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.

Back to School Supplies for the Visually Impaired Student


Picture of school supplies such as pencils and notebooksThe snag of heavy morning traffic, fleets of yellow school buses and kids dressed in their new school outfits loaded down with heavy backpacks can only mean one thing…it’s time for back to school! Summer is rapidly coming to a close and students have returned to the classroom. With that being said, the traditional school supplies of notebook paper, pencils, three ring binders, rulers and notebooks might not be the best school supplies for a student with vision loss. So, to help parents, friends, teachers and anyone else purchasing supplies, we have created a list that meet the needs of a visually impaired student.

  1. One of the first things when preparing for back to school is getting to class on time. Successful students get up and get ready in the morning without parents having to constantly nag them. They also arrive to their classrooms on time before the bell rings. Low vision, talking and Braille watches can help every visually impaired student keep track of time. Additionally, low vision and talking alarm clocks will help ensure each child gets up bright and early to meet that school bus.
  2. When taking notes in class or doing homework it is important to have the proper writing tools. Low vision students can take notes with dark-lined paper and 20/20 pens. Blind students can use a slate and stylus with Braille paper.
  3. Reading a textbook for upcoming exams or to complete homework assignments can be a real chore. But using hand-held magnifiers can make life a little easier. Magnifiers come in a variety of sizes making them perfect for use on-the-go. Some even have built-in illumination for students that need extra lighting. Others, like the Compact Plus Viewer, have magnification plus speech output.
  4. When writing that A- term paper it is essential that students check for proper spelling and grammar usage. A Talking Children’s Dictionary is a great asset. With over 40,000 definitions, along with speaking letters, words and definitions this dictionary is useful to any student’s writing assignment.
  5. In addition to going to class daily and doing homework, some students can have a busy social life. Participating in school functions and socializing are all a part of those precious school years. To keep up with all of these activities, students need to have calendars and organizers. Depending on personal preference, students can use large print calendars or electronic talking organizers.
  6. Of course, students have to remain stylish while taking classes and participating in those social activities. So items like metal Braille clothing labels and talking clothing identifiers will help those fashion-conscious students stay trendy. Additionally, for students with a creative flair for fashion design or taking home economics, there are a variety of accessible sewing supplies available.Picture of talking calculator
  7. Keeping up with time tables and math equations can be tuff for some students. But with a talking calculator, a student is sure to become a math whiz or at least get pretty close. Additionally, there are talking scientific calculators for older students working out tricky physics or chemistry problems.

So, whether a student is visually impaired or blind, these are just a few items that are excellent for back to school. But many more can be found at CVI’s VisAbility Store. The store is located on the main floor of CVI and is opened Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. For more information call 404-875-9011 or visit www.visabilitystore.org. Happy back to school shopping!

Uber is a Revolutionary Transportation Alternative

Picture of Adam HinchliffeAnyone who travels daily throughout metro Atlanta (sighted and visually impaired) understands how difficult and frustrating the experience can be at times. From long waits for crowded trains and buses to mind-numbing traffic congestion, Atlanta certainly has mobility issues with a still developing consensus from regional leaders on how to fix them.

In 2012, Uber, a San Francisco startup, splashed onto the scene and in short order, revolutionized how Atlantans move around their car-centric metropolis while upending the traditional taxicab industry frequently criticized by Atlantans for poor customer service. This new transportation model ushered in by the likes of Uber also has the potential to benefit the blind community as well, although with some risk that each individual must consider for themselves.

Uber is a “ridesharing” company that partners registered drivers in a geographic area to customers needing a ride. Unlike traditional taxicabs, you create an account profile online, complete with credit/debit card information, contact number, and even the ability to upload a photo. When a trip is needed, all you do is simply open the free mobile app, select the vehicle type that best fits your transportation needs and price range (from the popular UberX to luxurious SUVs and black cars) and then type in the pickup location (or have GPS find it). Once the destination address has been entered, the app generates a fare estimate and you can accept or decline it. If you agree, the closest car matching your selection arrives and whisks you to your destination. A receipt and reminder to rate the trip experience is then emailed to you before booking another trip with the app. No cash ever changes hands, and the great thing about all this is that the app is totally accessible using screen reading technology on smartphones. In addition to all of this, the ability to seamlessly access driver networks while traveling in any of the growing number of American cities served by Uber opens up the door to better mobility and travel for the blind community.

