Sunday, December 21

2008 year end review

Greetings. As I sit here and reflect, I’ve just finished listening to The Seeing Eye’s holiday message, which they send out each year about this time. This year though, they sent it on CD. I don’t know if this is a recent change or something that they’ve been doing for a few years, sending the message on CD that is, but it’s great! I love being able to listen to the message on my computer, and then file the CD away for later remembering. I’m glad that they’re making the transition from tape to digital forms of communication and look forward to future mailings on CD from them. As always, it was neat listening to some instructors that I already knew along with many people I haven’t even met that are all apart of The Seeing Eye’s family. It’s this launching point that I begin my year in review. As a loyal blog reader, you likely know what I’m going to say here, but come along anyway and let’s remember the year’s past events.

Another year has gone in my job. I can’t believe that I’ve been working at the state training center for nearly 3 years. February 1 of this year saw my 2 year anniversary date, and a milestone of sorts, for it’s on the 2 year date point that you get 9 hours of annual leave each month, up from 8. I’ll have to wait a little while until I get 10 hours of annual leave, that comes at the 5 year point, but it’s been nice to get 9 hours. I’ve also grown as an instructor and coworker. I can look back at how I was when I started this job, and even how my teaching was back in 2003, and see some definite changes and improvements. Though, I’m not to the point of being a perfect teacher yet. Honestly, I don’t’ know if anyone ever reaches that point. There’s always something you can learn or improve upon, whether it be in how you teach, how you reach and motivate students, or something else.

Some work related highlights, in no particular order, include: The Louis Braille celebration we had last January, the river tubing trip which thankfully wasn’t rained out this year back in June, White Cane Day activities and preparations in October, all the various graduations for students I attended this year, and other things. This year also saw one of my tech department colleagues move to another department, but a new employee join our ranks in September. The new person is Jeanine Lineback, having previously worked at the Colorado Center for the Blind for a number of years. She has a wealth of experience in technology and brings a lot to our department. It will be great when her probation period is over in a couple of months and she can fully be part of class rotations. And, more to the point, we can be a full department again. It’s amazing how one or two absences can make a difference when you’re used to having 6 people available to teach.

This year also saw me make another big change in my personal life, and that was back in March when I decided to apply for another Seeing Eye dog. As I went through the application and interview process again, and as I got a “penciled in” date for when my class “might” be, it was neat going through that anticipation all over again. Of wondering what kind of dog you’ll get, what the dog’s doing right now, and so forth. Things really became real when I found myself sending numerous emails to my work team of instructors on various aspects of technology training. Anyone who knows me, or has even read this blog for any length of time, has picked up on the fact that I’m very detail oriented. Imagine if you will how these emails must have looked then. Anyway, as the date got closer more preparations were being made. Then I went to the summer NFB national convention in Dallas and got to meet up with several people from The Seeing Eye and attended their graduate breakfast. Unknowingly, I actually met one of the instructors that would be in my August 30 class at that graduate breakfast. Though she wasn’t my instructor, we did develop instant comrodderry in class with one word: “Sausage!”

Then the date came and I was up at 4am, getting ready and then being picked up to go to the airport. Class was a blur looking back on it, but then again, I knew it would be. It never goes as slowly as we want it to. I enjoyed every minute I was there though and enjoyed getting to know the instructors, the staff, and the various students from around the U.S. and Canada. I had some good times there, and for the first time, I was able to blog about most of them while in training. That was really a neat thing to do and something I’ll likely go back to read from time to time, to help me remember.

Oh yeah, how could I forget? Getting Gucci. Gucci came to me on September 1, which happened to be the exact date that my prior guide, Tony, died in 2006. It was and will be a good date to remember. What can I say about Gucci that I haven’t already tried to say in my blog? Not much, just this: Gucci, I’m glad I gotcha!

I think I got spoiled from being away from work for 3 weeks, since when I came back, I was already missing the time off. That first week seemed endless for me, mainly because I had to adjust to my normal schedule, not the SeeignEye schedule. As the weeks went by though Gucci and I have become more of a team. I was initially concerned about her navigating around canes and other things in the training center environment. She’s done great though. There have been tight spots, but she’s always aware of things, and when she’s not, I’m quick to remind her that she’s working and to keep her mind on what she’s doing. That seems to solve the problem.

In the last couple of months, I’ve upgraded my radio scene, going to Sirius Satellite radio and gaining lots of commercial free music stations, sports play by play channels, and other great things. It’s always been hard for me to project ahead, but as it stands now, I don’t think that I’ll ever go back to “normal” radio. I’ve also gotten a newer cell phone, the Nokia N82, and am still in the process of getting used to it and getting things the way I want on it. I’ve enjoyed the journey so far though, and really love surfing the web with Talks, listening to music I’ve transferred, and using some spiffy programs, such as Wayfinder Access for GPS and others.

The last 5 months of the year have also seen me addressing various medical items that I have to deal with. Though you probably won’t read about those specifics here, I do appreciate the family and friends that have offered their support to me during these processes. There’s more medicals to come in the next few months, but I know that God, my family, and my friends will be right there with me. I know that Gucci will also be there with me, and that counts for a lot too.

So that’s about all for this year. I’ve got to go and pack. I’m usually the one to get all my packing done early, but here I sit writing this entry when I could be getting ready to go home tomorrow. I’m going to Dallas to be with family for about a week, and then I’ll return to Austin on December 30 for a few days to myself before going back to work on January 5.

Here’s to what’s left of 2008. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Season Greetings to you and yours. May 2009 be even better for you then 2008! And Hook ‘em Horns!

Monday, December 8

Reasons and rationalizations

Greetings. One of the many problems for guide dog owners is that of the public, coworkers, family, friends, or even relatives, or total strangers (which pretty much includes everyone), either wanting to pet your dog or out right petting without permission. Ideally, they would ask permission first and accept whatever answer they get, whether it's yes or no. However, as we all know, not everyone asks. I don't even know the number of times people pet my yellow Lab, my first guide, before I caught on to what was happening. In the three months or so that I've had Gucci, it hasn't happened as much, but I'm not sure if that's because people are afraid of the German Shepherd, or because they know not to pet the guide when they're working. Probably a little of both. Anyway, here's a great take on the petting the dog problem that many people face. After reading it, I can think of numerous times when I was using the yellow Lab when a person likely had these thoughts. Interesting how all of these phrases end in much the same way, with "... the cute doggie." Enjoy.


Rationalizations & Reasons Why Folks Don't Ask Permission to Pet Your

1. Since the person can't see it stands to reason they can't hear
so I'll just pet the cute doggie.
2. She's blind, she has no idea I'm here, if I speak it would scare her to
death... so I'll just pet the cute doggie.
3. Blindness might be contagious... so I'll just pet the cute doggie.
4. Blind people don't understand the language... so I'll just pet the cute
5. Hey, I'm just stupid... so I'll just pet the cute doggie.
6. Look how that mean blind person is ignoring that dog, poor thing
desperately needs some love... so I'll just pet the cute doggie.
7. I love dogs therefore I don't have to ask permission... so I'll just
the cute doggie.
8. Heck, he's blind how will he know if I pet his dog... so I'll just pet
the cute doggie.
9. If the blind person catches me petting their dog I'll just mumble some
excuse... so I'll just pet the cute doggie.
10. Ask permissions? Why? I certainly don't need any one's permission to
pet the cute doggie.

Windows 7 features and accessibility

Greetings. I've come across two links with information on Windows 7, the next operating system from Microsoft said to come out next year. We'll see when it actually is out though after all is said and done. Anyway, if you'd like to read a list of features in Windows 7 or the accessibility planned for Windows 7 then read these pages. Note that as for the features list, this is only a preliminary listing, and it's likely that things will change and that not all of those features listed will end up in the final product. Also, regarding accessibility, it's good to see that Microsoft is taking a proactive view on making sure their product is accessible. However, as a totally blind person, I don't have a lot of use for the on-screen keyboard or the magnifier, no matter how good it is. No mention is made in the article about improvements to Narrator, the built-in screen reader that Microsoft has included in Windows versions dating back to Windows 2000 I believe. I know it's hard to please everyone all the time, but I would think that there would be some mention of Narrator in an article on accessibility features/improvements in the upcoming operating system. Anyway, good information all the same. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 26

The decline of traditional radio

Greetings. When browsing through the selection of stories today from the International Herald Tribune, I couldn't help but notice the one called U.S. radio companies continue to weaken. Though satellite radio wasn't mentioned as far as numbers of listeners in the past few years, I'd be interested to know where it stands among the regular radio, HD Radio, and the like. I think that until the broadcasters bring radio back to what made it so great initially, it's originality, then we'll continue to see radio numbers decline and alternatives such as HD and Satellite Radio increase. Enjoy.

A dog's bedtime prayer

Greetings. I received the following story via email. Enjoy.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
The queen-size bed is soft and deep.
I sleep right in the center groove,
My human being can hardly move.

I've trapped her legs,
she's tucked in tight,
and here is where I pass the night.
No one disturbs me or dares intrude,
Til morning comes and I want food.

I sneak up slowly and it begins,
My nibbles on my human's chin.
she wakes up slowly and smiles and shouts, "You darling beast! Just
cut it out!"
But morning's here and its time to play,
I always seem to get my way.

So thank you Lord, for giving me,
this human person that I see
The one who holds me tight
and shares her bed with me at night!

