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International Perspective

For your reading convenients below you will find all the International Perspective published in 2017

January 2017

By Pranav Lal: India karen@theblindperspective India, one country many planets I am tempted to start this article by talking about elephants crossing traffic signals or red lights as they are known colloquially or should I perhaps write about honor killings or business process out sourcing? The key point about India is that it is incredibly diverse. It started as an agglomeration of kingdoms that were first united in 321 BC by Chandragupta Maurya. Modern India has 29 states and 7 union territories. The Indian constitution is the longest in the world. India has a federal form of government with a strong center. There are a myriad of state and central laws. All of this translates into a complex legislative landscape which has a direct impact on disabilities. India does have schools dedicated to the blind as well as for other disabilities. There are a few schools that handle persons with multiple disabilities. The bulk of blind schools are in the cities. Many of the schools are run by non-governmental organizations (NGO(s). The more progressive ones especially in the cities have moved to mainstreaming. There are however plenty of schools that institutionalize their students. Besides regular education, most blind schools do teach blindness skills and many of them teach independent living skills. There are a few government supported schools. Most NGO(s) are funded by donations. A lot of the blind schools are residential schools because of the wide background of students that come to these schools. Many come from villages and it is not possible for them to return each night to their villages. Moreover, given the skills gap between them and other students, residential programs have been found to work the best. There are many Braille presses in India and a lot of text books are now available in Braille. There is a significant degree of diversity of the school syllabus that is followed across states therefore several textbooks need to be produced at the beginning of each school year. The stress these days though is on making full text full audio DAISY books. A national library service was launched on 26-August-2016. It lets members borrow books from any library across India. India does have bookshare access but it is incomplete due to the lack of access to books published in the USA despite there being equivalent legislation to the Chafee amendment. India does have access to audio books from Audible but again, many titles are not to be found due to restrictions from publishers. Mobility is taught at an early age. India is a cane only country. Guide dogs do not work due to economic, cultural and infrastructure factors. India's roads are complex. Curbs and sidewalks are few and far between and traffic is not uniform. The road has auto rikshaws, cars, buses, bicycles, stray dogs, the occasional cow and a variety of hand carts and motor bikes. There are however, several startups and student projects working on assistive devices to solve the navigation challenge. Mobility skills are taught by NGO(s) and at blind schools. In many cases, trainers visit the student and work with them to handle frequently travelled routes. A lot of blind people use GPS on their mobile phones. The mobile phone has emerged as the primary gateway through which blind people access information. Many of them use more than one phone. For example, those who cannot afford smartphones, use feature phones with different capabilities; e.g. a person would use one phone for listening to DAISY books, one phone to hear the time and the final phone for calling. Android is the most popular operating system due to Android devices being available at several price points. Transportation is a challenge. In the cities, there are regular taxies as well as services such as Uber. The Indian railways have taken some steps to make trains accessible such as Braille labeling coaches but these have not been fully deployed. There are tactile tiles on platforms to indicate a change in surface. There is not much in terms of sports. There is blind cricket and a few other games that are taught at blind schools. There are no direct consumer schemes to encourage the disabled to go into sports. However, some sports such as blind cricket are funded. There is a growing interest in adventure sports and in travel where companies serving the disabled have sprung up to meet this demand. It is possible to go rafting, trekking, zip lining etc. Education is a core element of Indian middle class psyche. The number of educated blind is on the rise. It has become easier to get books in accessible formats in higher education though much needs to be done especially in STEM subjects. For example, getting textbooks with accessible diagrams is a work in progress. A few universities have accessibility departments who help students get material in accessible format. Getting lecture notes in accessible format remains a challenge because many teachers still use the blackboard. Another problem in education is the use of scribes. Many competitive exams that an applicant must take to enter university still have this requirement. There however have been writer guidelines issued by the courts which have allowed blind applicants to take exams independently by using a computer. The job market is growing. There are blind programmers, teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, bankers etc. There are plenty of challenges though not only in terms of getting jobs but also once they are employed. For example, a blind person may be employed in a bank as a manager but the bank will not give him any work. There is affirmative action when it comes to government jobs. Some blind people have been successful in bridging the government and private sectors. One example of this is the UID scheme. This is a national identity card scheme launched some years ago, the process of getting the card was accessible. Talking about accessibility, yes, there are jobs in that area too both for serving international customers and in auditing government websites. Some private sector concerns have begun to recognize its value though there is a lack of awareness amongst developers. Most private sector initiatives are funded via the corporate social responsibility route. Most television programs in India are not audio described. There are a handful of movies that have been audio described but these are done on an ad hoc basis. There is a growing need to build awareness in the film industry of audio description. There are unique challenges with Indian cinema. Many movies contain songs. These are not musicals but there is plenty of action taking place within the song and the story is moving forward. No one is quite sure how to audio describe a song video. Life in India is a grand adventure irrespective of abilities. Blindness adds spice to it. Yes, no social security, no formalized reader services but strong human networks exist along with locally developed technology such as the smart cane that warns you of approaching obstacles before they collide with you. Finally, do watch out for that GPS toting Indian tourist at an airport near you. Linkss of interest: The smart cane: A low cost device to detect obstacles. smart cane A startup tour operator in India who can arrange inclusive tours. http://planetabled.com/ A mailing list where a lot of Indian blind people hang out (it does have international members). accessindia.org The Indian national library service. sugamyapustakalaya.in Pranav Personal Links: Blog: techesoterica.com Writing website and blog: http://praanavwrites.com

