THE BRAILLE FORUM is available in braille, large print, half-
speed four-track cassette tape, computer disk and via e-mail.
Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for
publication should be sent to:
THE BRAILLE FORUM,
1155 15th St. NW,
Washington, DC 20005,
or via e-mail.
E-mail the Editor of the Braille Forum
Submission deadlines are the first of the month.
Those much-needed contributions, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Ardis Bazyn at the above mailing address. If you wish to remember a relative or friend by sharing in the council's continuing work, the national office makes printed cards available to acknowledge contributions made by loved ones in memory of deceased friends or relatives.
Anyone wishing to remember the American Council of the Blind in his/her Last Will and Testament may do so by including a special paragraph for that purpose. If your wishes are complex, contact the ACB National Office.
For the latest in legislative and governmental news, call the "Washington Connection" toll-free at (800) 424-8666, 5 p.m. to midnight Eastern time Monday through Friday. The Washington Connection is also posted and updated on the ACB web site at http://www.acb.org.
Happy New Year! January is Braille Literacy Month.
As reported in the November 2001 edition of "The Braille Forum" through a reprint of an obituary from the Durham, N.C. Herald-Sun newspaper, Marie Boring, 85 years old, died quietly in her sleep on Thursday morning, October 11, 2001. Why, you may ask, should the passing of this particular blind woman be especially noted or deserving of our respect and honor? The answer is that this genteel, soft-spoken southern lady just happened to be one of the truly heroic figures in the civil war within the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) that eventually led to the formation of the American Council of the Blind (ACB).
Many blind people are aware of the unique and singular contributions of Durward McDaniel to ACB's formation. Yet in NFB circles, whenever the dissenting minority faction within the Federation is mentioned, the participants in the "unrest" are referred to as "the Boring-McDaniel rebels." Thus, at least among the NFB national officers of that time, it was Marie Boring -- not Durward McDaniel -- who was most feared and receives top billing among the leaders of the purged faction.
As was true of most of the figures directly involved in the unrest of the late 1950s which eventually led to purges within the Federation and the creation of the ACB, Boring fell unwittingly into her historic role. Marie Boring had already accomplished much in her early life. She graduated from the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, and then successfully completed a B.A. degree, majoring in English, from Guilford College in the 1930s. She had married, and along with her husband, Eddie, raised a family of three sons: Bob, Jimmy and Phil. She worked for many years as a medical transcriptionist at the Duke University Medical School in her home town of Durham, N.C. Marie had a wide range of friends and interests outside of the blindness community which held her attention and kept her busy over the years as well.
Yet as a totally blind woman, Marie felt a special calling to speak out on behalf of the right of the blind people of North Carolina and of the nation. Thus, when the North Carolina Federation of the Blind was formed in the mid-1950s, Marie Boring, because of her leadership talents, was the natural candidate to become the charter president of the newly organized statewide group. As the president of the North Carolina Federation of the Blind, Marie represented the new organization and attended national conventions of the NFB. Her quiet, behind-the-scenes leadership talent was quickly recognized at the national level as well, and Marie Boring was elected by the national convention to the NFB's Executive Committee at the San Francisco convention of 1956. She served there until the purge of 1959 in which she, along with others, were removed from the executive committee.
Among her contemporaries and colleagues, Marie Boring is remembered for speaking only sparingly, in a soft yet resolute voice. Yet when Marie Boring spoke, others listened because she spoke with great conviction, courage, passion and commitment. While she was willing to listen to the views of others and to consider compromise positions, once having made up her mind on an issue, she stuck to her guns with determination, stamina and endurance.
One of the actions which several of her contemporaries told me Marie should especially be remembered for involved the matter of wages for blind workshop employees. As expressly authorized by the membership of the North Carolina Federation of the Blind, Marie Boring, as its president, wrote letters to the entire North Carolina Congressional delegation during the 86th Congress. Her letters argued that blind workshop workers who met production levels should be paid at a rate no lower than 100 percent of the federal minimum wage. In her letters, she argued that to do any less was to treat blind workers as second-class citizens.
Unfortunately, while Marie was working to achieve 100 percent of the minimum wage for blind workers in North Carolina, the national officers of the NFB were supporting a policy which would authorize blind workers to be paid at a floor level no lower than 75 percent of the federal minimum wage. The NFB national officers seized upon the Boring letters to the North Carolina Congressional delegation as an undermining act of disloyality to the national Congressional legislative program of the Federation. It was precisely this charge of disloyalty which was leveled against her and the North Carolina Federation of the Blind at the 1960 national convention in Miami and used as grounds for suspending the North Carolina Federation of the Blind and its members from the national organization.
Marie Boring above all else had principles and integrity. She and the North Carolina Federation of the Blind believed that the NFB at the national level had become less than democratic or representative, and that the national officers could no longer be held sufficiently accountable to the grassroots rank and file membership. She believed that internal organizational self-governance practices such as permitting each affiliate, no matter its actual membership size, to cast only one vote at the national convention unfairly and disproportionately kept control of the NFB in the hands of only a few small affiliates who owed much politically to the incumbent NFB national officers.
Subsequently, the North Carolina Federation of the Blind published in "The Braille Free Press" some 20 specific proposed amendments to the NFB constitution and bylaws which, if they had been adopted, would have resulted in a much more representative and democratic organization which would have been accountable to the grassroots rank and file membership.
Above all else, Marie Boring believed in fair, representative, democratic rule within the organized blind movement. Her reputation as the voice of conscience grew during this period as she became a regular contributor to the pages of "The Braille Free Press." In late 1960, she became the magazine's editor. When the band of conscientious dissenters finally decided reluctantly that they had no other recourse but to form their own new organization of the blind in 1961, Marie Boring became a charter member of the American Council of the Blind and was one of three women elected to the original provisional board of directors.
Her commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience is further reflected by Marie's service as the first editor of "The Braille Forum." It was precisely for all of these contributions that the ACB board of publications awarded to Marie Boring a special lifetime achievement award at the 40th annual national convention in Des Moines, Iowa. Those who attended the Des Moines convention were given the treat and privilege of hearing a previously tape recorded message from Marie Boring in her own voice and words, accepting the special award.
While she certainly will be remembered for her many monumental contributions to the founding of ACB, Marie Boring will also be remembered for the warm, personal and hospitable side of her character. Contemporaries of the time fondly remember Marie and her family warmly inviting those who were traveling through the South to stop for a night or two of North Carolina hospitality at her big house, affectionately referred to as the "barn." Many blind travelers took Marie and her family up on their generous offer of southern-style hospitality and remember their visits with fondness.
Marie Boring will be remembered as a principled voice for, and advocate of, the rights of all blind people. Her published writings and public speeches reflect those principles even today. She was a woman of great leadership talents and skills who naturally drew the support of others to her. She was steadfast and true to the causes which she adopted, and she stuck by her principles through thick and thin. She was a fighter when need be, but she was a warm and caring woman as well. Her family -- particularly her three sons and four surviving grandchildren -- were her pride and joy.
While we who remain know intuitively that there will never be another one quite like her, we will remember Marie Boring as the genuine heroine for the blind that she surely was during her lifetime.
This past November 15, one of the 20th century's pioneers in work for people who are blind passed into history with the death in Louisville, Ky., of T. V. (Tim) Cranmer.
For most of his adult life Tim Cranmer (his name really was Terrence) was involved in one way or another in developing and providing service to blind people.
In 1952 Cranmer joined the staff of Services for the Blind of the Kentucky Department of Education. Before that, he had worked as a piano technician. In this role, he had invented a key leveling instrument that became popular with sighted as well as blind technicians.
Over the years, he headed the program of services for the blind in Kentucky and later directed the provision of technical support for blind clients of the agency.
Tim had an inventive mind. As a radio amateur, he contributed articles for various circuits to the Braille Technical Press. In 1965 he wrote an article describing a thermometer with a braille scale and audible output.
Early in the 1960s, he engaged a Frankfort high school student to help with clerical and other visual chores. That student was Deane Blazie. Tim interested Deane in electronics and the relationship was one that turned out to benefit blind people everywhere.
Tim's other contributions include the abacus that bears his name. It is one with beads that can be operated and read by touch without disturbing them. At the time of its development there was no efficient calculator available to blind people. The abacus turned out to be a vital link in enabling blind people to work as taxpayer assistors for the Internal Revenue Service.
Together with Deane Blazie, Tim pioneered information retrieval with a computer-based talking telephone directory that enabled blind switchboard operators to look up information at universities and similar institutions.
At a time when the prevailing wisdom said there was no room for personal braille printers, Tim developed a modified Perkins braillewriter that was driven by a computer. This device was sold commercially as the Cranmer Modified Perkins Brailler. Its popularity encouraged others to enter the marketplace, providing personal braille embossers.
He pioneered local production of braille using translation software which he wrote, and his software was the first to enable blind people using personal computers to fill out forms independently.
In 1982, Cranmer retired from the Kentucky Department for the Blind and devoted much time thereafter to developments related to the braille code. He was one of the prime movers in the effort to establish a unified braille code.
In recent years his health had been in decline due to pulmonary fibrosis.
Tim Cranmer's contributions will doubtless continue to touch the lives of blind people for years to come.
There are bound to be moments as we do our organizational advocacy work when we ask ourselves whether or not we really matter. When a minor defeat must be overcome or overlooked, when legislation comes forward that is not in the best interest of blind people, when we must overcome difficulties within our local organizations, the question "do we matter?" is a natural and inevitable thing one cannot help but wonder.
Just after Thanksgiving, I was hit squarely with an event that made me, momentarily, ask myself this question. While reading my mail one morning, I came to an announcement about an organization who was providing donations to blind people on a nationwide basis, but not offering such an equal opportunity to ACB members who might choose to use this method of making a contribution to ACB. Concerned and curious, I wrote back to raise the possibility that perhaps ACB had been inadvertently overlooked or forgotten in this display of Christmas spirit. I found out a little later that Charlie Crawford had made an identical contact and was as perplexed about this situation as I.
After some phone conversations and the exchange of other messages, we learned that in fact, ACB had not been overlooked, but that we were being intentionally left out by the company in question. No, we would not be considered for inclusion in this program that would have allowed our members who shopped at the company's web site to specify a contribution to ACB.
How, I asked myself, could a responsible company that works in our field decide that ACB consumers are not worthy of making a contribution to their organization via making a purchase through the company's web site while others can? I'm still wondering, or is it only that I am in a state of wonderment?
