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International Perspective

For your reading convenients below you will find all the International Perspective published in 2018

January 2018

By Karen Santiago as told by Keao Wright
A Bit about Hawaii:
Oahu is the third largest island in the Hawaiian chain of 132 islets. Located on Oahu is the state capital, and the largest city, Honolulu. Oahu is Known as the Gathering Place. It is Hawaii's most populous island.

Some places to see while on the island of Oahu include the beaches of Waikiki, Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace, and a host of other wonderful attractions.

With beautiful weather nearly all year long, outdoor sports and recreations activities are plentiful. Some activities include surfing, kayaking, whale watching, skydiving, hang gliding, or a relaxing dinner cruise. The island is full of wonderful music. Most weekdays, and weekends you can enjoy an evening out in a local bar and listen to some great lively music.

Schools for the Blind:
Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind is in Honolulu. Students who are hard of hearing, deaf, or deaf blind attend this school from preschool to grade 12. Initially this school was designed for blind and visually impaired students.

Now a days, most blind students are mainstreamed into the public school system. Depending on the school district, TVI (teachers of the visually impaired) and O&M (Orientation & Mobility) teachers work at the schools. In addition, sighted teachers are instructed on how to teach and work with blind students.

Students learn braille and can submit their assignments in braille, and via email. Mobility is also taught within some of the school districts.

The University of Hawaii (U H), is difficult to get into. However, the state agency collaborates with the U H disability service office in providing assistance to students. They help with signing up for BookShare, NLS services, and other accessibility needs.

Job training:
The state agency provides a transition summer program for students from age 15 to 24. Interested students can choose, or be paired up with a company for four weeks in the summertime as an intern.

The state agency provides classes on what one needs to know when being interviewed for a job. Furthermore, they teach interviewing skills, and conduct mock interviews.

Like the others states in the US, blind individuals in Hawaii are able to receive either Social Security Income (SSI), or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI).

HandiVan is a transportation system available for persons with disabilities. Individuals need to call to arrange for rides three days in advanced. The fair is 2 dollars per ride.
The public buses are not available throughout Oahu. The fair for all to ride the bus is currently 2 dollars and 50 cents per trip. However, the rate will increase to 2 dollars and 75 cents beginning in January. Not all buses have automated announcements, but it is getting better.
Uber and Lift are available in Hawaii. These two options tend to be a bit pricey.

Walking Around:
Many rural regions do not have sidewalks. However, the business and tourist areas have tactile markers and curb cuts on the sidewalks. This also holds true for the presence of audible signals at intersections.

In Oahu, braille is not consistently seen in the public. Some restaurants have braille menus, some companies provide their documents in braille, and some public buildings have braille on doors, restrooms, and in elevators. Keao says that the best thing to do is to request items in braille.

Reading Service:
Blind individuals living in Hawaii are able to sign up with the National Library Service (NLS). With this agency, blind and visually impaired people can call and request a book in either braille or audio format. These materials can be mailed, and at no cost to the individual.

Guide Dog Schools:
There are no guide dog schools in Oahu, or throughout Hawaii. However, guide dogs are allowed in Hawaii, and all must enter via Honolulu International Airport. The guide dogs have access to public buildings as stated in the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). people and business owners are getting accustomed to the reality of blind individuals using guide dogs.

Blind Organizations:
Ho Opono Services for the Blind: this is a branch of the Department of Human Services. They provide comprehensive and specialized services that meet the varied needs of those across the state who are visually impaired, blind, or deaf/blind. These services are provided free of charge. Some of the services they provide include:
White cane awareness
Prevention and blindness awareness
Vocational rehabilitation services
Low vision clinic
Instructional services in mobility, braille, computers, living skills, and more.

New Vision Program: Students are enrolled in program classes that run from 6 to 9 months. Program students commit to full-time participation. Curriculum includes such classes in braille, mobility, computers, athletics, personal and home management.

Island Skills Gathering: ISG seeks to inspire people with disabilities to discover solutions of assistive technology while serving as a role model; a trusted mentor and end-user of technology.

Guide Dogs of Hawaii: Members are offered technology aides, adaptive aides, and guide dog placements. One can explore the benefits of technology, gain safety and independence, and experience mobility freedom with continued orientation and support.

Hawaiian chapters in both ACB and NFB.

Final thoughts:
Keao would like to see more pedestrian audible signals throughout Oahu, and a reduction in transportation fees for those with disabilities.
Keao believes that blind people in Hawaii are accepted and treated well. She agrees with her friend, Derrick who says, ďDiversity is a strength. The fact that different cultures can live together on a small island is certainly a positive. We learn about each other by sharing our customs, food and music.Ē Keao believes that Oahu is a great place to be blind!

February 2018

By Karen Santiago as told by Chee Chau
A bit about Malaysia:
Malaysia is a multicultural country located in southeast Asia. Its borders are Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, & Brunei.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia. In comparison, its size is a bit larger than New Mexico. The population of Malaysia is estimated at 30.3 million. The official language is Malay, however, English is taught in the schools, and is often used as the business language.

There are coastal plains that rise up to hills and mountains. The climate is tropical and rainy. Tourism is popular, as visitors engage in hiking, scuba diving, and relaxing on the many beaches. A must see site is Petronas twin towers (1483 feet), the tallest twin skyscraper in the world. These buildings are joined together by a sky bridge at levels 41, which is 558 feet off the ground. The worldís largest cave chamber, by area is in Gunung Mulu National Park.

In 1953 Princess Elizabeth opened the first residential school for the blind in Johor Bahru, simply called Princess Elizabeth. Students attended this school from grade one through grade 6, to receive their primary education. Basic braille was taught here, however, mobility was not. Students just had to feel their way around.
As for recreation activities, there was a school band, and some sports played. However, these two areas did not provide any formal training. Chee joined the school band playing the keyboard. He stated that it was like a free for all, if you wanted to play, you could, but there were no proper instructions.
Chee attended his secondary education at an integrated public school. It wasnít until seventh grade when he received his first cane. However, mobility instructors were scarce and Chee learned to navigate the school mainly through his peers.
Braille textbooks were not common while Chee attended his secondary education. He had to rely on his brailled notes, and the occasional audio cassette with class information. Chee said when he was in his final year of secondary education, only two of his 9 courses had the textbooks in braille. He was quite unhappy and discouraged with the shortage of accessible braille textbooks. He created three course braille textbooks based on the notes he compiled. Therefore, the next blind student could have five accessible textbooks, as opposed to just two.
After secondary school, many blind students are encouraged to attend the training center. Here, students are basically told what to do, whether to be trained as a massage therapist or a phone operator. Chee went on to say that he has heard firsthand accounts that the training is less than adequate.

