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 Angie Clawson at aclawson@cviga.org.

The Evolution of Braille

A man sitting at a table reading Braille.

Written by Meredith Snellings, Early Intervention Specialist in CVI's BEGIN Program

January is Braille Awareness month, a perfect opportunity to learn a little more about the history of braille, how it is used today and what the future may hold for this form of adapted literacy. Braille serves to minimize the barriers that individuals who have visual impairment and blindness face when gaining access to literacy; it is a foundation of literacy and independence as it opens doors to the vast quantity of literature available for those who cannot access regular print materials. Braille materials are produced by a number of organizations such as the American Printing House for the Blind, National Braille Press, and can be accessed by individuals and educational specialists.

Braille is a tactual code that was invented by Louis Braille, a French man, in 1829. The Braille code was adapted from a night reading system that had been implemented during the late 1700’s battles for soldiers to safely read correspondence at night time without turning on a lantern and thus compromising their safety. The earliest attempts to emboss letters and create tactual reading systems contained some flaws described by French philosopher, Pierre Villes as, “talking to the fingertips with the language of the eyes” (Mellor, 1998). Written language is designed in a manner that is conducive to visual processing, but tactual reading is more efficient in a cell by cell linear progression of movement. Louis Braille simplified the night reading system to the six-dot braille cell, assigning a letter to each combination of filled in dots as an answer to his frustrations about lack of access to literacy as a young adult after he had been blinded at the age of five in his father’s workshop. The resulting braille reading code has been a system that evolved over the following 20 years after Louis Braille introduced it, but was not recognized officially by France until 1852, after Braille’s death.

Braille remained relatively unchanged from 1932 to the 1990’s when the braille community began to recognize the changing needs of braille users and efforts to adapt the code began. The need for a unified braille code was founded to address the need to produce braille in a more cost-effective manner and create a system of code that is more compatible with a greater variety of resources and audiences from countries that began to use slightly different versions of the code. The results produced the Unified English Braille code (UEB), one that is easier to translate, faster to learn, and easier to teach. Changes were made over a series of years to convert materials and education to the new system and was finalized around 2007.

Braille code has proved to be a dynamic means of literacy that signifies independence for a population of individuals who might otherwise struggle for access to employment and economic dependence as well as everyday living enhancements that visual print readers can readily access. To some, braille may seem like an outdated form of literacy; but in terms of modes of communication, for those who use keyboards and technology have not abandoned the pen and paper entirely in favor of more technological outlets. Braille remains relevant and is complementary to newer forms of literacy that are also used in conjunction with the code. Braille is in essence a foundation and bedrock to literacy and can continue to support the growth and access of individuals who rely on it for communication and independence.

There are a number of resources for obtaining braille resources and compilations of these resources can be found at http://www.aph.org. Organizations housing materials for the blind include the American Printing House for the Blind, AFB- American Federation for the Blind, and NIMAC, an independent project funded by the US Department of Education. With the important efforts to unify Braille code and legislation that supports the production of materials to students whose primary mode of literacy is braille, there is greater access in a timelier fashion to the materials needed. Trained specialists and teachers of the Visually Impaired remain a scarce resource, and the field of visual impairment has also made concentrated efforts to recruit and train new professionals to assume the important literacy work that these specialists do.

References:

Mellor C.M., (2006), Louis Braille: A touch of genius, National Braille Press, Boston.

https://brailleworks.com/braille-resources/history-of-braille/

http://www.iceb.org/ICEVI2006_UEB_Paper_Jolley.htm

Atlanta City Council Adopts Electronic Scooter Ordinance

Photograph of scooters propped up on a telephone pole

On Monday, January 7, Atlanta took the first step in a likely multistep process to issue regulations on the popular e-scooter industry in the city. Council adopted Ordinance 18-0-1322 13-1, and the measure now sits on Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ desk for consideration. This legislation mainly impacts scooter companies operating in the city with permitting fees and possible fines for non-compliance, but does direct riders on where to ride and how to park the scooters, but with no fines to the user for violation of the ordinance. Hopefully, the new regulations directed at riders will make sidewalks safer for all pedestrians.

