Commentary: Spreading Awareness through the Real Talk Campaign

Without a doubt, many misconceptions about people with disabilities or other health conditions still exist. Some think, for example, that individuals with vision loss cannot live independent lives. It’s not that people intentionally have these beliefs, but rather they simply have never learned about these subjects. For this reason, Vineet Aggarwal, a second year student at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine recently launched the Real Talk Campaign. The ultimate goal of this project is to shed light on topics affecting people from all walks of life who are facing different challenges.

The Real Talk Campaign is a series of videos about people living with various illnesses and experiences. Some of the topics covered thus far include the Syrian refugee crisis, and interviews with people living with AIDS, depression and vision loss. I was interviewed for the video about life as someone who is blind, and you can watch it here. Currently, this video series has approximately 3,500 viewers.

Vineet tells me that part of the reason he decided to launch this campaign is to create more awareness about those experiencing different situations and challenges. He discovered that although factual information – such as that seen in the news – is important, it is also vital for society to get a firsthand account of individuals who are currently facing different challenges and obstacles. He says that although this project is only a few months old, it has taught him and given him a great deal of personal growth.

As someone who is blind, I am particularly interested in debunking the myths and misconceptions about people with vision loss. For that reason, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be interviewed for this series. The internet and social media have revolutionized the way we obtain information, and they are without a doubt a great tool for enlightening others about disabilities. The Real Talk Campaign covers thought provoking topics many people might have never considered, and it provides us with a great opportunity to learn and gain greater understanding.

I invite everyone to take a look at the Real Talk Campaign stories. You can find the videos on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Vineet hopes to expand his project and cover even more topics in the near future, and he is open to suggestions! You can reach him by sending an email to realtalkcampaign@gmail.com, or commenting on any of the links mentioned above. Special thanks to Vineet for reaching out to The Lighthouse, we all wish you the best of luck with this exciting project!

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What Are Some of the Most Accessible Attractions for People With Vision Loss?

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Summer is a great time for visiting new places, and it is also the perfect time to talk about some of the most accessible attractions for people who are blind or visually impaired. We have previously written about some of the steps museums and other organizations are taking to make their attractions more inclusive and accessible for everyone. Things like audio description, touch tours, tactile paintings and statues, and assistive devices can help people who are blind or visually impaired fully enjoy popular attractions.

The following are five of the most popular attractions that have accessibility features for people with vision loss. It is intended to give readers a general idea about the accessibility services offered at some of the most frequently visited theme parks and museums in the United States. Institutions are constantly updating their services, so it is best for patrons to do some research before visiting.

  1. Smithsonian Institute

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. offers many accommodations for people with visual impairments. Audio description is available in some exhibitions, and tactile elements can be found throughout the museums. Tactile and audio described tours can be arranged by contacting a museum two weeks in advance. IMAX movies also offer audio description. Publications are also available in Braille and CD.

  1. Walt Disney World Resort

All four Walt Disney theme parks offer accessibility features for guests with visual impairments. These include stationary large print and Braille maps, audio description for many attractions and entertainment events, Braille guide books and accommodations for service animals. Audio description is provided on a special device, which can be rented by guests upon arrival. This article from AccessWorld reviews and gives more information about the device.

  1. The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago offers audio described tours and a touch gallery specifically for people who are visually impaired (although anyone is welcome to visit.) Audio description is provided on special devices available free of charge to people with visual impairments and their companions. The museum also offers 3D replicas of some of the original works of art.

  1. Universal Orlando

Scripts for all Universal Orlando attractions are available in both Braille and large print, and service animals are welcome at most locations. Hotel room numbers are also labeled in Braille for guests who are blind.

  1. Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay

Guests with visual impairments are advised to contact Busch Gardens two weeks in advance if they wish to have a guide for part of or all of their visit. Users who are blind or visually impaired should have the ride restrictions read to them prior to boarding. Service animals are also welcome.