Chee wanted to continue to study, and in the field of music. While attending a college fair he applied to a local college. He was accepted, however, when he informed them that he was blind, the college withdrew his application based on not being able to accommodate his needs.
That however, did not stop Chee. He applied at a college in Singapore, and there too, they never had a blind student attend. But, this college was willing to give Chee a 6 month trial period. I am happy to say that things did work out, and Chee received a degree in music.

There is very little assistance with accessible technology for the blind. Blind students may receive their first version of Jaws, but with little training. Any subsequent upgrade is the individualís responsibility. Chee added that the process of upgrading is very time consuming, and not as easy as one would think.
Blind individuals can receive the white cane at a reduced cost, or free.

Blind people can receive discounted rates on transportation. However, it depends on which company one uses. Discounts range from 30 percent to 50 percent off. There is no reduced fare if using the cab service.
There are audible announcements on trains, although they can be very long, hard to hear, or not enough information is given.
There are some volunteer organizations that will provide free transportation for the blind. This service is limited, as it is based on the number of volunteers and their availability.

There are very little walking accessibility features in Malaysia. Only in a few areas are there curb cuts and guide tracks (tactile strips), and these are not always positioned correctly. Audible pedestrian signals have been placed by blind organizations, and where the population of blind people is thought to be numerous.

The only places where braille is seen is on restroom doors and in lifts (elevators).

Guide Dogs:
There are no guide dog schools in Malaysia. There are only three malls, of many that will permit dogs inside. Access to public buildings is not currently a law in Malaysia. Although one can have a guide dog in Malaysia, it is very difficult due to limited access.

Reading service:
Malaysia does have a reading service but it has a limited supply of materials and is very slow. Individuals can request a braille book or talking book, but it can take quite some time before receiving it. One can ask that a document be read and recorded for them. However, the process is so slow that by the time it is done, you probably donít need it.

If one is disabled and meets the income guidelines, then a monthly check is granted. Chee added that the monetary value is not much.

Blind Organizations:
Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) mission is to empower persons with visual impairment by providing them with services & opportunities for greater participation, involvement and integration into society as well as to promote prevention of blindness.
Some of the services they provide include:
*Vocational Training: provide rehabilitation & vocational training.
*Orientation and Mobility
*Resource centre for information technology *Training in adaptive equipment / devices
*Sports & Recreation: to organize and provide sporting events and recreational activities for the visually impaired.

National Council for the Blind, Malaysia (NCBM): objectives include the introduction and progressive improvement of policies and implementation of services governing the education, rehabilitation, employment, and general welfare of the blind and the prevention of blindness in Malaysia.

Final thoughts:
Chee believes two important things need to happen, and they go hand in hand. First, the blind community in Malaysia needs to advocate more for themselves. This means asking for assistance when needed; donít assume sighted people know what you need or donít need. Secondly, he feels that blind instructors need to be more educated in teaching and working with the blind community. These instructors need to make appropriate recommendations, suggestions, and prepare blind individuals with the skills and tools they need for home and work. One more thing chee added is educating the sighted society. Let them know such things as blind people can do things, donít automatically feel sorry for them, and most importantly, treat the blind equally.

March 2018

By Linn Martinussen
A bit about Norway:
Norway is a country situated in Northern Europe and is part of Scandinavia. Itís large in size, but has a small population of about five million people. Norway is extremely wealthy due to the discovery of crude oil in 1969 and ranks top on the UNís list of countries with the best standard of living.

Blind Schools:
Schools for the blind were phased out during the 1980s. As someone who started school in 1992, I was among the first batch of blind students to be integrated into the public school system. I donít know why the schools were phased out, but I can imagine that with such a small population, the schools werenít exactly over populated. Besides, sending children away to reside in a school far away from their families at the age of seven was seen as quite cruel.

Braille & Mobility:
After the closure of all residential schools for the blind, what had previously been schools, turned in to resource centres which provided Braille and mobility lessons to teachers in mainstream schools, as well as directly to blind students. For example, my mainstream teacher, I had a separate one from the class, but was still in class for most of the time, taught me Braille and mobility, but I also had visits from the resource centres. These centres also held annual courses for blind students to make sure we had all the skills we needed and didnít lag behind our classmates.

Sports & Recreation:
There are sports clubs for blind people and for people with other disabilities, but blind people usually have their own. For example, there are running clubs with volunteer guide runners. There used to be a Goalball team, but it has dissolved. The Norwegian Association for the blind, especially its youth organization, arrange a lot of sports activities however on weekends away at holiday and activity centres for the blind around the country. These are quite varied from Yoga and pilates to skiing.

Blind people are encouraged to get a higher education. Higher education in Norway is free, and blind students get braille displays, unlimited hours to employ a reader or secretary, doing all the visual aspects of uniwork. So in principle education should be a breeze. Especially since the Norwegian Library for the blind (NLB) now provide ebooks which are fast to produce. However, itís not always possible for students to read and research as easily as their sighted counterparts, but I personally believe that the solution to making university easier for a blind person, is to have better guidelines about what to read so it is easier to do well with a smaller number of books.

Job Training:
Unfortunately, getting a job is not very easy in Norway due to bad attitudes, or little knowledge of blind people by employers. In a survey conducted in 2008, employers were asked who theyíd rather employ. A convicted Somali, a lesbian woman, a gay man, a wheelchair user and so on and ranking bottom was a blind woman without a guide dog. Unfortunately not much has changed since then. I was forced to move back to Norway from the UK because of family stuff. Having worked a few years in the BBC and with a masterís degree under my belt, I thought I wouldnít be unemployed for long. However, three years later and I have now decided to leave Norway because Iím getting nowhere. Although blind people are encouraged to get educated, theyíre also encouraged to get straight onto benefits once theyíre finished. This trend is slowly changing, but the change is very slow and there are problems with blind ghetto cultures and alcoholism among blind individuals who could hold at least part time work.

For people who are more disabled, there are special taxis. For the blind, there is not, but we do get taxi cards and use public transport on familiar routes.
With cabs, there is a fixed fare for a ride, though there are some variations on this around the country. In most counties you can only use your taxi card inside that county. So if I travel to another town, I canít get reduced fares.
Public buses are very inaccessible because you have to press a touch button to open the doors. However, the electronic announcements are quite good now and Ruter, the traffic company for the Eastern part of Norway, is working on an accessible travel app that will guide you at bus and metro stops and tell you what bus or metro are coming. Metros are a lot easier to use as you can feel the button for opening the doors, however itís still quite stressful to actually locate the door, so I wish they would just open. Trams are like buses, quite hard to use, but doable.

