Archive for January, 2013

Contributor Brittney Smithers – Sierra Gregg – A Trailblazer for Americans with Disabilities

Originally Published for Lighthouse for the Blind-Saint Louis, December 2012

Sierra Gregg, a senior at Missouri’s Truman State University who is legally blind, proves that hard work, dedication and belief in a cause can overcome all limitations.

Sierra discovered in 2011 that almost all of archived documents about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) on the ADA website for the Presidential Libraries & Museums at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., were not digitized. Dismayed, Sierra began a project to convert more than 50 archived ADA documents on the website into digital formats, which are more accessible to readers with limited vision. Sierra, now age 21, spent the past two summers in Washington, D.C., leading that effort as an intern at the Presidential Libraries. Sierra’s initiative earned White House recognition.

Sierra was born with a rare birth defect that left her legally blind. Raised in St. Louis, she became involved with the Lighthouse for the Blind – Saint Louis, attended the Lighthouse Summer Transition Employment program (STEP), and later earned two scholarships through the Lighthouse Continuing Education program. The scholarships covered housing costs for a summer internship in the nation’s capitol.

Sierra hoped for an internship where she could further explore her interest in library management. John Thompson, president of Lighthouse for the Blind-Saint Louis, wrote a letter of recommendation for her. Sierra was surprised and thrilled to receive an internship requiring her to monitor and write content for the social media pages of the Presidential Libraries. With no prior social media experience, but a propensity for tackling challenges, Sierra left for Washington in summer, 2011.

Washington D.C. presented major culture shock for Sierra. She had an hour-long commute every day on crowded buses and congested metro trains, a daunting task for anyone, but especially for people who are blind. Sierra says, “If I had not attended the Lighthouse STEP program and received training in mobility and how to travel independently, I would never have made it in D.C.”

Sierra quickly adapted to her new position of writing and researching content to post on the social media pages for the Presidential Libraries. Midway through summer, Sierra decided to write a post about a topic near and dear to her: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. While researching the act, Sierra discovered that only two of the archived documents on the ADA website were digitized. Sierra also was disappointed to learn that most official records and manuscripts documenting the history of people with disabilities were not accessible to her or others with visual impairments. She seized the opportunity to make a positive difference. Sierra spent the remainder of her summer developing a proposal to convert archived documents on the ADA website into digital documents.

Sierra left D.C. that first summer hopeful she would have the opportunity to continue her project. A few months later, she was overjoyed to find out she had been invited to return to D.C. for a second internship in summer, 2012.

On July 26, 2012, the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the ADA, the National Archives launched Sierra’s new web page embedded within the ADA website containing 56 newly digitized documents. These records include letters written by Helen Keller to President Herbert Hoover and a Braille letter written to President Dwight D. Eisenhower by John Beaulieu.

Sierra says, “I was born visually impaired one year after the signing of the ADA. I have grown up in a world where my visual impairment is not a hindrance to my success, only a characteristic of who I am. The ADA has made it possible for me to get the help I need to work toward my academic and professional goals.”

Sierra, who attended Ursuline Academy in St. Louis when she was growing up, plans to attend graduate school upon earning her Computer Science major degree at Truman State University. She dreams of working in a major library where she can continue her work to help make literature and documents more accessible to those who are visually impaired. Bravo, Sierra!

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Robot Surgeons

I know that, on the surface, this topic seems off the wall–however, it became a reality two days ago at our local hospital. For the first time, a patient was operated on by a Da Vinci robot that was given verbal commands by a surgeon in the next room. According to a local news broadcast, the patient, a 68-year-old man with prostate cancer, was pleased with the procedure and very proud that it was successful.

As I listened to the man talk about the thrill of being operated on by a robot, I almost cringed. Though the procedure went well, I have to wonder about how much faith and trust I would have in a mechanical, fallible machine performing surgery on me. Surgery is a very exact science, with detail being a major priority. Under the best of conditions, the Da Vinci robot was manufactured by a human being, so it is subject to human error. What if the robot developed a short circuit while working on a patient’s vital organ? What if the power went out temporarily? At that point, it wouldn’t matter how qualified the doctor was. He suddenly had an additional responsibility on his hands which would further complicate the surgery.

One argument I heard in favor of robotic surgery is that it’s more sanitary, as there is a chance that the doctors could not be scrubbing up correctly. But who is cleaning the robot between surgical sessions? Isn’t there just as much room for error there?

I also heard the theory that a Da Vinci robot is more accurate with its “hands.” I don’t buy it. This robot, though probably well constructed, is a machine with fallible parts. Also, a doctor can’t consult with a robot about the patient’s condition or get a hands-on feel which is sometimes very crucial for certain procedures.