Of course, I know the answer, at least a major part of it. Whether rightly or wrongly, ACB is perceived by some as an organization that will not stand up for itself, particularly to organizations serving people who are blind. Despite our continually expanding successes and influence, some organizations that work in service to the blind think they can do as they please and ACB will turn the other cheek. What do you think?
It is time for this perception to be set right! In fact, it is time for every reader of this article and every member of ACB to take five minutes and let this company know that in fact, ACB DOES MATTER. A couple of years ago, there were two notable vendors of products for people who are blind who elected not to demonstrate products at an ACB convention. That problem got resolved when ACB members spoke up, made their voices heard, and said to these companies: WE DO MATTER. Apparently, one similar organization hasn't quite gotten the message. I am asking you to clearly communicate the message to the owner of EnableLink that, in fact, ACB does matter. If they are willing to solicit, accept, and transmit donations to any national organization that relates to blindness, they had better include the American Council of the Blind, the largest single representative organization of blind people in the United States today. We are not asking that any organization be precluded, but we are insisting on being included.
EnableLink and its parent company, DeWitt and Associates, has chosen to discriminate specifically and directly against the American Council of the Blind. Given their reliance on blind people for their business and given their acceptance of significant public funding with which to provide services to the blind of their region, one can only wonder about their fairness and the degree to which they take into consideration the needs of all blind people when they take such a rash and discriminatory action. I encourage you to contact this company and let them know of your concern. Further, I, speaking as a personal matter here, will not consider their web site as a source for purchasing and hope that others will follow suit until this unfortunate situation is resolved. Contact EnableLink and John DeWitt and Associates at (201) 447-6500. You can also e-mail Mr. DeWitt at [email protected].
(Editor's Note: EnableLink is not related in any way to the well-known and much-respected company Enabling Technologies. We felt it was important to point this out, since when one reads the article with a screen reader, it might be easy to confuse EnableLink with Enabling.)
This brings us inevitably to the second question: "Can we make a difference?" In this particular case, if enough of us take action and do so today, I know the answer is "yes!" In a larger sense, we can recognize that the answer is "yes!" ACB is directly and specifically responsible for saving lives on city streets today in communities throughout the United States. It is our membership that has provided the support and counsel that nurtured and brought to life the radio reading service movement and later the descriptive video movement in America. It is ACB members who, through their positive, forward-looking activities, make the real difference in the lives of all blind people in this country. Of this I am certain, and I am very proud to be able to work each day in support of these efforts. Yes, there are days when it's easier to feel discouraged than hopeful; and we do have our battles to wage. With our work of today in support of our vision tomorrow, ACB's successes and achievements will only continue to grow and magnify our ability to accomplish even more.
How often have you heard or used the phrase, " All we need to do is to be reasonable?" Probably many times since the concept of "reasonableness" is a basic standard used in western civilization that derives from roots in the rules of law developed as far back as ancient Greece. Yet often we find ourselves perplexed when we try to apply the standard of what is reasonable to situations like taxi cab drivers' claiming allergies as legitimate reasons for refusing to transport guide dog users and our dogs. Here are some thoughts that may serve to facilitate thinking on matters such as these.
Most often, reasonability is used as a support in the context of fairness. If everyone gets what they need in a situation, we are prone to say it is a reasonable solution to whatever the presenting problem was. So if a cab driver claims allergy and another taxi instantly appears in place of the one we have hailed, then it would be reasonable for the guide dog team to take the second cab. This of course is seldom the case and so we must attempt to try and determine what is fair.
Reason dictates that we seek answers to at least three questions here. First there is the need to determine if the claim of allergy is true. Experience has shown us that too often cab drivers claim an allergy to dogs where no allergy, in fact, exists. Next there is the question of whether any real allergy can actually be treated to render it irrelevant. Finally, there is the idea of a taxi cab driver's essential job function which is to transport passengers as a public conveyance, and an essential element of this concept is the one that guide dogs hold the same status as human passengers under color of law. Is it reasonable therefore that a person with an allergy should become a cab driver when there is the clear possibility that he or she may, as a part of the job responsibility, have to transport a person using a guide dog? The question is answered by removing any emotional context and drawing an analogy to other professions. For example, we would not think of hiring a person to be a firefighter if he or she could not function in a smoky environment, we would not hire a person to work as a forest ranger if he or she could not function during pollen season. In short, reason supports the fundamental premise that if a job requires that performance of certain functions are essential, then those hired to do the job must in fact be able to perform those functions.
Another example of the idea of reasonability in the context of our movement is the entire issue of accessible pedestrian signals. Some believe that it is unreasonable to ask the government to go to the expense of installing an accessible pedestrian signal, when in the view of these folks, the intersection can be crossed without the need for an audible signal. Here the issue is akin to the allergy problem when viewed from the perspective of the essential function of the pedestrian signal. At those intersections where traffic engineers have determined a sufficient level of danger exists to warrant the installation of a pedestrian signal, then it is reasonable to assume that if the sighted public needs the information a signal provides, then blind pedestrians also need that information. Since blind pedestrians must act in accord with the instructions provided by the signaling devices, then it is only reasonable that the information be accessible to us as well.
By now you may have determined that this article is only stating the obvious, and you are correct. Yet the debates seem to continue despite the plain application of reason. Why is this and can it be changed?
Here we must come to terms with a political reality which causes some to advance the concept of "reasonableness" only as it applies to what they believe is in their own best self interest. If I need a job and cab driving is available and I don't like or view dogs as acceptable to me, then I can claim an allergy to avoid having to transport guide dogs. If I would rather not spend tax dollars on something that does not meet a need that I have, then I would be well satisfied to allow those who say blind pedestrians have gotten along for years without accessible signals to influence my decisions, and so not to install the accessible signals. The self-interest in these examples only extends to the immediate circumstances of the perceivers and does not contemplate at least three critical realities.
First, there is the possibility that the cab driver or the city official who denies the need for accessible pedestrian signals may become blind themselves. Blindness, as most of us know all too well, is no respecter of profession or position. Second, there is the intervention of law that either defines a right or enforces an equity for all who come under its jurisdiction. Finally, there is the undeniable logic that when we ignore the basic human rights of others, then we are one step closer to having our own rights violated.
Reasonability will always be a standard for resolving conflicts. As a political movement, we must employ it and make sure that we make every possible consideration for the rights of others while upholding our own rights. For all our rights come not only from law, but also from our very dignity as human beings and members of a larger society that needs us as much as we need it.
As we embark on our journey through this new year of 2002, we are aware of our lives and world, forever changed by the tragic attacks of September 11. It is said over and over again, "Our lives will never be the same again." That is a given but maybe we can move forward with a new appreciation of those around us who have brought good into our lives. Appreciation and connecting on a spiritual level are now more important than ever.
The American Council of the Blind is now announcing an opportunity for you, its members, to nominate those whom you believe are worthy of recognition, appreciation and support for their lives, their work and their contributions to the lives of all of us.
It is now time to write your letters to the ACB (500 words or less), nominating your choices for these awards which will be announced at our annual convention next July in Houston, Texas.
The awards and their purposes are as follows:
Robert S. Bray Award, given periodically in memory of the former chief of what is now the National Library Service. This award is given in recognition to an individual who has made a significant contribution in extending library services, increasing access to materials or improving communication devices or techniques.
The Durward K. McDaniel Ambassador Award is an award which recognizes a blind person who has significantly pursued integration and interaction in the life of his or her community. This individual does not have to be a member of a blindness organization but should have lifelong involvement with the community.
The George Card Award is given periodically to a blind person who has demonstrated by life choices and work, noteworthy betterment in the quality of lives of the blind community. This is an award which should be given to someone who has spent their life caring about others who are also blind.
The ACB Distinguished Service Award is presented to a sighted person whose lifework has made an important contribution to the lives of the blind community. This is also a periodic award.
Affiliate awards are also given and include:
Membership Growth Award. This award is determined by the highest percentage increase in membership over the past year, as reflected by the credentials reports of 2001 and 2002. Be sure your affiliate membership reports are on time and accurate.
The second affiliate award is the Creative Outreach Award. This award must be nominated by an affiliate or special interest president in recognition of a local chapter project, excluding fund-raising, which creatively or innovatively develops an outreach project which has measurable successful outcomes. These projects, goals and outcomes should be documented. The project should have been begun in 2001, but need not be completed in that year.
Please start thinking and then writing your letters nominating those you have known or know of who deserve our appreciation, at a time when connecting with each other on a human level is so much more important than ever.
Send your letters, 500 words or less, by April 14, 2002 to American Council of the Blind Awards, 1155 15th St. NW, Suite 1004, Washington, D.C. 20005.
In a classroom at East Islip High School in Islip Terrace, New York, there are 13 students between the ages of 15 and 18 who are spending this school year learning to read, write, and transcribe braille. Most of these students are not blind, and some had never even seen a braille dot before they signed up for Dr. Sheila Amato's course in order to satisfy their careers and technology high school credit requirement, but each has already begun to master a skill which will offer employment and satisfaction for a lifetime. The course follows the syllabus for the transcriber certification program outlined by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Upon achieving high school graduation, successful completion of the course requirements and the submission of a trial manuscript to the NLS, each student will be entitled to earn NLS certification as a literary braille transcriber. What a great way to introduce students to an array of challenging and worthwhile career options while beginning to solve the critical problem of an escalating shortfall in braille transcriptionists!
Dr. Sheila Amato, who is a teacher of students who are deaf- blind, a university instructor for courses in literary braille and Nemeth Code, and an experienced braille transcriber herself, brought the idea of teaching the skills of braille transcription to the local school board late last year.
"My passion for braille merged with the reality that we are approximately 5,000 teachers short of being able to fulfill presently identified needs," Amato explains. "I thought that by offering a credit-bearing course in braille, it might pique the interest of some of the students, and introduce them to the opportunity to pursue several interesting careers."
Amato interested high school administrators in housing the course under the Careers and Technology Department and then sold it to members of the local Board of Education. American Sign Language (ASL) has become a popular course choice for high school students during recent years, and Amato took advantage of this rather widespread interest in alternative communications paradigms. She visited an ASL class in the district, and also held a mini-workshop on the topic of braille transcription for guidance counselors, so they would become knowledgeable about the course and promote it to their students.