What really annoys me about the Norwegian transport system, especially in Oslo, is that unlike in the UK, you canít get help to travel around the city. So thereís no assistance at the most buzzling metro stops and no way to book it. Only if you travel by railway, can you actually book assistance, but this has to be done 24 hours in advance which is ridiculous since you canít always know when youíre travelling. I personally only use the over ground railway to travel between cities, so I think more local assistance like they have in London on the underground and buses would be a huge relief for many blind people.

If I lived in a more rural area, my problems would be a lot bigger as the buses have no announcements and they are less frequent, so living in the towns and cities is something most blind people tend to choose when they grow up.

Getting around:
We have curb cuts and tactile strips. There are audible signals at most intersections.
In train and metro stations there are tactile dots or lines to mark the beginning and end of stairs and platforms. And in smaller towns there are audible signals to say youíre approaching a station on foot.
There are no Braille signs anywhere except numbers in lifts.

Braille can only be found in lifts and on medication. Some restaurant chains have Braille menus, but thatís rare. I also canít receive Braille correspondence from banks and other public instances. Luckily though, Norway is far more digitized than many other countries, so I can receive e-mails and most menus these days are online. I do like a Braille menu though and miss this from living in the UK.

Guide Dogs:
There are three guide dog schools in Norway. Guide dogs are very popular. They do have access to public buildings in theory, however discrimination occur a lot.

Most blind individuals receive benefits. I fall into a rare category of blind people who have no benefit rights because I didnít have my education plan approved by those who are responsible for benefits. Good benefits is really a big curse since it demotivates blind people from seeking employment and encourage the system to keep blind people on the benefits.

Accessible Equipment:
This is where Norway is great. You can get everything you need due to your blindness funded by the government regardless of whether you receive benefits. For example, your computer wonít be funded, because most people would naturally have a computer these days. However, Braille displays and screenreader licenses do get funded because you wouldnít have them if you didnít have to. Canes, GPS and other practical aids you can prove you need for the sole reason of being blind, are also always funded.

Reading service:
You can get Braille and audiobooks through the Norwegian Library of the blind (NLB) for free. Audiobooks can be provided on daisy or downloaded via an app. Braille books are printed on demand and sent in the post. Itís also possible to become a member of other countries reading services through the NLB, such as Bookshare.

Blind Organizations:
In Norway we have a national organization Norges Blindeforbund, or the Norwegian Association of the blind. They help with everything concerning blindness from rehabilitating people who lose their sight, to arranging activities and holidays.

There is also a Christian organization for the blind that in some ways rival the national association for the blind by providing many of the same services. However, many people are members of both organizations and they never tend to arrange activities over the same weekends.

Final Thoughts:
All in all, Norway really isnít a bad country in which to be a blind person. I get everything I need in terms of equipment and I can live comfortably thanks to the wealth of the place. However, I do think a lot can be improved when it comes to accessibility, work and opportunities. Attitudes needs changing and Norway needs to become more liberal in its thinking when it comes to solutions and trying new things.

The anti-discrimination law is not as strong as it ought to be and I think some of the problem is that the population is so small that finding new opportunities are hard when youíre blind. I often say that if Norway had the wealth it has paired with the forward thinking of the UK, where accessibility is better, it would be a paradise for blind people. London is the place in the world I considered the best place for blind people to live.

Iím glad Iíve been born blind in Norway and experienced such a great superficial standard of living. Because my dream is to use my experiences good and bad, to work to better the lives of blind people in other countries around the world.

April 2018

Ukraine; as told by Anya Fuller
A bit about Ukraine:
In Eastern Europe, along the Russian border, sits Ukraine, the largest country in the region. Ukraine also borders Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and Belarus. The Carpathian Mountains to the west protect Ukraine from fierce northern winds. The Ukraine has some of the richest farm land in Europe, over 1,000 miles of flat plains known as steppes. It also has rich supplies of oil and gas.
Kiev is the capital city. Ukrainian is the official language, although many people mainly on the eastern side speak Russian. Hungarian, Romanian and Polish are popular languages spoken in Western Ukraine. The population of Ukraine is just over 47.1 million.
Many ancient traditions are carried on in Ukraine today, like traditional dances and music. One Ukrainian tradition is the decorating of Pysanka, or Ukrainian Easter egg during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. Pysanky are intricately decorated using a wax-relief method, though there are many variations on design and techniques for creating these eggs.

Blind Schools: Anyaís remarks reflect the experiences she had with the school she attended.
There are five schools for the blind throughout Ukraine. These residential schools are Lviv, Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov and Slavyansk. Anya attended the Kharkov school from the nineties to the early 2000ís. She started at the age of seven, although students can begin preschool at an earlier age. Students receive education through grade twelve.
The only sport type of activities were checkers, chess, goalball, and swimming with outside assistance.
Students at this blind school were fortunate enough to receive exceptional music instructions, due to the collaboration with a nearby music institution. Students could learn how to play two or three instruments, and all were required to be part of the choir. This was a very comprehensive music program as the students were also required to take classes such as music literature and history.

Braille and Mobility:
Braille was taught in school. However, there was a shortage of braille materials. For example. There was only one English book, and no math books for high schoolers at all. As curriculums were constantly changing, there were hardly any Braille books for other classes either.
Mobility was not seen as an important skill to teach or learn. Students generally felt their way around or relied on those who had some sight. Canes were passed out during the mobility class, which was once a week, if that. Anya received her first cane when she was a senior. By that time, most students did not use their cane because it wasnít ďthe popular thing to do.Ē

Until recently, blind children could be educated exclusively in the residential schools. In 2011, the Lviv Regional Fund of Social Protection and Recovery of the Blind, USI organized inclusive education for blind children outside specialized boarding schools. They have created many innovations that allow blind children to study in ordinary schools. There are still things that need to improve such as the training of teachers, increase funding, and more accessible materials. However, enrollment at the boarding schools are decreasing, which indicates a growing desire of parents for inclusive education.

High school students are encouraged to attend university. Should they have good grades, letter of recommendation, and meet the necessary requirements, tuition is fully funded. Students also receive a monthly allowance while studying, as long as they maintain an average of a B grade.
There are no disability service departments available at the higher educational facilities. The blind student is basically on their own when it comes to accessible material. This is not an easy task, as most textbooks are not available in braille. If students are not fortunate enough to have a scanner, then they need to have great listening skills, and rely on other studentís assistance. Anya created her own contraction, or shorthand braille in order to keep up with class notes. Anya stated that many teachers pass the blind students, instead of the blind student passing the class.

