Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

CVI's SightSeeing Blog

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. If you have any questions or comments regarding the blog posts, please send them to Lara Tillery at

What I Learned About Visual Impairments When My Sister-In-Law Moved In

Picture of a kitchenMy husband’s sister has had a visual impairment since childhood, and though I’ve known her for years I had no idea the level of impact it has on her daily life. She recently moved in with my family, and while I tried to prepare our home ahead of her arrival, it ended up being a learning process. Here are a few of the things my husband and I learned from the experience.

1. The basics matter
​My husband took care of the general modifications like getting rid of our area rugs and fixing broken floor tiles in the kitchen. I realized that my muscle memory had always helped me remember to avoid that spot in the kitchen, and how it would have been a constant hazard to my sister-in-law. Even tucking away our normally messy cable cords made a world of difference, not only to the appearance of our home but to the ease of access for us all. Don’t underestimate the seemingly small modifications, because they’re the ones that can matter most.

Picture of a light bulb2. Lighting is crucial
​Because my sister-in-law does not have total blindness, she is perceptive to some light, and the more, the better. I had assumed that because our house gets so much natural light, we’d only need to add a few extra lamps. But the hall lighting was a problem from day one, and the small nightlights I’d put at each end were not nearly sufficient. We ended up installing LED track lighting along the edges, and it makes the hall easier to navigate for us all.

3. Don’t underestimate organization
My sister-in-law is certainly the chef of her family, but when she arrived at our house she seemed to enjoy it less. I realized that although I was used to grabbing the sugar from the cabinet over the fridge and the mixing bowl from the bottom drawer, it was practically chaos for someone else. I had her help me figure out an organization that made sense to both of us, like putting all the baking supplies in one section. She’s back to indulging in her passion, and my own cooking time has improved too!

Picture of 3 green pillows on couch4. Bright pops of color are a good thing
When I first prepared my home for my sister-in-law’s arrival, I wanted to eliminate as much clutter as possible. I put away a few of my brightly-colored decorative touches, like a purple blanket on the couch and the green pillow on the recliner. She not only noticed the changes almost immediately, but she asked if I’d put them back. In her past visits, she’d gotten used to focusing on the green pillow to get into her favorite chair, and even the absence of the purple blanket from the back of the sofa threw off her perception of the room. Eliminating clutter is good, but bright markers throughout the room can be quite useful.

5. Creating pathways just makes sense
When my husband and I first moved in, I’d arranged the furniture in what I deemed to be the most aesthetically-pleasing. Over the years, we just left it that way. But when it was time for his sister to move in, my husband and I got to work rearranging our couches, tables, and other furniture to make clear, open pathways. We had to walk her through the new pathways and help her adjust to the changes, but quicker than we expected she was breezing through the house as though she’d been here for years. And so did we! I realized I was much more at ease without constantly having to weave through my own stuff.

One of the best parts about my sister-in-law coming to live with us is that she was able to improve on systems from her old house. She even figured out a better way to arrange her bedroom. It was a learning experience for us all, and one that has made our family more complete.

Tech Resources: Transitioning to Windows 10 for Screen Access Users

Picture of a laptopSince I started teaching Assistive Technology at CVI back at the end of June, many clients have requested resources to help them transition from Windows 7 to Windows 10. They know how to use their screen access software but the Windows 10 interface is just different enough to cause frustration. As I prepared to update the New View Assistive Technology classroom to Windows 10, I found myself on a similar quest for resources.

As I made the transition to Windows 10, I was delighted to learn that for screen reader users, the vast majority of keyboard commands are the same. Some items have been rearranged but the search box in the Start menu makes finding settings and programs quick and easy. Overall, I have been very pleased with the Windows 10 experience. Microsoft has made an effort to improve accessibility in the latest version of Windows 10, which is good news for users who are blind or visually impaired. The resources listed below helped me get started in my transition to Windows 10. Hopefully you will find them as helpful as I did.

