Archive for May, 2011

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Technology Cornucopia

This week we delighted in attending a show covering the quirks of social media , internet services, cell phone usage, and use of those <ehem> trusty GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  Throughout the show, I reflected on my own use and knowledge of those services and technologies.  Do I have IAD—Internet Addiction Disorder?  Hmm, I’ll have to think about that.  Learning a thing or three, I hooted when I heard that P O T A T O stands for Person Over Thirty Acting Twenty-One!  The music and skits were brilliant–imagine Shakespeare’s immortal dialog from Romeo and Juliet whittled down to texting!

Do you use Skype?  It allows you to contact people both near and far from computer to computer absolutely free.  I might not use it all the time, but I have a Skype name and consistently do my banking and bill-paying using a Skype Out number that allows me to dial landlines and cell phones.  Highly disappointing is the fact that our utility company no longer accepts Skype calls, so it’s a good thing I’m becoming more proficient at making calls on the iPhone.

Speaking of cell phones, have you ever turned around and gone back home because you’ve left it connected to the charger?  Do you accept calls anywhere, even at the dinner table, whether at home or in a restaurant?  Do you walk and talk with guide dog harness or cane in one hand while clutching your cell in the other?  Okay, I’ll admit to answering yes to all of those questions.  In light of recent events, I must say that I was extremely grateful to have a friend accompany me (even if only by cell).  Her presence was comforting and I ended the call believing that I had options ahead of me rather than a fairly bleak landscape.

Had I been asked about my GPS experience a few days ago, I would have to have answered in the negative.  If I’d depended on certain hand-held systems, I would have been hopelessly lost and confused.  Sendero’s Look Around app for the iPhone is a decided game-changer.  I no longer need worry about missing my bus stop.  That is, unless I’ve fallen asleep and forgotten to open the app.  I have Look Around do what it does best.  After making its comical, in-progress noise, it returns with the nearest cross street.  It also provided the phone number to the restaurant where we were to have dinner at prior to the show by offering what are commonly known as POI’s (Points of Interest).  I called and we were only a few feet away.  The homeless man jokingly wanted a tip for guiding us there.  We simply smiled.

What piece of technology have you become increasingly fond of?  Are there still some things which you have vowed never to use?  Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer John Christie – Free App for the Blind Identifies U.S. Currency

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has just launched a free app for the blind and visually impaired called the Eyenote.

The Eyenote uses image recognition technology to identify U.S. currency. The user takes a picture with the device’s camera, making sure that fifty-one percent of the front or back surface of the note is seen so that the bill can be properly identified.  Since only a little more than half of the bill needs to be seen, it makes it easier for visually impaired individuals to line up the camera and identify their money.  Eyenote can identify all Federal Reserve Notes since 1996.

The great thing about Eyenote is that it is available on multiple mobile Apple devices.  It is compatible with the Apple iPhone (3G, 3Gs, 4) and also the 4th Generation iPod Touch and iPad 2 platforms.  While most apps require a user own an iPhone, it’s nice that this doesn’t restrict the user to a specific device.

The App is available for download from the iTunes store and updates will be made to the app when design changes are made to the currency.

Besides the Eyenote, the government is taking other measures to make currency accessible to the blind. These measures include the currency reader program and continuing to add high contrast numerals and different background colors to the notes.  There is also a possibility that raised tactile features will be present on newly designed currency.

For more information and to download fact sheets (which are PDF files), go to http://www.eyenote.gov/ or you can email them at eyenote@bep.gov.

The Eyenote, IBill, and the Note Teller are great devices for identifying currency because blind people don’t have to depend on total strangers to inform them on what bill they have.  They also give people the option of choosing the device–an now an app–that suits them best instead of being forced to use only what’s been made available to them. In addition, it is also great that The American Council of the Blind encouraged the government to work on making currency accessible to the blind, because now the public is more aware of the problem that blind people have with identifying bills.  Awareness is always a good thing, and more exposure to these issues will result in a positive change. 

