Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – A View for the Future

8 years ago Albert Rizzi lost his vision from an infection that caused swelling in his brain and cut off his optic nerve and left him functionally blind. Since then, he has successfully learned to live in the sighted world as a blind man. He holds a master’s degree in education, has owned and managed numerous businesses and now combines past experience and present challenges together with the founding of My Blind Spot, a nonprofit focusing on coordinating and collaborating in the disability arena by bringing equal opportunities to the blind and print disabled. According to Albert, who is the founder and CEO of My Blind Spot, “At My Blind Spot, we believe access to the right tools creates ability and restores infinite possibilities.”

Currently, the overreaching project focus of My Blind Spot is coordinating the first usable and accessible version of QuickBooks, a process Albert and his team refers to as the quest for QuickBooks. If you haven’t heard of QuickBooks, it is the premier accounting software used in both large and small business management and it has historically been only marginally accessible to end users who rely on screen reading software.

Albert goes on to say, “The collaboration between Intuit and My Blind Spot is centered on our creating the first usable and accessible version of QuickBooks. Intuit and My Blind Spot [have been] actively collaborating to achieve this since the end of 2011.”

I asked what inspired Albert to forge ahead and take on such a notable and challenging project and he responded, “My inspiration comes from the idea that we are going to be able to get people to find gainful employment, who actually want to work, and are viable and intelligent enough to in fact do so.”

With the help of making QuickBooks accessible to the blind and print disabled, new horizons and opportunities will prevail.

To find out more about My Blind Spot, go to: www.myblindspot.org

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Innovations with Sole

Last year we read about innovations for the blind like retinal implants and a white cane that gives the user information via echo location. Now, there is another innovation being developed, GPS shoes for the blind.

Anthony Vipin Das, an eye surgeon, along with a team of researchers, has been developing haptic shoes that use vibration and GPS technology to guide the blind.

What is a haptic shoe? I read up on the project in a TED blog posted on March 3, 2013 by Karen Eng at the following link: http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/03/soul-to-sole-eye-surgeon-anthony-vipin-das-has-developed-shoes-that-see-for-the-blind/

Interestingly, the short video showing people using the shoes isn’t audio described, so I can only report on what is written on the blog.

Anthony states, “The shoe basically guides the user on the foot on which he’s supposed to take a turn. This is for direction. The shoe also keeps vibrating if you’re not oriented in the direction of your initial path, and will stop vibrating when you’re headed in the right direction.”

What, you may ask, is TED? TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. According to the website, www.ted.com, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology,
Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader.”

What do you think about this new technology? Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival

My husband, Jerry, and I, go on quite a few weekend getaways. This year we are wrapping up our summer and fall excursions with a day at the Garlic Festival in Saugerties, a town nestled next to the more well known, Kingston, New York. It takes place at Cantina Field fairgrounds in Ulster County. The fair attracts thousands of visitors and families. Hundreds of vendors sell everything and anything made with the aromatic little bulb. Jerry loves it, and every time we go, he gets a garlic juice shot, called a shooter. I love the burgers smothered with sautéed garlic and mushrooms. This year I tried a hot dog smothered in garlic salsa, very yummy. We sometimes share a garlic ice cream, too.

Specialty fairs like this one are fun and full of discoveries. I found a honey and garlic infused red wine vinegar to die for, hard cheeses made with garlic and a soft goat cheese spread I love. Jerry buys pickled turnip rimming with slices of garlic in the brine. We also bought fresh garlic and an organic granulated garlic powder that tastes wonderful. The vendor said that it’s so good; we’ll be putting it on everything even cereal. Best of all, most, if not all, of our purchases can be reordered online, so we don’t have to wait until next year to buy more if we run out.

Another great part of it is, that since both of us work indoors, we want to spend at least some of our down time outdoors and going to a fair is always refreshing and interesting. One year I ran into Guiding Eyes puppy raisers. Another year, another woman came up to me and after a minute, she and I laughed over the fact that her sister was the person on the graduate council who conducted my exit interview after I returned home from Guiding Eyes with my new dog. A small world, indeed.

