The UCB Flier
A publication of
Utah Council of the Blind
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.)
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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 email@example.com and let us know.
In This Issue
Crystal Hot Springs.................................................................................... 5
Ceramics Class Schedule for July.............................................................. 6
Important Date UCB Annual Business Meeting.......................................... 7
2018 Elections Call for Nominations......... 8
Bylaw Amendments................................ 10
Reminder to the Cooks Among Us........................................................... 10
The Community Projects Program Can Help You.................................... 11
Reading By Touch.................................................................................... 12
Batten Disease, What Is It, How Can You Help?...................................... 17
How to Convey Dance to Those Without Sight? All Hands On................. 21
ACB Receives CNIB Century of Change Award....................................... 28
Apple Pushes to Teach Coding to Students Who are Deaf and Blind...... 29
Apple Seeks to 'Take Disability Out of the Equation'................................ 32
AI Tools Help the Blind Tackle Everyday Tasks....................................... 36
Visual Interpreter.................................... 37
Built-in Accessibility................................ 41
Warren, Ohio Teen Piano Player Hopes His Notes Strike a Chord.......... 45
Peggy’s Peanut Butter Cookies................................................................ 47
General UCB Information......................................................................... 49
Upcoming Board Meetings...................... 50
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 utahcounciloftheblind.org
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.
By Tina Terry
It is hard to believe that the year has flown by so fast. It is already time for this year's ACB convention. Donni Mitchell and I will be in attendance as delegates for Utah. There are so many things we can learn from the different affiliates, speakers, and exhibits, I am looking forward to seeing what we can bring back to benefit the UCB. I hope to learn more about leadership and fundraising. I would also like the opportunity to network with other affiliates.
On another note, I have recently had the opportunity to try an accessible ballot that would be printed and mailed. As more states turn to voting by mail, this option could allow us to independently participate in the vote by mail process. The ballot I saw will ensure that that blind or visually impaired voter can choose the desired option rather than relying on a sighted helper. This is something I will be sharing more about in the future.
On Saturday, July 14th, the UCB will join the OAB for a trip to Crystal Hot Springs. We must receive reservations by July 7 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 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. There are two transportation options which are:
· First, you can take public transportation to the Harmon's parking lot at 5370 S 1900 W in Roy, where you will be meeting The Ride in the northwest corner of that parking lot. The Ride will pick up passengers at 11:30 a.m. The Ride will return to Harmon's by 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: $6.00
· Swimming with water slides: $8.00
· Lockers: $1.50 and they are requesting collateral with the prices.
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).
REMEMBER: reservations must be made by Saturday, July 7. Leave your information on the Utah Connection or call TerriLynne Pomeroy at 801-299:8522.
Just a note to those of you who attend and enjoy our ceramics classes on Wednesdays, there will be no classes on July 4 or July 11. Classes will resume on July 18.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com.
During this year's annual business meeting, we will be electing the vice president, treasurer, and two 2-year board members. As specified in the UCB Bylaws: "Any qualified member of the organization wishing to run for a position on the Board of Directors may notify a member of the Committee by submitting an approximately 200 word written statement concerning his/her qualifications and vision for the future of the organization, which will be distributed to the membership." Please note that it is the intent of this by law that the statement is from the nominee; it is not intended to be an expression of anyone else's opinion of the candidate. (200 words are approximately two medium paragraphs.) "In order to be eligible for election a person must have been a member of the organization for not less than six months and have been active on a committee. In addition, the president and vice president must be legally blind.
Nominating Committee: We are pleased to announce that the Nominating Committee chair for this year is Leslie Gertsch. Anyone who wishes to run for one of these positions, please send your statement to:
Utah Council of the Blind
PO Box 1415
Bountiful UT 84011-1415
or by e-mail to:
Your statements of intent to run must be received on or before July 27, 2018 in order to allow time for the statements to be prepared to be printed in the September newsletter. If you have any questions, please feel free to call Leslie at (801) 292-1156.
Proposed Bylaws amendments must be submitted to:
Utah Council of the Blind
PO Box 1415
Bountiful UT 84011-1415
or by e-mail to:
Proposals must be received on or before July 27, 2018 in order for them to be prepared to be published in the September newsletter.
