Archive for August, 2011

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Do Curb Cuts Affect Mobility Training?

Since the seventies, when the blind were taught to search for the curb with their canes while trying to locate an intersection, legislation has changed drastically in favor of wheelchair pedestrians. While the blind do their best to locate where the street begins and where the sidewalk ends, cities and towns have been mandated to construct a curb cut at every street corner, allowing a wheelchair pedestrian to cross a street with ease. While I am extremely grateful that wheelchair pedestrians have this support, I wonder how mobility instructors work around this reconstruction when teaching the blind how to cross a street. I have attempted to cross streets with curb cuts, and to be truthful, it’s sometimes not an easy task.

We hear so much about other problems that blind people face on a regular basis, but seldom do we hear about mobility training. Have there been major struggles in the past three decades between the education of mobility and the curb cut requirements? I will assume, for the moment, that there have been no struggles, otherwise I would have heard about them. With that said, I’d like to find out how a mobility instructor changed his or her curriculum to accommodate the wheelchair legislation.

You are probably asking why I would find it difficult to locate a curb cut with a cane. I’m not implying that I would have difficulty with all curb cuts. Some are designed at a different slope than others, and as long as all curb cuts are designed with the specifications prescribed by law, then there is no problem. However, it is difficult to detect many of the curb cuts with a cane. The result is that some of us may think that we are simply walking down a slight hill, when in fact we are crossing a street.

I welcome your comments on this subject.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Do You Know What To Do?

Recent weather conditions have me thinking a lot about disaster preparedness. On Friday, August 19, a severe storm flooded a Pittsburgh street with poor sewer drainage. The result was that five people drowned in a disaster for which neither city officials nor emergency personnel were prepared.

Though preparing for and acting quickly in a disaster can be difficult for anyone, there are extra concerns for persons with disabilities.

What follows are some tips from Pennsylvania’s disaster preparedness website,

1. Create a support network of individuals who know your special needs. Be sure that everyone in your network knows where you keep your emergency supplies, and give one person a key to your home or apartment.

2. Develop an emergency plan that includes the names and phone numbers of everyone in your support network; a list of whom to contact if you need to evacuate quickly; are unable to communicate; or are found unconscious. If your disability makes communication difficult, include in your plan the best way to communicate with you. Also list any adaptive equipment you use, and if your disability is cognitive or sensory–blindness, deaf/blindness and deafness being examples of sensory disabilities.

In addition to indicating use of canes, hearing aids, service animals and wheelchairs, it is equally important to list medications, who prescribes them, dosages, how often you take them, the condition for you take them, the phone number of the prescribing physician and the phone number of your pharmacy. Allergies and sensitivities also need to be documented.

3. Have several copies of your emergency plan and share it with all in your support system. Recommended places to keep your plan include: your car, if you see well enough to drive or have a driver; your emergency supply kit; your wallet or your wheelchair.

Work with your doctor to get extra medications and prescriptions so that you can have at least a seven-day supply of your meds, and even more, if possible. Taking your insurance cards will enable you to fill those extra prescriptions, if necessary.

4. Plan how you would evacuate, if necessary. As a result of Hurricane Irene’s drenching rains and high winds, mandatory evacuations were implemented in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, other southern communities, New York City, and Maryland, to name just a few. If you travel in a wheelchair and are required to evacuate, let helpers and rescuers know how to operate your wheelchair; make them aware of its size and weight; and say whether your chair can be folded in case it needs to be stored. If you do not drive, discuss with your support network how you can evacuate quickly. Some cities and counties, for example, provide transportation assistance as part of their emergency services. To find out if your community provides this service, phone your city or county government office, contact your local Red Cross chapter or visit

If you will need help evacuating–especially when navigating difficult or unfamiliar stairwells–be sure to give clear, concise written or oral instructions to emergency personnel on how best to help you.

Finally, also develop an emergency plan for your guide dog or any service animal. Though service animals are allowed by law in hotels, motels and Red Cross shelters, personnel in these facilities will be too busy to take care of your animal. Be sure to take a dog’s collar, harness, food, and vaccination records. Also take any medications your service animal will need.

In addition to English, the above site also gives their instructions in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

For information on national emergency preparedness in the United States, con tact FEMA at or

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Hello, Irene!

Stunned that there would be an actual hurricane here in New York City, we scrambled home to move any potential flying objects from our patio. Upending the patio table and putting containers that were stacked down on the ground, we thought this might minimize any damage that might occur in high winds. Next, we hauled items inside that we knew we could not secure such as our shopping carts chairs and lightweight containers. By the time we were finished, I was overheated and exhausted.

