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For your reading convenients below you will find all the International Perspective published in 2016
BEING VISUALLY IMPAIRED AND LIVING IN Middlesex, (just outside of London), United Kingdom
I was born with a visual impairment and lived in Kampala Uganda until 1972. I came to England with my family at the end of December and found myself in very different surroundings from those I was accustomed to.
My dad, mum, brother, my younger sister and I arrived on 20th December to find a very large Christmas tree in the arrivals lounge and the ground covered with snow. Having partial vision, seeing the tree with lights and decorations amazed me. The ground covered with glistening snow frightened me enough to make me want to turn around and walk back into the airport.
The first few months are a bit of a cloudy haze as I was still quite young and unable to get used to the different environment.
In July 1973 my sister, who is also visually impaired, and I were taken to one of the largest eye hospitals in the world and assessed to ascertain whether we needed to go to a school specifically for children with sight loss. The assessment highlighted the severity of sight loss and also color blindness.
Both my sister and I were placed in a school for children with partial sight loss as a posed to a school for the totally blind. In those days segregated education was the only means of schooling for children with disabilities.
Schooling in England is quite good as there is support throughout the first 16/18 years. However, once you get into college or university, it’s a different ball game. Support is then provided by the individual establishments and it varies in effectiveness. Some colleges and universities have excellent one-to-one support during all the lessons but others have limited or no support. It is all dependent on the amount of resources that the establishment has.
Job prospects for the visually impaired are not very good. There is so much prejudice amongst employers that it makes things difficult for us to secure employment. If you do manage to become employed, you have to compete with your sighted colleagues to keep your job. Obviously open discrimination is not allowed by law so employers find reasons for not giving you a position. There is an organization which will assist in providing equipment during employment if the employer is not able to afford the specialist equipment you may need to carry out the tasks during work life.
The Benefit system:
The benefit system is quite good up to now. However, the conservative government is making changes which will affect people with disabilities in a very drastic way. They want to cut out benefits which would mean that people who are disabled and who don’t have employment would have a very poor standard of living.
There are specific housing facilities for the visually impaired but it is not through the government. It is through an organization which provides one or two bedroom flats which are very basic and meet the essential requirements to enable a visually impaired person to live independently.
The transport system in England is the best in the world for people with a visual impairment. Most buses and trains are fully accessible and subsidized taxi services are available allowing people to travel independently.
Hello. My name is Lindy. I live in South Africa, just an hour's drive from the beautiful city of Cape Town, only a few blocks from the beach front of a coastal town called Strand.
South Africa is a relatively small country with a population of around 50 million people. Johannesburg and Cape Town are by far the most well-known and largest cities, but there are many other urban centers around the country with lots of rural areas where you may find small towns, villages, farmland, wild coastal areas and national parks.
I was born in 1970, with an eye condition that my parents would later find out was FEVR, a rare form of RP. It was decided that, though I had partial sight, it would be best for me to attend a school for the blind. At that time there were only two schools for blind children and my parents decided to move from Johannesburg to Cape Town to be nearer to what was then called the School for the Blind. I would attend in Worcester, a town situated about an hour's drive from Cape Town, in the picturesque Breede Valley.
I spent many happy years at the school and matriculated in 1988. I went back for another year to do some computer, general office and switchboard training and after this I went to the University of Johannesburg to complete a three-year degree in political studies.
South Africa has come a long way over the past years to improve the lives of citizens with disabilities. There are now more than twenty schools for blind and low vision children, although many of these schools experience challenges in terms of a lack of modern facilities, difficulties with acquiring up-to-date textbooks in braille, and attracting qualified teachers to teach maths, braille, life skills and mobility to blind students.
Mainstreaming of children with disabilities is encouraged in theory, except that, for the most part, support services and educators with specialized knowledge may not be available to students attending mainstream schools.
Most large universities have what is called disabled students units where services are rendered to students with disabilities, including access to accessible computers, braille printing and audio reading services and so on.
Although we do not have specific legislation as the case may be in some countries, human rights, including the rights of people with disabilities, are ensconced in our constitution, which has been in effect since 1996. Even though the rights of disabled people are considered to be important, the unemployment rate among blind and low vision citizens are quite high.
Despite many challenges blind people in South Africa have found employment in many different fields, including more traditional occupations such as piano tuning, physiotherapy, working in sheltered workshops or as switchboard operators, and more recently as call center agents and supporting staff, but there are also blind lawyers, judges, computer programmers, pastors, social workers, teachers, MPs and at least one government minister.
Qualifying for a government grant depends, among other things, on one’s household income, so not all blind citizens receive government support.
Some basic items, such as canes, are partly subsidized by the government, but adaptive equipment is normally funded by disabled people themselves.
Disabled people and their families are allowed to apply for tax relief under various categories of our tax law.
The National Council for the Blind was established in 1929. It serves as an umbrella body for more than 100 member organizations operating in the field of blindness prevention, education, rehabilitation and many related services.
At its training college in Pretoria, It provides basic services and training in various subjects such as computer skills, office management, mobility and skills of daily living to adult blind people in South Africa and our neighboring countries.
We have one national library service called the SA Library for the Blind.
Braille and audio materials on CD are sent through the post and is also available in electronic formats.
There is one guide-dog school, the SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind that was established in 1953.
This school is not government-funded and has to rely on donations and sponsorships, so depending on different factors, the waiting list for a first guide-dog may be as long as a year or more. The time to wait for a second or third dog is much shorter, though.
Difficulties with or a lack of transport is one of the major challenges blind people have to face on a daily basis. Some cities and larger towns have public bus and train services that may, to some extent be accessible for blind people, but many of us have to rely on taxis or lifts to get to and from places of work.
Although our banking system is fairly developed, there are no talking ATM’s yet and not all on-line banking services are fully accessible.
Our main digital satellite TV provider only recently started providing audio description on a few select channels, but it is not possible to find audio description at any movie theatres.
