Need Financial Assistance to Purchase Access Technology and Devices for the Blind?

 

 

Assistive Technology Fund

The Association of Blind Citizens operates the Assistive Technology Fund. The Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) will provide funds to cover 50% of the retail price of adaptive devices or software. The ABC board of directors believes that this program will allow blind and visually impaired individuals access to technology products that will have a significant impact on improving employment opportunities, increase the level of independence and enhance their overall quality of life.

The products covered by this program must retail for a minimum of $200 with a maximum retail price of $6,000. Persons eligible to apply for assistance must have a family income of less than $50,000 and cash assets of less than $20,000. Applications will be reviewed by the Assistive Technology Committee (ATC) and recommendations will be submitted for board approval. If applicants are selected to receive a technology grant, applicants will be asked to provide documents such as tax returns, bank statements and any other documents that the ABC board or it’s designee would deem necessary to assess financial need for the grant.

Applicants must be legally blind and a resident of the United States to qualify for this program. Applications must be submitted by June 30th and December 31st for each grant period (two per year). Applicants will be notified if their request for a grant is approved. Applicants may submit one request per calendar year. All applications must be submitted via e-mail. You will be notified by ABC within 45 days after the application deadline. The grantee will have 30 days after notification to purchase the product. If the purchase cannot be made within 30 days ABC reserves the right to withdraw the award and assign it to another applicant. All decisions are final.

You may fill out the request form below by pasting it in to your word processor and emailing it to: atf@blindcitizens.org.

Important: Requests must be received via email only, by June 30th or December 31st. Please do not use attachments when submitting your request.

Association of Blind Citizens Assistive Technology request form

 

Name:

 

First Line Of Address:

 

Second Line Of Address:

 

City:

 

State:

 

Zip:

 

Telephone Number with area code:

 

Email address:

Provide a description of 500 or fewer words of the device you wish to purchase and how it will help you achieve employment or increase your independence.

 

Leader Dogs for the Blind Offers Excellent Orientation and Mobility Training

A few years ago, after several serious injuries, I knew it was time to seek white cane training. The wait for such services in my state can be 2-3 years long. I took to the internet to find alternatives and discovered the Accelerated Orientation and Mobility (AOM) program at Leader Dogs for the Blind. This week-long course was free, including airfare to the training center in Michigan. I knew this was a great opportunity so I applied. It was one of the most important steps I have taken to adjust to my vision loss.

I had no idea how much there was to learn about Orientation and Mobility and how much it would change my life for the better. I had a wonderful experience at Leader Dogs and want to share this resource with others who may be considering cane training. Here you will find an interview with Erica Ihrke who works at Leader Dog with the AOM program.

Male student learning to cross a street with his O+M instructor looking on

Client crossing street with instructor looking on

Audrey: Tell me a bit about yourself, credentials, and professional experience.

Erica: I am a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist (COMS) and the Manager of Extended Services at Leader Dogs for the Blind. I’ve been employed at Leader Dog for the past 16 years. I have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Central Michigan University and Master of Arts in Orientation & Mobility from Western Michigan University.

I have been a part of the team to incorporate GPS into the guide dog curriculum here at Leader Dog. Accelerated O&M Training has grown from an average of 26 clients per year to 75 last fiscal year. Summer Experience Camp was developed and O&M Interns are now a part of the Leader Dog culture. I have published two research articles with colleagues about GPS and its benefits for people who are blind or visually impaired. Additionally, I have presented at local, national & international conferences about the Leader Dog model used for O&M instruction and various topics related to accessible GPS.

Audrey: What do you find most rewarding about teaching O+M skills to clients?

Erica: The thing I love most about teaching O&M is actually teaching. Through the model that we use at Leader Dog we quickly see growth in skills. Clients that arrive on Sunday and depart the following Saturday are noticeably transformed with new skills for daily travel.

Audrey: Why are O+M and cane skills important? What do you see as the benefits to clients?

