by Mike Firth
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Eugenia Firth Braille Proofreading
Rev. 2003-02-06, -08-16, 2004-12-19, 2009-04-05, -04-10, 2010-02-16, 2016-09-19
Help for the Blind
Braille, Audio, Training, etc.
Guide Dogs, Canes, etc.
What is Blind?
House & Kitchen
The Dog Party
Suzanne & Caddo Guiding [new page]
Blind Problems with DART Accessibility [new page]
My wife, Gigi, is a blind person, having been almost entirely blind since birth (a few glimmers of light) and totally since mid-childhood. Because of this, I have spent a bunch of time around blind people and I would like to make a few comments in case someone wants my thoughts.
A purpose for this page is to provide some personal and general information about blindness for people who stumble across it. Note that this is not about the politically correct "visually impaired" which my wife does not like, since she is a blind person, a total, unable to see. Note that I say she is a blind person, not that she is blind. Blind is an adjective, not a complete description. In this case, she has earned more money than I do while working less hours and being more active socially than I am.
I watched with
admiration as our blind family friend, Suzanne Whalen, coped with
constant pain from an accident while she dealt with a wheel chair. Part
of her recovery was the retraining of Caddo, her Seeing Eye
Dog, by Southeastern Guide Dogs, to guide her while she steers a
power wheelchair. Caddo died in the fall of 2008. In honor I keep this page: Suzanne & Caddo
Guiding As a result of Suzanne's demonstrations and pressure,
several other schools, including the Seeing Eye, have set up wheelchair guiding
Besides governmental and charitable programs, there are two major organizations composed mostly of blind people and a couple of more acting for blind people. Virtually every state has some kind of program for assisting blind people and there is a federal program for recording books and magazines for blind, usually administered at the state level, such as the State Library in Texas. There are a number of businesses that sell products aimed at blind users. Blind students can have textbooks recorded or get tapes of the many books that have been recorded through the library or directly from Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. Typically, most totally blind people use computer assistance with portable Braille or talking devices or with speech assisted desktop units and partials may use all of these or enlarging displays or adaptive software.
The National Federation of the Blind http://www.nfb.org/ and the American Council of the Blind http://www.acb.org/ are the two leading organizations of blind persons. (There are several additional organizations FOR the blind.) My wife has been active in the first which broke off from the second decades ago because the ACB wasn't aggressive enough. The NFB has been much more militant. Although things have moderated in recent years, for years the two scheduled their national conventions for the same days around the 4th of July. Schools and exhibitors were a factor in moving them somewhat apart. The NFB tends to operate like a union with a low cost convention and keeps control of events without revealing them in advance. The ACB is more like a teachers conference with higher cost and details published far in advance.
For people who are visually impaired or totally blind, there are a number of programs to provide services including training, conversion of books and magazines to forms accessible to the blind. These are available to all ages and, in most cases, to any level of legally blind. This point is made because many news stories focus on children in school and new devices, while an increasing number of users are part of the aging and increasingly diabetic "baby boom" generation. While the details are quite lengthy and much information is available from the blind organizations, a summary here may focus your efforts.
While I had not seen an estimate of word rate before and NFB is very assertive in its claims sometimes, this number is not out of line. My wife uses the services available in download electronic Braille and audio files/tapes/disks and reads at rate considerably faster than the rapidly spoken work. Blind voice devices/programs are adjustable for speed. One factor in the rapid reading of Braille is that most of the material is in what is called Grade 2 which is equivalent to short hand. Grade 1 or computer Braille replaces each character with a Braille symbol. But Grade 2 replaces whole words, syllable, and letter combinations with a single symbol or two. Thus "the", "able", and even "Braille" are compressed. This makes reading faster than might be expected from a first encounter with a chart of Braille symbols.
