Archive for May, 2011

April 2011 audio version

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Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Making Coffee When You Can’t See

I’m guessing that the Northwest is probably the most caffeinated part of the country. Coffee shops are practically on every corner, and even though I’m not a coffee drinker myself, I find the aroma amazing. The great thing about coffee is that the roasting can be done without the aid of sight, and as part of a new program, the Washington State School for the Blind is combining math with coffee for an educational and aromatic experience.

The students started with an old popcorn maker, a colander, and some wooden spoons. Their teacher found a place in California to order the beans, and then it was up to students to find out how to best roast them. The math came in when the students were asked to devise a way to properly roast the beans and then figure out how much to sell their beans for in order to make a profit. The students accomplished this, and they’re now selling their beans at the school’s coffee shop and to the school’s staff.  The project has been successful enough that they’ll be getting a real coffee roaster this year.  This seems like it holds great promise for the students who are participating, as it may lead to a career for them in the future.  With internet commerce more popular than ever, they could easily branch off and create their own company out of their home or shop.

This article prompted me to do some research, and there are two blind coffee roasters and cafe owners that I discovered online. For all you coffee lovers, their information is below.

The first is called Blind Dog Coffee. The owner lost his vision to childhood cancer and part of each purchase goes to funding childhood cancer research. You can order from his site or visit the cafe in Gardnerville, Nevada. The website is:

The second is called The Unseen Bean and their cafe is in Boulder, Colorado. The owner has been blind since birth, and found his passion for coffee roasting after visiting a coffee shop in San Francisco. Find out more here:

Do any of you roast your own coffee?  Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – Never Forgetting

On May 1, 2011, United States Armed Forces took the life of mass murderer Osama Bin Laden. When I heard about it, I found some irony in the fact that his death came in the month that we have a national holiday celebrating our fallen soldiers. Of course nothing will ever bring them back, but some of us can do the slightest things to keep their memory alive. It can be as simple as saying “Thank you” to a veteran you know, so never minimize how important that can be.

I have to confess that as a child and as an adult, I certainly spent many holidays appreciating a day off, away from school and work, but never thought much about the holiday’s origin. With yesterday being Memorial Day, I made sure to stop and think for a moment about the true essence of why it is a holiday. To put it in simplest form, many of our heroes died so we can live. Fortunately, in this country we are lucky to have a quality of life that surpasses much of the world, and much of that we owe to those who have protected us.

Just think, if you hosted or attended a barbecue this past weekend and had the luxury of enjoying food, beverages, and good company, a portion of your gratitude is owed to our veterans who sacrificed their own lives. Of course if you never lived in another country you may not know exactly how things operate, but when you consider the fact that many people risk their lives attempting to flee to the United States, it infers that we must be doing something right.

Most certainly, my premise is not that things are perfect, but they are probably better than we recognize at times, even during war and economic hardship. With that said, there’s usually light at the end of each tunnel, and that is what separates our nation from many others.

Coupled with the fact that we have to pay homage to our deceased veterans, we still have living vets we can appreciate. I know for sure that some of you are subscribers, and I want to let you know that I admire your heart, courage, and dedication. I have spoken to some of you who have suffered significant injuries, but yet you seem to have no regrets and continue to maintain an indomitable spirit. In November, I plan to write an article about some of you for Veterans

Day, so please contact me if you are willing to share your stories of survival in combat. If you are interested, please call 203-604-8601 or 877-424-5481 and leave your contact information.

Letter from the Editor

Hello Everyone,

I hope you all had a great weekend.  For those of you here in the U.S., I hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend and had a chance to get outside and experience this very summer-like spring weather.

Moving on, I’m wondering if you all can help me out with something.  I’d like to get your overall feedback on our website,  I ask this because occasionally, I hear that people experience some difficulty navigating the site, among other things.  Some of your suggestions have been implemented and the site has been much more user-friendly because of those, but I want to make sure that we’re still doing a good job offering you a website that is valuable and simple to use.

If you wouldn’t mind, when you get a chance over the next couple weeks, send me an email at [email protected] and give me your opinion of the site.  If you haven’t been to it yet because you’re strictly an email edition subscriber, please visit it, because your opinion as a first-time user will be incredibly valuable.  For those of you who use it constantly, is there anything that you would improve?

As you evaluate the website, please let us know how user-friendly it is.  Are there any places where you get hung up?  Does the layout work, or could it be improved?  If so, what improvements would make it better?  Have you tried the commenting system?  If so, what were your experiences?  What about submitting a Pen Pal ad or subscribing to the weekly email edition or monthly audio edition? 