Are you a weather watcher? I have to admit that I was not caught up in viewing the fairly stress-inducing movement of Miss Irene. I listened to bits and pieces, getting my news from whatever Maria was listening to at the time. Twitter was also an excellent source of news and I must have at least a hundred tweets on the rare earthquake and hurricane. A local radio station provided excellent pre, during, and post-tweets. Did anyone out there tape their windows or fill their bathtubs with water? One of the funniest tweets implied that the second surge would come once everyone emptied their bathtubs! We didn’t do either. We stocked up on bottled water but didn’t have time to purchase masking tape. One thing that calmed me significantly was contacting family and friends on my good old cell phone.

Do you become nervous or remain relatively calm? I have to say that I might have been calmer had I not experienced tremors from an earthquake last Tuesday. An earthquake and a hurricane in one week? It’s safe to say I was slightly jittery. We were extremely fortunate to have my niece help us with some last-minute grocery shopping. When we entered our favorite grocery store, it wasn’t too crowded, but desperate shoppers soon flowed in like the impending rain–some unnecessarily loud and impatient.

Do you notice an inexplicable, almost preternatural, palpable feeling before an anticipated big storm? Manhattan felt different. That is the only way I can put it. Quieter than usual, we didn’t even hear people playing radios or televisions. Very odd. Our apartment house is situated between the East and Hudson Rivers, and I am very grateful that Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a Tropical Storm before making landfall here in New York City on Sunday morning. In Zone C, we were not in too much danger of flooding but residents were reminded to be careful of the high winds. It is indeed blowing like mad as I write this article.

I’m grateful that our local officials took extreme measures to keep all as safe as possible. It’s also comforting to know that our mass transit system will be fully restored by tomorrow.

For those of you affected, how did you weather the storm?

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – The Day I Swam a Mile

My favorite sport is swimming. Growing up on the south shore of Massachusetts, beaches, lakes, and ponds were where I wanted to be during the summer. At 10, I showed signs of becoming a good swimmer, learning the Australian crawl, back crawl, and the elementary backstroke. At 16, my mother decided it was time for me to take individual swimming lessons at our local beach in Weymouth. That first week, I discovered how little I knew–my swimming techniques needed improvement. I had lessons almost every day from mid-June until August 1966. Jim, my instructor, was a full-time lifeguard at the beach.

That July, I passed the Red Cross Intermediate Test with flying colors and Jim made no exceptions because of my blindness. I was happy to pass the test on my own merit. Now, the greater challenge would be achieving my swimmer’s certificate. We started learning how to tread water and diving off the raft.

The following summer, from July to August 1967, emphasis was placed on endurance swimming, covering the long distance from the shore to the roped-off lifeline and back again. Jim swam with me, and you knew you were at the lifeline because of the horns from distant boats.

It was on a Thursday in early August that I was anticipating an easy lesson. The day had been hectic with a brain wave test and dancing lessons. I was unprepared for the way that Jim would challenge my skills. He asked, “Are you ready to swim a mile today?” I replied with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Was this some kind of joke? As I ran into the cold salt water, my Mom’s often repeated phrase, “mind over matter” came to me. I would do this.

I started swimming laps, guided by the constant sound of the lifeguard’s voices. They swam near me and I swam slowly to conserve energy. I did the backstrokes, crawls, and breaststrokes over the next one and a half hours. Jim had been serious. The successful completion of the task was part of receiving my swimmer’s certificate. Towards the end, I was increasingly cold and tired. I pushed myself, thinking, “Just a little more time–you can do it.” When I was finally done, I was glad to be standing on the beach with teeth chattering, wrapped in a towel. My Mom and instructor were there to help as I was so tired and cold. At home, after a warm bath and hot soup, I slept for hours.

Little did I know the positive effect this accomplishment would have on life at home and school. Later that month I was interviewed by a young woman reporter for our local newspaper. The article hung in the local pizza parlor; my brother announcing it to all his friends.

I passed the swimmer’s test flawlessly with the finale being in a show, walking a blind 9 year old into the water. I swam, diving backwards off the raft. My accomplishment changed school policy: people like myself with epilepsy were allowed to swim at Perkins and on school outings. In February, before vacation, the school nurse approached me in gym class. Smiling, she said, “I guess we were wrong in not permitting you to go swimming. You can now do that.”

Swimming is a sport you can learn at any age. It is not only easy aerobic exercise, but relaxes your mind and spirit. I encourage other Ziegler readers to share their accomplishments in this sport.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – So I Got an iPhone

I finally went to the Verizon store and bought an iPhone. I was afraid–you know, sweaty palms, the tight knot of anticipation, etc. Until this point, I’d never even attempted to text, let alone purchase a smart phone. Now I was trading in a tactile keypad for a touch screen and was a bit apprehensive, to say the least. However, once I instructed the sales girl how to turn on the voice over accessibility and held it, all the doubts blew out the window and into the slipstream. I felt like the Looney Tunes character Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a half Century.

