Mindfulness for the Blind? It is up to you

Anyone following the latest medical research for back pain to common interventional strategies for Post Traumatic Stress hears about mindfulness practices. Some may involve spending five minutes and focusing on your breath, through apps like 3 Minute Mindfulness, the VA’s PTSD Coach, or the Breathe function on an Apple Watch. More complex strategies integrate yoga practices, which are made accessible for the blind through Blind Alive’s Eyes Free Fitness programs. In its simplest form, mindfulness practice is nothing more than anything enabling you to ground yourself in the present moment. There is no right or wrong way to incorporate mindfulness into your life, just as there is no right or wrong practice methods.

On a personal level, I found it difficult to even contemplate a plan for a regular  mindfulness routine. The initial struggles stemmed largely from believing mindfulness is that thing zen masters do in the full lotus position while surrounded by a completely still environment where they reach into the inner depths of their being. Well, this mystical belief set me up for failure before even starting off. First off, I did not know what the full or even half lotus position looked like due to the lack of verbal descriptions in Youtube videos and books. Secondly, no part of my life or household remains silent or still for more than five minutes. Finally, what does it mean and how does one even reach deeply into their deepest aspects of their soul or consciousness.

After reviewing the below materials did I finally devise my own definition for mindfulness and how to achieve it. This should be everyone’s first goal, define mindfulness for your self, and what it will look like. Develop a place where you will practice and a regular time(s) during the day which you will attempt your version of mindfulness. Finally, accept that you may stumble at first or struggle to clear your mind, but this is perfectly normal and actually is part of the practice.

So what is mindfulness to me? Well its a period during the day when I attempt to be in the present and allow my mind to enjoy the moment. I sometimes do this under a window in my office on the bus or in the car, when waking up or trying to go to sleep, or while out for a walk or run. During this period, I generally focus on my breathing through a routine known as a square, where you breathe in for five seconds, hold the breath for five seconds, let the breath out for five seconds, and hold for five seconds. The time period is up to the individual, just as long as the ratio is even. While breathing I  focus on each breath and smile, allowing any thought to enter my mind and let it go. Imagery is not necessary, just the ability to focus on the simple act of breathing and your smile. Now there are other breathing patterns, but the ultimate thing to remember is focus on your breathing. Notice there is no mentioning of sitting position, since any comfortable position will work. Sitting upright in a chair, lying on your back, or even in the full lotus position, the key thing to remember is comfort. If you are not comfortable, then how can you turn your attention towards your breath?

When walking or running, breathing methods do not really work, so I focus on my stride, feeling the ground beneath my feet, sense what my guide dog is trying to tell me, and listen to the environment around me. Once again it is important to keep your mind on the present moment and what is around you. It can and will wander to something else, so let it go and then bring it back. Best part of practicing mindfulness while walking stems from all of our orientation and mobility training through blind rehab. Notice how the routine requires you to do nothing more than focus on your surroundings to ground yourself n the moment. We do this precise actions to orientate ourselves, so you already know one mindfulness method without a mystic guide.

Books

Mindfulness might be found throughout all bookstores and libraries, making it difficult to recommend a particular title. Since this is a blindness related review, I will focus on those items found in the National Library Service BARD program.

The miracle of mindfulness: a manual on meditation DB44957, by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Thich Nhat Hanh writes on meditation and mindfulness in one of the most straight forwards and realistic ways. His status as a venerated Buddhist monk provides a level of credibility unmatched by most of the other authors writing on the subject. He understands the everyday person may only possess a couple of moments to practice, so his insight targets how to introduce mindfulness into daily situations.

Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life DB64586, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Before stumbling upon Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon introduced me to the world of mindfulness in realistic ways. The title captures the fundamental purpose of mindfulness, focus on where you are now, not in the past or in the future, but in the present moment. 

Other Writings by Thich Nhat Hanh

  • How to relax DB84150,
  • Silence: the power of quiet in a world full of noise DB80777

Thich Nhat Hanh captures the wonderful essence of mindfulness in two quick reads. Like his other published works, he addresses how to incorporate mindfulness into daily life. There is no need for guided imagery audio or cliche meditation music here, since everything you need to practice mindfulness resides in you.

