Archive for November, 2011

Reader’s Forum – November 21, 2011

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

In response to Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Oregon Uses iPads to Help the Disabled Vote, Abbie wrote:

In response to the article on Oregon’s use of the iPad to help blind voters, although this may be the cheapest solution, I don’t think it’s the best. Here in Sheridan, Wyoming, blind and visually impaired voters use a machine called the Auto Mark. You insert the ballot, and an automated voice talks you through the voting process. The buttons are labeled in Braille, and it’s easy to use. When you’re done voting, the machine prints the ballot, and you place the ballot in the slot just like everybody else. Those of us who have never used a touch screen would have a hard time learning the iPad, and just for the purpose of voting, it’s a ridiculous waste of time. I hope Sheridan County doesn’t start this practice.
Christian wrote in, saying:
I attended Ananda Ashram for two weeks in December 2010. Though they were nervous about hosting someone with no sight, I assured them both before and during my stay that I was no different from any other Ashram attendee. I chopped and cooked in the kitchens, navigated even when they had a two foot blizzard, and made my way independently. I did have to escape the people they had following me, as I prefer to travel alone and did not want to be followed or constantly directed. I had a fabulous time there, and wanted to return for three months this winter. I contacted the office and made plans, and it seemed that everything was going fine. However, I recently received a call from one of their head people saying that they do not want me to come during the winter for the following reasons:

I am too much of a liability, which they also said last year.

Some sighted guy fell and broke his arm last winter, and they are convinced that I will do the same or worse, despite my navigational prowess and extensive rural O&M training. Unlike most sighted people, I actually look where I am going.

They do not have a dedicated staff person to, and I quote, “help you out and follow you around.” I neither require nor desire such a pointless waste of staff, and would not tolerate one if said dedicated staff person was thrust upon me.

What really got to me was the fact that this was all said in a tone that one would use for a sick and/or slow child, and said person repeatedly told me that they are only saying this because they are concerned for my safety. This is, as he put it, all for your own good. I did not say this, but it crossed my mind that this is exactly what Hitler told Nazi Germany as he killed millions of what he perceived to be inferior beings. At any rate, I was not able to make any headway with him or the administrative staff, nor was my father, who is rather nastier than I. This same person told him that blind people are, statistically, far more likely to fall down and get hurt than sighted people. These are his words, not mine. Now I don’t know which professor of blindology he’s consulting for his stats, but I can definitively say that his assumption in the guise of fact is both inaccurate and ludicrous.

The point of my story is this. The ACLU will not get involved, as this is not a constitutional issue. The EEOC will not get involved, as this is not an employment issue. (I wanted to work there in the kitchens and housekeeping, but I am paying to work there, and they are not paying me.) I am having trouble figuring out whether the ADA applies to this specific place, because it is a religious organization but its purpose is commercial. I am wondering, if there are any experts here, to whom I can turn and where I should go from here. I reside in far southern Pennsylvania, but the Ashram is in upstate New York. The place is almost four hours away from where I live, so it is not at all close. Therefore, which state should I focus on? I am seeking any advice I can get my hands on, as this is the first incident of this kind that I have ever dealt with firsthand. I may be reached at [email protected] or through Reader’s Forum. Thank you for your time and assistance, and have a pleasant day.


Contributor Valerie Moreno – Double Vision

Nobody wanted him.

When our local Search and Rescue found him abandoned in a store parking area, he had to be scraped off the frozen ground. A few months old, he was a cat in trouble–respiratory and eye infections stacked the odds against him, but he survived, though the eye infection left him with detached retinas. JJ was totally blind.

I found out about this beautiful Russian Blue from my daughter’s neighbor, who knew Caroline, a wonderful lady with foster cats. “Your mom would be perfect for JJ,” Rich told my daughter. “She’s blind and would know how to understand him.”

