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The Movers and Shakers

For your reading convenients below you will find all the Movers and Shakers published in 2015

January 2015

f The Blind Perspective will focus on a particular person, organization or both.

In keeping with the subject of the above article, I decided to interview Charles (Chuck) Young, the president of The Hadley School for the Blind (Hadley). Chuck received a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation from University of Wisconsin-STOUT. Upon graduation, he worked as a job development counselor for six years at the Oregon Commission for the Blind. Then, for the next 21 years, he worked as its vocational rehab director.

After retiring, Chuck was notified that the Hadley president’s position was vacant. He was familiar with Hadley School, since he had referred many clients to the school over a 30-year period. Chuck applied and is proud to be its president since 2005.

The Hadley School is the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind or visually impaired and their support network. In addition, Hadley is the largest educator of braille worldwide since 1920. The school serves nearly 10,000 students annually; 7,000 of whom are from the United States; a large number study from Canada; and the rest reside in more than 110 other countries.

Any blind or visually impaired person, age 14+ and family member(s), can enroll in Hadley’s free courses but keep in mind that all courses are taught in English. Hadley is able to offer these courses at no charge, due to the support and generosity of donors, corporations and foundations, primarily within the greater Chicago area. The Hadley School also receives credit from the American Printing House for the Blind, in the form of accessible learning materials for U.S. citizens who are blind. This includes audio recordings, braille and textbook printing.

Hadley offers a wide variety of courses and, within the last year, three new programs have been added. The Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship (FCE) is designed to cover a wide range of business and employment related curriculum. There are 23 courses, which include fundamentals, business communication, law, technology and much more.

The National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM) collaborated with the Hadley School to offer courses from the FCE. In December, the first two NABM blind vendors completed the seven-course program and received their Vendor of Excellence Certificates. NABM is expecting an additional 50 blind merchants to complete the program and receive their certificates by the end of 2015.

Hadley’s Braille Music Curriculum has received an overwhelming amount of interest and support from staff, students and funders. The program is expanding to include such courses as braille music reading, vocal music and keyboard music.

Another popular and new program is the iFocus quarterly series, which is available through YouTube video. These tutorial videos provide a variety of useful trainings, tips and resources for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users who are visually impaired or blind.

Webinars titled Seminars@Hadley (S@H) began at Hadley shortly after Chuck came on board. In fact, Chuck conducted one of the first webinars with Richard Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute? In S@H, one will find many recreation and leisure topics presented and discussed. Just go to the Seminar page on the Hadley Web site, click on Past Seminars and arrow through the many topics. They include presentations on technology, braille, business, cooking, sports and many, many more.

Coming this month for existing braille users and teachers will be the course, Transitioning to Unified English Braille (UEB). The course will provide what you need to know to understand the new braille code, which will be adapted and fully utilized by 2016. In collaboration with the American Printing House for the Blind, Hadley will be able to offer this course to professionals free of charge, if enrolled during 2015.

Chuck summed up Hadley with this statement: Hadley is a very powerful resource to learn the skills and acquire the knowledge a person needs to be a contributing, participating member of family, community and employment.

February 2015

I had the pleasure of interviewing Glen Dobbs, the president of ProxTalker. Glen founded this Connecticut based company in 2007, in order to design, manufacture, and distribute the Logan®Proxtalker®. He, along with his friend and colleague, Kevin Miller designed this device with the hopes of Logan, Glen’s autistic son, achieving language output. This device uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to retrieve vocabulary stored on sound tags to produce words. This is ideal for any picture exchange, for any age, and for communication or as a classroom tool. This fully fledge augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device is being well received worldwide for its ease of use and robust design.

In 8 to 10 weeks, ProxTalker is anticipating the distribution of their 6Dot™ Braille Labeler. This is only the second electronic braille labeler available. The Japanese produce the KGS Braille Labeler, which has some significant differences. Their unit must be plugged into both an outlet and the computer. The braille is produced by using the keys on the keyboard; therefore, contracted braille is not an option. Also, the unit requires the use of their brand of labeling tape. Finally, their model costs $1,200, and the 6Dot is projected to cost about $600.00.

The 6Dot™ is apparently the “affordable” electronic braille label maker which allows 6-dot brailing, similar to how the Perkins Brailler works. Therefore, one can create labels in uncontracted or contracted braille. The electric design of the 6Dot™ labeler produces clean, crisp, and clear quality embossed braille labels.

Powerful but simple, the 6dot's ergonomic design makes it user-friendly for kids and adults alike.

* Easily portable: weighs only one pound, and uses 6 AA batteries
* Sound indicators: letting you know that the labeling tape has been fed into the device and is advancing
* Cutting: built in cutting mechanism, with tabs for easy peeling
* Qwerty Keyboard, plug the keyboard into the Labeler for another way to compose Braille labels
* Tape: uses standard Dymo tape

Although Glen admits that the price maybe steep for individuals, he sees this being used more in commercial/industrial areas. He names education, offices, and pharmacies as the current focal point. Glen believes that individuals would benefit from this device, stating that it is a means of convenience. It really depends on how much one needs to create labels, he added. Some ideas that have been brought forth to him include labeling such items as; spices and baking items, file folders, music for both learning and playing, and creating educational flash cards.

Glen is currently gathering information on possibly creating a microloan program. This would be a partnership with a bank to offer qualified individuals the ability to make monthly payments. Another suggestion is to contact your local Lion’s Club or Blind services and see if they can assist you with the purchase.

The 6 dot labeler came about as an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) project. Students were asked to create, design, and build a working model of something that would help people. Karina Pichart was the student who created the 6dot labeler. This device created a business, obtained funding, and produced, and sold a couple hundred units. Then things came to a standstill. Although well received and a great idea, they needed more funding and the designed needed to be refined.

At the same time, Glen was looking for something better than the plastic “squeeze labeler.” He met Karina at a trade show and that is where he first saw and learned about the 6dot labeler. He asked her if he could become a distributor, but she explained that she was not sure what was the future of the business. So Glen said he purchased three labelers right then and there. The rest is history as Glen purchased the 6Dot ™ labeler business.

