Archive for August, 2010

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Transportation Costs for Persons with Disabilities

I am writing about a friend of mine who shall go nameless.  He is in a wheelchair, on a fixed income, and doesn’t go out very much because of circumstances I won’t go into.  As a result, the man is frustrated because many times he wants to go out with his friends, but can’t.

I invited my friend out with us to have dinner at one of his most favorite restaurants and, of course, he sincerely wanted to go.  The problem is, as is the case with many people in his situation, he can’t find an accessible and affordable ride to and from the restaurant.  I tried every means at my disposal to help him.  Yesterday, I found a company who provides transportation.  I called the owner and told her the situation about my friend.  She asked if he could transfer his body into a regular car, and I said he could.  In fact, it probably would be easier for him to do that because he can move his legs better than other people in wheelchairs who need an accessible van. 

I thought I was having a great conversation with the owner of this transportation company.  She was very sympathetic about my friend, and wanted to take him to the restaurant.  I gave her his address and the name of the restaurant, and then she quoted her price. 

As I said, my friend is on a fixed income.  He doesn’t work, and makes just enough money to survive.  Despite his limited finances, the owner of the transportation company wanted to charge him $80 for the ride to and from the restaurant.  I realize that the restaurant is 15 miles away, but I don’t think that fully excuses the company.  I can get to this same restaurant for $15, and I don’t live too far from my friend.

For the record, I want to point out that this particular transportation provider is not the only company that charges these outrageous prices. There are numerous providers who have no problem telling a person with a physical disability it will cost them close to $100 of their limited monthly income in order to meet a social need.  In other words, it’s simple: pay the $80 or stay home.  What if we all had those limited choices?  Could we survive socially?

I don’t know how these transportation providers can sleep well at night, knowing what they charge people with disabilities who struggle to make ends meet every month.  After all, we pay rent, buy groceries, pay the utility bills, pay medical co-payments, etc.

I’ve had numerous discussions with people over the years about this subject. I know all about insurance costs, operating costs, labor, and the like. Even though, as a businessman, I understand and respect everything that companies have to go through to be successful at what they do, I find it an injustice when a person with limitations, who wants to do the same things that the rest of us do, has to pay an outrageous amount of money that he doesn’t even have in order to keep up. 

Some of you may be asking about his family.  Well, if he can’t force his family to provide him with rides, then I can’t comment or make that argument.  Therefore, he, like everyone else in his situation, has to live with this terrible injustice.  I am tempted to ask a transportation provider what would happen if he had a loved one in a wheelchair who couldn’t get out that easily, and then had salt rubbed in their wounds by being told he had to spend $80 to go out, and that doesn’t even include his dinner.

I know that these transportation companies are private entities, and therefore, by definition, they can do what they want to do in order to compete with each other.  Again, why does this all have to be at the expense of someone who not only has a limited income, but is physically limited?  I honestly don’t get it, unless someone tries to justify it.  I know about the SRTA Bus Demand Response.  I use it myself.  However, the bus does not run in the evenings and on holidays.

Contributor Jorge Paez – Blind Inc: Putting Freedom in Our Own Hands

My name is Jorge. I’m a member of the NYC chapter of the National Federation of the Blind the Blind of New York, Inc.

My parents first got involved in the federation back in 2000, with Maria Garcia, the current president of NYPOBC.  In 2002, we went to our first state convention. However, we were not active in the Federation on till 2007.

In that year I remember one of our NYS affiliate members commenting to us about a program called Blind Inc., run by a private corporation which had been certified by the NFB. She personally had attended the College Introduction Program, a 9 month program taught for adults entering college. However, she mentioned that there was a “life one on one” program, which ran for youth ages 13 to 17.

For the next three years we applied and researched the program, until at the start of 2010, I got an email from them letting me know I could go and should start talking with my CBVH counselor to start the process of requesting the funding.

When I first began the program, I was shocked to discover that all our counselors were blind. Not that I had any misgivings, as I had seen successful blind people before. The thing was, back then I had been used to “camps for the blind” run by the sighted.

Let me just start with the fact that the blind teaching the blind is perhaps one of the most unique experiences I’ve had, and at the same time one of the best.