Blind persons choose from several kinds of assistance which may include: sighted people, a white cane, or a guide dog. My wife and most of her friends use guide dogs. Under state laws, a person using a white cane or a guide dog is provided with special privileges, including special attention when crossing streets and taking dogs where pets can not be taken such as restaurants and public vehicles. By law a guide dog may go anywhere the owner is allowed. The owner is responsible if the dog does damage, but the dog can not be charged with damage just for being a dog (i.e. allergies or dog hair in a cab.) Guide dog users are provided with a photo ID showing the dog and owner, but there is no requirement that it be displayed while using the dog as I was recently asked.
Guide dogs are provided by a number of schools
across the country. Because there have been several cases of
fraud recently, it is good to mention that recognized schools: do not
charge for the dog, training or residency
during training; do charge a small fee as a responsibility factor
- $75 or plane fare; do provide follow up at the user's home by
traveling instructors, do not require students to promote the
school or do fundraising. Right now most of the dogs being
provided are Labrador retrievers, German shepherds or Lab-Golden mixes
although almost any dog of appropriate size and temperament has been
trained, for example boxers are used to help with allergies. Although
some people may react with fear of a large dog, the dogs are not
trained as protection animals but to be friendly and polite.
Fraudulent persons and "schools" and a few misguided attempts to "help" have produced ill-trained dogs and some abuse of the people involved. Further signs of bad operations include requests or demands for payment of $1,000 to $10,000 for a dog, claims that a particular state or area is being ignored or cheated by the established guide dog schools, and demands that a trainee participate in demonstrations, fundraising, or other business activities of the school. Guide dog instructors hired by legitimate schools have undertaken a 3 year apprenticeship at a school. Any good school or instructor should be able to identify their training school and background.
Legitimate, recognized schools include (but if I
miss one, are not limited to)
|Eye Dog Foundation for the Blind||Phoenix||AZ||http://www.eyedogfoundation.org/|
|Guide Dogs for the Blind||San Rafael||CA||http://www.guidedogs.com/|
|Guide Dogs of America||Sylmar||CA||http://www.guidedogsofamerica.org/|
|Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation||Bloomfield||CT||http://www.fidelco.org|
|Leader Dogs for the Blind||Rochester||MI||http://www.leaderdog.org|
|Freedom Guide Dogs||Cassville||NY||http://firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind||Smithtown||NY||http://www.guidedog.org/|
|Guiding Eyes for the Blind||Yorktown Heights||NY||http://www.guiding-eyes.org|
|Southeastern Guide Dogs||Palmetto||FL||http://www.guidedogs.org/|
|Upstate Guide Dog Association, Inc.||Bloomfield||NY||http://www.ugda.org/ (Western NY only)|
Many people are very edgy about the word 'blind' and 'visually impaired' has become popular. People who are really, really blind, as in no vision at all and maybe plastic eyes that pop out, are much less edgy and make jokes, "visually precluded" being one. "Legally blind" means that a person has such limited vision, even with correction, that they can't pass a vision test with better than 20/400 vision or have other limitations, such as a very narrow field of vision or severe lack of night vision. [My vision with my glasses off is about 20/400: I can barely make out the second row of letters on the eye chart and parts of the E at the top are missing. I am not legally blind because my vision is corrected to 20/20. I keep backup glasses on hand!]
"Totally Blind" means a person can't see. A person who is a "Total" may have a tiny perception of light, but typically does not have enough sight to make out objects to avoid them or find them on the floor. Obviously, a lot more people are legally blind than totally blind and one of the major problems of blindness is that it often progressive and even professionals in the field have been reluctant to encourage a person who will get worse to learn the skills needed when totally blind. For example, learning Braille has been a skill put off by people and the 'professionals' advising them, to the point that parents had to sue to get it taught in schools to young people. One of the upcoming problems with the aging baby boomer population is the increased incidence of blindness due to diabetes, which will increase the number of blind and produce people with poor feeling in their hands, precluding the use of Braille.