Blind individuals are categorized into three different groups; first, totally blind, second, partially sighted, and third, high partial. So, the level one is, determines the benefits one receives.
As for disability pension, the greatest monthly amount would go to the first level, and decreasing with level two and three.

Individuals with the first level receive free rides on buses and trains (suburban area), as long as they show their proof of blindness identification. A person can travel with them at no cost as well. If the train ride is a long one, then the person will get a reduced rate.
Level two individuals will receive a discounted rate for buses and trains. Finally, the third level will receive no reduction in fare, but they are still entitle to certain benefits.

Walking Around:
There are very little accommodations out on the streets for the blind community. Things such as curb cuts, tactile strips, and audible signals are few and far between throughout Ukraine. Anya said that other obstacles in the way of blind people are the cars that are parked on the sidewalks, or, in certain places, uncovered sewers.

There is no braille what so ever in the public. It is deemed obsolete.
While students are taught braille it is not widely used. Parents of partially sighted children do not even want their children learning it. They would rather have other accommodations such as large print or better lighting.

Accessible Equipment:
Blind schools are equipped with some accessible equipment. However, if you want accessible devices in your home, you had to get it yourself. Many blind people have to resort to cracked version of JAWS or other software.

Reading service:
Ukraine does have libraries for the blind. Although there is material in various formats, they are very outdated. The libraries are no longer in high demand since most people can download books from the computer.

Guide Dog Schools:
There are no guide dog schools in Ukraine. It is seemed as a nuisance, and not much is known. Anya stated that she knows of no one owning a guide dog in Ukraine. She added that the majority of blind individuals travel with a sighted guide.

Blind Organizations:
Ukrainian Association of the Blind (UTOS):
The state-sponsored association is involved in the social, employment, medical and vocational rehabilitation of the disabled citizens of Ukraine, who cannot compete in the labor market. It provides employment, health and social protection for the visually impaired. This locally generated primary organization, and in areas where there is a need to also organize training and production company. Blind people get the full range of social protection, the ability to fully implement opportunities to live and to work. Destination of selected features of blind people to perform a particular job.
*Note: these statements are taken right from the association's website. Although this sounds great, the hard reality is that they do not do much for blind individuals in any way.

Ukrainian center for physical culture and sport for the disabled:
Works with youth and adult in various sporting activities. Teaching, training, and competing with other schools, regional, national, and international teams.

Paralympics: Ukraine is involved with Paralympics, and has performed very well in past events.

Community Reactions:
Anya believes that there are many people who see blindness, as well as other disabilities in a negative way. Furthermore, the more visible the disability, the more a stigma is attached to it.
Some people in this society shame those with disabilities, and may take advantage of them. Many see the blindness, or disability, before seeing the person.

Anya would like to see a lot of changes made with respect to blindness issues in Ukraine.
*Use the American model of teaching those with disabilities; there needs to be more advanced training of both the teachers and the individuals.
*Greater awareness and education to the general public about people with disabilities.
*Awareness to employers that blind people can work too.
*Access to materials in accessible formats.
*Providing Office of disability services in colleges and universities.

May 2018

Stevenage, England
I had the pleasure of speaking with, and interviewing Danny Miles of Stevenage.

A bit about Stevenage:
In 1947 Stevenage became the location for the first New Town in England. Stevenage is in southeast England, and about 35 miles north of the capital city of London. Stevenage is an urban town situated near countrysideís and picturesque villages. The population here is roughly 90,000 people.

Blind Schools:
There are blind schools, most of them are residential. Primary schools are for students between the ages of 4 and 11. Students then continue onto secondary schools till they are 18. These schools follow the same, or very similar curriculum as in the ďregularĒ schools. Blind students learn braille and receive orientation and mobility training.

Since 1990 there has been the approach to try to mainstream blind individuals into the public schools. This is currently the more popular option for blind students. Danny was mainstreamed throughout his primary and secondary education. The schools have one or more learning support assistance (LSA), acting as the base for the individualís education. Danny had time set aside while in the primary grades to learn braille. As he attended secondary school, time was also set aside to work and study with the LSA on subjects that were more important than others. The school he attended was very accommodating to his needs. Danny was able to recite, braille, or use his laptop to type his answers depending on the situation. He was allowed extra time to complete exams.
The summer before Danny began secondary school, he was given mobility and orientation lessons. With these instructions, Danny was able to navigate the school quite well, and without a white cane. It wasnít until his second year at school that he received formal white cane training. However, he was able to travel throughout the school already, so he did not use the cane.

Residential Blind Colleges:
More common these days is for individuals 16 and older including adults, to attend these residential colleges. Those who have just lost their sight, especially later in life, can stay at the college for 6 months to a year. During their stay, they will learn rehabilitation skills. The program is based on individual needs and interests. For example, one can have part time studies and part time rehabilitation. Adult learning courses are taught here.

Danny attended Middlesex University. Some textbooks were in braille, many were not. He had to rely on his assistant who took notes during lectures, and read other course materials to him.

Blind in Business: helps people who are blind or have partial sight into work. In addition, they offer help and support with finding work, the interview process, and obtaining equipment to help you succeed. However, Danny did not have such a positive experience with this organization.

Assistive Technology:
In order for individuals to get the assistive technology they need, they need to reach out to various charities and ask for funding.

Access to Work: provide financial assistance for people who are guaranteed a position or already employed. They will pay for equipment, human support, and transportation within the job.

Personal Independence Payment: monthly payment regardless of other income. Payment is determined based on individualís level of care and mobility. This is to assist with things that you need because of your disability.
Employment & Support Allowance: for those deemed unable to work. The amount for this benefit is dependent upon oneís income.

75% of visually impaired people are unemployed
Roughly two million people in the United Kingdom are visually impaired, with 5% being totally blind
Relatively speaking, only a small percentage of people use braille

Equality act: gives all disabled people rights to access the same opportunities, services, and products as an abled body person.

Only 4% of literature is available (books, newspapers, magazines, etc) are made accessible in any alternative format, be that audio, electronic, braille, or large print.

Government documents and bank statements are available in braille upon request.
Most restaurants do not have braille menus. however, the servers are very accommodating and will read the menu.

Walking around:
Some sidewalks have curb cuts and tactile strips. There are also places where cars drive in the pedestrian areas, making it quite dangerous.
There are some audible signals, which they refer to as Pelican Crossing. They also have crossings with the audible signals and a moving wheel underneath. The wheel turns when the light changes, and stops turning when the light turns back and the cars go. Danny says that where these signals are, itís fantastic, but itís not consistent. He also added it is always best to know your surroundings and use your orientation and mobility skills to travel safely.

