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.

Staying on Your Feet and Preventing Falls in Your Home

Ernest and client walking down stepsEditor’s Note: This week is National Fall Prevention Week. Many times when people have accidents or falls in their homes it is not due to weakness or frailty but more so to vision loss. At CVI we teach our clients techniques and strategies on how to be safe in their home. One of our instructors, Ernest Burton, gives some helpful but humorous tips below on how to stay on your feet and prevent falls.

Here are a few safety tips I found from the Center for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, and the National Safety Council on fall prevention; but with my own added humor. Always remember that safety is serious and a very important factor of independence.

  1. An important factor in preventing falls is improving and maintaining good physical and mental health in addition to eating a well-balanced diet. Consult with your health care providers before starting or changing exercise programs and changing your nutritional intake. So maybe eat and run like a rabbit.
  2. Some medications taken can lead to falls especially if they cause dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations, etc. We are talking about the legal drugs and not that wacky tobacco or the sticky icky. Consult with your health care providers to discuss drug interactions and their side effects.
  3. Consider changing your footwear since high heels, slippers, flip flops, clogs, slick soles and walking around with only socks or stockings could lead to slipping and falling. That stiletto may look cute and add six inches to your height, but bunions and hammer toe both do not look good and is painful. Instead wear properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles and a more sensible heel.
  4. Arrange furniture in a way that allows plenty of space to walk freely without bumping into it. Ask yourself do you really use that coffee table or is it just decoration collecting dust? It could be one less thing you have to clean plus it hurts when you hit your shin on it. Maybe you could just paint it and give it as a gift to that cousin who is getting married again and again.
  5. Remove anything that could cause stumbling or slipping when walking on stairs, in hallways, pathways or doorways. Ask yourself does that rug really catch the dirt from outdoors or does it more often catch your foot causing you to stumble? This rug could be one less item to clean. Besides the irremovable stains now look like paisley patterns.
  6. Install handrails on at least one side of the stairway or both sides if you can. I have almost fallen down the stairs, but was holding onto the handrail which prevented me from tumbling down. Let’s just say that we should not run down stairs right quick even if we said “I’m going to run downstairs right quick.” Don’t do it.
  7. Rearrange items that are in cabinets or on higher shelves so that you have easier access to them. So maybe you shouldn’t put your adult book collection on the highest shelf all the way in the back of the cabinet when you need a ladder to get access to them. Let’s be realistic, you live alone and you read them every night so why not just place them next to your bed.
  8. If necessary, use a mobility device such as a white cane in order to detect obstacles within your path of travel. To learn to use a white cane properly contact CVI for mobility training classes.

If you did not laugh that’s ok since safety is a serious matter, however maybe you might consider organizing your home in a safer manner so that you become or remain independent while living there. Did you find my safety tips helpful? What things can you do at home to prevent a fall? Share your comments and let’s talk about fall prevention this week.

Fashioneyesta Bridges the Gap Between Fashion and Visual Disability

Picture of Emily DavisonFashioneyesta is an online Fashion and Lifestyle blog for people with sight loss aiming to bridge the gap between fashion and disability. It seeks to change people’s perceptions towards disability.

Allow me to tell you a little about myself. I am currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths University. I have lived in South East London my entire life. Naturally, I have been cultivated to know my way around markets, vintage shops, and where to find the best places on my home turf. I am currently working as a Journalist on the Huffington Post UK and working at my University as a Student Ambassador.

Fashion has always been a huge element of my life. Growing up, I was inspired by old Hollywood films and their captivating style icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. The fashion houses, vintage stores and many delightful chic-lists inspired me to become more involved in the history and the beauty of fashion. By the time I was fourteen, my mother had bought me my first designer bag and then the rest is History. I would describe my style as feminine, with exotic flares, vintage twists and a lot of costume jewelry. I change my look depending on my mood, one day I may step out in an Oriental inspired outfit. Or another day I may wish to go full out vintage with Victory Rolls and a 1940s inspired tea dress.

Picture of Emily in fall outfitOf course, you may be wondering why I set up the blog for Visually Impaired people? For one, I myself am Visually Impaired, I have a condition known as Septo Optic Dysplasia. The condition has disabled my Optic Nerves, leaving me with no sight in my right eye and ten percent central vision in my left. However, in the course of my life I never allowed my disability to hinder my love for fashion. Now, with my beautiful Guide Dog, Unity, in toe, I am out exploring the wide world and expanding my blog. A blog that I hope will inspire other visually impaired people to explore fashion, old and new, to find their own unique style.

The media has hypodermically projected an image that Visually Impaired people are aloof characters, sporting an anorak and dark glasses. This is a grossly unfair characterization and must be combated. Fashioneyesta.com serves to present visually impaired people with the tools, the skills and the knowledge of fashion, beauty and style to enable them to use their remaining senses to gage the world of fashion and to create their own unique style.

Fashion can be daunting for any person regardless of vision. Clothing and personal appearance are key psychological factors to a person’s well-being. In the 1940s it was believed that a person must look their best to feel confidence, their confidence transmits itself to others around you and thus you are noticed. Whether you are dressing for a special occasion, are seeking fashion advice, or want to socialize, Fashioneyesta.com is there to help you in whatever way possible. Fashioneyesta has many social networking forums such as a Facebook page, Twitter, Audioboo, YouTube, and many more. I offer my readers a wider variety of activities and things to see, read and do on Fashioneyesta. You can take part in polls, ask questions, or interact with others.

I conduct interviews with people in the fashion business on my blog, to give my readers a fresh perspective to fashion. My most recent interview was with Laura Legendary who is my co-founder of the podcast channel I run called Fashionability.

