Saturday, January 31

Relive the described Obama inauguration

Greetings. For those interested, you can relive the inauguration of President Obama. AS you may remember, PBS provided descriptive narration of the inauguration as it happened. WGBH has offered a link on one of their web pages so you can watch the descriptive Obama inauguration (QuickTime). There's no indication if this is a limited time offering or if it will be there for awhile. At any rate, relive the presidential inauguration by watching the video and hearing the descriptions all over again. enjoy.

Thursday, January 29

Keysoft 8 features announced

Greetings. Since this week is the conference for ATIA, or Assistive Technology Industry Association, many of the AT companies are or will be making announcements about new products and/or product updates/upgrades. HumanWare is no exception with the following announcement about the forthcoming Keysoft 8.0, which according to the release, should be out in March. I'm guessing here, but a release around the time of the next major AT yearly conference of CSUN wouldn't surprise me in the least. At any rate, here is the press release and the list of new features that will be included in Keysoft 8. My comments appear after the release.


Unveiling KeySoft 8.0

Longueuil, January 29, 2009 - HumanWare is pleased to announce KeySoft
version 8.0, the latest upgrade to the KeySoft software suite. Version
will be available for mPower and PK platforms in March. KeySoft 8.0
one count of a Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA).

What's new in KeySoft 8.0?

Experience new ways to communicate in real time and enrich your book
experience with this new KeySoft version. Are you interested in learning
more about GPS navigation? You now have the opportunity to try for a
of 90 days the acclaimed Sendero GPS. Version 8.0 is packed with a wide
range of features to enhance the way you work and learn.

1.1           KeyChat
Communicate in real time with colleagues, friends and family using state
the art instant messaging (IM) services. Designed using the newest open
instant messaging standards, KeyChat can communicate through Google
iChat and other chatting services. Google Talk is an innovative and free
service. It offers an efficient, clutter-free, and easy way to chat.
Talk smoothly integrates with the popular Gmail system, allowing you to
in real time with your email contacts as well. Read and write messages
your preferred grade of Braille, manage conversations and follow chat
history with familiar KeySoft commands. Receive an Audio or Braille
when a message arrives. Add new friends or select from your KeyList
contacts, or simply go online and enjoy!

1.2           Reading books
KeySoft 8.0 will support books. offers a wide
book collection for general and specialized audiences, including the
best sellers. Teachers and parents can also join their new Audible Kids
service to access fun and educational content for school age kids or get
tips and ideas on how to help children get the most out of their
experience. Fully integrated into KeyBook, you can listen to Audible
and customize various settings such as narration speed and audio tone.
bookmarks, create text notes, and jump to any place in the book. To
Audible books, you will need to become a member of the Audible service
use the Audible manager to authorize your BrailleNote to play the
Audible books. HumanWare customers can enjoy the complete Audible
for a free 14 day period

1.3           Direct access to the new Bookshare site
The existing support for unpacking electronic books from
enhanced to include the new .zip or bks2 formats adopted by Bookshare.
KeySoft provides everything necessary to wirelessly access the
web site, download the text, Braille or DAISY electronic book and unpack
read the book, without having to use a PC.

1.4           Support for NIMAS books
KeySoft will now play NIMAS books. NIMAS books are text files with a
structure that is similar to that of DAISY books. KeyBook's rich
used with DAISY files is also available for NIMAS files. NIMAS books are
instantly translated into your preferred Braille grade. Choose to read
Braille or let Eloquence speech read to you. Move through DAISY elements
use the familiar KeySoft sentence and paragraph navigation commands.
(National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard) is the format
educational textbooks in the United States. NIMAS guides the production
electronic distribution of digital versions of textbooks and other
instructional materials so they can be more easily converted into
formats. For more information, please visit:

1.5           Get a taste of GPS
KeySoft version 8.0 represents a great opportunity to get familiar with
It includes the latest version of Sendero GPS and users can take
of a 90-day free trial period to browse their preferred map or navigate
outdoors. After this trial period, users can continue to enjoy their
at a preferred price. Users are required to download the desired maps
the Sendero site. For real time navigation, you will need a GPS

1.6           More printers available to students
Students and teachers can now select from a wide range of Hewlett
printers. Most new models from the Deskjet, Officejet, Laser jet and
Photosmart product lines are supported. Printers supported via the
generic printing engine must have a USB port. This functionality is only
available to mPower users.
The new printing engine can create images of documents in JPEG format.
JPEG files are compatible formats, users can transfer documents to the
PC or
to non-BrailleNote users without losing the rich formatting available in

1.7           Eloquence speech is now supported in the PK
Use the highly responsive and accurate KeyNote Gold speech that has been
of KeySoft's strongest features or switch to the familiar Eloquence
that is now widely available on access technology products.

1.8           French Version
KeySoft 8.0 will be released simultaneously in English and French. The
functions are available on both versions.
Recent mPower & PK Purchases
Customers that have purchased a new mPower or PK units after January 1st
2009 are eligible to receive a free KeySoft 8 upgrade.

KeySoft 8.0 is not supported by the Classic models of the BrailleNote
VoiceNote. As previously stated, KeySoft 7.5 was the last release for
Classic devices.


My comments: First off, it's good to see some potentially "wow" features on the feature list. As I've stated previously here in relation to versions of Keysoft or any technology for that matter, I'm always looking for that "wow" factor, or the feature that they add that after the first or secodn read, makes me go, "Wow, they're really stepping out with that one." Except with Keysoft, it's not so much that they're stepping out, but rather that they're catching up. At any rate, it's good to see the KeyChat feature finally get implemented. Discussion of a feature like KeyChat has been going on for years, as far back as around 2003. I used a BrailleNote (now classic) model for about 18 months from the fall of 2002 to the spring of 2004. Anyway, toward the end of my BN time, suggestions started coming in for a chat/instant messaging program item like MSN Messenger. So it's good to see them add support for it. The fact that Google Talk seems to be the main one might have some significance, since the "standard view" of the Gmail interface leaves a little to be desired as far as accessibility goes. I've heard of some blind people that have successfully gotten it to work, but most blind folk I know are using their Gmail in the "Basic HTML" interface.

Being a techie, or perhaps some may say "geek" by trade and choice, I'm always interested in the new gadgets, devices and new features that the AT companies add to their lineups. That I know, no one has dipped into the Google Talk realm yet. I'm open to being corrected if someone knows of anything though. However, it looks like Keysoft 8 is stepping out here, but time will tell. On the PAC Mate side of things, they've got MSN Messenger, and kind of a built in voice chat client with the voice clips feature on the Omni. So at least between the two major note takers, this KeyChat really isn't "new." I do give them points for creativity with Google Talk support though.

NIMAS: True, no current note taking device is supporting NIMAS, other than perhaps accessible reading/MP3 players like the Victor Reader Stream. Actually this looks more like a carry over of a feature from the stream to the BN line, than it does a "new feature." Same with Audible, however it is neat, and about time, that Audible will be supported on the BN.

Most everything else looks like fixes and enhancements to already existing software. The trial of their GPS package sounds good, but again, it's only a trial. If they included a full feature GPS produt on each new BrailleNote model, that would be stepping out. I suppose it could be said that not everyone wants a GPS on their note taker. However, considering that I also don't want a radio on my note taker, but that I get one anyway with the current BrailleNote, this really isn't a clenching point.

