Using the Be My Eyes App

I downloaded the Be My Eyes app and tried it out recently. It was incredibly easy to use and very helpful. All you do is go to the app store and install the app. Then you select whether you are a sighted or blind user. When you need assistance, you open the app,  which can be done with Siri and touch the middle of the screen to “connect to first available helper.” The app will then say “creating request” and “connecting to servers.” Then you get a musical tone and a message stating “waiting for other part.” The tone continues until someone answers the call and greets you. This can take a minute or two. On my first call, someone in Stockholm Sweden answered. It was morning for me and evening for him. The volunteer helped me choose between a regular coffee and a decaf coffee pod for my Keurig. All I had to do was point my phone at what I wanted to see and it showed up on the camera. The call lasted a minute or so. I thanked him kindly and said good-bye.  Then I tapped at the bottom of the screen to disconnect the call.

I used Be My eyes again this morning. This time I chatted with the volunteer a moment. He was a firefighter in Ohio and commented on the extreme cold weather they were experiencing. I asked him what prompted him to sign up for Be My Eyes. He said he thought it was a way he could help out. The core philosophy of this app is the idea that we all need help at times and people are willing to help. It connects us to each other in a special way and I am certain there are benefits for both parties. Aren’t we living in amazing times?

 

Ski for Light Focuses on Abilities Not Disabilities

I just returned from the 2015 International Ski for Light event in Granby Colorado. It was an amazing week of cross-country skiing under big, blue skies in the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed well-groomed trails, sunny days, beautiful snow, and crisp mountain air.  The  best part though was connecting with a group of inspiring people.

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

A First Time Skier

Ski for Light is a non-profit organization run by all volunteers, which enables visually impaired and mobility impaired individuals to enjoy a week of skiing with a personal guide. There were 100 dis-Abled skiers, 100 sighted guides and a host of other volunteers who make the week go smoothly.  I am so thrilled to have had this opportunity to learn to ski for the first time in my life. I had no idea whether I would be able to do it but as it turns out, I can…even at my age and with the little bit of vision I have left! It was a memorable week which taught me I can do more than I think I can.

A Full-Inclusion Program

I learned about the program from a friend who is also keen on new adventures. She has been attending Ski for Light for many years. In my retirement, I am determined to try new things, learn new skills and get fit. So this opportunity was exciting and I did not hesitate to sign up. It spurred me on to join the gym and exercise regularly so I would not embarrass myself. I arrived in fairly good shape, though there is always room for improvement. I worked hard at learning the basics of cross-country skiing with my experienced guide/instructor Lynn Cox. She has been coming to SFL for many years, volunteering her time and at her own expense, to guide and teach visually impaired skiers. The guides are trained to work with the visually impaired and most are accomplished skiers who can share their expertise. We are treated with respect, dignity, and full inclusion and it is easy to forget you are visually impaired while at SFL. And that is a wonderful thing!

Pushing Past Personal Limits

Well, as it turns out, I have a special talent for falling safely and popping up quickly which I demonstrated over and over. This is an important skill, but it was not the one at which I wanted to excel. All week, I tried to fall less and ski more smoothly. I set goals for myself and worked to do my personal best each day. In the end, I improved every day; skiing farther, faster, and with fewer falls with the support and encouragement from Lynn at my side. That is what it is all about; learning your limits and then pushing past them! I have a lot more to learn and hope to master that darn “snow plow” next year.

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

A Well-Rounded Program

Ski for Light does a fantastic job of not only accommodating all levels of disabilities, but also all levels of skiing ability from the first timer to the serious race competitor. The guides are carefully matched with a skier in order to achieve the skier’s goals for the week. The program offers special interest workshops, evening entertainment and lots of opportunities to make new friends. The cost is subsidized by generous donor funds and scholarships are available for first-timers.

