For your reading convenients below you will find all the Movers and Shakers published in 2016
I recently had the pleasure of Interviewing Guy Hasson. Guy is an author, playwright, and a filmmaker, but that’s not all! He is the CEO and creator of New World Comics. New Worlds Comics is an independent comic book publisher that only publishes digital comics.
In July of this year, Guy created Comics Empower. This is an online comic book shop that makes comics for the blind and visually impaired. You may ask yourself, “Comics for the blind and visually impaired?” Yes, these comics are translated in such an audio format that allows for a smooth and continuous telling of the story.
Guy has been touch and inspired by countless stories from people who have been empowered by comics. This is what led him to create Aurora. This comic book features Daniel, a blind hero. Guy has made a pledge to maintain the following three things throughout this comic book:
*the good guys will always win, even though there will be hard times to go through; that is how empowerment works
*Daniel will never regain his sight; like most people who are blind, they too will not regain their sight
*Daniel will never develop any magical powers to see, he is blind and will have to figure things out as a blind person; and he will find a way
Read below the question and answer exchange we had:
Q: How did you get started with comics?
A: I grew up in a country that had no comic books. The only comic books we had were a black-and-white Tarzan and a black-and-white Tarzan knockoff.
The first day I arrive in the U.S., I got my parents to buy a TV Guide and a Spider-Man comic book. This is back in the eighties, when there were only a handful of TV channels, and comic books were sold in every small store.
Q: What motivated you to make accessible comics for the blind?
A: This’ll surprise you. But there’s actually no personal story here. I’ve been CEO of New Worlds Comics, an indie comic book company, for a year and a half. Suddenly, the thought occurred to me: Why are there no comics for the blind?
Then, in a few minutes, a train of dominoes collapsed in my head, one after the other: Figuring out how to do it, figuring out how to build the website, how to eventually get more and more comic books into the store.
Once I got the idea into my head, I couldn’t let it go. In a month and a half, the Comics Empower store was up. And ever since, due to fans’ response, I realized that, other than family, this is the most important thing I’ve ever done.
Q: How long has Comics Empower been operating?
A: Comics Empower started out really small around July 2015. It launched as a test, with only three audio comics, done in a way that no one had done till that day.
I found a way to translate the comic book experience to words, and from there on top talent voice talents recorded the comic book.
When I launched, I didn’t know if my vision for audio comics would work, how people would respond, would they accept it, would they hate it. That’s why one of the first comic books in those series was Wynter, which is a visually stunning comic book. I wanted to see if it would translate.
People reacted really well to it! So much so that we started expanding. We’re now adding more and more titles on a monthly basis, and older titles keep getting updated with new issues every month.
Q: Are they just for the blind?
A: Audio comics are for everyone: The blind, the visually impaired, and the sighted. But right now, half a year after the launch, I have no sighted customers. It’s a mental block people have. They think comics are purely a visual medium.
It’ll take time for their view to change. But it will. Let’s meet again in five years and see…
Q: I listened to a couple of your comics, what are panels?
A: Interesting you should say that. A lot of the fans reading the comics lost their sight, but were fans of comics before. But many other fans have never actually seen a comic book before. That’s why I created The First Timer’s Ultimate Guide to Comics, which is available for free download on our website. It shows you every aspect of the sighted person’s experience in buying and reading a comic book, and then shows you how each of these is translated to your experience, in the Comics Empower store. In addition, it gives you a full review of all the basic terminology. Like ‘Panels’. A page is usually split into a few pictures, which together tell a story. Each picture usually freezes one instant of that story. These single pictures are called ‘panels’. When you listen to comic books, the voice actor describes what happens in page 1, panel 1, then panel 2, and so on. You get the full comic book experience, not just the story itself.
Q: How much do the comic books cost and what format do they come in?
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Jocelyne Vetokele who works for Sensotec. Please read the below Q&A to learn about Sensotec and an amazing app!
Q: Where is Sensotec located?
A: Sensotec is located in Belgium.
Q: Can you tell me about Sensotec and what is does?
A: Sensotec was founded in 1986 as a company active in the development of aids for blind children, their parents and teachers in mainstream education. Over the years, our activities have expanded to include the development, manufacture, and distribution of highly technological aids for the blind, visually impaired, and people with reading and learning difficulties (for instance dyslexia).
Our challenge is to assist those with an impairment so that their integration into society is not just a fanciful notion but to actually make it happen, be it at home, at work or in education.
Together with our dynamic team, including our own support and repairs departments, we aim to offer our customers the best possible service.
Q: What is your involvement with the KNFB Reader?
A: The KNFB Reader is a joint development between Sensotec and KNFB Reader, LLC. The last is a joint venture between Kurzweil Technologies, formerly headed by Ray Kurzweil, a pioneer in assistive technologies and the inventor of the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, but who is now Director of Engineering at Google Inc.; and the National Federation of the Blind, the largest, most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States.
Q: What is the KNFB Reader and what does it do?
A: The KNFB Reader is an app that converts printed text into high quality speech. It provides accurate, fast, and efficient access to both single and multiple page documents. Your mobile device acts as a handheld scanner while the app’s optical character recognition (OCR) technology converts the text into speech.
Our app allows users to import or capture pictures of virtually any type of printed text. Proprietary document analysis technology determines the words and reads them aloud to the user with high quality text-to-speech.
The app is fully accessible thanks to Google TalkBack and app functionalities such as Field of View Report, Automatic Page Detection, and Tilt Control which guides the blind user in taking the perfect picture.
With various options to adapt the font type, size and color, background color and the use of double highlighting. Visually impaired people or those with other print disabilities (such as dyslexia) can easily follow what is being read aloud on the screen by watching the cursor move across the document.
Q: What are the most recent features added to the latest version?
- A: *Automatic Scanning in Batch Mode: You can place your device on a stand and have pictures of text taken automatically. This works especially well for use in Batch Mode to quickly capture and read books.
- Link to Dropbox: You can enable the Link to Dropbox so all files saved in your Reader can also be saved in a KNFB folder automatically created in your Dropbox directory. Files remain in Dropbox even if they're deleted from your device. Link to Dropbox also allows you to share, backup and restore files from Dropbox.
- Since October 2015 there is also an Android version with trial. You can take 25 pictures to try the app and choose to do an in-app purchase to unlock the full version. The trial is only available on Android devices.
Q: The KNFB Reader is compatible with what devices?
A: The KNFB Reader app for iOS supports the following iDevices:
iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6
iPhone 5s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 4s
iPod touch 6, iPod touch 5, and iPad Air 2
To be accessible to blind and visually impaired persons the KNFB Reader for iOS should be used together with VoiceOver.
Due to the large quantity of Android devices available, it is difficult to list all Android devices compatible with the KNFB Reader. Here are recommendations on hardware and operating system version which will ensure a greater likelihood of a successful experience:
- Optimal experience: Android device with a hexa or octa core CPU, an 8 megapixel camera, and Android 5 or 6.
