Visually Impaired: Now What?

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The Benefits of White Cane Day

collage of children using white canes, and the slogan: Keep Calm, It's Just a Cane

Many communities have a special event on October 15th, to promote the white cane, and to honor its users. Events may range from an exhibit table in a mall, to blocking off streets and marching through the city. In either case, the goal is twofold: First, to let drivers and pedestrians know what the white cane means. Secondly, to let the public know that people who have a vision loss are productive citizens.

Alabama's Celebration of White Cane Day

For the past six years The State of Alabama has celebrated White Cane Day in a big way. The celebration has moved around from year to year. Birmingham, Talladega, Huntsville, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery have hosted White Cane Day events. White cane walks have now become an Alabama tradition.

On Saturday, September 29th, we met on the Capital steps for the opening ceremony. God and country were honored by prayer, from the pastor of Alders gate United Methodist Church. The pledge of allegiance was led by local boy scouts and girl scouts. While the National Anthem was sung by Dana Barber, Coordinator of Blind services. Dr. John Mascia, president of Alabama Institute of the Deaf and Blind, and Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw, Commissioner of Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, each gave a motivationally charged speech that energized the crowd. As we were gathered together on the State Capital steps there was a feeling of standing on hallowed ground.

We passed many historical sites as we made our way to Montgomery’s historic River Walk. Audio descriptions were provided for each site; thus participants, both blind and sighted, were able to appreciate the rich history of downtown Montgomery.

Fun continued after arriving at the River Walk. Eighteen exhibitors displayed products and services. A variety of games such as a beeping Easter egg hunt, and goal ball were available for children. Russell Craig, a blind musician, provided entertainment. Of course, everyone loved the free food, water and Italian ice.

Results of White Cane Day Events in Alabama

It was during the fun and festivities at the River Walk that the benefits of White Cane Day surfaced. Three surprising results emerged.

  1. First, students from the Rehabilitation Department from Alabama State University volunteered. They served as human guides, helped with games and with lunch. Not only were they helpful, they fell in love with our profession. Largely because of their enthusiasm, plans are being made to have a guest lecturer come to their class and introduce Vision Rehabilitation Therapy and Orientation & Mobility as possible professions.
  2. Secondly, a local ophthalmologist came and brought her family. Her only concern was that she did not know about the event in enough time to invite her patients. She said it would be a good way for her patients to learn more about vision loss, services available, and to meet other people with a vision loss.
  3. Perhaps the greatest surprise came when blind and sighted children started playing together. It was exciting when they worked together to find a way so that everyone could play tag. We may have some young Vision Rehabilitation professionals in the making.

Putting on a White Cane Day event takes time, effort, team work and planning. It is challenging! The three events described above made it worth all the effort. May White Cane Day live forever!!!

More About White Canes and White Cane Day

Read a history of white cane day

Find out about orientation and mobility skills.

Learn to travel with hearing and vision loss.

White Cane Day Highlights the Importance of White Cane Training

Where Can I Get White Cane Training?

Many people with vision loss are not aware of their need to learn safe travel skills. When they finally realize they are no longer moving around safely and look for training to use a white cane, they often experience long waits for services. Sometimes they are even told there is no such training available in their area due to budget cuts and a shortage of professionals who teach cane skills.

In honor of White Cane Safety Day on October 15, VisionAware is highlighting the Leader Dog Orientation and Mobility program.

client walking on sidewalk using cane being supervised by instructor

Caption: Leader Dog Orientation and Mobility Instructor Supervising Client Learning Cane Skills

Orientation and Mobility training (which includes white cane training) provides people with vision loss the essential skills to get around, to live the life they desire-without limits. Specially trained instructors provide this training.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to take the training at Leader Dogs for the Blind. I was on a long waiting list for orientation and mobility services in my state. Realizing how much I needed to learn these skills to be independent and safe, I knew this was a great opportunity so I applied.

Are you or someone you know in need of white cane training? Read about the program and find out more about this free training available to anyone who wants to learn how to travel safely and independently! Not only is the week-long course free, but it also includes airfare to the training center in Michigan.