According to Mary Lou Stark, head of the braille development section of the NLS, Amato's course is the only high school level course in literary braille transcription being offered in the United States at the present time. Amato says that the NLS has been extremely supportive.
The students began learning to transcribe with Perkins braillers, and once the code was "cemented" in their consciousnesses, Amato told me, they progressed to slates and styli and the Duxbury braille translation software. The Helen Keller Braille Library in Hempstead, NY loaned the students 20 braillers for the year.
Amato was determined that her students would gain a working knowledge of the braille code and some appreciation for its intricacies before they were introduced to the automation which a system like Duxbury makes possible.
"I want them to see the necessity of learning the braille code first, and not to develop the attitude that anyone with access to a computer and a couple hundred dollars can produce quality braille. Accuracy and knowledge of the code, leading to quality transcription, is my primary goal," Amato says. "They need to become proficient first."
I met Sheila Amato on the AER listserv. When she told me about the innovative program for preparing high school students to become certified braille transcribers, we were both excited about sharing details with readers of "The Braille Forum." It seemed to be a perfect topic for the January issue, since January, which was the month of Louis Braille's birth, is always designated as Braille Literacy Month.
"I hope other schools will be motivated to copy our program," Amato told me. "It's not perfect, and I'm making some of the rules up as I go along. But the students are fascinated, and I'm thrilled by their interest, determination and perseverance." The Students
Six of the students are girls, and seven are boys. Five are in special education programs at East Islip High School, and the rest are in regular education programs. The students represent a cross section of high school interests, motivations and abilities. There's a member of the marching band, one cheerleader, a member of the varsity wrestling squad, and two members of the varsity football team.
The program is already opening up possibilities for Amato's students. "My students have already been offered salaried jobs upon completion of the NLS transcription certification process and receiving their high school diplomas," she says. "They have been offered jobs as braille transcribers at the Helen Keller Library, as well as positions at the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, N.Y., where, after working full-time for one year, and continuing full time employment, they have been promised that the HKNC will pay for their college tuition and books in full. One of my students is interested in becoming a teacher of students who are deaf-blind, and Dominican College has offered to create a five-year program for her, leading to a master's degree in blindness and visual impairment (BVI), with a scholarship. They will have many options open for them upon successful completion of this course."
Amato meets with the students for 45 minutes each day, so they will be receiving a total of 130 hours of classroom instruction over the course of the year.
Amato says, "I'm hoping I can turn out some certified transcribers with that gift of time. Since the braille code is the braille code, I am holding them to the same standards that I hold my graduate students to in terms of accuracy and performance. And, for the most part, they are achieving my expectations for them."
Amato and her students have been invited to take a field trip to the American Printing House for the Blind in the spring. The Future?
Amato says that her students are doing a great job of selling the course to others who may want to investigate braille transcription as a possible career option for themselves next year at East Islip High School. Just last week, Amato received permission to develop a second braille transcription course, to commence with the September 2002 school year. The course, which will boost the number of braille courses offered under the Careers and Technology umbrella to two, will be called "Advanced Braille Transcription," and it will cover topics like advanced computer braille transcription, methods for transcribing teacher materials, and the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science. The second-year course will be offered exclusively to those students who have completed the first-year braille course successfully.
"My students are so proud of themselves for being able to do something that no other high schooler in the USA can boast of doing," she says. "As early as November (when the course had been offered for only a couple of months), I had students walking up to me in the high school corridors, asking if they could join class for the second semester which starts in January."
Since this pilot course is expected to run for two full semesters, those students will have to wait until next spring to register for the 2002 course which will begin again in September. I join Dr. Amato in hoping that her course can serve as a model for developers of the high school curricula in Careers and Technology. What a marvelous way to interest kids in careers that can be satisfying as well as making a positive difference for blind and visually impaired readers of braille for generations to come!
(Reprinted from "The Seattle Times," April 25, 2001.)
PHILADELPHIA -- Scott Stoffel had no trouble coming up with a topic for his required senior design project at Temple University.
He was majoring in electrical and computer engineering because he wanted to develop a device to help blind and deaf people who have trouble deciphering the tiny raised dots of Braille with their fingers.
So Stoffel, 32, who is legally blind and deaf, invented what he calls a computer-automated palm Braille system to expand the communication options for the estimated 100,000 people in the United States who are deaf and blind. He said he thinks his instrument could be produced at a fraction of the cost of larger electronic Braille devices. Connects to a PC
His instrument connects to the parallel port of a PC or laptop using a standard cable. The "palm" in its name refers to the part of the hand. Users rest a palm on the tool to feel six large pins that are raised and lowered to represent the combination of dots in Braille letters.
Stoffel also plans a wireless version that could work with personal digital assistants such as Palms.
The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults in Sands Point, N.Y., plans to test the device with its students this summer. And Stoffel dreams of improvements for the next version in hopes of selling the concept to a company that makes Braille devices.
"Communication is probably the single most-important thing there is to a human being, aside from the basic necessities," Stoffel wrote in his senior-project proposal. "We use our eyes and ears to absorb text and speech. But how would someone get along in the information-driven world of today if he/she could not see or hear effectively?"
Those who know him say Stoffel is the epitome of determination and grit. Reading is a laborious chore for him, yet he maintains a 3.7 grade-point average in a demanding major. He has written a fantasy novel, "The Last Days of Magic," scheduled to be published by Domhan Books in New York this spring, and he is a finalist to speak at Temple's commencement next month.
"I can honestly say that he has changed my outlook on life," John Helferty, chairman of the electrical and computer engineering department, wrote in nominating Stoffel to be a student commencement speaker. "His sense of humor in the face of monumental challenges and difficulties is something I will never forget."
Stoffel said he had been thinking about creating a communication device for years. He got the idea around 1996, when he was working at the Helen Keller Center, Stoffel explained in an interview conducted at Temple with Helferty's aid. The professor typed questions on the computer for Stoffel to read in a large font.
"I was talking to a colleague in the technology department (at the center) about the idea of a sort of 'large-print Braille' for people like me who have sensitivity problems and can't read regular Braille or for people who can't move their hands back and forth," Stoffel said. "How about a stationary kind of monitor that just scrolls in place so a person doesn't have to move?" Blind since 4
Stoffel has a degenerative neurological disorder. Although legally blind since age 4, he has some sight and can read large, boldface letters up close. His hearing deteriorated suddenly when he was 19. His disorder also causes a numbness in his fingers that makes it difficult to read Braille with his fingertips.
He has completed his Temple classes by slowly reading text using a large font on his computer screen, e-mailing his professors and meeting with them individually. Sometimes interpreters attend classes with him to translate professors' remarks using tactile sign language, in which they press the signs against his hand. Wife also deaf
Stoffel lives in an apartment with his wife, Sandra, who is also deaf and visually impaired. He already had taken some computer and writing courses at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., when he enrolled at Temple two years ago.
Stoffel told engineering-department representatives how he accessed information. "I asked them: 'Seriously, do you guys think I possibly could do engineering?'" Stoffel recalled. " 'I don't want to waste my time. This is not something I am doing just for the sake of getting a degree. I want it to be a practical career for me.'"
Helferty urged him to take advantage of Temple's new computer-engineering option in the electrical-engineering department. "He can't physically go into a lab and wire things up," Helferty said. "But with most of your design at the engineering level, technicians go in and wire things up. All the design is done using computer-aided design software."
Helferty helped Stoffel construct a mock-up and build the prototype of his Braille system. But Stoffel designed the hardware and wrote the software program that reads and writes Braille. When a floppy disk with his Braille program is inserted into a computer, it moves the six pins in the proper sequence to create individual Braille letters. The pins are push-type tubular solenoids.
In its reading mode, the program converts ASCII text files into Braille. The term -- which is pronounced "ASK-ee" -- stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. Many books, including textbooks, are available in ASCII file format for DOS on disks. Although Stoffel plans to create a Windows version, he elected to start with DOS because many blind people have older, donated computers that rely on DOS. Plus, newer Windows machines can use DOS, too.
The software Stoffel developed also displays Braille in a large format on the computer screen for those with some sight. Users can change the colors of the background and the dots. They also can control the speed of the device and the force of the moving pins.
"It is very versatile," Stoffel said as he demonstrated the system. "It has 64 different colors. You just use the shift key and a letter to change it instantly."
The materials for the hardware cost him $213.67, and he said he thinks his system could be sold for less than $1,000 including labor. Electronic Braille readers that attach to a PC for use by those who are able to read traditional Braille can cost $10,000.
James Belanich, adaptive-technology coordinator at the Helen Keller Center, said existing electronic Braille readers are expensive because they have rows for as many as 80 small Braille characters. Stoffel's device handles one large letter at a time. Belanich said no similar product had been developed before because the market was so small.
"One great thing about this device is it gives an option to someone who has no other options," he said.
Stoffel recalled that while he taught at the Helen Keller Center, he was in contact with a young deaf and blind woman in Kentucky with cerebral palsy. "She couldn't move her hands to read Braille," he said. "She didn't have any way to access text except through Morse code using vibratory noise. She would feel buzzes -- long versus short. It was extremely slow. That is all she had."
Stoffel said that, with his device, she would be able to read Braille because a strap could hold her hand in place so she could feel the moving pins spelling out the letters.
Former instructors and colleagues at the Helen Keller Center are not surprised at Stoffel's success.
"Engineering is a brutal field," said Anne Sedewitz, now admissions director at the Helen Keller Center, who was Stoffel's rehabilitation counselor. "But knowing him, I am not surprised that he did it. He is so brilliant. And he has the determination and the motivation to succeed."
The unforgettable words "Houston, we have a problem" were uttered by the Apollo 13 astronauts as they tried to return to earth after experiencing technical difficulties. Fortunately, they made a triumphant return and that is exactly what ACB conventioneers will be doing in July 2002. Our return to the Adam's Mark Hotel in Houston, Texas will be nothing less than triumphant. Those of you who were there before remember the great accommodations, good food, exciting tours and of course the spectacular convention itself.
This past summer and fall have been a time of transition for me. I transitioned from being your national secretary for the past six years into the position of convention coordinator. I also transitioned from being an elementary to a middle school teacher. I am now in charge of teaching math to 143 7th and 8th grade students each day. As I go about the business of managing the rigors of the middle school routine, I am also managing the sometimes day-to-day operations of putting on a convention of our magnitude.
