Archive for February, 2013

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – Timeless Tools

I received the gift of a board slate from my parents on Christmas in 1958. I was having difficulty learning to use a slate and stylus and thought it would just be easier to use the Perkins Brailler. Throughout the next three years, though, I would begin to realize its timeless utility.

It certainly helped that at home, my mom insisted I keep practicing, as she, too, was learning Braille so she could write me letters at camp. When I was in school, teachers gave us mandatory weekend homework assignments writing compositions on our slates and styluses. All this practice at school and home paid off, and the board slate acted as a desk when writing. It became second nature.

In junior high and high school, I really appreciated a slate and stylus’s portability, functionality, and versatility. We took diligent notes on household hints in housekeeping class, and later copying recipes and kitchen hints in home economics. All spelling tests were taken on slates, as were notes in our high school history courses. Our history teacher insisted this was valuable training in preparation for college.

Throughout my adult years I have used this low tech device for taking notes in college, at seminars, at meetings, and in adult education classes. It has acted as my version of a pen and paper. In my everyday life I use them to rapidly copy phone numbers, street addresses, passwords, and email addresses with ease.

With today’s plethora of technological choices, this portable low-tech device has been deemphasized, though. This is sad, as slates and styluses are not only light and portable but can fit in a backpack, purse, or duffle bag. Note takers can be bulky, and if the batteries give out or it crashes, the person has no additional option, unless they brought a slate and stylus as a back-up.

I really feel that now, more than ever, with tightening state and federal budgets, a slate and stylus notebook or Braille paper are both inexpensive options and may become popular tools for learning Braille again. The grant money needed to purchase new supplies pales in comparison to the cost of buying new note takers.

When looking for information on where to buy slates and styluses I was amazed at the variety of styles still available. Independent Marketplace in Baltimore sells a plastic one line slate for writing dymo tape labels, a six-line pocket slate, handy for labeling business cards, and even a 25-line full page interpoint slate, among other choices. Go to for more information. I was impressed by this site’s attention to accessibility and its ease of use.

Perkins products also have unique slates–one for labeling cassettes and another for brailing playing cards. They also have a notebook with a hinged slate and durable three hole punched paper. For more information, go to

In this fast paced-digital world, these low tech devices still have a distinct advantage. First, they are very affordable. Also while Braille note takers are convenient, they can break down or crash and the user might lose valuable data. This seldom happens with slates and styluses if you stay organized. They are also quiet and unobtrusive, and you can be absorbed in a lecture, writing notes along with fellow students. You can later quickly refer to them while studying for a test or exam.

I encourage everyone with low vision to learn Braille if they can. A slate and stylus is a convenient and easy way to get started and with practice is speedy and easy. Not to mention, they’re something that you’ll never forget how to use.

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Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Low Vision Awareness Month

Anyone who was fully sighted and experienced a significant vision loss undoubtedly had many questions and concerns. Some of those questions and feelings might have been, “What do you mean I have low vision? Does that mean I’m going blind? Will I get any of my vision back?”

The primary goals of Low Vision Awareness Month are to help people understand exactly what low vision is, what its most frequent causes are, and how it can be treated. Since February is Low Vision Awareness Month–with some referring to it as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and Low Vision Awareness Month–Lee Huffman, Editor of Access World, an AFB publication, devoted his page in the February 2013 issue to low vision (, Vol. 14, No. 2).

Huffman begins by defining low vision as, “partial sight which cannot be corrected by contact lenses, glasses, medication, or surgery.” Editor Huffman goes on to list the most common causes of vision loss being: age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.” Just as individuals can be born blind, so, too, can people be born with low vision. Conditions that can cause congenital low vision are albinism and optic nerve damage.

