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

Blind Tom a Georgia Slave That Was Never Fully Emancipated

Graphic saying Black History Month

Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Fredrick Douglas – these are names of famous African-Americans that are well known and observed during Black History Month in February. But this year I wanted to bring to your attention a famous native son whose story is not typically in the history books or spoken about in conversation. Thomas Wiggins who was born a slave in Columbus Georgia in 1849 was an incredible musical performer and entertainer. From a very small age he traveled all over the US and Europe playing classical music and performing on stage to massive audiences. He was also known for having what we know today as autism and was a musical savant.

What makes his story so incredibly compelling and sad is that he was never fully emancipated. After the Civil War was over his parents signed an agreement with General James Neil Bethune, a lawyer and newspaper editor, to a five year contract of indentured servitude. During this time in history African-Americans who were newly freed and uneducated were not able to exercise their full rights, especially a former slave that was disabled. His parents felt that it would be better for him to be under the care and protection of someone they knew than to run the risk of him being abused or even stolen by strangers. This unfortunately began his life of permanent servitude; never being completely free until his death in 1908.

From the time he could walk, Tom developed a deep fascination with nature and sound. Once his master purchased a piano it was virtually impossible to keep Tom from being close to it and wanting to play. His desire was so great that he became quite emotional and would literally throw temper tantrums if his wishes were not met. His master soon discovered that Tom had an incredible talent for music and could play very difficult pieces with little to no practice time. His master started to place Tom in minstrel and side shows around the country. He was known for being an obsessive and demanding child with a healthy appetite that continued into his adult life.

Picture of Blind TomTom was known for playing the piano for hours on end. He would play Beethoven, Mozart, and other classical musicians. He even composed several pieces of his own. During his lifetime he was one of the most well-known pianists and made thousands of dollars for his owners which in today’s terms would be millions.

One of the most important things that contributed to Tom’s slavery and permanent servitude was the transfer of ownership. When he was a young musician and traveling across the United States he was owned by General Bethune. Then later ownership was transferred to his son, John Bethune. After John died in a train accident, he went back to General Bethune; but lost in a court battle to John’s wife, Eliza, who became Tom’s last and final owner. These transfers of ownership were all attempts to keep Tom and the money he made with little regard to his family. Tom’s mother made legal attempts in vain to free Tom but his owners were always able to elude the legal system. In 1904, Eliza, after 40 years of performing, took Tom off the road when he had a stroke and had difficulty playing the piano. Four years later Tom had another stroke that ended his life. Tom was buried in New York but the citizens of Columbus, Georgia raised a headstone in his honor in 1976.

I first learned about Tom several years ago attending a performance of his life at a local community theater and I was captivated then and still am to this day. As a blind African-American woman, a descendant of slaves, and live in the South his story speaks to me in a very powerful way.

Plays, films and books have all been written and performed to capture Tom’s incredible life story. There is also a website devoted to him. Two books are available at the Atlanta Metro Library for Accessible Services/GLASS in digital format. They are listed below and can be ordered by calling 404-657-1452.

The Ballad of Blind Tom
By Deirdr O'Connell
DB 71033

Blind Tom, the black pianist-composer: continually enslaved
By Geneva Southall
DB 54557

STARS Students Participate in the Robotics Lego League

Picture of the STARS students on the robotics teamIn late fall of 2015, six STARS students in grades 4 through 9 were registered as a team under the First Robotics LEGO League. The students were Eduardo, Steven, Jaylyn, Mason, Bryce and Edana. Interest had been generated by programming offered during summer camp from a team that had already been established--The Braille Boys and Annie Maxwell who was CVI’s former Stars Program Director and Braille Instructor. Their team gave a generous donation for our team to start up and they mentored our students through the whole process.