Dial A Ride: charitable organization not widespread as it used to be.
Hospital Community Volunteer Service: volunteer drivers give rides predominantly for medical appointments; users pay just for the cost of the gas.
Buses: If you meet the criteria then you receive a bus permit which enables you and a companion to ride for free.
Train: If you qualify you receive a Disability Rail Card, which enables you and a companion one third off the fare.

Guide Dog Schools:
There are three guide dog schools, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association being the most popular one. Guide dogs have the right to access public places. However, there are numerous stories of users being denied entrance to shops, restaurants, taxis, etc., due to the dogs. The theory is good, but the practice is not.

Reading services:
RNIB provides talking books through the post at no charge. Braille books are also available although limited, due to the increase demand for electronic copies.

British Blind Sports: is a charity that helps blind and partially sighted people get active and play sports. Although acting as the umbrella organization, most localized sports clubs are set up by individuals.

RNIB: Royal National institute of blind people the UKís leading charity supporting blind and partially sighted people. They provide a variety of services such as a helpline, reading services, courses, resource centers, E learning, and more.

Final thoughts:
Danny is truly appreciative of what he has, but would like things to be more consistent. There seems to be a growing lack of empathy and assistance for people with all disabilities from the government and the power to be. Danny would like to see as most of us, no matter where we live, more funding to support the services blind individuals need. Danny says that we are all meant to be equal, yet some disabilities need more to reach that level of equality.

June 2018

I would like to thank all the readers who have recently contacted me with their interest in sharing their stories about life in their country as a blind person. The International Perspective segment is taking the month of June, July, and August off. However, all of those who have contacted me, your articles will be published after the summer break.

In addition, if there are others who would like to write about life in their country, just send me an email at my address listed above. Please read below all the countries I have covered so far.

Algeria, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Iraq, Israel, Macedonia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Pakistan, South Africa, Southern China, Soviet Union, Spain, Ukraine, and United Kingdom.
Canada (Eastern, Central, & Western)
United States (Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, and Wyoming)

So, if your country is not listed above why not send me an email and I can work with you to write up an informative and entertaining article about life in your country. After the break we will hear about life in Guyana, Sweden, Zimbabwe, and Northern China. Again, thanks to all of those who have shared their experiences and knowledge about life as a blind person in their home country!

July 2018

Off this month, but if interested in writing or being interviewed about life as a blind person in your country, email me at the address above.

Remember, if you are going to the ACB convention in St. Louis, stop by our table at the marketplace on either Monday July 1 or Wednesday July 4, to say hello and buy an awesome print/ braille t shirt!

August 2018

This segment will once again start up next month!

September 2018

Jinzhou, China
By Hui Guan
Abit about Jinzhou:
I live in the city of Jinzhou where is in Liaoning province, located in the northeast of China. Jinzhou city is about 470 km to the northeast of Beijing. Jinzhou officially in cludes one city and four counties with about 2,983,000 population altogether and the entire area size Is 10,301 square km. I live within the Jinzhou city and the city population is about 870,000 and city size is about 535 square km including three districts.

Blind Schools:
There are schools for the blind in China, especially in big cities. As in my city, a small or middle-sized city, there is a school for the blind and 8 or 9 children study there for their elementary education. When they graduate, they go to the middle school in their capital city in the province.

Blind students usually attend special schools, and are not integrated into the public school system. Most of the students reside at the blind schools, few commutes.

Braille & Mobility:
Braille and mobility are taught in the elementary schools for the blind. Blind adults may have opportunities to learn braille and mobility at blind agencies, if the vision loss happens as an adult.

Sports & Recreation:
Certain sports are available in the schools for Blind children, such as gate ball, soccer, running, horizontal bar and others. However, sports are rarely in communities or separate programs.

I have heard that people in another city have joined in Marathons, but no such sport in my city. If an adult is good at a certain sport, he or she may be trained for sport competition, but it is not common.

Job Training:
Blind people mostly do massage in China. The job skills can be taught when students attend either the middle schools, the different Massage Academies, or the massage department in universities.

For adults, they can get training in the agency for the Disabled. Some other jobs include teachers or tuners, but not common. They obtain a job mainly by themselves, either working for others or running a massage clinic or shop.

If students go to college or university they would need their parents' financial support. Some colleges or universities accept blind students in China. Students mostly study in a separate department within a college or university. The majors are usually designed for them, such as medical massage, music, or piano tuning.

I have not attended the school for the blind as an adult, but I have experienced learning in a training center. I needed to prepare things for reading or taking notes on my own.

There is no separate transportation system for the blind or disabled. Public transportation is free for the blind within a city, such as bus or subway. This benefit is only for the blind people. But we certainly pay for taxi cabs at the normal cost.

Getting around:
Yes, there are curb cuts in the sidewalks, and tactile strips on the main streets. However, there are no audible signals or braille at intersections, at least not in my city, a middle city. The same holds true at public bus and or train stations. Maybe somewhere in a few big cities it is possible to be improved in recent years.

I have no experience using Braille in the public; restaurant menus, elevators, doors of public buildings, etc. However, I hear that audio or braille is available in elevators in the building of Beijing Federation for the Disabled.

I have not received materials in a braille format, say from a bank. Some blind people now use smartphones and are able to receive text messages from banks and learn information through their screen reader.

Guide Dogs:
There is a guide dog school in the city of Dalian in northeast China. This is the only guide dog school in China. I heard of a training center for guide dogs in southern China, but the school in Dalian is stable and has offered training for years.

The guide dog option is not popular. No one in my city has experienced using a guide dog so far. Though the rule is to allow guide dogs in public places, it is occasionally reported that Users usually are forbidden to enter public buildings or buses.

Yes, blind people receive monetary benefits in recent years. The amount is limited and only totally blind or other serious disabled individuals can receive the benefit according to the rules. Blind people can occasionally get help with accessible equipment, such as screen readers, talking watches, white canes and other items. However, the number of people is large and the help cannot cover everyone in need.

Reading service:
Blind people can subscribe to braille magazines at a cost. Blind individuals can become a member of the Library for the Blind in Beijing. It is the biggest braille library in China. Blind people can borrow books for a lifetime if they pay the one-time deposit. Moreover, there is possibly a library in the federation for the blind in some cities where people go to read.

Talking books and braille books are not so popular in China. Computer access to books is a popular choice for blind people to use to read books.

Blind Organizations:
We have the national, province, city and district based blind organizations. The China Disabled Persons Federation is the official department in China. Most of the staff work for the organizations part-time. They carry on the tasks from the Federation for the Disabled. If the Federation issues guidelines or benefits to the blind, the staff will carry on. The staff then can report to the Federation what they need, such as clientís needs and information.

