Archive for July, 2013

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Adaptable Shortcuts

I think we would all agree that most adaptive products for the blind cost a lot of money. Despite our limited budgets, these companies continue to bleed us dry, so we, as blind people, must figure out a way to economize while still trying to live life like the sighted do. So, how do we forget about the three hundred dollar talking microwave oven, the eleven hundred dollar speech software, and the eighty dollar talking measuring tape?

Two months ago, I attended a meeting of my local visually impaired persons support group where a rehabilitation teacher from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind talked about ways to live independently in the home. Naturally, I commented about how costly it is to do that at times, even though independence is something we want.

I remarked about the very expensive talking microwave oven, but the rehab teacher was very quick to stop me. Why should we, as blind people, spend three hundred dollars in order to cook our meals when we can place adhesive dots on the flat screens of our regular microwave ovens? These dots are a dime a dozen, so if placed properly, we can use a regular microwave oven, as I do. The difference in cost is over two hundred dollars.

Whenever we are faced with spending over a thousand dollars to adapt our computers, we are often asked to go to our local Lions Clubs who may wish to raise funds for us. I know that in my city, it has been done in the past. A visually impaired woman needed a closed circuit television as an adaptive product. She couldn’t afford to purchase one, so her local Lions Club bought one for her.

Instead of buying a talking measuring tape for eighty dollars, we can use a simple Braille ruler and move it across the surface you want measured until you can figure out how many times you had to move it, that is, if the measurement is in feet.

These are a few helpful hints we can use while advocates work to fight against the high cost of products for the blind. I would say that even if we are successful at lowering these ridiculous prices, these helpful hints will still prove helpful anyway.

Your thoughts are welcome in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Ten Years of Independence

It occurred to me that on July 16, 2003, I got my first guide dog, Whitlee. At that time, I was living in my condo and the only time I left it was to take the trash to the dumpster. I never went anywhere alone and never gave it a thought, except to say that I was afraid to walk alone because I thought I would get hit by a car.

Whitlee arrived and all of that began to change. I had three weeks of in home training and after it was over, one day, I walked to our local mall by myself. I felt so empowered and joyful that day. I guess it would have been the same feelings I would have experienced if I got a driver’s license, and owned a car. That walk was the first time that I went somewhere for no reason, because I simply wanted to experience a walk to the mall and the entire experience was my decision. I was so proud because I had Whitlee and she gave me the courage to make that journey.

Some people would regard the idea of a guide dog as a tool, but I always feel that my trust and love for the dog outweighs the fear I once had about making such a walk alone and through that love and trust came confidence. I sure wish that every guide dog could read and understand what we say, so they would know how grateful we are for everything they do for us.

Since that fateful journey ten years ago, I’ve taken my dogs on busses, trains and airplanes. When I started my current job eight years ago, I took my dog on 3 different busses twice a day, just to get to and from work. All of this required a lot of mobility to get from one bus to another and it all was a confidence builder that I never would have done, had it not been for the dog.

About six months after I got Whitlee, I got invited to a holiday party. I had to bring a gift to the party and I wanted to buy the gift without asking anyone for a ride to the store. So, I took Whitlee and we went to a local store and I found a gift for the party. When we arrived at the party, someone asked where I had gotten my gift and I told them how Whitlee and I had walked to the store to get it!

In a few weeks, Joel and I are going to take a trip to see a friend of mine, who lives in Pennsylvania. I’ve never been to his house before but I thought this would be the perfect time to visit. We are going to ride the train to Pennsylvania for the visit. Then, a few weeks later, Joel and I are going to take another trip to New York to visit his puppy raiser. I’m sure that he will be very excited to see his raiser and I will also be happy to meet the raiser. I am sure looking forward to another ten years of independence with my guide dogs and I hope that those of you who have guide dogs, or are thinking about having one of these dogs, will experience the same pleasure and freedom as I have over the last ten years.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – A Week to Remember

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you just don’t stop going? This past week proved to be one of unique experiences that I’ll remember for some time.

