THE BRAILLE FORUM is available in braille, large print, half- speed four-track cassette tape and computer disk. Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for publication should be sent to: Nolan Crabb, THE BRAILLE FORUM, 1155 15th St. N.W., Suite 720, Washington, DC 20005. Submission deadlines are the first of the month.
Those much-needed contributions, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Patricia Beattie at the same address. If you wish to remember a relative or friend by sharing in the council's continuing work, the national office has printed cards available to acknowledge contributions made by loved ones in memory of deceased people.
Anyone wishing to remember the American Council of the Blind in his/her Last Will and Testament may do so by including a special paragraph for that purpose. If your wishes are complex, you may contact the ACB National Office.
For the latest in legislative and governmental news, call the "Washington Connection" toll-free at (800) 424-8666, 6 p.m. to midnight Eastern time Monday through Friday.
Due to scheduling difficulties, ACB President Paul Edwards will not be addressing the Lions Clubs International convention. Also, Lions International President Jim Ervin will be addressing the ACB convention on Monday, July 5, not Sunday, as reported in "Affiliate News" (May 1999).
Due to a printer's error, Walt Stromer's telephone number was incorrectly listed in the "Here and There" section (May 1999). The correct number is (319) 895-8693.
Each year our convention occurs over a week which usually includes the Fourth of July. That holiday celebrates the independence of the United States of America. Though it may seem a little presumptuous, I think there are some significant comparisons between those principles that forced our forefathers to upset the equilibrium of the 18th century and the events that led to the secession from the National Federation of the Blind of the group of people who formed the American Council of the Blind.
At the center of both controversies was the issue of representation. Should policies be imposed on a group of people without reference to their meaningful input? Both the American colonists and those who formed the ACB emphatically said "NO!" to this question. I think there is a price that ACB and the United States of America pay for these decisions and I want to spend a little time exploring that price and talking about the responsibility it imposes on all of us.
I know this sounds just a little high-flown for a message you will read in the heat of the summer. But we need to understand and celebrate the principles that our forefathers died for and that divided the blind people of this country. We also need to understand and recognize that freedom must be tempered by restraint if it is not to become license. Both the United States and the ACB tried to create and build a system of government that allows for the representation of the many at the same time as it attempts to permit the executive to act quickly and autonomously when it must.
ACB is once more taking a hard look at this issue through a committee I set up at the last board meeting. By the mid-year meeting next year, this committee will have prepared a new document that will explore how power should be distributed and exercised in ACB. I urge all of you to take a look at the draft of this document that we hope to have available by October. I think that all of you will find some of the issues it will raise as difficult as those of us on the committee have found them.
Governance is one issue that is at the heart of our celebration of Independence Day and I am purposefully not going to say much about it here so you can come to our Rights and Responsibilities document with an open mind, without being prejudiced by anything I say here. I want to focus on some thoughts I have on the idea of freedom.
One of the things that caused our secession from the NFB was our belief that the opinions of the many were not being heard either at the NFB convention or through their magazine. That is one of the reasons why we have a board of publications that operates autonomously both from the president and from the national office to determine what can and cannot go into "The Braille Forum." Anyone who is on our listserv will know that our membership has no hesitation objecting to things I do or expressing opposition to established ACB policies. That is as it should be. I can tell you, though, from bitter experience, that freedom makes life difficult both for your president and board of directors. We must not only consider what is best for ACB but must also assure that all of the constituencies who may have an interest in an issue have an opportunity to be heard.
Many years ago I got a call from a blind man who had been arrested. He was charged with sexual battery because of his propensity to reach out and grope women. He indicated to me that he had a right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States to do this. "Other people can see what women look like. I am using my hands to see. It's a freedom of information issue. I have an inalienable right to grope women." Clearly his exercise of what he saw as his "right" violated laws we set up to protect others. Most of us would probably support a resolution that urged the authorities to treat this man harshly. We would not find it difficult to reject out of hand this claim. We might even be a little chagrined that one of us would dare to put forward this kind of argument. I find myself appalled by the claims that many blind people make about what their rights are. I am particularly upset by their fallacious claim that they have those rights because they are disabled.
Far too many people use their disability as a club with which they beat the rest of society into doing what they want. "I'm disabled so you have to help me" is at the core of this whine. Whether we like it or not, some of the very people who do this sort of thing are ACB members. Should we tell them they can't do it? When do they go beyond the point where we can tolerate their actions? Is their right to speak freely absolute? Sometimes these people will actually say that they are speaking for ACB when they make specious claims. What should we do about it?
And then there is the press. Much of the backlash that has been created against the Americans with Disabilities Act can be directly traced to the biased, sensational reporting that has characterized the media's approach to this law, for the most part. Our country has written constitutional amendments to guarantee the freedom of the press. What protects the people from the misuse of power by the media? ACB is just as likely to try to use the media to forward our ends as is any other group. This manipulation of the press is different, though, because we declare and admit to our biases up front. The press claims to be providing facts and balanced reporting and, much of the time, this is what they do. The difficulty is that their bottom line is attracting the public. This is often what determines what is "news" and how it is reported. Does the public get the news it demands? Is the failure of the press to adequately report disability issues their failure or is it a fundamental characteristic of our society? Has our country reached the point where only the sensational is "news," where only the salacious stuff will do, where objective reporting is no longer a matter of concern? Whose fault is that?
This message may seem to have strayed far away from where we started, but it really hasn't. The press is one of the prices we pay for freedom in this country. Many governments have justified control of the press by arguing that this is the only way to prevent its abuse by those whose only interest is to publish biased reports aimed at discrediting the current regime. We, like this country, take the view that the freedom of our press is a fundamental principle and, beyond that, we hold that our members have the right to express their opinions in our publication and on our listserv, even if those opinions are repugnant to many of us. This right applies to all of us, though. We cannot claim our right to be heard while seeking to silence others. The core of what ACB is all about is tolerance. Each of us makes decisions about how we choose to live our lives. ACB celebrates those differences and reinforces every person's freedom to be whoever he or she chooses to be. That, too, it seems to me, is a core value of our organization.
Let me not be misunderstood, though. Any member of ACB can claim he or she has the right to grope whomever he or she chooses so long as he or she is prepared to accept the consequences of that action. Neither I nor ACB disputes that right. I reserve the right to challenge the efficacy of your actions and also believe that the only environment where freedom can flourish is one where all who exercise it also use restraint. Freedom is a right. It is also a responsibility.
At the very core of the disability rights movement is a belief that each of us has a right to autonomy and, as ACB sees it, our society has an obligation to incorporate our needs as citizens into the way it designs the future. I do not believe that our support of autonomy and the freedom to choose can be selective. We must be just as zealous in support of the rights of those we despise as we are of our own. That is the responsibility that freedom imposes.
So, as we ponder the price our forefathers paid and the price we are paying for freedom, let us recognize that freedom without restraint is license. Let us also recognize that freedom is a precious commodity that will disappear if we are not careful. Our press is free but it may be limiting our freedom by the conformity it promotes. Unless we are vigilant and vocal, the freedom we have will disappear. There are many in this country who would argue that there is too much freedom now. They would suggest freedom has already become license. They would cite violence in our schools; they would point to abuse of the welfare system; they would decry gay and straight couples living together without the sanction of marriage. They would aver that our society has a moral duty to protect the many from the aberrations of the few. I am certainly not going to debate issues of national policy here except to say that, as I see it, we must choose whether occasional abuse of freedom is preferable to its limitation. For me, and I think for ACB, the answer is yes. Of course, you are free to disagree, and thank God for that!
This has indeed been an exciting year for ACB advocacy. Our initiatives with Social Security linkage, greater federal support for elderly blind programming, increased cooperation between state agencies and consumers, a more powerful and dynamic revitalization of the vending facilities program, implementation of pedestrian safety solutions, increased access to a wide scope of technology, saving state agencies accountable to our community, descriptive video, and the host of other issues confronting our people have truly filled us with joy on some days and left us wondering why we even try on others. Sound like a long marriage? Yup.
ACB advocacy is born of one simple premise. Our nation and our blindness community share a common responsibility of affording all people with the blessings of liberty, opportunity, and equality as we seek to realize the American dream. Our faithfulness to this ideal is not always easy or rewarding, but from it comes a road to the future that we travel in the knowledge that our goal can be reached and when we arrive, so too will many others who have come to understand us as partners and builders of a better world for all.
