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Finding something that really can teach the very basics of reading and not be boring or time consuming can be a problem. Students who are not captivated by learning tend to become slow learners regardless of their intellectual abilities. I have reviewed many reading products in the past. Many of them were great and certainly did prove to be useful and motivating. Most of them were not for the true beginner, though. A parent would have to have started with a good bit of rote learning with flash cards and such. A product I was sent recently might be a little closer. It is simply called “The Reading Game” and is produced by the same author, Kenneth Hodkinson, who created the popular, Wordly Wise series. Learning to read can now be as simple as playing a game.

The game play is simple. It is played in quick rounds in the Memory Game fashion. You lay out cards with colored backs, a printed number 1 to 6, and an animal image on them and the other side is white with a perfectly centered printed word with each black letter clearly printed about 3/8” high. The font used is very similar to actual print handwriting, but properly sized and spaced for modeling of proper manuscript which I think is a plus. After laying the shuffled cards for each game group face down, you and your student each take turns flipping over two. If the cards match, you say the word several times in a clear voice. You keep the cards you matched for later scoring. Obviously, the one with the most matched sets wins. In the beginning, the tutor prompts the student in reading the correctly matched pairs. Use excited voices having a little celebration every time either you or the student makes a match.  A fun, but slightly disappointed voice saying, “oh, no,” or something similar should be used when there isn’t a match to help encourage fun game play.

That is all there is to play, but the learning begins immediately. The cards in the game are divided into card decks of about sixty each with two copies of the thirty words used to make each story book. The book has a matching colored cover and animal image because the story is about that animal. Book 1 is about a skunk. Book 2 is about a snake. Books 3, 4, and 5 are about a bear, a penguin, and a unicorn respectively. Book 6 is about a zebra. The card set for each book is also divided into six groups of five words. The back of each card shows the number of the group it is in. The numbers stand for games dividing the words of the book into smaller chunks to play with at a time making it easier to learn and remember the smaller group of words. When the student has mastered the words in game one, you move to game two words. After mastering the words for games 1 and 2, there are two test sentences using all of the words from the two sets. If the student can read these sentences, he is ready to move to game 3. There are test sentences after game 4 and again after game 6. After mastering the words and test sentences for game 6, the student is ready to read story book 1. You can print the test sentences out on paper individually or in groups, but I think the best way is to use the cards themselves placing them in sentence order. Later, the student can be asked to create the sentences with the cards themselves in preparation for writing. Each book and word sets repeats the same game play and increases in word difficulty. Each round is quick and fun, but the words are already being etched into memory. You can play as many rounds as the student’s attention span allows knowing that every little bit is useful. Follow the student’s leading. As the student learns the five words in a set, they naturally want to play the next set which leads to perfect pace of continued learning.

In addition to fun learning, the educational aspects go beyond word recognition even though that alone is great. By the time all six books have been learned with thirty new words per book, the student has learned a hundred and eighty words. That is a lot of words, but because the words have also been carefully chosen to be predominantly the most common English words (forty-two out of the fifty most common) the ability to recognize more words out of other reading sources increases. The confidence that brings to a beginning reader is very motivating.

The most unusual feature found in this product and perhaps the best almost goes against the convention that modeling of proper grammar is a must. The author has chosen to write his story without the use of capitals and punctuation. However, his chosen technique might do better for the preparation of learning grammar and reading fluency than all the modeling and lessons on larger capital shapes and squiggly lines and dots do in repeated instruction. The story is written without the conventions of grammar and punctuation as just the words they have learned on the cards, but with breaks in the printing where pauses should be teaching the student naturally the proper phrasing of reading and purposes of commas and end punctuation without having those confusing marks to distract from the natural process. After the book has been successfully mastered, tutor and student can explore the concepts of inflections and lead into the learning of the simplest punctuation. The natural pauses they discover in the reading leads naturally to the use and purpose of commas. Students can then be taught how to write in their own capitals to show the beginning of a sentence and place appropriate punctuation in their own books. As would be expected, the use of breaks to show more in-sentence commas is used more and more as the student progresses through the six story books.

