Archive for March, 2011

Reader’s Forum

For your convenience, all reader’s forum entries are separated by the ## symbol.

Submitted by Karen Palau, she said:

I would like to respond to Bob Branco’s article entitled “Life at the YMCA.”  I too have been working out for 11 years now.  If one is physically able to exercise, I recommend it to feel better, look better, and become healthier.  As we know, one must exercise more and eat fewer calories as we age.  I try to run on the treadmill for an hour as many times a week as possible.  I also had a trainer for one summer and found that to be a great addition to my treadmill workout.  Exercise is addicting and I’ve passed on my love for exercise to my youngest daughter.  I recommend exercise of any kind to Matilda Z. readers as a way to reduce stress and maximize good health.  Thanks for the article, Bob.

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Edward Zolotarevsky responded to Carl Belnap’s computer question.  He said:

Hello Carl,

When I turn on my PC, the hard drive starts whirring and the fans start spinning.  This creates a hum.  Putting my hand on the fan verifies that it’s blowing air.  If you need more proof, press the CD drive button.  If the PC has power, the CD drive opens.  If there’s no power, the CD drive will not budge.

Edward Zolotarevsky

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Roy McCutcheon wrote in, saying:

I enjoyed your short comments on daylight savings time.  First of all, the term is a misnomer. It should be called daylight shifting time because all it does is shift things an hour. It doesn’t save any daylight, it just shifts it. It’s really an idea that’s come and gone. With no benefits at all, it should be discontinued and we should remain on standard time year-round. I remember reading a study released last year stating the time switch had no discernible benefits on energy use at all. The day of the time change also sees an increase in auto accidents and other types of accidents due to sleep deprivation. It’s time to stop these shenanigans and keep the time on standard year-round.

Roy McCutcheon

Reading, Pennsylvania

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In response to Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – A Moving Experience, Abbie wrote:

In response to Lynne Tatum’s article about moving, the last two times I moved, I hired three guys from the local homeless shelter. The facility has a program that allows residents to hire clients so they can gain work experience. Both times, the men arrived on time and were courteous and helpful, and I doubt they would have cared if their clothes got dirty. I only paid them $10.00 an hour, which is cheaper than a moving company would have charged. Perhaps homeless shelters in other towns have similar programs.

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Tim Hendel also responded to Carl Belnap’s computer question.  He said:

Carl Belnap said he has a problem knowing if his laptop computer is on or off.  My computer is also so quiet when it boots up that you can’t tell if it is on or off.

As it happens, all computers, especially laptops, cause interference on an AM radio which is near the computer.  I use this to know if my computer is on.  Tune your AM radio to the lower part of the dial, about 540 Kilohertz–be sure it is not on a station.  Hold it near the screen and turn the computer on.  You will hear a great deal of noise in the speaker.  When you turn the computer off, the noise will not disappear immediately, as it takes the computer a few seconds to shut down.  Then the noise will go away. Practice to get used to the kind of noise your particular computer generates.  Problem solved!

Tim Hendel

Huntsville, Alabama

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Elaine commented on Carl Belnap’s computer question as well.  She suggested:

I’d like to comment on Carl’s question about knowing whether you computer is on or off.  My desktop computer plays music when it comes on and plays a different sound when it shuts off.  Windows has a number of different sounds a person can choose from to indicate different things such as when a person has email or when an error has been made.  Windows sounds can be turned on or off.

Elaine Johnson

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A Fish Chowder Good Any Time of the Year

The first time I attempted making chowder from scratch was August of 1990.  I was newly married and it was a sunny summer afternoon.  While browsing through recipes from “Our New England Cookery,” a Braille cookbook published by the Massachusetts of the National Federation for the blind, I came across one for fish chowder that sounded great.  We both loved fish and seafood and thought that this one would be perfect for us.

While the preparation and cooking took most of the afternoon, the results were worth the time and effort.  The chowder was delicious and it became one of our favorite meals.  What was even better was that it worked for any season and we’d look forward to having it all year round. We would normally accompany it with homemade yeast rolls, corn bread, or biscuits–which were always a great touch.

In the chowder, you can use a variety of fish.  We usually picked haddock, cod, or flounder. On some occasions, we’d buy a blend of chowder bits comprised of salmon, cod, and haddock which we found at the local supermarket.

