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 Empish Thomas at ethomas@cviga.org.

World Services for the Blind Alumni Shares about Teaching PC Classes at CVI

Desmond sitting at deskWorld Services for the Blind staff is always delighted to hear about the successes and career journeys of former clients, because ultimately, it’s the reason that we are all here doing what we do. Recently, one of our alumni, Desmond West, wrote a letter to our case manager Terry Stevenson about what he’s been doing since graduating from the Assistive Technology Instructor program at WSB, and he’s been very successful. But before we share his letter of success some background on Desmond’s journey to WSB is needed.

At the end of his training in March 2013 at CVI, Desmond’s Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor along with other VR Counselors agreed he needed additional training and recommended WSB. There was some hesitation about traveling to an unknown city with a visual impairment, but after talking it over with some of the staff members of New View, Desmond decided to attend and enter the ATI Program. He was excited but this is when the real challenges began. He was given 48 hours to leave for Little Rock for the next 9-months. Then Greyhound lost his luggage with all his clothes except what he was currently wearing at the time. He also lost all his medications that were inside the lost luggage and no pharmacy took his insurance. While taking classes at WSB he struggled with his diet and as a result his vision fluctuated; causing him to switch technology from screen magnification to screen readers. If that wasn’t enough he spent a week in the hospital suffering from mini strokes which was occurring about 6 times a day. He believes that thanks to God’s grace and mercy he was able to finish the program at WSB.

Desmond working at computerTowards the end of the ATI program he learned through networking there was a position open at CVI for an Assistive Technology Assistant Instructor. He submitted his resume and contacted his Vocational Rehab Counselor to enquire about the possibility of working as an intern. The first of January 2015 he was hired on as an intern and became full time 2 months later.

Now that you have the background on Desmond’s journey, here’s his letter that he sent to Terry, published with his permission:

“It's been 4 1/2 months now [since graduating] and I'm still here at CVI as the Assistive Technology Assistant Instructor. Things are going really well. On average I have about 7 students in PC at a time. It can be challenging at times, but the training I gained from WSB really prepared me for the position I am currently working in. In the classroom, the students are taught the basics of MS Word, Excel, Outlook, Internet and File management. The courses taught by Rachel, Rebecca, Alice and later Dean were the key to a smooth transition from the classroom setting into my position. The most important part of the training I received was learning how to teach others. That lesson has played a very important role in my field. I am so grateful that I hung in there and finished the race. Not only am I the PC assistant instructor, I am also the head IOS training instructor. The class consists of a small group of IPhone or iPad user numbering from 1 to 4 students at a time. I am really enjoying what I am doing and looking forward to returning to college for a degree to further my opportunities. I will be going to a senior citizens facility in a few weeks to give a presentation on the use of the IPhone/IPad.”

We are so happy for Desmond and wish him all the best as he continues to pursue his passion for teaching blind and visually impaired clients. The Mission of World Services for the Blind is empowering adults who are blind or visually impaired in the United States and around the world to achieve sustainable independence.

Editor’s note: a portion of this blog post was reprinted with permission from the WSB Insider Newsletter August 10, 2015 edition.

Giving Directions to a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

Picture of Lisa giving Empish directions

“Where is the ladies room?” “It is over there.”

“Excuse me sir, how do I get to the elevator?” “Go that way.”

“Excuse me do you know where the water fountain is?” “It’s over there.”

“Can you tell me where the exit door is”? “Don’t you see it; it is over there.”

As a blind person I have come across numerous times that elusive “over there” when asking for directions. It is that physical place that I can’t find but must locate. Well-meaning sighted people who want to be helpful give that standard “it is over there” response. So I wanted to take some time to gently instruct those who want to help, give more direct and specific directions to those of us who are visually-impaired. Here are a few important things to do:

  1. When giving instructions please be very specific. For example the bathroom is down the hall; pass the elevators on your right. Or you could also say, the bathrooms are two doors down the hall on your right. You will pass the water fountain on the left, then the ladies room is on the right. Giving specific directional instructions is useful because it gives more concrete information.
  2. When giving instructions please give landmarks. Landmarks, even if we can’t see them well, will help us stay on the right path and not get lost. For example, when approaching CVI from Third Street, you will pass the AT&T building with a double driveway on your right. There will be street signage and a canopy hanging in front of the building. As you approach the stairs on the right there will be some flowers and grass, so be careful. As you go up the steps you will enter through two double glass doors.