Final Thoughts:
If blind people can contribute to the society, then they are received well. There have been improvements in education and employment for the blind. However, I hope for more opportunities for the Blind community in education, employment, and other aspects of society.

October 2018

By Ganesh Singh

Background of Guyana:
Guyana is situated on the South America coast and is the only English-speaking country in South America. Guyana is considered part of the Caribbean due to British colonization. Guyana gained independence from Britain on the 26th of May 1966. Culturally Guyana is closer to the Caribbean than South America.

Guyana has very large land mass spanning 83,000 square miles. 70% of the country has dense virgin rainforest. Presently Guyana has a population of approximately 750,000 persons. The population is made up of 6 ethnic groups with Indian, African, European, Portuguese, Chinese and Indigenous ancestry.

The main exports and income generators are rice and sugar cane cultivation, gold mining, logging and of recent fossil fuel extraction.

Education and Schools for the Blind:
There are no schools for the blind in Guyana. A system of integrated education in the mainstream schools have been promoted. Sadly, this integration has only occurred in a few populated areas in Guyana, namely Georgetown the capital and Linden another town. The students who are blind or visually impaired are supported in the mainstream schools by teachers from two Resource Units for the blind operated by the Ministry of Education. The approximately 50 students that are supported by these Units commute daily.

Children who are blind or visually impaired living in the rural parts of Guyana have limited or no opportunity for a meaningful education.

Braille and Mobility:
Braille is taught to a limited extent at the Resource Units for the Blind. The students are mainly taught Grade 1 (uncontracted) Braille. There is no other program whether government or community base to teach the use of Braille amongst adults or children. Most persons who are blind in Guyana have no knowledge in the use of Braille. There is approximately 10 people who are blind that are proficient in reading and writing Braille.
The use of Braille in Guyana is not widely promoted and there is limited information available in Braille.

There is no program for mobility and orientation in the school system. A few of the students learn on their own with some assistance from adults who are blind. Most of the students who are blind are not independent and do not possess adequate mobility skills.
At the community level there is no system for mobility and orientation. Persons who acquire their blindness later in life are taught to a limited extent by friends who are blind and a few persons who are blind that are independent. White canes are not easily acquired and is very costly. Most of the white canes are distributed through the Guyana Society for the Blind and is donated by charitable organizations.

Sports and Recreation:
There are very limited opportunities to be involved in sports for persons who are blind and visually impaired in Guyana. The students that attend the Resource Units for the Blind and the mainstream schools have no opportunity to participate in sports. This is a result of the absence of trained personnel and equipment to engage persons who are blind in sports.

The only game allowed for persons who are blind and visually impaired to play is blind cricket. The Guyana Blind Cricket Association is the governing body for blind cricket in Guyana and is a nongovernmental organization. The association promotes the sport nationally as a vehicle for the empowerment of persons who are blind and visually impaired. Over 100 persons who are blind and visually impaired play the sport across the country. Blind cricket is an international sport and a few Guyanese blind cricketers have represented the Caribbean on the international circuit.

Job Training:
There is no assistance in getting employment as a person who is blind and visually impaired, whether in the private or public sector. There are approximately 15 persons who are blind and visually impaired that are meaningfully employed full time. The remaining members of the blind community are unemployed with a small minority in schools or other educational institutions.

The government from time to time implement training programs to equip members of the blind community with skills to be employed. Sadly, this is not done on a regular basis and there is no assistance in getting jobs upon completion of the training programs.

University and College Education:
Persons who are blind and visually impaired are facilitated at the University of Guyana and a few other tertiary institutions. Most of these students receive full government scholarships to cover tuition and transportation expenses.

No support is given to ensure information is accessible at their tertiary education level. The students have to find their own means to have information in accessible formats. There is no support mechanism in place for students with disabilities at any of the tertiary institutions.

There is no separate or specialized transportation service for persons who are blind or visually impaired. At the same time there is no publically operated transportation service in Guyana. All the transportation providers such as taxis and busses are private and is disorganized. There are limited regulations for the transportation service providers. As a result of the transportation service being privately operated persons who are blind and visually impaired receives no reduction in fares. There are many instances of persons who are blind and visually impaired being discriminated when trying to use or are using the privately operated taxis and buses.

Only the ferry service is operated by government and persons with disabilities are allowed to travel free of cost, once they are in possession of a ferry pass.

Getting Around:
There are no curb cuts on the sidewalks or tactile strips on the streets to facilitate mobility. In addition, there are no audible signals or Braille to assist in crossing the intersections and roads. Most of the sidewalks are unlevel and some have open manholes that are dangerous to persons who are blind and visually impaired. There are no trains in Guyana and no public operated bus service.

Braille is not used at all in the public in Guyana. It is almost impossible to get materials in Braille. No elevators, restaurants menus, public markings and signs, etc that are written in Braille. No document can be requested in Braille, whether from the bank or any other institution.

Guide Dogs:
There is no guide dog school in Guyana. Presently there is no person who is blind in Guyana that uses a guide dog.

Some persons who are blind and visually impaired receives a monthly sum of $8,000 (39USD) from the Government through its Public Assistance program. This sum is their only source of reliable income.
No assistance is provided for the purchase of assistive devices and aids to persons who are blind.

Reading Service:
There is no reading service available to provide accessible books and information to persons who are blind and visually impaired. The few Braille books that are in the country are housed mainly at the Guyana Society for the Blind and are donations from North American charities. Audio books are shared amongst the blind community, mainly in digital formats. These audio books are acquired from sources out of Guyana.

Blind Organizations:
There is one national blind organization in Guyana with a few community base blind and cross disability organizations. The national organization is called Guyana Society for the Blind and has a membership of approximately 150 persons who are blind and visually impaired. The Guyana Society for the Blind offers high school classes to out of school teenagers and adults who are blind. They also offer information technology training, mobility and independent skills training and white canes. Most of their programs are dependent on the availability of funding and is not sustained throughout the year.

The community base organizations offer limited services and mainly liaise with the Guyana Society for the Blind to access their limited services for members.

Both the Guyana Society for the Blind and the community base organizations receives limited or no funding from government and is dependent on donor agencies and corporate Guyana for financial support.

Final Thoughts:
Persons who are blind and visually impaired are viewed through a charity lens and are seen as objects of charity. Most persons in Guyana are of the opinion that persons who are blind and visually impaired are unable to be productive and independent and should depend on others for assistance and sustaince. Many families isolate their relatives who are blind and visually impaired not allowing them to be independent and live a productive life. Persons who are blind and visually impaired have limited opportunities to be productive and faces discrimination on a daily basis.