Glen is always sure to give Karina the credit as the founder of the 6 dot labeler. He says that she is the creator, and ProxTalker is just taking it to the next level.

The current website is http://www.proxtalker.com. There you can find out about all the different adaptable devices that ProxTalker offers. There is a link on the home page to click onto regarding the 6Dot labeler. There you have three option; sign up to pre order the labeler, become a distributor, and receive the latest updates. Within a month or so, the website will be changing to http://www.logantech.com and all components of ProxTalker and the 6Dot labeler will be included in this one new site.

ProxTalker
Glen Dobbs, President
327 Huntington Avenue
Waterbury, CT 06708
Main Phone: 203-721-6074
Toll Free: (860) 962-0966
Email: glen@proxtalker.com

March 2015

Love Knows No Boundaries

I interviewed James & Shelley Gagnier, a happily married couple. You may ask, what’s so exciting or interesting about this couple? Well their story is about love, patience, and determination.

In 2005 they “met” while playing games on a chat site. They occasionally talked with each other, even though Shelley thought James was nice, but kind of weird. Then in 2006 James came to visit mutual friends of theirs in Iowa. Shelley and James met for the first time at this friend’s house for dinner. By the way, Shelley lives in Iowa and James was living in Ontario, Canada. They continued chatting but just through the chat sites. Then in November of 2007, James had asked Shelley to meet him in a chat room to discuss an incident he had heard about. It was from that meeting that their relationship sparked. James even joked that Shelley was stalking him. Well, Shelley didn’t deny it, and James didn’t complain about it.

James came to Iowa for four months in the beginning of 2008 to work on a possible business venture. This venture never panned out, so while in Iowa, he and Shelley spent more time together and their bond grew stronger. They both decided to see just how compatible they really were, and James came back to Iowa in August. He stayed with Shelley for six weeks. Well, obviously, things went well and their long distance relationship began. They traveled back and forth from Canada to the States and from the States to Canada for the next five years. They even endured a period of one and a half years when they did not see each other at all.

Before getting married they hired an immigration lawyer who counselled them about the immigration laws and process. Under advisement of their lawyer, it was recommended that they marry in Canada. However, they had some bureaucratic hurdles they had to deal with before this could happen. It took time and money, but with patience and perseverance they prevailed. So, on May 25, 2013 they were married in Ontario, Canada. The day after the wedding ceremony James filed to get an official copy of their marriage license. It took three months to receive this document and without it, the immigration process could not be started.

James flew back to the States with Shelley until the end of June. In November of the same year, they started the official process of what is known as the Alien Relative petition to obtain James’ visa. They were both concerned that their blindness would have an impact on James’ immigration, but they are happy to report, it did not. Again, under advice of their counsel, it was recommended to James that he not come back into the States until he received his visa and everything was settled and legal.

Again, it took lots of time, money and patience. They had to gather up loads of paperwork; receipts, emails, letters, plane tickets, official documents, pictures, and much more. James had to undergo many shots that were mandatory as part of the immigration process. They can both kid about that now, saying that he can now be taken out and that he is A K A certified.

In October of 2014 James received his visa card. He had a six month period in which he needed to come to the United States, before it would expire. After tying up loose ends in Canada, James came to the States on December 10, 2014.

James has what is known as a visa with conditions, and it is valid for 2 years. Under this type of visa, he is not eligible for any local, state, or governmental benefits. However, he is entitled to services offered by their state blind organization. James will reapply in 18 months to have the conditions removed from his visa. At that time, the new visa will be valid for ten years.

So from this short description you can get a glimpse of what a couple, who are living in different countries (United States and Canada) need to do in order to be “legally” together. James and Shelley could not stress enough the fact that if any couple is planning on pursuing the same thing, that they need time, patience, and money in order for it to happen. Furthermore, James and Shelley’s love for one another never saw the boundaries.

Note that immigration policies and procedures are different for each country.

April 2015

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Forzano and Kevin Andrews from RS Games. Michael, along with Ryan Smith founded RS Games in December 2009. Kevin has been with RS Games since 2012 as the director of Communications.

At the age of 15 Michael remembers playing around with computer programming. He was inspired by Jim’s Kitchen’s monopoly. Although a great game, Mike always wanting to develop computer games, wondered what if he could produce the game where people could play against other people from all over the world, rather than just against the computer. And, so it began. He and Ryan created monopoly, their first RS game. They released it with no expectations. And, to their great surprise it was a huge hit!

Michael was a freshman in college at that time. He has since graduated with a degree in computer science, and now works full time for Amazon as a software engineer.

RS Games now has 17 different games available to play. They include a variety of card, board, and dice games. Kevin stated that Farkle is the most popular game on the site. Just like when they released their first game, they again never knew how quick and well received Farkle would become. It actually set a record for the most users on at once, coming in at 175.

I asked Mike how he gets his ideas for the games. He stated that some are his own and others are suggested by players. He says that they like to stick to the card and board variety. Although some suggestions are very good, they just can’t implement all of them. However, Kevin stated that something is always in the works. They try to average three new games a year. Remember, Mike is working and Ryan is in college, therefore, their programming time is limited.

Kevin spoke candidly about the lag that may occur while playing a game. He stated that they would ultimately love to rewrite the server. However, with limited time and finances it can’t be done at the present time. Mike added that RS Games is global, and ideally they should have servers all around the world. However, putting servers throughout different places in the world would be quite costly. This is apparently a double edge sword; the increase in users, which can present lags while playing games.

RS Games has close to 19,000 registered subscribers from every continent in the world, except for, of course Antarctica. The average is between 50 and 100 people playing at any given time. These games are enjoyed by visually impaired, blind, and sighted users from teenagers all the way up to seniors.

Last December RS Games celebrated their fifth anniversary. At that time they upgraded the client version to 2.01. A new feature is the implementation of real time voice chat. Also remember you can create your own friend list as well.

