Archive for November, 2011

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – An Interesting Tool

Normally, I write about technology that is currently available. However, I wanted to take a moment to write about something that is a few years old–and these days, if a piece of technology is a few years old, it might as well be 50 years old.

In 2008, Apple released its fourth generation IPod Nano. Until that time, I had never put my hands on any of the IPod technology. However, I had read an article on the web about how this fourth generation Nano would read the song titles to a person if they enabled this feature. My curiosity got the best of me and I went out and purchased one of these IPods in the spring of 2009. These IPods came in all of the various colors of the rainbow so I picked out the green one. Upon getting the IPod home, I downloaded ITunes to my computer. There was a bit of setup required, such as creating an ITunes account and checking the box that said “Enable spoken menus,” which would make the IPod speak menus and song titles. After that was done, I began a 6 day task of copying all of my CD’s into the ITunes library so that when I synced the IPod to my PC, all of my music would be added to the IPod. Syncing means you plug your device into the computer and items are then copied to your device. After all of the items were copied, I plugged a pair of headphones into the IPod and–success, I could hear all of my album and song titles, find the album or song of my choice and then hear the music.

You’re probably wondering why I am writing an article about this and here is the answer. Over the past several years, my friends and family have been using devices like the IPod and in the early days of such technology, I felt as though the blind community was excluded from using these devices. This made me feel different from everyone else and uncool to my family and friends. After all, I love music as much as they do and I wanted to be able to share in this experience. When Apple added the component of speech output to their devices it was one of the first times in my life when I felt just like everyone else. Suddenly, I was able to have the same device as sighted people and have the same experience. That is quite a remarkable feeling and I have gotten a lot of use out of my 3 year old IPod now. Although there are lots of newer devices on the market such as the newer IPods, IPads and IPhones, for now, I am perfectly happy with what I am using. I have all of my music on one device and when I am in the car with friends, I can share my music with them and they can share their music with me. For those moments, I feel like I am on the same playing field.

Letter from the Editor – November 21, 2011

Hello Everyone,

As always, I hope you all had a nice weekend. I want to thank those of you who wrote in responding to the issues we’ve been having with the email edition and the possible solutions that I offered.

That said, after giving it some thought and reading responses, neither of those solutions are really good enough. I spoke again with our website host about these issues and he and I both feel that a new bulk email system needs to be researched and implemented–one that will allow us to track problem messages more effectively and one that offers better support during times when we experience difficulty. This change will not be implemented right away, as we need to make sure that whatever choice we make is going to serve all of you the best. I don’t want to choose too quickly and migrate everything over to a new system only to find that the same problems exist.

When this change is made, you won’t notice any changes and the email version will arrive normally. Hyperlinks and email addresses will still be active within the magazine and if everything goes as planned, there will no longer be a need to send the magazine in separate parts. This format has worked the best, so I’d prefer not to change it if we don’t have to.

Until then, though, the magazine will be sent in two parts. Again, there will be a delay between the two emails, sometimes as long as a couple hours. If you have not received one or both parts of the magazine by tomorrow, please let me know via email and I will send them to you personally.

Also, as just one final announcement, there will be no magazine next week (the week of November 28) and normal publication will resume on Monday, December 5.

I hope you all have a great week, and for those celebrating, a fun-filled Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Sincerely,
Ross Hammond, Editor

Recipe of the Week – Sweet & Tangy Garlic Chicken Recipes

Serves: 6

This chicken would be great served over a bed of white rice with steamed vegetables.

Ingredients:

6 4-oz skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons scallions (chopped)
1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

1. Heat oil in a large frying pan.

2. Add chicken; brown on all sides (approx 10 minutes).

3. Remove from pan, drain off excess fat.

4. Add remaining ingredients to pan and bring to a boil.

5. Return chicken to the pan and reduce heat.

6. Simmer for 30 minutes. Serve.

Reader’s Forum – November 14, 2011

For your convenience, all Reader’s Forum submissions are separated by the ## symbol.