February 2017

Spain By Antonio M. Fdez Zaldívar karen@theblindperspective.com A bit about Spain: Spain is a Mediterranean country located in the south of Europe, between France and Portugal. We have excellent weather, and extremely good food. In addition to this, Spain has wonderful beaches, snowy mountains, a lot of museums, and beautiful places to visit. These are the reasons why tourism is so important for us. However, almost 20% of its 47 million people living here are unemployed. And, the worst of all, we have an enormous amount of corrupted politicians. School: In Spain, the schooling of blind and visually impaired pupils has followed along similar lines to that of other children with disabilities. Up until the 1980's, the majority of blind or visually impaired students received schooling in the education centers that the Spanish National Organization for the Blind, Organización Nacional de Ciegos de España, (ONCE) had in different parts of the country. These centers provided Primary, Secondary and Vocational Training education either on a day school or boarding school basis, depending on where the family home was located. In later years, this style of education in specific centers has had the added option of educational integration into mainstream centers. The ONCE offers a wide range of materials and financial assistance which enables the pupils who study in mainstream centers to take advantage of any special requirements their education may demand. Basically speaking, the primary aim of the activity of different resource agencies and or teams is to attend to the educational needs of visually impaired students, through assessment of the different community agents involved in the educational process and provision of the specific aids which visual impairment entails. Although educational care implies the need for a wide range of qualified Team personnel, depending on the period of evolution of pupil requirements, it operates around the function performed by the visiting support teacher on each of his periodic visits to the education center. In general terms, the function of the support teacher not only means individual academic care of student, but also involves assessment of the educational community and its members (all teachers, the parents, etc.) within which the visually impaired pupil moves. In short, the schooling of pupils with serious sight difficulties has adapted over recent years and come into line with the aims for integration and inclusion being carried out in Spain regarding the schooling of pupils with disabilities. The Spanish National Organization for the Blind has participated in this process by means of investment in a variety of wide-ranging resources at a human and material level, so that visually impaired pupils might be able to study in the most normal way possible in mainstream education centers close to their homes. Braille and Mobility: Braille is taught by ONCE teachers even when you are studying in the integrated education system. Mobility is taught by specific technicians from our association for the blind. University: It seems as though there are more and more people with disabilities attending Universities. Although technology is very useful for us, it has some inconveniences since not all materials or devices are easy to adapt for the disabled. However, ONCE can assist students by providing a reader, recording textbooks, transcribing books into braille, and scanning and correcting documents. Sports & Recreation: In order to participate in the different sports at a young age, a blind individual must attend a ONCE facility. As a result of the increase in participation and interest in sport for people with physical disabilities, the creation of Spanish Sports Federation for the Physically Disabled (FEDDF was formed in the late sixties. In 1990, the General Law of Sports was passed, which led to changes in how sport was organized inside Spain. Therefore, resulting in the creation of several national Spanish disability sport organizations including FEDC, International Blind Sports Association. FEDC is one of five disability sport organizations that belongs to the Spanish Paralympic Committee. Their goal is to host and govern disability sport on the local level around the country. The organization is composed of regional sport federations including the Catalan Federation for the Blind. FEDC has historically supported athletics, equestrian, cycling, winter sports, swimming, goalball, sport shooting, sailing, judo, chess and mountaineering. In 2013, the organization had 1,500 licensed vision impaired sportspeople competing in a variety of the previously mentioned sports. Job Training: In Spain, disabled people are entitled to the same rehabilitation and training options that are generally available at national level, regardless of whether their disability occurred from birth or later on in their lives. ONCE employs over 1.500 professionals, including educators, teachers and trainers, psychologists, rehabilitation experts, technology instructors and coaches. Training and rehabilitation take place within a network of over 300 centers nationwide, including several Educational Resource Centers, a University School of Physiotherapy and a Guide Dog School. Another option is that of the occupational centers, which are day centers attended by disabled people who have not been able to join a sheltered work center. Activities are typically manual and craft oriented. While some severely disabled people will remain in these day centers, others who successfully develop work skills will go on to join sheltered work centers. Accessibility Transportation: There is no separate transportation system for blind individuals. In fact, we have some difficulties with getting a ride from taxi cabs because we are being accompanied by our guide dog. Blind individuals, along with their companion receive a reduced transportation rate for traveling by train. If you give advanced notice when traveling by train, they will help organize assistance for you. There is no reduced fare when traveling by bus. In addition, only in some cities are the bus stops announced. You need to either ask someone for help, or make sure you know your route. However, most bus stations have audible announcements. Getting around: Curb cuts and tactile strips on sidewalks are more prevalent in the larger cities. They need to improve these adaptations within the small towns and villages. There are no audible signals or braille identifications at any intersections. Braille: Currently braille is only mandatory for elevators and medicine packages. Braille documents are not available; we can only receive digital files via email. Guide Dogs: Spain has only one guide school in Madrid; Fundacion Once deL Perro Guia. In Spain guide dogs are accepted by law everywhere. Benefits: Blind people can only receive governmental benefits as an adult, and when they are unable to do any type of work. This is a monthly benefit, which quite honestly is not very much. From time to time, one can get a grant to purchase some technology type equipment. However, for blind people who are studying or working outside the association, ONCE can adapt their computer or lend them a Braille Line (similar to a braille display). Reading service: We are able to get audio and braille books. They are free to students. We can get them online or directly through an app on our smart phone. In addition, if you want to purchase a braille book, it will only cost you a few cents per volume. Blind Organizations: the Spanish National Organization for the Blind is Organización Nacional de Ciegos de España, (ONCE). This organization receives support from the Spanish government offices for Finance, Labor and Social Affairs, and Internal Affairs. ONCE offers tailored advice and guidance in career orientation, management and accounting. Financial support programmers such as low interest credits and non-refundable subsidies are also available to encourage self-employment projects. The smaller organizations are a little different, as they provide specific training for such things as guide dog users, technology users and so on. Final Thoughts: I feel that public institutions do not like being ask to make things accessible and/ or equal for blind people, especially because of the strength of our association. public institutions try to avoid their obligations as much as possible. And, since the blind community needs to ask for things and equality, it is difficult. Equality only seems to exists in the papers, the weeks leading up to the elections. If we were only all treated equal and had access to things that make our lives “equal” to the sighted, life would be much easier for the blind community.

