One Graham's View

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Come Walk in Our Shoes

Good morning,

This past weekend, I had the pleasure to participate at Come Walk in Our Shoes, an annual experiential educational event in Central Texas. Sponsored by the VIP support group in Temple, the event had a strong showing of support from the local public. While the event is designed to be an educational outreach for the sighted public, it also served as a good networking of blind resources and as an information gathering opportunity as well.

The event had several challenge tables set up where sighted people were allowed to don a blindfold and attempt to do various tasks they are used to doing, but taking away their ability to rely on visual input. This is what the original concept of the event was—educating those who do not usually know how blind people function, but are interested enough to learn. However, as the event has evolved over the several years of its existence, it has grown to also include an offering of information and resources to the blind people in attendance.

One of the presenters at the event was Mark Marvel, with the
Blind Ambitions Groups,
A blind support group based in Dallas. The group’s web site offers its mission and purpose as follows:

“The mission of Blind Ambitions Groups is to educate blind and visually impaired people and their families about available resources – and to encourage each person to move to the next step – whatever it may be for that person."

"PURPOSE: Through support, we teach blind and visually impaired (hereinafter referred to as blind) people to advocate for themselves in getting what they need to facilitate a better quality of life.”

I met with Mark and am impressed with the work his group is doing. While they are based in Dallas, he said they are planning to offer their services state-wide in the future. Already, they host two radio programs on the Reading Radio network, Eye on Employment and Sound of Sight. There are archived shows available for download on their web site. There is a strong emphasis on advocacy and Mark is a really dynamic spokesperson who seems to have a good grasp of his resources. He also said their web site was going to undergo some updates in the coming days.

Take a little time to check out the group’s site and look through the archives of past shows. They present a good resource to offer your blind and visually impaired students who are looking for information and will eventually be seeking employment.

Also, while I was at this event, I had the opportunity to investigate, first-hand, the
Kurzweil - National Federation of the Blind reader.
At my last position, my colleague and I had read several news articles about this innovative piece of OCR scanning technology. Since the time I had first heard about it, I had been very intrigued by what is in essence, a portable scanner that runs OCR software. It is built with a digital camera linked to a PDA running OCR software designed by the granddaddy of OCR himself.

I think the KNFB Reader does a good job in scanning the photographs it takes and extracting out the text, but has a couple of drawbacks. In this age where computers are always processing information faster with each passing month, this device seemed a bit slow. The Reader also seemed a bit bulky for my taste, in its traditional camera bag-sized carrying case. For $3,500, I expected something a little more compact and also thought it would process the images faster. Perhaps, these aspects are coming in a future build of the unit. I have to admit that the whole concept of integrating the technologies that this device does is putting the tools in place to make independence among the blind a fact of life, even if the pricetag is a bit hefty.

Additionally, representatives from the Seeing Eye, the Texas Division for Rehabilitive Services, and a technology trainer who teaches blind consumers how to use JAWS and Zoom Text were also present and sharing information about their specific services.

Overall, the Come Walk in Our Shoes event was very successful in its mission to educate and provide resources. I look forward to seeing how this event grows for next year.



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