year-old teenager who gives back.
As part of Sam’s Eagle Scout project, he took five visually impaired boys, ages 11-14, on a weekend camping trip to Covington.

Sam Hogle, 17, who is blind, recently took some other visually impaired kids on a campout as part of his Eagle Scout project. Dad (and Scoutmaster) Greg Hogle was on the trip, too.

Their first outdoor camping experience included carving walking sticks, throwing hatchets, playing games, fishing and cooking their meals.

“They loved it! Our chili and corn bread tasted the best. The guys were better cooks than the Scouts,” said Hogle, who is blind.

Four of the five campers are fellow members of the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta.
They were accompanied by two adults, including Sam’s dad and Scoutmaster Greg Hogle and five sighted Scout buddies.

Camping, he said, was something different for an Eagle Scout project.

“Everybody usually builds something, but I thought this would help visually impaired kids get more involved in the community,” he said.

To help fund the expedition, Sam sent letters to potential donors. He raised enough money to fund the camping trip, with $1,183 left over.

He’s donating the extra money to the Center for the Visually Impaired’s STARS program.

It will be earmarked for the goal ball sports program. That’s a Paralympic team sport for blind and visually impaired athletes.

Playing sports “makes you feel like you don’t have a handicap,” said Sam, a senior at Kennesaw’s Mount Paran Christian School.

He’s training for his new job at Chick-fil-A and just completed a three-week internship at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. After college, he wants to become a blind rehabilitation instructor for the VA.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Lighthouse program help the visually impaired

"Can't" perhaps becomes the biggest hurdle for blind people.

For a quarter of a century now, the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind has been the beacon for some 20,000 people to find a path out of darkness.

"Blindness is the No. 1 fear that people face," Sylvia Stinson Perez, the nonprofit agency's newly named executive director, observed. She brings a passion to the job since she is legally blind because of a congenital eye condition.

Perez shares an eagerness with the Lighthouse staff of 14 to build on successes. They also face some stiff challenges - a decrease in state funds, a wrecked van and high gasoline prices.

"It takes a lot more energy to be blind, it really does," Perez said. "If you work on developing those skills, you can be just as competent as anyone else."

Many adaptive sports are proof of that. Go-Ball, a soccer spinoff, is a "blast." Beep Baseball uses a ball with an embed device that make a beeping noise to help visually impaired batters. Blind skiing and judo are among many other choices.

But when clients first arrive at Lighthouse, according to Perez, they are focused on the "can'ts" - can't cook, can't read, can't write checks, can't take medications independently.

"It takes a lot of problem solving" and ingenuity, Perez said. Simple steps include a rubber band to indicate evening medications. There are classes that teach people how to mark stoves and other kitchen appliances so they can be used by people with limited or no sight.

Soon the light bulb goes off over the heads of clients that, yes, they can still do many things.
"It's a caring community," Perez said. It's been that way since 1983 when some 150 people showed up at a town hall meeting about establishing a center for the blind.

Lighthouse struggled in the early years, Ron Thornton, a West Pasco attorney, recalled. The first executive director, Chuck Jackson, talked his buddy Thornton into serving on the board of directors. Little did Thornton know he would hold that post for 25 years.

Roxann Mayros and Don Griffin also held the executive director's post before Perez.
These days the Lighthouse aides people in Pasco and Hernando counties.

Totally blind, Lighthouse staffer Priscilla Nadzeika has seen many changes. The fledgling agency launched in a New Port Richey house on Virginia Avenue a church had donated. Then the agency moved to Main Street for a time.

Lighthouse landed in the former home of the Hudson Library, on Old Dixie Highway. But the severe March 1993 storm flooded the county-owned building and nearly wiped out the Lighthouse.

In October 1996, Lighthouse finally settled into its current location in the county-owned facility at 8610 Galen Wilson Blvd., Port Richey, just north of Ridge Road.

Since Lighthouse formed in 1983, the technology available now for the blind is like "night and day," Perez said.

Some wristwatches announce the time, for instance, although Perez herself prefers a flip-top, tactile watch that lets her feel Braille codes for the time of day.

Cell phones can announce which buttons blind people are pushing. In fact, a whole host of clocks, scales, microwave ovens and other devices can get almost downright chatty thanks to computer chips.

Computers come with all types of scanners, overhead projectors and other adapters for the blind. Programs can read back what's on the screen.

As the area population grows older, Lighthouse services will be needed more than ever, Perez said. Already some 15 percent of Pasco residents over the age of 70 are blind or have impaired vision.

No cure exists for macular degeneration of the retina, an age-related main cause of blindness along with diabetic retinopathy.

In a medical class long ago, Perez was struck by the delicate structure of the eye. The smallest blood vessels are in the eyes. The retina is so thin that it split when she barely touched it with her fingernail.

But Lighthouse clients learn blindness "doesn't have to be the end," Perez commented. The blind "can be your co-worker. They can be your friend."