Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Is Braille becoming a thing of the past?

The defiant one settles herself with teenage confidence at the end of the classroom table.She is, by her own account, a "stubborn" and "ornery" student here at the Kansas State School for the Blind."A handful," teachers agree.They've given her a cane. She refuses to use it.They try to teach her Braille."I hate that I have to learn it," said Hannah Nistler, to whom, at age 16, the tools of blindness are uneasy reminders that one day her already murky vision could go completely black."It's scary," she said.

"That's not something I've wanted to accept."What's equally scary, say advocates for the blind, is just how few visually impaired children outside of places like this school are being instructed in Braille.Whereas about half of them were taught the reading and writing method in the 1960s (usually at state institutions), the number now instructed in it, with "mainstreaming" in public schools, has fallen to 12 percent.

The decline in this foundation of literacy in the blind community since the early 1800s parallels an explosion in technologies designed to help the blind access everything from novels to the Internet: "talking" computers, magnifiers, audiobooks.Perhaps at a price."There is technology that can read print to you, but that is not the same as being literate," said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind. "If you listen to books, you don't learn how to spell from that. You don't learn how to write from that.

You don't learn how to do punctuation from that."His organization hopes the bicentennial anniversary of Braille creator Louis Braille's birth on Jan. 4 will raise awareness of what it's calling a crisis in Braille literacy."Society would never accept a 10 percent literacy rate among sighted children," he said. "It would be outrageous."Some of the outrage may need to be tempered.

Although only 12 percent of visually impaired children are learning Braille, it's also true that only about 10 percent are completely blind.Most of the remaining 90 percent are like Nistler and have some limited vision, or enough to use devices that make Braille less vital."In a lot of ways, it is better to be blind now, especially in the United States, than it has been in history," said Reinhard Mabry, president of Alphapointe, an association that supports the blind and visually impaired. "Technology is better than it has ever been.

"But a talking computer, Braille proponents say, won't read your shopping list in the aisle of a grocery store. It won't select your floor in an elevator. And what happens when the power lines go down?Advocates also offer this clincher: Of the paltry 30 percent of blind or visually impaired people who are fully employed, 90 percent know Braille.Nistler and her classmates know all of this, of course.

"They like to pound it into your head," she said of her instructors.For much of Nistler's life, she's looked at the world through a black circle, as if peering through the end of a thin straw. At night, she is totally blind.Whether the straw will stay open, no one knows. She has retinitis pigmentosa — a degenerative disorder.In 2005, she began to lose her colors. "First, my reds and greens went," Nistler said. "Then the blues. Then the rest."

She now sees in shades of black and white and grays, some of it gorgeous."Roses. They're beautiful in black and white," she said.At the other end of the English class table sits Chad Rohr, 18, with his guide dog at his feet. Nistler and four others sit nearby.He unfurls his textbook on the table — broad white sheets the size of placemats, each embossed with hundreds of Braille dots.

His hands sweep across the pages, his large fingers gliding left to right, row after row.A tumble off an all-terrain vehicle cracked Rohr's skull and nearly killed him at age 13."I had traumatic brain injury, and the swelling in my brain pinched my optic nerve," he explained.Braille is easy for him now, but he understands Nistler's reluctance."There were days when I just wanted to burn the books I was reading," he said. "I hated it that much."It's instinctual, he said, to use the sight one has while it's still there.

Thinking about the day it'll be gone is hard.Plus, Braille is hard. The system of raised dots was adapted in 1821 from "escriture nocturne," or "night writing," a way for soldiers to communicate in the dark on the battlefield.The code is based around "cells" of six dots."Like you're looking at a muffin pan, horizontally," said Christian Puett, 16, who, like Nistler, has retinitis pigmentosa. He can see a fog of light and images, but his vision since the eighth grade has been all but gone.To start with, he said, all the dots feel the same.

It can take months or even years to master reading them.But after a while, it's like visual reading: fluid, unconscious. The independence it offers is freeing."Right now," Puett said, "I'm reading 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.'" The Braille version came out the same night as the print version.Nistler is working on a book of her own.It's slow going. Sometimes she still peers down at the cells, she said, to see if she has them right. But in Omaha soon, there's going be to a Braille reading and writing competition."I don't know," she said. "I thought I'd try."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Visually impaired teacher sues school district for discrimination

To understand how Lukas Barfield sees the world, imagine staring through a toilet-paper roll with wax paper over the other end. Barfield suffers from rod-cone dystrophy, a condition that causes a very narrow field of vision—even objects right in front of him are hard to make out.

But Barfield didn't let his condition stop him from getting a teaching certificate with an emphasis in math from the University of Washington and a teaching job in the Kent School District. After the 2006–2007 school year—his first—Barfield received a satisfactory evaluation, but at the end of the following term, the district fired him. Last month he sued the district for discrimination.

At the start of the 2007–2008 school year, Barfield started answering to a new vice principal, Anthony Brown. "Almost immediately, Mr. Brown began to discriminate," Barfield's suit against the district states.

Barfield's attorney, Tyler Firkins, says Mill Creek isn't an easy school to begin with, even for sighted teachers. "We're not talking about [advanced placement] students at Mercer Island or something like that," Firkins says. "This is a pretty challenging group that he had." The fourth-period kids were a particular problem, passing notes, throwing things, and not getting out textbooks when asked. So in the fall of 2007, Barfield says he asked Brown for help, claiming students took advantage of his sight problems. According to the suit, Brown offered no assistance and told Barfield he needed to be "the heavy."

After a parent complained later that fall that disruptive students in that class made it harder for others to learn, Barfield reminded Brown that he had asked for assistance. According to the lawsuit, Brown began coming into Barfield's class unannounced, sitting outside the teacher's field of vision. Barfield claims he didn't know Brown was in the room; once, Barfield says, he nearly sat on Brown. After the surreptitious observations, Brown criticized him for things like not seeing students raising their hands or passing notes, Barfield says.

In January of this year, Barfield asked for a para-educator—a specialized teaching assistant—to help him manage his class. Brown allegedly replied by saying the district wasn't obligated to provide one. Barfield then asked for a meeting with the Kent Education Association and the state Department of Services for the Blind. The district subsequently agreed to hire someone to assist Barfield in the classroom. But even then, Barfield says, Brown only allowed the assistant to do little more than point out disruptive kids. Instead of providing Barfield with the help he needed, Filkins says the assistant "became a classroom narc."

At the end of the year, the district notified Barfield that his contract would not be renewed. He appealed to the Kent School Board and filed for a restraining order against the district to stop the firing. Both of these maneuvers proved unsuccessful.

Firkins says other districts have been far more accommodating to teachers with disabilities than Kent. He believes administrators preferred to force Barfield out rather than make it easier for him to teach. Meanwhile, the district filed a general response in court Nov. 25, denying any wrongdoing without going into specifics.