In addition to bread or biscuits, we’d also make sure to serve it with oyster crackers, or just regular Ritz crackers in a pinch. A nice tossed salad is also a great side dish.  Here is the recipe:

Fish Chowder

Serves four (if you have a hungry family there will be no left-overs)

Ingredients:

Five or six medium Maine, Yukon gold, or russet potatoes

One medium sweet onion

Four slices of bacon

Four to five cups water

Pinches of curry, garlic, and dill

One and a half pounds haddock, cod, or flounder

2 cups whole or low fat milk

One pint of light cream, half and half, or evaporated milk

One pad of butter (optional)

Directions:

In a five quart Dutch oven, crumble bacon which you have microwaved or cooked in a frying pan.  Sauté in Dutch oven with chopped onion.  Let mixture cook on low heat for five minutes. Pour water into Dutch oven, and cut and peel potatoes (Note: peeling is optional–the peels retain vitamins). Cut potatoes into small cubes and put them in Dutch oven when water is boiling.  Cook covered for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Strain water and add broken up fish, seasonings, and your choice of cream (either light cream, half and half, or evaporated milk).  Stir and add a pat of butter.  Let mixture simmer until ready to serve. 

Note: if you want thicker chowder, add twelve crumbled Ritz crackers.

Serve with a smile and loving thoughts.  Also, if you celebrate Lent it is a perfect Friday night meal.

News – Currency Identification App for the iPhone

Many of you are aware that the iPhone is one of the best mobile devices available to the visually impaired today.  Well, chalk another one up for the iPhone, because there is now an app which will identify US currency.

The application utilizes the camera in the iPhone to recognize all American currency–from the one dollar bill up to the hundred dollar bill.  Unfortunately, those of you with thousand dollar bills will just have to wait for an update.

Money, especially American money, can be tricky sometimes.  While everyone has their own way of recognizing the bills already in their possession, any new bills feel exactly the same.  That money in your hand could be a few ones, or a few twenties.  European countries have provided a solution to this problem by introducing different sized bills for each denomination.  These differences allow the blind and visually impaired to easily identify the bills in their hand without any outside help.  America just hasn’t implemented anything like this yet.

The app is especially smart as well, and can identify bills if they are folded, making it a fast-acting app for users on the go who don’t feel like waiting for a currency identifier to let them know what they’ve got.  You also don’t have to worry about getting the whole bill in the camera’s view, either, as the bills are visually different from one another.  The app is programmed to recognize the sometimes subtle differences between the bills and read off the money you have quickly and correctly.

For any of you who own and iPhone, you can find the app in the app store.  It’s called the LookTel Money Reader, and is on sale for $2.

Source: http://gizmodo.com/#!5780678/an-iphone-app-that-identifies-currency-for-blind-people

Contributor Marda Bartel – Reaching Up and Out from Another Kind of Darkness

The group sat in a circle.  Three of us were tense and expectant.  It was our graduation day.

No, this was not high school or college, or even guide dog school.  This was a different kind of graduation–a graduation from an adult partial hospitalization day treatment program and three of us, bound together by the journey we had taken with each other through mental illness, had accomplished another milestone in our recovery.

After the opening speech by the therapist group leader, a basket was passed around the circle and each of us selected one rock from the many in the basket.  When our names were called, we passed our rocks to the person to our right.  That person was to say something to us, something about how they’d seen us grow or other words of encouragement that we could take with us.  When the rock came back around to me I was to respond to all of the comments.

I was close to tears.  I was overjoyed to have reached this milestone but I knew I would miss my fellow patients.  I had been together with some of them for the entire four years that I had attended the program.  We had seen each other through a lot, including several return trips to locked psychiatric units, coming out feeling like failures and still persevering, building our lives again.  I knew we could keep in touch.  But it wouldn’t be the same.  Still though, it was the ending of one period of my life and a new beginning.

After the ceremony, I had a special thanks and gift for Erin, my “apple juice angel.”  Whenever Erin and I had a group together she brought me a can of cold apple juice from the machine.  I couldn’t remember then how it had started–I never asked for it.  But quiet, gentle Erin had watched me drink apple juice whenever they had it at morning snack and, though both of us were on disability, she provided my afternoon refreshment at least two or three times a week.  Whenever I protested, she hushed me.  Now, I wanted to thank her.  She loved to knit and had helped me with my knitting when I couldn’t figure out how to fix a mistake.  So I got her a particularly popular knitting book and had one of the social workers write my message in it along with the Braille equivalent taped to the inside of the front cover. Erin told me it was the first time anyone had ever given her a book as a gift before.  We didn’t keep in touch, but every time I drink a glass of apple juice I think fondly of Erin and I hope whenever she opens the book she’ll think of me.