Our marriage to this ideal maintains us through the good times when we celebrate our victories and through the bad times when it seems like nobody is listening and we are left to hold onto each other in the knowledge that another day will come. In a few months, the last detectable warning strip will be installed on the Washington subway system. From that day forward, every blind person who encounters the warning strips will have benefitted from our keeping faith with our dream. Even in our more recent struggles where state officials and legislative people have too often turned from the truth of what is good for our community in favor of false promises generated by people who have put their own agendas ahead of ours, our members have stood tall for blind people and despite all the difficulties and delays placed in their path, the day will come when the false agendas will be shown for their harm and all will join in a new vision articulated by ACB.
How is our advocacy like a marriage? Our passion goes deeper than moments of victory. It goes to the very value of relationship with others. Our strength does not rely upon a moment in time; it is drawn from our willingness to hear the concerns of others, our tolerance of difference and our knowledge that the good seeds we have planted will be cared for by our members and yield a harvest for all.
I have written this not as a simple testimonial to a philosophical point of view. It is a true testament to what I have witnessed in the faces and hearts of our members as I have had the pleasure of representing the national organization at our state conventions and meetings of members. We have shared the joys of victory and the pain of setbacks. Sometimes they have been of the kind that impacts many people and sometimes they were events in the life of one person, but each has served to remind us all that our real victory is not in the future, it is in sharing our todays and our belief in the value of what we do.
Damien Pickering stands on the edge of the curb, listening intently for the red light to change.
Blind since childhood, Pickering relies on a small plastic box he holds in his hand like a TV remote control. The box repeats a scratchy, computerized voice that says, "Wait, Polk Street. Wait, Polk Street."
After the light changes to green, the voice says, "Walk sign, Polk. Walk sign, Polk." Without hesitation, Pickering steps off the curb and quickly crosses the street.
"This is a technology that holds a lot of promise," Pickering said of the receiver- transmitter system that is called Talking Signs. "Everyone points to new technology these days, and there are products that come and go. But this one gets my vote for something that can really make a difference."
Since 1995, San Francisco has become a real-life laboratory for Talking Signs, which uses microprocessors and infrared beams to give vision-impaired people a voice description of signs and landmarks in their vicinity.
There are about 900 Talking Signs transmitters throughout the city, at key crosswalks, inside the newly rebuilt City Hall, throughout the main library and in the Powell Street BART station. There are even transmitters atop 20 of the city's fancy J.C. Decaux automatic public toilets.
So far, though, only a handful of visually impaired people like Pickering use the Talking Signs receivers to get around.
But there increasingly are signals that the technology has made a breakthrough from being an experiment to being a promising commercial product. And it also has the potential to help sighted people find their way around an unknown place.
Talking Signs, marketed by a small Baton Rouge, La., company of the same name, now are also installed at intersections, museums and train stations in New York; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Austin, Texas; and Mashantucket, Conn.
"We're seeing accelerated interest all over the country," said C. Ward Bond, president of Talking Signs Inc.
Last week, Luminator Inc., a Texas company that makes the electronic destination signs found on buses throughout the country, launched a new product that incorporates Talking Signs to broadcast destination and route information for riders who are visually impaired.
Next week in San Francisco, Mayor Willie Brown's disability advisory committee is expected to approve a resolution making it the city's official policy to install Talking Signs transmitters in every new or remodeled public facility. The proposed resolution also suggests that private buildings have at least one installed, when possible, at entrances.
And a unit of giant Mitsubishi Corp. now is producing new Talking Signs devices as part of a year-old deal with Talking Signs Inc. to market the transmitters and receivers throughout Japan.
"The market of this orientation device will expand rapidly in the near future," Hajime Sone, general manager for corporate planning for Mitsubishi Precision Co., said in an e-mail message. "We plan to market for public place(s) first, such as government offices, hospitals, libraries, museums, train stations and others."
But Mitsubishi said it also is eyeing more universal uses of the devices by private businesses like hotels, department stores and supermarkets.
The Mitsubishi deal "makes us optimistic that these units will be everywhere," said William Crandall, a scientist with San Francisco's Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, which originally invented Talking Signs.
The basic technology has existed for years. A voice description of a sign or landmark is digitally recorded on a microchip. Light-emitting diodes transmit the message on an invisible infrared beam in the same way a TV remote control works.
The person using the receiver presses a button to hear the message, either through a speaker on the device or with an earphone. The strength and direction of the signal itself is useful as a homing beacon to find the sign or landmark.
Talking Signs users like Jerry Kuns of San Francisco say the devices replace constantly having to ask strangers to become guides. "I travel all the time, and for me to go from here to Los Angeles, I probably have to ask and be handled by a dozen people," said Kuns, who lost his sight during childhood.
"It's a demand on me socially, and it's a demand on me psychologically," he said. A sighted person "can just look up, see a sign and just head for it."
Braille signs on elevators and ATM machines are fine, said Kuns, a sales manager for a company that sells products for the visually impaired. But for a visually impaired person, braille signs are useless if they cannot even find the elevator or ATM.
Kuns said he can find his way without any help around places like the Powell Street BART station, which has Talking Signs transmitters at fare gate entrances, ticket machines, rest rooms and telephones.
"The independence and the dignity provide me with a great deal more comfort and happiness," Kuns said. "The freedom of choice is very important."
A recent study by the University of California at Santa Barbara showed that Talking Signs made a profound difference for visually impaired transit riders. During the study, members of one group of visually impaired people took five minutes or more to locate an express bus stop, if they found it at all, said Reginald G. Golledge, a University of California at Santa Barbara geography professor who conducted the experiment. "With Talking Signs, they were all doing it in a minute or a minute 20 seconds," Golledge said. "The difference was really night and day."
Talking Signs may get a boost from recent federal legislation. The sweeping Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 mandates that people with disabilities have equal access to buildings and services. And a $230 billion Transportation Equity Act passed in 1998 includes a provision to install audible signals and signs at certain crosswalks, Bond said.
In the past, cities such as Oakland have installed audible street signals that chirp like birds to indicate a green light. People who are visually impaired say the chirping helps but can be confusing. That's why Bond said the bill has increased interest in more sophisticated technologies like Talking Signs.
Yet cost remains a barrier. Currently, Talking Signs cost about $1,000 per transmitter and $250 for each receiver. Bond, whose privately owned company has yet to turn a profit, hopes to sell transmitters to government agencies and private businesses, while providing receivers to the visually impaired at little or no cost to them. But so far, only a few municipalities have installed the devices, and the cost scares off private businesses.
And receivers won't be in great demand until there are more transmitters. "We're trying to bring the chicken and egg along at the same time," Bond said. But the agreement with Mitsubishi, which received a small stake in Talking Signs, gives Talking Signs fans hope that the cost of the devices will decline.
Also, Talking Signs proponents hope other creative uses that benefit sighted people will surface. For example, the devices could be programmed to receive in different languages, so tourists who don't speak or read English can find their way around a town.
And the $135 million Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut uses Talking Signs to guide blind visitors through its Native American exhibits, but the same technology also could be used by sighted visitors for self-guided tours.
Meanwhile, Richard Skaff, Mayor Brown's special assistant for disability access issues and former access coordinator for San Francisco's Department of Public Works, said the city continues to install Talking Signs transmitters at city facilities like the Yerba Buena Gardens and a new public pool at Hunters Point.
Some of the transmitters already installed were funded through corporate donations or, in the case of City Hall and the main library, included in overall publicly funded construction costs, Skaff said.
As far as Kuns is concerned, the cost is more than justified. "Who says sighted people should get all the benefits of the world?" Kuns said. "I pay taxes so that everybody who drives can use the streets. We all need to share in making the world a kinder and more accessible place." How Talking Signs Work Transmitter
The Talking Signs transmitter sits inside a 4-inch by 4-inch plastic box placed at a destination point or landmark, such as a building entrance or street crossing sign. The transmitter plays a voice message about the sign or destination pre-recorded on a microchip. The signal is transmitted on an invisible infrared beam of light, which starts at a narrow point at the transmitter, but spreads out in a cone-shaped beam that becomes wider the farther it gets. The beam can be adjusted for length and width, but is typically about 100 feet long for outdoor locations and 40 feet long for indoor spots. Receiver
The beam is then picked up with a hand-held receiver, about the size of a Walkman, which plays the audio message.
For more information: Visitors to San Francisco's City Hall or the main library can borrow a Talking Signs receiver for use in the building. Also, the Rose Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has receivers available for an extended loan with a $25 refundable deposit. For information, call (415) 431-1481. Talking Signs has a web site, http://www.talkingsigns.com
The "Council Connection" and the Talking Information Center have won the National Association of Radio Reading Services Program of the Year Award. The "Council Connection" is a live, one-hour monthly program sponsored by the Bay State Council of the Blind and heard on the Talking Information Center, a statewide radio reading network for blind people. This program focuses on various topics and issues of concern within the blind and visually impaired community in Massachusetts, such as transportation and accessibility. Tom Wlodkowski and John Oliveira are the hosts of the program. The "Council Connection" airs on the first Thursday of each month at 8 p.m. KANSAS CONVENTION
Everyone is invited to attend the annual convention of the Kansas Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, to be held October 22-24, 1999 at the Holiday Inn, 3017 W. 10th, Great Bend, KS. Among the topics to be discussed are assistive technology; orientation and mobility; the importance of separate services for the blind, and international issues. For more information, contact Regina Henderson at (316) 687- 0113.
