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.

Medical Eligibility When Applying for Social Security Benefits

SSI

As mentioned last month in the first installment of this series, disability benefits are available to those who can no longer work due to vision loss or impairment. These benefits - Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - each have their own technical requirements. You can read more about these programs in my previous post here: sightseeing/social_security/. In addition to the technical requirements explained there, applicants are required to meet certain medical criteria.

In order to qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits, an individual must first meet the SSA’s definition of disability. This definition is split into two parts, one for children and one for adults. These definitions are explained as follows.

1. Adults are considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has, or will, prevent them from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least one year. In 2014, SGA for statutorily blind individuals is set at $1800 per month. The monthly SGA amount for individuals with other types of impairments is set at $1,070.

2. Children under the age of 18 will be evaluated based on a separate definition of disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider a child to be disabled if they have a physical or mental condition that significantly impairs their ability to perform day-to-day activities.

It is important to note that there is no duration requirement for blindness under SSI, meaning that you will not need to be blind for a set amount of time before or after receiving benefits. Also of importance, SGA for blind individuals applies only to SSDI eligibility. SGA does not impact a blind applicant’s eligibility for SSI. To learn more about the different rules and requirements for blind applicants, visit the following page: http://www.ssa.gov/redbook/eng/blindrules.htm.

In addition to meeting the general definition of disability, an applicant will have to meet criteria specific to his or her particular condition. When evaluating your eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA will compare your condition to the requirements found in their official manual of disabling conditions, the Blue Book. Vision loss and impairment is evaluated under Blue Book section 2.00—Special Senses and Speech. Under this section, there are three listings that cover vision loss. It is important that you go over each of these listings to determine which listing is the closest match to your condition. These listings are:

• 2.02—Loss of Visual Acuity
• 2.03—Contraction of the Visual Field in the Better Eye
• 2.04—Loss of Visual Efficiency, or Visual Impairment, in the Better Eye

Note that these listings apply to adults. If you are applying for disability benefits on behalf of a child, you will need to consult the following listings instead:

• 102.02—Loss of Central Visual Acuity
• 102.03—Contraction of the Visual Field in the Better Eye
• 102.04—Loss of Visual Efficiency or Visual Impairment in the Better Eye

Although the Blue Book is conveniently located online, understanding the optometry terminology might prove to be a challenge. If you are having a hard time understanding the Blue Book requirements, you should start by scheduling an eye examination. At your examination, you can sit down with your doctor and discuss the SSA’s medical requirements and he or she will help you schedule the appropriate tests. If you do not meet a Blue Book listing, do not panic. You may still be able to qualify for disability benefits under something known as a medical vocational allowance. Essentially, this means that the SSA will evaluate your age, your abilities, and your previous work experience to determine if you are capable of holding a job. If it is determined that you cannot work, you will be awarded benefits.

For more information about Social Security Disability medical eligibility, visit the following page: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/disabling-conditions/vision-loss-and-social-security-disability.

Stay tuned for the final blog post on Social Security benefits, where I will be discussing application preparation and submission.

Why Do We Fear the Blind?

On January 5, 2014 in the Opinion/Editorials section of the New York Times, I read the most compelling and straightforward article about fears, phobias and misunderstandings about the blind. The article was written by Rosemary Mahoneyjan, author of the upcoming book “For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind."

I appreciated her boldness and honesty when talking about a topic that people can often be uncomfortable discussing. People really do fear the blind and this fear has been on-going for a long time. She starts off by sharing some of the historical misconceptions about people who are blind.

She says, "They have variously been perceived as pitiable idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or as mystics possessed of supernatural powers. One of the most persistent misconceptions about blindness is that it is a curse from God for misdeeds perpetrated in a past life, which cloaks the blind person in spiritual darkness and makes him not just dangerous but evil.”

In my years as a blind person, I have experienced all of this and much more. There have been times when my intelligence was challenged or where I was perceived as either being very close to God having more spirituality or totally removed from God and cursed.

She shares about her experience working as a teacher with blind children in the program Braille Without Borders, an international organization that provides training programs and Braille literacy. She talked about the isolation, fear, ignorance and hostility toward her students. But what is interesting is that these same things happen right here in the United States today. She says, “The United States has one of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the world, and yet blindness is still among the most feared physical afflictions. Even in this country, the blind are perceived as a people apart.”

