April 29, 2011

Technology Report: EyeNote Application

Sample screen of the EyeNote application
scanning and identifying a 20 dollar bill

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired put up a post on their blog April 27th reviewing the new EyeNote Mobile Device application.  EyeNote is a mobile device app designed for Apple iPhone (3G, 3Gs, 4) and the 4th Generation iPod Touch and iPad2 platforms, and is available through the Apple iTunes App Store. 

EyeNote uses image recognition technology to determine a note’s denomination. The mobile device’s camera requires 51 percent of a note’s scanned image, front or back, to process. In a matter of seconds, EyeNote can provide an audible or vibrating response, and can denominate all Federal Reserve notes issued since 1996. Free downloads will be available whenever new U.S. currency designs are introduced.

April 27, 2011

National Eye Institute Launches On-Line Video Resources

Photograph of an eye chart with a pair of glasses

Nearly 14 million Americans experience vision problems, ranging from nearsightedness to blindness. The National Eye Institute (NEI) recently launched a new series of video resources on the leading eye conditions and diseases affecting many Americans. Users can watch video ‘Vodcasts’ using their computer on topics such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Cataract, Diabetic Eye Disease, Comprehensive Dilated Fundus Exams, Dry Eye, and Glaucoma. These video resources could be used by persons wishing to understand their own or a loved one’s vision loss.

CLICK HERE for a Link to the NEI Vodcast Video Resources

April 25, 2011

New Visual Skills Department Supervisor Named

New Visual Skills Department Supervisor David Patten

WBRC is proud to announce that Mr. David Patten has accepted the position of WBRC Visual Skills Department Supervisor. Mr. Patten graduated with a Master's Degree in Orientation and Mobility from Western Michigan University in 1990. He completed his Orientation and Mobility internship at the WBRC prior to graduating.

Mr. Patten has 21 years of experience working in the field of Blind Rehabilitation as an Orientation and Mobility Instructor and also served as manager of a private non-profit low vision clinic for 7 of those years. He has been an Orientation and Mobility Instructor at the WBRC for the past three years. Mr. Patten will begin his new role as Visual Skills Department Supervisor on April 25th, 2011.

April 20, 2011

VA Palo Alto Website Covers Golf Program

Nicole Marquez, WBRC Recreation Therapist, and a golf pro

coach a WBRC Student on his golf swing

The VA Palo Alto Hospital website outlined a new golf program project in which many of the WBRC veterans and staff are involved in. Most of the article follows below:

'Wounded Veterans Find Recovery on the Green'

A big blue sky invites flying golf balls and green grass is waiting to be aerated by golf shoes. The only problem is there are no members on the golf course of the Sharon Heights Country Club (SHCC) in Menlo Park, CA. The only golfers here are wounded Veterans from VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS), invited by the board members of the SHCC to participate in a one-of-a-kind golf clinic that they hope to branch out to other golf courses that want to take part in the healing process of these wounded warriors.

"Our Veterans are blind, paralyzed, and/or have traumatic brain injuries. This program takes away a lot of the intimidation of going to a golf course and trying to figure it out alone," said Nicole Marquez, recreation therapist at VAPAHCS [at the WBRC]. "This creates a safe zone where they are able to make mistakes and learn. It also helps them to reintegrate back into the community and find confidence that they can still do things they did before their injuries."

Nicole and many other recreation therapists work with wounded Veterans every day at VAPAHCS to help them cope with their injuries and facilitate rehabilitation.

"The main idea is just helping Veterans," said Marty Connelly, SHCC member and one of the catalysts in getting the clinic off the ground. "Our club has resources that could be beneficial for Veterans, and this is something that needs to be part of our lives. Everyone benefits - Veterans, families and golfers.

"The board and members of the SHCC approved the project in March 2011. They continue to grow the program by working with sporting goods manufacturers to receive special golfing equipment and recently purchased a new golf system called SNAG to help golf instruction for the VA Palo Alto campus.

"When Marty and Gary brought this proposal to us, we endorsed it 100 percent," said George Cavender, President of the SHCC Board. He and other board members come to each clinic to support and help out any way they can. The golf course is closed the day of the clinic and is set up so each Veteran is paired with a golf pro instructor at the driving range. The pro helps beginners learn the rules, how to swing their club, and learn to putt on the green. More experienced Veteran golfers are helped to improve their swing and will eventually be taken out on the course for a game.

"In the beginning, it was hard because of my traumatic brain injury (TBI) and I didn't have much confidence," said Peter Rodriguez, who has no vision in his left eye and can only see from his upper quadrant in his right eye. "My instructor told me to just breathe and relax; then the ball started going straighter and farther!"