Preparations are well in place for this year's 41st annual gathering. Thanks to the tireless work of the local affiliate, under the guidance of Texas president Chris Prentice, ACB board member Ed "Doc" Bradley, and the entire convention committee, your stay in Houston will be enjoyable, informative and fun. Cindy Burgett will once again run the Youth Activity Center (YAC). This new venture was born at the Des Moines, Iowa convention and Cindy is anticipating increased participation as this program catches on in popularity. The children do all sorts of crafts, games and activities. It is a lot for one person to take care of the administrative functions of the YAC as well as keep the "natives from getting restless." If you are someone who knows some youth activity games you can share with Cindy, she would greatly appreciate it. Volunteers are vitally needed. Please contact Cindy at (877) 329-6361 if you can give her a hand this summer.
Patricia Saunders will staff the convention office and Jean Mann will look after the information desk this year. Neither of these women are strangers to the inner workings of an ACB convention nor are they immune to long hours and hard work. The committee is developing a system to make the reservation of tables for the banquet less confusing. Look for those details as convention draws closer. Please remember that the convention office is primarily for internal matters. The information desk is where you need to direct your convention-related questions. Should your query deal specifically with the hotel, please go to the front desk for such concerns.
Mike Smitherman will once again be in charge of the exhibit area. Following a preliminary trip to Houston in October, Mike has selected a decorator and has planned the layout for this year's exhibitors. The board voted to raise the cost of the booths this year, as our prices had not risen in the past five to six years. ACB, just like everyone else, needs to keep up with inflation.
I won't steal Mike Hoenig's thunder by telling you about all the magnificent tours he has planned. I'll let him do that in this and future issues. Let me just say that the entire convention committee is jealous that we won't be able to take advantage of a majority of the outings such as the fabulous day trip to Galveston, the tour to NASA, the Science Museum or the Range where a real down-home Texas barbecue is planned. Thanks, Mike, for getting us all going to the local shoe store to get our attire of hats and boots so we're all decked out properly. Chaps and spurs are not needed on this trip.
Margie Donovan is an enthusiastic supporter of dog guide users and their dogs. She and I will be traveling to Houston in January to familiarize ourselves once again with the relief areas at both hotels.
There are so many other people who help to make convention successful. Both the Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis offices do a stellar job with the administrative side of convention, well before, during and long after we have all gone home. Volunteer coordinator Margarine Beaman is just like that Energizer bunny -- she just keeps going and going and going. Carla Ruschival is in charge of convention contracts and site selection. She knows how to negotiate and I am so fortunate to have her as my right arm woman.
The national office needs your help. This year deadlines will be strictly adhered to and thus if you are charged with the responsibility of getting your program items in, please do so on time. Copious calls, countless e-mails and much searching for affiliate leaders goes on at this time all in order to put together a complete program. Well, this year "if you snooze, you lose." Last year's pre-registration packet was mailed far later than it ever should have been and this cannot happen again. If you miss the deadline you will have to find another means of advertising your agenda.
Some functions will be held in the Hilton, across the street from the Adam's Mark. There will be shuttles between the two hotels as there is a busy street with no crossing light. The committee is considering the feasibility of having a crossing guard on duty at that corner during peak convention times. A grocery store is approximately four blocks away. A delivery method may be established, as the store does not currently offer this service as a matter of course. It may be possible to run shuttles to that location as well.
There are many more details that I will touch upon as time draws closer. For now, I look forward to seeing many of you at the midyear meeting in February. I hope that your holiday season was a peaceful one. Let us all stand united in our belief that America is the best country in the world and that the American Council of the Blind is the best organization to which a blind person can belong. I thank all of you for your support and guidance. If you would like to contact me about any convention- related matter, or you want to help correct 143 math assignments, you can contact me at (206) 729-9654; I live in Seattle. You may also e-mail me at [email protected] -- I think. As I write this, my previous server has gone bankrupt and the new one has yet to materialize. Take care of yourselves, do a random act of kindness today and may God bless America and the ACB.
Imagine yourself experiencing Texas as it was 100 years ago, sniffing exotic plants in a rain forest, eating delectable seafood, and enjoying outdoor theater all in one day. By joining us for this year's pre-convention tour to Galveston, you don't have to imagine. You can do each of these things, and more, for less than $100!
We'll depart the Adam's Mark Hotel at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, June 29. Our enthusiastic tour guides will keep you awake with interesting information about Galveston as we journey approximately one hour via air-conditioned motor coach.
We will begin our day in Galveston by taking a trip back in time. Our first stop will be the railroad museum. Recorded narrators will tell us the fascinating story of the quick rise to prominence of this elegant city, nearly destroyed overnight by a turn-of-the-century storm. As you "walk through" the 20th century, you can feel the determination which Galvestonians experienced as they rebuilt their city into the proud tourist attraction it is today. You can then relive an era gone by, as you walk through old railroad cars and visit a true-to-life railroad station as it might have looked 100 years ago. You'll even have the chance to eavesdrop on conversations as passengers and their loved ones anxiously await the train.
We will then transport you forward in space and time with a brief stop at the airplane museum. You'll have a chance to learn about several old war planes which are still operational. We'll set aside time for you to get "up close and personal" with these flying machines.
Next, we will return to 2002 as we travel the short distance from the airplane museum to Moody Gardens. Reflect for a few moments on what you've already experienced as you enjoy a light, balanced lunch. Prepare yourself for an afternoon of experiences which will awaken all the senses.
After lunch, let a Moody Gardens employee delight you with her firsthand knowledge of life in the tropics. She will pass around plants and spices for you to examine, then invite you to take a walk in the rain forest. For those totally blind persons out there who might think that there would be nothing for you to experience in a tropical rain forest, think again! I can tell you from personal experience that this is a sensory treat which you won't want to miss. Now that your senses of touch and smell are heightened, you'll want to stroll through the fragrant herbal garden. Our Moody Gardens experience will culminate with a program on plants in the beautiful IMAX theater, which we hope will be accompanied by audio description.
Need to relax? We thought you might, so we're going to let ourselves be entertained for the rest of the day. We'll enjoy some of the best seafood which Galveston has to offer, before traveling to an outdoor amphitheater for an evening performance. We will provide specific details on these two events just as soon as they are available.
We expect to arrive back in Houston around midnight. You'll have just enough time to rest up for the Saturday Houston City Tour. So, start packing, and until next time, bon voyage.
During my junior year of college (January of 1991), I lost my vision in a freak accident. I was pushed out of a window during a botched robbery attempt. This accident led to my blindness as well as many other injuries. I continued my education and graduated from college in May of 1994 with a degree in engineering. After looking unsuccessfully for work in my field, I decided to try to start some kind of small business from home. While doing my research, I found out about Lift, Inc. in a work- at-home directory. Lift is a non-profit company that recruits, qualifies, trains and hires information technology professionals who have physical disabilities and places them with major corporations. After being accepted into the Lift program, I began training as a mainframe programmer in January of 2000.
In February of 2000, my wife, infant son and I moved to New Jersey from Ohio. In August of 2000, I completed the full-time training and began working full-time at Verizon Wireless. Unbelievably, it took me six long years to find any kind of job, but the job I finally found is one I absolutely love. Not only am I able to earn an excellent living to support my family, but I am also able to use my intellect and problem-solving ability to solve real challenges every day. I am never bored! And since I interact with a lot of people at work, my social life has significantly improved.
In May of 2001, I was recognized as Employee of the Month at Verizon Wireless. I have just turned 32 and love my job. Before you know it, I will turn into the vice president!
In April of 2001, Lift asked that I participate in a presentation at Johnson & Johnson headquarters so that management at J&J could meet local area Lift programmers and hear about their experiences. Johnson & Johnson and Verizon Wireless are two of more than 80 corporate clients that Lift has served.
Below are some excerpts from my presentation at Johnson & Johnson:
* Before I found Lift, I was a lost soul aimlessly searching for employment. As soon as interviewers saw the cane and glasses, I got the proverbial door slammed in my face.
* When I initially submitted my credentials to Lift, Lift sent me a test to complete and return. After a series of discussions, Lift decided I had the intellectual ability to work for them, and the motivation, but they told me I was not ready to work in the corporate world. Rather than slam another door in my face, though, they told me what I would have to do to make myself ready. I spent a month at the Cleveland Sight Center in Ohio (rehabilitation center), and asked my rehabilitation counselor to re-refer me to Lift. Lift hires only the best of the best.
* Lift set up an interview for me with Verizon Wireless, and sent training material on computer disk and CD-ROM to help me learn the COBOL, DB2, and JCL that I would need for the job. Lift helped me to get housing in Bedminster, NJ, close to work. Although my group has since moved to a new building in a nearby town, I use the Verizon Wireless shuttle bus to get to work and back every day.
* I go to work at the company five days a week. Lift provided the adaptive equipment for work: speech access for the computer, a braille display, and a scanner for printed material. Additionally, they assigned a mentor to work with me during the training process, and the first few months of work.
* Finally, I recommend that every cost-conscious employer consider hiring blind computer programmers. We can save you lots of money, because we do not need computer monitors or lights!
If you are interested in more information about Lift please visit their web site at www.lift-inc.org or call Lift at (908) 707-9840 or (800) 552-5438.
Students are invited to apply for the Friends-in-Art scholarship for the school year 2002-2003. This $1,000 scholarship is offered annually for achievement, talent, and excellence in the arts. If you are planning to, or are currently majoring in the field of music, art, drama, or creative writing, and are a blind or visually impaired student, you may apply for this scholarship. You may obtain an application form by writing to Michael Mandel, 400 W. 43rd Street, Apt. 20l, New York, NY 10036. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope when requesting the application. Applications are due by April 15, 2002.
The weekend of Nov. 2-4, 2001 was a busy time for the South Carolina Low Country Chapter of VIVA! The chapter held its first ever state convention at the Airport Holiday Inn in North Charleston. It featured three guest speakers, Paul Whitten, Phil Raistrick, and Jeff Galuhn. Whitten is chief of the Augusta Blind Rehabilitation Center in Georgia; he spoke about future trends in the Veterans Administration and how that may impact the blind rehabilitation process. Raistrick is CEO of En-Vision America; he demonstrated his company's new product, the ScripTalk, an audible prescription reading device. Galuhn demonstrated a refurbished computer with Text Assist and ZoomText.
The chapter has also made plans to help with Christmas for two visually impaired students at a local elementary school. Other plans include a trip to the Augusta Veterans Administration Blind Rehabilitation Center; a trip to the H.L. Hunley (a Confederate submarine); and many others.