Bottom line: KeyChat appears to be the only potentially "wow" feature, at least in my humble opinion, in Keysoft 8.0. However, like anything, competition helps the market grow. Hopefully these enhancements/new features from HumanWare will spur the other note taker companies, mainly Freedom Scientific with the PAC Mate and GW Micro with the Braille Sense lines, to step up in their own rights. Time will tell.

Some Stream news

Greetings. I received the following note yesterday from the Stream Newswire regarding the Victor Reader Stream. It sounds like they may have some neat things up their collective sleeves for the Stream this year. Time will tell I suppose. It's going to take a lot to top some of the nifty features we saw in version 2.0 though, IMO. Anyway, here's what HumanWare has to say about the Stream. Enjoy.

Dear Victor Reader Stream Friends:

The Victor Reader Stream, the world acclaimed accessible audio player, welcomes 2009 with a new download resource page and new software releases.

The first month of 2009 is almost complete and we want to bring you the latest news regarding Victor Reader Stream.

Firstly, a new resource page for finding download content for your Stream is now available on the Stream product and support pages.
Many of you have told us that the Internet is so vast it is difficult to know where to begin looking for content that you can download and enjoy on your
Stream. To help you get started we have compiled a web page of sample Internet sources for digital books, music, podcasts as well as information about
DAISY libraries. The new download resource page can be found at:

Here you will find sections for English, French, and German download sources as well as links to DAISY libraries.

We are also pleased to inform you that we are busy working on new software releases for both the Stream and Stream Companion.  As we near the completion
of these projects we will be able to confirm the new features and release date for these free software upgrades.

So stay tuned to this Stream Newswire as we will soon be able to tell you about new and fun ways to use your Stream.

Thank you ,
The HumanWare Team

Happy Birthday Seeing Eye

Greetings. I received the following email from The Seeing Eye today. AS it happens, this afternoon at work, we had our annual party for Louis Braille. I told my team and my morning class what the significance of today was, not just for The Seeign Eye, but also because The SeeingEye helped bring the guide dog movement to the U.S. and helped all the other schools start up. I encouraged everyone to remember The Seeing Eye when they got their piece of Louis Braille cake that was served this afternoon.

Anyway, here's the announcement from The Seeing Eye regarding their 80th birthday. Enjoy.

Dear Seeing Eye Graduate:

Happy Anniversary! Today, January 29, is the 80th Anniversary of The Seeing Eye, and we hope you, as a Seeing Eye graduate, will join in this celebration.
The staff and several Seeing Eye retirees gathered for a special anniversary lunch today, but we’ve been planning activities that will extend the celebration
throughout this year.

I want to share a great idea from one retiree, Pete Lang, who has a plan to spread the celebration across all of the United States and Canada. As members
of The Seeing Eye family, you and all of our graduates have key roles to play in implementing Pete’s idea. Please enjoy the following letter from Pete:

Dear Graduates:

It is hard to believe that I have been retired from The Seeing Eye for 18 months. I do visit the school frequently and really enjoy meeting with graduates
and staff, as well as seeing our wonderful dogs! The Seeing Eye will always have a special place in my heart.

Of course, this year is a special time for all of our Seeing Eye family, as we are celebrating the 80th anniversary of the incorporation of our school.
As I reflect on my 43-year career at The Seeing Eye, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to our founder, Mrs. Dorothy Harrison Eustis; Jack Humphrey,
the first trainer; and, of course, Morris Frank and “Buddy”. It was their vision, hard work and devotion to the cause that brought to life the miracle
of The Seeing Eye.

Our date of incorporation was January 29, 1929, and we will be celebrating our anniversary for the full year of 2009. We are planning a number of special
events, including a graduate reunion which will take place at the Hyatt Hotel in Morristown on August 21-22. We look forward to seeing as many of our graduates
and dogs as may be able to join us at the grand party in August.

In the meantime, we are inviting every graduate from the United States, Canada and any other place in the world to join us in observing this milestone.
It is a celebration of our history as well as a celebration of your life with your Seeing Eye dog. Therefore, we are asking you to plan your own special
event with family, friends, other Seeing Eye graduates, church groups, service organizations, school functions or others. It may be a pizza party at home,
a dinner out with friends, a presentation to an interested group or something else of your choosing. You may want to coordinate your dog’s birthday with
the special event to make it a double celebration.

All of your friends at The Seeing Eye join me in sending you and your dogs hearty congratulations for the celebration of your life together!

Best Wishes,

Pete Lang

We all enjoyed seeing Pete and other retirees at today’s lunch, and although his wife, Jane, was unable to attend, Pete tells us that Jane is planning
her own festivities with Seeing Eye dog Clipper.

Please let us know about your special plans by sending them to Ramona Ugalde in the Communications Department or by emailing
. Include pictures, if you can. We are interested in knowing the nature of your event, when and where it took place, how many people participated, and your
reactions to the entire event. It is our hope that all 50 states and the provinces of Canada will be represented in this celebratory year. We look forward
to hearing from you. Your responses will provide us with daily celebrations, and will create a legacy of memories for this special year.

Again, Happy 80th Anniversary!


Jim Kutsch
President & CEO
The Seeing Eye

Wednesday, January 28

The end of the SMA

Greetings. In a stunning announcement today, Serotek said that they're not offering an SMA for many of their products. Hear the official announcement by listening to or downloading The Death of the SMA MP3 file published on their blog/podcast pages today. Up until now, I've thought that Kurzweil had the best upgrade program going, since they charge a flat rate of around $125 to upgrade from any version of their Kurzweil 1000 software. However, now Serotek is at the top of that list. Hopefully other companies will adopt this new initiative, or at least bring their upgrade costs way down and make it more affordable for the average blind/low vision consumer. Interesting stuff.

Monday, January 26

Update on proposed DOJ changes

Greetings. I just received this from a guide dog related email list and thought it appropriate to share. The bottom line: I suppose that those with exotic or other types of domestic service animals can continue to use their animals to serve themselves, until some point in the future. I do hope that the regulations are acted upon by the appropriate entities, since it would very much narrow the field of perspective service animals that could be used. Enjoy.

Proposed ADA Regulations Withdrawn from OMB Review

On January 21, 2009, the Department of Justice notified the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) that the Department has withdrawn its draft
final rules to amend the Department's regulations implementing title
II and title III from the OMB review process. This action was taken in
response to a memorandum from the President's Chief of Staff directing
the Executive Branch agencies to defer publication of any new
regulations until the rules are reviewed and approved by officials
appointed by President Obama. No final action will be taken by the
Department with respect to these rules until the incoming officials have
had the opportunity to review the rulemaking record. Incoming officials
will have the full range of rule-making options available to them under
the Administrative Procedure Act.

Withdrawal of the draft final rules does not affect existing ADA
regulations. Title II and title III entities must continue to follow the
Department's existing ADA regulations, including the ADA Standards for
Accessible Design.

Thursday, January 22

A Gucci brag

Greetings. Gucci did something a couple of weeks ago that I've been wanting to post here but haven't gotten around to it until now. It was a weekday and I decided to split a cab with a coworker on the way home from work. I wasn't really paying attention when the driver let us out at where we were in the complex. I thought I knew, but I wasn't really sure. I usually make a point of asking where the building is and so forth, but I totally forgot about doing this until after the cab had driven away. So, here I was, standing outside some apartment buildings, and starting to realize that something didn't feel right. It didn't sound like my apartment building usually sounds. This might sound weird to the average "light dependent" or sighted person, but something about it felt wrong. I figure it's like someone looking around and noticing that they're in the wrong place. I was doing the same, but with sound and tactile cues. Anyway, we started walking one way, then the reverse. I quickly realized that we definitely were not in the right place. Then I began to worry, wondering what to do. Several things came to mind, such as calling a neighbor and having them come and look for me, or even calling the cab company back and requesting a ride from where I was to the other part of the complex.