I asked Kevin and Michael why they do all of this for free. They both stated that it was fun, and it is what they like to do. Kevin expanded by saying that it is great experience for both of them in their respective fields.

How does RS Games keep going without any subscription fee? Our primary goal at RS Games is creating free accessible games through volunteer work. Donations are always welcomed and appreciated, but they are not necessary, Kevin stated. All donations go directly to funding RS Game fees. A win win for both the site and a business is their offering of advertisement on the game site. This is especially true for companies and/or organizations that provide services or products for visually impaired or blind people. Recently RS Games made placing an advertisement even easier, it’s automated. Just check it out.

direct link to the advertising page

Kevin is in charge of social media, tech support, and other communications. He conducts interviews and gives talks, especially to the computer science industry. RS Games is connected to facebook, although not very active, Kevin hopes to change that. He stated that twitter is much more active, and more RS Games players tweet, rather than post on facebook. You can tweet RS Games at rs_games. Tweeting is especially busy when new games or new features are released. This is very useful for us as we receive immediate feedback on whether it is, or is not well liked Kevin added. In addition, support questions can generally be answered more quickly through a tweet.

If you would like to play a variety of free accessible games with people from all over the world, such as Uno, Farkle, Yahtzee, Battleship, Rummy, etc. just go to their website below.

Click Here it will take You to the website

May 2015

First Place:
Amazing
By Martha from California

If you were to look up the word amazing, that would be the definition of my mom. If it wasn't for her I don't know what kind of person I would be today. Without her she is the one who has always been there for me, and the only person who I can 110 percent count on to always be there. If I ever felt like giving up I would go and talk to her and she would always give me a different perspective and ways to handle any situation. I don't think she really knows how much I admire and appreciate all she has done for me and more. I don't know how she does it, but I am really glad she is my mom and I wouldn't trade the love I have for my mom for anything in this world.

Second Place:
Until They Pass
By Lisa from Arizona

Sometimes we don't realize how much someone means to us until they pass away. Last November, I said a tearful goodbye to my mom as she died after a sudden and fatal heart attack. From that day forward, I would never be able to call her and ask cooking questions, feel that soft hand on my forehead checking for fever, and there would be no more birthday cards from her address in my mailbox. While I no longer have the physical, tangible essence of my mom's earthly presence, her love still takes shape in slices of home-made banana bread, in a goodnight kiss, and in a word of encouragement when small hands make mistakes. I try to honor her gifts to me by trying to be like her and passing them on to my own family and friends in big and small ways, just as she did for me.

Third Place:
Small Town, Big Heart
By Julie from Ohio

My Mother came from a small town in northwestern Ohio called Defiance. Although the town was small, her values and her heart were large. She helped organize a carpool so that four other families including our own could share transportation to the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus every other weekend. She organized transportation to a camp near Toledo Ohio called Camp Yukita where blind children were introduced to swimming, fishing and other activities. She taught me housecleaning tasks and pride in my appearance and how to take responsibility at home and to be a part of my family. She gave my gifts I carry and use every day in my life. I love and miss her every day without her.

June 2015

First Place:
Daddy
By Natylie, from California

My dad has taught me so much in life. One of my earliest memories is when dad taught me to ride my bicycle. Many scraped knees later I finally mastered it. I was so proud of my dad in grade 9 when I had to job shadowed him. He is an airline pilot and he took me on a short flight from Nevada to California. So I got to eat Lunch in Las Vegas and I was home by the evening. Then due to a car accident where the shattered windshield ended up in my eyes, I lost my sight. My dad walked with me on new routes, pointing out physical land marks that would serve as points of reference. My dad gave me away at my church wedding and I think that was probably one of the hardest things he had to do. Thanks for everything and most importantly, thanks for being you daddy!!

Second Place:
Father
By Brandon, from England
These are some of the things my father means to me, using the letters in the word Father.
F, funny, he makes me laugh
A, always there for me
T, teaches me ways and how to be independent
H, huge part of my life
E, encourages me to try new things
R, really an awesome dad!

Third Place:
A Father’s Teachings
By Ann, from Texas

Though my dad died when I was 11, he packed a lifetime of love and teaching in our years together. He led me into public displays where he put my hands on every feature of the exhibit and explained it to me. On a Sunday drive, the car would stop and Dad would pull me from the back seat to go into a field of growing grains or vegetables. He helped me to examine each item and explained its color, features, and uses. He read to me every night of my life and instilled in me a hunger for learning. He taught me to roller skate and answered my every question. He took me out into a wind storm to help me overcome my fear of wind. He enriched my life in every facet of my development, encouraging self-reliance, high personal expectations and the value of a strong work ethic.

July 2015

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Mosen. I am sure many of you know who I am talking about. Jonathan is the Host of Mosen Explosion. This is a four hour radio show that airs live on most Sundays; 2PM Eastern, 7PM in the UK, and Monday morning at 8AM in New Zealand; where Jonathan lives.

During his high school years, he developed a licensed radio station. It was during this time that he made many radio contacts. While attending college, and afterwards, He worked for several commercial radio stations, both in broadcasting and administration.

Jonathan served as the Chairman of the Board for the New Zealand’s Blindness agency, and was the president of their blindness consumer organization. In 1999 he founded ACB Radio, which he directed for four years.

Jonathan and his soon to be wife, Bonnie, operate Mosen Consulting. They have a website where you can read free articles on the Blog, purchase their books and/or training materials, and find out the many other things that they do.

Jonathan has been working for Freedom Scientific for nine years. He currently is their director of Blindness Communications. Some of his responsibilities include producing product demonstrations that clearly explain features, interviewing staff and technology users, and editing the material for one of the most listened to podcast.

Below is a question and answer session I conducted with Jonathan about JAWS.

