Some In-Person Courses Resume At Wisconsin Center For The Blind And Visually Impaired

It has been quite some time since I was in school, but I can only imagine how difficult it has been for blind and visually impaired students to suffer through the changes required to stay safe from the pandemic. For most visually impaired students, learning in-person is difficult enough, let alone having to do it on a video screen in a tiny little window. In a sure sign that things are starting to get back to normal, In-person courses are starting back up at the Wisconsin Venter for the blind and visually impaired. 

The ability to begin safely offering in-person instruction is a positive step towards our goal of offering on-site instruction to all of our students during the 2021-2022 school year,” Dan Wenzel, the center’s director, said.

Many people who are visually impaired also have secondary health concerns as well. Seeing these courses resume after the COVID-19 pandemic means that other areas of our lives will be returning to normal. I believe the Wisconsin Center for the blind and visually impaired will be taking all the necessary precautions in their preparation to keep these students safe. 

Here is a link to the entire article

https://www.wpr.org/some-person-courses-resume-wisconsin-center-blind-and-visually-impaired

Thanks for reading, I love to connect with my readers, please feel free to drop me a message!

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

Follow me and I will happily follow you back.


Why do guide dogs stop at every corner?

A guide dog and their handler are considered a team, they go everywhere together, and the dog is responsible for not only keeping their handler safe from obstacles, but also providing subtle cues for the location of the team along their route. The other day, I crossed a street and a car pulled up ahead of my guide Fauna and a gentleman stepped out of his car and politely asked if he could ask me a question. He explained that he always sees guide dog teams stopping at corners of both sides of the street and wanted to ask me some questions. I’m always willing to educate about the role of the guide dog when traveling, so I answered his questions which prompted this article to hopefully educate others.

The Route

Guide dogs love to traverse their routes, whether it is to go to the store, to the park or just to Starbucks for a coffee. I can tell my guide which route we are headed on and she is happy to lead on and get me there safe. This is not to say the guides aren’t totally comfortable wandering the mall or going shopping, They are super happy to go when they know there is a clear destination involved.

Keeping us safe

As we travel our route, there are obstacles we encounter, like trash cans, low tree branches other dogs, and of course street corners. The guides are well trained and know how to handle each obstacle.  Sometimes, like in the case of a tree branch or a garbage can, the guide will deftly steer the handler around each object in the path. In the case of street corners, they stop and curl their bodies in front of the handler. The guide is trained to stop at each corner, the down curb (where you enter the street) and the up curb (where you exit the street.). You might think that stopping at the down curb when entering the street makes sense but not on the other side. Where they stop, you are often left with a little bit of your backside in the edge of the street. If the guide didn’t stop at the up curb though the handler would not know when you were exiting the street, and often there is a curb to step up onto when reacquiring the sidewalk. If you are expecting the team to step right up off the street, it can be a bit confusing when you see the dog stop at both curbs. Crossing a street is stressful, and I personally love the fact that my guide Fauna lets me know when I am safe and out of the street. 

Target acquired

When a visually impaired person is traveling from point A to B, whether they are using a guide dog or a white cane, they are traveling my landmark. Along the path, the visually impaired traveler knows where the planters, benches, fences etc. are all located. Each time you reach a known landmark, it reaffirms your location. Curbs are a big landmark because when you reach a curb you know you are in the right spot and headed in the right direction, and know where you need to go next. Curbs are the “big deal” and are important landmarks for blind travel. This is why the guides make what seems to be a big deal about stopping at curbs.

Did you learn anything? Did you find this article useful? Please feel free to share on your social media to spread the word. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a message on my social media links below. 

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

Follow me and I will happily follow you back.


Why is adaptive technology so expensive?

If you are visually impaired or know someone who is, then undoubtable you have experienced the shock and horror or how expensive adaptive technology can be. I remember looking at JAWS right after my car accident (that caused me to lose my sight) and thinking that $1200 for a one seat license was just astronomical. Especially when you consider that blind and visually impaired people are among the highest in terms of unemployment. With that in mind, why are technologies that make life easier for the blind and visually impaired so expensive?