- Less optimal (KNFB Reader will run, but you will notice reduced speed and accuracy): An Android device with a 1.2 GHz quad-core CPU, a 5 megapixel camera, and Android version 4.3.
To be accessible to blind and visually impaired persons the KNFB Reader for Androids should be used together with Google TalkBack.
Q: Will the KNFB Reader app work with Braille displays?
A: iOS: the KNFB Reader app is compatible with all Braille displays supported by VoiceOver on iOS. A comprehensive list of compatible Braille displays may be viewed on the Apple iOS accessibility page in the section: Braille displays for iOS.
Android: BrailleBack should be installed on your device. A list of BrailleBack compatible Braille displays can be viewed on the Google Play Store.
Q: Has the KNFB Reader won any awards?
A: The most recent awards the KNFB Reader received:
- The AppleVis community elected KNFB Reader the ‘Best Assistive iOS App of the year’ for the second year in a row (2014+2015).
- SITE Scotland elected KNFB Reader the best OCR app on the market for those with sight loss and even for those who are sighted (2015).
- Blind Bargains.com elected the KNFB Reader as first in their ‘the top 10 stories of the year in assistive technology’ list (2014).
- Apple selected the KNFB Reader for the App Store Get Productive promotion (2015).
- Perkins School for the Blind gave the KNFB Reader the first position in their year overview of Mobile Apps.
- The RNIB elected the KNFB Reader as ‘app of the month’ in October 2014.
Sensotec as company also won the 2015 Leuven.Inc Foundation Award as a role model for competitive and social entrepreneurship.
Q: What are the links to the different websites?
*KNFB Reader: www.knfbreader.com
I would like to conclude this article with some great news. Sensotec has graciously offered to give one of our readers the KNFB Reader app, for either an iOS or Android device user.
So readers if you are interested here is what you need to do:
-Answer the following question, in 300 words or less; How would a KNFB Reader make you more independent?
-Email your answer to: firstname.lastname@example.org
-All entries must be recieved by February 20 in order to qualify
Good luck readers, and thank you Jocelyne and Sensotec!
Tom Lorimer's Whitestick Website
Not too long ago a friend of mine told me about this great resource website called, Whitestick. This is a site designed to assist blind and Visually Impaired computer users to locate services and information that relate to blindness.
I am so impressed with this site that I contacted the owner to find out more information! Here is what I learned about the creator, Tom Lorimer, and the Whitestick website.
Tom lives on the east coast of Scotland, just north of Edinburgh in the Kingdom of Fife. The nearest tourist attraction to him would be the famous golf town of Saint Andrews where the Open Golf Championship is often held.
Tom was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa when he was 18. However at that time, he still had what he thought was good sight so he didn't take it seriously. Now 50 years later he is totally blind but he still treats his blindness as an inconvenience rather than a disability.
Tom first developed his resource list because back in the 1990's one was being charged for both telephone use and a Telecom company to provide access to the Internet. On top of that, screen readers weren't very good and before you knew it, you'd been online for an hour and spent a fortune. He then decided to take note of all the useful websites that he visited and kept the links handy when online. It made surfing much quicker and as time went on this file got bigger and bigger.
So, back in 1996, Tom used the free space offered by most Internet Service Providers and kept a few HTML files on it with various lists of useful websites. This grew and grew and after sharing the files with friends, he decided that he had enough data to start his own website.
Tom taught himself how to create web pages and his entire website was created with Windows Notepad and it went online in 1999.
It was Tom’s son who suggested the name of his website, Whitestick. He explained to his father that it is the white stick that helps Tom get around outside, so why not use the same principal to assist other visually impaired people to get around the Internet.
The Whitestick website is designed in such a way that it is very accessible to navigate through. Tom has created categories, making it easy to find the resource you may be looking for, and ones you may never have heard of before. Some categories listed within the website include; audio books, Mac users, International blind organization, blind services, and the blog section where The Blind Perspective is located.
Most of the content of his website relates to the UK, but he does have links to various Organizations for the Blind around the world. He also has Games and Mailing List pages which are aimed at everyone.
Unfortunately due to Tom’s wife being ill, he hasn’t devoted as much time to the website. However, he is still updating the website, but not as much as he would like to.
If you have a resource that you would like Tom to include on his website here is what you need to do. Contact him, (information is listed at the end of this article), and he will check out your website or blog. If it is suitable and accessible then he will add it right away.
Please take a moment to browse through Tom’s great resource website at: www.whitestick.co.uk
To contact Tom, you can either go to the website and fill out the contact form or email him directly at: email@example.com
World Blind Union
I had the pleasure of interviewing Penny Hartin. She is the Chief Executive Officer for the World blind Union headquarters, located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The World Blind Union is an organization that represents the needs and views of partially sighted and blind people throughout the world. This is a membership organization that brings together organizations of and for the blind in about 190 countries in the world.
The World Council for the Welfare of the Blind was an organization that brought Together service organizations. The International Federation of the Blind was an organization that brought together the consumer based organizations. Those 2 bodies merged together in 1984to form the World Blind Union. They thought that by joining together as a, of and for the blind organization, they would have a much stronger voice across the world.
The World Blind Union is made up of memberships from national or international organizations that are of and for the blind. Members learn and share their expertise about the issues around the world that are relevant topics to blindness. These members have voting rights. There are no individual memberships. However, people are encouraged to participate in activities and events.
The World Blind Union’s funding is primarily through membership fees. Other funding sources are member donations, foundations, project funding, and other organizations.
The WBU is divided into six regions based on linguistics and geographical location. The regions are; Europe, Africa, Asia, Asia- Pacific, Latin America (Spanish speaking), and North America & the Caribbean’s.
The World blind Union has four main priorities in the following areas:
-Human rights & Representation: working on issues associated with implementing human rights in all societies, creating awareness and educating people as to their rights to access education, healthcare, and even the ability to vote along with other services provided by the government to its citizens
-Capacity Building: develop and increase our member’s capacity to better manage their organization and serve their blind citizens
-Accessibility: access to information; in braille, large print, and audio, access to environment; safe access to all public & private places & buildings, and access to technology; affordable products for communicating and receiving information
-Resource Sharing & Collaboration: informing and working together with agencies & organizations about different resources
The WBU strongly advocates with The United Nations and different UN agencies. Such agencies include Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Labor Organization. The WBU advocates to promote more equal opportunities for people who live in the developing world. In addition, they provide intervention to the different UN agencies by talking about what the particular issues are that blind individuals face.
For the last 15 years, on an international level international Development has been based on what were called the millennium development goals. These eight goals were intended to help alleviate hunger, poverty and some other issues at a global level. In turn, these goals influenced how development money was spent, both by the UN System and by the countries that provide development assistance. The United States Agency for the International Development (USAID), is a good example of this.