Emily in green outfitAt Fashioneyesta we have three people on board the venture, alongside several friends who act as my trusty allies. Myself, Emily Davison: Founder and female writer. Then there is Emma Davison, who is in charge of photography and filming for the blogs images and videos. For the males there is Thomas Ankin. Thomas is the male contributor for the blog, who reviews male products and writes features for the boys. Finally, we have a group of willing testers, who serve as the panelists on Fashioneyesta’s Product Testing Days. Where we receive a bundle of products and review them on accessibility, ease of application, value for money and overall quality.

I currently work with a number of different charities and organizations to raise awareness of Fashioneyesta and what we do, as well as to help Visually Impaired people with fashion. At present, I work as a fashion correspondent alongside the RNIB’s Insight Radio and in the past for Able Radio. Fashioneyesta has also been showcased on the BBC4’s In Touch radio and BBC Ouch Disability. I currently am working with charities on their fashion related projects one of which is the Living Paintings Trust.

At Fashioneyesta we also offer a support service where you can e mail us at fashioneyesta@gmail.com with any queries you may have in relation to fashion and lifestyle.

I welcome you to Fashioneyesta and hope that you enjoy reading and exploring everything it has to offer.

The blog is written in a friendly, talkative style in order to give people the advice they need and make them feel as if they were right alongside a shop assistant or a trustworthy friend. The main thing that I aim to do is to aid people with the right tools in order for visually impaired people not to feel as if society perceives them as being frumpy or stereotypically unfashionable due to their sight loss. I run the sight writing blog posts, recording audio boos and updating all my social links including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. For more information check out my website at: http://fashioneyesta.com/.

Always remember to be daring and don’t conform to what society expects you to be!

My 21 Days at Guide Dog School

Picture of Gail HandlerEditor’s Note: September is National Guide Dog Awareness Month. This month is a celebration of the work of guide dogs in the United States as a way to raise awareness, appreciation and support for guide dog schools across the United States. It was established in 2008, as a fundraising drive to benefit non-profit guide dog organizations accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation. It is observed during the month of September. Gail Handler a visually impaired writer and blogger shares excerpts from her training at the Guiding Eyes For the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York. Later this month Audrey Demmitt, another guide dog user, will share about how her years of using a guide dog have assisted her with having a more independent life.

I applied to guide dog school the end of January, 2014, and was accepted in April, 2014. My first class was on October 26, 2014. Below are excerpts of my blogging journal from school.

Day 7

There IS something worse than going outside at 6:00 AM. That would be going outside in the drizzly, cold, windy morning at 6 AM!

Even with crappy weather, we had a stellar walk. I handled turns, curbs, and distractions almost like a pro until we came to a curb with a huge puddle that I didn't see, but Pippi caught. I gave the Forward command and she refused to go. I gave a leash cue, didn't budge. Asked my instructor what was up and she said, "Miss Prissy pants doesn't want to get wet and she can't find an option to go around!" With instructor assistance, Pippi skimmed the edge of the puddle. Her job was to get me safely across the street. That doesn’t mean she has to keep ME out of the puddles! The dog has a rebellious side...we are so well matched.

Day 8.5

Sunday is a down day. I decided to watch some TV. I sat cross-legged on the floor. Pippi immediately plopped her 50ish lbs. on my lap. There was a doggie butt on one thigh and a doggie head on the other. Last week, if you told me I'd be sitting with a dog, and kissing her head I would have said, "Yeah, when h*all freezes over." All I can say is you better get out your winter coat, folks!

Day 14

I am amazed how much I have learned in 2 weeks. I believe I will have the tools I need to continue learning. We simulated traffic checks where your dog slows down or stops and backs up due to an on-coming car. On Saturday, we went to White Plains and an instructors drove a real car toward us. She appeared out of nowhere. Pip hit her breaks and did a backward shuffle. I was supposed to shuffle back as she did but I took a couple of giant steps backward instead of the baby steps needed. That threw her off.

Later, we all worked on different things with instructors, to fit training to our environmental needs back home. I worked on targeting bus stops.

Day 18

Coming to New York City is a cacophony of sound, smell, movement and a mass of people who always seem to be walking the opposite direction.

We took the commuter rail into the city and arrived at Grand Central Station, a cavernous, bustling, overwhelming place for the sighted, let alone the sightless. Next we took a subway a few stops. We walked from 42nd Street to the 60s. Grabbed a bus, rode to 90th Street then walked over 4 blocks 94th to a restaurant.

Watch words to remember: Be in the Moment. Focus on Pippi as she weaves in and out around people, poles, construction, roadwork that requires slowing down and smaller steps to not overstep her lead. It means being aware of her movements and discerning distractions that take her focus off working. I need to be aware of my body language which Pippi constantly reads. Can you say 'multi-tasking?'

Day 22

Each morning, we were awoken to a bit of music then 'good morning.’ On this last morning, we were serenaded by "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Boarding the plane with a dog in tow actually was rather exhilarating. Everyone acts like you're the Next Big Thing. Or maybe it's just the dog. Pippi lay down and curled up like a little ball of fur.

Currently, Pippi and I are approaching our one year anniversary! In the 11 months we've worked together, I can say that it's been a learning experience and an adventure. I compare it to my first year as a teacher; I had all the training, the basic skills I needed, enough information to get started, but you aren't really a true teacher until you have some experience under your belt. Same is true as a guide dog teammate. Pippi and I have been learning what to do and how to do it together. We have our ups and downs but keep on going. Instructors told us that the bond between person and guide dog takes about a year to solidify. I think it happens when you each learn to trust the other one. I can honestly say I can't imagine a day without her.

So, for you who are visually impaired and reading this post have you ever considered a guide dog? Why or why not. Do you think a guide dog would benefit your life and help you with your independence as a blind or visually impaired person? Share your thoughts and comments in the section below as we discuss guide dog awareness this month.

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.