Supply and Demand

A CCTV costs upwards of $3000, and at its most basic function allows visually impaired users to place anything (mail, book, recipe etc.) under the camera and enlarge it onto a screen allowing the user to read and work easier. The reasoning behind the high cost for these devices resides in the fact that manufacturers who make technologies or software for the blind and visually impaired communities are creating products for a small niche of society. A CCTV is an amazing thing for me, but a normal member of society without a visual impairment has no use for it, so the pool of potential customers looking to purchase these products is small. A general use product like a cellphone can have the costs for development, marketing and manufacturing amortized across millions or tens of millions of units. The manufacturers of CCTVs and assistive software don’t have that luxury, so they have to increase their prices due to smaller demand. When you purchase any product part of the cost is research and development that is needed for the future versions of the product. The higher cost of adaptive technology often causes visually impaired people to search for alternative technologies.

Alternatives

You might be thinking that your cellphone will enlarge stuff and it doesn’t cost $3000. You are correct, there are apps available for every cell phone which allow the user to magnify something, and because of the price of CCTVs, many visually impaired people (myself included) struggle through with lesser options like this which runs battery life down dramatically. I personally can’t afford the JAWS, screen reader for my computer, so I use a cheaper screen reader made by NextUp technologies called TextAloud.  The sad thing about alternative software options is that they are usually not updated as often or the company finds out that creating software for the visually impaired is not as lucrative as they thought. You might be wondering about some other options that could help you get the software and assistive hardware that you need, here are some great resources. 

Other options

State services

If you live in the United States, every state has either a Department of the blind, or a department offering vocational education and training services. A simple google search can get you on the path, and these state run services can often help pay for the adaptive technology or get it for you outright. Be aware that there is often a waiting list for these services, and if you mention that you need the technology for work or education, you can likely be pushed closer to the top of the list.

Grants

Grants are a great way to get the technology you need, but a web search will reveal that there are a ton of companies looking to help you get the funding you need for technology, but who can you trust? Some offer high to medium interest loans and other programs, my suggestion is to check out the American Council of the Blind resource page to get you started. They work with verified sources. While you are at it, sign up to be a member of the ACB, they are great people and can also help you get on the right track to getting the adaptive technology you need. They are also a great resource for community participation and offer a lot of great programs for those who are blind and visually impaired. 

Second Hand

Often as a loved one has aged, they will acquire adaptive technology, when they no longer need the equipment, loved ones will often sell these items on eBay for a reasonable price. A good friend of mine got a CCTV that was a couple years old for $300 – not bad. You often have to spend a lot of time searching, and keeping an eye on auctions which can be frustrating. 

Conclusion

If you are struggling with the high price of assistive technologies, keep hope, there are places that can help you to get what you need. Sometimes you just have to jump through more hoops than you want to. Companies that make CCTVs and other technologies often have programs or grants to help their users get the tools they need, it doesn’t hurt to send off a nicely worded email to their marketing department and inquire.

If all else fails and you are still hitting a roadblock when it comes to finding funds for assistive technology that you need, consider trying a GoFundMe. Be aware that this solution comes with a tax liability and you will be responsible for taxes on any money raised. Realize also that GoFundMe takes a percentage of the total raised for their fee, so many sure to set the amount you want to raise appropriately. I always recommend that you consider donating something to an organization that helps the visually impaired if you are going to go the GoFundMe route. I personally use Guide Dogs for the Blind as my go-to donation source.

What do you think? Did you find any of this information useful? I’d love to hear form you feel free to contact me via social media or the contact for here.

Get out and Travel!

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

Follow me and I will happily follow you back.