For you Braille readers out there, this is a reminder that we now have available at no cost to you Tina Terry’s Recipe Collection and the Vita-Mix Recipe Collection in hard copy Braille or as a brf file for those who prefer the electronic format. Also available is a large print version of Tina Terry’s Recipe Collection at a cost of $10.00.
The goal of the Community Projects is to help you to be a part of the community in your area as well as being independent. Below you will see that there are people who are using the program to help them to be part of the community and to serve other people.
From Maurice Anderson:
Maurice is so thrilled to have the sprinkling system for his garden. The system is being installed as we speak by the UCBCP in Ferron.
I want to give a great big thanks to Community Projects for helping me get a grant through the Utah Council of the Blind for gardening supplies! I really appreciate the financial assistance that I was awarded through the Utah Council of the Blind.
From JD Seely:
Thank you, UCB for providing the Community Projects Program. I want to thank you for the kind donation of the cedar posts for a fence to protect equipment that I use to get firewood. Thank you for all the programs that you sponsor and support.
Helen Keller was born in 1880, just over 50 years after Louis Braille published his eponymous writing system. Braille, who was three when an accident in his father's workshop left him blind, had been frustrated by the reading system available to him at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris: embossed Latin letters. Tracing the text was a slow process, and the books were so huge and expensive to produce that few existed. Moreover, the system did not offer a realistic way for a blind person to write.
Braille understood that the blind needed access to the same information as everyone else if they were to be treated equally. Determined to facilitate that transfer of knowledge, he began working on his own system, inspired by a code of dots and dashes created for soldiers by a French Army captain. Braille was just 15 when he completed his alphabet of raised dots, produced using a slate and stylus. His invention was met with praise from some corners, and consternation from others. At one point, school administrators confiscated Braille's writings and burned them; they wanted their students to use raised lettering because the teachers couldn't read Braille's dots.
But braille proved too powerful a tool to deny. It spread from France to England and across the pond to the United States, inspiring spin-offs as it went. Investments in machinery and tradition meant institutions clung stubbornly to their own systems. By the time Helen Keller came of reading age, there was a host of competing alphabets — a state of affairs some called the "War of the Dots," and Keller simply called "absurd."
"She used four or five systems pretty regularly," says Jennifer Arnott, research librarian at Perkins School for the Blind. Those included American Braille, English Braille, another dot system called New York Point, and Boston Line Type, an embossed Roman alphabet. Keller's frustration at having to know all of them was compounded by how few books were available in any of the codes to begin with.
"She couldn't call a library like the one here at Perkins and say I want a copy of a famous literary novel of the day because there was so little available in an accessible format," says Kim Charlson, Executive Director of Perkins Library. Perkins, one of the only organizations producing accessible reading material in first decades of the 1900s, published just a dozen braille books on a good year. The books early publishers did produce tended toward the classics and the "morally uplifting."
"The Bible got done early because everyone wanted blind people to read it. Heaven forbid you just wanted to read a good story!" says Charlson. "Getting any book was a treat, but getting one that Helen would have wanted to read because of her studies and her intellect would have been even more challenging."
But Keller persevered. When the material she wanted to read wasn't available in an accessible form, people read to her, spelling into her hand. Though it took months to transcribe a volume of her schoolwork, Keller became the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, graduating from Radcliffe College in 1904. Fourteen years later, in 1918, braille was standardized in the United States, thanks in part to Keller's advocacy. Another cause she championed, a national library program for the blind, was created in 1931. A small sample of Keller's personal library that she donated to Perkins between 1909 and 1915 includes works in a variety of languages, and makes for an impressive reading list by anyone's standards.
Today, computers have dramatically changed the landscape for blind readers and writers. While braille literacy has declined since 1960, voice technology enables users to read and write swiftly and efficiently. Devices like iPhones have built-in screen readers that blind users can listen to at remarkable speeds. "We're living in an incredible period for the potential of technology to change the lives of people who are blind," says Dave Power, president and CEO at Perkins School for the Blind. "If a person who's blind picked up your phone, you'd be amazed at what they could do with it."