Kent School District spokesperson Becky Hanks says she can't comment directly on Barfield's case, but adds that the district has successfully made accommodations for other teachers with sensory disabilities, though she wouldn't go into specifics.

"Kent School District does not discriminate on disability. If an employee does not have a contract renewed, the issue is job performance," says Hanks.

Firkins acknowledges the district wrote his client up several times for issues related to students' behavioral problems. But those are instances, he says, where a sighted teacher wouldn't have had the same problems. Perhaps the most damning claim in Barfield's suit is the allegation that Brown not only cited him unfairly, but repeatedly noted that Barfield's problem was his inability to see all that went on. According to the complaint, Barfield had to remind the vice principal that he was visually impaired.

From seizures to blindness, the story of a great wrestler

It doesn't matter whether it's the championship of a holiday wrestling event or a midweek dual match.

Debbie Gunter gets emotional any time her son, Coventry High freshman Jesse Gunter, walks onto the mat.

''I'll be crying at the beginning, screaming and laughing during the match, and crying again after the match,'' she said. ''There is simply so much adrenaline flowing every match, I can't stand it because I love so much what is happening. Jesse amazes us every time he's out there.''

She is not an ordinary wrestling mom. The tears are of joy — and not because her powerfully built son has been so successful.

It's not because Jesse is 15-1 with 10 pins wrestling at 103 and 112 pounds after he dispatched opponents from Ellet and Firestone in less than two minutes in a triangular match a week ago. And it's not because her 15-year-old is becoming a part of the strong tradition at Coventry and is projected to do well when tournament time comes in March.

No, Debbie cries because she believes she is witnessing a miracle every time.

Jesse Gunter is blind.

''Jesse's story is an incredible life story,'' Coventry coach Keith Shinn said. ''Hopefully, it will inspire others to get over whatever is holding them back and enable them to have as much passion for life and wrestling as Jesse does. He is truly an amazing young man.''

Sports, the Gunters were told by neurologists and pediatricians, were something that Jesse would never participate in. ''Most of the doctors told us he'd never be able to walk or even talk, that he wouldn't be able to do much of anything,'' Debbie said.

''I thank God every day. We never had the courage to dream that he could do what he's doing. He's an inspiration to all of us, especially those of us who were there when he was born.''

Jesse's battle began before he took his first breath.

Debbie went into labor, and Tony Gunter took her to Barberton Citizens Hospital.

Everybody expected a normal delivery.

It wasn't.

''I was pushing and pushing the entire day,'' Debbie said. After 16 hours, Debbie underwent an emergency Caesarean section. Jesse weighed 9 pounds, 2 ounces.

''Jesse's little head was all bruised,'' Debbie said. ''I was very upset because that was my baby. And I knew something was wrong. I'm a mom.''

The Gunters became more concerned a few hours later when Jesse began having seizures.

He was rushed to Akron Children's Hospital to undergo tests. The results were not what any parent would want to hear. ''The doctors told us he suffered brain damage and part of the brain was dead,'' Debbie said.

''We were 23 at the time. There were all kinds of self-doubts cropping up. I was miserable because my baby had been hurt.''

New hope emerges

For three years, the Gunters took Jesse to neurological and pediatric experts who said there was little anyone could do. The Gunters moved to Virginia to live with Tony Gunter's parents and found a savior in Dr. Dawn Forbes of Lewis Gale Hospital in Salem, Va.

''Dr. Forbes loved Jesse; she believed in him from the first day she saw him,'' Tony Gunter said. ''She just told us that whatever we do, don't baby him — treat him normal like every other kid, and he'll grow up to be like every other kid.''

Jesse is blind in one eye and has had two surgeries on his other eye to help stabilize it.

He has no peripheral vision in that eye. Think of his vision this way: if you made a small circle the size of a dime with your forefinger and thumb and put it in front of your eye, that's what he sees.
''He has total tunnel vision in the one, and he'll never be able to drive,'' Tony Gunter said. ''He never can hold a job that includes detailed work. He never can operate heavy machinery.''

That ruled out most sports.

''I can see a basketball, but the players in a game are a blur,'' Jesse said. ''I can pitch a baseball toward a hitter, but I can't catch or field a ball. . . . I was disappointed, but I didn't give up because I always wanted to do a sport.''

When the family moved back to the Akron area in 1996, Jesse began taking karate classes, earning a black belt in two and a half years.

''That made me feel great about myself,'' Jesse said.

He moved into wrestling three years ago. He was a seventh-grader at Coventry Junior High, and it was the only school-sponsored sport in which he could compete.

''The thing I love most about wrestling is that I can really push my body. My body can support me in wrestling, and it's a thrill for me,'' he said.

Top of class, team

He was 22-8 as a seventh-grader and 23-2 in eighth grade. He also won numerous invitationals before earning a spot on the Coventry varsity team this year.

In school, he has a 4.0 grade-point average taking a regular academic schedule.

''I can't see anything on a blackboard or TV screen,'' he said. ''But the teachers have been great. They give me extra handouts that show the things that the rest of the class can see.''

His only wrestling loss in 16 matches came against highly regarded Beachwood junior Alex Dronzek, who is ranked second in the state at 103 and won 6-0.

''I think my opponents underestimate what I can do,'' Jesse said.

Because opponents must maintain contact with him in matches, Jesse says he has learned to practice in a way other wrestlers do not. ''I use that to my advantage,'' he said. ''They have to use another style in the match when we're both on our feet, but it's normal for me.''

Gunter doesn't rely on leverage — he stands 5-foot-1.

But he is developed physically for his age and size. He has an Olympic weight set and wrestling mat in the basement of his home and is constantly working out. He outdid all of his teammates in a fitness test during preseason conditioning.

''Jesse blew away the competition,'' said Shinn, now an Akron Police Department patrolman and a former Coventry standout who was a key contributor as a 189-pound state qualifier on the Comets' 1993 Division III state championship team.

Jesse did 130 pushups in two minutes. He did 44 full pull-ups before fatiguing. Both were Coventry wrestling team records.

Shinn said Jesse has more to learn. ''We're putting in a new move just about every day because we all know that at some point — districts, state — he's going to run into some outstanding 18-year-olds.''

Jesse has set ambitious goals. ''I want to be a four-time state champion and a four-time national champion in college,'' he said. ''And I want to be an Olympian. I know that no blind wrestler has ever competed in the Olympics. But that doesn't bother me.

''I can't see, but I can dream. And I'm determined to live those dreams.''

Bill Lilley can be reached at 330-996-3811 or

Visually impaired athletes practice their sport on the slopes!

If you ask Marie Hennessy of Malden to tell a story that sums up the essence of one of the nation's oldest programs for blind cross-country skiers, her answer might surprise you. Instead of telling an exhilarating, outdoorsy tale about how New England Regional Ski For Light pairs sighted guides with visually impaired athletes, the organization's president instead points to the time dozens of members were on an overnight trip to Craftsbury, Vt., and the electricity at the inn went out.