An international blind list group that I participate in discussed the New York Times article. Some of the people in the list group that live in other countries were surprise that the same things that happen to the blind in their countries also happens in the United States. I am not unsurprised by this because human nature and fear can be the same all over the world. As humans we fear what we don’t understand or cannot relate to. Blindness can be something that is unconceivable and hard to imagine.

Out of our five senses, vision is premium providing endless amounts of information. Facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a huge part of how we interact with each other. So if a person is blind how do you interact? How do you have a conversation? How do you share common experiences? How do you connect?

Because we depend so heavily on our vision, we can’t even phathom how to live without it. People pepper me with questions on a regular basis about my life as a blind person. How do you get dressed? How do you put on your makeup? How do you cook? Do you work anywhere? If so, what kind of work do you do? How do you travel? Do you live alone? Do you have children? And the list goes on and on. People are naturally curious and fascinated at how those of us who are blind live our lives. They just can’t imagine that we are able to function and live a happy, prosperous and successful life.

With that being said, the perception of the blind can be that we are amazing, inspirational and super heroes. Even though I appreciate the compliments, I am just a regular everyday person like most people. I get stressed out at times. I laugh at a funny joke. I cry watching a sad movie. I have bad hair days. I live my life much like everyone else. We have to be careful that in our desire to esteem the blind, we don’t go overboard in a way that becomes insulting. Rosemary says, “I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness. There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability and daring.” I personally appreciate this comment and think it can apply to all people - sighted or blind.

I encourage you to read the article and share your thoughts. Why do you think people fear the blind? Can anything be done about it? If so, what? Let’s discuss and help change the negative thoughts and attitudes about blindness. Share your ideas in the comment section below.

CFII Assists with Financial Resolutions

Center for Financial Independence

empish writing check

Most people make a commitment to some kind of New Year’s resolution each year. For some it might be losing weight, advancing their career or spending more time with family and friends. For others it might be getting organized, continuing their education or learning a new language. But I would dare to say that a large number of people have financial resolutions they want to achieve at the top of the list.

Creating and keeping a budget, making plans to save more and getting out of debt are the goals I hear about the most and have actually worked on myself. For the visually impaired community, it could also be finding funding to purchase assistive technology and devices. Achieving these financial resolutions could be a little daunting and stressful if tackling them alone. Having some help from people who are familiar with the financial world and understand the needs of people with disabilities can be a big help and lead to even greater success.

Credit AbleThe Center for Financial Independence and Innovation (CFII) is an Atlanta-based non-profit that works with people with disabilities to help them reach their financial goals and be more independent. CFII was established in 2003 when the Georgia Department of Labor successfully applied and received a federal grant to provide loan capital. This funding would be used as an alternative financing program for people with disabilities to purchase assistive technology, home and vehicle modifications. The program was funded and was originally called Credit-Able.

Now a person with vision loss can apply for a low interest loan to purchase assistive devices such as a CCTV (closed circuit television), braille equipment or assistive software for their computer. Prior to Credit-Able’s creation there were very few places, if any, that a visually impaired person could go to get funding to buy needed devices to be successfully independent. Ronald Menifee, who is visually impaired said, "I contacted CFII about three years ago to get help with purchasing assistive software and office equipment. CFII is a great program and now I am more independent because I can get on the computer and access needed information.”

In 2005, a decision was made to expand Credit-Able to offer other financial services besides just loans for assistive technology, home and vehicle modifications. So CFII was born. Now, not only can a person with a disability get a loan for assistive devices, but they can also receive financial education and counselling, down payment assistance to purchase a home and much more.

I have personally benefited from the expanded services of CFII. A few years ago during tax season, CFII worked with local non-profits in the disabled community to provide tax preparation assistance. I was able to come to CVI and work with a CFII staff person to get my income taxes completed. I preferred working with CFII than hiring a tax preparer, getting a friend to help or doing it myself since they were already familiar with the disabled community and handling financial information.

According to their website, “Since 2005, CFII has provided over $5 million in financing for Assistive Technology, as well as over 1,000 hours of financial education, to more than 350 Georgians with disabilities, their family, and caregivers.”

Here at CVI, clients can get financing to purchase assistive technology and devices at the VisAbility Store. We have partnered with CFII to provide this needed service. All a client has to do is pick up an application at the store and return to CFII for approval. Once the application has been approved, funds will be provided to purchase their devices at VisAbility.

For more information on CFII and their financial products and services log on to www.thecfii.org or call 404-541-9005.

What are Social Security Disability Benefits?

