The UCB Flier

A publication of

Utah Council of the Blind

August 2018


For the latest news updates call the Utah Connection 801-299-0670 or 1‑800-273-4569. (You may also leave a message at the end of the announcement.)

Mail correspondence to: UCB, PO Box 1415, Bountiful, UT 84011-1415. E-mail us at


The UCB Flier is available in large print, Braille, audio CD, as a data (Microsoft Word and a plain text file) CD, and by e-mail. If you would prefer to receive your newsletter in a different format, please call the Utah Connection or send an e-mail to and let us know.


In This Issue

President's Message.................................................................................. 4

UCB Annual Business Meeting.................................................................. 5

Nominations for Awards............................................................................. 6

Scholarship Applications Now Available..................................................... 7

Crystal Hot Springs, Rescheduled.............................................................. 8

Utah State Fair......................................................................................... 10

Ham Class Is a Happenin' Thing.............................................................. 12

Health Fair................................................................................................ 13

Calendar of Upcoming Events.................................................................. 14

Microsoft Receives ACB’s James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award 16

For Disabled Travelers, Technology Helps Smooth the Way, But Not All of It........................................................................................................... 19

The Eye Doctor Who Could Not See the Stars......................................... 28

Pocket eye tests..................................... 30

'Teachers as opticians'........................... 31

'Tried and tested'.................................... 32

'Promise of sight'..................................... 33

Blind and Graying, Dragon Boat Paddlers ‘Challenge the Impossible’..... 35

Transition Student from Lighthouse SW Florida makes National Finals in Fencing in Spite of Vision Impairment.................................................. 39

Microsoft Commits $25M to Its AI for Accessibility Program..................... 41

Slow Cooker Caramel Rice Pudding........................................................ 43

General UCB Information......................................................................... 45

Upcoming Board Meetings...................... 47


Note to Braille and Audio Readers

Article links are omitted from these versions for ease of reading, but may be found in the newsletter archived on our website at


Articles and announcements included in this publication are presented for your information and interest. They reflect the opinions of the respective authors and are not necessarily endorsed by the UCB.


President's Message

By Tina Terry

It is hard to believe that another year is going by so quickly, and it is ACB convention time again. There have already been some interesting experiences. I wandered around the hotel with an AIRA agent this evening. We both ended up getting lost, but it was very cool having someone talking me through finding my way around a very confusing building. I was not using the glasses, but my phone. It made it a little harder for the AIRA agent, but it turned out to be a good experience. We have made new acquaintances and have a lot of information to bring back to Utah. We are only a few days into the convention, but we have seen some wonderful technology and made some great contacts. We are looking forward to what we can learn through the rest of the week.

Rick and I also had an experience the other day that reminded me of how we can be used to touch other people’s lives. Our car decided to give out right before the convention, causing us to have to purchase a new car. We have been trying to work with someone for the last few months and it has not worked out. It turns out that the finance manager was a family member, and he was encouraged by seeing some of the things I was doing. We need to remember that as we live our lives, we never know when we may be the encouragement that someone needs.

UCB Annual Business Meeting

The Annual Business Meeting of the Utah Council of the Blind will be held at the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 250 N 1950 W, Salt Lake City, UT at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 15, 2018. Reservations are required so that we can have enough food for everyone. Please call the Utah Connection or email with your name, the names of others in your party, and your telephone number no later than Monday, September 10th. When you make your reservation, please indicate whether or not each person in your party is a member of the UCB, whether you use large print or braille, any dietary restrictions you or a member of your party may have, and if you will need a listening device or any other accommodation.

Membership Verification: In order to vote at the annual business meeting a member's dues for 2018 must be paid no later than September 8, 2018. If you have any questions about your membership status, please contact our Membership Chair, Aunilie Hathaway at (801) 244-5505 or via e-mail at

Nominations for Awards

Awards nominations are being sought in three categories:

·       the Talmage awards, which are presented to a blind person and a sighted person who have given a lifetime of service to the blind of Utah

·       the Braithwaite award, which is presented to a blind person who has served the blind community for over ten years

·       other uncategorized awards which are deemed appropriate.

