Archive for January, 2011

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia Brings Experiences of Disability to Life

 

As someone with a disability, I spend a lot of my time educating the public about what it means to be blind. Sometimes I don’t mind explaining things, but there are definitely instances when I wish that more people were exposed to people with disabilities. A museum in Philadelphia has created an exhibit that will hopefully do just that. The exhibit will be around until this April, and if you live in the area, I think it would be great to hear about someone’s experience.

According to their website, “Access-Ability presents people living with disabilities as participants in the world. The exhibit features fun and engaging activities that show similarities and differences in how each of us go places, communicate, have fun, and learn.” Here is what the exhibit includes.

Going Places: Visitors can explore a wheelchair obstacle course and a multi-sensory city walk.

Talk with Me: Visitors learn phrases in American Sign Language, type their names in Braille and communicate using pictures.

Just for Fun: Try a hand-pedaled bike and create art using sight, touch and sound.

Think about It: Visitors test their attention and memory skills.

Invent It: Experience design challenges, discover multiple ways to accomplish tasks and learn how things can be designed to work for the largest number of people.

Resource Area: Visitors can learn more through books and online resources.

I think these all sound like great exhibits where everyone can have fun and learn something new. I often wish that I myself had more exposure to people with different disabilities than my own.

For more information about the Please Touch Museum visit their website at http://www.pleasetouchmuseum.org/

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Considerations for Choosing a Magnifier

I know that in many cases, friends and family try to pick out a magnifier for a loved one in order to offer assistance.  However, the best thing to do is to bring the person along who will use the magnifier.  Here are some things to consider when you are choosing a hand held magnifier.

Magnifiers exist in many different strengths ranging from 2 power up to 14 power.  The higher the power, the smaller the viewing area becomes.  This is because the lens must be curved and thickened each time the power is increased.  Also, the distance from your eye to the lens becomes shorter as you increase the magnification.

The first thing to determine is the size of the print that you can read without a magnifier.  A trained professional can help you determine this factor.  Once this is determined, the professional can then begin to show you magnifiers of varying styles.  In most cases, you have the options of getting either a stand magnifier or a hand held magnifier.  The stand magnifiers must rest on your reading surface and typically have lights built in to light your reading surface.  The easiest way to use a stand magnifier is to rest it flat on your reading surface and slowly bring your eye towards the magnifier until the text becomes clear to you.  The hand held magnifiers are not designed to rest on your reading surface.  These magnifiers need to be moved a bit away from the reading surface and can be a bit tricky to use. It is best to place them flat on the reading surface and slowly pull them away until the text is magnified and clear.  Once you find the correct distance that works, you have to keep the magnifier at that distance as you read.   The hand held magnifiers can come with a light, or you can purchase them without lights.

When you read with either type of magnifier, it is best to use your eye that provides you with the best vision.  In some cases, the text can look distorted if you are attempting to look through the magnifying lens with both eyes.

If you like to read a lot, the stand types are most desirable because you are resting these on your reading surface.  People usually purchase these types of magnifiers for home use.  If you need something to carry with you to retail stores and restaurants, the hand held magnifiers are a smaller, lighter weight option.  Typically these are used for a shorter duration of reading.

If you are looking for a place to find magnifiers, check to see if your country or state offers services for people with low vision.  Also ask your eye doctor if she or he can recommend a place where you can purchase magnifiers.  Finally, check out the services link in the magazine, http://www.matildaziegler.com/29/

For those of you who use magnifiers, which do you prefer?  Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Maintaining Emotional Balance in Times of Change

How do you handle unexpected change?  Never having taken advantage of our faculty and staff emotional wellness seminars, I probably arrogantly and erroneously felt that I did not need such help.  In hindsight, the timing of this seminar was perfect and solidified the fact that I handle stressful situations either with humor, talking, weeping or all of the above, often all at once.

During the hour-long seminar on maintaining emotional balance, participants were encouraged to share a change that we felt was anxiety-producing.  Being the only self-proclaimed person with a visual impairment, I could have chosen to sit quietly by and listen. But I bolstered my courage and took the plunge to mention that my new commute to work was inconvenient and annoying, as I was much farther from my job and I had to cross several dangerous intersections.  When asked how I coped, I replied honestly that I mutter to myself.  This got a laugh and the facilitator of the session said that was an acceptable coping mechanism. I wasn’t candid enough to offer the actual words that I mutter but it has definitely helped my commute.