Monday, November 3

JAWS 10 released

Greetings. For those interested, JAWS 10 was released by Freedom Scientific today. You can read about the Changes in JAWS 10. This page also contains information on how to download and install JAWS 10, along with all of the fixes made during the beta cycle. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 29

Gucci update

Greetings. Yes, for those paying attention, I've just given you the name of my new dog. I mentioned it in one of my last posts in the Dog Blog in September, but it was toward the end of the post. I figure that we're past the initial "breaking in" period and it's okay to throw her name out there. I'm told that when she is laying down with her paws straight out in front of her and her head off to the side, that she looks very classy, lady like and regal. For those that I work with or who I may stay with or see every so often, I would still request that you not use her name when she's working. Actually, when introducing her to the masses at work when we got back, I said that "... her name's secret." Evidently, this has stuck and now many people at work call her "Secret" when they see her in the hall. Upon reflection, I'm fine with this nickname, mainly because it sounds nothing like her real name, so there's little chance of her getting confused or distracted.

As for her work around the training center, it has gotten better by the week. I was able to arrange during my trip to Jersey, for a Seeing Eye field trainer to come and visit me after I got home. As it turned out, this didn't happen until the secodn week. In a way though, I was glad so that Gucci and I could go through our initial settling in time. It also gave me a chance to see what things we needed to work on and thereby optimize the time I did spend with the trainer. Jonathan, the trainer, was very good and even though we didn't have as much time as I thought we would, we still got lots done. When we were through he asked me if there was anything else, and my response went something like, "Well, sure there are. But I think most things will work themselves out in time," and they have.

It seems like at the end of each work week, I can look back and see the progress that Gucci has made during that week and overall. For instance, she initially was unsure of how to handle canes. Keep in mind that since I work at a training center for the adult blind, canes, many canes, are a daily occurrance for us. Anyway, she handled ones that were off in a distance or in the middle of the hall just fine, but when people popped up in front of her, or got their canes underneath her, she totally stopped. That created some awkward situations with people telling me things like, "Looks like you need to work with her some more." With Jonathan's help and through the past few weeks, her decisions and confidence have both gradually increased. Now the only time she will stop in front of a cane is if we're coming around a corner and someone pops up in front of her that she didn't expect, like if we're turning left when we come out of a stairwell and someone just happens to be right there. That particular incident happened this morning. When they do happen, I drop the harness handle, talk to the person, and gradually we will pass each other. When the other person has passed me, I'll pick up the handle and encourage Gucci to go on.

The way she goes around people has also gotten better, both those with canes and those without. I think she's finally figured out that people outside the Center will freely get out of her way, but those inside will not. In fact, those inside might just stop where they are, sometimes in the middle of the hallway and sometimes on the sides. She just navigates around them though and goes on. I'm beginning to realize what other German Shepherd dog guide owners told me before I went up for training, that their dogs would see things from 30-50 feet away and already start to problem solve how to get around them.

Gucci is also becoming more confident in her decisions. The big thing remaining for us to fix is for me to correctly interpret her stops or swerves for obsticles. When she swerves to the right on a sidewalk, is it because she's going around something, or because she wants to go to the right because she recognizes the area that she makes her daily deposits at? Or, is she just goofing off and distracted from another dog or a person? All these things go through my mind when I work her, and I'm guessing when any guide dog handler works their dog.

Some say that you can relax when using a dog, and this is ttrue. In some cases not as much thought is involved as when you use a cane. However, this lack of thought is made up for in other ways, such as interpretting the dog's movements correctly, offering corrections when they don't do something right, and keeping them on task. And being aware of the environment you're in so you can correctly direct the dog. It took me a long time with my first guide to accept that my role was the navigator and my dog was the guide. I can give her instructions, but if she chooses not to obey them, like not turning left when I ask her to, then she may be preventing me from running into something. Believe you me, plenty of guide dog handlers, including me, can recount times when they didn't listen to the dog and stepped off a curb into a puddle, or banged into a sign, and then realized that this was why the dog stopped or wouldn't turn.

Anyway, a month and then some has gone by since we got back from Jersey and I think we're making good progress toward being a good working team. We're not there yet, wherever there is, but we're on our way. I wonder how things will be and what they will look like in another few weeks/months? Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 28

Blind marching band

Greetings. The following was posted to an email list. I love reading and posting stories like this to this blog. It's these kinds of stories that get my blood flowing and provide another side to what the average person considers blindness to be. Enjoy!

Blind marching band and the Tournament of Roses Parade

Members of the Ohio State School for the Blind marching band react to
News that their band has been invited to the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The entire student body was in the gym when the surprise announcement was heard.

The band's trip to Pasadena, Calif., will cost about $1,500 per person.

Donations can be sent to the Ohio State School for the Blind

Parent-Teacher-Staff Organization, 5220 N. High St., Columbus 43214 The

entire student body had been herded into the gym to sing The

Star-Spangled Banner, which was video- recorded for a school project.

That was pretty cool, in itself -- several of the roughly 120 students at the Ohio State School for the Blind have perfect pitch, so it wasn't your

average school-choir rendition.

What happened next was even cooler: Music director Carol Agler's cell

Phone rang and the crowd went quiet. She held the microphone to the phone's earpiece as a man, calling from California, invited the school's

marching band to join the 2010 Rose Parade.

You'd have thought Paris Hilton or the Jonas Brothers had just walked

in -- that's how loud the screaming was.

"Congratulations, and we look forward to seeing you all," said Gary Di-

Sano, the parade's president in 2010.

The Rose Parade, which features flowers-only floats and takes place in

Pasadena, Calif., each New Year's Day, has never hosted a blind marching

band. In fact, Agler said she doesn't know of another one in the


Right now, there are only 17 band members, plus about as many sighted

marching assistants who help them stay in formation.

"I think this will generate more kids in the band," said Agler, who

co-directs the band with another teacher, Dan Kelley. They've got a year

to whip the band into shape and to raise money for the cross-country trip.

Band members likely will practice marching on the school's campus and

Even on one of the gym's treadmills. The parade route is about 6 miles and

Will take about two hours to march, a grind the band isn't used to.

"I'm nervous, but I'm excited, too. It's gonna be hard, but we're gonna

Get through it," said Bria Goshay, a 15-year-old snare drummer from


The band was formed in 2005 and played its first full season with about

20 members in 2006. Its uniforms are castoffs from another high school that got new ones.

During a regular season, the band plays for an audience a handful of

times: at deaf-school football games, at a Dublin high-school pregame show, at the Ohio State University Skull Session in St. John Arena. The band recently marched in a Circleville Pumpkin Show parade.

Twenty-one bands from across the country have been booked for the Rose

Parade, said music committee chairwoman Stacy Houser. Two others,

Pickerington Central High School and Ohio University, are from Ohio.

"A blind marching band is such an incredibly unique thing," she said.

"We're hoping it'll be an inspiration throughout the country."

Bands are chosen using several criteria, including marching and musical

ability, uniqueness and overall talent.

Macy McClain, who plays the flute and piccolo in the band, likened the

Honor to being on American Idol.

"Except you don't have to stand in line," she said.

Dog note to God

Greetings. I received the following from an email list for guide dog users. Enjoy, and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.



Dear God: Is it on purpose our names are the same, only reversed?

Dear God: Why do humans smell the flowers, but seldom, if ever, smell one another?

Dear God: When we get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it still the same old story?

Dear God: Why are there cars named after the jaguar, the cougar, the mustang, the colt, the stingray, and the rabbit, but not ONE named for a Dog? How often do you see a cougar riding around? We do love a nice ride! Would it be so hard to rename the 'Chrysler Eagle' the 'Chrysler Beagle'?

Dear God: If a Dog barks his head off in the forest and no human hears him, is he still a bad Dog?

Dear God: We Dogs can understand human verbal instructions, hand signals, whistles, horns, clickers, beepers, scent ID's, electromagnetic energy fields, and Frisbee flight paths. What do humans understand?

Dear God: More meatballs, less spaghetti, please.

Dear God: Are there mailmen in Heaven? If there are, will I have to apologize?

Dear God: Let me give you a list of just some of the things I must remember to be a good Dog.

1. I will not eat the cats' food before they eat it or after they throw it up.
2. I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, etc., just because I like the way they smell.
3. The Litter Box is not a cookie jar.
4. The sofa is not a 'face towel'.
5. The garbage collector is not stealing our stuff.
6. I will not play tug-of-war with Dad's underwear when he's on the toilet.
7. Sticking my nose into someone's crotch is an unacceptable way of saying 'hello'.
8. I don't need to suddenly stand straight up when I'm under the coffee table .
9. I must shake the rainwater out of my fur before entering the house - not after.
10. I will not come in from outside and immediately drag my butt.
11. I will not sit in the middle of the living room and lick my crotch.
12. The cat is not a 'squeaky toy' so when I play with him and he makes that noise, it's usually not a good thing.

P.S. Dear God: When I get to Heaven may I have my testicles back?

