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.
I lost my vision in the early 1970’s due to a disease I incurred while serving in the Air Force. I slowly adjusted to life as a blind man and was determined to remain strong and healthy. As a way to accomplish this goal, I began my involvement with yoga when a friend came to my house each week to teach me some of the postures. This occurred in the mid-80s. I liked yoga but didn’t feel ready to join a class in town.
About ten years later I renewed my interest in yoga when my partner became a yoga teacher. I regularly attended her classes and then decided to venture out to a few yoga weekend workshops where I became quite upset by the lack of awareness from the workshop leaders. They were nice people but had no idea of how to support and include a blind person into their workshop plans. I remember expressing my frustration for a whole week after I got home, but then came up with a creative idea to put together a yoga package that would be totally accessible for blind people. That’s when my partner and I developed “Beginning Yoga for the Blind and Visually Impaired,” It’s a 5 CD package that has helped and continues to aid many blind folks to receive a solid understanding of yoga. The package teaches yoga postures and attitudes, but also has some assertiveness training mixed in to help low vision and blind people become more empowered in all aspects of life. My goal was to have blind folks learn the basics of yoga, and then, if they wanted, to help them develop the skills to find a yoga class they could enjoy on a weekly basis in their local community.
In addition, there are many health benefits to gain from practicing yoga on a regular basis. Your body becomes stronger as well as more flexible from the stretching and strengthening that takes place when practicing each posture. You learn to quiet your mind and to breathe in a way that helps you to stay even tempered. Yoga means the union of body, mind and spirit and this integration actually happens for those who practice yoga consistently.
I believe the key for blind yoga students is to first get a basic understanding of yoga fundamentals and then do some research to find a local class with a yoga teacher who will be happy to support your class participation in a thoughtful way. It’s great to look forward to a good yoga class each week when you have confidence that the teacher has some awareness regarding blindness needs.
After searching in vain on YouTube over the last couple of years for a video that has strong and flexible blind folks doing yoga, I took the leap and had a video done of me in a simple six-minute yoga flow. Everywhere I looked before I found sighted yoga teachers guiding the blind in yoga, but nowhere could I find a blind person who was inspiring for other visually impaired people. My intention is to encourage as many visually impaired folks as possible to get more involved in yoga because I truly believe it will help them enjoy their lives more.
I am going to be sixty-five years old in August and the doctors are always amazed that I’m in such great shape physically. . I truly thank yoga for helping me sustain a healthy body and mind. Blessings and NAMASTE!
Submitted by Empish Thomas, Public Education Coordinator
This month is the one year anniversary of CVI’s SightSeeing blog. Over the past year we have had very interesting, educational, thought-provoking and humorous blog posts submitted by CVI staff, volunteers, clients, donors and friends. We launched the SightSeeing blog as a platform for people to express their thoughts, ideas and opinions about vision loss. We also launched the blog as a way to educate the public on the services and programs we provide to our clients and to show that people with vision loss can lead independent lives.
To celebrate CVI entering the blogosphere I want to share some highlights from the year. There were a lot to choose from--post that were insightful that got me to think a little deeper. Post that were educational where I learned something about vision loss that I did not know before. Posts that were funny and put a smile on my face or made me laugh out loud. So here goes!
Last July Atlanta was all a buzz over the transportation referendum. This was an opportunity to vote on a penny tax that would be used to improve Atlanta’s transportation options. Our president, Subie Green, shared about the referendum tax and the Atlanta BeltLine Project. In August I went to the virtual ball park and read Judy Byrd’s (manager of Atlanta Eclipse Beep Baseball Team) post on beep baseball and taking her team to the finals. Who doesn’t love a game of America’s all-time favorite sport-baseball? But if you prefer a colder sporting activity, read Scott McCall’s post on Ski for Light and blind skiing.
Are you visually impaired and ready for an emergency? If not, check out this informative blog post on preparing for an emergency by Alexis Muirhead, and how one client used her mobility training she received from CVI to survive a Mega bus fire. Employment for people with visual impairments is a critical concern at CVI. Reread Desiree Reed’s blog post on employment and working at our contact center, ClearAnswer. Also, read mine on networking as a key to professional career success. This post was selected as one of 25 blog post for the Non-Profit Blog Carnival.
Cooking and meal planning for the holidays can be a challenge for the sighted and the blind. Check out the blog post I wrote on helpful kitchen aids you can’t do without; especially those long arm hand mittens which are my favorite!
In November CVI celebrated 50 years of service to the blind and visually impaired community. Read Subie Green’s post commemorating this very special occasion.
The month of January was full of observations. Not only do we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday but Louis Braille’s too. Annie Maxwell, CVI’s braille instructor, wrote a post on the importance of the braille code and gave background on how braille became the writing and reading tool for the blind. Also during January we observe Glaucoma awareness month. Read more about this condition commonly known as the sneak thief of sight. One of the funniest blog posts I read was from Gail Handler, who shared about her battles with home appliances. For a good laugh read how she prepares for war with the dishwasher and curling iron!
In March and April we featured blog posts on visually impaired children. One was from a guest blogger, Hillary Kleck, who shared about her visually impaired daughter and promoting audio-described movies for children. We also took on USABA’s health challenge for visually impaired children through our STARS program. For our little ones in the BEGIN program Jackie Howard, BEGIN Teacher and Music Specialist, shared about the Wake Up and Sing Program.