Source:  http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw120512

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability in Art

It is not often that disability is talked about in the art world, much less having a whole art exhibit about disability in art. A Somewhat Secret Place: Disability in Art, an upcoming exhibition to take place this July in Portland, Oregon hopes to highlight these topics and remind the fine arts world that art needs to be inclusive. The artist behind the exhibition, Catherine Miller, is the first visually impaired artist to graduate from the Pacific Northwest College of Arts.

Since she graduated, she has been keenly aware of how exclusive the fine arts world can be. In an interview with me, she told me about an art exhibit that takes place at an old high school in town. The building is barely ADA compliant, and in order to reach the accessible entrance, you had to go over a field to the back entrance. This to her is not only not inviting to disabled guests, but it paints a picture that disabled guests aren’t thought about in the planning. A Somewhat Secret Place will be more than just inviting to disabled patrons; it will be a demonstration that art can be appreciated by everyone. Sign language interpreters will be available for all events, art pieces will be at chair level for wheel chair users, and all pieces will have large print and Braille labels.

One of the many events during the exhibition will be a celebration of the ADA on July 26th. The day will be devoted to the experiences of people with disabilities. There will be a panel discussion and a group project where guests can leave their mark in pen or Braille.

Earlier this month, the Oregon Women’s Caucus for Art decided to Sponsor the exhibition. Catherine is a member of this organization and is honored that the caucus has decided to sponsor her project. She is still in the planning phase and is accepting donations through KickStarter. Visit this link to donate to the project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/495948280/a-somewhat-secret-place-disability-and-art?ref=users

To learn more about the project, keep up to date with the blog here:

http://asomewhatsecretplace.wordpress.com/

For those of you interested in the arts, what have your experiences been like when you’ve gone to exhibits or other events?  Have they been mostly accessible, or, as Catherine has pointed out, have those with disabilities been left out of the mix?  Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Decoration Day

The last Monday of May commemorates Memorial Day, the time to gather ourselves and remember the sacrifices made by our Nation’s soldiers who died protecting our country.  Originally called Decoration Day, the actual day set aside to fly flags at half-mast, participate in parades, and enjoy the launch of the summer season was originally May 30th.

It was referred to as Decoration Day because it was chosen as the best time by many families to brush off the ides of winter and decorate the graves of soldiers with new flags and flowers.  Historians believe it began in the South, by the wives of fallen Confederate Soldiers and was brought to the attention of General John Logan, the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, during 1868.

It was first observed later that month on May 30th when the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated at Arlington National Cemetery and later was declared a National holiday in May 1966 by President Lynden Johnson.

Memorial Day has always been a reflective and poignant holiday for me; my father served in Korea, my uncles and cousins in Vietnam, and my husband in the assorted international conflicts in the Middle East during the 1980s and1990s.

By honoring the fallen who have served, I also honor those who served and are still living.

Below is a link with additional information about the history behind Memorial Day.  http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html

How do you celebrate Memorial Day?  Do you attend parades or go to a barbeque?

Letter from the Editor

Hello Everyone,

This upcoming long weekend in the United States is a very important holiday for us–Memorial Day–a time for us to celebrate those who have fought and died for our country.

In Washington D.C., there is a tomb honoring those soldiers who have been lost in every American war.  It is aptly named, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  24 hours a day, 365 days a year, specially chosen soldiers stand guard near the tomb.  Observers will notice that they pace back and forth as they guard it.  However, many people are unaware that they take exactly 21 paces each way–alluding to the twenty-one gun salute.  The soldier will hesitate for exactly 21 seconds before making his about-face and walking in the other direction.  The gloves they wear are always moist, to prevent them from losing a grip on their rifle.  There is a changing of the guards every half hour.  It has been under this guard continuously since 1930.

To be a guard, one must commit two years of their lives.  During that time, they live in barracks under the tomb.  For the first six months of their duty, they are not allowed to talk to anyone or watch TV, and spend their time studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  They must know who they were, and where they are interred. 