In yet another situation, how could I possibly have known that our beloved cat, Zellie, would pass away?  We did everything we could think of, to no avail. The day Maria called to tell me that we’d lost her, I lost it.  I sat there, surrounded by compassionate colleagues and allowed the tears to flow.  I could not have held them in had I tried.  In many places of employment, there is a tacit rule that you should run to a rest room if you need to take care of such a private matter.  It never entered my mind to do that, and I thanked my co-workers for allowing me to sit for at least half an hour and just talk about her.  Zellie was our dear companion and we shall always miss her. Talking to friends has definitely aided in the healing process.

I must also embrace another horrible change–the Microsoft Office ribbon bar.  I MUST embrace that horrid ribbon bar.  I would dearly love to cut it into shreds, scattering it where it will never be seen or heard ever again.  Mastering Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2010 has been like climbing Mount Everest with oil on my shoes.  I take a few mincing steps forward and slide back a few more.  And sense really does not enter into the thing.  I understand Alt-H for Home and can deal with Alt-N for the Insert ribbon but Alt-K for the Transitions ribbon?  Where on earth is there a K in the word Transitions?  All I need do is think of my expectant students and relentless bills and that infuriating ribbon instantly becomes a grudging acquaintance.

How do you handle change?  Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

Letter from the Editor

I find it funny–not in the “Haha, that’s hilarious” sense–when I get certain reactions from people if they ask what I do for a living.  When I tell someone that I am the managing editor of a magazine for the blind, they look at me as if I’ve just challenged them to something.  They’re so used to hearing things like, “Oh, I work in finance,” or, “I’m in marketing,” that when I hit them with something truly unique, they act as if their follow-up question needs to be better than my response, so as to keep the conversation going at the heightened level it has just been so quickly elevated to.

Inevitably, there are a number of common responses.  “Really, do you know how to write in Braille?” is a popular one, and one that’s easily forgivable.  When I tell them that the magazine is published electronically, they act like I’m pulling their chain (I mean, who publishes a magazine for the blind, let alone one that they can’t possibly read, right?).  It is at this point when, depending on where I am and if I feel the urge to educate, I can explain or change the subject entirely (a good segue here is to ask something about them–people love that).

More often than not, I lean towards an (albeit brief) education–a crash course in the technological abilities of an entire population.  The sighted public, for the most part, has no clue what the blind community is capable of, and if I can teach just one person that computers are not useless mystery boxes for their blind users, then I consider that a success.  My education usually reaches a crescendo when I tell them that you are all perfectly capable of using touch screen smart phones. 

Most of the people I talk to become genuinely fascinated about what it is that I have to say, like I lifted the rock of anthropology and let them take a peek under the back corner they never bothered looking at.  Those people, the ones I actually get through to, are the ones I enjoy talking to.  The ones who have questions–intelligent questions–not necessarily about what I do, but for the audience I do it for.

Of course, there are others whose curiosities extend in other directions.  While I don’t know the exact odds, the chances of some simpleton who happened to start the conversation asking just how it is that blind people are able to clean themselves properly after using the bathroom does come up more than I’d like to admit.  With these people, I normally ask if they enjoy coloring books, and recommend the new Dora the Explorer series, despite the fact that the degree of difficulty might be slightly high.

Having attended a packed birthday party of a friend this weekend, I played this conversational pinball quite often.  I was happy to find that the house had not one simpleton.

In magazine news, this week is business as usual.  I will be sending out the January articles to be recorded, and the audio version should be ready in a couple weeks.  Updates will follow.

For those of you who, like me, have been thrust into the frozen tundra we’ve found ourselves in, stay vigilant, stay safe, and stay warm.  Someone told me there are less than 50 days until spring.  They’d better not be a lying.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Ross Hammond

Reader’s Forum

For your convenience, each reader’s forum entry is separated by the ## symbol for easy navigation.  Enjoy!