While this list is not exhaustive, it can give patrons with vision loss a general idea of what attractions are accessible. Summer is a great time to have fun and visit new places, and this is much more enjoyable when we as people with disabilities can get the full experience. Be sure to check out any of the places listed if you have the time and are nearby! Do you know about other attractions that are accessible to people with vision loss or other disabilities? If so, please share them with our readers.

Gift Ideas for Dads and Grads with Vision Loss

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With Father’s Day just around the corner and graduation season in full swing, many might still be at a loss as to what to give their loved ones with vision loss. Things like clothing, perfumes, gift cards and tickets to concerts or their favorite sport teams are always a great option. If you are looking for specific and accessible products for your friend or family member with vision loss, The Tools for Living Store at The Chicago Lighthouse carries over 900 different items.

Technology is the perfect gift for both the dads and grads on your list. The store carries something for everyone, from talking devices to digital recorders and of course, the always popular magnifiers. The technology guru will enjoy the Explore 5, a new and very popular handheld magnifier from Humanware. Its regular price is $795, but you can purchase it for $595 for a limited time. The new Orcam device will also facilitate reading for people with little or no vision. Your college bound loved ones might also appreciate a talking or large print calculator or portable note taking device.

The chef in the family will greatly enjoy and benefit from the various cooking tools the store offers. These include Braille and large print measuring spoons and cups, talking meet thermometers, special spatulas and numerous other tools. A variety of other talking, Braille and large print products will also help your loved one be more independent at home, school or work. Of course, it is also important to have some fun after working and studying hard! The store also sells a wide variety of large print and Braille games so you and your loved ones can unwind at the end of the day.

We realize more than anyone that protecting your eyes from the sun is very important during the summer, and this is also true for people who are blind or visually impaired. Everyone will benefit from the wide selection of sunglasses sold at the store. If you simply want to get a souvenir, you can choose from Chicago Lighthouse mugs, shirts, tote bags and more. The Braille readers on your list will surely appreciate a Braille greeting card along with their gift! Other small items, like pocket flashlights are also available. Regardless of your choice, your loved ones with vision loss will both enjoy and benefit from your gift this summer.

The Tools for Living Store is holding an online sale through the end of June. With the purchase of $100 or more, shoppers will get a 10 percent discount at checkout (some exclusions apply.) To order and take advantage of this sale, visit http://www.lighthousetoolsforliving.org. To find out more or purchase any of the products, you may stop in person at our main location at 1850 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago or at our Glenview facility at 222 N. Waukegan Road. You may also call toll free at 800-919-3375 or email store@chicagolighthouse.org. Proceeds from all products support the programs offered at the Chicago Lighthouse.

Happy Father’s Day, and best of luck to all the new graduates from all of us at The Chicago Lighthouse!

Commentary: On Training Wrangler and Other Future Guide Dogs

image2Training a future guide dog requires a lot of time, effort and patience. Those who watch the Today Show on a regular basis got the rare opportunity of seeing the training and socialization of Wrangler, a prospective guide dog. The Today Show partnered with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization in New York that trains guide dogs for people with vision loss. For over a year, viewers saw how puppies are trained and exposed to different social situations. Wrangler’s time on the Today Show concluded last week, and now the formal guide dog training begins!

We at the Chicago Lighthouse know firsthand the importance of well-trained guide dogs and service animals. These special dogs enable their handlers to live full and independent lives every day. People who are blind or visually impaired can travel independently with the help of guide dogs, and this obviously gives them more freedom to go wherever they please. Most importantly, these animals help their handlers travel safely, thereby giving them more confidence in going out of their comfort zone and trying out new things.