SSA Apply image


Editor’s Note: Many people who are blind and visually impaired might be eligible to receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. Unfortunately, the application process can be confusing and daunting. We are doing a three part series over the next months on the application process for people with vision loss who want information on how to receive benefits. We hope that these upcoming blog posts will help educate, inform and give clarity to this process.

If you or a loved one is blind or visually impaired, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. These benefits can be used to offset lost income due to unemployment and can help cover the cost of day-to-day expenses.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two different benefit programs to help people who are disabled - Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs are intended to provide assistance to different groups of people and, therefore, have separate eligibility requirements.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
The first of these programs, Social Security Disability Insurance, is intended to help disabled workers and their eligible family members. To qualify for SSDI, an individual must be formerly employed for a specified length of time and must have paid social security taxes. These requirements will vary slightly depending on how old you are and the age at which you became disabled.

To measure an applicant’s eligibility, the SSA assigns each applicant a specific number of “work credits.” The longer you have worked and paid taxes, the more work credits you will have earned. Because SSDI eligibility is focused around work history, these benefits are best suited for older applicants who have worked for a significant number of years. You can learn more about work credits and SSDI benefits here: http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
SSI benefits are intended to provide financial assistance to disabled individuals of all ages who earn very little income. Eligibility for this program is based on financial need. To qualify, your income and financial resources must fall within the parameters set by the SSA.

Because SSI is based on financial need rather than employment, individuals of any age can qualify for this type of benefit. Adults will be evaluated based on their income and any income that a spouse earns. Children will be evaluated based on the income that their parents or guardians earn. Learn more about qualifying for SSI, here: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/text-eligibility-ussi.htm

Qualifying for SSDI and SSI benefits can be difficult. In addition to meeting the technical requirements explained above, all applicants must meet certain medical requirements. Check out the Sightseeing blog next week when we will cover these requirements.

For more information on Social Security benefits, go to www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213.

Singing Ensemble Showcases Talents of the Disabled

VEE Group Shot

Hundreds gathered at the Shepherd Center auditorium on November 6th to enjoy the Voices Embodied Ensemble's kickoff concert. “Ain't No Mountain High Enough”, “My Girl”, and “I Am Beautiful” were a few of the performance pieces. Everyone was energized and having a great time, as audience members danced and clapped during the performance.

Charles MasonFortunately, I was made aware of this group via an announcement posted by former CVI President Subie Green. I auditioned, and was accepted into the Ensemble in August of this year. VEE has provided a tremendous confidence lift as far as my vocal talents are concerned. In college, I sang in many ensembles, including a cappella groups, a men’s chorale, and a gospel ensemble. I have longed for that camaraderie since graduating, and I am extremely happy to once again sing with fine vocalists while improving my craft.

VEE is a unique show style singing group that features singers who have physical challenges and wonderful voices. They perform some of the latest contemporary songs as well as classic songs across genres. Its creator, Myrna Clayton, is a seasoned and versatile jazz vocal stylist who formed VEE in March of this year. The goal is to have the ensemble grow to 12 singers, age 16 and older, consisting of soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts.

Charles and Myrna

Clayton's guidance, combined with the tutelage of Music Director Darrin Winters, has been invaluable and helped VEE to have a very strong start. "There’s certainly nothing like VEE out there, and what we’re hoping is that we begin to expose the tremendous talent found within the disability community,” said Clayton. “We want more physically challenged singers to come out to audition to be part of our Ensemble.”

Charles and Katherine singingVEE’s goals are to showcase awesome singers using their talents, inspire and empower audiences to use their gift,; boost confidence and break down barriers for all people. This is a truly one-of-a-kind ensemble. It is the only one in the country that is comprised entirely of vocalists who have physical challenges!

"We envision Voices Embodied Ensemble eventually being to music what Paralympic athletes are to sports--where the focus is more on the excellence of their abilities, rather than their disabilities,” said Clayton. “In fact, we look forward to possibly being part of the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil."

VEE is a part of Abel 2 Inc., a non-profit organization which provides unique artistic programming for and with underserved populations. Abel 2 Inc. serves to empower, inspire and educate audiences to become agents of change in their own lives and those in their communities. We are seeking to grow in numbers and impact even greater audiences. If you want to expand your singing talent and become a fantastic addition to our Ensemble please contact us.

To schedule an appointment please email Abel2Nonprofit@aol.com or call 678-437-6897. To learn more log on to www.Abel2.org. We look forward to singing with you!

