Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Sharing the Warmth

On January 6, 2009 I met Verona, the dog who changed my life. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I paced in my room at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, folding and unfolding the leather leash that would soon be attached to the female black Labrador with whom I’d be matched. The previous evening instructors told us each the names of our dogs and the breed and color. That night I didn’t really sleep so well, being full of nervous energy, like the rest of my classmates. We stayed up late playing cards and talking, many of us first time handlers.

The morning of dog day, I didn’t eat much and after the morning lecture we all went back to our rooms, some of us doing laundry, some making phone calls and others going to the tech lab to check email.

The knock on the door startled me even though I was waiting for it. The class supervisor came in. I stood up and put out my hand. “Ann, this is Verona,” I clipped on my leash and he unclipped his and left. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but I was crying, petting her glossy black head. She wagged her tail and soon we were sitting on the floor together, watching TV.

It’s been five years since that day and to honor our partnership I created a fundraiser on crowdrise.com in order to sponsor the January 2014 graduating class. We’ve reached our goal and even got a little extra, a total of $530. Graduation is on January 25, and it will be a special one, as my family and friends will be there as well as my Guiding Eyes family and another friend who is getting his new dog. Becoming a dog guide handler is one of the most enriching experiences in my life so far and I want to share it with people so they can appreciate how much these dogs increase our confidence and independence. Happy anniversary, my sweet girl.

To find out more about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, go to: www.guidingeyes.org
To find out more about the donation platform crowdrise, go to: www.crowdrise.com

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Holiday Stress

The holiday season is a very meaningful time for us. We make the most of the spiritual opportunities to connect with family and friends and help those less fortunate than ourselves.

But the holidays can also be painful reminders of what we have lost. I facilitate two Post Trauma Recovery groups and the holidays are a painful time for many of the group members. Since the group’s main focus is on the losses they have experienced during war, I thought sharing some of their coping strategies could help those of us who may have also experienced losses during the past year. I know that the death of my father last January has made it very difficult for me to find the joy in the holidays this year.

What I’d like to focus on in this article is how the holidays can be stress triggers for us as well. For instance, those of us who have lost loved ones near or on the actual holiday react much differently than those of us who have not. Anniversary dates of traumatic events also trigger anxiety and depression which can cause the person’s need to isolate or avoid family gatherings and parties.

Here are some tips to help yourself or a loved one manage the holiday stress.

Go easy on yourself and plan to meet your needs. If parties and visiting don’t appeal to you, limit the number of visits and holiday parties you will attend.

If you or your loved one is in recovery, surround yourselves with alcohol and drug free gatherings.

Only you can judge when a party or family gathering becomes overwhelming, allow yourself the flexibility to take short breaks from the festivities and walks outside to find the peace and quiet required to get you through the party.

Keep to your routines as much as possible.

If you are feeling especially blue, depressed or have thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Remember holiday blues are real and being aware of how you can manage them will lower your anxiety and stress.

Blessings and safe traveling to all.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Cookies and Reindeer

My fondest yuletide holiday memory was of dreaming of reindeer. Sure, I wanted Santa to climb down our chimney and deposit gifts, but I wanted to meet his faithful hoofed servants even more. After all, I was an animal lover and I wanted to meet those gifted arctic antelope. I made sure we didn’t forget the carrots, which were placed alongside the milk and cookies on the kitchen table before going up to bed. It was torture trying to fight off sleep while waiting to hear the sled land on our roof.

The next morning I ran down the stairs to the kitchen table, delighted to see that the jolly man’s companions had left the end of the carrot, complete with bite marks. To me, the leftover carrot, cookie crumbs and gifts under the tree proved Santa and his fuzzy friends had visited.

Fast forward a few decades and I found myself gnawing off the end of the carrot, leaving it on the plate in the dining room for my kids to discover. My husband, always blunt and often painfully honest, would say, “You know that’s deceiving them into believing something that’s not real, right?” I would always pick up the cookie and hold it to his mouth, “Just eat the darn cookie and don’t be such a bah-humbug.” “What about the milk? I hate milk.” I would snag a cookie and dip it into the milk as I ate it, smirking as he grossed out.

I’m not sure when, exactly, I made the dreaded discovery that Santa and his hoofed friends weren’t real. It wasn’t something I felt was horrible, but at the same time, I did wonder why people went to so much trouble keeping up appearances.