To read more about the Garlic Festival, go to: http://www.hvgf.org

What do you do for fun? Tell us in the Reader’s forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival

My husband, Jerry, and I, go on quite a few weekend getaways. This year we are wrapping up our summer and fall excursions with a day at the Garlic Festival in Saugerties, a town nestled next to the more well known, Kingston, New York. It takes place at Cantina Field fairgrounds in Ulster County. The fair attracts thousands of visitors and families. Hundreds of vendors sell everything and anything made with the aromatic little bulb. Jerry loves it, and every time we go, he gets a garlic juice shot, called a shooter. I love the burgers smothered with sautéed garlic and mushrooms. This year I tried a hot dog smothered in garlic salsa, very yummy. We sometimes share a garlic ice cream, too.

Specialty fairs like this one are fun and full of discoveries. I found a honey and garlic infused red wine vinegar to die for, hard cheeses made with garlic and a soft goat cheese spread I love. Jerry buys pickled turnip rimming with slices of garlic in the brine. We also bought fresh garlic and an organic granulated garlic powder that tastes wonderful. The vendor said that it’s so good; we’ll be putting it on everything even cereal. Best of all, most, if not all, of our purchases can be reordered online, so we don’t have to wait until next year to buy more if we run out.

Another great part of it is, that since both of us work indoors, we want to spend at least some of our down time outdoors and going to a fair is always refreshing and interesting. One year I ran into Guiding Eyes puppy raisers. Another year, another woman came up to me and after a minute, she and I laughed over the fact that her sister was the person on the graduate council who conducted my exit interview after I returned home from Guiding Eyes with my new dog. A small world, indeed.

To read more about the Garlic Festival, go to: http://www.hvgf.org

What do you do for fun? Tell us in the Reader’s forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta’s Dog Guide Extraordinaire Verona – Dogs in the News

Are fake service dogs spoiling it for us? I don’t know if any of my other canine colleagues are worried about this, but I sure am. I mean, I know my job and I love to do my best for my human partner, Annie. What I’m upset about are the fakers. Yes, you know who I am talking about. They are the dogs who look like us, but don’t let them fool you. Let’s just say that even though we’re all cousins, they haven’t made it past elementary school. Service dogs like me have graduated from college.

Let me give you an example. One day I was taking Annie to lunch. As we came back from the deli, we passed a vitamin store and this little white thing came running up and he tried to bite me. Well, it sure scared me but I was not going to let him get me or Annie. We stood there, he kept snapping, and I avoided his little teeth. Well, the owner of the store ran out, tried grabbing him and he ran away from her and tried to bite my hind legs. I turned around, Annie following me. Finally the lady got the dog and we left. He is supposed to be a service dog. That, readers, is not how a real service dog behaves.

There is more about this concern of people taking fake service dogs into public and how it will make it bad for us in the following article posted on Pawnation:
http://www.pawnation.com/2013/09/20/this-falls-hottest-accessory-fake-service-dogs/
The article states, in part, “A growing number of dog owners are trying to pass their untrained companions off as service animals – and they’re actually getting away with it.”

It’s not hard to do because service dog gear sold on the internet, like vests, harnesses, and I.D. tags can be purchased without proving the dog is a legitimately trained and certified service dog.
The backlash of the public becoming less and less tolerant of service dog teams is what concerns dog guides and dogs trained to help our partners with disabilities. It’s already hard enough to be accepted in the public and due to misbehaved frauds like that little dog who tried to hurt us, people will be confused and even less willing to receive us in public places.

My partner Annie says it’s the bad apples spoiling it for all the good ones. Not sure I get that, but, hey, she’s only human.

If you have any thoughts on this article, comment in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Matchmaking Continued

In last week’s article I wrote about how dog guides have brought love into the lives of their handlers. We learned about an English couple who met and found love through their canine partners. Now I hope to focus on couples from here in the United States.

In order to accomplish this, I emailed a small number of guide dog school graduates and asked some questions. But before I share some of the comments, I’d like to thank all of them for participating. Some couples met while in class training with a new dog, others met while in other social situations. Regardless of where and how handlers meet, it is clear that our dogs have bridged the gap of being isolated from one another. A dog starts a conversation where one might not ever even be started. A dog can lead you to another guide dog and handler and before you know it, the talking begins.

Take the Davidsons, for instance. Becky and Ron met while he was back at Guiding Eyes training with his second dog, Pal.