More About White Canes and White Cane Day

Read a history of white cane day.

Find out how using a white cane gives confidence and safety.

Read "What will people think about me if I use a white cane?".

Use the VisionAware Directory to find more orientation and mobility services.

The Impact of Transportation Access on Health and Wellness

by Empish Thomas

Empish standing at a street corner, white cane in hand

Medical Doctor Moves Away

A few weeks ago I got some disappointing news from my neurologist. I was told that she was leaving the medical center she practiced at and moving across town. I was deeply saddened and in shock. I really enjoyed the rapport I had with this doctor. She understood my medical needs and was sensitive to my visual impairment and transportation challenges. Now, I would have to start all over again looking for a new neurologist closer to home. This situation and similar ones were discussed at a conference I attended this summer called "Rides to Wellness." It was an all-day event where people from the transportation and medical community got together to discuss problems and solutions on how transportation impacts health and wellness.

I attended the event because in the Atlanta-Metro area where I live the population is growing, but public transportation has not kept up. As a result, it is taking longer and longer to get around town to accomplish basic daily tasks like working, shopping, eating out, and of course, medical appointments. As a result, I have been strategic in trying to keep my doctors as close to my home as possible in order to shorten my commute. So even if public transportation is not working, I can take Uber or Lyft, and it will not be so expensive.

Missing Medical Appointments Because of Transportation

During the conference, there was a panel discussion with people who discussed missing doctor appointments because they either lacked transportation, didn’t know how to use it, or didn’t have the money to pay for the commute. These challenges impact one's overall health and ability to be well and physically fit. If you are having problems getting to a doctor, it has a trickle-down effect that can impair accessing information, getting a prescription, conducting medical tests, and attending follow-ups.

When I worked at a vision rehabilitation center, I scheduled clients for our low vision clinic. Many times the client would have to turn down the appointment because they had no transportation to our location. Even though their eye doctor highly recommended coming to have a low vision evaluation and obtaining recommendations of aids and devices, it was to no avail. Sometimes I was able to set up the appointment only for the client to call back later to cancel because the ride they thought they had fell through. Or, in what we thought were some dangerous cases, the clients would drive themselves to the appointments. This was an on-going problem for which we, unfortunately, had little to no solution because these clients lived off the bus line and many, many miles away. In a situation like this, a person with a visual impairment can easily lose independence and access to the things they need to be healthy and well.

Transportation Impacts Fitness and Healthy Food

Empish on a home treadmill

At the conference, we also discussed health and fitness. Transportation to recreational activities, parks, and gyms impacts your health too. I remember when I first purchased my home, I didn’t notice until later that there were no parks, gyms, or fitness centers close by. To get any physical activity, I realized I had to venture far away from home or create a personal gym, which is what I ended up doing. I was fortunate to have the resources to do that. So today, I have a treadmill and recumbent bike along with hand weights and a floor mat. Also, I don’t live in a food desert or have to travel more than a mile or two to get fresh produce and healthy food. There are many grocery store options close to my home and a couple even deliver. But recently, a couple of major stores closed a little farther away, and this has had a major impact on people who depended on them.


So, what are possible solutions? That was the last part of the event that we discussed. We sat at our tables brainstorming ideas for tangible solutions. The Rides to Wellness program is a federally funded initiative and is temporary. The goal is to increase access to non-emergency healthcare services and to promote partnerships across the health and transportation sector demonstrating the return on investment for the partnerships and developing investments for community-based solutions.

At my table, we talked about growing more partnerships with local and state government officials. We felt it was important to get our political officials involved in this process as taxpayers and voters that transportation and wellness are critical to our communities. Other tables came up with media campaigns, community advocacy efforts, and exploring alternative transportation like biking and shared ride programs. I am learning to use online shopping options as a partial solution.

