Archive for September, 2012

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Captured by Captcha

Have you ever had one of those weekends where you’re diligently working at your computer to accomplish several tasks–with varying degrees of failure and success? I have had just such a weekend and thought it might be worth sharing as I considered it an enlightening and educational experience.

Are you familiar with the horrendous entity known as a “captcha”? Wavy letters and numbers that no screen reader can decipher, they are the bane of my existence. Also known as visual verifications, solving them is supposed to prove that you are a human. Their worth has been debated for years, but website developers continue to use them. Confident that I needed only to sign up for a Google Groups email list with my Gmail username and password, I was thoroughly aggravated when my JAWS screen reader announced that I should listen to the numbers and type them in the edit box. Entering on the link I waited to hear the familiar mechanical voice read the numbers buried amongst background noise. Even my Winamp media player refused to play it. I promptly tweeted my dilemma and had a solution in minutes–use the Mozilla FireFox web browser and Web Visum captcha-solving service. If you’re using Internet Explorer 9 to download Firefox, you’ll need to access the notification area by pressing Alt-N and tabbing to the Run or Save button and pressing Enter. Web Visum (www.webvisum.com) also requires that you enter an invitation code. Having acquired several, I was prepared. Your Web Visum account will need to be activated so check your email for that message. I next returned to the Google Groups page where the captcha edit field waited and pressed Control-Alt-6 to send the captcha to Web Visum. Minutes later I heard the confirmatory prompt. Next, I pressed the Shortcut key; entered on the Paste option and–Voila! I had my group. After all that, thanks to another glitch, I actually wound up using www.emissives.com for our email list and that was another challenge but perseverance really does pay off.

Our beleaguered information email list has been pressed into service for seven years and is now, sadly, corrupt. Being the leader of the group, it fell to me to find a suitable alternative. I knew next to nothing about list management before this weekend. Our former list just worked and I had very little control over its actions. I am pleased to say that with help from the amiable owner of the Emissives service, I can subscribe members and manipulate the list to a basic degree. My last triumph was finally configuring Microsoft Outlook 2010 to work on my laptop. I’ll never know why it decided to work now, but I’m very grateful.

Do any of you have captcha nightmares to tell? Share them with us in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Taking Online Learning to a Whole New Level

Online learning is one of the great developments of our time. But while it has its benefits, it also has some drawbacks inherent in the off-site learning process. One major drawback is the lack of interaction with people. It’s true that most online learning programs have discussion boards, but there is still no human to human contact. Last year, the Washington State School for the Blind tried out a new program by Microsoft called Lync which will hopefully solve this problem. The software allows for a teacher to interact with their students personally regardless of their location.

Robin Lowell lives in Seattle, but she teaches math to blind students all over Washington through the use of the software. WSSB had tried video conferencing software for distance learning, but it wasn’t as effective as Lync. The Lync software is keyboard user friendly which is vital for students who are unable to use the mouse. The students are able to see a projection of their teacher, and Lowell is able to see her students and their computer screens with the use of cameras. Students are also able to instant message their teacher independently so that they can ask questions that they may feel timid about asking in front of the whole class. Each student has a white board on their screen which the teacher can use to help them with individual problems.

The innovative way that WSSB is using this software won them the top prize at this year’s Microsoft Partners in Learning U.S. Forum. Sherry Hahn and Robin Lowell will be traveling to Prague later this year to represent the U.S. at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. The school hopes that they will inspire other schools to use this software to make learning more effective. Since finding qualified teachers of the visually impaired can be difficult, this would give school districts the option of hiring someone without requiring them to move to the area.

To learn the full details about the program visit this link: http://www.oregonlive.com/clark-county/index.ssf/2012/09/washington_state_school_for_th_1.html

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – JAWS 14 is Around the Corner

As many of you probably know by now, Freedom Scientific has released the JAWS 14 public beta version. Beta software is released to give the public and developers the chance to test software features. If it is a private beta release, then only people who are selected can test the software. If it is a public beta, then anyone who has the ability to download software can test it.

As with most updates, there are a few new features found in JAWS version 14. First off, you can now download and use Vocalizer voices in this release. To do this, you’ll need to download them from the Freedom Scientific website (the link will be given at the bottom of this article). These new voices are the most responsive ones I’ve used and they have a human-like quality to them. I liked the Real Speak voices, but I was always frustrated with the amount of time it took for them to respond as I navigated around my computer. This caused me to switch back to the default voice used with JAWS.