Also, with landmarks it is good to include audible, tactual or smells as part of your directions. Those of us with vision loss use our other senses to help with navigation. Elevator’s ding; revolving doors swoosh. Feeling carpet and tile with our feet or white canes is valuable. Smelling things like food help us locate a restaurant. For example, to get to Starbucks you will go through the revolving doors, then move to the left crossing over to the carpeted area and keep straight. You will smell the coffee so follow your nose to the door on your left.

  1. When giving directions keep it simple. Sometimes sighted people in their efforts to give directions give too many details. For example, To get to the bathrooms you will pass two antique, pre-Civil War watercolor paintings on your left. Then turn right and you will notice four potted plants in art deco design pots with one plant larger than the others. While all of this is interesting information it might be a bit much for a person just trying to get to the bathroom! LOL!
  2. When giving directions be patient. After you have given out instructions allow the person to repeat them back to be sure that information has been communicated correctly. If the person has additional questions or seems to not understand be patient and repeat the directions again. If the person is comfortable and you have the time, offer to walk with them to the location to be sure they get there.
  3. When giving directions do not grab, pull or drag the visually-impaired person to their destination. Sometimes in an effort to help, people can get a little too physical and can make a person with vision loss feel uncomfortable. When the person asks for directions just give verbal information unless otherwise directed.

Following these tips will help those of us with vision loss avoid the allusive “over there” and get to where we are going!

BARD App Now Available for Android Phone Users

Picture of Nexus tablet showing Android appAt long last, patrons of the Georgia Library for Accessible Statewide Services who are Android smartphone users will be able to use the BARD Mobile app to download books and magazines to their phones or tablets. For those who might not be familiar, BARD is the library’s website that allows patrons to digitally download books and magazines onto a portable device. Patrons with devices running Android OS 4.1 or later can search the Google Play store for BARD Mobile and download the free app.

Since there is already a BARD version for iOS devices--such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, the addition of the Android app means even more GLASS patrons will be able to listen to books and magazines on their device of their choosing. A noteworthy exception is the Kindle Fire. The BARD Mobile app for Android isn’t currently compatible with this device, but this is a work in progress. You’ll definitely see an announcement in the HourGLASS newsletter when it is released!

For patrons who have just signed up for and downloaded the BARD app, the user guide is available from the bookshelf of the app. For BARD mobile how-to videos, check out the Library of Congress’ YouTube playlist. Additionally, AccessWorld Magazine has an in-depth review on the BARD app that you can read. Users can also contact GLASS at 1-800-248-6701 for troubleshooting issues or for questions about how to sign a reader up for BARD and other services.

CVI Braille Club Gears Up for Washington DC Trip

This evening about 24 members, friends and volunteers of the CVI Braille Club will be traveling to Washington, DC. We will be traveling for a tour of the Library of Congress and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The Braille Club is about two years old, and I shared about it in a blog post on Louis Braille’s birthday. We’re going to Washington in order to trigger excitement in our braille users, just as we did when we visited The American Printing House in Louisville, Kentucky two years ago. Also, new braille users need to understand what goes into making information accessible so that the blind can read independently.

Touring the Library and learning the history of its services to the blind/visually impaired patrons firsthand should prove to be interesting and informative. NLS is the headquarters out of which books, magazines, and music are selected, then produced in accessible format and distributed across the nation “So That The Blind May Read”.

Additionally, we will be staying in Baltimore at the National Federation of the Blind’s Center and touring that as well. While visiting Baltimore and Washington, the plan is to hit some of the highlight such as the River Front and join a local group of visually impaired persons at the Front Page Restaurant on Friday night for dinner.

Ann packing brown bag lunchesIn order to prepare, The Braille Club was knee deep in raising funds for several months for our tour. Through our fundraising efforts we collected over $2,500, which mostly came from our Thursday Brown Bag Lunches. The most fun activity was these lunches, which were prepared and sold by our mentor/mentee matches, (two pairs per week). They would work together and plan, purchase, prepare and serve lunches for the cost of $8.00. The lunch selections were not only interesting, but tasty as well. They would range from hotdogs, to red beans and rice, tacos, nachos, and the like. In addition to the Brown Bag activity, other fundraisers have consisted of braille production, dinner at the Midtown Grill, a great Tupperware party and donations.

Members have worked hard to prepare for this trip. We are all geared up and ready to go. So wish us well!