Find Out More

Read about the Rides to Wellness Initiatives

Find out about driving and transportation alternatives and finding rides when you can't drive

Check out the Independent Transportation Network

Technology Has Become My New Best Friend

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

female Aira user (not Mary) looking at menu posted in restaurant using glasses

Thank goodness the old saying, "You can’t teach an old dog new tricks," has been proven wrong by those of us who are past our prime. We need to keep up, or we’ll be left behind. We’d be saying, "Where did everybody go?"

On the Go with Smart Glasses

The biggest and brightest star in the technology world for people who are blind or visually impaired are the "smart glasses," brought to the accessibility scene by a company known as Aira, pronounced like the boy’s name, Ira. If you’ve ever wished you could have a sighted guide to crawl into a pair of glasses and lead you through unfamiliar territory, help you shop independently, read a menu or a handwritten birthday card, Aira has the solution for you.

Having just purchased my first month’s membership, I’m still learning which buttons to push and which tabs on my phone to tap for the best results, but so far, it’s the most independent I’ve felt since getting my first dog guide. Oh, please don’t ask me to explain how it works because it’s absolute magic to me. But I can tell you what I do on my end to make it work. First, I have to make sure that two pieces of equipment, no three, counting my iPhone, are fully charged. One is a thing about the size of a deck of cards or a Victor Reader that provides the WiFi as you travel outside your home. It’s called a mifi. The glasses, which look pretty much like a pair of sunglasses with a tiny camera on one earpiece, need to be charged as well. When you press a button on the glasses, it calls an Aira agent, who answers almost immediately and introduces himself or herself. No appointments needed. With the utmost courtesy, respect, and objectivity, he or she describes what they see through the lenses of the glasses as if I were looking through them myself.

First Exploration

As users of the service, we are called "explorers." For my first exploration, I asked my agent to go along with me as I walked along my street, which was in the process of being completely removed and replaced. Monster trucks with nerve-wracking backup beepers and deafening noises made taking a walk in my neighborhood a scary venture. At the end of the block, they had completely ripped out the corner, so now, the sidewalk was a challenge as well. Although I have the best dog guide in the world, I wanted to have someone along just to affirm that she was taking me the right way around this obstacle. She did it like a champ without a single word from me, and it was extra gratifying to hear my agent confirm that we were back on the right track. She isn’t supposed to express an opinion, but I could hear the smile in her voice.

Meeting the Wardrobe Challenge with Aira

In recent years, I’ve become lazy about labeling my clothes and noting colors, patterns, or messages on shirts. One night last week, I put on my Aira glasses, pushed the little call button, and in a minute or so my agent and I set to work sorting my summer clothes. We’ve had a very long winter here in Ohio, so I hadn’t seen some of my dresses and tops for many months, and I couldn’t even remember buying some of them. That’s because the minute I got them home from the store last summer, winter set in. As I held up each garment, and my female agent described it, I’d put it in a pile of other clothes of a similar color, reds with reds, purples with purples, etc. But I have so many summer clothes, that soon I ran out of spots on the bed for more piles and then there was the challenge of some items that had several colors that went with several other items. When we ended the session, I realized that my room looked like a cyclone had hit it. I recognized some of the dresses that I’d had for a while, so I labeled them and hung them up, but then there were all the tops and pants, and which ones went with which? Was this a solid blue or a blue background with white flowers? The problem was that I simply had too many clothes. I considered calling an Aira agent and doing just a few garments at a time, making several short calls, so I could label and hang them up before doing another small batch. Why didn’t I think of that before?

Old Technology Comes to the Rescue

Then I remembered a piece of technology I hadn’t used in a long time—the iPhone FaceTime feature. I called my daughter, who lives in another state, and problem solved. I could have used another app on my phone called Be My Eyes, a free service where a volunteer answers your tap on your phone and looks at something for you or reads the directions on a package. But there’s nothing like a daughter’s honesty and keen eye for style and color. At one point, I said, "Hold on a minute. I’m going to put this outfit in the other closet." "What happened,&quo;t she asked in alarm. "It went black." "Don’t worry," I said. "I just put you in my pocket for a minute." Only a daughter could find that funny.