In response to Feature Writer Terri Winaught – So Tragic and Preventable, Beth wrote:

If I were sighted and if I chose to drive, I would not talk on a cell or text, I would not use ham equipment while driving, and I would not have a radio or other audio entertainment on. When you are in charge of a ton or two of steel, your rapt attention is indicated. Even years before onset of my severe hearing disability, my thought has been that people who have less than good vision should not travel alone. Why do people feel they have to prove themselves? We are human beings, not human doings. The dangers are many to solo travel, whether with a dog or cane: Drunk or distracted drivers, weather impediments, “right turn on red”, traffic overload, quiet cars, roundabouts, curb cuts, and I’m sure there are more, such as mugging potential. Sighted people should not travel alone either, also for these reasons, police will tell you that, I have heard it on the news.
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In response to Feature Writer Terri Winaught – So Tragic and Preventable, Marie wrote:

Just what we need: another unnecessary law. Why can’t sighted people sit still during bus rides and so on? Do they have to use their cell phones every single second? There is no common sense: If you cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, and doing so would make it unsafe for you to travel, just sit still and concentrate on the one thing you can do without endangering yourself. Even though I cannot drive, I don’t use my cell phone while riding. I wait till I get home before I get back to anyone. No one needs to hear my conversation out there in public. As for texting, I’m not into that. I prefer to send email. Sighted people are too distracted by too much technology. That is why we have yet another unnecessary law. And there are more of them as the years go by, all because of lack of common sense.
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In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Is it Work From Home or a Scam? Beth wrote:

I have found 2 legit job search sites and they are great:

https://www.elance.com/php/landing/main/login.php?crypted=cGVyc2lzaWQ9MzUyMzIwNTIz

https://www.flexjobs.com/login
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In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Is it Work From Home or a Scam? Linda wrote:

The question was asked, “How do you know that some work at home businesses are legitimate and can help a blind person?”

The very first thing I consider is, are you being charged to get into the business? If you are, how much, and what is the company actually giving you in return? I wouldn’t fall for a company that insists that you make a large initial investment, sometimes actually receiving nothing in return but training. I am visually impaired but on Social Security Disability. For now, those who are on SSDI can still work and earn a certain amount of money each month without jeopardizing that income. So I feel quite safe in seeking to do what I can to increase my income.

I am a Scentsy consultant. I paid approximately one hundred and fifteen dollars to join the business, but believe I received that same amount of materials to start my business immediately. I do pay ten dollars for a web site every month. That is optional, but I choose to do it that way. The web site is very good, and the areas that are not completely available to the blind are being worked on at this time, as there are several blind consultants who want to have full accessibility. It is definitely possible for a blind person to order from the website. The person whom I joined under told me right up front, “This is not a get rich quick scheme. Your business will build slowly, but it will build.” And, of course, it depends on how much time you put into it.

My husband is sighted, and he assists me in different areas. It is nice, for example, if I am displaying my products at a booth, to have someone there with me to spot people who may be looking at my products if I am unaware of it because of the noise around me. Also, he can check checks that are written, etc. You don’t need an assistant all of the time though, and can do most promotion on your own. So some people may perhaps find a friend who will assist from time to time, or hire someone.

I am in this business in the hopes that eventually it will net me a fair amount each month. But, I’m also in it because I really love the products and can therefore enthusiastically endorse them, and because the company has true integrity. Please check out my web site and read my story. If you like fragrances, you will be in seventh heaven. www.SafeCandlesKY.com

I am Linda Stewart. I have four people as downline, two who live here in Lexington, Kentucky, and one who lives in Idaho and one in California. We can keep in touch very easily over the phone and all help each other.

Linda Stewart
www.SafeCandlesKY.com
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In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Is it Work From Home or a Scam? Marie wrote:

As for those work-at-home schemes: My first sighted husband got me mixed up in some of those crappy scams. They are nothing more than scams; don’t get involved in them; you are throwing away the very little money you have on envelopes and stamps and all that. They don’t materialize into work of any kind. Avoid chain letters; Other scams include those companies that advises people not to pay their mortgages and claim to reduce your debts into lower payments. I have heard so many of those commercials on Sirius XM. I don’t even understand why that service has to broadcast these commercials. That is another thing I would never, ever do. Avoid email spam that also advertise this. Filter them so you don’t even get them anywhere near your Inbox on your Internet provider’s server; you don’t need to clog your Inbox with that junk. They make no money for anyone.
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In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – JAWS 13 New Features: Part Two, Bill wrote:

I want to comment on the article about jaws and how expensive the upgrades are. It is a sad thing that we have to pay so much for something which is vital to us to do work on the computer. The manufacturers should be ashamed of themselves charging so much money. They sure have a monopoly.
##
In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – JAWS 13 New Features: Part Two, Pam wrote:

I agree the cost of upgrades is prohibitive and can’t help but resent the constant need to upgrade, especially when many reported problems simply aren’t fixed. I’d be interested to know how many readers experience silences when using Jaws 12. These silences are brief but infuriating and I have to say I never experienced these prior to recently upgrading from a very old version of Jaws.