Louis Braille had wanted the blind to gain access to the worlds of knowledge contained in books. When Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968 at the age of 87, she had not only read more than most, she had also become the author of a dozen books, sharing her own knowledge and wisdom with the world. And she accomplished all that in an analog era. "What an amazing thing it would be to show Helen today's technology," says Kim Charlson. "Just think of what she could have done.
by Jessica Peterson, 801-603-5752
Our family is on a mission to invite over 25,000 people to not only donate $10 to end Batten Disease, but to join our fight to eradicate this disease. What is Batten Disease? Until our then 8-year-old son was diagnosed with it in 2017, we had never heard of the disease. After leaving the doctor's office, we were in such a state of shock, we had to google What is Batten Disease? Upon reading the diagnosis and its symptoms and especially that there was NO Treatment and NO Cure we were completely devastated, our hearts broken.
Batten Disease is a rare, fatal, inherited disorder of the nervous system that typically begins in childhood. The first symptom is usually progressive vision loss in previously healthy children followed by personality changes, behavioral problems and slowed learning. Children experience seizures, and loss of motor functions (movement and speech) which progress to wheelchair-bound and bedridden, as well as mental incapacitation requiring 24-hour care until premature death in teens to early 20's.
Let me introduce you to Chase. At the age of three, he renamed himself to Jasper the Champion Rider Shooter. At age four we were allowed to shorten it to Jasper the Champion. He is now nine and is known as Jasper, with most people unaware his real name is Chase. Jasper has an abundant personality, he is wise beyond his years and he is not shy. He loves telling stories and jokes, farming, the holidays, playing cowboy, teaching others and all animals. Jasper is now considered legally blind, with the majority of the decline in his vision being over the last 8 months. He has begun to learn Braille and has started cane lessons. With his vision impairment he amazes me every day. He has never complained or felt bad for himself knowing that with the decline in his vision he will not be able to do many of the activities he loved, such as driving his tractor, riding his bike, playing baseball and playing the game Farming Simulator on his iPad.
We quickly became tired of the specialists’ response of "there is nothing we can do, call us WHEN you need us". This was unacceptable. I started researching any information I could find, organizations that were created by other families who have lost their children, support groups, pending treatments and cures. We came across the Beyond Batten Disease Foundation, a nonprofit organization and Abeona Therapeutics, each with treatments in sight. One a drug that slows the progression of the disease and the other a gene therapy that delivers a normal copy of the defective CLN3 gene to cells of the central nervous system. The Beyond Batten Disease Foundation has been working diligently to advance their treatment to clinical trials, as has Abeona Therapeutics who is spearheading the gene therapy.
Beyond Batten Disease Foundation is on the forefront of the first ever treatment for this type of Batten Disease. They are anticipating clinical trials later this year! However, being a rare disease, there is limited government funding and big drug companies refuse to sponsor the trial because they feel they will not recoup the costs of the treatment due to the small numbers of affected children. We have the science, we have the treatment, we need your help bridging the gap between the scientists and the doctor’s office. If you want to make a change in a child's life - help us! Join our fight! The clinical trial is only months away.
Will you be the one to help us end Batten? Please watch our video on www.Chase-the-Cure.com, and follow our journey on Facebook under Chase The Cure and please share with your friends and family.
There are many ways to donate:
as well as Text Chase to 501501.
I sincerely appreciate your time and consideration in seeking to understand Batten's disease, how it affects families and how your support can help bring some peace of mind to families in 2018 with the hopeful release of a clinical trial for the first ever treatment and hopefully soon to follow a cure.
The Peterson Family
It was neither awkward nor sensual — more like a group of mechanics huddled over an engine, discussing its capabilities and how it works. In this analogy, Mana Hashimoto, a blind professional dancer and choreographer, was the head mechanic, and her body was the engine.
At a workshop on a recent Saturday, Ms. Hashimoto was surrounded by four students from the Filomen M. D'Agostino Greenberg Music School, a community school for the blind and visually impaired that's near Lincoln Center. They followed her movements with their hands: One touched her belly. Another had a hand on Ms. Hashimoto's head, and still another ran fingers along Ms. Hashimoto's outstretched arm as she began a long, low backbend.
"How are your feet? Is one in front of the other?" asked Andrew Zhang, 22, who lost his sight completely in a childhood accident.
"You can feel it," Ms. Hashimoto said, grabbing one of his hands and placing it on her shin. "They are like in a natural position."
"Ah-ha," "wow" and "ohhhhh" were the chorused responses from the hands-on participants, as the combination of touch and verbal descriptions inspired small revelations.
