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!

Advertisements

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!

Commentary: Preparing College Students with Disabilities for Success

Going to college is by far one of the fondest time periods in my life. Meeting new friends, having fun on weekends after particularly busy weekdays and even the countless sleepless nights I spent preparing for final exams are some of the memories I will always cherish from my time at the University of Illinois. Looking back to these years, I also realize that attending college and obtaining my degree in journalism was one of my greatest challenges. College is difficult for anyone, and people like myself with disabilities have additional barriers to overcome.

recent report highlights some of the difficulties perspective and current college students with disabilities face while pursuing higher education. Some of the challenges for these students include not having adequate time management, organization and advocacy skills. The statistics are especially alarming. Only about a third of students with disabilities obtain a college degree. It’s not that students with disabilities cannot handle rigorous college schedules or the academic assignments, but rather they are ill-equipped to take on these challenges. Often, students do not receive sufficient training or information about available resources while in high school.

As someone who is blind, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. During high school, my teacher of the visually impaired made sure I learned to advocate for my needs. By my junior and senior years, it was up to me to inform my mainstream teachers about how they could best help me. I would obtain the class handouts or other materials from them, and my vision teacher would then transcribe them into Braille. During this time period, I also began learning about resources that would assist me once I started college. These included the state’s department of rehabilitation services, as well as the office of disability services at the University of Illinois. This was in addition to learning about assistive technology, scholarships and transportation resources that could make my life easier in college.

Regardless of the disability, it is critical for all students who are about to graduate from high school to learn the important skills they will need to succeed in college. They should be taught – both in high school and at home – how to manage their time, advocate for their particular needs, and about other organizations or resources that will help them throughout college. In the case of students with vision loss, learning about such things as assistive technology and orientation and mobility is also vital. Services like the Youth Transition and College Scholarship programs at The Chicago Lighthouse are a wonderful resource for high school students with vision loss, their teachers and families. These programs help students learn important independent living skills and obtain other resources that will help them better prepare and succeed in college. Best of all, they allow them to network and get advice from fellow students with visual impairments.

College students with disabilities have the same dreams and aspirations as their non-disabled peers. Unfortunately, many of these students are ill-prepared to undertake higher education, and may even struggle to obtain a degree. It is extremely important for high schools and other individuals working with students with disabilities to teach them college readiness skills prior to them entering higher education. In the end, this will allow students to be better prepared for college and ultimately for their future careers. This will also ensure that their college experience will be something they cherish for the rest of their lives!

Guest Commentary: Please Do Not Distract Service Dogs!

This week’s guest commentary is written by Wayne Scace, a long-time dog guide user who is visually impaired. Wayne comments on two recent experiences he faced while out in the street with his guide dog, Harley.

Wayne Scace and Harley

Recently, I experienced two incidents within twenty-four hours that interfered with my guide dog and ultimately endangered our lives. During the first incident, I was making my way home walking along Randolph Street towards Millennium Station in downtown Chicago to catch a Metra train. Suddenly, I heard someone crouch down while calling ‘puppy, puppy, puppy!’ at my guide dog in an upbeat way. The person then proceeded to take a flash photo of Harley (I am not totally blind, so I could see the flash.)

Had Harley become distracted, these actions could have endangered us. Furthermore, Harley’s vision could have become impaired temporarily by the flash. These actions were also an invasion of my privacy. If the individual had politely asked to take a photograph of Harley, I would have probably said yes. However, the person’s poor judgement took away my choice, my privacy, and endangered our team.

The second incident happened the next day while Harley and I were walking along Wood Street towards Polk to get to the El station. As we were approaching the intersection, there was an open grassy area to my right. Just as we began walking along the grass, Harley alerted me to the presence of another dog with his body language. I then heard a shout, and about 10 seconds later someone’s off-leash dog came charging at Harley and me. For a guide dog team, any rapidly approaching off-leash dog is considered a threat until proven otherwise.

When the owner finally caught up to us, he said that his dog was really friendly. I asked him where the leash was, and he waved it at me and responded that he was just playing ball with the dog in the park. I explained to him that doing so in an unsecured area was dangerous because his dog could have been injured or killed. Not to mention that Harley or I could have also been hurt. This incident was extremely dangerous, because while I was focusing on moving to keep myself between Harley and the other dog, Harley was not able to guide me. He did not lunge, or vocalize, but because I had him tucked tight to my left leg, Harley could not do his job. Besides endangering his dog and mine, the owner was in violation of the leash ordinance in Chicago.

Both of these incidents highlight why it is extremely important not to distract service dogs. Many people have tried distracting my guide dogs over the last 17 years, but these incidents are, by far, the most egregious!

Too many members of the public either do not know, or simply choose to ignore that distracting the cute service dog could endanger the lives of the team. A medical alert dog that is distracted by someone trying to pet it could miss a critical warning and the owner could die. A distracted guide dog could walk its handler out in front of a car, or into an obstacle. A wheelchair user could have their chair overturned by someone distracting their service animal. Off-leash dogs have injured service animals so badly that they had to retire. Other times, service animals have been killed, or had to be euthanized due to the severe injuries suffered from an off-leash dog. In some states it is a criminal violation to interfere with the work of a service animal team.