Regards,
Pam MacNeill

News – Reaching out to America’s Blind Veterans

It’s an unfortunate fact, but roughly 13 percent of all veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan have suffered from eye-related injuries that have left them blind. Now Serotek, a company many of you are familiar with, is stepping forward to help out our brave soldiers who have a new struggle to overcome.

Serotek’s popular SAMNet service, which allows users access to an amazing internet portal filled with material available to the blind, will now be made available for free to blind veterans. Any legally blind veteran will be eligible for a lifetime subscription to this service starting December 15, 2011 when this new initiative kicks off.

“For many veterans sight loss is a new battleground,” remarked Serotek CEO Mike Calvo. By offering this wonderful service to them for free, Calvo hopes that they will be given all of the tools that they’ll need to maintain the same confidence they carried when they served our country.

In addition to opening up SAMNet for free to all veterans who qualify, they are also adding a bunch of different services as well. These include chat rooms, forums, and other communication channels geared towards veterans as well as the general public who utilize the SAMNet service. They hope that these new features will greatly increase the amount of communication channels within the blind community and allow individuals to reach out and connect with others.

Showing appreciation to all veterans who have come back home is incredibly important. By also providing services for those who have come back wounded, Serotek is reaching out to help a new segment of blind Americans who have to learn how to live with both the memories of battle and the physical scars that occasionally accompany them. Hopefully, with help from Serotek and their SAMNet network, our soldiers will be able to be able to heal and adjust to their new lives as quickly as possible.

For more information on Serotek or SAMNet, you can visit www.serotek.com

Contributor Nancy Scott – The Gift

Have you ever pondered the messages of the unique present you’ve given or received? As we move toward a gifting season, here are my thoughts about the most unique gift I ever got. It sits on my -bedroom dresser and still defies exact explanation.

The gift was a stuffed parrot (about six inches tall) with a tiny pirate on its shoulder. I knew it was a pirate because he (surely he) had the obligatory patch over one eye. You will doubtless know that this is the opposite of the fictional pirate-and-parrot pairing.

I received him (or them) around the time I turned 40. (And I assume the parrot is a he too.)

But why did my friend David create this plushy paradox? From the moment I touched this gift, I knew
David was trying to tell me something.

Was the parrot unable or unwilling to put the pirate down or force him off? Did the pirate like holding the parrot back? Did the pirate just need someone who could see better? Do they need each other? Do they like being different?

Does the parrot need to shoulder his burden and stay put? Can the parrot fly carrying his extra cargo? Does the pirate need to take a big step? Are they afraid? Are they content?

How do we balance caution and creativity? Or imagination and the seemingly impossible? Or independence and interdependence?

I’ve heard it said that teddy bears are mystics in disguise. But these two characters were sewn together for magical purpose. Or maybe magical difference.

Will I find the courage to soar and to sit? Will I mind not always seeing my way? Are there always squawkings and risks and boredoms to shoulder or leave behind?

Maybe this is what David had in mind. Maybe I will just ask him. After eighteen years of wondering, I think it’s time.

Have you given or received great cleverness? Let us know in Reader’s Forum. Maybe some of us will be inspired by your experiences.

Contributor Deborah Bloom – Former Hadley Student Assumes Next Mission: Heading Blinded Veterans Association: Part 1

Like many young men, when Steve Beres joined the U.S. Army in the early 1980s, he thought he was invincible. His tour of duty took him from Ft. Louis, Washington to Europe to the Persian Gulf to the Middle East over the next few decades. That is until he sustained a traumatic injury in 2002 that resulted in blindness in both eyes.

Steve had never met a visually impaired person before he lost his own sight. He notes that his perception of blind people was “the person on the street corner with a tin cup full of pencils.” Today, that image couldn’t be further from his mind. “Going blind was a “rebirth,” says Steve. “It changed every facet of my life in ways I never could have imagined and it changed the way I viewed those who experience vision loss. People who are blind or visually impaired can do anything,” he says confidently.

So how did a guy who had never met a blind person go from a passive observer to passionate advocate? Because of the people he met along the way. After losing his sight, Steve started blind rehabilitation. He began that process just a few months after being injured – even before his prosthetic eyes were put into place. Through the rehab process, he ran across very successful blind people, including blinded vets who took their own adversity and turned it into action. These individuals were extremely independent and back out in society quickly, and they served as his role models.