All kidding aside, though, it often feels like a fantasy. I doubted the digital gadget and thought it was overrated. Then I did some serious research and when a friend showed me how it sounded, felt, and worked, I took the plunge, even though I’m paying $50 more for my iPhone contract.
So, with the help of very patient friends and a wonderful user’s guide called, Getting to Know the iPhone, available on digital download from the National Braille Press, I’ve learned how to flick, tap, split-tap, triple flick, scroll, four finger flick, scrub, and touch type while interpreting the clicks, boings, doinks, gurgles, and chimes accompanying each new gesture. I think I want to name my new phone R2D2. I still have trouble with the two finger wheelie thing called a router that brings up editing and typing options.

As for the virtual keypad, I’m good at touch typing and improve every time I do it. However, I’m not satisfied with how slow the editing process is when making an error. Correcting a mistake is time consuming, as it involves the two finger wheelie router thing and flicking, which is disorienting for me. I am going to invest in a Bluetooth keyboard so I don’t frustrate myself. My hope is that once I acclimate, learn to operate the apps, I can leave the note taker at home and carry two slim, intuitive, and totally awesome pieces of equipment, which will lighten the weight of my purse and thereby save my back and shoulders from carrying around the blind person’s miscellany. I could even graduate to a smaller purse, thus making the necessary trip to the shopping mall to purchase a new one. I could even buy more than one purse, don’t you think?
Onward, space rangers!

What mobile device do you use? Let us know in the reader’s forum.

Feature Writer John Christie – AFB Evaluates Two Screen Free Screen Readers

The American Foundation for the Blind recently evaluated two free screen readers in their tech lab at the request of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the United Kingdom. The two screen readers were NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) and Thunder. These two screen readers work on Windows-based computers.

NVDA is a free open source screen reader that gives feedback with synthetic speech. It is compatible with Windows 7, XP and Vista operating systems. It is compatible with refreshable Braille displays as well. Since NVDA is an open source application, interested parties can contribute to the screen reader’s improvement and development. For the project AFB used NVDA version 2011.1. You can download it at the NVDA website and learn more about the screen reader.

Similarly, the Thunder Screen Reader is free, provides feedback via synthetic speech and is compatible with Windows 7, Windows XP and Vista Operating systems. The documentation makes no mention of being accessible with refreshable Braille displays and is not an open source screen reader. Thunder version 2.021 was used for the project. You can download Thunder and learn more about it at the Thunder website.

Thunder and NVDA were evaluated on several Windows XP and Windows 7 computers. Both screen readers were evaluated on several different categories of computer use, which include:
Microsoft Word
Online Banking
Amazon and Bookshare
UK National Rail Enquiries (Travel)
General Web Browsing

Thunder does not support Outlook but does support the Windows mail client on Windows Vista machines. However, this won’t be covered because the AFB lab doesn’t have any Windows Vista machines.

In Outlook Express Version 6, both screen readers were able to read, forward, reply and attach files to messages. In addition, they were both able to access menus. However, Thunder had problems with message composition. Thunder did not speak any of the form labels such as To, CC, subject and attach.

NVDA had no problem reading messages since the “n” key jumps to the body of the message. To read messages with Thunder, it was necessary to browse down the page with the arrow keys or use the browser search tool to find the body of the message.

Both screen readers performed similarly when using Microsoft Word 2003. However, NVDA did a better job handling format attribute changes. Thunder had trouble with format changes when reading a document.

As far as banking is concerned, both screen readers completed every banking task. However, NVDA was considerably faster to use.

Both screen readers functioned well on iTunes. This included navigating the interface, searching for and playing music and other media, using menus, creating play lists, and searching for and buying music in the iTunes store.

As far as Amazon and Bookshare were concerned, both screen readers performed well on each web site–though, NVDA performed better and more efficiently than Thunder. Thunder had trouble with filling out forms and navigating web pages. It also had trouble with search results on Bookshare.

On the UK National Rail web site, NVDA outperformed Thunder. Forms and table navigation were significant problems for Thunder. Both screen readers had problems when it came to searching for and purchasing a ticket, though.

NVDA handled web browsing tasks much more efficiently than Thunder. For instance, NVDA has 26 hot keys to quickly move to web page elements. NVDA also has an elements list that can handle headings, links and ARIA landmarks on a page. Thunder tried to fill in form data but the process wasn’t very efficient.

