Welcome to CVI's SightSeeing Blog! Here we discuss topics of interest and importance to the community.
Some of the information posted here includes personal stories from CVI clients, perspectives from CVI's expert staff, hot topic issues in government, the latest trends in technology for the visually impaired, and much more. Our desire is that this blog is a useful tool to enlighten, educate and provide needed information in a meaningful dialogue for both the blind and sighted communities. Join us as we invite you to share and discuss the topics with us.
Please note: Blog comments are not to be interpreted as a direct endorsement by the Center for the Visually Impaired.
When it comes to technology and the latest adaptive aids, I am definitely one of those who are technologically challenged! Less is more is the axiom which seems to work best for me.
Even before my increasing vision loss occurred, I experienced extreme trepidation when trying out the latest advancements regarding computer programs, the myriad of bells and whistle options offered on cell phones, etc. I often have wished I felt differently about all the wonderful and helpful advancements and technical aids out there, but the honest truth is, for me, embracing and utilizing the most up to date cell phone or other device, has not been the path for me to date.
Subsequently, that came time four years ago to bite the bullet and finally purchase a cell phone to have on hand for emergencies and out of town travel. The Jitterbug seemed to fit the bill for me. It was simple...no contracts, choices of minute plans, large key pad numbers, larger display screen, and input of voice over assistance with dial up numbers.
In addition, the Jitterbug offers a 24/7, 800 number tech support contact with helpful and friendly folk who seem to understand that the average Jitterbug user is often a senior, one with a disability, or one who does best with simplicity when using technical equipment.
I have been very pleased with this product and its ease of operation. If the idea of a basic phone resonates with anyone, this product is worth checking out!
Christine Ha is the winner of FOX’s hit home cooking competition, MasterChef. In January, CVI was honored to have her as the guest speaker for the annual Henderson Dinner. She is a graduate student from Houston, Texas and the series’ first-ever blind contestant.
Nearly 30,000 hopefuls auditions for the show which features cooking competitions judged by world-renowned Chef's Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot. In addition to earning the MasterChef title, Christine walked away with a cookbook deal and the $250,000 grand prize.
Before January of this year, the only ideas I’d had of Atlanta were these:
It is home to CNN and Coca-Cola;
It was home to Ludacris;
It is home to the Falcons, Hawks, and Braves; and
It had crazy weather and crazy airports.
And then I came to Atlanta and learned it was so much more.
Last summer, when "MasterChef" was still airing, I was contacted by the Center for the Visually Impaired to give the keynote address at the annual Henderson Society dinner. I got the email from Lauren Lindenbaum months before it would be revealed to the world that I was the new MasterChef, and so I knew that she, along with the rest of the CVI, had no idea how crazy my life was about to become. I accepted, figuring it would be one of the few opportunities I would have to make use of my gifts to help others.
I flew to Atlanta in January, and after a surprisingly pleasant experience at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, I dove right into the work I was there to do: a cooking demo and Q%26A at a VIP reception hosted by the Viking school, a brief talk with parents from the BEGIN program followed by a Q%26A with the CVI’s adult clients, and then the Henderson Society dinner. After it was all said and done, I learned a few cool things during my visit to the CVI and Atlanta:
Children with little canes are the most precious things I’ve ever had the privilege to encounter and hear; Georgia, like my home state of Texas, knows southern hospitality;
The food scene is awesome in Atlanta—I got to enjoy Empire State South and The Spence.
The CVI is a wonderful facility for those living with or affected by someone living with a visual impairment.
From supporters to staff to clients to parents of little clients, I met a slew of fascinating people. I’m happy to say Atlanta had exceeded my expectations, and I look forward to returning soon—hopefully when peaches are in season.
Since January, I’ve been quite the busy gal. My cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food from the Winner of MasterChef Season 3 on FOX, releases May 14. And I also successfully defended my thesis and will be graduating this month with a Master of Fine Arts from University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. My thesis was my memoir that braids together the tales of my Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) and vision loss with the year my mother had cancer. So what’s next for me on the horizon? I hope to publish the memoir and open a dining establishment or two. To keep track of my goings on, visit my blog, my Facebook page, or follow me on my Twitter handles: @ChristineHHa and @theblindcook. Until next time, be well, and eat well.
