Archive for October, 2013

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Some Thoughts

I think it was very interesting to see in last week’s edition of the magazine that someone posted that they feel that guide dogs should only be placed with totally blind individuals. First off, I will say that I respect everyone’s opinions; we are all entitled to our opinions. However, I feel the need to share my thoughts on this matter.

As an individual who is considered to be legally blind, I too experience the limitation of not having the ability to hold a valid driver’s license. Knowing what I know about my visual limitations, I would never get behind the wheel of an object that weighs thousands of pounds, which could act as quite a weapon and place other people’s lives in danger, just for the sake of trying to drive.

There is no right or wrong way to try to achieve independence. Some people find it by using the white cane. Others find it by using a trained guide dog and others use sighted guides. How would our lives be different if the only people who could use a white cane were those with complete blindness? What would happen if there were laws that said that only people with partial vision were able to use sighted guides? These two ideas would place a burden on us and we would feel a bigger sense that our independence and freedom were compromised. Everyone should have the right to make the best choice to fit their specific mobility needs. To a greater degree, if we are comfortable, we will strive to take our independence as far as we can and push ourselves to new heights.

Many years ago, I was told by a vocational rehabilitation counselor that I was not eligible to have a guide dog because I had some usable vision. The counselor said that I would make too many decisions for the dog and it wouldn’t work. As a result, I gave up on the idea and waited almost 15 more years before I had the courage to ask a guide dog school if I was eligible to have a dog.
The decision about whether or not an individual can use a guide dog should always be between the guide dog school and the individual who has applied for the dog. To say that only individuals who are blind can be the only ones who should have these dogs is restrictive and limiting. The schools have plenty of dogs available and they have highly skilled, compassionate people on their staff ready to help applicants, regardless of their degree of vision loss.

I know many successful individuals who use guide dogs on a daily basis. These folks are all successful in their personal and professional lives. They all have some kind of vision loss. Some of them can see relatively well, while others are completely blind. This does not impact their abilities to use a guide dog in any negative way.

It is up to us, as guide dog handlers, to educate the public about the importance of these dogs in our daily lives. Anyone who observes me in any situation will know that I can see, but my vision is quite poor. I think it is important for us, as guide dog handlers, to be out in public, to stay active, and show others that we do live comfortable, independent lives.

If you still have doubts about whether or not a guide dog should be used by handlers with some usable vision, I will now share with you a letter that I wrote the other day when I found out that my first guide dog, Whitlee, had passed away.

Thank You Whitlee.

On Monday, July 14, 2003, Whitlee entered my life. She was a beautiful black, brown and tan German Shepherd with a sharp personality and a beautiful heart. She was raised by a wonderful family and she learned all of her good manners from them and their other dogs.

I can honestly say that I immediately trusted her from our first walk together. She was alert and attentive when she wore her harness and when she was resting throughout the days. When she worked, she was full of pride and dignity and I could always tell that she had a great drive to do her work every day. I could pick her harness up at any time and she would eagerly step into it and be ready to go!

On December 13, 2003, Whitlee saved my life. We were walking on our usual morning walk. It was cloudy and cold as we walked. We came to a four way intersection that we had crossed many times in the past. I thought it was safe to cross so I gave her the command “Whitlee forward”, and she immediately stepped in front of me, preventing me from taking my step off the curb. As she did this, a car came in front of us. She had seen this oncoming car and had made a quick decision for me. She put her life in danger to keep me safe.

Whitlee did so much more than save my life. She gave me self confidence that I never had before I met her. She was my first guide dog. She taught me to trust myself, to be fearless and to take risks and adventures. We traveled many places together like Mt Washington, Tampa, FL, Disney World in Orlando and Cape Cod. Everywhere we went, I was proud of Whitlee. I was proud of the courage and confidence she gave to me and I’m proud today that she lived such a wonderful life.

I am proud and thankful for the special friendship that I have developed with Bonnie and Steve Pavlach, Whitlee’s foster parents, and I am thrilled that Whitlee got to spend her golden years with the Pavlachs. They are very special people and they’ve done incredible work over the years raising many amazing dogs like Whitlee.