In 2015 those goals expired, and efforts had been underway for a few years to address the following questions. What happens after 2015? WHAT WILL THE NEW DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK LOOK LIKE? WHAT ISSUES will be included? How do we ensure that people with disabilities aren’t left behind this time? After collaborating with other international agencies, the result now is that disability is included in the new development framework. This now means that when development money is being spent in developing countries to help get them to a higher level of participation, services, programs, and so on, that people with disabilities will be included in the programming. In addition, the government will have to report on what they are actually doing for people with disabilities, just as they do for other Marginalize or vulnerable groups.
The UNCRPD, has been ratified in over 150 countries. There are particular articles and requirements in it that countries have to report on in terms of what they are doing to improve the situations of people with disabilities. The United States has not ratified it yet.
Marrakesh Treaty; Right to read campaign:
The World Blind Union has launched a campaign to advocate for an update to international copyright laws pertaining to reading materials in accessible formats for blind, low vision, and print disabled individuals.
Over 90% of all published materials cannot be read by blind or print-disabled people, leading to a "book famine". We need to be able to reproduce published materials into accessible formats, such as Braille, large print, and audio editions, to address the book famine, however, current copyright rules within most countries prevent this.
The Marrakesh Treaty was signed on June 28, 2013 in Morocco. It has been ratified by 15 countries, the United States is not one of them. Once this treaty is ratified by 20 countries, it will come into force and allow for an increase of materials in accessible formats through cross-border sharing and the increased production of books in more countries.
Go to the website to see if your country is one who has already ratified the treaty. If not, you can browse the page to get useful links to help with the cause.
Every four years the World Blind Union has a general assembly. This August it will be held in Orlando, Florida, the first time being in the United States. This multi day meeting will bring together members from all around the world. They gather together to discuss and learn about different issues that are relevant to people who are blind and partially sighted.
The World blind Union website is full of great information, statistics, and resources. Here are some of the things you can find on:
-Braille information & materials
-Global blindness facts
-Blindness & disabilities
Three years ago, and at the tender age of 12, Shubham Banerjee noticed an issue and worked on creating a solution. Please read on to learn about what he is doing with his favorite childhood toy in order to create an affordable alternative tool for the blind community.
(Q): What motivated you to create the Braigo?
(A): Braigo has been evolving over time. It started with a Lego Mindstorms, open source project and evolved into a more consumer friendly prototype with enhanced functionality.
I've been loving LEGOS since I was 2 years old. One day in December 2013I noticed in the mail a poster that said, “Help the blind people with donations.”
I had no idea about Braille. So I asked my parents how blind people read and they said for me to Google it.
Upon further research, I discovered that typical Braille printers cost about $2,000 or even more, and I felt that was unnecessarily expensive for someone already at a disadvantage.
Thus, I put my brain to work, and the first thing that came to mind was to create an alternative using my favorite toy. I took the LEGO model Mindstorms and devised a new kind of Braille printer that's only $350.
It took me 3 weeks, and I broke and re-assembled 7 or so different types of models before settling on one and programming it.
My dad was my guide whenever I got stuck. He works a lot, even from home after being at the office, he continued to work. He would sit down with me at the kitchen table, while he continued with his conference calls and work.
I worked on building the model. For a couple of weeks, there were very long days for me. I started working on Braigo after I finished my homework and assignments, and some days I was awake till 2:00AM. But it was all worth it.
The link here summarizes the story and the evolution behind Braigo: 12 year old develops low cost braille printer
(Q): How long did it take you?
(A): The first version with Legos took me around 3 weeks. Then in the summer of 2014, I worked to make the 2nd working prototype. Since then we are working on finalizing the consumer version.
Q): Were you ever discouraged, ready to give up?
(A): In my first youtube video that I posted with all the instructions and how to build a Braigo, I started to receive a lot of "hate emails" and skepticism. I did not know from where those comments came from. But I didn't care. Once the 2nd version came out and I received the backing of Intel Corporation, I have seen those skepticism go down.
(Q): Can you describe the unit?
(A): The whole description of the Lego version is available online at the above mentioned website.
Furthermore, there are youtube videos describing how it’s built. The 2nd version looks and feels like a normal desktop printer, much lighter and almost silent. I cannot disclose the technology used yet in the 2nd version.
(Q): Is standard braille paper used?
(A): Yes, you can use the thicker paper like braille paper. But I am not going to use form feed paper. The idea of braigo is to reduce the cost of ownership of a braille printer and provide free transcription software without any installation necessary of any new software.
(Q): Were you ever contacted by the Lego Company?
(A): Yes, we are in contact.
(Q): If so, what were their impressions, thoughts, or concerns?
(A): They were impressed with what I tried to do and surprised that it was possible with Legos. But my concern was that a blind person cannot easily build a printer, but I showed everyone it’s doable. That’s the reason I started to build a consumer version.
(Q): Can you explain how it works?
(A): I cannot disclose the mechanism of the consumer version at this time.
(Q): Is it in production at this time?
(A): It is not yet in production, we are in discussions with different companies for the next steps. We are finalizing and optimizing the design for manufacturability. It involves a lot of logistics and supply chain details. We are working through those.
(Q): When will it be available for purchase?
(A): We are targeting soon, but after some thorough testing in the field. We are working with some institutes for feedback.
(Q): How much is it?
(A): We are trying to have the retail price below $500.
(Q): Where can one purchase the Braigo?
(A): We are working on finalizing the distribution channels.
(Q): Did you seek investors, or did they find you?
(A): Intel Capital is an investor at this moment. I worked with Intel since I am using their new chip for this product.
(Q): Have you started your own company?
(A): Yes, its Braigo Labs Inc.and the website is: www.braigolabs.com
(Q): Do you have future goals of creating and providing more accessible equipment at a lower cost?
(A): I have ideas and some prototypes, but I am focusing now on getting the printer out there.
(Q): How much recognition have you received because of your Braigo printer?
(A): I think it’s like 19 or so now.
Here are just a few listings of Shubham’s awards/recognitions he has received so far:
*SEVATHON 2015 - YOUTH AWARD "In recognition for your Outstanding Community Achievement" Sevathon Youth Award July 2015
INNOVATION AND INSPIRATION AWARD -American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the Randolph Sheppard Vendors of America (RSVA). Presented Jointly by ACB and RSVA at the ACB 2015 conference on July 6th, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. "For his exceptional intellect, creativity and determination to develop affordable braille technology for people who are blind all around the world"
*US NEWS - NEXT GENERATION OF STEM LEADERS, 2015
To inspire young people to engage in science, technology, engineering and math, U.S. News & World Report, publisher of the Best High Schools for STEM and host of the national STEM Solutions conference. Highlights 16 students, ages 13-21, from across the United States who are changing the world through their work in STEM fields. "These students serve as powerful examples of what’s possible when we engage younger generations in STEM," said Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News.
*SILICON VALLEY BUSINESS JOURNAL - 40 UNDER 40, 2015
Shubham Banerjee may be the youngest person to ever get venture funding, which made him the hit of Intel Capital's recent Global Summit in Huntington Beach. It also helped secure Banerjee a place on the 2014 Silicon Valley Business Journal's 40 Under 40 list."