The First Robotics LEGO League aimed to do more than engage students in robotics, but the League also has core values students are challenged to uphold. Those values are:

  • to be a team
  • to do the work to find solutions (with guidance from coaches and mentors)
  • learn together
  • honor the spirit of friendly competition
  • share experiences with others
  • display Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition™ in everything
  • have fun
  • and fulfill the motto “What we discover is more important than what we win”

The team started with a kit and a project (a set of missions) that they must build a robot to complete. Once the robot is built, the missions must be programmed. They spend weeks developing this and preparing for competition. The students must also prepare a skit for competition that demonstrates the Core Values while solving a problem within the theme of the project.

Picture of one of the lego displaysThis year’s project involved trash and recycling management. Our team, self-named Asteroid Lights, prepared a skit with Q & A that showed off their invention of an accessible trash collecting system for use in arenas and large public areas. A blind or deaf person would receive a lanyard with a card or device that would vibrate and beep to alert the person that they are close to a trash bin. The bin itself would also flash and beep as a person got closer in order to help navigate them to the trash bin.

Asteroid Lights went to the regional competition at Meadowood High School in Norcross for FLL on Saturday, December 12th and placed 10th. This meant that they advanced to the super regional competition at Athens Academy—an accomplishment we’re told is hard to achieve in your first year of competition. At super regionals on Saturday, January 16th, Asteroid Lights placed 24th out of 28, which ended their competition advancement. Their mentor team, Braille Boys and Annie placed 14th, which gave them something else to be proud of.

STARS team with Robotics teamThe obvious question is “how were our students able to complete such visual tasks and compete with sighted teams?” Asteroid Lights met during STARS After School Enrichment every Tuesday and Thursday from October to January to work on this project. They relied on each other’s strengths to get the job done. For example, Eduardo is quick to problem solve and identify what needs to be fixed. Steven is a natural leader and public speaker. Jaylyn and Bryce found acting in the skit to be easy. Mason has a sharp memory and keen listening skills. Edana kept the team’s positive spirit. Asteroid Lights’ visual acuities range from totally blind to 20/400. At times, they did need help with programming and setting up the robot in exactly the right spot to run the missions properly. When they needed help, they asked their mentors. During competition, the judges asked the arena to be silent so that our students could hear each other and work together. The programming and coding were the most difficult part because it was not compatible with accessibility programs. Recently, our staff discovered a programming language called Quorum that is entirely accessible and we hope to teach our students to use it in preparation for another competition season in the fall of 2016.

The most rewarding part for Asteroid Lights was being able to present their skit to their peers at STARS After School Enrichment. Many of the younger students looked up to them and said they can’t wait to be a part of this. The team is very excited and looking forward to being able to participate again.

What Would You Do If Someone Grabs Your Arm?

Empish Crossing intersectionI recently read a post by Crista Earl with the American Foundation for the Blind. The post was title “What Do You Do When Sighted People Grab Your Arm in Public?” As I read it I reflected back on my early days as a blind person when I was taking rehabilitation training here at CVI. I was standing at the corner of Peachtree and Third Street waiting patiently to cross. I remember what my mobility instructor had told me about the traffic signal and how to listen to the flow of traffic. But a man came up and asked me if I needed help to cross the street. I politely declined and said “no thank you.” But next thing I knew he was grabbing my arm and literally dragging me across Peachtree Street. I was in shock. I was angry. I felt humiliated. I felt embarrassed. Did I not tell this man that I didn’t need any help?! Yet he took it upon himself to “assist” me anyway. So, what do you do when a sighted person grabs your arm in public? Since I was fairly new to vision loss back then and had never had that happen to me I didn’t know how to handle the situation. By the time I got my mental Barings together the situation was over and the man was gone. But all of this is what Crista addresses in her blog post

So please read it and let’s discuss. How do you handle well-meaning and sometimes overly zealous people who want to help you? What tips or suggestions can you share to maintain your dignity and self-respect when people go overboard? Enter your comments in the section below and let’s talk about what to do when sighted people grab your arm in public.

