Archive for February, 2010

Genetic Breakthrough May Offer Blindness Cure

Familial Exudative Vitreoretinopathy, otherwise known as FEVR is an inherited disease that causes the blood vessels in the retina do not fully develop.  Researchers studying this disease found that a specific gene, known as TSPAN 12, is at fault by disrupting cell signals as the blood vessels develop in the back of the eye.

What makes their finding so important is that by screening family members to see if they have a TSPAN 12 gene mutation, they may be able to eliminate any chance of blindness in the affected person before the disease has a stronghold.  The gene can lie dormant in family members of those who are affected by the disease and if doctors can establish that the gene has mutated and been passed along, they can perform surgery before any retinal damage has occurred.

While these findings will immediately aid in helping those who suffer from FEVR, it will also broaden the understanding of how other genetic diseases affect blindness.  With gene science becoming increasingly more advanced, research like this could mean that someday soon, doctors will know exactly what gene is causing a certain blindness disorder and will be able to treat it effectively without the patient’s sight ever being compromised.

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Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – The Blind Wait The Unusual Way

Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – The Blind Wait The Unusual Way

Before I returned to work for the Ziegler Magazine, I experienced something unique that was just perfect to share with all of you. On January 28, 2010, I spent the day at a Manhattan hotel waiting tables. If that does not strike you as peculiar enough for a totally blind person, what if I told you that all of the estimated 350 guests were eating in complete darkness. This event, called Dining in the Dark, served as a fundraiser for eye research, and was visiting New York for the third time in as many years. Benjamin Uphues, the owner of 3 California restaurants that offer Opaque Dining, resides on the west coast but says he really enjoys traveling for special events. “We take this show on the road about 20 times a year”, Uphues said, “and we are always looking to expand.” The excitement he exuded for the event was very conspicuous during our preparation, as he repeatedly clapped his hands and shouted words of encouragement. The team of 16 blind waiters and waitresses began practicing at 2 pm for an 8 o’clock dinner. No canes were allowed, and partially sighted servers wore blindfolds. We were assigned 2 tables

each, and we followed rope and stanchion for orientation. As everyone walked back and forth from the kitchen to their tables, we were instructed to constantly say “coming through”, “coming through”, in order to avoid accidents. Initially the drill was done

without our dinner carts, but as 8 o’clock approached, the carts were added to further simulate reality. With one hand following the rope, and the other pulling the cart behind us, practice continued until 6:30.

After vacating the room where dinner would be served, we spent most of our time in a back room where we were given walkie-talkies. They were necessary for us to listen for instructions and radio for assistance if need be. Then, 10 minutes before show time, we went out to greet our tables with the lights still on. The 18 people that made up my tables appeared to be ready, and just had some general questions about blindness. One inquiry prompted me to mention to one of my tables that I baby sit my 1 and 2 year old niece

and nephew, to which one guest replied “if you do that once a week, I have complete faith in you!” Then the announcement came through my earpiece, all servers report to the kitchen because the lights will be off in 2 minutes.

The first trip pulling my dinner cart was slightly shaky, because the rope continuously made contact with the plates on my top shelf. I did lose a lid for one of my plates, because space was very limited between the rope and tables. After going in to slight panic mode, wondering if I lost an entire plate of food, I luckily retrieved the lid with out incident. Thankfully, I made it with everything intact, and handed everyone their plates after removing each lid. Several members of my first table excused themselves, but we were forewarned that some succumb to stage fright after the lights are turned out. The trip to my second table was much smoother. When moving through crowded areas I decided to walk sideways instead of pulling the cart directly behind me. I found that I had much better control. All guests at that table remained, and I stayed around to mingle until the lights were turned on again.

Throughout the half-hour we were given to deliver dinner, there were several vociferous outcries of disapproval. Once I finished serving everyone my curiosity got the best of me and I inquired about the outbursts. I was pleasantly surprised to know that the uproars were because some cheated periodically by using their cell phones for light. It was great to see that those who committed to be in did not want to cut any corners. Overall, the night was successful and I was thankful to be a part of the festivities. Talking with others, I found they echoed the same sentiments. First timer Dennis HR Sumlin, said, “This was wonderful and I would certainly do it again.” When asked if anything bothered

him about the day, he said “practice became tedious after a short time because I memorized my route rather quickly.” Mr. Sumlin stated that he definitely could not wait tables full time, but developed a new appreciation for those who do.

Rick Mendez, who has done it all 3 times, could not even rank one year over another. He said, “They were all fantastic. I guess if you forced me, I’d say this year only because each year I become more comfortable.” He really enjoys the way the program puts the blind in such a positive light. Before our conversation concluded, Mr. Mendez said, “If I could do this full time I would with out any hesitation.