Another first for the chapter was the No-See-'em Drive Golf Tournament for Visually Impaired Golfers, held October 8, 2001 at the Shadowmoss Golf Course in Charleston. Ten visually impaired golfers and 10 sighted golfers teed off at 9 a.m., played their rounds of golf, and returned to the clubhouse for a lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs and other munchies. Trophies were awarded for first and second place, as well as for the longest drive and closest to the pin. Various other prizes were given out thanks to the merchants of Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. The fun really began when the blind golfers blindfolded the sighted golfers. Talk about the blind leading the blind! It was a sight to behold. Everything wrapped up about 5 p.m.; everyone had a good time.
SCLC-VIVA is also collecting out-of-date computers, peripherals, hardware and software to refurbish for use by blind and visually impaired veterans. We have worked hard to start this process and have met with success. We have enough parts and pieces at present to make six functional computers.
But we need software. We could really use JAWS, Open Book, Window-Eyes, ZoomText and operating systems (no matter what version). Generally, the operating systems we have are Windows 95 or Windows 3.1. We especially need software usable by totally blind people.
It is embarrassing to say that none of us knows much about braille, but we would see to it that braillers and other such equipment are put to good use as well.
SCLC-VIVA is a tax-exempt non-profit organization. Everyone involved is a volunteer; there are no paid employees. All our work groups and committees consist of people with visual impairments, even the computer repairman!
If you have equipment that is not state of the art and would like to put it to good use, please consider donating it to SCLC- VIVA. You will receive a letter confirming your donation for tax purposes. Contact the chapter through either of the following addresses: Jeff Galuhn, 127 Newington Rd., Summerville, SC 29485, phone (843) 851-7024, e-mail [email protected]; or Max Hearn, 125 Honeysuckle Lane, Summerville, SC 29485, phone (843) 821-0251, e- mail [email protected].
In response to recent concerns about our nation's mailing system, Social Security's Acting Commissioner, Larry Massanari, issued the following statement. "I want to assure the American public that these incidents have not adversely affected the payment of Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits," Massanari said.
"For those who have concerns, I want to encourage them to use the most convenient and safest way for beneficiaries to receive their payments -- Direct Deposit."
Direct deposit eliminates concerns about delayed mail. It eliminates the need for frequent trips to banks; payments are deposited automatically into accounts and are readily available for immediate use. There is no need to wait in long lines to cash a check or to worry when a visit to a bank is difficult to make. And with direct deposit, the possibility of a stolen check is removed.
"At the Social Security Administration, we understand that recent incidents have raised concerns about changes in the way we have traditionally lived our lives. We are doing everything that we can to make sure our service is as dependable now as it has been for over 66 years."
To see the entire statement of Acting Commissioner Larry Massanari, see the news release at http://www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/direct-deposit-pr.htm.
The announcement of products and services in this column is not an endorsement by the American Council of the Blind, its staff, or elected officials. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products and services mentioned.
To submit an item for "Here and There," send an e-mail message to [email protected]. You may call the ACB toll-free number, (800) 424-8666, and leave a message in mailbox 26. Please bear in mind that we need information two months ahead of actual publication dates.
The National Alliance of Blind Students has used this free service and recommended it to ACB. According to information provided, this is the largest free teleconference service in the world, but conference calls can only be made within the U.S. The only cost is the normal long distance or local rate to call the service computer. A sample phone number explains what to do and how to sign up, either on the Easy Conference web site or by phone. The sample phone number explaining the service is (305) 503-6666. After hearing about the service, you may sign up on the web site www.easyconference.com, or call (775) 831-0322 to sign up by phone. Up to 30 people can take part in a conference call. All users of this system need to be 18 years of age to sign up.
The Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP), a nationwide, federal government internship program, began taking applications in December. Many colleges/universities are participating. Ask your school's Office of Disability Services and/or Office of Career Services for an application. According to a former intern with a visual impairment, "The WRP is a really great program! My internship placed me in a fast-track, permanent position. I love my various, special projects and assignments."
Please understand that the WRP coordinator works directly with colleges, and cannot respond to inquiries from individual students. If not already participating, your college can contact the WRP coordinator at the Office of Disability Employment Policy, 1331 F Street NW, Third Floor, Washington, DC 20004, phone (202) 376-6200, TTY (202) 376-6205, fax (202) 376-6219, e- mail [email protected].
Ms. J. Barrett makes Irish fisherman afghans, measuring 40 x 70 inches, with fringed or scalloped edging. Cost is $30 including U.S. shipping. She also sells pastel-colored, hand knit infant sweaters with bonnets and booties for $15, baby afghans, 36 x 26 inches for $15, angel-shaped dishcloths $5 each, and a crocheted rosary in a pouch for $5. When placing orders, specify color choice and send order by tape or in print to J. Barrett, 39 Cathy Circle, Portsmouth, RI 02871, phone (401) 683-0940.
This list is where you find thorough, step-by-step instructions on how to perform many necessary computer-related tasks, all from the blindness perspective. Experienced computer users are very welcome, and invited to teach others in a thorough, comprehensive manner.
The Golden Rule is the list rule -- "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Happy computing! To subscribe, send an e-mail message to [email protected].
JAWS for Windows 4.0 is available for download or shipment from Freedom Scientific. The newest version of the screen reader is designed to display help messages on the screen and read and rewind, say all scripts without pauses. It also features new customization tools that do not require user-written scripts.
JAWS 4.0 supports Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0, Microsoft Office XP, and Internet Explorer 6. Tutorials for JAWS 4.0 are available in MP3 format for free download at www.hj.com/JAWS/JAWS_BT.htm. Free upgrades to JAWS 4.0 are available to people who purchased a new license for JAWS 3.7 on or after July 1, 2001. JAWS for Windows 4.0 Standard Edition -- with support for Windows 9X, Me, XP Home -- costs $795, and JAWS For Windows Professional Edition -- with support for Windows 9X, Me, XP Home, NT, 2000 Professional, and XP Professional -- costs $1,195.
For more information, contact Freedom Scientific at (800) 444-4443 or (727) 803-8000, or e-mail [email protected].
According to Dr. Elaine Gerber, Senior Research Associate of the American Foundation for the Blind, the following web site link provides information on a complete listing of scholarship opportunities for students who are blind and visually impaired from a variety of organizations. Visit the following link: http://www.afb.org/info_document_view.asp?DocumentID=1645.
The Association of Blind Citizens will be offering $5,000 in college scholarships to blind or visually impaired individuals seeking a college degree. The Reggie Johnson Memorial Scholarship will be valued at $2,000 and three additional $1,000 scholarships will be available. The scholarships will be offered for the 2002-2003 school year. The scholarship may be applied to tuition, living expenses or related expenses resulting from vision impairment.
The application for the above-mentioned scholarship can only be obtained on ABC's web site. Potential applicants are encouraged to visit www.assocofblindcitizens.org and click on the scholarship link for more details and an application.
Braillephone is a portable communication system for people who are deaf-blind. It is designed for use as a telephone or as a face-to-face communication device, and can be used with other software as a portal to access Microsoft DOS or Windows-based computer systems. The device features: 25,000-character memory, 23-cell, 8-dot braille display, 20-character visual display, and braille or Qwerty keyboard.
For more information, contact Audio Visual Mart by phone, (800) 737-6278 or (504) 733-1500, or visit the web site, www.av-mart.com.
The Voice of the Blue Ridge, of Roanoke, Va., designs and produces the best large print calendar in the country, according to people with low vision who use them (including the editor of this column). Each month is printed on paper that is 17 inches x 22 inches, with ample space to write in daily appointments. The calendars are so popular, the service has decided to sell them for $3 each, if purchased in bulk orders. ACB affiliates and special-interest groups may wish to buy them for re-sale to members and other community groups such as elders. For more information, contact John Montgomery, executive director, Voice of the Blue Ridge, toll-free (866) 985-8900, e-mail [email protected], phone (540) 985-8900.
The Voice of the Blue Ridge, a non-profit organization, provides a dial-in news service, and volunteers who provide audio description for local theaters and the opera group.
Web sites of the following companies may be contacted to see about braille business cards. * http://www.access-usa.com * http://www.access2020.com * http://www.nationalbraillefactory.com
The animated children's series, Rugrats, appearing on the Nickelodeon cable network, now provides audio description for young viewers who are blind or visually impaired. The Media Access Group at WGBH (Boston) provides descriptive services for the series. Funding for the description comes from the U.S. Department of Education.
711 is good news for people with and without hearing or speech disabilities.
All telephone (voice) users and relay service (teletext) users can now initiate a call from anywhere in the U.S. without dialing a seven or 10-digit access number.
Relay services enable a text telephone (TTY) user to call a voice telephone user through a telecommunications relay service (TRS) provider (or relay center), where a communications assistant places the call to the voice user, and then relays the conversation by transcribing spoken content for the TTY user and reading text aloud for the voice user.
This monthly e-mail publication offers information and resources for on-line education. It covers everything from simple on-line tutorials to on-line degree programs. Each issue includes course reviews, related articles, recommended web sites, recommended reference sites and books.
To subscribe, send a message to [email protected]. Check out the web site at www.onlineeducationunlimited.com.
Arnold Dunn has created a set of 27 tiles, one for each letter of the braille alphabet and one for the number sign. Each tile has smooth, beveled edges, with button-type pegs set firmly in the configuration of the braille letter. The print letter is in bold type on the back so the tiles can be used by print readers as well. Dunn has also made a set of grade two braille tiles, consisting of 28 tiles, each with a commonly used single- cell braille contraction. These sets are free upon request. Contact Arnold Dunn, 5130 Brittany Dr. S, Apt. 301, St. Petersburg, FL 33715; phone (727) 867-3818.
The company Blind-Novel-Tees sells hats, T-shirts and nightshirts with print and braille designs. Hats are one size. T-shirts are in sizes medium, large or extra-large. All nightshirts are dark gray and one size fits all.