I have used UberX several times during the 2014 Georgia legislative session using Apple’s VoiceOver technology with no issue at all. Each fare estimate was very close to the actual fare billed to my credit card and the cars were clean and well maintained. Uber’s greatest appeal to me is the ability to estimate how much my trip will cost before even getting in the car. This level of freedom and convenience offers little need to carry cash or a credit card, something not universally available in the Atlanta taxi industry.

While this blog post highlights the positive potential of Uber to people with vision loss, the Uber experience has been less than stellar for some in the disabled community, and I feel it is my duty to point out problems some customers have encountered with the car service, even though I have not experienced them personally. A notable story from Uber’s home base of San Francisco reports on some Uber drivers allegedly refusing service to customers with guide dogs. The company responds that it requires all drivers to accept service animals, and failure to do so will result in a driver being removed from the Uber network. Of long-term concern to the broader disabled community is the impact this new transportation model could have on traditional for-hire transportation services which are regulated by state and federal law. A lawsuit has been filed in Texas claiming that Uber and another ridesharing company violated the ADA in not providing wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The question as to how and under what regulations Uber must operate will likely be determined in state, and ultimately, federal court.

In Atlanta, Uber’s impact has been overwhelmingly positive, offering fast, affordable, and cashless transportation to a region starved for viable transportation solutions in the short-term. Accepting Uber’s commitment to non-discrimination for blind customers with guide dogs at face value, this has the potential to drastically increase the mobility options for the blind community in Atlanta by offering customers fast, convenient and accessible car service when you must get somewhere quickly. In addition the availability of twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week service through a smartphone app that is fully accessible with screen reading technology without the need or hassle of carrying a fare. Now, you really can’t beat that.

As a person with vision loss, how do you get around Atlanta? Have you heard of the Uber app? Have you used the service? If so, what was your experience? Share your comments and let’s talk about the need for revolutionizing transportation in the Atlanta area.

Free Bill Readers Offered to the Blind and Visually Impaired


One of the most frequently asked questions I get as a blind person is how do you identifyPerson folding 5 dollar bill your money? Since US paper currency is printed with the same color ink and each denomination has the same shape and texture it is very difficult to determine differences. This challenge reduces the level of financial independence for those with vision loss. It also creates opportunities to be taken advantage of by dishonest people.

For a long time now people who are blind and/or visually impaired have had to find a variety of ways to identify their paper printed money. Some have depended on trustworthy sighted people to help determine their one dollar bills from their fives, tens orPerson using iPhone app to read 20 dollar bill twenties. Others have used accessible wallets with multiple slots to place each denomination in. or they might use a device such as a
hand-held bill reader for identification. Yet, more recently others have used accessible apps on their iPhone or smartphone to scan and read their cash.

But just last month the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced that they would be providing free bill readers to those with vision loss. This is great news because it will allow the visually impaired to be more financially independent and have equal access to their paper money. The BEP will process requests in two phases:

The first phase will be a pilot starting on September 2, 2014 in collaboration with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). All library patrons can pre-order their readers. This will allow BEAP to test its ordering and distribution processes and better gauge demand.

Person placing money in a walletThe second phase will be a national rollout. Any US citizen who is blind or visually impaired will be able to order a bill reader beginning January 2, 2015. Individuals who are not NLS patrons must submit an application, signed by a competent authority who can certify visual impairment.

If you are interested in applying for a currency reader device or learning more about BEP’s access program go to this link: http://www.bep.gov/uscurrencyreaderpgm.html

Firing Up the Grill When You are Visually Impaired


Picture of steaks and vegetables on a grillIt is time to get out those hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, fish and veggies. It is time to get cooking and fire up the grill! The summer months are a prime time for picnics, back yard barbecues and grilling out with friends and family. For some of us this cooking ritual has been a big part of our life and even with a visual impairment there are ways to actively participate.

