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.

Accessing BARD Talking Books or Braille on your Apple mobile device

Did you know that persons who are enrolled in the National Library Service (NLS) program for talking books and braille can download books onto an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad? BARD Mobile is the latest service offered by NLS. The NLS program in Georgia is called GLASS, which stands for Georgia Library for Accessible Statewide Services.

BARD Mobile provides convenient access to books and magazines any time, 24/7. It is very easy to use. You start by going to Apple’s app store on your Apple mobile device and downloading the free BARD Mobile app. Anyone can download the app, but only eligible and enrolled NLS patrons can actually use it. You will be prompted to agree to terms of service and enter your BARD login information. After that, it’s all fun!

Picture of BARD mobile with VanessaYou will want to build your personal bookshelf by browsing for recently added audio and/or braille books and magazines. The other option is to browse BARD, which gives you full access to the online catalog. If you are browsing BARD, you will want to “add to Wish List” to prepare a title for download. If you are browsing recently added titles, you simply select the title from the display list. To download from your Wish List of titles, you select the title you want to download from your Wish List option. The menu will prompt you to see if you intend to download a selected title. Select OK, and then wait for the chime to let you know you have successfully downloaded a title. It’s that simple!

After downloading, you can listen to your audio book or read your braille with a synced, refreshable braille display. You will not have to worry about returning the materials. You have the convenience of selecting and reading materials whenever it is convenient to you. There are no limits on the number of items you can have digitally checked out. The BARD app makes it easy to navigate within a digital book, using commands very much like the commands on the NLS digital talking book machines. The app also provides you with menu options to delete items that you have already read or no longer want stored on your device.

Lots of people ask, “Why Apple and not for Android devices?” Apple has proven to be a much easier platform for the software developers to work with. NLS engineers are working to create an Android app, but they are not quite there yet. We promise to keep you posted when that app is released.

For more information on BARD, read the online BARD Mobile User Guide. If you are not currently enrolled in the NLS program, contact your local GLASS library. Our statewide toll-free number is 800-248-6701. A Readers Advisor will be happy to help you become enrolled in GLASS and get you reading again.

Seven Tips on Preparing for an emergency

Tornados, hurricanes, snowstorms, fires, floods. These are all events that can catch anyone off guard. This month the nation focuses on emergency preparedness and there are things that you can do to get ready. Here are seven tips.

1. Create an emergency contact list. This list includes family, friends and medical information such as your insurance company and how to contact your primary care physician. You can post your list in a visible location like on the refrigerator or kitchen corkboard. Also give a copy to the friends and family on the list so that if an emergency happens they could contact each other to help you. You can create your list in print and/or braille so that you as well as sighted people in your life have access. You can also keep a list on your cell phone or smartphone.

2. Purchasing an accessible emergency and/or first aid kit. Grab Pak is a company that provides fully accessible emergency preparedness kits to the blind and visually impaired. The company offers six different kits that are accessible to both large print and braille readers. The first-aid kits come with standard items such as bandages, gloves, tweezers, and gauze pads. The emergency preparedness kits come with items such as water pouches, a crank mobile device charger, a solar blanket, a folding white cane, and much more. For more information and to purchase a kit go to

Empish putting batteries in flashlight3. Keep extra drinking water on hand. Several gallons can come in handy just in case there is a water main break and you can’t quickly get to the grocery to purchase water. Also keep canned or packaged food on hand that does not require cooking and can be eaten on the go. Don’t forget to also have a manual can opener just in case of a power outage.

4. Have extra batteries available. You can place them in a drawer for quick access. The batteries can be used for radios or flash lights; but do not place the batteries inside because they could corrode and not work when you need them. So, just place them nearby and you can grab when needed.

5. Purchase hand-held fire extinguishers. According to the National Fire Protection Association it is best to have a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, in the kitchen, the garage and near exit doors. You never know when you might need to putEmpish with fire extinguisher out a small fire and you will lose precious time running around the house to get an extinguisher. Two things to remember though--be sure to check the agent class. They come in A, B, C or a combination. If you have questions about this talk to one of the sales clerks at the home improvement store or your local fire department. Also, keep track of the agent levels in the extinguisher. Over time the agent strength level decreases and the worse thing is to have a fire, grab your extinguisher, aim, spray and nothing comes out! Unfortunately this information is not very accessible so you will have to get a sighted person to check the levels.