In October of 2012, I relocated to Atlanta from Orlando. My main reason for such a move was because Atlanta has far better transit than anything I’ve found in Florida. Blind since birth, I knew it would be no easy task to learn my way around, get on with daily functioning, and form new friendships. I was thrilled when I heard that CVI does what they can to provide volunteers, and so placed a call to Lara Tillery, CVI’s Volunteer Coordinator.
Lara and I had a couple of phone conversations and a home visit. I understood that it might take time to obtain a volunteer, since there is a waiting list. I also understood that I might receive a shopper, a visitor, (either or both), and that it might be weekly or only monthly, depending upon volunteer interest and availability.
I sat back and waited. Mail to read, papers to fill out, places to go…I was anxious to get things done and still somewhat lonely for some one or more who would be there for me. There are those who say “Sure, give me a call if you need anything,” but they don’t offer. They don’t say “Hey, I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” or “Hey, we’re grilling tonight, want to come have dinner with us?”
From previous experience with volunteers elsewhere, I expected they would be older people. Nothing wrong with that, I recently turned 60, but I don’t feel it though. So I was pleasantly surprised when I got not only one but two wonderful young women who were in their twenties! One has been here a few times. My paperwork got done in far less time than it takes to build the stress of it piling up. We went and mailed my application to obtain my state massage license. We went to a couple of bakeries for snacks and some coffee (yum)!
I’d just lost my job. This same volunteer stopped by after work. She brought pastries. I fixed some lentil soup. We spent the evening having a great time. We both love music, and so I had been sharing quite a bit of that.
My other volunteer and I just met. She came, took me to Wal-Mart, and helped me find the dough cycle on my bread machine. She looked at a bit of my mail, and helped me get cat and dog hair off a bag that I want to carry food to church. She also talked about a couple of very fun places we can go walking, and also says to call her any time I need something, even if it’s last minute.
I can’t say enough about how important that is to me and to those of us who are blind, to hear someone, so friendly and open, genuinely wanting to help and just enjoying new friendship. So often, it’s public transportation, which has its pros and cons, or arranging with other people, not with such a degree of invitation and freedom! People sometimes say, “Let me know if you need anything,". Even though they might be genuine, they miss the fact that what some of us want (and enjoy) real friendships with people who also happen to be helpful.
Needless to say, I am most appreciative to Lara, to CVI, and to these two wonderful volunteers! Thank you so much!
If you are a CVI client who would like to learn more about CVI's volunteer services or would like to become a CVI volunteer, please visit the Volunteer page.
After over 12 years working in the disability non-profit sector, I have heard a lot of professional advice that has enhanced my career. I have been given valuable advice that includes “don’t send an email out when you are feeling stressed, angry or frustrated” to “arrive at work at least 15 minutes before you’re actually supposed to be there.” But from all the wonderful and helpful nuggets of wisdom I’ve received, the best piece of professional advice I have learned and applied is the importance of networking.
In today’s workforce, who you know is just as important as what you know. I feel that for people like me who are visually impaired, it is even more essential to network and build strong working relationships that can help lead to career success. Employment opportunities and career advancement for the blind and visually impaired are pretty low with only 30% of us working and I have been able to maintain my employment over the years primarily through my connections.
You might be wondering how a person with vision loss networks and meets people. The answer is something I had to figure out through a lot of trial and error. Typical networking advice does not always work for those of us who cannot see so I had to add my own little twist to the experience. For example, when I attend social or professional events I have never attended, I will sometimes contact the coordinator in advance and let them know that I have a disability. Doing that gives them a heads up and allows time to explain that I might need some extra help like a person to guide me around the room so that I can meet people. Other times I will just come to the function, sit down and converse with people who are sitting nearby. I have learned to not be stressed, put a smile on my face and allow the conversation and interaction to flow naturally. I know that some people might feel uncomfortable with interacting with a blind person so I don’t let that ruffle my feathers and I just take things as they come.