In broad classifications, blindness starts with
needing enlargement of text in order to read because no
magnifying glass will make it readable. This is usually done
today with TV cameras and monitors or with oversized text on a
computer monitor. Next is blurring of sight so reading is lost as
well as the ability to identify people. Here the solution is
machines for reading aloud and recorded books. In parallel with these may be loss of
peripheral vision, so the vision is like looking through a
cardboard tube, and loss of night vision, so that sight is
reasonably good during the day, but, as color vision fades at
night, the black and white most of us are used to using just
Among the prejudices we have to deal with is that my wife is helpless (see below) and that if I go out of town, someone has to come in to take care of her. Not only is that not true, now retired, she went to work everyday and made more money than I did.
In our house, you will find a fair number of eye screws attached to the walls above the baseboards. These are for hooking up dogs with their leashes or bed-chains.. Seeing Eye leashes have a snap hook on each end with a pair of rings that allow using it as a short or long leash or as a bed chain. Dogs frequently are attached to a bed leg or piece of office furniture if they have a tendency to creep off to see who is around the corner. When we have a party there may be five or more dogs clipped at various points around the house.
The kitchen is a shared domain and when we rebuilt it, we took into consideration her "real" handicap - she is only 5 feet tall. Since I am 6'3", making a kitchen to serve us both has some interesting choices. When we first moved in, the kitchen was very old and broken down. Someone had cut the top off the built-in cabinets to accommodate the sink and a store bought Formica top. It was even lower than average. Gigi thought it was great until she discovered her dog could walk up and lay its chin on the counter and we couldn't get a dishwasher under the counter. When we rebuilt, the counters are at standard height, but an over-and-under dual-oven is mounted lower than average. I favor the upper, she the lower. The upper cabinets are extra tall (42") for more storage but are brought down to 15" off the counter instead of the more usual 18" (the ceiling in this older house is 108" so there still is space above the cabinets.) The determining factor in lowering them was just clearing the top of our beloved Kitchen Aide mixer. The microwave is under a counter instead on one or hanging with the upper cabinets.
Gigi cooks and likes it and does some things that
frighten me - like touching frying chicken in the skillet to see
how done it is, missing the fat. She is a very good cook.
Gigi and Suzanne invented the dog party, and they certainly keep the tradition going. This party is held just before a person to goes off the get their next (or first) dog. It may be held at a restaurant of the person's choice or in someone's home. The purpose of the party is partly to remember the previous dog, who may be retired or deceased, but mostly to share stories of using dogs and previous training sessions. For a first time user, it may include some teasing about "adventures" during training.
These pictures are from Suzanne Whalen's 2001 dog party at the restaurant Celebration just before she went off to Southeastern Guide Dogs to get her retrained Seeing Eye dog, Caddo. At SEGD, there is a program for wheelchair users who are blind. Caddo is the first dog to be retrained for chair guiding after being fully trained as a guide dog at another school. SEGD normally does all the training, and has, in fact, trained a dog for a deaf-blind woman who now goes to catch a city bus. Suzanne is in the wheel chair in the picture at right and in the blue coat in the picture below. [In July 2003, the Seeing Eye announced it would train wheel chair dogs for previous graduates.]
The red dog in the picture at right is Liz Campbell's dog, Bates; Liz works for the Ft. Worth Star Telegram. She is one of several blind people at the party. We had 6 dogs. Other people included Suzanne's coworkers at the elementary school where she taught before the accident and people who have assisted her with dogs and other aspects of life since her accident.
My wife, Gigi has her hand to her face in the picture at right. To her left is Suzanne Whalen. The woman in black above and between their heads is Liz Campbell a reporter for the Ft.Worth Star Telegram.