"All of a sudden, the sighted guides couldn't see," said Hennessy, who has been blind since birth. "Our roles were reversed, and the visually impaired people were assisting the guides, because we know how to move around in a dark world. It was ironic, but at the same time, we had fun. In fact, nothing stops us from having fun."

Hennessy's positive outlook is echoed by other Ski For Light participants, who stress that the organization's main goal is not just to get adults with disabilities involved with physically demanding sports, but to provide those opportunities in an atmosphere of camaraderie that benefits both the sighted and the blind.

"One thing that Ski For Light has done for me is it makes me feel like a more complete person," said David Fisk, a volunteer guide from Thetford, Vt. "I think any type of volunteering helps a person be more complete."

Introducing visually impaired people to cross-country skiing dates back to the 1950s in Europe with a blind Norwegian musician named Erling Stordahl. His efforts led to the creation of an annual, week-long event called Ridderrenn in 1964, which has grown to attract thousands of disabled participants and guides from around the world to the mountains of Norway.

The Ridderrenn concept was brought to Colorado in 1975, and shortly thereafter morphed into a national organization known as Ski For Light. Two years later, when the annual event rotated to Woodstock, Vt., there was enough local momentum to form an offshoot branch so that activities could continue on a regular basis, and in 1977 New England became the first of what would expand to nine regional Ski For Light chapters.

Today, NERSFL doesn't rely solely on cross-country skiing to get its participants outdoors. In the winter, the group now also snowshoes. In warmer months, trips are planned for hiking, canoeing, and tandem bicycling. The organization has an itinerary of upcoming trips on its website (, where it actively recruits volunteer guides and visually impaired participants.
When it comes to first-timers, NERSFL members said it is usually the sighted guides, not the blind skiers, who feel a bit of anxiety the initial time they get paired up.

"Fear isn't one of my responses," said Cindy Wentz, who lives outside of Boston and has been legally blind since birth, although she does have some limited vision. "The first time on skis, I would say I probably had more of a feeling of 'Let's just go and jump into this with both feet.' "

Hennessy agreed. "I didn't have any trepidation. I felt totally comfortable," she said. "The guide who was with me had incredible patience. I knew I was going to trust this person, and he knew I wanted to make this work."

Fisk, who became a guide in 1994 and now trains the sighted volunteers who enter the NERSFL program, said he was initially "nervous about working with blind people." But he said he received valuable feedback from the more experienced visually impaired skiers, and that two-way communication made him a better guide.

"I just realized I had to give [blind people] a lot more credit than I was giving," Fisk said. "A lot of skiers with Ski For Light are good skiers. There are some who can ski any of the terrains they encounter."

Fisk said that when introducing a blind person to the sport, he will begin by explaining what each piece of equipment does with a hands-on demonstration. Guides and blind skiers are paired up on a one-to-one basis, and a lot of thought goes into matching the personalities and ability levels of the sighted and blind skiers.

On the trails, communication is the key to guiding a blind skier. "Tips left" and "tips right" are common commands, but rather than direct a skier's every movement, Fisk said a guide's primary function is to describe the lay of the land and to forewarn of any terrain changes. Whether the blind skier goes ahead of, behind, or next to the guide is a matter of individual preference.

The only emergency command that participants must obey is the "Sit down!" warning, Fisk said. Falling backward is the safest position for someone who can't see if they have to avoid an imminent obstacle.

"I spent a lot of time on my rear at first," Wentz joked.

Fisk said that when he trains guides, he often will have them ski blindfolded to simulate how someone without sight would negotiate a trail.

"It's incredibly difficult to judge your speed," Fisk said. "We rely so much on our visual cues for balance."

Teaching the basics of cross-country skiing is one thing. But helping blind athletes appreciate the aesthetics and raw beauty of nature while on the trails can be trickier.

"Almost all of it has to be verbal," Fisk said, although he will use the sense of touch to help visually impaired skiers distinguish various types of bark on trees or the difference between snow conditions. Hennessy recalled that a guide once took her outstretched arm and used it to "trace" a mountain range far off in the distance.

"I love stopping and just listening," said Wentz. She has enough sight, she explained, to tell that "the sky is blue," or what the trees look like in a "Monet kind of way." For her, "there's some visual, but you also rely on your other senses."

Hennessy said that well-meaning sighted people are sometimes hesitant to offer "too much information" out of fear that the blind person will become annoyed. But she appreciates it when the guides stop on the trail to enlighten her about things in nature that she can't see.

"Having someone take the time to think about what you might enjoy is a wonderful experience," Hennessy said.

"It's not about the destination, it's about the process," Wentz said. "It's a freedom of movement, which is hard to get in other areas of my life. When I walk [around the city] I need to concentrate on the next step and on my own safety. When I ski, all my mental energy is focused. I just remember being blown away the first time I did it."

Ski For Light is just as rewarding for the volunteer guides, too.

"It's a personal development thing for me," said Fisk. "And it's downright fun."

Library offers the use of special magnifier to the visually impaired

A portable, electronic magnifier is now available to visually-impaired residents through Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library's new equipment loan program.

Striving to provide all residents with access to the written word, the library has acquired three Bierley MonoMouse units, which project enlarged type onto a home television screen.

Resembling a super-sized computer mouse, the device is designed to easily magnify written copy as the unit is passed over the page.

Using the library's new loan program, residents with vision difficulties could have a wealth of reading material open up to them. No longer will they be forced to wait for their favorite title to come out in a large print or audio format. Now, residents will have the luxury of checking out the latest titles, including circulating magazines, and enjoying them in the comfort of their own home.

The library will loan the magnifiers to interested cardholders for 21-day intervals. Residents just need to visit the second floor circulation desk to request a MonoMouse.

Patrons may also place holds on the item through the library's online catalog at or by calling (317) 873-8341.

Virginia Hilbert is assistant department head for circulation services at the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library. Contact her at (317) 873-3149 ext. 11280 or e-mail

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An organization threw a party for visually impaired kids

Continuing a tradition that extends back longer than three decades, a dozen children gathered for a Christmas party Thursday at Inland Empire Lighthouse for the Blind.

"It's gone on for years," Executive Director Robert G. McBay said. "I've been here for 33 years. ... It's been here since then."

The Lighthouse usually serves blind or visually impaired adults who can receive free classes at the San Bernardino site. Lighthouse students are those who cannot see at all or whose visual impairments are severe enough for them to be considered legally blind.

The children who took part in Thursday's events also live with a range of eyesight issues, said teacher Lynn Worch, who noted that the youngsters start anticipating the next Lighthouse party about as soon as one ends.

Adults and children from San Bernardino City Unified School District schools attended Thursday's party. The Rialto Nostalgia Singers serenaded the gathering with carols.

Lighthouse student Jasmine Kotsay, 19, also stepped up to the microphone. Blind from birth, Kotsay takes arts-and-crafts classes at Lighthouse and also studies at San Bernardino Valley College in preparation for a career as a special-education teacher.