  1. Windows 10 Basics with JAWS and MAGic Free Webinar from Freedom Scientific:
    This webinar moves quickly through the different parts of Windows 10, including the start menu. Some features may look different on your computers now because of the Anniversary update to Windows 10 in August. Most of the info is still accurate though and this is a great place to get started. While you are on the free webinars page fromFreedom Scientific, you should have a look around. There are several relevant webinars including one on Office 2016 with JAWS and MAGic.
  2. Stepping Over the Threshold: Windows 10 in 10,000 Words, Thoroughly Reviewed This comprehensive (lengthy) post from Cool Blind Tech from 2015 outlines many of the major changes a blind or visually impaired computer user may encounter when transitioning to Windows 10. It is a long read but well worth it.
  3. Polishing Windows 10, Microsoft Solidifies Plans with Anniversary Update
    A follow up to the previous article, the author outlines changes in Windows 10 Anniversary Update (released in August) from a screen access perspective.
  4. Here is a master list of all of the Windows Shortcut keys in Windows 10. These do not include any screen reader commands but will work for any computer user. There were several I did not know about.

Windows iconI know the transition to a new operating system can seem daunting to some. I hope that the resources listed above will help you as you consider upgrading. Remember, Microsoft has extended its free upgrade to Windows 10 for assistive technology users, should you choose to upgrade from an older version of Windows. Best of luck as you make the transition!

A New Pair of Eyes

Picture of Giles with the OrCam glasses onI had sight for 30 years when I lost the vision in my left eye in 2004. By 2007 I did not have a great amount of useful vision left in my right eye and, living in Decatur, GA, I came to Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta for vision rehab training in 2008-2009.

I use a screen reader and a book reader on a daily basis, but there are many times where I have things that I need to read that are not in electronic format. So when I saw a tweet by CVI about a new device, which is essentially a pair of glasses, I was intrigued. These glasses are made by OrCam. I visited their website and liked what it said the glasses could do. Quickly, I signed up for a demo. In a nutshell I like them a lot!

The device consists of a pair of glasses frames, which have a very small camera attached to the right arm. A cable runs down from the camera unit to a control unit that you can put into a pocket or which will attach to a belt. On the control unit there are only 4 buttons, one for on/off/standby, two for volume up/down, and one that is called the trigger.

With the system powered on, when you press the trigger button the glasses will photograph whatever is in the line of sight and then they will try and read any text that is there. I often get back from grocery shopping and forget what order I've put items in different bags, and even if I do remember by the time they have been in the refrigerator for a couple of days, I'll have forgotten again which item is where. I also may not be able to recall the cooking instructions — is this meal best cooked in the oven or the microwave, and at what temperature or power level and for how long. This is mainly what I bought my OrCams for. When I hold a pizza box up in front of my face and press the trigger button I hear ingredients, nutritional information, cooking times and oven temperature.

The first outing I took my glasses to was a creative writing group where I participate each week. In addition to not being able to read handouts, I also have a terrible memory which makes it difficult for me to read anything I've written to the group, meaning I have to ask the tutor to read it out on my behalf. Equipped with my glasses and with an external speaker attached to the headphone jack, I aimed my glasses at the sheet of paper I was holding, and activated the glasses, which read the poem I had written for the group to hear.

I enjoyed this, because although it was still not in my reading voice, it was a different voice than the group had heard before. I always feel it is good for sighted people to gain a little experience of how we individuals with vision loss deal with the world.

I remember being amazed in the CVI VisAbility Store where they had a CCTV device called the Intel Reader. This reader was equipped with a video magnifier which also converted the text into speech so you could hear what was placed on the CCTV tray. Well now I admit to being equally amazed at the way a device as large as a CCTV has been shrunk down to something as small, light and portable as a pair of glasses.

OK, they are not inexpensive, the MyReader version, which only does the text to speech part, costs $2500 and the MyEye model which adds face and product recognition costs $3500. I am currently living at home with my parents but hope to be moving back into my own place sometime next year, and for me these glasses will make a tremendous difference in how successfully I make a go of this, and, to me, that makes them priceless.

The Urgency of Online Accessibility

Q&A with Bill Oates: Why non-accessible websites are no longer good enough for governments and businesses.

