Guiding With Seoul: MABVI Travels to Korea

Kyle and Andrea running

Running in Seoul!

By Andrea Croak, Team Coordinator of MABVI’s Team With A Vision

Recently my coworker Kyle Robidoux invited me on a trip of a lifetime: to head to Seoul, Korea, for a few days and assist in presenting at the K-Sports Foundation’s inaugural 2016 International Guiderunner Conference. There, we would talk about how we at the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) manage our robust volunteer guide services, including MABVI’s 1:1 Volunteer Program; United in Stride, our online guide matching resource; and Team With A Vision, our running team made up of athletes who are blind and visually impaired, their sighted guides, and supporters.

With an opportunity like this, of course I said YES! Continue reading

Here to Help: MABVI’s Adjustment to Vision Loss Counseling

Loriby Lori Berkey, MSW, LICSW, Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) Adjustment Counselor

As a social worker who has worked with people with a range of challenges, I was delighted to join the MABVI team as an adjustment counselor last fall in their new Adjustment to Vision Loss Counseling Program.

My interest in working with people with sight loss is something that has grown over the years. Twelve years ago, I happened upon an ad in the local newspaper that said the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired was seeking volunteers to help people who are blind with clerical work, reading their mail and going grocery shopping.

I figured that was something I could do, so I contacted their Volunteer Coordinator, Mary Haroyan, and signed up for an orientation where I learned special tips on communicating and serving as a sighted guide. Continue reading

Mike Wardian: Running Blindfolded for a Cause

Mike Wardian running blindfolded with Chad Carr guiding

Mike Wardian running blindfolded with Chad Carr guiding in preparation for the Blindfold Challenge at the BAA 5k (Photo credit: Rosa Evora / InsideTracker)

Post by Mike Wardian

“Don’t do it!”

This was the general reaction of many of my friends and family to my announcement that I was going to take part in the “Blindfold Challenge,” an annual event at the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) 5k to raise funds and awareness for local organizations, where I would be running to support the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI).

All I was thinking was “heck yeah,” but like with so many things, all my loved ones were just doing what they should do and looking out for me. I was just stoked and honored to be asked and thought less about getting hurt and more about what it would feel like, sound like, and how fast I could run without the use of my sight and dependent on another person to lead and guide me.

I had heard about the Blindfold Challenge when a buddy and fellow Ultrarunner named Kyle Rodiboux, who also works for MABVI, asked me to run it. I said “Sure!” We talked a bit about how it would work, who my guide would be (it turned out to be Chad Carr, who is a stud and a cool guy – thank you Chad!) and what I was expected to do. Continue reading

Poor Eyesight, Excellent Vision

Peter Alan Smith running the 1994 Boston Marathon for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Peter Alan Smith running the 1994 Boston Marathon for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Post by Peter Alan Smith

Peter Alan Smith holds an MBA from Harvard University and is a Trust Administrator for John Hancock, having worked there for almost 30 years. In addition, he currently teaches Risk Management at the College of Charleston’s School of Business and and serves as the Board Chairperson for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.

Peter hasn’t let vision loss prevent him from pursuing the sports that he loves, including becoming a 1995 Paralympic silver medalist in tandem cycling. At the 1994 Boston Marathon, Peter competed on what would later become known as Team With A Vision with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI).

Hey there, my name is Peter Alan Smith. I’m also known around Charleston, South Carolina as the Midnight Golfer. That’s the title of my forthcoming book! But the story isn’t just about golf. It’s about joyfully overcoming many diverse obstacles. There will be more to come on that later on.

I ran my first Boston Marathon back in 1993; 23 years ago! I was subsequently recruited by what was then known as the first Nike/MAB Team – what is now called Team With A Vision – to run the 1994 Boston Marathon. I guess that makes me one of MABVI’s grizzled old veterans! I’m 57 now and run 5K’s, toodle around on my tandem, and litter golf courses with stray balls.

After completing the 1993 Boston Marathon, the L Street Running Club asked me to write an article for their newsletter about my experience at the event as a blind runner. So I am sharing it here following some further observations. Continue reading

Heather B. Armstrong: Why I’m Running on Team With A Vision

Heather B. Armstrong posing in a blue Team With A Vision shirt, flexing her right armPost by Heather B. Armstrong

Heather B. Armstrong is the founder of dooce.com, one of the world’s most famous “Mommy Bloggers,” and a New York Times bestselling author. Forbes Magazine named Heather one of the 30 Most Influential Women in Media and Time Magazine twice named her blog as one of the top 25 in the world.

On April 18th, she will join Team With A Vision, which competes each year to raise funds and awareness for The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), serving as a sighted guide for runner Simon Wheatcroft. This will be Heather’s first time as a sighted guide.

In this guest blog post, Heather talks about her motivations for joining this incredible team of athletes and supporting MABVI:

I’m thrilled to be joining Team With A Vision to help guide athlete Simon Wheatcroft to the Boston Marathon finish line, and equally grateful for what this responsibility means.

I started running in 2011 when I was invited to run the New York City Marathon—mind you, I had never run more than two miles in my entire life—and because I accepted the opportunity less than two months out from the race I was ill-prepared for what 26.2 miles can do to legs, arms, feet, and certain toenails. I broke my foot at mile 17, but I finished the race!