Q: Being JAWS for Windows 20th anniversary, what is its biggest success?
A: I think what we can be most proud of where JAWS is concerned, is that it has immeasurably improved the quality of life of so many blind people around the world. It's done this in a number of ways. The acronym JAWS stands for Job Access with Speech. From when JAWS was conceptualized to the present day, creating a product that assists blind people to gain employment in an increasingly computerized world is at the forefront of everything we do. And there's been this wonderful domino effect. JAWS has made it possible for people to fulfil their dreams, and I've personally spoken to JAWS users who are programmers, teachers, lawyers, writers, musicians, journalists, sound engineers, travel agents, hotel reservation personnel, broadcasters, financial planners, film directors, oceanographers, scientists and even medical doctors. I was able to give you that list without even pausing for thought. Really, JAWS makes it possible to live your dream, in combination with opportunity, determination and of course that all important lucky break we all need from time to time. But what I think also happens, is that JAWS gives people confidence to try new things, to dream bigger dreams. For example, while it's not essential to learn it for successful operation, JAWS comes with a powerful scripting language that can help make even a very difficult application accessible, and thus allow someone to work in an environment that inaccessible software might have precluded. I've seen people dabble in the scripting language out of necessity or curiosity, gain confidence, and embark on a new career as a programmer and consultant as a result. Others have done a bit of hobby broadcasting or audio production, then gained confidence from it and pursued a successful career. There are numerous such examples. Then of course, JAWS has facilitated greater access to information. As a kid, I used to pester my sighted siblings to read newspaper articles or shopping catalogues to me. JAWS allows me and blind people like me to read not just our local newspaper, but newspapers from around the world. We can do our banking independently and with dignity. We can shop without the need to ask for sighted assistance, and that means that for the first time ever, we truly can browse, just as sighted people can. We have access to more books than blind people ever have in history. That means that gaining information for education and employment advancement is easier than ever. Obviously these things have been happening thanks to a more digitized and wired world and JAWS isn't responsible for that, but the point I'm making is that JAWS has been a key player in ensuring that this new world is accessible and creating new opportunities for blind people.

Q: Briefly tell me how JAWS was developed.
A: JAWS was originally a screen reader for the DOS platform, and was developed in 1989 by Henter-Joyce, directed by Ted Henter. Ted went blind in his 20s as a result of a motorcycle accident, retrained as a software developer, and with the help of his business partner Bill Joyce, set up his own company to produce this new screen reader. It soon became clear that the graphical world of Windows was taking over from DOS, and there were real concerns that blind people may lose many of the gains we'd made in DOS. With the help of a talented blind software developer, Glen Gordon, who is still with us today as our Chief Technology Officer, JAWS for Windows was born. Glen created many of the concepts that are now considered standard in the screen reading industry. There were a lot of critical decisions to make back then. We had to work out how you rendered a fundamentally graphical environment in an efficient, intuitive, accessible way. One of the big successes of JAWS over the years is that blind people are so heavily involved in its development. We use it every day, so its quality and feature set is as important to us as it is to our customers.

Q: What is the estimated population of JAWS users worldwide, and Other than English, what other languages are sold the most for the JAWS program?
A: I'll not go into firm numbers for commercial reasons, but I think independent data has confirmed that JAWS is well and truly the global market leader. We're proud to offer JAWS in a range of languages including Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Japanese and others. These are versions where all the prompts and messages are localized. We speak an even larger number of languages, thanks to the two synthesizers we include with JAWS for free - Eloquence, which we introduced when JAWS became the first screen reader ever to offer a synthesizer you didn't have to cable to your computer, and the new, human-like Vocalizer Expressive voices.

Q: Is there a set formula for what dictates and upgrade as oppose to an update?
A: Technology seems to be changing more rapidly than ever. So our philosophy has always been that when you buy JAWS, you're not just buying a single piece of software. You've got free tech support, offered by trained specialists who are blind themselves and use the product. You've got a vast array of free training material, so you can make the most of the product to maximize your opportunity. And then you've got the free updates throughout the year. Typically, updates contain enhancements to existing features, often as a result of customer feedback. So if we receive feedback from customers that a feature might work better if we tweaked it in a particular way, or if something isn't quite working on all computers as it should be, we'll get those changes to customers by way of an update just as soon as we can. JAWS automatically tells our customers when an update like that is available, so they can install it. All these updates are completely free to those who have the current major version. Occasionally, new technology comes along that's easy for us to integrate, and is just so cool that we want to get it out there. An example of this is the new feature we added in our April update, which has revolutionized the way blind people use Facebook. This ability to be responsive and nimble is absolutely essential to our customers who need cutting edge technology. Upgrades tend to offer much more complex new features that may take months of coding and testing. For example, last year, we added the ability to perform optical character recognition on a PDF document that would otherwise be inaccessible. I can't tell you how many times that feature has made my life easier. It's a big one, requiring resources to scope, code and test. When Microsoft releases a new operating system, that's another example of where official support is likely to be in an upgrade, because a lot needs to be done to ensure everything's working as our customers need it to. Touch screen support is another example. Thinking about how best to implement that so it's consistent with the JAWS user paradigm, then making that happen, is a major undertaking. Upgrades are released in October or November each year, and there is a fee for them. We offer a software maintenance agreement, which is the most cost-effective way of obtaining them.

Q: I really like the features of JAWS Research It and Tandem, how were those developed?
A: Thanks, I love those features too. Both of those provide more examples of how features evolve as a result of customer need, and to some extent the needs we identify internally. When we get people on the phone who for whatever reason have called Tech Support with their computer in a very sorry state, we sometimes need to talk them through some quite complex tasks to get things back on track. Dictating long strings of commands can be time-consuming, and people just want it fixed. One day we thought, wouldn't it be so much easier if we could just sit in front of the customer's computer and type all this stuff for them? Well obviously we can't visit all our customers, but with Tandem, we developed a way to virtually sit in front of their keyboard, taking control with their full knowledge and consent, and giving them the ability to opt out whenever they want. And the nice thing is, it's not just us who can do it. Anyone the customer trusts can provide them with assistance. It's made a big difference for trainers, and also for JAWS scripters. If a customer comes to work in the morning to find the IT department at work has made a seemingly innocuous change that has rendered something inaccessible, and they've been working with a JAWS scripter, that person can tandem in, and usually fix the problem. It saves travel costs, and most important for the customer, it saves down-time and retains their productivity on the job. In terms of Research It, since JAWS has been around a long time, we have the luxury now of examining issues like what we can do to render information more easily, particularly for people who may be less tech savvy. We were doing this before popular mainstream services like Siri or Google Now. Sighted people also like those services' ability to quickly get information, even though they could look it up on the web. Research It does a similar thing.

