Saturday, January 31, 2009

High School graduate was appointed to be member of the board of school for the blind

A 1980 Cooper High School graduate is among three people appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the Governing Board of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Bobby Druesedow, of Aldeo, will serve on the board until at least January 2013.

Druesedow, who is blind, works as the employment assistance specialist for the Division for Blind Services at the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, and is a member of the Texas Rehab Action Network. He also has taught at TSBVI as a certified teacher for the visually impaired.

In his new role, Druesedow, along with 10 other board members, will help oversee TSBVI services such as budget preparation, policy adoption and the appointment of the superintendent.

Located in Austin, TSBVI is a public school that helps visually impaired students ages 6 through 21 gain specialized education and participate in extracurricular activities.

Perry also appointed Michael E. Garrett, of Missouri City, and Cindy Phillips Finley, of Lubbock, to serve on the TSBVI board.

Druesedow was born in Haskell and grew up in Abilene, where he played football at Austin Elementary School, rode bulls at Austin Junior High School and marched in the Cooper High School band before graduating in 1980. He later received a bachelor's degree from Texas Tech University.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New school for the visually impaired is being built in Texas

Members of the Austin community alongside local dignitaries will join the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired students, staff and board of directors for a groundbreaking ceremony commemorating the three phases of construction on Friday, January 23 at 12:30 pm behind the Main Instructional Building.

The first phase of the construction began in 2007 when an elementary residential complex consisting of three student duplexes, playroom and residential office; a residential dormitory; and a four-unit student apartment were built. This phase was completed in 2008. Currently, Phase II includes the Main Instructional and Public Square Buildings.

Construction of five new buildings includes a two-story main instructional building, a natatorium, student activity center, kitchen and dining facility, and fine arts auditorium began this past December.

Construction on this more than 118,360-square-foot-project will continue while classes are in session and is expected to be finished by June 2010. The project team includes owner, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, project manager, Texas Facilities Commission general contractor, Walton Construction Company, LLC and architect, Halff Associates Inc.“The groundbreaking ceremony marks a historic day for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired,” said Superintendent William Daugherty. “We are celebrating the construction of a facility to advance the education of Texas students who are blind and visually impaired, and create a campus suited for the 21st century and beyond.”

A third phase was awarded on Wednesday, January 21. This phase consists of the construction of seven new residential facilities. All buildings will be environmentally efficient and conform to the Americans With Disabilities Act standards. The project team selected includes Walton Construction and architect, Graeber, Simmons & Cowan.

Graeber, Simmons & Cowan also are working on several new building designs. Those include a new outreach and conference center, a new career education building, a new staff and IT office building, and a new elementary school building.

Superintendent Daugherty will be the keynote speaker at the ceremony. A reception will follow in the school’s cafeteria.

Funds for the campus improvement were originally authorized in the November 2001 general election. Texas voters approved the Proposition 8 amendment, which authorized $850 million in general obligation bond authority.

Walton Construction Company, LLC, which maintains full-service offices in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Mo., Dallas, and New Orleans is ranked among the top contractors in the United States by Engineering News Record. Established in 1985, Walton Construction has grown steadily to become a leader in pre-construction, general contracting, design-build and construction management services.

Visually impaired was snowbound!

The snow may be melting, but it's still piled up in some areas. All the snow is causing problems for a visually impaired Calgary woman who relies on her seeing-eye dog.

Diane Allard hasn't been able to leave her house by herself for a month because the snow piled on the curb confuses her dog Bracken.

"The problem is the dog is trained to stop at every curb and that's when I have to safely cross the street and right now she cannot even see the curb because all the curbs are covered with snow or ice."

Allard says Bracken gets confused when she can't see the curb and the dog doesn't know where to guide her. To make matters worse, Bracken is a young dog and joined the family two months ago. Allard hasn't been able to keep up the dog's training.

"I'm worried she might possibly forget, she might not work as well, she's no longer with a professional trainer, she's with me so it's a scary thought."

Allard says she has phoned 311, but it wasn't helpful.

"I asked them if they can clear the street which would clean off the curb and they said no, not our job."

Allard says the City of Calgary has been unsympathetic to her situation basically telling her she has to wait until the snow melts. Some melting has taken place, but there's a long way to go.

Ric McIvor is the alderman for the area. He's sympathetic to Allard's situation.

"The problem is when you start with special treatment, and I'm not saying special treatment isn't warranted, it probably is, but then where do you draw the line?"

A spokesperson for the Roads Department told CTV News that crews are now able to target trouble spots and that someone will be looking into the situation.