While the Aira agents and the Be My Eyes volunteers are talented and efficient, it’s more fun to joke around with a daughter. But when a daughter is not around, the next best person is an Aira agent, whether navigating a construction area or your summer clothes closet.

Your Ideas on Using Aira

I would like to hear your ideas about how you use or plan to use Aira.

Read More

Aira, a New and Exciting Access Service

Be My Eyes

REV UP for National Disability Voter Registration Week July 16-20

REV up campaign logo Make the Disability Vote Count courtesy of Association of People with Disabilities

Caption: REV UP Campaign Logo, Courtesy of the Association of People with Disabilities

While many people are vacationing, attending summer camp, relaxing by the pool, and firing up the grill, others will be hitting the streets spending this July focused on a voter’s registration campaign. Although the next national election is not until November, this campaign is concentrating its efforts early and specifically targeting the disabled voter. The REV UP Campaign is coordinating National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) during the week of July 16-20, 2018. The purpose is three-fold.

  1. Get people with disabilities registered to vote
  2. Educate them about this year’s election
  3. Prepare them to cast a ballot in November

The REV UP Campaign

The REV UP Campaign, which is a part of the American Association of People with Disabilities’ advocacy efforts, stands for "Register, Educate, and Vote - Use Your Power!" It aims to increase the political power of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues. According to their website, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities.

mary sitting at accessible voting machine with dog on floor behind her

Another reason for the campaign focus in July is that the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is observed during the same month. The law supports accommodations for disabled voters, such as accessible voting machines for the blind and visually impaired, poll workers to read and help fill out forms, and voting materials in alternative formats. Also, July falls before the voter registration deadline for some state primary elections. No doubt giving time to get the word out and get people registered to vote. So, the REV UP Campaign hopes to garner further attention from media and candidates running for office.

"The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) launched the REV UP Campaign in early 2016; however, it was actually the brainchild of Bob Kafka and other disability advocates in Texas," said Zach Baldwin, AAPD Director of Outreach. "They used REV UP as a strategy to organize multiple organizations under one voter engagement initiative. After being offered and taking the REV UP brand to go national, AAPD convened a group of other disability voting advocates to strategize on next steps and how to grow the campaign. We landed on launching our own voter registration initiative as a way to build awareness about the potential power of the disability vote while also establishing a common event to organize and rally partners around the country."

Plans for National Disability Voter Registration Week

During NDVRW, REV UP will partner with state and local disability organizations across the country and provide them with resources and support to register and educate their community. There is a National Disability Voter Registration Week Toolkit available via the AAPD website. It includes a guide on how to organize voter registration events, ideas on other ways to participate, sample social media posts and graphics, and other resources. There is also a Candidate Questionnaire Template that explains how nonprofits can submit questionnaires while remaining nonpartisan as well as over 100 sample questions that partners can use to develop their own questionnaire for state and local candidates. Lastly, the REV UP Campaign will release an "Issues Guide" that will provide a summary of the issues and legislation that are having a relevant impact on the disability community. This guide can be both a tool to educate disabled voters and used by advocates.

Importance of Exercising Your Right to Vote

It is important that you exercise your right to vote. I have shared my experiences on VisionAware and strongly believe that voting is a powerful way to get your voice heard. We must be politically active in order to protect not only our rights but the programs and services that are essential to our community. "In 2016, Rutgers University identified that there were 35.4 million eligible voters with disabilities. However, only 16 million people with disabilities voted in the 2016 general election," Baldwin explained. "While voter registration is not the only reason for this level of turnout (access issues and transportation are significant barriers to many people with disabilities), we do know that the voter turnout rate and voter registration rate for people with disabilities was 6 percent and 2 percent lower, respectively, for people with disabilities compared to the rates for people without disabilities. National Disability Voter Registration Week is needed to address one of the barriers to voting experienced by people with disabilities and more importantly, to demonstrate that the disability community is paying attention, is getting registered, and is planning to vote to advance disability rights in 2018."

More Information

Using the Accessible Voting Machine

The Association of Americans with Disabilities

REV Up Campaign

Voting and Self Advocacy Are Intertwined

ADA and Voting

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