Q: What was part of the descision making regarding JAWS Home and JAWS Professional, and what are the major differences?
A: In the past, home computers were equipped with versions of Windows designed for the home environment. As the needs of home users have become more complex, and as PC manufacturers are looking for ways to add value, business editions of Windows are increasingly finding their way onto home computers. That meant that someone who updated their home computer may have found that their JAWS standard no longer worked, requiring them under the previous model to upgrade their edition of JAWS. We knew it was time to update the model, in line with a number of other companies, based on the purpose for which you were using the product. So the key point of difference is where you intend using JAWS. If you're using it at home for non-commercial use, then JAWS Home Edition is for you. If you use it in a commercial environment, you should use JAWS professional. Business users tend to have more complex support needs, and this is reflected in the price. But the products are functionally identical.

Q: What are Freedom Scientifics other popular products?
A: We're very proud of our MAGic screen magnification software, and our OpenBook OCR software. We have a standard set of commands across all of our software. So if you master one of them, it makes it easy to master them all. We have an excellent range of low vision magnification devices, whether you need something ultra-portable or a powerhouse for the desktop that will even interface with your computer. And we have a fantastic line of Braille displays, the Focus, which provides premium Braille access to JAWS, OpenBook, iPhones, iPads, Macs and Android devices.

Q: Where does JAWS see itself in 10 and 20 years from now?
A: You know, even 10 years ago, who would have predicted the iPhone? So it's really hard to know how things will look in 2025. What JAWS has shown over its history though, is that not only does it innovate, it responds to wider technological changes to ensure blind people can make the most of them. Whatever happens, we'll be there to ensure blind people can use technology to fulfil their potential.

Please be sure to check out the Jaws for Windows 20th anniversary video at JAWS Anniversary Video

August 2015

I had the pleasure of interviewing our very own Cheryl Spencer. You may know her as the author of Spencer’s Spotlight for The Blind Perspective. She is quite knowledgeable about accessible devices, but she also knows a thing or two about guide horses. And, you may ask why this is? Well she is the proud owner of Confetti, her miniature guide horse.

Going back a bit, Cheryl had had two previous German Shepard guide dogs, Tammy and Delta. After losing Delta she had decided that she didn’t want another guide dog. It was a very emotional time after losing her, “the best dog ever,” Cheryl said. Going back to using her cane she realized that her cane skills were not that great.

It was Cheryl’s sister and husband who first learned about miniature guide horses from an article they had read. Chris, her husband, read the article to Cheryl, and that peeked her interest. The process that Chris and Cheryl went through to obtain and train Confetti was a very long, tiresome, emotional, and frustrating one. There are many twists, turns, ups, and downs that they experienced. I have listed the major events leading up to Cheryl becoming the first owner trained guide horse.

The Beginning:
*May 2001: Cheryl was On the Guide Hoarse Foundation list at #74; she didn’t want to wait that long
*They recommended her to find her own trainer, and they gave her a list of training details and what was needed in the field intelligence test
Trainer:
*After many failed attempts and just over one year, it was Chris’ coworker’s daughter who was taking riding lessons from a horse trainer
* Debbie King was looking for a Community Service Project, so she agreed to train the horse
Miniature Horse:
*June - July 2002; Searching via the internet and local horse related places: one hit from JBR Ranch in Christmas, FL
The Meeting:
*Debbie did the field intelligence on Confetti, she passed with flying colors
Not so Quick:
*The ranch wanted $3,000 for confetti; Chris and Cheryl did not have that kind of money
*After many letters and talks the ranch accepted a gracious offer of a $3,000 tax write off from the Jacksonville Council of the Blind
Oh No, Here We Go Again:
*After 2 ½ months of training Debbie quit
*Contract with the ranch stated complete training or Confetti must be returned to the ranch
*Looking all over again, local news station did a story on Cheryl and Confetti
*March 2003; Gail Ray of Anthony, FL called and became the new trainer

This simple list of steps they had to endure in order to get a trainer and Confetti, does not touch the pure emotional roller coaster they had to experience. While Cheryl was telling me the story in detail, I could hear how she was heartbroken, overwhelmed, saddened, relieved, and extremely happy.

I asked Cheryl if there have been any challenges with Confetti. She and her husband initially thought that they would be faced with many access issues. But it was just the opposite. There was just one time at a small pizza shop. The owner didn’t say that they couldn’t come in, he requested that they not come in due to the small size and large crowd. Both Chris and Cheryl agreed with the owner. Cheryl added that she thinks that people are more afraid of dogs than horses, and that may be a reason while sometimes access is denied for guide dog users.

Ironically, when Cheryl started this adventure in May of 2001, call it coincidence or not, that is when Confetti was born. JBR Princess Confetti, her full name, was born on the JBR Ranch in Christmas, Florida on May 10, 2001. She is a Leopard Appaloosa Miniature Horse.

Confetti was bred to be a show horse. She may be a guide horse, but she sure knows how to flaunt her stuff! She stands 29 ½ inches from her whither (s shoulders), and weighs 185 pounds. She is 30 inches from her chest to her tail. Confetti’s base coat is white with different size Carmel spots. She has a red tail and her forelock is red as well. Her mane is white. From her knees down is red.

She really looks like one of those horses you see on a merry go round. She is definitely a crowd stopper Cheryl says. Which led me to ask her what are the pros to having a guide horse as to having a guide dog? Cheryl, without hesitation said that she, that being Confetti, is popular. She went on to add that the cons of having a guide horse as oppose to a guide dog is that once again, she is popular.