When I attend these functions, I use them as an opportunity to share about my work at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) and my life as a visually impaired person. For example, a few weeks ago I was attending a Black Public Relations Society chapter meeting and met a person who had worked on a White Cane Safety Day event in Florida. This day, occurring nationwide in October, is a public awareness event where drivers are educated on safety around visually impaired pedestrians. I was excited to talk to the person I met and learn about the public relations campaign she led. I was also excited to learn that she was willing to help CVI with our own event. We exchanged business cards and the following day I sent her an invite on LinkedIn so that we could stay connected. I am looking forward to building this connection and learning from her expertise. This is a prime example of the power of networking and its possibilities. You just never know who you are going to meet or what things they are going to offer you.
Specifically in the non-profit world, networking, which can also be called relationship building, is key not only to my personal role but contributes to the overall growth of CVI. Meeting and interacting with people can lead to long term relationships which blossom into them becoming donors, volunteers and referral sources. My role as CVI’s public education coordinator gives me an incredible opportunity to meet all kinds of people. Through my speaking engagements, exhibits and facility tours I have an opportunity to engage people from the community in conversations about vision impairments.
As a result, I have become a resource to my contacts who work for SunTrust Bank, Turner Broadcast Company, The Gap, Macy’s, the Coca-Cola Company, The Federal Reserve Bank and many others. What started off as one-time interactions has now grown into mutually beneficial business relationships. Some of my contacts call or email me for advice and input on projects they are working on or just have general questions on accessibility and/or sensitivity issues. Just recently, one of my contacts from the Gap had lunch with me and we talked about working on a project for October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. She wants CVI to work with her company to bring more understanding about visual impairments to their employees.
Whether I am meeting people face-to-face at work or a social function, I take networking very seriously but try to relax and have fun with it too. Building those relationships are a big part of my career success and the best piece of professional advice I have received.
I started at CVI almost fourteen years ago as a part time music teacher for BEGIN’s Pre-K program. After doing this and teaching after school music classes in the STARS program, I was asked by Anne McComiskey, our Director, if I would start a music therapy class for babies and their parents. I said I would love to.
We had to start from scratch because there weren’t many music classes, to our knowledge, using the format that we wanted to explore. Our number one goal was to help mothers bond with their visually impaired babies. Just in case you are wondering why would parents need a class to learn how to bond with their child...that is a good question.
Eye contact between babies and parents is a big part of bonding that is why we felt it a necessity to help these parents. Also many of our babies have other different abilities and health issues, so it is important for the mom to have fun with her baby. In this class we encourage lots of fun. Parents sing with their babies, dance with them, socialize with other parents and eat lots of happy food - all with baby in tow.
We do have fun, but we also do a lot of learning and teaching. We teach, name awareness, body awareness, sound location, concepts such as up/down, in/out, loud/soft and etc. Our children are exposed weekly to different sensory experiences (exploring different textures, scents and sounds), socialization with other babies, movement in a group and many other experiences. Parents learn to read their babies cues, because many of our babies at this time are nonverbal and parents oftentimes have difficulty figuring out what the baby needs or wants. Parents also learn how to advocate for their children by learning about their diagnoses in a healthy manner.
This class was originally called Music Matters, but in 2006 we added a wonderful family counselor, Memri Lerch, to the class and we renamed it Wake up and Sing! Wake Up meaning awareness and Sing symbolizing sharing. Our counselor made this truly a music therapy class in every sense of the word.
I have seen great benefits from this class. Other than the great learning that takes place, I have witnessed the birth of beautiful and lasting friendships among the families. These parents support each other in every way. In short, Wake Up is a great support for parents, siblings and the babies. I see Wake up and Sing growing not only in the number of families attending, but hopefully this model can be used all around the world to help families in similar situations. This is my ultimate dream for Wake up and Sing!
