Thursday, November 19, 2009

Talking books may soon be a thing of the past

A group of young adults make books accessible to visually impaired, but copyright law poses hurdle

When copyright lawyer Rahul Cherian was recovering from cancer and had to use a wheelchair, he was in for a shock. There were no provisions for the physically challenged at the hospital. There were no ramps and no post-trauma counseling while the visually impaired patients were completely excluded.

“There were no large print books, Braille or audio books for the convalescing patients,” Cherian says. “Since there are 40 million blind people in the country who cannot read print, I couldn’t understand this.”

Cherian, along with best friend Rubin Jacob and Sachin Malhan, then started a venture, Bookbol or talking books.

This online, outreach organisation, allows visually impaired people to share scanned educational material, research papers and e-books through software like screen reader. Part of a larger organisation called People Inclusive Planet, this site has had over a 1,000 uses and over 10,000 hits.

Bookbol was just gaining steam when the new stringent copyright law intruded — it disallows any unauthorised translations, whether it’s Braille or audio books, or just online files that can be decoded by a screen-reading software.

“I can share my collage notes, since there is no copyright law on that, but it will become hard to share books and other material that requires legal approval,” says Abdul Razique Khan, 20, who is doing BBA at Symbiosis University in Pune.

Cherian, who was in Delhi for a meet with the director-general of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), says the best way to tackle this is through the legal system. “It is our fundamental right to be able to read,” he says, “so we have drafted an international treaty on the copyright law. It will be presented before the Human Rights Development Ministry after it is approved by a panel of retired judges, and organisations like WIPO.”

He says, “We have started a nationwide campaign to win back our constitutional rights, to read and be educated. We are also holding seminars at colleges, like Loyola, and are coming to Delhi in December with the same purpose.”

The organisation works through a network of individuals and groups like international groups like BLAFT and Right to Read, who share audio and Braille books online. Booboo has translated books in Tamil, Bangla and English in accessible mediums.

The organisation is funded by corporates.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Twelve visually impaired students carried the Olympic torch

Twelve visually impaired students from across Toronto have been selected to carry the Olympic Flame through the city's east end. The group gathered along with their supporters at Hollywood Public School on Tuesday, Nov. 10, to receive their official Olympic blue scarves and get a chance to hold a replica Olympic Torch for the first time.

The students were selected to carry the torch by RBC through the Canadian Olympic School Program.

They submitted a team pledge package to the national competition outlining how their participation in the torch relay would foster understanding of people with disabilities in their communities. A key part of their submission was an essay titled Let's Find Common Ground, written by Winston Churchill Collegiate student Ramya Amuthan.

"When you think of someone carrying the torch for the Olympics, the first person to come to mind isn't a person with a visual impairment or with a cane or in a wheelchair," said Ramya, who has been affected since birth by a genetic visual impairment called Leber's Congenital Amaurosis.

"The chances of this are like being stuck by lightning and it's something we will remember forever."

Along with the 11 other students and eight teachers scheduled to carry to torch in Scarborough, Ramya hopes people will become more focused on similarities rather than the differences of people with physical disabilities.

The Blue Scarf Ceremony was hosted by RBC, which brought long-time Canadian Olympic basketball and former West Hill Collegiate player Rowan Barrett to speak to the crowd. He congratulated the team on their accomplishment and encouraged them to persevere down the difficult path that was in front of them.

"I remember when I was sitting in your chairs and listening to other Olympians speak," said Barrett. "Now you guys have the same's something much greater than you can imagine."

The Vision Program currently helps over 400 students in the public and Catholic school boards, bringing specialized teachers to their home schools.

Robin Stewart is one of these teachers who took the lead in organizing the team's Olympic dreams.

"This is an exceptional experience that these kids will have which many of their peers won't," said Stewart. "More often that not, it's our students who are dealing with what their peers can do that they can't, so it's a bit of a flip to that."

She had been spending much of her personal time coordinating the efforts of students across the city into a cohesive pledge application, but being able to experience her kids officially recognized as Olympic Torchbearers was worth it. She gives full credit to the students for their outstanding work.

"What's so beautiful is that they earned it," said Stewart. "They were awarded it not because of their visual impairment, but rather because of what they do with their visual impairment and what they do with themselves. I think that's really important."

The exact details of where the Olympic Flame relay will take place are still undecided, but more details will be available in the coming weeks.