Steve also credits his success to his coursework at The Hadley School for the Blind which he learned about during his rehabilitation programs. For Steve, Hadley provides a wealth of distance education opportunities in a variety of subject areas unmatched by other organizations serving veterans. “The VA is great on the rehab side helping with your daily living and orientation and mobility skills, like cane travel. Hadley complements this work by providing lifelong learning opportunities that reinforce and extend everything they have learned at the VA.” He adds that Hadley is especially strong “in providing accessible resources to help you get back into the workplace.” For Steve, this means business, communications and access technology courses focused on Word, Excel and the Internet – courses that he still uses today as refreshers.

Following his rehabilitation and coursework at Hadley, Steve went on to earn his master’s degree in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy at Western Michigan University and today is a VIST (Visual Impairment Services Team) Coordinator and Technology Instructor at the Battle Creek (Mich.) VA Medical Center VISOR Clinic. Steve served as past president of the Northern Arizona and Michigan regional groups of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and in December becomes the BVA’s new executive director in Washington, D.C.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – What is the Role of State Commissions for the Blind?

I am proud that we have a State Commission for the Blind in Massachusetts. I believe that when lobbyists fought for an agency separating the blind from other disabilities, they meant well. It’s not that persons with other disabilities don’t need a supporting agency–of course they do. However, it is the fear of many people in the disability community that if you lump the blind in with others with disabilities under the same agency umbrella, the blind will drop to the bottom of the barrel as far as support and attention are concerned. I don’t know that for a fact, but I agree with this public fear. In fact, I know many people with other types of disabilities, especially those with developmental disabilities, who have jobs, no matter what that job is. Can you say that about a majority of any sample of blind people in this country, no matter how hard they try to be employed?

As a blind consumer, and as someone who wants to live as normal a life as possible, I have certain expectations of a Commission for the Blind which I feel are quite reasonable. While I don’t think that Commissions for the Blind should figuratively hold our hands and guide us through life in every way possible, I feel that when we have obstacles put in front of us because we are blind, that Commissions should advocate for us more than they do in order to help us face these obstacles. For example, if I go on a job interview, and if my potential employer refuses to offer me a reasonable accommodation to help me on the job, I would much prefer that a powerful agency, who is responsible for knowing the laws, should step in and help. While there are blind people with enough knowledge to be their own advocates, many are not trained to be, yet they have the same rights as those of us who are.

On one occasion I was asked by a potential employer to describe the nature of the adaptive technology that would help me with my job. Where I knew I couldn’t explain it to his satisfaction, I counted on the Commission for the Blind to explain it, because the Commission employs computer engineers in this field who know all there is to know.

If I decide to go for an extended period of job training at a company that will ultimately reward me with a job, either on their premises or here at home, I expect the Commission for the Blind to play a role in the process, especially where it comes to easing the employer’s doubts in every way possible. Many employers will think of ways not to hire a blind person, and will exercise these ways in a manner where we can’t prove they are practicing discrimination. Commissions for the Blind have many professionals who can motivate employers to think outside the box by considering blind people for jobs.

What are your feelings about the involvement of Commissions for the Blind?

Feature Writer John Christie – Braille Labels in Grocery Stores: A Young Boy’s Vision

One day while at the store, Joshua Goldenberg was looking for batteries. However, he couldn’t find the ones he wanted. The clever 7 year old boy looked up at his mother and asked why Braille can’t be put on the store shelves.

“I went online and started [Google searching] how blind people grocery shop,” said Christie Goldenberg, Joshua’s mother. “Of all the things I had thought of having a child that never dawned on me once. Here I am ready to send him off to college and everything else, but I never thought of the simple things.”

Joshua and his family went to the Newtonville Whole Foods Store one recent Friday to help launch the Braille Independence Initiative. The Newtonville Market is the first store on the East Coast to have Braille labels on its product shelves.

“This is the first step of a strategic plan,” National Braille Press President Brian MacDonald told Patch last week. “This is a great start and a great opportunity.”

The National Braille Press, along with The Carroll Centre for the Blind and Perkins School for the Blind, teamed up with Whole Foods and the Goldenbergs to launch the initiative.

It all started when Christie Goldenberg started writing letters, making phone calls, and arranging meetings with her local Whole Foods to address these types of problems.

“When I saw there were stories of [visually-impaired] people going into stores and waiting 20 minutes [for an assistant], I thought, Josh is so fiercely independent, he’ll never go for that,” Christie said. “So, I thought, there has to be a better way. And [Josh] said, ‘Mommy, just make them put Braille on the labels.'”