Empish with fire resistant security box6. Accessing important documents such as social security cards and birth records. These documents can be hard to replace if they are lost or damaged during an emergency or natural disaster. To avoid this, purchase a security box that is both water proof and fire safe. In the security box you can keep your birth records, passport, insurance information, previous tax returns and other important sensitive documents. Another thing you can do is scan these documents on the computer and save copies on a secure Internet storage site like Dropbox. Drop Box and similar sites can be accessed anywhere there is an Internet connection and on smartphones.

7. Create an advance medical directive. This document states what to do medically if you become unable to direct your own care. It would give who to contact to make medical decisions on your behalf and whether you want to be resuscitated or not. This is something that needs to be taken seriously because the wrong medical care could be administered without your knowledge or approval.

The tips listed above to prepare for an emergency are not exhaustive. But it can be a great start. Do any of the tips listed resonate with you? What things are you doing to prepare for an emergency? Do you have suggestions or tips that you would like to share? Please do so in the comment section so that we can help each other be prepared for an emergency.

Trying to Paint Again After Vision Loss

Empish painting wine glassA few months ago I decided to try a new venture by delving into the art world of painting. I had purchased two coupons that allowed me to take an individual painting class. One coupon focused on painting glass and the other was painting ceramic pottery. Since losing my vision15 years ago, I had not done anything artistic and decided it was time to try again. Before losing my sight I was on the path of a new career in the fashion industry. I was taking fashion design and merchandising classes after work. I was working with watercolor and acrylic paints and drawing with charcoal and pencils. But as my vision decreased and it became harder and harder to see my canvas, colors and still models; I withdrew from school. I gave away all my art supplies to an artsy friend and moved on from that career path. Since that time I had not attempted to do anything art related until I came across these opportunities.

I took the glass painting class first. It was held in the evening at the Seven Arts Center in East Point. The class included one-on-one instruction, all painting materials and a wine glass. I shared with my instructor that I was blind and that I needed more verbal information than her sighted students. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she had worked with a visually impaired student before and felt very comfortable working with me.

After donning my painting apron, I washed the wine glass with rubbing alcohol and a cloth to remove all dirt and grime. Next I made my color selections and learned which bowls held which colors. I also touched and felt my brushes so that I could feel the variations in the bristles. Next I chose my self-adhesive stencils. There were several pages to choose from and the instructor described each one. Some were phrases and words, others were flowers and butterflies. Some were small and others were big. I had to be very careful handling the stencils because they were paper thin. I ended up choosing a large butterfly for the top and flowers for the base.

Empish holding wine glass and standing with instructorOnce I got myself organized, the first thing was to paint the whole base of the wine glass with a water brush. I found this challenging because it was hard determining how much paint was on the tip of the brush and when I needed to reapply more paint. My instructor assisted me with this part. After the base paint dried I placed the small stencils on top for the flowers, which were in a different color. I used a sponge type brush using the corner of the brush and gently dabbing the paint on the area of the stencil. Once the paint dried, I repeated the same steps with the large butterfly on the upper round part of the wine glass. Since this stencil was a lot larger than the ones I used on the base it was a little tricky. I very gently place the stencil down on the glass. The stencil was fragile and could rip easily. So I slowly placed it down in sections going from one part of the stencil to the other and laid down the edges last.

During the whole painting process I used my visual memories and my fingers on my left hand as a guide to determine where to place the paint. I positioned them around the boarder of the stencil. This helped me to determine the perimeter and how far to move around on the stencil. Once everything dried, my instructor placed my glass in a decorative gift bag.

Empish painting jewelry boxMy next class was painting ceramic pottery at That Pottery Place Studio in Decatur. This class was a little easier since I had already painted before but instead of working with an instructor I brought a sighted friend to assist me. Again I picked out my colors and the paint brushes. I also had to select a piece of unfinished pottery. I chose bright bold paints and a round jewelry box for my pottery piece. This time instead of using self-adhesive stencils I used a rubber stamp. I chose letters, flowers and butterflies. I first painted the entire jewelry box; both inside and out. Then my sighted friend assisted with drying by using a hair dryer to speed up the process. Next, my friend assisted with applying the paint on the rubber stamp. We worked together to determine the distance between letters and the other objects. Once all of this was completed we left the jewelry box on the table to dry. Later the instructor would glaze and fire. About a week later I was called to come by and pick up my finished piece.

Both of these painting projects were a lot of fun for me. It did require some mentalEmpished finished jewelry box concentration and some sighted help but I was glad that I tried art again. So, did you paint or do other artistic projects before losing vision? If so, have you tried art again? What has your experience been like? If you have not painted before would you consider it? Share your comments below.

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 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:

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

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.