*TRUSTED REVIEWS (UK) - TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION AWARD 2014
Voted by Trusted Reviews readers - "In one of the most exciting categories where votes are cast on the new and genuinely genius products, which have the potential to make a real impact on the world, a low-cost braille printer by Braigo is hailed Technology Innovation of the Year." - Time Inc.
*WHITE HOUSE MAKER FAIRE - HONORED MAKER, 2014
On invitation from the White House, Shubham Banerjee , the creator of Braigo, was among the more than 100 students, entrepreneurs, engineers, and researchers from 25 states — all of whom love to "Make" stuff to attend the first ever White House Maker Faire and witnessed President Obama declare June 18th as a National Day of Making through a proclamation.
You can read about all of the awards and recognitions Shubham has received at:
I had the pleasure of recently interviewing Allison Hilliker who works for Benetech, which is located in Palo Alto, California. She works remotely as a customer support contractor for Bookshare, a division of Benetech. Her job is to handle the tech support for Bookshare. Some of her responsibilities include answering the phone, replying to emails, writing help articles for the website, and performing accessibility tests. A major part of her job is helping and teaching people how to use the website. She will assist members in searching, downloading, and reading books. In addition, Allison will inform members about which devices work with Bookshare, and help members get the books in the format they want.
Jim Fruchterman, a former rocket scientist, founded Benetech, a non profit technology company. Its mission is to create innovative and effective technology applications for unmet social needs. Benetech’s four major areas of focus are Human Rights, Global Literacy, Environment, and Benetech Labs.
Within the area of Global Literacy there are four main programs; Bookshare, The Diagram Center (helping to come up with standards of technology to make different graphics more accessible, Route 66 Literacy (a web based program designed to teach struggling readers), and Born Accessible (resources for publishers to make their content accessible from the ground up).
Bookshare was launched in 2002, and is the world’s largest online library of accessible books. Bookshare is legally able to make accessible digital books for any person with a qualifying disability, due to an exception in copyright law (the chafee Amendment). One of the following disabilities need to be verified in order to become a member of Bookshare; print disability (blindness or low vision), learning disability that affects reading (dyslexia), or physical impairment that prevents one from holding books and/or turning pages.
In 2007 Benetech received an award from the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. This funding was to expand Bookshare and to provide the service free of charge for US students. Because, and since receiving this governmental funding membership has grown exponentially. In addition, their book collection has significantly expanded as well.
Bookshare’s major source of funding is from the Department of Education. Other funding sources include donations, other grants/awards, and membership fees. Benetech recently receive money from google.org to make more books available internationally.
Bookshare has developed partnerships with publishers. This means that many publishers now provide electronic versions of their books. Which in turn, enables Bookshare to make them readily available on their site. This certainly cuts down the time to scan and proofread books. However, Bookshare still accepts volunteer scans, as well as some in house scans.
Bookshare will take books that are scanned by volunteers as long as they meet the quality guidelines, which are found on their website. They feel that if someone took the time to scan a book, and the quality is good then there would probably be others interested in reading it.
If you are interested in volunteering for Bookshare whether you like to scan books or proofread, check out the volunteer link on their website. If you do not qualify for free membership, you can earn credit toward your subscription by volunteering.
Bookshare has over 403,000 books in their library, and it’s constantly growing. Their collection of books include just about everything; picture books, early readers, romance, hobbies, New York Times best sellers, biographies, mysteries, newspapers, periodicals, and many many more. They also have a wide variety of text books in many subjects and for various grades, including some at the college level. Students may request a textbook. Bookshare will then try to get the book from the publisher if possible. If not, they will purchase, scan, proofread, and make it available on the site. Although most of their books are in English, they do have many books in other languages such as; French, Spanish, and Arabic, just to name a few.
Books are made available through an exception to US copyright laws. This means that different books will be available depending on the country you live in. So once you enter in your location, the site in turns filters out things that are not available in your region. Again, this is because the copyright exception only applies to those living in the United States. However, if a publisher gives Bookshare permission to provide their book internationally, then they will do that. Allison stated that not all, but most publishers do give Bookshare worldwide access to their books.
As stated above, Bookshare is free to US students with a qualifying disability. The definition of a student is very broad. It does not mean just students attending school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Those attending college, grad school, disability training programs, guide dog schools, the Hadley school, and adult continuing education programs may also be considered as a student.
For people who do not qualify as a US student or who live outside of the United States membership is still available. The yearly membership fee is $50.00. There is a onetime set up fee of $25.00, to help process proof of disability paperwork. Bookshare accepts credit card payments, either online or via phone.
Signing up is quite easy on their very accessible website. Just go to the site (address at the end of this article), and click onto the sign uplink. Then choose individual membership type, and complete the online form. Then your next step is to provide proof of your disability. Information about this, and all aspects of the application are explained on the site. Completing this application process should take just about five minutes. Once Bookshare receives your proof of disability form, it usually takes about a week to complete your membership.
Once you become a member you are allowed 100 downloads per month. However, if you need to download more you can email a request to Bookshare. There are several different ways to read the books. Since the books are electronic, there are both book text and audio options for all books. You can listen to the books or read them in print from your computer or tablet screen. In addition, you can read them in braille by embossing them or reading from a refreshable braille display. Recently launched was the UEB (Unified English Braille) option for their BRF braille books.
There are several different file formats available other than the BRF braille ready format. There is Daisy text only, Daisy with images, or Daisy audio. MP3 format is also available, and can be played on any MP3 device, such as the digital player from NLs.
There are several ways to read the books. FS Reader and Web Reader (able to open through your web browser), are two options. Allison says that one of the most popular ways to read their books is on iDevices using various apps. Voice dream reader (paid), Spotlight Text (paid), and Capti (free) are other options to read books. For android users there is a version of Voice Dream Reader and a free app available for you; Go Read. Bookshare has their own app; Read2Go. You can search for books, download them, and read them all from within this app. Bookshare books also work with some assistive technology devices such as Victor Reader Stream, Book Sense, and Braille Note Takers. Depending on which reading tool you use, it will determine the synthetic voice that reads the book.
Bookshare currently has over 400,000 members. So check out the website and become Bookshare’s newest member at bookshare.org
I recently had a delightful interview with Mel Scott, the owner of Blind Alive.com. Mel had been a massage therapist for 32 years. Then in 2008, she was diagnosed with cancer. Although she lost a great deal of upper body strength, she continued to exercise. She bought several different workout programs over the years. Needless to say, they were not very blind user-friendly. She had to rely on friends or family members to describe the exercises to her, and this was extremely frustrating.
About three years ago Mel wanted to change her, as she calls it, track. She had this idea that she had to buy the URL for BlindAlive.com. She had no idea what she was going to do with it, but she loved the name, and had to have it. It kind of just sat there for some time. However, Mel was educating herself in podcasting and blogging.