In response to Feature Writer John Christie – The Blind Person’s Allowance:

In order to receive the Blind Person’s Allowance in England (just as in Scotland and Wales) one only has to be registered as a blind person to receive this tax allowance: we certainly do not have to be totally blind to receive it.  In our parlance this is 6/60. What you call 20/200.

Re buying accessible equipment.

We have another – more controversial – allowance known as the Disabled Living Allowance which is available for anyone with any form of disability (though like your own system its darned hard to get).  This is not means tested, and anyone from the age of 3 to 64 may apply for it if they’re registered blind or partially sighted. It has two parts: Care Component and Mobility Component. At present (though not for much longer), these are split into levels. The mobility component is in two levels.  Someone who’s registered partially sighted such as myself will hopefully be able to get the lowest rate mobility allowance only.

At present those registered blind – even with no sight whatsoever – will get the lower level mobility allowance.

But from April this year, those with no sight at all, light/dark perception, color vision and as much as 3/60 vision plus people with tunnel vision or with no peripheral vision will be given the higher rate of mobility allowance.

And this is not all. The whole lot is to be disbanded in 2013 or 2014 and replaced by a new allowance: Personal Independent Payment – and it is feared that many of us who will not qualify for the higher rates now will be losing them altogether.

You also asked if people use their tax allowance to buy equipment.  The tax allowance is £250 so yes, that will go some way to buying our equipment. If one is lucky enough to be in work, the government has a scheme ‘Access to Work’ which provides funds for specialist equipment in the workplace, but a lot of people do save up their allowance (paid monthly) to buy all the special equipment that keeps us independent. Like you in the US, it doesn’t come cheap to buy any equipment.  While it is true that a small amount of basic equipment (such as a hand magnifier) is available on our National Health Service and the provision of a guide dog is paid for totally by charitable donations to the dedicated not-for-profit organization, one has to buy even a white cane at not exactly pence! Actually come to think of it, as we also have to pay for our spectacles unless in very straitened circumstances, most of us do need all the monetary help we can get just to make the most of our distance vision or to protect our eyes from the sun that we certainly do see here all the year round if not as hot as you do in the US.

Sincerely Mrs Chris McMillan

Reading, Berks UK

chris.mcmillan@ntlworld.com

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In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – To Retire or Keep Working my Guide Dog:

I don’t think there is an arbitrary time to retire a guide dog.  As long as the dog is comfortable, can do its job well and enjoys working, I see no reason to retire it.  A handler knows his dog so well that I think he senses when the time is right, and when that time comes, it’s the most loving thing he can do for such a wonderful companion and helper.

Allison Fallin

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In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – To Retire or Keep Working my Guide Dog:

I wish to talk about my experience on retiring a guide dog.

Though I am currently not a dog user, I used a yellow Labrador retriever steadily for eight years which I received from Guiding Eyes.

I found myself wrestling with the question of when to retire my dog for something over a year.  He was in good health, though I too depended upon an arthritic medication and aspirin to relieve my dog of some pain.

While attending an NFB convention, I asked several staff members from Guiding Eyes as well as dog handlers when I should consider retiring my dog. The universal answer I got was “You’ll know when it’s time.”

One day, about a year later, I was making a fairly routine trip when my dog lead me diagonally across an intersection for what seemed to be no apparent reason.  I finished my trip, took a cab home from the appointment and took off his harness.  He immediately went to his kennel and did not come out for more than four hours.  Though he still had more than two years of life in him, and though we would walk and play, he had given me the message that it was time for leisure.

Ever since that day, I have come to believe that a dog will do something unusual that will let his handler know when it is time to retire.  I would doubt that a person should put an age limit on when a dog should stop working.  I have heard of dogs working until age 12 and I’ve heard of dogs retiring at 4.

It is my opinion that if someone is to tell you that you’ll know when it is time is indeed a statement of wisdom.

David Meyer

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Good day,

I am an older blind guy.  I have found a few tricks that help me in my day to day life.  One thing that makes blind people a bit isolated if we don’t live in a large city where public transportation is everywhere and often, is the inability to get across town and to the exact location without paying a great deal of money taking a cab.  Here is what I do.  I take the bus to as close as I can to get to the location I wish to travel to.  However, sometimes getting to the exact location is not on the bus route and I can’t walk that far or don’t know the route.  While I am on the bus, I take out my trusty cell phone and call a cab.  I tell the cab company what corner (after asking the bus driver,) that I will be waiting on and what time the bus arrives.  I get off the bus and there is the taxi.  The cab takes me the last mile or two and as I am leaving the location I call the cab once again and have them pick me up.