Continue reading

Meet Megan Briggs, MABVI Director of Vision Rehabilitation

Megan BriggsWhen Megan Briggs came to the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) in the summer of 2015 as Director of Vision Rehabilitation, she brought with her a wealth of experience in the field. Briggs earned a B.S. in Occupational Therapy from the University of New Hampshire and a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from Worcester State University. Her work has specialized on individuals with disabilities, including vision loss and/or brain injury.

Briggs has experience working in acute inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, acute care hospitals, outpatient facilities, and nursing homes. Prior to coming to MABVI, she worked for the University of Massachusetts providing services for MassHealth contracts, including Prior Authorization, Community Case Management, and ABI/MFP waivers. Her experience in both direct service and administration made her an ideal fit for MABVI’s Director of Vision Rehabilitation role, which allows her to do both. Briggs oversees MABVI’s Occupational Therapists (OTs) in addition to providing OT services herself.

“As the Director of the program,” she says, “I enjoy ensuring compliance and quality, and this job allows me to have the freedom to make change and improve systems. As a treating OT, I like to see people increase or maintain their independence. Continue reading

Wednesdays With Dean: A Volunteer’s Story

Dean posing for a photo, wearing a suit and sunglasses and holding a canePost by Stephanie Ross – Public Relations Assistant Account Executive for Eric Mower & Associates, VP Communications for the Boston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Gamma, freelance writer

[Stephanie is a one-on-one volunteer through the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Volunteer Program, which matches volunteers with individuals in their community who are blind or visually impaired.]

“Hello!” the deep voice echoes as I climb up the four stories to his Brookline apartment.

“Helloooo,” I say, mocking the voice.

Suddenly, a friendly laughter warms the cold stairwell.

This is how it starts every week.

While it’s only been a few months, my bond with Dean is profound. Two years ago, I left everything familiar in Texas and moved to Boston. I came with zero regrets, however something was missing. As a member of Delta Gamma at the University of North Texas, I was immersed in endless volunteer opportunities for the Service for Sight program. But being away from all of that – my sorority sisters, my family, etc. – I felt empty. I was stuck in the loop of working 9-5 and going home just to do it all over again.

Until I met Dean. Continue reading

Eyes in Your Pocket: “BlindTool” App Represents the New Frontier of Assistive Technology

A screen capture of the BlindTool app identifying a banana, with less likely predictions listed belowBy Brian Klotz

FastCompany calls it “a peek at an inevitable future of accessibility,” a new app called BlindTool that allows users to identify objects in real time using only their phone, and it was created right here in Boston. Developed by Joseph Paul Cohen, a current Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a Bay State native, it aims to increase the independence of individuals who are blind or visually impaired by putting an extra set of eyes in their pocket.

“I’ve had a desire to do this for a while,” says Cohen, whose initial interest in assistive technology came from working with a colleague who was blind during an internship at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., inspiring him to think of the ways modern technology could improve the lives of those with vision impairment.

The app runs on Android devices, and identifies objects it is pointed at in real time using a “convolutional neural network” that can understand 1000 “classes” of objects. While the technology behind it may be complex, its usage is simple: wave your phone around, and the app will cause it to vibrate as it focuses on an object it recognizes – the more it vibrates, the more confident it is. Once it’s fairly certain, it will speak the object aloud.

“It always has a prediction,” Cohen explains, regardless of where it is pointed, so the vibration function allows the user to zero in on objects the app has more confidence in identifying. Continue reading

Ready to Launch: Assistive Technology Helps People with Visual Impairment Enjoy Public Places in a New Way

A photo of a smartphone in the LaunchGuide location, with a sign reading "BRAILLE TRAIL START" pointing to the phone in the wire guides and a caption on the photo that reads "[smartphone:] Welcome to the Dennis Braille Trail"

LaunchGuide in action at the Dennis Braille Trail

Post by Brian Klotz

If you’ve been to a number of locations in Massachusetts, including the Dennis Braille Trail in Dennis, MA, you may have noticed something new: a device with a QR code that can be read by your smartphone. Called LaunchGuide, this new device was created to help people with visual impairment enjoy public places with content that not only helps them navigate, but adds to the experience, and it is yet another example of the creative ways assistive technology is becoming more prevalent.

Designed by an assistive technology company called COMMplements (the brand name of products of Peacock Communications), LaunchGuide can be used by anyone with an Internet-connected device capable of reading a QR code. Each LaunchGuide location is equipped with a wire guide that helps the user position their smartphone so it can read the code. This takes them to a webpage with content unique to that location – for example, information about the exhibits in a museum or the stops along a trail, which the user can have read to them using text-to-speech as they explore.

An example of a QR code

An example of a QR code

By housing content on a webpage, users can select how and in what order they experience it, as opposed to a linear audio tour. Continue reading

I Won’t Know Unless I Try

Post by Brian Klotz

Ellie Leach at MABVI's Senior Connection 2014

Ellie Leach at MABVI’s Senior Connection 2014

Ellie Leach had never used a computer. No email, no games, no web browsing – as she puts it, “I had never even used a typewriter!” Over twenty years ago Ellie, now 78, was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a medical condition that causes vision loss, putting yet another obstacle between herself and tech-savviness.

Today, however, Ellie is the proud owner of an iPad, which she uses to email friends and family, play games, and listen to her favorite music.

“It’s like I’m alive again,” she says. “I feel like I’m a part of everything again.” Continue reading