For those of us who use either Microsoft Outlook 2007 or Microsoft Outlook 2010, you can now read email messages, even if they contain tables or if they are web pages. This feature is called Virtual Buffer Message Support. What this means is that if you receive an email message, you can simply read it exactly the same way you read messages that contain plain text. There is no longer a complicated series of steps needed to view the message in your web browser. The reason that these messages were almost impossible to read in the past was that Microsoft Outlook uses Microsoft Word as its message editor. Because of this, any messages that contained tables, or were read-only, required us to view them in our browsers in order to read them. I am quite pleased that this feature was added.

I have been teaching people to use many adaptive software programs for about 15 years. In that time, one of the most difficult lessons for students to understand deals with selecting text and then copying or cutting it to the Windows clipboard. To sighted users, the clipboard is an invisible temporary storage area that is used to hold text until you paste it into its new location.

In JAWS 14, when you select text, you can now view it in the Results Viewer before you paste it into its new location. Even though we have had the ability to read our selected text before we copied it to the clipboard, there wasn’t a way to check out the clipboard and see what we had placed in it. Now, with this new feature we can read the text and add to the text. This is a very powerful feature and one that I hope people will use.

Here is the link to all of the new features found in JAWS: http://freedomscientific.com/downloads/jaws/jaws-public-beta.asp#Features

Here is the link to download the new Vocalizer Direct voices: http://www.freedomscientific.com/downloads/Vocalizer/VocalizerDirect.asp

Have any of you had hands-on experience with JAWS 14 yet? What were your impressions?

Letter from the Editor – September 24, 2012

Hello Everyone,

Well, it is now officially Fall here in the United States and the weather this morning certainly fit the bill. Damp and cool, with that distinct “Fall Smell” in the air. For me, I can’t really define what that smell is, but it’s there all the same.

We’ve got a great line-up of articles for this week’s magazine, including an update from the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) with a round-up of the action that took place at the Paralympics. Also, be sure to check your inboxes for the August Audio Edition, which will be released sometime today or tomorrow.

That should cover everything for now. I hope you all have a great week.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Sincerely,
Ross Hammond, Editor

Recipe of the Week – Slow Cooker Peach Cobbler

Submitted by Dave Hutchins

Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients:

4 cups fresh or frozen sliced peeled peaches
1/4 cup Granulated sugar or Splenda Sugar
1 cup Original Bisquick mix
1/2 cup Granulated sugar or Splenda Sugar
1 cup Milk
Ice cream or whipped cream

Directions:

Spray 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.

In large bowl, gently toss peaches and 1/4 cup of the sugar.

Turn into slow cooker.

In medium bowl, gently beat Bisquick mix, sugar and milk with whisk until blended.

Pour over peaches in slow cooker.

Cover; cook on low heat setting 3 hours or until cobbler is set in center.

Serve cobbler with ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy!

Reader’s Forum – Week of September 17, 2012

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

In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Is Massachusetts Agency Going Too Far with Independence, Danni wrote:

I have to say absolutely! We need a bit of back up on this or it can put us in major danger! I am battling even using companies for help (and the lack of good help is rather disgusting), but I can’t imagine trying to interview someone for the job, and there are many of us that do not have the option of family or friends to help.
##
In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Is Massachusetts Agency Going Too Far with Independence, DeAnna wrote:

I think Bob misunderstands how such programs as he describes work.

The service is called Consumer Driven Service. People can choose to receive Personal Care Attendant services from agencies who do the hiring, handle all of the details, and choose who they send. CDS service is for those who want to hire a relative, friend, or prefer to choose who enters their home. They must be able to handle signing off on each day’s activity, supervise, train, hire, and fire because that is what they wish to do. The agency can help them by keeping an eligible to work list of individuals who they have cleared through a data base search to verify that they do not have a criminal record nor have they been banned from working for previous misconduct.

They also handle taxes and bill Medicaid and send payment based on the time sheets submitted by the consumer. If they suspect that a consumer isn’t being cared for adequately, they can step in by issuing a hotline report declaring that a person with a disability is endangered. They make monthly contact with the consumer by phone and at least quarterly, a home visit. If they suspect that an attendant is not performing their job well, they can act to safeguard the individual and insist that they get services from an in-home agency. If the consumer chooses to hire a relative or friend or indeed run an ad, the chosen employee must still have a background check before they can work or they must receive a waiver to work requested by the employer who knows that, for example, Jane Doe had a DUI when she was twenty or was arrested twenty years ago for fishing without a license or whatever.