I don’t need to feel isolated in my suburban home.  I can get out for a night on the town for bus fare and perhaps another ten or twenty bucks for the cab.  It isn’t perfect, but solves my problems.               

Glenn Sabatka – Fort Myers, Florida

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I wrote the following to my local newspaper, the Huntsville Times, and it was published on Jan. 14.

On Saturday, January 8, there was a tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona.  At least six people were killed, including a judge and at least one child.  Many others, including a US Congresswoman, were seriously wounded.  The shooter is in custody.  At this writing, his motives are not known.

This is not the end of the story.  The blood which was spilled in Tucson covers the hands (and the lips) of many prominent citizens.  I refer to the hosts of what has come to be called “talk radio and TV.”  You can find them all over, just tune up and down your radio dial–I need not name them here.

Their rhetoric is filled with hate, bigotry, intolerance, confrontation, and a totally unAmerican attitude of total condemnation of those with whom they differ ideologically. Just turn their programs on for fifteen minutes.  You will hear terms such as “traitor, treasonous, enemy, socialist, communist, nazi, unamerican.”

You will see web sites, including one  from a candidate in the 2008 election, showing the faces of opponents with shooting targets superimposed over them.

Did the shooter listen to talk radio?  Is he a nut of the right or left? Did he visit these web sites?  We do not know at this time.  However, the blatant hostility and aggression spewed forth daily in our media must surely have touched him.  It is time to re-think the concept of “free speech,” and talk a little more about “responsible, respectful, tolerant speech.”

Timothy Hendel

Huntsville, AL 35802

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In Response to Feature Writer John Christie – The Blind Persons Allowance:

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to the article about the Blind Allowance.  As far as SSI and SSDI are concerned in this country, we blind who are unable to work are penalized heavily and live by outdated rules.  In California, they cut the SSI down to $908 a month from $972 a month in 2008.  There is no cost of living increase until 2012.  If a blind person marries another blind person, $200 is taken away from each of them each month, no matter what part of the country they live in.  In other words, if you live in a state which pays you only the Federal part of the SSI, which is $694 a month, and you marry someone who is blind, and he/she loses $200 of their check as well as you do, and you are left with barely enough to support you, unless you live in low income housing, or with family.  If you marry someone sighted and they get a good income, like $2500 a month, then the blind person loses all their SSI check and gets no money at all.  These outdated rules are the reason so many of us live alone, or stay out of relationships, or live with other people without being married to them.  SSI gives us no incentive to improve ourselves, no way out.  You are not supposed to do this, or that, and the cuts in the state part of the SSI have hurt us in various ways.  I cannot afford to go places as often as I would like to, because at $5 each way, it adds up.  It cuts down on our being able to socialize with others.  I also have to be careful what I buy at the grocery store, and not get anything extra.  The only luxuries I allow myself these days are Internet access and my XM satellite radio.  Besides myself, I have two cats to take care of.  If I wasn’t in low income housing, I’d be on the street, as my family has passed away years ago.  There is no way to save money for anything, no savings, nothing extra.  At this time, I am glad my landlord pays for the heat and electricity and I pay for the rest.  Because AT&T charges separate charges for every little thing, I am on Universal Lifeline, which lets me pay $9.07 a month.  I have no long distance on my main phone, because I cannot afford long distance.  I don’t have voice mail, Caller ID, or anything extra on the house phone.  So, as you can see, the deep cuts have forced me to cut away a lot.