I should mention here that neither Gucci nor I had been to that side of the complex before. This was a new environment to both of us. It then dawned on me that perhaps we were on the other side of the building from where we normally were. There are a series of sidewalks that run in all different directions inside each of the buildings "yards" at my complex, so that if you're going to another building and you can navigate the sidewalks, you need not go into the parking lot. So I figured that if we started out going straight on the sidewalk, that we should in theory be able to walk out the other side and be closer to familiar ground.

Gucci and I found a sidewalk leading inward, and I basically just told her, "Forward," and let her do the rest. Which she did. She didn't go completely straight, making a turn or two, but I soon heard the familiar noisy AC/heating unit that sits outside my door. After she found the door to the apartment, which I actually had to help her with after I identified the AC unit, I dropped the harness handle and gave her lots of big hugs. About 10 minutes later, after we had gotten inside and were both relaxing, the magnitude of what she had done, of making it back to our apartment from a completely unfamiliar location to both of us, on her own and by her own initiative, struck home to me, and she got another series of hugs and praises.

I've heard that the German Shepherd is very smart, and is good at problem solving things before they happen. After this experience though, I've gained a new appreciation for this ability.

Jeff Bishop and guide dog training

Greetings. when reading through my daily round of blogs a few days ago, I came across a reference to Jeff Bishop's blog and podcast. I had had Jeff's podcast listed on the Blogs to Watch page of my site for a long time now, but have gotten an error whenever I visited that site. Since I didn't have an address to replace the old one with, I just left it up there. However, there was a link to Jeff's current location, which I bookmarked. Incidentally, anyone who has read Jeff's blog/podcast in the past knows just how often he changed hosts/providers for his blog. It's not too much of a stretch to say that it was almost like a fashion queen changing hairstyles each week. Anyway, I've been reading Jeff Bishop's blog this week, which has his daily journal of him training with his new guide dog. I'm not sure how many dogs he has had in the past, but he went to The Seeing Eye for his last dog, which unfortunately passed away early this month. For whatever reason, he's gone over to the dark side (kidding) and now is attending the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in Boring, Oregon. It's neat reading someone else's journal of working with their new dog and it brings back all those memories for me of my time recently in training with Gucci. After reading his journal, I've also been reminded of the student that was in my little group at The Seeing Eye last August who was transferring from Guide Dogs for the Blind to Seeing Eye, in other words, just the opposite of Jeff. Interesting. Anyway, if you get into that kind of thing, then check out Jeff's blog. And, now that I have the current address, I'll be updating the reference on my blogs pages. Who knows; if that blog is updated regularly, I might even list it in the "Blogs to Watch" section on this page. Enjoy.

Monday, January 19

An interesting twist on DOJ proposed changes

Greetings. I came across this blog post from the author of that NY Times article a couple of weeks ago, regarding narrowing the definition of service animals. The post is entitled, DOJ's Proposed Ban of Non-canine Service Animals Is Bad News for Disabled Muslims. It seems that this hot button issue goes beyond the blindness community and into the Muslem community. Who'd have thought? Enjoy.

Obama on ACB Radio

Greetings. For those interested, Wayne's Blog has topped the 500 post point. Yes, this is post #501! Yippy! Also, for those interested, you can hear the ABC broadcast from the descriptive S.A.P. channel side tomorrow of the presidential inauguration and surrounding events. I'm going to go ahead and say it: if you can't find some suitable place to watch/listen to the inauguration from, then you're hiding from it. With all of the efforts of making it accessible this year, and all the usual news outlets for this type of coverage, there's plenty of opportunity. Anyway, if you'd like to receive your coverage via ACB Radio, then read the below announcement, which I received via email earlier. Links are provided where appropriate. Enjoy.


   Hello everyone,

ACB Radio, in association with ABC Television and ACB's Audio Description
Project, is proud to announce coverage of the inauguration of the 44th
President of the United States, live on ACB Radio World.

ACB Radio will be carrying the ABC telecast with audio description from 10
am to 5 pm US Eastern, that's 7 am to 2 pm US Pacific and 15 to 22 hours
Universal time.  We expect to commence our coverage shortly before these
times in order to introduce the coverage.

During the broadcast, you will be able to contact the ACB Radio team at
with any questions or comments you may have.

Programs normally scheduled during this time will be preempted.

To listen, go to

We hope you will join us for this historic event, live on ACB Radio World.

Naama Erez
Program Director
ACB Radio World

Sunday, January 18

Upcoming innauguration most accessible ever

Greetings. I've come across some information about the upcoming Obama innauguration that makes the claim that it's going to be the most accessible ever, both at the event and on TV. Read the blog post called Tuesday's Inauguration the Most Accessible for People with Disabilities in History from the Penny For Your Thoughts blog. I've read that there's even been an accessible guide to the innauguration that's been produced in Braille. A limited number, around 150, of these were produced, but apparently they give an accurate description of the ceremonies, the parade route, and other related innaugural information. These will be given out at some point before or during the events on Tuesday. I'm not going to D.C. for the events, but I'd love to have one of those Brailled guides.

Whether you agree with the President-Elect Obama's thoughts and views or not, it's hard to argue with the large effort to make this series of events accessible to all. Unfortunately, accessibility is often the exception rather than the rule in special cases like these, however hopefully this will be the launching point for more accessibility at future innaugurations and other events to come.

Obama biography

Greetings. Those interested in learning about the new president in a descriptive format, be it on TV or on the web, will find this information helpful. The following announcement was taken from an email message, so please pardon any weird formatting. Enjoy.


NAD Announces Accessible Obama Biography Online

The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) of the National
of the Deaf (NAD) is pleased to announce that it has teamed with Arts &
Entertainment Television Networks (AETN) to provide captions and
(narration added to visual program elements during natural programming
pauses) to the A&E Biography of Barack Obama in celebration of his
Inauguration as the 44th President of the United States. For the first
this episode from the popular Emmy award-winning Biography series is
accessible on the Internet to the more than 50 million Americans with
hearing or vision loss - including millions of students who are blind,
visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind.

As part of the agreement between the DCMP and AETN, everyone can enjoy
streamed version of the A&E Biography of Barack Obama on DCMP's Web site
for a two-week period beginning January 20, 2009,
date of the Inauguration. Viewers will be able to choose between a
captioned, described, or captioned AND described version of the program.
After February 2, 2009, access will be limited to registered DCMP
(those who qualify for DCMP services include teachers, parents, and
involved with educating K - 12 students who are blind, visually
deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind). Description of the Barack Obama
Biography was donated by Joel Snyder, director of the American Council
the Blind's (ACB) Audio Description Project. Captioning was provided by

About "Biography: Barack Obama"

This cable-television biography about the life of Illinois senator
Obama was made before he began campaigning to be the Democratic party's
candidate for the 2008 presidential race. Still, the program suggests
has one or another kind of profound, American destiny as a mixed-race
activist who never comfortably fit into one or another group, and had to
look deep into his own roots to understand his identity. The son of a
American mother and black Kenyan father, Obama was abandoned by the
when he returned to his native country to work for its improvement.
by his mother-whom Obama credits with teaching him many of his
his grandmother, Obama lived in Hawaii as a child but moved to Indonesia
a few years when his mom remarried. There, Obama saw cyclical poverty
the underlying factors that perpetuate it before returning to Hawaii.
Interviews with childhood friends and his sister describe Obama's
restlessness before attending Harvard law school and propelling himself
a life of public service and community activism. Often accused of
enough political experience to qualify him for the White House, Obama
across in this show as a visionary and experienced consensus-builder who
reach across opposing points of view. The program ends with details
Obama's entry into the U.S. Senate and his rise in the Democratic party,
a post-program coda catches us up with the history of his recent
-Tom Keogh (excerpted from

Saturday, January 17

Accessible products at CES 2009

Greetings. The following story was barried in my email for about a week, however there's some interesting information here. It was originally published toward the end of the Consumer Electronics Showcase and talks about some of the more accessible directions that some manufacturers are starting to head in, as welll as having some "wish list" items from some blind people. Enjoy, and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.