Even though we are considered to be a developing country and face many challenges in the broader sense, we have many positive assets and wonderful people. For instance, I have been able to visit a wildlife sanctuary where I had the opportunity of having a close encounter with around twenty African elephants. We were allowed to feed and touch the elephants and to take photos as proof of our visit.
The climate varies a lot, from Mediterranean to summer rainfall and even desert areas. The people are just as diverse. We have a total of 11 official languages and all religious persuasions are respected.
I believe that more and more blind people in South Africa are getting access to computers or talking smart phones, which will allow them to become part of a growing on-line community of people from all over the world, making it possible for them to socialize, communicate, learn and improve circumstances in their own lives and that of those around them.
Written by Karen Santiago as told by Rodney Hersey
Rodney is from the province of Nova Scotia in Canada. Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia make up what is known as the Atlantic Provinces.
During His early school years, which was in the sixties, there was a residential school just for the blind which he attended. Then over time it gradually became a school for children with multiple handicaps, not including visual impairments. Blind and visually impaired children were then mainstreamed into the “regular” school system.
Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority (APSEA), is an interprovincial cooperative agency established in 1975. Their mission is to provide educational services, programs, and opportunities for persons from birth to 21 years of age with low incidence sensory impairments. This includes children and youth who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, blind, or visually impaired and who are residents of Atlantic Canada. Operational costs are shared among the four provinces.
Some services they provide include:
- Early intervention
-Support for summer employment
-Provide Itinerant teachers who would act as a coordinator between school, parents, and anyone else involved with the student’s education
-Hold trainings for large groups of students for different activities and to learn new areas of knowledge; especially with computers
-Transitional services that start while in High School, to determine future goals and options after graduation
Rodney went to a University in the seventies and just about everything was taken care of by the Department of Rehabilitation within Nova Scotia. They paid for the tuition, books & supplies, room & board, and gave him money toward a reader. That has since changed. Now blind/visually impaired college students need to pay their own way; whether through loans, financial aid, or scholarships.
National Blind Organization:
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind is a charitable organization that provides community based support to Canadians that are blind or partially sighted. Specialists work with people of all ages in their homes, communities, or local CNIB offices.
The following services are available here in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island:
-Emotional and wellness support: counseling and support groups
-Low vision services: vision assessment, tips & techniques for using what you have & devices that may work for you
-Independent living services: build everyday skills to live independently
-independent travel instructions: learn how to travel safely whether in your neighborhood or in a new environment
-CNIB library: access to over 8,000 accessible materials in formats of braille or audio; books, magazines, newspapers, and descriptive movies
-Assistive technology: assessment, training, etc
-Shop CNIB: largest array of products and technology
-Child and family services: work in partnership with the Atlantic Special Education Authority (ASEA)
-Braille is taught as part of independent living. It is only grade 1 and they encourage you to get enrolled at the Hadley School for the Blind
-Braille is not seen much in the public. Usually in elevators of newly constructed buildings, and in some restaurants
-The Royal Bank does offer account statements in braille
-there are curb cuts in sidewalks
-In the congested areas and major intersections there are audible signals for crossing
-Accessabus: provides transportation for people with all types of disabilities. Here, you need to arrange your rides at least two weeks in advanced. Priority is given to those going to medical appointments, and to work. The cost is $2.50 a ride, and if you have a personal care assistant, they ride for free. This is also true if you ride the train.
-Taxi: the fare is the same as what a sighted person would pay
-City bus: free with identification
-There used to be what was called Blind Pension, a monthly check to offset expenses that a blind person would incur. It has been changed to Social Assistance, which includes disabled people, and those with little or no income.
-Blind individuals are able to receive an automatic deduction of $4,500 on their taxes. They must include their CNIB identification information.
Guide Dog Schools:
Canada does have a few guide dog schools, but there are none within the Atlantic Provinces.
The Canadian Blind sports association is the national organization for summer sports in Canada, specific to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Each province has their own provincial division. The organizations receive funding from the government to run the programs and to send teams to regional and international competitions. Some of the summer sports include swimming, track & field, tandem bike riding, and goalball.
The winter sports organization is the Canadian association of disabled skiing. This organization includes people with all different types of disabilities, over 4,000 members throughout all of Canada. Rodney was a participant for several years, and he traveled throughout the world to compete.
Since he believed in giving back, once he was done competing, He was appointed as president of the organization from the Fall of 1989 to the Fall of 1990.
Rodney concluded that the part of Canada in which he lives is very supportive of the blind community. Many services are offered, training is provided, and recreational activities are encouraged. However he continued, he believes that you have to be your own best advocate. By that he added, “I mean, you need to learn what is out there and available and go get it.”
Written by Karen Santiago as told by Geoff Eden
Central Canada karen@theblindperspective
Geoff resides in the province of Ontario, which is the second largest in area of Canada’s ten provinces. It is second to Quebec, with Ontario being 1000 miles by 1000 miles. However, Ontario is the most populated of all the ten provinces.
Canada is the second largest country in the world with a great deal of land. Its’ population is 35 million strong.
Geoff attended the residential Ontario School for the Blind, which was the largest school for the blind in Canada. It brought students in from the western provinces as well as Quebec.
While Geoff was attending, there were nearly 300 students enrolled. Classrooms were bulging due to the high population of children with retinopathy of prematurity (RP). This was after the war, from 1945 through 1960. Then the school's enrollment began to taper off and it evolved into a school for multi-disabled children. It completed its transition by the 1970’s, and was renamed the W Ross MacDonald School.
Braille was taught in grade one, with several different techniques. Such learning styles included, plastic slates with cubes, flashcards, and games. Geoff says that learning braille was quite competitive amongst the students. He added that when the students received their first slate and stylus, it was so exciting. And once again, the competition began to see who could learn and proceed to the next lesson.
Their books were usually purchased through American Printing House for the Blind in the United States. Therefore, their braille books were in American braille.
Geoff wasn’t taught any formal mobility until grade 12, which is when he received his first white cane. The gym teacher would put chairs in a hallway and you had to maneuver around them using your cane.