List of student torchbearers

Luis Santiago-Gonsalves - St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School - East York

George Quarcoo - Western Technical-Commercial School - Bloor West

Nicholas Rastasulozas - West Toronto Collegiate Institute - Bloor West

Ramya Amuthan - Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute - Scarborough

Runa Patel - Woburn Collegiate Institiue - Scarborough

Hassan Malik - Frank Oke Secondary School - York

Cameron Knox - Bloordale Middle School - Etobicoke

Kelsey Quesnelle - Silverthron Collegiate Institute - Etobicoke

Andrew Isaacson - Newtonbrook Secondary School - North York

Brittany Kolenberg - Newtonbrook Secondary School - North York

Hussain Jasim - St. Andrew's Junior High School - North York

Sarah Patel - Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute - East York

Charity dinner provide blindfolded guests with unique experience

Ernie Mastroianni

Tia Lancaster, Teri Newport and her husband, Dean Newport, try to identify their food Sunday while Dining in the Dark at Bacchus. Proceeds from the event were to go to the Badger Association and the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Children.

There's a saying in the culinary world: First, you eat with your eyes. Diners at Bacchus on Sunday night moved on to other senses for a high-end meal that they could only imagine. They dined with blindfolds on for a charitable event that wedded a pop-culture phenomenon, dining in darkness, with a cause - organizations that serve the blind and visually impaired.

It wasn't easy, and it wasn't pretty. One man put his blindfold on upside down. Gone were the visual cues that drive conversation - a raised eyebrow, a nod. The room's noise level rose as diners lost the ability to gauge how far they were seated from each other.

That's what dinner was supposed to feel like at Dining in the Dark, a $250-a-head fund-raiser for the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Children and Badger Association. Dining in the dark originated a decade ago in Switzerland. The Milwaukee event was billed as a chance to put vision aside "for a new, deeper understanding of what it's like to be blind."

Two reporters set out to experience what was billed as Milwaukee's first dark dining event - one as a diner, one as an observer.

Bacchus' James Beard Award-winning chef, Adam Siegel, created what likely was a visually stunning menu: Seared sea scallops with butternut squash flan; roasted beet salad with Camembert cheese and lemon-honey vinaigrette; braised short ribs in red wine sauce; apple tart topped with cranberry jam. He went for a variety of textures, he said, and something "a bit challenging to eat for someone with a blindfold."

More than 100 diners were game, for the most part. Bobbie Mendelsohn of Fox Point admitted she was just a bit nervous about wearing a blindfold through a four-course meal; her friend Jan Singer, also of Fox Point, had no reservations. "I go Class-5 whitewater rafting, so I'm not scared of falling off the chair."

She didn't.

Lights were dimmed every seven minutes during cocktails to illustrate the point that every seven minutes someone in America loses their vision. Finally, blindfolds went on at 6 p.m., submerging diners in a dark world where food would challenge, surprise, delight, frustrate.

Diner Cory Ballard, visually impaired for more than a decade, understood immediately and offered a bit of advice. Listen to the room, he said. You can tell by the sounds it's a big room.

Knowing the location of silverware was another battle. Once it's in hand, one of two things can happen - either you get too much food on your fork (which over the years has learned its pathway to your mouth, so no worries about that), or you can have none.

Ballard had advice for that, too: "Either way, you eat it. I figure if I put it back on my plate, I'll never find it again."

By now, the technique was clear: Stab, chase, round up food in the center of the plate.

The potential for a big mess was huge. A pair of glasses laid on the table before the blindfolds went on ended up with salad on it.

Even if they couldn't see the main course, diners were tantalized by it. Beef! The bold aroma moved through the dining room.

Ballard was happy it came in a bowl. Wouldn't it be great if all food came in bowls?

"I'm going to start a restaurant called Bowl," he said.

By Jan Uebelherr and Kathy Flanigan of the Journal Sentinel

Students experienced visual impairments and the daily challenges caused by them

On Monday, some students learned what it's like to be visually impaired. It was Blind Awareness Day at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

The 13 students who attend TSBVI's dual enrollment program usually spend half their day at McCallum High School taking classes in English, chemistry, and history.

They spend the other half of the day at the school for the blind. There, they they take classes in Braille, algebra, and orientation and mobility exercises that have been adapted for students with visual impairments.

Students had their vision blocked so they could experience blindness.

On Monday, the McCallum students got to experience first hand how their classmates spend their time away from the high school.

