Braille Monitor                                                                November 2006


Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family


The following people were elected to office at the 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa: president, Michael D. Barber; first vice president, Deb Smith; second vice president, Richard Crawford; secretary, Joy Harris; treasurer, Curtis Chong; and board members, Darrel Kirby, Roger Erpelding, Rachel Becker, and Bob Ray.


On Saturday, September 16, 2006, the Arizona Association of Blind Students held its annual business meeting and elected the following officers: president, Arielle Silverman; first vice president, Ryan Thomas; second vice president, Kristen Johnson; secretary, Tony Sohl; acting secretary, Ben Bloomgren; treasurer, Melissa Cordeblind; and board members, Arlen Keen and Jay Smith.

Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety Report:

Here from Debbie Stein, who chairs the NFB Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety (CAPS), is a brief account of the CAPS meeting at the 2006 NFB Convention:

The Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety met on Monday, July 3. Altogether between thirty and forty people attended, including several staff members and administrators from the Seeing Eye, Inc.

We spent the first hour of our two-hour session in discussion of quiet cars and their implications for the blind population. Some attendees felt strongly that we should work toward legislation requiring the auto industry to build in a device that will signal the vehicle's whereabouts to a device carried by the blind pedestrian. One man warned that a greatly increased number of quiet cars on the road could lead to the legal revocation of our right to travel independently. He said that one must be competent as a driver in order to drive, and likewise it could be argued that one must be competent as a pedestrian to walk the streets. Quiet cars can deprive us of our competence as pedestrians and thus of our right to travel.

Following the discussion we convened at the parking lot in front of the Hilton Anatole to try listening to a Toyota Prius. Jeff Witt, an NFB staff member and member of the committee, had managed to obtain the car for an hour through heroic persistence and creative problem-solving. Nearly all of us agreed that we could not hear the Prius as it drove laps around the parking lot. We then moved to an intersection and tried listening for it as it approached at a faster speed. With intent listening, most of us were able to hear its approach, but only when it was very close. We also experimented with listening for the Prius to start up at the intersection. The start-up was harder to hear than the slow-down.

As a postscript, I had discussions outside the meeting with Doug Roberts and Lucas Franck from the Seeing Eye. The dog guide schools are very aware of and concerned about the quiet-car situation. Seeing Eye has purchased a Segway, which it uses to train the dogs, and also makes sure to train them with hybrid cars. Roberts and Franck are pretty confident that dog guides can be trained to cope with an environment in which quiet cars are more prevalent but admitted that there may be a threshold above which too much responsibility is being placed on the dogs. Lucas Franck suggested that a whole new approach to training may become necessary.

Book for Seniors Losing Vision Now Available:

Judy Sanders, president of the National Organization of the Senior Blind, writes: One of the most effective ways the NFB has of demonstrating the fortitude and ingenuity of blind people is through our extensive literature. I am pleased to announce the newest publication in our collection, written especially for seniors and their families. Entitled So You Don't See as Well as You Used to, it is ninety-three pages filled with information and inspiration. Sixteen short stories are written by or about blind seniors who have let neither age nor blindness stop them from leading full lives. Read how Ray built a waterfall in his backyard and about George and his bicycle repair shop. The book also includes a resource list that should prove useful. Printed in sixteen-point type, it is an easy read for those who can see large print. The book is available for five dollars and can be purchased from the Independence Market, formerly the Materials Center. Send orders to the Independence Market, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. You can order by credit card at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2216.

Attention Blind Veterans:

Some Federationists have expressed interest in establishing a blind veterans division that would welcome veterans of any of America's branches of the military. Members would not need to have lost their vision as a result of their military service. The purpose of a blind veterans division would be to pursue issues of interest to blind veterans, including blindness-specific training through the VA and advocacy in dealing with the Veterans Administration. Generally, though, this division would serve as a vehicle for outreach to a large and definable population among the broader blind community who may share common interests and issues. If you are a blind veteran and are interested in developing a blind veterans division of the NFB, please contact Joanne Wilson, executive director of affiliate action, at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2335, or by email at <>.

