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.
Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, June 12, two guide dogs and 14 tired and sleepy, but excited members of CVI’s braille club boarded a bus heading to Louisville, Kentucky. The group was on a trip to visit the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), the world’s largest nonprofit that creates independent living products and services for people with visual impairments. Established in 1958, APH is also the oldest organization of its kind.
Since we were leaving so late at night I had naively assumed that we would get some sleep, but I was sadly mistaken. As we traveled to Kentucky the bus was full of buzzing conversation as people laughed, talked and shared snacks. We arrived in Louisville in the early morning and made a breakfast stop at the Waffle House. My pecan waffle was hot and delicious! If anyone knows what hash browns in a ring are let me know. Next we headed over to the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) were we were to lodge during our trip. Once we arrived at the school, the house keeper showed us to our rooms and helped us get settled. The staff offered us a tour of the school which I thought was nice but I declined. I was too tired from the road trip and opted for a short nap instead.
Later in the afternoon, after some rest and relaxation, we all walked next door to APH for our tour. One of the first things we learned is that APH was originally housed in the basement of the KSB until they were able to acquire their own building. Our tour guide told us that over the years APH has made 14 additions to the building as they have expanded their products and services.
On the tour, we saw how braille books were manufactured in their plant. We were able to observe blind proofreaders review braille books for accuracy by reading the book out loud to a sighted person, called a copyholder, who followed from a printed copy. Our tour guide told us that APH started off with embossed books and later moved to braille books.
The first book that was created was Fables and Tales for Children in 1866. We also got to observe talking book readers record books in the studio. One of the readers, Ray Foushee, was recording while we were there. He stopped to talk and take pictures with us. He shared that he has been recording audio books for APH for about 30 years and really enjoys the work. We also toured the factory where the recorded books are duplicated and prepared to be mailed. We were told that hundreds of copies of one book can be duplicated in one afternoon. They are then placed in very large bends going to libraries for the blind all over the country.
Our last stop on the tour was the museum which gave the history of education of people who are blind and visually impaired. It was an interactive experience with audio output devices for the items on display. We got to actually touch an older model of a Perkins Brailler and a slate that was created when New York Point braille was used. New York Point braille is made of eight dot cells instead of the six dot cell that is used today. While in the museum I listened to one of those old real-to-real films discussing how blind children received an education.
Before leaving APH we all made a stop to purchase souvenirs at the gift shop and take pictures. In the front of the APH building is a beautiful hand-carved sculpture inside a water fountain. The sculpture has a book flipped open with print on one page and braille on the other. Our tour guide told us that the sculpture was done by a local artist and was erected to celebrate APH’s 150th anniversary in 2008. After the tour, we all headed back to the KSB to get ready for a relaxing dinner and conversation about all we learned and observed.
Logo courtesy of the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.
This coming Sunday, June 16, 2013, is Father’s Day and dads will be honored on this national holiday. We at CVI want to pay tribute to all of our visually impaired and blind fathers. We recognize that parenting is challenging and can be even more so with vision loss.
Kevin Dunn and his family
Years 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2006 have been the most wonderful and the most life-changing times of my life thus far. After three months of doctors trying to stop the progression of my retina loss, I lost my sight entirely in January 2001. In April 2002, my girlfriend (who decided to keep me) became my wife. We bought a house and began planning on growing our family.
In March 2004, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. In May 2006, our son was born and completed our nicely balanced family of four. This all sounds so quick and easy, but the road has been a long and arduous journey. Being a blind father certainly has been an interesting ride for us all.
My daughter was due to be born at the end of March of 2004, and when my wife woke me at 2 o'clock in the morning on March 13 telling me that she was in labor, I was not ready. In fact, the first thing out of my mouth was to say that we did not have any groceries in the house. What do any smart parents do at 2 o'clock in the morning when the wife is in labor and the father is blind? They go to the grocery.
First drawback of being a blind dad -- mom had to drive us while in labor. We survived that shopping trip, and the three of us made it home in one piece. Now having food for whoever would be coming to help us out, I was ready to take charge and move on to the next step, but what did I know? Not much. Luckily, my wife and I had hired a doula, a birthing coach, to assist us, and we called and let her take charge, which also means that she was to drive us to the hospital.