They were blindfolded as they rode tandem bicycles, wrestled, played goal ball, and learned to navigate with a cane.

The Austin Independent School District said the program, which is in its third year, is a way for seeing and blind students to better understand each other.

Intel created new device to help the visually impaired

On Tuesday, Intel will start selling a nifty new e-reader that can snap pictures of books and newspapers and then read them back to people who have a hard time reading the printed page.

Called the Intel Reader, the US$1,499 device assists people who are blind, dyslexic or have weak vision, said Ben Foss, the director of access technology with Intel's Digital Health Group, who came up with the idea for the reader. "It's designed to give them independence and access to reading."

Intel estimates that there are as many as 55 million people in the U.S. who could use its device. Foss says that the Reader will give many of them a new freedom to read books, magazines and newspapers that would otherwise be inaccessible. Users simply hold the Reader a few feet above the paper they want to read; it snaps a photo, and within seconds converts the page to text, which it can then display in a large font or read out loud.

"We're excited by this and we think it will really make a difference for millions of people with disabilities," said James Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, speaking at a Monday press conference where the device was unveiled.

Sold by resellers such as CTL, Howard Technology Solutions and HumanWare, the paperback-sized device combines a 5-megapixel camera with a Linux-powered, optical character-recognition system and software that converts text into the spoken word. With 2GB of storage, it can store about 600 snapshots of scanned pages -- at two pages per snapshot that would represent a 1,200-page paperback novel.

The device can play back scanned items, but it also supports MP3s, WAV files, text files and the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format, used to publish books for people with reading problems. The battery can power about four hours of playback between charges.

The reader has a special user interface designed for people who have a hard time reading, and it can play back audio at varying speeds. Foss likes to hear playback at the almost comically high-pitched speed of 200 words per minutes, which he likens to speed-reading.

Intel also makes a briefcase-sized docking station that can hold and power the reader while it's being used to scan a large number of pages. The company will introduce a U.K. version of the Reader in a few days and plans to roll it out in other countries as well, Foss said.

The device represents a sleeker alternative to more cumbersome reading aides such as text magnifiers, which cost around $3,000 each, and Braille readers, which can cost between $7,000 and $10,000, Foss said.

With Amazon's Kindle, the e-reader market has taken off in recent years, but until now, nobody has built one for people with diminished eyesight that can scan and replay anything on paper, said Dorrie Rush, director of marketing with Lighthouse International, a nonprofit group that helps people suffering from vision loss.

Rush, who has lost vision because of an eye disorder called Stargardt's disease, can barely read the headlines from the New York Times while holding the paper about 4 inches from her face. She has tried out Intel's device and she loves it. "Intel has really done their homework and created something that does good and looks good."

Intel's Foss has a personal connection to the project. Diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school, he spent hours during his college years faxing papers to his mother, who would then read them back to him over the phone.

Now he hopes that the device he helped create will help other students in his shoes. "Ultimately we're trying to give people access to hope and to self-respect."

Company provides Braille calendars for visually impaired customers

Hanwha Group will continue its tradition of giving free braille calendars to the visually impaired this year. The company said yesterday that it plans to distribute 50,000 braille calendars. Hanwha has been distributing the calendars since 2000, after Hanwha Chairman Kim Seung-youn received an e-mail from a visually-impaired person asking for help. In the first year Hanwha printed 5,000 braille calendars.

The company increased that number to 10,000 in 2001 and 20,000 in 2002. Hanwha has distributed 30,000 calendars from 2003 until this year. The Korean conglomerate will be taking orders for the calendars at its Web site,, as well its social welfare Web site at between Nov. 9 and Nov. 27. The calendars will be delivered next month. “Hanwha’s social contribution emphasizes sincerity,” said Chang Il-hyung, vice president of public relations at Hanwha Group.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Visually impaired students do well in Martial Arts

SAFFIRE Engineering Ltd is marking one year since the company began sponsoring judo training for visually impaired students at the Santa Cruz School for Blind Children.

The classes are conducted by Sensei Master Linus Browne (3rd degree Black Belt Judo and 4th Taekwondo), in conjunction with The Judo Association.

Judo is one of the very few sports in which the visually impaired can compete against the seeing on an equal basis. This martial art does not rely on sight but largely on one’s senses of feel and touch; movement; balance and timing.

The visually impaired are ideally suited to judo since they have a great sense of touch and perfect ability to concentrate on almost imperceptible moves.