Sincerely,

Marie Rudys

Sacramento, California

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In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – To Retire or Keep Working My Guide Dog:

Hi Steven,

This is a very sensitive topic and one that every guide dog owner has their own opinion about, but I decided I’d give mine since I’ve used a guide dog since 1976.  I believe each dog is different along with each circumstance, but I’ve chosen to work my dogs as long as they could work.  The situation was different with my first dog since she suddenly started having vision problems at the age of 6, and I needed a dog to get me to and from work.  I had to retire her.  I didn’t have room for 2 dogs so chose to take her back to the Leader Dog School and received my second dog.  This was the right decision for me at that time in my life but that doesn’t mean it would be now.  I received my third dog from Leader Dog and worked him until he was thirteen.  We went to technical college together.  I couldn’t have made it through that experience without a dog, so if something had happened to him during that time, I’d have been faced to make another difficult decision.  I just put my fourth dog to sleep last February at the age of 14.  Due to my circumstances, I was fortunate to be able to give her a long happy life and was able to allow her to slow down with age.  I worked her until the last year of her life, although we had slowed down considerably. I’ve now received my fifth dog from Southeastern Guide Dog, and my plans are to keep him just as long as he’s happy and healthy.  I believe I’ll know when it’s time to stop working him.  Each one of my dogs has let me know.  That certainly hasn’t made it any easier to make those decisions, but I’m glad I was able to listen to my heart and make each decision as it came. I don’t believe there can be a mandatory retirement age for man or dog. As you mentioned in your article, two things that are of utmost importance are the financial means to support your dog and to be sure your dog is happy, healthy, and comfortable.  If you can do these, then I say let your heart be your judge.        

Thank you for the opportunity to express my views on this topic.

Susan

Op Ed with Bob Branco -The Reading Edge

In 1997, I worked for a company that sold devices which scanned printed material and converted it into recognizable speech.  It was my job to visit blind people in Massachusetts, and along with a sales partner, demonstrate the machine in their homes.  A few months later, when the company went out of business, they decided to let me keep my demo machine by asking me to buy it from them for half the cost.

The machine, which is known as the Reading Edge, opens up a whole new world for blind people who want to read newspapers, their mail, or any other print material which is not cursive.  The Reading Edge is a desk top scanner which weighs approximately 20 pounds.  In order for the machine to read the printed material, you place the print document on top of a glass surface, and then you activate the scan feature.  The scanner portion of the machine will move back and forth under the glass until it fully recognizes the material that you want to read.  When it is finished recognizing the material, it stops and starts reading the page to you in a clear voice.

There are several other things that the Reading Edge does, including the spelling of words, moving forward line by line, adjusting color contrast, etc.

I love my Reading Edge, and hope I never have to part with it.  It is a very compact and easy machine to operate, given the proper training, and is a lot smaller than what was on the market 30 years ago.  Kurzweil used to produce reading machines which performed similarly, but were in three large pieces, scanner, speaker and key board.  The voice was a little more difficult to understand, and you needed a hand truck to transfer their machine from place to place.

What ways have you made reading your mail, or any other document that requires your immediate attention, more accessible?  Would you recommend any other devices?

Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – A 23 Year Trip Back Home

When Joy White was just 16, she took her 19 day old daughter to a New York Hospital with a high fever. After some time, a woman posing as a nurse took the infant away, and Ms. White had to wait more than two decades until she would see her daughter again. Her baby, Carlina White, was abducted, given a new identity, and raised in Connecticut and Georgia.

Throughout the years, Carlina became more suspicious of who she really was, due to the fact that she did not resemble anyone in her alleged family. Furthermore, when Carlina never could obtain her birth certificate, her curiosity only heightened. She began searching the website of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and located pictures that she suspected were of herself. On January 4, 2011, exactly 23 years and 5 months after the day Carlina was kidnapped, her biological mother was informed of the miracle that her daughter was alive and well.

Carlina, still living in Georgia, reunited with her biological family in the Bronx on January 14. Four days later, the DNA test results confirmed that Carlina really did find her way back home.  For all the jubilation, however, Ann Pettway probably will not be smiling any time soon. She is the alleged kidnapper who raised Carlina, and went on the run last week. Following an intense manhunt, Ms. Pettway surrendered to the FBI in Connecticut yesterday.

Source: http://abcnews.go.com/CleanPrint/cleanprintproxy.aspx?1295882633025

Feature Writer Susan Roe – NFL Conference Championship Snack Feast

Here we are once again looking forward to another Sunday of planning a meal along with watching the top two NFL divisions go head to head for the NFC and AFC Championship titles.  It’s the Green Bay Packers vs. the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets vs the Pittsburgh Stealers.  We decided to watch Green Bay and Chicago, knowing that these two teams were the longest running rivals in NFL history.