An Inspiring Week

I heard many inspiring stories and witnessed something special at SFL this week.  Harald Vik is 72 years old, deaf-blind and from Norway. He has been coming to SFL for years. Last year he was hit by a car while riding in a tandem bike event and sustained many broken bones. He was determined to be at this year’s event even if he had to use a sit-ski (for the mobility impaired skier). I met him out on the trails making his way on his own two legs after months of rehab and therapy. I call him “Amazing Harald.” And one bright day on the trails, I was passed up by a 93 year old gentleman who is totally blind and has been coming to SFL for more than 20 years. Way to stay young and active, Charlie! Yes, the dis-Abled skiers were inspiring to me…but so were the dedicated guides and volunteers who come back year after year with such a heart of service and passion for this excellent program.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Is Ski for Light For YOU?

Are you looking for a new adventure? Do you like to be active and learn new skills? Ski for Light may just be the thing for you!  Learn more at www.sfl.org  I will be there next year, will you?

[SFL logo]

Have You Ordered Your iBill Currency Reader Yet?

The other day, I ordered my iBill reader from the BEP. It was a simple process. As a patron of the National Library Service (NLS) I am already ”authorized” to receive one. Some people pre-ordered through their library service but that option is no longer available. If you are not an NLS  user, you will need to have your application signed by someone who is “authorized” to certify that you are visually impaired.  Now you must go to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) website to order. The form is short and can be filled in electronically but has to be printed and mailed the old-fashioned way. You can expect your iBill reader to arrive in about 8 weeks.

There is a fascinating summary of all that transpired to bring about this program posted on VisionAware at: http://www.visionaware.org/blog/visionaware-blog/progress-update-united-states-accessible-currency-project-for-blind-and-visually-impaired-persons/12#comments

It has been a lengthy and complex series of events, demonstrating our government being mandated by the courts to make U.S. paper currency accessible to the blind and visually impaired. I found it very interesting and think you will too.

Below is the government press release with a link to the on-line application. Well, it’s about time, wouldn’t you say?

BEP Rolls Out U.S. Currency Reader Program Nationwide

Media Contact: Darlene Anderson

(202) 874-2229 Darlene.Anderson@BEP.GOV Customer Inquiry: Toll Free (844) 815-9388

Washington, DC (January 5, 2015) – The Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is now accepting and processing applications nationwide from blind or visually impaired individuals who wish to receive a free currency reader.  This initiative is one of a number of steps the BEP is taking to introduce technologies and features to make our nation’s paper currency accessible to all individuals.

The reader, called iBill® Currency Identifier, provides a convenient means for blind or visually impaired individuals to identify all Federal Reserve notes (U.S. currency) in circulation.  It uses a single AAA battery, which is included, and denominates the note in one of three modes: a clear natural voice, a pattern of tones, or a pattern of vibrations for privacy.  The vibration mode also assists people who are deaf and blind.

The U.S. Currency Reader Program is a component of the BEP’s initiative to provide meaningful access to Federal Reserve notes.  Interested individuals can download the application from the BEP’s website at http://www.bep.gov/uscurrencyreaderform.html.  It must be filled out completely, signed by a competent authority that can certify eligibility, and returned to the mailing address provided on the form.

Please direct questions or comments about the U.S. Currency Reader Program to the BEP toll-free number (844-815-9388) or email at meaningful.access@bep.gov.  More information about the U.S. Currency Reader Program and the BEP’s meaningful access initiative is available at www.bep.gov.

In September, the BEP launched a four-month pilot program where existing patrons of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) were eligible to pre-order currency readers.  The pilot program provided an opportunity for the government to test its ordering and distribution process, and gauge demand for currency readers in advance of the January 2015 national rollout.  Approximately 15,000 readers were pre-ordered and delivered under the pilot program.

In 2011, the BEP introduced EyeNote®, an app that scans and identifies note images on mobile devices operating on the Apple iOS platform.  BEP also assisted the Department of Education in developing the IDEAL Currency Reader app for Android phones.  To date, these apps have been downloaded more than 20,000 times.

Christmas:Generosity and Gift Giving

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and we have reflected on all that we have for which to be thankful, it is time to be generous and give gifts. Gift giving is truly one of my love languages. I enjoy making gifts, thinking of the perfect gift for someone, finding gifts that communicate what I want to say to the receiver, wrapping the gift and finally giving the gift. Giving gifts allows us the opportunity to be creative, thoughtful and generous which is good for the soul! Gifts do not have to be extravagant or expensive…they just need to come from the heart.

