Interview on the Low Vision Bureau Podcast

We, the Blinkie Chicks, would like to thank Alvaro Gutierrez for interviewing us for the Low Vision Bureau podcast. We had a blast chatting with, and getting to know Alvaro, and as our projects are similar, we look forward to possible future collaborations.

Alvaro Gutierrez, the founder of Low Vision Bureau, created the site to build a community of blind and visually impaired people and to hopefully improve the status of blind and low vision individuals in societies worldwide. Alvaro lives in Columbia, but hopes to find a job in the United States helping blind and low vision individuals. He is constantly seeking new individuals to interview on his podcast, as well as to collaborate with on the goals of Low Vision Bureau.

Check out the Low Vision Bureau website, and interact with Alvaro on Twitter.

If you haven’t heard our interview yet, please click here to hear our interview on the Low Vision Bureau Podcast. Additionally, you may check out the blog post Alvaro wrote to accompany the interview.

We appreciate all the support; thanks for reading!

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The Story of Ashley and Landon

Hello everyone! The following blog post was written by Ashley about her experience training for a guide dog at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and how getting him changed her life. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or chat with Ashley on Twitter. You may contact her via our Twitter account: @BlinkieChicks, or via her personal account: @AshleyColeman51.

Photo of Ashley, and her guide dog Landon

My name is Ashley Coleman, and I’d like to tell you about my experiences applying for, training with, and then working with my guide dog.

I applied to Guiding Eyes in February of 2010, determined that they would have my paperwork as soon as I could possibly get it to them. In the middle of March, I completed all of my paperwork, and the admissions office had it in my file. I was contacted by a field rep, and we scheduled my home interview in early April. We met at my house on a day I did not have classes; I was asked many questions about my lifestyle, and about what I wanted to do in the future. After the field rep had asked me some of these questions, we went to my community college where I was videotaped walking a route through a normal day of classes for me. I was taken on a Juno walk where the field rep found out how fast I walked, what kind of pull I would like to have in a dog, and how I gave corrections.

After the home interview, the field rep gave the admissions committee my information, which included the video of my walks.

In late April/early May, I received a call from someone in admissions; she told me that I had been accepted. I called them several times between my home interview and finding out about being accepted.

When I was asked to attend the June or July classes that summer, I was surprised. I decided to go to the June class, and I gave the person at admissions the information about my nearest airport. A few days later, I received my E-ticket, and started shopping for the things that I would need while at Guiding Eyes; one of the things on my list was a second pair of good walking shoes. (They were difficult for me to find).

On June 7, 2010, I boarded my first plane. It took me to New York where I was met by Guiding Eyes staff. Several students were coming in at the same time I was, so I was able to talk to them on the car ride to Guiding Eyes. Once at Guiding Eyes, I was Oriented to the building and was left to unpack. Later that day, all of the students that were there–which were most of us–had a meeting with many of the Guiding Eyes staff, and we were warmly welcomed.

After supper we had our first lecture with our trainers, and they introduced us to the equipment we would be using to train with our dogs. Harness, collars, and leashes were passed around for all of us to see, and we learned how they were to be used. We were allowed to keep our leashes; this made all of us very happy.

On Tuesday, we went to White Planes to go on Juno walks with our trainers. They talk to us about what we looked for in a dog, and they also looked at how fast we gave corrections. They taught us how to give the dogs commands, verbal and leash corrections, and praise.

Later on Tuesday night, we had a lecture on what was going to happen the next day. This happened every night, along with a lecture about how to care for our dogs. Some nights we would have lectures on how to groom our dogs, brush their teeth, leave them by themselves in case of an emergency, or you needed to go to a place that the dog did not need to go.

After breakfast Wednesday morning, we had a little down time while the staff were in a meeting. When we were finished, we went to practice putting on and taking off the dogs equipment on a couple of stuffed dogs. We also practiced heeling Juno, and bringing Juno in and out of all kinds of doors. Those that hadn’t explored their outside door were shown that area because it is the relieving area,.

After lunch, we were all brought into a meeting; several people spoke , and then our Class supervisor read the list of people matched with dogs. After this we went back to our rooms to wait for our dogs. At about 2:15, my trainer came in with my dog. I handed her my leash, and she clipped it to my dogs collar and left us alone until it was time to feed the dogs. Since it would be our first time feeding our dogs, the trainers came around to help us feed them. Once I received my dog, I felt like I had four extra left feet; however, I felt exhilarated, like I could take on the world.