After they have performed their duty for two years, their commitment continues.  While they are a guard, they cannot drink any alcohol or swear in public.  These two requirements extend into the rest of their lives.  If violated, they must return the wreath pin given to them at the end of their service.

On September 19, 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit Washington D.C. with a fury.  As most people were running for cover, the guards stood their post, unwilling to leave the tomb despite the driving rain and wind.  When asked why they continued at their post, they replied, “Guarding the tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person.”

I like telling this story around Memorial Day not because of the interesting facts about the tomb and its guards that many people are unaware of, but because it extols the virtue of honor, something the world seems to lack more and more.

On another note, I came across an interview of a man, blind since infancy, who uses echolocation with amazing accuracy to move about in the world.  It’s an interesting read, and I encourage everyone to check it out.  It can be found here: http://www.mensjournal.com/the-blind-man-who-taught-himself-to-see/print/

I hope you all have a great week, and for those of you here in the states, a nice holiday weekend.

Take care, and thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Ross Hammond

Recipe of the Week – Grilled Orange Pork and Pineapple

From www.eatbetteramerica.com

Here’s a Polynesian-inspired recipe you’ll turn to all summer long. It’s luscious and ready in just 20 minutes.

Prep Time: 5 min 

Start to Finish: 20 min 

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

4 boneless top loin pork chops, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 1 1/4 pounds total)

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 fresh pineapple, peeled and cored

3/4 cup Yoplait® plain fat-free yogurt

1/3 cup low-sugar orange marmalade

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped toasted pecans

1 tablespoon snipped fresh thyme

Directions:

1. Sprinkle both sides of pork chops with salt and pepper. Cut pineapple crosswise into eight 1/2-inch-thick slices; set aside. Combine yogurt and 2 tablespoons of the marmalade; set aside. 

2. For a charcoal grill, grill chops on the rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 4 minutes. Turn; add pineapple to grill. Brush chops and pineapple with remaining marmalade. Grill 3 to 5 minutes more or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in pork registers 160°F and pineapple has light grill marks, turning pineapple once.

3. Arrange pineapple and chops on serving plates. Spoon yogurt mixture over chops and pineapple; sprinkle with nuts and thyme.

4. Cost-Saving Tip: Instead of using a peeled fresh pineapple from the produce section of the grocery store, use a 15.25-ounce can pineapple slices (juice pack)–it contains 8 slices, perfect for 4 servings

Enjoy!

Reader’s Forum

For your convenience, all Reader’s Forum submissions are separated by the ## symbol.
In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Unemployment Among the Blind, Beth said:

I am not at all surprised at the extremely high unemployment rate among the blind, since there are many factors exacerbating this trend.  Proprietary software, used quite a bit these days at work, is often partially or totally unfriendly to screen readers.  Laws cannot create a heart change and employers are afraid to hire the disabled, there may be higher insurance rates, accommodations which employers do not want to make or they cannot make them, if they are small businesses.  Discrimination is also a factor.  Sometimes, blind people do not try very hard to obtain work or they give up after a long period of unsuccessful job-seeking.  I also believe that agencies are relied on too much.  I have had several jobs and I have never used voc rehab or a blindness organization, I have gleaned jobs online, from someone reading me the newspaper ads before PCs were in common use and from volunteering.

##

In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Unemployment Among the Blind:

Greetings,

I agree that for many years this mystical figure of 70% blind unemployment has been floating around the blind community!  What I wonder is how this figure is calculated and what are the parameters?

Does it only include blind individuals below retirement age?  It should, in my opinion, as with an ever expanding aging population and a growth in Macular Degeneration, count retired senior citizens who are losing or who have lost their vision.  Of course, this all changes if they desire to work (just like with sighted seniors).

After all, the American unemployment rate would skyrocket, I’m guessing, if you included any adult of “legal age” regardless right?

Do individuals with multiple disabilities get counted in each discipline when stats are calculated or are they only counted under the “primary” disability?