A few years ago, I received the following in a Christmas card. I really liked it so I am passing it along. Though this is the season of gift giving, here are some gift ideas for year round:

8 Free Gifts You Can Give

THE GIFT OF LISTENING . . .
But you must REALLY listen. No interrupting, no daydreaming, no planning your response. Just listening.

THE GIFT OF AFFECTION . . .
Be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, pats on the back and handholds. Let these small actions demonstrate the love you have for family and friends.

THE GIFT OF LAUGHTER . . .
Clip cartoons. Share articles and funny stories. Your gift will say, “I love to laugh with you.”

THE GIFT OF A WRITTEN NOTE . . .
It can be a simple “Thanks for the help” note or a full sonnet. A brief, handwritten note may be remembered for a lifetime, and may even change a life.

THE GIFT OF A COMPLIMENT . . .
A simple and sincere, “You look great in red,” “You did a super job” or “That was a wonderful meal” can make someone’s day.

THE GIFT OF A FAVOR . . .
Every day, go out of your way to do something kind.

THE GIFT OF SOLITUDE . . .
There are times when we want nothing better than to be left alone. Be sensitive to those times and give the gift of solitude to others.

THE GIFT OF A CHEERFUL DISPOSITION . . .
The easiest way to feel good is to extend a kind word to someone. Really it’s not that hard to say “Hello” or “Thank You.”

 Happy Gift-Giving and remember-give generously…it is good for your own heart!

...the joy of gift giving...

…the joy of gift giving…

Grateful for Talking Books

A book is a device to ignite the imagination.

–Alan Bennett

I am always amazed when I download a book on my BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Downloads) Mobile app and can immediately start listening. I browse the expansive BARD library, search for specific book titles or authors, add books to my “Wish List,” and begin reading in minutes. It is like magic, this wonderful bit of technology at my fingertips and I am so grateful to have access to reading material in this format.

 

Recently, I read that The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) played an instrumental role in the development of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), true to their mission to advocate for education and access to information for the visually impaired. This piqued my interest and I discovered a fascinating history of the NLS and the Talking Book Program. It can be found on the AFB website ( http://www.afb.org/info/75-years-of-afb-and-talking-books/2) and in the book “The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States” by Frances A. Koestler (available through the NLS and AFB).

 

AFB and Helen Keller lobbied in the early days when Congress was asked to help provide funds for the production and circulation of braille books for the blind. The Library of Congress was tasked with this important work by the Pratt-Smoot Act passed in March 1931. Thus began decades of research, development, and partnerships which brought the wonders of books to blind people in America. As Helen Keller said when she testified to the House of Representatives,

 

“ …Books are the eyes of the blind. They reveal to us the glories of the light-filled world, they keep us   in touch with what people are thinking and doing, they help us to forget our limitations. With our hands plunged into an interesting book, we feel independent and happy.”

 

This legislation enabled Braille books to be systematically printed and loaned through regional libraries, funded by the government. As the numbers of blind adults grew as a result of war, there was increased need to produce and circulate more reading material efficiently. This coincided with new technologies being developed to record spoken word. AFB partnered with engineers, commercial recording studios, the Library of Congress, Helen Keller, and American Printing House (APH) to bring to fruition the Tallking Book Program in 1934. Through determined effort, recorded books and play back machines were made available through regional libraries to the visually impaired community all over the United States, on free loan. AFB began recording Talking Books for the Library of Congress and among the first were the Four Gospels and the Psalms, the Declaration of Independence, and some works of Shakespeare.

 

AFB continued to participate in the mission of bringing literature, magazines and other reading materials to the blind even as new technologies evolved. In 1936, Talking Books were made on Vinylite LP records played on phonographs built by blind workers in one of Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration (WPA) workshops run by AFB. By the 1950’s, alternative formats were being developed to record books on cassette tapes and reel-to-reel. Talking Books on cassette tapes with the accompanying machines, were the preferred format distributed by the 1980’s. Then in the 1990’s, digital technologies drove the AFB and the Library of Congress to launch a test program to introduce digitally recorded books and digital players. The conversion to a digital Talking Book system began in 2007. From there, we have BARD Mobile today; books downloadable on digital players and i-devices instantly at our fingertips. Isn’t it grand, to be able to enjoy a book with clear digital technology, easy navigation, and available on-demand? It always causes me to pause to consider what an amazing time we live in and to give thanks to all the tireless efforts of those who went before us, advocating for this access to printed word. Thank you AFB and Helen Keller! And now , I must get back to my Talking Book-“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett.