These are all areas that I’d like some feedback on so that we can tweak the things that aren’t working and continue doing the things that are working.  Thank you in advance for all of your feedback.

Well, that should do it for now.  I hope you all enjoy this week’s magazine and the first few days of June.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.


Ross Hammond, Editor

Recipe of the Week – Baked Catfish

Submitted by Dave Hutchins

Yield: 4 servings


4 catfish or ocean perch fillets (1-lb total), thawed if frozen

2 slices white bread, crumbled, or 1 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil or oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried basil or oregano

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 large egg, beaten, or 1/4 cup egg substitute

1/4 cup low-fat (1 percent) buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Prepare a baking pan with non-stick pan spray.

In a pie pan or shallow dish, mix the bread crumbs, cheese, basil or oregano, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

In another pie pan or dish, combine the egg and buttermilk.

Dip each fish fillet first in the milk mixture, then in the crumb mixture to coat both sides with crumbs.

Arrange the fillets in 1 layer in the baking pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (about 3-1/2 ounces fish):

Calories: 225, Fat; 11 g, Cholesterol: 121 mg, Sodium: 518 mg, Carbohydrate: 7 g, Dietary Fiber: 0 g, Sugars: 1 g, Protein: 23 g

Diabetic Exchanges: 1/2 Starch, 3 Lean Meat, 1/2 Fat

Reader’s Forum

For your convenience, all Reader’s Forum submissions are separated by the ## symbol.

From a Ziegler Reader in New York City 

It should be noted that there have been several issues raised in the Readers’ Forum on which I wish to comment.  Note that I am taking exception to the content and not the persons who raised said issues.

People have complained about word usage.  Many individuals say that we should not say “visually impaired” but the word “blind” should always be utilized.  Guess what? I’m here to tell you that many of us are visually impaired.  Not all blind people or visually impaired people are the same. 

The next problem is that many people object strongly to the “people first” language.  I object to the opposite.  It is said that we should not say “people with diabetes” but “a diabetic.”  What makes me so mad is that people will tell me what to think.  Many blind people will say that if I choose to be person with hypertension, and not a hypertensic, that this signifies “shame”!  I thought I was a person.

And now, wouldn’t you know, quite a coincidence!  In the May 9 Readers’ Forum, a gentleman comments on the changing of the name of RFB&D to “Learning Ally”. What a long-winded spiel! However, now it’s my turn!

I used the excellent services of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, they got me through college and through graduate school: this is undoubtedly a top-shelf organization.

It is said that the name-change signifies that, “the message is that they want help but want to deny they need it.”  Maybe, but maybe not. 

Also, how about some of those other names of organizations I love?  The Seeing Eye, for instance–here the term “for the blind” is never utilized.  How about BOLD (blindness, learning in New Dimensions)?  There is never a “for the blind” in these names.  How about (I love this one) Beyond Sight”?  And how about Freedom Scientific? These names are all, according to many blind people, okay.   I love all these names!  Hence, is it really a relinquishing of identity, or simply a way of stating something in a more positive light, hence, eliminating the evoking of a sense of pity?  Why is this new nomenclature a “land of make-believe where nobody notices they are different from everyone else?”

Can it be viewed instead, as the chariot of respectability? 

Instead of embarking on a long and windy spiel, what would anyone else like to call it?  Is this about censorship? Blind people seem to dictate to each other. Why is this?

Is this really about people feeling “typecast”? Or do many blind people wish to typecast others?  Are they typecasting themselves?

Is this really about “politically correct euphemistic speech,” as the gentleman put it, or is it about not evoking a sense of pity?  Maybe people are simply trying to get away from the sense of pity, evoked in the term “for the blind.”


In response to Op Ed with Bob Branco – Unemployment Among the Blind, Bill says:

I want to comment on the issue of 70 percent unemployment among the blind.  I believe that the real issue is lack of awareness on the part of employers on what we can do and that we can perform the job adequately.  Yes, employers might be nervous about hiring, but enough already.  I also believe that part of the problem is the consumer groups for the blind like ACB and NFB.  These groups are really missing the boat in making society aware of our abilities.  With all the social network sites like Facebook and twitter, there is no excuse that the talents of the blind cannot be presented and employers could be made more comfortable.  One of those groups should go on Youtube and post videos of us performing on the job that a blind applicant could show to a hesitant interviewer.  If someone wanted to hire me to do it I would be glad to. I believe that it would really make employers feel more comfortable about giving us a chance.  Once people are made aware of what we can do and that we are not a problem for them they are impressed with us.