Ms. Hashimoto was performing "Bridge Over Troubled Water," a contemporary dance choreographed to the Simon and Garfunkel song, that she will present on Friday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the museum's annual collaboration with the Lighthouse Guild (the music school's nonprofit parent organization). In the past, the event has focused on helping the visually impaired experience visual art through music and poetry.
This is the first year that dance will be featured, and Ms. Hashimoto's hands-on workshop was preparation. The walk-through was meant to enable the students — about two dozen took part in two separate workshops — to recall the action onstage while they sit in the audience for the performance, or to sing in the a cappella ensemble that will accompany Ms. Hashimoto.
Showcasing dance, without the audience's necessarily seeing it, is Ms. Hashimoto's life's work. Her performances and workshops bring dance, a medium with a strong visual component, to those without sight while also providing a new experience for a sighted audience.
"I create moments of stillness and darkness to start to be aware of the rest of the senses available," said Ms. Hashimoto, who connects touch, sound and sometimes scent with a performance space and the movements that fill it.
Born in Japan with full vision, Ms. Hashimoto trained as a classical ballet dancer into her teenage years, when her sight began deteriorating because of optic nerve atrophy. Doctors assured her that her vision wouldn't go completely, and she moved to New York City to continue studying dance about 20 years ago. Within 12 months, her sight had disappeared completely.
For a moment, she said, she thought she would have to give up dance. How would she see the instructors? Know the position of other dancers? Critique herself in a mirrored studio?
A friend suggested that they take a dance class together, so that Ms. Hashimoto could memorize and refine the movements through touch and verbal cues. When a teacher was moved to tears watching the two interact as one — something of a performance in itself — Ms. Hashimoto said that she understood that she had something distinctive to offer the art form.
Now, she needs remarkably little to perform: a cane to feel her way onto the stage and either a cross made in tape or a small sheet of carpet to define her dance space and direction. Her performances are mostly solos, partly to avoid colliding with other performers.
In a workshop that she runs a few times each year, "Dance Without Sight," Ms. Hashimoto brings the sighted and the visually impaired into her world. Participants — those who have vision close their eyes or use blindfolds — explore Ms. Hashimoto's dance space, taking note of how sound reverberates off walls, while feeling textures and the layout.
Time is spent touching the material of Ms. Hashimoto's costume, as she describes its color, shape and how it moves with her. Then her body becomes the focus, as participants follow her movement with their hands.
"We would touch the lower back — you can actually feel what her limbs are doing, the full movement of the body that way," said Fred Hatt, a visual artist who took Ms. Hashimoto's workshop. During the final performance, spectators can hear the sound of the dance and feel the rush of air as she transforms her space.
Since the early 1980s, film and TV shows, theaters and museums have steadily increased accessibility to the visually impaired, said Joel Snyder, a pioneer in audio description services. But dance lags behind. "People have found it challenging to describe something that is somewhat amorphous," Mr. Snyder said. "In a museum, it is one thing to describe a landscape, and something else to describe a Jackson Pollock. I liken it to that."
Offering a visual description of dance can be a heavy lift. Mr. Snyder and his wife, Esther Geiger, a certified movement analyst, will watch videos of the choreography and attend rehearsals to write a script. But they are always prepared to improvise their descriptions — not unlike calling a sports game — during the performance. "We want to let the other sounds be there as well," Mr. Snyder said of the balancing act.
He said he knew of only a handful of dance troupes in the United States, like AXIS Dance Company in Oakland, Calif., that regularly provide audio descriptions. (Beginning this summer, a majority of Broadway shows in New York will have at least a prerecorded audio description.)
For Ms. Hashimoto, touch adds another layer to verbal descriptions. At the music school's workshop, Madeline Mau, 11, who sees light, shadows and bright colors with her limited vision, molded her own movements to imitate those she felt through Ms. Hashimoto. She said that she was grateful that Ms. Hashimoto allowed her such intimate access to her body and personal space.
"I've been able to translate dance into something I understand, not just a visual medium," Madeline said. "There was just so much emotion — loneliness, happiness, love."
This year, CNIB celebrates its 100th year of service in Canada – a century of remarkable change for people who are blind or partially sighted. As part of their anniversary celebrations, they have created the CNIB Century of Change awards program to honor the many clients, volunteers, supporters, community partners and innovators who have made that progress possible.