Sunday, October 26

New way to comment

Greetings. For those interested, I've changed the way comments are handled on this blog. From now on, a comment link will be embedded in each post. So, instead of opening the link with the post's title, you can click on the link for the number of comments. Each method goes to the same page. The comment form has changed as well. Before, you had to select your ID from a set of radio buttons, whereas now it's a combo box with many more ID options available. Those that have blogs on Blogger have this option now. Comments on this blog will still be approved before they appear, so I can monitor and prevent spam from appearing, but hopefully this will help make the commenting process easier. Read more on the new feature below. The following was taken from the Blogger Buzz Blog:


Today we’re bringing the embedded comment form out of Blogger in draft and making it easily available to everyone. This feature puts the comment form at the bottom of each post page, below the comments, instead of on the separate, Blogger-styled page.

The embedded comment form is more convenient for your readers because they can use it to post a comment immediately, without clicking over to a different page. It also looks better, since it matches your blog’s style and colors.

If you’re logged in to Blogger with your Google Account, you can also subscribe to comments via email by clicking the “Subscribe” link. Unlike with the full page comment form, you don’t need to post a comment to subscribe.

To enable the embedded comment form for your blog, go to the Settings > Comments page and look for the Comment Form Placement setting. Change it to Embedded below post, save your settings, and go check out a post to see the new form in action.

The embedded comment form works on both Classic and Layouts templates, though if you’re using a heavily-customized Layouts template you may need to reset your widget templates before the embedded comment form will appear.

We think that the embedded comment form is a big improvement, so we’ve made it the default setting for all new blogs.

Happy commenting!

Update, 10/23: We regret that this feature is being enabled for some existing blogs that didn’t specifically enable it. We are working to undo that, but in the meantime if you see this on your blog and don’t want it, go to Settings > Commenting and change Comment Form Placement to either “Full page” or “Pop-up window.”

Get prepared for Louis's birthday

Greetings. I received the following note from National Braille Press via their email announcements list. Enjoy.


Louis Turns 200!

National Braille Press has been busy planning a virtual birthday party
in anticipation of Louis Braille's bicentennial this January 4th. We're
sending this notice out early, so you have time to help us spread the
word about a genius inventor.

First, we commissioned artist Judith Krimski to design a new image of
Louis that would respect his place in history and illuminate the
vitality of his vision today. Her stunning Louis icon appears on almost
every Bicentennial commemorative item listed below.

Read about the icon image here:

Next, we designed a half-dozen, low-cost items that you can use to
spread the word about Louis's Bicentennial --starting today and
throughout 2009! All of these items can be purchased at our new website

Louis Lapel Pins. Our goal is to have everyone who cares about Louis
wearing his lapel pin this January 4th-and every other day! It even has
teeny-tiny braille letters across the bottom. Get your whole company to
participate! $5 each, plus shipping.

Louis Note Cards. Keep in touch with friends and family with these
gorgeous 4.25" x 5" note cards. Includes 10 cards and envelopes in a
sturdy card box: $7.99 for the set, plus shipping.

Bicentennial Wall Poster. Perfect for any classroom, this beautifully
illustrated 12.25" x 17" poster celebrates the life and achievements of
Louis Braille with images from France. Free-you pay for shipping only.

Print/braille Bookmarks. Perfect for the classroom, library or the
office, these colorful bookmarks feature our Louis image and facts about
his life. In packages of 30 for $8, or 50 for $12, plus shipping.

Braille Key Chains. These unique gold-plated coin key chains measure
1.5" in diameter. On one side, the words "Louis Braille 1809" appear in
braille, and the reverse side shows hands reading braille and the words
"Braille Opens Doors" Designed and produced by Paul and Bernie Dressell:
$5, plus shipping.

Tactile Louis. Commemorate the 200th birthday of Louis with this signed
and numbered, limited edition, ivory-colored, cast resin plaque,
sculpted by tactile artist Ann Cunningham. Hang it on a wall or display
it on the wire stand that comes with each plaque: $45, plus shipping.

Whatever you do, celebrate Braille. These make great holiday gifts!
All these commemorative mementos are available at

To order any items or books, send payment to:
NBP, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115-4302
Or call and charge it: toll-free (800) 548-7323 or (617) 266-6160 ext
20. Or order any of our books online at

Friday, October 17

Tip: convert Word 2007 documents into another format

Greetings. I realize that not everyone in computer world has Office 2007, for whatever reason, be it switching to the Ribbon or something else. That's why the following tip from the Fred's Head Companion on Convert Microsoft DOCX Files to HTML caught my attention. This tip does a good job of describing the site to use and the process. What it doesn't mention is that not only can you convert to HTML, but also to other common formats, such as plain text, rich text, Word 2003 (.doc), and many others. This would be a great site, the one mentioned in the tip that is, to bookmark and keep on hand for those coworkers or friends who don't use Word 2007, or if you simply don't want to have to mess with any extra stuff that Word 07 might throw in. By the way, it's worth mentioning that various kinds of formatting will be stripped out, however, other formatting will remain, such as font styles, tables, underline, and others. This is one of those ideas that makes me ponder, "I wish I had thought of that." Enjoy.

Thursday, October 16

New Perkins Brailler

Greetings. I'm going through some older emails that I've meant to post at some point. Anyway, here's the official press release about the new Perkins Brailler. Enjoy.

Quiet cars survey

Greetings. If you have been involved with a quiet car, such as in an acccident, then please read the following message and consider taking action. I received this from an email list. Thanks.

***Please forward***
FYI. Pasted below is a letter from Debbie Stein, chair of NFB's Quiet Car
committee. She is conducting a survey of both sighted and blind people who
have experienced accidents or near accidents involving vehicles they could
not hear. Her contact info is at the bottom of this message. Please help
if you can.


Open Letter to Guide Dog Users


As you probably know, many people in both the blind and sighted
communities are increasingly concerned about the hazard posed by
silently-operating hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as very quiet
cars with standard combustion engines. Because it is extremely difficult
to hear these vehicles under normal traffic conditions, cyclists and
pedestrians are often dangerously unaware of their presence and movements.
I chair the Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety (CAPS--also
known as the Quiet Cars Committee) of the National Federation of the
Blind. We are gathering information from people who have had accidents or
near accidents involving vehicles they could not hear.

If as a pedestrian or cyclist you have been in an accident involving a
quiet car, or if you have had a frightening close call, please contact me.
I am conducting a short survey with people who have had quiet-car
incidents, and I would like very much to collect information about what
happened to you. The survey questions take ten to fifteen minutes.

The information you share will help us build a stronger case for the need
for a solution to the quiet-car problem. Thank you in advance for your


Debbie Stein

Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety
National Federation of the Blind

OverDrive and the Stream

Greetings. I received the following announcement yesterday from the Stream Newswire regarding playing books from OverDrive on the Stream. Read and enjoy.

Dear Victor Reader Stream Friends:

Overdrive (, the popular service that provides recorded audio books that can be downloaded from many public libraries, has recently began offering some audio books in MP3 format. We have been receiving queries about whether these new MP3 books can be played on the Stream. The answer is yes. You may download them to a sub folder within the Other Books bookshelf of the Stream.

Author and technology reviewer, Anna Dresner who wrote the popular NBP book, "A Pocketful of Sound" has published an article on her blog about Overdrive's new MP3 books and how to play them on your Stream. The article can be found at:

The Pocketful of Sound book which is a comprehensive review of portable media players including the Stream can be obtained from National Braille Press. For more information visit:
Thank you,
The HumanWare Team

Monday, October 13

Assisting a guide dog team

Greetings. when making my daily round of some blogs, I came across a post from the Fred's Head Companion blog from the American Printing House for the Blind on Assisting a Guide Dog Team. Though the author of this post is a graduate of Guide Dogs for the Blind out in California, I agree with what they write, and would recommend that all read and consider what they have to say. My only addition would be to plug The Seeing Eye verses Guide Dogs for the Blind, but that's more of a personal bias, :) Enjoy.

Thursday, October 9

Got my radio upgrade

Greetings. As I write this, I'm listening to crystal clear music from my new Sirius radio. This is quite a thing for me, not just because it's Sirius, but because previously, radio listening consisted of either listening to a Walkman or my clock radio. I've been looking for an alternative to these options, especially since neither of them really received stations very well. I've heard that reception on the first floor of my complex isn't very good, for whatever reason.

Thanks to my stay at The Seeing Eye and of getting the chance to preview Sirius for free, I've become addicted. I went to Best Buy last weekend to look at various receivers and radios, and then came home and purchased the equipment from Amazon. Thanks to FedEx shipping, I received the receiver 2 days ago, and the Boom Box radio today. So now I've got music coming from the radio, which is on the night stand by my bed, and I can move about through my apartment and still hear the radio.

The big thing about Sirius, aside from the commercial free music channels, that I'm looking forward to are the numerous play-by-play sporting events broadcasted through the week, especially the NFL games on Sundays. The music channels aren't that bad either since there's a great variety of music, and the music played is everything from current radio hits to songs you haven't heard for years. This probably would have made a great Santa gift, but since I had the money, a gift certificate, and most of all the strong desire, not to mention much of the NFL season remaining, I went ahead and got it now. presets? Already got all but one of the 11 set. However, since there's a "Go to channel" button that allows you to type in the three digit channel number and then instantly goes there, the presets are almost not needed.