Kotsay sang a French rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," or as they say in France, "La Petit Renne Au Nez Rouge."

Before the party began, Kotsay showed the macrame wreath and candy canes she crafted at Lighthouse.

"Now I have something to leave under the tree for my grandma," she said.

The singers were well-received, but the arrival of Santa Claus was the event that really energized the elementary school-aged children.

Santa passed out gift baskets filled with stuffed animals. Dakota Creese, 9, received a basket that included a crimson teddy bear and parrot key chain.

Lighthouse leaders need to find a new facility in the near future. The school sits near Eighth Street and Sierra Way, but school officials are buying up real estate in that area in preparation of building a new elementary school.

McBay said he and Lighthouse's board of directors haven't chosen where to set up shop next.
"We'll stay in the city, and I've got a few ideas of what I want to do, but I'm not there yet," he said.


(909) 386-3921

A visually impaired woman receives her Science degree

So many times, Carshena Gary just wanted to give up. Stay home instead of getting up by 5 a.m. to leave her Hampton apartment and wait for the Handi-Ride bus to carry her to another bus for the trek across the water to wait for yet another bus to get to her 8 a.m. classes in downtown Norfolk.
Then there were days when teachers spoke as if she could see the board and read words in a book. But Gary, 31, had promised herself more than a decade ago that she wasn't going to let blindness or its challenges stop her.

Tonight, she will receive her associate of science degree during Tidewater Community College's graduation at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. More than 1,600 are expected to receive degrees, certificates or diplomas.

"Sometimes I would feel like I'm down and out, but I'd keep on pressing," Gary said. "But I say everything is possible through Christ."

Her mother, Elsie, said Carshena has always been determined, even at around 3 years old when a brain tumor damaged her optic nerves.

"She didn't care for people to help her that much," Elsie Gary said. "She always liked to do things herself."

Carshena Gary said that by the time she was 12, she had developed some ability to perceive light - shadows, the shape of a stair, a dark figure walking in her path.

She took classes at Hampton High and the now-closed Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled in Hampton. She insisted on catching the bus like other students. Often, in the hallways at Hampton High, students offered to help her to class. Sometimes she'd accept; even with her independent streak, she realized that she, like anyone else, could use an occasional hand. Sometimes she'd decline but invite them to walk along with her.

"I wanted them to learn how to treat and relate to a visually impaired person as well."

After graduating from Hampton High in 1996, she enrolled in a community college but found it difficult without enough support. She took time off from school and tried to find work. No one would hire her, she said, and she continues to live on Supplemental Security Income. But she kept going with the support of her family and friends. With her mom's prodding, she got her own apartment six years ago.

"I told her I didn't know how long I would be with her," Elsie Gary said, "and I didn't want her to depend on her siblings or one day be in a nursing home."

She took a few courses at Thomas Nelson Community College, but it wasn't until she enrolled at TCC and worked with the disability services department that she found the right match.

At other schools, she said, teachers would have students help her. At TCC, an experienced staff member read tests to her and helped her in biology lab.

"I think TCC has been the best accommodating college that I've ever attended," she said. "They look out for their people. They let them know that they are there."

Gary plans to retake some courses at TCC to improve her grades and then transfer to Old Dominion University or Norfolk State University. Her goal is to become a guidance counselor and teach children to navigate the world.

"Sometimes adults are so hard to work with," she said. "I'm the kind of person who stands up for my rights, who stands up for the rights of others. That's why I want to work with children."

Denise Watson Batts, (757) 446-2504,

The visually impaired tackle a fun challenge: Henderson Paralympics!

With each step he took up the climbing wall at the Henderson Multigenerational Center on Dec. 10, Drake Hollingshead felt a greater sense of accomplishment.

The legally blind 11-year-old isn't afraid of heights and was anxious to conquer the wall.

"I wanted to go up all the way to the top," Drake said.

Drake was participating in the Clark County School District's final Paralympic Academy program of the year. The event, which is sponsored by U.S. Paralympics, allows disabled athletes to participate in a variety of athletic activities.

With assistance from volunteers, Drake made it about 30 feet up the wall.

"It definitely builds confidence," said Mark Hollingshead, his father. "Drake always has to be so cautious whereever he goes. Now when he goes to the park he is always trying to get to the top of whatever he climbs."

Drake and about 40 other local public school students participated in the program, which also featured boxing, table tennis and hula dancing.

The academy holds the events once a month at various community centers during the school year, sometimes drawing close to 50 students with physical disabilities.

Barbara Chambers, who heads the School District's adapted physical education program, got the academy off the ground last year.

"I wanted to make an impact," said Chambers, a Green Valley resident. "I knew there was a need. We're establishing a relationship with the kids and their family."

Some students spent the evening trying out sports in hopes of competing in the Paralympics some day. Others tried the activities for the first time.

"Being visually impaired, I never thought they would have something like this," said Billy Reaume, a sixth grader at Robert O. Gibson Middle School in Las Vegas. "We thought we were separate from everybody else. This gives a chance for others with disabilities like me to try something new."

Louie Amelburu, an adapted physical education teacher, taught jabs and basic combinations to the students.

Amelburu, a former boxing trainer, said students get more activity at the free programs than in a typical gym class.

"This gives us an opportunity to teach them something they're not really familiar with," he said.
The programs are also popular for relatives looking to participate in more activities with the students.

Adrian Story, a third grader at Glen C. Taylor Elementary School, playfully practiced some of his jabs on his brother after the program.

"I like coming here because it gives us exercise and we have fun," said Story, who has spina bifida and moves by wheelchair.

Each month, the academy organizes different activities for the students.

Chambers moved to Las Vegas in 1981 to become an adaptive physical education teacher in the School District and has gone on to coach several Paralympics track team and become chairperson for Wheelchair Sports USA.

However, with inevitable budget cuts, Chambers said the program is not immune.

"With budget cuts, the district's top priority is putting teachers in front of students," she said. "After school programs like ours may be cut, but we're going to keep it going as long as we can."
The academy's next program will be Jan. 14 at Frank F. Garside Middle School. For more information, call 799-0104.

Sean Ammerman can be reached at 990-2661 or

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Digital is the way to go for the visually impaired

Adi Ismail, head of the education and development division at Jakarta’s Indonesian Associationfor the Visually Impaired (Pertuni), receives a call while operating a laptop during the launch of Pertuni’s website at the Jakarta Media Center on Monday.

The website is part of Pertuni Jakarta’s information and technology development programs, including training in computer skills for its members.

The website,, provides visually- impaired people with the opportunity tointeract with the public and assist them integrating into wider society.

The launch of the website heralded the introduction of Pertuni’s IT system, dubbed as the Information and Technology Access Program (PATI). PATI has provided computer training for 15of its members from the city’s five municipalities.

The program is expected to empower the visually impaired with the ability to access information technologies and aims to make their generation more computer-literate than those in the past.

