Archive for November, 2012

October 2012 audio version

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Reader’s Forum – Week of November 26, 2012

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

In response to Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Relearning to Use a Cane Full Time, Beth wrote:

Good luck to Alena regarding cane use and her upcoming new pup! I have multiple disabilities, including moderate bilateral arm neuropathy and cannot use a cane, probably not a dog either. Does anyone know of a travel aid which detects drop-offs besides the cane, or how about an aid which can fit onto a rolator, which is a rolling walker, which can detect obstacles?

Thanks, Beth
In response to Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Relearning to Use a Cane Full Time, Mark wrote:

At Perkins, in the late sixties, I learned to use the cane. Suddenly, I could zoom around my neighborhood in Leominster, Mass., and take the bus to Fitchburg, Worcester, and Springfield. I eventually felt somewhat limited. Having known others with guide dogs, I decided to explore this new thing.

In 1975, I got my first dog, a German shepherd, from Seeing Eye, and discovered in early 1976 that she had epilepsy, and she was returned in June, 1976.

I got my second dog, a golden retriever, in August, 1976, and moved to Florida in December, 1976. I discovered that she was allergic to many things–fleas, grass, plants, etc. If I had known of her allergies before moving to Florida, I would not have gotten her. In January, 1982, she was returned to Seeing Eye.

On using the cane full-time again, I discovered a sense of liberation. Gone were the endlessly tiresome explanations of why the dog should not be petted; gone were the endlessly intrusive personal questions aimed at me from strangers, and gone were the many challenges of admittance to a place or taxi because of the dog, guide or otherwise.

That is certainly not the end of the story. When the dog is guiding, one zooms along, and many landmarks and other clues are simply not experienced, because they are not needed, and one does not have to remember quite as much overall while traveling. What one does have to remember is the entire route in a different way, with good cane technique, echolocation, and memory being your most prevalent tools; daydreaming is not an option. One must remember many details about any route, without being afraid or constantly saying how difficult things are, or wishing that things could be different, etc.

Generally, people seem to want to be mostly friendly and helpful, but there will always be rude ones, and both types must be dealt with accordingly.

I have my streamlined lifestyle back. No more doggie complications, as I just buy canes now and then; no more questions of rejection or acceptance.
In response to Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Internet Use Cuts Depression Among Elderly, Gerardo wrote:

Yes, OK, Internet would lift depression and isolation, but there’s nothing more lifting then going outside, feeling the fresh air, seeing the sun, hearing people, places and especially socializing! I speak from experience, having been isolated for nearly 5 years, until recently when I started socializing, and what a change! Not only in how I see myself and the world around me, but I’ve been enriched by other experiences, my friends’ experiences, learning of different topics, sharing and enriching what I already knew; it’s definitely a change! So in summary, there’s nothing better, if circumstances permit since sometimes it can be difficult to see how we go to friends’ houses and other places, to go out and socialize!
Abby wrote in to say:

I recently had the experience of taking an electronic real care baby two plus home for my parenting class, and I absolutely loved this experience. I emailed the company who makes the babies after doing extended research on this particular baby. I found out that, to program the babies, the parenting teachers use a control unit. I also found out that many people who are buying this product are sited and do not need any help programming their babies. However, I would also like to purchase a real care baby two plus of my own. While I wait to hear back from the company, I’d love to hear your suggestions on how I can program a baby if I get one. The idea is for me to program it with little to absolutely no help. The company is making this quite impossible. I gave them a suggestion on how to make the control unit accessible to the blind; I will see if it is possible to have it talk. Please share your thoughts on this subject.
On the topic of SSI, David wrote in to say:

Yes, it’s our responsibility to get off. But Voc Rehab in my state, and I say this after talking to several people, is not very good at the moment. The sighted counselors have poor training and the state has not tried as have others such as New York to develop programs that train people for specific jobs i.e. scopist, nonmedical transcriptionist, tax rep. Without excellent adaptive technology trainers, it can be difficult to configure systems such that speech software will work successfully. It’s a case of developing a new interdependence paradigm to encourage the blind and the sighted to work together to come up with doable plans. I wonder how this works in other countries? I went to graduate school and felt that my state rehab agency did not have my back when my university played adaptive tech games and nor did any ideological organization of or for the blind. I had wanted to make a difference in the professional world and to actually help more blind people enter the particular profession I studied for—lord knows, the few blind people in it were unable to help other blind though this profession prides itself on its sharing and giving! I had hoped to develop internships, field experiences, write articles, contribute to scholarship funds, assist with residency programs at the academic level and so on. Sometimes, you have to not beat yourself up when you have done your best and not let other blind people’s judgments, and oh can blind people judge, upset you.