Confetti wears a halster in place of a collar. She has reigns instead of a leash. Her harness is similar to a guide dog’s harness. Other than it being larger, it has a V cut out where the bone sticks out from her withers. She is seen by a local vet to maintain her health. A farrier takes care of her hooves. And, she also has her own dentist to care for her teeth and an overbite.

Confetti has traveled by car, minivan, cruise ship, and plane. Cheryl and Chris made modifications to their minivan for Confetti. They had the passenger back seat removed. Confetti jumps in and stands in the center of the van with her head between the driver and the front passenger. She can stand in a car too. She has been a passenger in a Honda Prelude, by just standing parallel to the front seats. As you can imagine, Confetti prefers the minivan over any car.

Confetti sleeping quarters are in a closet. Actually Confetti stands in the center area doorway of a pass through closet. This is also her safe place. She will go there when she knows she has done something wrong. Usually Confetti will stand, but in this area she will lie down if she feels like it. When she dreams she can be heard neighing or whinnying, and her hooves are moving too!

Confetti eats forage feed. This is comprised of compressed hay with the added nutrients that are good for her to maintain maximum health. Also, Confetti will not give up a nice field of grass or vegetables. Her all time favorite are bananas. Like a child, she too likes snacks. At the time of this interview, Fig Newtons are on the top of her list. Some other things she likes to eat are, mints, candy, crackers, and whatever may be in your pocket.

You may have heard of a doggy door, and yes, Cheryl has a horse door for Confetti. This allows Confetti to access the yard as needed. Cheryl also has three cats. Confetti and all of the cats do get along. Cheryl says that they chase each other around while outside.

I would like to conclude this article with a few Funny jokes and stories Cheryl shared with me about Confetti while out in public.
*We have to give Confetti cough syrup because she is a little hoarse.
*We can't play hide and seek with Confetti because she is always spotted.
*Confetti is always clean but she is never spotless.
*Funny- While traveling on a plane with Confetti, Cheryl heard a man say, “I haven’t even had a drink and I am seeing a horse on a plane.”
Cute-*While in a checkout line at the grocery store, Cheryl overheard the following exchange between a little girl and her mother.
Girl; Mommy, I know what kind of horse that is.
Mom; What kind sweetie?
Girl; It is a Dalmatian horse.
*Humor- Sometimes Cheryl, and her late husband would have fun with curious people. For example, when in a store a young boy while pointing to Confetti, asked if it was real. Either Chris or Cheryl would simply replied, “No actually she has a slot on her side and when you put a quarter in it she will go another 30 minutes.”
And to this, the boy called out to his mother, “Can I have a quarter?”
*Interesting- A comment from a shopper a she walks around the corner and sees Confetti. “That’s an interesting way of getting around “no dogs allowed.”
*Educational- Again while in a store with Confetti, a dad asks if his two girls could pet Confetti. Of course, Cheryl says yes. While his girls happily pet Confetti the dad says, “You’re making the best of your situation and you are also bringing other people joy.”

If you would like to read more about Cheryl and Confetti all you need to do is google, “guide horse Confetti in Florida”, there is a lot of material written about the pair. My thanks to Cheryl for allowing me to interview her about the struggles and successes of getting her guide horse, Confetti.

September 2015

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Larry Lewis, the founder of Flying Blind, LLC. Larry’s background is in education. He received a degree in Special Education, with a focus on working with the adult blind.

Larry started out his career as a service provider. He said that in the late eighties and early nineties adaptive technology was quite different than it is today. It was bigger, slower, and more expensive but still very relevant. It enabled individuals to keep up with their sighted peers. Also during this time Microsoft was beginning to take shape with the desktop PC, and a lot of things started to happen with adaptive technology.

In the late nineties Larry shifted from non profit to for profit when he began working for Humanware. He served as the product manager and helped with the initial launch of their Braille Note product line. He became more interested in the sales and marketing aspects of the industry. Larry spent a few years working for Optelec.

In 2006 Larry was getting to a point where he was starting to see some trends in technology, especially on the mobile front. He felt that these trends would have a direct impact on the way that some of the bigger companies did business. He added that we are seeing the fallout of that now. It is harder and harder in this industry if you are a bigger company to survive because of a lot of things that are happening with Androids, iOS, Windows, and things being available on mobile devices, Larry went on to explain.

He saw that the older more traditional ways of doing things; create a product, sell it, and then support it and so forth was going to take a direct hit because of what was going on in the mainstream. Larry wanted to get out of what he was doing because they embodied some of those older ways of doing things. He enjoyed working for those companies and doing what he did. However, Larry always believed that you should be thinking about what’s coming up, changing, and evolving and adjust to those technological changes.

So, it was in 2006 that Larry founded Flying Blind, LLC. The company’s tag line is “empowerment through technology.” Larry came up with the name as a tribute to a dear friend and mentor of his who died in a plane crash, Dr. Russell Smith. His logo is two wings on either side of a full braille cell. Larry is a big advocate of braille and therefore incorporated braille into his logo.

Flying Blind provides consultations sales & marketing services to companies that provide and/or develop emerging types of technology. These companies may not have the resources to set up shop, to hire VP of marketing /sales, and /or hire a linguistic manager. Flying Blind helps companies get their products into the United States.

One of Flying Blind’s key partner is a Poland based company, Harpo. Flying Blind assists them with their low cost braille line of products. A popular product of theirs is the Braille Pen.

Flying Blind also provides professional development. Larry has worked with The Hadley School for the Blind in developing courses for their entrepreneurship program, iOS training, and internet courses. His latest collaboration with Hadley was just recently released, a social networking course. Larry also has been the guest speaker for many Hadley webinar topics. He has discussed such topics as mobile technology, facebook, self-defense strategies, and more.

