Volunteers build Miracle League playground for disabled children in Petaluma

Miracle League playground for disabled children in Petaluma
by J.D. MORRIS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“My child is not wheelchair bound, but when he was younger, he didn’t have any trunk control, so for him to be safely able to go down a slide or to sit in a swing and hold himself up — that is not something he could physically do,” Richardson said. “All of these fun things that his siblings could do, he was stuck in the sandbox. That’s one of the reasons we were all behind the playground in addition to the ballfield.”

Miracle League playground for disabled children in PetalumaA small army of volunteers on Saturday transformed an unused slice of east Petaluma’s Lucchesi Park into a new playground designed to accommodate children with disabilities, the first step toward building a nearby accessible baseball field that advocates say will be the only one of its kind in Northern California.

More than 200 people spent about six hours constructing the bulk of the accessible playground on the western side of the park next to where the long-awaited baseball diamond is planned to debut next spring.

The playground’s features, based on drawings from local children, will include a play structure with a ramp leading up to it, swings outfitted with plastic harnesses, wheelchair-friendly rubber surfacing and a “cozy dome” where children with autism and others can take a break from the business of playground activity. Similarly, the baseball field — which will be open to adults, too — will be designed for disabled players, with rubberized turf dugouts big enough for wheelchairs.

The $2 million project is spearheaded by Miracle League North Bay, the local branch of a national organization that brings accessible baseball to communities around the country. Petaluma’s baseball diamond has been in the works for about three years, according to Jennifer Richardson, board president of the North Bay chapter.

Richardson, whose middle school-aged son has a disability, said she was “completely dumbfounded” to discover Northern California had no Miracle League field, but hundreds were in place in other parts of the United States, including Southern California. She characterized the playground as an important component of the project, since traditional playgrounds often pose numerous obstacles to disabled children.

“My child is not wheelchair bound, but when he was younger, he didn’t have any trunk control, so for him to be safely able to go down a slide or to sit in a swing and hold himself up — that is not something he could physically do,” Richardson said. “All of these fun things that his siblings could do, he was stuck in the sandbox. That’s one of the reasons we were all behind the playground in addition to the ballfield.”

Miracle League is developing the playground in partnership with KaBOOM, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that brings play activities to low-income communities. KaBOOM gathered input on the Lucchesi playground from around 20 children through Miracle League North Bay and a city of Petaluma summer program, according to project manager Amy Larson.

Children were asked to draw their “dream playgrounds,” and their ideas informed the final design, Larson said.

“It might just look like a regular playground, but it’s designed so thoughtfully with kids with disabilities in mind that it’s able to give them access and also still be engaging for (other) kids that don’t have those same disabilities,” Larson said. “The hope is that kids come out here and they can play with their brothers and sisters and with all of their friends.”

Also partnering in the playground project is Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which sent about 50 volunteers to help build the facility Saturday. PG&E and KaBOOM, which partnered to fund the Petaluma playground, built 13 previous playgrounds together, officials said.

Miracle League chose Petaluma for the project because of its proximity to Highway 101 and Highway 37, with an estimated 50,000 children living less than 40 miles from the site, according to Richardson. And within Petaluma, Lucchesi Park was seen as the ideal spot, given its existing baseball diamonds and Little League operations, ease of access, proximity to school and lower-income neighborhoods and the ample space afforded by the spacious park.

Shirley Liu-Pascquia was among the dozens of Petaluma residents who helped build the playground Saturday. She was motivated to come out to support her community and because her daughter is a schoolmate of one of the Miracle League board members’ children, who has a disability.

“We’re very blessed to be a part of this,” she said. “It just gives everybody the same opportunity to be able to have the same experience.”

While most of the playground was put in place Saturday, the rubber surface and a shade structure will await installation, so the area might not open for two weeks or longer, Richardson said.

Miracle League North Bay still needs to complete fundraising for the baseball field but Richardson was confident the group would reach its goal. A fundraiser is planned for 4:30 p.m. Monday at Brewsters Beer Garden and Restaurant in Petaluma.

The 10 Best Cities for People With Disabilities

The 10 Best Cities for People With Disabilities
By David Oliver
US News

The 10 Best Cities for People With DisabilitiesFinding a place to live is often a difficult decision – and when you have a disability, it’s only more so.

WalletHub’s latest ranking, “2017’s Best & Worst Cities for People with Disabilities,” gives people with mobility limitations and/or intellectual disabilities guidance on disability-friendly locales. One in 5 Americans has a disability, per Social Security Administration statistics, while 1 in 10 has one considered severe.