At the end of the night, Mr. Uphues thanked us all for a job well done. For him of course, this was not a novelty. He owns 3 restaurants located in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Each one offers the dark dining experience, and all operate weekly. Unlike the special fundraising events, waiters and waitresses are expected to cater to their guests’ every need.

Customers visit one of the three restaurants only after making a reservation. Prior to confirming a seat, they are fully cognizant of the type of dining they will experience. Upon arrival, they are kept in a lighted area until a blind server comes to lead them to a table in darkness. Three courses are offered for a set price of $99, and further requests come with additional charges. Mr. Uphues said, “We have about 10 servers in each city and we use between 3 and 5 per night. Tables require approximately 90 minutes to 2 hours of service, and the wait staff does it all independently.” When asked how he developed the concept, Mr. Uphues said he is from Germany, and dining in the dark is more common in Europe. “Basically, I figured why not bring this with me to the United States.” The dining in the dark special events tour will be making various stops around the nation this year. You can find them in Dallas TX, Philadelphia PA, Kansas City MO, and several other locations. If you are interested in having this experience while earning a few dollars as a server for a day, call 800-710-1270 for further information.

Recipe of the Week


Chili con Carne with Chili Cheddar Shortcakes

For the shortcake biscuits

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

1/4 pound sharp Cheddar, grated coarse (about 1 1/2 cups)

four 2-inch pickled jalapeño chilies, seeded and minced (wear rubber gloves)

1 cup sour cream

For the chili con carne

2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 carrots, sliced thin

2-3 lbs boneless beef chuck, ground coarse or ground sirloin

1/4 cup chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon crumbled dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste

two 8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1 can beef broth

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

a 19-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or black beans)

1 green or red bell peppers, chopped

Make the shortcake biscuits

Into a bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt, add the butter, and blend the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in the Cheddar and the chilies, add the sour cream, and stir the mixture until it just forms a soft but not sticky dough. Knead the dough gently 6 times on a lightly floured surface, roll or pat it out 1/2 inch thick, and with a 3 1/2-inch cookie cutter cut out 6 rounds. Bake the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet in the middle of a preheated 425F. oven for 15 to 17 minutes, or until they are golden.

Make the chili con carne

In a kettle cook the onions in the oil over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, add the garlic and the carrots, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the chuck and cook it over moderate heat, stirring and breaking up any lumps, for 10 minutes, or until it is no longer pink. Add the chili powder, the cumin, the paprika, the oregano, and the red pepper flakes and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce, the broth, and the vinegar, bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer it, covered, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Add the kidney beans, the bell peppers, and salt and black pepper to taste and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until the bell peppers are tender.

Arrange a biscuit, heated and split, on each of the 6 dinner plates, spoon the chili con carne over the bottom half, and cover it with the top half of the biscuit.

Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – Adaptive Version of Cricket in US

In the United States where sports play an immense role in society, cricket does not receive the same attention as other sports like football and basketball. So the idea of an adaptive version of cricket for the blind on American soil would require a much further stretch of the imagination. However, England’s Cricket for Change Charity, which runs the largest cricket program on the planet for disabled players, has sky high expectations for the game’s potential. The charity hopes to have the U.S. completely involved in the blind cricket community by May, so ambassador Andy Dalby-Welsh came to New York.
Dalby-Welsh, who has been blind for the past 11 years, played for his native England in the 2002 and 2006 Blind Cricket World Cup in India and Pakistan. For the past 2 years he has traveled to countries in Africa and the Caribbean in order to expand the game. “I love it,” says Dalby-Welsh. “It completely changed my life. I want to give people the opportunity I’ve had in this game.” A stop on his New York excursion sent him to a cricket club in Brooklyn for a demonstration. The game of course, is a variation of the version sighted competitors play. Bowling, which is baseball’s equivalent of a pitch, is done underhand as opposed to the typical overhand one bounce delivery. The ball is the same size as a regular cricket ball and just about as hard, but it’s the ball bearings inside that produce a sound when the ball moves. Before rolling the ball toward the batsman, the bowler must yell, “Are you ready?” to which a batsmen must reply, “Yes.”  Despite the fact that everyone is legally blind, blindness is particularly categorized for this sport. B1 for totally blind, B2 for partially blind and B3 for strong visual impairment. In order to field a team it is necessary to have three B2s, four B1s, and four B2s. Totally blind players are taken to their positions and back-up runners do the running for them.
With the assistance of the USA Cricket Association (USACA), Cricket for Change hopes to discover and develop approximately 20 U.S. players. They ultimately wish that their efforts would culminate in a U.S. Blind Cricket World Cup entry. If that comes to fruition, America will join Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies for the show-down. The tentative date is June 2011 in the UK, and USACA Rep Clifford Hinds says, “We’re confident of starting in New York, and that it can grow quickly – very quickly.” Cricket for change shares Hind’s enthusiasm, especially when they consider the fact that the game has made it in some third world countries. The charity’s program director Andy Sellins said, “it could be the best in the world.”