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

Dora Is Back From Vacation

A Post from Mary about the Hen Hike from her point of view…

Seeing It My Way - Mary Hiland

Mary with tea Tea time

You know how you are exhausted when you come back from vacation? You think you should be refreshed from the break from your normal routine, but all that play tires you out.

My friends Tricia and David took care of Dora while I was at my annual hiking trip, The Hen Hike, in northeastern Pennsylvania. They returned her to me a few minutes after I got home from the airport. I have never seen her so joyful. She was jumping and licking and even biting my nose and my chin. I think maybe she missed me. Even though she had a grand time at their house, playing ball several times a day and going on really long walks, she seemed to be worn out. Usually, when I unpack from a trip, my dog follows me around as I put things away, but Dora lay sprawled out on the…

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A Hiking We All Went

 

“Not all those who wander are lost”

                               J.R.R. Tolkien

I recently returned from a wonderful hiking trip. I was invited to join nine other women on their annual hiking adventure which they have taken for the last 16 years together. When I received the invitation, I hardly stopped to think about it. Count me in any time there is hiking, a chance to travel, and an opportunity to make new friends. I had never met these women and this would be my first “Hen Hike.”

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

 The Hens are made up of five visually impaired women and five sighted guides who have been friends for years. They are the kind of women who are “shakers and movers,” impressive in their vivacious spirits and thirst for adventure. Most of them have been involved with Ski For Light, Inc. (which I will write about in another post), where the sighted guides have developed their skill to guide the visually impaired and their selfless sense of service as volunteers. It is a group of physically fit and “aging gracefully” women who know how to have fun! They are world travelers, survivors of some of life’s most difficult challenges, professionals, wise, well-read, kind and gracious ladies. And it was such a privilege to be among them!

 We stayed at the Starlight Inn in northeast Pennsylvania. It is nestled in the country, overlooking a lake and surrounded by scenic trails. Sari the innkeeper, runs the quaint establishment with other family members. Wholesome and homemade meals are served in the cozy dining room where you feel as though you are part of the family. Every day, we were sent off on our hike with made-to-order sack lunches; meaty sandwiches on freshly baked bread, crisp apples and homemade cookies.

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

 

Each morning we hit the trails paired up with our guide for the day. The trees were spectacular in their fall “coats of many colors.” We walked the woodsy paths, side by side, at an easy pace and lost ourselves in companionable conversations. Breathing in the cool fresh air, we merrily trudged along in our broken-in boots,LLBean flannels and brandishing our walking canes. The sun was bright on our faces as we wandered the forest, leaving behind the worries of the world. The hikes were pleasant and we covered quite a bit of ground. We discovered several waterfalls and open meadows which were perfect lunch spots. It was refreshing and relaxing to enjoy the beautiful scenery with new friends who also appreciated nature.

 The hiking was only half the fun. Every day, we gathered in the “parlor” for Happy Hour, sipping wine and nibbling cheese and crackers. We shared stories of our lives and talked about the day’s highlights. Each day, I learned more about the Hens and grew to appreciate their colorful personalities, their vitality, and their fun-loving, adventurous spirits. After our lovely evening meals, we retired to the sun porch to play games. Some of the Hens pulled out their knitting as we played. We cackled and laughed until we cried and our sides hurt! And after much mirth and merriment, we trotted off to bed, full and satisfied with the day’s activities.

Hen Hike 2014

Hen Hike 2014

 This trip was such a joy. Everything went smoothly and the group meshed so well. I am grateful to these special women for welcoming me warmly and sharing their lives with me. I appreciated what the guides did for us VIPs (visually impaired person) and I was inspired by the VIPs. It is always reassuring to me to be with others who are visually impaired and managing life so well…it empowers me to keep on and encourages me to “see the possibilities” for new adventures. Happy Trails!