The craze for touch-screen gadgets is raising worries that a whole generation of consumer electronics will be out of the reach of the blind  

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The craze for touch-screen gadgets, sparked by Apple Inc's popular iPhone, is raising worries that a whole generation of consumer
electronics will be out of the reach of the blind.

Motown icon Stevie Wonder and other advocates came to the world's biggest gadget fest, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, to
convince vendors to consider the needs of the blind.

Wonder told a CES event that his wishlist included a car he could drive -- which he acknowledged was probably "a ways away" -- and a Sirius XM satellite
radio he could operate.

"If you can take those few steps further, you can give us the excitement, the pleasure and the freedom of being a part of it," said the famed musician.

Wonder said some companies had managed to make their products more accessible to the blind, sometimes without even meaning to. He cited an iPod music player
and Research in Motion's BlackBerry as gadgets he likes to use.

Advocates argue that if product designers take into account blind needs, they would make electronics that are easier to use for the sighted as well.

The good news is that manufacturers do not need to put large sums of money into making products accessible, nor would they have to forsake innovation,
said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation For The Blind.

"We don't want to hold up technological progress," he said. "What we're saying is, think about the interface and set it up in such a way that it's simple
.... The simpler you make the user interface of a product, it's going to reach more people sighted or blind."


With the popularity of touch screens, once simple products such as televisions and stereos have become difficult for blind people to use as they often
require navigation of multiple menus that need to be seen to be used effectively.

"That's an increasing problem with new digital devices. It's easy to add feature after feature that's buried under menu after submenu," said Mike Starling,
chief technology officer of National Public Radio, which is working on accessible options.

Manufacturers have been putting touch screens in everything from calculators and watches to computers and music players.

Sendero Group President Mike May, who is blind, joked, "Can I ski 60 miles an hour downhill? Yes. Use a flat panel microwave? No." Sendero makes GPS navigational
devices that have an audio output for the blind.

There are also screen readers that give an audio reading of a phone's menu. But Anne Taylor, director of access technologies at the National Federation
for the Blind, says they do not yet help her to use a touch-screen phone.

She said the ability to use a device without needing to look at it could help sighted people who are driving or older people whose eyesight is starting
to deteriorate.

While blind users can buy screen-reading software for $300 upward, it tends to only work on certain phones, often the most expensive smartphones. Sendero
said accessible technology is often expensive, and about 70 percent of the U.S. blind population is unemployed.

Taylor is using CES as a forum to present vendors a set of suggestions for product design that she sees benefiting both sighted and blind consumers.

For example, manufacturers could include an easy-to-use start-over button, different sounds for different menus, and controls with good tactile feedback.


Ahead of the show, there were some signs that vendors, while unlikely to give up on the touch-screen trend, may be more ready to consider consumers with

Developers at Google Inc are working on ways to make touch-screen phones, including those based on its own Android mobile software, usable for blind people.

National Public Radio announced a special radio receiver technology and software that would connect a digital radio to a dynamic Braille generating device.
It has also created special digital radio channels for readings of the day's newspapers.

Dice Electronics has made a prototype radio that incorporates the NPR technology, and NPR's Starling hopes this will become a commercial product in 2009.

Starling has also set up meetings at CES with other manufacturers in the hope they will include NPR's technology. He said responses to requests for information,
which often go unheeded, are much more active this year.

Some manufacturers could use their production facilities to make such devices, as demand weakens for more mainstream products in the economic downturn,
he said.

"I think in general there may be a view that accessibility may be becoming the new green," said Starling.

Omni 6.2 maintenance release

Greetings. For those that have the PAC Mate Omni from Freedom Scientific, you might be interested to know that a maintenance release was put out a couple of days ago. This is not a major release, just some bug fixes and other small enhancements. If none of the following fixes/enhancements offer anything to you, then you can probably skip this one. The issues addressed are as follows:

• Added support for new non-PCL based HP printers.
View a list of compatible printers.
• Corrected an issue with Printing documents from FSEdit using a Bluetooth equipped printer.
• Added the ability to emboss via the infrared port.
• Corrected an intermittent problem where the PAC Mate would not always turn on after being left off for a period of time.
• Continued refinements and enhancements of global contracted braille entry and Unified English Braille Code (UEBC) support.

To download the update and read other related information, then visit this page to get the Omni 6.2 maintenance release. Enjoy.

VR Stream and Book Share

Greetings. I received the following announcement from the Victor Reader Stream Newswire yesterday regarding the recent launch of the new website. For those that use BookShare, you might find this information of interest. Enjoy.


Dear Victor Reader Stream Friends:

The launch of the new site has prevented playback of the DAISY version of Bookshare books on the Stream. In preparing the new site Bookshare
needed to reprocess their books to accomodate new external book sources to support their expanded services. This reprocessing caused a problem with the
DAISY version of their books which they have now corrected. If you re-download your book from it should now play on your Stream.

Also, with the new zip format for the book many of you have noticed some new files that are present in the DAISY version of the book. These
include files ending in .css, xsl, and DTD. You have asked if these files are required by the Stream. The answer is no but they require such a small amount
of space that you do not need to remove them from your SD card. It is ok to unzip all the files of the DAISY zip file into a sub-folder of
$VRDTB. These new files will not affect the Stream.

Thank you,
The HumanWare Team

Voting round begins

Greetings. The voting round for the second annual Blind Bargains Access award has begun. Visit this page to cast your vote in any or all of 11 different categories. Be sure to vote by 5pm Eastern on January 25 in order for your vote to count. Only one submition per person is permited, so be sure to vote for as many things in that one submition as you like. Multiple entries will disqualify your votes. Other than bragging rights, I don't think that any actual prizes are given to the winners. However, in this online age, bragging rights are often enough. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 15

What's new in Windows 7

Greetings. The following link on the new Windows 7 First Look is taken from the Blind Cool Tech podcast where Rick Harmon reviews some of the new things and differences in the upcoming Windows 7 version which is said to be out later this year. We'll see if that stays on track and if Windows 7 comes out on time. Several things to keep in mind here:

1) This is a beta or unsupported version of Windows. Though it may sound "cool" and neat, unless you happen to have a computer sitting around and want to take a spin with it, or unless you know what you're doing, it's best not to tinker with it.

2) If you do have an extra machine sitting around or if you do know what you're doing, and you're blind/low vision, currently no AT software is supporting the upcoming Windows 7 version. Some software may run, such as JAWS and S.A. to Go, as Rick demonstrates, but these packages are NOT (previous word in all caps) supported under Windows 7.