I am in favor of keeping the surgeon in the operating room because the situation is much more humane, and because the surgeon can apply their own training while depending on their team to assist them if they had a problem. Robots can’t say, “Excuse me, Doc. What shall we do now?”

It is likely that our local hospital staff will attempt to use the Da Vinci robot again, because the first operation was successful. But I am not yet convinced that this type of practice will get past the experimental stage.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Reflections on Inaugurations Throughout the Years

It was a cold snowy Friday morning on January 20, 1961 as our fifth grade class at Perkins School listened to the inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy. We hung on his every word. His pleasant voice captivated our attention as he exuded confidence and competence in leading a bright young generation. He spoke of a new frontier and wanting a generation marked by idealistic visions and a more peaceful world. From that day, the youth of America looked to the young president as our hero.

His speech spurred our interest in world affairs and politics. My parents loved this president–my dad not only listened to his speeches, but was also interested in his administration and programs. He engaged the imagination of everyone as we dreamt of a peaceful and carefree future. His grand legacy will be remembered for the initiation of the Peace Corps, Civil Rights legislation, space travel, and an emphasis on education for everyone.

His presidency was short lived, yet his progressive agenda lived on, ushering in programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and equal voting rights.

In 1981, Ronald Ragan was elected and people attentively listened to his inaugural speech. Americans were wondering what our future would be under his conservative leadership. His voice gave me a sense of reassurance and comfort. Unlike President Kennedy, he wanted to usher in an age of self-reliance, smaller government, and economic growth. His speech and actions would bring in a decade of unbridled business and economic growth and tightening of eligibility standards for such programs as SSI and Medicaid. Yet he continued to encourage education and exploring the vistas of space travel . My stepchildren were among youth who looked to him as a hero.

On January20, 2009 I was among Americans glued to their TVs as history was made. The first African American president Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th president. There were huge crowds attending that historic celebration and optimism was everywhere.

His first inaugural speech was short; reassuring us that things would improve with time and determination. We were in the grips of the worst recession since the Great Depression, but as he spoke, there were notes of confidence and assertiveness about progressive goals for his first term.

Yesterday January 20, 2013 ushered in another term for President Obama; his speech was again short, but filled with an amazing sense of confidence and purpose for our future. He pointed toward the value of programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, which has strengthened our society.

Let us hope for more job growth for everyone and reduction of the deplorable 70 percent unemployment among the blind.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Six Months in and Learning All the Way: Part One

It occurred to me recently that not only have I been together with Joel, my German Shepherd guide dog, now for about six months, but that it has also been a year since I retired Whitlee and received my second guide dog, Meyer. What a year it has been! There certainly were ups and downs on my emotional roller coaster, but, in the end, I can say that I am feeling content with Joel and am at peace with all that has happened.

Joel is an interesting boy. When he first came to me, after about a week and a half, I quickly noticed that if I didn’t feed him at exactly his meal time, he would get sick. This puzzled me because he appeared to be a healthy dog otherwise. I tried to make sure I got him his food at exactly 6:00 AM and 5:00 PM. What I realized though, was that it wasn’t completely possible to hit those times on the nose every day, due to circumstances beyond my control. The other thing I noted was that it wasn’t normal for a dog to get sick if they were a little late getting their meals.

I started trying to give him snacks during the day to help with this issue and it didn’t work. I then tried feeding him three times a day instead of two. However, I could never get through two weeks without him getting sick. Finally, after many trials, I took him to my vet. The vet said this is a normal condition in some young dogs. He suggested trying a food that is higher in fiber to help absorb his excess stomach acid.

I went to the local pet supply store and found a food called Natural Balance. This was recommended to me by the staff at the pet store. Joel has been eating Natural Balance Synergy for several months now and has not gotten sick since I made this change. Victory is mine!

Since Joel is just about two and a half years old, he is still filling out. When he first arrived, his harness fit him well and we worked many walks in this harness. However, over the past several weeks, I noticed that Joel was quite fussy while in his harness. While working, he would look left and right frequently as he walked. This bothered me because I expect him to be paying attention to what is ahead of us so that we are safe at all times. I also noticed that his walking was rough and, at times, he was bouncing along. I thought he should be walking at a smoother pace. So, when he was having his monthly massage, I mentioned all of this to the muscle therapist. She noted to me that his front shoulders were very tight and stiff. We slipped his harness on so that she was able to see how it fit him and, she noted that his shoulders had become too broad for the harness.

I contacted Guiding Eyes about this and in a few days, they sent a broader harness to me. I slipped it on and immediately, I noticed that Joel was relaxed and when we took our first walk, he was walking steadily, with a smooth gate. The next day, we did a 2 mile walk, and Joel did a beautiful job!

