Sandy’s View Turns Two Years Old!

Sandy’s View Turns Two Years Old!

It is hard to believe that our Sandy’s View blog turns two years old this month! This blog, which is written for the Chicago Lighthouse, was launched in March of 2015 in an effort to inform the general public about blindness and visual impairment. To date, we have written 186 posts covering a wide range of topics related to vision loss. In 2016 alone, the blog had 20,000 views from all over the world.

Initially, the main focus of Sandy’s View was to answer some of the common questions those of us with vision loss get. We have explained things like how people who are blind watch TV and tell time. We soon realized that Sandy’s View was also becoming popular among those who are blind or visually impaired, and began blogging about even more topics, including assistive technology, reviews of audio described movies and theatre productions, and commentaries on current events and news relevant to those with vision loss. In fact, famous jazz singer and pianist Henry Butler also made an appearance on the blog! Of course, we also inform our readers about what’s new at The Chicago Lighthouse.

Writing Sandy’s View for two years has been a great experience for myself and all of us at The Chicago Lighthouse. I enjoy blogging about different topics, but without a doubt the one that interests me the most is assistive technology. Writing about new technology developments gives me the unique opportunity to learn about revolutionary products that will help those of us who are blind or visually impaired become more independent. Thanks to working at The Chicago Lighthouse and writing Sandy’s View, I can test and learn about devices and products that are still under development.

Thanks so much to our readers across the globe for supporting Sandy’s View for the last two years. We have received wonderful feedback from people all over the world, and we could not be more grateful for your loyalty and readership! I also want to send a big thank you to The Chicago Lighthouse community for your continued support of this blog. Sandy’s View has grown tremendously over this period, and I sure am excited to see what the future has in store for us!

We always love hearing from our readers! If you have any feedback or would like to suggest other topics, please leave us a comment, or email us at sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Happy Second Anniversary, Sandy’s View!

 

Tips for Sending Accessible and Enjoyable Greeting Cards and Pictures

Tips for Sending Accessible and Enjoyable Greeting Cards and Pictures

Now that you have some ideas from last week’s post on what to give your friend or family member with vision loss, it is time to revisit the topic of holiday greeting cards and pictures. Everyone appreciates receiving greeting cards, and there are many options for people who are blind or visually impaired. Simple suggestions and even creativity can help you come up with a greeting card or picture album everyone can enjoy!

Braille Greeting Cards

Several organizations that work with people who are blind or visually impaired sell Braille greeting cards. The Chicago Lighthouse’s Tools for Living Store, for example, sells a wide variety of greeting cards for different occasions. A Braille message is included in each card, and space is provided for you to write a personal message. If you know Braille or someone who does, you can write your message in Braille!

Tactile cards

Some greeting cards already have raised or embossed images. A lot of times the paper has simple embossed designs, and other cards have tactile shapes made from materials like felt or glitter. I personally appreciate it when someone gives me one of these cards (although sometimes they do it without realizing it). The down side is that they might cost more than standard cards. If you’re the creative, do-it-yourself type of person, then you can easily make a tactile greeting card. You can find thousands of styles and design ideas online.

E-Cards

These are digital greeting cards that are sent through email. They often include picture animations and short audio clips. You can even personalize the cards with your own pictures and short audio recorded messages. I have a love-hate relationship with these types of cards. Although I can easily click on the link to view the card, I often have no clue what’s in the animation or pictures. Animations aren’t always accessible with screen-reading software, and more often than not, the images aren’t described. I remember once getting a Christmas Hallmark e-card, and although I could hear “jingle bells” playing in the background, I had no idea what the images were.

Describing Pictures

Sharing pictures is increasingly popular thanks to social media. Just like anyone else, blind and visually impaired people love receiving pictures of their friends and family, and of course any photos we might be in! No matter how you send the photos – through email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – it’s always a good idea for you to add a brief caption describing who and what is going on in the picture. Of course, if your friends or family members with vision loss were in a particular photo, chances are they will remember when it was taken. By providing brief descriptions, we will be able to enjoy these snapshots as much as everyone else!

Regardless of what method you use, those of us who are blind or visually impaired will greatly appreciate the effort you put into sending us a card or photo we could enjoy. Even if the message in the card is handwritten, we will most likely find someone who can read it and describe the picture for us. Still, finding a card that is accessible can help us read and enjoy it on our own. I hope these tips and suggestions will help you get your loved ones with vision loss greeting cards that are accessible and enjoyable. Happy holidays!

XANADU: A Fun and Accessible Performance!