3) If you have any problems with said AT software and try to contact the vendor for help, you likely won't get any since, as stated in the previous bullet point, the software is not supported. Does this mean it will never work with 7? Absolutely not. But be patient, give it some time. I expect that we'll begin hearing much more about support for Windows 7 in the coming months and at some of the different conferences, such as ATIA and CSUN.

All that said, here are some notes on Windows 7 that Rick mentioned, but for full details, listen to the podcast, linked above. Also, note that things may and probably will change from what you hear on the podcast to the full release of Windows 7, so don't count on everything you hear being the same or included.

* There's no email client currently in Windows 7.
* Internet Explorer 8 is included.
* There are fewer security alerts and U.A.C. messages, for better or worse.
* And more.

The link above is a direct link to either play or download the MP3 file of the podcast that Rick does. Even though this appeared in Blind Cool Tech, I expect that Rick's podcast is apart of the series that he offers from his Blind Geek Zone website.

I know things will change and the support from AT people through JAWS will change from now till the release date. However, it's always fun hearing what's coming soon to a computer near you. Enjoy, and to those that may still try Windows 7: good luck.

Wednesday, January 7

My dog and his love

Greetings. I received this from an email list. This looks like one of those poems/stories that may be passed around the net, mainly because it's so true. Enjoy.

He's with me 24 hours a day.

And never a word is able to say.

But he can say more with a look or two,

such as I Love You, My Whole World Is You!

As I do my chores throughout the day,

He's by my side, every step of the way.

When I stop to eat, you can bet he's there,

sitting of course, in his favorite chair.

And if some night I decide to go out.

He'll hang his head, and kinda pout.

He sits by the window,

until I come home.

Sits there and waits so patiently.

Hoping to catch a glimpse of me,

can't wait till I put the key in the door.

He's barking and jumping, and barking some more.

Then as I lay me down to sleep.

He's there by my side, his vigil to keep.

And I thank the Lord, in the heaven above.

For My Best Friend, My Dog and His Love!

Sunday, January 4

Guided by Love

Greetings. I found the following article from the Fort Worth Star Telegram. It's written bya friend of mine and a fellow classmate from my August 30, 2008 Seeing Eye class, Liz Campbell. Liz does a great job of describing how she got her first dog, life with her first dog, and then the transition to the second dog. She also provides some tips on interacting with a guide dog. This link is for the print version, without all of the extra links and stuff, of the article called Guided by Love. If you want to read the full version, which has some video and audio links that go with the story, then go to Enjoy.

Saturday, January 3

What is a service animal?

Greetings. I received the following article from an email list. Though the article is long, it does a good job of describing service animals and presenting arguments, both for and against, what can constitute a service animal. Personally, I applaud the effort by the DOJ to limit the definition of a service animal. Too many people are trying to make their own definitions of which animals to use and trying to justify them with conditions which I don't think are legit disabilities, or lifestyle limiting conditions that provoke the use of a service animal. Also, too many people are ordering certificates that claim to protect the person and say that their animal is a service animal, when it may not be. And, too many people are training their own service animals. I understand the reasons why someone might want to train their own service animal. There may be qualified people out there that can do this. However, when there's a problem, like when someone questions if that person should be using a service animal, or if they ever need to prove that they need a service animal or to justify the animal that they are using, there's no school or other organization to back them up. For instance, if someone ever doubts that Gucci, my Seeing Eye dog, is a service animal or disagrees with any of the techniques I use with her, I can always tell them to call the school, knowing that The Seeing Eye will straighten them out. Someone without a school can't do this as easily. Finally, I think that the only animals that should be defined as service animals are dogs and monkeys. In the eighties, a lot of publicity was made of monkeys helping those who were paralysed in some way. As long as the animal has been trained to actively performa task that benefits the person, such as getting things for a paralysed person or guiding a blind person, even detecting and preventing a seizure or low blood sugar incident, then they fit the definition of a service animal in my view. Those animals, such as monkeys, that just ride around in carriges and don't appear to offer any benefit, do not. Think I'm stretching things, read the article below and look for the woman in it who pushes her monkey in a carrige, but calls it a "service animal." Those with mental conditions or who want a "therapy" or "comfort" dog also don't fit the definition of service animals. Basically, the definition is too broad and needs some narrowing. If someone can show me how taking a pig on an airplane is a comfort, for them or the pig, then I'll gladly reconsider. As you can see, this is a hot issue in the blind community right now and a number of people have strong opinions on it. Enjoy and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.


Creature Comforts - Assistance Animals Now Come in All Shapes and Sizes - NYTimes

January 4, 2009

Creature Comforts


ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT IN A SUBURB of Albany, a group of children dressed as vampires and witches ran past a middle-aged woman in plain clothes. She gripped a leather harness — like the kind used for Seeing Eye dogs — which was attached to a small, fuzzy black-and-white horse barely tall enough to reach the woman’s hip.

”Cool costume,” one of the kids said, nodding toward her.

But she wasn’t dressed up. The woman, Ann Edie, was simply blind and out for an evening walk with Panda, her guide miniature horse.

There are no sidewalks in Edie’s neighborhood, so Panda led her along the street’s edge, maneuvering around drainage ditches, mailboxes and bags of raked leaves. At one point, Panda paused, waited for a car to pass, then veered into the road to avoid a group of children running toward them swinging glow sticks. She led Edie onto a lawn so she wouldn’t hit her head on the side mirror of a parked van, then to a traffic pole at a busy intersection, where she stopped and tapped her hoof. ”Find the button,” Edie said. Panda raised her head inches from the pole so Edie could run her hand along Panda’s nose to find and press the ”walk” signal button.

Edie isn’t the only blind person who uses a guide horse instead of a dog — there’s actually a Guide Horse Foundation that’s been around nearly a decade. The obvious question is, Why? In fact, Edie says, there are many reasons: miniature horses are mild-mannered, trainable and less threatening than large dogs. They’re naturally cautious and have exceptional vision, with eyes set far apart for nearly 360-degree range. Plus, they’re herd animals, so they instinctively synchronize their movements with others. But the biggest reason is age: miniature horses can live and work for more than 30 years. In that time, a blind person typically goes through five to seven guide dogs. That can be draining both emotionally and economically, because each one can cost up to $60,000 to breed, train and place in a home.

”Panda is almost 8 years old,” her trainer, Alexandra Kurland, told me. ”If Panda were a dog, Ann would be thinking about retiring her soon and starting over, but their relationship is just getting started. They’re still improving their communication and learning to read each other’s bodies. It’s the difference between dating for a few years and being married so long you can finish each other’s sentences.”

Edie has nothing against service dogs — she has had several. One worked beautifully. Two didn’t — they dragged her across lawns chasing cats and squirrels, even pulled her into the street chasing dogs in passing cars. Edie doesn’t worry about those sorts of things with Panda because miniature horses are less aggressive. Still, she says, ”I would never say to a blind person, ’Run out and get yourself a guide horse,’ because there are definite limitations.” They eat far more often than dogs, and go to the bathroom about every two or three hours. (Yes, Panda is house-trained.) Plus, they can’t curl up in small places, which makes going to the movies or riding in airplanes a challenge. (When miniature horses fly, they stand in first class or bulkhead because they don’t fit in standard coach.)

What’s most striking about Edie and Panda is that after the initial shock of seeing a horse walk into a cafe, or ride in a car, watching them work together makes the idea of guide miniature horses seem utterly logical. Even normal. So normal, in fact, that people often find it hard to believe that the United States government is considering a proposal that ’ would force Edie and many others like her to stop using their service animals. But that’s precisely what’s happening, because a growing number of people believe the world of service animals has gotten out of control: first it was guide dogs for the blind; now it’s monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, a parrot for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck. They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go.