Then one day, while riding her stationary bike, she was thinking about a new workout program that had just come out. Like the other DVD’s, she knew this one would also be inaccessible for her. Once again, frustrated by not being able to independently use workout programs, Mel all of a sudden got what she calls a huge energy surge. Finally, it was that “something” that she had been waiting for. She was smart, she knew anatomy, she could exercise, and she could do it! Mel has the belief that if you want something you have to create it; you got to make it happen.
So, right then and there Mel got off her bike and went to her computer to compile a list of things that she would need for her new venture. She started making phone calls that day as well. Her work paid off, for within 8 months she had her BlindAlive.com website, web programmer, an LLC, 6 workout programs; she had everything she needed.
With her first certified fitness instructor, Shana, she created the first 6 workout programs. Shana works exceptionally well in cueing and describing the exercises, not only because it’s what she does, but also because her mother is blind.
Mel has also purchased, and trademarked eyes-Freefitness™. So, Blind Alive is the company, and eyes-Freefitness™ are the products.
Start up: 6 Individual workout programs
*Cardio Level 1: 30 minute low impact workout
*Cardio Level 2: kicks it up some from level 1
*sculpting with Weights: whole body workout for beginners, concentrating on one muscle group at a time
*Sculpting with Weights Level 2: Compound movements
*stability Ball Workout: whole body workout
*Boot Camp: interval intense training for toning and strengthening
Gentle workout set: This program caters to people who do not have much energy, motivation, experience with exercising or seniors and/or those who may be in a chair for long periods of time. Except for the low body and balance portion, all of these exercises can be performed while sitting in a chair.
Pilates Chair with Ring: this is a seated workout using a 15-inch Pilates ring
Pilates Mat Levels 1 & 2: Jennifer Kern, a Pilates instructor, whose mother is also blind, created these two workout programs
Gentle Yoga for Beginners: Basic poses done entirely on the floor on a yoga mat
Slow Flow Yoga: Just released last week; concentrates on the sun salutation and other poses; also great for beginners
Eyes-Free fitness™ is constantly growing. Mel’s goal is to provide a basic library that contains something for everyone, and continually add to it. Mel stated that there are so many different types and styles of exercise options out there. Furthermore, virtually none of them are accessible -- making them useless for the blind community. Mel is always interested in new things and ideas. Many people give her suggestions, or ask her about a certain kind of exercise style. A little birdie told me that there may be an interesting and unique workout program coming in the near future. Sign up with your email to receive news and announcements, as well as a copy of Morning Stretch.
All of these workout programs can be purchased from their website. You can purchase them individually at $19.10, the Gentle Workout Set is $34.00, and you can choose from a number of conveniently organized bundles at discount prices. There are also two anniversary collections available. You can choose from the following formats; digital downloads, CD’s, and thumb drives: playable on a computer or the NLS players. Payments are made through PayPal and credit cards. Should you have any problems, Mel says that you can always call them, and they will process your payment over the phone.
There are several things that you will find on the website. There is a weekly blog. This is usually presented by Mel, Lisa (her right hand person), or a guest speaker. Every two weeks they have an eyes-Freefitness™ podcast that comes out. You can access the podcast with a computer, smart phone or tablet, a Victor Reader Stream or an Amazon Echo. Also on their website is a page called Favorite Product Picks (FPQ). Here you will find a list of things they recommend, everything from blenders, to yoga mats, to backpacks. If you go to the Buy page, and find the workout you are interested in, you can listen and or download a 30 second sample of the accessible exercise description.
Mel will be attending the ACB conference in Minneapolis, MN, the beginning of this month. So, if any of you are going, be sure to stop in booth 42, and say HI to her. She will be selling backpacks, CD’s, and thumb drives of the workouts.
Be sure to check out all the wonderful workout programs Blind Alive has to offer, for the beginner to the fitness buff. To do so go to: www.BlindAlive.com .
You can also leave Voicemail by calling (570) 212-9979.
If you are on social media, you can visit BlindAlive at the following:
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BlindAlive
Follow them on Twitter: www.twitter.com/blindalive
Join their BlindAlive Community on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/
Marty Schultz is the creator of the popular Blindfold games. About 4 years ago he noticed his daughter writing a birthday wish list, and thought there should be an app for that. He contacted his daughter’s school and proposed starting an after school club to design this app. So after six weeks, one hour a day for three days they had their app. The app wasn’t that successful, but the children had fun building it, and learned a great deal.
The school asked Marty to teach the middle school students computer programming, as well as continuing the after school club. The students wanted to create a game. Marty was ok with that, as long as they created something new. After two weeks of brainstorming, the students proposed many games. However, their suggestions were too much like games that already existed.
Marty suggested creating a driving game for the blind. The students did not get the concept until Marty had them experience a similar scenario in the classroom. He blindfolded one student, the driver, and told him to walk ahead without bumping into the cow. There was a girl who mooed like a cow. So the driver walked along, listening for the cow and moved along without bumping into her. It was done successfully.
Over the course of about four months they designed the dimensions of the game. The students collaborated with one another creating different levels. In the summer students from the day camp continued to work on it. Marty was ready to launch it in the app store, however he thought that it should be tested by blind individuals. Then one Saturday at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Miami, teens were given the opportunity to test the game. The teens absolutely loved the game; coming up with suggestions and the name: Blindfold Games. The next four months were spent implementing their ideas. In February 2014 the Blindfold Racer app was launched and it was the best new game of the month.
Marty was asked to meet with representatives from The Perkins School for the Blind, The Carroll Center for the Blind, and the Talking Book Program. During this four hour meeting, they talked about what does and doesn’t make a good game. Marty was asked by some of the people in attendance if he could create Sudoku, Blackjack, and Solitaire. He did create these games, and more games just followed one after the other.
All of Marty’s audio Blindfold games are accessible for visually impaired people. To date there are 40 different games which can be played on iPhones, iPads, and iPods. They can be classified into one of the following groups; sport games, TV show games, puzzle games, action games, casino games, and card games. Marty told me that the most popular games are Blindfold Racer, bowling, and Spin and Solve; comparable to Wheel of Fortune. Currently there are three games that can be played against other people. Those games are Road Trip, WildCard, and Crazy Eights. Be on the lookout because later this month bowling will be added to the list of multi-player games!
Marty recently conducted a survey to get a better understanding of his audience. The results showed 85% are blind, 12% are low vision, and 3% are sighted. Also interesting was that 40% read braille, with half of them owning a braille display device.
All of the Blindfold games are free to download. Each of the games come with either a certain number of coins or another way to determine whether or not you enjoy the game. You can get anywhere from 10 to 20 free games depending on the game. If you like a certain game, then you can buy an upgrade which ranges from $3.00 to $7.00, which will allow for unlimited play. You can also choose to add more games for a nominal price.
Marty is always working on new ideas and games. He stated that it can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 weeks to create new games. He is currently working on a game called Sound Search. In this game the user needs to match a variety of sounds, such as animals, weather, and household. He is also working with a couple of Hadley students, one whom happens to be Darrin our very own author of the iDevices segment. This will be a “wheel of fortune” type of game using braille contractions. The goal of this game is to help people keep their braille skills sharp. Marty is also working on an audible greeting card app. This would allow the user to send a greeting card with a sound snippets and a short personal recorded message.
