The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, May 13, 2005. Letters are limited to 300 words or less. All submissions must include the author's name and location. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

Survey Results: Independent Blind Travelers

In the November "Braille Forum" I asked how many other independent blind readers felt misperceived by members of the public and sometimes felt put at risk by their attempts to help. Survey results included no negative responses, eight positive responses, and a few more suggestions to the public of how to deal with blind pedestrians. The below list of requests is compiled in the belief that most members of the public would like to be of real assistance to blind pedestrians. Does anyone have or know of a web site where these requests can be posted to help educate the public?

Etiquette to Observe When Meeting Blind People

1. Refrain from distracting any blind pedestrian at any time by grabbing, pulling, pushing, shouting or honking your horn.

2. However a blind person appears to you, show respect for the person's need to concentrate on helping him/herself.

3. Never make assumptions about a blind person's desired destination, purpose, intentions or wishes.

4. Consider that blind people who walk with guide dogs or white canes usually have a fair idea of where we are going, regardless of appearances.

5. Please never tease, feed or otherwise distract a guide dog.

6. Please never grab a white cane.

7. If you see a blind person out of the crosswalk in a busy intersection, do not honk your horn or yell. Such noises are unclear as to your intent, and could startle a blind pedestrian into making a fatal error.

8. Rather than shout "right" or "left" to a blind person you think may be in trouble, instead call "This way" or "Wait."

9. If you want to offer help, just say hello in a low to moderate tone of voice. We can decide what we need.

You may reach me via e-mail, [email protected], or by phone, (510) 849- 0721 (Pacific time).

-- Arlene Merryman, Berkeley, Calif.

In reply to Working Together

In the article, "Working Together for Community Betterment" by Jack Varnon and Rodney Bickel (May 2005), Jack has a postscript in which he says: "Lately, there has been widespread use of PDF documents on government agencies' web sites. Most of these documents are virtually unreadable with conventional screen readers like JAWS and Window-Eyes. Therefore, the average blind person is denied reasonable access to such information. It's my understanding that if I invest more dollars and upgrade to the latest JAWS (version 6.0) and Adobe Acrobat 7.0 (free), I will be able to read properly constructed PDF files. Unfortunately, many of us just cannot justify the extra expense."

I would like to add a few supporting points. First, even many recently made PDF files are not "properly" constructed. And there is no reason to believe that this will change in the near future, since they are not automatically "properly" constructed, and those making PDF files have to follow specific instructions to make them accessible. Most people making the PDF files aren't bothering, or aren't able to follow the instructions adequately to accomplish the task. Second, in addition to the cost of upgrading screen-reader software, some of us would need to incur additional cost because we have specific speech synthesizer needs or preferences. For example, upgrades of JAWS above 4.5 require upgrades in the DECTalk software. But the upgraded DECTalk software is not as clear as the earlier version that works well with earlier versions of JAWS. For people like me, who have some hearing impairment, the Eloquence speech synthesizer that comes free with JFW is not adequate because some of us cannot clearly hear the consonants. There is a solution -- the newest DECTalk hardware, which is quite clear and works well with versions of JFW above 4.5. But it costs $700, and not all of us can afford that.

-- Sylvie Kashdan, Seattle, Wash.

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