Imagine patiently listening to a Museum educator, as she brims with excitement about a current exhibit. She informs us that visitors have waited in line for hours to experience the room we are about to enter. Imagine, too, that you are sitting there in your comfortable summer outfit. You hear something about rain. Rain? It is a bit cloudy out but there has been no refreshing rain – only oppressive heat and humidity. You then hear that you’ll be walking to The Rain Room. She tells you that although you’ll be right in the midst of a deluge, you won’t get wet. Really?!!? The next thing you know you are indeed standing in a torrential rainstorm; you can hear the rain but aside from a tiny drop here and there, you remain incredibly dry. I was skeptical but once I began shuffling (zombie-like, as instructed) along the space containing special censors, I was caught up by the sheer wonder of it. We broke into a spontaneous chorus of “Singing In the Rain”! For more information on this once in a lifetime experience, visit

I’ve visited several well-known sites in New York City. Somehow, though, I’d never set foot on the plaza of the venerable United Nations. Having now done so, I really would like to take the tour. After the relatively long walk east to the UN complex, we next encountered a security guard who vaguely gestured in the direction we should go, without warning that there were steps ahead. I’m extremely grateful that Maria is an excellent cane traveler and warned me before we both went tumbling down. The next thing I’ll always remember is the blistering heat that blasted us as we walked towards the security area. Along the way to the huge meeting room where we would view the films, we were given a very brief tour. We were there to view some short films at a festival called “The Other Film Festival”. These were works created about people with disabilities. I was particularly moved by a short selection featuring a stick figure representing someone with autism. For more information about this important Festival, visit

Two more thought-provoking events happened this week but I’d like to leave you with a quintessentially New York moment. While walking home, we stopped in a small park, where a pigeon deposited a disgusting present just below my left shoulder. Not how I would have chosen to end the week but I guess I’m now a true New Yorker. Gee, thanks!

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Swimming in Lakes or Ponds: A Good Alternative to Pools

Monday, July 15 was the second day in a seven-day heat wave across New England. Marian and I drove to our complex’s pool and were disappointed to find that the gate was locked. The receptionist explained the water had been tested because of suspected bacterial contamination. They were waiting for the test results before opening the pool.

Marian and I began making alternative plans. Tuesday morning I called the office and was informed the pool might open Wednesday. That afternoon Marian and I drove to Damon Pond in the small town of Ashby near Fitchburg. As we stepped away from the car, I noticed cooler breezes and the scent of pine.

I smiled as I noticed people swimming and laughing in the pond. Marian mentioned that there were steps down the grassy/sandy hill to the water. Although the steps down to the pond were difficult, we managed them with my agility and good balance.

We cautiously walked into the clear cool water. I began swimming, and convinced myself I would warm up even in the chilly water. Soon we were out and negotiating the high steps towards our chairs.

As we relaxed, she observed how life had changed since her children had come here. It was less crowded, with fewer grills for cookouts.

Wednesday morning the pool was not open, and I called Leominster State Forest. Marian said the water was warmer there. I made tuna sandwiches for our picnic lunch. We drove to Westminster, where Leominster State Forest is. I could hear many kids splashing and swimming in the water as we walked towards the lake. We enjoyed the lovely warm water but it was very crowded on this sultry hot afternoon. After our delicious picnic lunch, we departed and decided to come earlier in the morning when it would be quieter on our next visit.

Although I had spent Friday afternoon at the pool with Marian, I invited two friends to go swimming that night. We decided to go Saturday afternoon but the pool was closed at four PM. Although Jane and her young daughter were disappointed we went to a fresh water beach in Lunenburg. It is for residents only, but her mom lives there. She grew up there and has pleasant memories of the beach, where she had swimming lessons.

We could hear kids splashing in the water and sound of gentle waves as we walked toward the water. We had fun spending almost an hour in the lovely warm water. It was peaceful doing the elementary backstroke, and I could feel the gentle waves and hear distant motor boats.

The lovely warm water and waves, boats, and children playing reminded me of summers spent at lakes and ponds. I said to Jane we could remain in here for hours. The air was momentarily cool while we ran donning our cover-ups. We made tentative plans to revisit these lakes during late July and August.