If you have an idea for a game, send Marty an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out the website to learn more about Marty and the games at: blindfoldgames.org
The KNFB Reader: A New Window Into the Sighted World
By Emmie Lo
Editor's note: For this month I reached out to our KNFB Reader contest winner (March 2016 issue), Emmie, to get her thoughts on this wonderful app.
As soon as I downloaded the KNFB Reader last spring, I rushed to grab a printed piece of paper and test it. If my memory is correct, the first thing I ever took a picture of with the app was an informational letter from the University of Kentucky, a generic introductory letter that they send to probably thousands of students who’ve taken the PSAT and checked the box to allow colleges to send them promotional materials. I don’t remember the contents of that letter. I think it probably had a couple of sentences explaining why UK was a unique school, and then a web address and maybe the contact information of the Admissions Office. There was something very special about that letter, though, which had nothing to do with its contents.
I live in a bustling house with eight other people. It’s a chaotic and wonderful place to live, but it also leaves that usually, when I got mail that wasn’t a birthday card or a letter of pressing importance, it was shoved away in a desk drawer to await the day when someone could take the spare time to read it to me (if I hadn’t forgotten about it by then). Now, with the KNFB Reader, I can open mail that’s addressed to me, and it’s suddenly more than just blank sheets of paper. Often, the mail ends up being discarded and unimportant, so to the average person, this new ability may seem inconsequential. But for me, it was a tiny increase in independence that left me feeling empowered and excited for new possibilities.
Because my sophomore year was beginning to wrap up when I first got the KNFB Reader, and by that point, all my teachers knew to email me assignments and handouts in the formats I needed, I didn’t really have a need or opportunity to use the KNFB Reader in a school setting. However, I was able to put the app to test in a way that has changed the rest of my academic career. From the beginning, I had been ecstatic about the KNFB Reader’s ability to use OCR to convert PDF images to text. I tried out this function on a flyer my teacher had sent me about a local speech contest, and the app did its job flawlessly. I think PDF recognition is my favorite feature of the KNFB Reader, because it saves me the headache of trying to explain to my teachers that my screenreader can’t read scanned documents. Now, I can just convert the files easily and save them to Dropbox. I definitely think this feature will continue to be useful to me once I leave academia and enter the workforce.
So far, I’ve only completed a week of the new school year, but I’ve already used the KNFB Reader. Throughout the first week, almost every teacher handed out a syllabus that outlined the objectives of the course and the teachers’ expectations. I had forgotten to email my teachers asking for digital copies of the syllabi beforehand, so most just handed me hard copies, and although they touched on the main points of their expectations, none of them thought to read the whole document out loud. With the KNFB Reader (with varying degrees of accuracy) I was able to fill in what I’d missed in class. I also used the KNFB Reader to help me keep track of all the printed material that had inevitably accumulated in my backpack. It’s no longer in a confusing pile where important papers are mixed up with unimportant ones.
I want to take the time to note that I am by no means a KNFB Reader expert. Because I’ve been busy with school and distracted by summer vacation, I haven’t been meticulous about controlling lighting or other conditions that could interfere with the camera. I haven’t tested the app with sighted people around, so I’ve never taken a picture of text where I knew about its layout or font. I haven’t yet tried to use the KNFB Reader to scan books or read labels, and I’m still experimenting to perfect my positioning so that I don’t get a lot of cutoff text. But I think the fact that I’ve been able to accomplish as much as I have without much outside assistance is a testament to how incredible this technology really is, and I believe that, as I grow older and live on my own, this technology will become increasingly more valuable. The uses I’ve so far found for the KNFB Reader were not Earth-shattering. I could have probably found work-arounds for a lot of those problems, or just ignored them altogether, like I would have in the past. To the average person, promotional mail, flyers, and first-day-of-school handouts may seem inconsequential. And on the surface, maybe they are. But to me, they’ve been the cracking open of a window into a world of ink on paper that I’ve never seen before.
Pete Lane and Blind Abilities
I would first like to thank Cheryl, author of Spenser’s Spotlight, for connecting me with this month’s person/organization for my Movers & Shakers article, so thank you cheryl!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Pete Lane, the “second voice” of Blind Abilities. Pete was born and raised in New Jersey/ New York. He was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration in early childhood, which progressed steadily over the years. He attended college in Florida, and still resides there. Pete started working with the IRS in Jacksonville in 1975, and retired as a Senior Manager in 2014. He oversaw an IRS call center with 250 employees for the last 15 years in his career.
Here are some achievements Pete has received during his career:
* Pete developed a service-wide communications network for visually impaired IRS employees, consisting of a Quarterly electronic newsletter and a monthly Conference Call which included as many as 100 VI participants each month.
*he received a Presidential Commendation in 2014, and the rare “IRS Commissioner’s Award for his work with disabled employees in 2014.
*He proudly hired more than 35 blind and visually impaired employees over the years from World Services for the blind (formerly Lions World).
Pete became totally blind around the turn of the Century. He used a variety of assistive tools, beginning with extremely strong, and thick magnifying glasses. He entered the “Assistive Tech” world in the early 1990’s, using ZoomText with speech until around 2000, when he picked up Jaws.
Pete has been happily married to Chris for 34 years. They have two sons; Dan, 32, and Patrick, 31.
Pete now uses and iPhone, and a Mac and Voiceover for all of his audio production, with Amadeus Pro as his audio Editor of choice. Pete has recorded and produced dozens of podcasts, including two major series on the use of Amadeus Pro for those interested in delving into audio recording and production.
Pete and Cheryl Spencer co-founded the iAccess User Group in Jacksonville, Florida. This group meets biweekly at a local public library to learn and share their knowledge about IOS devices: iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The group has about a dozen core members, but has grown in recent months to around 20 participants. Pete prepares an agenda, but also promotes proactive participation among members, with a kind of “Show and Tell” segment where folks share a variety of tips, apps, podcasts or other assistive items of interest to the group.
Now about Blind Abilities:
It was Jeff Thompson who created the Blind Abilities channel on the Audio boom platform in 2013. Audio boom is a social app, similar to Twitter, but using an audio format. The Channel is really a community of folks who share their skills, knowledge and experiences with each other using audio posts to strengthen their unity and enhance their lives. It has grown to more than 350 blind and visually impaired members.
The friendship & partnership:
Pete met Jeff Thompson on that platform and formed a strong friendship which led to his involvement in audio recording and production. Jeff and Pete saw an opportunity to increase their presence in the podcasting space, and established the Blind Abilities web site, for which Jeff performs all of the administrative duties. They began podcasting early in 2015, and have published more than 170 podcasts since that time. The Blind Abilities Team has grown with new members, including Lori Thompson, Cheryl Macintosh and Jeff Young.