Later, we would heel our dogs to the cafeteria to have supper with our dogs by our sides for the first time. We also attended our first lecture with the dogs that night.
On Thursday, we loaded up the vans and went to White Planes. We took our dogs for our first walks in harness. On my first walk with my dog in harness, I was intimidated in putting trust in my dog, but I did, and we had several awesome walks together.

During the rest of the training, we went to different places like Malls, grocery stores, and such to experience working with our dogs in all kinds of settings. Near the end of training, the trainers took us to Manhattan for a half day to walk around the area, experience their public transportation, and to have lunch in one of the small restaurants there. Here I experienced riding on a train and a subway for the first time in my life. I was scared I would get lost in the big city, but I learned that my dog and I can handle anything that was thrown at us.

On the last Saturday in class was Graduation. Most of the puppy raisers came, and there was a ceremony where the graduates spoke and sang, and the puppy raisers were given a picture of the new team and the person’s contact information.

After the ceremony, the person, the dog, and the raiser had time to sit down and talk for a while. I was very excited to meet my boys puppy raiser. One of the things that I was afraid of was that she would not think that I handled my dog the way she would have expected or wanted.

Class ended on the 2nd of July, and I took a plane home. Shortly after that, I returned to school for my last year of school. My pup and I walked across the stage at my community college in May, 2011.

During this time, I was learning how to handle my dog without the trainers being around to help me. we both were continuing to learn how to trust and work with each other. I was worried that I would mess up my dog’s training or behavior in general, but we managed to keep it together, and to remain a solid team.

We went on to spend a few months at the North Carolina Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, where I brushed up on some of my daily living skills before I moved to college. I was allowed to work with one of the Orientation and Mobility Instructors to work on some college campuses like the one I would be going to the following year. The instructor also taught me routes on the GMS campus where the Rehabilitation Center is located. We also traveled out in the city of Raleigh, where I finally got to use an audible signal.

I have had a guide dog for three years now. since he’s pranced into my life, my dog has improved it so much.

My dog has made me a more independent and safe traveler; I know that with him by my side, we can conquer anything. My dog is my eyes, and I depend on him to tell me what I can’t see. He leads me around obstacles and things in my path. When he sees traffic coming at us, he has been taught to disobey me. He gets me out of the way.

He has been with me everywhere, from hotels, to restaurants, and to ball games all around my college campuses. He has remembered where my room is, and he has learned the way to all of my classes. He has become the light of my life; I am glad I went to get a guide dog.

The Accessible Netflix Project

Netflix is a service that offers a variety of movies and television shows for subscribers to order for delivery by mail, and watch instantly on a computer, cell phone or tablet, smart TV, gaming device, or media streaming device. Many people enjoy Netflix with no problems, but those with disabilities have struggled to access content and services provided by Netflix since its launch, due to inaccessible web and application interfaces. Having used other streaming services, we know that it is possible for Netflix to make their website and applications accessible. The problem is they don’t want to.

The situation with Netflix isn’t all bad; the iOS app and website have become slightly more usable with some screen readers over time, and thanks to the work of advocates for the deaf community, Netflix has agreed to add closed captions to all content by 2014. Unfortunately, Netflix is still unusable by many individuals with disabilities, and there is no audio described content available for blind and visually impaired customers.

The inaccessibility of the Netflix website and applications prompted the American Council of the Blind (ACB) to pass resolution 2011-17, which requests Netflix make their products accessible for blind and low vision customers and add audio described content. The ACB wishes to work with Netflix on this endeavor, but there has been little change regarding these issues since.

In hopes of making Netflix more accessible and raising awareness for the issues we, as people with disabilities, face when attempting to use Netflix, Robert Kingett has created The Accessible Netflix Project. We, the Blinkie Chicks, are supporting this campaign for a more accessible Netflix, and you can, too! Check out the website for information on ways you can help, including how you can make donations, provide feedback regarding your experiences with Netflix, and much more. This project has already caught the attention of some big names in media, but we still need more exposure and support. So, please share the website and/or this blog post with everyone you know, and provide your feedback on the website.

We appreciate your support; thank you for reading!

Our #AccessChat Interview

Hey everyone, it’s Jessica. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Fedora Outlier on Tuesday for their weekly #AccessChat on twitter. Those who know me know I am a twitter addict, so this type of interview was perfect for me. I tweeted from the @BlinkieChicks account, and answered questions about what we do, and the technology we use. If you missed Tuesday’s chat, but still want to read the basic questions we were asked, you can read the questions and our answers below. Enjoy!