##

In response to Christian’s post on fear of touch, Beth said:

Panic can be easily quelled by very slow, deep breathing when you first start to feel it, also think of something you truly enjoy during those times.  I cured myself of a terrible fear of thunderstorms this way.  I still respect them and do not do stupid stuff, but I can now peacefully coexist with them while taking precautions.

##

In response to Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Blindness and Parenting: Part 1, Chris said:

I too am a parent, though my daughter is now grown up, and before the end of the year I’ll be a grandparent.  Back in the 1980s life was easy: seat belts had only just been installed in cars, car seats were only just coming in – but it was still OK to have a baby on one’s lap in the back of a car.  Then the seat belt and car seat generation arrived.  And with that almost all my lifts disappeared overnight. Car seats had to fitted into back seats, so that precluded my having a ‘casual lift’ until my daughter was old enough to have a ‘loose’ booster seat by which time I’d got so used to doing it myself on foot or public transport.

Although I managed well enough at parents evenings, my husband found it too difficult with less sight than me so he never came, being unable to see in the dark.  Computers hadn’t really arrived in schools and ‘bespoke’ material wasn’t available, neither was the Discrimination Act produced.

What the UK did and does have are some organizations of and for parents with disabilities so for those who had no peer support (I am one of those lucky enough to have been at special boarding schools for the partially sighted and have kept almost all my friends right back from age 5 to 18) they were able to pick up tips and hints.

For those in the UK and elsewhere in the world here is the link for Disability Pregnancy & Parenthood International  http://www.dppi.org.uk/nationalcentre.html

I have been involved with this since its inception in the 1980s: from time to time there are articles in the journal (free to those with disabilities) on bringing up a baby when the parent/s have a visual impairment.  They also have a forum (which I’ve never had time to go and look at)

Disabled Parents Centre UK  http://www.disabledparentsnetwork.org.uk/

And for those in the US: Through the Looking Glass. http://www.lookingglass.org/

From their store one can buy:  Hands-On Parenting: A Resource Guide for Parents who are Blind or Partially Sighted for $40.00

Sincerely Chris

##

In response to recent issue regarding the choice to use a guide dog, Elaine said:

It seems to me that the subject of whether to use a guide dog or a cane is becoming an issue of debate here on the Reader’s Forum.  This isn’t a debatable issue.  It’s a matter of personal choice.  If one blind person wants to use a guide dog and is willing to accept the responsibility that goes along with having a guide dog, that’s great.  If another blind person prefers to use a cane, that’s fine too.  I personally don’t want a guide dog but I have friends who have guide dogs and I know how much the guide dogs mean to them.  I think a lot of blind people spend too much time putting each other down and arguing about such things as whether to use a guide dog or a cane, and how to get from one place to another.  We in the blind community should accept each other’s differences and support one another instead of putting each other down all the time.  If we’d support each other more perhaps more good things would be accomplished for the blind.

Elaine Johnson

##

In response to submissions regarding the integration of blind students, Rebecca said:

The following are my experiences as a blind student and a retired blind teacher in ordinary schools for sighted children.

I attended a school for the blind for primary schooling, and learned the necessary skills of braille, and typing. There I also experienced being the same as my peers.

Then I attended a secondary school, where I was the only blind child. It was essential that I already could read and write braille, and could type my homework and exam papers efficiently.

But I was different. And that matters greatly at that age. I didn’t have a real peer group anymore. The other students were in the school sports teams. They could find each other in the schoolyard, and from a distance.

When I went to university, of course my peers were sighted. But that was not an isolating or differentiating experience. By that age, difference is not used to exclude, avoid, or deride.

There is a right time and a right stage of maturity to mix comfortably outside one’s peer group of similar people.  We do not give to young children adult food and drink in order to prepare them for what they will ingest as adults.

I have known some blind youngsters made very miserable by being the odd one in their class. Nor did they learn how to tackle those skills which we must acquire as blind people in order to function well.