I suspect the cognitive impairment people don’t have a major split and two major organizations representing them as the blind do so it might be easier to advocate. I wonder if I’ll live long enough to experience a sweeping away of both blindness organizations and rebuild a third way based on honesty, integrity, interdependence, diversity, and respect.
On the topic of voting, Stanley wrote in to say:

Hello. This is in follow up to the article on voting. In Vermont, we have no machines, no booths, no complicated screens. We have a simple telephone. When we get to the polling place, we sign in and a worker takes us over to a phone in a private corner. She/he dials a number and then we use the keypad to vote. We can change votes, review what we have done and when finished, we press the pound sign and our ballot is printed and put in with everyone else’s. This year it took me about ten minutes to fill out a very long ballot. Incidentally, it is hard to imagine any system being less expensive.
On the topic of United Braille Code, Phil wrote:

I’m writing to talk about the recent adoption by Bana of the United English Braile Code. I’ve been a Braille user for more than 50 years, and like many long-time users of Braille I have always been skeptical of talk regarding the changing of the Braille Code. However afar giving it much thought I now realize that changing the code is necessary for several reasons. First if we want Braille to survive in the computer age it had to be changed in order to adapt to the computer age. Also the teaching and learning of Braille may be mad easier by having one United Code. Even thought there will be some major cases to the current code there won’t be drastic changes and the new code will be implemented over several years and not overnight. So we can still get material with the current Braille code for a long time to come.

Contributor Jennifer Streisand – A ‘Top Ten List’ to Achieve a New, Normal Living with Vision Loss: Part Four

So as not to scare off a low vision patient who may be reading this article, there is a certain learning curve in using technology, but once the low vision patient has made the transition to carrying out daily tasks in a different way, their rehabilitation is complete, says Vincent Rappa, Vice President of Low Vision Sales at HumanWare, a Florida-based company that sells low vision products, and products for people who are learning disabled.

“In other words, when somebody learns how to use our CCTV, they have been rehabilitated to read,” he says. As long as they have some vision, they will be able to use the CCTV, and once the person has mastered learning how to use it, the rehabilitation process of learning to read in a different way is complete, he adds.

To have accessibility or assisted technology on a computer, however, users can also tap into some of the options that already exist on mainstream computers and mobile devices such as Apple and Microsoft products.

According to information online at the Apple website, the iPhone 4S has full-screen magnification and a screen reader. The website tells readers that the program called “voiceover,” helps iPhone users read everything they would need on the screen, and can be enabled easily using the set-up assistant feature. This “voiceover” program is available on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, and the iPhone 3GS. Many Braille displays can now also be used with the iPhone.

The Apple iPad too, has many features that are useful for low vision patients, says Robert Chun, O.D., a low vision optometrist, and a post-doctoral research fellow at the Pangere Center for Inherited Retinal Diseases at The Chicago Lighthouse.

Apple is making great strides to help the visually impaired, he says. “The capabilities of the iPad and the iPhone are increasing and improving,” says Chun. The iPad has a lot of accessibility features that allow visually impaired patients to see the font size just about as large as they need it, so they can check their e-mail, read PDF documents, e-books, and so forth, explains Chun, allowing them full and comfortable access to the features that a person with normal vision would have. Many of these accessibility features can be used by changing the settings on the iPad, he says. There is also a dictation App on the iPad that types the text as the person speaks it.

For much more specific information on how to use the accessibility features on Apple devices, go to

Microsoft also has many features to help people with low vision, including a screen magnifier. On a Windows 7 computer, users can adjust their computers for better readability without buying any additional software, such as using the high contrast function or resizing the desktop icons to make them easier to see. Even on an older, Windows XP computer there is a perfectly functional screen reader, that reads the letters as the user types them. It is not a fast screen reader, but may be an excellent way to get started using a screen reader without any additional expense. For much more information on all of the low vision features on Microsoft computers, go to

Although Apple and Microsoft features are free and already there, accessibility technology takes practice, and users need to become familiar with using the features, just as any other accessibility software.