Perhaps one of the most valuable yet overlooked skills in the job market is the ability to speak a foreign language. More foreign companies are opening branches in the United States than ever before. Conversely, many U.S. corporations conduct business with clientele from other countries. For these reasons, business and industry are becoming more international in scope every day. Therefore, it is to everyone's advantage to know another language.
You can actually make your career in foreign languages. I make my living as a teacher and translator of Spanish, French and German. I have found my career to be quite rewarding and exciting! If you decide to teach a foreign language, you are not necessarily limited to working in a school, college or university. Many corporations employ foreign language teachers to teach their employees the languages they will need to conduct business in the international marketplace. Churches often offer foreign language classes for missionaries or classes in English as a second language as a community service. Of course, you could always tutor or give private language lessons in your home. Speaking from personal experience, translating written documents can also be very satisfying work. There is also a great need for interpreters. Being an interpreter may look like glamorous work. In reality, it is quite challenging and demanding, and it can be quite stressful. However, the pay can be excellent if you are willing to put up with all the stress. Other career possibilities in foreign languages include being a bilingual secretary, an international operator, receptionist or travel agent, working for the Department of Immigration and much more.
Even if you don't make a career of it, knowing a foreign language can be an asset when you are looking for a job. In many instances, knowledge of a foreign language may give you the advantage over another job applicant with otherwise equal qualifications.
So, what's the best way to learn a foreign language? Many people try to learn on their own by using books and tapes. Though this may be a good way to get started, eventually you will need a class or a private teacher so that you can get help and valuable feedback on your progress. In general, unless they are specifically conversation classes, most college courses tend to emphasize grammar and literature rather than practical daily language skills. It is usually best to take conversation classes which emphasize the practical and give you enough grammar to construct sentences so that you can express yourself independently. Do not expect to become fluent in a foreign language quickly. True fluency may come only after three or four years of serious study. Maintaining your skill will take constant practice. This can be accomplished through speaking and corresponding with native speakers of the language, reading books and other publications in the language, listening to foreign broadcasts on shortwave radio or cable television, and further study.
One of the biggest challenges for a blind person has always been obtaining foreign language materials in an accessible format. Dictionaries, textbooks and other publications in foreign languages are often difficult to obtain in braille or large print. However, computer technology has done much to solve this problem. Many dictionaries, books, periodicals, translation programs and other foreign language materials are available on CD-ROMs or on the Internet. They can easily be read using speech, braille display or screen magnification programs in your computer. Admittedly, this is not always a perfect solution, but it sure beats having to obtain and store volumes of material in braille or large print. I only wish that more computer technology had been available when I was in college and when I first started out as a teacher and translator. Things would have been a lot easier for me!
Learning a foreign language is a lot of hard work, but it will be well worth the effort. It will literally open up whole new worlds to you and possibly even help you obtain a job. Why not give it a try? Bonne chance! (By the way, that's French for "good luck.")
Until 1996, blind people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits had the same earnings limit as those on Social Security retirement. If blind people exceeded the limit, they would lose all their benefits. In 1996, in a round of Social Security reform, the linkage was broken, leaving blind people frozen at a limit of about $12,000 per year, while seniors were put on a schedule of increasing limits until 2002. At that time, Social Security beneficiaries ages 65 through 69 could earn up to $30,000 before being penalized $1 for every $3 earned above the limit. Since 1996, the American Council of the Blind and friends in the House and Senate have been trying to get legislation through to re-establish the linkage, but those bills have gotten tied up in committee.
Now we have two new bills in Congress, one of which is H.R. 1601, introduced by Rep. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland. It looks a little more promising than earlier bills, since it had, at last count, 238 co-sponsors. However, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer of Texas does not favor it. There are enough co-sponsors to force the bill out, but it would be much better if Archer would send it out with his blessing. It would be to the advantage of working-age people who are blind, and any others interested, to write letters to all of their congressmen. Also, write to Archer of Texas, especially those who live in Texas' seventh district. Hit them with good facts and figures
There is a great deal of misinformation being circulated concerning Social Security linkage for blind people. Here are a few points that might help to clarify the facts of the matter. This information came from the Social Security Administration's press office, from the American Foundation for the Blind's Department of Policy Research and Program Development, and from legislative assistant Marjorie Kwah in Ehrlich's office.
For the period of 2000 through 2004, the total expenditure for all Social Security benefits is projected to be $2.2 trillion paid to 44.5 million beneficiaries. The total for 4.8 million beneficiaries on SSDI is expected to be $317 billion. Jeff Funk in the SSA press office stated that out of 4.8 million SSDI beneficiaries, there are 66,000 who are blind or have low vision. Others claim that this group of blind SSDI beneficiaries numbers as high as 125,000. However, I believe the SSA press office would have the best information.
Corinne Kirchner, director of the AFB Department of Policy Research and Program Development, quoted to me from a study in her possession, which stated that there are 510,000 blind people ages 18 through 64 years, the age range considered as potentially employable. This study shows that only 34 percent are employed. This is a higher percentage than I have ever heard. Cost of re-establishing linkage
"We are trying to find the money to cover the added cost of re-establishing linkage," was the remark I got from Peter Damila in Jim Bunning's office in 1997. That phrase is still being quoted. Let's put it in perspective. The estimated added cost over the 2000-2004 period would be about $1 billion. Representative Kennelly of Connecticut, a long-time supporter of linkage, quotes $1.1 billion; Bunning's office quotes $1.7 billion. Ehrlich uses Kennelly's number in his estimates.
True, a billion or so is a lot of money, but put it into the big picture. The total SSDI cost is $317 billion. The percent of increase, using the $1.1 billion figure, is 0.34; the increased percent to Social Security as a whole is 0.05 percent. Consider that the cost of living adjustment each year increases by 3 percent, give or take a little. "They are trying to find the money somewhere." Let's get real. Not welfare, but incentive to work
There are those who want to work full-time with a meaningful career and corresponding wage. It is hard to start again when one can earn "over the cliff" and suddenly lose the safety net. If anything goes wrong with that attempt to return to work and the safety net is gone, those individuals face some frightening prospects. As a result, to avoid the risk, some just don't work full-time, or don't hold very good jobs. With the increased level of the earnings test, under linkage, it is felt by many that more people who are blind would be back in the work force, being productive, paying taxes and making meaningful contributions to society, not to mention being able to live fuller, happier lives. Take action
If you want to have an effect upon the passage of linkage legislation, start writing letters to your representatives and senators. Also, write to House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Archer from Texas, and give him some good reasons to support H.R. 1601. You may think your letter won't do any good, but I once heard a senator say that if he received as many as seven letters about an issue, it was enough to get his attention.
Von Eulert softly apologizes for the cramped quarters of her home office, but it's time to check the four computers churning out reams of paper brimming with the raised dots of braille.
Eulert, 79, explains that the computers are simultaneously printing pages of 15 geography textbooks destined for use by blind students.
For the past 34 years, Eulert has been translating textbooks into braille for the American Red Cross. She transcribes the books in a small office in her southeast Wichita home.
But those long years of service transcribing textbooks is not her claim to fame: She is the only person ever to write a braille code for molecular structures, and she did it as a volunteer.
"She is so humble," said Bill Hamelau, executive director of the Wichita chapter of the American Red Cross. "Von is one of the most dedicated volunteers with whom I have worked. She is passionate about providing this service."
Eulert said, "It's always a challenge. That's what I like about it."
It took Eulert 10 years to write "Braille Code for Chemical Notation" ū a new braille language for all the chemical molecule structures ū and compile it in a three- inch-thick notebook.
Blind students can buy the three-volume braille copy from the American Printing House for the Blind for $16. "It will be used as a reference book just like a dictionary," Eulert said.
Transcribing textbooks is time-consuming and painstakingly detailed, she said. A three-inch-thick, 1,200-page textbook can take about a year to transcribe.
The work begins when Eulert sits at the computer translating the printed textbook, one word at a time, into braille. Compare that process to transcribing English words into the Cyrillic letters of the Russian alphabet.
"Braille is like learning another language ū in shorthand," Eulert said.