March 2017

By Douglas Sidialo
karen@theblindperspective.com

I was recently contacted by DOUGLAS SIDIALO of Kenya. He asked if he could share a brief bio of himself. So read below to get a glimpse of his situation, accomplishments, and willingness and desire to help and motivate others. There are other links provided to learn more about this inspiring man.

BACKGROUND:
Despite losing sight as a result of the devastating US embassy bombing in Kenya on August, 7, 1998, Douglas has picked up the pieces and bounced back to life with resounding courage and strength to become a great inspiration to a lot of people on this planet earth.

Douglas served as President of the Kenya National Paralympics Committee witnessing athletes with disabilities break barriers in their lives to become national heroes and celebrities in the World of sports. This has lifted them from ashes to become self-sufficient giving them a great sense of empowerment and high self-esteem. His lean Team of 13 athletes bagged 5 gold, 4 Silver and 4 Bronze medals for Kenya in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics Games. One of the most remarkable athlete in these Sports showbiz bagged Kenya 3 Gold medals and went on to be named as the 2009 United Nations Personality of the Year and UNDP, MDG Ambassador.

To set the pace for the Paralympics Games, Douglas received the honors to light the Olympic torch, racing to glory in the 2008 Paralympics torch relay on the outskirts of Beijing a night before the official opening of the World largest disability Sports extravaganza. Douglas has gone on to confront overwhelming challenges to become one of the most accomplished blind adventurers in the world, and has never let his blindness interfere with his passion for an exciting and inspirational journey.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
Douglas is believed to be the first blind African to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro - Uhuru Peak, 5,895 meters above sea level in September, 2005. From January to May, 2007, he went on a bicycle marathon across Africa from North to the South, through 10 countries, on the Tour D’Afrique (riding from Cairo to Cape Town), successfully completing 12,000 Kilometers in 95 days, setting a World record for others to break! Ultimately, he went on for the second Year to complete the 2016 Old Mutual Joberg 2 C 900 Kilometers in over 9 days MTB stage race from Johannesburg to Durban. Moreover, Douglas has done 3 cycling majors on the slopes of Mount Kenya and the Great Rift Valley and this include: SC Rift Valley Odyssey: Laikipia Extreme Challenge and Fly 540, Mount Kenya 10to 4 Mountain Bike Challenge, a race in which Douglas and his talented partner John were involved in a grissly bike crash in 2015 and sustained life threatening head injuries losing consciousness and had to be rushed by helicopter to Nanyuki Cottage hospital for emergency treatment.

COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP:
Douglas has exemplified the spirit of servant leadership, holding various community positions over time. These include President of the Kenya National Paralympics Committee, Board member of the National Council for People with Disabilities , United Nations Habitat Goodwill Ambassador for Safer Cities. Currently, he is serving as a Founder and Board member of Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa whose key objective is to unlock the potential of blind and Visually Impaired children for independent living through Braille literacy and appropriate Technology.

INSPIRATION SPEAKING:
Douglas as a motivational speaker has inspired thousands of people around the world, by sharing his positive message of overcoming adversity through his profound resilience, determination and boundless confidence. Douglas’s presentations engage and inspire audiences by capturing lessons from his life experiences and adventures around the World. His illustrious speaking enterprise has spanned through Africa, Asia and the USA, delivering his sparkling and unique message focusing on: Triumph over adversity, unleashing Your True Potential by harnessing the power of adversity, Every cloud has a silver lining and our every endeavour to achieve our dreams to institutions such as United Nations, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Standard Chartered Bank, Old Mutual Africa, World Agro-Forestry Research Centre, Universities, Non Profit and Religious Organizations.

Douglas keynote message resonate on the fact that we all have challenges that want to knock us flat to our backs but we can confront those challenges head on breaking them and living a life full of purpose. His inspiration story has been widely covered and has featured on Top World TV channels and magazines. Clearly Douglas’ accomplishments demonstrates that one does not need to have perfect eyesight to have an extra-ordinary Vision.

Go to Douglas Sidialo’s website at: www.sidialo.com, where you can learn more about him, and about two books that illustrate his story.
When Blood and Tears United a Country
This book humanizes the bombing of the American Embassy in Kenya by highlighting Individual stories of families affected by the Bombing. In this book Douglas' story is told about his lifelong journey towards healing.

Unarmed Heroes
The story about Douglas' journey through tragedy. Douglas tells his story: how he has risen above the ordinary to promote peace through speaking engagements, writing, and sporting adventures.
To read Douglas’ lifestyle story go to: mobile.nation.co.ke

April 2017

Blind Services In Florida
By Roanna Bacchus
karen@theblindperspective.com

About Me
In today's society individuals with visual impairments encounter many difficulties. I was born in February of nineteen ninety in Boston, Massachusetts. As a toddler, I attended the Early Intervention Program at the Perkins School For The Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. After Early Intervention, I went to a preschool in Boston where I was exposed to a wide variety of activities. I am a recent college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.

About Florida
Florida is in the Southeastern part of the United States. Orlando offers world-class attractions such as Disney World, Universal Studios, and the Holy Land Experience. Currently Orlando has a population of about 255,000 people. Saint Augustine is one of Florida's historic cities and the oldest city in the nation. Florida is known for its orange crop that is produced each year.

Braille
Unfortunately, braille menus are not available at many of the restaurants here in Central Florida. Braille signs are available in many restrooms in the public schools and other facilities. The Lighthouse of Central Florida (Lcf) provides braille classes on a regular basis, and the Braille Association of Mid Florida is one of the agencies that transcribes printed materials into braille. I am planning to start a small business that will provide braille menus to local restaurants that do not have them.

School for the Blind
The Florida School For The Deaf and Blind (Fsdb) is in Saint Augustine, Florida. This educational institution provides a variety of services to deaf and visually impaired students throughout Florida. Blind students may also be mainstreamed into the public school systems in their respective counties. Many Teachers of visually impaired (Tvi) travel to schools within their district that provide services to visually impaired students.

Mobility
My family and I live in a remote suburban area which does not have a bus stop. I use a cane to get around outside of my home when I am in the mall or another area. I take my white cane to church each Sunday. Without a car or the use of public transportation, Floridians are not able to move freely throughout the state. Orientation and mobility instructors do go to different communities to show residents how to travel independently around their homes.

Guide dogs
The Florida Association of Guide Dog users, a division of the National Federation Of The Blind (Nfb) works to promote the rights of guide dog users in Florida. I do not currently own a guide dog since I live with my parents. I am still working to improve my mobility and cane skills so that I can own a guide dog at some point in the future. During the Nfb's national convention Flagdu works with a local company to provide pet food that can be delivered to the hotel for guide dog users. They also encourage their members to educate the public about their rights as guide dog handlers. Many people have not had good experiences with guide dogs when using ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Public Transportation
Access Lynx is the service that many blind people use for their public transportation. Due to issues, such as unreliability and random pickups I choose not to use Access Lynx to get around Orlando. Ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft also offer their services to disabled Floridians. Taxis and the SunRail train system are also options for transportation. My family prefers to provide transportation for me rather than having me travel alone.