This weekend's going to be fun listneing to all the variety of stuff, including sports. Were I not so working minded, I might entertain the thought of skipping work tomorrow just to stay home and listen to the new radio. However, i am very work minded. That doesnt' mean though that I won't race out the door at 5:00 approaches. I might even take a cab just to get home quicker than the bus. Talk later, ... maybe, :)

Sunday, October 5

Quiet Hybrids a Threat to the Blind

Greetings. I received the following news story from an email list. In the article, it is said that a guide dog cannot detect a hybrid car. The only way I can see that this would happen would be if the car comes up behind the dog-human team. Otherwise, "detecting" the hybrid is just like the behavior during a trafic check, when a car crosses the path of a guide dog and they react by stopping, swerving, or backing up. I can attest to the effectiveness of these traffic checks during training, since my dog and I received quite a number of them, and she reacted correctly each time. In other words, we're still here. The main issue with hybrids in training is the student not knowing what the dog is reacting to. To the student's point of view, since they can't hear the car passing, the dog just stops all of a sudden and the student doesn't know why exactly. Of course, since this would usually happen in the street or a parking lot, it's not too hard to figure out. Anyway, keep this in mind when reading that statement. Enjoy, and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.

Quiet hybrids a threat to the blind
By Isabel MascareƱas,
Tampa Bay's 10 News
September 26, 2008

Palmetto, Florida - Hybrid cars offer better mileage and less pollution but when the vehicle switches from its gasoline engine to an electric motor, it's
virtually silent.

For Helen Arnold, that silence can be deadly for her and her guide dog Corki. She's been blind since birth.

"We cannot hear the hybrid in non-operation mode. We don't know you are there," says Helen. It's not just the handler; guide dogs usually can't
detect hybrids either.

"The biggest challenge with the hybrid is it's so quiet," say Heidi Illgen, lead trainer at Southeastern Guide Dog, Inc.

The Southeastern Guide Dog facility in Manatee purchased a hybrid this year to enhance its training. Illgen takes Troy, an Australian Shepherd, through this life saving lesson. Illgen says dogs have a visual span of about
three feet from side to side and six feet up. The hybrid car requires they expand that visual perception outside of that straight line of travel.

"It's a lot more responsibility for the dog," says Illgen.
The guide dog learns through repetition.
"If the dog gets too close to the vehicle, we tap the vehicle, tell the dog 'no,'
back up and have the car surge back towards us again. If the dog stops at a reasonable distance we consider safe, we pour the praise on," says Illgen.

The trainer says it's not just the dog that must change its ways the student
must also recognize the dog's signals.

"What we need to do now is teach the student to really pay attention to
what the dog is saying we call it intelligent disobedience. Sometimes a dog will refuse to do an action we're calling for could be because of a safety,"
says Illgen.

"Traveling with guide dog is a team. You have the human factor, the canine factor work as a team. I listen, she sees," says Arnold.

Troy will soon be Arnold's new guide dog after Corki retires. She hopes

hybrid owners will use caution and use their eyes and ears when approaching an intersection.

Arnold says, "Be careful, travel a bit slower."

The National Federation of the Blind has asked the auto industry to add a sound to hybrids so the visually impaired and pedestrians can hear one coming.

Saturday, October 4

Blindness, the movie

Greetings. This is related to the movie called "Blindness" that came out yesterday. It's a bad sign when even the critics don't highly endorse a film. This one in particular though doesn't deal with the subject matter of blindness very well, and anyone who thinks that this is an accurate portrayal of what it's like to be blind has been smoking something.

In case you're not convinced, here's a couple of links from the National Federation of the Blind regarding the movie, on Frequently Asked Questions about Blindness Word document and an related Associated Press story on the movie.

A nationwide protest happened yesterday at dozens of theaters around the country and there have been and I expect will continue to be coverage of the feelings on the movie by a number of media outlets, such as CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times,, and others.

Please pass the word along that the movie "Blindness" should not be seen or supported in any way. This goes beyond what "Mr. Magoo" did about 10 years ago. I've heard that the movie itself presents a dark environment and an overall depressive feeling to it. Trust me, this is one to avoid at all costs.

Next generation Braille Writer

Greetings. I received the following article from a friend regarding a possible new generation for the Perkins Brailler. This sounds like a great improvement on the older model which is loud, heavy, and just needs some overhalls and enhancements. I hope that these new Braillers really sell a lot and that they appear next year at the various consumer conventions for people to check out. I also hope the price comes down. I understand newer, better, and so forth, but doesn't newer also mean cheaper? Or, cheaper than the price given for this new model anyway? Ah well, it's good to have a second generation of the Brailler. And it looks like a lot of time an effort went into designing this model, along with input from the people that will actually be using it. I remember hearing a Blind Cool Tech podcast several years ago where Larry Skutchan of APH was talking with Brian Charleson of the Carroll Center for the Blind about what improvements might happen to a newer Brailler. Perhaps that's where some of the enhancements came from for this model. Anyway, here's the article. Enjoy.

A lighter touch
Perkins School hopes compact Braille machine brings renewed interest
By Dave Copeland, Globe Correspondent | October 3, 2008

Until now, Kim Charlson has kept a Perkins Brailler in almost every room in her house. The 10-pound, breadbox-size machine acts as a notepad for people like Charlson, 51,who is legally blind.

"The one in the kitchen gets the biggest workout," she said. "You only have to make one batch of chili where you mistake fruit cocktail for kidney beans before you figure you better start using it to make labels for everything."

The machine resembles an eight-key typewriter that creates six-dot characters, with a place to load paper in the back.

But after today, Charlson may no longer need several Braillers. This morning, Perkins Products, a division of the nonprofit Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, is set to release the next generation of the machine, the first major overhaul of the Perkins Brailler since it was introduced 57 years ago. The new model is 25 percent lighter than its predecessor and more compact, allowing it to better fit on school desks and in workspaces. It is also less expensive - $650 compared with $690.

"I remember being a kid, learning Braille, and I'd be carrying this big, bulky thing around, banging into walls," said Charlson, who is director of the Braille & Talking Book Library, another division of the Perkins School.

Braille literacy rates among the 55,000 legally blind school-age children in the United States hover at about 12 percent, down from 50 percent in 1960. While much of the drop-off is attributed to a lack of qualified instructors in public school systems, many who work with the blind say a simpler way for students to write in Braille could help boost that number.

"We're hoping the ease of use and more modern packaging will reinvigorate excitement," said David Morgan, general manager of Perkins Products, which helps the school offset its fund-raising commitments by selling and repairing Braillers, as well as offering training on the machines.

On Tuesday, Morgan, who is not blind, strolled through the company's workshop, where a team of engineers was testing the first batch of the new Braillers. The devices were to be shipped to Louisville, Ky., for the official unveiling with Perkins's partner on the project, American Printing House for the Blind. The engineers - four of whom are from India and will oversee mass production of the machines at Worth Trust, Perkins's assembly company in India - hunkered over the machines they assembled by hand. Over the soft click-clack of the machines, Morgan pointed out the integrated handle and the paper tray that make reading back what a user has just written easier. Also, it is the first such machine that allows users to erase characters.

"This really is the pen and paper for the blind," he said.

Charlson added, "I have all the latest technology and gadgets in my office, but if you look on my desk, front and center, right next to the phone, is my Brailler."

Since the first Perkins Brailler rolled out in 1951, more than 330,000 have been sold in 170 countries, including 10,000 last year. Morgan noted many users have had their machines for decades. "Some of these people have been using the same Brailler for 30 or 40 years. You'd have to pry them out of their hands," he said.

Not so for Judi Cannon, who, like Charlson, works at the Braille & Talking Book Library and was part of the focus group that helped Perkins Products come up with the new design. Cannon, 57, said she was excited about using the upgraded machine.

"I've been advocating for this for years," Cannon said as she took notes on a new, raspberry-red Brailler with her service dog, Almond, curled at her feet.

"The old one, you'd carry it around and your arm would get longer," she said. "But this one is just like carrying a briefcase."

© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Thursday, October 2

Stream turns 1

Greetings. I received the following message from the Victor Reader Stream Newswire. Enjoy.


Dear Victor Reader Stream Friends:

For those of you who could not attend the online first birthday party this past Saturday we have posted a recording of the event that you can download from the Stream product page:

The event began with a greeting from our CEO, Gilles Pepin. We then had an opportunity for party goers to meet and ask questions to HumanWare customer support staff, our Stream software development project leader, and the Stream product manager. Also, we had interesting conversations with HumanWare partner guests Tom Pile from and Mike Calvo from Serotek. We thank our partner guests for providing two lucky party goers with Audible and Serotek memberships. Other prizes included two Streams, Stream accessories, and a grand prize of HumanWare's latest GPS product, the Trekker Breeze.

One fun party gift offered to all Stream users came from Terry Kelly, a Canadian singer and song writer. Terry composed a short Stream jingle that he suggests could be used as a Victor Reader Stream ring tone for your cell phone. You are all invited to have fun with it. The ring tone can be downloaded from:

Our thanks to Terry Kelly for this innovative gift. For more information about Terry and his work visit him at:

We appreciate all who attended and supported the birthday party event. With the great interest in this event, we will plan future Stream information sessions and keep you informed about them on this newswire.

Happy Birthday Victor Reader Stream!
The HumanWare Team

Tuesday, September 30

Another guide dog denied access

Greetings. The following story comes from a guide dog related email list. Though the incident happened in a business, verses in a cab or at a restaurant, it illustrates that discrimination and denial of access continue happening to guide dog handlers. Enjoy, and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.

Teacher quits after wife, guide dog denied access

Woman wasn't allowed to enter reception area

Brantford Expositor
Ontario, Canada
September 27, 2008

A city woman says she was discriminated against because her guide dog was
not allowed in the reception area of a local business.

