Archive for January, 2013

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – The Horror of Hate

Several years ago, Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old woman with an intellectual disability, was tortured over a 36-hour period and then murdered. Because I was so horrified by that senseless tragedy, I had pushed it out of my mind for over a year. Recently, though, I read a disturbing article that got me thinking about hate crimes and persons with disabilities. The article chronicled the alleged crimes of 5 individuals who held persons with intellectual disabilities captive to steal their Social Security benefits.

On January 23, 2013, the Department of Justice charged Linda Weston, her daughter, and 3 co-defendants with forced labor, fraud, hate crimes, murder, racketeering, and sex trafficking (Four of those crimes were violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act).

Linda Weston allegedly convinced the individuals to sign their disability checks over to her by promising them comfortable places to live. What they got instead was being beaten, deprived of adequate food, denied medical care, and locked in attics, basements, and closets. To evade law enforcement, the defendants allegedly moved their captives between Florida, Philadelphia, PA, Texas, and Virginia. These hate crimes took place from at least the fall of 2001 until October 15th, 2011. It was then that Philadelphia police officers rescued individuals from the sub-basement of an apartment building in the city’s Tacony section.

“Today’s indictment represents one more step toward closure and healing, not only for the victims of this heinous hate crime, but for the community as a whole,” said Special Agent-in-charge John Brosnan. The agencies that aggressively investigated these crimes were the Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General.

If convicted of each charge, the defendants face maximum sentences of life in prison. As the “ring leader,” Linda Weston will also be required to pay restitution of about $212,000, along with other fines.

Hopefully, a combination of aggressive investigation and human decency will put unspeakable hate crimes like these where they belong: buried in the past forever.


Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Six Months with Joel and Learning All the Way: Part Two

When I had Whitlee, my first guide dog, people told me it would take a year before we would really know each other. Since I never had a dog before, I figured that they were kidding me when they told me this. But after working with Whitlee for a year or so, I noticed that these people were quite correct. When you are working with a guide dog, there are so many situations you encounter, places you go, and people you meet. It really does take a long time before you know your dog, and vice versa.

When I got Meyer, I figured, well, this is a new dog, but I already know everything because I had a dog for 9 years. That was not true. All these dogs have different personalities and they react different to situations, places, and people. There have actually been times when I wished that I could have Whitlee back again, so that I could work with her with the knowledge that I’ve gained from having Meyer and now Joel. For example, both Meyer and Joel enjoy playing with their toys. Playtime is an important part of their daily life. It helps them relieve stress, have fun, and bond with their person. When I had Whitlee, we didn’t do much playing. She did enjoy a tennis ball, but I don’t remember that I made playing a big part of her daily life. Perhaps this would have been a good thing for her, though. Whitlee loved to work and she was always very focused. However, when we came back from a walk, I always let her do her own thing as a way for her to relax and rest. I could tell that she appreciated this by the way she would stretch out across the living room floor. When Joel completes a walk, he usually likes to come into the apartment and run a few laps around the house. So, I take his ball and throw it around for a few minutes so that he can work off any stress that he built up during our walk. He has lots of energy and it doesn’t all get used up during a walk, he needs that extra outlet to run and play with his toys.

Whitlee was very good at going into the harness and snapping right into work mode. If I was in a hurry, I could quickly gather my things, get her into harness, and rush out the door. This is not the best way to conduct your life but, sometimes, you have to rush around for many reasons.

Joel, on the other hand, does not do well if I start rushing him around. We really fall apart if this happens. I’ve learned over these few months together that I must slow down, and be clear and direct with him. If I start rushing around, it winds him up, and he is not focused and he is not listening to me. Then, we have to stop everything and start all over again. This has been one of the most difficult things for me to do in the transition from one dog to another. The good part of it is that I’ve realized from my experiences that this is how Joel works and I have to adapt myself to it in order for us to succeed together. I’ve actually come to enjoy his way of working because it has caused me to be slower and calmer in order to work well with him, and it feels good to slow down, pay attention, and get tasks done the first time around, instead of stopping and repeating things because I was working too quickly. When we encountered some ice a few days ago, it was so very important that I slow us down and carefully let him help me work through it, until we got back onto dry, safe ground.

