Despite the exceptionally frigid air of winter 2015, my daughter Arden and I headed north to Toronto, then on to Image of Courage USA at Courage Canada Tournament 2015Niagara Falls, Ontario during winter break.  Heading north for a mid-winter escape was not the only thing out of my comfort zone on this epic journey.  After taking the bus to Burlington, VT, we checked in at Porter Airlines.  Despite my inability to read signs, I instructed Arden to follow me.  This is the airport I grew up near.  But I confused it with the equally small airport in Albany and we found ourselves in parts unknown on the second floor.  In retrospect, nothing could be simpler – turn right after check-in and the few Porter gates are less than 50 yards to the right on ground level.  But it’s only easy the second time.  How foolish I must have looked desperately looking around this tiny concourse for any visual confirmation that we were in the right spot to board the plane to Toronto.  After I relaxed, I could appreciate the beautiful large flakes of snow falling outside the large windows.

Landing on a spot of land on frozen Lake Ontario, it only took a bus, plane, ferry ride, and taxi to reach our first resort destination – a very nice Holiday Inn “Downtown Centre”. It is located barely 100 yards or so from the legendary Maple Leaf Gardens, now the Mattamy Athletic Centre of Ryerson University.  Shortly after arriving at the hotel, men and hockey bags took over the lobby.  It’s a big load when toting regular luggage, hockey sticks, and a white cane as well.  Some would become my teammates for the next 3 days of hockey in the 2015 Courage Canada National Blind Hockey Tournament, the main purpose of this semi-arctic adventure.

Eighty people from all across Canada, five of us from the United States formed six teams.  Four games would determine Gold, Silver, Bronze medals, and a whole lot more.  Trying to squeeze in some last minute conditioning and skating time the week before, my muscles and body already felt out of whack from a hard fall on my home rink.   There would be four games in three days with and against these men that I was silently observing as they checked in.  What on earth did I get myself into!?

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1Touch Self Defense PhotoLast summer, I met Jim Pilkington while visiting the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Denver. I observed Jim, an Assistive Technology Specialist, as he gave his client tips on using her computer and cell phone without sight. The facility has a full kitchen where she could practice safe cooking techniques. But the class where Jim could really sense a client’s renewal of control and self-esteem was in the 1Touch™ Self-Defense class he taught. A bit emotional, like a proud parent, he recounted the story about Margie . . .

She was one of the first group of students to receive the 1Touch training, and had been studying the system for about seven months. She was very enthusiastic, and often helped the newer participants practice their techniques. In 2012, Margie was travelling on the city bus, her laptop computer and other items in a rolling bag sitting at her feet.

Margie has Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), with a very small field of usable vision, but she noticed a man sitting across the aisle from her. He seemed to be paying rather too much attention to Margie and her computer bag. Because of his apparent interest, Margie kept an eye on him. Because she was wearing dark glasses and carrying a white cane, she probably appeared to be an easy target for theft.

As the bus pulled up to a stop, the man grabbed Margie’s bag and headed for the door. When she felt her bag being carried away, she caught his wrist and used an arm lock technique to force him to the floor. She then yelled to the bus driver to alert the police.

The bus driver hit the panic button, which summons the police, and Margie kept the Perpetrator pinned to the floor while another passenger held the man’s legs.

Within a few minutes two police cars had arrived and the man was taken away, charged with attempted theft. All the time he was on the floor, Margie reports that he was yelling and threatening her, but she kept her cool and controlled the situation without any injury to herself or the bad guy.

Later, Margie was informed by the police that the perpetrator had multiple previous arrests for theft and assault.

Margie is in her early 50’s, is under 5 feet tall, and weighs less than 100 pounds. I mention this to emphasize that size and strength need not be decisive factors when using the 1Touch™ techniques properly.

1Touch™ Self-Defense was specifically adapted to be taught and learned by those with visual challenges, as described in the 2012 article, 1Touch™: New Self-Defense Program Trains Blind Instructors.

Like Margie – since giving up my car keys, I find myself navigating through interesting places and situations. My daughter knows all too well the route of unlit streets we walk just to go to the movies while others park their cars in the lighted parking lot mere the door. I always wondered what both of us would do if ever confronted by an unsavory character like Margie did.