The organization ranked the 150 most populated cities based on 28 disability-friendly indicators. These indicators were spread across the categories of economy, quality of life and health care.

WalletHub pointed out that even though disability benefits can increase due to inflation, many who have disabilities help offset costs themselves with an employment paycheck and also seek relief through low cost of living. Additionally, given the high cost of U.S. health care, health care management can add up and become expensive.

One of the metrics studied was employment rate. The highest employment rates for people with disabilities can be found in Fremont, California, followed by St. Petersburg, Florida, Laredo, Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas and Reno, Nevada. The lowest employment rates are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Brownsville, Texas, Yonkers, New York, Newark, New Jersey and Cape Coral, Florida

 

Playing the Online Dating Game, in a Wheelchair

NY Times

Playing the Online Dating Game, in a Wheelchair by Emily LadauThe first time I forayed into online dating, I let my wheelchair show just a little in my photos. The good guys, I hoped, would be so taken by my clever profile and witty banter that they’d be able to look beyond my disability, if they even noticed it at all.

I eagerly began swiping, quickly matching with an attractive man whose profile picture showed him sporting an enormous iguana on his shoulder. Thinking that would make for an easy conversation starter, I messaged him. A few minutes later, he replied, but instead of responding to my reptilian inquiry, he asked, “Are you in a wheelchair?”

I kept my answer simple and told him that yes, I do use a wheelchair, but I was much more interested in the back story of the iguana. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested at all, messaging back only to say: “Sorry. The wheelchair’s a deal-breaker for me.”

His blunt reply stung, but the feeling was nothing new. Because I was born with my disability — Larsen syndrome, a genetic joint and muscle disorder — I’d already gathered a pile of romantic rejections seemingly big enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool by the time I downloaded Tinder. This particular rejection, however, unleashed a wave of panic within me.

A few months before my initial swipes, I’d gone through a messy breakup with a man I dated for over two years. I truly believed he was the person I’d marry, and that I’d never have to worry about rejection again. When I found myself newly single, I turned to online dating in the hopes of easing my fears that no one else would ever accept me as I am, that lightning doesn’t strike twice.

Not one to be deterred, I persevered, downloading every possible dating app and creating accounts on various dating sites. But I became skittish about revealing my disability, because in an already shallow dating culture, I believed my wheelchair would cause most men to write me off without a second thought. So I decided to hide my disability completely. I cropped my wheelchair out of my photos. I eliminated any mention of it in my profiles. In this virtual world, I could pretend my disability didn’t exist.

I kept up with this facade for a while, messaging matches who were none the wiser. Once I thought I’d spoken with a guy long enough to establish his interest, I’d choose a moment to strike, telling him about my disability. I’d send a long-winded explanation divulging my wheelchair use, reminding him that it didn’t make me any less of person and ending with reassurance that he could ask me questions, should he have any.

After dropping the “wheelchair bomb,” I’d have to brace myself for their reactions, which were always a mixed bag, often ranging from indifference to ghosting. Occasionally, I’d receive an accepting response.

One man that I connected with on Coffee Meets Bagel was incredibly apologetic when I first told him about my wheelchair, as though it was the most tragic thing he’d ever heard. I shut that down by explaining that my disability is part of who I am and it’s nothing to be sorry for. I ended up going on one date with him, and then another. For the second date, my bagel suggested a painting night (a social event that involves paintbrushes, canvases, acrylics and, usually, wine) since I’d told him how much I enjoy them. He found a Groupon and I researched a location, picking out a restaurant in New York City that was supposed to be wheelchair accessible.

As it turned out, the restaurant was accessible, but the painting class was happening in a room upstairs. So, we spent our entire date sitting directly below the painters, eating dinner and making strained conversation with wine-fueled laughter and painting instruction in the background. I was mortified. Following that disaster, I promised my date I’d get his money back. As soon as the company refunded our tickets, I never heard from him again.

It was painful to realize that the hard part isn’t over once someone learns that I’m disabled. Going on dates with me can be a crash course on disability, and I recognize that’s not always easy for non-disabled people to process. But I wasn’t helping the situation by keeping the existence of my disability concealed, springing it upon people only when I thought it felt right. In retrospect, this served only to contribute to the stigma I usually work so hard to fight.

I felt like a hypocrite. In every other area of my life, my disability is front and center. I write and speak endlessly about being a proud, unapologetic disabled woman. It is part of my identity, shaping everything I do and everything I value. But in the online dating world, my disability was my secret shame.

