Inviting All Sandy’s View Readers to the Intracortical Visual Prosthesis Information Session

The Chicago Lighthouse is constantly researching innovative technologies that can help individuals with vision loss! Today, I would like to invite our Sandy’s View readers to check out the informational session on the Intracortical Visual Prosthesis Project. Conducted by The Illinois Institute of Technology & The Chicago Lighthouse and sponsored by The National Institute of Health, BRAIN Initiative, this information session covers an experimental device intended to restore visual perception for those who are blind. Meet the researchers, learn about the intracortical visual prosthesis study, and ask questions at this educational information event hosted at The Chicago Lighthouse. More about the intracortical visual prosthesis can be found on this website.

Details:

When: March 1, 2018 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Where: The Beatrice C. Mayer Senior Center located at The Chicago Lighthouse, 1850 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago Illinois, 60608

For more information and to reserve your spot, please contact Patricia Rodriguez at 312.997.3672, or email her at Patricia.Rodriguez@Chicagolighthouse.org.

Participation in this research information session is voluntary.

If you are interested but cannot come to the information session, not to worry! I will be attending this event, and welcome any questions from readers about the device. You can leave a comment with your questions, or email them to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. These questions will be answered in a future post. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: The research reported in this publication is supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders And Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UG3NS095557. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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A Call for Artists for The Chicago Lighthouse Public Art Display!

a mock-up photo of what the lighthouses will look like when installed on The Mag Mile

The Chicago Lighthouse is currently calling for artists with and without disabilities for a very special summer project! Without a doubt, summer time here offers numerous activities for everyone to enjoy. From concerts to festivals, and sporting activities to parades, there is sure to be something that will please individuals of all ages. Going to Navy Pier and Millennium Park are just a few of the things I love about summers in Chicago!

The Chicago Lighthouse will be joining in the summer fun this year with the Lighthouses on The Mag Mile campaign, a new and exciting public art display celebrating the access and inclusion of people with disabilities. This event will coincide with Access Chicago, the premier exposition for people with disabilities, as well as with the city’s busiest tourist season. The Lighthouses on The Mag Mile campaign is being launched to bring awareness of the mission of The Chicago Lighthouse, one of the city’s long-standing and most prominent social service organizations serving people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veterans.

We invite professional and aspiring artists to apply and participate in the Lighthouses on The Mag Mile campaign. Submissions from artists of all cultural backgrounds, as well as from artists with and without disabilities are encouraged. Chosen artists will design a provided fiberglass lighthouse sculpture for The Magnificent Mile that will illustrate what it means to be a beacon of access and inclusion for people with disabilities. Lighthouse sculptures measure 6 feet tall by 30 inches in diameter and will be placed on The Mag Mile, as well as in nearby locations. Each artist or group will receive a stipend of $750.

Your sculpture will help those passing by to:

  • Recognize the role access and inclusion play in the achievements of people with disabilities.
  • Encourage Chicago-area employers and community members to lead the way with opportunities for people with disabilities.
  • Feel the power each individual has to support the lives of people with disabilities.
  • Imagine what is possible for all individuals with disabilities.

After the exhibition, lighthouse sculptures will be auctioned and proceeds will benefit the 39 programs and services at The Chicago Lighthouse.

Applications are due on MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2018. To learn more about this exciting opportunity or to download an application, please visit this website. You may also send an email to callforartists@chicagolighthouse.org, or call Jessica Grant at 312-447-3255 if you have any questions.

The completed application and agreement may be submitted in one of the following ways:

  • Emailing the materials to callforartists@chicagolighthouse.org
  • Mail or hand-deliver to The Chicago Lighthouse Call for Artists, at 1850 W. Roosevelt Rd. Chicago, IL 60608, attention Financial Development Department.