Later on, after the truth was out, I heard a myriad of explanations, like Santa was a marketing ploy for people to buy more Coca-Cola products, or that Santa was created to be the non-denominational representation of the birth of Christ and God’s message, representing “good will” to agnostics and atheists. The best and most unique explanation I heard was that Santa was the American conglomerate of many sectarian/non-sectarian and cultural beliefs all rolled into one jolly belly, representing a worldwide icon for what’s best in us all. It didn’t matter what religion you practiced or who you worshipped, Santa transcended it. I think even my skeptical husband would agree with it. Christmas is a magical time of year and part of me still wants to hear the clattering of hoofs near my window.

Happy Holidays to all.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Taking the Video out of Videogames

On December 1, 2011, a significant event occurred. What began as an idea from an unfortunate circumstance gained shape and form and became real, at least in the world of computer gaming. With 7,000 dollars of start up funds, Aaron Rasmussen, a computer scientist, and Michael T. Astolfi, a game designer & evolutionary psychologist, created Blindside, a ground breaking audio adventure video game.

According to the Official Blindside web page, www.blindsidegame.com, “Blindside was inspired by co-creator Aaron Rasmussen’s temporary blindness as a result of an explosion in high school chemistry.” This horrible accident led Aaron and Michael to the creation of the audio-driven adventure game. What does this mean to the blind and vision impaired? We can play a video game based exclusively on audio cues, without relying on the visuals. Thanks to these two visionaries, we don’t need our sight to have fun and be included in the world of electronic gaming.

Blindside is about a young couple, Case and Dawn, who wake up blind, and find that there are monsters outside in the darkness eating people. The game is available for both PC and Mac users as well as I devices like the iPad and iPhone.

Do you play this game? Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

For more, go to: www.blindsidegame.com or http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/12/where-are-the-games-for-disabled-players.html#content

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Thanksgiving Thoughts

Before I answer what I’m grateful for, I want to describe another dog guide adventure. We set out to get a bite to eat for lunch, an ordinary thing for folks who can see but full of unpredictability for someone with vision loss. Fortunately Verona and I have been working together for almost five years now and we do what I call autopilot. Whenever we are out on a routine walk, she knows what I want and how to get there from my office. For instance, I say “bank” and she will take us the entire way without me having to direct her. I like that kind of door to door service, like a canine limousine.

On this day, though, I changed it up, crossing to the opposite side of our normal route to keep her interest and avoid some of the afternoon foot traffic. We get to the corner and begin crossing the one way street with traffic coming toward us. I listen, hear the traffic begin to merge the other direction, and give the forward command. We are about ten steps into the street when she puts on the brakes and pushes me aside. I praise her, and then feel the pressure of a quiet car drive past. I praise her again, then give the forward command and we take a step, then she again puts on the brakes and I can feel her looking to our left. There must be another car waiting to turn right onto the street. I wait for it to turn in front of us but it doesn’t. Now we are standing in the middle of the street and I feel like we’re at the edge of danger like in the Old West. Will the car lurch ahead or can we trust that they will allow us to get to the corner? I count to three, then realize the car is most likely gesturing us to go. The moment I think this, Verona pulls ahead and we are once again safely across the street.

I tell her to turn left and I take a deep breath as we wait to cross the next street. We get lunch, then make it back to work without another traffic check.

Now, back to what I’m grateful for: my dog, my independence, and folks who will read this and learn a little more about what it’s like living with vision loss.

May those who read this have a loving, safe, and content holiday season.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Passengers Protest In Support of Dog Guide Team

People with disabilities are often challenged whenever engaging with the general public. Take Albert Rizzi. He was returning from a business trip, catching a connecting flight from Philadelphia to his hometown near Islip, New York. Albert is blind and travels with his dog guide, Doxy. They boarded the U.S. Airways 35 seat turbo jet and like the other passengers, strapped in and waited to take off.

Based on what Albert and the news media have described, the flight attendant did not act upon the simple task of reassigning Albert and his dog to a more appropriate seat, to ensure both their safety and comfort. By not doing this, the flight attendant made a serious mistake and it resulted in an argument culminating in Albert being unfairly treated and escorted off the plane. Due to the apparent ignorance and negative attitude of the flight attendant, not only was Albert supported by his fellow passengers but the same passengers all left the plane in an act of solidarity.