 

Article Resources

American Council of the Blind Resources page: https://www.acb.org/content/funding-assistive-technology-resources

  American Council of the Blind Home: https://www.acb.org/

NextUp Technologies (TextAloud Reader): https://nextup.com/

 


I got the UK variant of Covid-19

On St. Patrick’s Day, my wife went to the local pub and brought back a couple orders of to-go Corned Beef and Cabbage. A few days later she got a notification on her phone that she had recently been in a location with a known COVID case. A couple days after that she came down with what we would find out is the UK variant of COVID. The county health department called her a couple times and advised her to quarantine from the rest of the people in the house, as she was starting to have symptoms. We found out that the variant she was exposed to has a 92% chance of infecting everyone in the household and that is exactly what happened. 

Many have asked me why I didn’t blog the progression of the virus while I had it. The truth is that I could not even sit at my desk to turn on my computer. The brain fog that everyone who has had this virus talks about is a very real thing,. If I had been blogging, the entries would have been nothing more than “Today I feel like I want to to die.” over and over. In all, my symptoms lasted a little over three weeks and I did genuinely feel like I wanted to die. 

Symptoms

I’m almost completely blind, and I normally have heightened sensation to loud noises, and bright lights. The one thing that really stand out for me is that the normally loud noises were deafening. I haven’t heard about this form many who have had the virus, and my wife and son who also got the bug did not have this symptom.  The simple act of closing the microwave or closing a door was uncomfortably loud. The good news is that as I recovered and the symptoms started to fade, this was one of the first to go. 

Many who have had the bug talk about the fatigue that comes especially in the evenings. This was weird. About four every afternoon the “COVID Demons” arrived and they brought with them chills or sweats and fatigue so bad that walking up the stairs to our bedroom required a nap. Often walking up the stairs required a break or sit down halfway up. I usually walk 2 to 3 miles a day, so this level of fatigue was very unusual for me. 

I had zero appetite during the virus. I ended up eating almost nothing for seven days straight and lost a total of 21 pounds during the virus. My days were spent moving from one place to sit or lay to another. There was little time when I wasn’t overheated or freezing cold. I never got a fever over 100 the whole time. My oxygenation (a nurse friend got us a pule oxygen monitor thing you put on your finger.) and a few times my oxygen level dropped to 85. 

Overall this bug was the most miserable sickness I have ever had hands down. 

Guide Dog

My guide dog Fauna loves to hang out and sleep when we aren’t working. Because we were on county mandated quarantine at our home, she did get bored at times, but overall she weathered the virus well. 

Recovery

As soon as our quarantine was over and we were technically allowed to leave the house I took time to sit and lay and be miserable. It wasn’t until the following week that I started to feel well enough to go out and take a few short walks. We ventured to the grocery store and got a few things, but the trip took so mouch out of my wife and I that we nearly spent an hour sleeping in the car before heading back home. 

I was not able to walk my normal three miles distance for quite a while. It felt like I was not getting enough oxygen and I was extremely tired after even short walks. This was tough for my guide dog, because it was getting to be beautiful days outside and she was wanting to walk our route and see the sights. 

Vaccine

I have been told by my doctor that I must wait at least 8 weeks before getting the vaccine. UC Denver Health is suggesting 12 weeks after first symptoms. I will get the vaccine as soon as I am able to safely get it because I do not want to go through that virus again. 

Getting back to normal

I am now back to what I consider a normal schedule, and I am able to walk my normal distance without having to stop and rest. I had a few lingering symptoms, including hot and cold flashes in the evenings. Now that things are getting back to normal for me, I will be writing more blog entries here. I appreciate all of the readers who sent me messages while I was under the weather your postivie words mean a lot. 


Facebook improving AI to detect contents of images

Facebook has increased the usefulness/capabilities of their AI which powers the detection of image contents, improving the experience for blind and visually impaired users. I use this feature often and have seen a marked improvement in the quality of the way Facebook detects people, objects, and locations in posted photos. 