Those who work with her at the American Red Cross, which furnishes braille textbooks to students in New Zealand, Canada and the United States, say her efforts are invaluable.
"I was educated as a nutritionist," Eulert said. "But my husband was in the service and no one wanted to hire a nutritionist. I could make more money as a secretary, and I did, until our son was born, and then I retired."
She found her true volunteer mission with the American Red Cross after seeing an ad in the newspaper for transcribers. "I sympathize with people who can't see, and it is something you can do from home with your kids around," she said.
That's one of the benefits to volunteering as a transcriber, even though there is a lot of study and work involved. It takes a year to learn literary braille and longer to learn braille that involves math and science.
Volunteers work about 20 hours per week while they're learning. Once they pass a transcription test and are certified by the Library of Congress, Eulert hopes they will volunteer at least eight hours per week.
Eulert is certified in literary, math and chemistry braille. She is one of six volunteers in Wichita but she hopes to recruit more.
There are certain qualities that all successful braille transcribers possess. Patience is one of them, Hamelau and Eulert said. The others include striving for perfection and a superior intelligence.
"They have to be willing to do it over and over again until they get it right because if we get something wrong the students will learn wrong, and they have enough barriers to learning without us putting more in," Eulert said.
"She is constantly struggling with all these obstacles but never giving up on fulfilling the mission," Hamelau said.
No, this is not about dancing and discotheque. It is about a Japanese student, Go Yamamoto, a freshman at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He does have a lot of get up and go.
He was born in Japan and had meningitis as a child. He was treated with penicillin, the wonder drug; unfortunately, he was allergic to it, developed Steven Johnson's syndrome, and it's a wonder he didn't die (which is what happens to 80 percent of those who suffer that condition).
His outer layer of skin peeled off, and when his eyelashes grew back in they grew inward and scratched the surface of his eyes until he lived in a perpetual fog, despite many operations. He couldn't go out and play like the other kids did, so he turned to music and the violin, and is now very good. He has enough vision to read the notes up close, but then has to memorize it because it's difficult to play with your nose rubbing the paper. He can now play an orchestral score of 30 minutes from memory. And in the Cornell orchestra he has the advantage over those with 20/20 vision and poorer memory, who have to divide their time between watching the page and watching the conductor.
Go's dad used to take him to baseball games and describe what was happening. Now Go has decided to have a go at playing baseball himself as a pitcher. He can see the batter and the catcher, and can follow the ball after he has thrown it, but has trouble reading the finger signs of the catcher. Also, his coach worries that in a game he might not get out of the way of a line drive. So far he hasn't pitched in a regular game, but he is on the team. He may be the last man on the squad but he is among the first in enthusiasm.
He is an excellent violinist and is doing well in his studies with the help of a closed circuit TV. He spent a year in Germany, and is now fluent in Japanese, German and English.
And would you believe that one reason he chose Cornell was because he likes cold weather? To each his own. I guess I could put up with the cold, at least down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but then there is the snow that comes and stays and stays. But I doubt that even that bothers our violinist from Japan. So, the only conclusion: "Go, Go!"
I recently began using the Parrot Plus digital voice recognition organizer. This handheld, pocket-sized device weighs just 5.5 ounces and fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. This digital organizer, or electronic daytimer if you prefer, has a number of unusual features. First and most convenient is its voice recognition. In my opinion, the problem with retrieval has always been the major disadvantage with digital portable organizers. With the Parrot Plus, however, all you do is press a button and speak a key word, such as a person's name or a company's title, and the information, regardless of where it has been stored, is retrieved and ready for verbal display. For example, if you store a friend's work number under the name of Phil Scovell, you simply tab over to the phone book category using a front panel function key, press a button and say "Phil Scovell." The telephone number comes up instantly, ready to be accessed.
If you hold the Parrot Plus up to the telephone mouthpiece and press the button again, the tones play into the phone and dial the number for you. In fact, all major functions and features are spoken to you by the built-in Parrot voice synthesizer. This makes the Parrot incredibly user-friendly for anyone. I could easily spend half an hour detailing all of this handy little unit's features, but will just mention a few to give you an idea of its capacity. First, the unit has two separate battery compartments. It runs on four AAA batteries. Why two battery compartments? This allows you to change two batteries at a time without losing any recorded data. The unit warns you of low batteries.
You can also connect an optional cable to your PC and, using their software, transfer the recorded data stored on the Parrot Plus to your computer. The Parrot comes with programmed categories where data is quickly and easily stored. It announces each category as you tab to it. The categories are: phone book, memo, appointment, clock/calendar, and calculator. There are a few other categories relating to a dialing assistant, which has to do with setting up the Parrot for different dialing prefixes anywhere in the world, and a control panel, where you customize the unit to perform in the manner you choose.
The phone book category will allow you to record numbers for home, fax, cellular, work and secondary phone numbers like someone's pager. It also gives space for you to record the address. This phone book assistant is very handy for me because all my children have their own cell phones, home and work numbers, and pagers, and I can never remember them all. Now the Parrot remembers them all and even dials them when I speak the names of my kids into the unit.
The memo category allows you to record just like a tape recorder, one message after another. But that's not all. You can play back, record, edit, insert, fast forward and rewind the recorded memos using its telephone-style touch keypad on the front of the unit. The left and right arrow keys on the keypad allow you to move through your memos quickly.
The appointment category allows you to record a key word or phrase, such as doctor's appointment, then will prompt you to enter the date and time you wish to be reminded of the appointment. The entry is accomplished using the keypad on the front of the unit. You can review this reminder at any time by simply speaking the key phrase "doctor's appointment" into the device, or, if you have programmed it to remind you automatically, it will sound an alarm and then let you press the button to have it read you the information. Appointment recordings can be edited and reviewed just as they are in the memo category.
The talking clock and calendar are easy to use. Tab over to the clock using the front panel button, and click on that heading. The Parrot will announce the time and date, as well as the day of the week and the month.
The calculator works as easily as any other with all functions spoken as the keys are pressed. In fact, that is one of the most convenient aspects of the Parrot Plus: it speaks nearly everything and walks you through all functions and features. You can't get lost with the Parrot.
What about recording time? How much time is available? The Parrot Plus has six and a half minutes of recording time. But the only thing that goes into that digital six and a half minutes of storage is what you speak. The phone numbers, date and time stamps, and everything else are not a part of that data storage. So if you save a phone number under the name Jonathan, then that one or two seconds it takes to say "Jonathan" makes that the only one or two seconds saved into storage.
You can also switch the Parrot into a compressed speech mode and expand the storage to 13 minutes. The speech quality is not as good, but it is understandable.
Using the left and right arrow keys on the front panel, you can quickly cycle through all the settings you may wish to customize. These settings include volume levels, tones and beeps for key entry indication, help mode on and off, accessibility on and off, shut down time from 20 to 60 seconds, record level of quality or compressed speech, password mode on or off, dialing speed of telephone tones from slow to very fast, and dialing volume. Other changes can be made, such as date format and clock format. All of this is clearly spoken to the user by the Parrot's built-in voice synthesizer.
Though I cannot detail all the Parrot's features, there is one I really appreciate: the unit has no off and on switch to worry about. It automatically shuts itself down after inactivity of 20 seconds (adjustable to 60 seconds). No more forgetting to switch your unit off and draining the batteries, thereby losing your important information.
There is an international Parrot programmed for English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, and chinoy. I was amazed how easy it was to learn to use the Parrot. The cassette included with the Parrot was well done and easy to follow. The unit comes set up by the company and is shipped with the batteries installed so that it is ready to use the moment it comes out of the shipping box. It took me about an hour to listen to the tape, following along with my Parrot Plus, and once done, my voice recognition organizer was customized to my preferences and I began using it. I carry it with me to church and whenever I'm out and about, and it always sits near me at my desk for quick retrieval of information, for quick memos to remind me to return calls, place orders, or simply to check the time or perform a quick calculation. I haven't seen anything like this and find it very useful in my daily life. Now I know what sighted people are able to do with their daytimers, except that with my daytimer, I talk to it and it responds. Now my only problem is that my wife wants one.
For more information, try the web site at http://www.voice-assistant.com or e-mail [email protected]
It is an other-worldly experience to begin reading your own autobiography before you have even turned pen to paper to write it. Wearing eyeglasses from the age of three, a household where the B-word is never uttered, a mother courageously pragmatic, a father in denial, not letting on to public school teachers that being seated in the front row is a useless gesture, seeing some things some times and pretending the rest of the time, riding a bicycle mostly by luck and hunches. Those eery parallels propelled me through the early pages of Stephen Kuusisto's "Planet of the Blind."