So, Whitlee, thank you for everything. You were a good girl. You gave me so many great experiences and we shared so many good and bad times together. I will miss you immensely, but thank you for giving me all of the strength to live a better life. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have the courage to continue working with my new dog, Joel, and continue to build my courage and confidence as a person and independent traveler. May God bless you and may you always be in heaven.

I love you Whitlee.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – A Gallant Heart

“Gallant” is an adjective which describes a person whose behavior is brave or courageous. Synonyms to gallant include: heroic, lionhearted, and chivalrous.

Many Ziegler writers have submitted, and continue to present articles about experiences with dog guides that show courage, for example, the courage to form the trusting bond that becomes a cohesive team.

I first learned about A Gallant Heart this past summer when a close friend, who has used a Seeing Eye® dog for years, told me about a hero dog event where there was a representative from this newly established school. My friend continued by saying that A Gallant Heart had a 7 month old Doberman puppy that was amazingly calm for being in an unfamiliar setting with so many strangers. With such positive feedback from someone whose opinions I have always respected, I just had to learn more about this training facility.

First, though, let me explain that a “hero” dog event is one in which the public gets to see how dogs from a variety of facilities are trained to work with the police and the military; how they are trained to sniff out bombs, drugs, and varied arson accelerants; and, of course, how to guide.

By E-mailing Rebecca Floyd, A Gallant Heart’s Executive Director, I learned that the school was established in 2009 in Madison, Mississippi, where it still is located. As a 501C(3) nonprofit, the school’s mission is to match persons who are blind with healthy, well-trained guide dogs. Since there are differing opinions regarding whether a dog should be placed only with a person who is totally blind versus a person that has low vision or vision impairment, I asked Ms. Floyd, a totally blind dog user since 1964, to share her philosophy.

“Although we will place a dog with someone who has low vision or a vision impairment, that person must have no more than 20/800 after the best possible correction in the best eye,” Director Floyd responded via E-mail. Two additional questions I raised were whether persons with hearing impairments met the center’s qualifying criteria and whether someone with an orthopedic challenge could receive a dog guide. Ms. Floyd responded that if a person with an orthopedic disability could still walk at least half of a mile, he/she could get a dog. As for blind individuals with hearing impairments, Rebecca explained that if the potential dog guide user could still hear well enough to interpret traffic, he/she could receive a dog.

A Gallant Heart uses Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. Although this school is working hard to establish its own breeding program, donations of the above-mentioned breeds are always welcomed. All dogs brought into this facility are tested for temperament, diseases common to specific breeds and conditions that could negatively impact the ability of the dog to work well as a guide. The school takes the additional steps of making sure that the dog has attended obedience class while at its puppy raiser’s home for 12 to 16 months, and has earned a Good Citizen certificate as well as international certification as a therapy dog to ensure quality before it is placed with its new owner.

The dog and student are trained as a team in the community where the person wanting a dog resides. Although there are occasional exceptions in which individuals are trained at the school, this only happens if there are several students near enough to the school that it would make sense to train them at the same time. Another situation in which the student might first go to the school would be if there were several dogs that seem compatible and a decision on the best possible match needed to be made. Though I was informed that community-based training lasts between a week and ten days, I was unclear if that timeline applied both to new trainees, those who are returning, or both.

Some things about which I am clear, though, are that puppy raising and the dog training are free. When someone serves as a puppy raiser, all of the dog’s food, equipment, veterinary care and obedience training are paid for by the school, not the family. Once the student/dog team has been matched and trained, all of those services were provided for free.

Establishing a guide dog school as a person who is blind and a longtime dog user as was a dream Rebecca Floyd had to put on hold until she retired from Mississippi’s Advocacy and Protection Department. To help fund her dream, you can find a variety of upcoming late October, early November and December fundraising events by visiting www.gallanthearts.org. Additional monies come from behests, corporations, foundations, and individual donors.

