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

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

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

Summer fun: no sight necessary

Post by Holly Hayes

Summer is the ultimate time for exploration and new experiences, especially in a place as vibrant as New England. Although this can seem daunting for someone living with a visual impairment, there are many accessible opportunities available. Today there are more options than ever to get out and enjoy the summertime, from theater and museums to outdoor activities and sports games.

THEATER

A majority of the theaters in Boston offer audio described performances on certain summer days, with some options listed below:

o   The Regent Theatre Located in Arlington, MA is one of the most accessible theaters in the area. The theater keeps the house lights on during every show which is helpful for those with low vision, and the entire venue is open and one level so it easy to maneuver for anyone with a disability. They have music and concerts, films and comedy and even family fun events depending on the day.

o   At the Boston Opera House there is going to be an audio described performance of Phantom of the Opera on Sunday, June 29th at 1 pm.

o   At the American Repertory Theater there is going to be two audio described performances of the Tempest on June 4th at 7:30 pm and June 7th at 2 pm.

o   At the Huntington Theater, there are audio described performances of Smart People June 6th at 10 am and June 14th at 2pm.

This is the interior of the Boston Opera House which has audio described performances for the visually impaired

The interior of the Boston Opera House, which provides audio described performances for visually impaired visitors.

MUSEUMS

The Museum of Fine Arts has an array of options for museum goers with disabilities throughout the summer. The MFA has the “Feeling for Form” program which takes place on the first Sunday of every month at 1 pm. Learn more. Pre-registration, which closes a week before the program date, is required but there is no additional fee. The program offers tours for all ages. If you’d prefer to explore the museum on your own, the MFA also has assistive listening devices available for the exhibits at the Sharf Visitor Center. See upcoming accessible MFA events here.

The Museum of Science also offers sighted guide tours, assistive listening devices for the museum and the available films as well as for selected planetarium shows. Learn more.

Thanks to the Highland Street Foundation, every Friday between June 28th– August 30th is Free Fun Friday with free admission to museums and cultural events around the state. The full list of dates and events can be found here. The MFA is a Free Fun Friday museum on July 18th. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum also has an introduction to the museum in large print and braille as well as audio listening devices available. It is also a Free Fun Friday museum on August 1st.

One of the MABVI clients participating in the Feeling for Form program at the Museum of Fine Arts

A MABVI client participates in the Feeling for Form program at the Museum of Fine Arts

SPORTS

One of the most accessible sports during the summertime is beep ball, a modified version of baseball for blind and visually impaired athletes. Beep ball involves a sighted pitcher and catcher while the rest of the team is visually impaired. The ball beeps after it is thrown to help players estimate when to hit the ball based on the closeness of the beeps. Players run to a buzzing base to try to score a run. According to the Boston Renegades, the Boston beep ball team, you don’t need to have any prior experience to play the game, only a commitment to the team.

Three beep ball players with blindfolds in the middle of a game

Three beep ball players with blindfolds in the middle of a game

If you would rather experience a game from the stands, there are also options for accessible sports games in Boston. At Fenway Park you can use an assisted listening device that plays the radio description of the game in real time without the 10-second delay experienced by listeners at home. There are also ALDs available at TD Garden on level four outside section 4 for most games and performances.

A photo of a filled Fenway Park, which offers assistive listening devices during the games

A photo of a crowded Fenway Park, which offers assisted listening devices during the games.

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

There is also a variety of outdoor activities throughout New England including cycling, fishing, and accessible beaches and hiking trails. Some of these activities can be found through the the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Universal Access Program. DCR hosts accessible activities throughout the summer such as nature walks led by park interpreters or assisted listening devices if requested. Learn more here.

The Carroll Center for the Blind offers summer events such as sailing trips, birding by ear, tandem biking, canoeing, and a New Hampshire White Mountains trip! Find more information here.

Do you know of other great accessible summer activities in your area? If so, leave your tips in the comment box below!