Toy Suggestions for Holiday Gift Giving

holiday toys under tree

Santa and his elves are currently working hard at the North Pole preparing gifts for all the good little boys and girls this year. But does Santa know what types of gifts to give those little ones with a visual impairment? Well, if he doesn’t, the staff at CVI’s BEGIN program is willing to help him out. And if you or someone you know is playing Santa this year to a visually impaired child, read on for toy suggestions and ideas to make their Christmas fun, happy and memorable.

One of the first things to consider when looking for toys for a visually impaired child is to not stress out. Many toys currently on the market for a sighted child can easily be adapted for a visually impaired one. With simple modifications such as adding sound, texture, color or vibration the toy becomes very accessible to a visually impaired child. In some cases the toy comes already accessible.

balloonsMany toys already have sounds, bold colors like red, blue, green and yellow, or rough and smooth textures. The goal is to think creatively and then the child can have plenty of fun. For example, for a newborn, a baby gym with interactive items hanging from the middle bar, deflated crinkly Mylar balloons or crinkly gift wrapping paper can be good toys. The bright, shiny color, plus the crispy, crinkly sound placed under a baby’s tummy can give them incentive to move around, therefore helping them to become more aware of their surroundings. Massage pillows are also a great gift and can serve the same purpose.

Every child whether sighted or blind can participate in old fashioned play with pots and pans. For a visually impaired child, this can be loads of fund as they use their hands, feet or wooden spoons to bang the afternoon away! Purchasing toy musical instruments such as ukuleles and harmonicas are good for older kids.

Sky balls from Toys R Us can also be a great gift. The balls are textured or have lights and bells which visually impaired children can touch, feel and hear. For children with low vision, the balls can have bright bold colors that can be seen more easily. These balls can also serve a dual purpose of providing great play time and helping a child to move around.

But of course, these noisy suggestions might not be the best gift for parents or family members! So let’s offer some toy suggestions that might be a bit quieter.

finger paintFor older children, finger paint can be a artistic gift idea. For a visually impaired child, BEGIN advises to add texture to the paint to provide better feel and definition. Items that can be use are grits, rice or glitter. Children can also use foam stickers, found in the scrapbook aisle at stores like Target. These stickers are raised and self-adhesive. They can be placed easily on construction paper or poster board to create a memorable arts and craft project.

The other ultimate quiet gift for children is books. Books that have texture or twin books, that have both Braille and print, are great gifts. Seedlings has superb choices for braille books, especially for little children. Upon request, BEGIN can Braille printed books too. There are also accessible playing cards such as Old Maid and Go Fish, that can be found at the VisAbility Store. All of these make great gifts that can provide hours of quiet play.

caterpillerFor little ones that are on the move, toys that can be pulled or pushed are a great idea. For example, a caterpillar pull toy that has light and sound makes an excellent toy. The child can pull the rope and the insect will move and roll around on the floor. Other examples are toy shopping carts, toy vacuum cleaners, slides or small trampolines.

With these toy suggestions Santa and his helpers are sure to be very successful in providing the best toy for a visually impaired child. And if Santa can’t find these toys in his workshop at the North Pole here is a listing of places to purchase toys and games:

1. CVI’s VisAbility Store has toys for visually impaired children of all age groups.
2. Atlanta Parent Magazine provides a toy guide that includes children with disabilities each year.
3. Local big box stores like Toys R us, Target and Wal-MART sell toys and games that can be adapted for a visually impaired child.

Atlanta Radio Theater Company Donates Portion of Proceeds to CVI

Atlanta Radio Theatre Company

Are you ready for some holiday cheer? Want an activity you can enjoy with friends and family? Want to contribute to CVI? Then look no further. The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company (ARTC) is proud to host once again its presentation of An Atlanta Christmas at the Academy Theatre. In a season awash with Marley’s Ghost from London and Sugarplum Fairies from Germany, the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company brings you back home to the Deep South with a series of stories told in audio to inspire the imagination. Poignant and funny, it will bring back precious memories of Christmas past and our city’s past.

Atlanta RAdio Theatre photoThis classical Christmas production will be held on two days: Saturday, December 7th at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, December 8th at 2:30 p.m. There is no specific price for tickets. You can name your price but a suggested price is $10. In the spirit of giving, ARTC has once again named the Center for the Visually Impaired as their partner in this Christmas production and will be donating 25% of total ticket sales to their effort.

Atlanta Radio Theatre Company photoThe Atlanta Radio Theatre Company has been bringing quality audio drama to listeners around the world since 1984. Their unique, immersive and dramatic technique will feed your imagination and inspire your senses with realistic sound effects and stirring musical scores.