Our Awards Committee members this year are Cordie Weed, Sandy Ruconich, and Tina Terry. Please submit your nominations no later than August 31st by emailing them to, making contact with a member of the committee, or calling the Utah Connection and leaving your name and phone number so that a member of the committee can call you back.

Scholarship Applications Now Available

The UCB is once again offering scholarships for outstanding students attending Utah institutions of higher education. This may also include trade schools, master's programs, and doctoral programs. If you wish to apply for a scholarship to be awarded in September, leave your name and contact information on the Utah Connection, and an application will be sent to you.

For those applying, an official transcript from previous schools is required, as is one or more letters of recommendation. Scholarship amounts vary. All scholarship applications must be submitted by August 20, 2018.

Crystal Hot Springs, Rescheduled

Because of a reservation mix-up, the July trip to Crystal Hot Springs has been rescheduled to Saturday, August 11th.

On Saturday, August 11th, the UCB will join the OAB for a trip to Crystal Hot Springs. We must receive reservations by August 6th so that we will know how many people need the Ride as well as how many people will be at Crystal Hot Springs.

We will be at the springs from 1-4 p.m. There are two transportation options which are:

First, you can take public transportation to the Harmon's parking lot at 5370 So 1900 W in Roy where you will be meeting The Ride in the northwest corner of that parking lot. For users of paratransit, schedule your rides to be to the pickup area by 11:30 a.m. and schedule your return for 6:00 p.m.

Or, second, if you are driving to Crystal Hot Springs, the address is 8215 North Highway 38, Honeyville. Take exit 372 off I-15. Head east on Utah Highway 240. About one mile down Highway 240, turn left on Highway 38 and travel north for 1.7 miles. Crystal Hot Springs is located on the west side of the highway. There will be signs to follow once you get off the freeway. We will be meeting in camp ground numbers 93 and 94.

Per person costs are as follows:

Swimming only: adults $8.00, seniors or children aged 3 to 12 $6.00

Swimming with water slides: $10.00

Lockers: $1.50 and they are requesting collateral with the rental.

What to bring with you: money for swimming and snacks (there may be a snack bar), swim suit, towel, sun screen, and folding chair or camp stool, if desired (there may be nowhere to sit without one)

REMEMBER: reservations must be made by Monday, August 6th. Leave your information on the Utah Connection or call TerriLynne Pomeroy at 801-299:8522.

Utah State Fair

You will be pleased to note that once again the UCB is sponsoring a day at the fair. This year there will be two days at the fair. On Monday, September 10, 2018, the group will meet at the northeast gate at 6:00 p.m. This gate is close to the middle of the fair wall along 1000 east. The old corner gate will not be available. Each person will pay $1 for admission. It is important that everyone arrive in a timely manner to enter right at 6 p.m. This is required because everyone has to be paid for with one check. Send your money to reserve your spot by mailing it to the UCB address. Make reservations on the Utah Connection. It is important that you realize that the UCB has a limited number of passes, so please make your reservation early. Each blind person is allowed a guide for an additional $1 charge. Since this night is aimed at family night, ride passes are buy one-get-one-free. If you miss the group entrance, you can take your family that night for the buy-one-get-free discount, but you will need to pay the regular entrance prices.

On Wednesday, September 12th, a limited number of people will be able to enter the fair and attend the circus. The UCB has a limited number of passes which can be acquired at the circus tent prior to noon. The northwest gate is the best place to enter for this. Once again, everyone must enter together. People will gather to enter at 9:00 a.m. Reservations must be made in order to receive the circus pass. Listen to the Utah Connection for any updates. Everyone needs to bring their own guide and all go in together. The kiddy rides will be free for kids, and there will be some refreshments. Be warned, these reservations go quickly. Most of this occurs by the circus tent. This is a great affordable outing. Hope to see you there.