Sandy at Xanadu

Last Saturday, I, along with several colleagues from The Lighthouse, was treated to a performance of Xanadu at the American Theater Company on Chicago’s north side. We had all heard that the 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John was not successful, and honestly did not know what to expect from the musical. Truth be told, I was only interested in going after learning that we would take a touch tour of the stage before the performance. Not only did we get to be on stage to see and feel the different costumes and props beforehand, but we also heard from some of the cast members themselves!

Evan Hatfield is the Director of Audience Experience at Steppenwolf Theater Company, and works with many theaters across Chicago to make sure performances are accessible to people with disabilities. This was the American Theater’s first time putting on a touch tour for patrons with vision loss, so they consulted with Evan to learn how to make this possible. We were all pleased to find out that Evan and the staff at the American Theater Company had thought about every single detail, from providing assistance getting into the theater to anyone who requested it to describing in full detail the various costumes and props.

We arrived to the theater about 90 minutes before the performance got started. This allowed us to learn more about the musical from Evan and the theater director. They briefly discussed things like the time setting of the story, stage layout and some of the visual and sound effects that would be used in the play. Next came the part I was waiting for: feeling the different costumes and props! Theater staff members described each item and told us which character would be using it. Finally, some of the cast members introduced themselves and described the characters they would play.

Although I had attended performances with audio description, this was my very first touch tour in a theater. Not that I didn’t know there was such a thing – working at The Lighthouse has allowed me to learn of the many things Chicago theaters are doing to become accessible to people with vision loss.

This was also the first time taking a touch tour for a few of my colleagues. Brett Shishkoff is an intern at CRIS Radio, and he felt the touch tour and discussion with the director and cast members was invaluable. He – like me and many of our colleagues who attended – is completely blind. Hearing from the actors themselves and feeling the different objects helped us get a better sense of what was going on during the play, even though it did not include audio description.

“Having the touch tour bridged the gap enough for me to be able to still chuckle at some of the things that they were referencing and know why it was funny,” Brett says.

Although having audio description during the performance would have helped during the times when actors used gestures or other expressions we couldn’t see, my coworkers and I were still able to follow and understand the story.

“I was probably smiling and laughing for at least the first hour of the play,” Brett tells me.

Kudos to the American Theater Company for striving to make Xanadu an accessible performance for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Keep up the great work, I hope this is the first of many accessible performances! As a fellow attendee put it, “Although they do not require the touch tour service, we can now say the American Theater Company is inclusive for all, disability or otherwise.”

I hope to continue attending more audio described and touch tour performances in the future, and so do my other colleagues.

“I always enjoyed the theater quite a bit before I lost my sight … We know now we can actually go to [performances] and enjoy them with our family and friends,” Brett said.

I can’t praise Evan and the American Theater Company enough for their outstanding service! Had I not known this was their first time putting on a touch tour, I would have never realized it – the tour and accommodations were extremely thorough and well thought out. Special thanks to Lighthouse board member Larry Broutman for generously donating the tickets for us to attend and enjoy the show. This sure was a fun and great opportunity for everyone!

Many theaters and museums throughout Chicago offer audio described performances and touch tours. The Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium (CCAC) has a calendar of accessible cultural events, and the League of Chicago Theaters also has a calendar of accessible performances. You can find a link to subscribe to their monthly email that lists upcoming accessible performances.

Have you gone to performances with touch tours or audio description? Please share your experiences with us – we’d love to hear from you!

Happy Birthday Sandy’s View!

ONE YEAR SANDYS VIEWAfter 52 columns and 41 commentaries, Sandy’s View turns one year old! The blog launched on March 19, 2015, and we continue to grow in popularity. With a total of 93 posts so far, Sandy’s View now has readership throughout the world. Launching this blog has been both a new venture and learning experience for all of us at the Chicago Lighthouse.

The idea for Sandy’s View came from the need to spread awareness, both about The Chicago Lighthouse and about blindness and visual impairment. With all the social media and blogging platforms available to everyone, it is now easier for individuals, businesses and organizations to communicate their message virtually all over the world. Although the blog is about blindness and visual impairment, its main goal is to inform the general public about what people living with vision loss experience on a day to day basis.

Our initial and main purpose was to answer frequently asked questions about living with a visual impairment. To this date, these posts continue to be the most popular among readers! The blog has also gained followers who are blind or visually impaired. In addition to how to questions, Sandy’s View also covers current events, technology and product reviews and programs and services offered at The Chicago Lighthouse. Needless to say, the blog has grown significantly during its first year!