The Community Base Domestic Violence Support Group Helps Those with Vision Loss Handle Abuse

Picture of AnnieI started The Community Base Domestic Violence Support Group (CBDVSG) in November 2011 out of my own need for support to heal from my past abusive relationships. I saw the same need for support for other blind and/or visually impaired men and women who are in an abusive relationship, or who have survived abuse.

In 2014 CBDVSG became a nonprofit organization, obtaining our 501(3c) status. The CBDVSG originally started our first support group meetings at the Atlanta-Fulton County Library at One Margaret Mitchell Square. After a year at the library, the meetings were moved to CVI. Currently, the group meets once a month on every second Wednesday.

The Group has started to support the many men and women who come through CVI who are not only dealing with vision lost but other issues, like financial problems and homelessness, many times due to fleeing abusive relationships. Numerous participants, who came through the doors of CVI, were homeless or living in homeless shelters with little or no support. The Support Group offers participants support, referrals and education about abuse and domestic violence. In our monthly meetings we provide participants with safety tips on how to be safe when leaving an abusive relationship and where to go for help. CBDVSG does not encourage participants to leave their abusers, but we provide them with the tools they need so if they choose to leave, they are empowered to make the right decision for their lives.

Statistics show that most individuals who are in an abusive relationship don’t know that they are being abused, so education is one of the key components of the program. We educate participants on the definition of abuse. In addition to the support group, CBDVSG brings in special guest speakers, from professions who are experts on the subjects of domestic violence from surrounding shelters, experts on legal issues from the Georgia Legal Aid, and Georgia Advocacy for People with Disabilities. These experts provide options and educate participants on the types of services in the community.

Now that CBDVSG is recognized as a nonprofit organization and registered with the state of Georgia, its goals are to continue to provide support to the group at CVI. Most importantly, the organization will continue to impress on the community and become visible as an added resource to people with disabilities in the Fulton and DeKalb county area. However, fundraising is one of the future activities to provide an accessible shelter for people with disabilities. The shelter would include staffing, amenities and safety that fit their needs while seeking permanent housing after fleeing an abusive relationship. Most shelters in the state of Georgia are not accessible to people with disabilities. CBDVSG wants to be the first in the state of Georgia.

For more information on CBDVSG contact Annie Obasih and Garnetta Jenkins at 678-489-2759 or 770-866-8418. Or you can reach us at 404-496-6368.

My Mission to Educate People on Optic Neuritis

Picture of man talking about optic neuritisThe Optic Neuritis Foundation, Inc. (ONF) is a 501-c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to: Increase public awareness about optic neuritis (ON) and other neuropathies, support research and patient-care efforts by donating to hospitals and/or eye centers, and support patients with the diagnosis of optic neuritis and other neuropathies by providing financial and/or resource assistance.

I started this foundation in 2009 when I was diagnosed with Optic Neuritis. I had 20/20 vision and never had issues with my vision; however one day I was working and found myself bumping into things that were right in front of me. I felt like I had something in my eye that I couldn’t remove and pain with the movement of my eye. I went to an ophthalmologist and couldn’t see to finish the exam in my right eye. After seeing several doctors I was finally afforded the opportunity to go to Emory Eye Center in Atlanta. I was hospitalized for a week with steroids to regain my sight back. However, today I have no center vision and poor peripheral in my right eye. The diagnosis was Optic Neuritis. Optic Neuritis might have destroyed my sight but it didn’t take my vision. I learned through my pain that it could be others out there that may be going through the same thing and my assignment became clear, Serve.