*"Blind People Feel Better" hat - black or royal blue ($15), T-shirt - black or royal blue ($18), nightshirt ($22)
*"Ears Work Eyes Don't" hat - black or royal blue ($15), T-shirt ($18)
*"Blind Computer User" hat - black or kelly green ($15), T-shirt - black or kelly green ($18)
*"Please Don't Pet My Dog" hat - black or red ($15), T-shirt - black or red ($18)
*"Too Much Sex Causes Blindness" (the word "sex" in braille) hat - black or royal blue ($15), T-shirt - black or royal blue ($18), nightshirt ($22)
*"If you are reading this I hope we've been introduced" (the word "introduced" in braille) hat - black or purple ($15), T-shirt - black or purple ($18), nightshirt ($22) The web site is www.bntonline.com. To order in print or braille, please send your check or money order to Blind-Novel-Tees, P.O. Box 460, New Tazewell, TN 37824, e-mail [email protected], phone (423) 626-2075. For a complete product list, send a blank message to [email protected]. Free shipping in the U.S.
VISION Community Services, a division of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind, offers custom Braille transcription. Recent work includes menus, financial statements, users guides for consumer electronics, presentation hand-outs and hymnals. While VCS specializes in shorter documents in order to reduce turnaround time, we also produce some larger documents. All documents are formatted so as to meet individual customer needs.
If you wish to have any documents transcribed into braille or have any questions, please contact Bob Hachey, Braille Program Supervisor, VISION Community Services, 23A Elm Street, Watertown, MA 02472; phone (617) 972-9109, or e-mail [email protected].
"Keeping Your Child Safer in the World: Tips for Children, Teens, and Parents" is now available free in one braille volume, thanks to a grant from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Topics covered include: parental tips to help keep your children safer; child safety in amusement parks; online safety for teens and preteens; safety tips for Halloween; when your child is flying unaccompanied; babysitters and daycare; and many others. See a full table of contents at www.nbp.org/safeconts.html.
To order this free book, contact National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115-4302. Or call (800) 548-7323 toll-free or (617) 266-6160 ext 20. Or e-mail your order to [email protected].
FOR SALE: Alva 20 braille display. Excellent condition; works with DOS and Windows. Asking $1,900. Negotiable. Telebraille II used as a braille TTY device with 20-cell Navigator. Excellent condition. Asking $2,000; negotiable. Versapoint 20 in excellent condition. Comes with braille manual. Asking $800; negotiable. If you're interested, contact Isaac Obie at (617) 247-0026 or by e-mail, [email protected] or [email protected].
FOR SALE: Compaq Presario Laptop 1275. One year old. Comes with Artic transport external synthesizer. Call Paul Anderson at (918) 273-0409 after 6 p.m. Central.
FOR SALE: A 10-volume set of the King James Version braille Bible concordance of the Old and New Testament, $110. All books are as new, the braille is still very sharp. I'll insure the books and ship via free matter for the blind. I'll only accept a U. S. postal money order. Contact Mr. J.L. Blackwell, 846 Skyline Dr., Chester, SC 29706; phone (803) 377-7913 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., or e-mail [email protected].
FOR SALE: IBM computer, printer, JAWS, ZoomText. Asking $1,000. Contact Rosemir at (925) 586-5211.
FOR SALE: Blazie Braille Lite 40-cell display. The unit is about two years old, it works fine and is in very good shape. Includes leather case, charger, double speed chip. Updated to current version 2001. All for $2,700, shipping is included. Bank and money orders only. Contact Dick Chrisman at (480) 483-6584 or by e-mail at [email protected].
FOR SALE: Optelec Clearview CCTV model 517 XL (color). One year old; in perfect condition. Asking $1,800 or best offer. Contact Ross Winetsky at (615) 298-5258 or e-mail him at [email protected].
FOR SALE: Barely used Kurzweil Reading Machine. Has nine reading voices. Asking $3,000 or best offer. Please call and leave a message for Tom Eberhard on his voice mail, (804) 270- 1837.
FOR SALE: four-cassette box set of 101 Songs from 1947-1967, $12. Juice Man Juicer, $25. Four-piece Stanley steel pot set with lids, $25. Assorted sunglasses, $25. Other items also available. Call Eldridge Hardy toll-free at (800) 242-0363 extension 8920.
FOR SALE: Video Eye, Millennium 2 model. Used very little. Like new. Originally cost $2,500; asking $2,000 or best offer. Also have lighted magnifying glasses. Contact Charles English at (863) 665-2963.
FOR SALE: Alva model 340 Braille display. Needs new battery but in great condition. Comes with case, recharger, and cables. Also one Versapoint Braille embosser. It produces excellent Braille. Asking $3,500 for both or make an offer for each individually. For further information, contact Carolyn Martin at [email protected].
FOR SALE: We have three visual aids that we wish to sell at half price. Offers may be made to [email protected] or call (703) 941-6183 which is located in Springfield, Va. Telesensory Aladdin CCD 1995, $950. Voyager XL CCD, model XL3-01, $1,000. Xerox Imaging System Kurzweil Reader-Reading Edge Express edition, model 7315-60, $2,885. All come with manuals, etc. Purchaser to arrange pick-up.
(Editor's Note: What would it be like to regain one's vision after having seen only light and shadow for eight years? Mike Vining of Minneapolis, Minn., recently had such an experience, and shares his impressions of seeing the world with "new vision," below.)
Is it a miracle, or would it have happened eventually anyway? I don't know, but what I do know is that much of my vision returned in early April 2001, and my increased vision has expanded my view and my viewpoint. I want to share some of my new perceptions with readers of "The Braille Forum." How Did It Happen?
Well, first of all, let me describe my vision as it was on April 1. Until eight years ago, I could see only light and darkness with my right eye, but considered the vision from my left eye to be "partial." However, cataracts had begun to grow on both eyes, and by April 1, I was seeing essentially only light and darkness from both.
Then, when I awoke on April 2, I noticed a difference. I could see lights, and in addition, some shapes.
All day at work, I noticed flashes of light, but I was busy at my computer, concentrating on speech and braille, so I didn't really begin to pay attention to the changes until I started on my trip home. Then I knew that something had changed. I could see traffic and buses; I could read the big print on the sides of the buses and even make sense of the advertisements for radio stations, etc. I could even see some people, including my wife, Elaine, when I arrived home!
I told Elaine that, somehow, my vision had changed and I could actually see lots more than I had just 24 hours before. The vision was somewhat jumbled, but it was vision.
I had not visited my ophthalmologist for so many years that my medical records had been purged. This turned out to be fortuitous since it forced me to visit Minneapolis doctors who are affiliated with the Philips Eye Clinic, a world-renowned facility which performs between 40 and 60 eye surgeries each day.
When the doctors examined me, they found that the lens had detached from the cataract and was floating around. Surgery was indicated, and was, in fact, accomplished, on July 17. Since then, my vision has continued to be better than it had been for the last eight or so years, and I'm becoming more accustomed to making the best use of what I have. New Sights
Here's what it's been like to see again and to make discoveries about the visual images that are now becoming a routine part of my perceptions.
I am a partially sighted person who has read with braille and audiotapes all my life. That will not change.
At first, I noticed many things around my house that I needed to learn to recognize and identify by sight. These included a refrigerator door full of magnets, tables and chairs, even our cats. There's Torey, who is 15 years old, and whom I had seen before. But I had never before seen Crystal, who is only four. I knew that she was gray and white and so I had a picture of how she looked in my "mind's eye." She is indeed gray and white, but her "gray" is much darker than I had imagined.
With the spring coming, the grass looked terrible! I have enjoyed watching it become green and lush with the change of seasons.
I can watch television, but I have found that the pictures that accompany many commercials and entertainment programs move too fast for me to keep up. I can see sporting events, news programs, and the "slow moving" kinds of shows. Cartoons, like "The Simpsons," are still a visual enigma to me, so I just close my eyes and listen.
Bowling has been an interesting experience. I use a left hand rail, and the week after my sight returned, I had to get used to a new way of bowling. That was the last week of regular bowling before the scheduled tournament. If I closed my eyes, I found that I could bowl all right.
Then it was time to practice for the tournament. Because my vision had gotten so bad, I had thought about changing my "category" from partially sighted to blind, but I had never gotten around to doing that, so, in the tournament, I bowled as a partially sighted bowler.
I figured that, if I used my sight along with the rail, I would not put the ball in the channel/gutter, so I did that. I bowled pretty well in the tournament.
We will see what happens this upcoming season. Will my restored vision be a benefit to my teammates, or will it be better for all concerned for me to just close my eyes and depend exclusively on the bowling rail?
Walking around is interesting. I noticed that while I am walking with my mobility cane, people tend to rush to get out of the way. Are they afraid of the cane, or do they respect it, I wonder? I noticed some bad habits on the part of my fellow pedestrians, and I learned that I cannot depend upon watching what other people do when they cross a street to help me make my own decision about when to cross, for far too many pedestrians cross against the light, and wade right out into the traffic stream. I know that I still need to use my orientation and mobility skills, including my cane, and watch and listen for traffic moving on parallel streets.
I do enjoy walking around more than I did before April 2. I notice a lot of people watching, many women wearing pants, especially during winter, and long dresses in the springtime. Cars now look like little spaceships, with their aerodynamic styling.
Now I'm getting to know what people actually look like. I have not seen many of my friends and colleagues in years, and some I had never seen until now. I have even seen myself in the mirror. We are all getting older.
My work environment has changed as well. In mid-April, we moved to new offices, and I have found that my vision has eased the anxiety which might have accompanied my adjustment to the new environment.
I have taken several trips since my vision improved, and I have found that, although I could usually find my way around in hotels with just light perception, the increase in vision does make a nice difference. When I traveled to St. Louis for a bowling tournament, I went on tours of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and the Arch. I had taken these same tours just a few years ago, when I depended on perceptions other than sight to appreciate them. It was fascinating to make these same tours with the added benefits of actually seeing what was there.
When my wife and I attended the ACB national convention in Des Moines, I found the experience to have changed dramatically, now that I had some sight. We ended up traveling separately to and from Des Moines, and flying by myself, with my new sense of sight, was an interesting experience. I was able to learn the route through Des Moines' skywalks on the first day, and the next day, when Elaine was able to show me and Minnesota Council of the Blind President Wally Waranka the outside route between the hotel and the convention center, I didn't have a second thought about taking to the streets to get where I needed to go.
On convention tours, I saw my first covered bridge, the house where the movie "Bridges of Madison County" had been filmed, and John Wayne's birthplace. I went on the Des Moines city tour which was particularly interesting because the excellent narration for the ecological exhibit was provided by a woman who is blind. What Has All This Meant to Me?