For more information, E-mail: rfloyd@gallanthearts.org; phone 1-601-8536996. You may also like the school on Facebook. You can also hear a graduation in progress, the voices of school staff, and hear a dog whimpering and seeming to impatiently say, “Get this show on the road!” on YouTube.

I’m eager to hear in the Reader’s Forum if you have heard of A Gallant Heart before. What do you think of them if you have had prior contact? What are your thoughts about community-based training as opposed to training being done at a school.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – I’m Doing My Best to be Sociable

I’m a moderately social person, at least as it relates to using Skype, Twitter and Facebook. Tending to use Twitter the most, I’ve begun gradually posting more Facebook status updates. I have Skype, Twitter and Facebook apps on my iPhone but I still find using my laptop with a full-sized USB keyboard more convenient when at home. Here are the Windows-based tools I currently use to maintain my online social life.

GW-Connect is a dedicated application that makes using Skype infinitely more pleasant. You can use the screen reader or screen magnifier of your choice. I use the free version, which has ads. Recently, they’ve begun introducing audible ads. Imagine my shock when voices and jingles began playing unbidden? Funny thing was, I actually recognized the voice of someone I met several years ago. I could have been using GW-Connect much sooner had I figured out how to setup the all-important microphone. I found the answer in the Options section. In addition to Skype calls, I’m happily using GW-Connect to access the menus during Skype out calls. Visit www.gwmicro.com for more information.

Currently, you can use www.m.twitter.com or try the recent rollout of new keystrokes for accessibility on the main website. Many third-party Twitter clients are, regrettably, subject to the whims of the developers at Twitter. Several years ago, however, I found an accessible client called The Qube and so far it’s working fine through all updates. Installation is relatively straightforward and it runs in the background using only keystrokes. There is no visual interface. I love the fact that you can be in any application, press a keystroke command and hear your timelines. For more information, visit http://www.quartzprojects.co.uk.

Dealing with the ultra-popular Facebook website has been ultra-frustrating! For this reason, I stayed away but for the occasional post and feeble attempts at reading friends’ status updates. This I did through www.m.facebook.com, which is a more screen-reader-friendly version of the ever-changing website. As you might know, apps for Facebook go in and out of accessibility and favor as those frantic Facebook developers make their multitudinous updates. It is for this reason that I purchased GW-Micro’s Social-Eyes application after about a half hour of going around and around the unknown interface. I know you’re thinking I should have dived into the manual. I’m finding it a lovely tool that enables me to hear status updates as they are posted. It seems that I’ll be forced to read the help files in order to figure out how to send a private message. So far, I can only do that when I receive a Facebook message in my Windows Mail inbox.

What tools have you found helpful in navigating your social world?

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – My Introduction to Baseball and Fenway Park

Until the autumn of 1967, I thought baseball was not a sport that women would be interested in. My dad and brother always followed games on radio or TV. When I was at summer school in 1967, Perkins took us to Fenway Park to enjoy an afternoon game. I did not pay attention even though the Red Sox were experiencing their best season in years.

On a Monday morning in early October 1967, students and staff broke into joyous applause while in chapel after it was announced that the Red Sox had won the pennant. Throughout the World Series games the excitement and hopes for our team were contagious. Our home economics teacher was a Red Sox fan, and if a game was in progress we were allowed to listen during class. I was surprised to learn that some girls were enthusiastic fans. On Thursday, Columbus Day, we sat by the TV only to be crushed and disappointed when our team lost the series. Over the next eight years, I went to Fenway Park several times.

I went with a young adult blind group in the summer of 1970. The Red Sox won and we experienced the jubilation of the fans. We stood giving our team a well-deserved ovation. On a warm Friday night the summer of 1975, I joined a group from ACB to attend another baseball game. The enthusiasm and excitement of the fans was palpable. The Red Sox were having a fantastic season, and were in the World Series again.

In 2003, a friend visited my apartment and patiently described the intricacies of baseball games to me. We listened to games and I learned to thoroughly appreciate and understand the game. We followed the playoffs and were disappointed when our team barely missed the World Series.