Ham Class Is a Happenin' Thing

You may remember that a couple of months ago there was an article in this newsletter about the ham radio class being offered this fall. Well, it's happening! The class will prepare participants to be amateur radio operators who can do things like warning officials of fire danger, sending messages in times of disaster, and talking with other ham operators all over the world.

Class members will learn what they need to know in order to take the test that, if passed, will give them their amateur radio operator license. The class will be taught by Richard Morris, a sighted instructor, with assistance from Linda Reeder, a blind ham operator.

Here are the details:

·       When: Tuesday evenings beginning August 28 and running through October 2, 5:00 through 6:30 p.m., (six weeks)

·       Where: Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DSBVI), 250 North 1950 West, Salt Lake City

·       What you'll need for the first class: Note-taking equipment (e.g., tape or digital recorder, Victor Stream, braille notetaker, etc.)

·       Questions? Call Sandy Ruconich; land line: 801-461-0265; cell: 801-599-1958.

Hope to see you August 28!

Health Fair

By Tina Terry

I will be talking more next month, but I want to let everyone know that the Utah Council of the Blind will be hosting a health fair/training conference on the 20th of October from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. We will be sharing a lot of information and be giving everyone as much hands-on experience as we can with things like audio medical equipment, talking prescription readers, products to make the home safer, and much more. We will also have information on a wide variety of topics such as, non-24, emergency preparedness, and ways we can work out as blind or visually impaired people. We will have presentations of balance exercises and other informational topics.

There will be lunch served. As I said, I will be writing more on this next month. We look forward to seeing many of you there. We hope that this will be helpful to family members as well.

Calendar of Upcoming Events

·       Monday, August 6: deadline for reservations for Crystal Hot Springs

·       Saturday, August 11 (rescheduled): Crystal Hot Springs, 8215 North Highway 38, Honeyville, Utah 84314, 1-4 p.m.

·       Monday, August 20: deadline for scholarship applications

·       Tuesday, August 28, 5-6:30 p.m.: ham radio technician class

·       Friday, August 31: deadline for awards nominations

·       Tuesday September 4, 5-6:30 p.m.: ham radio technician class

·       Saturday, September 8: deadline for payment of dues to be eligible to vote at Annual Business Meeting

·       Monday, September 10, 6:00 p.m.: Utah State Fair

·       Tuesday September 11: 5-6:30 pm, ham radio technician class

·       Wednesday, September 13, 9:00 a.m.: Utah State Fair

·       Saturday, September 15, 10:00 a.m.: Annual Business Meeting

·       Tuesday September 18, 5-6:30 p.m.: ham radio technician class

·       Friday, September 21: deaf-blind conference

·       Tuesday, September 25, 5-6:30 p.m.: ham radio technician class

·       Tuesday, October 2, 5-6:30 p.m.: ham radio technician class

·       Saturday, October 20, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.: Health Fair

·       Saturday, December 1, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: annual Christmas party

Microsoft Receives ACB’s James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award

Image Description: Kim Charlson - ACB President, Chip Hailey - Awards Committee Co-Chair, and Anirudh Koul - Senior Data Scientist at Microsoft

ST. LOUIS, June 30, 2018 — The American Council of the Blind presented Anirudh Koul, Senior Data Scientist, and his team at Microsoft with the James R. Olsen Distinguished Award for their Seeing AI application, which has significantly enhanced the independence and quality of life for Americans who are blind or visually impaired. This award is given to individuals or organizations that have made important contributions which have advanced opportunities for the blind community.

“When adding up the cost of the single-use products that Seeing AI replaces, it is easy to see why this mighty little application deserves recognition by the members of the American Council of the Blind,” said Brian Charlson, Director of Technology at the Carroll Center for the Blind. “This program has changed the world of technology for people who are blind or have low vision.”