Picture of person in front of computerWith new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and a refresh of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) looming, it’s critical that government organizations – and businesses in every industry – ensure their websites are accessible to all users.

Perkins Solutions, the assistive technology division of Perkins School for the Blind, recently conducted a digital accessibility review of large government websites across 25 states and discovered that more than 90 percent of those sites contain pages that are inaccessible to people with a range of disabilities.

In this Q&A, Perkins Solutions Vice President Bill Oates explains how updated federal regulations on web accessibility will open doors for new users, and outlines steps organizations should take to become compliant.

Why is accessibility top-of-mind for executives?

It should be top-of-mind for all organizations. Across government and all industries, the move to digital services and information continues to accelerate. We have to consider access to digital assets in the same way we have traditionally looked at physical locations. Forthcoming federal rules will mandate that organizations’ websites be accessible to all users. That’s a good thing. New WCAG 2.0 and ADA updates aim to ensure that this growing digital world is available to Americans with disabilities. That’s one in five Americans, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Why is accessibility for all important?

The bottom line is that no one can avoid the issue of accessibility. An estimated 285 million people worldwide have problems seeing and 46 million of those individuals are blind (per the World Health Organization). From a business perspective, think about the impact this could have on your organization. Could you benefit from millions of potential new customers having access to your website?

What is the penalty for websites that aren’t compliant?

Even before the new regulations are in place, companies that neglect web accessibility fixes pay a high price. The National Law Review reports that Target, H&R Block, Peapod, eBay and even the state of Ohio have been sued over this issue. What CIOs and business and government leaders must recognize is that accessibility is a prerequisite for anything that they do. It can’t be pushed down the road; it needs to be dealt with now.

So how can organizations ensure they’re compliant?

It may seem like a tall order, but there are three easy steps to ensure your organization gets accessibility right.

Bring in someone who really understands the space. If you have that kind of expertise in-house, empower them to educate you, identify the resources you need and help you staff up. If not, enlist the skills of a recognized expert to consult, guide and bring you into compliance. Once you’re on the right road, maintain follow-up consults to ensure new digital products or assets are accessible from the start.
Identify the most efficient resources to tackle accessibility and develop a comprehensive road map toward compliance with the ADA and WCAG updates. It won’t happen overnight, but with the right resources in place, you can be sure that important details don’t slip through the cracks. And keep in mind, if it doesn’t work for everybody, it doesn’t work.
Establish a maintenance plan to ensure that future updates or changes to your website are made to be accessible. Think about website maintenance the way you do with your car: would you go 50,000 miles without an oil change? Then why add new web pages without building in accessibility? It’s not only easier, it’s also more cost effective long-term.

Any final thoughts?

To make your digital assets accessible, you need to build a part of your organization that understands the landscape and is willing to embrace accessibility policies. Business leaders have a lot of responsibilities, and that’s why it’s important for you to have a plan to manage accessibility before it’s too late. If you tackle it early and do it right, you will always have your finger on the pulse of how your organization is dealing with accessibility.

Preparing for College or University as a Blind or Visually Impaired Student

It’s Back to School time. Returning or even entering a college campus for the first time can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. Getting to know your roommate in the dorm, figuring out the location of your classes or the cafeteria is all a part of campus life. And of course, you have to make plans for socializing too! For those with vision loss preparing for college or university life can be somewhat different than those students with sight. So below are a few tips to help in the preparation process:

  1. Person walking with guide dogWhen preparing for attending a college or university can you easily access the campus? Are you able to travel there on public transportation if you will be living at home? Being able to get back and forth will be critical to having a successful experience as a college student. Also, will you be able to navigate around the campus safely and confidently. Will you need to get additional mobility training with a white cane? Or will you need to investigate attending guide dog school prior to registering for college? Some students find that using a guide dog on campus is a better option of a mobility aid than a white cane. Seriously looking at the layout of the campus and getting a good understanding of your travel will help in your decision to attend that school or not.
  2. Does the college have an office for students with disabilities? Some campuses do and some do not. An office for students with disabilities can help provide needed accommodations for your classes. Maybe you need a book in braille or help with negotiating with a professor on extra time on an exam or class project. This office may be able to assist.
  3. Do you know other blind or visually impaired students at the school you want to attend? Do you know alumni who are blind or visually impaired? Knowing other students already can be helpful in getting a good idea of what campus life will really be like at that particular college. They can answer your questions honestly and be realistic about what the experience will truly be like.
  4. As we all know attending a college or university has a financial cost. But not to despair. Besides applying for traditional financial aid blind and visually impaired students can also apply for scholarships and/or transform blind consumer groups such as the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council for the blind. Doing some savvy research online can help locate this information quickly.