“Don’t suffer in silence; get yourself wired, and go out and grab that opportunity. That is our message,” says Szlyk of The Chicago Lighthouse.

Consider, in life, that few things remain the same. Technology is truly adaptive, when the user creates a personal “techno repertoire” to improve his or her quality of life. Then daily activities really do feel like the new, normal routine.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – What Thanksgiving Really Means

According to tradition, Thanksgiving is a day when we give thanks for all that we have, including family, friends, and other loved ones. It is a time when everyone gets together to share and bond with one another. Though history has carefully defined when Thanksgiving should be on the calendar, I always felt that we should be thankful every day of the year, and not wait for the fourth Thursday of November to have a celebration about being thankful. Our world is full of problems, and when Thanksgiving is over, the problems are not over. Shouldn’t we express our thanks the next day instead of running around shopping malls like maniacs? Then there’s the day after, and the day after that. To those who practice desperate commercialism, let’s stop scurrying for deals and start relaxing with our loved ones more.

As time goes by, family traditions have evolved into fast paced activities. Though we can’t always control these activities because of the times we live in, I feel that there must always be time devoted to a lengthy, quality family activity, such as a Sunday dinner, game night, or a couple of hours every evening with the children on a regular basis. It’s important to share our feelings, our desires, our problems, and our good times during these very important family-building opportunities.

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Another Furby Comeback

Last week I was happy to find that Furbies, the interactive toy which had been the Christmas craze in 1998, are returning for Christmas 2012. I first heard of Furbies when Marshall was listening to a shopping channel years ago. They were demonstrating these cute creatures and he said to me “We have to get one of these.” I silently questioned this decision; what was special about an overpriced toy? He was always fascinated with new gadgets.

By Thanksgiving, the country was enthralled by these adorable creatures. I was willing to stand in line at five AM on Black Friday to purchase one for my step grand daughter and us at our local Wal-Mart. By the time 8:15 rolled around, all the Furbies were gone. I took a rain check and paid the sale price of $30. My Furbies would be in right after New Year’s. On January 4th, I went with a shopper bringing our new toy home.

The challenges were nonexistent and with sighted help Marshall learned where to insert the two double a batteries. The rest was simply learning by doing. We learned the original language of Furbies is “Furbish,” and they learned English words and phrases astonishingly fast. According to wikipedia, all the English words and phrases are pre-programmed, so they didn’t learn new words from their owners.

According to Hasbro and wikipedia, the robotically controlled creature has sensors in its head and body, enabling them to hear, open and close its eyes, move its mouth, and make dancing movements. It will smile, snore, and purr when you stroke its back, too.

Our homemaker was fascinated with it as we demonstrated it could make dancing movements, tell us it was hungry, or go to sleep and softly snore. This first model was short-lived, when we turned it upside down a few times it would say it was scared, make funny noises, and completely shut down. Restoring batteries did not restore its functionality, and after two weeks, we had to replace it.

When I looked on Wikipedia, I discovered this toy made one other revival in 2005. That one had more facial expression, but no additional vocabulary. This new one combined the 1998’s wealth of language with features such as an app for smart phones.

Today is cyber Monday there are several places you can order these adorable toys. Go to and email them at [email protected], or phone them at 1-800-408-0052. Check Speak to Me, a novelty and blindness catalog, as they may also have them. There phone number is 1-800-408-9965. The price for a Furby ranges from $59 at Walmart, but it’s $54 at Target and Toys R Us.

One caution on buying Furbies is that they are for ages six and a half and above, according to Hasbro and information on wikipedia. Children and adults can enjoy these cute toys, and they help enhance creativity, giving hours of endless pleasure to their recipients.

Have other readers gotten or given a Furby? What was your experience?

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Whatever it Takes

When I heard the preview for Steve Harvey’s November 16th, 2012 show, I was intrigued.

“What side of himself that we’ve never seen will Steve show?” I wondered as I reflected on this awesome author’s and compassionate commedian’s talents. With Steve’s down-to-earth humor, the very serious side he showed was that of undergoing a colonoscopy. The physician then examines the colon for polyps. “It’s very common to see polyps in the colon,” Doctor Christine, Steve’s physician, stated. Doctor Christine also explained that these growths are usually noncancerous, adding that they can become malignant if undetected.