With these features leading to a natural priming of the brain for learning to read, you may wonder about phonics. The author has addressed the initial teaching of phonics as well by introducing it after successful completion of game six of each series, you can use cards of the series to show the patterns throughout the series and introduce new words that follow those patterns. For example, three patterns can be found in the book 1 series: (-ay), (-un), and (-o). The words using the (-ay) pattern in book 1 are day, play, and stay. The teacher can use those cards to demonstrate how the first letter changes to create a new word and to help the student create more new words by using other initial letter sounds. The author details all of the books’ patterns in Rules and Teacher’s Guide that comes with the set. This is the simplest method to begin the teaching of phonics, but the best for setting the stage for a true and deep understanding of the mechanics of reading and spelling.

In terms of accessibility, the series is perfect for many special needs populations including those with processing disorders due to the non-distracting, clear, crisp, and contrasting print of the cards and story books where the words are displayed. The illustrations in the books are reminiscent of pencil sketches found in the textbooks of days gone by. Often times, this kind of drawing is great for attracting autistic and learning disabled students due to the unusual contrast it details for the objects drawn. This is normally even good for low vision readers especially when done on regular book paper. The glossy pages which are great for young beginning readers does make the details of some very involved sketches less crisp for students with acuity and perception issues, though. The tutor will need to verbally describe these illustrations to these low vision students. The size and font of the print for both cards and books are larger than many such reading products, so may be fine for those with milder low vision issues. Teachers of some students who need much larger print may need to create larger word cards and magnifiers or a CCTV for the story books. The kinesthetic use of word cards and the game play are useful tools for tactile learners and those who need multisensory techniques. Adding objects with the cards initially can help those who have receptive language disruptions and other processing disorders. The cards were easily brailled for blind and DeafBlind students. For the blind and DeafBlind teacher such as myself, I brailled the cards with not only the word, but also the game number and the book animal to help me keep the cards properly separated for ease of use and to prevent confusion while teaching. I used clear adhesive brailling plastic to place the sentence strips on the storybook for my reading along with the student. I copied the exact phrasing breaks the author used to provide the same natural fluency features. These braille sentences can be used separately for the blind and DeafBlind student, if necessary. The beginning braille reader benefitted the same from this phrasing technique without the braille punctuation and capital cells as the sighted student to my delight. It is wonderful to see a product that is useful as is or so easily modified to benefit the possible varying abilities of many students.

The Reading Game, along with progress sheets and other teaching suggestions, can be found at http://thereadinggame.com for just $24.95 which is a great price for the gift of literacy. The strategies here are simple and easy to implement, but the foundations for reading, spelling, and writing are etched into the brain ready to take your student fully prepared to become a great reader.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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TOUCH POINTS

by Renée K. Walker

 

You may remember me describing here the troubles I have had getting doctors in my area to provide me interpreters. That fight continues, but I now have completed the first battle. Though I can’t speak of the specific circumstances or resolution, I can describe the process that I have been through now and that the process worked. At least for one incident, compliance to the ADA law and education to help those who come into this particular situation in the future has been met. That is what the advocacy process can do. We all need to learn the skills to advocate for ourselves, but at times, we need help to move the mountains before us.

 

The best way to begin is to call and ask for an appointment first. Once the organization has given you an appointment, tell them your specific communication needs that fall under ADA law for effective communication. This could be the CART system, which is where you have a typist who has been trained in medical or legal interpreting depending on your setting, or it could mean an ASL interpreter, or some other form of communication. If the office tells you that they don’t provide interpreters or your method of communication, try to remain calm and use the moment to educate the personnel regarding the ADA law. Explain that it is required by law and offer to provide the personnel with a copy of the law section that pertains to the situation. You can also direct them to the National Association for the Deaf’s (NAD) website at www.nad.org or the ADA website at www.ada.gov. Document your call and its contents in some way. If you use relay services, save the transcript. If you have a hearing person call for you, see if they will write a summary of the transcripts. In my state, the laws allow me to record conversations without the permission of the other party. That could be a possibility, but you have to check the laws of your state first. You do not want to be in violation. A written record is usually quite sufficient. Even if the office personnel stated they weren’t interested in the ADA information, mail them a copy anyway asking them to please look it over and seek legal advice if they wish. Respectfully ask them to consider your need. Call the office again after giving them a little time to do as you requested, documenting the phone call. Many times this opportunity to educate politely is all that is needed to help people to understand your needs and their responsibilities. Often, the personnel didn’t mean any disrespect. They just were unfamiliar with the law and had not had any prior experience with disabled persons needing communication assistance.

