Archive for April, 2012

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – The Aftermath

As you all know, it has been an interesting year for me. First I retired Whitlee, my first guide dog, who worked with me for over eight years. Then, I got Meyer, my second guide dog, and we worked together for about twelve weeks before problems arose and he had to be returned. Now, I find myself waiting for a new dog, hanging in between and trying to regroup and adjust to a life I have not lived since 2003.

I’ve noticed several things in the absence of a dog. Around the apartment, it is quiet and there isn’t much to do besides my daily routine of working, exercising, and keeping things clean and neat. Last week, I became a couch potato because I injured my back and I found that I did more sleeping in my free time than anything else. Thankfully, my back is much better now and I am back to doing my daily exercise.

It occurred to me that I haven’t been doing any walking outside unless I have to walk to or from work. One day recently, I was thinking that it was a nice day and I hadn’t even stepped out the door. When you have a dog, you are outside several times a day just to give them time to relieve themselves. It used to be that every night, before I went to bed, I would take the dog out. Now, sometimes, I feel like I’m forgetting to do something.

I’ve also noticed how much I relied on both of the dogs that were in my life. Funny that when I had the dogs, I didn’t think about how much work they did for me as we walked together. Now that I am back to using a white cane, I really notice how much harder it is when I get into areas that I’m not familiar with. I’ve noticed how important the white cane is for me and it is quite useful, but there is nothing like the love and trust I developed for the dogs. I’ve been trying to find things to fill my time and I’ve also been thinking about what it will be like when the next dog comes into my life.

I’ve promised myself that I will again put all of my efforts into getting to know the dog, work with the dog, be its partner, and always put its needs first. I think it is important to always remember that these dogs do an important job for us and they don’t have the ability to tell us what their needs are so, we must learn their non verbal communication cues and respond to them. I figure, the dog gives so much to me, the least I can do is give it what it needs.

Finally, I wanted to share with you all that I’ve kept in communication with Whitlee’s foster family and they have told me that she is doing well in her retirement. She likes to stretch out on the sun porch at her new home in North Carolina. She also enjoys her daily walks with Lucia, another German Shepherd from Fidelco. Each day as the two dogs walk together, they are stopped by people who say that both dogs look really beautiful! I guess after all her hard work, it is good for Whitlee’s ego to be stroked once in a while.

Feature Writer John Christie – Computer User Groups: A Great Resource for the Blind

Computer user groups are important to join if you are blind or visually impaired. You can learn a lot of information from product demonstrations, question and answer sessions, and presentations. They often meet monthly and can be a wealth of information for both experienced and inexperienced computer users. You can learn about product or software updates, material covered at conferences that were held recently, or new products to try like new screen readers or hardware.

Another reason to join a computer user group is to have ongoing or practical training. Finding this type of training can be a challenge. Even if this training is being offered by a rehabilitation or disability agency, it may be a simple crash course in another city since there is no set standard. In addition, a particular agency’s computer may be configured differently, and once you complete their course, you’ll still have to solve many of the problems once you get back home, unless you brought the same computer setup.

This is where computer user groups come in to the picture because you can ask your questions at the meeting and get step by step answers on how to troubleshoot the issue from people who understand the computer setup you’re familiar with. You can also later go back and hear the discussion on the web, a feature offered by a computer user group in Boston (Vibug). In addition, if you are a member of this group, you can participate in the meeting at home if you are given a password.

The final reason for joining a computer user group is for peer support and social interaction. When you are disabled or blind, you can often feel isolated or lonely. People can relieve this isolation or loneliness by shopping on the web or going on Skype or obtaining a useful app for their iPhone–all things they can learn how to do through the group. People can also be members of their group’s email list or be a part of other email lists.

Computer user groups are a great way to learn new things, either through listening to demonstrations or by asking questions. You can also learn new things by being a part of the group’s email list. In addition, you get the chance to interact with people socially while learning new skills. Without these groups, people would have a much harder time learning new things as far as technology is concerned.

Are you a member of a computer user group? Let us hear about your group in the Reader’s Forum.

Source: http://assistivetechnology.about.com/od/ATCAT1/a/3-Reasons-To-Join-A-Computer-User-Group.htm

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Paying For a Taxi in New York Just Became More Accessible

I am not an experienced cab rider by any means, but the few times I’ve taken one, I’ve had to trust that the driver was honest with me about how much I owed since there was no accessible way for me to know the cost per mile or how far I had traveled. This is just one example of the many situations where the blind have to trust their sighted peers to not lie to them about the cost of things.