A welcome addition

The feature has been on the Facebook platform since 2016, but this update makes it a more viable feature for blind and visually impaired users. The system works much like the iPhone, telling the user the number of people in the photo, text the feature adds functionality above the iPhone including the ability to tell the user where the photo was likely taken. 

Inclusion

I love to see companies taking development time to improve features like this. So often accessibility features get implemented, then forgotten. We are moving at a good pace toward the removal of reliance on sighted interpreters for social media. I love memes and it will be great when this technology takes a couple more steps so it can provide context and effectively read even the blurriest text. 

Good Job Facebook, keep up the good wor

If you would like to read more about this feature, ZDNET has a great article explaining all the capabilities of the new AI photo interpreter. Here is a link to their article:

https://www.zdnet.com/article/facebook-enhances-ai-used-to-describe-photos-for-visually-impaired-users/


Accessibility of gift cards court cases

I have to say that I am pretty happy with the direction of society in terms of money (other than that, things are pretty bonkers). I don’t miss the days of having to carry and keep track of a wallet full of bills. For the most part, I use my ATM for purchases and know the locations of all the buttons on most manufacturer’s debit card machines.  It is great to be able to make a purchase then check my bank app right away to ensure that the proper amount was charged. One area that is still very difficult to navigate however is the purchase of and use of gift cards. 

Wall of confusion

 Most grocery stores have a large wall dedicated to purchasable gift cards from a variety of industries. The problem resides in the fact that most of the gift cards appear the same to someone who is visually impaired, or have no discernable markings for those who are totally blind. Without asking for help, there is no way for someone who cannot read the text to pick out the correct gift card. To make matters worse, many of the gift cards have different denominations but all look similar. As an example, you can buy a Visa gift card for anywhere from 15 to 100 dollars in separate increments, or buy one which has a variable amount of up to 500 dollars – and all of these cards look relatively the same. It would be very easy for someone with limited vision to buy a 100 dollar card instead of a 50 dollar card. The person checking you out does not generally confirm the purchased amount with you and therefore you end up with a card that has double the intended amount. If this example seems very specific, try and guess who this actually happened to. 

Tracking balances

The other side of the problem coin arises when you receive a gift card. The cards always need to be activated and this is often done by reading eye-inducingly small text on the back of the card packaging that is difficult to read even for those who are fully sighted.  The websites that the recipient needs to navigate to create an account and track their balance with are often antiquated and lacking in the accessibility department. 

Seeking change

Several lawsuits were filed in 2019 by a handful of clients seeking change to the accessibility of gift card sales. These suits were not focused on grocery stores but encompassed a large variety of retailers like Kohls who sell gift cards. In May 2020, quite a few of these suits were thrown out because of lack of standing and the position that the ADA does not require the sale of specialty items for the visually impaired. Yes, the retailer’s association rejoiced and reveled in their victories because the judges regarded the basic right to know what you were buying as specialty products. This week several more cases are to be heard but the outcome is not also not looking good for these cases because of the snags they have encountered. 

Seeing the other side

Retailers spend a ton of money creating packaging and forcing them to include braille would increase that cost, which would be passed along to the customer. They would need braille writers and a specific round of quality assurance for the braille and the machines that create the packaging would need to be able to produce the braille. That doesn’t make it right, nor does it validate the refusal to include braille on the packaging. This does highlight a larger systematic issue around accessibility for product packaging, I think it is very unlikely that the ADA will be able to convince the retailers association that industry-wide change is necessary for this issue. Don’t get me wrong, being able to clearly identify what I am buying at the grocery store would be a wonderful thing, but expecting every manufacturer large and small to adopt some kind of braille markings just is not going to happen. 

Now what?

If industry-wide change is not an option then finding another route that will allow the visually impaired to read everything is the next best approach. Image recognition technology will be the knight in shining armor for the blind and visually impaired community, but it will take time and the creation of infrastructure. We already have apps like be my eyes which can connect you to a sighted person for help in this sort of situation, but my hope is that an application will be on the horizon that can identify the object put in front of it with acceptable accuracy. 