The Chicago Lighthouse is also seeking businesses interested in sponsorship opportunities for this campaign. To learn more, visit this page or contact Angela D’Antonio at 312-447-3246, or angela.dantonio@chicagolighthouse.org. For media inquiries about The Chicago Lighthouse or about the Lighthouses on The Mag Mile Public Art Display, contact Dominic Calabrese at 312-997-3662 or Dominic.calabrese@chicagolighthouse.org.

Winter Travel Tips for Dog Guide Users

Winter Travel Tips for Dog Guide Users

Winter is in full swing, and those of us who live in Chicago know all too well how unpredictable the weather can be during this time of year! People who are blind or visually impaired and use dog guides can experience unique challenges when out and about in cold and icy conditions. To see how they cope, I spoke with three dog guide users: The Chicago Lighthouse’s very own Maureen Reid, Adnana Saric, and Brett Shishkoff. Maureen and Adnana are both long-time dog guide users, while Brett has only traveled with a dog for less than a year. Here is what they had to say about having warm and safe travels with your four-legged guide and friend during the winter months.

Maureen:

To me, foot protection is the highest priority during winter. My dog guide wears ruff wear boots that look like sketchers for dogs, which were provided by our dog guide school. I also purchased Paws protective footwear because my dog prefers them, and they protect his feet from salt and snow pack in his pads, although they are not as insulating from the cold temperatures. They appear to behave like deflated round balloons that wrap around my dog’s feet. I also have a container of applicable foot cream similar to a product called “mushers secret.” This is an ointment that is applied to their feet to moisturize and protect them from salt and can help prevent snow pack from getting stuck into their pads.

My dog guide also has a wool Pendleton style coat that was kindly donated to him by one of our Chicago Lighthouse Flair Fashion show designers, Woof in the Wool. It fits under his harness and does not impede his guide work.

Dog guide users should ensure their dogs have increased access to water, as it is dryer in the winter months and they might get dehydrated more easily.

Also, owners should do their best to balance out making sure they take dogs on working walks, even though they might not want to spend any more time in the cold than necessary. Dogs can get bored and mischievous, and their guide work may suffer if not given the opportunity to go out for a stroll. Dogs respond to this weather differently from one another. My retired guide used to bulldoze herself through the snow and then wrapped it up with a summersault onto her back, while my current guide is far less enamored with the snow and cold temperatures — he would rather avoid them all together!

Chicago Lighthouse employees Maureen Reid (left) and Adnana Saric (right) walk outside with their dog guides.

Adnana:

Traveling in extreme cold weather can be a challenge for a guide dog team because of the salt and ice on the ground, as well as the low temperatures. In order to make the travel more pleasant for both myself and my dog, I make sure to give us plenty of time to get to our destination. The extra time allows us to stay calm and on the same page when trying to work through any problems we might come across. I also make sure that I have plenty of treats and praise to reward my dog for his hard work. Just as we like to wear layers and winter shoes to stay warm, I make sure that my dog’s paws are protected with dog booties or wax. In case of forgetting the shoes or wax, I make sure to wipe my dog’s paws with a damp cloth when indoors to remove any sault and prevent irritation. I also make sure he is warm by having a jacket that properly fits from neck to tail. Lastly, I look out for the well-being of my dog and myself by using Paratransit, cabs, or other rides in order to spend less time in the extreme cold.

Brett:

I have worked with my Guide Dog Poet Since May of 2017, and have learned a lot during this first winter! When traveling with Poet, we didn’t have much trouble until the frigid temperatures hit Chicago during the holidays. My dog guide school suggested that having a comfortable coat for the dog is a good idea once it drops below 20 or so. Each dog is a little different, and might be able to handle the colder temperatures better than others. Poet doesn’t seem to be bothered with the cold until the single digit temperatures arrive. Also, having a good set of boots or paw protection of some sort is a great idea. Many individuals and businesses use rock salt, when clearing the area around their property, and that can get stuck in a dog’s paws, causing some discomfort.

