Saturday, September 19, 2009

Perkins School and the visually impaired

The Perkins School for the Blind board of trustees voted Thursday to proceed with a $30 million renovate its 100-year old Lower School facility, including building a new schoolhouse. The project is intended to prepare Perkins students for the future and the new school is expected to give those young children a solid educational foundation.

Shawmut Design and Construction will be the construction manager for the project and Miller Dyer Spears is the architect.

Today, approximately 60 percent of all children who are blind have additional physical or cognitive challenges, according to Perkins Many use wheelchairs or walk with supports. Some need complex medical devices to manage their days. Most benefit from adaptive technology. The population of students with multiple disabilities is expected to grow in coming years, requiring more adaptable, accessible facilities. While the number of students at Perkins is not expected to increase, their needs will be greater

Perkins School for the Blind, the nation’s first school for the visually impaired, provides education and services to help build productive lives for more than 94,000 children and adults who are blind, deaf and blind or visually impaired with or without other disabilities in the U.S. and more than 63 countries worldwide.

New system for the visually impaired

The artificial intelligence group at Freie Universität Berlin, under the direction of the computer science professor Raúl Rojas, has developed a new type of information system for blind and visually impaired individuals. Field trials are being carried out to optimize the device for future users. During the next six months it will be tested by 25 persons. The artificial intelligence group at Freie Universität is collaborating with a research group at the Telekom Laboratories headed by Dr. Pablo Vidales and the Berlin Association for the Education of the Blind and Visually Impaired e.V. The joint project is called InformA. After completion of the field trials, it will receive funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research through its EXIST seed funding program for university-based business start-ups. In addition, IBM Germany is providing funding for further development of the device at Freie Universität.

"InformA" is a small computer that is connected wirelessly to the Internet. The device is operated like a radio. The user can choose between different information channels. By pressing a button, the time or the weather will be announced, but there are also current newspapers available as audio files (currently Tagesspiegel and taz).

In addition, e-mails can be read aloud by the device. The user can answer e-mails by dictating a message. An integrated camera makes it possible to have printed documents such as letters or package information leaflets read aloud fully automatically. In more complicated cases - such as a statement of account for a heating bill - the user of the device can take a photo of the document and send it to a call center. Persons doing community service instead of military service who work for the Berlin Association for the Education of the Blind and Visually Impaired e.V. then provide further assistance. "Through the wealth of information provided by InformA, the device can also be of interest for older people without previous experience with computers, who until now have not had access to information offered through the Internet," according to the project leader, Raúl Rojas.

Twenty-five individuals have already volunteered for the field trials. In a second phase, another 25 will be added. In order to optimize the device, the participants will be interviewed during the course of the trials, about how they cope with the device. There is no charge for participating in the field trials.

Dr. Armgard von Reden, who is the director of governmental programs at IBM and who signed the cooperation agreement between Freie Universität and IBM, stated, "The integration of persons with disabilities has a long history at IBM. That applies to our products, where we are constantly working to provide barrier-free access to the information society. But it also applies to the nearly century-old tradition of employing people with disabilities at IBM."

InformA is an example of an information appliance. Even in the age of the Internet, it is not always necessary to use a fully equipped computer for online communications. Specialized equipment, such as internet radios, can cover specific needs, if the equipment is small, portable, and easy to use.

German Telecom is providing 50 DSL lines and just as many InformA information devices for the participants in the field trials. After the field trials IBM Germany will be supporting the project at Freie Universität Berlin as part of its diversity program. IBM will provide funding for student asistants and computers.

The visually impaired now benefit from the use of audio books

If you want to talk about technology creating a feel good humanitarian story, then look no further than audio books for the blind.

Our society has always been visual and is becoming increasingly so: from newspapers and books to computer screens, blind people have faced the struggle of accessing information that is readily available to most other people. The ability to read a book or newspaper is taken for granted by many of us, but it is a pleasure that is often denied the blind.

Additionally, using a computer and the internet to obtain information is much more difficult for visually impaired people. While it’s true that Braille is one method for visually impaired people to enjoy the written word and gain knowledge, conventional feel-reading can be expensive and, therefore, not very helpful to many blind people.

Finally, though, a technological advance for blind and visually impaired people was developed. Audio books for blind people allow many more people to easily obtain information, hear stories, and stay current with the world’s news.

For the first time, visually impaired people could go online and download their choice of books. The mass production of audio books for the blind, the opportunity came to learn in a way that had never been available before. In addition, the audio books were inexpensive or even free, making them accessible to most blind people.

Technology really can help improve and enhance people’s lives: in the case of audio books, it has helped blind and visually impaired individuals obtain knowledge in a way that they couldn’t just five or ten years previous.

The scope of audio books for the blind is unlimited, giving visually impaired people the ability to enjoy subjects like art, music, drama, history, economics, geography, literature, and more. This would have been unimaginable - or at least a dream - even a few years ago.

Great advances that have been made in blind education through audio books in the core areas of reading, writing, mathematics and science, and as a result, blind people are able to easily access educational audio books.

Audio books for the blind can also be obtained simply for the pleasure of reading a story. There are thousands of books available in audio formats that can be easily accessed for enjoyment by visually impaired people, and this includes popular and contemporary authors, fiction books of all genres, and non-fiction works as well.

With all the technological advancements being made, it is easy to forget the people that are an integral part of the equation. Audio books for the blind are an example of technology at its best and most helpful.

Acquire immediate access to download audio books. Review the finance audio books. Get your free credit report and regain control of your financial situation.

Visually impaired Judo contestant heads to US Competition

A Billings man who cannot see will compete in the U.S. Open Judo competition in California later this month.

Robert Deese, 47, lost his vision to congenital glaucoma, an inherited condition that has affected him since birth.

Deese took up judo about 10 years ago. The martial art pits competitors, called judokas, against each other on a mat.

It requires strength, balance, self-confidence and self-discipline.

"Out of all the sports, judo is one where you don't need sight," Deese said. "It's nothing but hands-on."

"I'm not going to lie. Having sight has its advantages," he said. "But it also has its disadvantages."

Deese earned a slot at the Sept. 25 competition in San Jose, Calif., after taking third in his division at the International Judo Tournament in Germany earlier this year.

"I was kind of shocked," the father of six said. "I thought I was going to have to work my way up the ladder."

Although judo rules allow Deese to compete against sighted judokas, he has so far only entered matches against other visually impaired athletes.

He recently trained with a team of visually impaired judokas at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The team competes in the Paralympics Games.

In Billings, Deese trains three times a week at Park's Martial Arts Academy.

He would like to open his own dojo, or judo school.

"I want to introduce blind people, people with hearing impairments or people with minor physical disabilities to competition judo," Deese said. "You don't need to see to teach."

Contact Diane Cochran at or 657-1287.