We made it through this process and nearly 24-hours later, our beautiful baby girl was born. All of my fears of being a blind dad momentarily dissipated the moment I heard my daughter take in her first breath and let out her first cry. It was as if she was telling me, "Don't worry, Daddy. I'll take care of you, too, and we'll figure it all out together."
The first two years of my daughter's life were incredible. She was such a joy and made my job easy. She suffered through bathing in total darkness, enjoyed having diapers changed in the sink so that she could be sprayed off rather than wiped, endured having me stick my fingers in her mouth to get the spoon in the right place. She suffered many head, foot, hand and body slams into walls and door jams and scraping around corners, but we ventured this road together, and so far, we have survived to hopefully be better people in the end.
The first time that I knew that my daughter understood that I could not see was when around the age of two, she came running to me to show me her new shoes. I knelt down and she grabbed my hands and guided them down and onto her feet exclaiming, “Look at my new shoes, Daddy!” With tears in my eyes, I grabbed her and held her tight with such joy and pride. That was my first venture into her incredible insight and wisdom.
In May 2006, my son was born and our lives as we knew it were turned upside down once again. As we are all so different in this world, this certainly proved to be so with our son. My daughter and I learned so quickly together, but my son didn't take too well to suffering through my shortcomings. Times were a bit more frustrating for us all, and he didn't understand that Dad couldn't see and was continually frustrated at my lack of understanding his hand gestures and grunts. Where his sister had always seemed to understand and took a sort of pride in having a blind dad, my son seemed to be angry and frustrated with the fact that I wasn't able to meet his needs.
It was not until he was four or so, that I felt that he truly understood that I was blind. When that time did finally come it was beautiful. We seemed to somehow be set free to fully love and grow together -- we found more joy in life with each other. It was around this time when he came to me and pressed a piece of paper to my chest and exclaimed, “Can you see what I drew for you in your heart, Daddy?” That is when we seemed to have made that connection together and were finally able to appreciate each other and really communicate. He set me free with his understanding, and I set him free of my frustrations.
The kids are now nine and seven, and I am 12 years blind, so we have come a long way together. The kids have grown up riding the para transit bus, all the while being stepped on, tripped over, their drink glasses knocked over on a daily basis, and suffered through blackened pancakes and burned pizza. We have learned to laugh about it all. In my opinion, we are all better people for it in the end. I'll bet that if asked whether they would prefer a sighted dad they would probably say no because they would then have to wait in line at the amusement parks.
All in all, everyday is Father's Day for me, and each and every day, I am offered the best gifts ever. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
CVI Trustee Joan H. Buchanan presents the Sarah Woolf CVI Spirit Award to Sanequa Lambert.
The Sarah Woolf CVI Spirit Award is presented annually to a CVI client who demonstrates a courageous spirit that inspires others. Created by CVI’s Board of Trustees, this award honors the memory of Sarah Woolf, who demonstrated exceptional courage and spirit in spite of grave health challenges. Sarah was the daughter of Bill and Donna Woolf. Bill, CVI's Senior Vice President who joined the CVI staff in 1990.
Sarah was a junior in high school when she died from bone cancer in March 2002. During the last year of her life, she endured chemotherapy every three weeks and twice-a-day radiation treatment for six consecutive weeks. Despite these painful intrusions into her life, Sarah remained focused on living as fully as possible. She demonstrated this focus by earning all A's while taking the most challenging courses available and by her relentless optimism in the face of her life-threatening disease. It is her determination to excel and her joyous approach to life that the Center celebrates and remembers through this award.
This year’s award recipient is Sanequa Lambert and her 2-year-old son Kameron Taylor. Sanequa, much like Sarah Woolf, has been determined to not only overcome her own physical disability, but also assist her son in doing the same. Kameron was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and cortical visual impairment, developmental delay and seizure disorder.