After suffering a TBI during a tour in Afghanistan, Rodriguez came to VA Palo Alto with his wife for rehabilitation at the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center (WBRC). They plan to retire in Florida where they can be close to a VA medical center and have plenty of places to golf.

"For my husband to be golfing is amazing," said Yolanda Cruz, wife of Rodriguez. "This was one of his goals before he was injured and he thought he would never be able to try it out. I'm so happy that he is able to practice, no matter what."

April 19, 2011

Earth Day at the VA

Photo of a person's hands holding a green glass globe

The VA Hospital Palo Alto Campus is hosting an Earth Day Celebration this Thursday April 21st from 11 AM to 4 PM. There will be live music, a tree planting, and giveaways. VAPAHCS departments will be on site to promote current VAPAHCS Green initiatives. Commercial vendors and non-profit organizations will be on site to promote green products and services including Tesla Motors. This event will be open to the public. Happy Earth Day everyone!

CLICK HERE to learn more about this VA Event

April 14, 2011

Free San Jose Veteran and Family Resource Fair on Saturday April 16th

The San Jose Advisory Council and The San Jose Vet Center are hosting the 6th Annual Veteran and Family Resource Fair on Saturday April 16th from 10 AM to 4 PM at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds located at 344 Tally Road in San Jose CA. There will be more than 100 Veteran Resource Vendors, Food, Silent Auction, Children's Activities, Free Admission and Parking.

April 13, 2011

VA Palo Alto Farmer's Market Opens for Season

WBRC Staff Don Vu and Simone Schlick get ready to shop

at a vegetable stall at the VA Palo Alto Farmer's Market

Wednesday April 13th marked the the first weekly Farmer's Market on the VA Palo Alto Hospital Campus for 2011. The Farmer's Market is an annual marker of the warmer weather and wonderful fresh produce available in the surrounding CA area. Many WBRC students and staff members walked over to the campus Farmer's Market for opening day to browse the fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, potted plants, cut flowers, and honey available for sale. The Farmer's Market also hosts live music and even cooking demonstrations. WBRC students have a unique opportunity to walk over to the Farmer's Market and practice the skills they learn at the WBRC such as long cane use, visual scanning patterns, magnifier use, and money identification skills. The Farmer's Market will run every Wednesday from 10 AM - 2 PM starting April 13th until November 16th this year.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the VA Palo Alto Farmer's Market

April 11, 2011

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic Changes Name

Graphic of a broadcast tower, 'spreading the news'

On April 5th the WBRC received an e-mail from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) with some exciting news, RFB&D has decided to change their name. On April 11th, RFB&D will be changing their name to Learning Ally. In an attached letter, Mr. Andrew Friedman, President & CEO of RFB&D outlined some of the reasons behind the name change.

'Changing the name of an established institution such as RFB&D, with its rich history and tremendous network of donors, volunteers and other stakeholders, is not something we entered into lightly. Over the past year, we have worked closely with scores of key stakeholders – including students, parents, educators, board members, volunteers and funders – to define the future direction of the organization. Our research and focus groups revealed some major findings:

- Our users expressed a variety of issues with the RFB&D name. For our dyslexic members, the juxtaposition of letters and ampersand is very difficult to manage. And the most universal issue of all: our users don’t want to be typecast or labeled.

- Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic had fallen behind recent advances in technology, and was perceived by many in the education and assistive services world as a niche provider to a small group of individuals.

- The broader community of individuals in the U.S. who "learn differently" has grown to roughly 60 million or one in five individuals. A significant portion of these individuals are not visually impaired or dyslexic. Our current name limits our ability to reach the entire base of individuals who could benefit from our services.'

He continued stating,

'A natural evolution for an American institution: Recording for the Blind was founded in 1948, with a mission to provide equal access to the printed word. Decades later, we extended that mission to include access for people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Now as Learning Ally, we position the organization to be even more inclusive, becoming a friend to people for whom access and reading are barriers to learning.

Students, parents and educators are already excited to see us providing them with access on mainstream technology like iPhones, iPads, MP3 players and home computers. Our future success will be grounded in a "user-focused" approach toward introducing new solutions and support services for specific populations of users, their parents and educators – very much including (but not limited to) recording for the blind, dyslexic and members with other needs.

Even as we change our name, our legacy of six decades continues. We will maintain strong citation of RFB&D in many areas of our service offerings. Our incredible volunteer base will continue recording books to help students succeed – even as we explore new ways to put them to work on behalf of all users with learning differences. We are extremely excited about the future and hope you will become a "Learning Ally" with us to help reach even more individuals with the right tools to deliver educational success.'