Writing columns and commentaries is a true learning experience. As someone who is blind, I can relate firsthand to many of the topics I’ve written about. Still, I often have to do additional research and gather information. Although I sometimes use my personal experiences as examples, I share information that will benefit everyone. Vision loss is different for each person and so are our life experiences. Both sharing my view and informing others are the two most important objectives of this blog.

First and foremost, thanks to The Chicago Lighthouse for making Sandy’s View possible. As an organization we work to provide crucial programs and services to individuals with vision loss, and now people throughout the world can also learn about blindness and visual impairment. Thanks to everyone for your continued interest in Sandy’s View. This has definitely been a great year full of learning experiences! We would love your feedback, and invite you to take this short survey. Your comments and suggestions will help us better target our content to your interests and preferences. Happy first anniversary Sandy’s View!

Best of 2015: How do blind people identify and match their clothes each day?

Once again, we bring you the most popular posts of 2015.  This week, we share our second-most popular post, How do blind people identify and match their clothes each day?

Thanks for reading and making the first year of Sandy’s View a huge hit!

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges people who are blind or visually impaired face is matching and identifying clothing. Good organization and creativity skills can help in this process. However, there is no standard method for clothes matching and identification, and the techniques I will discuss are only a handful of the many ways people with visual impairments have discovered and used over the years.

Mary Abramson is an instructor in the Office Skills program at the Chicago Lighthouse. She has been visually impaired since birth, and her vision has gradually diminished over the years. As a result she has had to find new and creative ways to coordinate her clothes.

Finding someone she trusts and who has similar perceptions of color to her own is one of Mary’s most important criteria when choosing and buying her clothes. This person can assist Mary in describing the items to her and help her decide which clothes match her style and preference.

Once Mary has purchased the clothing, she must immediately find a way to label and organize it in order to avoid any unnecessary confusion.  This is where her organization skills come in handy! Mary utilizes a variety of methods such as labeling clothes with Braille tags and using a certain number of safety pins to know what color each piece is.

Depending on the situation, she decides how and what to label. If, for instance, one of her shirts has a particularly distinguishable tactile feature she will immediately know its color. On the other hand, if the shirt is similar or identical to others, she might decide to put a Braille tag labeled with the shirt’s color.

It’s equally important for Mary to know what outfits match, so she must somehow identify them. To do this, she might put a certain number of safety pins, ponytail holders, or anything that won’t get easily ruined in the washing machine on to each matching piece. For example, she’ll know that the shirt that has two safety pins goes with the pants that also have two safety pins.

When it comes to shoes, Mary has to be extra careful to make sure that each pair somehow stays together – she’s well aware that wearing one black and one brown shoe is not the latest fashion trend! If the shoes are the same style, Mary separates them by putting each pair in a plastic bag labeled in Braille with the color, or – in the case of shoes with laces – by tying them together.

The same applies to socks or any other item that comes in pairs. Mary must find a way to keep each pair together even while it’s in the washing machine – once again safety pins come to the rescue!

Many technological products have been developed that identify colors. These are either stand-alone devices or Smartphone apps. When the user points the device to a piece of clothing, it will verbally announce the color. Although this technology has come a long way, many improvements still have to be made in order for it to be considered a reliable method.  For example, it is still not capable of distinguishing different shades of the same color. Someone who is blind might be told that two pairs of pants are navy blue, but the person won’t know what shade of navy blue each pants are.

When it comes to coordinating clothes, many methods can help. The key is finding one or more techniques that will be easy to manage and are reliable for each person. Like Mary, I have found that being organized and using a combination of methods will enable me to have a well-coordinated wardrobe.

If you’d like to read about other methods that people who are visually impaired use to select their clothing, check out the following website:

http://www.visionaware.org/info/everyday-living/essential-skills/personal-self-care/organizing-and-labeling-clothing/1235.

Feel free to share other tips or techniques you have found useful. Thanks for reading!

Getting Yourself and your Cane-nine Ready for College!

The hustle and bustle of preparing for college can be chaotic for all students. Blind and visually impaired students need to sandys viewtake additional steps – and equipment – to prepare for this exciting journey. I spoke with Adnana Saric who graduated from Loyola University in 2013 with a major in Sociology and minor in Women and Gender Studies. She (and her loyal four-legged friend and guide Yani) will give readers a better perspective on what transitioning to college can be like for blind students.

Adnana knows that a lot of what it takes to succeed in college is independence, and she was ready and eager to take on the challenge! Speaking with her disability services office and learning how to commute to and navigate campus independently were just a few of the steps she took well in advance of the beginning of her freshman year.