If you notice even the slightest change in vision, optometrists and ophthalmologists recommend getting a low vision exam–an evaluation that is quite different from the routine annual exam performed by primary care optometrists and ophthalmologists. When a doctor performs a low vision examination, he or she assesses medical and vision histories including diseases and any systemic changes. Though this evaluation takes much longer than a routine examination, the information physicians obtain can be invaluable. With this information, professionals can make appropriate referrals, recommend access technologies, and enable educators, employers, and vocational rehabilitation counselors to be more knowledgeable about a person’s visual abilities and limitations. Just as important–and maybe even more so–the person experiencing a vision loss can learn alternative ways of performing tasks which may have become difficult and learn about computer software, electronic devices, and magnifiers.

Despite movements toward inclusion which have resulted from civil rights and rehabilitation legislation, there remains a need for awareness. To make that point, statistics on indicate that only 16 percent of Americans 18 and older are aware of low vision. Additionally, 44 percent of those surveyed as part of an “eyeq (R)” survey reported that vision was the sense they most feared losing. Many respondents also stated that they feared vision loss even more than memory impairment, hearing loss, or the development of a physical disability.

Though I failed to find in my research any reference to when February was first designated Low Vision Awareness Month, there seems to be little doubt about the need to focus outreach initiatives on raising awareness.

As someone who has limited light and shadow perception in one eye, I used to think that persons with partial sight were “so lucky” that they at least have some usable vision. I have since come to realize that partial sight comes with its own unique set of problems, like people not always realizing that you have low vision, and sometimes even accusing you of “faking it.” Tell us in Reader’s Forum about your experiences as persons with low vision, not only with the sighted public, but also with persons who are totally blind.

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Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Building Community and Awareness at the Blind Cafe

There are many ways that we, as a community, can educate people on what it means to be blind or visually impaired. Most of us do this on a daily basis by answering questions from passersby or simply by demonstrating our independence when we’re out in the community. These interactions help increase awareness, but it is only through experience that people really understand. It was this philosophy that led Rosh Rocheleau to create the Blind Cafe.

In 2007, Rosh was touring Iceland when he stumbled on a blind cafe. The attendant out front explained to him that this was a cafe where all the waiters were blind. After purchasing his coffee, he was handed a white cane and sent inside. This was his first experience of eating in the dark, and it is what inspired him to create a similar experience here in the states.

When he returned home to Colorado, he reached out to the blind community. This led him to Gerry Leary, owner of the Unseen Bean Coffee Shop. The two of them decided to put on their first blind cafe in 2010, and after receiving a great deal of positive feedback, they put on their second show shortly thereafter. Since then they have put on shows in cities across the country including: Portland, Seattle, Austin, Santa Cruz, and Burlington.

The events include a meal of locally grown foods, a Q and A session with the waiters, and music from Rosh. Gerry Leary also shares his own personal story. The whole event takes place in complete darkness, simulating what it’s like for someone with no vision.

To learn more about the Blind Cafe and how you can get involved visit their website:

Feature Writer John Christie – How Does the New Stream Stand Up to the PlexTalk?

Humanware has recently released a new generation Victor Reader Stream which offers users the same trusted reliability along with some fantastic new features. At the same time though, the PlexTalk player from Freedom Scientific is still great option. Stay tuned to see what each can bring to the table.

To start, the new generation Victor Reader Stream is smaller than its predecessor, weighing in at only four ounces. Overall, it is 28 percent smaller than the original Stream and features a sleek design with rounded corners that make it easier to hold. It has some of the same features as the original Stream, plus some added bonuses. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the addition of built-in wireless networking capability. Users can now download books and other periodicals to the Stream without connecting it to a computer–a huge feature for those always on the go. In addition, it has a louder speaker and improved speech capability. Its feature to record has also improved. The bookshelf remains the same, as well as the keypad layout. It still supports a 32GB removable SD card. The rechargeable battery in the Stream is good for roughly 15 hours of continuous use, depending on the functions being performed.

Two other great features of the improved Stream include improved built-in text-to-speech utilizing Acapela. Perhaps the most exciting, though, is the ability to integrate with iTunes, enabling the user to download books and music directly from the entertainment giant.