Connections were made and I met JJ and Caroline on November 3. The moment I touched the puffy-soft fur, I was lost to love. He was adopted and came to live with me the next day.

I was beside myself the morning of JJ’s arrival. Would he like me–or want another “cat mom”? How would both of us being blind impact the circumstances of getting to know each other? As soon as Caroline let JJ out of his carrier in the apartment, off he went to explore every shelf
and corner! Using a paw to trail along walls and gage heights, he learned the layout within a day. Hearing and scent are extraordinary in this courageous boy. I talked to him and sang and he knew my voice quickly. After putting his nose on my cheek one time, he seemed to know I was going to take care of him. He wasn’t happy with the bell collar, but stopped taking it off after I explained, “The bell will keep you from being stepped on.”

JJ’s being here has given me strength and confidence. In researching blind cats, I found that often they are “put down” because people assume they cannot have quality life without sight. As JJ and walk this path together of joy, adjustment and discovery, my hope is that our double vision of love and acceptance will encourage someone else to look beyond what seems hopeless and find true vision.

Contributor Deborah Bloom – Former Hadley Student Assumes Next Mission: Heading Blinded Veterans Association – Part 2

Founded in 1945 by WWII veterans, the BVA was created to help blinded veterans become more independent, receive the requisite benefits and services to which they are entitled and to advocate for those benefits and services. Steve’s priority is to ensure that the mission on which the organization was founded is carried out. He would also like to see the BVA get more involved in education and employment issues, working with corporations and government so that blinded veterans have better access to information to compete with their sighted peers.
On Veterans Day, Steve will help The Hadley School for the Blind launch a new initiative aimed at supporting blinded veterans and their families and the unique challenges they face. For Steve, this initiative couldn’t come at a better time. “The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have caused the most vision loss among veterans of any previous United States conflict since the Civil War. An estimated 17 percent of all injuries incurred in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are vision-related.” In addition to vision loss that can be diagnosed directly due to penetrating eye injuries, many veterans experience traumatic head injuries that leave them functionally blind, because their brain can no longer process what they actually “see.” The impact of combat-related blindness has been reclassified by the Veterans Administration as “catastrophic” disability in similarity to other life-altering combat related injuries. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are an estimated 158,300 legally blind veterans and 700,000 veterans with low vision. In addition, approximately 7,000 veterans become newly blind or visually impaired each year from non-combat related causes.

With its expertise in providing distance education to people who are blind or visually impaired and their support networks in fully accessible formats, Steve notes that Hadley is in a unique position to serve this population. He says that many blinded veterans coming home from the frontlines have terrific leadership skills that Hadley, in particular, knows how to support. “Hadley offers an array of courses that focus on leadership and management skills and how to put them into practice in school, work and in daily life. It’s these types of courses from which all blinded veterans can benefit.” Steve also appreciates that Hadley courses are free, without time restrictions, and can be done at home. “That is important for veterans, who may have young children at home, whose spouses become caretakers and who may not be mentally or physically ready for rehab and to continue their education, which usually requires them being away from their families,” he notes.

So what’s his advice to young blinded veterans? “You have to be your own best advocate because no matter how much we try to change society, there is always going to be that stereotype of being blind or visually impaired.” Steve also says they need to be tenacious and not give up. “Let’s get real. There are going to be additional challenges in your life. But you cannot let them get you down. Just keep pushing forward. The sky’s the limit once you get the education, training and rehab you need.”

Steve has embodied his own advice. At age 46, he is married with four children, ranging in age from 3 to 21. He keeps himself active and loves the outdoors – kayaking, rafting, skiing, even throwing himself out of airplanes. He loves his country and is proud to be a veteran. “All Veterans are heroes, whether in peacetime or in war, whether they come back whole or injured. They are no different than anyone else. They have the same hopes and dreams as you and I. As I tell people whenever I can, I may have lost my sight, but I never lost my vision.”