While at an appointment at Hughes Spalding Hospital (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta), Sanequa was referred to CVI’s BEGIN program for additional help with her son. Kameron has been a part of the BEGIN program since he was about 14 months old and he will be 3-years-old in August. “When Sanequa first told me about her own birth history, it was in a matter of fact tone with a touch of humor,” said Memri Lerch, recently retired BEGIN Family Counselor. “We have learned that this ‘forging ahead’ in life is her way of life, and she expects the same of Kameron," Memri continued. "She pushes him to reach his full potential just as her mother pushed her.”
When Sanequa first found out that she and Kameron won the Sarah Woolf award she shared that she was very surprised. She said, "People said such nice things about me and my son. I never realize that so many people thought so highly of us.”
Kameron’s multiple-disabilities are more severe than Sanequa’s, but she is determined to expose him to all that life has to offer. “It is difficult, but I want to get him to where he needs to be,” she said. “I envision his future being a very independent one with him walking and playing ball in the park; and even participating in the Special Olympics. The sky is the limit!”
We congratulate Sanequa and Kameron. We know that with her determination and the support from CVI Kameron will indeed go a long way.
CVI’s STARS program has been a very important part of my life, and I have had the pleasure of serving as a mentor for three and a half years now. I enjoy interacting with youths of all ages and missed that interaction from my earlier Summer Camp group counselor and collegiate youth ministry days. Thankfully, STARS Counselor Lorenzo Powell brought this wonderful program to my attention.
I believe that STARS has a profound impact on young people by allowing them to freely express themselves in a plethora of ways. Whether it be theater, creative writing development, or music, students are able to showcase their respective talents and enhance their level of self-confidence and independence, all while forging strong friendships with their peers in a fun-loving and safe environment.
When I became a mentor, I clearly understood how the program benefits the students. However, I now realize how beneficial it has been for me as well. I too am able to express my creativity, and have been able to continue to hone my leadership skills. One of the most exciting experiences that I have been a part of during my tenure is the annual Spring Retreat. I have attended the outing for two years now, and have been able to engage with the entire STARS family while partaking in team-building activities, dancing, fellowship, and just plain-old FUN!
The greatest reward of all has been the opportunity to watch my friend and mentee Brandon Soncoeur grow from a freshman to a proud senior. This year, he became a graduate of Lithonia High School. It is a true privilege to have him as a friend, and from the very beginning there was a sense of great cohesion due to our similar interests. We have visited movie theaters and bowled several times among other activities. A great joy of mine was joining the Soncoeur family for dinner. They are an incredible group, especially his mother. Their solid foundation of love and fine mentorship is continued when Brandon visits his STARS family.
He is a very determined individual, and seeks to become an entrepreneur. He aspires to open a lounge which he has already named. Some day you may find yourself indulging in fine cuisine and the pleasant ambience of “Soncoeur 300.”
I encourage you to become a mentor. Every volunteer is appreciated, and being a male, I implore more representatives of my gender to apply. Combined with the tremendous guidance of the STARS staff, your participation and influence will help to make these students’ futures shine even brighter!
For more information on CVI’s STARS mentoring program, call 404-875-9011.
Eighteen years ago, I received a call from Scott McCall, former president of CVI. Scott noticed an increased number of requests from clients. Although they enjoyed the benefits of their orientation and mobility training, they felt that one critical piece could be added. They shared their concerns that in the urban wilds of a large metropolitan city such as Atlanta, personal safety was of great importance.
Scott heard about the other work I was doing with a wide array of people with disabilities. He was interested in having me teach self-defense classes at CVI. I’d been teaching personal safety classes to paraplegics and quadriplegics at The Shepherd Spinal Center. I have always believed that regardless of abilities, we are only as safe as our individually crafted “personal safety plans” render us. Knowledge is indeed power, but I had no previous experience teaching the visually impaired and I didn’t know if I was up to the task. I reasoned that behaviorally, the keys to avoiding conflict could be adapted in almost exactly the same way as for sighted people by using awareness, intuition and boundary-setting.