My wife, Eugenia "Gigi" Fisher Firth, was born prematurely in 1950, which is the middle of the period when the medical profession was learning that giving lots of oxygen to preemies would save their lives, but unless precautions were taken, the optic nerve would be destroyed. There were about 10,000 babies born from 1948 to 1952 blinded in this manner. Some babies are still blinded this way, but usually only under extremely exceptional conditions. As this "pod" of blind people grew older, considerable changes in the way blind people were treated occurred because, in part, this considerable group became really angry about how they were treated by various schools and bureaucrats. Other changes occurred because of similar anger from older blind people who were blinded during World War II.
I am eight years older than my wife. As I grew up in northern Illinois and Iowa, I don't recall ever dealing with a blind person. Looking back at the history of how blind people were treated at the time, I should not find this surprising because most blind people were shuttled off in some corner: kids were in special schools, adults had to battle to get training and jobs.
Gigi is my second wife; she was 34 when I met her. She called me as contact for the Apple Corps of Dallas, a computer user group. She wanted help in setting up her talking Apple II, which was supposed to be shipped ready to use, but had not been. I took on the job myself. I had long been interested in the use of computers by the "handicapped" and had done a couple of presentations at user group meetings showing sip n'puff spelling that I had programmed on my KIM-1 and bringing in people who used computers as assistive aids.
I enjoyed the company of Gigi and the evenings with her and her roommate and friends. Eventually, we got serious and married. For a while I wrote talking software for the blind to use on Apple II computers (and later adapted it for PC's), but people who were on salary developed screen readers that would work with (almost) any program, thus making specialized programs hardly worth developing.
Gigi gets her dogs from The Seeing Eye. About every 8 years she goes off to the Eye for a month and we get to follow up with New Dog days, wherein the dog is adapted to the new environment and worked through the time when a dog learns what it can get away with. I have done this three times. Gigi has had six dogs, Gert, Oma, Zelda, Cara, Bianca, Dolly and now (2005) Elana. (If you ask how a 50 something woman can have 7 dogs an average of 8 years, Gert lasted only through college, dying on the day she graduated, and Zelda developed congenital cataracts and was retired after about 3 years. Dolly died suddenly in the summer of 2005 of an embolism and Elana is being picked up as I write.) (Pictures of some with more history.)
After one unfortunate experience, Gigi now keeps her retired dogs as pets. Her early ones retired with her parents, but they got their own dogs later on. We had Zelda for a number of years and now have Bianca as a pet.
I have enjoyed sharing experiences with Gigi and her dogs. One of the most fun occurred at Scarborough Faire, when we sat on a bench to watch the sheep dog trial demonstration. Bianca was laying on the grass at the end of the bench. One of sheep that was supposedly "cornered" decided to make a break for it in the most open direction, straight at Bianca, leaping over her head and out through the crowd behind us, with a sheep dog in hot pursuit to bring it back. Bianca never flinched, as she should not have, since she was in harness. Several people came up afterward and said her demo of guiding was as impressive as the sheep dog trial.
Caddo and Suzanne's previous dog, Jesse, were amazing in their ability to reverse a path. Many times it was demonstrated at conventions and other confusing locations that her dogs would leave a restaurant or meeting and thread their way back through lobbies, parking lots and hallways to find the elevator, sometimes in hotels that confused sighted people such as five round towers shoved together!
The difference in behavior between the dogs in
and out of harness is stunning sometimes. Cara was a yellow lab
that was very good in harness - focused on her guiding, barely
distractible - who turned into an oversized puppy when the
harness came off.
Intelligent Enterprise, January 1, 2001, p.39 repeats the cliché, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." calling it an "axiom." Now the first problem is that an axiom is an assumed truth that need not (or cannot) be proved. This is a cliché and a dangerous cliché in a world where more and more people are going to be blind as the baby boom population ages and has an increasing incidence of diabetes.
In fact, if there were a "land of the blind" we can be reasonably certain that the one-eyed man would be either killed or exiled. If he was permitted to stay in the land, it is almost certain that he would be at a disadvantage or his sight would be no advantage, because all "printing" would be in Braille which he could either learn to read with his fingers or stumble over it with his vision. Also, there would be no lighting, as the blind would not need it, so the one eyed man might gain during the day but lose at night and indoors.