Deborah Bloom is the vice president of Development and Communications for The Hadley School for the Blind based in Winnetka, Illinois (

Contributor Lori Castner – The Restroom Challenge

Not a big challenge, but a small never-ending one: navigating public restrooms.

Being unable to read signs that would direct me to wear I want to go, I must ask some stranger in a quiet voice which I hope others don’t hear, “Where is the Women’s restroom?” I reveal such private information, “Hey, I gotta go.”

I enter this barren tiled vault filled with walls and turns; every public rest room has its own unique layout with distinctive and perplexing organization.

Where is the stall? Is it immediately to the right or left, or is it sequestered behind a partition? Does the door pull out or push in, and will it lock securely?

Once inside, I continue to explore. Is there a hook for my purse? Is there a little pull-down stand? Must I set my handbag on the rather grungy floor or keep it over my shoulder? Where are the seat covers, or are there any?

When I’m done, I face the biggest mystery of all–where is the flusher? Is it a lever on the side of the pipe (it always used to be there)? Is it a pedal on the floor and on which side of the facility? Is it a tiny button or rope on the wall? In airplane bathrooms, that button is virtually impossible to find. What if I can’t locate the darn thing? I can’t just leave! Oh, I’m in luck; I hear a swirl of water; this one flushes itself. In fact, it does so every time I move.

Next, I’m back in that barren room looking for the sink. It’s not that hard to find, only one turn around a wall and to the right. Fortunately, its faucet is in a standard location, above the water spout. But where is the soap; as usual I leave wet fingerprints on the mirror–which needed to be cleaned anyway. There is the dispenser, one foot above the sink two feet to the right. And then the paper towels; is the holder to the right or to the left? No the metal case is on the wall behind me. Well, at last I’m ready to return to the real world with its not so ordinary challenges.

Once after my sister handed me a paper towel in an airport restroom, she said, “You’d really like the old-fashioned public bathrooms that had an attendant to hand you things, but you’d have to tip her.” I’d gladly pay a pleasant lady who directed me to a sink, guided me to the soap, and offered me several paper towels.

And now where’s the exit to this maze? Oh, it’s where I came in.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Making My First Turkey Stuffing

In November of 1990, Marshall and I were newlyweds and it was our first Thanksgiving together. The excitement of the holiday season was in the air. Living in our own home made it extra special, yet I did not know how to prepare stuffing or how long to cook a turkey.

I leafed through the Braille copy of “Our New England Cookery” and found that they had some good stuffing recipes and directions on how long to cook a16 pound turkey. On Thanksgiving Eve, Marshall guided me step by step through making sausage potato stuffing. I was amazed that the preparation took over an hour and we both hoped it would turn out well.

That Thanksgiving morning, our neighbor helped me stuff the turkey and once again Marshall guided me in seasoning the outside of the bird, adding a mixture of butter and seasonings. As the turkey and stuffing cooked, I prepared side dishes of mashed potatoes and butternut squash.

We ate our meal by mid afternoon, all the while with Marshall lovingly complimenting me about how good it was. I agreed and we laughed about the overcooked turkey. Luckily the delicious stuffing and side dishes masked this mistake.

As my Thanksgiving gift to Ziegler readers, here is the revised recipe for Sausage and Potato Stuffing.

Sausage and Potato Stuffing

One package whole mushrooms
Two medium onions
Four cloves garlic
One stick celery (optional)
One carrot (optional)
One and a half sticks butter
3 potatoes
One package Jimmy dean sausage patties
Bell poultry seasoning
Sage, garlic powder, salt, tarragon (to taste and optional)
One and a half loaves day old bread
One quarter cup water
One egg,


In a large 10-12 inch skillet, melt one stick of butter. Break up mushrooms, mince onion, cloves of garlic, and celery and carrot. Cook vegetables on low heat for 25 minutes. While they are cooking, heat water for potatoes and process bread, onion, and seasonings in food processor. Empty them in to a large mixing bowl, adding water and egg. Cut up potatoes and add to boiling water–cook for 25 minutes. As they are cooking, add cooled vegetable mixture to mixing bowl.