Enjoy these hot New England days. If someone asks if you want to go swimming do not refuse. Offer to reciprocate by making sandwiches or desert or bringing beverages or cookies.
It is not only the exercise and warm water you enjoy but the bond of friendship which will remain forever.

Feature Writer John Christie – Married Couple Get to Live Together in Spite of Group Home’s Rejections

In a recent article, I wrote that Paul Forziano and his wife Hava were married but living in separate group Homes. Now, they are living together.

Paul Forziano and his wife Hava moved into their new home one recent Monday. They also invited news reporters and attorneys into their new surroundings. They live in a large house run by an agency that operates several group homes in Riverhead in Eastern Long Island.

The couple is happy that they can live together in the same apartment which is on the second floor of the house. The couple and their parents filed a civil rights lawsuit against the former group homes where they lived previously to force them to provide housing for the couple so they could live together.

The attorneys said that they are going to fight for the couple so that as a married couple, they can live anywhere. As one attorney put it, this couple has the right to move around like everybody else. After all, you don’t know what the future has in store. A fear that the attorneys have is where there are a limited amount of providers, they will be closed out of places.

The federal civil rights lawsuit contends that the facility that Paul Forziano lived in wouldn’t have the couple live together as married people. His wife’s home refused because it says that she didn’t have the capacity to consent to sex.

Legal experts are watching this case closely especially as it pertains to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act says in part that “a public entity shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures … to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.” The group homes are run as nonprofits. In addition, they also receive Medicaid funding.

The facility where the former Hava Samuels lived has declined to comment because of the pending litigation. The Group Home where Forziano lived said they didn’t have facilities available for married couples to live in. The state Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities was also named in the lawsuit. The couple claims that this agency has not responded to their wishes and has not done enough to find a solution to the problem.

It’s great that the couple got to live together in spite of opposition from the group homes. Hopefully, they will be able to move around and live anywhere they want.

To read more visit:

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Computerized Vest Helps Dogs Talk

Imagine you are working your guide dog and it stops, telling you the path before you is blocked. If you are a blind handler, you will know the dog won’t go forward even if you tell it to because it uses intelligent disobedience to avoid the obstacle. Even as you trust your dog and proceed to go around the obstacle, you may not know what is in front of you blocking the way. Instead of being led around the unknown obstacle, and perhaps not ever realizing what it could be, you are told by the dog via a computerized voice or text that it is wet cement. Pretty cool, huh?

Say hello to a computerized prototype vest for dogs named “Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations”, a.k.a. FIDO that is meant to help handlers communicate with their service dogs. According to recent news articles, the device looks like a typical service dog vest that hugs the canine’s shoulders and back, fastening under the dog’s belly. The FIDO model has a compact computer with a microprocessor that sits between the dog’s shoulder blades with several distinctly shaped items which can be pulled or pushed by the dog. Dogs can alert the handler to things like a tornado siren or alarm, alerting the handler to the danger or obstacle with just a tug on a string or push of the nose on a button.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are working on the prototype vest to do the very thing described above and much more. Since dogs can understand about 700 words to convey what they see, smell or hear around them, fine tuning the technology that enables us and the dog to communicate better is only a tail wag away from becoming a reality.

This is all possible with a mini computer and a receiver, like Google glass or an ear bud to either hear or see the information the dog chooses to convey. For instance, the dog can tug on a toy that represents the information, like stairs or a curb, which is sent via a microcomputer to the handler.

The alert system will depend on the dog owner’s needs, though researchers are still fine-tuning exactly how the owner will be alerted to what the dog sees, hears, or smells. Potentially any dog that works with its handler will be able to utilize the vest. This is especially encouraging for explosive detection and search and rescue dogs as well as dogs teamed up with people with disabilities.

The funding for this research is being paid for by a recent grant from Google Glass team to the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Professor Melody Jackson from the Georgia Institute of Technology came up with this idea after discovering that one of her students worked with a guide dog and wanted a better way to find out about the obstacles the dog avoided.