Conclusion

Change tends to take a long time, and industry-wide change is often daunting and seemingly impossible to pull off. The kind of change that would be required to have all manufacturers large and small include accessible packaging seems impossible, but they did get nutrition facts on products, so how is braille any different? It is because the inclusion of braille falls under the specialty product heading in the government’s eyes – which is sad. The best hope to resolve this issue is going to be technology-based, but there are a ton of issues surrounding a technological answer as well. 

I love to hear from my readers, please connect with me on social media at the links below, or feel free to drop me a message on the contact page here on blindtravels. 

My Photography: https://tahquechi.com/

Instagram and Twitter: @nedskee

 

Article resources:

INDUSTRIES PRAISE RESULTS IN BRAILLE GIFT CARD LITIGATION

https://www.rila.org/focus-areas/legal-affairs-compliance/retail-praise-results-braille-gift-card-litigation

Braille Gift Card Court Argument Focuses on Harm Allegations

https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/braille-gift-card-court-argument-focuses-on-harm-allegations

This article is from Bloomberg News and requires a login to view the whole article. 


2020, what an interesting year.

As 2020 comes to a close, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the year that was. Things started out normal enough for me. I was only a couple of months into the highest-profile photography show to date when things got weird. 

Photography

In January 2020, I opened my Landscapes of the Body photography project as a solo exhibition at the Lighthouse for the Blind Gallery in downtown San Francisco. My wife, Fauna my Guide Dog, and I flew from Denver to San Francisco for the opening of the exhibition, and I had no idea that was the last place I would travel to this year. The Lighthouse graciously decided to extend the showing through the end of 2020, and I could not be happier with the reception of the pieces, and I am thankful to the Lighthouse for their willingness to show work that was not traditional landscapes or other “safe” content in their gallery. I cannot express how happy I am to have been able to share my vision of the human form with so many people this year. 

Something to talk about

Once the pandemic hit and things started to close down, Travel blogging became incredibly difficult. After I had run through the stockpile of saved blog topics, written all of the pending articles, and showed all the backlogged photos here, topics became tough to find. In the early COVID days, I wanted to make sure to keep a positive spin on my posts because I saw many bloggers falling into the “woe is me” vein. Some made updates on the COVID virus their new direction, but my thinking was that you were already getting information about that from every angle and there was no reason for me to muddy the waters. Now, I did write a few articles about social distancing as a visually impaired person, and COVID and guide dogs, but for the most part, I kept out of the virus reporting game.

I did find myself talking a lot more about technology here on Blind Travels, especially technology that relates to travel. I do believe I will keep that up as we move forward since I have enjoyed researching and writing those stories, and based on the feedback you all seem to like them as well.

Public Speaking

In April, I was a guest speaker on Travel Talk for The Hadley School for the Blind, and it was a wonderful experience. It seemed as though people weren’t able to travel, but were rabid to talk about it. As the year progressed, I was the guest speaker for quite a few organizations and strangely enough, the topic was always on train travel, including quite a few radio shows. By the way, I do love to speak about traveling visually impaired and I never charge for my time. Traveling is a passion and if you would like me to talk to your group about train or any other travel, please feel free to drop me a note on my contact form here on Blind Travels. Coming up next year I will be speaking on travel photography and visual impairment. I’ll post the details here as we get closer to those events.

Technology

With the Pandemic, it was tough to be together in person, and I was happy to see that (mostly) accessible technology was able to stand up to the task. Zoom is of course the go-to way of meeting now, even though Google Groups did try to make a go of it. The Zoom platform is generally useful, and I have found it to be user friendly.

Moving forward

In the coming year, I plan to take some time to write articles about travel photography, since this seems to be a topic many are interested in. With the vaccine starting to roll out, we will all be traveling before you know it. Now is a great time to learn a new skill that will benefit you when we can all start heading out on new adventures. Photography is a great skill to learn, and with the new camera advances from Apple, it is an exciting time to be interested in photography and be visually impaired. More on that in the new year…

If you have topics you would like me to cover this coming year, please feel free to drop m a message on the contact form here. I love to hear from my readers and if you take the time to let me know which articles you find interesting it helps me to stay on track and creating content you love.