 

In the event that your needs are still not met, please don’t get discouraged and give up or go to an appointment using just a friend or relative who can communicate with you. The ADA law has been written to help you. There are reasons the ADA law stipulates using a qualified interpreter. Family and friends may not be able to translate the complex medical or legal concepts to the patient in an effective manner. Often times, emotional situations may be difficult for them to handle, and the family member or friend may resort to hiding some information. The love and concern is understandable and commendable, but it is not appropriate when the patient’s ability to make decisions regarding their health or legal issue is hindered. It is the patient’s right to decide the form of effective communication they need and want, but understanding why the ADA law was written is also important in helping the patient function on his own behalf.

 

Your next step should be to contact your state’s local advocacy agency or ADA attorney. The attorney assigned to you will then work with you to get the information regarding your complaint. If non-compliance is determined, the advocate will contact the organization and inform them of your complaint against them, providing the legal information that the organization needs to understand in order to best serve you. This may be enough to resolve your situation and help you get your communication needs met.

 

If not, you are not alone. Your advocate will help you with the next steps. If you wish to proceed, the advocate will file on your behalf a complaint to the Department of Justice (DOJ). You will provide input as to what you would like to receive from the organization that is in non-compliance, such as an appointment where an interpreter is provided to allow effective communication. Once the complaint is written, you will receive a copy and give final approval to allow the advocate to file the complaint with the DOJ. DOJ prefers to start off with using a third-party mediating company. This company provides people who are trained to remain objective and help the parties in a dispute come to an agreement. In this situation, they help the organization understand the need for compliance to the ADA and the best procedure to do that. They also help educate both parties in how to best meet the needs of the complainant (person filing the complaint). The mediation meeting takes place at a neutral place or using telephone conference or whatever method works best for the parties involved. Your advocate is with you throughout the process. You can decide if you want the advocate to speak for you or if you want to speak for yourself asking help from your advocate as needed. The process of mediation is not a court trial. It is an informal meeting for discussion. The mediator helps to keep the discussion flowing and working toward resolution. Either party can end the mediation process at any time. All conversation during the mediation is completely confidential, so you and the other parties can be open. You are not forced into anything, but you do have lots of support from your advocate and the mediator to help things run smoothly and professionally.

 

Hopefully, the mediation meeting will lead to a resolution plan. The plan itself may take several months or more for the respondent (the person you are filing the complaint against) to fully complete all aspects of the plan depending on the situation and the complexities involved. When all is complete, you will be notified. If you are to be given an appointment using effective communication, that will be part of the plan. You will be given the opportunity to arrange that appointment. The mediation process and your case will not be closed until you and your advocate agree that the plan has been completed as prescribed.

 

Should the mediation process fail, the DOJ will then take the case back and a federal trial may then be held. I am not familiar with that process yet, and hope I will never have to go that far. I would prefer that education and/or the mediation process would be enough to secure my rights to effective communication in medical and legal settings. From my experiences with the mediation process so far, I can see that it is highly effective, and the results are probably very successful in many cases.

 

Remember as you request for your needs to be met, that you are not only advocating for yourself, but you are also advocating for others who will follow you. If we all are more willing to use the resources available to us to enforce the ADA law, we can educate more organizations and make the lives of all disabled a little easier.

 

If you have comments about this topic, you may write a letter in braille or print to Renée Walker, 143 Williamson Drive, Macon, GA 31210; or you may email me at rkwalker@wynfieldca.org. You can also read and comment on my blog at http://www.deaf-blindhope.wordpress.com. You can also check me out at www.facebook.com/reneekwalker.

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Recently, I was sent a game product to review. It is kind of a cross between the old Rubik’s Cube from Mattel and the game Scrabble from Hasbro. I am not a big fan of Scrabble, and I did play with a Rubik’s Cube some as a teen, but I only managed to learn how to get one side to one color. When asked about getting this product, I wasn’t overly excited, but I still will give things a try because my readers, especially my DeafBlind Readers of my DeafBlind Hope blog, might find the product useful. My husband, on the other hand, was excited and wanted me to definitely sign up for it. My husband’s vocabulary is also a lot larger than mine, so this product piqued his interest. Scruble Cube turned out to be more of a success than I thought.