I was heading off for Texas and a new life with my new husband.  The little western Massachusetts town where I had lived for the past few years would no longer be my home.  I was nervous, of course.  Although I had known some successful blind couples, I was wondering if Pat and I would make it.  So far, we have, and it’s been over six years.

I stayed out of day treatment for a couple of years but have since gone back.  I graduated last week from a partial hospitalization program which I had attended for the past six months and have stepped down to an intensive outpatient program, three days a week instead of five.  Now it’s not such a rush to work my afternoon part-time job two days a week.

Why am I writing this for this magazine?  Over the years, sometimes in hospitals or day treatment programs–sometimes just from getting to know people–I have discovered a community within a community.  I can think of at least 30 people that I have known personally who have been living with both blindness and mental illness.  Like many of them, I know I will be on psychiatric medication for the rest of my life to counter the chemical imbalance in my brain.  Like many, I have suffered from severe and prolonged child abuse and that has scarred my psyche.  Now, I am becoming an advocate, reaching out not only to the blindness community in general but to serve as a mouthpiece to give voice to the many who are successfully overcoming both the darkness of the blind and the darkness of the mind.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Directory Assistance or Directory Insanity

I do not claim to be old, but I’ve been on this planet long enough to remember just how easy it was to look up a number through Directory Assistance.  Remember the days when you would call 411, a nice operator answers the phone, and you simply ask her to look up anything you want? Would you all agree that the process deserves to be that simple?

Well, those days are over.  I have Comcast at the moment, though I am considering Verizon again.  But since I have Comcast right now, I would like to take you on a tour of what I go through in order to find a phone number with Comcast Directory Assistance.  After I remind you, maybe we should all reconsider going back to the human element, which, by the way, handled this process a lot quicker.

When I dial 411, an automated voice welcomes me to Comcast Directory Assistance.  Sometimes it asks me to press one for my previous request, or it asks me to press one for Directory Assistance.  Right away, there is a problem.  If they are welcoming me to Comcast Directory Assistance, why do I need to press the number one for Directory Assistance?  I thought I was already there–I was welcomed there by the computer voice.  I don’t even bother finding out the other options, because I frankly don’t care.  All I want is a phone number from a live operator!

If the computer voice asks me to press one for a previous request, and I don’t press one, it then asks me to hold for a representative.  Well, they don’t connect you to a representative.  It’s another automated female voice asking you for the city and state.  Let me say this to you: I can say the city and state in as clear a manner as I possibly can, but at times the voice wants me to say it again.  So I say it again.  When she finally understands what I said, she asks for the listing.  I will clearly say the listing, and again, there are times when the automated voice doesn’t get it.

So, I repeat the listing.  Then the automated voice gives up, and finally connects me to someone I can actually talk to.  When the human operator from Outer Mongolia answers the phone, she will have already known all along what I was asking for.  So, despite all I go through trying to explain things to an automated system which is flawed, the human operator is sitting behind her desk, already knowing what I wanted in the first place. Sometimes, the process of using Comcast Directory Assistance takes over a minute, when it clearly shouldn’t.

Everyone talks about the Dragon Naturally Speaking software and how wonderful it is to save me from typing.  I’d rather type.  If I can’t get a message across to an automated system using my voice, why should I have any faith in how accurate Dragon Naturally Speaking is supposed to be?

I’d like to know if you’ve had this same gut wrenching experience.

Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – Amidst Destruction, Survivors Still Miraculously Found

In the aftermath of the horrific natural disaster in Japan, images and stories of death and destruction consume the majority of media coverage. The recent earthquake and tsunami that ravaged parts of Japan have naturally resulted in many awful stories, but there are some inspirational tales of survival, too.

Last week, a 4-month-old baby in Ishinomaki was swept right out of her parents’ arms by a strong wave.  With the amount of debris and the volume of water present in the powerful tsunami waves, the likelihood of the child ever being found was nearly non-existent.  But miraculously, she was found alive three days later under a pile of rubble and was reunited with her parents, who could not believe their amazing luck.

Another tale involves a 70-year-old woman also defied the odds. Although the tidal wave was powerful enough to sweep the majority of an entire region away, apparently it still was no match for her.  She went along for the ride when her house and the rest of her neighborhood was swept away, but she was eventually rescued and taken to the hospital with no life threatening injuries.  With more than 18,000 people still currently missing, it’s a miracle that she was found in good condition.

Another man, 10-years her junior, did not want to part with his house, either. Found holding onto his roof top, a 60-year-old man was rescued after floating at sea for a couple of days. Not surprisingly, when he was rescued he said he thought that day would be his last on the planet.