So I decided it was time for a change. I started gradually, making references to my disability throughout my profile, then adding photos in which my wheelchair is clearly visible. I tried to keep things light and humorous. For instance, OKCupid asks users to list six things they can’t live without; one of mine is “the invention of the wheel.”

Still, I found myself having to make sure that potential matches had actually picked up on the trail of clues I’d left. I grew tired of feeling like I needed to deceive men into being interested because society instilled in me that my disability makes me undesirable. Finally, I took the leap I’d been so afraid to make, opening up about disability to strangers whom I hoped would appreciate my honesty and perhaps send me a message.

Prominently in my profile, I wrote: “I’d like to be very upfront about the fact that I use a wheelchair. My disability is part of my identity and I’m a loud, proud disability rights activist, but there is so much more that defines me (you know, like the stuff I’ve got in my profile). I realize some people are hesitant to date a human who experiences the world sitting down. But I’d like to think you’ll keep reading and dive a little deeper. And you’re welcome to ask questions, should you have any.”

Once I added that paragraph, I felt liberated, relieved that anyone I spoke to would have a clearer picture of me. There have been plenty of matches that haven’t worked out, and whether that’s actually because of my disability, I’ll never know. But I had a nearly yearlong relationship with a man I met through OKCupid, so I know it’s possible for lightning to strike again. My dating life remains a comedy of errors, and I still struggle every day with the feeling that my disability means I won’t find love, but at least I’m being true to myself. I’m putting myself out there — my whole self — and it feels good to be proud of who I am.

Book Review: A Life from the Blind Side

Book Review: Across Two Novembers: A Year In The Life Of A Blind Bibliophile, by David Faucheux

Review by Deborah Kendrick

Across Two Novembers, A Year in the Life of a Blind BibliophileBrowse any virtual or brick-and-mortar bookstore or library, and you will undoubtedly find dozens of inspiring tales of blind people who have excelled. Extend that search to a collection whose target audience is blind people and that number will be in the hundreds.

I have binged on those books at least once a decade since the late 1970s. Memoirs or biographies highlighting the real or metaphorical scaling of heights which have, ultimately, positioned blind people at the pinnacle of achievement in chosen fields of music, science, law, drama, sports, adventure, and more.

David Faucheux wants us to know (indeed, methinks he doth protest too much on the subject) that he is not that kind of blind person. He is not a “super achiever” or super hero. He is not wealthy or well connected. And yet, as one who has overindulged on blindness memoirs more than once in the past few decades, Across Two Novembers struck me as the most genuine depiction of life from the blind side that I have read.

The book is a journal, spanning 13 months from November 2013 through November 2014. And, in keeping with the title, it is clear throughout these pages that the author is a blind man and that he loves books.

A Look Into A Life

Because it is a journal, we walk with David Faucheux day after day as we read this book. His life is small by some standards: he lives in an apartment in Lafayette, Louisiana, and does not have a job or school expecting him to attend every day. He has the occasional meal with a friend, goes to church and medical appointments, gets groceries or a takeout meal, and distributes what wealth he has, books and food, with others in a way that is both commendable and touching. Because he has Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) as well as a possible sleep disorder, his schedule is sometimes truncated and his energy easily depleted. These elements are woven into his daily entries, as are the more mundane minutiae of any real person’s day: the weather, household tasks, what was for dinner, and private fears. He has two college degrees and once hoped to have a career in the world of libraries, but those plans didn’t work out.

There are quirks in his routines that might prompt some head scratching. He marinates laundry in the refrigerator and/or bathtub, for example, and has a remarkable reserve of information regarding supplements and healthy food. He irons his clothes and is creative in the kitchen. The pieces of each day that comprise life for David Faucheux are, in other words, simple and unremarkable. And yet, his recounting of these parts is far from prosaic.

We wait with him (and feel his anxiety) when the paratransit is late or the street too wide for comfort. We travel with him and understand his choices to spend some quiet time alone one day and venture into the unknown the next.

The single common thread that runs brilliantly throughout the book is the author’s love of books and of knowledge. Just when it seems you have hit a mundane plain in Across Two Novembers, Faucheux sprinkles in another delicious quote from an author, summary of a book that you want immediately to add to your own reading list, or a fascinating factoid from history.

Sometimes, the bonus he slides in so casually is information about body or brain health or the highlights of a famous person who has died that day or even, sometimes, instructions for preparing something delicious in the kitchen.