WBRC was fortunate to participate in a tour of the new RFB&D recording studio in Palo Alto, CA and learn more about the organization in March of 2011. RFB&D, now Learning Ally, is a service which records a wide variety of books and makes them available to persons who qualify free of charge. This service is used by many WBRC alumni and we wish the organization all the best as they transition to their new name, Learning Ally.

For a LINK to the new LEARNING ALLY website CLICK HERE


April 8, 2011

New Admissions Coordinator Named

Newly appointed WBRC Admissions Coordinator Don Vu

WBRC is proud to announce that Mr. Don Vu has accepted the position of WBRC Admissions Coordinator. Mr. Vu has been filling the role of Acting Admissions Coordinator for the past six months. His role as Admissions Coordinator became official as of March 27th, 2011.

Prior to his current position Mr. Vu was a WBRC instructor in the Computer Access Training Program since April of 2001. He earned his bachelor's degree in Psychology and worked in several fields prior to joining the VA including accessibility consulting. On a personal note, Mr. Vu is currently training to run the '100th Annual Bay to Breakers' 12 K race taking place in San Francisco in May of this year. Mr. Vu reports that he still loves working at the WBRC after 10 years and is excited to continue to provide excellent services to our veterans in his new role.

To contact Don Vu, please e-mail him at don.vu@va.gov or telephone at 650-493-5000 x64359.

April 6, 2011

The Atlantic Magazine Profiles Architect on Design Team for New WBRC

Rendering of the future Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center

The Atlantic Magazine published an article profiling Chris Downey, one of the architects on the design team of the new Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center to be built on the VAPAHCS Hospital Campus in the near future.

Photograph of the tactile buidling plans

Mr. Downy is a legally blind architect and has adapted his methods since his sudden vision loss 3 years ago. He lends a unique perspective to the design of the new building, hopefully making it more accessible to future WBRC students. An excerpt from the article follows below:

'One morning last fall, Chris Downey, an architect, ran his long white cane across a pair of floor-tile samples spread out at his feet in the San Francisco office of an architecture firm, SmithGroup. Gathered around him, a handful of architects watched. They wanted to know which tile he preferred for a new rehabilitation center for the blind at the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto. Downey looked up at Eric Meub, a vice president at the firm—not at him, exactly, just over his shoulder. “The one on the right is distinctive in either direction,” Downey said. “The other one has a preferred direction.” For a blind patient still learning to use a cane, that first tile would give more-predictable feedback.

There was an awkward silence. The other architects looked at one another. Downey chuckled. “So you’re saying the one on the right is the one that doesn’t look so good,” he said, grinning...

The architects stacked the tile samples out of the way and moved to a conference room. Plans covered a long table. Downey’s were printed in Braille dots, on big white sheets of stiff paper. Shortly before he was laid off, Downey had found a blind computer scientist who had devised a way to print online maps through a tactile printer; it worked for architectural drawings too. Meub would take Downey’s hand and guide it to details on the plans, as they talked. “He can’t just look at a drawing at a glance,” Meub told me later. “At first I thought, Okay, this is going to be a limitation. But then I realized that the way he reads his drawings is not dissimilar to the way we experience space. He’ll be walking through a plan with his index finger, discovering things, and damn, he’s walking through the building!”

Today they had to discuss a problem Downey had spotted with a nurses’ station at the end of a hallway. Downey explained how the space would appear to a blind patient: “Their cane will pass by the corner, they’ll realize, Corner, turn right, and they’ll walk right into the nurses, on the wrong side of the counter.” The simplest solution would be a gate, but Downey knew the space was meant to look open and airy, and a gate would look like a clumsy afterthought. Instead, they talked about a change in the texture of the floor. Something subtle that would still say: not a hallway. '

CLICK HERE for a Link to the full Atlantic Magazine Article

April 1, 2011

'Be Ready' for a Disaster - Extra Steps Needed for Persons with Visual Impairments

The Bay Area Chapter of the Red Cross has published an information pamphlet titled 'Be Red Cross Ready'. The pamphlet includes steps needed to prepare for a variety of disasters including what is needed for a disaster kit, determining where to meet your family in the case of a disaster, establishing an out of area phone contact person, developing and escape plan, and what extra steps persons with visual impairments may wish to consider.

The pamphlet suggests including these steps if you have a visual impairment:

• A talking or Braille clock or large-print timepiece with extra batteries in your emergency kit

• One extra long white cane in your emergency kit

• Extra magnifiers and/or glasses in your emergency kit

• Mark your disaster supplies items with fluorescent tape, large print or Braille

• Mark your gas, water and electric shutoff valves with fluorescent tape, large print or Braille

If you have a service animal you should also pack a kit with items for their needs as well such as extra dog food, water, etc.

CLICK HERE for a link to the 'Be Red Cross Ready' Pamphlet PDF