Seeing AI is a free application that is available in 35 countries and includes features such as:

      Short Text - Speaks text as soon as it appears in front of the camera.

      Documents - Provides audio guidance to capture a printed page, and recognizes the text, along with its original formatting.

      Products - Scans barcodes, using audio beeps to guide you; hear the name, and package information when available. (Works with iPhone 6 and later.)

      People - Saves people’s faces so you can recognize them, and get an estimate of their age, gender, and emotions.

      Scenes (early preview) - Hear an overall description of the scene captured.

      Currency - Recognizes currency notes. (Requires iOS 11)

      Color - Identifies color.

      Handwriting - Reads handwritten text such as in greeting cards

      Light - Generates an audible tone corresponding to the brightness in the surroundings.

Due to its no-cost and multi-use capabilities, the application has been downloaded over 150,000 times and completed over 5 million tasks for users.

The American Council of the Blind is the nation’s leading grassroots consumer organization representing Americans who are blind and visually impaired. With 70 affiliates, ACB strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and to improve quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people. Together, we make a bright future. Learn more by visiting

Link to announcement:

ACB thanks Cisco for their ongoing support and commitment toward making workplaces more accessible through innovation in their business enterprise tools.

For Disabled Travelers, Technology Helps Smooth the Way, But Not All of It

Technology is fast changing how people with disabilities get to and then navigate airports and train and bus stations. But technology can go only so far: Its advantages usually stop at the door of the plane, train or bus.

Consider the experience of Michael May, who is blind and typically flies at least once a week. Mr. May, the executive director of Envision’s BVI Workforce Innovation Center, which provides employment training for the blind and visually impaired in Wichita, Kan., says he uses airline apps at home to secure his boarding pass, takes Uber to the airport and gets dropped off as close as possible to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck. (He’s also enrolled in the Clear program to speed his way through airport security.)

But then he hits what he calls a void — he has to ask someone how to get to the security line. And in frenzied airports, he doesn’t always get a response.

“I’m looking forward to having indoor navigation to the point where I can at least get to PreCheck,” he said.

Mr. May has a cane and Jonnie, his golden retriever guide dog. He also draws on screen-reader software and smartphone apps. He uses the free app Be My Eyes, which relies on a network of 1.2 million volunteers to provide directions through the airport via live video. In addition, he uses Aira, a monthly subscription app that uses a smartphone camera or a pair of glasses outfitted with a camera to live-stream video to an agent, who then provides navigational instructions. Ten airports, including ones in Seattle, Boston, Houston, Memphis and Minneapolis, currently offer zones where blind and visually impaired travelers can download the AIRA app and use the service without charge. (Several more airports are expected to offer complimentary service this summer.)

David Wilson, the director of innovation at the Sea-Tac Airport, says blind travelers no longer have to rely on wheelchair attendants. “With Aira, they can get up and go to a restroom, go to a concession,” he said. “It’s independence.”

Still, the Americans With Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990, applies to airports and ground transportation — trains, buses and subways. But airline cabins are governed by the Air Carrier Access Act, which was enacted in 1986 and does not carry as many accessibility requirements. If, for example, someone uses a motorized wheelchair, it must be checked at the end of the jetway. Wheelchair assistants, often contractors, help the passenger transfer to a wheelchair that can fit down the narrow aisles and then to their seat (a foldable aisle wheelchair is also kept on board).

“The most accessible feature on an airplane is the fact that the arm rest lifts up to get in and out of the seat, and that’s about it,” said Lee Page, a quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair full time and serves as the senior advocacy director for Paralyzed Veterans of America.

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, Anthony Black, said its gate agents must complete a “comprehensive accessibility curriculum” for travelers with disabilities that includes training on everything from handling service animals to transfer assistance onto a plane. A spokesman for United Airlines, Charles Hobart, said the carrier had a 24-hour accessibility desk and also trained all of the employees who work directly with customers on how to assist passengers with disabilities. Southwest Airlines said all of its customer representatives were trained to help customers with disabilities, and it maintained a video relay and a Teletypewriter number for deaf travelers.

