Thursday, November 20, 2008

Leader Dogs giving away Trekker Breeze

How would you like a chance to win a Trekker Breeze?

In an effort to promote its Trekker Breeze training initiative, which incorporates the functionality of GPS with orientation and mobility skills,

Leader Dogs for the Blind,

Is giving away a Trekker Breeze.

In addition to the contest, Leader Dogs is also featuring both trainer and student blogs where the writers will chronicle their Trekker Breeze experiences on the Rochester, Minnesota guide dog school's web site.

The drawing is open to everybody, not just Leader Dog students. There is also a brief survey to inquire what drew participants to the post. To enter, go to the official
contest web site.
The drawing will take place on Dec. 19, 2008 and the winner will be notified by email.

For the uninformed, the Trekker Breeze is a lite version of Trekker, the powerful accessible GPS navigation system, manufactured and solde by the assistive technology company

Trekker Breeze offers the important benefits of GPS orientation tools. It enhances independence and confidence in travelling. Users can record routes as they walk them with sighted assistance. Routes can then be previewed and activated for future use. As they walk by, users receive audible information such as street names, intersections and reference landmarks. In case they are lost, they can retrace their steps. They can also reach favorite destinations with turn by turn instructions from their current position. The product makes it easier to travel alone and allows people to discover and enjoy their surroundings.

When I trained with Boise, my current dog from
The Seeing Eye,
my training partner was a big user of various assistive technologies. He traveled to Morristown with two suitcases, one of which was nothing but his gadget bag. One of these gadgets was the original Trekker, which he insisted I check out on one of our walks in town.

The information Trekker provided was incredible. It told me of so many different shops and street demarkations that I never knew about, even with the robust information provided by several trainers on the same route. If the Trekker Breeze gives the same user feedback with as much eas of use, it will be a great prize to whomever wins it. Hopefully, that will be me!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blind Planet aims to be one-stop blindness resource

If you’re interested in news, products, and information specific to blindness, you might want to bookmark the
Blind Planet
Web site, which bills itself as, “The best blind community on the net,.”

“Our mission is to provide the world with a one-stop resource for blindness-related information, podcasts, tutorials, mailing lists, web sites, and almost anything else that would be useful to the blind community.”

Welcome to The Blind Planet! The Blind Planet is a rapidly-growing web site that offers a lot of valuable information for the blind community, and / or for those people who are interested in learning about blindness and how blind people go about their daily lives. Regardless of whether you are blind, sighted, a novice or a professional at technology, or are just searching for help and / or information on a particular topic, you will definitely find the Blind Planet to be one of your favorite web sites very quickly.

I first learned about the site because somebody read a blog post here by clicking on a link originating on the Blind Planet site. Intrigued and curious, I checked it out. After perusing the site and its
News Aggregator
I added it to my own RSS feeds.

Besides my own blog feed, the Blind Planet News Aggregator includes feeds from several of my regular favorites, including
Blind Bargains,
Blind Cool Tech Podcast,
Fred’s Head Companion,
The Ranger Station,
Top Tech Tidbits for Thursday,
Wayne’s blog.

For me, the News Aggregator does meet its intended mission of being that one-stop resource, at least for reading my favorite blindness related blogs and web sites.
See if it does the same for you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

AccessApps offers free assistive technology applications to run on USB jump drive

(Thanks to the
Fred’s Head Companion
for the following assistive technology resource.)

is a site that has more than 50 assistive technology and learning applications. The beauty of this site is that these titles will all run on any computer, directly from a USB jump drive with no need to install software on the host computer.

The site, based in Scotland, will allow you to select the various software applications and download them in one suite. There are even step-by-step tutorials and video guides on the site’s “Help” page to get you up and running.

AccessApps is an initiative developed by the Scottish JISC Regional Support Centres in cooperation with
JISC TechDis
. It consists of over 50 open source and freeware assistive technology applications which can be entirely used from a USB stick on a Windows computer (

here is a full list of applications on offer).

AccessApps will run without needing to install anything on a computer and provide a range of e-learning solutions to support writing, reading and planning as well as visual and mobility difficulties.

What are you waiting for? Go get ‘em!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Interview on No Limits 2 Learning Live

Pardon me, but its time for a little self promotion.

On Wednesday, I was interviewed by my friend Lon Thornburg
On his
No Limits 2 Learning Live
BlogCastRadio program If you enter on the link above, the webcast will stream, but there is also an option to download the program if you prefer to listen to it later.)

On this program, Lon asks me about a variety of issues from personal adjustment to blindness to what it takes for a blind student to prepare for college. I get to discuss some of the issues most important to me, most particularly planning, self advocacy, and accessible texts.