Highlights of the legislation include:

  • An annual operating permit of $12,000 for each scooter company operating a maximum of 500 scooters. After 500 units, each additional scooter will cost $50. Companies must also carry liability insurance.
  • Scooters must be parked upright allowing at least five feet of clearance on sidewalks and cannot block building entrances, driveways, transit stops, ADA curb ramps, or be placed in vegetation.
  • A maximum speed limit of 15 mph (24.14 km/h) and no riding of scooters on sidewalks is required.
  • Operators must educate riders on safety measures and local laws such as the wearing of helmets and riding in the street rather than on the sidewalk.
  • Company violators face daily fines of $1,000 and possible revocation of their operating permit in addition to having scooters impounded by the Department of Public Works at their own expense.
  • Each company must take measures to ensure equal scooter distribution around Atlanta’s neighborhoods and business districts and offer a form of payment and access that does not require a credit card or smart phone for access.

As reported recently in Sightseeing, this ordinance could offer some assurance to Atlanta pedestrians with vision loss, as the scooters pose an extra hazard because of their lack of noise and close proximity to people using white canes who may not always walk in a straight line requiring sudden stops or course corrections from scooter operators on sidewalks in addition to tripping hazards posed by fallen scooters, sometimes piles of them, blocking entrances, curbs, or even the entire sidewalk path itself. With no penalties assigned to scooter riders, time will tell if possible fines alone assessed to scooter companies will be enough to curb riding on sidewalks, especially in light of Atlanta’s heavy auto traffic and limited bike lane network which poses serious dangers to scooter riders themselves.

If the Mayor signs the legislation, it will go into effect immediately. The ordinance requires Atlanta’s Office of Planning to monitor usage data and report back to the City Council before next January to see if any alterations should be made to the ordinance.

Tips for Healthier Habits in the New Year

A photograph of fruits and vegetables in paper bags

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

Happy New Year! As we begin 2019, you may be looking to hit the refresh button to start the year off with renewed focus on certain goals. And we all know that one of the most popular resolutions is to eat healthier and exercise more.

At CVI, we also know that obesity rates are oftentimes higher among people with visual impairments due to the barriers and misconceptions about their abilities. More than half of the people who are blind and visually impaired in the United States do not participate in even a limited physical fitness routine, but research has shown when those individuals become active with the goal of improving their health, they have higher energy levels, a lower risk of health-related diseases, improved psychological health, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.

This is why CVI is participating in the Anthem/USABA National Fitness Challenge. It's our way of encouraging clients to be more active. One of our local partners in the Fitness Challenge, Amerigroup, has shared some great tips with us on healthy eating and how to be more active that everyone can use.

Nutrition Tips

The USDA recommends choosing from the following food groups daily:

Fresh Vegetables and Fruits – helps reduce risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer and obesity

Whole Grains – helps reduce risk of Type 2 diabetes and can help maintain or lower body weight

Dairy – helps reduce risk of osteoporosis and can lower blood pressure

Protein – helps with the formation of red blood cells and builds muscle

The amount you need may be different based on your age, sex and physical activity level.

Tips for Getting Active

Leading an active lifestyle can help strengthen your heart, increase flexibility and lower cholesterol. It can also help prevent chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and even some types of cancer. You can make small changes, which can often make it easier to stick with it, and planning ahead makes it easier to include more activity in your day.

  • Walk during your lunch break
  • Play a sport with family or friends
  • Find an exercise buddy to help make it more fun
  • Do some stretching or sit-ups on the floor while enjoying your TV shows
  • Go dancing with a friend

Atlanta Exploring Electric Scooter Regulations

An image of some electric scooters propped up on a telephone pole.