So, all together, there has been lots of learning for me over the past six months and the past year. I’m glad to have all these experiences and I am looking forward to more experiences over the next six months and years to come.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Acts of Kindness Can Actually Make You Happier

I am a believer in performing acts of kindness, because when you do something good, you feel good. Now, social psychologists are proving that the good feeling we experience has a lasting effect on our overall well-being.

According to an article posted in the January 24, 2013 edition of U.S. News and World Reports, a positive gesture can indeed promote positive emotions and improve a sense of well-being. In fact, a researcher found that just one random act of kindness per week can significantly improve how we feel.

I feel that in this day and age, with increasing amounts of stress, seeking out something that helps us feel good will become a sought after commodity. The reality is that random acts of kindness can be as simple or complex as you want to make them. It can be as easy as holding the door for someone, or making a quick friend while standing in line. All too often, people have become introverted and isolated, far less likely to simply reach out and help one another. Perhaps if they realized the good they could do for themselves as they were helping someone else, they’d be more likely to actively find opportunities for random acts of kindness. One certainly can hope.

Do you have a story about a random act of kindness? If so, tell us in the Reader’s Forum.


Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Recording in Progress

I’m certain there are legions of you out there who recorded yourselves and your activities on the lowly cassette recorder. So many passed through my hands I can’t even remember them all–from Sony to Panasonic, and everything in between. The sound quality varied, and that’s being kind. At times you could barely hear the content for the hissing, but oh, how I loved each device–from the boom boxes that had a recording feature to the smaller dedicated recorders. One day I’ll go through my multitude of cassette recordings when I retire.

Listening to podcasts prompted me to want to produce my own. This meant I needed a digital recorder. Enter the Olympus WS-200s. Benefits included the fact that it was very small and easily connected to a PC for convenient copying of the audio files. The sound quality was marginally better than cassettes. I happily used it until something better came along. Though, there was nothing in the way of menu accessibility.

While producing our podcast, I learned a good deal about noise, sound quality, and bit rates. To that end, my next digital recorder was a Roland Edirol R09. This fine recorder required that I adjust the noise level so that my recordings came out with as little distortion as possible. Constantly fiddling with the thing, I managed to achieve what I considered to be decent results. One annoying feature was opening the battery compartment. You felt as if you would rip your fingers to shreds. It, too, was a device with no real accessibility. I placed the recorder under our CCTV (Closed-circuit television) in order to magnify and change the settings.

Imagine my elation when I opened my first Olympus Digital Voice Recorder with its now famous Voice Guidance System. I’ve had several models, but the one that’s lasted the longest so far is the DS-520. You are able to set most menu items with these spoken menus. The one caveat is that after all these years, people who are blind and visually impaired are still unable to set the time and date. Does Olympus really think we do not want to know when our recordings were made just as our sighted peers? With each model, we’ve been disappointed. I considered upgrading to an Olympus LS-14 digital recorder, but thought better of spending the money when I have several DAISY players with recording options. To hear a demonstration of the LS-14, visit DAISY, for those unaware, stands for Digital Audio Information System.

These days I’m using my trusty American Printing House BookPort Plus DAISY player to record our podcast. I’ve set the recording mode to monaural as we are only talking and the quality is just fine and it is, of course, fully accessible.

What are your experiences with recorders, digital or otherwise?

Feature Writer John Christie – My Experience With a File Back-Up Service

Backing up your files is a wise thing to do in case your computer crashes. Lately, I’ve been backing up my files with a well-known service called Carbonite. When I first started to back up my files to the cloud, I felt really secure and was reassured that my files were in good hands.

Then, in early December of 2012, my computer crashed. When the Commission for the Blind came to fix the computer four weeks later, I was glad that I would get my files back from Carbonite. However, when I called Carbonite to get my files back, I found out that they couldn’t take control of my computer because the user agreement timed out. I tried to obtain these files on my own, but I couldn’t get to the user agreement because JAWS for Windows never read it, even though it was on the screen.