The Scruble Cube rotates in different directions and in different layers to allow you to move individual portions of the cube from one face to another. If you remember a Rubik’s Cube, each peg on each face of the cube had one of six colors. By moving the pegs in various movements, you could line one face with all of the pegs of one color. If you were really good maneuvering, you could make each face a different color. Scruble Cube is different in that the variously colored pegs have capital letters on them along with a number in subscript. The numbers are the number of points the letter will give you if you use the letter in a word up, down, or across a face or even scrolled across two faces similar to Scrabble. Words made in diagonal do not count. I can’t begin here to really explain how this works, but fortunately, I don’t have to do that. The game comes with detailed explanations on the rules of the game variations, cube basics of pattern recognition and initial steps, along with details and diagrams of the various ways to manipulate the pegs to spell words. The steps are easy to follow, so before long you will be racking up points with your great word finds. I admit the game might not be a perfect match for everyone especially if you really hate word games, but again, it could spice up spelling practice alittle for those who might need the twist. For others who really love word games, it can be fun. A little disclaimer: Warning! It can be addictive.

Educationally, the game is great for teaching students of all ages to learn pattern recognition and then build good spelling skills. For the youngest of children, you can create two, three, or four letter words and give the cube to your student to find the word you created. This will help build the skills needed to master the basics of the cube. Over time, Scruble Cube can easily improve spelling skills and build a stronger vocabulary as students try to improve their word scores.

Using Scruble Cube with special needs students is a snap, too, since many varying abilities and issues can benefit from the cube in several ways once the student has letter recognition and the beginning understanding that letters build words. Being able to start with two letter combinations to build three letter words allows even young, beginning readers a chance to play. Scruble Cube can even be played alone with or without the use of the scoring system. Being DeafBlind, I had to find a way to be able to play. I simply made adhesive plastic sheets using 2 braille cells: one for the braille letter and one for the number. I didn’t use the number or letter sign to save space. I simply remember the first cell is the letter and the second cell is the number. If you don’t care to use the scoring system or decide to let someone else add the scores for you, you can simply braille the letter for each cube which does fit better on the peg. There are scoring bonus pegs to for two and three times the letter score. You can braille that as the number and the braille letter “X” to identify those pegs or you can leave those cells as blank if you don’t want to use those cells in play. You would just make sure a blank isn’t in the middle of your word, of course. The instruction sheet detailed how many copies of each letter and number I needed to braille. I got sighted help to place the cells on the appropriate peg. The cell didn’t interfere with rotation, and the rotation can be easily done without damaging the braille cells. With this simple addition, even blind and deafblind can practice their spelling skills and have fun trying to improve their word scores. In my case, we don’t use the provided timer. I take a bit longer to play, of course, but the family is used to games taking a little longer when I play. I also play a lot by myself. It is a lot of fun to challenge myself, or even challenge the family to see if they can find my words on the cube. As I mentioned, I don’t really care for word games, but I do like keeping my hands occupied. The combination of rotation and ability to play with three to five letter words did make it a little addictive even for me. There are a lot of ways to enjoy this word game.

You can purchase Scruble Cube on-line or at many popular stores such as Toys-R-Us® for as little as $24.99. You can find out more at http://www.scrublecube.com or on their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/scublecube. Whether you have a student who needs a little enticing to practice spelling or you love word games, this is worth a twist. Remember, though, I warned you. It can be addictive.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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When I was active in Boy Scouting, we had a saying we went by when planning activities for our young men that went activities should be fun, but fun with a purpose. The latest product review kept reminding me of that little mantra. I was sent Tri-cross from Games for Competitors which is actually a USA company based out of my home state not far from where I live. In fact, as I read the developers history on their web site, it became obvious that my husband and I may very well know them from days gone by, since our favorite hang-out as older teens and young adults was the very same Sword of the Phoenix game store they had been a part of in Atlanta, Ga. Ah, the memories played. I knew these were like-minded people. Games are a very important part of our home culture. My husband and I have been avid game players most of our lives and have played almost everything out there at least once. We didn’t stay long as children on the usual children’s games of simple play. We quickly graduated to what was called book shelf games. The games came in cases that were more suited to sitting on a book shelf like a book. The games were always very involved and needed lots of imagination from active minds and challenged those minds.