Bottom line, these highly trained dogs are out in public to work, not to provide people with entertainment. Service animal owners simply want to go about our day like everyone else. Fortunately, there was not a negative outcome from these incidents, except the sour taste left in my mouth.

Again, please, do not distract the service dog you encounter out in the street! We know he/she is cute, but that does not give you the right to take their photograph, or let your off-leash dog come charging up to us.

Why Teachers for Students with Visual Impairments Are So Important

Throughout my childhood, I attended mainstream classes in the public school system. This meant I could learn math, science and social studies alongside my peers who could see. At the same time, I received services from teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists. They taught me how to read and write Braille, use special technology for my classes and travel with a white cane. These teachers would also order my textbooks and transcribe class handouts into Braille, so I could participate in my mainstream classes.

During my years in elementary and junior high, I received this specialized instruction in a vision resource room with other blind and visually impaired children. Without a doubt, this allowed me to receive the individualized, one-on-one assistance I needed from my teachers to learn these critical skills. Learning alongside other students with visual impairments also gave me a sense of camaraderie because our vision loss meant we could all relate to each other’s challenges and successes. By the time I entered high school, I received these services from an itinerant teacher, who would go to my school several times a week to work with me and other visually impaired students.

Recently, I read this article about the ongoing shortage of teachers for the visually impaired in Illinois. Over the years, the number of these professionals has significantly decreased, thereby causing this shortage. If this trend continues, current and future generations of students who are blind or visually impaired will no doubt be negatively impacted. Many argue that students with disabilities should be fully mainstreamed and included in their home districts. As someone who benefited from mainstream education, I think this is a valid point. Going to classes with sighted peers provided me with invaluable social skills and the incredible opportunity to educate others about disabilities (I was the only blind student in my classes, so naturally my peers were curious to learn about Braille and the special technology I use.) However, I believe that having the support of a teacher of the visually impaired is imperative for students with vision loss.

Michael Hansen, who is blind and now works as a call center agent at The Chicago Lighthouse, agrees. He attended his local elementary school for several years, but says he found it very difficult being the only blind student in the entire school. This all changed when he began attending a program which offered a resource classroom and services for students who are blind or visually impaired. Although his bus ride to and from the school was about an hour each way, he says he “wouldn’t have done it any other way.” Being in this program provided Michael with both a mainstream education, while receiving the supports and services he needed due to his visual impairment.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have received both the opportunity to attend classes with my sighted peers, while at the same time learning the skills necessary for me to become an independent and successful blind person. This was thanks to my teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility instructors. The assistance these professionals provide is invaluable to students with vision loss. I sincerely hope more educators will consider the field of blindness and visual impairment for their future careers. This is an extremely rewarding career that will enable blind and visually impaired individuals to live successful and independent lives.

What’s New with CRIS Radio?

CRIS logo_sandys view

For nearly 40 years, Chicagoland Reading and Information Service (CRIS) Radio has provided individuals who are blind, visually impaired or have other reading disabilities with important information and entertainment broadcasts. CRIS Radio is the largest and oldest radio reading service in Illinois, and has been housed at The Chicago Lighthouse since 2003. The station covers a variety of topics, including daily readings of newspapers and other entertainment broadcasts. Some of the newspapers include The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times, among others. Programming includes The Beacon, FAACT, On the Air, The No Look Pass and various audio described movies. CRIS broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Recently, many readers have asked how they can access CRIS Radio. Long-time listeners are familiar with the special receivers through which CRIS can be heard. While we are no longer distributing the receivers, listeners can still tune in to CRIS with this equipment. These are the other (and newer) ways individuals can listen to CRIS:

  • On your computer or mobile device: CRIS Radio is available on our website. There you can either listen to the livestream, or to podcasts of previous shows. CRIS can also be heard on the TuneIn app, available for both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. While in the app, simply search for CRIS Chicago and start listening. Make sure to add us to your favorites! Users of the Victor Reader Stream device can also find CRIS on ooTunes. This app is also available for iOS devices.
  • By telephone: listeners who may not have access to the Internet can dial 712-832-2724 from anywhere in the United States. Please note that calls use mobile minutes, and long-distance rates may apply.
  • Listen to The Beacon on radio: recorded at CRIS, The Beacon is the nation’s only show for individuals with disabilities, senior citizens and Veterans. The weekly broadcast covers various topics of interest to these communities, including health and entertainment. Those of you in the Chicagoland area can catch The Beacon on WCPT 820-AM Sunday mornings at 7 am. You can also listen to the show’s podcasts on our website.

We would also love to get your feedback! In order to better serve our audience, CRIS is currently working on developing new programming. We invite you to please take this survey and tell us more about what you’d like to hear on CRIS Radio. You can also visit our Facebook page and stay connected and updated on the latest developments at CRIS Radio. Thank you for listening, and stay tuned!