So you want to be a Jedi?: Star wars : the empire strikes back DB83214, by Adam Gidwitz

Surprisingly this remake of the Empires Strikes Back from Star Wars nicely portrays mindfulness in a simple easily understandable method. Each chapter starts with a brief method which Luke must practice to gain control over the force, and then uses it in the storyline.

iPhone or iPad Solutions

Just like Apple stated in their older iPhone ads, there is an app for that. With mindfulness, you definitely have a wide range to select from. Unfortunately its difficult to identify one that is fully accessible with Voice Over. In my searching, only two stand out from the pack.

3 Minute Mindfulness

This app targets breathing and developing a routine for mindfulness. It is completely accessible with Voice Over and utilizes both a real voice and chime to indicate what you should be doing. Though the title states 3 minutes, it can by customized for shorter or longer sessions.

Youtube

Youtube possesses many videos on mindfulness. I am including it here, since you can search and find the one that fits your style. Just make sue to favorite it or save it so you can jump back to it.

Apple Watch

Since Apple updated the Watch OS to 3.0, my favorite app is Breathe. Through the haptic feedback engine, the Apple Watch will tap you on your wrist to indicate time to breathe in or out. The downfall is you need to be rather still.

Final Thoughts

Take the time to personalize mindfulness to fit your life. We each venture down this path for our own reasons following our own paths. No Sage, Yogi, or Zen Master knows why or how mindfulness may be successful in your life. Only you can define the rationale and methods which mindfulness may benefit your life.

Amazon Echo: Setting Up The Echo Dot

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we preform step 2 of 2 when setting up an Amazon Echo product, setting up and paring an Amazon Echo Dot. In the prior podcast, we covered step 1, installing the Amazon Alexa app. The Amazon Echo enables you to interface with Alexa and all of your connected devices and other skills. We choose the Echo Dot due to its low cost, ease of use, and portability. Check out our article on Paul’s experience with a smart home from the Heartlander newsletter, and bookmark our podcasts on Amazon Echo to learn how to utilize the Echo to its fullest capabilities.

In this episode we will:

  • Describe the Echo Dot
  • Walk through the process with the Alexa app to set up the Amazon Dot
  • Quickly demonstrate how Voice Over repeating the tutorial commands can activate Alexa

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on setting up the Amazon Echo Dot.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Amazon Echo: Setting Up The Alexa iOS App

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we preform step 1 of 2 in setting up an Amazon Echo product, installing the Amazon Alexa app. The next episode will feature step 2, setting up and paring an Amazon Echo Dot. The Alexa app is the center of managing any Amazon Echo product, since the app allows you to control your profile, enable new Alexa Skills, and connect new smart home devices to other products. You can even link your contacts with the Alexa app to call up other Amazon Echo users. The Echo’s and Alexa’s simplicity makes adopting the platform as the center of your smart home world a breeze, no matter your technology proficiency. Check out our article on Paul’s experience with a smart home from the Heartlander newsletter, and bookmark our podcasts on Amazon Echo to learn how to utilize the Echo to its fullest capabilities.

In this episode we will:

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on setting up the Amazon Alexa app.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Sendero Seeing Eye GPS 3.0 Rocks

Sendero Seeing Eye GPS just released version 3.0, and the new features amaze me. In fact, the update makes it one of the most powerful GPS and way finding solution for the blind. Here are the new features and why you should care:

  • Added waypoint or breadcrumb routes
    • Remember the feature on the Trekker Breeze where you can walk around a park or area and create a route? Well that is what waypoint routes bring to smart phones. No other navigational solution, including Blind Square, preforms this task. I cannot wait to map out some routes or potentially upload routes through my favorite areas other turn by turn apps fail.
  • New methods to find Points of Interest
    • Blind Square has been my go to method for finding Points of Interest since it arrived on iOS. No other app makes finding places around you easier. Sendero did develop Sendero Look Around which did an ok job at this, and eventually ported this into the Wand feature in the Sendero Seeing Eye GPS. Well, Points of Interest finding remained clumsy, when compared to Blind Square. Now Points of Interest finding between the two solutions are on par with each other.

    then released a simple

  • Indoor Navigation through beacons
    • The race for indoor navigation heats up between Blind Square, Sendero Seeing Eye GPS, and several other apps. It matters not who wins, as long as the opportunity for the race exists. Indoor beacon navigation will not become mainstream for several more years, but anytime anyone announces indoor navigation, even if its just moving a button into predominance, be happy its gaining momentum.
  • Uber now appears as a route option
    • Uber rocks for many reasons. Apps like Blind Square, Apple Maps, and Google Maps integrated Uber services awhile back, so its nice to see Sendero Seeing Eye GPS catching up.