This feeling of unease, at best, is one obstacle I’d like to overcome in 2015. My quest to find 1Touch™ Self-Defense training led me to Miranda Brown, U.S. Secretary for the 1Touch™ Project. She received certification to teach and now conducts 8-week classes that meet once a week in her hometown in Iowa. Iowa is too far from here so she suggested I attend an upcoming 2.5 day intense 1Touch™ Self-Defense instructor certification training coming up March 13-15th in Secaucus, New Jersey. That way, I could not only learn it myself, but teach it to my daughter, and perhaps all her friends too!

“What’s cool about the 1Touch™ system is that it is so adaptable”, Miranda said. But when a student with cerebral palsy and no feeling on one side signed up for her class, she wasn’t sure what to do. Miranda called Steve Nichols, founder of the 1Touch™ Project who walked her through some adaptations over the phone, and it worked! Miranda has also heard success stories from other trainers who had students in wheelchairs, were both deaf and blind, or were challenged in other ways. An 85 year old woman who was blind was pretty tickled when she skillfully brought her instructor to the ground. Miranda, blind herself, further commented, “I never saw myself being a teacher, but I love this.”

The 1Touch™ Project website, where you can find upcoming events, instructors, and training opportunities, is currently being updated. But until then, you can contact Miranda Brown to inquire about trainers in your area or becoming certified in 1Touch™ Self-Defense. They have a goal of providing a dozen certification courses in the U.S. in 2015. Check out the 1Touch™ Self-Defense Facebook page for the latest announcements.

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Low Vision Problem Resolutions for New Year 2015

by Maurie Hill on January 20, 2015

Pot OrganizerThis weekend, after thinking about it for a year, I finally screwed a pegboard to the side of my kitchen pantry and hung my pots and utensils. Now searching for these everyday items in the dark bowels of my cupboard is last year’s game.

Here is a challenge for the New Year. Look back at the past year in terms of your vision challenges – the good, bad, and the ugly. What things are easier for you to do now because you’ve adopted a different method, purchased a low vision tool, or doggedly figured out a better solution? Be sure to pat yourself on the back for any accomplishments.

Now look ahead. Are there things that frustrate you on a daily basis? Can you do something about that? List the things that cost you time, frustration, or even small annoyances. Think about how you felt about resolving issues in the past and how simple solutions have improved your quality of life.

Pick something from your list that might give you the biggest bang for your buck – a small investment in time or money could impact how you feel every day. Try to work on one problem at a time.

Now that you have a problem to solve, what are you going to do about it? You don’t need to kill a mouse with an elephant gun. Assess the tools and methods you already have. Ask yourself some questions. Are there any adaptations or updates available? Is there a new model, or a different model that would work better? Sometimes reading the manual, as much as it may hurt, may hold the secret to your success. Or maybe not. Sometimes a tool works great for some specific tasks but falls short in others. Like people, move equipment around to where they’ll really shine. They’ll be so much happier and so will you!

Learn to diversify. We are lucky in that there are often multiple solutions for the same problem. Move to the equipment that is simplest to use or least visually dependent for that particular task. Just like re-gifting, you can re-purpose. For example, I bring my new large-print Bluetooth mini keyboard with me when travelling in order to comfortably respond to emails that pile up. At home, I prefer to sit at my computer using our standard sized large-print keyboard. But instead of letting the mini keyboard collect dust when I’m not traveling, I use it with my Apple TV. Typing, to search for a great movie, is simply easier than using the Apple remote to navigate the onscreen keypad.

When it appears you simply don’t have the right tools – call your State’s agency of blind services and ask if they have any recommendations. They have people who make a living on finding solutions. Don’t forget the power of a Google search, and of course, check out our products web page first!

After you have a few successes under your belt, share your success. There are always new people in your community just coming into the world of low vision. Someone might have temporary loss of vision due to eye surgery. They don’t even know what to ask, assuming they just won’t be able to do something anymore. Do unto others by educating them! Remember all of the stuff you had to learn to get to where you are today. Happy New Year!!