They are intent listeners who will visualise what is being communicated through the other senses, and are not easily distracted.

Judo does not involve any punching or kicking. The students initiate by feel, holding on the “Gi” (specially designed uniforms) of their opponent, and are thus in constant contact. Throws, grappling and locking techniques are then used to gain the opponent’s submission.

From the first training session the students at the institute have fallen in love with Judo as they soon realise its other, immense advantages. Being able to take part on an equal basis has helped to develop their self- confidence, character and independence in life. They learn the importance of balance and how to fall. They are involved in a safe physical exercise and it encourages them to persevere and reach their full potential.

There are 14 students ranging in age from eight to 17 years. They are trained by Sensei Brown on Thursdays starting at 3 pm at the school. The “Gi” for the students are supplied by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs through the Judo Association.

The Managing-Director of Saffire Engineering Ltd, is Vishnu Tewari, who has been a student of the martial arts for over 30 years. For the past seven years Tewari has been a student of Sensei Brown in the field of self-defence which comprises judo, taekwondo, hapkido and aikido.

For more information please contact: Vishnu Tewari 680-7563; Sensei Linus Brown 755-7564; School for Blind Children 676-8718.

Visually impaired voters stripped of privacy right

A requirement to have a city council representative present with visually impaired persons in the voting booth is a breach of the UN convention

A new directive from the Interior and Social Ministry that visually impaired voters must have a council representative present with them in the voting booth has raised the ire of human rights groups.

Moreover, the new requirement is in violation of both the constitution and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, reports public broadcaster DR.

The rule states that ‘the visually impaired person may themselves choose to have a helper with them in the voting booth, so long as there is also a council representative assisting’.

But the constitution ensures the right of all citizens to secrecy during the voting process. And, according to the new requirement, the visually impaired voter must verbally tell the council representative for whom they are casting their ballot.

‘This means the government is violating the UN Convention regarding citizens’ rights,’ said Jose Doria, law secretary for the United Nations’ human rights committee.

But Karen Ellemann, the interior and social minister, defended the move, saying it was done to ensure that the voter wasn’t pressured by their helper into voting for a certain candidate.

Ellemann said, however, that she would look into the matter and is taking the UN’s criticism of the new ordinance ‘very seriously’.

Although a special ballot for the blind has been proposed as a solution to the problem, visually impaired persons must still have a helper with them at the upcoming local and regional elections on 17 November.

NASA space camp provides the experience of a lifetime to visually impaired students

Sitou Agbakpem admits that he often becomes depressed thinking about his future and how he will cope with his life.

His fears are understandable. In three to five years, he's going to be blind.

The Pattonville High School junior suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative nerve disease that he has had since childhood. Now, the disease is advancing at a faster rate.

"I cannot say that I'm not scared," Sitou, 16, said. "I get depressed and worried about my life."

However, for one week in October, Sitou received some reassurance from other teenagers from around the world.

He and 15 other visually-impaired students from Missouri attended NASA's Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

At the camp, he met hundreds of students with the same medical concerns. They came from Canada, Ireland, Australia, Dominica, Oklahoma, West Virginia, South Carolina and Utah.

Sitou is from West Togo, Africa. He lives with his mother and both hope to become United States citizens.

As one of two visually-impaired Pattonville High students, he was happy to talk with other students and found they had similar worries and fears.

"It was a great experience for me," Sitou said. "We talked about our futures and how we take care of our lives. The trip gave me a positive outlook. We exchanged shirt pins and our telephone numbers."

The camp also was a lot of fun. The participants had medical problems, but they still had a teenager's love of fun.

They met an astronaut, constructed and launched rockets, learned about space history and experienced weightlessness with simulators. The campers also listened to a blind NASA engineer who talked about his life and the obstacles he overcame to reach his position.

The free trip was sponsored by the Lighthouse for the Blind in St. Louis.

"The kids love it," said Angie Yorke, manager of the Lighthouse's Blind Community Enrichment Programs. "The best thing they come away with is new friendships," she said. "It does them a lot of good to meet other kids from around the world. They try and stay in touch with each other."

Sitou was accompanied by Alexis Moore, who specializes in teaching the visually impaired at Pattonville High. Seven chaperones went with the Missouri contingent.

"Actually, we didn't have a lot to do," Moore said. "None of us were involved in the activities. The camp staff had their own counselors for the kids. The atmosphere was great, though. The kids had a good time. Sitou really enjoyed himself."