“I have three small polyps which are going to be removed,” Mr. Harvey revealed during his procedure.

Thankfully, this 55-year-old national icon who has been inspiring audiences to laugh and learn since age 28, was given a clean bill of health. Not everyone is so blessed, however–90 percent of individuals diagnosed with colon cancer are in their fifties.

Regarding risk factors, Steve’s renowned Emory University physician listed the following habits that could increase problems in the future: having a family or personal history; being obese; consuming large amounts of alcohol; smoking; and eating too few fruits and vegetables.

“This may be an unorthodox way to spread the word,” Steve told his audience, “but our community doesn’t know about it. Even with all my resources, I didn’t know,” Steve shared.

“I don’t have grandchildren yet,” this proud father of 7 confided, “but I want to have some and live to see them.”

As an American Cancer Society spokesperson, Steve couldn’t have been more passionate when he ended the segment by saying, “I wanted to show my colonoscopy to send the message that having one is no big deal. If you have this done, you live, and if you don’t get it done, you’re taking a risk.”

With his unique blend of humor and honesty, Mr. Steve Harvey is the best ambassador colon cancer awareness could ever have.

Have any of you been affected by colon cancer, whether you, a family member or both were diagnosed? Tell us about it in Readers Forum.

Sources: and “All Joking Aside,” featuring Steve Harvey on Youtube. More info, and the American Cancer Society: 1-800-227-2345 or visit Feel free to like Steve Harvey on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – A New and Innovative Way to Treat Multiple Sclerosis

As amazing as the human body is, sometimes it’s not so smart, especially when it attacks itself in instances of an auto-immune disease like multiple sclerosis. As it stands now, MS can either be a mild condition if it is well controlled, or it can be completely debilitating, causing paralysis or blindness. By using nanotechnology, researchers at Northwestern University may have found a way to effectively treat all MS patients.

Currently, MS patients have few options for treatment. The most effective treatments weaken their immune system by stopping the body from attacking itself. This may help with symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease, but it makes them much more susceptible to infections and illness. By using biodegradable nano-particles, researchers have been able to trick the body into stopping the attack on the myelin membrane that insulates the nerve cells without also damaging the whole immune system.

This kind of treatment is a great breakthrough because it’s so versatile. In order for doctors to treat other immune diseases besides MS, all they have to do is change the antigen that the nano-particle is delivering. There is currently a clinical trial with MS patients that uses the patient’s white blood cells to deliver the antigen. This may be just as effective, but it is highly costly and labor intensive. Nano-particles can be easily replicated and manufactured on a wide scale making it much easier and cheaper to treat everyone.

I am very hopeful for this treatment and hope that it becomes available soon. To read the full article visit this link:

Feature Writer John Christie – E-Books For Everyone

For years, the visually impaired community has had to wait for their favorite books to be produced in an accessible format. Now, this is changing with new services called Axis 360 and Blio.

In May, Baker and Taylor made their Axis 360 website accessible to the blind and visually impaired. This website is like gold for people who like to read because this publishing company has the largest collection of print and digital books in the world. Another positive aspect to all this is that their collection of books has also been made screen reader accessible and is compatible with JAWS, Window-Eyes, NVDA, and System Access to Go.

Having this service accessible also ensures that libraries should easily meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as other federal and state laws. It’s definitely to their advantage, though, as these libraries will be able to serve everyone in the community equally.

Marc Maurer, President of the NFB accepts this new endeavor with open arms. He said that he is extremely pleased that books are now more accessible and that libraries will have the ability to better serve the visually impaired and those with print disabilities all over the country.

George Coe, president of Library and Education for Baker and Taylor said that libraries are now able to fulfill their charter by serving every member of the community by taking advantage of new technology and the growing demand for eBooks.

Lisamaria Martinez, who works at LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco and obtains books from the Bard website, says that with Axis 360 and Blio she will have other options to obtain her reading material. She also states that she will have a wider variety of books to choose from. While the Bard Web site has a lot of political books and biographies, she’s looking forward to browsing a larger collection of popular fiction as well.

It’s so great that the NFB teamed up with Baker and Taylor to make digital and eBooks accessible to the blind and print handicapped. This will surely open up the world of books to millions and give them something to discuss with their sighted peers. This may open up the door for blind readers to join some more mainstream book clubs as well.