I wanted to share with you some information on Optic Neuritis. It is an inflammation of the optic nerve. Here are some interesting stats on this onset:

  • For 15 to 20% of people diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Optic Neuritis is their first sign.
  • 3% of patients go blind from Optic Neuritis, most patients regain their sight back
  • Some studies show that 19% of patients will have a reoccurrence of optic neuritis in the affected eye and 17% of patients will develop Optic Neuritis in the other eye in 10 years

So what causes this onset, one might ask? That is a great question. Multiple Sclerosis from what we have found is the dominant cause but here are just a few other causes:

  • Cat Scratch
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Myambutol (drug to treat tuberculosis)
  • Lyme Disease
  • STD’s (e.g., syphilis, herpes)

One of our vision doctors Dr. Robert Spector, MD said it best, “You don’t have to have MS, to have Optic Neuritis, and you don’t have to have Optic Neuritis to have MS.”

Picture of two cars, one on the left is blurred out and the one on the right is not.From our research we have found that young adults from the ages of 18 to 45 mostly will be affected and an estimated 115 out of 100,000 people have ON. Women are mostly likely to get this onset also. This image shows a clear picture of what a patient that has this onset will see.

I am thankful that my vision is stable and I wanted to inform and encourage others and let them know that optic neuritis isn’t fatal but it’s definitely not fair. I am healthy and stable and I can do anything I choose to do and I choose to serve. ONF has board members that care as much as I do about the vision health of others. ONF has many opportunities for the public to learn more about what we do and the onset itself. We are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. We have worked so far with two board certified Neuro Ophthalmologist to help us create educational videos on Optic Neuritis and the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Atlanta to have great educational seminars on MS and vision health. We are growing this year in 2016 into more optic neuropathies so that everyone can learn. I invite you to our website and to continue to check out our YouTube page for more education and to get your questions answered if you have been affected by this onset.

I wanted to write this blog post for it to be informative on Optic Neuritis. Share a little hope for those that haven’t heard about this onset to know that only 3% of persons go blind and many regain their sight back. I know… I know already what you are going to say, “Well, yours didn’t come back all the way?” You are right but I didn’t know and I waited before I acted. That is why if I can do anything, I would love to encourage you to know your body and if something isn’t right please go and see an ophthalmologist. Share your vision history with them and share your concerns. Take action today!

Changes Coming to the Literary Braille Code

Picture of braille alphabet in braille classroomSince January is the month we honor and observe Louis Braille’s birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the changes taking place in the Braille code as we knew it. The new Braille code is not something that individuals should be afraid of. An A is still dot 1, an R is still dots 1-2-3-5, and the word right is still dot 5, 1-2-3-5. The changes in the Braille code mainly focus around eliminating some contractions, spacing modifications, and new punctuation symbols. In this blog, I will give short descriptions of what the changes are in the Braille code, what old and new Braille readers should look forward to in future Braille; and ways to get assistance in learning the changes in the Braille code.

The Unified English Braille Code (UEB) took effect in the United states on January 4, 2016. This date is a very memorable date because it is the official birthday of Louis Braille.

The decision to adopt the code was made by Braille Authority of North America (BANA); which is a board made up of members of organizations who focus on Braille literacy. There are a lot of questions and concerns about the new Braille code. Why would they change something that millions of people have grown accustom to? What are the benefits of the new Braille code? Will veteran Braille readers successfully transition to UEB? Well, I have some answers that can put peoples’ minds to rest. Although there are changes to the new Braille code, these changes are very subtle.

Student reading braille signOne of the changes includes elimination of nine contractions. For example, instead of using contractions for to, ble, or com; Braille users have to write the words in their entirety. Dot 6 Y and dot 6 N were also eliminated due to BANA believing that this would cause ambiguity for Braille readers. They believe that dot 6 Y and dot 6 N could be read as a capital Y and a capital N instead of ally and ation at the end of a word. Another change that is taking place in the UEB code involves spacing. In the former Braille code the Braille signs and, for, of, with, and the were flushed next to each other in sentences. In the UEB code, each word stands alone. The reasoning for the change in spacing is due to wanting Braille to mirror print. There aren’t any words joined together in print so BANA feels the same should go for Braille.

