Archive for October, 2010

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Employment: A Brief History

Shockingly high statistics of unemployment among people who are blind and visually impaired have hovered around the seventy to eighty-five percent levels for many years.  I can but offer my experience as one who has maintained a job for over 22 years. My hard-working,
West Indian mother and close friends taught by example the importance and benefits of having a job.  This has meant that I do not leave a position unless I have secured another, and no matter how defeated, rejected or bored I felt, I dragged myself up and out as a paycheck is simply too difficult to pass up.  Additionally, representatives from Time Warner (holders of our cable and internet service) and Consolidated Edison (our electric company) eagerly wait by their screens, gleefully and greedily rubbing their hands together, happily ready to turn off our service should consistent payments not be made.

My work life began as a clerk typist at a government entity where I transcribed cassette interviews and on-site investigations.  It would have been decent, had one agent possessed the ability to turn off the microphone when he went to the bathroom.  Yuck!  Mastering forms became my quest in life.  My love of computers and all things technology took hold and I was hooked.  Eventually, the work dried up and I was ready to move on.  My next stint found me as a computer specialist at a non-profit organization.  Getting paid once a month was awful!  There I honed my proofreading skills and learned to loathe mass mailings, vowing never to do them again.

Good old human networking helped me land my next position as an office skills instructor.  I was given the opportunity to shape curriculum and many painstaking hours were spent inputting lessons in a program called PCTyper.  Making the move to technology instructor, I became responsible for recommending equipment for the clients of our New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped.  The form was barely accessible, but I managed.  I was as excited about putting the system together and training the student as they were about receiving it.  Fun and educational times to be sure. Upon reflection, I would say that responsibilities of each job added to my skill set for the next employment adventure.

My current position as Senior Instructor at the Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP) has brought many rewards as I have prepared and implemented new courses and programs and attempted to share my enthusiasm for productivity software, digital devices, and life-enriching web services. I have reached my ten-year mark, and I will probably retire from this job.  We shall see.  Important tip: Seize every opportunity, voluntary or otherwise, and never give up.

Feature Writer John Christie – Landmark Bill Makes a Difference for the Disabled

On October 8, the president signed in to law the Communications Accessibility Bill. One prominent member of congress present during the ceremony was Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. As Chairman, he played a key role in getting the bill to pass in the Senate.

“I have worked my entire career to bring the power and the promise of innovative communications technology to every corner of my state. I have seen the opportunity it creates for our communities, for changing education, improving healthcare, and strengthening local businesses – and we have a responsibility to make this opportunity available to everyone,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “Today, we took a big step forward in achieving that goal.  This landmark legislation will help ensure that Americans with disabilities have the ability to better utilize 21st century communications technology.” The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will increase accessibility to Internet and television, as well as telecommunications technologies. The bill will improve closed captioning for the deaf and video description for the blind and visually impaired.  The bill will also make accessible emergency information to all disability groups.

The bill will impact the disability community in a variety of ways. For instance, people who are hearing impaired will now have access to a range of telephones that will be accessible with hearing aids and the internet.

Video description will be required on the most popular television and cable station programming.  Captioning for the deaf will also be on television as well as the internet.

The bill will ensure that a wide range of communications equipment and devices will be accessible to both the deaf and blind. This means that early in the manufacturing process the needs of the deaf and blind will have to be taken in to account and not left as an afterthought.

The bill also requires that a committee be set up to inform the FCC on developing strategies in regards to emergency communications.

The bill is excellent legislature because it opens the doors to a number of disabled communities, including the blind, and compels manufacturers to make communications devices and equipment accessible to everyone. This bill is important because it will help to remove barriers from the workplace by making crucial communications products accessible to the disabled.  In addition, it also makes emergency information accessible to all disability groups, which is invaluably important.

Perhaps this bill will also lower the cost of blindness products, now that accessibility will have to already be built in to the products that everyone else uses as well.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2010/10/08/5057899.htm

Letter from the Editor

Hello Everyone,

Time sure does fly, doesn’t it?  We’re looking at Halloween this coming weekend, Thanksgiving right around the corner after that, and then the holiday season is upon us in the blink of an eye.  My one aunt, who usually begins gift shopping in July, is really starting to hound me for gift ideas.  I keep telling her that I haven’t even carved my pumpkin yet and she’s already trying to drape garland over my shoulders and start singing carols.

But even though it will be here and gone in a flash, enjoy this coming weekend.  Whether you’re going out with your kids, or going to a party, or even staying home and handing out candy to the droves of costumed kids knocking at your door, have some fun (and grab some candy along the way).