Flying Blind also has a sales component to their company. They have a few suppliers that sell new equipment and recycle equipment as well. Flying Blind also helps to match appropriate adaptive technologies with customers. People can buy and sell through the website. Flying blind will check out all products, and sometimes attach a warranty to them, prior to sending to the buyer. Flying Blind is committed to ensuring that you receive the technology solution that is best suited for you at a price you can afford. For more information, or to begin the buying or selling process, call +1 (216) 381-8107 or email featured@flying-blind.com

Flying Blind distributes a weekly publication every Thursday. It is called Top Tech Tidbits, and it’s a snapshot of what’s going on in the week of technology. Also included are featured advertisements. You can check out past newsletters in their archive library which may have some out dated material, but nonetheless, contains a load of useful information.

I urge you to visit the website and sign up to receive their weekly publication at: Flying Blind

October 2015

Interview with Joe Bellil
The Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates 25 years!

The Americans with Disabilities Act celebrated its 25th anniversary in July of this year. The ADA grew out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Federal legislation to protect civil rights initially focused on the prevention of racial discrimination. Having seen the federal government involve itself in protecting racial minorities, advocates for the disabled began to campaign for protection for their constituency as well.

In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act prohibited discrimination against someone with a disability by anyone receiving federal assistance, but it did not cover discrimination by employers, public accommodations in the private sector, publicly funded programs or those providing federal financial assistance. In 1988, the Fair Housing Act was amended to add people with disabilities and families with children for the classes of persons covered.

Coverage for all disabilities did not take place until the passage of the American with Disabilities Act in July of 1990, the 101st Congress passed the ADA of 1990, which was then signed on July 26 by President George H. W. Bush. It established comprehensive protection for people with a variety of disabilities in many aspects of public life. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA also ensures equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services.

People with disabilities are now welcomed into society and the workplace, in opportunities that were unheard of before the ADA.

I interviewed Joe Bellil, the Vice President of Public Affairs for Easter Seals of Massachusetts. We discussed the Americans with Disabilities Act and how important it is to Easter Seals and the people it serves.

Easter Seals is an international organization that provides a variety of services to adults and children living with disabilities so they can live, learn, work, and play.

Although Easter Seals is in the United States, Canada, and Australia, the disability act is specific to the US. How fortunate we are here in the US to have such a law to allow people with disabilities equal rights. People with different types of disabilities now have gained more access on a variety of levels to their community. But, as Joe commented, there is still more work to be done. For example people with mobility impairments still may find it difficult to maneuver streets without curb cuts, or access buildings without ramps, or elevators. People who are visually impaired or blind may not be able to navigate a website or have access to a braille menu while out at a restaurant. Joe believes that there is always more input needed from people with different types of disabilities into projects. He added that sometimes projects that are ascetically pleasing, are not accessible for people with disabilities.

Currently here in Boston there is a hearing about allowing people with disabilities access to use the Uber mode of transportation. Many UBER drivers are not accepting people who use guide dogs in their personal vehicles. In addition, many are not willing to transport people who use wheelchairs as well. Again, Joe states how vital it is for the disability community to work with organizations, UBER in this case, in order to find the best way to accommodate all people.

Joe believes that the ADA does support people with disabilities. The laws are out there, some people follow them, and some don’t, he stated. Again, Joe stresses the fact that if something is not correct then we as part of the disability community need to act on it and follow through to make it right.

The Department of Justice operates a confidential toll free hotline that you can call to obtain information and materials about the requirements of the ADA. An ADA specialist will assist callers in understanding how the ADA applies to their specific situation. To get answers to technical questions, obtain general ADA information, order free ADA materials, or ask about filing a complaint, call: 800-514-0301. Joe concluded the ADA discussion with this comment, “The Americans with Disabilities Act is a great base for us to have, we can only improve from there.”

The ADA does tie in with the Easter Seals organization. First, with the Easter Seals mission: to provide services to ensure that children and adults living with disabilities have equal opportunities to live, learn, work, and play, which is impacted by the ADA. Secondly, Easter Seals educates staff, hire managers, human resource people, and the people that Easter Seals connects with. Joe went on to explain that Easter Seals works to educate the youth about the ADA. For example, they teach them about the different Titles, employment, school requirements, accessibility, and public and/or private accommodations.

Joe’s job as the VP of Public Affairs is greatly influenced by the laws of the ADA. He uses his knowledge of the ADA when working with different coalitions, transportation issues, housing accessibility, workplace situations, and advocating and lobbying for funding and appropriate policies.

Joe shared his thoughts on what people with disabilities can do to help. He stated that if people see something wrong or something that they think should be changed then take an active role in it. Be part of the change, do not assume that someone else will take care of it. He added that we need to educate people, businesses, and policy makers on the rights for people with disabilities. By informing others of issues, laws, and being an active part of positive change, it is a win win situation for all.

November 2015

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the executive members from The Accessible Friend’s Network (TAFN). I just want to start by saying what a lovely and welcoming group of fine people to speak with. Their mission statement is: To provide friendship and support for people with vision impairments and their families. This is a nonprofit organization run by and for blind and visually impaired members, of which ninety nine percent are blind. TAFN is located in the United Kingdom, although you do not need to live there to be a member. The TAFN family is made up of people from The Netherlands, Canada, United States, Australia, and many other countries.

The Accessible Friend’s Network came about from Chris Cant, He and other founders had initially met on a US chat site for the blind and visually impaired. Chris wanted to set up a similar site for people in the United Kingdom.

In 2003 The Accessible Friend’s Network was launched with about 20 members. The main goal then was to provide technical support and promote friendship. And, this still remains at the top of the list today. These founding and dedicated members put up their money in order to keep the site up and running.

In 2004 TAFN registered with the Charity Commission. This allows TAFN to hold fundraising events, while following strict legal rules from the commission. Some ways they raise funds are through monthly bingo games. Raffles, and an annual auction. However, the main source of funding comes from the annual membership fee. The fee to become a full member is so nominal compared to what one can get from being a TAFN member. I will focus on that later in this article.

The Accessible Friend’s Network is an internet site with a wide variety of educational, informative, and entertaining interactive events. When they first started out they only had one scheduled event, and that was the Friday night quiz. Now they have events seven days and seven nights a week. They have so much to offer that I can’t list everything. However, here is a broad list of headings in which they provide many different events; computer skill training, interactive games, music rooms, hobbies, and much much more.