Since many people who take cabs pay with their credit card, this problem can be even more dangerous. A blind passenger wouldn’t know until it was too late that they had been overcharged. Have recognized this issue, the company CMT and Lighthouse International have teamed up together to solve this problem. In a short time, they’ve designed an accessible credit card reader so that blind passengers can pay with ease and have the comfort that they’ve paid the proper amount.

In order to turn on the accessible features, the passenger can either ask their driver to turn it on or swipe a card provided by Lighthouse International. The cards can be ordered from the Lighthouse by calling 1-800-829-0500. The accessible interface can be turned on at any time during the ride. During the ride, the passenger can be updated on the current fare and then once they’ve reached their destination, the interface will allow them to pay using a credit card. Some of the features that they hope to incorporate in the future include being able to tap the screen and learn your current location and have the interface be available in other languages.

CMT is in charge of about half of the cabs in New York, and by May, 1,500 of their cabs will have the new accessible payment system. After those are complete, they plan to put it in the rest of their cabs in New York and then expand to other cities like Chicago and San Francisco. It is CMT’s hope that other companies will follow in their footsteps.

To read the full details of this exciting new technology visit this link: http://gothamist.com/2012/04/17/taxi_tv_for_the_blind_about_to_star.php#photo-1

Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – A Triumphant Ride

Last year, we brought you the story of a Cuban cyclist who dreamed of competing in the 2012 Paralympic Games. The man, Damian Lopez Alfonso, did encounter immense obstacles as expected, but it came from an unsuspecting place. After being electrocuted at the age of 13, Mr. Alfonso was left without arms, so it may be safe to assume that balancing and steering his bike would be rather arduous. However, Mr. Alfonso figured that part out just fine, but the international rule makers were much more difficult to handle.

The judges considered his bike illegal because the handlebars were turned upside down to accommodate his riding style. Mr. Alfonso developed a method where he could lean forward and control the breaks and handlebars with his elbows. Luckily for Mr. Alfonso, he did find some people who were much more considerate than the panel of judges. After hearing of his plight, complete strangers provided Mr. Alfonso with essentials, such as finances, surgery, and shelter. The money brought him to New York City, where he received multiple surgeries, including being fitted for prosthetic arms.

Even with his new appendages, Mr. Alfonso faced a real uphill climb once again. His first qualifying race ended with an accident from which he would need stitches. Of course the 35-year-old got back on his bike again, and eventually received a letter informing him that the long and stressful journey was a success. He was granted a wild card slot, so we will have to check back in for a third time after the conclusion of the August Paralympic Games in London and give you all an update.

Best of luck, Damian!

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – A Dream Realized

As I breathe a sigh of relief, my mind drifts to what I believed to be an unattainable goal. I’ve longed to perform at the “Don’t Tell Mama Cabaret and Piano Bar” here in the heart of the Broadway District in New York City–and now I’ve caused that long-awaited dream to finally come true. It is a feeling like none other. As if this weren’t enough, I was awakened from a nap the following day to receive a notetaker that should thoroughly meet my needs. It’s been a weekend like no other and I am eager to share a bit with you.

Humming with excitement, the night had finally arrived when Maria, our band, and I would entertain our first audience at this famed cabaret spot. As I stepped in front of the microphone, I took a deep breath and Lynne, the experienced performer, took over. We had practiced, primped, and polished ourselves and the songs to the best of our ability. Now we simply had to hope that it went off as smoothly as possible. There were some truly magical moments and others that could have been improved, but the show went on and our incredibly responsive audience helped make it a smashing success. They laughed uproariously at the jokes and humorous tunes and were quietly respectful for the more reflective songs. Who could ask for anything more?

Motivation and hard work were major factors in achieving this goal. Often I found myself paraphrasing the quote about heavy being the head that wears the crown, but the numerous tasks and responsibilities also reinforced the fact that there are intrinsic rewards to be gained with respect to empowerment, pride, and experience. I’ve waited many years to feel this weighty yet important crown atop my expectant head and I will not abdicate my throne to anyone.