All About that Tech

Readers who are anywhere on the blindness and low vision continuum will find some common denominators with Faucheux’s relationships with technology. From beginning to end of this book, the integral part played by technology in the life of any competent blind person is readily apparent. As is the case with everything Faucheux does, the references to access technology are casually woven into other bits of his day. The death of a movie star or politician, the anxiety over catching a paratransit ride, and the sheer helplessness he experiences when a computer stops speaking–all of these might appear on the same page. This, of course, is exactly as it should be, as this is how a real life unfolds.

We learn about his 20-year-old trusted braille notetaker and his special Dvorak keyboard (purchased in the hope that typing on it would increase speed and reduce fatigue). He marvels more than once at the miracle of having so many books to read (thousands on his computer, he tells us), after having grown up in the 1970s when braille books were, by today’s standards, precious and rare.

With the same candor that he writes of the frustration of looking for hours for a plastic container, he recounts his disappointment as it becomes increasingly clear that a software package he needs for a job he has worked hard to pursue just might not be within the grasp of a blind computer user.

We learn about online sources of entertainment and education, some specifically for blind people, and we learn how central email communication is in the life of this man’s quiet life. We learn about captchas and programs to interpret them. We learn about computer companies and publications. And, of course, AccessWorld is mentioned more than once.

Since books are so intrinsic to his relationship with the world, we learn about the many sources and formats for accessing reading materials for people who are blind or low vision. From early records to cassettes to digital books and downloadable material, he clearly explains for the uninitiated and stirs memories for those who have sung in the same choir. Organizations relevant to every aspect of blindness – from access technology to civil rights to fun and games online or on chat lines – he provides abundant information without ever being tedious.

Just when an entry is bordering on contrite, Faucheux’s sense of timing comes into play and he throws in another bit of history or trivia or a book review.

I would be negligent not to mention Faucheux’s vivid descriptions of all things food-related. He quips that perhaps he should get an MFA in Gastronomy, but I, for one, would encourage him to think seriously about such a pursuit. Whether describing food he has prepared, a dish in a restaurant, or just some musings about combining particular ingredients, his words about food will make you hungry!

Resources

Across Two Novembers is not the kind of book many of us will read in one sitting. You might read a month of journal entries at a time, for example, put it down, reflect, and come back several days later for more.

The resources the author has compiled are outstanding. In addition to a detailed bibliography of books referenced, he also includes a wealth of blindness resources, sources for book lovers, and websites related to his various interests.

David Faucheux has not broken any world records or even yet fulfilled his dream of appearing on Jeopardy! He has, however, done a wonderful job of capturing the essence of an ordinary blind person’s daily life, where no tool and no emotion takes center stage, but all of it together makes a whole. If you want to introduce a sighted person to blindness, this book would be an excellent place to start.

Book Information

Across Two Novembers: A Year in the Life of a Blind Bibliophile, by David Faucheux

Available at: Amazon (Kindle and epub), $4.99; and at Bookshare.

Disabilities don’t hold San Diego surfers back

Disabilities don’t hold San Diego surfers back

Disabilities don't hold San Diego surfers backSAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — Surfing is a difficult sport as it is: it takes balance, strength and good coordination.

Now throw in visual impairment and spinal cord injuries.

The sport can be extra challenging for those with physical disabilities.

But Sunday, the labels were taken away, allowing everyone to just be called one thing.

And that’s “surfer.”

“The waves are a lot of more forgiving than concrete if you fall and slip you’re probably going to be all right,” said Josh Loya. “I got a lot of help from Coach Pat . There’s no reason why you can’t do that when you’re blind.”

Surfers relied on their auditory skills at the 22nd annual Blind Surfing Event using a foamie surfboard and muscle memory.

Dave Cutnower reconnected with his love for surfing, using Coach Pat as his eyes and going by feel.

“Coach Pat will tell me if the waves coming … once that wave grabs me I know what to do to get up,” said Dave.

Josh, Dave and Coach Pat have bonded.

Also on Sunday, over at La Jolla Shores there were more memories being created at another event by Life Rolls On.

“[It’s] one of the few times I feel like a normal person, you know?” said Paula Peltier who participated in They Will Surf Again. “I caught about 10 waves and never wiped out once.

“It’s a feeling of floating and being able to fly. It is amazing. It is so amazing.

The huge confidence booster was exactly what Jesse Billauer said he had in mind when he founded the organization Life Rolls On.

He wants to allow patients with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities to experience the thrill of surfing regardless of their limitations.

“For me, it’s about giving back to the community; letting people feel that independence, that freedom that they lost,” said Jesse.