One of dozens, if not hundreds, of small-press audio publishers worldwide, ARTC is one of the few to perform live as well as in the studio. With no sets, costumes, or makeup to set up or apply, our pre-show time is spent transforming the space into an immersive sonic habitat suitable for the most creative imaginations. There is adventure in sound!

For more information or to order tickets contact the Academy Theatre, 146 Burke Street, Stockbridge, Georgia 30281. Box office telephone: 404-474-8332. Website: www.art.org.

Why I Shop for Groceries at Publix

Empish at Publix

As Thanksgiving and Hanukkah quickly approach cooking and preparing meals for friends and family is essential. There is so much to do with all the holiday hustle and bustle that the last thing I want to worry about is challenging or difficult grocery shopping experiences. This is why I shop at Publix.

Over my 15 years of being visually impaired, I have had a host of interesting, complicated and humorous shopping adventures. From being left alone in the aisle while a store clerk went on break, to wrong items being placed in my cart, to another visually impaired person offering to assist me - my experiences are unlimited. But when it comes to shopping at Publix, my experience has been much like their slogan: Publix - where shopping is a pleasure.

One of the first things I noticed when I began shopping at Publix is how all the store employees always speak to me. Whether I am in the aisle, the checkout line or in front of the store, they always stop to say hello and offer help. I have found that over the years, customer service is more important to me now more than ever before. Their simple acknowledgement shows me that they value me as a customer and want me to continue shopping with them.

Empish at check outOne example of this is when I got to the checkout line, several of my items were incorrect. I figured this out because I always have the sales clerk call out the item and price before I purchase everything, that way we can catch any errors before I leave the store. On that particular day, we caught several wrong items and I did not have time to go back and pick up the correct ones.

The next day, I called and spoke to the store manager and explained the situation. He apologized and told me he would correct it. When I came back to the store, he greeted me at the customer service counter and introduced me to a nice sales clerk who assisted me. We picked up the items that I needed and rang up everything. When she gave me my total, it was less than what was in my cart. At first I thought it was a slipup, but she told me that at Publix when they make a mistake - you get your groceries for free. Well, I was shocked! I had not heard of a policy like that. From that point on, you didn't have to guess where I went shopping! LOL!

Another thing that I have noticed is whenever I come to the customer service counter to get assistance, someone is always available. I might have to wait no more than 5-10 minutes. Everyone is pleasant and willing to help. As a blind person, this is extremely important to me. I need to know and feel that they want to assist me and that they will make themselves available.

But the biggest thing I enjoy about shopping at Publix is their accessible website. Since I am totally blind now, I can’t read the weekly sales ad in print, but I can online. Publix has accessible features on their website that speaks to the blind community.

For example, there is a section on the site that gives instructions using JAWS’s shortcut keys to navigate the site. JAWS is a screen reading program that allows people to listen to their computer through a speaker or headset. On the site, I can create my profile, read the weekly ad, add or remove items from my grocery list and print out my shopping list to take with me.

Once I complete my shopping the grocery list will not only list the items I want to purchase, but it will also list the store location and the aisle that the item is located on. This extra feature makes it very easy for me when I request a sales clerk to help me do my shopping. All the Publix clerk has to do is read down the list, go to the specific aisle and place the items in my cart. You can’t get any easier than that! Additionally, for low vision users there are buttons where you can magnify the screen and print out the grocery list in a larger font size. When I discovered this adaptation that Publix made for the blind community, I was excited and very impressed.

Empish at PharmacyNot only do I purchase groceries at Publix, but I get my prescriptions filled there too. The experience at the pharmacy is also stress free. There is seldom a long line or long wait time to pick up my medication. The pharmacist is always pleasant and offers to explain any information about my medication without having to be asked.

One time when I was picking up my prescription, the pharmacist alerted me that the shape of my medication pill had changed. It went from a round, circular shape to an oval almost diamond shape. She wanted to make me aware since I was blind, and to reassure me that I was not getting the wrong medicine. I thought, "How perceptive of her to understand my visual disability and to share that important information with me." I told her that I appreciated that because I know how easy it is for people to take the wrong medicine.

By now you know my thoughts about Publix, but how do you feel? Share with me your thoughts. Do you currently shop at Publix? Has your experience been a good one? What things do you like or dislike about shopping at Publix? I want to hear from you. Please make your comments in the section below.