Let’s keep the blind schools, and respect and appreciate their specialization.

Rebecca Maxwell (Melbourne, Australia)

News – Non-Tactile Braille

A picture has been recently floated around the internet of a sign that says, “No Entrance” in large letters on an unnamed University campus.  Below the sign, is the same notification in Braille, but with one distinct problem–the Braille is a graphic, and is not raised at all.

The picture, taken by a university student, is accompanied by a caption that reads, “I don’t think my university understands how Braille works.”  I’m inclined to think that they’re right.

Now, there are a couple ways to look at this.  The first is to simply laugh at such an obvious failure and assume that the original intentions of the person who ordered that sign were to have tactile Braille for any visually impaired person to use.  Of course, there is also another way to look at it–that the person ordering the sign took the time to ask for Braille lettering, but didn’t know that it had to be tactile and not just a graphic.  The company producing the sign is also suspect.

I hope it was the former, but the cynic in me feels that the most realistic scenario was the latter–where a lack of understanding produced a sign that reveals a large problem facing both the sighted world, which is attempting to structure things designed to be used by the visually impaired, and those visually impaired individuals who are forced to use the sometimes poorly-executed devices designed to benefit them.  There is a wide gap between the two where simple misunderstandings lead to things like embarrassing signs that could also easily serve as a safety hazard for an otherwise uninformed visually impaired individual.

The sign reveals that attempts are being made to comply with the needs of the blind, but that there is still a long way to go.  What they’ve done is akin to putting up the same sign for a sighted person that requires a light to illuminate the lettering, but neglecting to install the light bulb.

What are your feelings about this?  Are things like this bumps along the road to understanding?

Contributor Gretjen Helene – Assumptions of a Mirror

Some people watch affectionately from store windows, sidewalk benches and front steps, some pass laughing or mocking her.  To those who demonstrate their ridicule she lets loose a yelling mix of angry multi-lingual words.   To those who approach her with common talk, she listens and replies casually, as though constantly using a mirror in the street would be the same, to everyone else, as carrying a bag.

She walks with an outstretched arm guiding her down the sidewalk, seldom relaxing enough to let the mirror out of sight.  Sometimes she stops, seemingly gripped by the hand held reflection, to tug at her highlighted bangs or the straight strands pulled back under headbands and hair clips from around her Asian face.   As her pace plots the same six block circle every day, four or five times a day, a slight bend in her arm and shuffle in her gait give the air of familiar ground for this local.

“She’s pretty famous around here. One Berklee student dressed up as her for Halloween and everyone recognized him,” said Emma Barcelo at Floyd’s Barbershop on Massachusetts Ave.  Just between Berklee Performance Center and Symphony Hall, the “Mirror Lady” is a memorable character in the local community.  For the last three or more years she has walked the same route, in the same direction, causing various reactions in her path.

“I say hi and she says hi back.  I think she’s sane, not crazy.  Just lonely,” said Nomar Lugo, the 7-3:00 greeting doorman at the Tillingers Concierge residential building.  “I’m always talking to homeless people,” he says while juggling his keys in and out of his buttoned up suit coat pocket and swinging the door open for a resident as his untucked tie sways with his moves.  “The security guards watch her do loops around the building.”

Looping behind Mass Ave. she passes Whole Foods, laughing and smiling audibly while people across the street might wonder who she was conversing with if handless phones weren’t popular and she wasn’t carrying an elevated mirror.  Neighbors make one-way eye contact acknowledging her unique presence as her mirror drops below her glance occasionally, trailing off in thought.

“If you talk to her she’ll yell at you,” said Steve McClure having a smoke outside Floyd’s Barbershop with Emma & Mike Baldino.  “She usually doesn’t scream any words, it’s just screaming,” chimes in Emma.  “There’s just a lot of crazy people around here,” Mike concludes with stories of other colorful local characters.