Some people enjoy running into an occasional primate or farm animal while shopping. Many others don’t. This has resulted in a growing debate over how to handle these animals, as well as widespread suspicion that people are abusing the law to get special privileges for their pets. Increasingly, business owners, landlords and city officials are challenging the legitimacy of noncanine service animals and refusing to accommodate them. Animal owners are responding with lawsuits and complaints to the Department of Justice. This August, the Arizona Game and Fish Department ordered a woman to get rid of her chimpanzee, claiming that she brought it into the state illegally — she disputed this and sued for discrimination, arguing that it was a diabetes-assistance chimp trained to fetch sugar during

hypoglycemic episodes.

Cases like this are raising questions about where to draw the lines when it comes to the needs and rights of people who rely on these animals, of businesses obligated by law to accommodate them and of everyday civilians who — because of health and safety concerns or just general discomfort — don’t want monkeys or ducks walking the aisles of their grocery stores.

A few months ago, in a cafe in St. Louis, I met a man named Jim Eggers, who uses an assistance parrot, Sadie, to help control his psychotic tendencies. Eggers looks like a man who has been fighting his whole life. He is muscular, with a buzz cut, several knocked-out teeth and many scars, including one that runs ear-to-chin from surgery to repair a broken jaw. Eggers avoids eye contact in public — he walks fast down streets and through stores staring at the ground, jaw clenched. ”I have bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies,” he told me as he sucked down a green-apple smoothie. ”Homicidal feelings too.”

Eggers’s condition has landed him in court several times: a disturbing-the-peace charge for pouring scalding coffee onto a man under his apartment window who annoyed him; oneyear probation for threatening to kill the archbishop of St. Louis because of news reports about church money and molestations by priests in other cities (which the archbishop had nothing to do with). In describing his condition, Eggers says it’s like when the Incredible Hulk changes from man to monster. His vision blurs, his body tingles and he can barely hear. According to his friend Larry Gower, who often serves as a public liaison for him, in those moments, Eggers gets extremely loud. They both agree that Sadie is one of the few things keeping Eggers from snapping.

Sadie rides around town on Eggers’s back in a bright purple backpack specially designed to hold her cage. When he gets upset, she talks him down, saying: ”It’s O.K., Jim. Calm down, Jim. You’re all right, Jim. I’m here, Jim.” She somehow senses when he is getting agitated before he even knows it’s happening. ”I still go off on people sometimes, but she makes sure it never escalates into a big problem,” he told me, grinning bashfully at Sadie. ”Now when people make me mad I just give them the bird,” he said, pulling up his sleeve and flexing his biceps, which is covered with a large tattoo of Sadie.

Soon after what he calls ”the Archbishop Incident,” Eggers got Sadie from a friend who owned a pet store. She’d been neglected by a previous owner and had torn out all her feathers, so Eggers nursed her back to health. He didn’t initially train her as a service animal, he says; she did that herself. When Eggers had episodes at home, he’d pace, holding his head and yelling: ”It’s O.K., Jim! You’re all right, Jim! Calm down, Jim!” One day, Sadie

started doing it, too. He soon realized that she calmed him better than he calmed himself. So he started rewarding her each time it happened. And he has had only one incident since: he dented a woman’s car with his fist on a day when he’d left Sadie at home.

Eggers didn’t think to use any special language to describe Sadie until he tried to take her on a bus and the driver said that only ”service animals” were allowed. Eggers went home and looked up ”service animal” online. ”That’s when it all fell into place,” he told me. He learned that psychiatric service animals help their owners cope with things like medication side effects. Eggers takes heavy doses of antipsychotics that leave him in a fog most of the day. So he trained Sadie to alert him with a loud ringing noise if someone calls, or to yell ”WHO’S THERE?” when anyone knocks on the door. If the fire alarm goes off, Sadie goes off. If Eggers leaves the faucet running, Sadie makes sounds like a waterfall until he turns it off.

Eggers got a service-animal bus pass for Sadie and began taking her everywhere. (He has special insulated cage panels to keep her warm in winter.) For years, few people objected. Then, in the spring of 2007, Eggers went to have his teeth cleaned at the St. Louis , Community College dental-hygiene school, and officials there told him that Sadie wasn’t allowed inside because she posed a risk to public health and wasn’t really a service animal. ”All I can say is, they were lucky I had Sadie with me to keep me calm when they said that,” Eggers told me.

He filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (O.C.R.), which initiated an investigation. Its conclusion: the school wrongfully denied access based on public-health concerns without assessing whether Sadie actually posed a risk. (Several top epidemiologists I interviewed for this article said that, on the whole, birds and miniature horses pose no more risk to human health than service dogs do.)

But Eggers is still fighting that fight. According to the O.C.R., the school ”exceeded the boundaries of a permissible inquiry” by questioning Eggers about his disability. But that didn’t change the school’s conclusion: it labeled Sadie a mere ”therapy animal.” If that label sticks, it will mean that Sadie isn’t covered by the federal law that protects service animals and guarantees them access to public places.

Stories like Eggers’s involve two questions that are often mistakenly treated as one. The first: What qualifies as a service animal? The second: Can any species be eligible? ,,

There are two categories of animals that help people. ”Therapy animals” (also known as ”comfort animals”) have been used for decades in hospitals and homes for the elderly or disabled. Their job is essentially to be themselves — to let humans pet and play with them, which calms people, lowers their blood pressure and makes them feel better. There are also therapy horses, which people ride to help with balance and muscle building.

These animals are valuable, but they have no special legal rights because they aren’t considered service animals, the second category, which the A.D.A. defines as ”any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.”

Since the 1920s, when guide dogs first started working with blind World War I veterans, service animals have been trained to do everything from helping people balance on stairs to opening doors to calling 911. In the early ’80s, small capuchin monkeys started helping quadriplegics with basic day-to-day functions like eating and drinking, and there was no question about whether they counted as service animals. Things got more complicated in the ’90s, when ”psychiatric service animals” started fetching pills and water, alerting owners to panic attacks and helping autistic children socialize.

The line between therapy animals and psychiatric service animals has always been blurry, because it usually comes down to varying definitions of the words ”task” and ”work” and whether something like actively soothing a person qualifies. That line got blurrier in 2003, when the Department of Transportation revised its internal policies regarding service animals on airplanes. It issued a statement saying that in recent years, ”a wider variety of animals (e.g., cats, monkeys, etc.) have been individually trained to assist people with disabilities. Service animals also perform a much wider variety of functions than ever before.”

To keep up with these changes, the D.O.T.’s new guidelines said, ”Animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support qualify as service animals.” They also said that any species could qualify and that these animals didn’t need special training, aside from basic obedience. The only thing required for a pet to fly with its owner instead of riding as cargo was documentation (like a letter from a doctor) saying the person needed emotional support from an animal. Legally speaking, the D.O.T.’s new policy applied only to airplanes — the A.D.A.’s definition of service animal stayed the same. But for those looking online to find out whether they could take their animals into stores and restaurants, the D.O.T.’s definition looked like official law, and people started acting accordingly.