Japanese rescue teams said stories such as these serve as a breath of fresh air, and provide further inspiration for them to continue searching. Hopefully the will to live continues to spread, reaching all of the survivors, especially during these tumultuous times.

Source: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/03/15/miracles-in-japan-four-month-old-baby-70-year-old-woman-found-alive/?hpt=C2

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – A Brand New Version of Window-Eyes

I have been working in the adaptive technology world since 1998 and in that time, I have witnessed many changes in software for people with blindness or low vision.  Occasionally, major changes are made and sometimes they are improvements and sometimes they tend to annoy everyone.

In the case of Window-Eyes, this is the first change I’ve seen to the user interface in the years I’ve worked in this field.  The new version of Window-Eyes, which is 7.5, has a newly designed user interface.  This interface contains a menu bar running left to right across the top and a tree view running up and down on the left side.  Items on the tree view can be opened or closed.  Once you open an item, you can move through a list of sub items and then press enter to change the item of your choice.  When you hit enter on an item, the right side of the screen will show you a description of the item and give you choices that can be changed.  These choices can come in the form of check boxes, radio buttons or combo boxes.  There are thirteen items on the tree view at the left side of the screen that can be opened or closed.

When you start Window-Eyes for the first time, a new quick start wizard will appear and offer you the ability to set up Window-Eyes to your liking.  The following screens will appear in this order and give you step by step guidance for each screen: Speech voice, Voice rate, Punctuation, Braille display, Typing echo, Notification options, and Keyboard layout.  If you want to bring up the quick start wizard at any time, you can find it in the Apps Menu and it will guide you again through the items mentioned above.

The other big changes to Window-Eyes include changing the Scripts name to Apps.  This may just sound like a change in language, but, in today’s world, the word “App” sounds more like something fun and easy to learn than the word “scripts.” Another change worth noting and not to be understated is the Remote Assistant option.  This allows two computer users who are running Window-Eyes version 7.5 to connect to each other and offer training and support without the need to visit a student at their location.  Here is some text, taken directly from the Window-Eyes documentation for Window-Eyes version 7.5.  Please read it carefully:

“A limitation presently exists regarding the types of computers that can connect via Window-Eyes Remote Assistance. If any version of Windows XP is involved in the connection, then both parties must be running XP. A Windows Vista or Windows 7 user cannot offer or receive help from another person running Windows XP. However, two Windows XP users can offer and accept help from one another. This restriction does not exist if Windows Vista and/or Windows 7 are used at both ends of the connection. Both parties must also be running at least Window-Eyes 7.5 to utilize Remote Assistance.”

For more information about this new version of Window-Eyes you can visit

http://www.gwmicro.com/Window-Eyes/Latest_Features/

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Codefactory Introduces “Mobile Accessibility” Software Package for Android Phones

As cell phones evolve, and smart phones continue to bring more access to people with disabilities, companies like Codefactory have to keep up. The Apple iPhone is completely accessible out of the box, but this isn’t true for phones running Google’s Android operating system. Google does have a free screen reader that users can download called “Talk Back”, but this application has never given touch screen access. It also doesn’t give access to many applications that can be found on the Android Market Place. At the beginning of this month, Codefactory announced that they would be selling a software package for Android based phones called “Mobile Accessibility”.

According to the press release, here are the features that Mobile Accessibility will include:

Touch Navigation: Users will now be able to use the touch screen on their phone for navigation.

Easy to input text: Users will now have access to the touch screen keyboard.

Speech Recognition: Users will be able to input text using their voice.

High Quality Screen Reader: Mobile Accessibility comes with Nuance Vocalizer.

Applications that have the blind in mind: Receive and make phone calls, manage contacts, send text messages, full web access, calendar, email, etc.

This application can be downloaded for free for 30 days, after that the application will cost 69 Euros–or roughly $97 USD.

While Android has lagged behind the competition in terms of accessibility, this new software could really be an equalizer for the platform.  Competition always breeds better products and adds variety to the marketplace, so anything Android can do to increase its usability in the visually impaired community is going to be great for all of us.

For demos of Mobile Accessibility visit, http://www.codefactory.es/en/products.asp?id=415#video

For a list of applications that are accessible on the Android platform visit, http://androidaccess.net/browse.php

If anyone has tried Mobile Accessibility out let us know your opinions.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Job Satisfaction

During a short living-well seminar on job satisfaction, I experienced an “a-ha!” moment as I realized that, for the most part, I am quite content in my position.  Creativity, an open and fun environment, and the ability to discuss and explore new products are key factors that contribute to my well-being at work.

