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.
During this month of October, which is designated National Breast Cancer Awareness, Disability Employment Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness, I offer my support to all three causes. Breast cancer runs in my family. Although not disabled, I’ve wrestled with varying degrees of visual challenges ranging from a detached retina to the onset of myopic macular degeneration in one eye which thankfully remains under control. I’m also a survivor of domestic violence that impacted my life as a married college student many years ago.
When adversity knocks at my door, I’ve learned the journey can lead to significant personal transformation if I choose to embrace the moment and partner with change. As such, how can we re-purpose adversity to our advantage? How can we learn to value these unwanted events that so painfully punctuate our lives? What’s your style when confronting adversity? How firm is your handshake when greeting it? How warmly do you welcome this stranger in your midst, or do you shun it and run the other way? Let me share three accounts of my own dealings with adversity, including the gifts it bestowed upon my life.
First account: The onset of near blindness and creation of a photography business. Following long-ago eye surgery to repair a massive detached retina that was dangling by a thread. I began to worry about my future ability to make a living. The retina in the other eye was quite weak and I was cautioned to prepare for the worst. From early childhood, I loved photography and had been entranced by the colorful images in Audubon and National Geographic magazines. I had often entertained the idea of becoming a photographer but lacked the confidence to pursue it. Although my resulting vision was not perfect, I was good to go!
Using a 35 mm camera and macro lens I embraced photography as a medium of self-empowerment in overcoming additional adversities. As a self-taught photographer, I discovered that my prints sold nicely at various expos and events. I decided to create an online gallery, naming it Hummingbird Studios for the spiritual significance of hummingbirds in my life. Had it not been for an unpleasant brush with blindness, I might not have followed my dream! Instead of dwelling in fear of the future, I chose to approach my situation with optimism and perseverance.
Second account: Surviving domestic violence and helping abused women. In direct response to domestic violence that impacted my life as a young, married college student, I became active in domestic violence awareness and prevention activities throughout the state. My personal experiences, coupled with stories of women who had barely escaped with their lives, influenced me to establish Esperanza! A Woman’s Hope, which is a 501c3 charitable and educational non-profit organization providing scholarships for job skills.
For those of you who may not be aware, Esperanza means hope. This word conveys the very heart, the soul, and the inner voice of Hope that every abused woman carries within her spirit! At Esperanza! A Woman’s Hope, our goal is to celebrate the journey toward success! When survivors move forward, they sparkle and soar!
I observed that once free from abusive environments, women were primarily confined to minimum-waged jobs and thus unable to generate income sufficient to guarantee timely bill payments and quality child-care services. Financial vulnerability quickly led to emotional compromise.
Many women were returning to the same situations that had threatened their safety and the well being of their children. When women return to abusive environments as a last recourse, situations can escalate into matters of life and death. Physical disabilities including blindness, hearing loss, spinal injuries, brain damage, and paralysis from battering are not uncommon. Although I hail from a family that emphasizes community outreach, had it not been for these life-threatening experiences in my life, I would not have established a non-profit to help abused women.
Third account: Find a place to stand and move the world. As I continued to experience economic adversity in the midst of a deep recession, I found myself intuitively ordering Chinese takeout during a strategy session. When the message in my Chinese Fortune Cookie beckoned me to “Find a Place to Stand and Move the World”, I acknowledged the imperative as serendipity! From that point, I decided to merge my various skills and talents to embark upon a speaking career!
The mission of Courageous Women Who Dare is to provide a series of personal and professional development workshops, including a series of inspirational and motivational talks directed toward the general public, while offering speaking services and programs to help women from all cultures and walks of life to confront adversity and overcome fear. Women especially need to freely express themselves while living lives grounded in heart-felt purpose. My university studies in anthropology and an ongoing interest in Women’s Spirituality in Cross-Cultural Perspectives have created an understanding of the crucial importance of connecting, sharing, and forming trusting relationships in a world that has become highly diverse and multicultural in its scope. And so, a serendipitous moment in the mist of economic adversity led to a viable economic solution.