She initially thought her son’s idea would be brushed aside, but the reaction was quite the opposite–Whole Foods embraced the idea. Soon after, Joshua was making Braille labels for the Thousand Oaks, CA store.

Christie says that Josh likes to run the show when his family goes shopping for groceries. He also has plans for labels with braille on them as well as coupons with braille on them at his local library. “People say to me, ‘oh it’s so great you thought of that,’ but you know, I really can’t take any credit,” Christie said. “We’re simply a vehicle for this kid who drives us.”

The National Braille Press found out about his Whole Foods project and flew him and his family to the East Coast for a NBP’s Hands On! Award at the NBP annual gala.

But the trip was not just about an award. The trip was about the Braille Independence Initiative. The Goldenberg Family wanted to bring the Braille Independence Initiative to a Massachusetts store and the Newtonville Whole Foods location.

“Because of our proximity to Perkins and Carroll, we were the logical choice,” said Terri Petrunyak, a marketing and community relations representative for the Newtonville Whole Foods.

Aisle by aisle and department to department, they plan to have braille labels throughout the store in order to serve the blind and visually impaired community in the area. The store started with the produce department and will move on to the frozen food and bakery, said Petrunyak.

“This is really a demo project where we’re doing a section at a time, evaluating what works and then we’re going to determine how to better improve the next section,” Petrunyak said.

MacDonald said that braille labels are just the beginning of independence for blind and visually impaired customers. He also said that technologies incorporated with smart phones, such as bar code scanners and text scanners, will make shopping easier for blind customers as well.

During Friday’s event, Josh helped label a few of the items in the store such as some papaya, fruit bowls, and watermelon. Students from Perkins and The Carroll Centre walked through the fruit and vegetable aisle and were able to identify the produce on their own.

This new initiative is a great sign that companies are taking the problems facing the blind and visually impaired community seriously and are involving members of that community in the processes necessary to fix those problems.

Source: http://newton.patch.com/articles/seven-year-old-brings-braille-to-shelves-of-newtonville-whole-foods#video-8141891

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – The Historic October Storm and its Aftermath

Saturday evening October 29, 2011–while clam chowder simmered on my stove–large snowflakes fell, covering all of Central and Western Massachusetts. The storm had begun in Worcester County early that afternoon and people shopped for necessities in preparation for this early snowfall. As I listened to the weather channel, I was shocked at the swath of devastation this storm had already created, with airport delays and wide-spread power outages across the Northeast. People in Massachusetts hoped we would be spared the brunt of this vicious storm. Memories of the devastating ice storm of December 2008 were still fresh in our minds. At 8:15 that night, beeping from my computer power strip and a silent TV gave me unwelcome news that our apartment complex was in the dark. I phoned friends who were lucky to have the luxury of electricity and I was optimistic it would return by Sunday morning.

That morning, listening to a talk show on a Worcester radio station, I was shocked by the storm’s devastation in our area. Much of Worcester, Essex, Middlesex, and Western Massachusetts were now covered with downed trees, branches, and over a foot of snow. Our governor declared a state of emergency, as had governors for parts of Connecticut and New Jersey. NOAA weather was predicting come cold temperatures, too. It was time to unearth sweaters and winter blankets.

On Monday morning I was listening to the local station in Fitchburg as more stories of damage were told. Trees were down everywhere in Leominster, making it difficult for power crews to restore electricity. All schools in Western Massachusetts were closed. By that afternoon, the hospital and surrounding areas had their lights and heat back and we wondered if we’d be next.

Hopes of heat and lights returning Monday night were dashed and we were forced to wait some more. Tuesday morning, I stepped in to the hall, searching for help to make cell phone calls. A kind lady helped me make calls, and as I was going out to the mailbox I heard welcome news–“The lights are on!” Hearing the elevator door open, you could feel moods lift. This long ordeal was over.

As I entered my apartment, there was the welcome hum of the refrigerator. I flipped the thermostats up and felt the wonderful heat. It was good to have hot coffee and toast after surviving on fruit, water, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches since Sunday. Life was back to normal. At the height of the storm, 98 percent of Leominster was without power and we received roughly 14 inches of snow, all before Halloween, and all of which is now gone.

With unusual weather and budget cuts to our infrastructure, the next outage could be just around the corner. Be prepared with extra batteries, perishables, paper goods, radios and a charged cell phone. Be grateful for electricity, you never know when you may be without it.

Note: Power statistics were gotten from a local radio station and early snow totals gotten from a TV station.