So, above are just a few tips to get you going and geared up for college. But for more information I have listed three additional resources below:

Bookshare, who provides books for people with print impairments, has a back-to-school guide.

A blind student’s Guide to attending University.

College Guide for Students with Visual Impairments.

Is There Pride in Being Blind?

Blind person walking with caneI read a very interesting article in the opinion section of the Sunday edition of the New York Times this past week. It posed the question where is our disability pride movement? Unlike other groups like women, gay, and African-American the author notes the disability movement has not gotten the same level of exposure.

She reasons it is because we have a clearer idea of what it means to be a woman, gay or African-American; but when it comes to being disabled maybe not. I agree with the author and as Joy Thomas alluded to in her post last week, there are things she wished people knew and understood about being visually impaired with a degenerative eye disease.

The author goes on to say that disability is everywhere once you pay attention and the numbers are growing. But even with that, the average person does not wake up “knowing how to be disabled.” This is also very true. Here at CVI we help those who have recently lost vision because it is not something you automatically know how to do. Vision rehabilitation classes such as braille, mobility and assistive technology have to be taught. There is a learning curve. Not only is there teaching of these new skills but even the communication and language has to be worked out too. Understanding that “I am visually impaired or blind now” is a hard pill to swallow for people. Then trying to communicate that concept to others can be overwhelming. Additionally, we can fail to see or read about positive images of blind and visually impaired people accomplishing great things in society and our minds can take on a negative viewpoint.

So, what do you think? Is there pride in being blind or visually impaired? After reading this post and the New York Times article what do you think?

8 Things I Wish People Knew About Going Blind from a Degenerative Eye Condition

Editor’s note: this post was reprinted by permission from the author.

Picture of Joy Thomas1. It usually occurs slowly. While there are some people who go blind overnight or in a matter of days, (such as with detached retinas, following eye surgeries, or with certain types of Glaucoma) the vast majority of people with degenerative diseases such as Retinitis Pigmentosa and Macular Degeneration, lose their sight gradually, over a period of many years.

2. Just because our vision changes doesn’t mean our interests do. Some people assume that certain hobbies that are sight-related, such as sports, fashion, makeup, woodworking, etc., are no longer interesting or feasible after vision loss. This simply isn’t true. There’s nothing worse than a group of friends assuming that you no longer want to go on your annual bike-riding trip, aren’t interested in watching a football game together, or don’t enjoy shopping with them anymore. Yes, some things may change, such as needing to use a tandem bicycle or a tether for running side-by-side or audio descriptions for movies, but these activities can still be very fun. There are always ways to compensate and adapt when it comes to the activities we love. I have a friend who is completely blind from RP and recently refinished his basement alongside his son, even handcrafting a beautiful wet bar, all without sight. I’ve heard of auto mechanics that can no longer drive but still find ways to work on cars. When someone has a talent or interest, they find a way to continue doing it.