The name and its meaning:
Jeff named the AudioBoom Channel Blind Abilities because it reflected precisely the objective he wanted to achieve in the blindness community. The name is a perfect depiction of the attribute or physical characteristic with which we all identify, and the potential we all possess. Pete adds: “We believe that the name continues to represent the type of audio product and blog that we produce on our web site and IOS App on a regular basis.”
Blind Abilities produces podcasts with a blindness perspective
Motto: “When we share what we see through each other’s eyes, we can then bridge the Gap between the limited expectations and the realities of Blind Abilities.”
All of our podcasts and blogs are created by blind and visually impaired people.
Blind Abilities draws from the community, who are encouraged to not only share their experiences, but listen and offer advice when needed.
We produce and distribute podcasts that are relevant and accessible to the end users through a variety of vehicles: including our web site, through RSS feeds on your favorite pod catcher or through the Blind Abilities App for the iPhone, free in the Apple App Store.
We work with developers of software, apps, and assistive devices on getting accessibility right.
We interview designers and Blindness advocates to share their developments and initiatives.
Blind Abilities focus is aimed at building skills and confidence, transitioning to college and the workplace. We are here for the newly blind individual with vision loss as well as for the role models sharing their stories. Listeners and readers can share and learn from the library of podcasts and blogs on the Blind Abilities App and on the website.
Blind Abilities prides themselves on producing very high quality audio podcasts with very clear recordings and sophisticated editing. Pete and Jeff listen to what their listeners want to hear and/or learn about. They are frequently contacted by listeners with such questions as how do they do it and what equipment do they use. Pete is in the middle of a series entitled “The Process of Creating a Podcast”, while Jeff has a series called: “Practical Podcasting”. Cheryl’s series is: “Career Track” and Lori shares her talents with independent living skills. These are just a few examples of responding to their listeners questions.
Blind Abilities has several “How-to” podcast series, and their podcast themes are varied as well. if you visit their website you will see that the podcast are divided into categories such as; careers, independent living, college, teen cast, interviews, demos, and more!
Pete says that, although the predominant audience is blind/visually impaired, there are probably some sighted listeners as well. Pete attributes this to the curiosity factor; wanting to know how blind people do certain things.
There is no set schedule with regards to when a new podcast will be available. For example in the month of July they posted ten podcasts, ranging from interviews to demos. Podcasts can run from 10 minutes for a demo to more than an hour for some interviews. Their general rule of thumb is to try not to run longer than 40 minutes.
When asked what makes their podcasts different from the others, Pete explained that Blind Abilities can’t be “cubby holed”: we have no set structure. He added, “You never know what you are going to hear.” Topics range from techniques for cleaning the bathroom, app demos, interviews with a variety of people, and much much more! Pete adds: “We can only promise that we try our best to make them entertaining and well-produced!”
So be sure to check out all they have to offer at:
Social media links:
Here is the link to our Blind Abilities Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/607027582712671/
Folks can email us at: info@BlindAbilities.com
Our Twitter handle is:
Pete’s personal Twitter handle is:
Jeff’s Twitter handle is:
For this month’s article I had a Q&A session with the president of Guide Dog Users Inc., Penny Reeder Read on to learn more about Penny and GDUI.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself?
A: I am blind and currently working with my third guide dog, Willow. She is from The Seeing Eye and we have been together for five years. My first two dogs came from the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. Their names were Glory and Tess. All of my dogs have been female German Shepards. They all have been wonderful, and each, I’m sure, has saved my life several times over.
I joined Guide Dog Users Inc. in 2000, around the time I applied for my first guide dog. I ran for a position on GDUI’s board shortly after I became a member. I had gotten quite involved in an issue GDUI was grappling with at the time. A person who was unable to attend computer classes at a vocational rehabilitation training facility in Iowa, with her guide dog, was suing them. Guide Dog Users Inc. supported her in her lawsuit. So, I ran for the board and was elected.
After serving for several years, GDUI needed a new editor for our quarterly magazine, PawTracks, and I applied for and got the job. The PawTracks editor cannot serve as a board member, and so I had to resign from the board. In 2012, there had developed a vacuum of leadership inside the organization. I decided to run for the job of president, and so that’s how I became GDUI’s president.
I ran as a member of an ad hoc slate of sorts. All of us won election, and we spent our first term rewriting GDUI’s bylaws, growing our membership once again, and strengthening our member-driven democratic government. Many of us ran for office again last May, and we were re-elected.
Q: What is Guide dog users.inc?
A: Guide Dog Users, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization, whose members are primarily guide dog users themselves. GDUI is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. It first became an active organization in the early 1970s. Its members came together to advocate for better civil rights protections in local, state and national laws, to support one another, and to educate the general public about the role that guide dogs play in the lives of their blind and visually impaired owners. Those original goals continue to be the motivation and the mission of GDUI.
GDUI’s members advocated very hard, and quite effectively, for the civil rights protections afforded to guide dog users under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990. Twenty six years have come and gone, and the ADA has made a positive difference in all of our lives. Yet, we still find ourselves being discriminated against in all kinds of settings – having to explain and advocate for our rights at restaurant doors, at movie theaters, sometimes even on college campuses and in public schools. Taxicab refusals are a problem many of our members contend with on a daily basis. Of course, we are working to strengthen the laws and the regulations, to educate the public, and to support one another.
Q: Where does your funding come from?
A: Our funding comes from our members, from grants, from sponsors who assist with the expenses associated with our members, and from donations from the general public who appreciate guide dogs and want to help.
Q: Tell me about your membership?
A: We have affiliates in several states, and we also have at-large members. Membership dues are $15 per year. Members are provided with such benefits as:
•A subscription to our award-winning quarterly newsletter, Paw Tracks
• Access to assistance from the GDUI Disaster & Preparedness Program
• Training relating to self-advocacy on guide dog handler issues
• Email chat list
We have international members from such countries as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and others. Often these international members are U. S. citizens who are living abroad. When possible, of course, we can rely on them for information and advice.
However, when our members ask us for advice about traveling with their dogs to other countries, we first suggest that they contact their own guide dog training programs for advice, and in addition, the ambassadors of the countries they plan to visit.
Q: What are some of GDUI accomplishments/ successes?
A: One of GDUI’s major accomplishments was suing the State of Hawaii to force them to eliminate a quarantine requirement for guide dogs visiting the island. The effort was long-lasting and expensive, and ultimately successful!
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Currently, GDUI is participating in a “RegNeg” process with other organizations who advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, the airline industry, and the Department of Transportation in an effort to negotiate the development of new regulations concerning the rights of people to fly with their service animals and with emotional support animals as well. The process has been long and drawn out, sometimes frustrating, sometimes hopeful. It is hoped that new regulations for the Air Carrier Access Act will be developed by the end of October. I cannot, at this time, predict the outcome of these negotiations. But, it has been an interesting, and hopefully ultimately worthwhile process.
*Today, an issue that we hear about with increasing frequency has to do with people who attempt to pass their pets off as service dogs. There are currently laws and bills in several states, and legislatures that attempt to curb this activity. GDUI advises legislators and business owners on our civil rights and on the dangers that untrained, misbehaving “fake service animals” can pose for us.