No big announcements this week.  I’ll be submitting the October magazine articles to our recording studio early this week so that hopefully the newest audio edition will be ready to distribute the first week of November.  I’m really glad that you’ve all been enjoying it.

That’s all for now.  Take care, thanks for reading, and trick or treat!

Sincerely,

Ross Hammond, Editor

News – We Need More, But Only Have One

Recently, astronomers discovered what they call an “Earth-like” planet that is very close to us.  In fact, it’s the closest one they’ve ever been able to find.  Keep in mind, though, that space is called “space” for a reason.  There’s a lot of it and it’s very large.  This very close Earth-like planet is still 20 light years away.  Even with our most advanced rockets, it would still take a traveler leaving Earth today more than 200 years to get there.

So, why then is that information important?  Well, the World Wildlife Fund conducts a biennial Living Planet Report, and their recent findings might motivate our world’s top scientists to start making some better rockets.  According to their study, at current rates of resource consumption, we will need another Earth in 20 years.  By the time 2050 rolls around, we’ll need the equivalent of nearly three Earth’s to feed our current resource needs.

The report measures our total ecological footprint.  They define ecological footprint as “the area of biologically productive land and water required to provide the renewable resources people use, and includes the space needed for infrastructure and vegetation to absorb waste carbon dioxide (CO2).”  The report says that our consumption needs surpassed the 50% capacity mark in 2007 and has doubled in size since 1966.

However, not all is lost.  You don’t need to jump into the nearest spaceship and jet off for the next world just yet.  We can still fix this if we act smart.  The World Wildlife Fund is now conducting a new study to figure out how to provide all of our energy needs by using renewal resources without raising the average temperature of the world over the very crucial 2 degrees Celsius mark.  That last part is important, especially if we don’t want Pennsylvania to be referred to as “ocean front property” anytime soon.  While their analysis isn’t complete yet, they estimate that by using existing technology and aggressive action (read: multi-national support to make this a global effort), we should be able to produce 95% of our energy needs using only renewable energy sources.  It’s a lofty notion that relies on more than just technology and scientists to make it happen, but considering the alternative, it’s one that needs to be given a great deal of attention.

More than just energy needs and our affect on the environment is the problem with sustainable food.  Using the average Italian diet, which is presumably a good benchmark for the average diet of someone living in the western world, we’ll need the equivalent of two planets by 2050 to continue eating the way we are with the projected 9.2 billion people that will inhabit our world by then.  The reason for that problem mainly has to do with our love of meat and dairy, which require land and food for the animals so that we can in turn use them for a source of food.  Unless we find another solution for the raising of animals to continue our meat-rich diets, we’re going to have to make a large adjustment.

By addressing these problems early on, we can work to find solutions that will affect our lives on a global scale.  The reality of the situation is that as large as Earth may be, we’re only going to be covering more and more of it, requiring more resources to live, and more food to eat.  With the closest planet currently 200 years away by current technology standards, we need to start solving problems here and leave planet jumping for later generations.

To read the original article, please go to http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1694750/print

News – Definitely the Worst Water Park

Many summer theme parks have water slides with closed tubes so that riders cannot see which direction they’re going.  They are then dumped into a large pool at the bottom, sometimes very suddenly.  No matter how unnerving the experience may be for some, it always ends in smiles.

Unfortunately, this story was nothing like that experience at all.  Recently, a city worker descended into the sewer system to conduct an inspection and somehow became detached from his safety line.  He was then sucked through more than one mile of the city’s least desirable water in a pipe that was only 27 inches wide.  As a comparison, the pod that the Chilean miners were rescued in was 28 inches wide, and they all had to arch their shoulders inward to fit.

Crews on the surface frantically searched for him using surrounding man holes on the route he was being taken on.  After about a mile and a half, they reached a golf course.  There, the worker, named Daniel Collins, was able to clutch to the edge of one of the access holes and scream for help. 

Fire fighters finally heard his voice coming from below the ground and lowered themselves down to get him.  It took them 90 minutes to finally locate Collins.  There, 12 feet down into the man hole, Collins clung to whatever he could grab and the fireman hooked him to a harness to hoist him to safety.  Bruised and not entirely coherent, Collins was rushed to a nearby hospital.

As of Tuesday night, he was still listed as being in critical condition and was being treated for hypothermia and was being given antibiotics due to the environment he was found in and the possibility of accidental ingestion. 

Fire fighters present when they found Collins say that he was very lucky to be found at all, let alone in good enough condition to call for help and talk to them. 