Sendero Seeing Eye GPS 3.0 contains other updates you can check out by clicking here. If you are not a fan of subscription services, the non-subscription version of the app received a price slash from $299 to $199, so take advantage of the offer while it lasts.

Dolphin’s EasyReader Makes Reading Easy On iOS

The following article comes from Hazel, the Marketing Director at Dolphin.

Dolphin Computer Access celebrate their 30th Anniversary Launching EasyReader, a FREE Accessible iOS Reading App for Blind, Low Vision & Dyslexic Readers. Leading assistive technology specialists Dolphin Computer Access celebrate their 30th anniversary this month by launching a FREE accessible reading app for blind, low vision and dyslexic readers across the globe. The EasyReader app for iPhone and iPad users is immediately available to download from the iTunes app store and empowers millions of blind, partially sighted and dyslexic readers to browse and read accessible talking books and newspapers.

EasyReader has been specifically designed for readers with a vision or print impairment and, unlike other mainstream reading apps, has no restrictions to accessibility. Low vision readers can make their book’s text as large as their sight requires; adjusting colours, highlights and contrast to suit. Blind readers can ‘add speech’ to books and newspapers which have no inbuilt narration or choose from 100,000s of audio books available immediately. Readers with dyslexia can read with dyslexia friendly fonts and colours with perfectly synchronised text and audio.

The launch of the EasyReader app brings together the world’s largest collection of accessible books and newspaper services. Unique in offering direct and effortless access to 21 digital libraries serving print impaired people across 70 countries, EasyReader includes access to popular accessible library services including Bookshare®, NFB-NEWSLINE®, RNIB Bookshare, Legimus, NLB and Vision Australia.
“As a thank you to our customers and partners worldwide from the last 30 years, we’re delighted to release EasyReader – bringing our free accessible reading app to a global audience,” said Noel Duffy, Managing Director at Dolphin Computer Access.

“We’re passionate about people’s right to read and are committed to improving access to books and newspapers for people who are unable to use other channels. Technology has changed immensely since we first started and this is a 30 year milestone that we can all be proud of. We remain at the forefront of accessibility development and will continue to do so.”

EasyReader for iOS is the latest in Dolphin’s 30 years of innovating accessibility solutions for people with vision impairments. Early Dolphin innovations included Hal for DOS and the Apollo synthesiser – a software screen reader that ‘spoke’ through a hardware synthesiser. Available in more than 30 languages, this popular combination quickly became established as the industry leader across the globe.
1998 saw the launch of SuperNova, the first fully integrated magnifier and screen reader delivering accessibility for every visual impairment – developed at Dolphin’s HQ in Worcester, UK. SuperNova USB followed in 2005 and heralded the first assistive technology portable on a USB thumb drive. Publisher, developed in Dolphin’s Swedish development offices, remains the blindness industry’s preferred DAISY book creation tool and is the technology used behind the millions of accessible talking books available from blindness charities across the globe.

EasyReader for iOS is immediately available to download from the iTunes app store in English, French, German, Norwegian, and Swedish with other languages due to follow shortly. For blind app users EasyReader is fully compatible with iOS Voiceover and iOS supported braille displays. EasyReader for Android is set for release late Summer 2017. For accessible book libraries looking to tailor and deliver their own iOS, Android and Windows reading apps, EasyReader is also available as an app platform. Learn more about Dolphin’s Powered by EasyReader program here.