Deciding on which envelope to stuff first and from which side of the conference table is in no way, shape, or form my idea of creativity.  The busy developers of Microsoft Office ensure that I, as a trainer of their products, will always have new and challenging features to teach.  Choosing the format for class materials can be interesting, creative and, at times, innovative.  Currently, we’re using a blog, which requires that the students reinforce certain important commands, such as copy, paste, adjusting font and size, and print.  I also enjoy a level of autonomy in that I’m often asked to think up new course offerings.   In fact, that was the case this week.  We’ll see if the course flies or fails.

The physical and emotional environment are extremely important to me.  Our classroom is comfortable with excellent lighting that is easy on my glare-filled vision and I have no problems sitting at my desk for hours to complete lengthy projects.  Most importantly, my colleagues are a source of uproarious entertainment. The ability to enjoy a burst of uncontrolled laughter breaks up my day and eases the tension from what can sometimes be a disheartening and frustrating moment.  I do not take this spontaneous merriment for granted as it was not the case in my former three places of employ. I am pleased to say that I do not have the burden of working with miserable co-workers as described by a seminar participant.

These days I know well what must be the fun (and sometimes frustration) of being a tester of toys and games.  Our Demo Center provides the opportunity to explore and demonstrate equipment such as Optelec’s ClearReader scanner and reader as well as Apple’s iPad 2.  Next week, I plan to assess a new software package which purports to make the garden-variety tasks of your computer easier to use and more organized.  I can hardly wait to get my ears on it.  It is then my pleasure to share my knowledge with anyone who needs or wants to learn about the items for themselves, family members, and/or friends.  My only regret is that I do not have the funds to purchase those really necessary big-ticket items, but I know I’m not alone in this circumstance.

And speaking of finances, would you believe that no one wanted to admit that compensation was a key component in job satisfaction?

Are you happy with your job?  What do you enjoy about it?  Let us know in the reader’s forum.

Feature Writer John Christie – Access Network on the Chopping Block in Massachusetts

The deaf and deaf-blind of Massachusetts may lose a program that they greatly need to have an independent lifestyle. The program is called the Access Network.

The program may end soon if the Massachusetts governor has his way. If his current budget goes through for 2012, the $450,000 that the state spends on the program will be eliminated. The Community Access Network provides 16 hours of service to the deaf and deaf-blind community a month

Ona Stewart depends on this program, especially since she doesn’t have family nearby. The decade old program provides her with aides. She communicates with these aides through tactile sign language. In addition, they take her to community meetings, run errands for her, and assist her in living a fulfilling life..

“If they really do this, I would be devastated,’’ she said through an interpreter on a recent afternoon in the Allston office where the program is run. “I would be so scared. I would no longer be able to live independently. I would be lost.”

B administrative officials said that they must make undesirable cuts. They have to close a $1.2 billion budget gap.

“In the face of unprecedented fiscal challenges, we’ve been forced to make some very difficult budget decisions that no agency wants to be faced with,’’ said Paulette Song, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “We are working hard to mitigate the impact of budget constraints on the deaf-blind community, and to ensure that direct services to the most vulnerable members of the community are preserved.’’

But advocates for the deaf and blind say that the cuts go too far and the consequences would be terrible.

Without the program, “a deaf-blind person faces dangerous risks to safety, including increased opportunities for abuse, increased health problems that are allowed to go unchecked, resulting in possible hospitalizations due to failing health, mental health problems, and institutionalizations,’’ said Sharon L. Applegate, executive director of Deaf, Inc., the Allston organization that oversees the program. She also stated that “people will lose their independence and their safety, and the resulting costs could be devastating.’’

Elaine Ducharme, the director of the Access Network, is worried about losing services. She said that it would make it challenging to accomplish simple tasks such as buying milk.  The 33 interpreters and service providers of the program remain vital to her and the others. Without these interpreters and service providers, it would be hard to live and do her job she said. They drive her to meetings and assist her with exercising. In addition, they help her assist with others in her program.

“If these cuts occur, deaf-blind people will be left with nothing,’’ Ducharme said through an interpreter. “We’re just begging the state to reconsider. The cuts would have a terrible impact.’’

Politicians need to understand that when vital programs like these are cut, they are alienating an entire group of people from the world.  These cuts greatly affect their lives in ways that they cannot possibly comprehend without having experienced it for themselves.  Other areas for budget cuts need to be carefully evaluated before they eliminate this service.

Source: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/03/05/imperiled_state_program_a_lifeline_for_deaf_and_blind/?page=2