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

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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

Serving with Liberty: A Day at the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the MFA

Liberty Mutual volunteers pose with MABVI staffers Kyle Robidoux and Jen Buchanan outside the Museum of Fine Arts

Post by Grant Johnson, Senior Financial Analyst for Liberty Mutual in Boston

Being new to Liberty Mutual, this year was my inaugural experience with the “Serve with Liberty” employee community service program. When I took a look at the available options, I knew I didn’t want to cop out and simply pick an event that was as close to where I lived as possible. Sure, the convenience of picking such a place sounded appealing, but volunteering at its core shouldn’t be about what’s convenient to you; the reason you’re contributing your time is to benefit and convenience the lives of those who actually need it. Because of that mindset, I wanted to select something that I felt would have both an immediate and lasting impact on those I, along with the other volunteers, would be dedicating the day to. That’s when I came across an event called “Feeling for Form.” Continue reading

Listening & Responding: Creating an Effective Volunteer Program

Jen Buchanan, Kyle Robidoux, and Jen's Guiding Eyes dog Keating

Jen Buchanan, Kyle Robidoux, and Jen’s Guiding Eyes dog Keating

Post by Kyle Robidoux, MABVI Director of Volunteer and Support Group Services, and Jen Buchanan, MABVI Eastern Massachusetts Volunteer Coordinator

Like most things, social service programs and their consumers’ needs change and evolve over time. As such, organizations and programs must be nimble and open-minded to ensure that they are meeting the needs of consumers.

Since 1959, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) has been running a One-to-One Volunteer Program that matches sighted volunteers with individuals who are blind or visually impaired (B/VI). The program currently works with over 180 volunteers and 115 consumers.

Historically, MABVI volunteers have helped with daily activities and tasks such as reading (mail or for pleasure), grocery shopping, and other clerical and administrative-type tasks. There continues to be a strong need for help with these types of tasks, but over the past few years our office has begun to field requests for more varied activities. Continue reading

Meet Jen Buchanan

Jen and Keating posing on the grass in front of the ocean at Fort Sewall in Marblehead

Jen and Keating pose by the ocean at Fort Sewall in Marblehead

Jen Buchanan, the new Volunteer Coordinator working out of the Brookline office of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), knows how important finding the right services and support can be for those losing their vision, because she’s been through it herself.

“When I first was losing some sight,” she says, “I didn’t know where to go.” When she learned about a local MABVI low vision support group in her hometown of Peabody, she decided to go. “It was really the first place I had journeyed to independently with my cane. I was early and I sat outside of the room, where I met Joanne, a member of the group. She was so welcoming and had so much experience to share that I knew I was in the right place. I absolutely love each and every one of the group members. They all have something unique to share and are eager to do so.” Continue reading

Exercising My Soul as a Boston Marathon Guide for the Visually Impaired

By Dr. Vincent Hau, vitreoretinal physician and surgeon at the Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center, California

Vincent Hau guiding Richard Hunter as they run the Boston Marathon

VIncent Hau guiding Richard Hunter at the Boston Marathon

Like most avid marathon runners, I’ve always dreamed of running the most prestigious marathon race in the world: the Boston Marathon. I first qualified when I was a medical student nearly 11 years ago, but was afraid of requesting time off from my third-year clinical rotations to run it. For the following 10 years I’ve always regretted never asking.

Since joining Kaiser Permanente, an institution that values an employee’s health and well-being via a strong work-life balance, I’ve been able to achieve qualifying for the Boston Marathon again. Ten years later, in 2014, I ran the post-bombing marathon in a personal record time and shared in showing the world how a terrorist act would never dissuade the spirit of our running community.

This year, after having to take nearly a half-year hiatus from training due to plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, I knew that in running Boston I would not get close to the time I achieved last year. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I should be running at all, since I was still recovering and had run for only a couple of weekends prior. When I asked my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist if I should run Boston, they answered with silence and that special smirk that implied they knew I would run it anyway if they said no. Continue reading

For the Love of the Game

Post by Brandon Cole

Brandon posing in front of a Lego Batman booth at Ohio Comic Con 2014

Brandon posing in front of a Lego Batman booth at Ohio Comic Con 2014

My name is Brandon Cole, and I am a gamer. Some people are surprised when I tell them this. “But wait, how can this be? Are you not blind?”

Yes, I am indeed totally blind, and no, playing video games is not an easy undertaking, but it is possible.

When I was young, though, I dismissed video games as something that I simply couldn’t participate in. After all, the word “video” is in there, right? Well, one day my older brother played a trick on me. He handed me a Nintendo controller and invited me to play Super Mario Brothers.  The game began, and before I knew it, I was slaying monsters, collecting coins and extra lives, conquering castles, saving the Princess… except I wasn’t. He had been the one really playing the game, and the controller he handed me wasn’t actually controlling anything. I was crushed. The trick had an unforeseen consequence, though: I got the itch. I vowed to try more games on my own, when he wasn’t around, and I vowed I would win on my own.