Becky writes, “We met in 2004 when he was there for his first dog, but remained acquaintances rather than friends. Shortly after he received his 2nd dog he joined our graduate council and we got a bit more acquainted. When my first husband passed away in February, 2011, Ron reached out to me in friendship and as we got to know each other better the relationship strengthened.”
Becky and Ron were married earlier this summer, accompanied by their yellow Labrador dog guides, Pal and Lawson.

Jeanine and Kent met at an American Council of the Blind convention. She writes, “I don’t know that I would have met Kent without our dogs to bring us together. The dogs have enabled us to have many adventures. We’ve had our times when one or the other was between dogs too and that other dog in the family has really helped buoy us along.”

Maybe the best part of finding long lasting relationships through our dogs is due to the unconditional love they show us. I think this makes us learn how to be better people and this attracts us to others. To sum it up, Becky writes, “There is an added dimension that becomes part of a relationship between 2 dog guide handlers. There is a deeper level of understanding of the frustrations and even quirks that only another blind person could fully appreciate.”

Do you have any matchmaking stories? Share them in the Reader’s forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Matchmaking

One of the unexpected rewards of being an active volunteer on behalf of a guide dog school is watching people make connections with other people. We expect the bond to grow with our dogs, of course, but when a potential long lasting relationship with another person is discovered through our dogs, well that is very cool indeed.

Take, for instance, a number of good friends who, due to their contact within the school, are now married. It brings back memories of the 1961 animated classic Disney movie, 101 Dalmatians, doesn’t it? We can imagine that Pongo and Perdita have been transmogrified into Labrador retrievers in harnesses and the people live in the London suburbs. The best thing of all, there isn’t a blood thirsty fashionista villainess trying to make fur coats from the puppies.

In fact, the first story in this series is about a budding romance just across the pond. Claire Johnson, 50, and Mark Gaffe, 52 were training at the guide dog school in England when their new canine partners, Rod and Venice, made it clear that they were already best friends. As a result, Clair and Mark will tie the knot next spring in a ceremony with Rod and Venice at their sides, flowers adorning their guide dog harnesses.
In the next part of this article, we’ll meet a few more couples who tell their stories of love found because of their guide dogs.

Do you have a romantic tale related to blindness? Tell us in the Reader’s Forum.

To read about Claire and Mark, go to: http://www.today.com/pets/guide-dogs-then-blind-owners-fall-love-6C10871653

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Blind Matters Radio

This week, our editor gave the staff writers a chance to pick a subject from a list of suggestions submitted by our readers. I’ve always been curious about internet radio and thought that the opportunity to find out more about it would be a great idea and was pleased to find one of our writing choices was about a radio show for the blind.

What is Blind Matters Radio?
According to the website, the show is, “[the] First syndicated radio show of its kind in the country… an all talk show catering to the visually impaired and the blind.”

With a listener base of just about 300,000, this station broadcasts live from Orlando, Florida every Saturday between 3 and 6 PM Eastern. The show is funded by a grant through Publix and is produced by Michael and Lynn Golder, who also host the show. According to Michael, the goal is to increase the listener base to one million by next year. This isn’t as hard as it sounds — since the show aired in April 2012, it is already so popular that it became a syndicated program in June of the same year. It is now slated to be aired in Boston and Baltimore, just to name a few cities. In fact, they just celebrated a one year anniversary. I asked Michael what it was like to celebrate such a milestone.
He said that it was fun and all the advertisers renewed their contracts through 2014. I asked him who were some of the advertisers and he mentioned Humanware, Anheuser-Busch and The Perkins School.

AC: What kinds of subjects and people do you want on your show?

MG: Anybody. We’ve have all types of people, judo for the blind, doctors from Australia, Olympic athletes, and the manager of Stevie Wonder. We also had a blind sportscaster. The commercials we do are different, all blindness related.

AC: What overall message do you want readers to know about Blind Matters?

MG: The show is about heart. Just call us, talk about whatever. Our goal is to get the disenfranchised to belong to something. We know that there is a difference before blindness and after blindness. We can help people understand that there is more to your life than your sight.

What a great way to support the blindness community.

