Blind

The enormity of the Eiffel Tower and the jaw-dropping tiling of the Taj Mahal make most tourists dumbstruck with awe. But what happens if you can’t see them? Visually impaired tourists are now getting a small taste of the experience of seeing these man-made marvels, thanks to strategically placed scale models. The models are usually made of bronze and sometimes include information about the depicted monument in Braille. One of the most productive model creators, Egbert Broerken, can count over 100 models of European architecture to his name. 

Brent Lowe is no stranger to difficult personal situations. He’s blind, and has lived for years alone with his 24-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) and a caretaker on Abaco in the Bahamas. Recently, however, Hurricane Dorian made his life exponentially harder. After its fierce winds ripped off the roof of the house where they were hunkering down, Lowe knew he had to get himself and his son out of their house, or risk death. As soon as he stepped off his front porch he found himself chin-deep in water. He had no choice but to put his son over his shoulder and carry him to a neighbor’s house to wait out the storm. Lowe was evacuated to Nassau while his son stayed on Abaco with a family member. With his house gone, Lowe is understandably devastated. "We need a place to go," he said. "I don't know exactly what we are going to do. We need help."

 

Men used to explain their interest in Playboy magazine by citing the great literary content––not the images of scantily clad women. A legally blindman, Donald Nixon, recently took that argument to the next level by filing a lawsuit against the iconic publication alleging that neither Playboy.com nor Playboyshop.com were compatible with his screenreader. It turns out Mr. Nixon actually does want to read it for the articles, and according to the ADA, he argues, he should have every right to. 

Seeing Eye has been training guide dogs for almost 100 years. (Fun trivia: they patented the term “seeing-eye dog.”) The four months of intense training they employ with the dogs concludes with an trip to New York City as the penultimate test to prove the dog can safely guide a blind person. A trainer and the dog’s new master accompany the dog through busy streets and public transportation as the trainer assesses how well the dog navigates the various challenges. “There’s no more intense place than New York City to train the dogs — it’s the craziest environment they’ve ever been in,” said Brian O’Neal, a Seeing Eye trainer.

Seeing Eye is not the only guide dog training school that uses New York City as the ultimate obstacle course; Guiding Eyes For the Blind and the Guide Dog Foundation also use the frenetic city as a training ground.   Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, applauds these efforts, noting that even if the dogs aren’t going to be living in a city urban training prepares them for crowded public areas like malls and carnivals.

Seeing Eye has been training guide dogs for almost 100 years. (Fun trivia: they patented the term “seeing-eye dog.”) The four months of intense training they employ with the dogs concludes with an trip to New York City as the penultimate test to prove the dog can safely guide a blind person. A trainer and the dog’s new master accompany the dog through busy streets and public transportation as the trainer assesses how well the dog navigates the various challenges. “There’s no more intense place than New York City to train the dogs — it’s the craziest environment they’ve ever been in,” said Brian O’Neal, a Seeing Eye trainer.

Seeing Eye is not the only guide dog training school that uses New York City as the ultimate obstacle course; Guiding Eyes For the Blind and the Guide Dog Foundation also use the frenetic city as a training ground.   Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, applauds these efforts, noting that even if the dogs aren’t going to be living in a city urban training prepares them for crowded public areas like malls and carnivals.

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Mark chats with Sassy Outwater-Wright, director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. They discuss such topics as the need to support people with multiple disabilities and the right way to approach a conversation focusing on the concerns of people with disabilities. Sassy talks about the mission of MABVI and how it impacts the lives of the visually impaired people it supports.

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Unless their eyes are closed and covered with soap, most sighted people rarely mistake the shampoo bottle for the conditioner or vice versa. Unfortunately, this is an everyday annoyance for visually impaired people, as shampoo and conditioner bottles generally lack differentiating physical characteristics.

Recently, however, P&G’s obsession with their customers led them into inclusive design territory: they decided to add vertical lines on the bottom of Herbal Essences’ shampoo bottles and circles to the bottom of the conditioner bottles to eliminate confusion for their visually impaired customers.

While medicinal product packaging must have Braille in Europe, no such regulation exists in the United States. Advocates and people with disabilities hope P&G’s initiative will spark a chang in mindset among other consumer packaged goods companies.

Ahmet Ustunel inspired the world when he made the solo trip from Asia to Europe without being able to see a thing. Aided by a GPS that beeps to warn him if he steers off course and a Victor Stream Reader, he dodged shipping vessels and navigated choppy waves to successfully cross the 3-mile strait. His courageous expedition was funded by his winnings from the Holman Prize, a Lighthouse initiative intended to support exceptional endeavors of “blind ambition.” 

While many hands have wrung over the allegedly eminent “death of the printed book” due to e-readers, that’s actually not the case reported reading both e- and regular books. Not exactly a death spiral.

Braille books, however, being much more unwieldy and expensive than traditional printed books, have felt the e-reader presence more so. In 1963, over 60% of blind students used Braille books for reading; by 2011 that number had dropped to just 11%. Experts believe the rapidly improving speech-to-text technology is the primary reason for the drop, but availability and accessibility of e-books has also contributed.

But for those who appreciate the tactile experience of a good read through Braille, along with the cognitive benefits that accompany the act of reading, Harvard is coming to the rescue with reprogrammable Braille books. The method: a stylus imprints dots on a flexible elastic shell (which retains the imprints of the stylus), but readers have the ability to “erase” the imprints, allowing different configurations to replace the originals. This process would make Braille books infinitely easier to produce, as well as minimize their bulk– the Braille version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix(already quite a sizeable tome) contains a whopping 30% more pages than its regular printed version.

While there is still much work to be done to refine the process, researchers are excited by the prospect. Stay tuned for the next evolution of Braille books.

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