Living in College for visually impaired students

A flute is always on his mouth as he walks, and one can see the love he has for the instrument. He plays it beautifully, attracting the attention of passersby. Mussie Mebrahtu is a visually-impaired student at the Eritrea Institute of Technology in Mai-Nefhi. He is second year diploma student in the English of Department.He was born in Debresina, in the Elabered Sub Zone in the Anseba Region. He attended elementary education in Abraha Bahta School for the Visually Impaired.

Then he went to Shieb Seleba Junior School in Debresina. Later he continued his education in Keren Secondary School before he left to Sawa to complete his 12th grade. After passing the matriculation exam, he joined the Eritrea Institute of Technology. Mussie said, “There were 19 blind students with me in Sawa in 2005 and all of us have passed the matriculation exam. We are determined to continue the method of study that led us to success in the matriculation exam.”

Currently, there are 47 visually impaired students in Mai-Nefhi, and many of them are in the departments of History, English, and Social Science Education.At college, blind students might have difficulties finding their way around. But for many of them getting around is not a problem. Many develop their own ways to overcome the difficulties they face.Of course, the visually impaired students at college need to master an environment that is designed primarily for the sighted.

Many of them adapt to the environment quickly but for their academic success, they need the complements of special technology so they can access textbooks and computer screens they cannot see.With modern technology, students need access to machines that could convert regular text into Braille. So the introduction of scanners, computers with embossers that change computer text into Braille prints, and a sound output (screen reader) that converts texts displayed on the screen to sound, and other equipment is essential.

These equipment help students write their senior and term papers on their own, instead of asking other students to write for them.Some of the challenges facing these students include lack of adequate appropriate Brailled textbooks for reference and a limited number of Braille computer terminals. “Although our college has a number of Brailled books, most are not in line with our academic fields,” said Mussie.Shortage of Braille papers is also another challenge.

Abraha Bahta Elementary School provides Braille papers and some books. “We of course get some help; we receive 100 Braille papers for a semester, which is not enough,” said Mussie.By the time blind students reach college, they have probably developed many methods for dealing with the volume of visual materials. Most use a combination of methods, including readers, brailled books, and audiotape recorded books.Mussie and his friends do much of their studies by typing the handouts supplied by the instructors on Braille papers.

“Students read for us the handouts and we type it on the Braille, but this takes a lot of time. The writing itself takes hours, let alone reading it later,” Mussie says. At times the students send their handouts to the Abraha Bahta Elementary School so that the printed materials are converted into Braille papers by embossers. “Visually impaired students have some special needs to support themselves,” Mussie said. He mentioned lack of financial help as a major problem. “At high school, we used to get some pocket money from the Abraha Bahta School in cooperation with the Ministry of Education,” he said.

“In addition, the PFDJ office used to give us allowance for transportation.“But here in the college, we don’t have the money that we used to get. We have some hope though—the PFDJ and the President’s offices are working it out. Hopefully, we’ll get it soon. I also need to mention that the blind students at the college received some 20,000 Nakfa from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare. And I hope it will have continuity.”Despite some problems, Mussie says, college life is relatively comfortable.

“We have free dormitory and cafeteria services so we don’t have that much expenditure. At high school, we had to rent a house and pay for food,” he said. “The other thing is, you get more socialized and have more friends here in our college.”Mussie appreciates some of the staff members for their help and generosity. “Some of our teachers give us a soft copy of the handouts; and even some come to our [blind students] study room and discuss with us the subject matter we read.”

In the future, Mussie would like to contribute what he can to the development of the nation. “I would like to do my best to bring a change in the economic and social development of my country. I would especially like to work closely with the disabled people and convince them that they are not different than anyone.”Regarding his flute, Mussie says he has tremendous interest in arts and music. This goes back to his elementary school music courses that he had at Abraha Bahta. “The music courses I took there encouraged me to try some instruments later. I play the piano, melodica, kirar, and flute,” he said.

“Of all these, the flute is the best because you don’t have a problem carrying it with you everywhere.”The flute has other advantages as well. “It serves two purposes: one, it alerts passersby that I am coming and they make a way; second: it introduces me to many people; almost everyone knows me in town and I’m identified by the flute,” said Mussie.

Christmas shopping for visually impaired children

Visually impaired kids got to go shopping Sunday without their parents around. It was part of an annual party sponsored by the Nebraska Foundation for Visually Impaired Children.

Makenna Lee was on a holiday shopping spree for her family. It was a special day for the seven year old, who's struggled with her sight since she was born.

"Her eyes move really fast and it's hard for her to focus on certain things," said Makenna's brother Jordan.

So Jordan helped Makeena with her shopping.

Throughout Westroads Mall on Sundady were shoppers just like Makenna. Visually impaired kids taking part in the "Ruth Sokolof Christmas Shopping Party". 150 children, armed with $100 dollars worth of mall cards. It was an opportunity for them to be more independent.

16-year-old Christine Ratz is counting down the days until she can give her parents their gift.

"It's like this week and then the 20th, 21st, and then going down, down," Christine said.

We caught up with Makenna, who found the perfect gift for her little brother.

"A flashlight and a train whistle," she said.

Two simple gifts, one special girl.

"She really inspires me because I know she's been through a lot, and she's probably one of my biggest heros because she's been through so much," said her brother.

Over 230 high school volunteers went shopping with the kids. They also got a special visit from Santa.

Reported by Chriss Knight,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Woman trains service dogs for the visually impaired

Amelia is eager to learn as she sits in Beth Rubendall’s fourth-grade class. You can tell by the excited look in her dark brown eyes and the wag of her tail.Amelia, almost eight months old, is a dog in training for the Leader Dogs for the Blind, an organization that provides dog guides to blind and visually impaired people to enhance their mobility, independence and quality of life.

Rubendall got involved with Leader Dogs about 14 years ago after she started teaching full time at Machesney Park Elementary School. Amelia, along with all the other dogs, is allowed to go to school with Rubendall to introduce her to a variety of people and environments.“We know how much that the dog means to the person who now has independence and is not having to wait for others for everything,” she said.

Amelia, a black Labrador retriever, is the 13th puppy Rubendall and her family have raised. Amelia is named after Amelia Bedelia, a main character in Peggy Parish’s books, and Amelia Earhart, in honor of the Machesney Park Elementary Pilots.The largest number of breed requests coming from the blind population is for Labradors, then golden retrievers, followed by a smaller number requesting German shepherds and standard poodles, Rubendall said.

Beverly Moody, media relations manager for Leader Dogs for the Blind, said the raisers provide excellent training because the dogs are so calm.“When they are growing up Beth exposes them to the world of bikes, fire engines, her school and any place she takes the dogs,” Moody said. “The more the puppies are exposed earlier in life the more calm and confident (they are).”The most rewarding part of the job isn’t the wagging tail, but knowing that someone’s life will be improved, Rubendall said.