Support Group Serves the Visually Impaired Who Live in Southwest Georgia

The Albany Blind and Low Vision Support Group began in 2011 and provides a support system for the visually impaired in southwest Georgia. It was established by Debbie McDonald who has been a tireless advocate in her community for years. Debbie can empathize with support group members as she has had her own battles with medical and vision issues. Debbie had Type I diabetes for 32 years and has endured the ravages of this disease including vision loss, kidney and pancreas transplant, heart surgery and limb amputation. Her mission in life is to support others who experience these difficult challenges. Advocacy and volunteerism is a way of life for her. She serves as a member of many organizations such as Georgia Statewide Independent Living Council, Amputee Coalition of America, Mended Hearts, National Federation of the Blind, Georgia Transplant Foundation, and Project Independence for Seniors. Debbie is the founder and executive director of Limb Support, Inc., a non-profit organization and support group for people with disabilities. She serves as a volunteer at the local hospital and mentors patients who have cardiac surgeries, amputations and transplant procedures. Though she is soft spoken, she makes a powerful impact in her community.

Picture of DebbieAs the facilitator of the Albany Blind and Low Vision Support Group, Debbie believes the key to the group’s success has been the "family atmosphere." The group meets the first Friday of each month at SOWEGA Council on Aging, Kay Hind Life Enrichment Center from 3:00-4:30pm, with the last 30 minutes reserved for sharing a snack, door prizes, and socializing. The mission of this group is "to ensure that blind and visually impaired citizens in the Albany, GA area have a support system available to help them adjust to vision loss and learn life skills from others." Family members are also welcome to attend meetings. There are usually about 12 people at the monthly meetings and the group is diverse in age and eye conditions.

Debbie shares resources with group members and helps them get connected to services such as the Talking Book program, paratransit system, and the Hadley School for the Blind courses. She demonstrates devices like prescription readers, talking thermometers and blood pressure monitors. Other favorite topics for discussion have been listening skills, household tips, and other health related topics. For example, Debbie took a course called "A Matter of Balance" and incorporates fall prevention teaching into her meetings. She even leads the group in stretching activities to "get their blood flowing." They have had a guest speaker present on safe ways to exercise for the blind including chair yoga, Zumba, and hula hooping for fitness. She hopes to start a walking club to encourage the group to walk together at a local hospital where there is an indoor track in the rehabilitation center.

This support group is affiliated with Project Independence, Georgia’s vision program for seniors who provide funds and training for the peer leaders of low vision support groups. With these funds, Debbie is able to pay paratransit costs so members can get to the meetings, provide snacks, and host an annual Christmas party. In the future, she plans to organize day trips for group members using the paratransit system.

Picture of Debbie with the governorDebbie advertises the support group in local newspapers and emails local agencies to inform them of the group. She uses phone calls, a Facebook page (Blind Peers Albany Georgia) and other social media to promote the group. The Albany group continues to grow as a result of her efforts and leadership.

Debbie shared a few tips for other support group leaders. She recommends creating a confidential database on each member to include their eye condition, other health conditions and an emergency contact number to have on hand at the meetings. Also, she suggests that group leaders consider taking CPR training. Debbie stresses the importance of maintaining confidentiality; everything discussed at the meetings is confidential. And finally, she commented that it is important to "show kindness to each group member; they need to know you truly care."

For more information about the Albany Blind and Low Vision Support Group, contact Debbie McDonald at: Deborahk63@aol.com or call 229-888-2789.

Editor’s note: this post was reprinted by permission and first appeared on the VisionAware website on June 6, 2015.

Musician Uses Hip Hop as an Outlet to Inspire and Motivate

Photo of Mario NelsonWhile most blind people grow up without a chance to see what their families, friends and surroundings look like, I was fortunate enough to live with my eyesight until I was 17 years old.

Growing up, I was a very active child. I loved basketball, hanging out with friends and school. I wasn’t perfect though. After turning 14 years old, negative behavior landed me in a group home for therapy. A part of my stay included a daily dose of lithium, which is a medication used to treat hyperactivity and mood swings by decreasing the flow of sodium through nerve cells.

My doctor failed, however, to monitor the side effects of this medication. Slowly but surely, my eyes began to get irritated and seeing far distances became difficult. I voiced my concerns and doctors said it would get better; only it got worse. A new doctor finally looked into my complaints and realized the medication had scorched the optic nerves in my eyes. Eventually, my eyesight was completely gone and specialists rendered me blind.

Life can change in the blink of an eye—no pun intended.

Although family and friends tried to stay optimistic, I personally started to realize just how much I had lost with my eyesight. I couldn’t play basketball anymore, and my friends couldn’t relate to what I was going through. I looked to other people in the blind community for support and encouragement, but many of them were struggling to cope with life, too. Unemployment, dependency and low morale seemed to be all life had to offer a blind person. I found myself sinking into depression, and I knew I needed something to fill that empty void in my life.

Find your passion. Save your life.