Allard hopes that means she'll be able to walk safely in her own neighborhood soon.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Voice Terminal Service offers upgrades to the visually impaired

Audiopoint has recently introduced an upgrade to its Voice Terminal Service (VTS) that speaks directly to the visually impaired community, voice enables Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Calendar (users can listen to their daily agenda as well as add calendar entries) and offers entry level service plans making the service affordable to all.

Voice Terminal Service (VTS), a platform based application service, is the perfect mobile tool for anyone who wants to access the Internet, email and customized web information while on the go. This upgrade is especially pertinent to those with low vision or no vision by providing them first time access to their personal data without the need for expensive, specialized equipment or hardware such as screen readers. With simple voice commands, VTS is accessed via any telephone - landline, cellular or today’s smart phone. VTS improves the online user experience of the visually impaired and liberates them so that they can reach greater independence and mobility.

VTS 1.5 improves usability with new call flow prompts, an updated voice user interface, and an easier login process. Users can now access their address book over the phone and the “Enhanced Notifier” feature allows users to broadcast messages by group, individual contact, or access a phone number that is not in their address book that is sent via email or alert.

VTS is available as a monthly or annual subscription for $1.99 a month for 125 minutes of service, $4.95 a month for 250 minutes, and $12.95 for 1000 minutes. Annual plans and site licenses are also available ranging from $199 to $499. Audiopoint is offering VTS free to all visually impaired U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… More information is available from the dedicated website.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The vision of an educator helped the visually impaired

Reading letters of support from his friends, colleagues and former pupils that helped earn him a New Year honour was an emotional experience for Thomas Rogerson.

"It took my breath away. They said so many nice things about me, I had no idea they felt that way.
"It was pretty humbling to see their submissions."

The former teacher and principal was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the visually impaired.

Mr Rogerson, of Mt Albert, says he owes much of his success to his wife Ann, who passed away in 2000.

"I’m convinced in my own mind if it hadn’t been for Ann and the people I worked with, I would have probably been a pretty ordinary sort of joker."

Mr Rogerson has been working with the vision impaired for around 40 years and was nominated for the honour by his daughters Edwina and Christina.

Already a qualified primary school teacher, he came to the career by accident when a friend who was acting deputy principal at the Parnell School for the Blind left the post and suggested Mr Rogerson take it up.

"I said: ‘I don’t know anything about teaching blind children’. He said: ‘You’ll learn’."

With the help and guidance of some blind adults, Mr Rogerson learned to read braille by sight and was able to get valuable advice on teaching the children.

He worked for the New Zealand Foundation of the Blind for 25 years until 1987 and also became principal of the former Homai College for the Blind in Manurewa, now known as the Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ.

While at the school, he founded the Deaf Blind Children’s Unit to help children affected by an outbreak of rubella in the early 1960s.

He travelled to the United States to learn techniques for teaching the deaf-blind students. He also helped set up a course for teachers of the visually handicapped at Epsom Teachers College and was co-founder of the Blind Sailing School in conjunction with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

In 1986, Mr Rogerson co-founded the Deaf-Blind Society of New Zealand.

He is a life member of the International Council for the Education of Visually Impaired Persons and served as the president of the Pacific region.

The South Pacific Educators of Visually Impaired Persons also made him a life member and he currently belongs to the Mt Albert Rotary Club, which awarded him the Paul Harris Fellowship in 2005.

Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind board chairman Don McKenzie says Mr Rogerson was an innovative teacher.

"He was the first person to travel to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston and brought back a lot of unique communication techniques that enabled deaf-blind children to gain an education.
"It was a real leap forward for the education of deaf-blind students in New Zealand."

He says Mr Rogerson introduced more sport and music into the curriculum and had students pull apart old machinery and put it back together so they could learn how to use tools.

A teacher who worked under Mr Rogerson at Homai College and later became the school’s principal was also honoured.

Gwen Nagel was made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for services to special education.

"He passed the baton on to some very good people," says Mr McKenzie.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A service dog can change the life of a visually impaired person

For a visually impaired person, everyday activities like crossing the street or locating an elevator in a building -- second nature to those of us blessed with vision -- pose a challenge. Yet for Patty Zallar, 43, her guide dog, Carlee, became her additional set of eyes and made much of her daily routine easier.

"I love her. It's a special bond between her and I," Patty said. "I don't know what I'd do without her."Carlee follows Patty almost everywhere -- to work daily, to church, to dinner at restaurants. Patty only leaves Carlee behind when she attends concerts, fearing that loud noise would damage her dog's sensitive ears.

Legally blind, Patty has no vision in her left eye and limited tunnel vision in her right eye, a permanent condition she describes as "looking through the thickness of a hollowed-out pencil or pen." Tunnel vision means she lacks peripheral vision, and needs to look directly at something in order to see it. Her vision continues to deteriorate.