I never thought I would write a book. I wrote my thoughts in a diary. I wrote when I was angry or frustrated. I taught creative writing at Duluth Middle School when I could see.
I like the touch of the keys and having something to do with my hands. Sometimes I just move files around like I am organizing the computer. In January of 2000, the doctor told me my vocal cords needed a rest for two months. Me, not talk? Unheard of! I am a storyteller! I have been a professional storyteller since 1984—three years before I became blind. I thought not speaking was impossible for me, but the doctor at the Voice Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital told me that it was imperative if I didn’t want permanent damage.
My friend, who was living in my basement apartment, liked to write and edit. With her encouragement, I sat at my computer and started writing about my family history and things I remembered from my teenage years. That was fun. My editor would read and comment right on the document—mostly saying, “flesh it out," "show me, don’t tell me." I was reporting it like this happened next and so on.
Eventually, I started imagining each scene as if in a movie. I wrote for six months every day—four months after recovering my voice. By the time I’d finished I had written 49 stories from my personal experiences before and after becoming blind.
I found that I needed someone to read the stories aloud to hear the inflection and understand what needed to be improved. I couldn’t “eyeball” the piece and move paragraphs around as easily as a sighted person. That became the job of my editor.
After six months, I became tired of the whole project and put it aside. It will be a legacy for my grandchildren, nothing more than that, I told myself.
My editor friend did not give up. She nudged me often. She said my stories were worth writing. I began to share the stories with others to get their opinions. Then one morning a strange thing happened. I was straightening up the house, wondering what I will do next. I am not a do-nothing person. I get bored easily. The phone rang. I listened to the marketing person tell me about a book that included articles by some well-known writers in the business of “self-help." I recognized the names. I had even heard some of them speak at the National Speakers' Association workshops.
She invited me to contribute to the next volume of Exceptional Accomplishments, a motivational book with contributions from members of NSA. This was just the motivation I needed to start writing again. Hmm, I thought, maybe God is telling me to get back on that manuscript. I told my friend and it snowballed. We started the re-writes. As my writing improved, I felt encouraged to publish.
The next dilemma was figuring out how a person who is blind, not up on current trends, unfamiliar with the internet, with no knowledge of how to find a publisher, could get a book published. Another hurdle—I didn’t know how to get on chat rooms or do a webinar.
I joined the Atlanta Writers Club, went to their meetings—and listened. There I met an award-winning writer who was also an attorney. She explained to me how she had created her own publishing company. I asked her to write an evaluation of my book. She was the perfect choice, offering me much guidance and encouragement. That spurred me on. Later I sought advice from two other professional editors. I invested in editing, typesetting and proofreading.
This was expensive. I knew I needed it and didn’t know there are financial resources available to help people with disabilities. At the time of this writing I have sold over 330 books in a year without the benefit of a publicist or marketing person.
I have also self-published a children’s book, “Bettina the Bold: A Blind Butterfly Discovers How to Make Friends.” My friend, Jerilyn Nighttraveler, who is an amazingly talented artist, prepared illustrations using crepe paper so I could feel the pictures. Ken Medema, my blind musician friend, wrote and recorded a song to accompany the story. A storyteller friend, B.J. Abraham, has a special talent for creating voice characters.
Together B.J. and I recorded the book on CD. The book and CD are available as a package. In fact both books can be purchased on my website or on Amazon in print or e-book format.
I hope my writing experience brings encouragement to many with visual impairments. I want them to know that they too, with persistence and determination, can accomplish anything they set out to do.
Submitted by Lafayette Wood, Alumni Association Member
The CVI Alumni Association was formed about seven years ago with a mission to provide scholarships for CVI STARS graduating high school students. The scholarships have grown from $50 to $200. We accomplish this by holding several fundraisers from August through June. We sell coupons for Krispy Cream donuts, hold a flat Screen TV raffle and host a blind entrepreneur / hot dog sale day.