My little brother introduced me to hip hop music when I was 18. I loved the raw, rugged passion in the lyrics. Eventually, I started writing my own, using them as an outlet for fear, hurt, depression and almost anything else I felt that day. Because I couldn’t see, I had to remember all my rhymes, which came surprisingly easy and ended up being very impressive to others. I started to develop confidence in myself, and I quickly decided I wanted to use music to be a trendsetter and a leader in the blind community.

By the time I turned 23, I started taking social stances with my music. I stopped cursing and using vulgar language and started creating positive messages I hoped would inspire and uplift other people who felt like an underdog in society, just like me. My local community started to recognize my passion, and I got the backing I needed to take my movement national.

The music industry ended up being a different story.

Music industry professionals and other artists couldn’t fathom the idea of a successful disabled artist. Many music groups promised to help me, but instead took my money and disappeared. Eventually, I’d had enough. I decided I would conquer the industry myself. I set up my own shows, reached out to blind organizations and stayed true to who I was as an artist and as a blind individual. As of today, I’ve toured many states within the United States, been featured on many broadcast news stations and have come in contact with so many people –both blind and sighted – who say my music has inspired them to keep going when they were at their lowest.

“Accept your blindness, change your mindset and chase your dreams.”

This is the motto I live by now. I know I have to keep pushing towards my dreams because others were watching. I want to be that positive voice and role model for the blind community because we deserve to aspire to be productive members of society. Whether our dreams include music, philanthropy or corporate America, we deserve to have the resources and support to achieve our dreams. We aren’t disabled. We're unique and have our own culture. The sky’s the limit you don’t have to see it to know it’s there. There is life after blindness. To learn more about me and my music go to www.novacain.net.

If you are blind or visually impaired what things do you do to inspire and motivate others in the community? Sing or play music? Read poetry? Give motivational speeches? Or just be a friend with a kind word? Share your inspirational methods in the comment section.

Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA

25th anniversary sign for ADAIt is time for a celebration! This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA was created to bring about “equality of opportunity, full participation in society, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.” For too long people with disabilities have struggled with full inclusion into mainstream society and the ADA was passed to even the playing field and provide more opportunity and access.

The ADA concentrates its efforts in five major areas: employment, transportation, state and local government, public accommodations and telecommunications. So celebrate the 25th anniversary and your knowledge of the ADA by taking a little quiz. The ADA applies to different disabilities, but since we are dealing with vision impairment at CVI; we will focus on how the law applies to blindness only.

Question: If a blind person wants to vote in a governmental election; but does not receive assistance at the polling location, is that covered under the ADA?

Answer: Yes. State and local government’s must provide assistance to a blind person, whether it is to provide an absentee ballot, read voting information and/or provide an accessible voting machine.

Question: If a Blind person boards a public bus or train and the stops are not called out is that covered under the ADA?

Answer: Yes. All public transportation systems are required to call out major stops along the route for those that are blind and visually-impaired.

Question: If a visually-impaired person is working and the company upgrades their computer system but does not provide the accommodation for the visually-impaired person to use the new system is that covered under the ADA?

Answer: Yes. A company is required to provide an accommodation to their visually-impaired employees when a new system is installed. That could be additional training on the new system or upgrading their assistive technology to access that new system.

Question: If a person with a guide dog is being denied entry into restaurants, offices, hotels or other places of business because of their guide dog would that be covered under the ADA?

Answer: Yes. Public places are required to allow a guide dog or service animal to enter their establishment. They can’t ask for documentation or use allergies or fear of dogs as a rationalization for lack of access.

ADA LogoSo, how did you do on this mini quiz? Did you get 100% or barely pass? Did you already know about the ADA or never heard of it? Whether you are an expert or a novice take some time during the 25th anniversary to educate, empower and enlighten yourself on this important and powerful piece of legislation. Here are some resources to help:

Southeast ADA Center

www.adasoutheast.org

1-800-949-4232

The ADA

ww.ada.gov

1-800-514-0301

Office of Disability Employment Policy/US Department of Labor

www.dol.gov/odep/

1-866-633-7365

iPhone Apps Keep You Moving for Summer Travel Plans

Picture of two chairs on a beachSummer has officially arrived and people are on the move; heading off for vacation. Many make plans to travel to a warm, tropical destination or another sunny spot abroad. Still others might opt to venture close to home with a staycation--visiting local museums, or historical sites. But regardless of the type of summer travels you pursue there are affordable and accessible travel apps to make your trip an enjoyable and successful one. The National Braille Press recently published a book called “Out and About: Our Favorite iOS Travel Apps” by Judy Dixon and Doug Wakefield. This small handy booklet selects 24 apps that are directly related to getting around. According to the authors, every app has been tested with all iPhone models from the 4s to the 6 Plus, as well as with iOS 7 and iOS 8.