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Forgetfulness

Hmm. What was my topic for this week? Ah, I remember–oh, the vagaries of my Swiss-cheese memory.

As a result of working with computers and tech devices for almost 25 years, the portion of my brain which remembers technical solutions and setups is fairly well developed. When I find myself putting a new computer together, I think if only I’d written down the steps for customizing certain features. But that would be far too sensible. Running on auto-pilot, I remember bits and pieces until my system is set to my liking. Being an incurable gadget lover, I’m thankful for the skill of being able to move from one device to another, recalling the functions for each. Knowing myself, I’d probably forget where I stored my notes anyway.

Now, let’s discuss the fact that my family, friends, and colleagues–oh, let’s be honest, anyone who happens to be around–is probably ready to give up on me as I seem incapable of remembering where I last placed most objects. This malady has been with me for years. I can’t even blame it on my advancing age. Even as I write this, I’m absolutely annoyed because I’m unable to find two important objects. Or maybe it’s just one. In any case, I’m actually contemplating ordering one device again. I know full well that once I do, the other one will magically appear. Isn’t that always the way?

Recently, the results of a government study winged its way to my email inbox. You know how you forget what you were looking for as you go from one room to another? Well, the study posits that as you enter another room, your brain triggers a new event and wipes the slate clean in order to deal with the new situation. I’ve found that repeating what you’re going to get helps keep it in your mind when you pass through a doorway. Do I remember to do this all the time? You guessed it–of course not!

My most recent bout of forgetfulness had me frantic. This particular situation would have meant I’d be stranded at my job since I would not have been able to go home in the bitter cold as I’d left my coat and under-jacket in our office kitchen. I’m grateful to my colleague for locating the articles on a chair that was pushed under a table. I’d hastily looked in that room, but it never occurred to me to actually move the chairs to see if anything was on them.

I will admit that it was comforting to learn that for the most part, our memory stays fairly intact as we age, but some details drop off as we are constantly adding new information to our already overloaded circuits.

If you remember to, please share your bouts of forgetfulness with us in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Peeling a Banana

Have you ever been doing something for years and then, to your utter dismay, found out you’ve been doing it wrong?

For example, one day I brought a banana to work for breakfast. One of our veterans was standing in the kitchen while I took it out of my lunch bag and poured a coffee. As we chatted, I peeled my banana and he said, “Did you know that you peeled it the wrong way?”

I gasped. Really, I was a little shocked. I’d been doing it this way for as long as I could remember. Worse, I’d never even noticed I was a reverse banana stripper.

He must have noticed the horror in my eyes and face, because he patted my arm as if to say, “There now, it’s not that bad, really.”

That day I learned that peeling the yellow fruit from the stem can cause bruising and the proper way to peel it is from the other end. One simply pinches off the button and voila, the stem turns into a handle while eating it.

I left the kitchen thinking back to who taught me the improper way to peel a banana. Was it my mother or my father? Then, I was struck with another thought: my entire family does it. Oh, the shame.

When I got home from work, I decided to end the cycle of ignorant banana eating habits. I gathered up my two children–ages 21 and 17, respectively–and faced them. First, I admitted I taught them the wrong way. Second, I instructed them on how to properly eat a banana. After what I thought was a successful display of correcting poor banana eating practices rooted in intergenerational angst, my daughter said, “Mom, we knew that already.”

”Really? Why didn’t you tell me?”

They both shrugged. “Mom, it’s no big deal. Who cares how you eat the banana?” they said.

My balloon of hopeful parental correction burst. Somehow, I think, there is an anecdotal message in here–ah, yes, it’s not how you peel the banana, but that you simply enjoy it that matters.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Technology Terrors

Never in a million years did I think that getting a number for a Verizon Wireless store would be so hard!

When I called Comcast Directory Assistance, their automated system instructed me to press 1 for Directory Assistance (Never mind that I had just called Directory Assistance). When I was then prompted to give a street name, address, or neighborhood, I gave the neighborhood. They responded by reading the first five on their list. I selected a number only to find that it was disconnected. When I called back to ask for a different number, I wasn’t even given the option to ask, but was instead connected to the number that had been disconnected.

I then tried 1-800-373-3411 (1-800-FREE-411) and when I instructed the system to connect me to a particular number, the system said, “Because you are a preferred sponsor, you are being connected to your number free of charge.” Well, it’s beyond me how I could have been a “preferred” sponsor when I wasn’t even “a sponsor.” Instead of being connected to my requested number, the system kept going back and forth between seeming to connect me and asking if I wanted business, residential, government, or toll-free. Techno hiccups abounded.