*The increasing frequency of dog attacks, from uncontrolled or unleashed family pets is another issue that causes us much anxiety, sometimes leading to injury, early retirement, and even the deaths of legitimate guide dogs who have been attacked.
Q: Can you tell me about some of your ongoing works/projects?
A: We work with the guide dog schools, helping them to educate our members and members of the general public. Our web site includes a survey which allows members to compare the various guide dog training programs one with another.
*We hold an annual convention, in conjunction with the ACB National Conference and Convention. Guide Dog School personnel visit our convention, participate in programming, and interact with graduates and potential students in a positive, friendly and supportive atmosphere. Our convention provides a way for our members – who are from all over the USA – to meet, interact, and get to know one another, and participate in fun and educational activities.
Conference recordings from our GDUI Convention, held last summer in Minneapolis, are available on our web site.
*We publish a professionally edited quarterly magazine called PawTracks, which serves as a venue to provide information about GDUI and about guide dogs and guide dog users. The magazine is a benefit of GDUI membership.
*We also host an Announce List to apprise members of relevant updates concerning GDUI activities and goals, as well as a chat e-mail discussion list, where members can discuss all things guide dog related.
Visit us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/gduinc
Follow us on Twitter: @GDUINC
Visit our web site: www.guidedogusersinc.org
Call our toll-free (in the USA) number: 866.799.8436
Penny concluded with, “Thank you for your interest in GDUI. Please don’t hesitate to ask any further questions, and please get involved – we welcome your membership!”
I recently conducted a Q&A with Stuart Holland. Stuart is sighted and has an undergraduate degree in theater, and working for radio station was not part of his life plan. He originally became a state employee to support his nighttime habit of doing theater. Gradually, he moved from one position to another, and finally, during a layoff in 1986, the Human Resource Department told him that he had the qualifications to become a broadcaster for the station. So, he began reading the newspaper on the radio and moved up from there. Since 1986, he earned a degree in management and he has been the manager of the station since 2000.
Now to the Q&A:
What station is it that you work for, and can you tell me about it?
I am currently the manager of the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network, which is a radio reading service established in 1969 as the world’s first radio reading service for the blind and reading impaired. We say “reading impaired” because we include a very wide range of people as eligible listeners to the service – people with dyslexia, brain trauma, or other physical disabilities that make reading print difficult. The service is part of Minnesota’s State Services for the Blind. Most radio reading services, also called audio information services, are not funded by state departments for the blind or rehab services.
The Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network is primarily a reading service of today’s newspapers, current magazines, and current books, on the air 24 hours per day and also available (both streamed and archived) on the internet, and via an app called Sero. We also provide many of our books to BARD through the National Library Service.
What is the International Association of Audio Information services (IAAIS)?
After the service began in Minnesota in 1969, other parts of the country thought it was a good idea and started their own radio reading services. The impetus at that time was that very few regional magazines were available in audio and no newspapers were available in audio. By the early 1970s, there were services in a few dozen areas around the country and they were communicating with each other about what they were doing. It was concluded that they could exchange ideas and programming if they formed an organization. The IAAIS was actually started in 1977. It has had various names, but originally, it was named “American” and “National.” When Canada added a service and wanted to be connected, it became the International Association of Audio Information Services.
Much has changed since 1969. The NLS has become much faster at making materials available; computers are now ubiquitous and there are a great many publications available online; cell phones are also ubiquitous and apps abound which can give users information at a finger’s touch; the NFB has made a great many newspapers available through the telephone. This has greatly changed the world of audio information services. Though there are still people who are not connected digitally and that could be seen as a good reason to keep radio reading/audio information services alive, the fact remains that there are many local newspapers that don’t exist in a digital format, are difficult to read in a digital format, or are incomplete in a digital format. The same is true with magazines and books.
The IAAIS is a sort of umbrella organization that connects all these services that are providing the newspapers, magazines, and information that helps to make life more equal for people who cannot access the printed page. As such, our mission is not about working with the individuals who use our services but is instead aimed at the organizations that are part of the network; our mission states The IAAIS connects and supports organizations that deliver equal access to information for people with disabilities worldwide.
Who does IAAIs serve, and where& how?
Most of the audio information services are in English speaking countries: The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. There are many other services around the world that are providing some audio information in their areas: Moscow, Russia, for example.
The IAAIS offers networking, support, and education to its members. We also have mentoring for those areas that are either undergoing difficulty with their new service or are trying to begin one from scratch. This last year, I have been working with the country of Oman which is looking at beginning the world’s first Arabic language audio information service.
Conferences are held annually in North America. As more services are established around the world, we would like to see an annual conference in each continent – that makes more sense than expecting everyone to come to the U.S. However, with advancements in technology, it may be possible in only a few years for the conferences to become available on the cloud.
What control do you have over the various reading services, if any?
We have no control over what various reading/audio information services have on the air or how they conduct their operations. Since the environments around the world are so different, the ways that those services choose to deliver material varies as much as what they deliver. In the United States, we are fairly concerned about observing the copyright laws, so those that use radios use side-channel technology. Web streams are often password-protected. But in Great Britain, the service is on an open channel. Some services in the United States have very little repeated material; other services record 8 hours of material and will play it two more times during the 24 hours. Some stations use side-channel radio technology, others use cable television, and some are even exclusively on the internet. What one station considers very important may be seen as totally irrelevant by another. It makes for a very interesting industry!
What is your position and what do you do for the organization?
I was the president of the IAAIS for four years, from 2012 to 2016. I am now the past-president and chair of international outreach. I also sit on the Nominating Committee. In the past, I have held the position of Communications Chair, overseeing the writing of the newsletter, writing articles about the industry, and coordinating our participation at other conferences and gatherings.
Where do you get your funding?
The IAAIS gets no funds from government. Occasionally, we will get some operating money from the radio or broadcasting industry when we participate in research for them; or grant money from a business that serves the blind community when we agree to make their product known through Public Service Announcements. But most of our income is from attendance at conferences, our member stations, and private donations.
Is there a membership?
There are levels of membership. A full voting member is a service that provides audio material for the blind and print-impaired communities. The fee is $250. There are also Associate and Satellite memberships which have a voice but do not get a vote. The Associate memberships are for those people or organizations that are supportive of the IAAIS or of a related industry. Satellite memberships would include groups of people, for instance, that read local materials but they are under the auspices of a full member. The current fee for an Associate member is $150, and a Satellite member is at $75.
To find out if there is a reading/audio information service in your area you can call their toll free number at:
800-280-5325, or check out their website at: www.iaais.org
*Note: The IAAIS website is in the process of being revised. Therefore when you visit the site now, know that there are many areas that are incomplete or have not been updated, since it is, essentially, an entirely volunteer run organization, and progress is sometimes slow.
The Facebook page is much more up to date. You can find it at: www.facebook.com/iaais/