I would like to see persons who are blind and visually impaired be given more opportunities to be productive and independent citizens on an equal basis. In addition I would like for the contents of the Guyana Disability Act 2010 be implemented.

November 2018

By Tendai David Muranganwa

A bit about:
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The country has a population of 14 million people, the main languages are English, Shona and Ndebele. The main attraction is the Victoria Falls which is one of the 7 wonders of the world, the second most popular attraction is the Great Zimbabwe ruins, in the shona language it is called Dzimbadze mabwe which is translated to mean House of Stone, and this is the origins of the country being named Zimbabwe [House of Stone] in 1980 after Independence from British rule.

At Independence in 1980 the Government and private sector focused on inclusive education which saw the setting up of Schools for the Blind like Kapota and Danhiko, due to financial constraints children who are visually impaired are now being integrated into the public schools, this has assisted to change perceptions and stigma towards the blind.

In the case of schools set up specifically for the blind students reside at the school.

In relation to Adults who are visually impaired there are limited schools for rehabilitation, in my case I attended the Dorothy Duncan Rehabilitation Centre which offers training in braille, computers, daily living skills, mobility and orientation. In addition the Centre also offers Library Services free of charge to the blind and transcription services. The books can be accessed in braille, large print and audio format.

In relation to training- mobility and orientation schools offer these services in- house.

In Zimbabwe we have the Danhiko youth games, this is a national athletics event which was started by former first lady Sally Mugabe, the games annually bring together all people living with disabilities.

In terms of jobs, this has been a great challenge due to the fact that Zimbabwe at the moment has an unemployment rate over 90%, this has meant that people who are blind find themselves at a disadvantage in the job market which is very limited.

One of the greatest achievement in Zimbabwe in relation to VI has been in the setting up of Disability Resource Centres across all Universities and Colleges, this has seen many blind people enrolling for tertiary education.

The only setback has been access to assistive technology post rehabilitation and education, as most of the equipment- computers etc. is beyond the financial reach of many.

There is no separate transport for the blind, there is a provision for providing free transport to people who are blind, but this is practiced in principle and it is the discretion of the public operator to grant or deny this service, commuting within the city it usually is not applied by public transport operators, but with long distance buses operators waver fees, but the downside of this is that most blind people who are given this service are those who board buses to beg for money from passengers, in my view this has contributed to society perceiving blind people as invalids who have no capacity to earn a decent and respectful living for themselves.

Getting Around:
At the moment due to the economic crisis and decline of the social delivery system in the country there has not been much focus on visually impaired public services, however some organizations, private sector and individuals have created an environment that is conducive for the blind within their spaces.

Guide Dog:
In relation to guide dogs it is not a very common concept among the black African population, in most cases dogs are used as a part of the security apparatus in many homes and sadly the African perspective is that a dog's place is outdoors, hence trying to move around with a guide dog in public offices, buildings and spaces is a challenge. I am yet to meet anyone with a guide dog, there are centres where dogs are trained, and the ones I am familiar with are administered by the police, the other downside to owning a guide dog in our case is the cost that comes along with training and owning a guide dog. I feel as a developing country we are still a long way away from the concept of guide dogs. A lot has to change starting with our perspective on dogs.

This goes back to the current economic situation in the Country, benefits are limited due to financial constraints at a national level, and we do have a Social Welfare Department in Government which occasionally provides for the blind where possible.
The private sector and civil society also plays a great part through Corporate Social responsibility programs. Access to assistive technology is very limited due to financial constraints.

In terms of associations, there are a number of them in operation their focus is on Advocacy and disability rights, inclusive communities and education services.

Your Thoughts:
Finally I believe blind people are sometimes viewed as invalids and beggars, this is because growing up it was a common sight to see a blind person sitting at a corner in the street dressed in drags and looking pitiful and hopeless.

Moving forward I believe that blind people need to be empowered with the necessary skills and tools to allow them to function like anyone in Society.

An important component to empowerment is access to information.

December 2018

Sweden, by Kait Bessing
A bit about Sweden:
Sweden is the largest country located in northern Europe, about the size of California. Its capital is Stockholm. The land borders of Sweden are Finland and Norway. It connects with Denmark via the ÷resund bridge. The population of Sweden is just under 10 million.
Swedes hold nature in high esteem, which is one reason why environmental issues are so important. Only one per cent of solid waste goes to landfill in Sweden Ė with the rest recycled or used to produce heat, electricity or vehicle fuel in the form of biogas. Renewable energy sources account for more than half of Swedish energy production.
By any measure, Sweden is one of the worldís most innovative nations, and it has been called the most digitally connected economy. Swedes are early adopters of new technology and the countryís non-hierarchical society creates a fertile environment for new ideas.

Blind Schools:
We used to have a blind school called Tomteboda, in close to Stockholm. It was residential. I went there myself from 1963-1966, after which I was integrated into a mainstream school.
The school starting age in Sweden is seven, so that's when children started Class One at Tomteboda. Students would remain there until age 16 or 17. However, some students who were academically bright were moved to mainstream schools two or three years before that, at 14 or 15. They could then prepare for higher education from there.
Tomteboda also taught the usual academic subjects, though they gave students an extra year to be able to keep up. So, ten rather than nine years, as in most other Swedish schools. Tomteboda was founded in the 1880s, and lasted for just a hundred years. In the mid-1980s it was closed, since it was felt that blind children should all be integrated into the mainstream schools.
Some students were not academically inclined, and they were offered the option to train for one of the "traditional" blind crafts, such as brush-binding. There were also facilities for basket-making and piano tuning. Blind girls learned to type in preparation for jobs as typists, typing from dictation.
There was another residential school for both blind children and those with other disabilities, mostly learning difficulties. This was situated in the town of ÷rebro, and it lasted about ten years longer than Tomteboda; into the 1990s. Parents and teachers fought fiercely for their school, feeling that the special needs of their children couldn't be addressed in a mainstream school. But in the end, this school (Ekeskolan) was closed too.

Tomteboda taught Braille, of course. It was my first alphabet, only I mostly "cheated" by reading with my eyes. I learned the visual alphabet almost parallel to Braille, and started to read books almost at once. I have about 25% vision, so I always have been able to read print books, with the aid of strong glasses.