In-home service is when the agency takes all responsibility for assuring that an aid is sent to you. Under CDS, you are expected to fill out an emergency plan that lists family, neighbors, or friends you might ask to fill in during emergencies. These people can either work once a quarter to keep their eligibility to work if they want to be paid, or be volunteers who don’t expect payment, but will help out should an attendant be ill, suddenly quit, or for some other reason be unavailable to work. Depending on the severity of the disability, the agency will step in with help if a person can’t manage at all without daily help. Most individuals with multiple disabilities will keep the maximum number of attendants so they can always have flexibility to absorb sudden decisions on the part of their employees to leave or for illness or even holidays off situations. The agency where I work is fortunately in a university town, so nursing, occupational therapy students, or others studying for careers in the health professions are in good supply. They make excellent personal care attendants and like the flexible hours and part time jobs.

The bottom line is that people have options other than being forced in to nursing homes simply because they need some extra help to live in their own homes. Maintaining control over who comes in to your home is one of the reasons people choose CDS programs.

DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
5774 Windy Meadows Ln.
Fulton, MO 65251-5442
Cell: 573-544-3511
Email: quieth2o@ktis.net
##
In response to Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Kicking Off the Fall with a Bazaar, Phyllis wrote:

Just last Saturday, the 9th, I was at an annual event here in Johnson City, TN. with my current Dog Guide, Emmy. We sold bottles of water and handed out flyers about our Unity church. I had a lot of fun and Emmy got lots of attention. People were polite and always asked if they could pet my dog. There were a whole lot of children, so Emmy had an excellent good time. She was an outstanding ambassador for the church. I kept telling folks that she was our mascot!
##
In regard to Sally Ross’ question on melatonin, Edward wrote:

About ten years ago, I participated in a sleep study at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston lasting four months. For 39 days of that time I voluntarily incarcerated myself in a hospital room hooked up to all kinds of things. This study, which is still going on, is part of a larger study regarding sleep as the drug companies are seriously interested in making billions. It turns out, at least as a working hypothesis, that probably at least 90 percent of individuals whose biological clock in the brain does not receive light daily, have some kind of sleep disorder. The use of melatonin can, in some instances, be very helpful.

There are styles of living, however, that work best with melatonin in general, and regularity of habits is one of them. I will try to reacquire the contact information for you, but probably any good searcher of the web could find it. The current study is, however, working with drugs which include melatonin. Personally, I would not take it over the counter even though it is available that way. I would try to work with a specialist in the field. Melatonin is the hormone that is being produced in your brain and you probably know it by those feelings of sleepiness which make you think you are going to drop in your tracks right in the middle of your answering questions in an exam. That is, when you feel drowsy, your melatonin production is up. For the record, I decided to not take the melatonin as I was not prepared to live a regulated life. Now, I’m not sure I decided correctly
##
In regard to Sally Ross’ question on melatonin, Chela wrote:

You should try the following web site: http://www.24sleepwake.com
##
In regard to Sally Ross’ question on melatonin, Jim wrote:

I am totally blind, and melatonin has helped me to regulate sleep. I get roughly six hours per night. I have taken melatonin since last September.

The product I’m taking is ResQ Sleep. It’s produced by N3 Oceanic. They are located in Palm, Pa. They can be reached at this toll-free number: 1-800-2625483.
##
In regard to Sally Ross’ question on melatonin, Mark wrote:

I am sorry to say that I have only heard of seemingly anecdotal evidence of research for Circadian rhythm problems in the blind. It seems that there are researchers in the UK who have done more with this than researchers in the U.S.

I am totally blind and without light perception, and have dealt with sleep issues and Circadian rhythm issues for nearly the past 46 years. It meant pure misery for me both in school, and at work, and plagues me to this day. I have considered taking part in this or that study, but was unsure of what these studies could mean–are they just studies for now, or could they lead to some sort of help? Meanwhile, I try very hard to keep a rigid schedule so that I can eventually train my body to crash when I want it to, not out of the blue when it wants to.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – ITN: Coming to a Town or City Near You

In an email from a blindness agency in the spring of 2011, I read about ITN, a transportation system coming to the Boston area. My friend Candice mentioned it again this July, and located their number and website. Using that information, I was able to get in touch with them to learn more about this service.

I recently conducted an interview with Jeanne Bushnell, Executive Director, at the Framingham office of ITN/greater Boston. I spoke to her back in August, and again this past Friday. She patiently answered all my questions about its history, mission, and how we can participate.