Tri-cross fits that bill easily, but also in a way that will entice even younger players in the family as it helps to teach them fair game play, social skills, and important game skills like strategy. The game is a cross between checkers, chess, and even Stratego in its varying game versions. As a certified teacher and curriculum developer, the game jumped out at me with its usefulness in any educational setting as well as home setting to further reinforce skills. A few of the skills besides social skills that can be taught with this game are logical thinking, cause and effect, predicting, outcome interpreting, abstract thinking, memory, and visualization (I will add that this can even help the blind visualize in various ways, too.) Despite my love of games, I am not very good with strategy due to learning disabilities that I have. I avoid games like chess and only play checkers with non-challenging players to avoid frustration. Tri-cross, though, didn’t intimidate me. I actually won the first game against my husband who loves and excels at chess. No, he didn’t let me win. He would forget while planning his strategies about the additional rules that certain pieces couldn’t jump certain other pieces. I seemed to be good at remembering that (even though I can’t remember any of the moves for chess pieces) and would catch him. That made me a fan of Tri-cross right away, of course. My husband loved the game, too, because it gave him new ways to think about game play. There are five ways you can play this game which will keep the fun going and be helpful in teaching skills, too. You can play the game with pieces face-up, so that you always see where the pieces that can jump other pieces are and develop strategy skills, or you can play the game with all the pieces face down until opponents meet in a possible jump situation. Players then turn the pieces over to see if a jump can be made. After play, the pieces are then turned back over. You would then do well to try and improve your memory skills to know where those pieces are and move them in useful ways. Other versions add excitement and challenge to the game to keep Tri-cross exciting for years to come.

Tri-cross is very durable and well-made in any of the formats from eco-friendly travel game to the more decorative wooden table-top format. This is extremely pleasing to our family as we have seen the American game industry drop its standards for game quality over the last few decades. One would be proud to own any of the formats and be assured that it will last to pass down over the years.

Of course, my readers know that I have other needs that make gaming more difficult now than when I was younger. Being totally deaf and blind, I can’t play games the way I used to play. Of course, you can’t stop an avid game player from seeking and playing however possible. Tri-cross, I am glad to say, was easy to make accessible to me. I would imagine that certain formats would be easier to make tactile, but I was able to make the two formats I was given tactile for my needs without any real difficulty. I received the travel version and the boxed, hard tag board game format. The wooden table-top would probably be the easiest to work with, but certainly not necessary. I made clear, adhesive braille labels for the game pieces and the board itself. I brailled the dots (I didn’t bother with the number sign, since there is no need for letters in the game. The Tri-cross piece can be labeled with a “T” cell which isn’t used for numbers in braille or left plain because the six intersecting lines are quite tactilely distinct from the other pieces. I can remember the dots are for numbers and save space) for the numbers of each piece and for placement of beginning pieces for one of the game play versions off to the side of the starting positions. The grid of the board which is designed like a large, thick cross or plus sign might seem a difficulty, but I placed thin, low-profile textured markers used by the blind and DeafBlind on each of the squares used for game play. I used a different texture marker for the center’s Tri-cross square which is the objective for one of the winning options. This way I knew exactly when I had my piece moved appropriately into each square, but the marker didn’t affect the movement of pieces on the board at all. I can’t say from pictures if the wooden version provides a tactile grid or not, but that would make it much more accessible if it did. Regardless, the game formats are very durable and easy to make accessible which is a big plus for me and my readers which is why this review will be found on both my homeschool/educational blog and my DeafBlind Hope blog.

Find out more about this game at http://www.gamesforcompetitiors.com. Though challenging, don’t let that scare you off. The developers provide great game instructions and play tips in print and on a CD that is provided with each game format. The prices start at $19.99 for the eco-friendly travel version and range upwards to $35.95 for the wooden table-top format which are a really good prices for this well-made game. If you want a game that is fun, but fun with a purpose, Tri-cross is for you.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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I seldom get truly upset these days. Age mellows you, I guess. The last several weeks, though, I have been increasingly frustrated on Sunday mornings. I have tried several different time frames from early morning to early afternoon on various local stations and satellite looking for Christian worship services that are closed captioned. During the week, you can find many Christian network programs and even on regular network programs at certain times that involve Bible teaching and Christian lifestyle programs. I love these, but I also want to worship like I did at Church most of my life. Yes, I can worship in many different ways, in different places, and at different times. I still want to watch a good Church program, though, especially on Sunday. For many years, I have watched a service at a local church that I used to attend. For financial reasons they changed networks recently. I watched the program on the new station this Sunday. I couldn’t understand a thing. I sat close, but I couldn’t find the very fuzzy words at all. I sat and watched the grayish and reddish screen flicker and hoped that I would at least see captions when the pastor spoke. It never happened. I was disappointed.