But disabled travelers, including Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, an associate professor of philosophy at Gallaudet University, who is deaf, say airlines could improve their training. She said she would like airlines to do a better job of reassuring deaf and hard-of-hearing travelers that “our presence has been noted and that we will not be overlooked.”

Sheryl Stroup, a safety expert for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said flight attendants were responsible for communicating directly with disabled passengers to make sure their needs are met. “You need to go ask them, ‘How can I best assist you?’” she said.

Ms. Blankmeyer Burke says she wears a brightly colored piece of clothing or a distinctive hat so that she’s readily identifiable and introduces herself to the ticketing crew at the airport, train station or bus terminal with a note.

“I print out a script that tells the flight attendants a little bit about my communication needs and abilities, where I am sitting, and also notes my beverage preferences and my destination,” she said in an email. “In this document, I explicitly state that I want important announcements written and I ask who will be responsible for communicating with me in case of emergency.”

Ms. Blankmeyer Burke says she carries a small notebook or types inquiries on her smartphone and travels with a flashlight for lip reading.

Not everyone has a smartphone, and some people say they prefer the simplicity of human interaction even if they are tech savvy.

Bill McCann, the founder and president of Dancing Dots, a company in Phoenixville, Pa., that creates software to help blind and visually impaired musicians read, write and record music, said he navigated through the airport or an Amtrak station using the sighted-guide technique. He takes the arm of either the wheelchair attendant, a fixture at airports nationwide, or a member of Amtrak’s Red Cap team. At airports, he follows the attendant through T.S.A. PreCheck to his gate, keeping his cane out so people can identify him as a blind person.

“It’s a convenience,” he said. “It’s a timesaver. It reduces some of the stress of being in airports.” He said he viewed airports as “just below hospitals in terms of stress level.” At the gate, Mr. McCann said, he typically preboards — an option airlines must extend to anyone with a disability.

An accessibility consultant, John Morris, a triple amputee based in Orlando, Fla., uses a motorized wheelchair. He writes a wheelchair travel blog to share tips about air, bus and train travel. Since 2014, he said, he has taken more than 600 flights and over 70 trips combined on Greyhound or Megabus.

On Greyhound, an electronic lift carries the wheelchair user to a seating area that can accommodate two wheelchairs. But Mr. Morris said there was no uniform setup, and this caused delays. “Oftentimes,” he said, “I find myself being the one to educate the driver on how to operate the particular lift that’s set up on their bus.”

Delays can also make for an uncomfortable ride. When fellow passengers groan, Mr. Morris said, he feels like a “target sitting in the middle of the bus, and I have nowhere to go.”

The National Federation of the Blind last year filed a lawsuit against Greyhound saying that neither the bus operator’s website nor its app was accessible for the blind, putting it in violation of both the A.D.A. and state laws. The case is in mediation.

“We are making our website and app more accessible to customers who use screen-reader software,” said Lanesha Gipson, a spokeswoman for Greyhound. Although the company requires its drivers to demonstrate their ability to operate wheelchair lifts, she said the lifts are “very fickle” and sometimes fail.

On Megabus, which operates two-level buses and is owned by Coach USA, wheelchairs roll on and off the first level via a portable ramp. Mr. Morris said he preferred this low-floor access because it “eliminates a break point.”

Still, he said, the grade of the ramps at some stations, including in Orlando, is too steep to be compliant with the disabilities act. He said he also worried about the safety straps. “I don’t think I’ve ever ridden the Megabus and felt as though the straps that lock my wheelchair down are secure,” he said.

Sean Hughes, a spokesman for Megabus, said that the ramp and wheelchair straps were designed “to meet all A.D.A. requirements” and that drivers take a mandatory training class to practice loading, tying down and unloading wheelchairs.