I have traveled a rather circuitous route as far as my vision is concerned. I began my life as a partially sighted person and then, because of cataracts, progressed to a state of seeing only light and darkness. Now, with some of my vision restored, I am living the life of a partially sighted person again. All of these changes have given me a new appreciation for all that we who are blind go through on a daily basis. Some of us who are totally blind do pretty well getting around and dealing with all the aspects of our daily lives. Others of us, even those of us with some useful vision, can need a little more help than we might wish. I guess the statement, "Everybody's different," is always true no matter what our visual acuity happens to be at any given moment.
When I signed up, about a year ago, to take a bus trip with my chapter of the Bay State Council of the Blind to Boston to see an audio-described performance of the play "Hedda Gabler," I never dreamed an evening at the theater would lead to a day of ice fishing. We had arranged to take the one-hour trip along with some clients of the local branch of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and some volunteer escorts. One of the volunteers talked her husband Joe into going along, and somehow he and I got into conversation on the way back. I had always wondered how ice fishing was done, and when he mentioned that he ice fishes, I asked a few questions; well, actually I asked dozens of questions. Finally Joe, who I know had had very minimal experience with people who are blind, hesitantly asked, "Do you think you might like to go and try it some time?" Of course I responded with great enthusiasm, but I truly never expected to hear from Joe again. Often in conversation a person will casually make an offer to get together for an event or activity, but then the business of life gets in the way, and soon the promise is forgotten. Not so with Joe, though. A few weeks later he called me and told me when to be ready and what to wear: warm boots and gloves, and layers of warm clothes.
I wanted to go, but I had misgivings. "What if I fall through the ice? What if I get cold or bored? What if it's so slippery that I can't stay upright?" In retrospect though, I'll bet my ambivalence was nothing in comparison to what was probably going through Joe's mind. "What if he gets hurt? No, even worse, what if I let him get hurt? What if he doesn't like ice fishing? What if I say the wrong thing and offend him? Even if all else goes well, what if we don't catch any fish?" Although he knew very little about me, having met me only once, he put aside any misgivings he may have had, perhaps knowing the value of helping another human being to experience something brand new, something that person might never have another chance to experience. I am so grateful that there are people in the world like Joe who have the courage to reach out when many would back away. I only hope I may be as forthcoming in my relationships with others.
I knew I was in for a rare good time when on the way to the pond Joe mentioned that he planned to show me everything he could and that I would be sharing in some hard work. We spent five hours out in the open on a frozen reservoir, with weather that included a snow shower and several brief sunny periods. When the wind stopped blowing and the sun was out, the 30-degree temperature felt balmy, but then a gust of wind would come along to remind us that it was still winter. Joe and his son-in-law Randy, who met us there, said they have fished many times in weather that made this day seem like springtime.
Joe's fishing equipment is kept in a large rectangular box that is just the right size to fit in the rear cargo area of his truck. It has ski-like runners underneath it so it can be pulled along like a sled. It holds everything needed for ice fishing, including a chair, a five-foot long hand auger used to drill through the ice, and dozens of smaller pieces of equipment. Attached to the box was a bucket of water containing "shiners," small live fish used as bait.
It had snowed a little the night before, so the walking was very easy out on the ice. I needn't have worried about falling through, as the ice was about 14 inches thick. Once we got to what Joe felt was a good fishing spot, he handed me the auger, very similar to an old-fashioned wood brace but much longer. It took me five or six minutes of hard work to drill the first hole, and by then I was almost warm enough to remove my coat. He then handed me a vertical wooden stick that had a spool of line attached near the bottom. About halfway up the stick were cross pieces to keep it from falling through the seven-inch diameter hole I had drilled in the ice. The spool near the bottom was filled with 10-pound test fishing line, at the end of which was tied a steel leader with a fishhook attached. As I learned later, pickerel have teeth and can bite through nylon line. (Joe actually held one's mouth open so I could feel its teeth). Attached near the top of the vertical stick is a length of spring steel with a flag on one end. The flag is held down by a metal clip attached to a mechanism that releases it when something begins pulling on the line. Each licensed fisherman is permitted to set up five tilts, and they keep a close watch on them all. When a flag pops up, they jump up and hurry over to see what is happening.
Joe and I placed his five tilts in a circle about 30 feet apart. Pretty soon Randy, who was attending to his own tilts some distance away, yelled "FLAG!" Joe looked where Randy was pointing and then he and I rushed over to the spot. I knelt down to examine the tilt, and I could feel it vibrating as line was rapidly being pulled off the spool by a hungry fish. Following Joe's instruction, I waited to give the fish a chance to swim a distance with the bait. Then I carefully lifted the tilt out of the hole and laid it on the ice while allowing the line to continue to slip through my fingers. When the time seemed right, I gave a quick jerk upward on the line to set the hook. Ah yes, something was still pulling and jerking on the line. I then began pulling the line by hand up through the hole in the ice and eventually hauled up a nice pickerel about 15 inches long.
I don't know who was more excited, Joe or I. I held the line up, dangling the fish while Joe took a picture, and then he deftly removed the hook from the fish's mouth and carefully dropped the creature back down through the hole where it could resume its comfortable life in the frigid water.
Between the three of us, we caught several more pickerel and one good-sized bass. When things got quiet, we sat on lawn chairs and consumed the food and hot drinks we had brought with us, but each time someone called "Flag," off we went to check out a tilt. Sometimes it was a false alarm; maybe a gust of wind caused the flag to pop up, or maybe something tugged at the line and then thought better of it. More often than not, though, an upright flag meant another fish was about to make our acquaintance.
I don't know if I would ever become an avid ice fisherman like Joe, but I certainly enjoyed myself out there in spite of, no, partly because of, the wind and changeable weather. I had a great time out there on the ice, but what I really want to say is that Joe's willingness to share his time and his love of ice fishing with me reminded me of how precious human relationships are and that I also have a responsibility to reach out and share my own experience and passions with others.
Things could have gone differently. Joe could have forgotten to ever call me to invite me. I could have avoided taking any risk by declining his invitation. Joe and Randy weren't quite sure what to expect on this fishing trip, and neither was I, but all three of us were willing to step just a bit beyond our own comfort zones to experience something new. It was cold out there on the ice, but that experience was one of the warmest I have had in quite a while. I'll bet I could talk them into taking me ice fishing with them again one of these days!
(Editor's Note: Have you ever thought about taking a winter vacation? What would it be like to go sluicing down a snowy mountainside? Especially for a person who is blind?
Last March, Barry Levine wrote to the ACB listserv to share the story of his family's ski vacation. As talented a humorist as he is a skier, Barry's story inspired many who read it to consider the possibility of learning to ski downhill, and his account of an unwanted vacation interloper made all of us laugh -- always a good way to get through a gloomy winter's day!
We share Barry's story with you here, in the hope that fantasies about downhill skiing in the beautiful Rocky Mountains will brighten the days of early winter for all our readers.)
I am writing to recommend to all who read this, a place, a program and an activity.
My wife, Phyllis, our kids, and I have just returned from a week in Winter Park, Colo. We try to get out there at least once each winter to do some skiing. This is something we've done for a number of years now. I love downhill skiing. The National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) makes downhill skiing easy for people who are blind and visually impaired.
Certainly, you can do some downhill skiing in other places. However, the NSCD is well organized and, in my opinion, has some superior instructor/guides. They also seem to be the most reasonable in terms of cost. Skiing Can Be Expensive, But...
Let me address the issue of cost from the outset. I am acutely aware that a ski vacation may be outside the financial means of many folks. We who are blind and visually impaired inevitably spend a good deal of time talking about unemployment, financial difficulties, and the challenges of living on limited or fixed incomes. I don't wish to seem haughty in this regard. However, I am writing this account of our winter vacation to encourage you to place an enjoyable physical activity, like skiing, higher up on the list of life's priorities. It is a magnificent activity. It might be that some folks simply believe that it is beyond their means, when some alterations in priorities and planning might make the experience achievable.
Believe me, I know how expensive it can be; having just returned from a trip where we paid for a family of five plus a dear old friend of Phyllis', and this dear old friend's new cheap leech know-it-all of a boyfriend. I suppose I could put up with a cheap leech. I suppose I can put up with a know-it-all. But a cheap leech know-it-all is somewhat beyond my ken. If I'm going to subsidize your ski trip, don't waste my apres ski hours advising me on proper parenting, blind skiing, or earning a living when you've never been a parent, I'm the only blind person you know, and you're not earning a living.
Is it just me, or do you all know people who believe that, merely because you are blind, you must be unaware of such things as how you managed to conceive your children, or that gravity plays a key role in getting one from the top of the mountain to the bottom? Talk about a boring, obnoxious jerk -- the only good thing to come from this guy was the reminder to me that disability comes in many shapes and sizes, and blindness is not the worst thing in the world. I'm just glad that the population labeled "jerk" is not a protected group under the ADA.
Do you note a bit of rancor? Well, I'll leave a discussion of the cathartic nature of gossip for another day.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, cost. Obviously, transportation is going to depend upon where you live. Using Travelocity.com, we were able to get round trip tickets for $200 each, from Chicago to Denver, which was a pretty good rate. You'll need to get from Denver to Winter Park. Phyllis is sighted, so we rented a van for the week. If there is no driver, you could take a hired van from Denver to Winter Park for a cost of approximately $70 per person. It may be a little more now. I've not checked on those prices for about a year. Once in Winter Park, you can use the free shuttle buses to get around town, as well as back and forth to the ski area. You can actually rent a "ski in-ski out" place, obviating the need altogether to use the shuttle buses, but such lodging is pretty expensive.
As an aside, you may also be able to take a train directly to Winter Park. I know that there is an Amtrak train which goes from Chicago directly into Winter Park. We've often talked about doing this, but never have. I remember thinking that the cost was not very different from flying. However, you would be able to avoid the transportation costs from Denver to Winter Park, which would not be a trivial savings.
Your next major expense will be for lodging. There are wide variations of cost in this arena. Cost, as you can imagine, will depend upon such factors as size of the place, proximity to the ski areas, season, appointments of luxury, etc. We usually rent a house in Frasier, the town just outside Winter Park. We do this because we can get more for the money outside of Winter Park itself. Because Phyllis can drive, being a few miles from Winter Park is not a transportation hardship for our family. However, the free shuttles do service Winter Park to and from Frasier as well. It's maybe a 10- or 12-minute shuttle ride between Frasier and Winter Park.