I finally obtained the information I was seeking only through a friend who knew the number of a Verizon store with which she had done business for years and phoned them on my behalf. Additionally, she answered my questions and gave me their number.

You’d think with all the information we have at our disposal that this would be an easy task, but as I said at the beginning of this piece, never in a million years did I think that getting a number to a Verizon Wireless store would be so hard!

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Using Skype on Your Mac or iOS Device

One of the great things about Skype is that it can be used on so many devices. We have focused so far on what Skype is and how to use it on your Windows PC, but since iOS and Mac are becoming so popular in the blind community, it is important that we cover those platforms as well.

Let’s start with the Mac. Start by visiting Skype’s website ( and downloading the Skype application for Mac. Once you’ve finished this process, the first thing you’ll need to do after opening the program is log in. There is an option to keep yourself logged in, which I recommend to make using it in the future a little easier. In order to make a call or check to see which friends are online, you will need to open the contacts monitor window by hitting command and the 3 key. This window includes a toolbar where you can set which contacts it displays, including all of them or only those that are online. Your contacts are listed in a table and calling them is as simple as hitting return on their name. To learn about other options, review the menus and the hot keys that are associated with each action.

If you’re one of the many in our community who has an iOS device, Skype can be a great option for talking with friends and family because you can do video calls and it doesn’t take up any of your cell minutes. Though, it is important to remember to be on wifi when using this app so that you’re not taking up a lot of your data plan. Video calling eats that up pretty quick, and wifi will be faster anyway.

Using the app is quite simple. Just like the Mac app, you have the option of only displaying contacts that are online or all of them. To make a call, double tap on the person’s name and choose whether you want a voice or video call. This is also where you can instant message a contact if you wish. To change notification settings, this must be done in the iOS settings app, rather than the Skype app, but it is very straight-forward.

I hope that these articles have helped you become more familiar with Skype. The Media Access Group in Australia also has a great set of resources in case these articles didn’t answer some of your questions. They can be found by visiting:

Happy Skyping!

Feature Writer John Christie – Deaf Man Fights for Job as Lifeguard

Recently, Keith, a deaf man, passed a lifeguard test in Michigan. He then applied for a job at a wave pool in Oakland County, Michigan. In order to get the job, he had to pass a medical examination. The doctor cleared him for the position, but only under the condition that his deafness be constantly accommodated. It seemed that he was all set.

However, Keith would have more hurdles to overcome if he was to have this job permanently. The county’s recreation specialist, Katherine Stavale, contacted a risk management consultant, Wayne Crokus, to discuss whether Keith’s deafness could be safely accommodated. What came out of these discussions was a list of 7 steps that Keith had to follow in order to perform this job. Inevitably, though, Crokus told Stavale that they couldn’t depend on Keith as a standby lifeguard to adequately perform lifeguard responsibilities. As a result, Stavale and her supervisors decided to revoke the offer of employment to Keith.

Upon hearing of the revocation, Keith decided to sue under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. Even though Keith offered an array of evidence with regard to how he could perform a lifeguard job in spite of his deafness, the district court initially granted the county summary judgment. However, later on, the court reversed its decision and ruled in Keith’s favor.

Keith’s lawyer impressed the court by proving that Keith did an excellent job performing the task of the lifeguard position in spite of his deafness and that Keith can communicate at all levels in spite of his hearing impairment. He also cited evidence that Keith can enforce safety rules, as he can respond to patrons who approach him from a lifeguard standpoint. All of these points lead to one final conclusion–that being deaf doesn’t stop a person from performing the major functions of a lifeguard.

It is not easy for a person with a disability to win a case seeking a public safety job. However, Keith and his lawyers did a great job winning this case and defeating the stereotypes that revolve around the lifeguard job when someone is deaf.

While this issue highlights some of the lasting stereotypes that the public have regarding people with disabilities, it also shows that minds can be changed and members of the disabled community can fight for, and be rewarded with, meaningful employment. By continuing to create precedent, cases like these pave the way for everyone in the disabled community.


Letter from the Editor – January 22, 2013

Hello everyone,

I hope you all had a nice weekend. My condolences to the fans of the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots for the upset losses on Sunday. If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t have had either team losing. So it’s a good thing that I’m not a betting man.

The famous Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” It’s one of his many sayings that still reverberate in today’s world. If the measure of a man is what he leaves behind–his legacy–then he will truly never be forgotten for what he did and for how hard he pressed for this world to become a better place for everyone.

There are no new announcements for this week. I hope you all enjoy the articles from our feature writers, as well as our contributors.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Ross Hammond, Editor