In recent months, Atlantans have found a new way to get around the chronically congested city by means of a sleek, lightweight scooter that can literally be picked up and dropped off anywhere, is cheap and easy to use, and is a realistic alternative to completing short trips without the need for a car, but still a bit too far for walking. You see them everywhere from the tree-lined streets of Inman Park to the busy sidewalks of Peachtree itself, and here lies the potential for serious injury or worse, critics say. Now, the Atlanta city council is looking at measures intended to ensure public safety without stifling a burgeoning mode of transport that has become very popular with city dwellers. These proposed regulations could also impact Atlanta pedestrians with vision loss as well, as the scooters pose an extra hazard because of their lack of noise and close proximity to people using white canes who may not always walk in a straight line requiring sudden stops or course corrections from scooter operators on sidewalks.

On November 13, the city council’s Public Safety Committee met downtown to seek public comment on a proposed ordinance that outlines where, when, and how these new scooters can legally operate. The event drew several citizens concerned about scooter operator and pedestrian safety as well as representatives from the two largest scooter companies operating in Atlanta, Bird and Lime, who expressed concerns about the permitting process and the cap of vehicles allowed under the ordinance they feel would nip expansion in the bud of a blossoming industry. The committee decided to hold the legislation and study it further before moving it on. The work session will take place sometime in December, and the public will again be invited to speak on any proposed changes. The current draft of the ordinance would prohibit scooter operations while on sidewalks throughout the city and would also prohibit parking near building entrances, transit stops, or where they may block pedestrian access along the sidewalk.

The struggle Atlanta faces is not unique in how to regulate this rapidly evolving form of transportation that in many cases has far outpaced current rules and regulations. Cities across America have either outright banned the vehicles or have put in place a temporary moratorium until the completion of a pilot program involving a single company and set number of scooters for study. Atlanta seems to be taking a wait and see approach as the city continues studying how these small vehicles impact the urban environment. Critics worry that the scooters traveling up to 15 mph on crowded sidewalks pose a threat to pedestrians and are a serious danger to scooter operators when riding on streets with other vehicles, in addition to riders simply leaving them on sidewalks and in building entrances once a trip is complete.

For now, these scooters will be a common sight on Atlanta streets and sidewalks. Atlanta hopes to ensure pedestrian safety while not hindering a new industry that has become an overnight transportation sensation. Electric scooters mark the latest flashpoint in the ongoing saga of technology rapidly outpacing government regulation, as has been seen with other forms of sharable transportation options like taxis and bicycles.

Christmas Activities for the Entire Family

An image of the braille apple cinnamon ornaments, in the shapes of stars and gingerbread men.

Photo via WonderBaby.org.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holiday season always stirs excitement in children, and it’s a great time to focus that energy and excitement by doing some craft projects with them. CVI has found a few activities that are perfect for the entire family to do together. You might even start a tradition or two!

Here’s one that can spruce up your tree, or you can give them away as gifts to family, friends and teachers! See the links below for a few more ideas.

Have fun and Happy Holidays!

Braille Apple Cinnamon Ornaments

Making your own tree ornaments can be a wonderful family tradition! This simple recipe for homemade ornaments is super simple and makes your kitchen smell great. Plus, the use of cloves as braille could be great for differentiating between names of your children, or the people that you’re making them for. These also make for great holiday gifts to any friends and family.

Mix together one cup of applesauce and one cup of cinnamon, until it matches the consistency of cookie dough. Sprinkle some cinnamon or wheat flour on a flat working surface, and lay out the dough for rolling. Once you’ve rolled the dough, use cookie cutters to cut the shapes out of the dough. This is a really great task for your child, with a little bit of supervision. Place all of your ornaments on a cookie sheet, and create the hole at the top of the ornaments with a straw. After that, use a toothpick to create the 6-dot Braille cell on each ornament. This makes the Braille work much easier! To create the Braille letters, stick the cloves in in the corresponding holes for each letter.