So I set to work, investigating how it would be to be blind and have to fight someone. I quickly discovered the key element to fighting for one who cannot see. I blindfolded myself and attempted fighting another man. I discovered rather quickly that it was all about my proximity to the attacker. When my opponent was outside my grasp, I was consistently punished and had a very hard time accurately knowing what to do. But as soon as I could latch onto that opponent and feel a familiar point on his body, it was a whole different story. This is called the “universal reference point” which is the spot on the human body where the neck and shoulder meet. In fact, I discovered that once attached to the “bad” guy in this way, anything was possible. The same principals of fighting became available to blind people in the same way as sighted people.
Scott contacted Dr. Wendy David, a staff psychologist at the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, Washington, who had done a considerable amount of research into cognitive and psychological strategies for blind people and together the three of us began the creation of Safe Without Sight. Safe Without Sight is a two-week, intensive but fun education in how to live life more safely.
Scott, Wendy and I got together, assigned each other writing tasks and set about creating the course content and later a published book. It was at first tested by CVI’s staff in July 1995 and is still being used today.
The Safe Without Sight classes focused on two areas:
1. How to lessen the likelihood of becoming a victim of violent crime.
2. How to physically defend one’s self against an attacker.
After teaching hundreds of clients over the years our track record is impressive. Although we never want to hear of someone being harassed, pursued or attacked, and there are no guaranties made to those who take the course, positive stories from clients have come back to us. I have yet to hear a story of a client who was called on to use what they learned in the course in a real-life scenario, who didn’t emerge with a positive outcome.
Since the creation of the Safe Without Sight class at CVI, Scott, Wendy and I have been asked to create courses in a few other visually impaired rehabilitation agencies across the country. The enthusiasm and gratitude of both staff and clients in all of them has been moving. I leave you with a free tip, pulled from the philosophy of Safe Without Sight: “Live your life, every day, exploring the world and it’s many adventures, utilizing your own personal safety plan - as if It was important! Because it is and you are! Happy sightseeing!”
For more information on CVI’s Safe Without Sight self-defense class or other services for those with vision loss call 404-875-9011.
When it comes to technology and the latest adaptive aids, I am definitely one of those who are technologically challenged! Less is more is the axiom which seems to work best for me.
Even before my increasing vision loss occurred, I experienced extreme trepidation when trying out the latest advancements regarding computer programs, the myriad of bells and whistle options offered on cell phones, etc. I often have wished I felt differently about all the wonderful and helpful advancements and technical aids out there, but the honest truth is, for me, embracing and utilizing the most up to date cell phone or other device, has not been the path for me to date.
Subsequently, that came time four years ago to bite the bullet and finally purchase a cell phone to have on hand for emergencies and out of town travel. The Jitterbug seemed to fit the bill for me. It was simple...no contracts, choices of minute plans, large key pad numbers, larger display screen, and input of voice over assistance with dial up numbers.
In addition, the Jitterbug offers a 24/7, 800 number tech support contact with helpful and friendly folk who seem to understand that the average Jitterbug user is often a senior, one with a disability, or one who does best with simplicity when using technical equipment.
I have been very pleased with this product and its ease of operation. If the idea of a basic phone resonates with anyone, this product is worth checking out!
Christine Ha is the winner of FOX’s hit home cooking competition, MasterChef. In January, CVI was honored to have her as the guest speaker for the annual Henderson Dinner. She is a graduate student from Houston, Texas and the series’ first-ever blind contestant.
Nearly 30,000 hopefuls auditions for the show which features cooking competitions judged by world-renowned Chef's Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot. In addition to earning the MasterChef title, Christine walked away with a cookbook deal and the $250,000 grand prize.
Before January of this year, the only ideas I’d had of Atlanta were these:
It is home to CNN and Coca-Cola;
It was home to Ludacris;
It is home to the Falcons, Hawks, and Braves; and
It had crazy weather and crazy airports.
And then I came to Atlanta and learned it was so much more.
Last summer, when "MasterChef" was still airing, I was contacted by the Center for the Visually Impaired to give the keynote address at the annual Henderson Society dinner. I got the email from Lauren Lindenbaum months before it would be revealed to the world that I was the new MasterChef, and so I knew that she, along with the rest of the CVI, had no idea how crazy my life was about to become. I accepted, figuring it would be one of the few opportunities I would have to make use of my gifts to help others.