In conclusion, each of us needs to live with hope, joy and courage amidst adversity. We need to honor the gifts and lessons it bestows. We carry within us a unique song and dance that weaves the tapestry of our lives. Adversity adds substance to the mix! If we apply wisdom when addressing it, the gifts can be multifold. When approached with an open mind and flexibility, adversity can navigate us toward our greatest success!
CVI also recognizes the impact of domestic violence and hosts a community support group specifically for visually impaired people who have experienced abuse. The support group meets every second Wednesday from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. For more information, contact Annie Obasih at 678-489-2759 or 678-763-1220. You can also contact Theresa Watkins at 770-238-9989.
Submitted by Elizabeth Isaacs, Orientation and Mobility Specialist
As we observe White Cane Safety Day on October 15, Elizabeth Isaacs shares how to get your white cane repaired. Keeping your cane repaired and in top shape will result in better mobility and safer travel.
Don’t throw away your broken cane ever again. Did you know that old, broken, and worn out mobility canes can be repaired totally FREE of charge? Well, it’s true! My name is Elizabeth Isaacs, and I’m a certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist living in the Atlanta area. I’m currently not working in the field as I’m enjoying the opportunity to raise my two wonderful children with another one on the way.
Five years ago, I launched a cane repair program for all visually impaired residents of Georgia. Today, I’m happy to share with you that we have repaired over 200 mobility canes and the program has now been expanded to serve all visually impaired residents of three states including Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.
There is no catch and no fine print. The program really is totally free of charge. A visually impaired person simply mails their cane to me using the “Free Matter for the Blind” postage code and I completely refurbish the cane and return it within 48 hours. Please include a note inside the package with the owner’s name, address, and phone number.
This program is supported 100% by private donations that are all tax-deductible. We work very hard to ensure that all of the funds go directly to repair canes for visually impaired people that own a mobility cane. Therefore, we do not repair canes that are owned by agencies that provide O&M services. We only repair canes that belong to visually impaired individuals.
So if you or someone you know have a cane in need of a face-lift, please contact me or mail your cane to the following address:
Elizabeth Isaacs,1785 Presidents Drive, Lawrenceville, GA 30043.
My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by Detra Banister, CareerConnect Employment Specialist
As we observe National Disability Employment Awareness this month, finding a career mentor can be essential when job seeking or maintaining current employment.
Detra Banister shares a powerful tool called CareerConnect which helps people with vision loss achieve employment success.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock without access to news media you know how hard it is these days to find, get and maintain a good job. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is working hard to help expand employment possibilities for people with vision loss. Through AFB CareerConnect®, our free employment education and exploration program you can get a leg up on how to find the best jobs, do impressive interviews, disclose your disability in a way that is interesting and nonthreatening to the interviewer and increase your chances of being the one chosen to fill the position.
Through this interesting and friendly website students and adult job seekers can:
Feel free to browse the mentor database to see what kind of jobs people with vision loss around the country are doing. By becoming a registered user you can do more than just explore, you can connect with these successfully employed blind or visually impaired workers. While they do not have jobs to offer others, they have jobs of their own and will discuss the work they do and other work related questions.
CareerConnect also gives you an interactive online workstation to help organize your activities related to finding and getting work. From this workstation you can create your resume, use a private message board to communicate with mentors, keep track of appointments with an electronic calendar, even take a self paced Job Seeker’s Toolkit course.
With a successful 20 year record of connecting CareerConnect program users with their choice of nearly 1,000 mentors with vision loss working in over 300 occupational fields, just about anything you need to know about working competitively with vision loss can be discussed with someone who’s already been through this experience. CareerConnect has many practical, user-friendly resources and interactive tools to help manage the journey to career success. We hope you will sign up today!
Visit AFB CareerConnect at www.careerconnect.org and start exploring. Questions about the program? Email email@example.com.