3. It can feel socially isolating. Think of all the social interactions that you use your vision for, from greeting your neighbor across the way to commenting on someone’s clothing. From college students bonding over late night activities around campus to parents observing their kids’ soccer games, some of these experiences can feel a bit awkward for people losing their vision. While we can still participate in many of the same activities, some of the commentary involved in a shared visual experience is missed. Sometimes we feel like we have to fake “ooh-ing” and “aw-ing” over that cute or funny scene everyone is pointing at, lest we feel out of the loop. We can’t dart from person to person at a party, spotting friends across the room. Some of this is unavoidable, but friends and family who go out of their way in social settings can make a huge difference. Even when we can’t spot you in public, we still appreciate being acknowledged and greeted. For example, I love it when a parent of someone in my daughter’s kindergarten class comes up to me in the grocery store and tells me who they are, even if I’ve met them before, and starts a conversation. I can’t stand it when someone tells me, after the fact, that they were near me in a public setting, “Oh, I saw you at the movie theater last week,” but didn’t make their presence known at the time. It’s a weird feeling when people can spot you but you’re not able to see them. It can leave you feeling self-conscious and awkward. When someone passes me and just says, “Hi Joy!” without identifying themselves, I sometimes spend the next 10 minutes trying to figure out who it was. On the flip side, when someone says, “Hi Joy, it’s Lindsay!” I can ask how her daughter is or spout off a relevant comment, which is what people who are fully sighted do regularly in their social lives without even thinking about it.

Picture of Joy4. The things we can and cannot see are sometimes confusing, even for us. I can’t always explain why I can’t figure out what a picture that someone texts me is of, but I can read the print caption that goes along with the photo. Perhaps it has something to do with visual memory of letters and how my brain fills in the gaps, even when parts of those letters are missing. Or maybe it’s the contrast or the size and color of the photo that makes a difference. Whatever it is, it can be difficult to explain to people and could even appear phony, like I have “selective sight”, but anyone who knows me well understands and doesn’t give it a second thought. My younger sister, who works on a cruise ship, overheard one of her coworkers complaining about a passenger who had requested vision-related assistance but then appeared to be looking at something. The co-worker assumed the person was lying about their poor eyesight, but my sister grew up watching her 2 older twin sisters struggle with vision loss and quickly told her co-worker that the passenger might need help seeing some things but not others. Vision loss is not always a concrete, black-and-white picture for people losing their sight. Take colors, for example, I can identify most colors in a general sense but often can’t distinguish between blue and green, red and orange, purple and brown, or even between yellow and white.

5. We can have “bad” and “good” vision days. Sometimes it depends on how sunny or cloudy it is outside. Other times it depends on eye strain, the time of day, lighting inside vs. outside, and even how many trees or landscaping are around casting shadows, causing my eyes to play lots and lots of tricks on me.

6. It’s not something most of us dwell on daily. Gradual degeneration is a lot like aging. You don’t look in the mirror every single day, inspecting every new wrinkle, exclaiming, “I’m getting older!” just like I don’t stare at eye charts constantly, noticing every little change. Also, similar to aging, most people don’t just wake up one day and realize that they’re a senior citizen….you realize that you’re aging at various points in your life, sometimes because of an event such as a milestone birthday, but other times you just notice yourself looking or feeling older from time to time. Typically, vision loss is similar. There are times I’ve gone to the eye doctor and been surprised at my change in vision because I hadn’t noticed it happening to the extent that it dropped, despite the fact that I could tell it was worsening. Other times, I notice the drop and am not surprised in the least when the Ophthalmologist shows me my test results.

7. Some of us use mobility aids like canes and dogs and some of us don’t. There are people who have the exact same vision who move about the world completely differently. There can be 2 people who both have 19 degrees of vision, deeming them both “legally” blind, and one of them uses a white cane while the other walks around without any mobility tool. If there is someone in your life who you feel like should be using a mobility assistance but doesn’t, it’s usually a realization they need to come to on their own, something through a few bumps, bruises and embarrassing moments. No one can be persuaded through guilt or fear to get assistance. Even among those who are completely blind, not everyone uses a cane or dog. Some, for example, use echolocation. It’s a personal preference. A common misconception when someone begins using a cane is that they just had a major drop in their vision. Sometimes this is the case, but many times the person is just sick of tripping over things and is ready for some help.