1. Who are you? Which Twitter client are you chatting with? And, which Apple devices do you own?

I’m Jessica: a student majoring in Sociology. I own an iPhone 5, an iPad 2, and a Macbook Pro. I use YoruFukurou, Twitterrific and TweetList Pro. Ashley is a student majoring in Special Ed. She owns an iPhone 3GS & a 4th generation iPod Touch, and she uses The Qube and TweetList for twitter. Daria is a college grad who majored in English; she owns an iPod Touch 3rd generation, and she mainly uses The Qube for twitter.

2. Tell us: What happened to form the @BlinkieChicks? What brought you three together?

We wanted to make a difference, & be a resource for others, so we began doing presentations, creating media, and tweeting.

3. What were some of the challenges you all faced in college—and how did you overcome them?

Some things we’ve struggled with at times include: making friends with able-bodied students, getting help/dealing with unwanted help, & inaccessible events on campus. We educate those we speak to, advocate for accessibility, and do presentations to raise awareness.

4. What were some resources and tech that helped you make it through college?

Our Disability Support Services is amazing! For awhile, I didn’t have much tech, so I used a computer with a JAWS demo. I saved & bought what I have. That + learning to effectively communicate with professors made college life much easier. A computer with JAWS, understanding professors, and Disability Support Services helped Daria get through college. Ashley uses an iPod Touch, and a laptop with NVDA.

5. What’s the goal behind the content and resources the Blinkie Chicks are creating? Who are they aimed at reaching—and why?

We’re dedicated to bridging the gap between the sighted and blind communities. Our content is targeted at a range of people. Many of our presentations educate sighted people, whereas our blog & a lot of the links we share are useful for the blind.

6. If folks were to follow your social media updates and blog—what can they expect to see?

We share our blog posts & presentations as well as links to news, stories, information, and issues relating to blindness.

7. What’s one word of wisdom (about life, accessibility, etc etc) each of you would share?

I say, “Advocate”. The world isn’t designed for us & society excludes us. We must speak up for better access & inclusion. Daria says “Educate”. We’re treated differently because many don’t know better. We must educate to make life better for all. Ashley says “confidence”. Confident & capable people change the perceptions others have about visually impaired people.

Moving in the Right Direction: Disabilities in Media and the Need for Audio Description

We recently read a blog post, entitled Sex, Blinks and Video Tape, about the way people with disabilities are portrayed in media. The person who wrote the blog post surveyed some people and did some research to see how many disabled characters they could find in films and television shows. Although the number of disabled roles is very limited, it continues to grow in recent years. With that said, the roles of these characters often reinforce negative stereotypes about people with disabilities. Disabled characters are viewed as either perfect angels are as a threat to society. Not only are these roles played by able-bodied actors, but the roles themselves are often inaccurate representations of the lives of disabled people. Additionally, the fictional characters in movies and television shows who have disabilities are usually disabled at a later age, due to some sort of injury. While this is the case for many disabled individuals, this depiction of disabled people leaves out a large chunk of the disabled population. With this said, we’d like to introduce you to three fictional characters, who portray disability in a relatively accurate light. None of the actors who play these roles has the disability they portray, and none of the characters is disabled from birth, but the disabled characters in these shows are portrayed as being human;one continues to pursue his passions, the second works for the CIA, and the last disabled character is able to make mistakes and have a social life. This is a definite step in the right direction, and these shows deserve recognition for their efforts.

Degrassi is a Canadian teen drama that covers a range of issues, including: gang violence, poor self image, peer pressure, drug use, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, self-injury, and even death. This show features a few characters with disabilities, including some with learning disabilities, forms of Autism, and some physical disabilities. Jimmy Brooks was the school’s basketball star, until a school shooting left him in a wheelchair. Although he remains frustrated by his disability, he refuses to let it define him. He is allowed to have a series of relationships, including one that becomes serious, and he continues to pursue his other passions, despite being in a wheelchair. Not only does he continue to play basketball, by coaching the team, but he also pursues his passions and art through music and painting. Eventually, he goes to college to pursue a law degree.