To learn techniques certified by the NFB and corresponding authorities for everything from cooking, to industrial arts, to cane travel, and have these techniques taught by blind roll models with day-to-day enforcement in the various activities that we did after school and during the weekends is the best part of the camp.  To make it even better, we were learning everything with almost no modifications from the standard tools and techniques of the sighted.

It’s one of the best experiences I can remember, and I can say with full confidence that I truly began to believe in the NFB’s philosophy and gain real confidence and independence.  It was rewarding to both learn, and have to use these techniques, and be able to have people who could help me if I needed help.  Many times, I turned to my friends or counselors for quick help, and they always gave me exactly what I needed, while always challenging me to achieve new levels of independence.

I would certainly recommend this program to any parent of the blind for their kids, especially if their kids are between the ages of 13 and 17.  When sighted kids start gaining real independence from there parents, I think it’s crucial for our blind kids to learn and understand that they are not and should not be left behind, and just as their friends get to go to the movies by themselves, etc., so do they. The only exception is that there aren’t any blind drivers–yet. But who knows, with the blind-driver-challenge pushing onwards, someday we may be giving learner’s permits to 16 year old blind and low vision students.

The key is that you have to learn from these centers. Once you know the techniques and use them, your life is truly in your hands, and the road to independence begins.  It is a road that will lead you to success in every area of your life.

Feature Writer John Christie – Surprised Woman Gets To Meet Yankees

Jane Lang traveled to a Yankees game as she always does with her guide dog named Clipper to the Morris Plains train station on a particular Tuesday. However, this Tuesday would be different because the Yankees would be accompanying her.

The Yankees who met her at her home and went to the train station included Manager Joe Girardi, pitchers Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin, and former Yankee Tino Martinez.

To say the least, Lang was surprised to see them there.

The Yankees give back to the community as part of Hope Week, which stands for Helping Others Persevere and Excel.

Lang is totally blind but this doesn’t prevent her from enjoying the game. She brings a radio to the game and reacts to the action on the playing field by listening to Yankee broadcasts.

Lang doesn’t think of herself as totally blind, The Yankee manager agrees.

“She’s obviously a person who’s very humble,” Girardi said while waiting for the train. “She was saying she didn’t think Hope Week was for someone like her.”

Gaudin was also impressed by her approach to life. “She’s excited about being alive … That’s the inspiration she gives everybody,” he said.

While at her home, the Yankees gave her a bouquet of flowers. Lang couldn’t believe this was happening. She couldn’t see the Yankees but she knew them from hearing them on TV.

Everybody in the borough knew about the Yankee visit but Lang. “Hey guys! What do you think?” she called to them. “I was so surprised.”

Lang is an inspiration to everyone. She doesn’t let her blindness get the best of her and she enjoys her life to the fullest. She takes the train and enjoys the Yankee games both at home and at Yankee stadium.  She is a great example of what we should all be: easy going.

More people, sighted or not, should take a page from her book and realize that a positive and laid back attitude will simply make for a much better quality of life.

To read the original article, please go to

http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20100817/UPDATES01/100817033/New-York-Yankees-surprise-blind-Morris-Plains-woman-ride-train-with-her-to-stadium

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Everyone Likes to Play Games Including the Blind

When you think of video games, you likely don’t think of the blind playing them, but this isn’t the case. From games that have been adapted to be playable by the blind, to mainstream games that the blind figure out how to play without modifications, the blind are definitely a part of the video gaming world. I myself just started playing a game online called Kingdom of Loathing, and when I was a PC user, I played games all the time.

So the question is what kind of games are out there, and where can you get them. I think the best place to start is a visit to a site called audiogames.net. Their database includes hundreds of games, many of which are free. The categories also range from fun word and card games to first person shooter and strategy games. All the games that are listed on this site are designed to be playable by the blind.

As I mentioned, when I was using a PC I played lots of these games. Here are a couple of my favorites. Spoonbill software offers many free card and puzzle games. All you have to do is email the developer with your request and he sends you the game. L-Works Games offers arcade style and word games and the developer himself is visually impaired. Finally, if you want to play with people online, a great option is All In Play. There is a subscription fee to play these games, but there is a free trial. Also, the games are playable by the blind and sighted so it’s a great option for families.