Overall, with the enhancements to feel and function, as well as software improvements and the inclusion of iTunes integration, the new Stream has set the bar very high for its competitors. Let’s see if one of them is up to the task.

The Plextalk Pocket Player from Freedom Scientific has been around since 2011, but is still a worthy opponent of the Stream. It can also perform a wide variety of functions and is filled with features. Also known as the Plextalk Pocket PTP1, it has a regular recording feature as well as recording voice memos. This Voice Memo feature is great because you can record reminders or appointments. Users can add headings to recordings as well, which allows them to separate important parts of, say, a lecture, and navigate by heading to the part of the lecture they want to listen to later. This 4 ounce player can also play a wide variety of files types, including Daisy, MP3, WMA, unprotected, and many more. It is also equipped with wireless networking capabilities, so users can listen to wireless web radio and also listen to, and create, podcasts. As with the Stream, the PlexTalk is powered by a rechargeable lithium polymer battery, but is only good for 10 hours of battery life through either playing or recording.

All of the above functions can be accomplished by using the transfer software, which can be downloaded from It allows users to share files between the PlexTalk Player and their computer.

The new generation Victor Reader Stream costs $369 and can be purchased from Humanware by going to their website at You can also contact them by phone at 1 800 722-3393.

The Plextalk Player is still currently selling for an introductory price of $275 through March 1st. After that, the price goes up to $349. For more information about the player, you can call Freedom Scientific at 1-800-444-4443 or go to their website to purchase the player at

Both of these players are great products. They offer wireless connectivity and are compatible with a slew of file types to ensure that you can access anything you’d want. Before putting down your hard-earned money, try to get your hands on both of them and give them a test drive to find out which one works best for you.

For those of you who own either of these players, please share your impressions of them in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – FDA Approves Bionic Eye

A new device that takes the place of damaged cells inside the eye has just been released that promises to help RP patients regain useable vision with a new retinal implant.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System as the first treatment for the inherited disorder RP (retinitis pigmentosa) that causes the breakdown of cells in the retina. The device was developed by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., located In Selmer, CA. It was released in Europe in 2011, and now has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) here in the United States. Initially, the implant and camera mounted on a pair of glasses will only be available to a limited and carefully selected number of individuals, but Second Sight hopes to increase its availability in time.

The system is quite ingenious. It includes a small video camera and transmitter mounted on a pair of glasses. Images from the camera are processed into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to electrodes implanted into the patient’s retina, resulting in visual feedback.

Results from a study of 30 patients with the condition showed that most were able to perform daily activities better with the implant than without it. Activities included navigating sidewalks and curbs, matching different color socks, and recognizing large words or sentences.

Why hasn’t developing this kind of technology come to us sooner? One expert says scientists have said that designing a bionic eye has been much more difficult than developing aids like cochlear implants for hearing, in part because visual information is two-dimensional, and because of the anatomy of the eye.

From what I’ve read, the implant only enables black and white or high contrast resolution, and they hope to continue to develop implants to repair color vision and even the deteriorating effects of macular degeneration. Who knows, this may even get other developers to compete and provide more choices for those who want to use the device.


Letter from the Editor – Week of February 25, 2013

Hello everyone,

I hope you all had a nice weekend. I’d like to start by acknowledging that Karen Crowder’s article in this week’s magazine will be her 100th offering to the Ziegler. Karen has been a great member of our group for a long time and always comes up with interesting articles, recipes, and tools for daily living. Please join me in thanking Karen for the work that she’s done up to this point.

Other than that, it’s business as usual here at the magazine. We’ve got a great line-up of articles for you this week and I hope that you enjoy them and offer your feedback in the Reader’s Forum.

Take care, have a great week, and as always, thanks for reading.