The UEB code is introducing new symbols for punctuation; but don’t worry, they are easy to grasp. There is some punctuation that won’t change in the transition; but, there are a few that have. For example to write a plus sign, Braille users will type dot 5 followed by dots 2-3-5; to write a minus sign, users will write dot 5 followed by dots 3-6; and to write a equals sign, users will write dot 5 followed by dots 2-3-5-6. This is a slight change from the old plus sign (Dots 3-4-6), the minus sign (dots 3-6), and the equals sign (Dots 4-6-1-3). Some other signs that have changed in the UEB code include the parentheses, brackets, and the dollar sign. All of the new signs are easy to grasp and will take no time to grow accustom to.

Adult client reading braille in classIn conclusion, the two Braille codes are similar in more ways than not. The main changes take place when readers begin to move in to contracted Braille. Even though there is a change, they are simple to master and perfect. There is always uneasiness when it comes to change; but I am happy to tell you that there shall be no fear! There is a large support system available for Braille users to access. Before the adoption of the UEB code, many organizations have reached out a helping hand for veteran Braille users. CVI is one such organization. Through our New View Adult Rehab Program, we can assist with teaching you the UEB code and the alphabet braille code too. We also have a braille club for extra support, instruction and lots of fun in advancing your braille skills. But here are several other outlets for seasoned Braille users that will offer guidance during the transition. Listed below are a few websites to visit when you feel the pressure of something new.

Hadley School For The Blind
National Federation of the Blind
National Braille Press

Glaucoma: The Sneak Thief of Sight

Picture of an eyeAccording to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, Glaucoma, which is the second largest cause of preventable vision loss in this country, is called the sneak thief of sight because it has no symptoms and progresses slowly over time. By the time a person is aware they have Glaucoma about 40% of their vision is permanently loss. January has been designated as National Glaucoma Awareness Month in order to educate the general public, people who are at high risk and medical professionals about this sneaky eye disease. Additionally, we at CVI want to share this information with you so that you can be aware as well.

What causes Glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, leading to vision loss or even blindness. There is clear fluid that flows in and out of small spaces at the front of the eye called the anterior chamber. This fluid bathes and nourishes nearby tissues. If this fluid drains too slowly, pressure builds up and damages the optic nerve.

Who is at risk?

African Americans over age 40, everyone over age 60, especially Mexican Americans, and people with a family history of glaucoma.

What are the signs?

At first there are no symptoms; vision is normal and there is no pain.

But over time peripheral vision gradually fails. That means objects in front can be seen but objects to the side cannot. As the disease progresses the field of vision narrows and blindness results.

What can be done?

Getting an eye exam every year is the best way to fight Glaucoma. Be sure that it is comprehensive and that your eyes are dilated. During the exam the doctor will do an eye pressure check to see if you have Glaucoma.

How can Glaucoma be treated?

There is currently no cure for Glaucoma but it can be treated and controlled with regular medication and/or surgery. Medication usually comes in the form of eye drops that will reduce the pressure by slowing the flow of fluid in the eye so that it does not build up. Sometimes laser surgery is offered where laser beams are focused on specific parts of the eye to reduce pressure and allows fluid to exit the eye.

For more information on Glaucoma check out the websites below:

The Glaucoma Research Foundation

National Eye Institute-Facts About Glaucoma

VisionAware-section on Glaucoma

Focus on the Hospitality Industry What's on the Menu: a Review of Menu Accessibility on Chain Restaurant Websites Part II

Editor’s note: This article was reprinted with permission from the AFB AccessWorld Magazine August, 2015 issue. We have broken it down into a two part series because of Ingber’s thorough research on 5 restaurants. This is part two which list the last two restaurants. Part one was posted in October that reviewed Applebee’s, Denny’s and Olive Garden. Are you looking for dining options during the holidays as an alternative to cooking at home? Exhausted from all the holiday shopping and too tired to cook? Well continue to read on.