After an oh-so-conventional introductory banner presenting birthplace data, and a dry ophthalmological exposition I would prefer to blame on the heavy hand of the author's editor, the saga gets going rapidly. Anecdote upon anecdote tumbling out, lyrical and charming, nudged by the deft touch of an award-winning and much published poet. His story unit is not the chapter but the page or just the paragraph. The reader can bounce along briskly from episode to episode without the aid of any more plot line than a warrior's reactive chronicle, perpetually battling off a hazy universal adversary. No time out for deep introspection. No speculation on human motivations here. Just the delightful wordsmithing of a self-bemused and self-deprecating storyteller.
Indeed, no one should expect to extract from Kuusisto's work much understanding of why anything happened to him or how anything was achieved by him. The causation of his life's disasters and triumphs was all quite mysterious to him too. Take his summation of the glorious culmination of his undergraduate education: "... and though I can't explain how I did it, I graduate from college with highest honors in English and a cum laude diploma!" Or, consider the author's series of self-destructive forays into drugs and drinking, or his seemingly quite accidental successes with girls, all of which evidently descended upon a clueless recipient. When Kuusisto reports securing an adjunct teaching position at his alma mater, does he know how? Was it on merit? Was it nepotism at the college whose president was his father? Was it related to special treatment responsive to his disabled status like the lower academic expectations he secured for himself years earlier by way of a letter from this eye doctor?
Nor is the story a morality tale, or even a "page turner." It was easy to click off the cassette player at any point in the narration. What draws the reader back to it is not to learn how the protagonist wriggles out of his latest predicament. It is simply the pleasure, yes pleasure, of hearing more of an unending inventory of marvelously portrayed pratfalls, pretenses and performances. Recognizing so many doubtless made them the more captivating for me: stepping in a sidewalk's freshly spread wet concrete, attempting sandlot basketball by a kind of radar, slow and tedious reading with nose pressed against printed page, trying to enter a stranger's car mistaken for a friend's, memorization as a substitute for oral reading to fool teacher and classmates, confusing others with off-the-mark eye contact, demonstrating macho normality by driving a car around and around in a parking lot.
The squeamish reader should be forewarned. The book includes scattered fleeting sexual references, and it is generously salted with coarse language. It was not gratuitous. Rather, it painted all the more authentically this unruly life of an adolescent who seemed to relish defying each additional convention he stumbled over. Reading page after page of dysfunctional, alienated exploits of the young Stephen put me in mind of Holden Caulfield, the quirky youthful hero of J.D. Salinger's classic, "Catcher in the Rye." In Holden's fantasy though, he was the "catcher," snatching children from peril at the edge of their play meadow. Young Stephen is the "catch-ee," being snatched from the path of an unseen Helsinki trolley, or a car barreling down on him as he stepped into a busy street.
The fast-paced exuberance and often amusing tone of these memoirs morph into a more sober recounting of the author confronting worsening eyesight and acquiring maturing realism about his manner of adapting. He gradually came to acknowledge the energy-intensive constancy of disability concealment, as well as the inadequacy of his devices to endure without mobility aids. Earlier pages bereft of insight beyond observations like, "The addiction to pass is stronger with every instance of humiliation," give way to fascinating passages of ambivalent circumspection and finally, sensibility. He notices, "My blind-passing-for-sighted universe is very small" and admits, "Acknowledging blindness and the world admits me more graciously than it did when I was in the closet. It is hard in other ways." Then he muses, always writing in the present tense, "It's driving me into the open. The cane is an invitation to be nude in public." An Iowa rehab counselor enters his world during this consciousness raising, and later another in New York is a catalyst for him.
The author describes his eventual receptivity to a service animal, and the reader is then treated to a heartwarming inspirational homage to Kuusisto's current employer, Guiding Eyes for the Blind. "Planet of the Blind" follows that promo with some episodes of our hero finally interacting with the outside world as a fully visible disabled person, recounting incidents which will again strike a familiar chord with many a visually impaired reader.
In contrast to the first two-thirds of this work, the latter portion can be quite instructive for others with vision loss. Indeed, the testimonial for Guiding Eyes would be particularly helpful to anyone with a dog guide in their future.
Make no mistake about it though, this is a good read for everyone, sighted and blind alike. Kuusisto is uncommonly creative. It is no surprise that a stint at the celebrated Iowa Writers Workshop is in his resume. He is nothing short of masterful in his use of literary allusion, apt simile, and vibrant metaphor. Without at all disrupting the flow of the story, he even comments here and there on renowned writers and other historical figures with impaired vision. There is of course Homer and John Milton, Jorge Luis Borges, and even Franz Kafka, among others. The most prestigious "New York Times Book Review" noted this work when it came out and cited it again in its year-end roundup, proclaiming it "a graphic and literary narrative of unusual metaphorical extension and authority in which the author is able to include the reader in his coming to terms with blindness."
Much of the public was first introduced to Stephen Kuusisto when "Dateline NBC" profiled his path from blurry-eyed bike riding youngster to dog guide using professional. Lucky attendees at the ACB convention in Orlando met him personally at a Friends-in- Art workshop last July. "Planet of the Blind" is available on cassette both from Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (Shelf #FT613) and from the National Library Service, narrated by Arnie Warren (RC45500). The author realizes no royalties from us library readers, so I intend to purchase a hard copy to circulate among my sighted friends. By the way, "Catcher in the Rye," first published in 1945, has been re-issued by NLS as RC12335, read by Ray Hagen.
For over 10 years the Online Bible has been committed to making itself accessible to the blind and visually impaired. My first contact with this program was a copy of version 5.0 given to me by a friend. The manual for this DOS version contained several helps for visually impaired users, and the program gave the user the ability to set up custom colors for background, text and highlighted items.
Beginning with version 7.0 the Online Bible provided Windows editions, and continued its efforts to be sure that all, including the blind and visually impaired, could readily use the program.
Now, however, the producers of this excellent Bible study and search software have really outdone themselves in the realm of accessibility. With version 8.01, they have become, to the best of my knowledge, the first software vendor to go out of their way to test their product with leading screen readers for the blind. This version not only works decently with both Window-Eyes (GW Micro) and JAWS (Henter-Joyce), but comes with its own special files designed for these screen readers. The special files for JAWS are automatically installed to the proper directories within the screen readers' installation. Although the Window-Eyes files are not automatically installed by the Online Bible, they are installed when you install Window-Eyes. Thus, they are ready for use when you install the Online Bible. The Online Bible now also asks you, during installation, whether you wish to enable Screen Reader Mode. This mode configures the program for best results with screen readers.
During a brief test using both Window-Eyes and JAWS, I found that not even the Online Bible programmers are yet able to make images such as the excellent maps, which come on CD with the program, accessible to the blind via screen readers. I was unable even to read the text identifying places on the maps. It is my suspicion that screen readers in general have a long way to go in their development before such images will be useful to blind users. The maps are, however, quite useful to a partially blind user such as myself, since the identifying text is in very clear type, and the images themselves are in very vivid color. I did find it a bit hard following the lines denoting the course of Paul's four missionary journeys; but I suspect that a lot of fully sighted people may be daunted by that feature, since Paul appears to have done a lot of criss- crossing, doubling back and meandering, especially in his first journey. Thus, this problem is certainly no fault of the original map designers or the Online Bible programmers.
Beside its ability to work hand-in-glove with screen readers for the blind, the Online Bible provides some nice features for the partially sighted. You can set the size of fonts to suit your needs, and colors can be set for background, text and highlighted material. There is a problem with regard to the online tutorial which is known to the programmers. This and some other parts of the help system will not be visible to people using black or dark screens because the text is always black and cannot be altered. They have tried various methods of correcting the problem, but have not had much luck.
Larry Pierce, who heads the whole project, has told me that it might be possible to create an alternate help file for visually impaired users with set colors that suit their needs. He did mention (and I fully agree) that this would be a rather awkward solution to the problem.
The Online Bible package includes approximately 14 English versions of the Bible, versions in several other languages, 25 graphic illustrations including various maps and charts, several full-length commentaries, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, footnotes, topic sets (including the Thompson Chain Reference system) and Bible stories for children. In addition to the above-mentioned Bible versions there are several locked versions for which a royalty fee must be paid to obtain unlock codes. Locked English versions included the New International Version (British and U.S. editions), New American Standard Version (1977 and 1995 editions) and the New Revised Standard Version.
Given the thoroughly excellent job the Online Bible people have done in the area of accessibility and the vast array of resources on the CD, this program is really a must for anyone who wishes to have Bible study software on his/her computer. The Deluxe CD comes with a 128-page print manual and sells for $59.99. Other less extensive editions may also be obtained on CD, and most of the material can also be freely downloaded from the company's web site at www.onlinebible.org. Complete information about the product, including ordering instructions, is also available at this site.