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When you can’t see the puck…

by Maurie Hill on December 29, 2014

Many years ago, Kevin Shanley was learning ZoomText and I was there to help him.  He was persistent in learning new ways to use his computer despite his diminishing vision.  During our conversations his description of his favorite sport, blind hockey stayed with me.  Who would have thought that years later, I would be attending the first international blind hockey event on U.S. soil on Kevin’s home ice in Newburgh, New York?

Tasting Gold at Courage Canada 2014

Kevin Shanley, Christine Osika, and Wyatt Harvey tasting Gold at Courage Canada 2014

The event consisted of two exhibition hockey games with the New York Nighshades and Les Hiboux de Montreal, and of course any interested US athletes were welcome to join. As excited and confident as I was about my skating abilities, I have to say that I was both amused and intimidated when veteran blind and low vision hockey players from “Les Hiboux de Montreal” blind hockey club stepped off their chartered bus.  On to the ice, playing alongside them was still a little nerve-wracking yet humorous at the same time.  They are good!  They showed me what to do, where to stand, how to play and when in doubt, they said “just shoot for the goal at every opportunity.”

Afterward with a beer in hand, we reflected on our plucky performance.   Exhilarated – a new group of blind hockey players was born.  And the revelation that ‘even’ ZoomText users could play hockey was confirmed when I learned that many of those daunting, yet friendly French Canadians were ZoomText users as well.  Little did I know that computers would one day lead me back to playing hockey. Kevin is now a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and co-founder of both the New York Nightshades blind hockey club as well as Courage USA.

I hope you’ll enjoy my conversation with Kevin as we discuss how blind hockey works, how to participate in the 2015 national event in Toronto (which both of us will be attending), or simply hear Kevin talk about the life-changing experience that happened at the two previous Annual Courage Canada Blind Hockey Tournaments. Check out the interview at the link below.

Serotalk’s High Contrast Podcast 27: Blind Hockey

And the following article includes a video of us playing in Newburgh!

An Historic Movement in Ice Hockey

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The Autumn Colors

by Maurie Hill on November 19, 2014

image of fall colors and mountainsOctober is not typically a popular month to take a vacation, unless you are seeking the brilliant colors spanning New England.  The brilliance and pervasiveness of sugar maples makes Vermont a favorite destination.  Our local fireman’s breakfast yielded almost 400 hungry eaters, a record number, one Saturday morning during peak leaf-peeping season.  It was so busy that they had to keep running to the store for more eggs.  After breakfast, I found myself available to become a leaf peeper myself on this warm, sunny day. The colors were at their peak and I couldn’t resist.  Winter is too long to waste this beautiful day on laundry.

Where to go was an easy decision – I headed up to Equinox Pond at the foot of Mt. Equinox to take in the reflection of color on the still water.  But, I was turned away by a sign stating a special event was taking place up there – a wedding, no doubt.  My hiking attire would not blend in, so I calculated that walking to Hildene, the historic Robert Todd Lincoln estate, would be feasible.  I had all day and the sky was clear.  Having recently read “Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln”, I knew I would get more out of this visit than the last time I roamed around the beautiful house and grounds.

The Lincoln’s historic Franklin was parked outside the grand entrance while the player organ played inside.  My favorite room is the library, where Robert T. Lincoln hovered over and protected his father’s historical papers.  And his bedroom, where he had a safe that kept secret papers pertaining to his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln. But this day, was all about what was happening outside – every moment, the sun and leaves were casting different shadows and colors on the hills.

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Image of Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandOur fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers fought in World War II but for most of us, we have no real understanding of what those years were really like for them.  Ninth-grade history books might have described the battles fought and the strategies executed but for the American soldier, little was exposed about their human experience and what shadows followed them home.  From those who became Prisoners of War on foreign soil, perhaps this war had the most long-lasting impact.

In the books, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission, the soldiers’ and prisoners’ detailed memories are uncovered.  Besides illuminating my vast ignorance about the details of war, I learned a couple of other things.   I learned that even small scraps of dignity serve to fuel our very existence.  In Unbroken, Louis Zamperini, an up and coming track star before the war, was challenged to a foot race by his captors despite being only skin and bones from starvation.  The cheers from his fellow POWs was enough for him to ignore his reality for just a moment and prevail at the end of a very long mile, despite the inevitable beating afterwards.  “It was worth it,” he said.