Erica: O&M skills are so important because if you know how to get somewhere and can do it safely then opportunities are made available. The benefits are endless… socialization, work, fitness and health, etc.

Audrey: Can you give a brief explanation of the training and highlight the skills needed to be a safe and independent traveler?

Erica: O&M training that occurs through Accelerated O&M at Leader Dog starts with arrivals on Sunday and departures on Saturday. One -on-one instruction with a COMS occurs Monday through Friday. On each day two to three lessons are completed in morning and afternoon sessions with short breaks in between each lesson to digest information. Generally one night travel lesson is accomplished after dark one evening. The skills taught to be a safe and independent traveler include using a white cane, utilizing a human guide,orientation skills and cardinal directions (i.e., north, south, east, west) to know where you are, where you want to go and how to get there, solving problems such as barriers, crowds, etc., crossing streets safely, re-orientating, shopping, soliciting assistance when needed, and more. Training takes place in a wide variety of environments, such as residential, semi-business, business, city and country settings.

Accelerated O&M training is provided free of charge at Leader Dogs for the Blind’s Rochester Hills, Michigan campus to those who are legally blind and at least 16 years of age, regardless of whether or not they plan to eventually train with a guide dog. Individualized, one-on-one instruction is provided during five days to meet goals agreed on by the client and COMS

Audrey: In your professional opinion, when is it time for O+M training? How do you know when you are ready for this as a visually impaired person?

Erica: It’s time for O&M training when you find yourself looking down to travel rather than keeping your head up, when you find that you are bumping into things that you didn’t see, or when you find you are limiting the places to which you go. O&M training is not a one-time instruction and then you are done. If you have had O&M training previously you should consider retraining if you are experiencing changes in your environment (a move or new traffic controls are put into place) or changes in your confidence or skill level.

Female student walking with her new white cane

Client walking with O+M instructor

Audrey: What do you see as the barriers and resistance clients have to O+M training?

Erica: One barrier to O&M training may be that the individual is waiting for services in his/her home area and that service is not provided in a frequent and on-going manner. A resistance to O&M training may be that someone does not want to carry a white cane. In this instance it is best that the individual is accepting of needing some assistance. A cane is an identifier and does create more awareness of a person’s visual impairment. Additionally it is a tool that can help identify obstacles and locate landmarks. But there is more to O&M than utilizing a white cane. More importantly it is knowing where you are, being able to plan where you want to go & knowing how to get there safely.

Audrey: What do clients say once they have experienced the skills to travel with a cane?

Erica: I’ve had several clients tell me that they didn’t think they needed more O&M training and they just came because we required it for them to go on to guide dog training with a Leader Dog. They have ALL also told me that they were extremely glad they came for training because they learned so much and now felt more comfortable with their travel abilities.

“[Because my O&M instructor is keeping me safe during training] I know that I am going to be able to make mistakes, it’s going to be OK, and I’m also going to be able to succeed and feel good about it,” said client Sheila Roussey.

“I just wanted to get more proficient to use the cane so that I could get around a lot better and not have to depend on people,” said client Susan Miller.

Thank you Erica for sharing this information. And thank you Leader Dogs for the Blind for your commitment and dedication to the mission of empowering people who are blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind with lifelong skills of independent and safe travel. To learn more and apply to the AOM program visit: http://www.leaderdog.org/clients/programs/accelerated-o-m-program                                                                        Happy Trails!!

A Spring Chorus of Twitters and Tweets

Ahhh, I welcome the crisp spring air and bright morning sun on a March day. I wander the yard with my guide dog Sophie and we are both feeling the freshness in the breeze and have a renewed spring in our step. Sophie pauses, closes her eyes and lifts her twitching nose high in the air to inhale the kaleidoscope of scents. There is a definite smell to the color green. And rain has a distinct and lingering fragrance. Just as humans see the world in varying shades of color, dogs experience it in layers of exquisite smells.