And that’s exactly what I did. I went back to Mario Brothers, and through a bunch of trial and error and learning what my limits were, I eventually completed the first level. That’s as far as I got, but it was enough to prove to myself that I really could do this. I began playing more games, experiencing both success and failure in varying doses, but I was hooked. Continue reading

Kane and Able

Post by Sinead Kane – an Irish Solicitor (Lawyer), PhD Researcher, Motivational Speaker, Marathon Runner, Writer for the Irish Criminal Law Journal, and Advocate for the Visually Impaired

Sinead Kane wearing a floral dress, posing for a photoMost successful people only achieve their goals through encountering obstacles, having doors closed in their faces, and having dreams derailed by mistakes. The difference between those who have won and those who have thrown up their hands in defeat is often the level of persistence and determination the person possesses in tough times. Staying upright in a world full of chaos is hard, but we can still win out if we believe we can.

From a very early age I have learnt what it means to be resilient in life, as my parents taught me the importance of integrity, honesty, and being an advocate. I grew up in a family where we were all visually impaired. My mum is totally blind. My dad, my sister, and I are all registered as blind but we each have a small bit of vision. At four years old I discovered that I was different. I couldn’t see the TV and so went very close to it and hit my nose against the screen. The static from the TV gave me a shock and I got upset. My parents sat me and my sister down and told us that we had very bad sight and that we would be like this for our whole life. They told us we would be different from other kids and that we would need to see things up close. What I learnt from my parents was that it is okay to be different, and to just be true to myself and be the best version of me that I could be. Continue reading

Visually Impaired? There’s an App for that.

Want to know how much money you’re holding? How about the color of your shirt? Or maybe you just want to curl up with a book? If you’re one of the over 20 million adults in America alone who suffer from vision loss, these everyday actions can be cumbersome and difficult. What can you do to help with these daily tasks while retaining your independence?

Reach for your iPad, of course.

As technology becomes increasingly intuitive and user-friendly, more and more visually impaired people are embracing high-tech solutions for their everyday needs. And while of the 20,000 apps developed each month, many are, shall we say, less than useful (for only $1.99, “Melon Meter” uses the iPhone’s microphone to measure the ripeness of watermelons!), several developers are using the capabilities of modern technology to aid visually impaired individuals in innovative ways. We’ve taken a look at just a handful of such apps now available for iOS (most of which you can get for the low, low price of FREE!): Continue reading

Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center to participate in Greater Worcester Gives

A female client meets with Dr. Toomey-Gitto for a low vision exam. MABVI offers low vision exams at its Worcester office, as well as several other locations.

A female client meets with Dr. Toomey-Gitto for a low vision exam. MABVI offers low vision exams at its Worcester office, as well as several other locations.

Post by Steph Solis

On May 6, the Worcester office will participate in a 24-hour online giving day, called Worcester Gives. The campaign, organized by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, encourages the community to support local nonprofits including the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center.

MABVI’s Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center celebrates over 50 years providing services to blind and visually impaired individuals in Greater Worcester. Last year alone the office worked with more than 300 blind and visually impaired clients through low vision exams, volunteer services, support groups and more. At the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center, clients learn to adjust to their vision loss so that they can maintain their independence and enjoy their lives.

“When people see what can be accomplished with an adaptation or by learning a new skill, it can be uplifting and empowering,” said Mary Haroyan, coordinator of volunteer services at the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center.

MABVI offers low vision exams at the Worcester Vision Rehabilitation Center, run by Dr. Caroline Toomey-Gitto. Low vision specialists can assess their vision and offer adaptive devices to help them maximize the use of their remaining vision. Last year Dr. Toomey-Gitto gave specialized low vision exams to 164 patients. Clients have also undergone low vision exams through MABVI’s affiliate providers, including Dr. Jane Orenstein in Whitinsville and Dr. Jen Salvo in Wellsley.

Clients have also received vision rehabilitation training from an occupational therapist who visited their homes. One hundred thirty nine patients who underwent low vision exams followed up with an occupational therapy appointment.

Throughout Worcester County, MABVI holds low vision support groups to bring blind and visually impaired individuals together. Our Worcester, Northborough and Leominster Low Vision Support Groups served 34 clients as they experienced vision loss.

“You will never know what a blessing the lighted hand-held magnifier has been to me, especially at church and at the grocery store,” one client writes. “I’m thankful for their visits to our home and their helpful advice in a number of areas—they’ve helped immensely with problems I was unaware could be readily resolved and my mood always improved with the visits.”

Numerous clients have benefited from the 1:1 volunteer services, including children’s book author C.J. Posk. Clients can meet with volunteers who help with grocery shopping, drive them to medical appointments, read mail and labels, write checks and more.

The low vision support groups at Worcester, Northborough and Leominster provide a forum for blind and visually impaired people to come together. We have served 34 individuals at the support groups as they experienced vision loss.

Clients and their volunteers can also enjoy leisure time with events like candlepin bowling, which has been around for than 40 years.

With programs like these, we work to forge a strong community and transform lives. We hope you will consider supporting MABVI through Greater Worcester Gives next on May 6.