The apps are listed by name, developer, price, size and category. There are apps listed for planes, trains and automobiles. There are even apps for walking GPS systems, maps, places to eat and even animal relief stations at airports. This book is a useful tool for that blind or visually impaired traveler that is truly ready to venture “out and about.” Below I have shared 5 of the apps; but to learn more you can purchase the book for $9 at the National Braille Press.

  1. Picture of Amtrak trainAmtrak-This app is Amtrak's do-it-yourself trip planner and ticket purchasing application for iOS devices. While you may prefer to simply pick up the phone, stay on hold, and then make a reservation for a train trip by talking with a human, there are many advantages to using this app. No waiting on the phone, you can do your planning anytime day or night, and you can spend as long as you want exploring various routes and prices. Traveling by train—if you have the time—is much more hassle-free compared to say, going through airports. And there’s real food for sale! If you want to read a firsthand account of someone using the Amtrak app, read VaShaun Jones’ guest blog post titled “My Travels on Amtrak.”
  2. BlindSquare-BlindSquare is a GPS app that has been developed specifically for blind users. It uses data from Foursquare and Open Street Map to give you information about your surroundings. It can announce points of interest and intersections both nearby and as you travel. At any point, you can shake your phone and BlindSquare will tell you your current location and the direction and distance to the nearest intersection. BlindSquare has incorporated features from other apps, too. You can enter text with MBraille (a braille keyboard app) and Fleksy (a typing app). The Fleksy app does not have to be on your phone to use the Fleksy keyboard in BlindSquare. From the GPS Info screen or the Place Summary screen, BlindSquare can get transit information by launching Transit App if it is installed on your phone. You can get an estimate of how long it will take to get a car from Uber, the estimated fare, and launch Uber to order a car if the Uber app is installed on your phone. As of version 7.0.1, Where To?, an app that lists nearby points of interest, can send the coordinates of a selected place directly to BlindSquare.
  3. GateGuru: Airport Info and Flight Status-Originally this app was designed to provide information on the location of different facilities and services in the airport. Recent versions have added many more features, including flight information. A good feature of this app is the Amenities section. If you select your airport and double tap the Amenities button, you get a long list of places to get food and drink. Each one indicates what gate it is near. This is a great resource if you are unexpectedly stuck at a gate for several hours. You can discover exactly which food places are nearby. You can also easily search for an airport located in another city, allowing you to plan ahead when you travel. Say you have an upcoming trip with a long layover time between flights. Where are you going to find a place to grab a bite? GateGuru will give you that information before you leave the ground.
  4. Picture of Anisio and guide dog OlliWhere to Go: A Directory of Airport Animal Relief Areas-While many airports now have dog relief areas, they can be difficult to locate. Whether you are traveling with a pet, an assist dog, or a guide dog, the "Where to Go" app literally tells you where to go for relief. Under the Dog Relief Area button, U.S. airports are listed, with short directions to the relief area at each airport. There are also links to U.S. Department of Transportation FAQs and updated Americans with Disabilities Act regulations about service animals, as well as other information.
  5. Uber-Uber is a San Francisco-based company that offers an alternative transportation service. What makes Uber different from a regular taxi company is that each driver is an independent contractor, although the Uber website claims all drivers go through a "rigorous screening." Uber is now available in most cities in the U.S. including Atlanta. You can read Adam Hinchliffe’s guest blog post titled “Uber is a Revolutionary Transportation Alternative” to get his point of view. Additionally, Uber is in 42 other countries. You begin by creating an account, either within the app or on their website. Uber does not accept cash; all payments are with a credit card or PayPal. All requests are done through the app and you cannot make reservations in advance. If you want, you can establish a tip percentage in your account, which will automatically be charged with your fare and given to the driver. Uber has lots of promotions. At the time you sign up, after your first trip, you will receive a promo code to give to your friends. Every time one of your friends signs up for Uber using your promo code, both of you get a free ride. Yes, there is such a thing.

Now, you have a sampling of the variety of accessible travel apps that are available for people with vision loss. Hopefully this information will inspire and motivate you to get up and get moving this summer. Whether it is for a lengthy out-of-town vacation or just a short jaunt around the neighborhood, you can easily have the tools you need to be more mobile. So, do you use travel apps? If so which ones do you find the most helpful? Share your thoughts and suggestions on travel apps by commenting below.