Geoff said that once students were in high school, they were given the privilege of going downtown during the weekends. The young teenagers would all navigate the bus routes and streets together. Geoff recalled some fond memories of going into the record shop and buying used records for 20 cents, or having some French fries at a little restaurant.
Mobility was not seen as a necessary part of the curriculum, and this was the same for the schools in the United States at this time.
Blind students slowly began to transition into: “regular” schools. Many people advocated for educational change, and in 1982 the law was rewritten. All students were to be able to receive services from the schoolboard in which they resided. So specialized teachers, known as Itinerant teachers, would travel from school to school to provide assistance and support to these students. Government sponsors all education at the school level and it varies from province to province. All education is funded out of a provincial tax.
There is a funding program for students moving on to Universities. Students are evaluated to see whether or not they would prosper with the higher education. If so, some of their education would be subsidized. Geoff was the manager of assessments. He and his staff would evaluate students using a variety of criteria’s to determine the student’s eligibility.
There is funding to help with providing the necessary equipment needed to perform one’s work responsibilities. Sometimes an employer is subsidized during the job training period.
Traveling teachers were contracted with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to provide training in braille and mobility.
The Assistive Devices Program: Provides devices to children and adults in Ontario based upon if they need a way to be “equalize” for reading and writing, for their personal use. If so, the province will purchase the device in hopes of bridging the communication gap.
Individuals receive an assessment on their abilities and needs. Then based on that assessment, the proper device(s) would be supplied for their use. Once an individual received a device, he or she would receive start up training on how to use the particular device.
Low Tech: These devices would be in the $500.00 range, such as a Victor Stream device for reading
High Tech: These devices would be much more expensive, such as a computer, reading software, or a scanner
Geoff was the person who wrote the draft policy on the blind component for the assistive devices program.
This program also provides funding to those individuals needing wheelchairs, prosthetics, orthotics, and the like. The key of the program is to supply those with any major disabilities a tool that will attempt to equalize their opportunities.
The province pays 75%, while the individual is responsible for the remaining 25%. However, if the individual receives Ontario disability support, then the province pays the whole bill.
Ontario Disability Support Program: anybody with a disability gets a disability allowance. This provides two components; cash and medical. This ranges between $1100 and $1200 for a single person, per month.
Tax Break: Blind individuals are able to receive an automatic deduction of $4,500 on their taxes. Currently advocates are pushing for a larger tax break. The reason being, that they do not think the rationale for the cost of blindness has been thoroughly articulated. For instance, the retail cost that blind people incur is undoubtedly higher than sighted people. For the simple fact that blind people cannot browse, travel easily, and find the deals.
*There is a law within the province of Ontario [similar to the ADA] which states that certain design parameters must be met. City owned properties must be modified to make them more accessible. In 1991 Geoff was the accessibility planner for the city of Toronto. He was instrumental in creating a set of standards that the city hoisted upon themselves, and they try to force them upon developers as well.
*City hall for example had braille in the elevators, braille and large print on all of the counselor’s doors, and on any doors to which the public would have access.
*He told me about his biggest project, the Air Canada Center. This is the stadium where the hockey and basketball games are held. There is braille and large print throughout the entire building.
Braille menus are provided more within the chain restaurants rather than the small private ones. Geoff noted that braille menus are not so common lately due to the iPhone and internet. More people have access to these items, and therefore tend to look up a restaurant’s menu.
*It is incumbent upon the government that all government funded websites be accessible.
*If you request, you can get documents in braille. However, this is also fading, once again due to the access to the internet.
*The Mira Foundation in Quebec provides disabled individuals with dogs bred and fully trained to respond to their adaptation and rehabilitation needs.
*Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Ottawa, founded in 1984 to assist visually-impaired Canadians with their mobility by providing and training them in the use of professionally trained Guide Dogs. They turn out about a dozen dogs annually.
Geoff lives in the city of Welland with a population of 50,000, and it’s located about 20 5 miles west of Buffalo, New York. An accessibility committee is mandated by the province, each town with a population greater than 10,000 must have one. Geoff is on this committee, and they meet at least once a month to make sure the city is following the accessibility standards.
There is a parallel transit system in which vans provide rides for people with disabilities. Currently the city's public transit system is evolving toward full accessibility, and presently has six low floor style buses. Eventually, they would like their whole fleet to be the low floor style. Users of parallel transit have a much better chance at getting a ride with a one or two week notice, but they will try their best at scheduling your ride with short notice. The fare for your ride is $3.25, blind people travel free.
*There are audible pedestrian signals at major street crossings. And with any new construction, they will be installed.
*All corners downtown have been reconstructed to have curb cuts. When there are new sidewalks constructed all corners have the curb cuts.
*Due to the extreme temperature here, traditional tactile warning strips are not used. Instead, they use a new technology that's a steel plate with truncated domes that is installed just shy of the ramp so that at least you know you're coming upon a ramp, as specified in recent international standards.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB; mentioned in last month's article) is Canada’s national blind organization, who's head office is located in Toronto, Ontario.
*Contract instructors to teach mobility and braille
*Perform the assessments for the assistive devices program
*Browse their store where they have a variety of specialized equipment for purchase
*The library for the blind is located here, and thousands of accessible materials in formats of braille or audio books, magazines, newspapers, and descriptive movies can be found here
The alliance for Equality of blind Canadians is the primary advocacy group.
Geoff was part of a group that advocated and created a national reading service. Since where he lives is not populated enough for the local variety. So the organization put together the reading service and did a fair amount of advocacy when they came upon the whole issue of description. They organized themselves and pushed for description and were off to their broadcast commission and got description put into mainstream channels.
Canada has the accessible channel, [AMI Accessible Media INC] which has open captioning and open description. This is a must carry channel for all television packages.
Since Ontario is so large, there are many community based programs that provide a wide range of services to individuals living within the community, as in most states.