Image result for daffodils

 

I walk my little plantation to find other signs which tell me winter is over. I know the vegetation in my garden and I take inventory. My daffodils and paper whites are smiling and the forsythia bush is aflame. I can detect these vibrant splashes of color as they dance against the still brown lawn. The azaleas are budding and the camellias are in full bloom. No sign of the hosta yet and I cannot find the lilies of the valley either. A few herbs are pushing through-I ruffle the leaves and smell parsley and lemon balm. I gather my clues through touch and smell. Then I am suddenly aware of another sign of spring that demands my attention.

 

I close my eyes and stand still, like Sophie does. I hear layers of birdsong in the trees: playful twitters and tweets, insistent squawks and squeaks, delicate coos and peeps. My yard is a veritable bird sanctuary! I notice the melodic and frantic sounds like never before and wonder what the birds are saying to each other. “I’m over here!” and “Oh-oh, pick me!”  I imagine, as male and female flirt. The birds call out back and forth, replicating and responding in the ritual of finding a mate. What enthusiasm and energy they have as they play “Marco –Polo” in the tree tops. This adds yet another awareness of beauty this morning for me. Though I cannot see the frisky feathered creatures, I am enthralled with their noisy love songs and playful antics overhead. I suddenly want to learn more about them and their signature voices. I want to not only take time to smell the roses, but stop and listen to the beautiful spring chorus offered by nature.Image result for birds in the spring

 

Perhaps I will take The Hadley School for the Blind course entitled “Enjoying Birdsongs.” Here is the course description:

 

{Enjoying birdsongs helps people reduce stress, improve cognition and memory, interact with nature, and even have spiritual experiences. This course guides students through the many birdsongs presented in John Neville’s audio CD set Beginner’s Guide to Bird Songs of North America. This course helps students become able to appreciate nature and birdsongs, as well as reflect on their experiences with birdsongs}

 

The Hadley School for the Blind offers many distance-learning courses for high-school students and adults. There is a variety of academic, enrichment, technology and recreational courses that are FREE to the blind and visually impaired. Learn more at:

http://www.hadley.edu

 

Reading to Enhance Mental Health: Bibliotherapy

Reading as a Healing Experience

Most of us become readers at an early age and discover the wonders of a good story. We learn to interact with books in order to learn and grow. Characters come alive to us as we relate to their experiences. Sometimes reading is for pleasure or escape and other times it is for the disciplined acquisition of information. No matter what, our engagement with literature and written word has the potential to change us, calm us, inform us, inspire us and heal us. In its most simplistic form, this is known as bibliotherapy. Exposure to books, poetry, writing, and even film and videos can be therapeutic and beneficial in helping us process our own life experiences. In other words, literature can be used to help us figure life out, heal emotional traumas, and change thoughts and behavior. Reading can be a healing experience.

As I was learning to adjust to vision loss, I was drawn to read books about blindness and books written by authors who were blind. I found it very helpful and motivating to enter the narratives of others who were sharing their own stories of vision loss. Some books were informational, some humorous, and others deeply moving. I realized that the cumulative affect was that I understood more about blindness and my feelings about it were changing. Reading books on blindness, memoirs and biographies of blind writers has had a very positive influence on my ability to adjust and cope with vision loss.

Reading Books on Blindness

It has long been understood that literature “heals the soul” and the use of bibliotherapy has evolved to become quite complex in its application to psychiatry and health care. Consider a bit of reading therapy for yourself as a way to deal with vision loss. With the help of the Peer Advisors at VisionAware, I  put together a reading list of books for this purpose. It is not exhaustive by any means but meant to get you started. Most of these titles are available through the National Library Service in audio or braille formats. Newer titles are not yet available through the NLS. Many are available in e-book formats through your favorite booksellers. (Kindle, Nook, etc.) Another way to find such books on blindness is to search the NLS collection using “blindness” as a key word. Whether you are using your eyes, ears or fingers to read, may it be a rewarding and therapeutic experience.