And in Ghost Soldiers, American Army’s 6th Ranger Battalion dared to do the impossible, they led 513 of the most sickly POWs to freedom in the Philippines.  But one thing the Rangers never considered was the fact that many of the POWs were blind.
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Bon Voyage Becca!

by Maurie Hill on October 23, 2014

Becca newRebecca (Becca) White is a name and a face that we have come to know and love around here.  The success of Ai Squared’s Zoomed In blog can be credited to her.  Becca has written blogs about Blind Yoga, cooking, and her many travels to trade shows.  Her polished editing made all of us look good.  Her compassionate guidance about everything relating to our products and customers displays wisdom beyond her years.

Becca has been the voice and face of Ai Squared, handling all of our social networking communications including Twitter, Facebook, and ZoomNews.  She not only coordinates our trade shows but mans the booth too!  Her opinion is so valuable around here that she has been involved in designing the new Mac Reader interface as well as testing the user experience.  She is as technical as she is creative – a rare find indeed.

Giving us eight great years, she can no longer resist the pull of the coast.  Perhaps, it was her four years at Bates College in Maine that gave her the ocean bug.  She is moving near Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  I will miss her face across my desk every day but, mostly, I will miss our working travel adventures together.  We have dined on the streets of Minneapolis, chowed down on delicious crab cakes at Camden Yards in Baltimore, and viewed the Denver skyline from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Our Vice President of Business Development, Doug Hacker, had this to say about Becca. “Becca brought daily dedication, talent and drive to every task on her list.  She’s been the driving force behind a myriad of projects, processes, and initiatives that are almost too long to list. We will sorely miss her marketing, writing, and organization skills along with her frequent baked goods that filled many days here in Vermont with sweetness.”

I am very happy for her, and I know she will continue her passion and dedication in her next endeavor.   To fill Becca’s shoes, we’re excited to have a returning employee, Megan Long.  Megan (pronounced Meegan) and I started working at Ai Squared in the same year – 2001.  I always enjoyed her smile, laugh, and spunk.  In 2003, she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where she earned an MBA in Marketing at the University of New Mexico.  Becca has been training Megan for the last few weeks and Becca says she’s doing great.  Thank you Megan for easing the transition, and please join me in wishing Becca all the goodness and sweetness that she has brought to us.

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Newbies Try Novice Triathlon

by Maurie Hill on October 15, 2014

Maurie, Arden and Annabelle at triathlonAs summer was winding down, my daughter, Arden, and I headed to the town pool to cool off.  As we left, I noticed a poster advertising an upcoming novice triathlon.  Hmm… though I’ve always wanted to enter one, this one was slated to start within 24 hours!  Sure, I had been jogging and biking on and off throughout the summer but a triathlon?  Moreover, Arden’s friend, Anabelle, was sleeping over and I was quite sure it would be a futile attempt to convince them to not only give up their morning sleep, but then to swim 200 meters, bike five miles, and run two miles.  Just as I was giving up this dream for yet another year, they surprised me in their desire to give it a whirl!

I rose from bed extra early to adjust the bike seats and fill the tires with air.  Off we went to the rec park pool to register.  Mingling around the pool for the start, it was clear that this was a casual, family-friendly event.  Thankfully, it didn’t look like many were in it for the win.  Still, I wanted to give it my best shot while still keeping my eye on the girls.  They were going to smoke me in the swim, and maybe even the run, but with their small kid bikes, they had no chance against my old trusty 10-speed Motobecane.  Read on!

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iPhone 6 Options from a Low Vision Perspective

October 9, 2014

Mainstream opinions on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are abundant. Although valuable, they leave us wondering about low vision usability. One small change in color, size, or VoiceOver behavior can make or break our attitude about the latest iPhone. That’s why the hosts of Serotalk’s “High Contrast” podcast, all visually impaired, dove into the […]

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ZoomText Mac Tips & Tricks – General WebReader Reading Tips

September 30, 2014

Many of you have been using ZoomText Mac and its reading tools with great success, but we wanted to share some tips to make sure that you are using WebReader effectively. WebReader is designed to make it easy to read online articles, but did you know that you’re also able to click any links within […]

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