Geoff believes that with the elimination of schools for the blind, blind individuals are missing out on a few important things, especially early in life. First of all blind students should learn braille, both reading and writing. They should all be taught some basic independent living skills. These could include such things as basic cooking, grooming, cleaning, mobility, and how to interact with others. They should all be actively participating in some type of recreational sport, currently an activity not available in the regular school system. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to join a blind or disability sport organization. (The sport organizations were discussed in length in the previous International Perspective article).
By allowing the children to develop these basic skills as well as friendships with their fellow blind students, and creating a sense of community, they would be more adaptable to integrating into a “regular” school. And, perhaps, with this knowledge and self-confidence they will not be perceived as less Equal or helpless by their peers, and quite possibly their future coworkers.
Written by Karen Santiago as told by Brent Goode
Western Canada karen@theblindperspective
Brent was born, raised, and still resides in Vancouver, the third largest city in Canada. Vancouver is located in British Columbia, the most western province of them all. The city is named after Captain George Vancouver.
Vancouver has a very multi ethnic population and a very multi-cultural dining experience. One of the many lures for people to move to this area is the very mild temperatures. The natural beauty can be seen at the many beaches along the Pacific coast, or the popular Stanley Park. More inland and to the East, you are graced with one of 3 mountains for skiing, climbing, or biking. Metro Vancouver area has 2.4 million people who call it home.
Blindness & School:
Brent’s cause of blindness was due to too much oxygen given as a newborn, Retinopathy of Prematurity). Brent was born in 1979. The Jerical Hill School for the Blind closed in the late 70s, and the mainstreaming of students with disabilities was becoming more popular. Therefore, Brent was integrated into the public school system right from kindergarten.
Brent had an itinerant teacher right up until his high school graduation. He received all his textbooks in braille. The itinerant teacher would transcribe all the hand outs and exams into braille. In addition, the teacher would transcribe his brailled work for the teacher to read and grade.
Braille & Mobility:
Brent was introduced to braille in kindergarten. While his school mates were learning how to read and write in print, his Itinerant teacher taught him braille. He learned it very quickly and became very efficient in both producing & reading it.
Brent was taught orientation and mobility once he entered grade 5. He was taught the route from his home to school. As well as the route to a general store about 7 to 8 blocks from his home.
Brent attended King Edward College to learn word processing, emailing, spreadsheets, etc. After one year, he transferred to Langara College. Brent received some assistants with exams from the Disabled student’s services. He was permitted to use their computer which was equipped with the JAWS software program. This enabled Brent to write his papers and take his exams. Furthermore, he was given time & a half to complete the exams.
Once entering post-secondary education braille pretty much disappeared. He had a preference to receive his multiple choice exams in braille. So disabled student services provided him that service. Everything else was either in audio format, meaning his books and class handouts were either provided to him in electronic format or he would scan them. If the professors gave a spot on quiz, they would often give him the exam orally in their office, either before class or immediately after class. They would contact him to set up an office appointment & surprise him with a quiz.
Brent graduated with a degree in marketing, and a minor in computer programming. He has been working in the computer business ever since graduation.
While Brent was attending college, he received adaptive equipment on loan. Once he graduated, he was offered the equipment to buy at a substantial discount.
Brent receives audio books from his local library. In addition, he can access newspapers on line from major Canadian publishers, as well as digital downloads of books, magazines, etc. Braille formatted electronic books are also available.
Guide Dog School:
BC (British Columbia) and Alberta Guide Dogs breeds, raises, and professionally trains guide dogs for individuals who are blind, at no cost to the recipient.
*In Vancouver they have what is known as Handy Dart, which is essentially paratransit. Rides need to be booked a minimum of 1 week in advance. The provincial government offers taxi savers, which one can purchase books of tickets in amounts of $1, $2, & $5 with each booklet equaling $50 in total. However, we pay only $25. People are allowed up to 4 booklets a month.
*The majority of street corners have the wheelchair ramps (the cut outs).
*There are many audible traffic signals at intersections, especially the busy ones.
*At the rapid transit stations there are tactile colored stripping along the edge of the platforms, as well as at the top of the stairs.
*it is in the building code to have braille on the elevator number panels, and also audio indicators to inform the passengers what floor it has stopped on & if the elevator was going up or down for its next stop.
*As for braille menus, a lot of the chain restaurants have them.
*The major telephone company for both land lines & mobile offer their bills in alternative format, including braille.
*Some banks also offer monthly statements in alternative format, once again including braille.
Brent has never been on disability income. As he stated, he has been blessed with the opportunity to find employment to support himself.
*Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB): refer to February and/ or March issue.
There are many organizations to advocate on behalf of the blind or provide services:
*Advocates for Sight Impaired Consumers (ASIC): has made lots of positive changes for blind & physically handicapped individuals.
*Canadian Council for the Blind (CCB): This organization is a big promoter of White Cane week and for putting on fun & social events for blind folks to attend.
*Canadian Federation for the Blind (CFB): This organization does lots of positive work to make life easier for blind Canadians.
*Alliance of Blind Canadians (ABC): Advocate on behalf of blind Canadians.
*National Federation of the Blind Advocates for Equality (NFB-AE): advocating on behalf of Blind Canadian.
Brent stated the following; “because my immediate community has seen me grow up and do things independently, I believe that has helped me gain their respect. Since I am able to get things done, such as grocery shopping, socializing, participating in community events, and giving back to my community, they see me as a “regular person.”
Brent stated that although things are pretty good, there is always lots of room for improvements. Here is one of his suggestions:
If public materials cannot be provided in alternative format, at least have it in electronic format to allow print disabled people to be able to access the information independently and with dignity.
By Karen Santiago as told by Zoltan; from Hungary karen@theblindperspective
I had the pleasure of interviewing Zoltan, a university student from the country of Hungary. This is a relatively small country with the size of 93,000 square kilometers (35,907 square miles). It is located in East-Central Europe, and is bordered by the following countries: Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia. It has a population of 10 million people. However, the population is decreasing due to people immigrating abroad.
Zoltan was born in Budapest, and currently lives in the outskirts of the city with his parents. He was born three months premature and was blind at birth due to retinopathy of prematurity.