For more information about the free Blio software and to establish a free Blio account on up to five PC’S or five mobile devices go to For more information about Baker and Taylor Axis 360, go to

Do any of you currently use Blio or Axis 360? What are your impressions?


Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Licensing Update Two

Some of the Matilda Ziegler readers asked me to update them on what’s happening with my New York State family therapy licensing discrimination case. In short, I am looking to retain an attorney or legal services agency to take my case.

I am being denied equal access due to the computer-based test not being offered to me like it is offered to my sighted peers. Last year, I asked a blindness organization to help me retain an attorney, but they rejected my request. I wrote letters to my governor and local and state politicians, but no one has taken up the torch on my behalf. Last October, I found an attorney in Maryland who won a similar case for a law student taking the bar exam. I contacted the legal firm, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), but they, too, passed on my case.

Another attorney, who won a similar case in another state, directed me to an attorney here in New York who takes similar cases. In August, I sent my paperwork and fee into the attorney for a consultation. After a rough start, they reviewed the case, said it had merit, but did not take the case on contingency. I would have had to pay a large retainer and I declined. The $500 consultation fee will hopefully be partially returned to me.

Needless to say, I am very disappointed. The attorney did say I have a strong ADA title 2 case, but the mess of bureaucratic red tape is preventing me from taking the exam with a screen reader or comparable technology. I am back to the beginning, trying to find an attorney or legal practice who will represent me in filing a Federal Title 2 suit against New York State and the testing contractor.

If anyone reading this can help, please contact me at 914-393-6605 or [email protected]

Editor’s note: What Ann is experiencing is not only wrong, it is in violation of the ADA. And yet, it persists. She isn’t asking for an unfair advantage, she isn’t asking for a hand-out. She’s asking for access to an exam to further her career. I have encouraged Ann to keep us informed on the issue, as this is something that does not only affect her, but sets a precedent for every visually impaired person who is denied equal access to these types of exams. By shedding light on this issue, we will hopefully spread awareness and bring about a much needed change.

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – My Experiences with Blue Teeth, I mean, Bluetooth

Here are a few brief notes on my experiences using devices with the increasingly popular wireless method known as Bluetooth.

In 2009, we purchased GW Micro’s BookSense DAISY (Digital Audio Information System) player. Shortly thereafter, Maria presented me with the suggested Bluetooth headset. At that point, Bluetooth was naught but a term tossed around by techies. Sad to say, I do not recall how I received the all-important pairing (connecting) instructions. By the way, I learned that pairing can be a frustrating experience in itself. The headset had decent sound quality, but I was unable to wear it for long periods of time.

My next device was a very cool speaker named the Jawbone Jambox. This blocky, rubberized red speaker packed quite a punch with regard to sound quality. Other commendable features are the volume controls and talking instructions. I listened to an audio demonstration to assist me in pairing the device to my iPhone 4. I recall it being a matter of syntax–do I turn on the speaker first or the Bluetooth feature on the iPhone first? Once I worked that out, I enjoyed it immensely–until Mickey the Menace knocked it to the floor and the headphone jack was smashed in–rendering it useless. It is available at for a substantially reduced price. I’m now salivating for the Big Jambox.

The adorable Satechi Bluetooth speaker (which resembles a turtle or a spaceship, depending on your viewpoint) was given to me by a dear friend. The learning curve was painless as he was also able to provide hands-on instruction. The sound quality is surprisingly good for such a small unit. It travels with me every day and is now the device that is paired with my iPhone. I really can’t recommend it enough. This speaker is also available at for under $40.00.

I was hooked by QVC’s five easy payments for the unknown brand of the Braven Bluetooth speaker. The unit has a wonderfully warm sound quality. Turning to the web to find an instructional video, I wasn’t able to see the young man as he pointed to the buttons, but he provided useful layout tips that ultimately aided me in the pairing process.

My latest Bluetooth purchase is the RII Bluetooth keyboard available at It took quite a few tries for me to type the pairing code for my keyboard, but I was successful and was able to enter Maria’s in one pass. If you’re having difficulty using the on-screen keyboards for iOS or Android devices, you might find this a useful solution.

The Jambox, Satechi and Braven speakers also come with a wire so that you can plug them in to any device with a headphone jack.

For those of you who use Bluetooth devices, which ones do you use and how have your experiences been? Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.