VisionAware Agency of the Month: iBUG Today—Empowering People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Through Accessible Technology

Date Posted: 03/05/2017

iBUG (iBlind Users Group) Today, Inc. is a non-profit organization, based in Houston, Texas, that promotes the individual independence, social integration, and educational development of the blind and visually impaired community through accessible technology. iBUG is dedicated to helping persons who are blind or visually impaired become more proficient in using the accessibility features of the Apple iOS devices.

History of iBUG

Michael McCulloch loves technology, so it is no surprise that he started iBUG for users of Apple iDevices. In 2010, Michael got his first iPhone with the built-in VoiceOver screen reader software. Michael understood the awesome power of VoiceOver, but he also knew that members of the blind community would have to be trained on the use of VoiceOver in order to maximize the use of their iDevices. In March 2011, Michael conducted a workshop at the Insight Expo 2011, held at the University Eye Institute on the University of Houston main campus. Responding to several requests by attendees of the workshop, Michael founded iBUG in May 2011.

Michael M teaching woman to use iphone

The initial purpose of iBUG was to enable the visually impaired to become proficient at using Apple iDevices. Today, iBUG’s mission is to promote the individual independence, social integration and educational development of the blind and visually impaired community through accessible technology.

Services We Offer

  • Face to Face Meetings. iBUG conducts monthly face-to-face workshops in Houston. The meeting is open to anyone desiring to become proficient at using the iOS accessibility features of the iPhone, iPad iPod Touch, Apple Watch and Apple TV. The meeting is usually held on the fourth Saturday of each month. The meeting takes place at the Apple Store - Highland Village, 4012 Westheimer, Houston, TX 77027, in the Briefing Room on the second floor. A conference call line is available for those that cannot attend in person. Typical meetings consist of the 1) welcome, introductions and recognition of guests; 2) review of the latest Apple and iPhone news/rumors; 3) demonstration of built-in applications and/or features of the iPhone; and 4) demonstration of third-party applications for the blind and visually impaired. Following the Face-to-Face meeting, the group attends the iDinner at a local restaurant where the group can meet, socialize, and share what they learned at the Face-to-Face meeting. Approximately 20 to 25 members attend the monthly Face-to-Face meeting / Apple Workshop in person and 5 to 10 members call in to the meeting from across the country.
  • iBUG Cafe. On the second Sunday of each month, iBUG conducts the iBUG Cafe. It takes place at a pre-determined location such as a cafe. A conference call line is available for those members that cannot attend in person. Many times during the weekly conference calls or monthly face-to-face meetings, demonstration of an application is performed and provides an overview of the basic features/utilization of the application. The iBUG Cafe is intended to be a "deep dive" training session into an iOS third-party application or genres of applications to gain a real hands-on, working understanding and utilization of the application. Advanced iBUG member, Raul Gallegos, facilitates the iBUG Cafe. Members are encouraged to submit their recommendations for future iBUG Cafe training sessions. Approximately 8 to 12 members attend the iBUG Cafe in person and 4 to 8 members call in to the meeting from across the country.
  • iBUG Buzz Conference call. An iBUG Buzz is held weekly on Mondays, 7:30 to 9:30 PM (CT). This two hour Q&A help session is for anyone with iOS and iDevice (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple Watch, Apple TV) and Mac OS accessibility questions. Users from all over the United States and Canada call in with various questions concerning the use of their iDevices. During the call, Michael facilitates discussion of various applications that have particular significance to blind individuals. These applications relate to object identification, optical character recognition (scanning applications), navigation (GPS applications), reading, currency identifiers and social media. The conference dial-in information may be found on the iBUG website. You can find the link at the end of this article.
  • iBUG Buzz Radio Program. Sight into Sound Radio compiles the best segments of the recorded iBUG conference calls and creates a radio program called the iBUG Buzz that is broadcast weekly.