Also, she is proud to be associated with an organization that is forward thinking and delivers excellent service to the visually impaired population. “Every dog is unique and has a different personality,” Rubendall said. “Some dogs are like a teenager that you are ready to see grow up and leave the house, others you are sad to see them go. But it’s great to know it’s all for a good cause.”

Staff writer Katie Backman can be reached at 815-987-1389 or

St. Louis visually impaired community faces poverty

As the former CEO of Productive Futures, an employment and training agency serving needy citizens in St. Louis, our agency "bit the bullet" on finding jobs that made a difference in the lives of the poor. For 23 years, we challenged employers, educators and the city to take bold steps to address the severe poverty in St. Louis.

With the current recession, there probably will be a significant increase in the number of laid-off workers, and those who are poor will become poorer.The inclination may be to address the "more attractive" laid-off workers from local corporations and major employers, but those hit with the most severe blows do not have Civic Progress as advocates. Representatives in local government, the faith-based community and social services will need to step up their efforts to ensure that more than lip service is given to those most in need.

Sadly, our record of advocacy for the poor has been less than stellar. Not unlike New Orleans, our region has been in a state of denial about the severity of poverty in our midst. It is time for bold leadership and programming on this issue without the constant inclination to blame the poor for their status.

Poverty in St. Louis must be addressed openly and honestly before the poor become the destitute and the homeless increase in numbers not seen in decades. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report on poverty in the nation. It should be required reading for all politicians, social workers and policy analysts in St. Louis.

The first step for St. Louis is to admit there is a poverty problem — a big one that requires a bold agenda and action plan.Services to the poor cannot be politicized at a time like this. Stretching for quality in service and accountability for results is the only way to put integrity into our action plan for the poor. Sadly, more will be required of the poor than is required of those major corporations that are standing in line for a "bailout." Maybe the contrast will give us pause to reflect on who and what we value and how we will respond.

My best hope is that a master plan to fight poverty in St. Louis with political and corporate backbone will emerge. My heart tells me that the current system of using money for the poor as political advantage will continue. Let us pray....Cecilia Nadal St. Louis Help is availablefor low visionRegarding "Vision-impaired get tips to run their own households, live" (Nov. 26): The program described is not "the only one of its kind in St. Louis."

St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides a more comprehensive program than the one featured.We serve more than 1,200 individuals annually, with the majority having some vision. In addition to the services featured in the article, we use certified vision rehabilitation therapists and provide:

— A low vision clinic with a physician and certified therapists to assess remaining vision and what aids may be helpful.

— Social work, support groups and family education activities.

— Recreation and leisure activities to address social isolation.

— Certified orientation and mobility specialists to assist individuals in getting around the home and community in a safe manner, including use of public transportation and a white cane, if needed.

— Adaptive technology specialists to work with clients to use computers, access the Internet and communicate via e-mail.Services are available to anyone, regardless of Medicare or insurance and are provided at no charge to the individual.

A physician's referral is not required.Although the story indicated that about 3.5 million people nationally are visually impaired, our estimates are that there are more than 42,000 individuals over the age of 35 in St. Louis alone with low vision. With baby boomers getting older, this number is expected to double in the next 10 years.

This is an important health issue. Comprehensive help is available by calling the Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired at 314-968-9000, or

David C. Ekin St. LouisPresident, St. Louis Society for the Blindand Visually Impaired

Shop serving visually impaired customers gets help

For any retailer, location is a huge factor. But for Lesa Berg Kretschmer of Florida Reading & Vision Center, there is an added challenge, the ease with which her customers could get to her store. That's because her customers are visually impaired or blind.

So Kretschmer moved her shop inside the Lighthouse of Broward, a Fort Lauderdale Is your Fort Lauderdale restaurant clean? - Click Here.-based nonprofit educational and rehabilitation agency that assists visually impaired or blind children and adults. "It was hard to identify our customers," said Kretschmer. "They're not driving by to see us." In the past, many of the agency's clients would go on to Kretschmer's old shop about a mile away – if they were able to arrange a ride.

Now agency clients can take a short walk down a hallway to explore Kretschmer's store for vision aids such as desktop magnifiers, big-button telephones, large print playing cards; talking watches and thermometers, Braille products, canes and games. In addition, customers can buy computer-based technology products like screen reader software, global positioning systems, PDAs and notetakers.

Writing a check, reading ingredients and viewing prescription bottles are difficult for those visually impaired. But John B. Deinhardt of Pompano Beach has maintained some independence with vision-assistance products he's purchased through Kretschmer. He is legally blind and makes his way through his apartment with the help of a cane. He's able to read and write and watch television because of screen magnification enhancements, computer software and lighting.

"I'm grateful for the help of technology," said Deinhardt. "I enjoy Kretschmer and her shop, and I depend on her a lot."Kretschmer and her sales representatives stay in touch with customers by phone or visits in their homes. She follows up on how customers are handling their equipment and keeps them informed about new products.Initially, Kretschmer entered the industry working for a company that made spectacles for low-vision clients.

"But it opened a door, and I became passionate about it," she said. "I have the ability to change peoples lives." When she was ready to start her own business, staying in touch with clients, manufacturers and distributors paid off. She sent out postcards announcing her business to friends, family and "everyone I could think of," said Kretschmer.

In the first year sales were more than $300,000. The second and third year sales doubled and now hover at $1.5 million. Kretschmer's business has grown through her participation in health fairs, referrals and testimonials. Five sales representatives work throughout Florida. A keen understanding of trends helps Kretschmer keep pace with the industry, she said. There is more competition than when she started.

There is new research and development and market growth in Braille and speech synthesis.Even though Kretschmer has found an easier path to her customers, she also looks for new business through networking, chamber events, community involvement and customer service."I love that she relocated in the Lighthouse," said Larry Llerena. He has retinal pigmatosis, or RP, and has lost his peripheral and night vision.

His condition is affected by lighting so he relies on a specialty lightbulb. "Kretschmer's value is immense," Llerena said. "The store has great stuff for people." Though Llerena lives in Coral Springs, the shop is easier than ever for him to get to — he's a volunteer at the Lighthouse.

Cindy Kent can be reached at or 954-356-4662.

Skating fun for visually impaired children

BLIND children in Huddersfield enjoyed a winter treat at the weekend as they wrapped up warmly and took to the ice.

Kirklees Council opened up the temporary ice rink at the Piazza for the Huddersfield Actionnaires on Saturday morning.

About 20 children, who are either blind or visually impaired, donned their ice skates and took to the ice rink for an 80-minute session, specially them.

They were accompanied by staff at Huddersfield Actionnaires and volunteers from Greenhead College to help them move around the rink.

Huddersfield Actionnaires is run by the national charity, Action for Blind People, and are a multi sports club for blind and partially sighted children and young people.

Lesley Inganni, deputy sports manager for Action for Blind People, said: “We are extremely grateful to the council for making this possible for us.