NVDA is a great screen reader and it’s not far behind Jaws and Window Eyes. As a matter of fact, The Texas Center for the Visually Impaired offers their computers with the NVDA software installed. For more information, refer to the Special Notices section of the Ziegler Magazine.

Credit should be given to these developers for developing these free screen reader alternatives for blind and visually impaired people and I hope they keep up the good work.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Tactile Art for All

Earlier this month I learned about a new opportunity for the blind to enjoy visual art. An artist in Maryland is creating tactile art that can be enjoyed by all. The art that she creates uses a thicker acrylic paint which allows the blind to feel what has been painted. Her inspiration to create more tactile art came from her friendship with a blind friend who was impressed by her work. I had a chance to speak with both the artist and the marketing manager for Arianna’s Art Inc.

Chris Nusbaum acts as the marketing manager, as well as the inspiration for the business. He realized after experiencing Arianna’s art that this was something the blind community needed to have access to. As someone who has never seen, Chris explained that the art that Arianna makes is like seeing what’s on the page.

Arianna wants her customers to be able to choose what their piece is so she is accepting custom orders. She also has a portfolio of paintings already which include animals, logos, and plants. The paintings are simple but realistic. She makes sure that there isn’t a lot of background so that the piece can be felt without confusion. Her favorite pieces are her roses because it’s her favorite flower.

The pieces come in a few different sizes. Each piece will include a note in braille and large print that describes the painting. To learn more you can visit the website at,

You can also keep up to date by liking the Facebook page at,

Finally, all questions can be directed to [email protected] and if people want to keep up to date they can get announcements by sending an email to [email protected]

Letter from the Editor – August 29, 2011

Hello Everyone,

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting week. A week ago today, I began to feel my chair shake while I sat at my desk. At first I thought my boss’s dog, who sometimes comes in and raids my garbage can, was at it again and was brushing up against my chair while rummaging. I looked down, fully expecting to see the goofy Golden Retriever caught red-handed, but saw no dog. At that point, the blinds clanged against the windows, the water in my water bottle sloshed around, and I knew I was experiencing my first earthquake.

Now, I know the west coast people scoff at a 5.9, but as someone who had never felt the earth shake beneath my feet, it was a very strange sensation. Luckily up here in Connecticut, there was no damage, just a bunch of people asking each other, “Was that what I think it was?”

As if the ground trembling under us wasn’t enough, the sky was a spinning mass of uncertainty as well. No matter what track Hurricane Irene was going to take, she was going to hit us and there would be damage. I’ve been through bad storms before, so I stocked up on the necessary goods well before the weekend to avoid the insane masses as they flew through the bread and bottled water aisles grabbing what little was left. I imagine there are many people eating their sandwiches on onion bagels this week–bread was gone from everywhere. As I said in my update yesterday, much of our state, as well as New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas are out of power. Some were affected by the floods, others by downed trees, and there were those unfortunate enough to suffer damage from both.

With the sun shining today, you’d never know that one of the biggest storms to hit this area in the last century just barreled through. It’s an odd feeling, for sure.

Moving on to the magazine, I just want to let you all know that next week’s magazine will be released on Tuesday as well, in lieu of Labor Day. Also, the July audio edition was released last week and was sent out to those of you who subscribe to the audio edition mailing list and is available on our website as well. If you would like to be subscribed to the mailing list to receive the audio edition automatically each month, please send me a subscription request at [email protected] or select the audio subscription link on the sidebar of our webpage.

I hope you all have a wonderful week. To those of you affected by the storm, I hope you and your families are safe.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Ross Hammond, Editor

Announcement: Monday August 29, 2011

Hello everyone,

As you all are probably aware, hurricane Irene has come through our area and left most of us without power.  While some areas are in good shape, others will still be without major utilities for a few days.  Our office, which is along the Connecticut coastline, is without power today and may be without power for the next couple days.

I’m hoping that power will be restored tomorrow, but I wanted to let you all know that as soon as it is possible, I will release this week’s magazine.  I hope that those of you affected by this storm are safe and that your homes were unaffected.

I’ll be in touch soon.  Take care.


Ross Hammond, Editor

Reader-Submitted Joke

Submitted by William Mann

During the Revolutionary War, there were British sympathizers known as Tories among the colonists. Some of them would work hand-in-hand with the Redcoats to try to foil the battle plans of the Continental Army.

After a certain skirmish, a group of General Washington’s men tracked one of these sympathizers to a farm, which they searched for hours, without success.

A militiaman then came up with the idea to release a hen into a barn where they suspected the fugitive might be hiding.

Sure enough, loud cackling and commotion quickly ensued, and the soldiers were finally able to take their prisoner into custody. This was the first known instance where someone had a chicken catch a Tory.