Zoltan attended the only state school for the blind which is located in Budapest. This residential school started operating in 1826. It provides services to 250 blind students from the ages of 3 - 22.
The school for the blind consists of; Kindergarten, Primary School, a rehabilitation center, and a vocational training program. When Zoltan started at the age of 6 he attended what was known as preschool. Now a days grade one is considered kindergarten. Young children are in a smaller building which gives them a better sense of safety and security. Then the students move on to grade 2 and enter into the primary school building. Zoltan did not reside at the school. Instead he took public transportation for 45 minutes to and from school each day. He was taught braille as soon as he started school. He knew how to read and write the braille alphabet by the time he completed preschool. He then went on to the primary school. He started to learn orientation and mobility skills in grade 5. He learned cane skills, and routes only limited to within the school grounds.
Students are provided opportunities to play a musical instrument and or sing in the choir. Sport activities that are provided include; goal ball, swimming, judo, tandem bike riding, and canoeing. Zoltan learned judo and how to play the piano.
Mainstream students receive assistance from traveling teachers from the school for the blind. They teach everyday skills, and help them. However, the teachers are not properly trained to assist students with disabilities. They are not aware of all the needs of a blind student. Furthermore, the mainstream schools are usually not equipped properly or supported financially. Integration & inclusion exists in Hungary however there is much room and need for improvement.
Unfortunately, there is no secondary school for the blind in Hungary. However, after completion of grade 8, students may choose to continue on to a public high school or to a special vocational training program. Here, students can learn such skills as pottery, weaving, and computers.
Zoltan decided to attend his local neighborhood high school. He was the only blind student, and the first one the school has ever had. His mom, who is very supportive, persuaded Zoltan’s mobility teacher to teach him the way to his new school early. Therefore, Zoltan was able to navigate himself to his school.
Zoltan explained that since he was the first, and only blind student the school ever had, it was a very difficult time for him. Most of the teachers did not know how to deal, handle, and assist him. There were some teachers who tried to accommodate him, yet there were others that would hand him printed test and tell him to complete it. He did have a traveling assistant teacher, however, she only visited the school once a week.
Zoltan was taught keyboard skills from grade 5 on at the school for the blind. He requested and was granted money from the government in order to purchase a laptop. Due to the high cost of screen readers, Zoltan was unable to receive any monetary support for that. He did state that most blind people, if not all find alternative ways of obtaining screen readers. He added that many people are very thankful for NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access), since it is a free screen reader.
Zoltan attends the Eötvös Lorànd University located in Budapest. He completed his Bachelors degree in English. This programs usually takes 3 years, however, students with disabilities are given more time. It took Zoltan 4 years to complete. He is currently in his second year of obtaining his Master’s degree. He will complete his courses sometime next year, and plans to be an English teacher.
Part of obtaining a degree to become an English teacher is passing a written and oral proficiency exam. When Zoltan first took the written exam it was not blind friendly, and he unfortunately did not pass. On his second try, the examiner decided to read the questions to him. This time Zoltan passed both his written and oral exams. The next part to complete is teaching practices. Zoltan recently completed his English teaching practice, and said that it was very positive. His mentor was very understanding, accommodating, supportive, and empathetic, which made for a wonderful experience. Come September, Zoltan will be doing his next teaching practice at the Hungarian Chinese Bilingual School. After that he will need to complete his long teaching practice in both English and Hungarian. Finally, he will need to complete his teaching portfolio, and write his thesis. Zoltan has a very positive attitude, and is optimistic in one day finding employment as an English teacher.
*Braille is not seen very much in the public in Hungary. There is braille on some doors and in some elevators of public building.
*There are no braille menus available from restaurants.
*Zoltan is unaware of any companies that provide their documents in a braille format.
*Zoltan just recently visited the National Parliament located within the city. On the outside of the building is a tactile map with braille labeling. Although this discovery pleased Zoltan he was quite disappointed. For he explained that there were several spelling mistakes made in the braille translation.
*There is no separate transportation system for people with disabilities. However, is you have your disability card issued by the government, then you can ride the buses and trams for free.
*Riding the train within Budapest is free for blind individuals and their personal care assistant. If traveling outside of Budapest, you can purchase tickets at a significantly reduced rate.
*There are very few tactile strips at street corners. In addition, there are very few audio pedestrian signals at crosswalks.
*At most major bus stops there are display panels which tell you what bus is coming, and when. Zoltan also has this separate remote device that can give him the same information.
Guide Dog Schools:
*Zoltan said that there are at least two guide dog schools in Hungary. There is no cost to the blind individual for the dog. There is no allowance or other financial aid given to guide dog users for such things as food and veterinary expenses. The waiting list for these guide schools are very long.
*Guide dogs are able to access all public buildings and public modes of transportation.
*free access to braille and audible books if you are a member of the Association for the Disabled.
*Hungarian Electronic Library: not specifically for the blind, has thousands of full-text works in the humanities and social sciences.
Disability Pension; once a doctor has “proven” that you have a disability then you are eligible to receive a monthly check from the government. Zoltan said that the monetary support is minimal, and not enough to live on alone.
Association for the disabled; The Hungarian Federation of the Blind and Partly Sighted
*store with assistive devices
*may subsidize cost of equipment
*I T assistance
The Association has other sub organizations that teach mobility and braille to adults
*Zoltan believes that generally blind people are underestimated in Hungary.
*He said that things have come a long way, but there is still much more need for improvements. Such things that he would like to see improve are; more braille in the public, tactile strips at street corners, and more support from the government.
*He feels strongly about the need to educate and train the teachers about working, supporting, and understanding students with disabilities. In addition, he feels that children should be taught at a young age about different disabilities and what they could do to assist those with a disability.
*Zoltan feels that as a blind person, you need to be confident in yourself, polite, communicative, and willing to ask for help when needed, but without being demanding. If you are able to do these things, then people will be more likely to engage in conversation and assist you.