The teacher is no stranger to Space Camp. She has accompanied other students for several years. She believes in its value.

"Sitou and I are going back next year," she said. "This will be advanced Space Camp. We're both looking forward to it."

Previously, Sitou showed no particular interest in outer space. However, the NASA Space Camp intrigued him when he first heard about it.

"Now, I'm excited about outer space," he said. "I'm thinking about why they go to space and what they are going to do when they get there."

If NASA sends people to Mars, Sitou will be one of the first.

However, for college, he is interested in studying a different kind of science.

"I want to study political science," Sitou said. "That is a different kind of thing."

Handheld Braille printer for the visually impaired

Braille definitely has given a new dimension to the life of the visually impaired; still they have to rely on the others to fulfill their day-to-day needs, for differentiation between identical objects often becomes difficult for the sight-impaired. Enhancing the value of Braille, Chinese designer Danni Luo has designed a printing device to create special embossed labels, so the visually impaired could also distinguish products with similar characteristics, such as pill bottles, CDs, files, etc., effortlessly without seeking help from others.

Dubbed the “Embossing Braille
Printer,” the hand-held label printer lets the users install the name or brief information of the particular product onto a 25mm x 50mm label with embossed Braille characters via a voice-recognition recorder, so the sight-impaired could avoid misidentification of analogous objects, which often leads to grave consequences.

Visually impaired speedskater makes it to the Paralympic Games in Russia

Orléans deaf-blind speedskater Kevin Frost has his flight booked and will be heading to Chelyabinsk, Russia for the Paralympic Open Blind Cup Nov. 23-25 – the first time he’ll get to race against fellow visually-impaired speedskaters.
Frost has been working for seven years to foster interest in that type of event – with his end goal to see speedskating included in the Paralympic Games – but his participation in the competition was initially up in the air due to fundraising problems.

“I only need to raise another $1,000 and I’m sure I can make it happen,” Frost said in an e-mail to the Orléans Star, noting he received a big surprise last week when Speedskating Canada told him they’d like him to wear Canadian colours officially on behalf of their organization. “What an honour to represent Canada – I was caught off-guard when they asked me.”

The 42-year-old who suffers from Usher’s Syndrome – a degenerative condition that gradually reduces his sight and hearing – first heard about the competition in Chelyabinsk when he met a Russian coach last year in Vancouver for an international Masters event.

The coach explained that they would be holding a national championship for visually-impaired speed skaters – with 50 to 60 entrants – and would love for Frost to join them.

The idea was for the event to continue for the next three years with the end goal of being included in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi as a demonstration sport – which doesn’t require the same stringent standards on international participation as a full-medal Paralympic sport since the organizing committee can stage whichever events it wishes.

“I’ve been trying for the last seven years to get this event and now all the pieces are starting to fit together now,” Frost noted in a previous interview with the Star. “It’ll be awesome. It’ll be nice to know who else is in the same boat, what they do for their training, and where I am world ranking-wise. Who knows? I might go there and be the slowest, or I might go there and be the world record breaker.”

Disney parks offer special services for their visually impaired guests

After becoming legally blind at age 30, Brenda Woodrum missed seeing the details of one of her favorite Disneyland rides, Pirates of the Caribbean.

So, Woodrum teared up when she heard a description of cannons shooting from pirate ships on the ride using a new listening device that just became available at Disney parks.

“It was really an emotional experience,” said Woodrum, 47, of Fullerton. “I remembered what was there, but sometimes I’d ride it and not know what was there. I had kind of a sense of loss.”

Starting Sunday, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure for the first time began offering hand-held devices that give audio descriptions of scenes in 19 attractions for visually impaired guests.Disney parks are believed to be the first ones to offer such a service, Disney officials said. Knott’s Berry Farm does not have a similar service.


Five devices are available at each Disney park, said Mark Jones, manager of Disney domestic services for guests with disabilities. Guests must give a $100 refundable deposit to use the “audio-description service” devices. In March, Walt Disney World parks began providing the service, now available at 30 locations.

Disney added the audio service to its devices that already provide assistance for guests with hearing disabilities, which were introduced in 2002, Jones said.

Visitors pick up the devices at guest-relations offices at both parks, choosing either two-ear or one-ear headsets.

Upon entering an attraction, the devices trigger emitters within the ride that begin the audio description. It’s designed so that guests should have to do no more than adjust the volume, Jones said.