Ross Hammond, Editor

Recipe of the Week – Baked Beef Burritos

Submitted by Volly Nelson


1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of water
1 package powdered taco mix
1 can refried beans
8 large flour 10” soft taco shells
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
Shredded lettuce
1 large jar of salsa
1 can tomato soup
16 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese


1. Fry hamburger completely and add taco mix and water, mix together well. Add refried beans and simmer until burger mixture cooked through.

2. In 9 X 13 pan, lay out taco shells one at a time and put about 1/8 of the burger mixture in the middle. Add about 2 tablespoons of the tomatoes and a small amount of the lettuce.

3. Tuck each end of the shell toward the inside, then roll the shell in a tube shape with ends folded to the underside. Complete with remainder of shells.

4. Mix the salsa with the tomato soup, and pour evenly over all shells, including ends of rolls.

5. Top shells and salsa mixture with the shredded cheese, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Plain diced tomatoes can be used to take the spice level down. Also, the taco mix can be eliminated. The salsa can be a very mild one, although something is needed, but another can of plain diced tomatoes could be used to eliminate all spices. Try adding minced cilantro for a wonderful mild taste.

Reader’s Forum – Week of February 19, 2013

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

In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Wrongly Accused, Patti wrote:

I have had guide dogs for 28 years and have seen changes in training I can’t agree with. To my way of thinking we’re too eager to soft soap and coddle, and the dog doesn’t understand like in the older days, that there are consequences of wrong behavior. This to me means they don’t have the respect they used to for what they do. This of course is just my take on it, and I know everybody is different.

I had a lady follow me all the way to the vets office one day and halfway back because she thought my dog “frightened” because I corrected her for scavenging.

She did research till she found a school that used the breed of dog I had and called on me. My school knew well enough that I was a good handler and therefore weren’t concerned about her call, especially when she gave them the line about how she’d seen guide dogs on TV and knew how they were trained. Sure, lady.

However, I think back to my first dog and how one of the instructors pulled me aside one day to show me how to give an effective leash correction. I didn’t understand it then but I do now. I have had very stubborn dogs in my time and I will correct with no apologies if they get defiant and belligerent with me; but I am grateful to have a dog that normally only needs a voice correction.

The muscle in the dog’s neck is a strong one, and a leash correction, done properly, will not hurt the dog and the general public just refuses to understand that. Just as they think paddling a misbehaving child is wrong, I believe that has its place too; but that’s another subject.

I had a friend who, when confronted by someone questioning why she corrected her dog, said, “Until you are on the other end of this leash and harness, you really can’t tell me how to handle my dog.” I thought she stated it well.

I am what you may term as “old school,” and as I say, wont’ hesitate to give a good correction when warranted, but my dog is also very much loved and cherished, and she knows it.
In response to Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Wrongly Accused, Shelley wrote:

I can completely identify with this problem. We, I believe, as guide dog users, need to be cognizant of the general public’s feelings about correction. At the same time, I feel that it is important to be careful not to over react to the situation at hand.

I do believe in leash corrections, but only after a verbal correction has not been effective. I am equally concerned that many guide dog schools now have for the most part done away with leash corrections altogether. In my view, verbal corrections are again usually quite effective, depending on each individual dog and its temperament, but sometimes a leash correction is necessary. I have heard through the guide dog grapevine, so to speak, that some of the schools are leaning toward no leash corrections and no more slip collars, called choke chains by some. In the other extreme, the constant rewarding with treats for every little thing is equally as frustrating to me.

Yes, we need to take the concerns of the general public into consideration, but the bottom line is that the dog is trained to keep us safe, not to put on a dog show. Besides this I want my great little guide to work for and take care of me because she loves me, not because she is getting a yummy treat.
In response to Feature Writer Karen Crowder – 1978 All Over Again, Jan wrote:

I also live in Massachusetts and remember the blizzard of 78 very well. It seems like yesterday.