Bill Meinecke

Virginia Beach, Virginia


In response to News – Non-Tactile Braille, Allison says:

My first instinct upon reading this was to be outraged that a university of all places could make such a silly mistake. But the more I think about it, I don’t want to judge them too harshly because it really could have been an innocent misunderstanding. In a way, it is no different than when I ask a sighted person for directions and they point and say, “it’s that way.” My first instinct in this situation to is to say “hello! I am blind! Pointing does not help at all!” Instead, I always try to do my best to politely explain that I need verbal directions because the simple fact is that blind people are a minority in society, and thus occasional misunderstandings are inevitable.

I commend that student for bringing attention to this mistake, but instead of expressing outrage about this, we should use this mistake to politely bring it to the attention of institutions that the Braille needs to be raised, even if that seems so laughably obvious to us.


In response to last week’s Letter from the Editor, CayBella wrote,

I am wondering if others had the same reaction I did to our Editor counting steps.

I have never counted steps and have been blind all my life.  Okay, when it was suggested I do so in mobility training, I tried, so to say I never did it isn’t exactly true.  I discovered I don’t take the same sized step every day.  Other friends had similar experiences.  We never did it, but sighted people think we do or should.

It’s right up there with feeling faces, which is something I don’t do and my friends don’t do.  I’m talking about feeling the face of a person you just met or even a close childhood friend.

Are there others who had a similar reaction?


News – War Dogs

Obviously working dogs are no strangers to the blind and visually impaired community.  For the people who choose to use guide dogs, they serve as a reliable aid and a trusted friend.  But working dogs are involved in many other aspects of society as well, including wars.  With recent military events gaining international media exposure, many people have become curious about a detail that was initially brushed aside–that there was a dog with the soldiers.

Dogs have been an often-overlooked aspect of military strategy for some time.  But as with guide dogs used by the blind, they provide their handlers with key information about the world around them.  Their world is, of course, markedly different.  Whereas one of your dogs may guide you through a busy intersection, war dogs may alert soldiers about the threat of explosives.  In some cases they are used to track, in other cases, to defend or attack those who want to do them, their handlers, and other soldiers harm.

Depending on the work the dog will be doing, the breed of the dog can vary, but German Shepherds are among the most popular.  Most of them begin their lives at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, known to the military as the “dog Mecca for all service branches.”  The dogs undergo training from a very early age.  As early as their third day alive, they are put to the test so trainers can observe reflex and basic neurological responses.  At eight weeks, they are put through their first aptitude test which, among many other things, includes their ability to play fetch.

While they’re working, the dogs exhibit extraordinary bravery, just like the soldiers they work with.  The dogs will air drop into an occupied area, rappel down walls, and jump out of helicopters to swim to shore with the help of their handlers.  The parachuting is probably the most interesting because one would assume that the dog would be scared to death.  But trainers say that the dogs have no height perception.  They see the ground but cannot associate what they see with how far up they are.  If anything, they say that the wind noise is probably more bothersome.

For those of you who have a guide dog, you understand the bond that is created, and it’s no different for a military dog and their handler.  There is one story about a soldier and his dog, both victims of an IED blast.  As the soldier was being lifted into the helicopter, he yelled, “Get Cane in the Blackhawk!” before losing consciousness and perishing due to fatal wounds.  His last thoughts were of his dog.

While their purpose is inevitably grim, war dogs give the soldiers they protect an extra layer of safety that no machine could ever truly duplicate.  More than that, though, there is a psychological aspect as well, and the dogs help boost the morale of the soldiers around them.  With many battles being fought in urban territories, the usefulness of dogs will remain high, and they will continue to be a valid asset to those around them.


Contributor Jaqueline Anderson – Adaptive Sewing Tips

I am diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa and have 20/400 central vision acuity.  As a result, I do several things in order to sew and I hope that these tips will help you in your own creative sewing endeavors.

1. First of all, I use magnifying glasses (spectacles).  I use a 6X power.

2. I use a dental floss loop “threader” to thread needles. Self-threading needles for hand and machine are available at most sewing notion shops and online as well.

3. I have an Ott light on a floor stand, and it has a magnifying glass attached. I always use the light, but I have not found the magnifier helpful. It is difficult to position to get the optics right.

4. I use moleskin, cut in a strip, to give a raised edge on the throat plate of the sewing machine so the fabric can move along its raised edge. Moleskin has a sticky back that adheres to the throat plate on the sewing machine. There are also various types of metal guides that you can buy.  I have a magnetic one and a metal one that screws into the bed of the machine or throat plate.

5. I bought a Viking machine, the Sapphire 270 Quilt, to do more things automatically. It takes some effort to learn a new machine, but it does have some nice features.