On the pirates ride, the audio description begins as soon as guests walk in the building and enter the queue.

As the ride starts, the narrator talks about sparkling fireflies, lily pads and a man smoking a pipe. He warns that the boat will plunge down a waterfall. Later, the narrator continues to describe the liquor pouring down a bony frame of a pirate skeleton, Captain Jack Sparrow popping up, a “stout” lady up for sale and the mayor dunking in a well.

The explanation pauses for songs and audio from the story plot.

As a member of a Disney group for disabled employees, Woodrum, a reservation sales agent for Walt Disney Travel Co., gave input about the devices as Disney developed them. The group is called CastABLE.

Woodrum first tried out the devices last year, eventually trying them out on six rides. She gave feedback on the timing of some of the descriptions, but otherwise, she enjoyed them right away.

“It’s an incredible experience,” said Woodrum, who visits Disney parks about once a month. “There’s so much detail there. You get full immersion into the attraction.”

The number of Disneyland Resort guests who have used the devices so far was unavailable Monday.

Disney first hoped to buy already existing devices, Jones said. But when officials couldn’t find what they wanted, Disney engineers designed them in house. They hired an outside manufacturer, Softeq, to put them together. WGBH, a PBS producer, provided the audio content, Jones said. Officials declined to release the cost of the product.

Disney hopes to add the service to other attractions in the future, possibly starting with shows.

Attractions with the service at Disneyland:

  • Enchanted Tiki Room
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • it’s a small world
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Snow White’s Scary Adventures
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats
  • Disneyland Railroad
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • “Honey I Shrunk the Audience” movie

Attractions with the service at Disney’s California Adeventure:

  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • Turtle Talk with Crush
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Muppet*Vision 3D

Principal of visually impaired school resigned!

The state is investigating an alleged inappropriate sexual incident between students Wednesday at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired that led to the school’s director resigning after she was placed on leave.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said Monday that he is also concerned about — and is conducting his own investigation into — allegations that there has not been an “open atmosphere” at the school for the blind for adults who work there to report allegations of sexual misconduct.

“This is a very recent allegation,” Pastorek said. “We can’t and won’t tolerate an atmosphere where people feel like they can’t report these kinds of sexual incidents.”

The state Department of Education found out last week from a teacher that two students “went off together and had inappropriate contact on Wednesday,” Pastorek said.

The state immediately launched an investigation and Janet Ford, the director of the school, was placed on non-disciplinary leave Thursday pending the investigation’s outcome, said Rene Greer, communications director for the state Department of Education.

But Ford resigned Friday and did not tell the state why, Greer said. “She had planned on resigning, but not until the end of the 2009-2010 school year,” Greer said.

Greer said the state is also investigating another alleged inappropriate sexual incident between students that apparently occurred in May.

“We’re investigating it and trying to confirm the details,” Greer said.

Pastorek said the state is approaching the problems at the school for the blind “in an appropriate but aggressive and proactive manner.”

“We know the adults have the responsibility to maintain proper supervision over the students,” he said. “But it appears as though we weren’t able to maintain that.”

The school for the blind moved onto the 116-acre campus of the Louisiana School for the Deaf on Brightside Lane in July as a cost-saving measure for the state. As of July, the two schools had a combined student population of 250.

The two schools are maintaining separate identities but are sharing some key services such as security, human resources, food services and maintenance.

The school for the deaf was closed temporarily a year ago after there were allegations of sexual misconduct on the campus, including the rape of a 6-year-old girl.

Security at the campus was beefed up, including the installation of security cameras.

Pastorek said the state has also worked on raising students expectations of themselves.

“Where you have a history of inappropriate sexual behaviors you have to work pretty hard to create a new culture,” he said. “We have made significant gains.”

The school for the blind has about 85 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Some live in dorms on campus while others commute daily to the school, Greer said.

Managing such residential schools is complex, Pastorek said, but he plans to be as open as possible about the investigation.

“We have to be candid about what’s going on,” he said. “Parents are expecting us to keep their kids as safe as we can. The only way that can happen is for the adults who are at the school to feel open to report these kinds of things.”

Pastorek said he is most concerned about complaints that there has not been such an atmosphere at the school and he will conduct his own investigation to find out whether that’s true.

“It’s sort of a ‘come what may’ kind of thing,” he said. “It’s never pleasant but it’s what we must do.”