Blind Football Player Snaps for Extra Point in a U.S.C. Win

By JACEY FORTIN

Jake Olson lost his eyesight when he was 12A blind football player for the University of Southern California participated in his first college regular-season game on Saturday, snapping the ball on the final extra point in the fourth-ranked Trojans’ 49-31 home victory over Western Michigan.

The long-snapper, Jake Olson, lost his eyesight when he was 12. He has been a lifelong fan of U.S.C.’s football team and was eager to take the field at the Coliseum after two years of high school football and two years of practicing alongside his college teammates.

“It was an awesome moment,” he said in a phone interview Saturday night, adding that it all boiled down to practice. “It’s muscle memory — it’s not like magic,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘I hope this goes right.’ If you do it correctly, it will go right.”

After U.S.C.’s season-opening win, Olson, 20, said he planned to celebrate with his teammates.

When he was 10 months old, Olson had his left eye removed because of a cancer called retinoblastoma. When he was 12 years old, his right eye also had to be removed. He learned to live without his sense of sight, and in high school he became passionate about joining the football team.

Chuck Petersen, who coached Olson at Orange Lutheran High School outside Anaheim, Calif., said he proved himself as the best player for the position. Petersen said that in two years, Olson had only two bad snaps — the first and the last of his high school career.

“It wasn’t a charity case,” Petersen said minutes after discovering that Olson played in U.S.C.’s game on Saturday. “First and foremost, Jake would never have allowed it to be that.”

In high school, Petersen said, one teammate would help Olson down the sideline when a kick was imminent. The holder would then line him up facing the goal posts, before giving an audible signal to let Olson know where to snap the ball.

Petersen said that officials and opposing coaches were considerate toward Olson, but that some opposing players were not aware he was blind.

“They thought they would distract him,” Petersen said. “They would start running at him, trying to flash their hands or something. I thought, ‘How stupid are you? That ain’t going to do nothing to him.’”

Olson was ambitious, and although he could not convince Petersen to let him snap on punts or block opponents, his determination paid off. Olson earned a scholarship for athletes with physical disabilities and joined the Trojans in 2015.

Olson said U.S.C. Coach Clay Helton decided this week that he would enter the game if the score was not close. Western Michigan is unranked but presented a formidable challenge until U.S.C. pulled away by scoring two touchdowns within a one-minute span late in the fourth quarter.

With about three minutes left, Olson entered the field for the first time. He snapped the ball to holder Wyatt Schmidt, and Chase McGrath sent it through the goal posts for the Trojans’ final point.

“I tried to suppress my emotions because I had a job to do out there,” Olson said at a news conference after the game. “I’ll check out the videos tonight and get emotional about it.”

Ten Thousand Steps, Cane Not Included: A Guide to Fitness Tech for Blind Users

Book Review: Ten Thousand Steps, Cane Not Included: A Guide to Fitness Tech for Blind Users, by Anna Dresner

Review by Deborah Kendrick
From: AccessWorld Magazine
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Blind Hiker Randy Pierce

Blind Hiker Randy Pierce

Blindness or low vision shouldn’t be a deterrent to keeping fit or being healthy, but in one sense, that has long been the case.

You can buy a membership to the gym, but you need transportation to get there and some way of accessing what those pesky digital displays found on most fitness machines are saying to you. If swimming or running or cycling is your passion, having a partner or transportation is still relevant and essential.

Even exercising at home with a popular video can pose problems if you can’t see the screen.

Technology, we all know, can be an amazing game changer. Now, for some of us, it’s changing the game of access to health and fitness for blind people, and Anna Dresner’s book, Ten Thousand Steps, Cane Not Included is brimming with a smorgasbord of approaches to that can be done without sighted assistance or even, in many cases, without leaving home.

Ten Thousand Steps, Cane Not Included: A Guide to Fitness Tech for Blind Users is not a fitness book per se. Rather, it is a wonderful introduction to the fitness guides available and accessible to blind people. In her customarily clear and organized style, Anna Dresner has rounded up a diverse collection of recordings, gadgets, apps, and tips all usable without vision and all accessible. There is something for everyone here, and if you don’t want to learn any new tech tricks or spend a lot of money, you will still find some great ways to get moving!