Our accommodations this year were very nice. We paid significantly more than we needed to. We're a two-income family, with fairly decent individual incomes. So we treat ourselves to a modicum of luxury every once in a while. This is certainly not necessary at all. The luxury of our living accommodations added nothing to the actual experience or pleasure of skiing. We rented a somewhat larger place this year in part because we can, and in part because we needed to provide lodging for a dear old friend and her new, cheap leech know-it-all of a boyfriend. Or have I already mentioned that?
Actually, if you wish to take a page out of this guy's book of travel, you can find your lodging for free. He did. He paid nothing for his wonderful accommodations; private bedroom, private bath, queen-size bed, maid service, his own television/VCR, hot tub, a complete kitchen (including food), and a vibrating heated Lazy Boy in his room. He paid zip, zero, nada, nothing! Of course, he didn't need the food in the kitchen because we ate out each night, for which I paid. I take that back. In all fairness I have to admit that he did purchase some of the food for the kitchen. Some organic apples, oranges and potatoes. He doesn't eat mainstream "chemically enhanced" produce, and couldn't trust that Phyllis and I wouldn't foul his unsuspecting body with supermarket fruits and vegetables. In this week's Webster, under the word "sucker," you will find a picture of me.
Please excuse me for a moment. I feel the need to punch a wall. I'll be right back.
Let's see ... I seem to have derailed myself again. We were discussing cost of accommodations. In season, you will not be able to find anything much under $150 per night. You can spend up to $700 or $800 per night. It just depends on what you want, and where you want it. The four-bedroom house we rented in Frasier was $440 plus tax per night. It actually turned out to be less than that because Destinations West, the travel agency we have used out there for the past several years, had a special. If you stay more than five nights, you get one night free. Come to think of it, that must have been the night that the cheap leech know-it-all paid for. Boy, did he get lucky! The one night for which he planned to pay turned out to be free.
(You know, I didn't punch all the way through the drywall. Please excuse me while I correct that.) The Skiing
All righty then, on to the NSCD and the skiing itself. A half day of skiing will cost you $45. A full day will cost $90. Obviously, these rates can and will change. They seem to go up each year by a few bucks. This may seem like a lot. But, if you're familiar with lift tickets and equipment rental, as well as instructor time, you'll recognize this as quite a deal. That $45 or $90 will buy you your lift ticket, equipment rentals, and a dedicated instructor/guide. If you go with your own sighted guide, he or she can save a good bit, through NSCD, on lift tickets, making the excursion less expensive. But I would strongly advise that you don't go that route.
If your guide is someone with whom you have a relationship off the slopes, particularly if your guide is also your significant other, your relationship may not last the first run of the first morning. I used Phyllis as a ski guide only once, for only one run several years ago. It wasn't pretty. She's not unsophisticated when it comes to blindness. After all, she's been married to a blind guy for 19 years now. And she's an excellent skier, even having spent some time on ski patrol. But, her sophistication and skills notwithstanding, the experience didn't enhance our marriage . . . at all.
(As an aside, I'll share with you our favorite T-shirt sayings for this year. As in any resort town, you can't swing a dead cat by its tail anywhere in Winter Park without hitting a store selling T-shirts with cute and pithy things printed on them. Phyllis still enjoys seeing herself as some sort of hot shot, cute little 25- or 30-year-old ski patrol type snow bunny. She's not, and in her more lucid moments, knows it. I'm telling you this because on her choice of T-shirt were printed the words "The older I get, the better I was.")
I'll give you some insight into my psyche by telling you that my favorite choice of pithy T-shirt this year was . . . "If a man is alone on a mountain slope, with no woman around to hear him speak, is he still wrong?"
Aside from the issues of cost, I'm sure that many blind folks shy away from downhill skiing, believing that they cannot do it. Balderdash and poppycock! I usually hate it when someone says, "If I can do it, so can you." But I'm going to violate my own ethic by saying just that. Perhaps I'll modify it a bit by saying, "If I can do it, so can most of you."
I would be falsely humble to say that I'm a beginning skier at this point. I'm not. But I'm certainly not an advanced skier, and I never will be. For those not familiar with downhill skiing, the runs are graded by difficulty. "Green runs" are the easy and gentle slopes, "blues" are intermediate in their difficulty. There are "blue/black" diamonds which are a bit more difficult than straight "blues." Then there are "black diamond" runs which are steeper yet, usually involving some bumps or "moguls." There are "double blacks." These "double blacks" are for the very advanced skier with a death wish. The most difficult slope I've skied has been a "blue/black." I doubt seriously that I'll ever graduate to a black diamond run, simply because of the bumps, the irregularities in the slope face.
That doesn't mean that a blind skier cannot do a black diamond. Some of the younger blind kids do these runs. Having been raised in the "can do" era of the '80s and '90s, they have not been propagandized into believing that they cannot develop the skill set necessary to ski at an advanced level. Therefore, they believe they can develop the skill set necessary to ski at an advanced level. Therefore, they ski at an advanced level. I hate them. They should all be exiled to some glacier above the arctic circle, where they can ski to their hearts' content; alongside the teenaged and twenty-something snowboarders, who should also be exiled to the same glacier.
Though I did a small amount of downhill skiing years ago as a visually impaired person, I have really learned to ski as someone who is totally blind. This is an activity where I do believe that a little bit of vision may be worse than no vision at all. If you have some functional eyesight, but it's unreliable, you're not going to be able to ski all that reliably or safely. Since I cannot see the difference between a mountain and a molehill, I must use sensory modalities other than eyesight. Trusting your guide is key to the joy and safety of the experience.
Trust is an issue, indeed. Since I've been skiing out there for a number of years, I've naturally gravitated to a select few guides. I've gotten to know them. They've gotten to know me. The trust issues have been worked out. Though I will confess that I have some anxiety just prior to the first run of each year's skiing. The instructor/guides of NSCD are very aware of these issues and will not be reticent to discuss anything with you as it relates to your skiing in general, feelings about skiing blind, abilities, disabilities, fears, anxieties, etc. That is why I enjoy Winter Park so much.
I've skied other places. Vail, for example, has wonderful skiing, probably better than Winter Park as far as the slopes go. But Vail doesn't have the NSCD. You can certainly arrange for a guide for blind skiing in Vail or any number of other ski resorts. But my opinion is that you won't get the breadth of experience or organizational advantages that you'd get at NSCD. It is a very comfortable place to be blind.
Even at NSCD, there are ski instructors who have more or less experience with blind skiers. Remember that NSCD caters to all disabilities, not just people who are blind.
The services of NSCD are becoming more and more popular every year. If you're going to plan a ski trip up there, you'll be best served if you arrange for a guide/instructor well in advance of your arrival; perhaps weeks, particularly if you've got some preferences as to who that guide is. In years past, when I've failed to make arrangements far enough in advance, there have been times when I've had to take whatever guide was available. This has worked out well for the most part. However, I'm someone who likes to ski with female guides. Call me heterosexual. As you might imagine, while blind skiing you're going to have a fair amount of contact with your guide. For me, a female guide/instructor simply makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Besides, with a male guide, I tend to get that testosterone thing going on. I sort of start skiing more for a display of skill rather than for the sheer joy of it all. Further, there is something of a sensual element to this whole experience. The more your skill builds, the more you become in sync with your guide, and there begins to develop a relationship which is not often experienced in other activities of life. Obviously, it is a relationship belonging on the mountain slope, and that's where it stays; very legitimate, very safe.
As a downhill skier, you'll need a modicum of balance and fair proprioceptive senses. But you certainly don't need to be Mr. or Ms. aerobic-body builder-Universe. Being in shape will add to the enjoyment, but you don't have to be fit as a fiddle.
If you're a flat-lander, such as I, it is good to allow yourself 24 to 36 hours in the mountains before skiing. I can usually acclimate to the altitude enough in the space of a day to enjoy the skiing. Further, if you are significantly out of shape and have been sedentary, it might be wise to limit yourself initially to half days of skiing. It is my opinion that fatigue, much more often than blindness, will cause injury. This, too, is something that your NSCD guide will keep an eye on.
The last point of advice I will offer is, obvious as it sounds, listen to your guide at all times.
I've tried cross-country skiing. I'm not crazy about it . . . too much work, not enough thrill. I'm not knocking it. Many blind folks enjoy it very much. In fact, there was a "Ski for Light" group out in Winter Park just last week. It just seems to me that one of the most enjoyable aspects of recreational cross-country skiing is the scenery. So, unless you have a great describer in your ear, much of the enjoyment is lost. Though it is great for keeping in shape. And there are some wonderful social aspects to it. Is Skiing Blind Really Skiing?
Arguments rage about whether or not blind downhill skiing is really skiing. I wonder about this where many adapted athletic activities are concerned. Is one's guide the person who is actually having the athletic experience in certain sports, I wonder? In fact, I got hung up on this kind of speculation as regards skiing in the beginning. However, these speculations no longer bother me. It doesn't even occur to me that my guide may be having more of the "downhill experience" than I am having because I am, indeed, skiing; under my own power, with my own skill. As skill increases, and trust is built between blind skier and guide, you will find yourself skiing with more and more independence. Besides, I've gotten to the point where it is not so much independence I seek, as it is involvement I desire.
Gosh, I'm getting preachy. That is not my intent. I only wish to share with you the feeling I get through this speed and grace in motion. It can be a truly joyful experience. As blind people, we do not often have the opportunity to engage our bodies in such a manner. We cannot run free. We cannot cycle other than on a tandem. When and how do we experience the freedom and joy of the wind through our hair, the sun on our faces, and under our own power? When do we provide ourselves the opportunity to move our bodies through space with speed and grace?
I do not view blind skiing as a vacation I can ill afford. I view blind skiing as fuel for the soul which I can ill afford to deny myself.
If I've piqued your interest, you can take a look at the following web sites: http://www.nscd.org and http://www.skiwinterpark.com.
I've got nothing to do with any of these services, other than being a consumer. The snow is snowing, the wind is blowing. Don't you need a vacation? Why not give downhill skiing a try!
94 RAMONA AVE.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103
FIRST VICE PRESIDENT
825 M ST., SUITE 216
LINCOLN, NE 68508
SECOND VICE PRESIDENT
1027 DUNLOP AVE
FOREST PARK, IL 60130
3912 SE 5TH ST
DES MOINES, IA 50315
500 S. 3RD ST. #H
BURBANK, CA 91502
IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT
20330 NE 20th Ct.
Miami, FL 33179
Billie Jean Keith, Arlington, VA