Drain and mash potatoes, adding the one half stick of butter and one half cup milk and a pinch of salt. Let them cool, then add to vegetable bread mixture. Fry sausage patties, letting them drain on paper towel-lined plate. Break them in to small pieces and mix them with stuffing. Pour stuffing into frying pan, letting it cook for 5-7 minutes. This gives stuffing more sausage flavor. Put stuffing into two large containers, cover and let refrigerate overnight.

If you stuff the turkey, make sure every trace of it is removed after the meal. You can use the carcass and some left-over turkey for soup the next day. Any stuffing which is left over can be used in a turkey casserole or for leftovers.

I hope this stuffing becomes a family tradition as it has in our family for years.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Almost No Accolades (A Tribute to the Tuskeegee Airmen)

“I am from Tuskeegee:
I fought in World War II.
I fought the fight bravely;
Was my duty to do.”

“I’m back home from fighting;
I hope some things have changed:
There’s much that needs righting;
So much to rearrange.”

“Once home in Tuskeegee,
We all went out to eat;
and were received rudely
with, ‘You can’t get a seat’!”

“But we fought for this country,”
we said with voices proud.
“That don’t matter to me;
No Negroes are allowed!”

“We’re frustrated airmen;
Upset with this nation,
We fought the war and then–
Back to segregation!”

It took some six decades
for voices to be raised.
Finally! Accolades!
These airmen have been praised!

They were from Tuskeegee;
They fought in World War II.
Airmen who fought bravely:
They’re now acknowledged, too!

Writer’s Note: The U.S. Military was segregated until 1946 when then President Harry S. Truman issued an order to integrate the Armed Forces.

Feature Writer John Christie – Freedom Scientific Lowers Prices on Popular Products

Freedom Scientific is lowering their prices on the Pac Mate and the Braille displays that go with them. However, are these prices low enough so that the average person can afford them? Freedom Scientific says that more people will be able to afford these devices. Will you be one of them? Read on and see.

On October 27, Freedom Scientific announced a $500 and $1,005 reduction on their Pac Mate notetakers and the Braille displays that go with them. The Pac Mate Omni with speech now only costs $995. It previously cost $1,495. The Pac Mate Omni with twenty cells of braille costs (Don’t have a heart attack now) $2,390. This was formerly $2,895. The Pac Mate Omni with 40 cells of Braille costs $3,690. It was formerly $4,695.

The Braille Display prices are lower but still out of reach for the average person as well as the notetakers. Freedom scientific claims that a speech-only Pac Mate is less than half the price that competitors charge. Freedom Scientific is charging 40 percent less for a 40 cell braille display than what their competitors charge for a 32 cell braille display.

The Pac Mate is based on The Microsoft Windows mobile operating system and runs the Microsoft suite of products. This includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook. Because this notetaker runs products from Microsoft, the blind person can share their work with their sighted peers. “A notetaker is a huge productivity tool for a blind person – one that is critical in leveling the playing field for educational and employment opportunities,” states Dr. Lee Hamilton, President and CEO of Freedom Scientific. “Unfortunately, notetakers and Braille displays have always been expensive, which has meant that not everyone could get one. Freedom Scientific wants to provide opportunity to as many blind people as possible by making this key assistive technology more widely available.” However, their attempts in making these products widely available has failed because most blind people don’t have that kind of money. In addition, many of them are not working. For those who have the Pac Mate and braille display, it can make learning braille and using it easier. The Pac Mate also has a Braille tutor which speaks when the user runs in to an unfamiliar symbol. You also put hundreds of books on to a memory card or thumb drive as well. Freedom Scientific also claims that their Braille displays are the most reliable in the industry.