In the first section, Dresner discusses a variety of recorded materials aimed at teaching and guiding us through exercise, yoga, meditation, or some combination. The very first collection of products covered in the book are the workouts available from BlindAlive and Eyes-Free Fitness (see Introducing BlindAlive and Eyes-free Fitness for more information). If you read our June article, you know these particular workouts range from beginner to advanced and are designed with blind consumers in mind. This section of the book also introduces other beneficial approaches. Being healthy and staying fit is more than working out. We learn about yoga programs available on CD or digital download or as iPhone apps. Some are designed specifically for people with visual impairments while others, though created for sighted audiences, are deemed by the author to be accessible. Some are free (such as those from the National Library Service’s Braille and Audio Reading Download, BARD, for example), while others can be ordered from such familiar sources as Amazon, Audible, or iTunes. Dresner covers books and programs for practicing meditation and mindfulness, and, because getting restful and adequate sleep is a vital component to a healthy lifestyle, she also offers tips and apps for managing your slumber.

Getting Moving with Fitness Tech

As promised in the book’s subtitle, this is also a guide to fitness tech. If you own or plan to own a wearable device, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit, the book provides all the information you need to get moving, track your progress, and do more with those devices. The author discusses the features of the various Fitbit models and walks the reader through using the fitness-related features of these products.

If you already have an iPhone and have no intention of purchasing an extra device like an Apple Watch or Fitbit, there is an abundance of things you can do to kick-start your fitness program using apps that are free or inexpensive for the device you already own.

We learn in this book about apps for working out, apps for yoga, apps for meditating, and apps to measure sleep. We learn about apps that will remind us if we are not exercising and apps that will track our progress.

Dresner lets us know which apps factor in the possibility that a consumer might be exercising from a wheelchair rather than a standing position. Similarly, she notes when certain apps might need a bit of adjusting due to the somewhat atypical motion that occurs when one hand is occupied with maneuvering a white cane or guide dog.

As is true throughout the book, considerable thought and detail have gone into the presentation of each app. We are given the name of the app in the app store, the name it bears once downloaded, the size required to store it on your mobile device, the developer’s name, and the price. As each app is discussed, we are given concise and clear detail of the appearance of the screen. She tells the reader which gesture to use in VoiceOver, where the buttons within an app are located on the screen, and the combination of gestures and/or buttons to employ to get a desired result. If an app is somewhat inaccessible and she has found a workaround, we are given that bit of added value as well.

To Buy or Not to Buy

So many health problems, including diabetes, breathing disorders, arthritis, and circulatory issues, can be diminished with healthy habits and exercise. Blind people have been excluded, in many ways, from the fitness parade and technology is once again moving toward leveling that playing field.

Anna Dresner speaks for most of us, ages 9 to 90, when she so charmingly sums up her own sparked interest in fitness and health. “If I’m lucky enough to live to be an old woman,” she writes, “I want to be able to get down on the floor and play with any kids I happen to know, and I’d like to be as mobile as possible for as long as possible.”

Indeed, that is a sentiment that will resonate with most of us who read those words. This book will enable you to do that ? and probably much more. It is a small book. You can read it easily in one sitting. And you will want to keep it readily available for reading again and consulting for a particular tidbit or two. It is available in a range of formats to suit your preferences. Because technology is a moving target, some items described in this book will change. You, however, want to get moving or moving more right this minute, so starting with this book while it is in step with the technology available to us is exactly the place to begin.

Product Information

Ten Thousand Steps, Cane Not Included: A Guide to Fitness Tech for Blind Users, by Anna Dresner
Publisher: National Braille Press, 800-548-7323
Available formats and prices: hardcopy braille (one volume), or downloaded as DAISY, eBraille, or Microsoft Word files: $12; DAISY, eBraille, or Word version on a USB flash drive: $14.

Microsoft Seeing AI: A Quick First Look at this Groundbreaking iOS

Microsoft Seeing AI

by Bill Holton

Source article: AccessWorld Magazine

Scenes: This is a beta feature, destined to improve with time. Snap a photo of your environment and Seeing AI will attempt to describe it. “A street corner with signs,” for instance, or “Two dogs and one person on a lawn.”

By now, you have likely heard about the new Seeing AI app from Microsoft. It’s free, and this groundbreaking app combines the functions of nearly every image and product recognition app that uses your iPhone or iPad’s camera and more.

In future isMicrosoft Seeing AIsues of AccessWorld, we plan to take a much deeper dive into this new offering, which Microsoft has rightly dubbed a potential “Swiss Army Knife of tools for visually impaired people.” We’ll describe where Seeing AI came from, and, more importantly, where it’s heading. In the meantime, just in case you have not heard about Seeing AI, here’s what it can do:

Read Text: Seeing AI includes two text OCR modes, Short Text and Document. The Document mode works like many text recognition apps, such as KNFB-Reader. In Document mode simply aim your camera toward a document page and follow the prompts which will alert you as to which edges and corners are not yet visible. Seeing AI will instruct you to “Hold steady,” and then automatically snap a photo and send it to Microsoft servers for recognition. Note: You can also take a picture manually by pressing the “Take Picture” button. The app does an excellent job of maintaining formatting, so you can use VoiceOver’s Heading, list items, and other quick navigation gestures. The recognition is slower than KNFB-Reader because the OCR engine is not onboard your device, but it seems to be just as accurate.