As much as we would not want to think about it, guide dogs can only work for a limited number of years, typically from 8 to 10. Handlers choose to retire these dogs for a variety of reasons. Such is the case with Promise, the faithful guide dog of Maureen Reid. Maureen is a job placement counselor at the Chicago Lighthouse, and will soon train with a new dog. Like Wrangler, Maureen’s soon to be guide dog received special training and socialization as a puppy from a volunteer puppy raising family. Thanks to this training, the pup will know how to behave and react during different situations it will likely encounter as a working dog.

I am thrilled that the Today Show and Guiding Eyes for the Blind showcased the training of Wrangler. This partnership will spread more awareness to the general public, both about what it takes to train a guide dog and about how these animals assist those with vision loss. Although guide dogs are allowed to go anywhere with their handlers, many people still refuse their entrance to businesses. I sincerely hope that by learning about Wrangler and guide dogs on the Today Show, people will become more aware about the importance of these special animals.

Kudos to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the Today Show for such an entertaining and informative project! The media has a great potential of spreading awareness about disabilities, and Wrangler’s year long appearance on the Today Show did just that. I hope that more media outlets and nonprofit organizations will join forces in the future. Finally, best of luck to Wrangler on his formal guide dog training! I’m sure he will be a great guide dog thanks to all the support he received from his puppy raiser, the Today Show and of course the thousands of viewers who kept track of his training and progress!

Happy World Sight Day!

Oworld sight dayctober 8 is World Sight Day, a global observance that aims to create awareness about blindness and visual impairment. This celebration is coordinated by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, and occurs the second Thursday of October each year. Organizations throughout the world hold events to raise awareness about this date. More importantly, however, this day is intended to create awareness about the increasing number of people with blindness and vision loss, especially in some of the poorest countries.

Why is it important?

The following are some statistics from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and the World Health Organization:

  • Around 285 million individuals are blind or visually impaired.
  • A startling 80 percent of cases are preventable
  • Blindness prevention strategies and sight restorations are among the most cost-effective health care interventions
  • About 90 percent of people with vision loss live in low-income countries.
  • 65 percent of blind and visually impaired people are older than 50. This number is expected to increase with the aging of the baby boomers.
  • Around 19 million children are blind or visually impaired.

What can be done?

Eye conditions like cataracts, diabetes and glaucoma are among the most common causes of blindness. In most cases, vision loss can be prevented or avoided by using simple health care strategies and inexpensive procedures. Yet, the most poor and vulnerable groups affected by these conditions often do not have access to this type of health care. We should also keep in mind that coping strategies and resources are equally important for those with irreversible vision loss. These include things like access to education, rehabilitation and support groups.

How can you help?

The ongoing theme for World Sight Day is universal eye care for all, and there are many ways we all can help make this possible. Politicians and key policy makers should learn about and value the importance of providing the necessary resources for people to maintain good eye health, especially among the most vulnerable populations. This may include providing free or low cost eye exams and access to information about preventative measures people with and without eye diseases can take. Scientists and doctors can also contribute with their research of both the prevention and management of vision loss.

Those who already have access to good health care can easily detect and even prevent vision loss by getting an eye exam even before they suspect vision problems. We also have the power of making a difference for others by advocating better vision care resources to our local governments.

People who are blind or visually impaired should be provided with the necessary information and tools to cope and succeed. Sadly, many children and adults still do not have access to the education and rehabilitation they need to become independent and productive members of their communities. We as a society should also do are part to find new ways to integrate and include more blind and visually impaired people in our schools and workplace and cultural settings.

What is being Done?

Many organizations, such as Lions Clubs International, are always working to help those in need of vision care resources. Donating recycled glasses and providing free eye exams to underserved communities are just a few of the ways in which they make a difference in the lives of those experiencing or who might experience vision loss.

We at the Chicago Lighthouse are always looking for better ways to prevent and manage vision loss in individuals of all ages. By providing eye exams through our low vision clinic, reading newspapers and magazines via CRIS Radio and selling the latest in assistive technology, we make a difference in the lives of people with visual impairments. Although World Sight Day is celebrated once a year, we can all work every day to provide good eye care for all.