Covert Affairs is a show on the USA network that follows Annie Walker, a young CIA trainee who works in the Domestic Protection Division where she serves as a field agent. Auggie Anderson is a blond tech operative, who is Annie’s guide in her new life. He is a CIA military intelligence/special ops officer who was blinded while on a mission in Iraq. Unlike the depictions of many other disabled people on television, Auggie works at a highly-skilled job, is still very independant and masculine, as he is able to hold his own in the field, and he is allowed to engage in intimacy and even long term relationships. Part of this may be due to the fact that, like many other disabled characters on television, he was wounded later in life, not blind from birth.

Switched at Birth is an ABC Family television series that revolves around two teenage girls who are switched at birth, and who live two very different lives. Daphne grows up in a poor neighborhood with Regina, her single mom. Bay, on the other hand, grows up well-off, with both her parents and a brother. Daphne and Regina move into the Kennish’s family’s guest house to save money, and to be close by; this way both families are able to get to know their long lost child. Daphne becomes deaf at the age of three, due to meningitis, and she attends a local school for the deaf. This is a shock to the Kennish’s, but after coming to terms with Daphne’s hearing impairment, they become supportive of her, often stepping on the toes of the less well off Regina.

This show is great, because it has many deaf and hard of hearing regulars, and many scenes are shot entirely in American Sign Language. (Degrassi and Covert Affairs do not have any actors who are actually disabled). It shows deaf and hearing impaired youth living their lives, just like the other teens on the show. Daphne gets into trouble, has a series of relationships, some of which become intimate, is very independant and capable, and she doesn’t take crap from the people around her.

While we’re glad these characters exist on television, and demonstrate to the viewers that disabled people live normal lives, we are still frustrated with the lack of audio description. This is especially true for Switched at Birth. Covert Affairs can be found described, which is good, considering the amount of action packed scenes in the show. It can be very fast paced, and dialog isn’t always present when something important is happening. Degrassi doesn’t feature too many silent scenes, making it pretty easy for visually impaired viewers to easily follow the show. However, the same cannot be said for Switched at Birth. Not only can it not be found in a described version, but there are numerous scenes that feature dialog that is entirely in ASL. This is great, because it enlightens sighted viewers about sign language and interactions in the deaf community in a very realistic way. However, for those of us who are visually impaired or have difficulty reading subtitles, the show is extremely difficult to follow. Each time something is said in ASL, Yessie, who is visually impaired, must pause the show to read it. Others must wait until a sighted person is present to watch the show, so that the subtitles can be read to them. Even still, some viewers watch the show without the ability to read the subtitles or have them read at all. This means that these viewers have to piece together what is happening on the show, based on clues in spoken dialog. This is extremely difficult, and the people who have to do this are missing out on a large chunk of what happens on the show. If you don’t believe us, try watching an episode of Switched at Birth with your eyes closed. We deserve to enjoy what happens with as much ease as those who don’t have to struggle to watch this show. This is why we, the blinkie chicks, would like Switched at Birth to be made available with audio description.

This is where you, our readers, come into play. Our hope is that this entry will educate people who are unaware of the portrayal of disabled people in the media, as well as the need for audio description. Maybe, just maybe, someone who can actually do something about the lack of audio description will see this. So, please pass this along. Share it on social media sites, email, or even just tell people about it. Thank you for reading.

Leave GMS Alone, Already!

Good afternoon! I wrote the following entry in collaboration with a good friend of mine, Kristin Miller, who also attended GMS. This entry has been adapted, with permission, for this blog. Feel free to read the original entry, as well as her other posts on Kristin’s blog. 🙂

For many years now, the fate of The Governor Morehead School for the Blind (GMS) has been unknown, due to financial concerns, a decline in the number of students, and the beauty and location of the campus. It’s prime real-estate, so people are constantly trying to find ways to shut down the school, or even to just snatch the land from those who rely on it. Not only does the GMS campus house the k-12 program, but there is also a pre-school, and a rehabilitation center. Division of Services for the Blind is also housed on the campus, making obtaining services much easier for students and those who attend the rehabilitation center. None of this seems to matter to those who wish to close the school, and it also doesn’t seem to matter that the campus is historic. Those who are involved, and are letting greed get the best of them, aught to be ashamed of themselves.

People will note that there has been a decline in the number of students at GMS, and they will note that more and more students prefer to stay in public school. However, what they’re not telling you is that students who meet the qualifications to attend GMS have been being turned away for many years. Combine this with the instability of the school, and the fact that most parents would rather have their children with them anyway, and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s about time blind students in North Carolina feel they have a reliable place to go if they aren’t receiving a decent education in public school, and for those who do attend not to have to worry whether or not their school will exist next year, after break, or even next month.