The Short Text mode turns on your camera and searches for printed material continuously. When it finds printed text, it translates it into machine text, and then speaks it aloud. The Short Text mode is not as thorough and accurate as Document mode, but it makes going through recipe cards and the mail a breeze! It can also be quite useful when searching for a conference room number, or when your computer stops talking, as it will identify text on PC monitors. It’s a must-have if you have a messy desk and want to get organized. Using Seeing AI it’s possible to go through a stack of familiar but disorganized papers in only seconds per page. Because Seeing AI is continuously scanning for printed text, the app often interrupts itself with new text. One way to prevent this is to move the device up and away once it begins speaking, so it will not spot new text and move on.

Scan Bar Codes: Seeing AI does perhaps the best job of accessible mobile device bar code scanning around. It can be problematic, locating the bar code on a can or box, but Seeing AI beeps when it spots one, and as you move the camera closer the beeps grow faster until the app snaps the code and identifies that can of corn or box of cake mix. There is also a “More information” button, if the barcode database includes it, with product details such as nutrition labeling, calorie counts and even cooking instructions. It can take a few seconds to locate the bar code and snap an image. It’s by no means as swift and easy to use as a standalone barcode reader, such as the I.D. Mate Galaxy, which AccessWorld reviewed in the August 2016 issue of AccessWorld. But, it does get the job done a lot more accessibly than other mobile apps.

Recognize Faces: You can create a photo library of friends and family, and the app will tell you when someone it recognizes is near. Snap a picture of an individual, and it will estimate the age–sorry, ladies–and offer an emotion tag, such as smiling or frowning. The app will tell you when a face is in focus and offer up the person’s name if they are in your app image database. This might be handy at a conference or party setting to help you find friends or colleagues, but I would advise using a phone case with a lanyard strap and Bluetooth earbuds so you’re not annoying the crowd by pointing your phone hither and yon. Also, check the lighting setting in the app’s Settings menu. Otherwise that phone dangling from your neck may appear as a headlight.

Scenes: This is a beta feature, destined to improve with time. Snap a photo of your environment and Seeing AI will attempt to describe it. “A street corner with signs,” for instance, or “Two dogs and one person on a lawn.”

One extremely useful feature found in Seeing AI is its appearance on the Sharesheet. Tap any image on your camera roll, an image attached to an email or text, or even one of those annoying images that appear on Twitter and other social media sites with no description tag. The “Recognize with Seeing AI” Sharesheet option will send the image directly to the app immediately, and recognize both any text it finds, and offer an image description. If the option to “Recognize with Seeing AI” does not appear, select the “More” option in the Sharesheet and switch the option to “On”.

The app is only available for iOS, and it can be downloaded from the iOS App Store. Microsoft has produced an excellent YouTube introduction demonstrating this powerful new app’s features. Text and video help is also available in the app’s Quick Help tab.

Disability: Why Is Our Existence as Humans Still Being Denied?

Action Wheelchair User SymbolIn Denver in 1978, just after the July 4 holiday, 19 men and women with disabilities positioned themselves in front of public buses at the busy intersection of Colfax Avenue and Broadway. They chanted “We will ride!” until city transportation officials were willing to hear their complaints: Namely, that lack of access to public transportation led to disenfranchisement and discrimination, which led to joblessness, homelessness, despair and misery.

These pioneers, known now as the “Gang of 19,” were not simply irritating commuters by blocking the intersection all day and into the night — they were demanding to be heard, and, perhaps most important, to be seen. They are praised now as important activists, although news coverage at the time was far from celebratory. The protest was early sign of progress to come, including the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, which established the fundamental rights of access and equal opportunity that had so long been denied this marginalized group of human beings.

Yet in late June, nearly 40 years after the Gang of 19 protests, I experienced a troubling moment of déjà vu as I watched disability rights activists being hauled out of their wheelchairs outside the Denver offices of Senator Cory Gardner. The sit-in was a protest against the Republican Party’s proposed drastic cuts in Medicaid, cuts that would certainly push millions of people with disabilities out of sight and into the neglect and despair of institutions, home confinement, joblessness and poverty. I was saddened, bewildered and angered that a movement that gave so many so much more life could have come so far, only to be forced to protest the same issues all over again — basically, our right, as people with nonnormative bodies, to basic access, to our very existence.