In 2004, I sat listening attentively to the last game of the playoffs. The Red Sox won and were going to the World Series for the first time since 1986. They won that year for the first time since 1918.

The Red Sox were again in the series in 2007, and I bought Red Sox tee shirts and sweatshirts for friends and myself. At the beginning of the series, a friend said after two losing games, “we might not win.” I said, “You never know, we might.” We were in suspense until the last out of the ninth inning and were euphoric when for the second time in three years we won. There were parades again and a feeling this team would often win.

Six years later after, losses and a bad season in 2012, we are lucky. I read the braille magazine, Syndicated Columnists, weekly and they often list the National and American League standings. By the summer of 2013, I knew the Red sox were doing well. While listening to games with a friend in August, I was optimistic they would be in the playoffs. On Saturday night, I listened to the game, despite having to be up early Sunday morning. The excitement and thrill of seeing our team win and go to another World Series was worth it. I am sure even people like me who do not always follow baseball will be listening to every game and hoping for another win by this fantastic team.

Baseball is not hard to follow especially when you listen to it on the radio. Yet if you have the opportunity, there is nothing like going to a ballpark and feeling the enthusiasm and excitement of loyal fans. By listening to the World Series, you might become fascinated with baseball. It is most definitely an interesting sport.

September 2013 audio version

Welcome to the Matilda Ziegler Magazine audio player. To begin listening to the magazine, simply click the “Read more” link below. Once you select the month, an embedded media player will start playing the magazine immediately. While using this player, you can press the control key plus the space bar to pause the current article. To proceed to the next article hold down the control key and the shift key and then press the N key. To go back to the previous article hold down the control key and the shift key and press the P key.

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Feature Writer John Christie – Blind Man Starts Organization Which Will Help the Blind and the Print Disabled

Albert Rizzi started My Blind Spot soon after he lost his vision 8 years ago mainly because he was running into barriers finding employment because of accessibility issues. He found that the jobs he was applying for couldn’t be adapted to the blind. Another reason why he started this organization was he saw a need for in his personal life and he thought that others would have this same need.

Currently, he is working on a project with Intuit to make QuickBooks for Windows, the leading small business accounting software program in the U.S., accessible and usable to the blind, the visually impaired, and the print disabled. Rizzi also goes into schools and does awareness presentations to promote ability rather than disability. He also does this in organizations and in corporate offices.

He is also on the Disability Advisory Board in Suffolk County in New York. In this capacity, My Blind Spot has worked to get a resolution passed with the local legislature to get the county to follow the 508 and 504 guidelines under the Rehab Act. In addition, his organization has just joined the IAA team which is a collection of nonprofits and corporations that are part of the accessibility community that focus on accessibility and the work environment and education. This organization includes companies like Microsoft and IBM.

During our interview, I asked Albert if there were plans to make Quicken accessible. He stated that, “we have to work on one thing at a time. Let’s make QuickBooks accessible first, then we can talk about the other products that Intuit has.”

The Quickbooks project got started with a phone call to Lori Samuel, the Accessibility Program Manager at Intuit. She had a direct connection with someone who was print disabled in her life. Rizzi wanted to be sure the print disabled were served as well as the blind and visually impaired. This way, a broader spectrum of people would be served including people with Cerebral Palsy; stroke injured people as well as people with dyslexia.

In the future, My Blind Spot wants to work with rehabilitation agencies and agencies that serve the disabled. This would also include the Veterans.

It’s great that Rizzi started My Blind Spot because QuickBooks will be accessible to the blind and print disabled. Maybe the reason he became blind is so he would be able to start My Blind Spot and be able to meet a need in the disabled community.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – When You’re Happy and You Know It, Wag Your Tail

It was ten a.m. as I knocked on the door to the Montessori School. The teacher recognized us and buzzed open the door. I was impressed that the school had a secure entrance. Verona led me to a chair while we waited to join the nursery / preschool class. I was armed with Guiding Eyes dog shaped book marks and coloring books, but was disappointed I couldn’t play the DVD about the raising and training of a puppy.