Lynn Raloff, who is visually impaired, said she was asked to leave the
reception area of the Sylvan Learning Centre on North Park Street Wednesday
night when she arrived to wait for her husband Jeff, a teacher there.

Raloff said the owner, Margaret Mercer, asked her to sit in an outer waiting
area instead.

Raloff explained that her dog was "a working dog" rather than a pet but she
was told it made no difference.

"I was just so surprised and then so upset," Raloff said.

"She refused to listen to me and wanted me to be as far away from the
teaching area as possible."

When Jeff Raloff found out about the situation, he protested and told his
employer that it was illegal to deny access to his wife and her dog.

"When I saw her sitting out where she was, I wasn't too happy."

After arguing with Mercer for some minutes, Raloff, who was in his second
week of employment, became increasingly angry and quit -- with one hour left
in the class.

Contacted Friday, Mercer said she does not allow dogs in the school for
safety reasons.

"It would be a liability issue," she said.

"We are not insured around having dogs."

Mercer said she also is worried that some of her students, who are as young
as three, might be afraid of the dog or have allergies.

"Our kids come first," she said.

"This is not a public place, it's a school."

Mercer said Lynn Raloff was not asked to leave the building but just to move
to an area that was farther away from the teaching space.

"It's not a human rights issue," she said.

"It's a dog issue."

But Afroze Edwards, communications officer for the Ontario Human Rights
Commission, said that's not the case.

"There is a human rights protection in terms of access to services and

The issue of access also is covered in provincial law under the Blind
Persons Rights Act, which says that guide dogs are permitted in places to
which the public is permitted.

Edwards said that applies to all schools, public or private.

"The services are still services to the public," she said.

"People with disabilities who require a guide dog can't be discriminated
against. We're not talking about a pet."

However, Edwards said Mercer did make an effort to accommodate Raloff by
allowing her to sit in another area.

"In a sense, she was accommodated."

Lynn Raloff said she was made to feel like a second-class citizen.

"It's not appropriate to discriminate against a disabled person," she said.

"She has a public service. She can't refuse people with a dog."

Raloff said she worries that parents or students with guide dogs may run
into similar difficulties at Sylvan.

"I don't want them to go through what I went through."

Mercer said she does have one visually impaired student but he doesn't have
a dog.

She said she's not sure what she'd do if a student or parent had a guide
dog, since her landlord does not allow dogs on the premises.

Lance Calbeck, who owns the building, said that's not true.

"I have no idea where she heard that," he said Friday. "It certainly didn't
come from me."

Calbeck said he was surprised to hear that Mercer was reluctant to allow a
guide dog in the school.

"I thought it was required under provincial law."

Mercer said guide dogs aren't used at W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind

John Howe, vice-principal of the secondary division, said that's no longer
the case.

Guide dogs have been allowed in the school for the last five years, although
only for senior students.

"We realized that for some of our students who were going to get dogs after
they left us it would be good to get used to the responsibility of working
with the dog."

This year, the school has two students and one instructor who have guide

Mercer maintains that she didn't do anything wrong by asking Raloff and her
dog to sit in the outer foyer, away from classrooms where students were

"It's a tempest in a teapot," she said. Mercer said the request had nothing to do with Raloff's visual impairment. "She would not have been (asked) if
she didn't have a dog."

Monday, September 29

A mainstream accessible MP3 player?

Greetings. Brian Hartgen, a name that many in the AT world either do or should know, has produced a review of the new iPod Nano from Apple. This player, among the sizable new 8 or 16 GB of space, seeks to provide accessible menus to the blind or low vision user. Though it's not possible to pull the player out of the box and have it talk, the process for getting it to talk is fairly straight forward. Since JAWS 10 beta 2 now supports the iTunes 8 software, and since this software is needed to help the Nano talk, along with managing content on the Nano, this is a good sign from Apple, a mainstream company. Whether this development came from an agreement between Apple and the National Federation of the Blind, or from a meeting of the top people in Apple wanting to put a player out there that people with low vision could use and afford, is for others to debate. For me, I'm simply happy that a mainstream company is stepping out and putting out an accessible alternative to the other accessible MP3 players that are geared more for the blind person, such as the Book Port, Book Courier, and others. Hopefully this will spread to the other iPods from Apple and perhaps even to other mainstream companies as more of the general population ages.

After listening to Brian's thorough review of the nano, I've learned that it's not a fully accesible player like the Book Port or even the Victor Reader Stream may be. However, it is a step in the right direction. Would I consider getting an iPod nano? Perhaps, but then again, there are things that my Stream does that the nano can't do yet, such as read and access text and RTF files, and more importantly for me anyway, read the new digital talking books from NLS. I spend more time by far listening to NLS books on my Stream than I do listening to music or other content. However, some of the features of the nano are impressive, such as being able to listen to menu prompts, settings, and song/album information, all while playing music. The Stream also allows one to make audio recordings, something that I'm doing more and more of, such as recording talks with my doctor, a walk down the street with my new guide dog, or other things.

Anyway, if you're interested, you can download Brian's review of the iPod Nano. Enjoy.

Virtual haircut

Greetings. A coworker sent me this YouTube link. It works best if you have some headphones and use your imagination. Turning up the speakers and leaning into the computer worked equally well for me, but then again, I live alone and can do such things. Anyway, have yourself a Virtual Haircut. Enjoy.

Follow that blog!

Greetings. For those that often or regularly check back on this blog to see what I'm posting/talking about, I've added a new feature where you can show your support/reading of this blog. It's a new Blogger feature called, what else, Follow. If you want to "follow" this blog, then you would go to the sidebar, which if you're using a screen reader will appear below all of the posts, and to the heading for "Followers of Wayne's Blog." Choose the Follow this blog link or the Follow button, and a new window will open asking if you want to follow the blog publicly or privately (annonymous). To follow it publicly means that your picture and a link to your blog will appear in this "Followers of Wayne's Blog" section, telling everyone who visits that you're a follower. Those that choose annonymous will not have a picture/link for their blog show up. Either way, a spot in your Blogger dashboard will be set aside for all the blogs that you're following, and will alert you to new posts on those blogs. For more information on this new feature, read the Blogger help article called What is Following?

I believe that you can put a link to a blog even if it's not hosted by Blogger. This feature not only allows the blog's author to see who's reading their blog, but also allows other people to read blogs that they may not ordinarily visit, thanks to the links to other blogs for those that choose "public." When you're viewing your own blog, an additional link called "Manage" will also appear in the Follow section giving you more options. Enjoy, and for those that frequent this and other blogs with this new Follow feature, happy following!

Saturday, September 27

Dog observations

Greetings. As we sit here in the last weekend of September, I can't help but think that 4 weeks ago, I was where between 12 and 24 students are now up in New Jersey, sitting in the common lounge, talking casually with each other, and wondering what kind of dogs they will get come Monday. Many times since then I have sat with my dog, both in New Jersey and here in Texas, stroking her and telling her that I loved her and wondering how I wound up with such a great animal.

I was hesitant to go to my apartment complex's office today, since I was wondering how my dog would do. I walked the route with her a few days ago, pointing out some key spots to her by having her sit and praising her. It's that time of the month, time to pay the next month's rent, and I wasn't sure if she remembered the route. I wondered how I would figure out where we were in the route just by relying on her? When you use a cane, you can easily explore your environment and you know more or less where you are. With a dog, it's a bit more abstract. Unless you really know the environment, things can get confusing. I pondered the possibility of paying the rent next week closer to the day it's due, but then decided that it would be hard to make it to the office after coming home, since the office closes at 6 during Daylight Savings Time.

I then put the harness on the dog, grabbed my telescoping cane, and headed out the door. I figured that if I really got turned around, I could whip out the cane and check things out. However, I needn't have worried. My dog did remember the route, very well in fact, and we turned at all the right places. Soon, she was starting to turn to the left. I began wondering why, but then remembered the age old phrase spoken by many an instructor, which goes, "Follow your dog." So I did, and I soon realized that we had walked up on the front porch covered area of the office. She got lots of praise then.

Okay, we had made the trip to the office; but, what about the trip back? We struck out and we were soon headed back in the direction of the apartment. She did want to make several turns in other directions. I allowed her these, a little, thinking that she was navigating around obsticles or cars. However I made a point of keeping the direction that we were initially going in. As we got closer, she started to go in between cars, looking for the ramp that heads up toward our apartment. After a couple of false tries, she turned right and we were soon walking up the ramp. I stopped her then and gave her more pats and praises. In a few more steps we were in front of the door to my apartment, where she got a big hug. After we had gotten settled inside and i had removed her harness, I gave her a treat. I told her that I wouldn't do this every time we came back from a route, but that I was doing it this time to show my apreciation for her work.

Just when you think you have things figured out, or when you start worrying about your guide, they do things that remind you why you got a guide dog in the first place, such as my trip to and from the office this afternoon. In case anyone's starting guide dog training this weekend or within the next few weeks or months, my best wishes to you and your new guides. May they be everything you want them to be, and more.

Thursday, September 25

Stream video on YouTube

Greetings. I've learned through a tech related email list that HumanWare has put up videos on YouTube regarding several of their products. Follow this link to view the VR Stream YouTube presentation. This is neat to see an AT company doing, and something that more of them should do. You never know who might be browsing the various clips and videos and might see your product promotions. Enjoy.