Then I was angry. Closed captioning is very important to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. Even I use it by reading very close. No, I don’t get everything, but I get enough. With Closed Captioning, I can watch TV shows and movies that others are watching and talking about which helps me to feel connected. More importantly, with Closed Captioning, I can learn from others about faith, love, and the ways to a better life through Christ. Closed Captioning is necessary for accessibility. The Deaf need the accessibility to the Hearing world. They need, I need, the access to the message of the Bible in this way, as well as the others I use. I have looked and found only Charles Stanley out of Atlanta who has partial captioning when the pastor speaks. The only full captions I have found have been on the LDS channel. They provide captions for the songs, message, and everything. I really prefer that. The words of the hymns and contemporary songs have a message themselves. I should be able to learn from the music, too. The problem with that is I don’t agree with the LDS, so that isn’t an option for me. It is a shame that other Christian denominations don’t seem to have the compassion for others as the LDS do, though.

Why does the Church not see the need for this? Too many pastors are saying it is because of the economy. Let me note here that Closed Captioning equipment and therefore, services, too, have been decreasing in costs in recent years, so lack of money can’t really be an excuse. Even if it is money, if Believers truly believed their Bibles, and if Believers truly lived the words they read, then the economic situation wouldn’t matter. Believers need to present the need to God, and then believe the word He promised to provide for all our needs. Truly, though, I see they have money for the things they really want to do and give to most often. Many brag of what they send to far, remote places to spread the Gospel. I think that is wonderful, but if there are those who are needy within your own back yard or even in your own house, why not put a priority there before you venture to far mission fields?

The Church in America, I believe, is failing in its mission. It isn’t about doing the Father’s business. All too often it has become its own business seeking money for its own agenda by catering to making people feel good. It isn’t about speaking the Truth. This shows as there isn’t enough faith to bring in the resources and to serve its members’ needs. Love is short when the faith is lacking. Wake up, Church!

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Touch Points

By Renée K. Walker

A Tribute

Summer has arrived and, along with it, my 25th wedding anniversary and my 50th birthday. I was married 25 years ago on June 22, 1986 just before my 25th birthday (which is on June 26). My husband and I have raised two wonderful boys who are now 30 and 23 years old. They are both out on their own fulfilling dreams and being responsible men of integrity. Each has a wonderful girlfriend who seems to enrich his life. I am very proud of them both. My husband and I have worked together to build a good home and lives that are used to serve our Lord Jesus. That is something I am proud of, too.

It hasn’t always been easy because life is never easy for anyone. Unexpected hurdles and just happenstance can unravel the best of plans made for a life. One must learn to flow with the changes. Among other of life’s normal struggles, we had a few unusual ones thrown in for me. Though profoundly deaf for most of my life, the process was still gradual, and I learned to do a lot with what sound I had. When it was gone, my lip reading skills still allowed me to go about my daily activities seemingly as if I could hear. I found it to be an annoyance at most, but I mostly just never thought about it. It just wasn’t a problem. I was also night blind from an early age, but I just kept bright lights on at night and drove carefully on familiar and short routes if I drove at all. I managed just fine doing what I have always done which is raising a family, teaching, and serving others.

A few years after our wedding, the vision issues decreased rapidly to the point that I could no longer ignore them. As I have said here before, the diagnosis was Retinitis Pigmentosa exhibited as Usher Syndrome Type III. When the vision dimmed, my life drastically changed. My articles here have depicted many of the struggles of being deaf and blind. We have coped as well as we could and, sometimes even risen above expectations. Learning braille, tactual ASL, and assistive technology use has made a chaotic life more ordered. Struggles still prevail, and the world is not always a bright, cheery, or safe place. With my husband by my side and a few very close friends, life is more than just bearable. It is wonderful, and I am living it to the fullest.