The announcement of new products and services in this column should not be considered an endorsement of those products and services by the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products or services mentioned.
The New Jersey Blind Citizens Association, Inc. is seeking a new executive director. This person would be responsible for planning programs, fund raising, publicity, administrative duties and supervision of facilities. Salary commensurate with experience. Write to the association at 18 Burlington Ave., Leonardo, NJ 07737-1615; phone (732) 291- 0878.
Due to the significant decrease in computer prices, Transcription Technologies Inc. is no longer in business. Owner Marie Caputo thanks you for your patronage.
The American Foundation for the Blind presented its 13th annual Alexander Scourby Narrator of the Year Awards on June 28th. The winner in the fiction category is Robert Blumefeld, a narrator at AFB's Talking Books studios since 1987. Some of his titles include "Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of America" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." In the non-fiction category, the winner is Lisette Lecat, also of AFB's Talking Books studios. She has narrated nearly 100 titles, including "Diana: Her True Story" and "Journey to Johannesburg." In periodicals, the winner is Butch Hoover, a narrator at the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Ky. He has read "Newsweek" every week for his 11-year tenure at APH. Hoover also reads "Reader's Digest," "Money," "Historical Preservation" and many other magazines and professional journals.
Also, AFB Press recently released its latest title on the Americans with Disablities Act, "A Practical Guide to the ADA and Visual Impairment," by Elga Joffee. This book addresses access issues under the ADA, and includes information on such topics as making the ADA work for your business, accommodations, accessibility in public areas, staff training, and auxiliary aids and services. Its ISBN number is 0-89128-318-8 (paperback); it costs $45.95 (including shipping). For orders and inquiries, call AFB Press Customer Service at (800) 232-3044. Orders must be accompanied by payment (for individuals) or purchase orders, and should be sent to AFB Press, PO Box 1020, Sewickley, PA 15143-1020.
AZ BRAILLER REPAIR
The Arizona Brailler Repair Service is now back up and running. The cost for labor is $30, with a six-month warranty on the labor. Parts are extra. Usual turn-around time is under four weeks, but if unusual parts need to be ordered from Howe Press, it will take a bit longer. Special care should be given to safe packing, preferably the original box and material. Any insurance is to be paid by the machine owner. For more information, or to send your brailler for repair and/or maintenance service, contact the AIRC, The Foundation for Blind Children, 1235 E. Harmont Dr., Phoenix, AZ 85020; phone (602) 678-5810.
The Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind is seeking nominations for the annual James H. Veale Humanitarian Award, which recognizes sighted individuals who have been especially helpful to a blind person(s). This year will be only the second year in which the award has been available. The first winner was Marjorie Pearce of North Carolina.
All nominations must give the name and address of the candidate for the award and describe the ways in which he/she has been especially helpful to a blind person or group of blind people. People who live outside the United States are eligible. Candidates nominated last year are eligible for nomination again this year. The deadline for nominations is August 31. Send your print or braille nominations to: Veale Humanitarian Award, c/o Ziegler Magazine, 80 Eighth Ave., Room 1304, New York, NY 10011.
The release of Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional operating system is expected this fall. Also expected this fall is a suite of access software products from Dolphin Computer Access LLC. The firm recently signed a North American distribution agreement with Optelec U.S. Inc. Sales and user support for Dolphin products will be conducted by HumanWare Inc., a division of Optelec.
For more information, visit the web site, http://www.dolphinusa.com, or call (800) 722- 3393.
The American Printing House for the Blind is building the "Fred's Head Database." It will be a collection of tips, tricks and alternative techniques by and for people who are blind or visually impaired. This database will be available on APH's web site, http://www.aph.org. If you have any ideas, share them in braille, print, on computer disk or cassette tape, or via e-mail. Send those ideas to Fay Leach, American Printing House for the Blind, PO Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206-0085; e-mail [email protected]
Lions World Services for the Blind has a new program available to train telemarketing sales representatives to work for Lunsco, Inc., a pharmaceutical and safety supply company based in Pulaski, Va. Lunsco provides injectable pharmaceuticals, first aid and safety supplies to physicians and industry. The first four-week course began June 1; other classes will start later. Trainees will study the Lunsco catalog and products and gain information about setting up a home-based telemarketing post; learn Internet search techniques and use e-mail and fax to communicate with the company for orders and information. Income is based on a commission system. For more information, write: Director of Training Services, Lions World Services for the Blind, 2811 Fair Park Blvd., Little Rock, AR 72204; phone (501) 664-7100, or visit the web site, http://www.lwsb.org
"Against the Pollution of the I: Selected Writings" by Jacques Lusseyran is now available. It is a collection of six little-known essays Lusseyran wrote after losing his sight at age eight. Four of the six are based on his experiences both in and after university life as a professor of literature and philosophy in Europe and the United States. For more information, or to order, call (800) 560-6984. It costs $19.95 per copy. SPANISH VERSION
The Mississippi State University RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision now has available a Spanish version of "Serving Individuals with Diabetes Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired." It is available in large print and on tape for $30. If you would like a copy, contact Kelly Schaefer at (662) 325-1363.
The Future Trends and Research Committee of the General Council of Industries for the Blind recently released a study on occupational injuries and illnesses among blind workers. Results of the study indicate that able-bodied and disabled workers have comparable illness and injury rates. It also shows that, given the proper tools, working conditions and safety devices, blind workers can achieve the same or lower rates of injuries and illnesses as their sighted counterparts performing similar operations. A summary of the report is available on the NIB web site, http://www.nib.org. For a free copy of the summary or the full report, call or write to National Industries for the Blind, 1901 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22322; phone (703) 998-0770; fax (703) 998-9053. Braille and large print copies are also available.
Have you ever wished for washable braille and large print garment labels? They are now available in packages of 25 or 50 labels. Your first order will come with an index of colors to enable you to learn the company's color abbreviations, and the color saturation guide, which distinguishes between light and dark shades of color. Currently, the company has blue, black, purple, white, yellow, red, green, gray, tan, pink and orange available. A set of 25 labels costs $12.95; a set of 50 labels costs $24.95. For more information, call Denise at (610) 642-4442.
EASY AS PI
The VisAble Scientific Calculator allows users with low vision to perform scientific, statistical and trigonometric calculations. It includes all basic scientific and mathematical functions and comes with a large print manual that is spiral-bound for ease of use. For more information, contact the Betacom Corporation at (800) 353-1107.
Sports and recreation are not just for sighted and able-bodied people! The Michigan Blind Athletic Association has three videos available to assist and enhance physical education programs. One is called "ACCESS Sports." It is 18 minutes long, and discusses the ACCESS sports model, which talks about ways to assess and adapt most sports to include visually impaired students in a physical education program. It costs $35. Another, the MBAA Sports Camp video, is also 18 minutes long. It discusses the MBAA Sports Camp for visually impaired youth, which was started more than a decade ago. It also costs $35. And "Introduction to Goal Ball" is eight minutes long, and discusses the game of goal ball, including rules and regulations. It costs $30. To order, send a check, purchase order or money order to Michigan Blind Athletic Association, c/o Sherry Gordon, Secretary, 4423 Sunnydale Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49006; work phone (616) 337-3276.
Pulse Data International has developed two new devices for people with macular degeneration and other types of vision loss. The Smart Keypad and the Smart Organizer were designed to work with the SmartView video magnifier. The keypad and organizer both provide an on-screen display of a large-character clock, calendar and calculator. The organizer provides a large-character on-screen telephone/address book and appointment calendar and a memo pad. For more information, contact Judy Byrd at Pulse Data International Inc., 351 Thornton Rd., Suite 119, Lithia Springs, GA 30122-1589; phone (888) 734-8439; or visit the web site, http://www.pulsedata.co.nz
VERY LARGE PRINT
Harvard Ranch Publishing has recently released three books in very large print (headline size type). They are "A Walk in the Garden," "Favorite Hymns," and "Verses from the Bible." Each costs $24.95; add $2.50 per book for shipping and handling. For more information, call toll-free (800) 815-9533; write Harvard Ranch Publishing at PO Box 842, Kalispell, MT 59903; or e-mail [email protected]
2000 AND BEYOND
The California Association of Orientation and Mobility Specialists will hold a statewide conference at the Casa Munras Garden Hotel in Monterey November 5-7. Its theme is "2000 and Beyond." This year's conference breaks with the tradition of having all meals at one site and included with registration. The new format provides attendees the opportunity to reserve their own rooms (mention CAOMS for a discount). The registration fee includes a weekend of professional workshops, a Friday evening social, and a luncheon on Saturday. The luncheon will be the setting for the keynote address and the presentation of the Wurzburger Award. The hotel is within walking distance of the wharf in Monterey, with lots of opportunities for walks, shopping, picnics and dining at different restaurants. For more information, check out the web site, http://www.casamunras-hotel.com. For registration information, contact Pat Davis at 420 S. Pleasant Ave., Lodi, CA 95240.