One advantage that both trains and buses offer over airplanes, Mr. Morris said, is the direct connection from city center to city center. Trains, he said, also provide one of the most accessible ways to travel. Amtrak lays down a ramp on train platforms to bridge the gap at the station for wheelchairs. There’s also a mechanical lift to hoist a wheelchair user into or out of the train if it is not level with the platform. On Northeast corridor trains, there is space at the end of each car to accommodate wheelchair users. Over all, Mr. Morris said, he preferred the dedicated wheelchair space and the accessible bathrooms on Amtrak’s Acela service.

Airplanes are another story. Twin-aisle planes, typically used for international flights, are required to have an accessible lavatory. But single-aisle airplanes, a staple of domestic routes, rarely have one. Delta says it will have the Bombardier CS100, its first narrow-body aircraft outfitted with an accessible lavatory, in service next January.

Article Link:

The Eye Doctor Who Could Not See the Stars

For many years, Dr Andrew Bastawrous could not see clearly enough to spot the leaves on trees or the stars in the sky.

Teachers kept telling him he was lazy and he kept missing the football during games.

Then, aged 12, his mother took him to have his eyes tested and that changed everything.

Now he is a prize-winning eye doctor with a plan to use a smartphone app to bring better vision to millions of children around the world.

Dr Bastawrous told the BBC: "I'll never forget that moment at the optometrist. I had trial lenses on and looked across the car park and saw the gravel on the road had so much detail I had had no idea about.

"A couple of weeks later I got my first pair of glasses and that's when I saw stars for first time, started doing well at school and it completely transformed my life."

Around the world 12 million children, like Dr Bastawrous, have sight problems that could be corrected by a pair of glasses.

But in many areas, access to eye specialists is difficult - leaving children with visual impairments that can harm school work and, ultimately, their opportunities in later life.

Pocket eye tests

In rural Kenya, for example, there is one eye doctor for one million people. Meanwhile in the US, there is on average one ophthalmologist for every 15,800 people.

In 2011 Dr Bastawrous - by now an eye doctor in England - decided to study the eye health of the population of Kitale, Kenya, as part of his PhD.

He took about £100,000 of eye equipment in an attempt to set up 100 temporary eye clinics but found this didn't work, as reliable roads and electricity were scarce.

It was realizing that these same areas had great mobile phone coverage - with about 80% of the population owning a cell phone - that sparked the idea for Peek.

Peek is a smartphone-based system that can bring eye care to people wherever they are.

One part of the Peek system works in a similar way to an optician's eye chart, checking how well a person can see.

'Teachers as opticians'

Dr Bastawrous wanted to see if Peek could be used by non-specialists in areas where eye specialists are scarce. His team came up with the idea of training teachers - turning the teacher into an optician.

Now a trial published in the Lancet Global Health shows Peek can be used successfully to bring pocket eye tests to schools, helping more children to get the glasses they need.

How it works:

Children are shown a series of "E" shapes in different orientations and sizes.

The child points in the direction the symbol is facing

The teacher (who cannot see the screen) then swipes the phone in the same direction

The app determines how good the child's eyesight is

'Tried and tested'

Dr Bastawrous - together with a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - spent a week training 25 teachers in 50 schools in rural Kenya to use their Peek system or standard eye tests normally done by specialist nurses.

Half of the primary school children were then tested using the Peek system and half with standard eye tests using a series of paper testing cards.

After their tests, children who were examined by the Peek system were shown a split-screen simulation of how blurred their sight was compared with someone who could see clearly.

Crucially, they were then given a printout of this to pass on to their parents, showing them just how poor their child's sight was.

The Peek system also sent out details of the nearest eye clinic along with text-message reminders to encourage parents to take their children to hospital.

Meanwhile, the children who took the paper-based vision test had their scores recorded manually and, if the teachers detected any eye problems, were given a paper letter to pass on to their parents.