2020 may have been a terrible year compared to others, but things will get back to normal. I hope you all have a happy and safe new year celebration and I look forward to interacting with you in the year to come.

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

Follow me and I will happily follow you back.


Labels for disabled people

I’m not one of those people with a disability that are in a panic over how the public refer to us. I have empathy for writers, reporters, and public figures that have anxiety when talking about people with disabilities.  There are so many different ways to talk about a person who is disabled, whether you say they are special-needs, differently-abled, handicapped, or physically challenged, they all have one thing in common and that is they are disabled. I know people who are terrified to say the word see in normal conversation with a person who is blind, as in “did you see what happened on the show last night?”

I am blind, I have a disability. I live with it every day and I deal with it every minute of every day. When I go to check out at a store, I don’t say “I’m differently-abled with loss of light perception and therefore cannot read the display”, I say “I’m blind can you read this to me or tell me what I need to press?”. I totally understand that dealing with disabled people in an acceptable way can be confusing, so I invite you to read my education section here on blind travels for some tips for dealing with people who are visually impaired. I have also created articles where those who are fully sighted can ask questions of us who are visually impaired. I hope you find the information useful.

If you found this information useful, feel free to share this article on social media. If you have questions for me, or just want to say hi, feel free to drop me a message on any of my social media links below.

My Photography site: http://www.tahquechi.com/

My travel site: http://www.blindtravels.com/

Twitter and Instagram: @nedskee

Follow me and I will happily follow you back.


Black Friday deal!

I’m legally blind, but I also love photography, especially Travel Photography. Post-processing images can take forever, and using some image processing software can be difficult to see. DxO acquired the Nik Collection a few years ago, and I could not be happier that they are continuing to evolve and innovate it. I started using the Nik Collection years before Google purchased them to include the core functionality into their Snapseed program. I use the color EFX program for all the color images here on Blind Travels and the black and white editor Silver EFX for all my black and white images.  I am a long time Nik Collection user and enthusiastically recommend it to any photographer who asks me how I post-process my images. 

To celebrate Black Friday and Cyber Weekend, DxO is offering 50% off all their software including their amazing RAW processor Photo Lab and the entire Nik Collection. Here is a link to get this great deal. 




 


iOS 14 great new feature for the visually impaired

I’m an iPhone user and have been since the iPhone 5. I have always been happy with their accessibility features and I know the operating system inside and out, so I stay with iPhones because I’m comfortable with them and can easily navigate. Because of the maturity of the platform, innovative features seem exceedingly rare especially in terms of accessibility. Most companies require you to buy the latest greatest hardware to get new features, but not so with the really great back tap feature in iOS 14. In your settings under accessibility > touch you can now activate the back tap feature which allows you to double or triple tap on the back of your phone to activate a feature. You can set up the double and triple tap to activate separate features as well. 

Like most of you that frequent this blog, I use a screen reader. On iOS you slide two fingers down from the top of the screen to activate the screen reader function. Most times when I’m in a hurry, I end up bringing up the notifications or some other function instead of activating the screen reader. With the new back tap feature I set the double tap to activate screen reader and it has made the phone 100% more useable for me and makes the screen reader function orders of magnitude more reliable. You can also set the back tap feature to activate zoom, mute the phone bring up spotlight or a myriad of other options. 

The back tap uses the accelerometer in your phone and works very well on my older iPhone X, my son has a iPhone 8 and it works equally well. The options you can set the feature to are a bit limited as of right now but I’m sure it will expand with time and future releases. 

There isn’t much more to say about this new feature other than I’m interested to hear if you are using it and what you think ab out it. Drop me a message and let me know.

 


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