Monday, September 22

Interesting new features announced in JAWS 10

Greetings. Freedom Scientific will soon be releasing the second beta for the upcoming version 10 of JAWS. Among the new features discussed on the September 2008 edition of FS Cast are the ability to assist someone over a distance in troubleshooting or using their computer, and improved access to iTunes version 8. Depending on your priorities, you will likely find one of these features more valuable than the other. For me, it's the iTunes support and having a more robust media player available, not to mention being able to control and access all of my media (such as music, movies, podcasts, play lists, etc.), with one player. However, those who do more tech support, training, or troubleshooting of other JAWS users computers will likely find the remote control more interesting. This new remote control ability will be called JAWS Tandom, and it sounds like it will really be of help to many people in the I.T. field. If you're interested in either of these features, then do use the link above to download the podcast and take a listen. Prices for the JAWS Tandom service are also revealed in this podcast. Also, watch the FS site for beta 2 of JAWS 10 where you will be able to "officially" use these new features, along with all of the fixes and enhancements made since the first beta released about a month ago. enjoy.

Sunday, September 21

Neighborhood and routine

Greetings. Instead of putting up several posts on different days, I thought I'd try and wrap everything up in this post.

I took the dog out for a first walk on Thursday evening. We were told by the night instructor to have the dog do an easy route, one that doesn't involve busy traffic patterns and one where they are helped to easily succeed. This I suppose is also designed to introduce the neighborhood and other environments to the dogs, as well as burn off some excess energy. Anyway, for my route, I directed my dog down to the bus transfer center that's not too far from my apartment, and we even practiced going up to several busses to see what their numbers were. I'd encourage her to put her front paws on the threshold of the door and then I'd ask anyone nearby what the bus number was. She did fine with the first two busses, but the third bus she all but leaped aboard, and then when I still stood on the outside, she turned around to look at me as if to ask, "Well? ..."

Friday I took her to a doctor's appointment in the morning and then to my work in the afternoon for a short time. What I've really been impressed so far with her has been herh willingness to point things out to me. She will stop or pause in walking, turn her head or body toward something (like a door or an aisle in a store), as if to ask, "Do you want to go here?" Or, even to say, "See, ..." Many of the things she has pointed out have been things that she's seen for the first time, such as all the doors and openings down the main hall of my workplace as soon as you walk in the front door. In fact, she pointed out the front door to me several times when we didn't need it. However, when it was time to go, she almost passed it. I had to remind her where it was and it was as if she said, "Oh, now you want to go there."

One of the things for me in my job, since I work at a rehabilitation center, is being able to navigate around the grater number of cane users. We had our first test of this Friday afternoon at work. I was careful to pick the times when we would be in the hallways so that there wouldn't be a lot of cane users there at once. I don't want to overwhelm the dog on her first few days. Anyway, we did pass by a couple students using canes and my dog navigated around them perfectly. She paused or swerved right, stopped to let them pass, then she started walking again and moving to the middle of the hall. I was very pleased with her. in fact, so pleased that I praised her by saing, "Good girl." At that very moment, there just happened to be one of the students on my left, a woman, who upon hearing me praise the dog and not knowing who I was talking to, she replied with, "Huh?"

One of the things that interested me in the Shepherd breed was something that another German Shepherd guide dog user at work told me, that her dog will often see a potential obsticle, such as a cane user, 40 feet down the hall and instantly sstart working out how to deal with that obsticle. I don't know how far in advance my dog was working out the problem, but by the time we got close to a student with a cane, she had already worked out the solution and was avoiding them. However, getting around two students with canes is one thing; getting around half a dozen or more in a small space is another. We'll see how things go tomorrow when we "officially" go back to work, but so far, they're looking good.

Several people in my office commented how relaxed and calm the dog was when she was laying under my desk. And indeed she was calm. I wanted to do some measuring and see how it would work with her laying under the desk in my cubicle and when she laid under a table in a nearby classroom. She did fine, after she got under the table. The classroom in question has several movable keyboard trays beneath the table and my dog was a little wary about going under the trays. Once I got her under the table though, she was fine and seemed content to lie there.

I took her to apet store yesterday to buy dog food and some other supplies. My driver went off to do some shopping of her own and she left me with a shopper's assistant from the store. As we began walking through the store, my dog was somewhat distracted by all the different smells and things. I had to verbally correct her several times and finally had to give her a mild leash correction to get her attention back on guiding. The shopper's assistant, not understanding, said, "He's just curious." To which I replied with, "Well, he may be curious, but he's also working and can't be distracted." Side note: why do people automatically assume a dog is male? I'm sure this is something that will come up for me on a regular basis, not that it bothers me in the least. If someone wants to think my dog's male, then fine. I've got no problem with that. It's just interesting how that's the first assumption, after, "What a pretty doggie," that comes up. Anyway, once I got "her" calmed down and focused, she did fine in the store. Later my driver made the observation that it's asking a lot to get a dog to ignore all of the sights and smells that a pet store has to offer, which I agreed. Actually, my dog still sniffed plenty after I showed her that she had to pay attention. It's just that she sniffed in a controled manner, while quietly sitting when we waited several times on the assistant to come back with different information about products. That won't be our last trip to the pet store, but it's good to see that she's doing so well.

I took her out again yesterday afternoon for a short walk in our neighborhood, which gave us another chance to work on overhanging tree limbs in one particular spot. I kind of have to pick my battles here since she is a sensative dog. So I might not say anything if a treelimb brushes past my head, but if I get a face full of leaves or if a limb hits near an eye, which has happened, I'm going to poitn it out to her. There were a couple of incidents like that yesterday, and she successfully navigated around them on the second tries. One time she tried to turn around and go back or she would try to go to the street, but I knew that there was enough clearance on the sidewalk for her, so I kept her from doing these things and encouraged her to work the problem out. After she did, she got some good pats and praises.

She did great in church this morning too. I was also pleased because no one came up and petted her. That was one thing that I had a hard time in dealing with when I used my first guide, a yellow Lab. But when driving home, the couple I go with each week commented that people seemed to know that they shouldn't interact with the dog, even the kids. Of course, it might also be because she's a German Shepherd and not a Lab, but I'll take that as well, :)

That's about all for now. Thanks to all that have been reading this blog and commenting to me, whether it be in person or through email or blog comments. I'll keep the label "dog blog" to use for other stories or incidents of the new dog, but the updates will not be daily like they have been. This blog will gradually go back to the personal, tech related, blindness news story format that it was before, but with one more layer added to all that, of the new dog and our travels and experiences. Thanks for reading and see you soon.

Saturday, September 20

Thursday: traveling, leaving Seeing Eye, and more

Greetings. Well, we're up to Thursday. This was an interesting day on a number of levels, not the least of which was that I woke up in the northeast and went to sleep back in my Austin apartment. It started when my alarm went off at 4:25 that morning, and then when the night instructor called for my wake up call 5 minutes later. As I told her, though I was already up, the wake up call was a precaution to make sure I was up and moving. Over the next hour, I fed my dog, took her out for one final park, got dressed, put my luggage outside my room, at which it was delivered by someone else to the front of the building, and I went upstairs to the common lounge to break bread one last time with my fellow retrain students. That last meeting of students was neat, with a good amount of laughter and good conversation as we all realized that this was truly the last time we would eat at the same table. There was the typical continental breakfast items, along with a wonderful banana-chocolate bread thing. And then 5:30 was approaching. At 5:30 each morning, the wake up call goes out over the dorm room loudspeakers for the morning park. Some days, music was played to get us up, such as "The Coffee Song" by Frank Sinatra, or other selections. This day proved to have a sturring good-bye song for all the retrains. I didn't recognize it, but other people did and some of them started singing along. That was a weird reminder of the coming day, hearing the people singing good-bye as my dog and I walked down the stairs and went by our room one last time to collect my carry-on items.

I then walked with my dog down to the front hall that runs from the dining room to the dormatory area, which has lots of offices on the sides and passes by the front door. We walked part way down the hall and then stopped. At this point, I began silently quoting the lyrics to the popular Michael W. Smith song, "Friends," to which the chorus goes:

And friends are friends forever,
If the Lord's the Lord of them,
And a friend will not say never,
'Cause the welcome will not end,
And it's hard to let you go,
In the Father's hands we know,
That a lifetime's not to long,
To live as friends.

Interesting note on this song: though it was never a "radio hit" for the Christian artist, it has been enormously popular among fans and non-fans alike over the past 20 some odd years.

Anyway, that was enough to close the Seeing Eye stay chapter for me and seemed more fitting, especially in light of my new friends I met during training, than the song that was played at 5:30. Upon further reflection, though I was certainly sad to leave, I did not experience the great separation and longing feeling that I went through when I left with my first guide. This time was more of the ending of one part and the beginning of another, and I suppose that's how it should be.

Then we were walking back toward the main stairs, and we met Ralph who was coming down the stairs. He saw us coming and asked, "Ready?" And I answered, "Yes, let's go."

Ralph drove me and another student, the one I went to Foster Fields with and the one I had often trained with during freelance training, to the airport. That drive was neat in some ways and nondescript in others. Sure, it was a drive to the airport, but it officially closed the period of training and signaled the soon-to-be-taken flight home. Soon after we started, I thanked Ralph for driving us. It seemed fitting that he would drive us there and get us settled. Kind of like a good friend or even family member driving you to the airport. This wasn't the case for some of the retrains, who had to have instructor's assistants drive them because their regular instructors were tied up with training, or were helping other people get home. So I considered it neat that Ralph carved time out to see us off.