Other Help

iBUG group demonstrating iBug tee-shirts Sandhya on far right

iBUG JumpStart Mentoring Program

Did you recently get an iPhone or iPad? Are you ready to throw it against the wall? Are you frustrated because you cannot seem to perform the most basic tasks? Or perhaps you have had your iPhone for a while and would like to learn some new feature or app. There is help – the iBUG JumpStart Mentoring Program! Sandhya Rao, first vice-president of the group, manages this program. She will match you with a qualified mentor who can help you accomplish some basic objectives. iBUG JumpStart is intended to introduce you to some basic concepts and gestures that will help you get the most out of your iPhone. Once you are familiar with the layout of the iPhone and are able to execute essential commands, you will be on your way to unlocking the awesome power of the iPhone. Please download the application for the iBUG Jumpstart Mentoring Program from our website.

Services Are Free of Charge

Since its inception, iBUG has provided all of its services to the blind and visually impaired community without charge. Both for-profit and non-profit organizations provide technology training to the blind and visually impaired community, but the cost for these services is often prohibitively expensive. Some organizations do provide these services at no cost, however they are limit to those who are employed or actively seeking employment. The majority of the blind and visually impaired community are unemployed and may be prevented from realizing the full benefit of the iPhone and its adaptive applications because they lack the financial resources to pay for training. iBUG believes that all members of the blind and visually impaired community should have unfettered access to the awesome power of the iPhone and its adaptive applications without cost as a barrier. The iBUG’s Board members and several other key member of iBUG have fulfilled this vision by generously volunteering their time, talents and resources.

About the Board

Michael McCulloch. Michael McCulloch, President and Founder of iBUG, has been active in the community as an advocate for the independence of the blind and visually impaired in all aspects of daily living, including transportation, social access and life skills since 2007. Michael began losing his vision in his late 20’s due to glaucoma, first in his right eye and then a gradual, progressive loss in his left eye until 2006, when he became legally blind in both eyes. Michael is a graduate of Rice University, where he received his Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering.

Michael has worked full-time since graduating from Rice University for The Boeing Company’s Space Exploration Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Michael started his career at Boeing performing Guidance, Navigation and Control analyses for the Space Shuttle program. He also supported 9 Shuttle flights working in Houston’s Mission Control Center. Michael transferred to the International Space Station program in 1996 and continues through the current time in supporting various aspects of mission operations of the International Space Station.

Sandhya Rao. Sandhya Rao, First Vice-President and Secretary of iBUG, grew up in Houston. When Sandhya was two months old, she was diagnosed with a rare brittle bone disease called osteo petrosis. Doctors told her parents that the calcium would accumulate, compress the optic nerve, and ultimately cause blindness. When Sandhya was eighteen months old, doctors performed a surgery to widen the optic canal, but unfortunately, they damaged the optic nerve in her right eye. So she has no light perception in that eye. She has very marginal vision in the left eye.

As Sandhya grew up, the extreme fragility of her bones became apparent. The slightest sudden movement could result in a fracture. She has broken all of her major bones at least once, some more than that. Her orthopedic surgeon recommended installing titanium plates and screws in the long bones to prevent further fractures. As a further precaution against fractures, she uses a wheelchair.

Sandhya attended Rice University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1991 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Behavioral Science. In June 1994, she received her Doctor of Jurisprudence from the Stanford University Law School. She was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in November 1994.

Since September of 1994 through the present, Sandhya has been working as a law clerk in the federal courts. staff attorney in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

Chelsea Nguyen. Chelsea Nguyen, Second Vice-President and Treasurer of iBUG, was born in Vietnam. Chelsea’s family was among the "boat people" or refugees who fled Vietnam in 1979 by boat and ship after the Vietnam War. Motivated by her love of technology and the desire to assist the blind community, Chelsea took an active role in iBUG beginning in late 2013. She has coordinated various iBUG events, including the Go Texan BBQ’s, Summer Concerts, Luau Party, Christmas Parties, NASA Johnson Space Center Tour and several other celebrations.

Find Out More about iBUG

iBUG offers even more services. Please explore the iBUG Today website to learn more about iBUG and for additional information related to iOS and iDevice accessibility resources. iBUG is also listed in the VisionAware Directory

Follow iBUG on Social Media

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/ibugtoday

Twitter: @ibugtoday

Contact: Michael McCulloch

Email: mdmcculloch1@gmail.com

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