Access Technology
Local lighthouses in each county provides courses in access technology for the blind. The Florida Division of Blind Services (Dbs) refers their clients to other agencies that can offer technology training in and outside of the workplace. Engineers are often sent to the homes of clients to install computer software such as Jaws on home computers. Many people in Florida including myself own notetakers with refreshable braille displays that have been purchased by our state agency.

Employment
The Lighthouse provides job training to blind people in Central Florida. They also offer a course called Ability To Market which provides opportunities to hone interviewing skills and other job-related components. The Center For Independent Living provides employment services to disabled citizens in Central Florida. Career Source of Central Florida links people with disabilities to any jobs that are available to them.

Rehabilitation Agencies
The Rehabilitation Center for the Visually impaired is in Daytona Beach. This is a place that provides blind people with the opportunity to learn the necessary independent living skills that will allow people to succeed in their daily lives. The Nfb and the Fcb also have chapters in Florida that provide scholarships that allow blind students to attend their national and state conventions. The Florida Division of Blind Services provides many of the services available to blind Floridians. Local lighthouses provide courses in braille, access technology, cane travel, and daily living that will allow clients to increase their independence.

I hope this article gave you a glimpse of the services available to blind people in Florida. I love living here despite the Summer heat and rain. My family and I have lived here for twenty-two years.

May 2017

BEING BLIND IN WYOMING
By Abbie Johnson Taylor
abbie@mysero.net

About Wyoming
Wyoming, known as the Cowboy State, is located between Colorado, at its southern boundary, Montana at the north, South Dakota and Nebraska at the east, and Utah at the west. It has the lowest population of all fifty states. The Eatons, owners of the first dude ranch in Wyoming, near Wolf, came up with the term “dude.” The majority of Yellowstone National Park lies within Wyoming’s boundaries. To learn more, visit www.findfast.org/places-us-state-wyoming.htm

Education
Wyoming has no schools for the blind, but the state Vision Outreach Services department, with offices in several Wyoming communities, works with students who are blind or visually impaired. They provide support to school personnel, loan magnifiers and other low-vision aides, and instruct students in their use as well as reading and writing Braille and the use of adaptive technology. They offer adjustment counseling and refer students and adults to other agencies when necessary. For more information, visit https://edu.wyoming.gov/

Sports, Recreation, and Additional Training
The Wyoming Rendezvous, usually held once a year, provides an opportunity for blind and visually impaired students to gather for games and other recreational activities plus education and discussion.
The Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired, located on Casper Mountain, offers more opportunities for sports and recreation for blind and visually impaired children plus classes in mobility, computers, daily living, and other areas of interest.
The Vision Outreach Services department provides no sports and recreation or training services for adults, but clients can apply for funding for extensive mobility training from the Montgomery Trust Fund, which will be mentioned later.
There are no separate sports organizations for the blind or disabled in Wyoming.

Higher Education
Most Wyoming colleges can assist students with visual impairments. The state university in Laramie has a Disability Support Services department that provides accommodations and technical assistance. More information can be found at www.uwyo.edu/

Getting a Job
Assistance with job training is provided by the state division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which also has offices throughout the state. After an initial evaluation to determine if the client qualifies, services are provided on a case by case basis. Once a client is employed, he or she may be able to receive post-employment services. For more information about the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, visit wyomingworkforce.org/

Transportation
Most Wyoming communities have no public bus system but some sort of para-transit service for seniors and people with disabilities. In Sheridan, my hometown, this service is provided by the local senior center and available to everyone. For a nominal fee, passengers receive door-to-door service by friendly, helpful drivers in comfortable vehicles. Rides must be scheduled at least a day in advance, and passengers with doctor’s or other appointments are usually picked up at least a half an hour before the scheduled appointment. Rides can be arranged for regular activities such as school or work. The service can be paid for in part by funds from Wyoming Independent Living, a private agency that provides a variety of services to people with disabilities.

Getting Around
Sheridan, like most Wyoming communities, has curb cuts on most downtown intersections and some audible street crossing signals. In most public buildings, Braille can be found on restroom doors and elevators. Most restaurants don’t provide Braille menus, but many have online menus that are fairly accessible.

Purchasing Adaptive Technology
Wyoming residents with visual disabilities can purchase adaptive equipment with the help of grants from the Montgomery Trust Fund. Applications are received and processed by Vision Outreach Services staff, and an advisory board determines who can receive a grant. Final decisions on grant applications are made by the state superintendent of public instruction. This must be the last possible source of funding for individuals wishing to apply.