"When I go to the eye doctor I can't even see the eye chart hardly anymore," she said.Guide dogs such as Carlee are trained to recognize and locate places like elevators, stairs, store counters, escalators and curbs. According to Patty, Carlee can be patterned to remember new locations if continually brought there.If Carlee is brought to a familiar area like Patty's office and not given any instructions, she will automatically lead Patty to her office room.

However, visually impaired owners cannot simply state a destination and expect their guide dogs to get them there ­-- they have to direct their dogs in the general direction they want to go. "Just because you have a seeing-eye dog, you can't totally depend on them. You still need orientation and mobility to get around," Patty said. "I have to have some idea of where an elevator or escalator is, and she'll find it for me."

Patty controls Carlee by means of a leash and a handle attached to the brown harness on Carlee's body, and directs her to move via commands like "left," "right," "straight" and "forward."Through the handle, Patty can detect subtle hints from Carlee through the harness handle -- the dog will slow down or stop if the way ahead is blocked.When confronted by obstacles like tables, pillars or walls, Carlee will avoid or weave around the obstruction to prevent Patty from getting hurt.

She is also trained to cross roads only when there are no moving vehicles nearby -- she will not move unless she senses no danger.Vision problemsBorn in Wausau, Patty's vision problems began at the age of 5, when her eye doctor diagnosed her with chronic uveitis -- an inflammation of the eyes. She underwent nine surgeries between age 13 and 18 to remove cataracts and calcium deposits and treat glaucoma.

In middle school, Patty still had adequate vision to take a sewing class, where she made a pocket organizer and a denim skirt with the aid of a magnifying glass. At 16, she received her temporary driver's license and drove around under the supervision of her father, Henry Gazda. She decided to stop driving when her vision worsened.

After graduating from high school in 1983, Patty enrolled for a degree in data-processing at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, which offers a program for visually impaired students. Patty learned orientation and mobility skills there and began to use a white cane to help her avoid obstacles. She began working at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue in 1990, where she is project leader in the Technology Services division.

She usually commutes using the paratransit service provided by Metro Transit, which picks her up from home and takes her directly to her destination.Navigating her office with a cane proved challenging."Even if you're using a cane, you can still run into things and hit things," Patty said. "A cane is an obstacle finder, so that's what you're doing -- you're obviously trying to avoid obstacles. When my cane hits something I've got to figure out what it is and how do I get around it.""Patty depended very much on the people keeping her informed of changes in the room layout," said Sandy Hunter, 52, Patty's close friend and former colleague.

"When we changed the floor plan, one hallway would be closed up and another would open up elsewhere. She found it difficult to integrate those changes."Patty found herself having to re-orientate herself to the new layout by recounting steps and reorganizing her mental map of the area. She said she felt like "a mouse in a maze."Using a cane also brought an unwanted stigma along with it. Patty often encountered parents who would tell their children to stay away from or get out of her way."

A lot of people don't know how to deal with someone that has a kind of disability," Patty said. "It's true that I can't see you unless I can hear you coming, but if they don't tell their kid anything else, what are they teaching their child? Avoid them. What I have is not contagious."All that changed with Carlee in tow. Unlike before, people would now open doors for Patty though she could find a door far better than with a cane. Strangers approached her more often.

"Carlee's an icebreaker," Patty said. "She has more clout than me, and that's OK." She affectionately nicknamed her dog "Carlee Starlee" because more people wanted to talk to the dog than to her. Addition to the familyPatty has been married for 12 years to Steve Zallar, 58, a maintenance mechanic. The couple have a 10-year-old son, Andrew.

In 2006, Patty decided to pursue getting a guide dog, a prospect she had mulled for several years. She applied to Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester, Mich. because she was a member of the Wisconsin Lions, a charitable foundation that supported Leader Dog.

Applicants to Leader Dog must be at least 16 years old, legally blind, have good mental and physical health, demonstrate independent travel skills, and successfully complete a basic course in orientation and mobility. Guide dogs and training are provided free of charge to successful applicants. In Madison, the Wisconsin Academy of Graduate Service Dogs offers service dogs for people with mobility impairments.

Unlike guide dogs, which help the visually impaired, service dogs learn more commands and can perform a larger variety of tasks like operating light switches. Leader Dog accepted Patty's application, and she traveled to Michigan to begin her training in August 2006."I thought it was wonderful that Patty was going to get a seeing eye dog," Steve said. "I told her to go for it."At Leader Dog, Patty was paired with Carlee, a sprightly female yellow Labrador.

She learned commands and hand signals to use with Carlee during her training there, as well as how to groom and care for her. "When I went there, I made up my mind that no matter what, I have to trust this dog," Patty said. "I'm not going to use my vision to get around, I'm going to trust her.""The bond between a guide dog and its owner is very strong," said Betsy Gruba of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind, who also owns a guide dog.