The New York Hall of Science is taking the lead in testing a new audio tour that may open hands-on science museums to visually impaired people. The prototype for this tour was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation and NEC Foundation of America, with high-tech equipment supplied by Acoustiguide. Two exhibits were chosen for the pilot study: "Hidden Kingdoms ū The World of Microbes" and "Seeing the Light." For more information, call (718) 699-0005.
The National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources has available a catalog of brand-new donated supplies. These supplies, donated from business overstocks, include office products, computer software and accessories, toys, clothing, janitorial items, hand tools, maintenance materials and holiday party goods. Recipient groups pay dues ranging from $375 to $575, plus shipping and handling, but the merchandise itself is free. To receive a free information kit, contact the organization at (800) 562-0955. TALKING CALLER ID
Full Life Products recently introduced a new model for its talking caller ID line, the 560CW. It will speak the caller's number and let you know who's calling before you answer. It works with call waiting deluxe and has a new easy-to-read three-line display that shows the person's name, number and date and time of the call, and introduces a dial back function. It stores the 99 most recent calls for visual and audible review, has a visual and audible message waiting indicator, adjustable volume control, one-touch new call review, and much more. The unit costs $49.99 plus shipping and handling. For more information, call the company at (800) 400-1540 or visit the web site, http://www.superproducts.com 4TH SKI FEST
Challenge Aspen will host the fourth annual visually impaired ski fest January 10-15, 2000 in Snowmass Village, Colo. There will be clinics, instruction and time for fun. Participants must be comfortable skiing blue runs. Helmets are strongly recommended and are mandatory for racing. You must either bring your own equipment or be prepared to rent from a local ski shop; have protective eyewear; and be prepared physically for the rigors of skiing. Skiers are strongly encouraged to bring their own guides. If you are unable to bring your own guide, contact Challenge Aspen as soon as possible at (970) 923-0578. Lodging is available at the Wildwood Lodge in Snowmass Village. For reservations, call (800) 525-9402; be sure to indicate you are with Challenge Aspen Visually Impaired Ski Fest. If you need assistance finding a roommate, contact Challenge Aspen at the number above. The festival costs $295 for skiers and $150 for experienced guides. A limited number of scholarships are available for this event. You must provide proof of financial hardship. For more information, or an application, contact Kammy Brown at Challenge Aspen, P.O. Box M, Aspen, CO 81612.
(Editor's note: What follows is a compilation of information from ACB Executive Director Charlie Crawford. This information was originally distributed via ACB-L, the organization's Internet mailing list. These weekly e-mail notices are intended to be informal brief summaries of weekly activities in the ACB National Office. We include them here for the benefit of those who do not currently have access to ACB's Internet mailing list. Please let us know your opinion of "News Notes.")
Charlie Crawford, Melanie Brunson and Krista Dubroff met with officials from the United States Department of Education to hear about and discuss blindness programs. ACB expressed concerns about non-blind elders getting services under the elderly blind program, the need for federal activities and direction to the states with respect to the vending facilities program, the need for state agencies and those contracting with them to purchase and utilize accessible computing systems, and expressed agreement with NFB on the need for the Office on Special Education to provide better guidance to the states with regard to braille literacy. In attendance beyond the federal officials were ACB, AFB, RFB&D, Helen Keller National Center, AER, NFB, and a couple of folks from Seattle representing their deaf/blind community. ACB will follow up with discussions on the vending facilities and other matters.
It's been a mixed week in the battles to secure and maintain separate state agency services for the blind that are accountable to us. The news from Texas was not favorable in that the state Senate voted out the sunset legislation with less than optimal language for our interests. While the Texas agency will continue under the proposed law, there are significant weakening provisions which may or may not survive the governor's review.
The situation in South Dakota may have improved due to a clause in the state constitution that allows the executive branch to reorganize within departments, but subjects the reorganization to legislative review. This provision may well be enough to argue that no changes should be made to the state agency configuration without legislative review or at least that the federal government should not fund reorganizational plans based upon speculation that the legislature will go along.
North Carolina is also heating up again as there is news that the governor has an interest in reorganization as well. This may die a quick death as consumers let the governor know what they think.
Finally, it should be mentioned that these struggles have been borne by strong and committed members of ACB. We must acknowledge and thank every ACB member and leader who has taken up the struggle for good services and we must further thank all our friends at AER, NFB, and other groups who have joined in. Nevertheless, ACB must not lose sight of the fact that the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind has yet to adopt the ACB principles of consumer cooperation and this fact could ultimately bring a change in the level of support the ACB has traditionally provided that group.
Charlie Crawford spent a day with the employees and board president of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and gave the keynote address on the ACB principles of consumer cooperation. The information presented was well-received and supported by other consumers at the meeting. In addition to articulating how consumers and a state agency can cooperate constructively, Crawford also made clear that ACB strongly encourages agencies to look beyond the goal of simply helping blind folks to get jobs and to utilize their resources in the improvement of quality of life issues such as access to transportation.
In the seemingly unending battles to protect the interests of blind consumers to have state agencies accountable to us, there has been action in both the Carolinas. The news from North Carolina looks like a kind of cloudy victory. The House of Representatives reported out a bill allowing the Secretary of Human Services to do reorganization but only within existing law. That standard needs to be explored to the extent that existing law meets our goal. Since there is a Commission for the Blind in that state and since it has statutory authorities, we may well have gotten what we have sought, albeit a bit cloudy.
In South Carolina, the story now goes to the Senate. The governor's new board for that state's Commission for the Blind has to be approved by the Senate. The lack of balanced representation from the two major consumer groups within the state is at issue. Redesign of convention pre-registration process to get attention
The problems we have had this year in getting information in late and then sending it out through what appears to be an even slower priority for the post office this year has caused us to set time aside after the convention to revisit the process. This combined with the difficulties that precluded us from being able to offer online registration has created a priority for the office to think through.
There are options that have the potential to significantly improve the advanced convention information flow and ability of members to have greater ease of access to pre- registration. You will be hearing more on this subject over the coming year.
Let's say that you hate anything to do with politics. Perhaps you can't get interested in governmental affairs or activities, and couldn't tell the difference between a quorum and a banana peel. When someone says "filibuster," you think, "that's one restaurant I haven't tried yet," and the term "lobby" has no more meaning than the entrance to a hotel. The important topic for consideration here relates to those of you who avoid reading anything concerning a House bill, because you already have enough utilities to pay.
So why would anyone like that even consider reading an article with Congress in its title? The reason is, whether we like it or not, we are all members of the "People's Congress." I am, and so are you. You might ask, "How can I be a member of something I have never heard of?" You might even argue that you never know where or when it meets. But I can say with confidence that each of us attends sessions of the People's Congress every day.
One of the basic functions of any gathering, even a meeting between two people or informal small groups, is the process of subtle communication, and consensus. As with any government, the rules involving how we arrive at consensus are sometimes not consistent, rational, or fair. Nevertheless, consensus is made or maintained.
When official governing bodies wish to make decisions or agree upon an action, they make a motion, and it gets discussed and voted on. When we share each other's presence and time, we also make statements which others respond to, and all make conclusions how each might feel or decide about the topic at hand. We bring to each person-to-person or group interaction who we are, and take a position by how we initially present ourselves in every exchange.
What often happens to blind individuals is what I will refer to as the "Conflict Of Assumed Position." What that means is we face a lot of statements about us, made in the minds of others who know little about blindness, that easily brings them to assumptions concerning who we are, how we feel, and on and on. The mere symbol of a white cane or dog guide can form consensus in the minds of others even before we have a chance to speak or act. And yes, assumptions can and do govern social action.
In the People's Congress, we support and vote on issues we may not even be aware of. When two people walk arm in arm, observers might nod and mutually confirm with a smile for each other how nice friendship or love is. When a person with vision loss walks holding a sighted companion's elbow, we must consider and deal with what the People's Congress thinks. It isn't always democratic or just.
Every social gathering or event we as individuals with visual impairments attend, we hold the office of ambassadors to foreign territories. We introduce change, difference, and too often must confront the strange language of stereotypical thinking. Each blind citizen, affiliated with an organization or independent, is forced to represent all of us, and related issues that unite us in the public eye. The concept of collective thinking that involves the process people use between each other to affirm how they think or feel is too often ignored or misunderstood. I call that process "The People's Congress."