What I find the most intriguing about this situation is that folks protested the unfair treatment of Albert in an act of boycotting, by walking off the plane. If you may recall, the definition of boycotting is a group’s refusal to have commercial dealings with some organization in protest of its policies. Based on what I’ve read and from what Albert has described and the statements of the other passengers, I believe this indeed happened. U.S. Airways has a lot to answer for and I hope Albert receives an apology and compensation for the way he was treated. I also hope this incident acts as the fulcrum to fuel better training for the airline industry. In the meantime, I will not do business with this airline in support of Albert and the other passengers.

To read more try the following links:
1010WINS radio link:
http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/11/14/blind-l-i-man-says-he-was-kicked-off-plane-over-guide-dog/
For a video blog on Yahoo Trending:
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/trending-now/airline-passengers-raise-objections-when-blind-man–service-dog-are-kicked-off-flight-172524277.html?vp=1
And, the article on CNN:
http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/14/travel/blind-man-us-airways-incident/

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Veterans Day

I thought it would be most appropriate if I wrote this week’s article celebrating Veterans Day. No, I am not a veteran. I am, however, a veteran’s daughter and, most notably, the spouse of a veteran. I also work closely with veterans and their families as a readjustment counseling therapist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Working with veterans is rewarding and I am honored to be able to assist the men and women who sacrificed so much to uphold our Country’s freedoms.

Did you know that Veterans Day was once called Armistice Day?

According to the Department of Veterans Affair’s website, http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp, in 1938, the United States Congress approved an Act that made the 11th of November a legal holiday known as Armistice Day. Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veteran’s service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” The day would recognize veterans of all wars.

Interestingly, because the World War I armistice was reached on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, celebrations originally reflected this with parades and memorials not beginning before 11 am. Now, though, I don’t think many folks appreciate what starting the parades at 11 am means.

There is another part of the original Proclamation that is very meaningful: “…that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” This sounds like a day of peace and recognition, doesn’t it? I like to think of it as an alternative to Independence Day.

Finally, I’d like to ask a favor from our readers. When you see a Veteran, shake their hand and thank them for serving. It makes all the difference to them because they are usually surprised that we take the time to do it. I asked many a veteran why they are so surprised when thanked for serving. Almost always the answer is, “I was just doing my job.” I don’t know about anyone else, but that sense of duty and responsibility is what keeps me remembering to say thanks.

May all the veterans and their families have a blessed and safe holiday.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – NaNoWriMo is Here

A few years ago I was introduced to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which takes place every November. It is a writing challenge established in November 2001 to help writers motivate themselves to crank out 50,000 words in 30 days. This amounts to about 1,500 words per day. There is something very intriguing about participating in a National challenge. When I took part in it I felt like I was a part of something much larger than just myself. I got encouragement from other writers. In the end when I finally hit the 50,000th word, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

Some of the guidelines are: no editing; no rewrites; and pushing oneself to get as far as one can to that 50,000 word count.

While there is a website to join in order to help you along and count your daily entries, I choose to do it with some other writers in my own writing group instead. Whichever way you choose, though, it’s fun and rewarding. The hardest thing I found was not to do any editing or rewrites and just let the words flow.

According to Wikipedia, NaNoWriMo is described as, “an annual internet-based creative writing project that takes place every November. NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30. Despite its name, it accepts entries from around the world. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get people writing, no matter how bad the writing is, through the end of a first draft. The idea is that many people are scared to start writing because it won’t be any good, and if there’s a time to celebrate length, rather than quality, more people will write an entire first draft, which they can then proceed to edit if they wish.

Offshoots of NaNoWriMo include NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) and the newest is NaBoWriMo (National Blog Writing Month). To find out more about NaNoWriMo, go to: www.nanowrimo.org

Have you participated in national challenges? If so, tell us in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – The Science of Touch

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece in the Ziegler about shoes equipped with haptic GPS technology. The shoes would vibrate signals to the user, providing information while walking to a location.

This got me wondering, what is haptic technology and how is it used today?

According to Wikipedia, “Haptic technology, or haptics, is a tactile feedback technology which takes advantage of the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user.” The origin of the word haptics is the Greek haptikos, meaning able to grasp or perceive. Haptic sensations are created in many consumer devices with tiny motors that create vibrations. Think of the game controller that vibrates during game play, simulating the feel of gun shots.

Haptics are also used in other ways. For instance, tactile vibrations are given to the surgeon when implanting pacemakers. There are so many possibilities for haptics to enhance the world for the blind and the vision impaired. And this is just the beginning.

To read more about how haptics are used, go to: http://www.immersion.com/haptics-technology/what-is-haptics/

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.