What are your favorite video games? If there was a game you wish was more playable for the blind, what would it be?

Letter from the Editor

Hello Everyone,

I hope you all enjoyed the last full week of August.  It’s incredible that summer has come and gone so quickly.  Looking back, it was a decent time, even if it was short-lived.  There were some things that I was able to do that I didn’t think would happen, and there were some things that happened which I wish didn’t (like getting Lyme disease).  It was definitely a hot dose, though, and I’m certainly glad that I can turn off my air conditioner and give my electric bill a little bit of a break.  Besides, sleeping with the windows open at night is one of those cheap pleasures that you come to miss when it’s just too hot outside. 

I hope all of you had a great summer as well and you were able to enjoy yourselves.  Feel free to share any interesting summer experiences in reader’s forum submissions.  I’d love to see how the hot season treated the rest of you.  And for all you parents out there, I hope getting the kids back to school was an easy process and that they’re heading out the door looking forward to another year instead of dreading it.

I’m also happy to report that as far as email is concerned, things seem back to normal.  Though, if you’re still experiencing problems, please let me know so I can fix them and get you the magazine as quickly as possible.

That should cover everything.  Have a great week and thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Ross Hammond, Editor

Recipe of the Week

Turkey and Spinach Manicotti

This manicotti stays heart-healthy without sacrificing great taste by using ground turkey and fat-free ricotta cheese. From eatbetteramerica.

Prep Time:30 min

Start to Finish:50 min

makes:4 servings

Ingredients:

8 uncooked manicotti pasta shells

1/2 lb lean (at least 90%) ground turkey

1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

1 cup fat-free ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 box (10 oz) Cascadian Farm® frozen organic cut spinach, thawed, squeezed to drain

1 1/2 cups Muir Glen® organic pasta sauce (any flavor) or marinara sauce

2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Spray bottom and sides of 11×7-inch (2-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Cook pasta shells as directed on box, omitting salt. Rinse with cool water; drain well.

3. Spray 10-inch nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Cook turkey, onion and garlic over medium heat about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until turkey is no longer pink. Remove from heat. Stir in ricotta cheese, Italian seasoning and spinach.

4. Spoon turkey mixture into shells; arrange in baking dish. Spoon marinara sauce over shells. Bake uncovered 20 to 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

High Altitude (3500-6500 ft): Bake uncovered 25 to 30 minutes.

Nutritional Information

1 Serving: Calories 350 (Calories from Fat 50); Total Fat 6g (Saturated Fat 1 1/2g, Trans Fat 0g); Cholesterol 45mg; Sodium 440mg; Total Carbohydrate 45g (Dietary Fiber 5g, Sugars 10g); Protein 30g Percent Daily Value*: Vitamin A 130%; Vitamin C 6%; Calcium 25%; Iron 20% Exchanges: 2 1/2 Starch; 0 Other Carbohydrate; 1/2 Skim Milk; 1/2 Vegetable; 2 Lean Meat Carbohydrate Choices: 3

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Speak Up, I Can’t Hear You

When I was younger, I used to always fight with my mother about turning down the volume of everything from my headphones to the television.  Now, it seems that I’m lucky that she won so many of those fights.  A new study reveals that one in five teens have hearing loss.  In fact, since a study done from 1988 to 1994, hearing loss in teens aged 12 to 19 has increased 30 percent–a huge jump.

While the majority of the loss was considered mild, there was a sharp increase in those who experienced a loss of 25 decibels or more.  Doctors couldn’t definitively conclude that an increase of ear infections or volume of music was what caused the increase.  Rather, they believe that the relationship between volume and related side effects has become highly underestimated by today’s youth.

Most teens don’t pay attention to things like tinnitus, a ringing in the ears after they’ve been exposed to loud noises, and that may be the cause for increased hearing loss.  If it doesn’t cause noticeable pain, they may not think that there’s a problem and are less likely to report the issue to a parent or doctor.

Doctors are concerned that increased exposure to loud volumes without any intervention or personal prevention might lead to difficulties with language development and learning in general.