Regarding traveling, the dog will go out and do its job no matter the weather. I myself air on the side of caution and use transportation services like Paratransit, Uber, and Chicago’s Taxi Access Program when it’s cold and icy outside. We have to be safe and take some precautions in our travels. I tend to move a tad bit slower when out and about during winter, and I also always bring my white cane to help my dog find the opening through the snow to get safely to the crosswalk.

Chicago Lighthouse employee Brett Shishkoff smiles with his dog guide Poet.

Do you use a dog guide or other type of service animal? If so what other winter travel tips would you share with fellow service dog users? Please comment below, or email me at sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. You can also read my previous post about general winter travel tips for people who are blind or visually impaired by clicking on this link. Safe travels to everyone, and stay warm!

Review of Actiview: An App That Makes Moviegoing More Accessible

In last week’s Sandy’s View post, guest blogger Brett Shishkoff shared his experience and thoughts on enjoying “A Christmas Carol” with both a touch tour and audio description. Other forms of entertainment, such as movies and TV shows, are also accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired thanks to an audio description. This week, I will share my moviegoing experience using Actiview, a recently developed mobile app which provides audio description for those with vision loss, as well as closed captions, amplified audio and sign language interpretation for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. I recently went to the movies to watch Coco with an audio description using this app.

How Does Actiview Work?

At this time, the Actiview app is only available for iOS devices. After installing the app on an iPhone or iPad, users create a login username and password. Once logged in, a list of the available movies appears. There are currently six movies with audio description, closed captions, amplified audio and sign language interpretation. These include Wonderstruck, Coco and Breathe. Once a movie is selected from the list, the app displays the available accessibility options. Users can then download the content they need, either by using their cellular data or other Wi-Fi network. Once the desired movie is playing, either at the movie theater or at home, the audio description (or whichever accessibility option was selected) will sync with the movie. You can now sit back and enjoy the fully accessible movie! Below is a screenshot of the services available for viewing Coco with Actiview.

Screenshot of services available for watching Coco with the Actiview app.

My Thoughts

Without a doubt, using Actiview to watch Coco with audio description was simple and fun. After arriving at the movie theater, I did not have to spend extra time requesting or waiting for an audio description headset, which several theaters offer for its blind or visually impaired guests. I had also purchased my tickets in advance, so I was able to go right into the theater without having to wait in line. This turned out to be convenient, as I was running behind and made it just in time for the beginning of the movie! The syncing of the audio description only took about 15-20 seconds, and I was able to hear it using my own earbuds without any difficulties. This way I wouldn’t disturb my fellow moviegoers.

As far as the movie itself, I enjoyed Coco very much! Besides being entertaining, it also taught me a thing or two about the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. As with other Disney/Pixar movies, Coco consisted of a lot of animation, so the audio description was essential for me to fully understand the film.

Actiview is just another example of how technology continues to help people with disabilities. Thanks to this app, those of us with visual impairments or who are deaf or hard of hearing can have more accessibility when watching movies. Using the app is accessible and a flawless process. I hope that more movies are added to the app’s collection in the near future, so we can continue to enjoy fully accessible moviegoing experiences. We all deserve to have accessible entertainment, and apps like Actiview are helping us get even closer to achieving that goal.

Have you used the Actiview or similar apps to enjoy movies with audio description? Please comment with your experience, or send an email to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Happy accessible moviegoing!

Enjoying An Accessible Performance of “A Christmas Carol”

By guest blogger Brett Shishkoff

The holidays bring us ample opportunities to enjoy great performances and movies. Last weekend, my colleague at CRIS Radio, Brett Shishkoff, who is blind, enjoyed a touch tour and audio described performance of “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre. During a touch tour, people who are blind or visually impaired get to literally feel the different costumes and props that will be used in the performance. They will also hear a description of the stage layout, and in some cases, from some of the main actors themselves. Audio description is a narration of the different visual elements and scenes, which allows those who are blind or visually impaired to follow along. Now, let’s hear from Brett!