8. Most of us lead regular, happy lives. After doing a presentation about my vision at my niece’s school recently, a couple of her classmates came up to her at recess and said, “We feel so bad for your aunt! It’s so sad, and we almost cried during her talk!” Hearing this made me feel like I didn’t really do a great job conveying how much I love my life during my presentation. It made me decide to start my school presentations by telling the kids to smile and laugh because my story is not a sad one. Yes, I have dealt with my share of sadness over having RP. No one likes the idea of losing one of the 5 senses, especially the one that society places the most importance on, but sadness is definitely not the word that comes up for me when thinking about my life. Challenge? Sure. Adventure? Yep. Fringe benefits? Yes, please. Joy? Absolutely.

When you’re done crying over RP, there are so many things to laugh at (i.e. on a recent trip to Chicago, I reached out to press the crosswalk signal button and began pressing on a man’s arm instead, much to his surprise. You can’t tell me that’s not laugh-out-loud funny!). While studies show that people who are blind or visually impaired do tend to have more nightmares, due to anxieties that sighted people don’t face, apparently these added anxieties do not have bearing on a happy, fulfilling life, as happiness studies find that blind people are just as happy as sighted folks. Helen Keller sums this up best, “I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. “

After reading Joy’s post are there other things you wish people knew about your vision loss or eye condition? What things would you like to say to people about being visually impaired that they just don’t get? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.

AppleVis and Advocating for Accessible Apps

Picture of an iPhoneRecently I listened to a webinar hosted by the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired titled “AppleVis and Advocating for Accessible Apps.” The focus was to equip those who have vision loss with the tools to be able to advocate for accessible apps on their iPhones. As a fairly new iPhone user, just started last year, I have not come across too many inaccessible apps but I found the webinar very informative, educational and wanted to share some of the highlights.

We all know that the perfect and ideal world would be that all things would automatically be accessible; but of course that is not the world that we all live in. So, dealing with inaccessibility can be a big part of being blind and visually impaired. Also, accessibility means different things to different people. For example, a screen reader, braille or low vision user could all access an app very differently. Also, an app could be accessible to a braille user but not to a low vision user. So, you have to keep all these things in mind when advocating for an accessible app. Here are some steps that were shared.

  1. When you discover that an app is not accessible reach out to the company. Sharing your frustrations with friends and family is not going to go very far. Contact the company that created the app and let them know about your concerns. You want them to work with you to resolve the problem.
  2. You can contact the app developer through the App Store, e-mail address, social media, AppleVis, Internet search, or etc. Once you find their contact info be diplomatic, making them aware and keeping the communication brief and non-confrontational. Let them know that you are blind and what technology you are using, i.e. Voiceover, braille or low vision enhancements.
  3. Then explain the problems and how it works with your technology. Many developers may not be aware that a person that is blind or visually impaired is using their app; or how technology for the blind works.
  4. Next, provide places they can go to get more info to fix the problem such as the AppleVis website or others that you might have found. When I have worked with inaccessible websites and contacted the company I have them talk to Freedom Scientific, who makes my screen reader, as a resource for additional assistance.
  5. Person in front of computer with iPhoneOnce you send your correspondence to the developer bear in mind that you might not get a reply back or a reply that you want. Don’t assume that if there is no reply that your concern or suggestion was not heard. This scenario happen to me when I sent an e-mail to Pixar Films when they launched the Disney Movies Anywhere App. I had downloaded it on my phone but noticed some challenges with using it. I sent an e-mail to the developer, who requested feedback, but never heard anything. Then several months passed and when I checked the app again, those changes had been implemented. Additionally, don’t assume that if the reply is not positive that what you had to share was not important. Many times when developing apps accessibility might not be on the top of the list of priorities; but that does not mean that what you are saying is not important. You can share with the developer that there are others beside yourself that are having the same challenges by encouraging others to reach out as well. This will show the developer that “you are not the only one” that is having difficulty using the app.
  6. As you share constructive criticism with the developer, a relationship may blossom. This can lead to future accessible updates and enhancements that you need. Or in a similar situation, I have worked with website developers of Publix Grocery Store and then when they launched their app they reached out to me for feedback. They wanted to be sure that the app was accessible too.

These are just some of the steps that were shared in the webinar. But to hear the full episode log on to the Hadley website or you can listen as a podcast on your smartphone.