I told my counselor about this and she came out with her assistant and helped me with restoring my files. However, they all didn’t come back and they were not up to date, either. Many recent things were missing. I also lost all my email contacts as well as my Outlook calendar.

I was disappointed to say the least, because I was paying for this service. They told me that I only had 30 days to get my files back or they would be deleted from the server. However, due to my circumstance, they extended this to 45 days when I told them that I would need sighted assistance. On January 25th, my counselor will be coming back with her assistant to download my files off the server. This will be the last time I will try to get my files back from the servers on Carbonite.

Despite all of the problems, it must be said that the representatives for Carbonite were excellent over the phone, even after I told them that I was blind. They tried two or three ways to get my files back, but unfortunately nothing worked.

At first, I thought I would get rid of Carbonite, but for right now I will stay with them. However, because of these issues, I decided to purchase an external hard drive to back up my files. The reason I’m staying with the service is because you don’t know what is being backed up with an external hard drive until you restore your files and I want some sort of fail-safe system in place.

There was a lesson learned because of this hard drive crash. First, it’s important to have control of your own files. Nobody cares about your files but you. This is why I will back up my files with an external hard drive as well as Carbonite to see how this all goes. I will also back up some files with my thumb drive, just to be sure.

Do any of you use a backup service to back up your files and folders? Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Learning Nemeth Code

The Braille code that Louis created opened the world of reading to the blind community, but it wasn’t until later that the blind would have access to math and science. In 1946, Dr. Abraham Nemeth created a code during his doctoral studies and the Braille Authority of North America eventually adopted it in 1952. The code uses the six dot cell, which makes it easier for Braille readers to learn, plus they can use the same equipment like a slate and stylus or Perkins brailler to write out math and science equations. Even though I’ve been a Braille reader for 15 years, my class this term will be my first introduction to the Nemeth code.

Our book starts by having us learn the basics, including how to write our numbers and the basic operations such as addition and multiplication. The text then moves on to explaining how to Braille out math problems in both linear and spatial forms. Linear forms mean equations that are all on the same line, and spatial forms extend to multiple lines. As crazy as it may seem, we ask our blind students to learn how to vertically arrange their Braille math problems the same way their sighted peers do. I personally find this absurd because students spend much of their time making sure that their brailler is aligned correctly, then actually doing the math.

Our assignment for this week included problems as simple as 12 + 9 and as challenging as 128.65 divided by 83. I think I spent more time actually doing the math then I did writing out the Braille, but I digress. Since my class is online, we’re using PerkyDuck to submit our assignments. Having a Braille display means that I am able to do the assignments, but trying to do spatial math on a single line display is about as frustrating as you might think. It’s bad enough that you have to make sure that your Braille is aligned with the previous line, but the only way to access the line above is to move your cursor. If this isn’t a good enough reason for a full page Braille display, I don’t know what is.

At this point I feel like the abacus is a much better way for visually impaired students to learn and compute simple math problems, but this may change as we get into more complex math. I would love to hear from readers who use Braille to do math and science. Do you think we should have our students spending time fussing with their braillers so that it looks like print, or do you think there is a better method? I believe in giving students as many options as possible, so I’m curious to hear people’s experiences.

Letter from the Editor – January 28, 2013

Hello Everyone,

I hope you all had a nice weekend. It’s incredible that we’re already finished with January. It always feels like the fast pace of the holidays takes this month over and before you know it, it’s just gone. Though, with as cold as it’s been, I’m not too broken up about it.

It’s been brought to my attention over the past couple of weeks that certain readers have had issues receiving the magazine. From the looks of it, the bulk of the problems are with Comcast email users, but other readers using different providers have also expressed problems as well. I’ve looked into the issue from our end, but it’s difficult to determine what is going on. I’ve contacted Comcast as well, and they have assured me (as they have in the past) that we are not black-listed on their servers and that they are not doing anything intentionally to block the magazine from going through to you.

That said, the problem still exists for some of you. For starters, try adding [email protected] into your contacts. That simple step might be enough to keep the magazine from being blocked if you’ve verified us as a trusted source that way. Also, if you haven’t received the magazine in your inbox, check your spam folder, as it will sometimes end up there.

