[NFB-NM] Opening doors (article in today's Albuquerque Journal)

Tonia Trapp tltrapp.7.467 at gmail.com
Sun Oct 1 19:02:35 UTC 2017

Opening doors


Rosalie Rayburn / Journal Staff Writer

Sunday, October 1st, 2017 at 12:02am


Photo: Fatima Portugal, assistive technology consultant for the New Mexico
School for the

Blind and Visually Impaired, shows how students with multiple impairments
can tap

a Bluetooth-connected device to make selections on an iPad. (Rosalie



ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Technological innovations that have transformed the

cellphone of 20 years ago into a pocket-sized computer and all-purpose daily

support system, have opened a whole new world to those who cannot see.

New Mexico Commission for the Blind Executive Director Greg Trapp shows a

German-made slate. The stylus is used to write Braille by embossing the
letters onto

a piece of paper. Modern versions of the slate are still used.

Smartphones and a host of other devices have made it possible for the
millions of

people who are blind or visually impaired, to communicate, summon

work with computers, obtain free audio entertainment, and myriad other
things that

their sighted peers take for granted.

For example, the iPhone, introduced barely 10 years ago, and the iPad, which

Inc. first brought out in 2010, now come with VoiceOver software that tells

users everything that's happening on their screen. Another feature enables

with low vision to magnify text and images. Phones with Android operating

also have accessibility features.

For the workplace or school, keyboard-like devices are now available that

the on-screen text in Braille, the raised dot form of printing that blind

can read by touch. There are portable electronic Braille note-taking devices

apps that allow blind students to download schoolbooks and complete homework



Still limitations


Photo: Danielle Valdez, a teacher at the New Mexico Commission for the
Blind, who has low

vision, uses a handheld video magnifier to read the text in a magazine


"The amazing new world of technology has opened new windows," said Greg
Trapp, executive

director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, which provides
vocational and

life skills training to enable blind people to live independently and gain

Trapp, who is blind, said when he took his current position 18 years ago, he

working on a DOS-based computer and cellphones were uncommon.

"Now, with my phone I can get places using Lyft or Uber faster than if I
drove a

car," Trapp said.


Photo: Greg Trapp, executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the
Blind, uses a

computer equipped with Window-Eyes, an application that converts components
of the

Windows operating system into synthesized speech.


Tara Matzik, 29, president of the Albuquerque Chapter of the National

of the Blind, appreciates the new technology she uses in her job at the U.S.

Service and in her personal life.

Born with some vision, she lost her sight when she was 3 years old and as a

learned to read Braille. Matzik recalled how textbooks she used in high
school that

were printed in Braille ran to multiple volumes. Now with her smartphone,
she has

the ability to download audio-books. She can also use gestures like tapping
and swiping

on her phone screen to get email, play games and keep up with friends on

"I appreciate the use of technology," she said. "But I still need my
(sighted) husband

to read stuff to me. There are limitations where a human can help."

Curtis Chong, a technology expert with the National Federation of the Blind,

technological advances have created new problems for the blind and visually


Photo: Kelly Burma, skills center coordinator at the New Mexico Commission
for the Blind,

uses a Braille display connected to a computer that enables her to read the

displayed on the screen. (Rosalie Rayburn/Albuquerque Journal)


Routine tasks such as bill paying, banking, buying airline tickets and other

that used to involve a human interaction are now increasingly done online.

"It's unintentional, but when you are required to do things electronically,
to pay

bills, get medical records or sign in, there's a high probability that the
tool will

not be accessible for the blind," Chong said.

The federation is involved in lawsuits against Greyhound and the Social

Administration claiming they are violating the Americans with Disability Act

their services are not accessible to blind people.


Keeping pace

According to National Federation of the Blind estimates, there are up to 10

people in the United States who are blind or visually impaired. That figure
is expected

to grow as baby boomers age and lose their vision due to macular
degeneration, glaucoma

and diabetes.


Photo: Curtis Chong


Schools, the Commission for the Blind and the Veterans Administration are

to help blind or low-vision children and adults keep pace with the swiftly

technological landscape.

Patricia Beecher, acting superintendent at the New Mexico School for the
Blind and

Visually Impaired, said the school uses iPads in all classrooms. The school
has campuses

in Alamogordo and Albuquerque that cater to children ages 3 to 6 years old.

"The iPad has allowed us to have access to free or inexpensive communication

cause-and-effect apps, writing apps and much more. It allows us to customize

colors, brightness, contrast, size, auditory output and even to make custom

overlays for individual students according to their needs," Beecher said.

The school's assistive technology consultant, Fatima Portugal, said they
teach the

children Braille letters and numbers to prepare them for elementary school.

also use devices like the Braille display, which allows the user to read or

what is written on a computer screen.


Photo: Greg Trapp uses EyeNote, a free mobile device application, to
identify denominations

of U.S. paper currency. EyeNote was developed by the Bureau of Engraving and

as an aid for the blind or visually impaired.


She said schools can download textbooks for blind and visually impaired

from the online library Bookshare. The Read2Go app available for Apple
devices enables

students to hear the text, magnify it or read it in Braille. There are
several similar

systems and new technology is being developed all the time, Portugal said.

The New Mexico Commission for the Blind offers training services to adults
to help

them use assistive technology for daily living and employment. It also
provides assistive

technology such as Window-Eyes, JAWS (Job Access With Speech) and ZoomText
for children

under age 18 who aren't otherwise able to obtain it.


Older users

For older people, many of whom find new technology baffling, those with
visual problems

face additional hurdles.

Albuquerque resident Stan Bernhardt, 83, has macular degeneration that has
left him

legally blind. He was able to get help through the VA's Visual Impairment

Team (VIST) which has services for veterans with low vision. It can arrange
to send

blind veterans to the Southwestern Blind Rehabilitation Center in Tucson.

During a typical four-week stay, the residential program gives comprehensive

in daily living and computer skills to suit their needs, said VIST
coordinator Trudi


Nevertheless, Chong said, the creators of computer software and hardware
could do

much more to ensure equal access to their products for blind people. In many

and educational institutions the software used isn't accessible for a person

uses speech or Braille technology. Moreover, the proliferation of
technological devices

in everyday use makes it harder for blind people to keep up.

"When I went to school, all I had to learn was a typewriter, Braille writer
and tape

recorder," said Chong. "(Now) our need to use technology has expanded

and every piece of technology is designed for a sighted person."


By the numbers

. Up to 10 million people in the U.S. are blind or visually impaired. Of

5.5 million are seniors.

. Each year, 75,000 people in the U.S. will become blind or visually

. Just 1 percent of the blind population is born without sight. The vast

of blind people lose vision later in life because of macular degeneration,

and diabetes.

. Studies show that over the next 30 years aging baby boomers will double
the current

number of blind or visually impaired Americans.

Source: National Federation of the Blind



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