I flew to Atlanta in January, and after a surprisingly pleasant experience at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, I dove right into the work I was there to do: a cooking demo and Q&A at a VIP reception hosted by the Viking school, a brief talk with parents from the BEGIN program followed by a Q&A with the CVI’s adult clients, and then the Henderson Society dinner. After it was all said and done, I learned a few cool things during my visit to the CVI and Atlanta:
Children with little canes are the most precious things I’ve ever had the privilege to encounter and hear; Georgia, like my home state of Texas, knows southern hospitality;
The food scene is awesome in Atlanta—I got to enjoy Empire State South and The Spence.
The CVI is a wonderful facility for those living with or affected by someone living with a visual impairment.
From supporters to staff to clients to parents of little clients, I met a slew of fascinating people. I’m happy to say Atlanta had exceeded my expectations, and I look forward to returning soon—hopefully when peaches are in season.
Since January, I’ve been quite the busy gal. My cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food from the Winner of MasterChef Season 3 on FOX, releases May 14. And I also successfully defended my thesis and will be graduating this month with a Master of Fine Arts from University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. My thesis was my memoir that braids together the tales of my Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) and vision loss with the year my mother had cancer. So what’s next for me on the horizon? I hope to publish the memoir and open a dining establishment or two. To keep track of my goings on, visit my blog, my Facebook page, or follow me on my Twitter handles: @ChristineHHa and @theblindcook. Until next time, be well, and eat well.
In October of 2012, I relocated to Atlanta from Orlando. My main reason for such a move was because Atlanta has far better transit than anything I’ve found in Florida. Blind since birth, I knew it would be no easy task to learn my way around, get on with daily functioning, and form new friendships. I was thrilled when I heard that CVI does what they can to provide volunteers, and so placed a call to Lara Tillery, CVI’s Volunteer Coordinator.
Lara and I had a couple of phone conversations and a home visit. I understood that it might take time to obtain a volunteer, since there is a waiting list. I also understood that I might receive a shopper, a visitor, (either or both), and that it might be weekly or only monthly, depending upon volunteer interest and availability.
I sat back and waited. Mail to read, papers to fill out, places to go…I was anxious to get things done and still somewhat lonely for some one or more who would be there for me. There are those who say “Sure, give me a call if you need anything,” but they don’t offer. They don’t say “Hey, I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” or “Hey, we’re grilling tonight, want to come have dinner with us?”
From previous experience with volunteers elsewhere, I expected they would be older people. Nothing wrong with that, I recently turned 60, but I don’t feel it though. So I was pleasantly surprised when I got not only one but two wonderful young women who were in their twenties! One has been here a few times. My paperwork got done in far less time than it takes to build the stress of it piling up. We went and mailed my application to obtain my state massage license. We went to a couple of bakeries for snacks and some coffee (yum)!
I’d just lost my job. This same volunteer stopped by after work. She brought pastries. I fixed some lentil soup. We spent the evening having a great time. We both love music, and so I had been sharing quite a bit of that.
My other volunteer and I just met. She came, took me to Wal-Mart, and helped me find the dough cycle on my bread machine. She looked at a bit of my mail, and helped me get cat and dog hair off a bag that I want to carry food to church. She also talked about a couple of very fun places we can go walking, and also says to call her any time I need something, even if it’s last minute.
I can’t say enough about how important that is to me and to those of us who are blind, to hear someone, so friendly and open, genuinely wanting to help and just enjoying new friendship. So often, it’s public transportation, which has its pros and cons, or arranging with other people, not with such a degree of invitation and freedom! People sometimes say, “Let me know if you need anything,". Even though they might be genuine, they miss the fact that what some of us want (and enjoy) real friendships with people who also happen to be helpful.
Needless to say, I am most appreciative to Lara, to CVI, and to these two wonderful volunteers! Thank you so much!
If you are a CVI client who would like to learn more about CVI's volunteer services or would like to become a CVI volunteer, please visit the Volunteer page.