Reading
Books on digital cartridges and in Braille are available from the Utah State Library in Salt Lake City. Wyoming Vision Outreach Services staff provide players and assist clients in signing up for services. The library also has a book discussion group that meets every couple of months via phone conference. Books can also be downloaded from the National Library Service and other sources.

Blindness Organizations
Wyoming is represented by both the American Council of the blind and the National Federation of the Blind. The Wyoming Council of the blind conducts an annual conference, offers scholarships to students, and publishes a quarterly newsletter. You can learn more at http://www.wycb.info/

The National Federation of the Blind of Wyoming holds annual conferences and publishes information about technology and other subjects on their site: nfbwyoming.org

Final Thoughts
I was born in New York City in 1961. After living in New York and Colorado and then Arizona, where I was mostly educated at the state school for the blind, my family finally settled in Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1973. From that point on, I was mainstreamed into public schools where my experiences were mostly positive. After graduating from high school in 1980 and attending Sheridan College for two years, graduating with an AA in music, I went to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where I also majored in music and graduated with a BA in 1985. I then went on to study music therapy at Montana State University, also in Billings, and did a six-month internship in Fargo, North Dakota, before returning to Sheridan in 1988 where I’ve lived ever since.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that Wyoming offers the best services of any of the states where I’ve lived, despite recent budget cuts that have impacted the Department of Vision Outreach Services. If you’re looking for a new location with plenty of fresh air and nature to enjoy, I definitely recommend Wyoming.

Note: If you have any questions or would like to communicate with Abbie, contact her at her email address above.

June 2017

By David Faucheux: Louisiana
Author of Across Two Novembers: A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile

I live in Lafayette, Louisiana. This city of nearly 128,000 is located in the heart of Acadiana. Acadiana or L'Acadiane is the official name given to the French Louisiana region that is home to a large Francophone population. Many are of Acadian descent and are now identified as Cajun. Of the 64 parishes that make up the state of Louisiana, 22 named parishes and other parishes of similar cultural environment make up this intrastate region. Louisiana has parishes where the other 49 states have counties.

Acadiana consists mainly of low gentle hills in the north section and dry land prairies, with marshes and bayous (creeks) in the south closer to the coast. The wetlands increase in frequency in and around the Calcasieu River, Atchafalaya Basin, and the Mississippi River Delta. rice and sugarcane are grown here.

Acadiana, as defined by the Louisiana legislature, refers to the area that stretches from just west of New Orleans to the Texas border along the Gulf of Mexico coast, and about 100 miles inland, comprising a land area of 14,574.1 square miles with a population of over 1.3 million. The climate is humid, subtropical with long hot summers and mild winters.

Tourists love to visit because of our many music festivals, unique cuisine, mild winters, Mardi Gras celebrations, outdoor pursuits, and friendly people.

Schools for the Blind:
There is a residential school for the blind in Baton Rouge but mine was the last generation that had to go there to be educated. Today, most students are mainstreamed at local schools with resource teachers visiting to teach braille and travel skills.

University Education:
Universities have Disabled Student Services that assist students in locating materials in usable formats or provide readers who can produce usable materials. I was disappointed when I attended graduate school to obtain a Master’s of Library and Information Science because I felt unwelcome. I thought in the late 1990s as the Internet was taking off that it would be an ideal time to obtain this degree and pursue a career in this field. There were issues of accessibility regarding technology and LRS did not back me up as they felt the issues were ADA-related. I felt their influence would be greater than mine because they paid the tuition of about a thousand students to the university I was attending. Money usually talks. LRS chose to remain silent. Blindness consumer organizations were uninterested as well.

Athletic Organizations:
As far as I know, there are no state-run sports programs for blind individuals. Schools may have programs for their students, but other than that, I am not certain. I have heard that New Orleans has had some activities, but nothing on a regular basis as of this writing. my knowledge the several Rehab centers in the state do not sponsor tandem biking or such activities.

Vocational Training:
Job training is provided by the several Rehab centers located in the state. Friends of mine feel, and I do as well, that job training has not prepared many blind Louisianans for gainful employment. Something is somehow broken in the state. I do not have Department of Labor statistics, but I have spoken to friends who have spent years looking for jobs. I have found the agencies that contract with Louisiana Rehabilitative Services (LRS) to assist in finding jobs for clients to be ill-informed and under-prepared.