Researchers found twice as many children attended hospital for free eye checks with Peek than went for standard eye tests.

'Promise of sight'

Dr Hillary Rono, an eye doctor based in Kenya and lead researcher on the study, said: "This could be a world changer. To put it in perspective, I am one of the 100 ophthalmologists in Kenya.

"I am in charge of a region that has two million people. I cannot reach everybody in that area.

"Therefore, this technology will allow people without medical skills to identify the children with problems and link them with doctors like me so they can treat them."

The study also found the app picked up on more children with eye problems than the standard tests - although, some were allergic conditions that temporarily blurred vision rather than sight problems that needed glasses.

Researchers realized these children benefited from treatment too so Peek has now been refined to spot the difference between eyesight issues and other eye problems, and send children to the right place for help.

Commenting on the study, Peter Holland, of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, said: "Innovations like Peek bring the costs of screening and referrals down and put services within reach of millions who are currently being left behind.

"They have the potential to offer the promise of sight to many who need it."

Peek is being rolled out across more schools in Kenya, serving 300,000 children, with subsidized glasses for those who need them.

The government of Botswana is planning on using it nationwide, and it is also being used in India.

Article Link:

Blind and Graying, Dragon Boat Paddlers ‘Challenge the Impossible’

The Darkness Fighters are the only visually impaired team in an annual Hong Kong festival that blends ritual and rivalry.

HONG KONG — A blur of boldly patterned jerseys and fluttering banners of green, pink and yellow. The platinum of a boat’s wake against the pewter of the sea. Oars paddling in hypnotic unity. All of it made brighter and more vibrant by a glaring summer sun.

This is Hong Kong’s annual Dragon Boat Festival, a centuries-old tradition throughout Asia that combines sacred rituals with serious competition.

Among the competitors last month were the Darkness Fighters, Hong Kong’s only dragon boat team composed of visually impaired paddlers and their sighted coaches. Most of them are well past retirement age.

“I’m really happy to be here today because I didn’t think I would be able to do things like this,” said Tsang Jau Rung, 72, who began losing her sight 16 years ago and joined the Fighters this year.

For Ms. Tsang, and the other blind paddlers, joining the team has meant breaking with housebound routines that provide a sense of safety, but also inflict a crushing loneliness. Competing is an opportunity to socialize as well as a chance to exercise.

The festival is said to commemorate the suicide of Qu Yuan, a third-century poet and patriot, and his community’s effort to rescue him from drowning. It is a celebration of teamwork in the face of isolation and desperation.

“It is a group effort,” said Annie Wing Chee Lo, 60, who steadily lost her sight over the past 10 years. “It requires our utmost focus and perseverance for us to do well.”

On race day, hundreds of teams from across the territory representing Hong Kong’s modern tribes — locals and expatriates, bankers and fishermen — meet to compete.

The Fighters’ boat is exactly the same as the ones rowed by their sighted competition — long, wooden and tottery, with a dragon figurehead at the prow, 22 paddlers at work.

At the front of each boat is a large drum, beat to keep members of the team in time.

Even those who can see cannot ensure they won’t smack into the paddlers in front or behind them, but the Fighters must learn exactly where and when to place their oars solely by the sound of the drum.

Many of the team’s members are participating in an organized sport for the first time in their lives, at an age when their peers have retired. There are nearly 175,000 blind people in the city, according to the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind, and 65 percent of them are over the age of 70.

Just getting to practice is an achievement. One paddler, Lau Fat, 65, must take a bus. Make three subway transfers. And navigate the streets in one of Asia’s busiest cities.

“It’s hardest for newly blind people,” said Mr. Lau, who since losing his sight five years ago has also learned Kung Fu and how to play an erhu, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. “They need to be convinced that they don’t need to be home alone but should come out and do things.”

On race day, Mr. Lau said he was nervous but found the steady beat of the boat’s drum calming.