I first met Lon through a comment left here on the Access Ability blog and we’ve gotten to know each other through email correspondence since then, but this is the first time we’ve actually talked to one another. I hope its not the last! Lon is a well qualified assistive technology expert in Oregon whose passion for helping shines through in everything he does. I’m truly proud to call him my friend.

Be sure to keep up with Lon's regular writings and reflections on his
No Limits 2 Learning
Blog. He writes on a variety of assistive technology matters and ties in some of the most important and compelling aspects of working with students.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Brain Computer Interface continues to evolve

I’ve previously posted about the research involving technologies which allow the Brain to interface with a Computer. One link I provided was the work that Hitachi has made with its
As well as the
Project Epoch,
A brain computer interface that lets computer gamers interact using only thoughts and facial expressions.

The programs that allow a person the ability to operate a computer by thought are complex applications that execute computer commands using only normal, human thought processes. This research offers great hope for people who have limited or no motor function, as well as tons of potential for future variations of what it can do.

Now, here’s the latest update on this technology.

If you missed it this past Sunday, the CBS news magazine
60 Minutes
had a report on the latest innovations in this revolutionary technology. When that web page loads, do as the Aerosmith song of a few years back instructed, and “Just Push Play.”

In the video, Scott Pelley reports on two people who use brain interactions with a computer to interact and communicate. The first person we meet is Scott Mackler, a husband, father, and neuroscientist who was diagnosed with ALS nine years ago. Mackler uses an external cap of electrodes to operate the computer and engage the Brain Computer Interface to respond to Pelley’s questions during the interview.

The other person shown in the sequence is Cathy Hutchinson, who was paralyzed after a stroke some years ago. She has a different variation on her interaction with the computer, though. While Mackler was connected via the cap of electrode arrays on the outside of his head, she is directly connected to the computer with electrodes that have been implanted in the motor cortex of her brain. She uses a plug on her head to connect to the Braingate system on the computer. She makes the computer respond to her commands just as if she were operating a mouse with her hand. She has even operated a wheelchair using the Braingate.

Click on the link above and watch the video. It is truly fascinating. This shows what can be done when we push the limits of what is possible. The advances this technology is creating remind me that the potential for mankind to succeed is virtually unlimited.

As a final note, a tip of the hat also goes to CBS for showing great insight to providing accessible material. For those who are deaf or hearing impaired, or just prefer to read the text instead of watching the awe-inspiring video, the network also offers a
text transcript.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

On beautiful homes, cars, and wildflowers

On a recent evening, I was talking with my father-in-law, who was telling me about a new neighbor who had recently visited their home for the first time. The neighbor commented, “This is just beautiful in here, its like a museum. From the outside, people would never know just how beautiful it is in here. You should invite people in and let them see just what a beautiful home you have.”

It immediately dawned on me that that man’s words apply just as well to people. From the outside, strangers don’t know what lies inside. If they are not invited to come inside, they’ll never come to know what beauty lurks just out of view.

I think of my group of friends and how each one is such a unique person, with his or her own, distinct attributes, and how easily these would be overlooked by anybody who does not take a moment to get to know the individual. Several of my friends have various disabilities and I know how socially isolating having a disability can be, which only serves to magnify the matter of being closed off from the outside world.

Too often, life is like the world is a car speeding down the highway and not noticing the pretty, lone wildflower idly sitting there. The world will never notice if it doesn’t slow down and look.

But, maybe if there were a flagman signaling the car to stop and directing the world’s attention to that bloom, then the world might notice it.

While that wildflower doesn’t have a flagman to bring attention to it, we as people do. We can let people know who we are just by inviting them into our world.

Because the important thing to note here is that, in actuality, you are that wildflower.

Open the door to your life and say hello to people. Let them know who you are. Let the world see the beauty that lies within, the museum of who you are.

I don’t mean that you have to be an open book and talk to every person you meet, but when presented with the opportunity to have a conversation, don’t be afraid to be the person to initiate it. People are social beings and we thrive in the company of others. Its lonely without outside interaction.

Open your personal doors, invite your neighbors in, and let them see just how beautiful your home is.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Two Resources for Writing College Papers

Here are two useful web sites which should serve as great resources for any student needing to write college papers. Thanks to the fine folks at
Fred’s Head Companion
for these links.

Punctuation Made Simple

First, there’s a great writing tool for all, particularly any student with a writing or cognitive disability, at
Punctuation Made Simple.

The site, hosted by The College of Arts & Sciences at Illinois State University, has links specific to using colons, semicolons, commas, and dashes.

Big Dog's Grammar

The second resource is
Big Dog’s Grammar,
which touts itself as, "Basic English grammar with interactive exercises."

The site has links for MLA style, pronoun use, active/passive voice, and various forms of modifiers, as well as some other nuggets of wisdom.

It also has an option to read the web site in Spanish, an alternative I think would be a great asset for Spanish speakers who are taking English classes.