4.Outback Steakhouse Online Menu Accessibility for People with Visual Impairments

Outback Steakhouse is known for its steaks, but they also offer seafood and other main dishes.

When the website loaded, I was presented with several options regarding location access. If you allow location access, the closest restaurant's address, phone number, and hours of operation appear at the top of the page. Selections and prices may vary from one restaurant to another.

Picture of a black board menuThe website was uncluttered and was clearly labeled. A "Menu" link was near the top of the page. The next page presented category links including "Aussie-Tizers," "Signature Steaks," "Bold Combinations," and "Irresistible Desserts." Below the category lists were links to some of Outback's most popular items. Selecting a category link loaded a new page with items in that specific category.

The specific item links had one link labeled with an image and the other labeled with just the name of the item. In Safari, VoiceOver distinguished between the links, but with Internet Explorer, Window-Eyes read both links the same.

I selected the link for Outback Special Sirloin. Although it initially appeared that result was quickly located with the headings hot key, the first part of the result was about social media. Menu information followed and included a description of the steak and how it was prepared. No price was given.

For each menu item's description, there was a Nutrition Facts link. When the link was activated, the resulting page was labeled "Outback Steakhouse Nutrition Information By Item." However, in Safari there wasn't any accessible nutrition information. In Internet Explorer, there were combo boxes broken down by menu categories, rather than one combo box for the item. Each selected result was displayed in a table with the category heading and then the nutritional value.

In order to get a price for an item, the "Order Now" link, below the description, needed to be selected. When the Order Now link was activated, the first page indicated that before downloading a menu it was necessary to choose a particular Outback. This is the advantage of letting Outback know your location. There is a search form where a zip code or city can be entered. After restaurant information was presented, there were links to download various menus such as dinner, lunch, and drinks. Menus could be read with Internet Explorer but not with Safari.


Outback's website performed better with Internet Explorer. Safari was a frustrating experience beyond reading an item's description.

5. Red Lobster Online Menu Accessibility for People with Visual Impairments

Red Lobster serves mostly seafood, but they also offer some beef and chicken options.

Near the top of the homepage was a search box to find a restaurant. Results were difficult to read since the beginning of the result was a graphic. The restaurant's name, address, and a link to view the specific restaurant's menu appeared below the graphic.

Picture of a plate with lobsterWhen the new page loaded, I used the headings hot key to get to the very top of the menu. The first part of the menu listed Red Lobster's featured dishes. In this case, it was their "Island Escape" specials. Further down are other menu categories including Specials, Dinner, Fresh Fish, and a kid's menu.

I activated the "dinner" link. The next page had various categories including Soups, Salads & More, Crab & Seafood Bakes, and Lobster & Steak Combos, followed by an Accompaniments section that provided information about what can be added to a meal and which side dishes come with entrees. The "Crab & Seafood Bakes" link displayed a variety of dishes that could be located with the headings hot key. Each item was well described and included the price. However, nutrition information was not provided in this part of the site.

Appearing on all Red Lobster pages was a link labeled "Health Benefits of Seafood." When that link was activated, the next page had a link labeled "Nutrition Facts." This link loaded a PDF document. VoiceOver could read the numbers, but could not read column headings. Window-Eyes could not read the file. I kept getting the message that the document was being processed.


Except for nutrition information, this website worked very well. Both VoiceOver and Window-Eyes did a good job of reading content in their respective browsers.


Each of these websites had some kind of accessibility issue, some minor and some not. It is unfortunate that these big restaurant chains still do not have websites that are completely accessible.

This was the last installment of Ingber’s review of the accessibility of menus at chain restaurants. After reading her reviews do you dine at any of the five chain restaurants? If so have you use the on-line menu? If you are visually impaired have you found accessing the menu easy or hard? Do you use any type of assistive technology or low vision aid to read menus when dining out? Share your thoughts and comments with us.