Blind Baseball Fan Hits Homerun with Website Accessibility

Brian Charlson is a big Red Sox fan. He loves going to the games and listening to the play by play when he can’t make them. Accessing the stats, however, proved to be very difficult for him due to his blindness. Now, having been urged by Brian and blindness advocates, this week the MLB has added accessibility options to all of its websites in order to make the information entirely available to the blind community.

Brian always felt that baseball, perhaps more than other sports, appeals to blind people because of the relative simplicity of the events involved in the game. “It’s a sport where the play by play can make sense to a blind person. You’ve only got the pitcher, batter and fielder. With only three people to keep track of at any one time, it is a lot easier to keep track of than say, football,” he said.

Brian and another visually impaired friend of his had gone on a trip to see eight baseball games in six cities. They had made all of the plans over the internet, like buying tickets and reserving hotel rooms, and if they were stuck, resorted to making phone calls to clear up any last minute loose ends. What bothered them, though, was that they really couldn’t access any of the material on the MLB sites so they could study the stats of the different teams they were going to visit.

As many of you know, screen readers dictate everything on the page, even the underlying code of pictures and advertisements, which can make the internet a confusing mess. With the MLB, their site was filled with sponsors’ advertisements, videos, and game pictures that created a labyrinth for them to work through. The site was unfortunately quite useless to them.

With the help of other blindness advocacy organizations, Brian approached the MLB and, to his surprise, they were not only eager to help him, but made it a priority and worked very quickly to find a solution. ‘‘We’ve never experienced that, where we didn’t have to hold someone’s toes to the fire,” he said.

Now, the MLB site has what is called a zero pixel gif that is virtually invisible to sighted people using the site, but that is detected by screen readers instantly upon access. The feature is inaccessible to point and click users, but his screen reader recognizes it as a link and allows him access to content specifically formatted for screen readers. This feature offers full navigation of all the material on the site to blind fans without the need to significantly alter the site that sighted users visit. Its simplicity is a thing of beauty, really. Brian now feels that the MLB has made a huge leap, not just in making their own site accessible to blind users, but by showing other companies and organizations that the same can be done without costly modification to their existing setups.

Because of the MLB’s willingness to help out Brian, he was successfully able to vote for the All-Star game for the first time. Next year, he’s going to approach the NFL in hopes they’ll be equally willing to help out.

Good luck, Brian. We wish you the best.

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Travel Tip – Ship Your Luggage

With many airlines charging higher amounts for checked luggage and increasing penalties if someone is over the limit with the amount of luggage they’re allowed to have, a reliable alternative is simply shipping your luggage to and from your destination. While it may seem unconventional to send your luggage with UPS or FedEx instead of US Air or Delta, it’s a practice that makes a good deal of sense when you break it down.

For one, the cost of shipping your luggage to your destination in some cases will almost mirror the cost of putting it on the plane with you, now that most airlines have begun including a flat charge for your first bag and additional charges for each extra piece of luggage. It’s also convenient when shipping your belongings because you won’t have to lug them through the airport and have to deal with checking them or stowing them in any bin while on the plane.

Another great argument is that large-scale shipping services have a much better track record than the airlines concerning the delivery of packages. An added bonus is that most major shipping companies also offer tracking information, guaranteed delivery times, and in worst case scenario situations, even allow you to insure your packages, should anything happen in transit. The airline only offers one of those three, and their guaranteed delivery of your luggage only works if your bags land with you and aren’t on an inter-continental flight to Beijing instead. Since every airport I’ve ever been in has a lost luggage counter, you can assume that bags often end up on planes that they were never meant to be on.

So, next time you’re thinking about getting away, you may want to consider saving yourself the hassle by shipping your luggage instead of setting yourself up for disappointment when your suitcase isn’t on the baggage carousel and the line at the lost luggage counter wraps around the room.

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Visually Impaired Skier Gains Attention at Olympics

Brian McKeever, a cross country skier for Canada, has received a massive amount of attention once the news media realized his condition.  With less than ten percent vision, Brian is almost entirely blind.  He is also the first person to compete in both the Paralympics as well as the Olympics.  Brian’s event is the 50 kilometer cross country event that will take place at Whistler during the final day of the Olympics at that location.