The Goodman has been one of my favorite theatres here in Chicago. Each year, they put on the popular holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.” I have been able to compare this from last year’s performance, and it continues to get better. The Casting of Scrooge is one of the best you’ll find in any version. They also try to throw in some surprises each year, and this time it is no different. Since last year, Fred Scrooge’s niece, Freda, has appears in the place of Scrooge’s nephew. This substitution continues to fit nicely in the show. Freda believes that anyone can change, even her uncle Scrooge who she will never give up on. The show is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for some Christmas Cheer!

As for the Touch Tour, the Goodman has one of the best in Chicago. They start off by showing us the costumes, props, and wigs in the lobby as we wait for the other patrons to arrive. We then move right into the theater, where we hear about the set and stage layout and some artistic feedback from the director. We even get to walk on the stage to get a better sense of its size. For me, the highlight of each Touch Tour is meeting the cast ahead of the show. They describe what they look like and what they are wearing, and perform a line from their characters.

The Audio Description was excellent. A great audio description of any play is easy to listen and understand – not to quiet or loud. One thing that I believe needs improvement are the headsets used to transmit the narration. Way too often, static or other noise is heard through the headsets used for these performances, which can be a bit distracting. This is hopefully something that can be easily fixed as new technology is developed for these devices. All in all, my experience at A Christmas Carol was a great one, and I am trying to turn this into a family tradition for many years to come. I left with warmth in my heart and a smile on my face. I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season filled with lots of joy!

The Goodman is holding an additional audio described performance of “A Christmas Carol” on Wednesday evening, December 13 at 7:30 pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, you can visit this page or call 312-443-3800.

This is Sandy again. In next week’s post, I will share my experience at the movies using Actiview, a new mobile app that provides audio description and closed captions for people with visual or hearing impairments. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

2017 Holiday Gift Ideas

The holidays are upon us, and so is the time for gift giving! I am often asked by others for advice on what kinds of gifts to get their loved ones who are blind or visually impaired. I have always appreciated these kinds of questions, because they mean people really want to give us things we can appreciate and use! This week, Brett Shishkoff, my colleague at CRIS Radio who’s also totally blind, joins me in offering some suggestions.

Sandy’s Suggestions from the Tools for Living Store:

Photograph of two individuals looking at kitchen items at the Tools for Living Store.

The Lighthouse Tools for Living Store sells a wide variety of high-tech and low-tech products for individuals with varying degrees of vision loss. Independent living aids, like the Wilson Recorder, Bold Line Note Pad and the PenFriend 2 will help those with little or no vision stay organized and keep track of important things and events. The easy to see, giant 2018 wall calendar makes a perfect gift for the upcoming new year!

Cooking enthusiasts will enjoy products like large print and Braille measuring cups, contrast cutting boards, and talking timers and meat thermometers. Adapted games, including large print and Braille cards, dominos with raised dots, large print crossword puzzles and a tactile version of Connect 4 are sold. The store carries different tactile and auditory toys for children who are blind or visually impaired. In addition, other products, like Braille and talking watches, signature and check-writing guides, are very useful for those of us without sight.

Brett’s Suggestions:

There are also many mainstream products that are accessible and useful to people with vision loss. Popular video streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon and iTunes now offer hundreds of audio described movies and television programs. Best of all, set top boxes, like the Apple TV and Amazon TV are accessible to people with visual impairments, and can help them enjoy the videos they purchase through these services. Voice-controlled home assistance like Amazon ECHO and Google Home are also gaining popularity among people with vision loss or other disabilities. Users can begin listening to their favorite music, news updates, sports scores, and audio books in a matter of seconds. They can even search for recipes and find out the weather forecast by simply asking the device!

Technologically inclined individuals might also benefit tremendously from a smartphone or tablet. Devices like Apple’s iPhone or iPad and Android phones and tablets have many built-in accessibility features for people with vision loss. In addition, users can install various apps that will help with things like traveling, identifying money, and even reading print documents. Finally, if your friend or family member enjoys audio books or music, consider giving them a gift card for services like Audible or iTunes. This will be sure to provide hours of endless entertainment!