All people who are disabled, but especially people who are DeafBlind, need that one person -whether it is a spouse, family member, or good friend – who is there for them daily despite the struggles. Someone who can overlook your frequent moments of frustration over what you can’t do. Someone who can look deep within you, and see the truth. Someone who can dig deep within themselves and know that truth. Someone who will understand that the frustration, irritability, and sometimes even hostility, comes from knowing you can be a burden and you hate it. Someone who can show that it may be a burden at times, but it is always worth it. Someone who works tirelessly to help you access the world, but somehow makes it feel almost effortless. All people need that special someone. A person who is DeafBlind will only thrive if they find that person.

My husband, Scott, is my special someone. He does all of these things and more. I’m sure he often feels unappreciated as life becomes chaotic and stressful, but I do appreciate him. I also respect him because he has truly honored our wedding vows. It is one of the many reasons why I love him. Happy 25th Anniversary, Scott.

I pray that you, my readers, have found that special someone who supports you in your weaknesses and celebrates your strengths. I pray that my DeafBlind friends have, or will find, that special someone who helps them not only survive, but thrive. I also pray that those readers who may not be disabled (but know someone who is disabled) will consider what you may be for that person. Yes, it can be a burden, but the rewards of seeing that person thrive are worth it. God bless these special people.

 

If you have comments about this topic, you may write a letter in braille or print to Renée Walker, 143 Williamson Dr, Macon, GA 31210; or you may email me at rkwalker@wynfieldca.org. You can also read and comment on my blog at http://www.deafblindhope.wordpress.com. You can also check me out at www.facebook.com/reneekwalker.

 

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TOUCH POINTS

By Renée Walker

 

My last column brought a lot of attention from Good Cheer readers and my blog readers where I share this column as well. Feelings of isolation for DeafBlind individuals seem to be very common even if it is intermittent. We all seem to have felt it at some point. I was also pleasantly surprised that I had so many readers interested in my column. I know Good Cheer has a large audience, but it was very nice to learn that you are interested in what I have to say. I appreciate that very much. I will try to continue to discuss topics to which you can relate. Please continue to write me via email, print, or braille. I am very interested in your comments. I learn from you, and we can help each other discover hope for the future.

 

This month’s column is all about easing some of that isolation. There are options out there for DeafBlind individuals, but they are few, and none are perfect. I have discovered an option that I want to present to you. It may not work for you, but since it has helped me, I hoped that it might help a few of you. First, let me tell you that I am not employed by Apple, and I am not being compensated by Apple or American Publishing House for the Blind in any way. I wouldn’t even call myself an Apple supporter. I just look for ways to help myself continue to work and live as fully as I can. Often that is difficult because technology is so expensive, and I can’t get help from government agencies like some. I am glad there are some who can get the training and equipment they need from a government or non-profit organization. For me, that hasn’t been possible, so I have to look for ways to help myself.

 

Apple recently introduced an operating system called Snow Leopard that did what few other companies have ever done before. Apple built in accessibility options throughout their entire operating system making almost all tasks seamless and easy on their Macintosh line of computers. Their screen reader called Voice Over handles voice output and braille output very well. They have also built in options for the Deaf with closed captioning and visual notifications for many tasks such as emails. There is also Zoom for those with low vision. The greatest thing about these accessibility options is that it is included in every computer product sold without purchasing extra equipment and software for your needs. The most you need is a braille display if you require one. There are many braille displays that are compatible with Apple’s Voice Over with more being added all the time. The Voice Over commands are simple and similar to other popular screen readers. The learning curve isn’t as steep as others either with the built-in tutorial that really gets you started. You also don’t need a sighted person to help you configure your Apple computer because when you first boot it up, the system asks you if you need Zoom or vVoice Over. If you have a braille display connected to the computer, the voice is also displayed as text on your braille display. The system will then walk you through the entire configuration, and run the tutorial, if you desire. If  you are comfortable with computers at all, you can’t get it any better than that.