Accessibility
transportation:
Lafayette has a paratransit service. One can schedule a ride up to two weeks ahead and the fare is $1.50 or if you buy a book of tickets, it’s $1.25. There are public city buses with a reduced fare. I rarely ride the city buses as attempting to transfer downtown is nightmarish. There needs to be more work done with accessibility.
Uber and Lyft are now in Lafayette. Blind friends tell me they have found them to be excellent, superior to the local cabs which can be sketchy.

Getting Around:
*There are several audible traffic signals, not as many as might be. There are also curb cuts (though those always confuse me).
*I don’t know whether or not there is braille signage on street signs. There is some braille in the public. Chain restaurants have braille menus and elevators have braille.

Guide Dog School:
We have no guide dog schools in Louisiana and I suspect it’s not hugely popular here. I once owned a dog and had to advocate on several occasions. I’d prefer not to deal with this stress anymore as I am older and not in the best of health.

Benefits:
As far as benefits, we have the standard Federal benefits of SSI or SSDI. I understand local Lions Clubs have assisted people with the purchase of equipment.

Reading Service:
Talking books are provided free of charge by the State Library of Louisiana Talking Books and Braille Library which mails them out from Baton Rouge. Digital books can also be downloaded from BARD. The distribution of braille books has been outsourced to the Utah State Library for the Blind and Disabled for over a decade now.

Blind Organizations:
Louisiana has both state and local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind.
In addition, there is a statewide organization, Affiliated Blind of Louisiana or ABL. ABL has no national presence. ABL provides the kinds of services found in most rehab centers for the blind, such as adaptive technology training, cane travel, home and personal management, and braille.

Final Thoughts:
I hesitate to write the following: I feel that blind people are not quite accepted in my community. No one is mean or disrespectful, but we are not equal. I have often felt like I move on a parallel track to sighted people: not quite of their world, in their world, but not quite of it! I know the community, this entire region, which prides itself on its generosity and caring, could do better, if only it knew better. This would take a major effort. Let me close with a letter from my soon-to-be-published journal: Across Two Novembers: A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile.

This bit is from a letter to the editor of AccessWorld, a monthly technology newsletter.
Dear Editor:
I was impressed with Deborah Armstrong’s thoughts in the Letters to the Editor section of the May issue. She has made very cogent points that are not always addressed. Financing models would make some of this adaptive technology affordable. We can’t all get rehab to underwrite our tech needs, and sometimes, rehab doesn’t understand our needs and will believe any sighted tech vendor’s suggestions about how you don’t need quite so much RAM, or this brand is just as good as that one, and when your system crashes, somehow it’s your fault. Could there not be an effort to research and collect best–practices of rehab centers? Surely some states must have respectable job placement rates for their blind client’s post–ADA. Clients could be interviewed after attending a center or working with a technology vendor to learn which providers are good and which are in it more for the money.
Best,
David

I suppose to sum up, I just would like there to be safe travel means, decent jobs, and acceptance where I live.

July 2017

There is no International Segment for July

August 2017

There is no International segment for August

September 2017

Chicago, Illinois
By Sharon Howerton
Chicago, located in the state of Illinois is the third largest city in the United States. Specifically, Chicago is in northeastern Illinois on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan. It has a population of nearly 30 million people. Chicago has Dozens of cultural institutions, historical sites and museums.

Some fun facts about this interesting city:
• 40 million visitors annually
• The historical Route 66 begins here
• The McCormick Place, Chicago’s premier convention center, offers the largest amount of exhibition space in North America (2.2 million square feet)
• The Lincoln Park Zoo, one of only three major free zoos in the country, is the country’s oldest public zoo with an estimated annual attendance of three million
• The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 110 stories high

Schools for the Blind:
Chicago has a number of services. There is a residential rehab facility called Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education-Wood (known generically as ICRE-Wood) which is a state sponsored facility. Individuals come from all parts of the state; those who live locally can commute.
There is a residential school for the blind in Jacksonville, Illinois which is about 200 miles from Chicago and about 50 miles from Springfield, the capital city. This is at least K-12 but may also include younger children. Jacksonville also houses the school for the deaf. ISVI, Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, has had a decreased enrollment as have most schools for the blind since the student’s local school district needs to release the student and to acknowledge that this district cannot accommodate the student. Many students seem to have multiple disabilities including vision loss.

Integration:
As for the public school system, yes, children are integrated into the public school system.

Braille & Mobility:
Braille and mobility are taught through the school system; for adults, this falls to programs like ICRE-Wood mentioned previously or other local organizations such as the Department of Human Services, Bureau of Blind Services, though like other states, Illinois has become much more limited in the services it provides particularly for those individuals who are not able to work including seniors.