Daniel Collins is one lucky guy, all things considered.  His unexpected, and very cramped, ride through the world’s worst water park surely wasn’t fun, but his injuries are mild enough that he should recover quickly as long as the antibiotics take care of any other issues that may affect him.  I can’t imagine how frightening it must’ve been as he was pushed like a cork for a mile and a half underground.  It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

To read the original article, please go to http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101013/ap_on_fe_st/us_swept_away

News – World’s Largest Rail Tunnel

On Friday, October 15, two meters of rock were chipped away to join two sections of tunnel that took 14 years to complete.  The tunnel, now measuring 34 miles long, is the largest rail tunnel in the world.

The tunnel’s record used to belong to Japan’s Seikan tunnel, which comes up 4 kilometers short on the hulking Gotthard Base Tunnel.

By creating the tunnel, the trip from Zurich to Milan will take roughly two and a half hours, some sixty minutes less than it used to.

Since construction began in 1996, more than 2,500 workers have been involved on the project.  The cost to cut the tubes through the Alps reached more than ten billion dollars, but it is estimated that alpine freight train traffic will increase by roughly 75 percent.

With the tunnel in place, now refinements need to be made.  Track needs to be put down and tested and reinforcements need to be put in place.  More than that, though, the Swiss need to upgrade their freight infrastructure to support the massive increase in traffic as a result of the shorter passage that’s just been created.  Luckily for them, all the finish work will take another seven years, as they don’t predict any traffic going through the tunnel system until 2017.

If you think about it, 34 miles is huge.  It’s just 12 miles short of being the length of two marathons.  The tallest building in the world, the Burj Dubai, could be placed on its side 66 times and still not fully reach from end to end.

With an increase in concerns over carbon footprints and emissions, this tunnel will do a lot to increase commerce without putting more trucks on the road to accomplish that task.  At over 10 billion dollars, it didn’t come cheap, but the local economies will surely prosper and eventually it will have paid for itself. 

I just wonder if commercial trains will be able to go through it as well.  I’d love to be able to travel there and make the trip.  Though, I wouldn’t even try to hold my breath the full length of the tunnel.

To read the original article, please go to http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/10/15/switzerland.rail.tunnel.gotthard/?hpt=Sbin

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Let’s Not Overdo It

First of all, I want to say that when it comes to the rights of persons with disabilities, I am one of the strongest advocates there is.  I would also, however, say that some people overdo it.  There was an incident in my bowling league last year that serves as a perfect example of what I mean.  Before I explain what happened, let me describe how the bowling lanes are set up.

There is a seating area in front of the lanes where people wait their turn to bowl.  In order to bowl, you have to take one step up on to the lanes. In our league, we have a woman in a wheelchair.  The reason we allow her to bowl, aside from the obvious, is because the bowling establishment has an accessible ramp-like device with sliding rails available for her so that she can take the bowling ball, roll it down the ramp and out into the lane.  The woman’s provider, who is her constant defender, has the wheelchair placed on the second level where the lanes are, and while she is waiting for her turn, the wheelchair is placed between lanes.  Being that the wheelchair is large, the bowlers who bowl in her area have been complaining for weeks that they can’t concentrate because the wheelchair is in their way.  Yesterday, the complaints escalated so badly that the provider was told to leave the woman’s wheelchair in the seating area below where all the other bowlers were seated.  Several of the able-bodied bowlers offered to help move the wheelchair up the step when it was her turn, which would solve the whole problem.  Well, the provider wouldn’t have any of it.  She said that it’s not the woman’s fault that she’s in a wheelchair, and that all the other bowlers need to understand.  Furthermore, the provider couldn’t guarantee this kind of help moving the chair to and from the lanes every week, and that the woman in the wheelchair doesn’t need to hear all the bowlers say that she’s in the way, especially when it’s not her fault.

At one point, after several of us tried to talk the provider into leaving her client in the seating area, my assistant director threatened to stop all bowling in my lanes until the provider complied.  Reluctantly, the provider complied, but told me that she will call a lawyer or a representative of the Americans With Disabilities Act, because she felt her client was treated unfairly.  I pointed out that we gave her the solution, which was no big deal, but she refused to hear me.

I may be wrong, but the provider strikes me as the type who will use disability rights as a weapon every time she thinks her client is wronged in any way.  It may be embarrassing for the client to hear how she’s in the way of other bowlers, but then again, if I decided to stand around in other people’s way, even though I walk but can’t see, I would be told about it directly because I don’t have a provider.  I also told the provider that the rest of us sit in the seating area, and not stand on the lanes waiting to bowl, so why can’t her client join us.  All the provider said was that her client is in a wheelchair, so everyone has to understand.