This cliché is built on the idea that if you take
away vision, you are hopelessly cripple, while in fact there are
four other senses to help deal with the world. I find it
interesting that the greatest pity is evoked among blind people for being blind and having some other
disability, such as deafness or loss of mobility. Blindness alone
certainly imposes limitations, but paying attention to the other senses (not
developing super-senses) compensates in many ways. The same clues can be
used by the sighted who wish to; for example, I use the sound clues my wife does
to locate doorways in the dark when I don't wish to turn on the lights at night
- tiny sounds such as the refrigerator running or air through a grill which
locate a door opening by their presence or absence as the head is turned or body
Most GPS units, even those that talk, do not work for the blind because
the methods of selecting a location require using the screen for touch locations
and even if those are put in, most are so street oriented that even in bicycle
or walking mode, they do not identify all the cross streets (which may come in
from one side only, are you walking on that side?) and follow street rules like
refusing to give directions the wrong way on a one-way street. This
results in absurdities like being okay walking 100 yards from a bus stop to a
restaurant along a super highway access road, but the return trip says "Go 1/4
mile to the intersection, U Turn, Go 2 miles, U Turn, Go 1 3/4 miles" as a car
obeying the law would have to go.
|In testing, we have found that "everyone" knows that mapping of street addresses is notoriously inaccurate, often putting addresses hundreds of feet from their proper location, and almost every program is wrong in similar ways. In fact, we have worked out a technique where we create a false address with Google Maps (or other sources) and by using that address direct the user to right location. The problem has to do with mapping programs apparently assuming that all blocks have addresses ending from 00 to 99, but in reality, the blocks have maximum addresses ending in 33 or 67 or the last address on the street is a couple of hundred feet from the corner because the corner lot has an address on the cross street.||[For example, on Google Maps, if I, a sighted person, look at the hybrid photo plus street maps, I can see the green roof of a Denny's near Meadow and North Central Expressway (US-75). If I put in the actual mailing address (10433 N Central Expy, Dallas, Dallas, Texas 75231) it finds a site a third of the way down to Meadow. If I put in 10453, it is aligned with the center of the building (still out in the street) 164 feet further north. And this is actually rather good. In the case of this block, the lot on the north corner is actually 10453 and 10455 is actually the entire shopping center behind these frontage buildings, with a single driveway width on North Central which lies between 10425 and 10433!]|
DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) has a file of very accurate GPS Latitude and Longitude positions of all the bus stops, which they have provide me, and there are programs on the internet that will take a latitude and longitude and come up with an address which maps correctly to that lat-long even if it doesn't really exist on the street. In other words, Destinator, Google and others are converting the address we put in to Lat-Long location!!
[Older notes, email reply] After reading your description and going to the site GARMIN: Street Pilot III, it becomes obvious what is left out of the site - the unit does not speak the route apparently, it only prompts for turns on a previously loaded route - right? And then only says distance, not name of street? The more I read about these units and the attempted adaptations of PDA connected to GPS, the more it seems that the solution is not to put the map in the unit, but to put a GPS in a cellular phone (with PDA software?) and simply call a service like Tell Me (800-555-8355) which takes the GPS location and direction reported by the phone and converts it to a street location and routing, which it says on the phone. The current pricing and ubiquity of cellular phones with huge numbers of minutes and small size, including hands off use all support the idea. "Where am I?" "What's Next"
This site Magnavox MobilePAL+GPS Cell phone Details is a dial out only phone for an emergency service and location. Although Garmin didn't mention it (above) they have a phone that includes GPS displays that can send location information to other units, BUT IT WON'T SPEAK THE DATA! GARMIN NavTalk GPS Receiver / Cell Phone
Sent: Thursday, December 09, 2004 2:37 PM
Well, here are a few thoughts.
Contact Mike Firth