The Braille displays and notetakers that Freedom Scientific manufactures are still out of the reach of most blind people. The only way that they may obtain these devices might be through Rehab. Other than that, most blind people won’t be able to afford these devices. It’s certainly an improvement, but I’m not sure it goes far enough. What do you think?

October 2011 audio version

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Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Merry Music

We grew up with actual vinyl albums and the cover of the “Joy to the World” record by the Robert Shaw chorale is forever etched in my mind. Played every year, we loved the beautiful harmonies of the timeless carols. I know we must have worn the grooves down until the needle slid right across the poor record.

I am fairly traditional when it comes to holiday music. Perhaps I should say that I enjoy holiday music from the genres that I listen to most during the rest of the year–Choral, Pop, Classical with some forays into R&B and New Age. If you listen to and enjoy holiday music, do you find yourself gravitating towards the familiar or are you willing to venture into new and unknown musical territory?

Three seasons ago, we began watching a program called “The Sing Off,” which is a competition of a capella groups. It caught our ear for four glorious nights and was done. It is now a multi-week series and I have been absolutely thrilled by several sublime arrangements. I have downloaded two holiday albums from the series, which I intend to listen to from Thanksgiving Day to the start of the New Year. A Capella holiday music was not on my radar, but last year several presenters on our favorite internet radio station, Mushroom FM, began playing music by a group called “Straight No Chaser” and again, I was drawn in by their clever arrangements and seamless harmonies. Finding that I enjoy the genre quite a bit, I now have a station devoted to a capella music on the Pandora app on my iPhone and plan on acquiring more music in this genre.

As someone who grew up learning to appreciate and enjoy classical music, I was thrilled to find holiday albums from the male choral group, Chanticleer. I shamelessly admit to listening to their version of “In Dulci Jubilo” (known to many as “Good Christian Men Rejoice”) throughout the year. They also perform an arrangement of a Spiritual holiday medley that is nothing less than music to my ears. Hmm. I wonder if they have any new releases.

We are also avid Glee fans. So it will come as no surprise to know that we do have holiday albums from that very talented ensemble as well. What I find incredible is the speed at which these albums are released. Their latest holiday offering is already in my music library. Soon you’ll be able to purchase top holiday releases in September. A popular local terrestrial radio station has already begun playing their annual non-stop rotation of holiday tunes.

What are your thoughts on this mostly joyous, sometimes annoying annual musical occurrence, Faithful Reader?

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Getting Experience in the Classroom

As some of you may remember, I am hoping to become a teacher of the blind and visually impaired. Since I don’t have an education background, unless you count being raised by educators, I decided to get some experience in the classroom to see if teaching was for me. Last month, I was able to shadow one of our local itinerant teachers of the blind and meet some of his students. It was a great experience that taught me a lot in just one day. After meeting some of his students we decided to have me work with a few of them to enhance their braille reading and assistive technology skills.

Before I started volunteering, I was invited to one of the schools to do a presentation on guide dogs to not only educate the students, but prepare them for having me visit their school on a regular basis. I can now proudly say that the students almost always ask before petting Midge, and they’re respectful if I say no.

On my first day volunteering with my second grader, we practiced his braille reading skills. He is learning grade 2 braille, and making some good progress. Recess is during the time that I’m there, and on the first day I joined the kids at the request of my student. It was an interesting experience for me as a future teacher. I think for the sake of my guide dog, recess is not a good place for me because it distracts the kids from playing and is overwhelming for the dog.

One of my favorite things about volunteering is that everyone is happy that I’m there and that I’m using my own braille skills to help a young braille reader enhance his reading skills. One of the reasons I want to become a teacher is because I believe braille is critical for the blind to be successful, and I think that knowing braille means I’m more likely to spend the time needed to teach it.

If you’re looking for a way to use your knowledge of braille or adaptive technology, consider contacting your local school for the blind or itinerant teacher to ask if you can volunteer with their students. It’s very rewarding.