Sports & Recreation:
I cannot speak for the entire state of Illinois but can address Chicago services. There is a beep baseball team, for example, and an organization called Dare2Tri for disabled individuals of a variety of ages to participate in sports activities. There may be more activities offered by the Chicago Park District for children and adults, but I am not very familiar with that. I used to hear about judo classes for blind and visually impaired adults but do not know if this continues.

Job Training:
Organizations like the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has placement counselors but seems to be fairly limited in job training though they used to do much more of it. I worked for Illinois rehab from 1978 to 2002, and the Lighthouse was one of our primary training locations. Now places like Second-Sense, a small private organization, teaches things like access technology but not job training. To be honest, I don’t know where people get job training these days.

University:
Chicago and Illinois offer many schools and universities. I always encouraged students to work with the special needs departments at their respective schools in order to get the assistance they need. I understand that school districts provide students with technology, but that needs to be returned when a student graduates secondary school and at that point, they need to work with the adult service agency to receive the assistance they need.

Accessibility
Transportation:
For transportation, I must discuss Chicago and what we call the “collar counties” as I am not familiar with transportation in other parts of the state. Chicago has an extensive public transportation system which I use extensively. We have busses and both elevated and subway trains. There are also a number of commuter trains which we call Metra to connect Chicago to the suburbs; in fact, one such train enabled me to get up to Winnetka to Hadley for the first few years that I worked there.
One can access reduced fare services by applying for them as a person with a disability or a senior. There is also no- cost service on public transportation for low income individuals.
We do have a paratransit service. Rides must be scheduled a day in advance and cost 3 dollars per trip, but one must demonstrate an inability to use standard public transportation service. I use this service very sparingly depending on where I need to go as it can be unreliable and involves “ride share” so you have no idea how many people will be in the van or how long it will take to get to your destination. I use this for longer trips and on a very limited basis.
We also do have taxis and programs like Uber and Lyft. I have used all of them. In addition to trains, there is an extensive suburban bus system which we call PACE which I also use to get to Hadley.

Getting around:
*Many places do have tactile strips on the streets and at the edges of train platforms.
*The busses do announce their number and destination, and usually the auditory system on the busses works to indicate each stop.
* This has become much better on the trains as this is done via recording and not the individual driver or motor person. There are auditory track number announcements in the major train stations, but I find these extremely confusing as they talk over each other as track numbers are announced. However, I will also admit that I do not use the downtown train stations much and always request assistance for that reason.
* There are some audible traffic controls, but this is a topic of much disappointment as we wish there were more available.

Braille:
I generally find braille on elevators in public buildings and often auditory announcements with floor numbers, etc. I do not find many braille menus in restaurants, but perhaps I don’t go to the right places. They are rarely offered. Very few buildings that I have encountered have braille on doors but, again, this may be because of places I frequent.

Guide Dogs:
We do not have any guide dog schools in Illinois. Many people from here tend to attend Guide Dogs for the Blind in California, but I think this is due to what I would call an aggressive marketing plan on the part of their field rep who lives here. I personally did not attend that school. Guide dogs do have access to public buildings.

Benefits:
As in other parts of the country, individuals who have not worked would be eligible for SSI benefits; those who worked the appropriate number of quarters would receive Social Security Disability.
There is a program called the Access Technology Project which allows individuals to borrow equipment; purchase depends on whether the state can assist or the individual locates another resource.

Reading service:
Illinois has the talking book service overseen by the Secretary of State’s office. There used to be a talking book center in Chicago and other locations; now all audio books which need to be mailed come through Springfield. Braille services come through the Utah State Library. Otherwise a patron can download audio or braille materials through BARD.

Blind Organizations:
Illinois has a small chapter of the American Council of the Blind and a rather large active chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. ICB may have a couple of affiliates, I am not sure how many affiliates NFB Illinois has, but they are considerably more active and proactive.
There are organizations for the blind here such as Blind Service Association which may be able to assist with tourism, but I don’t know; they do a lot of great volunteer work.
There is also a residence for the blind, Friedman Place, which has housing options and individuals of all ages.

Final Thoughts:
I think people who are blind or visually impaired, at least in Chicago, can be as active as one wants to be, and one does not have to be limited to blind organizations.

A Bit About Myself:
I started working for Hadley in September, 2002 after retiring from state service. It has been a fabulous opportunity where I do not have to concern myself with government regulations and constraints. For the first time in my 40+ year career of working with blind and visually impaired people, I feel I can actually provide service and “do good” for people.
I am the mother of two adult married sons, both of whom are sighted, I currently have five grandchildren. My activities include exercise at a local facility, participation in a parish church choir which I have done for most of the last 25 years, current president of the Chicago Uptown Lions Club and anything else that my guide dog Cameo and I can explore.
If you would like to get in touch with Sharon, you may email her at:shrnhow@gmail.com

THE END