From here, stick your ornaments in the oven at 200° for an hour, which will fill your home with the lovely scent of apples, cinnamon and cloves. After your ornaments have cooled, string some twine or ribbon through the hole at the top. If you wanted to go a little further for your kids with low vision, you could cover the cloves with a little glob of white paint on each of the cloves to create a bit of contrast.

Additional Ideas:

Story Box Ideas for Holiday Stories

Christmas Tree Project

Holiday Gift Tags

Holiday Gift Ideas for Visually Impaired Individuals

Holiday shopping for your loved ones is never an easy task, and it can be even more of a challenge if they are visually impaired. Like with any gift, you want it to be meaningful, but for someone who is visually impaired, you also want to make sure it’s accessible. For adults, you might want to consider something that will enhance their everyday lives such as something for the kitchen or a nice new watch. CVI has lots of great options for this type of gift. When picking out a gift for a child, look for toys that are fun and appropriate for the child’s physical abilities and visual level.

Toys for visually impaired children can be tough to select, especially if you don’t know what to look for. All you really need is something that creates valuable playtime for the child. For example, a visually impaired child gets a lot more out of a toy that has an interesting texture than something with a lot of color to it. It’s also important to find something that’s easy to use, easy to clean and safe to play with!

We’ve got some great gift ideas for all ages listed below. Some of these items can be found at the VisAbility Hub located on the first floor of the Center for the Visually Impaired, and you will receive a 20% discount through December 21.

Infants

  • Touch and feel books to encourage tactile exploration. (This is in the store!)
  • Easily activated musical and light up toys to help with the understanding of cause and effect relationships.
  • Bell balls with continuous noises to encourage the child to crawl toward the sound and retrieve the ball.

Toddlers

  • Riding toys or push cart type toys such as a shopping cart to encourage pretend play and to help children pull up and eventually to act as an adapted mobility device when walking.
  • Braille blocks for exposure to braille and work on stacking. (This is in the store!)
  • Match & store shape sorter for the development of skills such as sorting, matching, putting in, and taking out. (This is in the store!)

Preschool Age (3-9)

  • Pretend play items such as a kitchen set or dress up clothes such as a doctor, firefighter, etc. to encourage self-help skills such as dressing, cooking, or feeding, and to create conversations about community helpers.
  • Baby dolls, action figures, cars, trains, etc. to encourage imaginative play, playing family roles, and social skills.
  • A Wooden Lacing Shoe, which teaches your child how to lace and tie their own shoes at a young age. (This is in the store!)

Older Kids (Middle School – High School)

  • Electronic devices are huge with this age group. These days, most smart phones are accessible through screen reading software. It could be helpful to consult your child’s teachers to see what products work better than others, and what could be useful in class.
  • This is also a great age to develop any musical talents. Starter packs for beginner musicians are typically pretty cost-efficient, and learning a musical instrument is great for teaching discipline and patience
  • Board games and cards are also great! We have decks of large print playing cards, UNO, accessible chess, Boggle, Scrabble, Racko, the Yahtzee “Hands Down!” card game and dominoes. (This is in the store!)

Adults

  • Practical, accessible, every-day items are great gifts for adults. Some items to consider are kitchen items such as a talking food scale or double nylon spatulas, bold-lined paper, bold-writing pens, talking clocks, talking watches and magnifiers. (These are in the store!)
  • Tech tools like key finders and the latest smart phone can be very useful items.
  • The holidays are a great time of year to update or replace any white canes that might be worse for wear. (These are in the store!).

Check out our stock online, or come to the store to test some our items for yourself. For items that you can’t find in our store, here are a few resources that might be helpful to you brailleworks.com, pathstoliteracy.org and familyconnect.org.