When I lost my vision I stopped barbecuing because I felt it was too dangerous using charcoal, lighter fluid and wood chips. But after listening to a recent webinar from the Hadley School for the Blind, called “backyard grilling basics”, I am now thinking differently. The webinar gave history on barbecuing, grilling and types of grills that are safe to use for a visually impaired person along with various cooking techniques. I learned that instead of using a traditional backyard charcoal grill, a gas or electric might be better because there is no flame to manage. Even using a George Foreman Grill was highly recommended. One of the presenters discussed the benefits of using a gas grill and the steps she took to purchase and use it properly. Additionally, the importance of reading the instruction manual was noted for maximum performance and cooking safety.

Picture of person grillingWhen it came to preparing your food and actually cooking it several tips and suggestions were offered. The first step was to gather and prepare your food in advance. Since grilling is a fast cooking method, you want to have everything you need ready and quickly available. This could mean having vegetables washed and cut to size. Or having meats cut and seasoned so they are ready to get on the grill right away. Other tips included how to wrap food in aluminum foil. For example, grilling fish can be done this way by placing the fish in a foil wrap along with your seasonings, herbs and vegetables and then putting that on the grill. Other examples were using foil for potatoes and corn on the cob. Using foil is quick, easy and there is not much clean up afterward.

Extra cooking tips included using a grilling pan specifically for vegetables like beans and asparagus. The pan keeps everything in one place and you can gently toss with a spatula for even cooking. One of the presenters liked using skewers for cooking meats and vegetables. She mentioned the challenge of some things on the skewer cooking to fast while others were cooking slower. To remedy this she suggested cooking your meats on one skewer and your vegetables on another. Once done mix them altogether in a bowl and serve. The overall consensus on skewers is that they are easy to use because you don’t have to figure out how to turn it over. Just take the end of the skewer in your hand and flip one time. Also, because the portions are smaller and typically chunk size they will cook faster and you don’t have to wonder if it is done or not.

When it came to accessible cooking utensils, all the presenters used regular size forks, spatulas and tongs. They explained that using regular utensils were more manageable and they had more control. But one presenter did explain that he uses an iPhone app that helps him with grilling.

One very important aspect of grilling is keeping the grill racks clean to avoid bacteria and contamination. One suggestion was to heat up the grill rack and clean with a grill brush while warm. One approach that I saw my father do when I was a child, was to let the grill rack cool and wash with a brillo pad. But I think the quickest and easiest method is to cover the grill with aluminum foil and just remove after cooking.

What I have shared is only a portion of the webinar, so if you are interested in grilling please check out the webinar on the Hadley website. Also along with the webinar, a grilling resource list is available too.

So, do you grill out? What tips and techniques do you use to be safe on the grill? Do you use an electric, gas or charcoal grill? Share your comments below and let’s get ready to fire up the grill!

Glamming it up in 5 Easy Steps

I read an article in the New York Daily News the other day about a 7-year old girl (Kailee Freitag) who was denied entry to a carnival kiddie ride without adult supervision due to what the ride operator felt was a “medical condition.” The article stated that “…unidentified employee stopped her and demanded that Freitag accompany her on the attraction, according to the mom.” Kailee, who has previously enjoyed rides at amusement parks like Disney World, is blind. A 20 minute confrontation ensued between Kailee’s mom and the employee with the end result being Kailee was permitted on the ride for one solitary spin after the operator pulled the other children off.

It’s always sad when people are discriminated against and while this subject is a topic for discussion at another place and time I felt it important to start off with what could possibly be a misunderstanding. Many people do not comprehend blindness or vision impairments simply because they haven’t had exposure or enlightenment on the subject. Let’s face it, those of us who are living with blindness or vision impairment are in the minority and it’s up to us to shed the light. This is why I was so thrilled when I was approached to write an article on makeup for blind and visually impaired women.

I began wearing makeup when I was in my late teens and it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I went to my first professional makeup consultation. At this visit I picked up some tips on makeup application and cosmetics appropriate for my skin. Fast forward 30 years later I’m now legally blind, use a white cane, and I still wear makeup and dress stylishly. When I began losing my vision it was challenging using some of the cosmetics to which I was accustomed however I found ways to adapt and I want to share the 5 easy steps I use.