Soon, a trend emerged: people with no visible disabilities were bringing what a New York Times article called ”a veritable Noah’s Ark of support animals” into businesses, claiming that they were service animals. Business owners and their employees often couldn’t distinguish the genuine from the bogus. To protect the disabled from intrusive questions about their medical histories, the A.D.A. makes it illegal to ask what disorder an animal helps with. You also can’t ask for proof that a person is disabled or a demonstration of an animal’s ”tasks.” There is no certification process for service animals (though there are Web sites where anyone can buy an official-looking card that says they have a certified service animal, no documentation required). The only questions businesses can ask are ”Is that a trained service animal?” and ”What task is it trained to do?”

If the person answers yes to the first and claims that the animal is, say, trained to alert him or her to a specific condition (like a seizure), additional questioning could end in a lawsuit. And in many cases, according to Joan Esnayra, founder of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, the outcome of those lawsuits depends largely on the words people use to describe their animals. ”If you say ’comfort,’ ’need’ or ’emotional support,’ you’re out the door,” she says. ”If you talk about what your animal does in terms of ’tasks’ and ’work,’ then you stand a chance.”

Case in point: When the dental school questioned Eggers about whether Sadie was a service animal, he said she kept him ”calm.” If he had said that she alerts him to things like attacks and doorbells, his case might have been stronger. ;. ;

According to Jennifer Mathis, an attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, ”A lot of times when people with legitimate service animals lose these cases, it has to do with the fact that they don’t explain their service animals well.”

Rather than risk a lawsuit, many business owners simply allow the animals, even if they doubt their legitimacy. Then they complain to the Department of Justice that the A.D.A. is too broad in its definition of ”service animal,” and too restrictive of businesses trying to protect themselves from people who fake it. Which many people do.

In October, a man in Portland, Ore., took his dog on a bus, claiming that it was a service animal. While getting off the bus, the dog killed another dog that was riding as a ”comfort animal.” (In Portland, comfort animals are allowed on public transportation.) A few days later, an editorial appeared in The Oregonian with the headline ”Take the Menagerie Off the Bus.” It opened with: ”No offense, ferret lovers.... Your pet... may offer emotional support. But it shouldn’t be roaming the aisles of a ... bus or train.” It argued that the story of the dead comfort dog was proof that people had stretched the legal definition of service animals to include a virtual zoo of animals.

Lex Frieden, a professor of health-information science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a former director of the National Council on Disability, sees the issue differently. ”People shouldn’t be able to carry their pets on a plane or into a restaurant claiming they’re service animals when they’re not,” he says. ”But that has nothing to do with what species a service animal is.” The appropriate response in those situations isn’t a species ban, he says, but rather strict punishments for people who pose as disabled. ”It’s fraud,” he points out, ”and it results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities.”

In June, in an effort to clarify the confusion surrounding service animals, the Department of Justice proposed new regulations to explicitly include psychiatric service and exclude comfort animals. This was part of a sweeping revision of the A.D.A. intended to increase protection and access for the disabled, which was widely applauded. But tucked into that proposal were a few lines that worry advocates and people with disabilities: the D.O. J. proposed limiting service animals to a ”dog or other common domestic animal,” specifically excluding ”wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig or goat), ferrets, amphibians and rodents.”

This summer, the D.O.J. held a public hearing in Washington and invited anyone who would be affected by the proposed changes to argue for or against them. Many pleaded their cases in person, others by letter. The arguments in favor of species restrictions came primarily from businesses concerned about having to alter facilities, rebuilding seating areas, say, to make room for miniature horses. Several service-animal organizations and people with disabilities argued that banning reptiles and insects was fine but that excluding miniature horses and primates simply went too far. In their defense, they cited things like dog allergies, the long life spans of several species and monkeys’ opposable thumbs. After considering the arguments, last month the D.O.J. submitted a final proposal to the Office of Management and Budget. Until there’s a ruling, neither office will comment on the issue or say whether the species restriction was removed or revised after the public hearings.

Jamie Hais, a spokeswoman for the D.O.J., said she couldn’t comment on why the department suggested the species restriction. But its proposal expressed concerns about ’ public-health risks and said that when the original A.D.A. was written, without specifying species, ”few anticipated” the variety of animals people would attempt to use.

”That’s simply not true,” says Frieden, who was an architect of the original A.D.A. While drafting the regulations, he said, Congressional staff members had long discussions about defining ”service animal” and whether a trained pony could qualify. ”There was general consensus that the issue revolved around the question of function, not form,” he says. ”So, in fact, if that pony provided assistance to a person with a disability and enabled that person to pursue equal opportunity and nondiscrimination, then that pony could be regarded as a service animal.” They discussed the possibility of birds and snakes for psychiatric disorders, he said, but one of their biggest concerns was that the A.D.A. shouldn’t exclude service monkeys, which were already working with quadriplegics. Since then, however, monkeys have become the most contested assistance-animal species of all.

On a rainy day in November, I walked through a T. J. Maxx store in Springfield, Mo., with Debby Rose and Richard, her 25-pound bonnet macaque monkey — one of the most controversial service animals working today. Rose was wearing brown pants and a brownand-gold-patterned shirt. Richard was wearing a brown long-sleeved polo over a white Tshirt with jeans and a tan vest that said ”Please Don’t Pet Me I’m Working.” Richard stood in the child seat of Rose’s shopping cart, facing forward, bouncing up and down, smacking his lips and grinning as Rose pushed him down the aisles.

Richard is a hands-on shopper. If Rose pointed at a sweater or purse she liked, or a pair of shoes, his hand darted out to touch them. As we passed a pair of tan, fuzzy winter boots that Rose particularly liked, Richard leaned out of the cart and quickly licked one on its toe. ’

People stared as we walked. ”Why do you have him?” they’d ask.

”He’s a service animal trained for my disability, kind of like a seizure-alert dog,” Rose told them, again and again., ,,

”Can I pet him?”

”He doesn’t like to be touched,” she’d say, ”but you can give him five.”

People raised their hands, and Richard gave them five.

That Rose isn’t bothered by people looking and asking questions is impressive, considering that she has agoraphobia and severe anxiety disorder with debilitating panic attacks. Until getting Richard four years ago, she required heavy doses of anti-anxiety drugs just to go out in public. ”I couldn’t have come in this store before Richard, let alone handled all these people talking to me,” she said. ”Now I like it.”

Rose adopted Richard in 2004; he was badly neglected and near death. She and two of her six children — whom she raised as a single mother — run an exotic-animal shelter. Rose says she believes that Richard was trained as a service animal for his previous owner, an elderly woman whose son gave Richard away when she died. He had been neutered, and his tail had been surgically removed. He’d also had his large and potentially dangerous canine teeth pulled, a procedure commonly done with service monkeys for safety (and often cited as one of several ethical concerns with using wild instead of domesticated species for such jobs).

As Richard returned to health, Rose realized that he had begun to recognize her panic attacks before she did. Her doctor suggested that she train him to help with her disorder, then wrote a letter approving of him as a service animal, saying that Richard was ”a constructive way to avoid use of unnecessary medications.” Rose took that letter to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, got permission for Richard to accompany her in public and has been drug-free ever since. She ordered a service-animal ID certificate online; she even got a restriction on her driver’s license saying that she can’t operate a car without a monkey present. Now he sits in her lap with a hand on the wheel while she drives, and she never leaves home without him.