6. I use a lighted handheld magnifier to help read the screen. I am thinking about trying an Acrobat Reader (CCTV) to make reading it easier. That will be expensive, so I need to be sure it will work before I buy this big electronic magnifier. Of course, the Acrobat can be used for lots of other tasks too.

7. When I cut out patterns, I sometimes put it under my CCTV and mark the cutting lines with a 20/20 pen. This is tedious, and sometimes hard to manage large pattern pieces. What also works is to ask for help from my live-in sighted person! Lucky for me, his mother was a home-economics teacher and taught him a few things.

8. I love quilting rulers. They come in lots of sizes, have defined edges, lots of markings of various kinds, and are relatively easy to read with my special glasses. I suppose locator dots with self-adhesive backing would help to make the ruler marks more tactile to locate. I use a rotary cutter when possible to get nice, clean, straight cuts.

9. I pin and baste a lot more than I used to. I don’t assume it will stay in place.

10. I have learned to trust my sense of touch and my sewing machine to do the right thing. This is not a foolproof strategy, but it helps reduce anxiety about the project.
I always try to be patient with myself. If things get too frustrating, I put the project aside and go back later with a fresh attitude. I rarely sew when I am tired. No more late night sewing for me!
I hope these suggestions help you all. I think that if sewing is a passion someone wants to continue with, it is worth finding solutions for. Part of the creativity of sewing is finding ways to do things that work for you. And, as Nancy Elmore says, “It is handmade; it doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Some good resources and websites:
a. Elegant Stitches:; an easy to use site for various notions and supplies
b. Nancy’s Notions: Patterns, Fabric, Supplies & More for Sewing, Quilting & Embroidery 

c. Fred’s Head for tips and hints:

Contributor Marda Bartel – May is Mental Health Awareness Month

The month of May is many things.  For the purpose of this article, however, I will focus on one–May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

What does this actually mean?  It means that consumer organizations such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and many other groups are doing what they can to encourage the general public to think more positively about those of us who happen to have mental illness.  There is no doubt that mental illness can have a profound effect both on the persons who have it and on their families, friends, and even sometimes co-workers, educators and others who work closely with them.  But popular culture still promotes misconceptions and stereotypes that stigmatize those of us who live with mental illness.

One such stereotype is “All mentally ill people (particularly those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) are violent.  Research clearly shows this to be otherwise but it makes for good movie and TV drama so these ideas continue to be promulgated.

Another misconception that people commonly have is that all people who have psychiatric or psychological disorders will act the same way.  An example would be that all people who have bipolar disorder experience hallucinations or delusions of grandeur.  Bipolar disorder has many faces–there are at least five different types of it diagnosed and they all have their own criteria.

We all know how frustrating and limiting it can be when people have stereotypes about blindness.  It’s the same way with mental illness.  People are afraid of what they don’t understand.  This is why things like Mental Health Awareness Month and White Cane Safety Day can be important.

So this May, I encourage you to look for items in the news related to mental health, think about it, and feel free to respond in the readers forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Another Perspective on the Unemployment Rate of the Blind

I have talked about some of the reasons why there is such a high unemployment rate among the blind community.  I failed to mention another factor which I feel is a major contributor–there are many blind people who are reluctant to get a job for fear that their disability check will be reduced.  I can understand this fear, because one never knows how long a job is going to last, and how long it would take that particular blind person to recover their lost benefits if they lose their job.

This is not a subject that I like to talk about, because it borders on intimidation by the system.  Even though the blind are allowed to make more money than persons with other disabilities before their government checks are reduced, there is still a point where the blind person needs to worry about it.  I receive a government check, though it is based on my work history and not about S.S.I., so as I become self-employed I try to weigh all my options.  If I knew that I could make a consistent amount of money each month, I could accept a reduction or a dismissal of my benefits, but I would have to make absolutely sure of the consistent flow of income first. After all, I, like anyone else, have to put food on the table, pay the rent, pay utilities, and do everything else possible to lead a normal life.  If I knew I could make an adequate amount of money, I wouldn’t mind not receiving government benefits.  Yet I understand why government benefits exist and what purpose they serve. 

I have thought of ways that would give blind people more incentive to find work while on government assistance, and also for blind workers to have a smoother financial transition if, for whatever reason, they lose their jobs. I think that the government should allow a particular grace period where a blind person can start a job, get paid, and keep all of their benefits for a designated amount of time, as insurance that the blind worker is secure in the job.  I also firmly believe that an employer should step in, if there is a financial crisis (a layoff or a firing, for example), in order to expedite the process with the government so that the individual can begin receiving an adequate amount of benefits immediately.

What are your thoughts on the matter?