“We are happy to participate,” he said. “But of course we want to win.”

“This is the Darkness Fighters’ mantra,” the team shouted before carefully getting into the boat. “Challenge the impossible!”

For the blind paddlers the race has its own sensory delights: the thrum of the drum, the spray of the water, the crowd’s cheers.

By the end of the race, they are sopping wet, exhausted and beaming with pride. They placed fifth out of eight teams.

“We were all on point with our rhythms and didn’t mess one another up,” Mr. Lau said. “That alone is a win for us.”

Article link:

Transition Student from Lighthouse SW Florida makes National Finals in Fencing in Spite of Vision Impairment

A teenage client of Lighthouse of SW Florida named Cosette Dunkle has been selected to compete in the National Finals in Fencing in St. Louis. Here is more about this 17-year old’s inspirational story.

Cosette learned at age 6 that she has 4 rare eye conditions: Monofixation syndrome/accommodations spasm/blurred vision/myopia with astigmatism. Despite these obstacles, Cosette is seeking to become a Pediatric Oncologist and with technology taught at Lighthouse of SWFL now knows her goal is certainly attainable. A quote from this young lady is, “I am doing the things people told me I could never do,” including competing at the highest level the first week of July at the National Finals of Fencing in St. Louis where she will compete with fully sighted competitors for the National Championship! No accommodations for her visual impairment will be made!

Also, Cosette was awarded to be a delegate at the Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living Youth Leadership Forum in Tallahassee the week of July 18.

If you’d like to donate to help fund Cosette’s travel expenses to the National Finals of Fencing and the Leadership Forum, please send your donations to: Lighthouse of SW Florida, “Fending Project Fund,” 35 W. Mariana Ave., North Fort Myers, FL 33903-5515 or contact director Doug Fowler at

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Microsoft Commits $25M to Its AI for Accessibility Program

If you've read Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's recent book, you know that making technology more accessible to people with disabilities is personal for him. Over the course of the last few years, large parts of the company have dedicated themselves to building tools that enable people with disabilities and mental health conditions to do more. Today, the company announced that it is putting more money behind these efforts through its $25 million, five-year AI for Accessibility project.

"Around the world, only one in 10 people with disabilities has access to assistive technologies and products," Microsoft president Brad Smith writes in today's announcement. "By making AI solutions more widely available, we believe technology can have a broad impact on this important community."

Like the company's AI for Earth project, which launched last year, AI for Accessibility aims to provide seed grants to developers, universities, inventors and NGOs. The focus of their projects needs to be on "creating solutions that will create new opportunities and assist people with disabilities with work, life, and human connections." Then, the company will take the projects that show the most promise and connect their teams with its own experts to help them scale.

In addition to all of this, Microsoft also pledges to bring inclusive design to its products.

"Disabilities can be permanent, temporary or situational. By innovating for people with disabilities, we are innovating for us all," Smith writes. "By ensuring that technology fulfills its promise to address the broadest societal needs, we can empower everyone — not just individuals with disabilities — to achieve more."

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Slow Cooker Caramel Rice Pudding

Save your fresh milk for cereal. Evaporated milk and condensed milk make this a smooth, creamy pudding because they don't break down and separate like fresh milk would during the long cooking time. The sweetened condensed milk caramelizes during the long, slow cooking to give this rice pudding a pleasant caramel flavor and rich beige color.

3 cups cooked white rice

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Spray inside of 2- to 3 1/2-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.

Mix all ingredients except sugar and cinnamon in cooker.

Cover and cook on low heat setting 3 to 4 hours or until liquid is absorbed. Stir pudding.

Sprinkle pudding with sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm.

Makes 8 servings

Note: This recipe was tested in slow cookers with heating elements in the side and bottom of the cooker, not in cookers that stand only on a heated base. For slow cookers with just a heated base, follow the manufacturer's directions for layering ingredients and choosing a temperature. (Total time will vary with appliance and setting.)

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