You never know what will come from making this connection on your way to employment success, but you can bet that the experience will be good.
Do you have a career mentor? Have you had one in the past? Was the relationship helpful? In the comment section below, share your experiences with career mentoring.
My name is Ron Allen. I am an area manager for AT&T here in Atlanta. I am married with five children and I have been a volunteer for the Center for the Visually Impaired since 2002.
I guess I came to CVI, as many people do, because blindness had touched my family directly. As a young boy, I experienced the pain of finding out that my father was slowly losing his sight and that retinitis pigmentosa would eventually render him blind. My mother chose a trip to the grocery store as an opportunity to inform me. I remember being devastated at the news. It was like taking a blow to the stomach.
I was at the age that a father would normally be spending time with his son, throwing the baseball, or some other type of outdoor activity. It was hard to see my father, who was normally very active, slowly succumb to the disease. I watched his life change dramatically. The experience taught me first hand how blindness impacts, not only the particular person who has lost their sight, but friends and family as well.
When my company relocated to downtown Atlanta in 2002, I immediately volunteered every Friday’s lunch hour to CVI. My work with CVI includes recording books for audio tape. I’ve read every sort of book you can imagine, from text books, to medical books, to children’s books, to prayer books, to biographies of every sort. These books provide a library of many interesting subjects for those who have vision problems. It is most rewarding when a client of CVI specifically requests me to read a book for them. It personalizes it for me, and let’s me know first hand the importance of the work I am doing for CVI, and that client.
I also help people read their post office mail and pay their bills. This is a service provided by CVI that is very important to the clients. Most often they do not want siblings or family member to know their personal business. It is very important for them to remain independent citizens. I provide that helping hand that will keep their financial business confidential.
I have also helped clients fill out employment applications, resumes and read legal documents for clients who need assistance with divorces, property rights and child custody battles. Every Friday, after I finish my hour at CVI, I feel a high that is indescribable. I feel I have personally made a difference in people’s lives, at least for that day.
Do you volunteer? Looking for an opportunity to give back to your local community? Why not join Ron by volunteering at CVI. For more information call Lara Tillery, Volunteer Coordinator, at 404-875-9011, ext 4369. You can also check out our volunteer page on the CVI website.
Blind since the age of three, I’ve had to learn the various skills and techniques which have long proven to be successful in enabling persons who are blind to live with independence and dignity. One of the most critical skills is Orientation and Mobility, or O&M.
O&M covers the techniques needed to safely and effectively negotiate one’s environment, that is, moving from point A to point B independently and safely. For most people, this means using a tool such as a long white cane, which effectively alerts the user of obstacles in front of him/her, curbs and stairs, uneven terrain, etc. In addition, the white cane alerts others, such as drivers, to the presence of a blind person. The white cane also will, hopefully, lead them to obey the long-established white cane laws, which require drivers to yield to blind pedestrians. I am sharing this because for over 40 years of my life I was a proficient cane traveler, using this wonderful tool to confidently move all over the United States and abroad.
During my professional life, I occasionally ran into other blind adults who were using a guide dog as their main mobility tool. I recall marveling especially at the fact that they seemed to always move much faster than I, not worrying about obstacles in their way. The dog would gracefully walk them around those objects without touching them or even, at times, being aware of their presence. In addition, I often marveled at how guide dog users seemed to be able to quickly adapt to new unfamiliar environments, such as hotels, conference centers, etc. Somehow, with the assistance of their guide dogs, these folks seemed to be able to find the door to the room, the exit from the hotel or even their own hotel room much faster than I, using my long white cane. Lastly, I met many guide dog users who would talk about going for long walks everyday to keep their guide fresh and burn some of their excess energy.
With all these factors in mind, I began to entertain the idea of getting a guide dog. After considerable research, I applied to several guide dog schools. My main criteria was that the dog be as harmless as possible for persons with severe allergies to dogs, since my daughter does indeed have lots of those allergies.