Now that we decided which game we were going to watch, it was time to do some early prepping for the food we would be eating.  When Matt came home this morning from his night shift, he made the spinach dip before going to bed.  The dip is very easy to put together, requiring only 16 ounces sour cream, 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 envelope Knorr’s spring vegetable soup mix and 1 box of frozen spinach thawed.  Mix everything together with only half of the sour cream at this time and then set aside in the refrigerator for later.  Wen you’re ready for it again, check the dip’s thickness.  If you want to use it as a dip for chips or bread, add the remaining sour cream, or if you want it thick enough to spread on crackers, just leave it like it is.

Around noon, my sister Pattie and I baked a double batch of butterscotch brownies.  I was afraid one of two things were going to wake Matt upstairs, the heavenly aroma of the brownies baking or our little dog Quincy barking for the butterscotch chips.  Here is the easy brownie recipe.

Better Butterscotch Brownies

1 batch makes nine, 3-inch square brownies

Ingredients:

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick creamy unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt, mix well. Add butter, water, vanilla and eggs, and blend well. Spread the mixture evenly into your prepared pan. Sprinkle with butterscotch chips.

3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

After reading an article in the Janesville Gazette about the quarterbacks for the Bears and the Packers, and the off-field friendship they shared, I wondered if those two guys ever realized in their past that they would be where they are today, playing on opposing teams in the NFC Championship.  With the outcome of these two rival teams yet to be determined, let’s hope the losing friend is planning on watching the winning friend be championed once again in the Super Bowl in two weeks.

Here’s a brief recap of the NFC Championship Game – Green Bay vs. Chicago at Soldier Field

1st Quarter:

Touchdown!  Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers rushes for 1 Yard

7 to 0, Green Bay

No Surprise Green Bay is first to cross the goal line, but Chicago later pushes Green Bay out of field goal range.

2nd Quarter:

Touchdown!  Green Bay, J. Starks rushes 4 Yards

14 to 0, Green Bay

Chicago needs not to panic and rally their defense, but they are having trouble stopping Green Bay quarterback Rodgers.

Half Time:

Now that halftime gives us a brake in the game, we can put together the rest of our finger foods.  Matt sets up our plates with slices of smoked turkey, Genoa salami, pepperoni, smoked Swiss and Darrymore aged cheddar.  Topped off with two kinds of Triskets, rosemary/olive oil and cracked peppercorn/olive oil, along with thinly sliced French bread for the spinach dip.  We also treated ourselves with a glass of Duplin scuppernong white wine.  Now with our plates full and a brownie waiting on the side, we were ready for more football.

Second Half

3rd Quarter:

Chicago just can’t seem to stop Rodgers, yet their defense is showing signs of picking up.

4th Quarter:

Chicago is making a comeback with their third string quarterback who is trying his best to make a game of it.

Touchdown!  Chicago Bears, Chester Taylor for 1 Yard

14 to 7 Green Bay

Touchdown!  Green Bay, BJ Raji grabs an interception and runs it back 18 Yards

21 to 7 Green Bay

Touchdown!  Chicago, Earl Bennett for 35 Yards

21 to 14 Green Bay

Final Scores of the day:

NFC Champions:  the #6 Seed, Green Bay Packers, 21 to 14 

AFC Champions:  The #2 Seed, Pittsburgh Steelers, 24 to 19 over the New York Jets

Great, now off to the Super Bowl in Texas, for Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh.  Now I have a Super Bowl party to plan for and guests to invite!

Yay, go Packers!  Go Steelers!

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Working for an Independent Living Center

For three years, I worked in an Independent Living Center (referred to as an ILC) located in Yonkers, New York.  Westchester Disabled on the Move, Inc., is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to upholding the equal and civil rights and independence of people with disabilities.  ILCs can be found in every state and also in other countries. The core programs at our center included, but are not limited to, advocacy, housing, vocational support, access barrier resolution and other state and/or federally funded programs.