If you are interested in learning more about the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Talking Book Program, go to: hhttp://www.loc.gov/nls/index.html

24 Books on Blindness

  1. Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer- e-book, NLS
  2. Cockeyed: a memoir by Ryan Knighton- e-book, NLS
  3. Blindness: What it is, What it Does, and How to Live with it by Thomas Carroll-NLS
  4. Lessons I Learned in the Dark by Jennifer Rothschild- NLS
  5. Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness by John Hull- NLS
  6. Living on the Edge of Twighlight by Doug Green- e-book
  7. Now I See You: A Memoir by Nicole C. Kear- e-book
  8. Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith by Amy Bovaird- e-book
  9. Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation by Sue Martin- e-book,NLS
  10. The Adversity Advantage by Erik Weihenmayer and Paul G. Stoltz-  e-book,NLS
  11. Thoughts on Blindness: One Spouse’s Perspective on Losing Vision and Living Life by Becky LeBlanc-The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  12. Ordinary Daylight: Portrait of an Artist Going Blind by Andrew Potok- e-book, NLS cassette
  13. A Matter of Dignity: Changing the Lives of the Disabled by Andrew Potok-NLS
  14. ROCKS:The Blind Guy at the Lake by Thomas P. Costello-Amazon print, The Carroll Center Books on Blindness
  15. Focus by Ingrid Ricks- e-book
  16. How Do You Kiss a Blind Girl by Sally Wagner-NLS
  17. The Way We See It: A Fresh Look at Vision Loss – anthology from Vision Loss Resource-print, e-book available at http://www.visionlossresources.org
  18. Do You Dream in Color? By Laurie Rubin-NLS
  19. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance by Jacques Lusseyran-NLS
  20. Not Fade Away by Rebecca Alexander
  21. The Unseen Minority: a social history of blindness in America by Frances A. Koestler-NLS
  22. Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness: the process of responding to life’s demands by Dean and Naomi Tuttle-NLS
  23. Shades of Darkness: a black soldier’s journey through Vietnam, blindness and back by George Brummell-NLS
  24. Undaunted by Blindness: concise biographies of 400 people who refused to let visual impairment define them by Clifford Olstrom, Perkins School for the Blind-NLS

Share Your Favorite Therapeutic Book

Is there a book you have read that helped you adjust to vision loss? How did the book help you? Or is there a book about a blind person that was encouraging or motivational? What about books written by a blind or visually impaired author? Share your favorite reads below.

                                                Image result for books

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?

 

Have You Heard About “Be My Eyes?”

 

Be My Eyes_Credits Emil Jupin & Thelle Kristensen“Be My Eyes” will help the blind “see” all kinds of things with the help of sighted volunteers and the video cameras on their  i-phones. Here is the press release from www.bemyeyes.org :

New app lets sighted help blind people see

A new app makes life easier for the blind, by connecting them with sighted helpers through a smartphone app. This allows the blind to handle big and small tasks, while ighted get the joy of helping someone else in a easy and informal way. The app is called Be My Eyes and could revolutionize everyday life for the blind.

It only takes a minute to choose the right tin can from the shelf, look at the expiration date on the milk or find the right thing to eat in the fridge if have full vision that is. For visual impaired individuals smaller tasks in their home can often become bigger challenges. The new app is called “Be My Eyes” and hopes to change that!

Through a direct video call the app gives blind people the opportunity to ask a sighted volunteer for help, for tasks that requires normal vision. The blind person “borrows” the helper’s eyes all through his or her smartphone. The sighted helper is able to see and describe what the blind person is showing the sighted helper by filming with the video camera in the smartphone. That way, by working together they are able to solve the problem that the blind person is facing.

A test version of the app has been well received by the blind community. John Heilbrunn, himself blind and vice chairman of The Danish Association of the Blind, sees  it as great opportunity to get help from a network of volunteers: »The app makes it possible to get help at times where it might be inconvenient to get help from neighbors or friends, and you don’t have to go apologetically and ask for help.«

The idea behind Be My Eyes originates from the Danish 50 year old furniture craftsman Hans Jørgen Wiberg, who started losing his vision when he was 25. His wish is that the app will make both the everyday life of blind people easier and new flexible opportunity to volunteer:»It is flexible, takes only a few minutes to help and the app is therefore a good opportunity for the busy, modernindividual with the energy to help othersSays inventor Hans Jørgen Wiberg

The Be My Eyes app is free and available in the AppStore.