While Adnana believes she got all the necessary accommodations to succeed in high school, her experience in college was more positive.

“Even though Loyola was one of the schools that has not had a completely blind person in many years, they [disability services] were better than in high school.”

Adnana recalls a particular example when she was told by staff in her high school that her assistive technology was not compatible with PDF files, therefore she would not be able to access the content. On the other hand, staff at Loyola were always willing to work with her and find a solution. This attitude applied to other situations as well.

“There was never a “forget about it,” it was more how do we make this work, how do we access this,” she said.

Creativity and problem solving skills are useful for everyone, but more so for individuals with disabilities. This came in handy for Adnana throughout her years in college. Hardcopies of Braille textbooks are usually not available for college students, but she – like other successful blind students – found alternative ways of accessing class materials. Seeking the assistance of readers to describe illustrations and read exams was an effective way of accessing subjects that were highly visual, such as math and science.

Although Adnana encourages blind and visually impaired students to be as independent as possible, she also emphasizes the importance of utilizing any available resources. She believes that even if a student is perfectly capable of seeking accommodations and resources, he or she should still turn to their disability services office for assistance because everyone can learn from it.

“Not only will it be beneficial to you, it’ll be beneficial to the people that come to that school afterword,” she says.

Adnana has a final piece of advice for blind college students.

“Don’t blame other people, don’t make up excuses. Go out there, do what you have to do in order to be independent and successful.”

Clearly, Adnana is an example that when blind students are well prepared and willing to take on new challenges, they can and will be successful in college. Things like inaccessible print materials, learning to navigate a college campus, etc. are simple nonsense challenges that can be overcome with the right skills and attitude.

We at Sandy’s View would like to congratulate Adnana for her new college venture. This time, she (and Yani) will attend Adler University to obtain her Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. Best of luck to the two of you, I know you’re up to the challenge!

You can send your questions related to visual impairment or blindness to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

How do people who are blind or visually impaired shop independently?

When it comes to shopping, people who are blind or visually impaired have the same options as everyone else. By using a few alternative tips and technique, we can shop independently and confidently with ease. This post gives a general overview about how someone who is blind or visually impaired goes about performing this task. I also list a few suggestions for people with visual impairments that can help make shopping a pleasant experience!

Shopping with a friend or family member

Having a companion shop with you can be of great help, especially if they are familiar with your preferences. For example, when shopping for clothes, it can be helpful if they have a general idea of your particular color and style preferences. Of course, the person’s companion is not there to decide what the individual who is blind or visually impaired needs, but rather to assist them in picking out the items. If, for example, the individual only needs a couple basic things, then he or she might ask a friend, neighbor, etc. to pick up the items.

Asking for a shopping assistant

A second alternative is to ask for a shopping assistant. This can be someone who works at the store, such as a sales associate or – in some department stores – a personal shopper. While in larger stores, people can request shopping assistance at the moment they walk in, other smaller stores ask people to call in advance to notify them when they will need help. It’s always a good idea to check with your local store beforehand. If both the store personnel and the individual are familiar with each other, the person might be able to call in advance and give the grocery list to the store.

Making a shopping list

Whether shopping with a friend or soliciting assistance from the store, it’s always a good idea to make and bring a list of the things you want or need. That way both you and the person helping you will find the items much easier. It’s also a good idea to organize the list and group items specific to each department – list all of the produce, paper products, toiletries, etc. together. There’s no need to repeatedly be scurrying up and down the aisles trying to find the things you missed! If there’s a specific brand you need, it can also help to note this on the list.

Online Shopping

The Internet makes it possible for everyone to shop from the comfort of their home. This can be a convenient alternative for people who are blind or visually impaired. Thanks to computer accessibility, it is now possible for people with visual impairments to browse the web independently. People can now shop for anything online, ranging from clothing to groceries. If the person knows exactly what he or she wants, then they can easily search for and purchase the products. The items will be on their way to the person’s home and at their doorstep in no time!

Like anyone else, people who are blind or visually impaired can easily do their shopping depending on their preferences and needs. If you are a person experiencing vision loss and are looking for more specific tips on how to go about using any of these methods, you can find more information on the following page: http://www.visionaware.org/info/everyday-living/essential-skills/shopping/125.

What are some tips or techniques that have helped you as a shopper who is blind or visually impaired? Please comment! If you have questions regarding this or other topics related to blindness and visual impairment, please send them to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org.