This problem is very frustrating and I apologize that I still haven’t come up with a concrete solution. It seems to come in waves and without any pattern, which is making it difficult. I will keep working on it, though. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has not received the magazine, please have them email me directly and I will send you or them a copy personally.

On another note, the recipe for this week’s magazine is in Karen Crowder’s article. I definitely recommend trying it out.

That should cover everything for now. I hope you all have a great week.

Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.

Ross Hammond, Editor

Recipe of the Week – Breakfast Tacos

Submitted by Dave Hutchins

This simple, yet delicious, breakfast is sure to be a hit.

Yield: 4 Servings


1 cup hash brown potato mix (with onion)
2 cups hot water
3/4 teaspoon Sea salt
1 pound ground spicy pork sausage
10 eggs (beaten)
10 burrito-sized flour tortillas
1 cup shredded cheese
Salsa (to taste)


1. In a medium mixing bowl, blend together hash browns, water and salt, mixing thoroughly. Let hash brown mixture stand uncovered for 15 minutes. After which time drain excess water from hash browns.

2. While hash browns are draining, in a medium-sized skillet cook and stir the pork sausage over medium heat until well browned.

Remove sausage from skillet leaving some grease behind for cooking the eggs (allow grease to drain from pork sausage on paper towels).

3. Now, add eggs to skillet and begin to scramble. Once again place sausage in the skillet and cook eggs until done. Spoon mixture evenly on warm tortillas. Top with cheese and mild or hot salsa.


Reader’s Forum – Week of January 22, 2013

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

In response to Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Sadly Adding to the Statistics, Young wrote:

I remember vividly how devastated I was. At the end of dotcom burst, I was laid off from a decent job as a software engineer and had to look for a job right away. My son was four, and my wife was in school. Because too many programmers were laid off, there weren’t many chances for me to get a new job.

I joined a BEP program and ran a cafeteria for next three years. Fortunately, I am back to computer field now, but it was very hard.

For all those who are looking for a job or recently lost one, hang in there. Tomorrow will be a better day!
In response to Contributor Wesley Derbyshire – Experiencing Descriptive Video Service, Beth wrote:

Serotek’s System Access Mobile Network has hundreds of described movies, you must be a member to have access. Blind Mice Mart Megamall movie vault is a free repository of described movies for those interested.
In response to Contributor Valerie Moreno – There’s Something About Braille, Duane wrote:

I grew up in New York in the 1950’s and 60’s, where, at the NY Institute for the Education of the Blind, we received all materials in Braille. We were encouraged to use slates and styluses for writing; and we had one of the best Braille libraries in the entire country. Throughout my career as a parish pastor, I wrote and read sermons, took notes and wrote down phone numbers, created lists and did a host of other things using Braille. I can’t imagine life without it.

Braille has been especially useful for spelling words because I can visualize how words appear in Braille. I rarely use any spell-checking applications that are part of all word processing programs. It saddens me to hear that many of today’s young blind students are being deprived of the literacy Braille offers, mostly because local school systems are persuaded that cutting back on Braille usage will save dollars.

Learning to read and write gives us who are blind the opportunity to be on the same page with sighted colleagues in the workplace.
In response to Contributor Valerie Moreno – There’s Something About Braille, Regina wrote:

I would like to conquer with Valerie Moreno and Larry P. Johnson, who talked about Braille and its importance. I became blind at the age of one, where nobody can’t remember a thing. At the age of seven, I was taken to a Mission Catholic school for the blind headed by the Catholic Nuns from Holland, who did a very commendable job of teaching me Braille. I have grown with Braille and it has become part of me as well as a friend indeed. With Braille, I’m able to do anything a sighted person can do, like reading, writing, taking down notes in any meeting independently, and another big advantage with Braille is that I can read and write under my blanket without electricity. Each time I’m given a Bible Text to read to the Congregation in my Church, people remain astonished and this makes me feel very proud of myself; I even still use Braille Watches as they make me feel that equality with sighted people who use their sight when telling the time on their watches.