By law, schools are supposed to provide materials and resources for all students, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. Unfortunately, visually impaired students rarely receive a good education in public schools, due to lack of resources, and funding. In many cases, students are denied access to braille instruction, computer and mobility training, and access to printed materials. I have first-hand knowledge of this; I attended a public elementary school. I was lucky if I had the right books, and very few teachers seemed to care if I kept up with the class and understood the material. I wasn’t taught braille or mobility skills, but I still had to attend a school located on the other side of town to receive even minimal services. This is no way for a child to get an education.

I’m proud to say, I graduated from GMS knowing I received the education I deserved. Not only was I surrounded by students who were just like me, the teachers and other staff members were dedicated to providing the best education possible for all students. All of my teachers knew braille, which meant that I could learn and submit assignments in the way that worked for me. Every student had access to braille, large print materials, and accessible computers. Everyone was able to learn in the way that suited them. Not to mention, the school’s location allowed for valuable mobility training, which, as an independent woman, I rely on everyday.

People need to take a step back, and focus on the purpose of GMS, instead of how much value the land holds and other plans for the land. It’s already being put to a very good use, and I believe doing anything else with the land would be a disgrace. I’m thankful my parents sent me to GMS, because without the help of The staff at GMS, I wouldn’t have received the education I deserved. I wouldn’t be the independent person I am today, and life wouldn’t hold quite as much for me. I really hope the school is able to remain open, and to continue to serve the disabled students of NC. It truly would be a shame if such a good thing was shut down.

WIPO Treaty

Good afternoon, everyone! Today, we have another beautifully written blog post to share with you all. It is important to note that this post is about a time sensitive issue; you’re support is needed. At the end of this post, we’ve added links to articles where you may get more information about the treaty, and sites that provide opportunities for you to help. As always, thank you for reading! Enjoy Daria’s post below:

Ever since I was a child, reading has been something I loved to do. I loved being able to escape from the world I lived in, in favor of another world that was much more adventurous. (I once read forty-five books in one year while in the fourth grade). The older I got, the more reading served different purposes in my life. I was no longer reading solely for the purpose of escaping; I now read because of my eagerness to learn. For instance, when I read books like All Quiet on the Western Front, I learned what it was like for soldiers to serve their country.

While in college, I majored in English, and I read novels such as Franny and Zooey and Invisible Man. But also, I read about disability theory, and have applied that theory to papers I had to write. I write all this to convey that I would not have been able to read all of this material had they not been adapted to accessible formats.

Websites such as bookshare.org have over a hundred thousand books available in accessible formats for people who are blind and for people with print disabilities; magazines and newspapers are also available in alternative formats such as Daisy and digital Braille. The Treaty for the Blind makes this possible because it allows us to have access to materials in alternative formats, regardless of where they are. These materials are needed for an education, employment, and for inclusion in society. Eventually, blind people and people with print disabilities from all over the world will be able to have access to this information. (This is the international treaty’s goal).

However, private interests are trying to make changes to the treaty that could adversely affect our ability to get access to these books. One of the ways they want to make changes to this treaty is by altering its language. The phrase “If you can buy it, you can’t borrow it” could have a drastic affect on future access to books. This means that websites like Book Share may not be able to continue providing accessible materials for people who are blind or who have print disabilities in the US and other countries. Other libraries for the blind could also be affected. For me, this means not being able to just download a book when I wish to read, or have access to magazines that I enjoy perusing.

Though we may have access to some accessible materials, we do not have access to every book or every magazine. If alters to the Treaty for the Blind are made, this access could disappear. This will cause people who are blind to be further isolated from society because they will no longer have access to the materials that will allow them to have an education, nor will they have access to books that can provide a way of escape from their routines. I was fortunate to have that access all of my life, and I want me, and my fellow blind peers, to continue having that access. I also want those people who don’t yet have access to these books to finally be able to read a book or a magazine in a format that will suit them.

For more information about what private interests are trying to do to the treaty for the blind, here are some links to two articles. The first is an article that’s posted on The Huffington Post:
Poisoning the Treaty for the Blind

The second link is to an article on Wired Magazine:
Obama Stops Championing Treaty That Gives the Blind Better Access to E-Books

How you can help:
Sign the petition on Whitehouse.gov to support the treaty: Sign the Petition

Let your voice be heard by submitting a video about the WIPO Treaty to the NFB. WIPO Video Submission Instructions