To read the article, go to:

Or, go here:,2817,2421792,00.asp

How do you feel about this kind of technology? Let us read your opinion in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Using Bone Conduction Instead of Your Ears to Listen

Using GPS on your cell phone can be a great way to get to new destinations without the help of sighted assistance. The only problem though is that you either have to hold the phone so you can hear the instructions, or use one ear of a headphone so that you can hear the instructions without blocking out important sounds around you. Neither of these options are ideal. I’ve missed instructions before because of the sound being too loud around me, and having one earbud dangle isn’t comfortable. Thankfully though there is a solution to this problem. The AfterShokz Bone Conduction headphones allow you to listen to any media without interfering with the sounds around you.

According to the AfterShokz website, this is how bone conduction works. “Most of what we hear is due to sound waves traveling through the air to the eardrum, which then converts the sound waves to vibrations and transmits them to the inner ear. Sound waves can also get to the inner ear through direct vibration of the bones in the head which carry the vibrations directly to the inner ear, bypassing the eardrums. This is how a person hears his or her own voice.”

The headphones themselves are a wraparound style. The two speakers sit just in front of your ears, and because of the design, it’s easy to move the speakers to wherever is most comfortable.

Now that I’ve had my AfterShokz for a while, I can say with certainty that they are a great asset for any blind person. They allow you to listen to music or speech without interfering with the sounds you need to hear to be safe. The only time I was disappointed was when I used them on the bus. In that case, I needed to block out the sounds of the people around me to hear my book, but they are fantastic for when you want to use GPS or listen to music while you’re getting to your destination on foot.

To read more about these headphones, visit this link:

Letter from the Editor – Week of July 22, 2013

Hello Everyone,

I hope everyone has been able to beat this heat wave if they’ve had it. If you’ve got any tips to stay cool send them in to the Reader’s Forum. I, for one, could sure use them!

It seems we’re still having some trouble with some of the magazine emails not going through. I haven’t been able to make much headway on figuring out the problem, but if you have missed issues, let me know and I will get them to you. If you are missing the current week’s magazine or supplement you can automatically get them by sending an email to with the subject as either “Did not get magazine” or “Did not get supplement” (without the quotation marks).

Thanks for reading and to those who wrote in to the Reader’s Forum.

Have a great week.


Recipe of the Week – Tangy Orange Juice Muffins

Submitted by Dave Hutchins

Yield: 9 servings


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar (or 24 packets Equal or Splenda sweetener)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup orange juice
4 tablespoons stick butter or margarine, melted
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange peel


Lightly coat 9 muffin cups with nonstick spray or line with paper-liners; set aside. Combine flour, sugar substitute, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir in orange juice, melted butter, egg and orange peel until all ingredients are just moistened. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling 2/3 full. Bake in preheated 375F oven 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove muffins from pan and cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Reader’s Forum – Week of July 15, 2013

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

In response to last week’s Reader’s Forum, Eric wrote:

Nina, I am with you. Why can’t Apple produce an iPhone with push buttons and a full keypad? I cannot use touch screens. I’d have to get the whole iPhone Brailled for me.


Ted wrote:

Is the problem of watery eye or eyes common for those of us who are blind because of the oxygen given to us after being born premature? Though there is no pain, I have been putting up for many years with one eye that waters much of the time. If this has been experienced by others who were born premature, what solutions have you found that have worked for you to stop eyes from watering?


Cheryl wrote:

In response to Sally’s comment about voting: many newspapers offer voter guides before elections. They often are published on a Sunday. Hopefully they are on the Web but, if they’re not, you might be able to scan them with a legal-size scanner. It certainly might change things if, this far before the 2014 elections, you might send an e-mail or letter to the editor of your local newspaper telling him/her of your need. Perhaps the paper could send you an electronic copy of the voter guide, or you might be able to listen to it on NFBNewsline.

Some religious organizations also offer voter guides, although they often are skewed toward certain issues such as a candidate’s stance on abortion or same-sex marriage. Still, they might provide valuable information about certain aspects of a candidate’s voting record.