“Without the council giving us sole use of the ice rink it would not have been possible for all the club to go ice skating in a public session.

“They have done this for several years now and it is something the children always enjoy and look forward to every year.”

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Louis Braille is now 200 years old!

Scott Davert is like a lot of other students at Western Michigan University -- he can't live without his PDA.

He uses his to download books, to listen to MP3s, to check his e-mail and even as a global positioning system.

But unlike most of other students, Davert was born blind.

Who was Louis Braille?

Born: Jan. 4, 1809.

Grew up: In Coupvray, France, near Paris.

Became blind: At the age of 3, Braille became blind after a sharp tool in his father's workshop injured his eye. An infection spread and blinded Braille in both eyes.

His system: Braille started developing the reading and writing system named after him at the age of 12. He was attending a school for the blind in Paris when a visiting soldier told the students about an invention called "night writing." Braille improved the system and published his first book in 1829.

How it works

Braille uses a system of raised dots to represent letters and punctuation marks. The foundational character, or cell, is six dots arranged in two rows of three.

He was among about a dozen volunteers who helped host a celebration Thursday for Louis Braille's 200th birthday inside WMU's College of Health and Human Services. The party was to celebrate Braille's contributions for the blind and to give the public an opportunity to learn more about the reading system for the visually impaired.

About 50 people shuffled through 16 different activity stations, each about Braille.

There was a Braille twister game, Braille riddles, even Braille cake and cookies.

Davert headed a table about Braille technology. His PDA, called Braillenote, resembles a typewriter with only nine elongated keys. Across the bottom, it has a strip of what look like piano keys, each with tiny holes that allow pegs to rise and fall, spelling out the letters of the Braille alphabet.

"It's helpful. I can keep up appointments, write papers for class and take notes," said Davert, a graduate student studying to become a teacher for the blind or those with low vision and to do rehabilitation counseling.

Davert's Braillenote model cost $55,000. Fortunately for him, since he is attending college, he was provided with one by the Michigan Commission for the Blind.

Jonathon Grueke Kalamazoo GazetteWestern Michigan University student Tieu Kohler, center, helps WMU student Moriam Abiolu, left, read braille from a children's book during Thursday's 200th anniversary celebration of Louis Braille's birthday at Western Michigan University's College of Health and Human Services building. Both students are in a braille reading class at Western Michigan University, "She's my braille buddy," said Abiolu of Kohler, "She checks my homework and make sure I'm doing things right."

Lucy Edmonds, a former WMU student who now lives in Lansing, said blind and visually impaired students didn't have half the technology they do now when she went to school.

"When I was a student, most of our books were on tape," said Edmonds, a 1978 Western graduate. "If not, we would have to pay people to read to us. I had to take a cassette recorder to lectures."

Jonathon Grueke Kalamazoo GazetteWestern Michigan University graduate student Esteban Zuniga, 24, right, helps Andre Perry find the right space while playing a game of Braille twister during Thursday's 200th anniversary celebration of Louis Braille's birthday at Western Michigan University's College of Health and Human Services. Zuniga, double majoring in orientation mobility and vision rehabilitation therapy, explained the game was divided into four cells with a rope underneath and each dot represented a number instead of color.

The Kalamazoo native recalled attending Michigan's School for the Blind with Stevie Wonder. "He would give me autographed pictures to give to my friends. He was really nice," she said of the blind music legend.

Edmonds, a Braille speed reader, read the latest book in the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," during Thursday's party. She emphasized the importance of Braille.

"It's something I'm real passionate about. People think that with computer and technology that Braille will just go by the wayside, but that's not true," she said.

Betty Lujan-Roberts, of the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center, agreed.
"So many people say technology is so big and bad and that maybe Braille isn't needed anymore, but that's not right," she said. "Louis Braille gave me that gift to use my own abilities without that equipment."

Jonathon Grueke Kalamazoo GazetteA cake for the 200th birthday of the creator of Braille is served at a party Thursday at Western Michigan University.

Lujan-Roberts returned in October from a visit to Coupvray, France, to visit Braille's grave site.
"It was sort of like treading on holy ground," she said. "He gave those of us who are blind so much, the gift of reading, writing and spelling."

Sources: American Foundation for the Blind, National Braille Association, Braille Institute.

Contact Linda Munnelly at or 388-8575.

A young man's success tells a story of courage as he is also visually impaired

25-year-old Vatsal Shah has been invited by many schools and other organisations in the city to hold motivational talks for people.

It takes courage to face the odds of life, and it takes dauntless determination to work around setbacks and help others to benefit from the same.

On International Volunteer Day on Friday, Newsline met some volunteers in Vadodara who have made it their mission to bring about a change, albeit ‘silently’.

When struggle and downfall pull one down, Vatsal Shah (25) lends a helping hand.

His only way of motivating is giving his own example. A brilliant student, an ace swimmer, a national skating champion, an MBA degree holder — he is all this and more, despite being visually impaired.

In his years of darkness, his confidence to face life along with its downfall has been a source of inspiration for many. He was invited by the Baroda Management Association (BMA) to inspire the young management students to fight the challenges of life.

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going, that is what I told them, and that is exactly what I have faced in my life as well,” said Shah.

When, even the simplest of pressures in life put normal people off-track, Shah, with his determination and positive attitude towards life, sets an example for all.

“People generally ask about his blindness with a tinge of curiosity and pity. But once they listen to his struggle, they are left completely spellbound. With his friendly nature, he gets into a conversation with just anyone,” says his mother Sheela Shah.

He was invited by many schools and other organisations in the city to hold motivational talks for people. According to his parents, he tries to extend help in all possible ways. While learning advanced use of computer application for the visually impaired at the Blind People's Association, Ahmedabad, he came across others in his batch, who did not know what to do in life because of their lack of competence in English.

“While they felt that computer will help them earn a living, they lacked confidence because they felt the world doesn't appreciate people who do not know English,” says his mother.

Just half a week into the new course, Shah has a tough schedule now. He learns Braille and computer software during the day and then teaches English to his batch mates at night. “I started off with grammar and tense. They seem to enjoy it thoroughly,” says Shah.

New program to help the visually impaired and people affected by Dyslexia

To pick up a book and read is an activity that many of us take for granted.But for the approximate two million who are blind or suffer from dyslexia, it's a privilege that is not easily available nor accessible.

For the past 60 years, the RFB&D (Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) has been providing an audio textbook library to the visually-impaired, and members from the Brush, Fort Morgan and Sterling Lions Clubs recently learned more of the program from Ed Sardella, former KUSA 9News anchor turned volunteer/spokesperson for the program.

Now a media trainer and journalism instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Sardella spoke to the clubs recently on the program that began in 1948 on the top floor of the New York Public Library.

Founded in 1948 by Anne T. Macdonald, RFB&D began as a program for blinded World War 2 veterans, but has expanded to include members of all ages who cannot effectively read standard print because of a visual impairment, learning or other physical disability.