On Saturday afternoon, it was a satisfied but weary Lynne who lay down for a brief nap. Little did I know I would be awakened by the sound of our apartment intercom with news from security personnel announcing that the FedEx delivery man would be arriving with what appeared to be computer equipment. Soon our living room floor was strewn with empty boxes and computer paraphernalia. The most important box contained the HIMS VoiceSense Qwerty notetaker. I’d long since put my seldom-used PacMate on a shelf and only occasionally would I travel with my Asus Netbook. It’s light, but not light enough for my abused back. The VoiceSense weighs only 8 ounces. This means a huge step for me in terms of preparation for work in a completely mobile fashion. It also means more work for my weary brain, but again, I welcome the challenge.

Letter from the Editor – April 23, 2012

Hello Everyone,

I hope you all had a nice weekend. As you all know from the correction email I sent shortly after last week’s magazine was sent out, this is the last week for poetry submissions. If you would still like to submit a piece of poetry for next week’s poetry issue, please have it in to me by this Friday so I have enough time to compile everything before the next magazine goes out. I apologize for any confusion regarding last week’s announcement.

Also, the March 2012 Audio Edition was released last week. You can listen to it on our website by going to http://www.matildaziegler.com/2012/04/16/march-2012-audio-version/. If you would like to automatically receive the download via email every month, please email me at editor@matildaziegler.com with the phrase “Subscribe to Audio Edition” in the subject line.

That should cover everything for now. I hope you all enjoy this week’s magazine.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Sincerely,
Ross Hammond, Editor

Recipe of the Week – Chicken and Almond Stew

Submitted by Dave Hutchins

This simple recipe is sure to become a quick favorite.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup diced canned tomatoes, drained
2 Tablespoons slivered almonds
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 pound cubed and cooked deli chicken
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained (15 ounce)

Directions:

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and saute for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the broth, tomatoes, almonds, and spices. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the chicken and beans and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Nutritional Information Per Serving: Calories: 276; Protein: 31 g; Carbohydrates: 25 g; Fat: 7 g;
Cholesterol: 40 g;
Exchanges: 1 Starch, 1 Vegetable, 4 Very Lean Meat, 1 Monounsaturated Fat

Reader’s Forum for the Week of April 16, 2012

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

In response to Contributor Sally Rosenthal – Dogs to Share: Part 1, Karen wrote:

Thank you for putting the articles in about folks who go to hospice to give comfort to elderly dying patients.

Recently, I lost my Mom in last August. She had Alzheimer’s disease, and I went to visit her from Indiana to Massachusetts the last time, letting her see my new guide dog. She drew much comfort from seeing my dog, and remembered me even then upon my visit. It gave me a chance to say once more that I loved her.

I wish more people would spend time with the elderly. I am an ex social worker for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and I had mostly elderly clients. They deserve our attention and caring. Thanks again.

Karen and Zelda the wonder dog!
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In response to Contributor Erin Jepson – One of the Gang, Karen Crowder wrote:

Hello everyone in the Reader’s Forum.

Erin Jepson’s article “One of the Gang” reminded me of the way I was treated by my parents. With few exceptions, my parents treated me just like my brother. If I did something wrong, there were consequences. Punishments were mild, but effective–staying in my room or being denied radio listening time sent a clear message. I had regular chores, like setting the table, drying dishes, and helping my Mom with meal preparation.

My parents made sure I participated in the same activities, like swimming ice-skating as other sighted children..

My parents expected me to do weekend homework, always have assignments in on time–blindness was no excuse. Although I went to a school for the blind, teachers and staff had high expectations for most Perkins students. They instilled a sense of hope that even if we were blind life had plenty to offer us.

I am shocked at some parents of blind children who need to know that if children are to grow in to successful adults, they must feel the same pain, disappointment, and joy as there sighted siblings. We must also blame it on misinformation and societal attitudes which foster the mistaken notion of entitlement among impressionable blind children. What blind children and adults need is a sense of confidence, empowerment, and the chance to train and get employment which will allow future generations to compete.
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In response to Contributor Erin Jepson – One of the Gang, Karen Crowder wrote:

I am interested in doing research on the affects of over-protecting blind children. I’ve witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of such treatment. It often results in delayed emotional and developmental growth continuing through adulthood.

Are there any studies or firsthand accounts from blind people who were the victims of this tragedy? If anyone has any information to pass on, I would welcome it gratefully.

I can be reached at daryl.darnell@illinois.gov, or phone: 217-245-5274.
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In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – A Different Road, Tim wrote:

I was sorry to hear about what happened to Steven Famiglietti and his guide dog Meyer. While I read about Meyer’s behavior, growling and aggression, I wondered if maybe Meyer had something like a brain tumor, which changed his behavior. I hope Steven is able to discover the cause of this change.