I still love the changing seasons and would not want to live in a warmer climate year-round. I can’t handle extreme heat. Karen was correct. The weather forecasts are much more accurate than they were back then. I don’t agree with our governor in most of his decisions, but he was right on when he declared a state of emergency before the storm hit. Making sure there were few vehicles on the road saved a lot of headaches that occurred 35 years ago.

I don’t think people realize that there are choices out there and that it is not necessary to have your land line connected to your TV cable. I don’t have cable, but if I did, I would refuse to have things set up that way, even though it could be cheaper to do so. You have less of a chance of losing phone service if you do not use a phone service that uses a backup battery or voice over internet protocol.
In response to comments submitted about the wireless keyboard that Lynne Tatum uses, she responded with:

I happened to see in the Reader’s Forum that someone wanted the name of the wireless keyboard.
It’s the ARC Wireless keyboard, by Microsoft.


Contributor Valerie Moreno – Flowers for My Wife

It was Valentine’s Day, 1980. Arnie was excited about buying a gift for me on our first February 14th together as husband and wife.

Making his way down the busy avenue after work, he was bewildered by the silence upon entering the flower shop. His white cane hardly made a sound on the thick carpeting. Where were all the customers? He smelled flowers, so he knew he was in the right place.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Yes,” Arnie answered the deep-toned gentleman standing before him. “I’d like to buy some flowers for my wife.”

“Oh, certainly. Do you know what kind of flowers you’d like?”

The discussion was brief. Arnie felt pleased and smiled as the man asked, “Where is your wife now?”

“At home,” Arnie answered brightly.

There was a ten-second silence. “Excuse me, sir,” the deep voice was hesitant and wary. “Where did you say she is?”

“Uh…at our apartment.”

“Your apartment?”

Now Arnie was hesitating. “Yes, she’s been there all day,” he said.

Another silence. What was going on here, Arnie wondered. Slowly he explained. “I want a bouquet of flowers to take home to my wife for Valentine’s Day.”

“Now I understand.” The voice sounded relieved. It’s about time, Arnie thought.

“Sir, I think I should tell you that this is not the florist. This is a funeral home.”

“Oh, no!” Arnie felt the color rise in his cheeks as a gentle hand grasped his shoulder, turning him toward the door.

“The flower shop is two doors down to your right.”

They were both laughing as Arnie headed right.

The roses were lovely, but the story behind that bouquet brought twice as many smiles, all these years later. Love and laughter last forever.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Slow Down, the Blind Need to Catch Up!

I have become a very active Facebook user. Thanks to a thoughtful lady in the Midwest who taught me over the telephone, I know how to find all recent Facebook postings, access group pages, look up other profiles which are publically available, send private messages, and post and share status updates. I currently navigate through Facebook using Mozilla Firefox 18.2, Jaws 8, and Windows XP.

Two days ago, the Facebook administrators decided to change the process, making it extremely difficult for me to update and share and post my status reports with my current software. I was told to upgrade Jaws. However, in my case, the upgrade of Jaws comes with a tremendous penalty–I would have to get a new computer which will not have Windows XP and Outlook Express, because those two programs will no longer be supported. If I lose Outlook Express and Windows XP, it is believed any replacements, such as GMail or Windows 7 won’t be as accessible. So, I find that I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

It is believed by many blind people, and those in the field of technical support, that the software manufacturers who continue to update their product at a fast pace have little or no regard for how their products benefit the blind. The blind try like heck to prove they can compete on equal terms with the sighted, yet now there is a new obstacle in their path–the rapid changing of high technology. I think I speak for most blind computer users when I express total satisfaction with Outlook Express and Windows XP, because they serve my purpose and I know them well. Currently, I run two nonprofit corporations, and a total software upgrade or replacement may potentially result in temporary disaster. Facebook is only the tip of the iceberg for me.

With all that said, I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about this subject. I only have knowledge based on my own personal experience and from what others tell me. Therefore, I am open to any suggestions as to how I can resolve my issues, as well as what we can do to work more closely with software manufacturers to make sure that the blind don’t fall behind with these rapid product modifications.