The Independent Transportation Network was founded by Katherine Freund, in Portland, Maine in 1995. She was motivated by a tragic accident caused by an elderly driver that resulted in the death of her 3-year-old son. She did not blame the driver, and rather directed her anger and grief toward solving America’s shamefully inadequate transportation systems for the elderly. The Independent Transportation Network was born, and began to branch out across the country by 1996. From its inception, the mission has been to provide its blind and elderly riders with courteous, attentive service.

So, how does the Independent Transportation Network differ from Paratransits across the country? To start, it runs24 hours a day, seven days a week, utilizing volunteer drivers. When these drivers are hired, they are carefully screened for attentiveness, a friendly demeanor, and caring and compassion towards all their passengers. The goal of the drivers and staff is complete safety and satisfaction of every patron they serve.

As my friend, Candice said on her trip to North Station from Framingham in August, “The driver was wonderful and even waited on the train platform until I was on the train. We chatted all the way to Boston. I will definitely use them again.”

When speaking with the director, I was impressed with the level and quality of caring each driver shows. They converse with each passenger, and if going grocery shopping, will carry bundles in to the passenger’s residence for them. If the ride involves a medical appointment, the driver only leaves when a blind or elderly passenger is with a receptionist who can assist patrons to appointments.

The Independent Transportation Network is a nonprofit, receiving funds from Tufts Metro West foundation, private donations, and other community resources. Riders have an account and Massachusetts is looking to defray costs for low-income riders via scholarships, as do other states.

Paratransit is a fantastic resource, and riders in many cities and towns have curb-to-curb or door to door service. But this is often insufficient for blind/senior citizens who have additional disabilities and poor mobility skills. With most Paratransits across the country, you must also have sufficient money in your account to take advantage of their service. While, this is also true with ITN, the aforementioned scholarships should be able to help.

Some areas that the Independent Transportation Network operates in include parts of California, Nevada, parts of Florida, South Carolina, Illinois, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts. Some towns served in Massachusetts are Brookline, Brighton, Cambridge, Newton, Roxbury, Framingham, Natick, and Ashland.

How can blind people across Massachusetts help spread the word about this company? You can start by contacting the Framingham office at 1-781-296-1496. Ask for Jeanne Bushnell, who can mail out brochures, which you can then pass on to organizations. To learn more about this organization in your area go to www.ITNAmerica.org. You will find more information for your area and to sign up as a rider.

The shameful crisis of inadequate transportation for elderly and disabled people across America is growing, but ITN is part of the solution.

Have Ziegler Readers taken ITN? If so, how do you like it?

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Away to Albany

Springing from bed at 5:30am, I slumped in front of my computer in search of the email that contained the address of the venue where we would be giving our presentation. Finding the message thread but hearing nothing about an address, I assumed it was just my travel anxiety. I forwarded the messages to my iPhone and vowed to search while on the train.

Our security guard caught a taxi for us in lightning speed and we zoomed down to Penn Station with plenty of time to spare. Penn Station is a huge complex comprised of dozens of twists and turns where it is too easy to become lost and require assistance. We cordially stopped an unsuspecting passerby and asked him to guide us to the Amtrak waiting area. There, we met a worker I dubbed “The Sleep-worker,” as he merely wandered around, answering no questions. After hearing the recorded announcer recite something about tickets, it dawned on me that we should probably find the Amtrak ticket booth. This was Maria’s thought from the beginning, but I must have been sleepwalking, too. Wending our way to a row of booths, I called out in strident tones, “Hello?” A kind worker rushed to our rescue and guided us to a booth where we exchanged our reservation for actual tickets. He also arranged for someone to escort us onto the train.

Once in Albany, we were guided into the station and there the hunt began. The only thing I knew was that the meeting would be held at a Hilton Hotel, not knowing the exact location or if there was more than one in the area. We called their toll-free number and tracked down the correct location. After profusely thanking the ultra-helpful Amtrak worker, we were bundled into another taxi and off we went.

Arriving hours early, we heard a dynamic presentation, enjoyed a delicious lunch and checked all tech gear. It was then that I used the Quantum barcode scanner to identify the bag of classic potato chips that were supposed to be Bar-B-Que flavored. The sales clerk at the Hudson News Stand kiosk in Penn Station must have been another sleep-worker.