Stephanie with makeup concealer appliedStep 1 – In the first photo collage my face has been cleansed and I’m prepared to apply my concealer. I have dark circles under my eyes and the concealer while it doesn’t remove them it does help to minimize the appearance. Since the skin under the eyes is very thin and fragile I gently pat on the concealer with my fingertips until it is evenly blended.

Step 2 – I use Sheer Cover mineral foundation because I find it very easy to use a foundation brush to apply, the coverage is excellent, and it isn’t heavy. To apply I simply dip my brush into the minerals, tap off any excess, then in a circular motion I apply to all the areas of my face. The third picture in the first photo collage shows my face after the concealer and foundation application.

Stephanie with makeup to enhance eyebrowsStep 3 – Since I still have limited vision and I’ve been wearing makeup all my adult life, I am able to use eyebrow stencils to enhance my sparse brows. After I’ve filled them in to my satisfaction I use a brow brush to soften the look. The first picture in the second photo collage shows my completed eyebrows.

Step 4 – I have small eyes and liner makes a huge difference in my appearance as it opens the eyes. I use a dark blue kohl eyeliner pencil to outline the eyes along the lash line. This is one of those adjustments I had to make because I was no longer able to use liquid eyeliner but with patience and a lot of practice I learned how to line my eyelid. After I apply my eyeliner I use black mascara only on my upper lashes as I haven’t been able to master putting it on the lower lashes without looking like a raccoon.

Stephanie with makeup completedStep 5 – The final step is applying lip color. In the final photo I am wearing a bright red lipstick that I picked up from Sally Beauty Supply although in the summer I tend towards lighter shades of nude, corals and pinks.

One final recommendation I like to make is operate on the KISS (Keep It So Simple) principle. Makeup, like art, is a form of self-expression and makeup application can be learned by anyone desiring to explore this art form. To learn more about makeup, fashion trends and styling tips for blind and visually impaired women visit www.boldblindbeauty.com.


So, let’s talk about makeup application. If you are a visually impaired woman do you wear makeup? Have you found useful and easy ways to apply your cosmetics? Do you find a particular line more easy to use than others? How do you keep your makeup organized and in order? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Ms. Thomas Goes to Washington For Vacation

Submitted by Empish J. Thomas, CVI’s Public Education Manager

Empish and FDR statueEvery year my summer vacation is usually a trip back home to see family or a staycation reading and relaxing in my air-conditioned house. But this year I decided to make a change. I have been to Washington, DC several times for work or disability-related events. While there I never had time to see the historic sites or tour the Capitol and surrounding Mall. I kept telling myself I will come back and do a vacation to DC so I can see everything. So when the opportunity to travel with a tour group came up I took advantage.

I decided to take my vacation this way because friends and family are not always available. Also, I have discovered since losing my vision that traveling alone can be a bit overwhelming. Another reason I chose the travel tour group was because everything was already pre-arranged. The travel packages were clearly outlined and displayed on the website with a daily agenda and use of a sighted guide. The company is called Mind’s Eye Travel and they specialize in group travel for the blind and visually impaired. All I had to do was pay the fee and show up. You can’t get any easier than that!

The first night we met at the hotel restaurant in Old Alexandria for a dinner meet and greet. My 7-member group plus guide dog consisted of sighted, blind and visually impaired travelers from across the country. Our personal backgrounds were just as diverse from age, career status, race and vision level.

In the morning, following a delicious breakfast buffet, we all met for a private bus tour of Empish standing by Slave MemorialDC. As the guide drove by each location he gave the main highlights. We road by the Vietnam Memorial, The FBI Building, the Washington Monument, The Pentagon, and of course the Capitol. We stopped at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. There we were able to see the statues of him, both the one exposing his wheelchair and the one that did not. We also walked by numerous water fountains as Roosevelt was fond of water and springs. During his lifetime, he traveled often to Warm Springs, for what was believed to have therapeutic properties for his polio. But what I found most interesting about this section was the braille display of some of his speeches. I was able to place my fingers directly on the stone and feel Braille letters.