Brian McKeever was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a form of macular degeneration, when he was a teenager.  He now describes his vision as a donut without the hole, or “flashbulb eye” with a fuzzy blob in the middle of his field of view.  In order to get to training, Brian often walks or rides his bike, since the closest he ever got to driving a car was earning his learner’s permit before losing his sight.  When racing, Brian relies on the path of leading skiers to make his way through the course.  He initially gained attention after he qualified for the team back in January during trials.  But when it was announced that the team had picked him up for the Olympics, international news outlets were stumbling over each other to get an interview with him.

Perhaps the most interested was a Japanese news reporter who learned that McKeever’s grandparents had been held in Canadian internment camps during World War Two.  Many Japanese people are very aware of the United States’ internment camps, but have no idea that they existed in Canada as well.  In a way, the Japanese are cheering him on as well.

While Brian does not expect to win any medals in the Olympic games, he and many others are proud of his achievements and his drive to succeed despite his disability.  When McKeever competes in the next Paralympics he is expected to do very well, as he has already won seven medals in the Paralympics with his brother Robin, a 1998 Olympian himself, serving as a guide throughout the races.

Brian’s story is inspiring as is his dedication to the sport that he so loves.  Now, he has the opportunity to prove to the world that the athletes who compete in the Paralympics are limited only by their ambition and not their disability.  I have a feeling that no matter what the result of his race is, his cheering section will be one of the largest waiting at the finish line.

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Oxytocin May Help Autism Symptoms

Oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” has been thought to encourage bonding between a mother and her baby.  Now, it seems that a study may also show that the hormone, when administered through an inhaler, may alleviate the symptoms of autism in some patients. 

The study involved 13 individuals who had been diagnosed with high functioning autism. Eleven of the participants were men and two were women. The experiment involved how the autism patients focused on other people’s faces. Most people with autism have a hard time looking people in the face while communicating, which leads to their poor social skills and inability to be comfortable during normal social interactions. The results of the experiment showed that after the oxytocin was administered, the participants paid much closer attention to facial expressions in pictures and had a better understanding of social cues in a game situation.

The reason why doctors believed that there was a connection in oxytocin was not only because it connects mothers to their babies, but also because children diagnosed with autism are usually found to have very low oxytocin levels.  If this test proves successful in further trials, they may be able to begin administering oxytocin treatments to people at a much younger age and counteract the onset of impaired social interactions entirely.

With an estimated 1 in 110 children being diagnosed with autism, experiments like this could have a potentially huge impact on our society.

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How Could This Possibly Go Wrong?

For the most part, as citizens, we trust the judgment of police officers who have sworn to protect us.  However, this story out of the United Kingdom is sure to make even the most trusting people a little uneasy.

As part of a new program aimed at encouraging citizens to protect themselves from burglary, police in Macclesfield, Cheshire are going to begin walking around neighborhoods at night testing windows and doors to see if they’re open.  What’s more surprising is that if the officers find that they can gain access to the home, they have been ordered to enter and wake the sleeping residents to give them a lecture about how they had left their house open to be broken into. 

While on the surface it’s an unconventional effort to protect citizens in the area, this could also turn out to be very dangerous for both the residents whose homes are being broken into and the police who are breaking in.  An inspector who will be a part of this particularly strange community outreach program said he expects most reasonable people to thank them for encouraging citizens to improve the safety of their home.  Though, I can’t imagine any thanks coming their way without first being barraged with frightful screams and stern threats from the people who were ousted from their peaceful slumber after police officers broke into their home unannounced.  I wouldn’t be surprised if more than just a few police officers tumble through a kitchen window only to find a butcher’s knife pointed their way when they startled someone who was getting a midnight glass of water.

Now that I have been trying to see things from the blind community’s perspective, this situation seems even more terrifying.  How would a blind person know if the person who came into their home was really a police officer, and would they be held responsible if they defended themselves in turn, possibly injuring the unwelcomed guest?

I find myself at once admiring the police force for their intentions and shaking my head due to their planned execution of those intentions.  I have a feeling that this will backfire terribly, and I hope that if and when it does, nobody gets hurt.

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Reader’s Forum

Unfortunately, no one was interested in submitting anything to last week’s reader’s forum.  For that, I blame myself.  While based on good intentions, the topic that I picked may have been too generalized and not very interesting to you readers.

So, this week’s topic will involve something that I hope all of you were able to follow: the Olympics.  You are not limited in any way and can talk about everything from Lindsey Vonn’s injury, to the controversy in men’s figure skating, to how well or poorly you thought NBC covered the Olympics. 

If the Olympics can bring the world together, I’m hoping it can bring you all together too and we can get a reader’s forum that’s filled with interesting points of view for next week.