Is this a case of taking disability rights too far?  The danger in taking these rights too far is that the disability population would be regarded as wanting special treatment.  This is why, if someone wants to use disability rights to defend groups or individuals with disabilities, they should do it wisely and when it’s appropriate to do so.

If this particular provider wants to use the Americans With Disabilities Act to defend her client, she must keep in mind that you don’t inconvenience others in the process.  These rights require equal treatment among all of us, disabled or not, and furthermore, the bowling league has many individuals with disabilities in it, even though only one is in a chair.

Prior to this incident, the provider has taken issue with the bowling facility for not being totally accessible to wheelchair clients.  In the first place, the building has a grandfather clause exempting ownership from spending the money, because the building is over 60 years old.  Lately, the owners have spent some money putting in a ramp in one of the entrances, but that’s only because it’s being done out of the goodness of their hearts, and not because of a law.

Your thoughts are welcome in the reader’s forum.

Contributor Blaine Deutscher – To Braille or Not To Braille

Since entering university, I have had to decide whether or not to continue to use Braille as a supplement to audio devices or to abandon Braille and rely totally on audio devices.  Many blind people that feel that Braille is no longer an important tool and that audio technology can meet all of their needs.  I am told that only 10% of blind individuals today use Braille.  Should I continue to use Braille which is bulky and expensive or do I rely only on my computer, scanning software, and screen reading program as adaptations?

Those who argue against continuing to use Braille stress the availability of audio materials.  Companies are giving children memory sticks with programs that will allow their computer to read for them, and as adults there are services provided so they don’t have to read Braille. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has a news line which you can call and listen to newspapers. One can take a printed document and scan it into a computer and the computer will read it. The CNIB library has an audio service which provides novels on CDs. There is a device called the PenFriend with which you can record on stickers a movie title or food item for labeling, schedules and so on. When you put the pen on the sticker and press the button it will play the recording. Braille, however, takes up a lot of space and is expensive to produce.

On the other hand, the Florida Blind Services gives the following argument in favor of Braille use. “When children who are blind, visually impaired, or deaf/blind are learning to read, Braille is the best way for them to develop skills in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Audiotapes and computers that “speak” a text through a voice synthesizer program provide access to all sorts of written materials, but they fail to give new readers the tools that they need to read and write for themselves.  Although complex charts and graphs may be almost impossible to describe well orally, they can be clearly communicated in Braille.”  

Others say that Braille equals equality and gives blind individuals the independence that they need to live a normal working life. With Braille you are able to organize your life, label CD’s, mark clothing, and file documents in folders, etc. Your computer might crash or batteries go dead but like a pen and paper, Braille will always be there. You can pull out a Braille writer and write a quick note to phone someone while your computer is getting serviced. You can read notes for oral presentations more easily in Braille.  Statistics show that blind individuals that know Braille are more employable, while those that do not are less likely to find employment.

After looking at the pros and cons of using Braille, I came to the conclusion that Braille is important to me in addition to the audio technology. Not only can Braille help me organize my life but it is a faster way to pick up on mistakes with grammar or spelling. Braille also allows me to participate with sighted individuals in group presentations, common games, label my CD’s, spices, and re-read an assignment for clarity. I think I still need Braille just like a sighted person still needs a pen and paper.

Contributor Alex Horton – Degrassi Junior High

You’ve heard the expression “It’s so bad it’s good.” That phrase definitely applies to the subject of this week’s article: the 1980s Canadian TV show Degrassi Junior High.

Degrassi Junior High was a teen drama about life at a school in Toronto. It was created by Linda Schuyler, a former teacher and aired on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), the public broadcaster in Canada. Schuyler created the show with the main intent of tackling issues teenagers face. Degrassi Junior High found a quite lucrative additional market in school classrooms as a result.

Degrassi Junior High was preceded by “Kids Of Degrassi Street”, which ran from 1982-1986, and featured many of the same actors, but as different characters. Degrassi Junior High ran from 1987-1989, and was followed by Degrassi High, which was really a continuation of the show. Incidentally, Dennis Harvey, the executive who came up with the idea of extending Degrassi Junior High into high school, was hailed as a programming genius.

So what made Degrassi Junior High so bad it was good? Well, the first reason, as already stated, is that it ran on a government-run network and was focused on teaching kids about issues.

The second reason was it was created by educators, and is thus portrayed teen life as filtered through the mind of a teacher with a lot of so-called expert knowledge.

The third reason for the show’s cheesiness was its low budget. Rather than hiring professional child actors, Schuyler hired kids from high school drama and church basement acting classes. This made for some quite “entertaining” acting on the part of the kids in the show, but not even the adult actors hired to fill the roles of parents and other grown-ups were good at acting.