Yet another way to learn about candidates would be to attend a candidate forum. In the communities where I used to work as a newspaper journalist, the meetings were widely publicized. The League of Women Voters might have very helpful information about these meetings and perhaps about other ways to access information on candidates. If you are active in some cause, such as environmental preservation, check with organizations that interest you.

From Cheryl Wade
Lansing, MI


A Ziegler reader wrote:

I attended a national convention with hopes I’d like it, but I never felt like I belonged to something larger than myself. I felt like I had stumbled into a fanatics din. I felt like I was lost, not just physically, but emotionally as well. People were always in a hurry. I felt if I didn’t move quickly, I’d be run over by cane wielding members. I felt like a failure because I did not have the skills that the members valued so highly, though I had attended several training centers. I felt somehow I must have failed as I did not have a job and was not doing anything spectacular as the scholarship winners were doing. I have never felt as alone as I did then. Acquaintances of mine ran around with their friends, and no one thought to include me. I spent time in my room resting from the furor and avoiding the political machinations. I remember one evening eating a cold can of soup in my room because I did not have quite enough money to eat at the expensive hotel restaurant. I felt that if you were not someone, did not have great skills, or a top college diploma, no one really had much use for you. What advice I did get was so critical, I found it not worth the effort. It was always of the kind, you should have done this or you need to do that and that and that. Never was there any, you did well and this is how to do even better. Some top people had the “I got mine you get yours” attitude.

I did not notice election of new officers. The same ones were voted back in and no one ran against them.

I was told that top officials went with sighted guides to many events while rank-and-file members simply did as best they could navigating the hotel. Some did well, others were lost, often simply following any large group in the lobby. Did they enjoy themselves?

How is that fun?


Lucia wrote:

In response to Terri Winaught, (Reader’s Forum July 8): Some can utilize touch screens, I cannot. You are not the only person who does not like or can’t utilize touch screens. The Apple iPhone now has the LogitechK7760 keyboard, with real keys, as large as the phone itself. As far as words are concerned, although I do say “visually impaired,” (I didn’t realize at first that vision-impaired is better), I do not say “blind” since many of us are actually visually or vision-impaired. And I agree with Bob Branco: nobody should say these words that are so derogatory in these gangsta rap songs. Social consciousness rap is fine, but it is difficult to find. And no double standards. Paula Deen is wrong too, but so are these rap artists, and so is Don (Imos in the morning) Imos, who made fun of the good basketball ladies who attended Rutgers University.

Peace with Justice, Lucia


Ann wrote:

Dear Readers, In response to Lynn Tatum’s article about stress, I would like to invite anyone interested to attend a phone conference call on the reduction of stress. If interested, please send your name and e-mail address to and I will forward you the conference day, time and calling info. Some of the best stress reducers are: deep breathing, exercising, playing music and letting go of stressful thoughts.

Ann Bliss


David wrote:

As I write this, many will have returned from one pointless convention and others will be sitting in another. All we see from these gatherings is benefit to the officers at convention goers’ expense. How are we the blind better off for all of the pointless back patting. Do we have more available transportation options? Do we have ready access to home appliances? How about the job market? The time has come to really think about these questions in light of the fact that both organizations claim to exist for our benefit. Seems to me that the only people benefiting are the so-called leaders.

Can you prove me wrong with facts?

David McElroy


Valerie wrote:

In response to Mr. Branco’s Op Ed on vulgarity and young people, I have mixed feelings. I was a kid that embraced music and rock stars as mentors since my family did not communicate well with people my age. In my heart, at age 12, I knew what I needed–something happy and hopeful–so, my mentors were The Monkees. They were anti-war and expressed their feelings in a gentle, artistic way.

Music can have the power to enlighten or dishearten depending which road the listener chooses. Vulgarity, like Archie Bunker, made people stop and think about their own seeds of judgment. I am a writer who believes in realistic story and dialogue and would not feel comfortable seeing censorship across the board–who chooses where it starts and ends? Dignity and respect are for all. I think young kids form their choices according to what they need and can disregard what they feel is wrong for each of them. I also know there entertainers who are in it for money, but most kids/teens are sharp enough to tell.

When the singer’s gone, let the song go on…
-Art Garfunkel