As I’ve gotten older, loud music has become less and less enticing and can, at times, be outright annoying if it lasts for too long.  When I was a kid, I used to listen to my music at a level that would make normal people cringe.  Hopefully today’s teens will grow out of the habit as I have, or else there might be serious issues that they’ll have to address in years to come.  Unfortunately, with hearing, once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.aolnews.com/surge-desk/article/teen-hearing-loss-soars-30-percent-in-three-decades/19591439

New Jersey Police use Facebook to Shame Criminals

In what will surely turn into a case of privacy versus public safety, New Jersey police stations have begun creating Facebook profiles and using them to advertise criminal activity in their surrounding area. 

Some of their posts are placed as an effort to catch local criminals who are responsible for burglary, assault, and other crimes.  In these cases, the information is no different than what would be on the air on local news stations.  The criminals are still at large and need to be caught.  The police need to use every resource they have at their disposal in order to catch them and it seems perfectly acceptable to utilize social media in order to close the case.

Where things get a little dicey is when they start shaming criminals from crimes like a DUI.  Currently, the police station posts mug shots of people arrested for DUI, theft, and child pornography in an attempt to reveal to the public what is going on in their community and who to look out for.  Their argument is that the information they post is in the public domain already, so it shouldn’t matter if it’s on their page as well.  Others feel that since Facebook is such a popular venue, defamation may become an issue.  Just because the information is public doesn’t mean that it needs to be posted in every available public place.

This creates an interesting situation.  What criminals should and shouldn’t be posted on the Facebook page?  Should it be all or nothing, or should there be a gray area open to interpretation?  Should sex offenders take precedent over someone arrested for drunk driving?  Would it be considered unequal treatment and punishment, since those people who make it on the Facebook page will have to face both their punishment in the justice system and scorn in their community?

There are tons of questions that can be asked about this situation and the problem is that no one answer is absolutely right or wrong.  The public domain has grown extensively, and maybe this is just the next step.  However, one must ask; where does it end?

Tell me what you think about this in the Reader’s Forum.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1681227/print

Epilepsy Drug May Help Treat RP

This article was sent to me by Ziegler reader Danni.  Thanks, Danni!

Results from a new study have found that the drug used to treat epileptic seizures called valproic acid, may halt or actually reverse vision loss caused by retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that affects countless people around the world.  The team who discovered this possibility work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and are planning on conducting specific trials to confirm that this find is indeed true and not a fluke.

Retinitis pigmentosa affects roughly one in four thousand people and normally causes vision loss by age forty.  RP is technically a group of diseases that causes degeneration of the retina and is linked to 40 gene groups, all of which cause different types of RP.  Up until now, the only treatment for RP was to inundate the patient with vitamin A palmitate, which slows the progression of the disease, but is unable to stop it entirely. 

All forms of RP are essentially processes of inflammation and cell death, both conditions that valproic acid is designed to fight against.  During this preliminary study, they administered specific doses of the drug to seven patients who had RP over a time between two and six months.  When the trial concluded, 5 of the patients experienced vast improvements in vision even though their RP had progressed to a point that is normally untreatable.

Now that the preliminary trial has proven to be promising, 2.1 million dollars are being put into a proper study to test the drug against a placebo and hopefully achieve a more concrete result with a larger pool of participants.

It never ceases to amaze me when drugs were created for one purpose but can actually have positive affects in other areas of medicine as well.  It makes you wonder what other drugs could help with many other conditions but simply haven’t been tested yet.  If nothing else, it seems that valproic acid may be the answer to eliminating RP and saving the vision of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20100812/NEWS02/708129760/-1/headlines

Editorial – From the Outside Looking In

As I mentioned in the previous letter from the editor, I wanted to include an article about my experiences with the magazine so far.  I suppose that the best place to start, as with most stories, is at the beginning.

I was asked to become the new editor of the magazine by the president of the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind, the governing body of the publishing company.  I had worked on various other unrelated projects with her before and she felt that I would be a good fit for the magazine because I am a decent writer, but also because I could offer a new perspective; that of someone new to the blind community and looking forward to learning as much as I could.  It was a fresh start, and I wasn’t handed the reigns from any predecessor.  I had very few things at my disposal to reference and, for the most part, the rest was up to me to figure out.