''RFB&D's digitally recorded audio textbooks on CD and downloadable audio textbooks help students challenged by the printed page," literature explains.

To date, RFB&D's audiobook library contains nearly 38,000 digital titles in every subject area and grade level, and serves 185,000 plus members through the "Learning Through Listening Program".
In its collection are textbooks in core and elective subject areas from every major K-12 publisher including Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, Science and foreign languages of French, Spanish, German and Latin.

Additionally, the audiobook library contains fiction, nonfiction, special interest books, biographies, thematic collections, test preparation, Accelerated Reader, high interest/low vocabulary, nonfiction and resources, popular fiction and award winning books, hobbies, recreation, personal growth, and technology.

Sardella, who began as a volunteer reader and now travels the state touting the project, explained the goal of the program is "to assist making you learn better, learn easier, feel more confident and become more dependent on yourself."

Recordings were originally produced using synthesized voices, he explained, but it was soon realized that those using the program preferred the sound of human voices.

Those utilizing the program now use specialized CD players called "Smart Players" and/or software, as well as MP3 players to read, with the recording of titles exclusively performed now in a digital format for CDs.

According to information from the program's literature, a Smart Player can hold 14 books, with MP3 and two gigabyte Ipods containing four average-sized textbooks.

''The Learning through Listening program is bringing measurable results to classrooms across the nation," the internet site explained with more than 185,000 people nationwide listening to more than 502,000 audiobooks in 2007.

Of those, approximately 17,000 Colorado residents currently are served by RFB&D.

From those participating in RFB&D, two monetary awards programs have been made possible. Each year, the Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards program rewards six high school seniors with learning disabilities in recognition of extraordinary leadership, scholarship, enterprise and service to others.

Offered since 1991, a selection committee presents $6,000 to the top three students, with $2,000 awarded to three named as Special Honors.

Since 1959, the Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Award, has recognized college seniors and the blind or visually impaired in recognition of extraordinary leadership, scholarship, enterprise and service. Again chosen by a selection committee, three individuals receive $6,000. Three others are designated as Special Honors and receive $3,000, with three honors winners presented with $1,000 each.

Because it is a private, non-profit organization, RFB&D relies on donations, federal and state funding, product sales and membership fees to support its mission -- one that is provided strictly by a volunteer force, Sardella stated, adding there are 425 volunteers in the Denver studio who work as pairs in three hour shifts, four days a week.

As a whole, there are more than 7,000 volunteers in 29 recording studios across the United States, who record more than 5,000 new books each year, representing 400,000 hours of donated time.
Recording and reading is not the only way to serve as a volunteer, the speaker stated, explaining the organization accepts cash donations, is in need of people to help identify clients, as well as provide information to the school. Another way to help, he added, is to adopt a student deemed in need of the program and referred by a professional.

Members of RFB&D include libraries, schools and universities serving students with print disabilities.

As a member, benefits include free web-based teaching training, research summaries and classroom support materials online, 24/7 online access that allows the member to order books, equipment and accessories, along with personal support through one of the many nationwide locations.

Currently, two types of memberships -- student individual and personal individual -- are available, however, institutional memberships offer three levels of sponsorship.

Although national headquarters is housed in Princeton, New Jersey, a satellite office is located in Colorado Springs, with the possibility of another office to open in Fort Collins.

Currently, the local national location, Rocky Mountain Unit, is in Denver.

For more information, contact 303-757-0787 or go to the RFB&D website at website

To see more of Brush News-Tribune or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Talking ATMs for the visually impaired

TCF Bank launched a major initiative today to install hundreds of talking ATMs to aid vision-impaired customers nationwide in the next nine months. These speaking ATMs, which deliver audio information privately through any standard personal headset, make it possible for persons who are blind or who otherwise have difficulty reading an ATM screen to use the ATM independently.

The bank is working with the American Council of the Blind, and Equip for Equality to achieve its goal. The effort also includes TCF will enhanced current programs for communicating with customers with visual impairments. The financial institution will provide monthly bank statements for consumer accounts in Braille and large print, and will adopt a policy for ensuring effective communication of other banking documents.

“At TCF, our goal is to build trusting relationships with our customers and communities offering a suite of convenient products and services,” said Jason Korstange, Director of Corporate Communications. “As a Leader in Convenience Banking, we believe providing services such as Talking ATMs is an important step toward meeting the needs of customers with visual impairments.”

Visually impaired students ask for special schools

The world for them is dark but they illuminated the evening on Wednesday by lighting candles with a hope that those having normal sight will help them in mitigating their sufferings. “Allah, give us the strength to fight the injustice…” prayed Zakim Manzoor and Saima Hassan as they lit the candles.

Both Zakim and Saima, are eight-years-old and are visually impaired and the group including other handicapped students had lit the candles outside the Press Enclave here on Wednesday seeking justice on the World Disability Day. The students were concerned about their future as according to them government has done little so far for the disabled people.

“From 1998 to 2008 only 60 handicapped educated students have been absorbed in different sectors,” said Tariq Ahmad. Tariq, a visually impaired but a determined student is pursuing M Phill in history from Kashmir University. Tariq said it is very difficult for visually impaired students to pursue higher studies if the authorities have not provided the required facilities. “I know how difficult it is since I have passed through all this,” Tariq added.

The students were demanding setting up of special schools for the disabled students in every district. “Why is it taking so long for the government to introduce Braille education system in the Valley so as to encourage visually impaired students to pursue higher studies,” said another student, Shaleel Ahmad. He said the 2001 census had shown that there were three lakh disabled people in the Valley.

And out of this number 1, 80000 people are visually impaired. The number would have definitely swelled up for past six years. But government is doing nothing for us. We also want higher education and jobs. We don’t want to become burden on our families but government has failed to do anything so far except paper work,” Shaleel said. And for a hope to get jobs, the students were seeking implementation of the Disability Act 1998.

“The act gives three percent of reservation to the disabled persons in the government sector but government is not implementing it,” said Ajmal, studying in 8th class. Ajmal is handicapped by his left leg. Another issue worrying the students was issuance of fake disability certificates to people. “Rich and influential people are eating into our share now by getting the fake certificates issued against their names. Nobody is listening to us,” said Ajmal.

Special phone designed for the visually impaired

Touchscreen phones have been a thing that the visually impaired have been forced to live without for so long. Bruno Fosi has set out to change that for everyone with his new concept Silicon Touch iPhone case. This case is designed not to take away any of the iPhone’s basic functionality.

This Silicon Touch iPhone case works in tandem with and iPhone application to help the visually impaired feel the icons and what it is they are typing. One thing that we would never have even imagined in such a product is the multi-touch and gestures actually working with this accessory. We are told that multi-touch features will not be compromised.

There are also many nice features like text to speech and moon type tactile feedback. We hope that there will be high enough demand for this product to see it come to market. It looks like only time will tell.