Soon I was seated in a little people chair with Verona. The children took turns saying their names. One child, named Emma, said her name twice and got to pet Verona first. We handed out the coloring books and talked about the dog. Next, we went into the class with older students and boy, did we have fun. They asked a lot of questions, like where can I take my dog and how does the dog tell me where to go? Then, each child took turns interacting with us and we wrapped up by repeating the number one rule when seeing a dog guide team: please don’t pet the dog while it’s working. I handed the harness around, too. One kid asked what was in the harness pouch. When I pulled out a blue bag and asked what they thought it was used for, no one answered. So I said, “These are poopy bags.” Well, they all laughed and the child who asked about the pouch said he uses them for his dogs, too.

We wrapped up by singing “When you’re happy and you know it”. I sung the second verse, when you’re happy and you know it, wag your tail. Well, Verona just loves it when folks sing, so she pranced around and danced with us. It was a rewarding and energizing time had by all. What touched me the most was the comment made by one of the teachers, “What is so amazing is the way your dog looks at you with such adoration; it is a beautiful thing.” I made a joke, saying it’s just because she knows I have the treat pouch on my belt. As we leave, I know I look at her the same way and wonder why no one has noticed. A funny thing happens when you work a dog; suddenly it’s all about the dog, not you. It’s about how a dog helps, how long it took to raise and train them, etc. Sharing this with others at times like this is a bonus. Who knows, perhaps one day a family might decide to raise a puppy all because I visited a school and talked to their class. This is how I pay it forward.

What are some ways you support causes or organizations that are important to you? Share them in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Learn Yoga Using Microsoft Connect

My first exposure to yoga was in a college class with a very skilled instructor. During our class, there were many times that my teacher would have to reposition my body because I wasn’t doing the pose correctly. Yoga can be very beneficial both physically and emotionally, but you can injure yourself if your posture is incorrect. Understanding how your body moves in space when you’re blind can be very challenging, so a team of researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new program that will teach the blind how to do yoga using the Microsoft Connect.

Microsoft’s Connect system is designed to get users to use their body while playing video games. The system has a camera that watches everything that you do. Since the system is able to monitor body movements, the team of designers thought that they might be able to write a code that would provide verbal feedback to the user about how their positioning their body and what changes to make. For instance, if the person needs to bend more to the side, the program will say something like, “lean towards your left”. Watch this video to get a better feel for how the program works: http://www.redorbit.com/news/video/health_2/1112977763/yoga-for-the-blind-10172013/

Eyes free yoga will teach the user six different yoga poses. As the user gets better at positioning their body correctly, they can then use these six poses to do their own independent yoga practice. The team plans to release the game for free online and continue to develop more fitness games for people with disabilities.

To learn more about the project, read the full article in RedOrbit: http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1112978706/yoga-for-the-blind-with-kinect-101813/

If you had this kind of option, would you be more likely to try new types of exercise? Share your experience with learning different ways to exercise in the Reader’s Forum.

Letter from the Editor – Week of October 21, 2013

Hello Everyone,

I hope you had a great weekend.

Please let me know if you are not getting the magazine and I will do my best to get it to you as quickly as possible.

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

Have a great week.

Sincerely,
Editor

Recipe of the Week – Banana-Coconut Bread

Submitted by Dave Hutchins

Yield: 14 Servings

Ingredients:

1.5 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup coconut, unsweetened, shredded
1 cup mashed banana
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

Mix together 1-1/4 cups of flour, coconut, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Combine banana, oil and honey. Stir into flour mixture quickly (gently) until combined. Add part of the remaining 1/4 cup flour if needed. Batter will be lumpy. Spread batter evenly in a lightly greased (and/or waxed paper lined) 8×4-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350F about 45 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 min in pan. Turn out of pan, cool completely on rack. Wrap in waxed paper and store overnight before slicing.