I personally want to thank Michael and Lynn for inviting us onto an upcoming show. Romeo and I will be on the radio waves on September 28.

To listen to the show, go to: 1520am WBZW – THE BIZ – Orlando, Florida OR Listen live directly from www.blindmattersradioshow.com

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Hey, Update Your Website

Have you ever been surfing the web and think you’ve found a website you like, only to find it doesn’t work with a screen reader? I don’t know about you, but it’s even more frustrating when this is discovered after investing a few minutes tabbing through it. I’m not sure where the disconnect is regarding web design and accessibility. The reason I say this is because web standards have become more inclusive in the past five years. Now one can find support and design information on the web from a number of reliable and informative sources. One such source is the University of Minnesota’s website. They hold a high standard in ensuring all students, including those with disabilities can access all UMN services. I find they are a fine example of what inclusive web access is.

They are located at: http://accessibility.umn.edu/

Another great resource is the U.S. Access Board’s 508 compliance documentation which can be found at: http://ada508.com/

So, with all this support, why do website designers still make the mistake of not including accessibility whenever creating a new website?

When I was involved in choosing an open source platform for a non-profit, the first question I asked was how to make it functional and accessible to screen reading software and at the same time be visually appealing. I found the task to be difficult but not impossible. In the end, we got most of our initial needs met and the quirks worked themselves out in time.

My point is this, if someone like me, who is definitely not a programmer, can identify and assist in creating an award winning, accessible and functional website, why can’t the so called “professionals” do it? The answer lies in the lack of awareness. Inclusive design is a fairly new concept to website designers. Many of them have admitted to me that they “forget” to consider that end users like me even attempt to surf the web. One even commented, “Wow, I didn’t know blind people could use computers.”

Additionally, as technology progresses, our responsibility to continue to educate ourselves as blind end users must also increase. This can be frustrating and time consuming. Even so, the burden is ours to bear. If we, as consumers, don’t speak up and educate the very people who design the products we rely upon, who will do it for us? How we each choose to handle this burden is an individual’s choosing. We can choose to boycott a website if it isn’t accessible and it is of no use.

Another choice is to contact the webmaster and tell them what is not accessible and why. I’ve done this on occasion and although it is also time consuming, it has paid off. I choose sites that are important to me, one that I use at least once a week. I take notes on the barriers presented to my screen reader, write them out and send an email. If I cannot do that, then I send a hard copy letter, fax, and sometimes even follow up with a phone call.

So far I’ve convinced a writing website to make a change that increases the functionality and accessibility of the site. I have also been instrumental in educating our regional web services operations in testing the main database and computer I use in the workplace.

What are your successes in making changes on the web? Tell us in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiapetta – Dogs in the News

Note: Ann is on vacation and Verona the guide dog is filling in.

In the news this week is something that concerns passengers flying with service dogs. In an article written by Andy Macdonald, CBC News on August 7, 2013, after receiving a complaint from a passenger with allergies, Air Canada is accommodating flyers with pet allergies. In short, the airline is deciding to ban dogs on flights or move them 5 rows away from allergy sufferers. After receiving the complaint, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruled that a person suffering from severe dog or cat allergies is a disability and therefore, must be accommodated. The agency posted the decision this month stating that when a passenger with a disability identifies themselves, the country’s airline should either ban dogs from the flight, or keep them at least five rows away – depending on the aircraft’s filtration system.

Interestingly, the agency has historically deemed cat allergies to be a disability, but no rulings were issued on dog allergies as a disability until now. The CTA will require all passengers with allergies to provide evidence of their allergy in order for the airline to accommodate their health issue.

Here’s the thing: while I do not personally travel into and out of Canada, I am concerned about this precedent. First, this places the airline in a catch 22 as to which disability trumps which. Is the person who depends on a service dog going to be denied a seat on the flight if the person with the allergy books the flight first? Secondly, how does this fit into the Air Carrier Act, which is an international law governing passengers with disabilities?

On a personal note, I have asthma triggered by allergies and when I think I will be exposed to a possible trigger, I take precautions, like extra medicine. I carry a rescue inhaler, too. I hope this ruling in Canada doesn’t work against service dog users, but only time will tell.

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

You can read the article by going here:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2013/08/07/canada-air-canada-dog-allergy.html