"It takes a while to form, but once formed it can't be broken."As part of their nearly month-long training, the pair learned to navigate residential and commercial areas, cross streets and intersections, as well as do country and night traveling.The school provided Patty with an identification card after her graduation in September to certify Carlee as her guide dog. Wisconsin law guarantees a blind person the legal right to be accompanied by a specially trained dog guide in harness in all public accommodations -- this means that she cannot be refused entry into places like hotels, shops or restaurants because of her dog.

Back home, Steve and Andy had begun nesting for the new arrival. "It was the same thing like getting a child," Steve said. "We got the room rearranged, and put a crib in." They also got Carlee a dog bone pillow and a quilt blanket. Today, Carlee sleeps in the living room at night -- the only time the pair are apart. She follows Patty everywhere at home, even when her harness is off. She sits in the back seat of the family truck when they drive out.Changed life"It's not that I do different things than I did before," Patty said.

"I'm still relying on my orientation but it's easier to get places. We're like a duo or a team, she's enhanced my mobility and security about getting around."Potential obstacles like open cabinet doors and large trash cans in the workplace no longer pose a concern, as Carlee simply leads Patty around those obstacles. "Carlee's kind of replaced the courteous person that leads Patty around," Hunter said. "The physical danger of getting around has gone away."Steve said that Carlee has given his wife "complete mobility,'' as the dog can sense what is coming or where things are, unlike when she used a cane.

"Patty was a fast walker even when she had the cane, but she's even faster now," Hunter said. "She's so much freer now, and it's amazing how confident she is." Having Carlee also enabled Patty to do something she hadn't done in decades since her eyesight began to deteriorate -- jog. "When I go walking with her, we'll run or jog a couple of blocks. I'll never be a marathon runner, but that's one thing I haven't done since high school is jog," she said.

For Patty, grooming and caring for Carlee is her way of giving back what she has received in return."To me, it's a wonderful trade-off," Patty said. "She takes care of me and I take care of her. I don't know what I would do without Carlee at my left side. We have become inseparable."From the day she entered the Zallar household, the Zallars have unanimously embraced her as one of their own. Carlee became a playmate for Andy, the only child in the family.

"Steve's the daddy, Patty's the mommy, Andy's the older brother, and Carlee's the little sister. I consider her my four-legged daughter," Patty said. "I take care of her just like I take care of my son. I wouldn't give her up for anything in the world."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Finding the perfect match between a visually impaired man and his guide dog

In the past, Chris McNamee had trouble navigating through airports to visit his adult children living in three major U.S. cities: Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.

But that was before meeting his dog, Max, at Southeastern Guide Dogs more than two years ago.
McNamee, who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that slowly eliminates peripheral, low light and night-light vision, has benefited from having Max help him maneuver through grocery stores, airports and other everyday places.

“My world has been completely changed in terms of my confidence and safety and ability to independently navigate,” the Anna Maria resident said.

The Southeastern Guide Dogs, an organization that works to create a partnership between visually impaired individual and a guide dog, has received a $5,000 grant from the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation that will help provide a visually impaired Lakewood Ranch resident with a guide dog and training.

“We would love to have students from everywhere, but a student specifically from Lakewood Ranch would be supported by this grant,” said Patsy French, director of development and communication for the organization.

“We appreciate their investment in their community. This is a community investment in someone with a disability.”

Anyone who is legally blind and older than 18 qualifies for a guide dog, she said. The cost is free for the dog, residential training and lifetime follow up services for the person with the need.

About 11 classes, which last 26 days, are held throughout the year. Students in the classes range from age 19 to 81, she said. The next class is scheduled to start Jan. 5.

Mary Ellen Motyl, Lakewood Ranch Community Fund program coordinator, said the grant for the Southeastern Guide Dogs is one of 21 grants totaling $101,743 that were distributed to various nonprofit organizations.

About 53 grants worth a total of $318,000 were requested during the application process this year. Among some of the organizations to receive funding was the Center for Autism and Resource & Education, Stillpoint House of Prayer shoe program and the YMCA at Lakewood Ranch.

A grants committee reviews all the applications and determines how much funding can be given to different needs in the community, she said.

“There are all sorts of different organizations out there. The committee just felt that this was something that might be overlooked if we weren’t able to support them,” she said.

Southeastern Guide Dogs has changed the quality of life for McNamee, who recommends the organization to anyone who needs help with navigation. McNamee also found that the organization was willing to help and had a good attitude toward the students.

“These people have a servant’s heart,” he said. “It’s not a job to them. It’s a mission. Everybody there is working to enrich other people’s lives.”

Jessica Klipa, Herald staff reporter, can be reached at 708-7906.