Tim Hendel
Huntsville, Alabama
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In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – A Different Road, Shelley wrote:

I want you to know that my heart goes out to you. As a guide dog user since 1975 I have had several dogs over the years not work out for a variety of reasons. I know from my own experiences that you are going through an extremely difficult time. You know that it isn’t your fault, and I applaud you for acknowledging that. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. You will most likely hear some insensitive comments from other people, especially sighted folks who don’t know any better. Remember that they are well meaning, they just can’t understand. Whatever you do please don’t take their comments to heart. First and foremost please allow yourself to grieve, you will heal.

I am sure that Guiding Eyes will work especially hard to find you an excellent match.

Love and Blessings
Shelley McMullen
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In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – A Different Road, Chris wrote:

Steve, you are not alone in having a guide dog (as we call them in the UK) which having passed all its tests, when it arrives with its new owner, suddenly turns out not to be what one had expected. One of my young friends (in his 30s at the time) had the same experience as you. Not a German Shepherd, but a Labrador. Indeed I saw the dog do the exact thing you described at a gathering we were at of past school friends. He had been at the same school as I was – but I was there with his mum and her sister (and both ladies were present at the reunion).

It was obvious the dog could not remain as a guide dog: he would have been returned to ‘civvy street’ (to borrow a British Forces expression) and will have led a conventional life.

These things happen – and even in the best regulated training centers something sometimes appears after or during the final weeks which doesn’t get better and the inevitable has to happen. It doesn’t get any easier if this happens to more than one hopeful pairing either as another of my girlfriends is finding right now.

But you will win – and you’ll have a dog as good as your first one I’m quite sure very soon.

Chris (Reading, UK)
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In response to Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Will Google’s Self-driving Car Become Transportation for the Blind? Rod wrote:

As an ex driving instructor of 20 years standing, the one thing I miss most is driving and the freedom it gives. This sounds a fantastic idea, but knowing how difficult it is for some people to learn how to drive, the technology to do this must be awesome.
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In response to Contributor M. L. Liu – Harsh Criticism for Blind Pianist, M.L. Liu wrote:

I am the contributor who wrote this article to stimulate thought on this subject. I am honored to have it published in this esteemed magazine.

I would like to clarify the opening paragraph of this article by adding that the original question was posted on Japan’s Yahoo ask-a-question forum, and there were four responses to the question.

The music of Nobuyuki Tsujii is superb even if his blindness is disregarded. He has continued to astonish audience everywhere with his performances. Next month, May 2011, he will perform Piano Concerto Number 3 by Sergei Prokofiev, an extremely challenging work. I cannot verify this, but I am reasonably sure that he is the first completely blind pianist to play this in public with an orchestra – first with British conductor Michael Collins and the Sinfonieorchester Basel, then with the Phiharmonia and conductor Vladimir Ashkenzy.

As someone else put it (in Japanese), Mr. Tsujii has overcome his handicap of blindness to an unimaginable degree – he is an inspiration to us all.
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In response to Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Can Surgery Help Treat Diabetes? Sheila wrote:

In my husband’s case the answer is yes. My husband developed diabetes in his middle thirty’s. Both of his parents had diabetes. He managed his diabetes with pills for a few years. We heard about weight loss surgery and asked the doctor if he thought it would work. He didn’t know enough about it but told us to check into it. We found out that my husband was a good candidate for surgery. He had surgery in July of 2006. Within six months of having surgery the diabetes was gone. If you are thinking about surgery PLEASE do your research…Ask questions…It’s a life changing experience.

Sheila Rice
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In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – JAWS and Typos Are Not the Best of Friends, Elaine wrote:

In a recent article Bob Branco talked about getting email with errors in it. I always check email I’ve written before I send it. Sometimes I find mistakes such as typographical errors, misspelled words or sentences that aren’t what I want them to be. I find spell-check to be very helpful. I wouldn’t want anyone, especially a business or organization, to get an email from me filled with errors.

Sincerely, Elaine Johnson

Contributor Lacey Markle – The United States Association of Blind Athletes Impacts Lives through Sports and Recreation

There are an estimated 52,000 school-aged children who are blind and visually impaired in the United States; nearly 70 percent do not participate in even a limited physical education curriculum. The barriers that blind and visually impaired youth face are numerous and primarily the consequences of moving their education from residential schools, where physical educators with blindness knowledge deliver specialized services in relatively small classes, to public schools where educators may have less knowledge, time and resources to apply to students who are visually impaired.