CVI understands the importance of our volunteers and how valuable their service is to our clients. Read Debbie Hazelton’s post on her positive experience working with two of CVI’s volunteers. Also during the month of May we had another guest post from Christine Ha, the winner of Fox’s MasterChef competition. She came to speak at our Henderson Society dinner and later to staff and clients.
I am coming to a close on my trip down memory lane and have one more blog post I want to share. This one made me smile, cry and laugh all at the same time. Kevin Dunn wrote a heart-warming post titled Every Day is Father’s Day. See what he has to say about going grocery shopping at 2 a.m. while his wife is in labor!
If you have posts that you enjoyed reading from this past year share them in our comments section below. We would love to hear from you. Also as we venture into our second year of blogging, share any ideas, thoughts or comments on future blog posts you would like to see.
Submitted by Mark Gasaway, DeafBlind Advocate
Today, Thursday, June 27, there will be a birthday celebration in Tuscumbia, Alabama in honor of one of the city's well-known residents of long ago. Helen Keller was born and raised there. She was known throughout the world for the many things she did; advocating, speaking, writing, and educating. But in Tuscumbia they have a weeklong celebration in her honor that brings a lot of people into the city in northwestern Alabama. This celebration is a good cause as it continues the legacy of someone who opened the eyes, ears, and hearts of the world to the plight of people with disabilities.
Helen Keller, as many know, was a person who was deaf and blind. Back in her time people said she was deaf, blind, and mute. Times have changed and deaf and blind evolved into the term deaf-blind. Now, in a more conscious society deaf-blind is evolving into deafblind. Why the changes in terminology? To make the knowledge of the changes short; deaf-blind means a person has both a hearing and vision loss. The hyphen inserted between 'deaf' and 'blind' is an illustration of deaf-blind becoming more of a medical term than a single disability. Many people who are deaf-blind believe they have a dual disability of hearing and sight loss that in reality should be categorized as a single disability written as deafblind. They feel it is easier to distinguish between medically used terms and terms that give the disability more resemblance. So, the term deafblind is being used more often among disability communities.
But back to Helen Keller. She was an individual who has been highly honored as an inspiration to many people, and it should be noted that there are many deafblind individuals around the world who are more able to function independently in the world than Helen Keller was in her time. Maybe it is because resources now are much better than they were in the 1880s or maybe it is because in Keller's time people with a hearing and vision loss were seen as people who were limited in being able to function independently. We may never know but the point is that many deafblind individuals in modern times can be as inspiring and show more dedication than Helen Keller was able to do.
Some people like how Keller helped 'open' doors to the needs of the blind and people with disabilities. Some admire her writings about life as a deafblind person. Others may concentrate on the organizations she helped to establish or agencies that honor her name. Still others may want to focus on Keller's beliefs of equality, education and principles she held close to her heart. These are all great resources to use and be aware of but there are other things that may mean more to some people and those things are the many quotes Keller used. Her quotes have really been taken seriously and have been used as building blocks to improve the lives of many people the world over. Her quotes mean a lot to many people who are deafblind as the quotes become inspiring topics to help people endure and challenge themselves. Keller's quotes are things that can be used as solid resources and help deafblind individuals learn how to develop their own quotes to use in their everyday activities. Of her many quotes my favorite is “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Helen Keller was a wonderful person and a great inspiration to many. She had a very strong and effective influence on many people. Influences that were often seen different among individuals in the communities that serve those with disabilities but in all truth, Helen Keller and other deafblind individuals before her did indeed open doors and build bridges for all walks of life. Thus bringing a wonderful reason to celebrate her birthday on June 27, in Tuscumbia and everywhere!
For more information on Helen Keller and the deafblind community visit these websites:
Submitted by Empish Thomas, Public Education Coordinator
This week, June 24-28, is observed as Vision Rehabilitation Therapy Appreciation Week. A VRT is an instructor who assist those with vision loss learn independent living skills. Here at CVI we have VRT’s as part of our New View Adult Rehabilitation Program and want to say a special thank you for all your hard work and service. We appreciate your efforts to fulfill our mission of empowering those with vision loss to live with independence and dignity.
In the 1900s, VRTs started out as a charitable home-based program that provided instruction in reading Biblical scripture. These home teachers were mostly blind women who quickly realized that people with vision loss needed more than just religious instruction. They developed strategies and helpful hints that address communication skills, daily living skills and handy crafts. It was not until after World War II that rehabilitation teaching was established as a profession. Through customized training VRTs now learn about low vision, the psychosocial aspects of vision loss, gerontology, multiple-disability challenges, daily living techniques, and indoor orientation skills.
Because VRTs are college-trained professionals who can address a variety of skills needed; their clients are more equipped to live independently at home, to become employed, and to participate in community activities. Here at CVI our teachers give individualized instruction in braille, meal preparation and cooking, financial management, emergency preparedness, in home mobility and orientation, and so much more.
I remember when I started working with a VRT some years ago; I learned some valuable techniques that I still use to this day. For example, she taught me how to pour liquids, like hot water from a tea kettle, without spilling it on myself or the kitchen counter. She also came up with a creative way for me to keep up with my scarves by using a plastic hanger with multiple pouches. I then braille labeled the pouches to correspond with the color of the scarf that was in it. We also worked on identifying money and labeling my home appliances. Learning these skills gave me a stronger sense of independence and encouraged me to learn more ways to handle my life activities. Have you worked with a VRT? If so, what things did you learn from that experience? Please share by posting your comments below.
For more information about our New View Adult Rehabilitation Program, please call 404-875-9011 or click the link New View Adult Rehab Program
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.