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

KELVIN--the Talking Thermostat:

About a year ago KELVIN, a voice-interactive talking thermostat, was introduced into the marketplace by a newly formed company named Action Talking Products, a partnership venture between the National Federation of the Blind and Independent Living Aids, a company well known in the industry and recognized by readers of the Braille Monitor. This partnership between the NFB and a for-profit company was the first of several such relationships designed to bring products to market that would enhance the lives of blind people, the most recent being with Ray Kurzweil to develop and bring to market the Kurzweil-NFB Reader. These partnerships have been so beneficial to blind people that more joint ventures will undoubtedly follow.

KELVIN has been built with patented technology that enables the user to program the thermostat to adjust the temperature for specific periods, such as morning, daytime, evening, and nighttime and to program each day separately. This gives the user the ability to adjust the temperature separately for weekends or vacations when the home is not occupied, which results in a considerable saving in energy use and a reduction in the homeowner's costs for fuel and electricity. All programming for heating and air conditioning is done with buttons that speak, and temperature can be raised or lowered by simply speaking to the thermostat and saying "raise" or "lower." To see KELVIN in action, go to <>, where you can see a video of KELVIN in operation.

Now that we are moving into the winter heating season in the northern states and snowbirds will soon be heading down to warmer climes that need air conditioning, we want to remind our readers of the availability of KELVIN, which, at $129.95, is not much higher in price than a standard nonspeaking, programmable thermostat. The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market and Independent Living Aids both stock KELVIN for immediate shipment.

Thank You:

In the June issue we published a plea for equipment from Wendy Olsen, who was traveling to Ghana to help train teachers of the blind. Here is the thank you she sent this summer to all those who helped her:

I want to send out a big thank you to each individual, organization, and company that has donated money or items for the twelve students at the teacher-training college in Ghana. So far I have shipped a CCTV, thirteen Braillewriters, a Braille embosser, Braille books, tape recorders, talking calculators, assistive technology, and other miscellaneous items.

After arriving in September, I plan to unload the boxes and set up the resource center or distribute the equipment to the students. The generous support of the blindness/VI community here in the U.S. will make a huge difference to the blind students in Ghana. Thank you.

Ski for Light 2007 Invites Applications:

Are you a visually impaired adult who cross-country skis or is interested in learning the sport? If your answer is yes, then join 300+ active adults from across the U.S. and around the world for our thirty-second annual Ski for Light International Week. While primarily recreational, Ski for Light attracts cross-country skiers from beginners to advanced competitors. Skiers and guides come from every adult age group and occupation. You will be paired with a sighted instructor/guide who will assist with skills, technique, and endurance or simply enjoying the outdoors. After a day of skiing join any number of organized activities or simply relax and enjoy the facilities and the company of fellow participants.

The 2007 Ski for Light event will be held from Sunday, January 21, through Sunday, January 28, 2007, in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire. We will stay at the North Conway Grand Hotel in North Conway and ski at Great Glen Trails in the Pinkham Notch section of the town of Gorham. More information about the event and online applications are available now at <>. The total cost for the week, which includes all meals and ground transportation, is $975, U.S., single-occupancy, $725 per person double-occupancy; the hotel this year has no triples.

For additional information please call Dave Thomas, visually-impaired participant recruitment committee chair, (303) 298-0672 or <>, or Lynda Boose, visually impaired applications coordinator, <> or (906) 370-7541.

Guidance Device Testers Needed:

Would you like to try out an interesting device that may lead to new guiding technology for the blind? If so, enroll in the ZigZag evaluation program run by UC San Diego. The University has designed a guidance system that allows a blind person to receive travel information such as turn left, turn right, go, and stop, through the sense of touch. A remote guide provides instructions, provided the user is in line of sight. Some suggested uses for the device are running in an outdoor open area, quickly finding an object such as a left-behind backpack in an open grass field, and finding a parked car in a shopping mall parking lot.