On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, we will host our 5th Annual Blind Entrepreneur / Hot Dog Sale Day. The event will be held in CVI’s back parking lot so if it rains, we will have Wednesday, April 17, 2013, as the makeup date. The time will be from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. We will be selling grilled hot dogs with all of the condiments and other refreshments. So you can get your hot dogs for about five bucks with all the trimmings! There will also be great music provided by Master G, aka George Acey, who is one of our long-time friends and CVI board member.
In addition to purchasing one of America’s all-time favorite foods, about ten blind entrepreneurs will be displaying their products and services. These business owners will be selling items like jewelry, leather handbags and accessories, homemade soaps and crafts. The showcase of business owners compliments the hot dog sale by providing additional financial contributions to the fundraiser through table rentals and by demonstrating that people with vision loss can work successfully for themselves.
The hot dog sale is our largest fund raiser for the CVI STARS scholarship program for graduating high school students. We will have lots of volunteers for anyone needing assistance. We need your support for this very worthy cause. Please mark this day on your calendar and join us for a great inexpensive lunch and a fun time.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call Lafayette wood at 770-366-1125 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the CVI STARS program, elementary, middle and high school students are engaged by learning the skills and self-confidence to live with vision loss. Comprehensive in nature – STARS stands for Social, Therapeutic, Academic and Recreational Services – the program offers year-round classes. One key component of the CVI STARS program is recreational and physical activities.
Children with visual impairments need to have access to fitness activities just like their sighted peers. Research has consistently shown that individuals who participate in regular physical activity to improve their health have higher energy levels, a lower risk of health-related diseases, improved psychological health, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. It is with that in mind that STARS participated in the USABA/WellPoint Foundation National Fitness Challenge.
According to the United States Association of Blind Athletes approximately 70% of the nearly 56,000 children and youth who are blind and visually impaired in the United States do not participate in even a limited physical education curriculum because of the many barriers and misconceptions about their abilities.
For the past two years, the STARS program participants have been excited about participating in USABA’s National Fitness Challenge. USABA has partnered with over 20 local agencies that work with visually impaired children to encourage and support physical fitness and an overall healthy lifestyle.
The challenge kicked off in November 2012 and ends this week. About 25 STARS kids, ages ranging from 6-18 years old participated. The children met once a week during the after school program with Kristi Logue, Health Fitness Specialist. In order to keep track of each participant’s success,
STARS submitted baseline data and monthly updates that were used to create achievable fitness and weight loss goals for the children to help them decrease their body mass index. They were encouraged to take activities that they do during STARS and incorporate them as part of their life activities at home. The children took on the challenge and did jumping jacks, sit ups and pushups. Some even got creative with skipping and dancing around the house. As a result of the challenge, they learned a lot more about physical activities they could do at home. It also built their self-esteem and self-confidence to take on more challenges in the future.
The nutrition classes were taught twice a week and include how to make smoothies at home, healthy food choices and other nutritious recipes. The group fitness classes included yoga, self-defense, cardio and weight training.
The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) partners with the WellPoint Foundation to conduct the fitness challenge. "We are extremely pleased and excited to partner with the WellPoint Foundation to host a second year of the National Fitness Challenge. With the renewal of this grant we will be able to reach more teens with the ultimate goal of helping each participating teen become more active and fit by using fun and challenging physical activities,” said Mark Lucas, executive director of the United States Association of Blind Athletes. In order to keep track of each participants success, every agency submits baseline data and monthly updates that are used to create achievable fitness and weight loss goals for the teens to help them decrease their body mass index.
“The WellPoint Foundation helps us continue meeting the company’s commitment to helping children and adults live active lives and avoid the health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles and obesity,” said Bill Smith, president and general manager of WellPoint’s Disability and Life business. “We believe no one should be denied the right to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits associated with exercise; therefore, we are very proud to once again partner with the USABA to ensure that vision impairments do not limit the recreational opportunities afforded to teenagers across the country.”
For more information about the fitness challenge visit the United States Association of Blind Athletes.