I also had the pleasure of conducting a short interview with Ildi, a friend and fellow University student of Zoltan. She too, lives in Budapest and her blindness was caused by too much oxygen given at birth.
Ildi attended the same school for the blind through grade eight. Her mom had called several local high schools and many said that they could not accommodate a blind student. However, she did attend a Catholic high school. She and another blind boy attended this school at the same time, and were the first blind students. Ildi had a very positive experience during her high school years, and excelled as the top student throughout her four years there.
She continued on to a local college where she received her Bachelors degree in English Studies. Ildy stated the Association for the disabled; The Hungarian Federation of the Blind and Partly Sighted does offer to its members, monetary support for learning devices. She now attends the same University as Zoltan and is working toward her Master’s degrees in English and Adult Education.
Ildi treats blindness not as an illness, but as an acceptable fact. She notices that there are many people who feel sorry for her, and other who just do not know how to treat a blind person. She, like Zoltan believes that educating people both young and old about accepting and assisting people with all types of disabilities needs to happen.
I did not have anyone to interview this month for the International Perspective. Therefore, I am putting out a request for you, or someone you know who may be interested in either writing up their own article, or I will interview and write it up for you. Just a reminder this segment of the newsletter is about life as a blind person in another country. Some of the countries that I have covered include; China, Israel, Germany, New Zealand, England, Australia, Hungary, and many others. I would love to hear from people living in Ireland, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Poland, Scotland, and all those many other countries that are out there! If you, or someone you know is interested just send an email to the address at the top of this message.
I recently had a wonderful interview with a gentleman named Hareth from Iraq. Hareth was born in Mosul, but spent most of his life in the capital city of Baghdad. He lost his eyesight much later in life, during adulthood. He was shocked by what he learned from a blind friend of his who grew up in Iraq.
Iraq is located in the Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf and six countries. These countries are; Jordan, Syria, turkey, Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is slightly more than twice the size of Idaho, 437,072 km/ 169,234 Sq. Mi. Iraq has a population of over 37 million people.
Iraq has three residential schools for the blind. They are located in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra. Students can attend the school for the blind at the age of six. If students live in the same city as the school, then transportation is provided daily to and from the school. Those living outside the school community are able to reside at the school. Each of these schools provide education through grade six, elementary school.
Braille & Mobility:
Students are taught to read and write in braille as soon as they begin school. All of their learning materials are provided in braille. Students learn orientation and mobility with a cane while at the school.
Blind students do engage in such sports as goal ball and beep ball.
Iraq does have Para Olympics, which is available to people with disabilities.
Once graduating from the sixth grade, blind students are mainstreamed into the public school system. The blind students are not only entering a new school, but they are entering a new world. It is one with little to no support from the school or the government. If a student is lucky, maybe 1%, they can receive some help from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO. These organizations are made up of volunteers, which there are not many of, and they may assist by providing books on audio CD’s.
If not for the strong Muslim cultural belief that blind people are seen as particularly important, they would be on their own after graduating sixth grade. Blind children are able to rely on their parents for support and assistance throughout their lives. Granted there is no psychological support or any form of training for these parents. Society in Iraq is very supportive of blind people and the elderly too. You would never see a family in Iraq abandon a blind family member, or an elderly person. If they did, they would be mercilessly shamed by others.
Muslim Religion & the Blind:
The majority of Middle Eastern Muslim countries believe that those who are blind are guaranteed heaven. It is only the blind people who are able to accept their blindness and be patient about it until they die, that this will happen for them.
Supplemental Support: This is available for people with less than $800.00 a month. They are provided such things as bread, rice, oil, and so forth.
Open Ended Leave: This program was originally active during the 1970’s, and has since been reintroduced in January of this year. Any person with an overall disability percentage of 85% or higher, is eligible. The disability percentage is based on the overall effect of the disability. This program provides an assistant (usually a relative) of the disabled person a paycheck. This paycheck is used to pay for the care of the disabled relative. Should a sighted spouse be working, and have a blind spouse, (employed or not) the working spouse would be on an open leave with pay in order to care for his/her blind spouse. If both a disabled person over 85%, and their relative do not work, then they would receive a monthly check of about $150.00.
There is no assistance with providing blind people accessible technology of any kind.
There is no organization within the country that provides blind people large print, braille, or audio books. Blind people and their families need to seek outside resources in order to obtain accessible reading materials.
There is no specialized transportation provided for those with disabilities, other than to and from the different disability schools.
Only within the downtown area of Iraq are there curb cuts, and is somewhat more blind friendly to walk around.
Guide Dogs Schools:
There are no guide dog schools located in Iraq.
In the eighties The Rising City neighborhood was built for soldiers who became disabled due to the war, mainly for blind soldiers. There were about 150 homes built with the blind in mind. There were no curb or steppes within the entire neighborhood. They also had access to a hall to play musical instruments, and a gym to work out.
Although the thought was there, Hareph commented, he doesn’t think it was a good idea. To build the houses is great, but placing them in with the sighted community would have been so much better. To hareth it seemed as though the blind people living in this neighborhood are segregated, and unable to communicate, experience, and gain opportunities in the “real world.”
Since Hareth lost his sight later in life, he was quite disturbed to find out how little support the blind community has from the government, schools, and other organizations. With the exception of the schools for young blind children and the open ended leave, Hareth says that the whole system needs to be overhauled from the ground up. Some such things that he would like to change are:
*more support for parents of blind children
*computers with relevant screen readers and programs that the blind would actually use and be able to navigate the internet
*support and assistant for those people who lose their sight later in life.
A Bit about Hareth now:
Hareth has studied computers since 1983. He was number 1 in his school. When his father asked what he wanted for his excellence in school, he said a computer.
Right from school, at the age of 15 Hareth went into the Army. There he studied and graduated as an officer. He learned even more about computers.
Knowing he was losing his sight, Hareth taught himself how to use screen readers. And after 18 years of service Hareth left the military and decided to help other blind people. Via the internet, Hareth has devoted 10 years of his life to teaching other blind Arabic people things such as how to install and use screen readers, use programs, and upgrade to Windows 10.