A seasoned presenter, I still become nervous and want everything to go well, cringing at the thought of a device slyly shifting into what we call “demo mode” (where something invariably goes wrong). The fact that the audience appeared engaged and asked great questions eased my mind. The leader also requested our presence at next year’s meeting. It’s always exciting to open my bag of tricks to exclamations of delight as our traveling tech show is revealed.

Initially directed to the wrong exit after the show, thanks go again to random passersby, Maria’s Sendero GPS app, and my sense of direction for guiding us to the bus stop where we–gratefully– caught our bus home.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Two Dogs in One

If you grew up in the 1960’s, you may remember a TV commercial that advertised a mint as being, “Two, two, two mints in one.” A good friend and colleague, Joyce Driben, has a Black Labrador/Golden Retriever Seeing Eye(R) dog that is two dogs in one because he also volunteers with her in a therapeutic capacity. The setting to which they go each week is the Southwestern VA Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

“A reader told me that this VA Center was looking for volunteers, and they especially wanted someone to bring a dog in,” Joyce replied, when I asked how she and Tutor got started there.

“Though we first visited people on the Alzheimer’s unit, we then added physical therapy where we encouraged movement by having the patients pet Tutor. Now we go everywhere in the building and visit whoever wants to see us,” Joyce concluded. The vets also enjoy giving Tutor snacks–something Joyce monitors carefully.

“When I had a guide dog,” I said “I often encountered people who were so afraid of dogs that they insisted mine would bite. Have you experienced that fear with patients?”

Joyce said that some of the residents have expressed a dislike for dogs, but, regarding fear, it’s mostly the staff. “One worker even said, ‘I’m afraid of that dog’,” Joyce added.

Joyce also explained the importance of sighted assistance in what she does. “So that Tutor can interact more with the residents, I have him out of harness, so I can’t expect him to guide. Also, with many of the patients being in wheelchairs, things like food and drinks need to be lower so they can reach them, but this also makes it easier for dogs to get them. Another problem is that some of the patients with Alzheimer’s can no longer speak, so they motion for the dog to come visit–something I wouldn’t know on my own,” Joyce explained.

“What suggestions do you have for readers who might want to do similar volunteering with their dogs?” I asked.

“Part of it is exploring what’s available in your community since every community is different,” Joyce responded. Joyce also emphasized how friendly, calm, and good with people a dog has to be. “A dog also has to be comfortable with appliances like canes, oxygen, and wheelchairs,” she said. “My first dog couldn’t have done this because she was scared to death of wheelchairs. The slight hissing noise an oxygen tank makes can also scare some dogs.”

Some final points are that the dog must be clean, well groomed, and in good health if they are to volunteer in a hospital.

“Tutor is so loveable that-when I had to miss a few weeks–guess who the patients asked about? It wasn’t me,” Joyce ended with a laugh.

Have any readers worked with therapy dogs or volunteered with them in a therapeutic capacity? Tell us your experiences in Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Christine Ha Proves That You Don’t Need Sight to Make a Great Meal

It is rare to see actors on television who are blind, and even rarer to see blind reality show contestants. Earlier this summer, I told you about Christine Ha who was competing on the show Master Chef. This past Monday was the season finale and Christine was among the last in the competition. Each week she continued to wow the judges and overcome her challenges, and after a tough journey, she came away with the title of “Master Chef.”

The season finale was a great demonstration of why Christine earned the title. She and the other finalist were simply asked to make a three course meal that would taste good, fit well together, and show that they really were a Master Chef. Christine decided to make the food she grew up with.

She started with a Thai salad, followed by a pork belly, and finished it off with a braised coconut lime sorbet. Although each dish was quite tasty, the judges weren’t sure if these dishes were complex enough. In the end though, Christine’s decision to play to her strengths instead of making new or more extravagant dishes won her the competition.

In July, Christine gave an interview to the NPR show Tell Me More. During the interview Christine talked about what she might do if she won the competition. Outside of paying medical bills, she hoped to potentially open an ice cream shop or a gastro pub. To hear the whole interview visit this link: http://www.npr.org/2012/07/17/156904473/blind-cook-serves-up-tough-competition-on-masterchef

Along with the money, Christine will also be publishing her own cookbook. If there were dishes that she made during the show that you liked, then you’ll be able to find them there. Don’t forget that you can also find lots of her recipes on her blog at www.theblindcook.com

I hope that everyone enjoyed watching Master Chef as much as I did. We’re currently working on landing an interview with Christine Ha, so look for that article in the future.