Orientation & Mobility:
I remember we were pretty wild inside the school grounds, like kids generally. But we were forbidden to go beyond the gates alone until about age ten. When we reached that age, we were instructed in the proper use of the white cane. Our instructor had learned this in the USA, and was somewhat of a pioneer in Sweden.
I remember being told to hold the cane diagonally in front of me, as I was partially sighted and didn't need to tap it. So, mine was a shorter stick, used mostly as a marker. When crossing a street, I had to stick it out straight in front of me, to show the drivers I was there.
On my first excursion, I forgot to do this last, and so failed my test. I had to try again later. After succeeding on the second try, I was let out alone to the first boundary, a corner shop. I had to cross one small street to get there. I was so proud to be able to go out and shop for sweets whenever I felt like it!
My lessons never progressed much beyond that, as I left before my boundaries could be stretched. But the older students eventually learned to cross the city, by bus and underground (subway), before they graduated.

It has been a long time since I attended university. However, I do know for a fact that there are plenty of support resources for blind students. I just don't know what form they take nowadays.

I know there is a separate organization for all the disabled sports, like there's the separate Paralympics. If you want to play competitively, that's where you go. But otherwise I believe people with disabilities can mix in with other sporty folks as far as is practicable. For blind people, this is especially true for swimming.
Blind children are integrated into mainstream schools now, so I suppose solutions are found for them on a local level. For special games, I know of goalball and showdown. The latter is a little like table tennis, but with high frames around the table. I believe some people are experimenting with football (soccer) but I canít offer any details. (To boast a little, our women's goalball team took a bronze medal at the Paralympics in London 2012. One of my colleagues was on the team!)

Job Training:
We don't have separate job training per say, but you can get some assistance at the Low Vision centers; advice on how to write a CV, how to write a job application, conduct a job interview, etc. And once you get a job, the Department of Employment will provide you with the aids you may require, such as browsers like Jaws or ZoomText. Or maybe you need a CCTV to read documents; they will provide that too. All this is free of charge! They will also upgrade when needed. Years ago, they used to provide computers too, but now they say it's the employer's responsibility since everybody has them.

Many blind people use public transport; but if you are elderly, not very mobile, or if you simply don't know how to get there, then there is a taxi service. This is not specifically for blind people, but for anyone who can't use public transport. You need to apply for this service, attaching a doctor's certificate of your condition.
The taxi service has limits. You only get so many rides (this varies locally), and you may have to share your cab with other people. This means you can never be sure when you'll arrive, so you need to have a good margin.
In Stockholm, the cab picks up three times per hour: ten past the hour, half past, and then ten to the next hour. You have to book at least 20 minutes in advance. In practice, this means half an hour as you may have to wait on the phone. You can also book via Internet, but their website is not very accessible to blind people, so most use the phone.
The taxis don't always arrive on time either. People have been known to wait over an hour for their cabs. The cab drivers get better paid for taking "ordinary" fares, so they often decline these special ones.
The public transport system is more accessible than it was, with vocal announcements as well as visual, but we are still lobbying for platform walls at the metro stations. Too many blind people have fallen off the edge onto the track. Fortunately most have survived, but many have been more or less badly injured.
I don't know why authorities always take it for granted that blind people will have a sighted assistant when they go out. Well, some of us do, but others prefer to be independent and travel on their own.
Some of the larger bus stops have automatic audio announcements as soon as a bus comes in, saying what bus it is and what destination. Also inside the buses and the trains you have audio announcements of the next stop.
In some of the buses you can press a green button, rather than the ordinary red one, when you want to get off, to indicate that you need more time. I think this green button sits below the red one that you would press if you want to get off but don't need any extra time to do it.

Getting Around:
The pavements (or sidewalks as you call them) are separated from streets by curbs, but sometimes there is a strip in between for cyclists. This is not always clearly marked for blind people, so we run the risk of getting run over by bikes. We have been lobbying about that for years, but so far with no results to speak of.
Yes, there are curb cuts at intersections (if this is your word for crossings?). Usually there is one to one side of the traffic light post, which is great for wheelchairs or walkers. There is a button on the post you can press for the Green light (for pedestrians), and when it's Green you also hear a rapidly ticking signal. When it's on Red or Wait, the ticking is much slower. This is the standard for all traffic lights, and the ticking goes on whether you press the button or not. This is to make it easier for blind people to hear where the crossings are.

Braille in the Public:
There is no Braille on the traffic light posts. It is thought that the ticking is enough. But there is Braille as well as audio on all our ATMís. At least there is an audio option, however, you don't have to use it.

Guide dogs:
We did use to have a guide dog school, where guide dogs were trained and their handlers would go for courses. It was a state school. But then it closed, and guide dogs are now trained at a number of private schools.
Guide dogs have access to public buildings except for restaurants and grocery shops, where it's up to the proprietors to decide. This causes some conflict, as many guide dog handlers will just march in regardless. Some hospitals and malls also refuse guide dogs.
We have tried to raise public awareness on the importance of guide dogs, but many people still confuse them with ordinary pets.

There is a general disability benefit which gives you 60% of a certain sum if you are blind, and 30% if you are partially sighted. You still have to apply for it.
To receive 100%, you must have several disabilities. They calculate how much extra money you have to spend because of your disability, after you give an estimate of any extra services and charges (health care not included).
Screen readers and other adaptations are free of charge. Also, white canes, and indeed, guide dogs and also glasses. But computers as such are not included, and have to be bought with your own money. There are various funds you can apply for if you can't afford this.

Reading service:
There are numerous talking books, all for free. You borrow them from your local library, on Daisy disks or online. You can borrow or buy Braille books.
There is also a service where you send in written material (anything but actual books) and they turn it into Braille for you, all for free.

Blind organizations:
We have one main organization, the SRF (Synskadades RiksfŲrbund). It's a national federation of blind and partially sighted people - which, incidentally, is my employer, as I work at their Stockholm branch office.
There is also a national youth organization which organizes kids of ages 12-31. I used to be a very active member there.
Both the SRF and this youth group do a good deal of lobbying for better conditions and accessibility.
Apart from these, there are smaller groups centered around various diagnoses, such as RP and glaucoma. They hold lectures as well as social activities.
There are also two clubs of guide dog owners. All these are "of" organizations, where only blind and partially sighted people have full membership and voting rights. Sighted people may become supporting members, but may not vote or sit on boards.

Final thoughts:
Because Sweden relies a good deal on state funding and taxes, we are not so dependent on charities as some other countries.
We don't have to pay for our own aids, they are provided on loan if applied for. In practice it means we get to keep them. Like I said previously, this includes anything from a white cane to a guide dog.
That said however, many people are finding that their finances are no longer enough, and are again having to turn to charities and churches, something that was unthinkable 20 years ago. This includes disabled people, who are in general poorer than others, not employed to the same degree as able-bodied people.
I look with sadness on this development. It is a poor nation that can't provide for all its citizens!

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