After a long wait, I received the call from one of the schools announcing that a wonderful black male standard poodle had passed all their tests and had undergone all necessary training to be a guide and was now ready to be matched with a blind person. Well, that person to matched with could be me, as long as I was able to pack up my bags, take a leave from work and fly to New York to attend the one-month long training program. And so I did!
Moving the clock forward several months, I can report that I am now the proud owner of a black male standard poodle who amazes me each day with how smart he is. All the factors that led me to decide to get a guide dog have, to a great extent, proven true. I do walk much faster now, especially as I gradually gained more confidence in his abilities. I have traveled to conferences and meetings out of town and have discovered that he is able to orient himself to new environments quickly. He even knows exactly where our hotel room is after only being there once. Finally, in order to ensure he gets as much exercise as possible, we do go for long walks in my neighborhood. This in no doubt will ultimately prove to be beneficial for my own health too.
I would be lying if I didn’t include here some of the frustrations I have felt and some of the minor adjustments I have had to make to my life style, such as having to get up a bit earlier on Sundays than I was used to. I should add, however, that many of the frustrations I have felt stem from the fact that I never had a pet, let alone a dog, so I am often confronted with questions I don’t have answers for. Why is he not eating this morning? What play activities can we engage in? What are “normal” behaviors and those which need to be corrected? In some ways, this experience reminds me quite a bit of my first few months of parenthood with all its newness and more questions than answers.
In a future blog post, I will go into more detail about some of the quirks that may well be more related to my guide dog’s breed, which is certainly not the typical breed found in guide dogs all over this world.
September is National Guide Dog Awareness month. Are you interested in getting a guide dog? Would you like to learn more? Share your comments and check out the resources below.
Guide Dog Users, Inc.
The National Association of Guide Dog Users
International Guide Dog Federation
From the earliest histories we find sports playing a prominent role in every culture. We are all familiar with the Olympics dating back to ancient Greece and the emphasis on the rewarding of athletic accomplishment. For the visually impaired, formalized blind sports competitions are a relatively new phenomenon. With the founding of USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) in 1976; IBSA (International Blind Sports Association) in 1981; and the growth of the Paralympic games, blind sports have afforded the visually impaired opportunities to compete against other blind athletes from around the world. Many sports such as swimming, track & field and skiing have adaptations that allow athletes to compete against sighted contestants; while sports such as goalball were created specifically for the blind.
Why are sports important to the visually impaired? First there are the physical reasons. The more active a person is the healthier they are. The regular involvement in physical activities helps with all aspects of a persons fitness. We all need to get off the couch and stay in shape.
Secondly, there is personal development. The discipline one gains from being involved in sports translates into life skills that help in the work place and in ones personal life. As an athlete competes at higher levels the commitment to practice and fitness training takes lots of discipline. The desire of any athlete is to compete and improve while striving to excel-all attributes of a successful person.
Finally, there are the social interaction skills which one learns from sports. Being part of a team, working with others to achieve a goal, encouraging teammates when they are down or being encouraged when needed are all things we can learn from sports. Sports can be entertaining to the spectator; and to the athlete they can be character forming.
On a personal note I found sports to be a way to stay involved with both of my children. I coached and cheered them every step of the way. Whether it was the soccer field or the goalball court we shared the joys of victory and the frustrations of defeat. Their accomplishments on the field of play mattered little; that we had a common interest has given us memories that will last a lifetime.
Do you play sports? Have you stopped due to vision loss? Want to get back into the game? If you answered yes to these questions, then I invite you to the Georgia Blind Sports Association first annual overnight weekend camp. It will be held on September 20-22 at Camp Twin Lakes in Winder, Georgia. This will be a specialized 3 day / 2night camp focused on adaptive sports for the visually impaired.
We welcome adults and youths (7th grade and older) to come join us and be exposed to new recreational opportunities. Introduction to sporting activities such as Archery, Ropes/Climbing, Fishing, Canoeing/Kayaking, Biking and Swimming. But some sports offered are subject to change and limited transportation is available. Cost is $50.00 per student and $75.00 per adult. Some scholarships are available.