Diabetes Awareness Month

Image of the pieces of a Prodigy Voice Blood Glucose test displayed on a table

Do you know someone who is living with diabetes? It’s likely you do since according to the American Diabetes Association, more than 30 million Americans are living with diabetes and 84 million are at risk, totaling nearly half of the U.S. adult population. Unfortunately, diabetes can lead to other health complications. Diabetic retinopathy, a complication from diabetes, is one of those complications and is the number one cause of new blindness in adults.

In honor of Diabetes Awareness Month, CVI wants to make sure you know the facts about diabetic retinopathy and the risk factors.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy? It is when diabetes damages the blood vessels in the retina, the light sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. There are four stages of retinopathy:

  1. Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy
  2. Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy
  3. Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy, and
  4. Proliferative Retinopathy.

The first three stages require no treatment, other than the typical diabetic control over blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. Proliferative retinopathy, the most advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy where fragile blood vessels grow in response to the blocked vessels, is treated with a scatter laser treatment which will help shrink the abnormal blood vessels that occur at this stage. This treatment works better before these abnormal, fragile vessels have started to bleed. If the bleeding is severe, you may need a vitrectomy, a procedure where the blood is removed from the center of your eye.

What are the factors that influence whether someone gets retinopathy?

  • Blood Sugar Control
  • Blood Pressure Levels
  • How long you have had diabetes
  • Your genes

Because diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs, the best thing you can do to catch it early is to have a dilated eye exam each year. Those who have already been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy may need an eye exam more often. Studies show that better control of blood sugar levels slows the progression of retinopathy and decreases other diabetes-related health risks as well. Also, people with proliferative retinopathy can reduce the risk of blindness by 95% with timely treatment and appropriate care.

The most important thing to know about any visual impairment diagnosis is that there are always options for support and rehabilitation. In 2017, eight percent of clients served by CVI were diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and were able to continue to live independently through skills learned in our programs and with the assistance of accessible diabetes supplies and devices, which are available to purchase in the VisAbility Hub located on the first floor at CVI.

If you want more information on diabetes, diabetic retinopathy or Diabetes Awareness Month, visit the American Diabetes Association.

CVI Gets Healthy

Anna Trotman and Miguel Eugenio walking across the street, using white canes

In October, the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) kicked off its sixth annual National Fitness Challenge with a grant from the Anthem Foundation, and CVI joined 16 other organizations across the U.S. in this effort to encourage kids and adults who are blind and visually impaired to increase their physical fitness levels and live healthier, more active lives. The Fitness Challenge is supported locally by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia Foundation and the Amerigroup Foundation.

Research has consistently shown that individuals who participate in regular physical activity have higher energy levels, a lower risk of health-related diseases, improved psychological health and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, many people who are blind or visually impaired in the U.S. don’t participate in even limited physical activity due to barriers and misconceptions about their abilities. CVI hopes that this program will help change that for some of our clients and it seems to be working. Two of our participants are already seeing the benefit of moving more.

Twenty-three year old Miguel Eugenio joined the National Fitness Challenge to be more active. “I play a sport called Goalball, an adaptive sport for the blind and the visually impaired and before joining the Fitness Challenge, I never did any exercise outside of my weekly Goalball practice,” says Miguel. “I came to the conclusion that if I was an athlete I should act like one. After joining the challenge I feel more active and my energy levels are higher than ever before. So far my body has seen minor changes, but I do feel absolutely comfortable within my own body which is a really good feeling. I am more motivated to go outside and run a mile or at the minimum just wiggle my toes to make sure my body is awake and in motion.”

CVI Client Shlisha Gillins, 41, says that being part of the Fitness Challenge has motivated her to be a better version of herself. “It has encouraged me to be more active and to eat healthier. I like that you can set goals for yourself and work hard to reach them. I feel a huge difference in my energy levels.”

The National Fitness Challenge runs through the end of May 2019. CVI participants will be taking part in a 5k or 10k event, trying adaptive climbing and being part of CVI’s Paralympic Day in April. The community is invited to join us for all of these activities so be watching for more details about each event.