UC San Diego is looking for fifteen blind volunteers to evaluate the device. These testers must have a sighted person willing to give guiding instructions in order to participate in the device trials. They would spend two to three hours trying the device and would complete a fifteen-minute survey. An evaluation unit would be shipped to testers for an evaluation period of three weeks, and return shipping of the unit would be prepaid. As part of the evaluation testers would try out the device in a park and several other locations. If you would like to try the device or learn more about the program, please contact John Miller by email at <> or by phone at (858) 527-1727.

New Resource Guide for Blind Parents:

We recently received the press release which is excerpted below:

Through the Looking Glass and its National Resource Center for Parents with Disabilities are proud to announce the release of the first comprehensive resource guide for parents who are blind or partially sighted. The new 212-page Hands-On Parenting: A Resource Guide for Parents who are Blind or Partially Sighted provides a wide range of practical information, adaptations, and resources for parents.
The Resource Guide addresses many questions faced by blind parents, such as how do you diaper, feed, or give medications to your baby? How will you know where your toddler is? How do you choose the colors for your child's clothes? How can you help your children with homework? What types of toys or games are available for blind parents to use with their children? How can blind parents educate the general public about how they manage parenting tasks?

This guide is one of several projects of the National Resource Center for Parents with Disabilities, which is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education. The Resource Guide was developed by blind parent specialist Debbie Bacon, who is also a blind mother of three adult children. Ms. Bacon compiled the resources and suggestions from discussions with blind and partially sighted parents across the U.S. as well as in several other countries.

Parents of a wide age-range of children describe their parenting experiences--especially noting any barriers, strengths, adaptations, or suggestions for other blind or partially sighted parents. Because these parents are often geographically isolated from each other, many parents explained how they had to figure out a variety of routine parenting tasks on their own. This Resource Guide is intended to pass along successful adaptations and strategies so that new parents don't have to keep re-inventing the wheel. The topics covered include such issues as newborns, sick children, feeding, toilet training, transportation, monitoring children, child safety, toys and games, and working with professionals. Each of the fourteen chapters includes parent discussions as well as contact information for a wide variety of resources (many of which are available on the Internet).

The guide is currently available in regular print, in large print, and on CD-ROM. It can be ordered directly from Through the Looking Glass for $40 (includes shipping and handling for orders within the U.S.). To order this or other publications about parenting with a disability, call (800) 644-2666, or go to Through the Looking Glass's Web site <>, where this information will be posted shortly.

Congratulations to James Fruchterman:

We are pleased to report that Jim Fruchterman has been named one of the 2006 winners of the five-hundred-thousand-dollar genius grant presented by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. According to the foundation's Web site, he was founder, president, CEO, and chairman of Arkenstone, Inc., and founder and chairman of the Benetech Initiative. He "is an electrical engineer-turned-entrepreneur who adapts cutting-edge technologies into affordable devices for the visually impaired and others underserved by traditional commerce. As a student Fruchterman designed a reading machine for the blind using optical-character-recognition technology originally intended for military defense purposes. Determined to keep the cost of his reading machine within reach of the largest number of users, Fruchterman founded the nonprofit company, Arkenstone, to develop and manufacture the system. He has since delivered this reading tool in a dozen languages to people in sixty countries and created a stream of other inventions for the visually impaired, including an Open Book, a PC software program that reads scanned texts ranging from school books to utility bills; Atlas Speaks map software; and Strider, a talking GPS locator.

"In 2000 Fruchterman founded another nonprofit, Benetech, as an incubator for socially oriented technology applications. With, Benetech has created a Web-based library of scanned books and provided downloadable access to a dramatically increased volume of printed materials to people with visual or learning disabilities. Other initiatives include Martus, a secure, computer-based reporting system to assist the human rights sector in collecting, safeguarding, and disseminating information about human rights violations, and a Landmine Detector Project with the goal of placing state-of-the-art detection devices in the hands of humanitarian deminers in war-torn countries. Fruchterman puts existing technologies to use in innovative ways to make life-changing machines for those who need them most.

"James Fruchterman received a B.S. (1980) in engineering and an M.S. (1980) in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology and pursued doctoral studies at Stanford University (1980-1981)."

We are grateful for Jim Fruchterman's twenty-five years of innovative work on behalf of blind people, and we are delighted that the MacArthur Foundation has honored him with this recognition.

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