Currently Hareth is in a refugee camp in Turkey. Typically an adult male, would have been placed in a homeless shelter. However, since he is blind, and because they were concerned for his welfare, he was placed in a very secure location. In fact, he has a private room with his own bathroom. Hareth says he feels as though he it spoiled by the way they treat and take care of him. At this site it is police officers that maintain the security. Not only that, but they bring his meals to his room, and take off their shoes before entering.
*I hope to soon conduct an interview with a blind person from Turkey to give you more information about life there as a blind person.
By Karen as told by Iram Shabbier of Pakistan
I was very pleased to be contacted by one of our readers from Pakistan. Her name is Iram Shabbier and I recently interviewed her about life in Pakistan as a blind person. She is 32 years old, married, and has two children; a girl and a boy. Read on to learn more.
Pakistan is an under developed country located in the northwest part of South Asia. The eastern and southern parts of the country are dominated by the Indus River and its tributaries. Most of Pakistan's population, approximately 200 million, lives along the Indus. West of the Indus the land becomes increasingly arid and mountainous. To the north the land rises to the great mountains of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram—including K2, the world's second highest mountain after Everest, at 8,611 meters (28,250 feet).
Iram was born and remains in Gujranwala, a very old and historical city. She was born blind, due to optical nerve damage. She attended a residential school for the blind at the age of four in Lahore. She stayed there through seventh grade, or seventh class as they call it in Pakistan.
Schools for the Blind:
Iram says that there are several schools for the blind in Pakistan, some are private, but most are
Managed by the government. Most of these schools are residential, however if you live close by then you are bused daily.
Pakistan is divided into 5 provinces. Each province has its own educational system. So they run schools according to their own rules and regulations. In Pakistan more than 300 schools are serving to special needs students. Some institutes are just for blind, whereas in some centers they serve students with hearing impairments, mental challenges, and physical handicaps. In schools they are provided with free Braille books, uniform, and 800 rupees monthly scholarship.
*Orientation and mobility are taught at the schools for the blind. However, most of the students learn more about moving from one place to another on their own, or with their peers.
*Braille is taught to the students upon entering the school, and materials are provided.
*Boys are taught how to play cricket, a popular sport in Pakistan. Note; the blind cricket team has won the World Cup twice!
*There is music education as well as learning how to play harmonium instruments. These are either hand or foot pump instruments that sound similar to an accordion.
*Now many blind students are using laptops, computers and touch mobils.
Most of these schools begin at the Kindergarten level and continue to the Middle level. There are some that continue on to high school, which is known as the Metric level in Pakistan. After finishing her seventh class at the school for the blind, Iram was mainstreamed into a “regular school” near her home. She was the only blind student in the school. Her parents were very supportive and assisted her with her schoolwork. Her mom would record the lessons on a cassette. Iram was able to complete her homework verbally. As for any papers she needed to complete, she would dictate them to a writer.
*Iram went to a local college and studied psychology and education. She received help from her parents and peers.
*From there, Iram attended the University and received a Master’s degree in Gender Studies, and was third in her class.
*She then went on to obtain a Master’s degree in English Literature as a private candidate. In addition, she received another Master’s degree in Special education, ranking second in her class.
* In 2005 she applied for a teacher’s position in special education. She taught blind students in kindergarten through eighth class for 6 years. Iram is currently working as the Head Mistress at a school for the blind in Gujranwala.
*Men can travel independently with the aid of a white cane. However, women do not use the white cane to travel, they must have a sighted guide instead.
*there are no tactile strips or audible signals at intersections.
*As of 2009 blind individuals can get a half rate fare for train and plane travel.
Guide Dogs Schools:
There are no guide dog schools nor guide dogs in Pakistan.
Braille in the Community:
*There is only braille on some of the lifts (elevators).
*ATM machines now have audio in the metropolitan cities.
The government is currently collecting data with the expectation to provide some type of monetary support in the nearby future to people with disabilities who are totally dependent.
*Pakistan Association of the Blind; is the only nationally organized and recognized movement of the blind themselves, working for the welfare and betterment of the blind community since 1960.
Its primary objective is to make the blind person able, self-reliant, respectable, and productive member of society by creating a sense of equal participation among them in all aspects of life.
*Pakistan Disabled foundation; for the betterment of the disabled community
Some of the things it does is advocacy work, arrange for necessary equipment (braille writers), and provide workshops, seminars, & trainings.
* Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness: provides education, information and entertainment to the visually impaired persons through audio books.
*It is very difficult for persons with disabilities, especially those in the middle class to advance their education and opportunities for employment. They must rely on the support and assistance from their family members in order to be a productive member of society.
*One of my goals is to create some type of career education for blind people. Iram would love to be able to help blind students learn about different job opportunities, and help them create career goals.
*Iram would also like to educate special needs teachers to be more motivated in their jobs. She feels this would be beneficial to the blind students; making for a more positive learning experience.
Ben Fahima Soumaya in Algeria karen@theblindperspective
This month I interview Ben Fahima Soumaya from Algeria. She was born and continues to reside in the city of M’Sila. She lost her sight at the age of five due to a high fever. She is married to Hareth (August Issue) and they have a young daughter whose name is Messara.
A bit about Algeria:
Algeria, in northwest Africa on the Mediterranean coast, is the largest country in Africa. The Sahara covers more than four-fifths of its territory, where the inhabitants are concentrated in oases surrounded by desert. More than 90 percent of Algerians live along the Mediterranean coastlands on only 12 percent of the country's land. Algeria has a population of 40.4 million.
Currently there are nearly 30 schools for the blind throughout Algeria. At the time Soumaya attended school there were only 3 available for the blind. She attended Taha Housseine, the residential School for the Blind in Biskra for her primary and middle school grades (nine years).
Braille & Mobility:
Soumaya was taught braille as soon as she entered school. All the braille materials were supplied by the school. She learned braille very quickly, she added, “It was easy.” Furthermore, Soumaya stated that braille is easier for a young blind person to learn, rather than someone who loses their sight later in life.