The benefits of sports and recreation have been shown to continue from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. A recent survey of United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) members revealed that not only do participants benefit academically from their involvement in sports during elementary and high school, but 57 percent of USABA members continued on to higher education to pursue a college degree  which is more than double the national average of 23 percent for their visually impaired peers. Helping to increase the involvement in physical activity as well as higher education, 18 agencies assisting youth who are blind and visually impaired are working towards a healthier lifestyle with the start of the National Fitness Challenge created by the United States Association of Blind Athletes and funded by the WellPoint Foundation, the philanthropic arm of WellPoint, Inc. USABA and the WellPoint Foundation are actively working towards a healthier lifestyle by providing talking pedometers as well as fitness and nutrition coaches for each agency. Each athlete has the opportunity to be the top boy and girl from their agency and participate in the final National Fitness Challenge, a four-day camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado where they will participate in track and field, goalball, swimming and strength and conditioning workouts in order to learn more about fitness and become more involved in their local community. Mark Lucas, executive director of USABA, explained, “Our goal for the National Fitness Challenge is the top 36 teens will go back to their communities and join sports teams. We want to reward the teens for their hard work and dedication towards leading an active and healthy lifestyle. Each participant will be provided skill development that can lead to national and international competions.”

Sports and physical activity is the gift that keeps on giving, the benefits can be reaped throughout childhood and adulthood. As the National Fitness Challenge year comes to a close, USABA and the WellPoint Foundation hope the athletes met their goal of a 50 percent total decrease in body mass index (BMI). Not only will these teens lower their BMI, but through participation in sports and physical activity, these teens will realize new levels of independence, confidence and determination.

For More Information
For more information in becoming involved or for general information contact Lacey Markle at the United States Association of Blind Athletes at (719) 866-3222 or military_pgm_asst@usaba.org, or go to USABA’s website at www.usaba.org.

Contributor Sally Rosenthal – Dogs to Share: Part 2

Ellen, like my parents, had loved dogs all her life and, the volunteer coordinator assured us a year ago on our first visit, would welcome some friendly company, especially if that company arrived at the end of a leash and with a wagging tail. She had been right. Whenever we visit Ellen, she seems to find solace in patting Pumpkin’s head as it lies on her lap or in fondling Greta’s ears and guide dog harness. The patient whose room is filled with stuffed animals and pictures of herself and her own dogs in earlier days manages, at times, to break through the fog of dementia when interacting with our two Labradors. “Beautiful,” she murmurs, stroking Pumpkin, giving us a glimpse of the younger Ellen who recognized canine sweetness when she saw it.

Although she often smiles when she interacts with Greta and Pumpkin, Ellen, during some visits, displays the mood swings common to dementia. During one particularly sad visit, Ellen cried and held tightly to the hand I had offered her. As she wiped away her tears, squeezed my hand, and whispered a thank-you, I couldn’t help wonder what a casual observer would make of the five of us sitting in a quiet alcove. Would that onlooker be able to see beyond the tableau of loss and misfortune we, a blind woman, a polio survivor, and a woman with dementia, presented to the people we really are? Despite what disabilities and illnesses the three of us bring to our relationship, what truly matters is our connection, brought about by the dogs, to each other.

It is this sense of connection that provides the truest answer to those who question our hospice involvement. Although each of us is different, we all share one similarity: we will each die, and none of us wants to do it alone. All of us would welcome some comfort and friendship, be it human or canine, on that final journey, just as Ellen does. It doesn’t matter that she can’t recognize us or that much of her former life remains a mystery to us. What matters is that, for the hours we spend together, she finds comfort from a friendly canine presence and that my husband and I are able to, in addition to helping Ellen, receive as much nourishment from those shared hours.

As we left the facility after visiting Ellen recently, I realized that there would be other autumn afternoons for those long walks and that my local Starbucks wasn’t likely to run out of coffee and biscotti before my next visit. Ellen, however, like all hospice patients and all of the rest of us, will run out of time. Knowing that, the answer to “Hospice? Why hospice?” is simple. In the tenuous and sacred web of life that connects us to one another, Ellen needs a dog, and we have two to share.