I don't remember quite how it started, but we began talking about Loui Braille and his 200th birthday coming in January. Ralph then proceeded to explain how Loui had a brother named Fernando, and later that Loui's real name was Louis Braille, and that he was Spanish and not French. I commented that this was interesting information, and that it was too bad that my MP3 player wasn't recording the information for documenting purposes. I thens said that I would have to ask the Texas state Braille consultant if she had ever heard of Fernando and Louis Braille.

We got to the airport and then things got interesting. Ralph helped me get through security and find my gate, and then he said he had to go back and help the other student. Since the other guy was going back to Canada, and Ralph had to help him get where he needed to be. He said he was disappointed that he had to leave me so soon, but he did give me some final words of encouragement. At that point, I was grateful that I had said my "thank you's" back in the pizza place the previous Monday. Anyway, Ralph wished me luck, told me to keep in touch and call him with updates, said good-bye to my dog, and then left. Shortly after that they started boarding for my Continental flight.

I usually pre-board, for convenience. However, though the airline was made aware of my travels and though the people at the check-in desk knew I was traveling, and though I was seated where they could easily see me, they forgot. So, when they got to the boarding of rows 15-25, I decided I had to do something, figuring that they weren't going to come for me. I'm all for getting help when needed, but I also think it necessary to be independent when needed as well. Otherwise, you spend more time waiting on people to do things which they may or may not remember that they've been asked to do. Ralph had advised me to remove my dog's harness before boarding, to ease her stress level and ease the process of getting her situated in the row of seats. Remember, when the harness is removed, the dog isn't working and are in essence just a normal dog. I should say here that I've noticed that my dog will pull to the left or right when she's on heel with just the leash, or she will stop for an obsticle, but she's not "officially" guiding me. I noticed these behaviors when walking through the halls in the dorm area of The Seeing Eye when she was being heeled.

Anyway, I get up, gather my things and the harness, get her leash and start walking toward where I hear people walking down the jetway. I quietly told the dog, "Okay, I know you're not in harness but behave," to which she did. Thankfully we didn't have to walk far before an airline person came up to me and asked if I wanted to board, to which I said I did. She then asked why I had not preboarded, to which I said, "Well, I wanted to but you forgot about me." She apologized. I'm not sure if word was passed along to other Continental people about this early incident, but I was treated much better after this and they made sure that I was accommodated and taken care of.

As it turne dout, everyone boarded, luggage was loaded, carry-ons were stowed, but we just sat there at the gate. I don't think the gate door was even closed or the aircraft door. We sat there for awhile, and suddenly the 7:30 departure time came and went. Around 8, the pilot came on and said that he wasn't comfortable in flying the plane due to some seemingly simple maintenance issue, and that our flight would be re-routed to another gate close by. He said that everyone would de-plane and our luggage would be moved from the first to the second plane, and then we could board after the jet was serviced, which apparently would be 10-15 minutes later. So shortly after 8, we all de-planed and went over to the next gate. During the waiting process when we were on the initial 7:30 departure time plane, another man came and sat in the row I was in. I was assured that though I was near the bulkhead (which many think has more room but often it doesn't), and that there wouldn't be anyone in my row, this man was reseated from his first class seat. The reason for this would become clear later during the flight. So this nice gentleman assisted me off the plane and to the next gate two gates down. We found seats in the waiting area and he went off to get breakfast for both of us. After he came back and I was digging into the cheese Danish he had gotten me and enjoying my Diet Coke, who should appear but Ralph. He said that he had gotten the other student on his flight okay and had happened to glance up at the monitors to see if my flight got off fine. Which of course it didn't, so he thought he would swing by and see how I was doing. I was glad that he did since I wasn't sure if I would be leaving at all, or in fact if I would be calling The Seeing Eye and having to ask them for another night's stay while waiting for my flight. Thankfully this didn't happen, but he assured me that they would have taken care of me. This is but another example of The Seeing Eye's care for their students and graduates, and the lengths they will go to assured someone's comfort and state of mind, both in and out of training.

We soon got ready to board, and Ralph left, for the second time, and said, "Bye Wayne, and this time, try to stay on the plane." I joked with the Continental assistant that they really loved me here, and repeated Ralphs parting words. We all boarded, got settled, and shortly after that, thankfully shut all the doors and started taxiing down the runway. There was a bit of a delay before we actually took off, but once we were in the air, I breathed a sigh of relief, as I'm sure a number of people on that flight did. We actually left New Jersey and were headed back to good old Austin. As an interesting note, our flying time was cut by around 45 minutes from the original scheduled 4:20 to around 3:30. I was glad for this.

The flight went fine and my dog did great. Toward the end of the flight, she was anxious and looking around nervously when we went through some turbulance getting close to Austin, but the rest of the time she sacked out on the floor in our row.

I learned soon into the flight that the reason that the gentleman in our row was in our row was because, even though he had a first-class seat, he was late and lost his seat. So he was re-assigned to our row. Though he was initially upset about this, he first stated that he was comforted by petting and talking to my dog. Remember, the dog wasn't wearing her harness so he was allowed to do this. Anyway, I say that this was the case initially. As we went into hours number 2 and 3, he got more and more angry at Continental and simply couldn't understand why they gave his seat away. He even asked me if I knew, which of course I did, but decided not to belabor the point. I just shook my head and offered some generic words like, "Yeah, it's rough."

I had some interesting talks with this man, starting with the question of if I wanted my sight back. I assured him several times that, "No, I don't. I've been blind for 20 some odd years. I know how to be blind; I don't know how to be sighted." He persisted, sayign that research was being done and I could get my sight back. I answered by saying that despite what many people think, not all of the research will help every blind person get their sight back. I finally said, "Look, if I were given a choice between $10 million and my sight, I'd go for the $10 million." He understood this, I think mainly because he freely said that he was "wealthy." Apparently my philosophy about the whole sight thing and my general attitude and mannerisms impressed him, because he later said that he wanted to do something for me. I thought about this a long time and eventually said that if he really wanted to do something, that he could make a donation to The Seeign Eye. I later gave him their phone number and encouraged him to get more information. I don't know if he will end up donating or not, but when you come across someone who "wants to do something foryou," and they've obviously got money, what's the harm in doing a little education and fund raising?

I ended up losing track of him when we left the plane and made it into the Austin airport, but we had exchanged cell numbers so I figure that he'll get in touch at some point. The rest of the time, of going through the Austin airport and reserving a ride with SuperShuttle was pretty routine, with one exception. When I went up to the Super Shuttle desk and was making my reservation, one of the men behind the counter looked over and said, "Ah, Mr. Merritt, I see you've got a dog now?" To which I answered that I did. It's neat being recognized by the local people, which I guess I shouldn't be surprised since I travel through that airport a lot during the year and am a frequent passenger with Super Shuttle. My van left soon after that and I made it back to my apartment fine.

I'll write later about the next portion of the day, and the following few days. I think this entry is plenty long enough as it is. Until then.

Wednesday recap

Greetings. At long last, we've reached the Wednesday recap. I thought I was busy during training with taking care of and being trained with the new dog, taking care of my own needs, which often included sleeping, and other things; and I thought I'd have enough time to do all I wanted to do when I got home. Wrong! Now that I'm home, we've got taking care of the new dog full time, keeping her active and alert with new challenges, settling in, running a few errands, and catching up on rest, along with all the usual distractions for me such as Cable, computer stuff, and reading. In other words, take a few of the last few things I listed here and that's why I haven't posted about Wednesday and the rest of training until now. Some interesting things have happened with "new dog" as far as being home and taking her to work yesterday as well, but we're not there yet.

Wednesday was a neat day and a good one to end training with. In the morning we went to the Morristown Courthouse to practice moving through an office like setting. Anyone who has been in that courthouse remembers that there's all sorts of twists and turns, sets of stairs going up and down, ramps, and narrow passages all over the place. In other words, it's challenging for even the most memory sharpened person to keep track up. What happens is my instructor, named Ralph (I figure that since I'm done with training, I can reveal some names to you), walks behind me and to my right giving me directions, such as, "Go straight, turn left at the end of the hall, and go through the doors which will immediately lead to a set of stairs going down. When you reach the bottom, ..." and so on. Okay, he did break them up a little bit more than that, but you get the idea. The goal here is not for me to memorize the route, but rather to learn to work my dog through these types of office settings and to follow the dog wherever she goes. I'm half afraid though that one of these trainings, we'll go through the courthouse and at some point, the instructor will say something like, "Okay, good job. Now, meet you out front."

Anyway, the dog did very well, even weaving me through some narrow gaps beside people or between spaces from one door to another open doorway. When we were done, we came out on a set of stone steps leading down. I later had Ralph take a picture of this area and of me and the dog with my cell phone. He had taken other pictures in New York the day before. I'm not sure if they're magazine quality, but it was fun. It will be neat to go over them with someone later to see how they came out and look. I mean, all due respect to Ralph, but to see if they really do look good.