But the number of places Rose and Richard can go is decreasing. In September 2006, after receiving complaints that Richard was sitting in highchairs in restaurants, touching silverware and going through a buffet line with Rose, the Health Department sent a letter to all local restaurants announcing that Richard was a risk to public health and not a legitimate service animal. It instructed businesses to refuse him access and to call the police if Rose protested. Businesses posted the letter on their doors and in their bathrooms; soon Cox College of Nursing and Health Sciences, where Rose was attending nursing school, refused Richard access, too. Stories started appearing about Rose and her monkey in the newspaper and on TV. ”Suddenly,” she told me, ”everyone knew I had a mental disorder.”

Rose dropped out of school and filed a lawsuit against her local Health Department, the nursing school, Wal-Mart and several other local businesses that had forbidden Richard access, saying that they violated the A.D.A. Kevin Gipson, director of the local Health Department, told me that he had asked Rose to show him what ”tasks” Richard performed that would qualify him. ”She couldn’t,” he said.

Defining ”task” is often a point of contention in these cases, especially with psychiatric service animals, whose work generally can’t be demonstrated on command. Before going to T. J. Maxx, I saw Rose begin to panic while sitting in her lawyer’s office talking about her case. Her face flushed; her voice quivered. Richard, who had been dozing in the chair beside her, leapt onto her arm and began stroking her hair. He hugged her, rubbed her ear and cooed while she talked. She immediately calmed down. ”He snaps me out of it before the attacks happen,” she said. ”If they start at night, he’ll turn on the light and get me a bottle of water.”

For Gipson, that’s really beside the point. ”Even if Richard is a legitimate service animal,” he told me, ”if he poses a public-health risk, the A.D.A. says he can be excluded. And we believe primates pose a significant health risk.”

Rose says that Richard is perfectly safe and immaculately clean. She showers and blow-dries him every day and uses hand sanitizer on him regularly, and he always wears diapers. But that doesn’t impress the Health Department. Monkeys can carry viruses, like herpes B, which are essentially harmless to them but usually deadly to humans. Those viruses can be transmitted through saliva and other bodily fluids. In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study titled ”B-Viruses From Pet Macaque Monkeys: An Emerging Threat in the United States?” saying that 80 to 90 percent of adult macaques like Richard carry herpes B. It’s possible to test them for viruses, which Rose does every year with Richard, but those tests often give false negatives. Plus, Gipson told me, ”he could catch it any time from contact with other monkeys, which we know he’s had.” Five days before the Health Department banned Richard, a local newspaper ran pictures of him and several other monkeys hanging out at Rose’s family’s sanctuary.

According to Frederick Murphy, former head of viral pathology for the C.D.C. and codiscoverer of the Ebola virus, the threat that viruses from service monkeys present to humans is essentially unknown. There have been a few cases of primate-lab workers contracting herpes B from macaques — mostly from being bitten — but no cases of people being infected by service monkeys, which are usually capuchins.

The bigger concern, according to several experts, is potential aggression. ”People think monkeys are cute and like humans, but they’re not,” says Laura Kahn, a public-health expert at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. ”They’re wild animals, and they’re dangerous.”

Critics of noncanine service animals tend to focus on disease perhaps because that’s the only way to legally exclude any service animal under the current A.D.A. But on the whole, Bradford Smith, former director of the University of California Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, says, ”I would tend to think the disease argument is really a proxy for other concerns, like having to let any person who says their parrot or horse is a service animal enter into public areas.”

Rose’s case is sometimes held up as an example of why the A.D.A. should be rewritten to exclude primates as service animals. But in fact, Frieden says, it’s an example of how the original A.D.A. works well as it was written, since it allows broad use of service animals while still leaving room to protect the public health. ”Some situations have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” he says. ”You can’t legislate fine lines — that’s just not a functional law.”

Frieden is very clear about his belief that it would be a huge loss if concerns about specific cases jeopardized the use of all noncanine service animals, especially the capuchin monkeys trained to help quadriplegics. The capuchins attend ”monkey college” at Helping Hands, a nonprofit organization in Boston, where they fetch remote controls, put food in microwaves, open containers, vacuum floors and flip light switches, all in exchange for treats. Helping Hands capuchins are captive bred, which minimizes the risk of picking up diseases, and they’re provided specifically for in-home use. The proposed species restriction might make it impossible for people to transport capuchins or keep them in their homes because of zoning restrictions. The thought of this makes Helping Hands’s founder, M. J. Willard, shudder. ”There ought to be a more nuanced way if somebody just thinks it through,” she says. ”Even just minor requirements of verifying the legitimacy of a service animal would solve a lot of the current problem.”

Frieden agrees. He suggests that perhaps a national committee could be appointed to develop certification standards for all service animals as well as a formal process for preventing and punishing service-animal fraud. Doing so might solve part of the controversy, he says. But not all of it. Particularly when it comes to species questions.

”Many people try to make this issue black and white — this service animal is good; that one is bad — but that’s not possible, because disability extends through an enormous realm of human behavior and anatomy and human condition,” Frieden told me. In the end, according to him, the important thing to remember is this: ”The public used to be put off by the very sight of a person with a disability. That state of mind delayed productivity and caused irreparable harm to many people for decades. We’ve now said, by law, that regardless of their disability, people must have equal opportunity, and we can’t discriminate. In order to seek the opportunities and benefits they have as citizens, if a person needs a cane, they should be able to use one. If they need a wheelchair, a dog, a miniature horse or any other device or animal, society has to accept that, because those things are, in fact, part of that person.”

Rebecca Skloot teaches nonfiction at the University of Memphis. Her first book, ”The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” will be published by Crown in spring 2010.

....... , Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Friday, January 2

Seeing Eye kicks off 80th anniversary

Greetings. 2009 is a notable year on a number of fronts, not the least of which is that it's the 80th anniversary of The Seeing eye. Below find information on how The Seeing Eye will kick off the celebration of their 80th year. I received this from their email list. Links are provided where appropriate. Enjoy.


President and CEO of The Seeing Eye Jim Kutsch, with Seeing Eye® dog Colby at his side, will ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, January 6, ringing in a year-long celebration of the school's 80th anniversary.

Founded in Nashville on January 29, 1929, the oldest existing school to train dog guides expects to match its 15,000th dog with a blind person sometime during the anniversary year. The organization moved to Morris County, N.J., in 1931 and has been in its current location, just outside Morristown, since 1964.

"We are very excited about this opportunity to ring the opening bell," said Kutsch. "Since its beginning, The Seeing Eye has relied on the financial support of many of the corporations represented within the stock exchange. And many executives of those corporations have supported us – and continue to support us – both financially and as members of our Board of Trustees. Philanthropic organizations like The Seeing Eye would not exist without the support of corporate America."

The event can be viewed live on CNBC television at 9:30 a.m. (ET) or online at
The archived video will be available by finding The Seeing Eye's event page on
beginning 30 minutes after the event.

The visit to Wall Street will be the first of numerous celebrations taking place throughout 2009. Among those events will be a reunion of current Seeing Eye dog users, dedication of a historic marker at the school's original Nashville location, and a number of regional fundraising events across the United States and Canada.

We hope you'll find the opportunity to celebrate with us!

Teresa Davenport
Director of Communications

Second annual access awards

Greetings and Happy New Year. Despite the extra second added at 5:59:60pm on new Year's Eve, we've finally made it to 2009. are accepting nominations for their secodn annual Access Awards. I don't think that any actual awards are given out for the winners, other than bragging rights, but perhaps that's enough. If you want to participate, nominations must be submitted by 5pm Eastern on January 14. After that point you can visit their site to cast your vote for who you think should be the winner in each of 11 different categories. Visit this page to submit your nomination in the Access Award. Have fun.