In 1978 my parents watched live footage of the Gang of 19 protests on their television (my father remembers getting up to turn up the sound) in the weeks before my amputation, the first of six operations I would have in the next five years, from ages 4 to 9. I was born with a congenital birth defect that required amputation so that I might be fitted with a prosthetic limb; this was considered, in my case, the best shot I had at a “normal” life — which my parents viewed as an ability to work, make an impact, have mobility, be considered equal to others, even if my body was built differently. They desperately wanted this for me, and were willing to change jobs and move across the country to make it happen. It was a propitious move, as I would later become an early student in the adaptive ski program in the Rocky Mountains, an experience that, more than any other in my childhood, changed my life.

My parents had moved us close to Denver to be near Children’s Hospital, and their widely respected orthopedic surgeons on staff — one in particular, who performed every one of my many surgeries, including two of the “do-overs” when the operation didn’t yield the desired results. We were not rich by any standards — a lower-middle-class family with good health insurance — which, even so, never covered all of my operations or devices or in full. Both my parents worked two jobs on and off throughout my childhood to close the gap. My father even drove a school bus, a fact I vividly remember made me feel ashamed.

My parents must have sensed what a person — in this case, their daughter — would face, given her nonnormative body. It must have been a mix of hope and fear, of anger and elation.

Now, as a parent myself, I can imagine the mixed emotions my parents, decades younger then than I am now, must have felt watching the standoff between the wheelchair users asserting their rights and demanding respect and dignity, and the official forces brought in that showed how thoroughly that respect was, in fact, denied.

I’ve always known that discrimination against those with nonnormative bodies runs deep. My great-aunt once announced that I was “made wrong” to a room full of people when I was in my late 30s. On another occasion, while I was talking about what the A.D.A., passed just that year, meant to me, a relative said, “When we knew people who couldn’t walk, they just stayed home.” My grandmother once protested being asked to help pay for an elevator at her church: “My legs work,” she said. “Why should I pay for those whose don’t?”

Very few people would express these sentiments publicly, or at a cocktail party, or even at the Thanksgiving dinner table as my grandmother did, but the attitudes behind them still exist. At times, it seems that discrimination against people with disabilities is the final frontier of human rights.

Although people with disabilities are able to ride buses in most cities, the attitudinal barriers still exist, and the logistical ones are often linked to these. In the late 1990s, I used to take the No. 66 bus from Roxbury to Cambridge, from my apartment in Mission Hill to classes at Harvard, an hourlong journey plagued by traffic delays on the best of days, but especially in the frozen tundra of a Boston winter. I took that bus nearly every day for two years, and nine times out of 10 when someone in a wheelchair wanted to board, the lifts were broken or malfunctioning, and it might take the frustrated driver 30 minutes or more to fix the issue, often calling in support staff, while people glared out the window at the person in a wheelchair who waited, shivering on the icy sidewalk. So many times I heard people say, and not under their breath, “damn cripples” or some variation.

It pains me that I never spoke up, never said a word to the mutterers, that I exercised my privilege as a non-wheelchair user to “pass” (despite holding a disability card that allowed me to ride the bus for only 10 cents a journey.

Ten years later, after I’d stopped hiding my identity as a person with a disability and “joined the struggle,” I was crossing the street with a friend using her wheelchair, when two people passed us and said, “What is it, like a convention for freaks?” The looked right at us as they spoke — looking through us, it seemed — as if we wouldn’t understand what they were saying.

What is more likely is that they simply didn’t care what we thought, or how we felt. It was O.K. to express disdain and disrespect for us, with these bodies so long maligned by our culture. It was “just what people say.” But what people say matters. It is another form of accessibility, another way of being inside, or outside, the narrative of our culture. Every time we hear the words “lame” or “cripple” or “freak” it is clear we are still living outside the perimeters of that culture.

So many of our country’s social movements have started with the most basic kind of access: the right to ride a public bus, the right to have our bodies in the world, to be visible and active and seen. My first prosthetist had his office near that historical corner of Broadway and Colfax. It was dirty, dusty and unmarked, and when you slipped in the door you were immediately enveloped in cigarette smoke. In some ways, I feel like this is where we’ve arrived in terms of our country’s attitude toward disability. We can get in the door, but once there, we face a whole new battleground, a whole new fog of misunderstanding and disrespect.