Mobility was also taught while in school. Teachers gave the students tips and techniques for moving around with the cane. Students were encouraged to use their canes in order to move about independently. Soumaya stated that many activities were practiced over and over to improve and master their abilities.
Soumaya attended Othmaan bin affan, a “regular” secondary school in her hometown. With the help of her mom and sisters, Soumaya was able to complete her school assignments. If a test was given in class, an assistant would read the questions to Soumaya. Then, Soumaya would give her answers verbally.
Most of the materials are available in braille for blind students. In addition, there are assistant teachers who can read and correct braille assignments.
From primary through secondary schools students are able to fill out an application to receive a computer.
University Education & Jobs:
Soumaya spent her first year of university studies in Constantine. She then transferred to the University of Algiers where she received an English Translation License. Soumaya worked in translating braille books for the blind during this time.
She received a Master’s degree in Translation in Algeria, past and present. Abu Bakr Abdel-Salam Translator model.
Soumaya is currently working on her thesis: the bilingual dictionary in the computational studies. A critical and analytical study Elmawrid dictionary.
Soumaya was recently working in a vocational training center for the blind. There she taught computers, French and English. In addition to teaching blind individuals, she also trained sighted teachers. She taught them how to use a white cane, and how to work with blind individuals.
Upon completion of her thesis she will receive her doctor’s degree in Translation.
*There is no braille out in the public
*There are no guide dogs schools within Algeria, nor are there guide dogs
*There are no audible pedestrian signals when crossing intersections
*There is no special mode of transportation for people with disabilities. However, public transportation is free for the blind and whoever escorts them within bus, tramway, subway, and local flights transportation, since the airlines are owned by the government.
*At the Metro (train) station there are audible announcements
The government provides monthly checks to unemployed blind individuals, equivalent to $40.00 U S dollars
Handicap International; promotes the social inclusion of the most vulnerable people and improves their living conditions by advancing their rights and ensuring their needs are taken into account
National Organization For The Blind; Provides computers to blind students from primary through secondary grades
My Eyes For You; Sighted volunteers who read for blind people
Governmental Library; Provides audio books to blind individuals for free
Paralympics; People with disabilities can participate in sports
Soumaya would like to see the government help out those blind individuals who are not employed. She added perhaps they could assist more monetarily and offer more job training.
There is no International Perspective interview this month. If you, or you know someone from a country we have not covered, I would love to hear from you, or them. It takes just about an hour of me asking you questions, and I will write up the article for you! However, if you would like to write up your own International Perspective article, that would be great as well. If you are interested or have any questions, you can send an email to: karen@theblindperspective
Holiday Gifts Exchange Challenge 2016:
Any ideas for a good Holiday Present? About this time every year, we think about our friends and family and ponder what simple and/or amazing “thing” we can give them for the Holidays. This “thing” could be small or large, electronic or tactile, homemade or not, an app or file, etc.
It has to be simple and useful and easy to purchase. Our challenge is to know where to find these amazing gifts and decide what to buy. This is where you come in. We want you, as a Blind Perspective reader, to share an amazing gift for someone to buy for a blind person. Please include an item description, cost, where to purchase the item, and a brief reason why you recommend the item. Together, we can all benefit from all of these recommendations and hopefully, brighten someone’s Holiday!
Cost: $5 - $10
Item: Lid and Spoon Rest, $7.99, Amazon.com at: www.amazon.com/spoon and lid rest
Description: You never have to lay a hot lid or messy spatula on the counter again while cooking. This stainless steel unit includes a base with a spoon or spatula rest and a well with an 8 inch vertical wire bale to support a lid. It’s perfect for your blind cook.
So send your suggestions to the email address above by November 26. We will post your ideas in the December Newsletter, as well as on our website.
There is no International Perspective interview this month. If you, or you know someone from a country we have not covered, I would love to hear from you, or them. It takes just about an hour of me asking you questions, and I will write up the article for you! However, if you would like to write up your own International Perspective article, that would be great as well. If you are interested or have any questions, you can send an email to: karen@theblindperspective
Editor's note: Thank you to all who submitted their holiday gifts suggestions
Submitted by Mary from Pennsylvania
Item: Cathy Keck of Touched by Fantasy hand paints mugs, glasses, and many other things
Description: She will personalize these items as you wish, using braille and tactile materials. Example: I have several of her mugs, one that says good morning in braille, with the sun rising over trees; another says #1 Phillies fan; and a third has boxing gloves with knock out! in braille.
Cost: $15.00 and up, ships to Canada and the states
Order at: www.touchedbyfantasy.com
Submitted by: Noah from Colorado
Product: VIP 3000 Talking thermostat
Description: Newest member of the accessible VIP talking Thermostats
Universal heating/cooling system specifically designed for low vision/blind users
Works with most oil, gas, & electric 24 VAC heating and air conditioning
Voice instructions as well as an audio CD included
Available at: www.blindmicemegamall.com/
Price: $199.00 plus $10.00 shipping
Note: Sorry, not available outside US
Submitted by Nicole from France
Item: 9-piece Braille Measuring cups
Cost: $17.95 plus shipping, ships internationally
Comments: Easy to read braille, stackable, no drip spouts, sizes range from 1/8 to 2 cups, and works great!
Submitted by Nicole from France
Item: 12-piece Braille Measuring Spoons
Cost: $11.95 plus shipping; ships internationally
Comments: Again, easy to read braille, sizes range from 1/64 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons, store on a snap on/off ring, and comes with a small scraper to level off ingredients!
Submitted by Michael from Canada
Product: Freeze Up Talking Category Countdown Game
Description: 170 built-in categories, timer and score keeper, crystal clear speech and fun sound effects make this electronic game fun. Example; name a fruit that begins with the letter T or an animal that begins with the letter B, before the time runs out!
Note: Requires 3 AA batteries, not included
Get at: www.speaktomecatalog.com/
Price: $24.95 plus shipping; international shipping available