Another reason why Degrassi Junior High was so lovably bad was the writing. As already noted, the series was a world of teenagers as viewed by adults. There are Canadians who like to think Degrassi was a realistic portrayal of high school, but anyone who has both been a teenager and watched the show will tell you it isn’t realistic in very many ways. You get the feeling the producers didn’t exactly sit down and talk to many typical teenagers.

Beyond that, there really aren’t any words to explain why Degrassi Junior High was so wonderfully horrible. To really get a sense of the show, my best advice would be to watch clips of it on YouTube.

For all its faults, though, Degrassi Junior High holds a special place in mine, as well as many other Canadians hearts. I would not have both Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High in my DVD collection if I didn’t think there was something special about them.

Feature Writer John Christie – How to Make Your Rehab Experience a Success

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This is a good time to obtain tips from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselors and former VR counselors on how to handle the VR experience if you are a VR client.

According to Joe Strechay, who works for AFB CareerConnect and who formerly worked for the Florida Department of Education, Division of Blind Services for five years as a rehab counselor he suggests:

“You must remember, the VR counselor’s job is not to find or give you a job; he or she is supposed to help prepare you and guide you toward opportunities for employment. It is important to realize your job search is your job, and gaining the most from your VR experience is part of that job. Job seeking is a job in and of itself. You should get up in the morning thinking about ways to find a job and then follow through. It’s also very important to keep an open line of communication with your counselor. You may want to send him or her e-mails with updates on what you are doing to better prepare yourself for work or provide them with information about job leads you are pursuing. It is important for your counselor to see you are putting forth effort to find work.”

Strechay also says that the road to finding fulfilling employment is a long one. He said that if challenges arise from your VR experience, you must remain courteous and professional. There may be times when you want to say something out of frustration but Strechay recommends holding back “Because a good working relationship with VR staff is a great asset.”

Strechay also suggests other advice to remember for the VR Client: If you have a deadline to meet such as getting documentation to the VR Counselor get it to them before the deadline date.

If your VR Counselor requests something, always follow through on that request. Strechay suggests doing the research on jobs that interest you and use the Internet as a research tool.  

Keep notes in regards to contacts with your VR Counselor and keep copies of emails that you receive from your VR Counselor and potential employers.

He also says to keep a copy of your plan, including employment information, and organize it by date. Strechay also says that you will be offered Rehabilitation skills to improve your blindness skills both at work and at home.

Most VR agencies have a handbook or procedure guide that VR counselors follow. You can find these online and rules differ from state to state. “Services offered in one state may not be offered in another.” Strechay noted. “States have different programs through their VR agency and may include programs aimed at children, teens (often called transition programs), seniors (often called independent living programs), vocational rehabilitation programs (employment training, including post-secondary training), or Blind Enterprisers’ Program (as part of the Randolph Shepherd Act).”

He says that if you want a piece of technology or equipment, you should justify its use. In addition, he suggests getting training on the piece of equipment and asking as many questions that you can.

Sheri Koch, who is a program supervisor for the Blind & Visually Impaired Services for the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services also works extensively in VR. “The mission of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services is to enable and empower individuals with disabilities to work and live independently,” Koch said. “Our role in blind services is to work with the client with vision loss to provide all appropriate services to enable the individual to live and work with vision loss.”

Koch said that individuals should look into their VR options early. “School-age individuals should start meeting with their rehabilitation counselor in the 10th or 11th grade to begin developing the client-counselor relationship. Counselors for the blind should start attending the client’s IEP meetings at this same time to begin working on transition issues,” Koch said. Koch also stated that self identification issues are important to the student, especially if they have low vision. “If vision loss occurs after the individual has completed public school,” Koch remarked, “the sooner the connection between the counselor and prospective rehabilitation client can be made, the better.  Generally, we begin working with individuals around age 16 or so, but there is no set limit on the maximum age as long as it is reasonable to consider employment for the person with vision loss,” Koch said.

Some advice on dealing with rehab counselors, especially if you have been in the system for a long time and had some bad experiences in rehab, is to have a positive attitude when talking to your new counselor. In other words, don’t sell your skills down the river. Be upbeat.

Look at having a new rehab counselor as a fresh experience. Keep in contact with your new counselor and let he or she know how your doing with the job search. Finally, develop a plan on working on the job search and stick to it. By following these suggestions in the article and by going to the main source where the article was taken and following their suggestions, you’ll be given the process your best shot at being successful.

To read the source material for this article, please go to http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw110602