Greer said the state reported the alleged incident between the two students to the Office of Community Services. OCS is also expected to conduct an investigation separate from the one that the state Department of Education is conducting.

Greer said that at this point the state has not reported the alleged incident to law enforcement authorities because no obvious laws appear to be broken. However, Greer did say that the OCS can also report the allegations to authorities.

The visually impaired now have access to God's Word in Ukraine

On the shores of the Sea of Azov in the Ukraine, digital players with God's Word in Russian are helping to deepen spiritual relationships in a group of blind and visually impaired people.

A team from the Revival Slavic Baptist Church in Washington State contacted Audio Scripture Ministries. Interest grew when they discovered that God's Word was available in audio for their friends and family in the Ukraine.

ASM has received at least 2 more orders of Russian New Testament digital Scripture players. At a camp conducted by the team this past June, leaders report that 8 people made profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

A recent note from the church tells of growing interest in getting the players for others still waiting in the Ukraine. This small project made a huge life impact. Now, many more doors are open for God's people to place God's Word in audio where others do not or cannot read.

Pray that God's Word touches hearts and that many will come to Christ.

Special devices helps the visually impaired

An estimated 18 million Americans are either blind or visually impaired, and in San Diego County that number is around 105,000. Now, a local company's special device is helping improve sight for many visually impaired people, including a teacher in Imperial Beach, 10 News reported. Watching her move around the classroom at Imperial Beach Elementary School, one would never know Erin Goodwin-Allen is visually impaired. She has had retinitis pigmentosa since birth."It's a challenging disease because I look completely normal," said Goodwin-Allen.

She sees her third-grade class through a narrow field of vision, a kind of tunnel vision. She recognizes her students by where they sit."My desks are very specific where they are also because if one desk is moved, I'll run into it," said Goodwin-Allen.Goodwin-Allen now uses a new tool called FarView, which is developed by San Diego-based Optelec. For a spelling test, it magnifies the words dramatically and it can save up to 100 images and magnify up to 50 times.Users can snap photos with the FarView and store text. It also has an automatic scrolling feature that allows people to read documents with ease.The FarView comes in a compact mini version, which is easier to carry around. It magnifies text, and with the push of a button it changes the background and the color to make it easier to read.Goodwin-Allen, a wife and mother of two, uses it at home when paying bills."I'm really independent and so I don't have to rely on anybody else. I can use that to pay bills and that's been the biggest godsend," said Goodwin-Allen.

The FarView can be used for distances as well. Users can freeze images and then zoom in to see it clearly.Goodwin-Allen said, "It's just been amazing."For now, it's a valuable tool for Goodwin-Allen at school and home. Soon she plans on going to a restaurant and reading the menu by herself.Optelec has teamed with the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and they are partners in the VisionWalk on Nov. 8 to help raise money for research on retinal diseases.Goodwin-Allen will not only be walking, she is the even chair.For more information on the VisionWalk, click

Visually impaired teenagers live an active lifestyle!

The remarkable achievements of six blind or visually impaired Christchurch youngsters will receive royal recognition today.

They have climbed trees, taken to the slopes on skis, gone tramping and even taken on mountain-biking in pursuit of a Duke of Edinburgh Hillary award.

Tamara Nolan, 16, Emma Jenkins, 16, Shari Whittaker-Tyro, 15, Dylan Neale, 17, Malcolm Harding, 16, and Rhea Smithson, 20, will receive their awards from Prince Edward at Linwood College, along with 58 other young people.

Five of the recipients achieved their silver award after Elmwood Visual Resource Centre teachers Jenny Healey and Glenda Atkins took time off work to take the youngsters on a camp to Hanmer Springs.

Healey and Atkins have supervised award programme participants for four years.

Healey said she had enjoyed seeing the young people's confidence and self-esteem grow.

If the Duke of Edinburgh award was not available to visually impaired youngsters, there was a danger they would sit at home and do nothing, Healey said. "This gets them out meeting different people. They make great friends."

The Duke of Edinburgh award programme offers a personal challenge.

Participants must complete an adventurous journey, do some physical recreation, help the community and master a skill.

Some aspects of the programme were adapted to the individual needs, Healey said.

Smithson said she had skied with someone in front of her.

"We challenge ourselves, even though it's hard," Tamara, of Marian College, said.

Prince William will open the New Zealand Supreme Court building in January, Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday. He will be in the country from January 17 to 19. The prince last visited in 2005 when he followed the British Lions' rugby tour.