 

Some of you may not be comfortable with computers, or due to your severe losses of vision and hearing, you may be lucky if you have experience with notetakers. Computers may still be a bit more than you think can handle, or you might not be that interested in their many uses. Like many hearing/sighted people, email, text messages, and the occasional browsing of the internet to check shopping sites may be your only interests. If so, Apple has a few other options that can open your world in many ways without the hassles of learning how to use a computer. With the accessibility options built in, the effort can be more like a walk in the park. With the IPhone 4 or IPod Touch, you have fully accessible devices to browse the internet, send and receive SMS messages (text messages), send and receive email, take notes, write documents and read documents, have a face to face conversation with someone else even if they don’t know ASL or braille.  Again, the best part is that you don’t need to pay for extra software and equipment except for a braille display. It is all included in the device that is easily available to anyone regardless of disability issues. With the IPhone 4 or an IPod Touch, you need the help of someone sighted to go in the first time and turn on the screen reader. If you only need the zoom or screen magnification, you might be able to go into the settings and accessibility tabs to turn that on yourself. The sales clerk should be able to help you even if the person didn’t know about it before seeing you. My sales clerk heard me describe what I needed and said that must be in settings. He found it within about five seconds, and my braille display which was already on popped right up with where I was and instructions of how to get out or change accessibility options. I manipulated the buttons and joystick on my APH Refreshabraille 18 finding the web browser, the mail program, and other things as tears of joy streamed down my face. I have no experience really with JAWS, Window Eyes, or any other screen reader. I don’t know those kind of commands at all. With the IPhone 4, I didn’t need that knowledge at all. I just rotated through buttons and text finding what I wanted easily. I set up my email program by myself in the store and got my first email that I could read on my display. I had only just gotten the APH Refreshabraille 18, recently and had only read emails in braille on my MacBook a few times before. Here I was checking email on the first cell phone I have owned since losing my sight almost ten years before. My husband has had to set up my computers before and read everything to me, or I had to put my nose to the screen to read very large fonts. In recent years, I no longer have any residual sight and feeling as if I was disappearing from the world as my sight faded. Here I was setting up this device on my own and getting information. The sales clerk then typed a message to me just using the notes app that comes with the phone that I read on my display, “Hello, my name is Brian. Welcome back to the real world.” I spoke and said, “Hello, Brian. It is good to be back,” laughing and crying at the same time. I had just had my first conversation with another person who didn’t know ASL or through an interpreter in such a very long time. I can’t even describe the joy I felt at that moment.

 

Of course, the IPhone allows me to check and send email, browse the internet, and send text messages with a data plan and a text messaging plan. There are other useful apps available like the WhatsApp Messenger which allows the IPhone 4 or IPod Touch do text messages from smartphone to smartphone for free without needing a messaging plan. You just need a data plan on the IPhone 4 or access to the internet through a wireless connection on either the phone or the IPod Touch. This helps lessen your monthly fees if you can’t afford much. There is also a Color Identification app which is available in the Apple App Store for $.99 that tells you by voice and braille the color of any light source such as the color of your shirt or the color of the leaves on a tree. There are several multi-protocol chat programs, too. These allow you to log in to many of the common chat programs like AIM, Google Talk, IChat, and Yahoo! Messenger with one program app. Palringo is a free one that is totally accessible. There are probably others, as well. These and more powerful apps are being designed every day that can open our worlds to us regardless of how much sight and hearing we may have. The Apple IPad will also be totally accessible with a new update of the OS 4 beginning in November. It already has Voice Over and Zoom for the hearing blind and low vision or Hard of Hearing. In November, the software will be the same as the IPhone 4 and newest IPod Touch allowing braille displays and other features.

 

The world of the DeafBlind is changing quickly. Apple has proven that mainstream technology products can be made accessible with the same off the shelf products that hearing/sighted users enjoy without costing anymore to purchase. With companies like Apple deciding to reach out to those with disabilities they are increasing their market share for certain, but they are doing wonders by bringing the world back to those of us. Now I can explore that world with my IPhone 4’s GPS and maps. I will check back in with you next time. Well, if I don’t get too busy exploring…

 

 

If you have comments or questions about this article, you can email me at rkwalker@wynfieldca.org, or write me in braille or print at 143 Williamson Dr., Macon, GA 31210. Check my blog also at http://www.deafblindhope.wordpress.com. I am also on Facebook as Renée K. Walker, too, if you want to become friends.

 

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