I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a bit overwhelming at first. But being 24 years old at the time and having an opportunity like this handed to me, I wasn’t about to let it pass me by.  Instead of tiptoeing around the pool, so to speak, I jumped right in.  My first real exposure to you readers was clicking through your emails and gaining a familiarity with the types of questions I would be asked, the problems that came up from time to time, and the relationships that had been fostered with the previous staff members.  To me, the latter was the most important.  While questions and problems represented the nut and bolt operations of the magazine, the reader-editor relationship is what is truly important.  You are my audience and it is my duty to not only work for you, to entertain you, but to also work with you.  It is, after all, your magazine.

As my plans for the magazine developed through December and early January, I was excited to release my first weekly magazine.  When I did so on January 18, I nervously waited for my first comments from readers.  I expected that there would be problems at the start, but I had worked hard to find some interesting material to fill the magazine with and hoped that you all would really enjoy reading it.

I’m going to digress for just a moment and highlight the biggest challenge that I was met with when I first began my work here with you.  I was an outsider looking in.  I was a sighted person, with no prior experience within the blind community at all.  I didn’t know a screen reader from a Victor reader.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between the NFB and the NBP, or the NLS.  Most of my knowledge about the blind came from recalling my driver’s test, when they asked what it meant if someone was walking with a white cane.  I also knew not to touch service dogs, though I have no recollection of where I learned that.  So I had to make a choice: go into it scared, or go into it scared, but with a lot more know-how behind me so I could get by while I continued to learn.  I was determined to reduce my outsider status to at least that of a well-informed visitor.

Now, back to that first magazine.  In retrospect, it was quite awful.  Not so much the content, but the way it was presented.  The format of the magazine needed polishing and purpose.  The first version was without a proper heading and navigation symbols.  The special notices and pen pals sections were nearly unreadable for anyone using a screen reader.  I worked hard to find interesting topics, but the writing was hidden behind so many formatting faults that any redeeming qualities were rendered moot.  It was a magazine for the blind created by a sighted person who didn’t know any better.

As I saw the first comments come in, my heart sank.  Needless to say, they weren’t very positive, and to be honest, I don’t blame them.  Looking at that first magazine now, I’m both proud of how far it’s come in such a short time and ashamed that my first magazine revealed my ignorance of the needs of my audience so vividly.  While the comments were a mixture of brutal jabs and sadness, I soon found that many of them were issued with a mission of constructive criticism.  Many recommended things like a proper heading, and navigation symbols.  Leaving out the proper heading was a rookie mistake on my part, but I would have never thought of the ## navigation symbol.  When its purpose was explained to me, it made perfect sense and such a simple change made the magazine so much more user friendly.  Other comments came in letting me know that odd square symbols were showing up in the text.  While it took me weeks to figure out what was going on, I was able to fix it with their help.  Each week they told me where they were popping up.

With all of the help I received in the first week, I was able to completely reformat the magazine and resend a proper copy later that week with a full heading and navigation symbols.  I felt that while it was my job to make it right, everyone was working to make it better and teaming up with people to make it happen was a great experience.

As time went on, the negative comments also turned into constructive criticism and I could tell that even those who were the most upset about the format changes had come around and were enjoying the magazine every week.  The addition of my feature writers is something that I’m sure helped them come back to the magazine a lot quicker, too.  Even with all of the accessible formatting in the world implemented in this magazine, it would still be a magazine for the blind written by a sighted person if it weren’t for them.  As I said before, this is your magazine.  It needs to have perspectives given by other blind and visually impaired writers to make it a valuable publication for you.  For my part, I really enjoy discovering a few articles each week and including them at the end, but the best part of my job is reading what they’ve submitted and getting a fantastic insight into the blind community. 

You are all very inspiring, and I don’t mean that in a patronizing, look at all the cool things you can do, kind of way, either.  I mean that your attitudes about life are really positive and vision be damned, you’re going to live you’re life as anyone else does.  I’ve never experienced vision loss, but if I do, I hope I can live with it with the strength and positivity that you all have.

So, as someone who used to be a total outsider to this wonderful community I’ve found myself immersed in, I’d like to say thank you for everything that you’ve taught me, and for welcoming me in even though things started out pretty rocky.  It’s an honor to work with and for all of you and I’m looking forward to continuing this for a long time.