The American Council of the Blind was chosen to receive a CNIB Century of Change award in recognition of its outstanding voluntary contributions to the blindness community around the world.
This award was presented during the Library and Archives Canada event on May 29, 2018. Mitch Pomerantz, immediate past president, accepted this award on behalf of ACB.
Tim Cook has been vocal about wanting students to learn to code. On Thursday, Apple's CEO announced that the company is bringing its "Everyone Can Code" curricula for the Swift programming language to schools across the country that serve students who are deaf and blind.
Cook tweeted, "Because when we say Everyone Can Code, we mean everyone."
The announcement came Thursday in conjunction with the seventh Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the purpose of which is to "get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access and inclusion and people with different disabilities."
Throughout the rest of May, Apple says it will be holding accessibility-related events and customer sessions at all its retail stores.
At its Michigan Avenue flagship store in Chicago, for example, the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired will demonstrate the VoiceOver tool inside iOS that reads aloud what's on the screen for people who are blind or who have low vision.
Apple says the participating schools will tailor lessons using accessibility technology the company has baked into the iPhone and other products, covering people with vision, hearing, physical motor, cognitive, or other assistive needs.
The company has collaborated with engineers, educators, and programmers from various accessibility communities and says it is working with the schools to augment the curricula. For example, it will employ tactile maps to help blind students learn to code.
Here is the initial list of participating schools:
· California School for the Blind (Fremont, Calif.)
· California School for the Deaf (Fremont, Calif.)
· Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (St. Augustine, Fla.)
· Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Winetka, Ill.)
· District 75/Citywide Programs, New York City Department of Education (New York, NY)
· Perkins School for the Blind (Watertown, MA)
· Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Austin, Tex.)
· Texas School for the Deaf (Austin, Tex.)
Don Barrett, a member of the American Council of the Blind, applauds the move. "If you get coders and computer scientists accessibility-aware from the beginning, as they go out and get jobs putting these systems together they can push and say, 'hey we really need to make this accessible. It's not a big deal, lets just do it."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter
Ahead of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the tech giant discusses its work helping people with disabilities.
Austin Pruitt, a two-time US Paralympian, walked me over to a racing wheelchair that he set up for a stationary workout routine.
Pruitt has cerebral palsy from the knees down, which forces him to walk slowly, but he's able to compete on the world stage by racing in a wheelchair. He said he used to set up a bunch of trackers on his chair to log his workouts, but now uses just an Apple Watch instead.
"This has everything," he told me. "This has my wheelchair and my walking, all in one."
Ahead of Global Accessibility Awareness Day this Thursday, which focuses on making technology more usable for people with disabilities, Apple sought to highlight the work its been doing in recent years to benefit people like Pruitt by building more capabilities into its devices.
These kinds of new features have the potential to change lives for the better, helping those with disabilities do more for themselves independently or save much more time completing tasks able-bodied folks might take for granted. Although many of these innovations focus on a smaller segment of people, some of these features can give the broader population benefit, too, thanks to added convenience or easier controls. For example, Apple's creation of inverted colors on its iPhone screen for the visually impaired also proved useful for low-light reading before bedtime.
"Every year we try to add in new things. We do look at how can we make it slightly better year over year," Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's director of global accessibility policy and initiatives, said about the company's work on its iOS and MacOS operating systems.
Other tech companies have been working to build up their accessibility options, too. Google added a variety of features to Android, including voice commands and display settings to make the screen easier to read. Samsung created several similar controls. And Amazon provides a handful of ways for people to use its Alexa voice assistant.
Herrlinger discussed a handful of Apple's efforts around accessibility, starting with the iPhone, where the tech giant has added a long list of specialized controls, including text-to-speech that can read your emails or a grocery list, and Bluetooth pairing with hearing aids and cochlear implants.
In the kitchen, a visually impaired person can use their iPhone to find specific spices by using a camera app to read their barcodes. They can also use a HomePod smart speaker to turn on small appliances via voice.
In the living room, Herrlinger said the company worked with makers of portable Braille readers and paddle switches (essentially large buttons that can pair with your electronics) to help people operate an iPad or turn on closed captioning or audio descriptions on an Apple TV.
"This becomes like a lifeline," said Andrea Dalzell, a nurse, advocate for people with disabilities and Ms. Wheelchair New York 2015. "I have the ability to take disability out of the equation."