After our guided bus tour we came back to Alexandria for a food walking tour. The weather was mild and breezy which made it nice for a long stroll through town. As we walked along the cobble and brick sidewalks and streets, our guide gave details of buildings and houses in Old Alexandria. She explained that many of the houses are historical sites and the outsides are preserved in their original state. Between viewing these houses we stopped at several restaurants to sample a variety of cuisines. Along the walking tour we visited Christ’s Church, the place that the late President George Washington worshipped. Inside the church you can actually see the pew where he sat for services.

The next day we were up and at it again. This time we took a water tour to Mount Vernon. We boarded a small ferry boat and then took a short bus ride up. There we walked through Washington’s mansion. We toured his dining room, bedroom, study and tomb. We also walked down to the slave memorial which exhibited his written emancipation freeing his slaves. We next toured the slave quarters. I have to admit, I was surprised when I saw them. I was envisioning the typical slave quarters of a small, old dilapidated wooden structure with a dirt floor. But they were roomy and made of brick.

On the last day of vacation we visited the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian. Our personal tour guide gave interesting facts about the creation of the American flag, and tidbits about the Civil War. Unfortunately, that was all that I saw because I was too tired. Who knew you could become exhausted on your vacation? LOL! After two full days of walking I was feeling the effects and sat down to rest.

Empish holding DC replicaBut later that evening we boarded the King’s Trolley for a ride up to the wharf by the Potomac River for dinner. We stopped first for a little musical entertainment by Jamey Turner, who plays a glass harmonica. With his fingertips he created beautiful musical sounds through a series of glass bolls filled with various amounts of water. He invited people from the crowd to join him, and of course, I had to try! He instructed me to wet my fingertips in the water and run them quickly around the rim of the glass bowl. As I did that a tinkling melodious tone came out. Afterward we ate dinner where I sampled, for the first time, clam tater tots and fired lava cake. Very delicious!

In the morning after a well-needed restful sleep, I said goodbye to my roommate, ate breakfast and headed to the airport. As I flew back to Atlanta, I reflected on my vacation. It was an incredible experience for me because I learned so much historical information about Washington, DC. I also reflected on traveling with a tour group and found it a wonderful experience.

So are you ready to go on your summer vacation? Will you be traveling away from home or having a staycation? Are you traveling with friends and family? Have you ever consider traveling with a tour group? Share your summer vacation plans in the comment section below.

CVI’s SightSeeing Blog Needs Your Help

Client walking in MARTA station with white cane.The CVI’s SightSeeing Blog is celebrating its second year anniversary this month. Since its inception, SightSeeing has been providing news, information and resources to our subscribers. We have posted stories on different aspects of travel, how to participate in sports and recreational activities, and best ways to manage daily living skills. We have had guest posts on navigating Social Security disability benefits, favorite iPhone apps for the blind and the importance of audio described programs for visually impaired children. We have also shared information about what goes on here at CVI; from bringing our children to work, to new services in our low vision clinic, to various activities in our STARS and BEGIN programs. But now as we gear up for the new fiscal year and look forward to even more interesting and informative post, I am reaching out to you, our subscribers, with a request.

I am asking for you to share your thoughts and ideas with us. What type of posts would you like to see on SightSeeing this year? Is there a topic you are interested in that we have not explored? Do you have a pressing issue you want to share and discuss with others? Are you interested in writing a post yourself? Please let us know. We want to hear your thoughts and ideas so that we can make SightSeeing the best blog ever!

If you have questions or need our blogger guidelines, please contact me at 404-602-4277 or by email at ethomas@cviga.org.

Celebrating Independence Day

Picture of fireworksAs part of our American history we celebrate July 4th as our national day of independence. Family and friends gather for festive parades waving American flags and listening to high school marching bands. During the day we also enjoy cook outs of hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad. Ending with large crowds gathering for bright sparkly firework displays. But more importantly, we remember the men and women who fought so bravely to solidify our nation’s freedom.

While we celebrate this day of independence one time out of the year, CVI celebrates independence all year round. By providing services and programs that focus on independence with dignity CVI helps those with vision loss regain their lives. From learning how to safely and confidently cross the street, to cooking and preparing meals, to using a computer with assistive technology, our clients gain the skills they need to live more productively. So, while celebrating the red, white and blue, take a minute to share with us an example of how CVI has helped you or someone you know achieve independence with dignity.