If you are interested in joining The Accessible Friend’s Network, they offer a 30 day guest preview of the site. So why not take advantage of participating in some events, joining in a chat, or learning something new. The website is: https://www.tafn.org.uk/
I am sure you will find at least one event or learning experience that will peak your interest, and then you can become a member. The annual cost for full membership is 15 pounds ($22.97 US currency). As I mentioned previously, this is a nominal price for all that you can get! Here is a list of some of the benefits TAFN offers to its full members.
*Provides all sorts of computer training materials for such programs as audacity, and Microsoft word and excel.
*TAFN has their own Skype phone number and a Help Desk where members can ask a computer question, and receive answers from other members.
*They also have a secure web based text only chat that is similar to facebook. This allows members to chat and post messages as well.
*TAFN has a technology fund which can help members with replacing their computers. They also have a SMA fund to help members with getting licenses with talking software.
*The Accessible Friend’s Network has a wishing well. This is where members can put in a request for something they are wishing for, up to 1,000 pounds. This occurs twice a year, and as many as three names are drawn and their wishes are granted.
*In 2008, the CAMEO (Come And Meet EveryOne) event started, and continues every other year. This event is to get as many members as possible together for a week end, somewhere in the country. They had 60 members attend the first Cameo, and now they have 100 members joining in this event. TAFN arranges transportation from the station or airport through other members and volunteers.

The members have an interactive part in the “behind the scenes” of TAFN. They are able to cast their votes for members of the executive committee, In addition, if there is to be a change to the constitution, that has to be taken to the membership, and 2/3 of the voting members need to agree to the change before it can happen. Also, if the executive committee feels that there is something very important, then the members will vote on it as well. Each month there is an open meeting with the Chairman, webmaster, treasurer , secratary, exec officers and events coordinator. Members are given details about the site’s bank accounts and other important information. Members are given opportunities on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings, to voice their concerns, suggestions, gripes, and so forth to the executive officers. However, I was told that usually conversation is very pleasant, and no one has a complaint. My conclusion to the former statement is probably due to the fact that TAFN informs, engages, and supports their members. Also, the executive officers are actively participating in the events, not just running the site. This in turn will make for happy, involved, and long lasting membership.

Tony, the event’s coordinator, summed up The Accessible Friend’s Network with the following statement, “When you come to TAFN you are not visiting a chat site, you are visiting a family, because that is what we are.”

Just recently TAFN has aquired a patron to front the charity in various ways. This gentleman is a well known british actor, Tim Bentink . He acts in theBBC radio series The Archers , a radio series that is the longest running radio soap in the world. Tim Bentink is no normal actor he is in fact a member of the british arastocracy and details can be found upon the TAFN web page.

December 2015

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Cox, an artist and the owner of her business: Arts Coaching Training (ART).
About Lynn:
At the age of 17, Lynn lost most of her sight due to RP. She attended the University of Glamorgan. She was interested in the arts, but was told it was too difficult for a visually impaired person to pursue. They suggested that she get a degree in mathematics and computing, which she did. But it was for her love and determination of the arts that she did not give up. Lynn later went on to study the arts at Wimbledon School of Arts and earned a Bachelor’s of Arts and a Master’s degree in the Fine Arts!

Lynn’s Work:
*Disability equality trainer
*Mentor to visually impaired, disabled, and non-disabled artists
*Coach to disabled and creative entrepreneurs looking to start up a small business (including dancers, singers, musicians, & visual artists)

The artist in Lynn:
Lynn not only wanted to coach and mentor people in the arts, but wanted the arts to be inclusive with the blind and visually impaired community. Therefore, she created more sensory products that the visually impaired and blind could enjoy and appreciate.

Products:
*Braille business cards. Creates braille labels for business cards. Therefore, making organizations more aware and accessible to the blind and visually impaired.
*Tactile Drawing pack (2014): This drawing (sewing) pack includes a large eyed needle, different textured yarn (silky, sparkly, satin, etc.), and colored paper. This pack is geared for visually impaired people who have never experienced drawing or who would like to “draw” in a new way.
*Tactile & Scented Braille Greeting Cards: (2015): these one of a kind cards are handmade “drawings” uniquely designed and decorated with a variety of art media. Such materials include different colored and textured yarns, sparkly jewels, and a scent of some kind (pine, cinnamon, gingerbread, etc.), just to name a few. Again, no two cards are alike, and one card takes up to 45 minutes to create. A true work of art!
Lynn offers cards with a pre-selected greeting, or you can customize your own message. All cards come with braill and large print. She also makes cards for such occasions as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Birthdays, Anniversary, Wedding, Thank You, and Well Done. She also creates cards with a dog with ball, vase with flowers, and a guitar.

Christmas Cards:
*Christmas Tree: shows an outline of a Christmas tree in pot in a colorful textured yarn complete with sparkling hanging decorations and star at top.
* Stocking: card depicts a fun pointy stocking with pom pom and glittery diamante diamond shapes, candy and presents are shown coming out of the top of the stocking, produced in sparkly and textured yarns.
*Presents: A collection of presents that includes a wine bottle, rectangular present with a ribbon, and a barrel shaped present which again have wonderful textures and scent.
*Snowflake: A large snowflake that is fluffy, sparkly, and takes up the whole card.
*All Christmas cards have the pine needle scent, Lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread), and, the snowy outdoors, so to evoke that Merry Christmas feel!

The price for these Christmas cards are 6 pounds, or $9.50 each, or you can get a set of all four for 20 pounds, or $32.00 US.
Lynn will ship your greeting card anywhere in the world. It usually will arrive to the recipient within one week of ordering. The best way to order now is by contacting Lynn via email. The PayPal method is used for secure payment.

Email: artscoachingtraining@gmail.com

Website: Lynn is still in the process of updating her website. But feel free to check it out and read more about her and the products she offers at: http://www.artscoachingtraining.com

THE END