As we observe National Emergency Preparedness this month, I think it is safe to say, that 9-1-1 is a number that all citizens across the U.S. are familiar with. From senior citizens to small children, those three digits are what you dial if you have an emergency. Since the first 9-1-1 call was made in 1968, 9-1-1 functionality has been universal in that you dial these 3 digits from any phone and you are immediately connected to an emergency dispatcher who asks “9-1-1 what is your emergency” and then can assist you by sending Police, Fire or EMS to your location based on the nature of your emergency.
Simple, right? Well a lot has changed since 1968. Landlines which automatically have home addresses linked to them are slowly disappearing, everything is mobile, and locating an incoming 9-1-1 call from a mobile phone is becoming increasingly more difficult. The difficulty 9-1-1 call takers face when receiving a mobile call is why Rave Mobile Safety developed Smart911.
Smart911 is a free service that allows citizens to create a Safety Profile for their household that includes any information they want 9-1-1 to have in the event of an emergency. Citizens are able to tie their landline, mobile phone and VOIP line to their profile. Then, when anyone dials 9-1-1 from a phone associated with their profile, their profile is immediately displayed to the 9-1-1 call taker providing additional information that can be used to facilitate the appropriate response to the proper location. The profile information is private and secure and only seen during a 9-1-1 call.
However, the information you can provide to 9-1-1 call takers and first responders goes way beyond your phone number and address. You can include medical conditions, medications, vehicles, pets and even emergency contacts in your profile. Providing this additional information gives 9-1-1 call takers and first responders the information they need to help you faster and more efficiently. This is especially true if an individual is blind. If emergency response is arriving to the scene of an emergency, it can be beneficial for the responders to know they will need to use vocal cues as they approach the individual. If the person is in their own home, the layout and bedroom locations can be noted in their Safety Profile as well. They are also able to note if they have a service animal who needs to travel with them.
At a time when seconds count, being able to provide 9-1-1 with all details that could impact a response the second an emergency call is placed could be the difference between life and death. Sign up and create your Safety Profile at www.smart911.com today.
Over a year ago I contacted CVI to inquire about their volunteer services. I was hoping to get a volunteer to assist me with errands and getting my kitchen pantry labeled and organized. I spoke with Lara Tillery, Volunteer Coordinator and her friendly and enthusiastic response left me feeling hopeful that getting a volunteer was a good possibility. Lara came out to visit me one morning at about 7:15 a.m. due to our work schedules. We spent time talking and Lara identified that I would need two volunteers because of my differing needs. Within 2 weeks after our home visit, Lara was able to identify a match for me and at that time permission was given for the volunteer to contact me.
Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by April, a lovely lady who was interested in assisting me on a monthly basis with shopping errands. About two weeks after talking with April, Lara connected me with Laurie, who would assist me with getting my kitchen pantry organized and labeled. The relationships between us have grown to very valued friends that enjoy spending time together and at the same time learning and growing together.
Sometime later, I contacted Lara, again to ask if I could be matched with a volunteer for a specific project at work. Lara was quick to respond with a volunteer and connection was made shortly after. The male volunteer was a delight and very eager to help. He was a wonderful match for the job. Despite his uncertain fluency in English, we found a very workable communication level and he was very organized and efficient and a quick learner.
I am so grateful to the volunteer program at CVI for connecting me to three volunteers of the highest caliber. I feel that the time taken to screen these volunteers and the service received is very evident in my successful matches. Thank you CVI for your excellent Volunteer Services program and connecting me to three wonderful people who have made my life a little easier and richer.
One of CVI’s most important assets is our volunteers. As a non-profit that serves people with vision loss, CVI would not be able to complete its mission without volunteers. After reading Shanti’s positive experience please share in the comment section below about your own. Have you ever worked with a volunteer? What types of things did volunteers help you with? Would you recommend a volunteer to a friend or family member who is visually impaired?