Wednesday afternoon, we went to a really neat place. This was the point at which we would see how my dog would react to horses. Ralph had tried to contact a certain horse farm near The Seeing Eye but wasn't able to connect with them very well. So, he and I and another student and dog team drove out there that afternoon. Ralph went in ahead to ask permission, and then came back to get us. The place was called Foster Fields. It sits on 200 acres on the other side of The Seeing Eye's 70 acres of land. Both The Seeing Eye and Foster Fields are beautifully landscaped and have an equal number of rolling green hills and other scenery, along with the required number of buildings and modern things.

Foster Fields is one of those "old time" farms that allow you to go back to the 1800's or 1900's and see how life was. It was a full farm with roosters, geese, cows, horses, and other animals. There were dirt paths that we walked down, not sidewalks, and it really had a laid back country feel to it. We were basically told we could go wherever. This was one type of training that Ralph said he had not done before. It all went very well though.

When we were walking down one of the dirt paths, we neared a goose. It seemed as though the goose had friends that it was telling of our arrival, and pretty soon, quite a few more geese were crowing and clucking at our passing. Makes you wonder if they had ever seen two guide dogs walk by before and not even pay them any attention. Oh sure, the dogs looked, but they were focused on their work of guiding. At one point, we passed a lot of sheep, at which point my dog, being a German Shepherd, stopped and pointed them out to me turning toward them and showing them to me. I encouraged her to move on and finally had to tell her, "Yes, I know the sheep are there. But today is guiding, not herding. Herding work is tomorrow."

When we found the horses, we were in for a treat. Ralph the instructor then took first the other man and his guide down to meet one of the horses, and then he came back and got me and my dog. He recommended that I heel the dog over there, to ease any stress for her. We had no reason to worry as it turned out. The horse was a tall 17 hand Belgian draft horse who put his massive head down to check the dog out. My dog, doing what the first guide had done, then put her two front paws on the fence and rose up to sniff the horse. It was quite a site seeing those two different species leaning down or up to meet each other, look and sniff. My dog then got back on all fours and sat when I told her to, and she was completely calm about it all. It's like after she checked the horse out, that she decided it was a new thing but nothing to worry about, and then she simply just looked around calmly.

We then were taken to the barn to encounter more horse like smells of hay, leather and things, and to meet the other horse, another Belgian draft horse. The second horse looked at us and walked back and forth in his large stall. The dogs looked at the second horse briefly and were still calm. The people who met us at this area were surprised that the dogs were so calm, especially when around such large horses. In fact, Ralph, me, and the other student were also a little surprised, but Ralph also explained that the dogs and students were finishing up 2 and a half weeks of intensive training with each other. As it turned out, the two horses were called Calvin and Hobbs.

We then started walking back toward our van, but we were intersepted by another worker,a woman, who told us about the cows we were passing. We took the dogs over to check out the cows, and had a similar experience as with the horses, where both species leaned toward each other across a fence. There were no problems though. As we learned, these were Jersey cows which are smaller than other breeds, but apparently produce better, more high quality milk than other breeds. I'm a country guy at heart and it was neat for me to see some cows after many years. I've seen them before, boht in sight and feel, but not for like 15 or 20 years, or more. My grandfather and some other relatives used to have cattle which I was taken to visit when I was young and in my early teen years. So seeign these cows, even if they were shorter and even if there was a fence, was kind of special for me.

Anyway, the woman explained the history of Foster Fields to us and gave a good lesson about some of the more notable figures in their history. Such as a Mrs. Foster who lived to the age of 102, dying in 1979. To my knowledge, this was the first contact between Foster Fields and The Seeing Eye, but I don't think it will be the last.

This was a neat way of ending our training, and we soon headed back to The Seeing Eye. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing, or as I like to call it, organizing. Dinner was a sad and somber time. Toward the end, some of the trainers that we had not seen all that much circulated among the retrains to offer their congratulations. Among them was Tom, the training supervisor for our class. Even though most of us finished dinner at half passed 5, no one wanted to leave. So we all sat around and talked more. Eventually people started trickling out of the dining area, the retrains headed back to their rooms for more packing, and the new students going other places. The night instructor went around to the retrains over the next hour or two, helping them way their luggage and handing out travel packs she had put together with a couple pick up baggies, some treats,and some paper towels for the trip. We had our normal evening park time at 8 and then after that, there was a big gathering among anyone who wanted to come for a good-bye for the retrains. This gathering/party lasted a good 2 hours, and even longer with some people. I stayed for nearly the whole time, not leaving until 10:30. There were brownies, a delicious chocolate/peanut butter desert bar thingie, and what the night instructor called "cake in a cup." There were also sodas and plenty of wine. The wine being supplied by various students. I'm not much for wine, so I didn't really partake in this part of the evening. Plenty of other people did though. Toward the end, Ralph, the night instructor and I partaked in another few rounds of the interpretive lyrics, speaking choruses and verses to popular pop and rock songs. That was fun as well and we all got some good laughs. At about 10, my dog got to play with her best friend, another dog in training. Both dogs were really tight when they were trained by Sue, the northeastern accented instructor,, which is kind of interesting considering that mine is really tall and this other one is short. At any rate, they often played together in the kennels, which included my dog playfully biting the other dog's neck. There was never any fear that my dog would bite hard, it was just one of their games. Another game was rolling around on the floor and wrestling all while making low noises in their throats. Ralph said that this play was still okay and not to worry about. However, it ended when both dogs got too close to a third dog's space and a warning bark was sounded by the third dog. It was hard to leave, but we all had an early morning coming so we had to leave at some point.

Even though I didn't get to bed till around 11 and had a short night of sleep, it was hard to go to sleep with all the good memories from the whole day, especially the afternoon's farm trip and the evening's party still fresh in my head. I finally did fall asleep though with the assurance that I had accomplished all that I needed to do from that morning. It was a good day all around, and a good one to end training with. I'll put Thursday and Friday up in separate entries hopefully by the end of this weekend, or at least before tomorrow night's Cowboys game. Until then.

Thursday, September 18

Happiness and dogs

Greetings. I made it back to my apartment just fine. I'll perhaps write later of my trip back and definitely I'll write of my training and things that happened yesterday. I wanted to put a separate post up on happiness and dogs, specifically my dog.

Several people, be they parents, friends, or other instructors or staff, have asked me at different times during the training if I was happy with my dog. This was a hard question for me to answer, for whatever reason. Any reservations were my own and had nothing to do with the dog or the type of dog. Since I haven't used a dog for so long, about 9 years, this training proved to be challenging for me in various ways. Eventually I gave the answer that I wasn't sure if I was happy with her or not; that I would have to wait until I was integrated into my own environment after the first month or two and then see, and that at that point, I would likely be happy with the match I got. All that changed when I flew home today.

I did a simple thing, go to the restroom, with the help of another man from my row. Wehn we got back to my seat and were settled again, he told me that my dog sniffed bags and other people when I was in the facilities. Some may say, "You should have had your dog at sit," and yes, you're right. however, over the next few minutes this wasn't what I was thinking of. I answered his question, of whether my dog sniffed for drugs before she learned to guide me (this was an interesting man, as you can see, and one I'll write about more later perhaps), and explained that indeed she was just curious and had only been trained to guide me. I then started listening to songs on my Victor Reader Stream accessible MP3 player. One of them that came up in the shuffle mode, which I'm sure wasn't a coincidence, was "His Eyes" by Stephen Curtis Chapman, a Christian artist. The song talks about how we as people are always in God's eyes and how he's always watching over us, no matter what. In fact, the chorus goes something like:

His eyes, are always upon us,
His eyes, never close in sleep,
No matter where you go,
You will always be in his eye,
In his eyes.

I had been sniffling a few times before this song came up, but when it started, I began to silently cry, dabbing my cheeks with some small napkins.

Later when I was safely at home and had taken my dog out to park for the first time, with the door closed and locked, I burried my face in her fur and cried more openly. In the last 10 to 15 years, there have been only two times when I've cried so openly and deeply; the first was the weekend after my first guide died in September of 2006, and the second has been today, when I instead cried tears of joy for having a chance at another. For getting a new guide and being able to start the process all over again. For fully realizing my new independence with a Seeing Eye dog, and thanking God for that gift, both the gift of the dog and the gift of another shot.

I have no idea why this crying has just now happened, or why it didn't happen during training. Perhaps I was blocking it out and just focusing on the training. Or, perhaps, and I put more value in this explanation, God was giving me just enough strength and focus to get through the training, and now that I'm home and have a relatively free weekend, perhaps I now have time to shed these many tears of joy over the new dog. This is hard to write, and I've got tears threatening in my eyes as I write this. When I was crying on the floor this afternoon, after a few minutes, my dog put first one then the other of her front paws on my arms, which I took to mean comfort. Part of me wishes that this emotion came out during training, so I could have shared and gone through it wiht my fellow students and instructors. But, who am I to question or know the ways of God? I'm simply grateful that He knows the best times for me to experience different emotions and that He knows what's good for me, such as a new guide.

So, in answer to the question I started with, I can now say that I truly am happy with the dog I received. She's a perfect match, and has offered me already comfort, joy, tears, and happiness at different times during training and the transition to home process we started today. This could be a tough weekend for me, one where I'm close to crying at any moment, but I don't care; I've got my new Seeing Eye dog and I'm not afraid to let people know of it, whether that be through crying, laughing, or other ways.

Tomorrow morning I'll take her to a doctor's appointment and tomorrow afternoon to work, to start getting her used to my work environment and perhaps introduce her to some people. Look out world, Wayne and Gucci are on their way!