Each person who joins, participates in, and supports the American Council of the Blind formally endorses the process of organized consensus among others with common concerns. Some might feel inferior to leaders who confidently and skillfully take responsibility to work diligently in the complex processes of government or business. While these activities are important and require a great deal of skill and confidence, each of us can find an important role to play. For those of us who read "The Braille Forum" and wonder how we can even lend support to the wide range of ACB initiatives involving detailed information or processes, I say, "Represent us in the People's Congress." You can do it, and it doesn't take a wizard, scientist, or politician to make a positive difference. Here's how.
The first meeting you need to attend begins in your mind. Yes, that's right. You need to meet with your own thoughts, and consider how you think and feel about yourself. Believe it or not, each of us has to deal with liars that dwell in our own heads. In the committee of our own mind, representative thoughts will stand and argue you toward taking a position. You vote in this process by how you consider and respond to the arguments some of your feelings and thoughts present. If you have a history of experiences or beliefs that have swung the votes in your own thinking toward conclusions that you cannot become somebody useful or important, then it will take your will to fight in order to change these defeating votes maintained by the committee of your own thoughts. You must first propose in your own mind your own self-worth and potential. If the consensus is fear, doubt, or negative, then that is the message and representation brought to the People's Congress every time it meets. We need to stand up as people who are blind and defend our worth and dignity, first in our own committee of the mind. We must bring a positive vote or response from that personal committee of our thoughts with a representation to the People's Congress that votes positively in the mental committees of others, with dignified pride and confidence.
Confidence in who we are, combined with faith in our abilities and experience, has direct and subtle meaning in the minds of others who encounter us. How we deal with blindness in our own minds casts votes in the People's Congress many more times than we might imagine.
There will always be myths and misconceptions based on ignorance about blindness, and we need to prepare ourselves to face them. The battle should begin, and can be won, but it must start in ourselves. We need to set up a turnstile filter to our self-evaluation committee and deny admittance to those mental lawyers that constantly prosecute what we have or have not done, and downgrade our self-confidence. We must fight for ourselves as beings who do not see, yet have good things to bring to the table of life, and great potential for success. Becoming comfortable and self-confident, and recognizing vision loss as only one portion of the equation making up who we are, will send a message and set the tone for others. Don't stop until the committee of your own mind votes in favor of you. Prepare your own personal interest agenda that affirms ways in which you can and do succeed. Don't let comparisons to others vote you down. Stand as president of your own character in the committee of your thinking, and you will be better prepared to send a powerful delegate to the People's Congress.
You become a positive delegate when you know who you are and will not change your positive vote in the face of external negative consensus. Hold your head high and maintain your confident vote in the People's Congress long enough, and you might be surprised to see others also voting for you. As more and more votes of the People's Congress are tallied in your own mind, your self-worth and importance rallies the caucus of belief. The Belief Caucus is perhaps the most important branch of any government. It does not change easily, and resists challenge. But the ultimate definition of growth involves changes in belief as a result of positive challenge. Each of us needs to start challenging what we have been taught or conditioned to believe about blindness, and ourselves. We need to vote in the People's Congress in ways that helps others challenge their beliefs in a positive way.
You are helping, and contributing to the ACB, each time you present or interact with others in the belief and spirit of those key words that first appear in each "Braille Forum": independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people.
There are no exceptions. If you are part of or familiar with our common cause because of blindness or visual impairment, you are already a citizen of our brother and sisterhood. You represent us, and each of us, you. We are joined in a common bond that forces every one of us to face the collective consensus of the public. Society grants each of us the individual role of ambassador to the People's Congress.
Members in the ACB are linked with all people who are blind in facing and fighting against fear and self-doubt. We can affirm and support each other in even the way thinking and beliefs are voted upon in our own minds. We can lobby for dignity, respect, and dependency in the People's Congress. Yes, I meant dependency. But the kind of dependency we need to exchange for that which has hurt and voted against us for so long is in reverse. We need to show that we can depend upon ourselves to bring pride in who we are, and honor in what we do, to the People's Congress. We can express a positive vote in all that we show, say, or do involving others, that demonstrates we can be depended upon. We can participate with equality, show effort, learn, work, adventure, struggle, love, win, play a vital role and contribute wherever the People's Congress meets. Consensus will be voted upon in sessions that take place in restaurants, factories, offices, shopping centers, community events, and even in our own homes. The delegates who will consider what you bring to these meetings will be family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even strangers. You will be doing more than just getting out there and voting. You will be affecting how others think and feel by how you think and believe. This is not only true for those of us who are blind, but all of us who are bound by the common army of symbols and misconceptions about blindness to be faced in the sessions of Congress held each day. We must prepare for battle or become casualties. We can survive and prevail. But that first victory must be gained within ourselves.
Have you ever wanted to find a computer application that would let you make your own greeting cards, stationery, forms, etc., even though you have visual limitations? I have recently come across a real gem of a suite that will let you do just that. Itūs Corel Print House Magic Deluxe. The suite includes three programs: Print House, Photo House and Family & Friends.
With Print House you make all the things I mentioned above, and a lot more besides. You get a great variety of templates, ready-to-use graphics, and even ready- made text, if you so prefer. You can choose a template and almost instantly create, say, a greeting card or calendar, or you can start from scratch and create your own designs using provided images or images you import.
Of course, you will need a color printer.
In Photo House you can touch up photos by improving their brightness or contrast. I have actually edited a photograph in spite of my visual acuity of 20/400 in my right eye. It does take time, but itūs lots of fun. It is true, however, that a visually impaired user will probably have difficulty using free-hand tools in Photo House.
Family & Friends provides a calendar, address book and list book which can all be used separately or integrated. A reminder function will pop up to show you holidays and other special events you program it to do. The address book lets you add birthdays and anniversaries to the calendar, and the list book lets you keep databases of items and, if you wish, associate them with people or families in the address book.
There is one caveat. Although Corel is working on a corrective patch, at present there is a major conflict between Corel Print House Magic Deluxe and Corel WordPerfect Suites 7 and 8. Both Print House Magic Deluxe and the WordPerfect Suites use the Borland Database Engine; therefore, if you try to put both on the same machine, you'll get a conflict which can cause anything from a skewed Family & Friends address book to failure of the reminder file to execute at all. Although you can use the Family & Friends calendar with a WordPerfect Suite on your machine, you won't be able to link a list in the list book to the address book. Additionally, under some circumstances your holiday and event pop-ups may not occur at start-up as they should. As long as you keep that in mind till Corel comes up with a corrective patch, Corel Print House Magic Deluxe will prove a very serviceable application, even for users with severe visual limitations. Best of all, the price is only $59 from Corel, and perhaps even less at many resellers. Further information can be obtained by calling (800) 772-6735.
FOR SALE: Accent SA speech synthesizer, $200 (negotiable). Jumbo brailler, excellent condition, $400 (negotiable). Office 97, $140, includes shipping. Telebraille, slow in the beginning, but operational, $1,500 (negotiable). Contact Isaac Obie at 755 Tremont St. #205, Boston, MA 02118; phone (617) 247-0026, or e-mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Navigator 20-cell braille display. Well maintained. Still supported by Blazie Engineering. Asking $1,650. Braille Lite 18-cell portable notetaker. Brand-new battery; recently serviced. Includes all cables and manuals. Asking $2,800. Braille Base database software for Braille 'n Speak, Type 'n Speak and Braille Lite. $25. Index Basic braille printer, prints single-sided braille and can do tactile graphics. $2,000. Thiel braille printer, high production, capable of producing braille in seven different languages. $9,000. All prices include U.S. shipping (except for the Thiel). Serious inquiries only. Call (215) 487-0347 or e-mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Reading Edge scanner. Asking $1,500 (negotiable). Contact Tina Birenbaum at (480) 884-0812, or via e-mail at [email protected]
FOR SALE: Romeo 20. Hardly used. Includes all manuals and cables. Asking $1,250 (which includes UPS shipping). Call Lucy Torres at (812) 323-9230, or write her at 942-A Maxwell Terrace Apartments, Bloomington, IN 47401.
FOR SALE: HP desktop Pentium 2 with 64 megabytes of memory; completely loaded with JAWS for Windows 95 with 98 upgrade and contract for future upgrades, as well as 12 JFW training tapes. Purchased new in March 1999. Asking $1,595 or best offer. Contact Judy Inabinet at (703) 620-1964.
WANTED: Navigator 80. Contact Della Mae Childress at 4421 Kawanee Ave., Metairie, LA 70006.
20330 NE 20TH CT.
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