These are only a few of the many gift possibilities that people who are blind or visually impaired are sure to enjoy this holiday season. For more gift ideas, visit this page from the American Foundation for the Blind, which shares great suggestions for people of all ages. If you have other ideas you would like us to mention, you can email me at sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays from all of us at The Chicago Lighthouse!

Help Support a Job and Share The Vision This #GivingTuesday!

Giving Tuesday HOMEPAGE #1

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and so are Black Friday and Cyber Monday! All of this is followed by #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving observed by nonprofits all over the world. This year, #GivingTuesday will be on Tuesday, November 28, the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States.

For the third consecutive year, The Chicago Lighthouse is holding its #GivingTuesday campaign. Our theme this year is Support a Job, Share the Vision and our goal is to raise critical funds for The Lighthouse’s Endowment Campaign. Your support will ensure that future generations of people with disabilities and Veterans can continue receiving services from The Chicago Lighthouse for many years to come. Since its founding in 1906, the mission of The Chicago Lighthouse is to create jobs for people who are blind or visually impaired. We work tirelessly to provide individuals who have experienced vision loss with the tools and opportunities to become independent and productive members of society.

Now in its 40th year of operation, Chicago Lighthouse Industries  (which is a sister agency of The Chicago Lighthouse) has manufactured 6 million clocks! These clocks are sold to the federal government, as well as to state and municipal agencies. Recently, clocks also became available for purchase through Amazon and in select Target stores throughout the Chicago area. In addition to clocks, Chicago Lighthouse Industries also manufactures ergonomic products like footrests and monitor stands, as well as calendars, planners and thermometers. Approximately 85% of Chicago Lighthouse Industries employees are blind or visually impaired.

For years, people who are blind or visually impaired have experienced an extremely high unemployment rate of over 70 percent. Many companies are hesitant to hire workers with vision loss due to a lack of understanding and unfounded misconceptions.

“This number is not because people who are blind or visually impaired do not want to work or are lacking skills, but a lot of companies believe that if someone is blind or visually impaired, they are for some reason incapable of doing jobs other people can,” says Heidi Ashwell, director of operations at Chicago Lighthouse Industries.

For someone who is blind or visually impaired, having a job not only provides them with a sense of fulfillment, but it also gives them independence and confidence. This is something that everyone – whether blind or sighted – wants and deserves. Heidi also says that for Chicago Lighthouse Industries employees who are blind or visually impaired, working alongside others with vision loss provides them with a sense of camaraderie. Working at The Chicago Lighthouse has truly changed the lives of these individuals!

“Our workers really appreciate what they have, being able to have a job and being able to support their families,” Heidi says.

With your support this #GivingTuesday, The Chicago Lighthouse will be able to provide people who are blind or visually impaired with the necessary tools and skills that will allow them to become independent and self-sufficient. Our talented employees like Mike and Nick can continue to find, obtain and keep meaningful employment now and in the future. Please click under their names to access their #GivingTuesday testimonials.

Best of all, your generous gift will have double the impact this year thanks to a generous challenge from Chicago Lighthouse Board Member Larry and Susanne Broutman and long-time donors Fred and Sarah. They will match every donated dollar up to $75,000.

Please help us change lives by supporting The Chicago Lighthouse this #GivingTuesday! There are three ways to donate:

  • Donate online at www.chicagolighthouse.org/giving-tuesday
  • By mail: send donations payable to The Chicago Lighthouse at 1850 W. Roosevelt Rd. Chicago, IL 60608. Mark to the attention of #GivingTuesday.
  • Call 312-997-3668.

You can also find out more about The Chicago Lighthouse and our #GivingTuesday campaign by following and liking us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn. On behalf of the Sandy’s View team and everyone at The Chicago Lighthouse, thank you so much for your generosity!

We also wish you all a very happy holiday season!