A host of products promise to radically change the lives of the visually impaired
Since losing his vision at age 13, Erik Weihenmayer has summited Mount Everest, white-water rafted and climbed frozen waterfalls. But making soup in his kitchen presented a unique challenge. On a frozen waterfall he could tap his ax against the ice to get a feel for its density, but in the kitchen, he had no way to differentiate between cans of tomato and chicken noodle.
Mr. Weihenmayer, 49 years old, found a solution in Microsoft Corp.'s Seeing AI, a free app for the visually impaired. Among other things, the app can recognize faces, identify money, read handwriting and scan bar codes to differentiate between cans of soup.
Microsoft says it has no plans to monetize the app, which launched in 2017, calling it part of the company's efforts to empower all people, including those with disabilities.
Of course, many of the voice-activated devices that have become powerful aids for the blind, such as Amazon's Echo and Google Home, weren't specifically designed for them, or with philanthropy in mind.
Mr. Weihenmayer, for example, uses Comcast 's voice remote to find TV shows, Apple 's Siri to send texts and Amazon's Alexa to cue up his favorite music.
Mike May and his wife, both of whom are blind, have about a dozen Alexa-connected devices in their home that do everything from turn off the lights to tell them when a load in the washing machine will be done. "It's become so much a part of my life that I almost don't even think about it anymore," says Mr. May, who works at Wichita, Kan.-based Envision, a provider of services for the blind and visually impaired.
Both Mr. May and Mr. Weihenmayer also use a product called Aira, which uses glasses with a camera, sensors and network connectivity to connect the visually impaired to human agents, who act as visual interpreters. The reps can describe users' surroundings and assist them with tasks such as online searches.
"They have it done in two minutes," Mr. May says of online searches. "It takes me 10 times as long and I'm fairly proficient."
Mr. May once used Aira, made by Aira Tech Corp., to get a different look at Seattle's Pike Place Market, which he usually navigates with the help of a guide dog. The Aira rep described the scene in detail, Mr. May says, right down to the interesting tattoos adorning a checkout person. The technology costs between $89 (for 100 minutes) and $329 (unlimited minutes) a month, though some hotels, airports and retailers offer free access to their guests through a program called Aira Access.
"I think this technology gives people the confidence to go out and explore unknown areas where you just might be a little bit hesitant to go out as a blind person," says Mr. Weihenmayer, a co-founder of No Barriers, a nonprofit that supports and advocates for people with disabilities.
Aira uses artificial intelligence for some tasks already, such as identifying pill bottles, says Suman Kanuganti, founder and chief executive of Aira Tech. But he expects AI eventually to take over more of the work the human reps are now doing, such as navigating.
Aira has raised roughly $15 million from investors. Mr. Kanuganti says its user base is in the low thousands and it has provided more than one million minutes of services in more than 100,000 sessions.
One major hurdle to bringing specialized products for the blind to market is the size and disposable income of the target audience. The World Health Organization estimates that of the 253 million people world-wide who live with vision impairment, 36 million are blind. The Census Bureau estimates that more than seven million Americans are visually impaired. Many of them are unemployed or underemployed.
"You cannot build a business around only blind people," says Ziv Aviram, co-founder and CEO of Israel-based OrCam, the maker of the MyEye 2.0 device, which is targeted at people with low vision but can be used by the blind, as well. "You can do philanthropy, but not business."
MyEye 2.0 mounts onto the side of glasses and can recognize money, faces and surroundings. When users point their fingers at signs or menus, MyEye can read them. The device, which costs around $4,500, in some cases is covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as some workforce associations, OrCam says.
Robert Beckman, the CEO of Middleton, Wis.-based Wicab Inc., says his company's $8,000 BrainPort V100 device is out of reach for most blind people. The device consists of a camera mounted to a pair of sunglasses that relays images to a plate of sensors that users hold in their mouths. The sensors electronically sketch an image of what the user is looking at onto the user's tongue. So far, Mr. Beckman says he has been unable to get Medicare to cover the device, and insurance companies have covered it only on rare occasions. As a result, the company has sold fewer than 100 units, he says.
As much as blind people need specialized technology, building accessibility into mainstream products may be an even bigger need, say advocates such as Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind.
He points to the iPhone, which had accessibility built into it from the beginning.