Let’s assume Louis Braille did not invent Braille, how could blind people have learned to be literate? It’s therefore in these lines that I totally agree with my two Ziegler reader friends, Valerie and Larry who have brought up this Braille issue with high recommendations towards it. It’s very true that listening is not learning, and that we should continue to value Braille as our illiteracy liberator. Of course, the new technology is very welcome, too, but should not make us blind people ignore Braille completely; instead, this advanced technology should explore more avenues to more advanced Braille, only then shall the soul of our beloved Louis Braille rest in peace.

To sum it up, Braille has made me to be who I am today, and without it I would have been completely doomed. Long live Braille: our Fingertalk.
In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Online Training, Cheryl wrote:

I have found webinars particularly difficult as a newspaper reporter. The reason is that the presenters are constantly showing charts and graphs. If I want to report on this information, I can’t stop the presentation and have a sighted person explain it to me. I can’t capture the image and print it out and show it to someone. I’m so busy taking notes on what the person is saying that I can’t possibly take notes on the visual aspects at the same time — especially because I have no vision.

I hope there soon will be technological tools to capture such images.
In response to Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Going to the Gym, Anne wrote:

I go to a group called Third Eye Insight. It’s physical fitness for the blind and visually impaired. Their website is:
In response to Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Going to the Gym, Dave wrote:

Gym membership has been discussed recently. As a long term member of a local facility, I must admit that the accessability of the equipment has diminished over the years as touch screens have been added to most of the stations. Now I was away from the facility for a year and a half as I had a stroke in 2011. Now, I am being shadowed every time I go out there, as they are afraid of me hurting myself. Admittedly, my formerly favorite place, the free weight area, is at least for now out of bounds for me, by choice as balance is not what it once was. Generally though, the atmosphere for me seems less welcoming after the stroke. I hope I can change this.

Contributor Traci Shirk – Bravery in the Face of Blindness

Matthias Vescelus is a brave 4-year-old that isn’t letting blindness hold him back. At just 3 months old, Matthias was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare cancerous tumor in his eyes. He spent the majority of his first year fighting for his life and endured six months of chemotherapy, monthly laser and cryo-therapies, and exams under anesthesia. Near the end of treatment, his main tumors started growing again and there were too many seed tumors to count. Before Matthias’ first birthday, despite his doctor’s best efforts, his parents made the hard decision to have both of his eyes enucleated to completely remove his cancer.

“Watching Matthias battle cancer as an infant was the most difficult thing our family has ever faced,” says Katie Vescelus, Matthias’ mother. “We felt hurt that he was permanently losing his sight and relieved that he would finally be cancer free. It was an intense mixture of emotions.”

When people meet Matthias, they see a cute little boy that is full of life. A three-year cancer survivor, Matthias is learning to swim, ride a tricycle, run, jump, climb, and play piano. He hasn’t let blindness keep him from attending preschool with sighted peers and playing with his older brother, Magnus, and neighborhood friends. But unlike his peers, Matthias still visits an oncologist every six months due to a genetic mutation that makes him predisposed to developing other cancers.

Life beyond cancer has posed some challenges for Matthias, but with each comes greater triumph. Matthias’ parents are both sighted and are the first to share that they teach him all they learn and are committed to creating opportunities for him to get out and experience the world in his own way. Matthias is currently learning to use his cane, mastering Braille, and beginning to use a computer.

“It is difficult to watch him struggle,” shares Craig Vescelus, Matthias’ father. “We try to treat Matthias just like our other sighted son, Magnus. We have learned to back off and allow Matthias to figure out how to do various activities and tasks on his own.”

This year Matthias was chosen as a St. Baldrick’s Foundation 2013 Ambassador. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money to fund the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives. The five Ambassadors are selected to give a face, name, and voice to kids with cancer. Matthias is most excited to help shave his mother’s head this year at one of the annual St. Baldrick’s signature head-shaving, fundraising events.

Matthias is also eager to participate in his first Jr. Spartan Race in April, which Magnus participated in last year with their dad. The race is a thrill-filled half-mile challenge over a variety of scaled down obstacles. Matthias says, “I can’t wait for my race and to play in the mud!”

(Article contributed by Vescelus Family and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.)