Later, in front of the same shop, screaming erupts from her and the mirror loses her attention.  She concentrates her amplified anger on two young girls dressed to kill and leaning their giggles into each other, trying to avoid the attention.  Mirror lady rotates her body and voice, following them as they pass by.  Other pedestrians look around from face to face wondering what happened and possibly who had started the confrontation.

On the other side of her daily routine she pauses between two parked cars and adjusts the mirror in front of her.  Her hands pet at her hair now in a way that seems more distracted and her eyes wander one at a time around the side of the mirror beyond the looking glass or perhaps, behind her, through it.  The two parked cars for a moment then seem to become shields for her body while she stops to watch around her.  Is she looking at herself or is the mirror just a tool to watch everything else?

“I overheard that she was mugged from behind,” said Ron Janick the Berklee mailman delivering two bins stacked in a leaning dolly cart.  “I’ve been mugged and it feels uncomfortable, constantly looking around until that feeling wears off.  In the beginning I thought she was a kook,” Ron said, almost pitying himself for misunderstanding the possibilities of her situation. 

After finishing the third of her many walks this day, she ducked into a residential doorway and maybe put the mirror down.  Outside on the wall there is a plaque that reads, “Hemenway House. For decades, lodging houses [like the Hemenway house] provided an important form of housing in American cities for single people and immigrants.  But the supply of lodging house rooms has dwindled-a direct role in the rise of homelessness.”

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Moving from Atlantic to Pennsylvania Avenue

It was June 2010 and moving was no longer fantasy but an unpleasant fact.  I could not afford the $825 rent for my lovely two bedroom apartment on Atlantic Avenue in Leominster and I prepared myself to face the stressful and daunting task of moving.  Our kind landlord offered a studio apartment which was within my budget on Pennsylvania Avenue in the same complex.

I would have to be in that new apartment by mid August.  Blind and living alone with no help from family or a husband would make things even more difficult.  But luckily, my church relatives and friends helped me through the monumental task of sorting, packing, and moving.  As we began the task of sifting through my things, there was poignancy and humor as we discovered hidden treasures in the master bedroom. We found a forgotten Avon bottle which was shaped like the Eiffel tower.  As we discarded it, I wondered what the name of the fragrance was.  We had to discard a dusty bride and groom set given to Marshall and me before our wedding. We also found Marshall’s wallet, which I thought had disappeared.   

That first day felt like a dream–like the whole thing wasn’t real. I couldn’t believe I had to uproot myself after eight years in this nice apartment.

As we continued going through my things, I was happy to give my homemaker a soft, furry winter blanket she had always coveted.  I sold a fake fur coat and clothing I seldom used.  I donated other clothing, knick knacks, and furniture to a local thrift shop. My attitude was practical–if I had not used it or did not need it, the item went to a new home.  My friends asked many times if I really wanted to get rid of certain things, but that mantra stayed strong. 

July turned into August, and the sadness of leaving my comfortable apartment became a dreaded reality. I wasn’t sure how I would adjust to such a small space with its equally cramped appliances and storage. 

It was August 12–moving day and my relatives and the movers helped me make the transition. The day was not without incident–when the movers picked up my kitchen table, it fell apart.  There was a dream-like rhythm as my cousin Yvette and I sorted out items, deciding whether to keep or find a new home for them. The day had its rewards, though.  I was happy to give my Canadian glider to my Cousin Yvette since I didn’t have room for it.  My niece Jessica’s son would receive the highboy and extra nightstand.  By nightfall, I was ensconced in my new place, and would actually begin to like it.  It has granite counters, a flat screen TV, and a small linen closet. Like Atlantic Avenue, the apartment has carpeting, a dishwasher and washer/dryer.  Over the next two weeks, I continued to receive help emptying the rest of my apartment and storage room.  By August 29, I was finally able to give the old keys to my land lord.

Almost ten months later, I call this place home.  While experts are right when they say that moving is one of the most stressful experiences, the good side of this experience is that I’ve gained a new perspective on life, discovering new interests and opportunities.