This app is similar to Tap Tap See only it is free. It will soon be available on androids too. Could this be helpful to you or someone you know? If you are sighted, would you be interested in “lending your eyes” and becoming a sighted helper?

Logo_black & white_with-text

 

Have You Heard About NVDA and Computers For the Blind?

I have been surviving on the computer with Zoomtext for the last 12 years. It has been wonderful to have such access. I actually started with “Bigshot”, a precursor to Zoomtext, and it allowed me to continue my job for years. But alas, my vision continues to change and technology changes even faster! I now have cataracts that affect the last bit of vision I have to read. I am making plans to have them removed and hoping to clear up my central vision. But at the same time, I have been thinking about making the transition to using a screen reader rather than a screen magnifier program so I can continue to use a computer.

I understand that the JAWS screen reader is difficult to learn and quite expensive. I am intimidated by it and dread learning it! Then there is Windows Eyes which I hear has some issues and seems to have less tech support available. In some cases, the state Vocational Rehab agencies will purchase access software and provide training for users. But in my state, there is a 2-3 year wait for these services. Many blind and visually impaired people cannot afford these expensive products on their own and it is sad how companies seem to exploit the disabled. So many blind and visually impaired people do not have access to a computer, social media, on-line shopping and the wealth of internet information.

That is why I am so excited about NVDA-nonvisual desktop access! This is a free screen reader that is compatible with Windows and available for download. Here is an exerpt of the story of how it was developed and made available for all from the website http://www.nvaccess.org/ :

Michael Curran and James Teh met as children on a music camp for the blind, where they realised they shared a strong interest in computers. Several years later they decided to join forces to help improve the accessibility of computers for blind and vision impaired people.

For blind people to use a computer, they need a screen reader which reads the text on the screen in a synthetic voice or with a braille display. But in many cases screen reading software costs more than the computer itself. In the past this has left computers inaccessible to millions of blind people around the world. This is a critical problem, because without computers, access to education and employment is severely limited, not to mention everyday functions such as online banking, shopping and news.

In April 2006 Michael began to develop a free screen reader called NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) for use with computers running on Windows. He invited James, who had recently completed his IT degree, to develop the software with him.

Together these two fully blind men founded the not-for-profit organisation NV Access to support the development of the NVDA screen reader. Before too long they were able to work full-time on the project thanks to a series of corporate grants and individual donations.

NVDA has been translated by volunteers into more than 43 languages, and been used by people in more than 120 countries. It has also won multiple awards.

NVDA is open source software, which means the code is accessible to anyone. This enables translators and developers around the world to continually contribute to its expansion and improvement.

Through this work, Michael and James have gained extensive expertise in software accessibility. They have also fostered relationships with companies such as Mozilla, Microsoft, IBM, Adobe and Yahoo! and have contributed to the accessibility of their respective products.

NV Access is based in South East Queensland, Australia.

Yay for these lads who have made computers more accessible with the NVDA screen reader! They have created tutorials to make NVDA user friendly. Check out these links:

http://nvda.wikispaces.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOQ7zELFmLE

And did you know about Computers for the Blind? It is a program that refurbishes desktop and laptop computers and then makes them available to people who are visually challenged for a nominal fee. The computers come preloaded with either magnification software or NVDA screen readers, monitors, keyboards and more. The mission of Computers for the Blind (CFTB) is to open the world of information technology to persons who are blind or visually impaired by providing computer equipment, software and training. Check out their site at: http://www.computersfortheblind.net/index-2.html or call 214.340.6328 to learn more.

I hope these resources are helpful to you or someone you know. Pass the information on…