I held many job titles in that time period, including a youth leadership coordinator, transportation survey coordinator, and a Medicaid program service coordinator. The tasks I completed for each position held challenges for me both as a blind person and as someone returning to work after a ten year break from the workplace. Some of the challenges were simple to overcome, others weren’t so easy. For instance, I had hardly any trouble acclimating to the computer related elements of my new job but I struggled with finding a system to manage the paperwork and hand written documents generated by both the center and the paperwork required by other state or federally funded programs. More often than not, I created accessible documents because the center or agency working with us found certain documents impossible to change or replicate. I had to choose my battles, so to speak, when it came to accessible materials. As much as I wanted to manage the paperwork independently, it just wasn’t feasible without some sighted assistance. Being an ILC and founded upon tenets of equal access, our center’s executive director and office staff stepped in and provided a reasonable accommodation by scheduling daily and weekly meetings to help me sift through paperwork which wasn’t accessible to me otherwise. I still had complete control of what I wanted and needed to do the job and the staff acted only as an added means of compliance. No one ever told me how to do my job nor did they take away any of my job-related responsibilities.

The most difficult of these documents were always state and federally generated documents. Inevitably, when we would succeed in obtaining a specific accessible electronic set of documents for a program, we would begin a new program and have to start the process all over again. This often led to time lapses in project turn-around times and delays.

Despite the paperwork barriers, I found my time was split between coordinating services and referring consumers to other service providers. I became an advocate for our consumers, quite often the only advocate for an individual. I learned that a service coordinator not only assists the person with navigating the various systems but also mentors and/or collaborates with them. Quite often the consumer receiving services is unable to grasp the complexity of a given program. New York State’s Department of Social Services is one example of a public assistance program that intimidates people. I accompanied the consumer every step of the way, from the application process to case review interviews.

A service coordinator also must possess excellent communication skills and be proficient in organizing the care of whatever the consumer requires.

All in all, working for an ILC was extremely important for me because I not only learned how to help others but I also learned how to advocate for myself in the workplace.

If you would like to learn more about ILCs, visit: http://www.ilru.org/html/publications/directory/index.html

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Tips for Planning for the Next Nor’easter

If you live in the Midwest or Northeast United States, the daunting idea of planning for a snowstorm during winter is tough.  You have to arrive at the supermarket well before the storm, stocking up on enough non-perishables like bread and canned goods, and other items like batteries and paper products so you can feel secure when the storm hits.  

The process is trying for people who are blind–we meet severe winter storms with uneasiness.   We have to do extra planning, getting assistance either going to a supermarket or struggling to get assistance while there; praying that we have adequate amounts of food, as we might be snowed in for a few days or weeks.  Sighted people run around frantically, but at least they can drive themselves.

I moved to central Massachusetts, in 1990 to get married.  We lived in Fitchburg for 12 years and it is part of the “snow belt.” Needless to say, I have known severe winter weather.  Saturday   January 6, 1996, NOAA weather predicted a severe storm.  Always prepared, I shopped with friends at a local supermarket, buying enough food for two weeks.  My husband and I were grateful to have ample amounts of food and we felt content, able to survive that snowy weather.  We got 22 inches with that one, one of the biggest storms of that winter.

In 2009, I was living alone in a two bedroom apartment in Leominster.  It was one of the coldest, snowiest winters in decades.  Even with some advanced planning, I was barely able to have adequate food, but ingenuity and creativity made stretching nutritious meals a lot easier. Because of snow and slippery roads, I was homebound for most of January.  The reality of how tough it is for blind people to adequately prepare for adverse winter weather hit me. 

The most recent storm on January 11 was no different.  It was a nasty Nor’easter.  The supermarkets were crowded like always, but being a veteran to the whole process, I was able to get everything I needed before the skies opened up on us, burying the world underneath almost two feet of snow–more in some places.

We have to be vigilant in these times and adequate preparation for winter storms is a must. We should always have batteries and portable radios to keep up with news and weather conditions.  Non-perishable foods like soup, bread, and tuna fish are a necessity, as you don’t know if you’ll lose power, and your refrigerator.  A hand can-opener and paper products are must have items you will be glad you had as well.  If you have low vision, or are expecting visitors or helpers, keep flashlights handy. 

Even if you love snow, it’s important to be well prepared for it so that you can have a chance to get out and enjoy it if you choose to do so.

What are your tips for preparing for bad weather?  Share some with us in the reader’s forum.