"I can go down to the Apple store and pay the same price and triple-click the home button and I have VoiceOver," says Mr. Riccobono, referring to a feature where the phone will describe aloud what is happening on the screen. "That's built in, it's great, it doesn't cost a penny extra."
One coming mainstream technology that could be life-changing for the blind is the driverless car.
"Transportation can be a very large barrier in the lives of blind people," impeding everything from employment to education, says Eric Bridges, executive director of the American Council of the Blind. "Having the ability to have one of these vehicles come and take you where you want to go, when you want to go, and not be constrained by the paratransit system or the fixed-route system," promises a greater level of independence and freedom, he says.
In a white paper last year, the Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society, claimed self-driving vehicles "would enable new employment opportunities for approximately two million individuals with disabilities, and save $19 billion annually in health-care expenditures from missed medical appointments."
Mr. Bridges and Mr. Riccobono are pushing manufacturers to keep the blind in mind when designing driverless cars. Specifically, they want the car's controls and console to be accessible to those who can't see, which "probably means more than just having it talk," says Mr. Riccobono.
Waymo—Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving-car unit, which plans to launch a self-driving-car service this year—says it is putting audio tools and Braille labels inside its cars to allow visually impaired riders to do everything from pull the car over to call an operator. "We continue to learn about the unique needs of different riders, and what we learn will inform new features that will make the experience accessible to people who have historically had to rely on others to get around," Waymo said in its 2018 Safety Report.
Anna Catherine Walker, a 17-year-old visually impaired high-school junior in Mechanicsburg, Pa., says she, for one, can't wait. "I live out in the middle of nowhere," she says. "I want to be able to leave without having to drag someone along with me."
Baking accessibility into the driverless car and other technology products could have ramifications beyond the vision-impaired community. Anirudh Koul, a senior data scientist at Microsoft who helped launch Seeing AI, says history is rife with examples of products and technologies that were developed for or inspired by the needs of the blind that resulted in mainstream products—such as audiobooks and scanners. He has already seen mainstream crossover with Seeing AI, such as sighted customers in Asia using the app to learn the English word for the object in front of them, and technicians using the app to read hard-to-access text on the back of servers.
By Leslie Barrett, Co-anchor/Reporter
Music flows like a river from a Warren teen's fingertips but hitting the right notes hasn't always been easy for Darrius Simmons. Darrius, whose perseverance to overcome adversity is helping him foster his gift of music.
Driven by ambition, one of the keys to this 17-year-old's musical talent is his determination.
"I like piano music because it's actually like a challenge," said Darrius.
A challenge Darrius tackled head on 3 years ago, teaching himself how to hit all the right notes with only four fingers.
"I learn it from what I hear and then I play it to the best of my ability of what I hear from the music," he stated.
"It was hard. I mean when I first started playing getting my hand placement, that was the hard part, and that's where I had to sit down and practice sometimes all day."
Life hasn't been easy for the Warren G. Harding high schooler. He was born without six fingers and the bones below both knees. He wears prosthetics on his legs.
Even as a third grader, his family discovered his gift of striking a chord on the piano at church.
"I was surprised. His grandpa got him started in church, challenged him and he accepted the challenge and ran away with it," said Tamara Simmons, Darrius' mother.
Setting the tone for what Darrius hopes is a career as a musician—spreading hope in these keystrokes.
"I think that's inspiring to people and that's inspiring to me too because at first I didn't think I was ever going to learn how to play the piano," said Darrius. "That's what can give people the drive and inspiration to actually set their mind to something and do something."
It's a melody that resonates across the board.
The song that we heard Darrius play is one of his favorites—River Flows in You by the Korean artist Yiruma. He has been committed to learning how to play it over the last year. Darrius said that he can now perform the tune in four different keys.
Plus, the piano is not the only instrument that Darrius plays. He also plays the trombone in concert and jazz band.
1 cup shortening
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour
1 package Hershey’s kisses
Extra sugar for rolling cookies
Cream together shortening, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar. Beat in eggs, milk, and vanilla. Stir dry ingredients together. Fold into creamed mixture. Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in sugar. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove cookies from oven and immediately press one Hershey’s kiss into each cookie.
Author’s note: I found these cookies to be better when I used less flour. The recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of flour, but I would start with 3 and then just add enough so the dough isn't too sticky to roll into balls.
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