About Dolphin Computer Access
Located in Worcester, England, Dolphin offers a wide array of products that enable people with varying levels of technology experience—who are blind, visually impaired or have dyslexia—to do everyday things easily on computers and tablets. Dolphin has grown to become a global market leader, with more than 40 staff worldwide. The company has expanded to include offices in New Jersey USA and Falköping Sweden.

Learn more about EasyReader by clicking here.

Download EasyReader for iOS by clicking here.

The following accessible and taking book libraries are available for EasyReader.

  • Bookshare® (US and international)
  • RNIB Bookshare (UK)
  • CELA (Canada)
  • Legimus (Sweden)
  • Inläsningstjänst AB (Sweden)
  • NLB (Norway)
  • Nota (Denmark)
  • Vision Australia (Australia)
  • Passend Lezen (The Netherlands)
  • Anderslezen (Belgium)
  • SBS (Switzerland)
  • KDD (Czech Republic)
  • DZDN (Poland)
  • ePubBooks (All languages, no login required)
  • Project Gutenberg (All languages, no login required)

You can also access your periodicals if you belong to any of the

  • following services:Bookshare® Periodicals (US)
  • NFB-NEWSLINE® (US)
  • RNIB Newsagent (UK)
  • MTM Taltidningar (Sweden)
  • NKL (Finland)
  • Passend Lezen (The Netherlands)

For more information, please contact:
Hazel Shaw, Marketing Director, Dolphin Computer Access
hazel.shaw@yourdolphin.com
www.YourDolphin.com
+44 1905 754 577 or +44 7989 444 541

Navigating Webpages and Netflix With Narrator’s Scan Mode

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate how to navigate around webpages and Netflix with Narrator’s Scan Mode. This episode builds upon our earlier podcast where we describe and demonstrate the basics of Narrator in Windows 10. Once you learn the basics of Scan Mode, navigating around webpages, apps, and other windows will be a breeze. Please refer to the Microsoft’s Scan Mode support page for a complete list of Scan Mode Commands.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on navigating webpages and Netflix with Narrator’s Scan Mode.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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How Narrator Reduces The Necessity Of The Windows 10 S To Pro Offer For The Blind

Microsoft announced on Global Accessibility Awareness Day some awesome news. The first involved a brief taste of upcoming Narrator updates that should scare VFO’s JAWS’ future. The second piece, which garnered more attention than warranted, stated users of assistive tech solutions will be able to update from Windows 10 S to Pro for free. Personally, the upcoming Narrator features grabbed my attention, while the free upgrade failed to captivate my interest. In the fall update of Windows 10, Narrator will receive some awesome updates, placing Scan Mode up front, general screen reading enhancements, and recognizing images and text through some nifty behind the scenes stuff. Microsoft’s Window 10 S systems target the budget, education, and similar markets, and individuals who receive their computers through services like the VA or VR programs will not have to worry about these changes. If we peel back the layers regarding the free upgrading from S to Pro for AT users, Microsoft simply is offering individuals of assistive tech solutions some time to gain some comfort with Windows’ integrated accessibility options, while acknowledging the third-party AT options are not in the Windows Store. Personally, end users should take the time to learn the integrated accessibility options, and third-party venters need to consider packaging their software to be distributed by the Windows Store.

I do champion the thought that JAWS, NVDA, former Window Eyes, and System Access users need to seriously need to try learning the basics of Narrator. The third-party accessibility software will remain viable for the near future, but I have to wonder about the longterm health of the industry. The blindness world seen its major players all merged together under VFO. This move reduced the platforms to just ZoomText and its variations, JAWS, and NVDA. Of these, NVDA and Narrator steadily increases its market hold, thanks to their non-existent costs and similar features to JAWS. ZoomText remains the best and really only plater in the screen magnification world, something that will only change if VFO opted to increase its cash by selling or renting out ZoomText magnification patents.

Narrator is a very viable accessibility solution for the blind.

Let me write that again, Microsoft Narrator is a viable screen reading solution for visually impaired computer users. I have no problems writing this, especially if your computing needs requires accessing the world wide web, email, productivity or office solutions, streaming media, and other rather regular and mundane tasks. A user with these requirements may enjoy the experiences offered by Windows 10 S, thanks to limited options. Yes, I can back this claim up, through my experiences on a cheap Best Buy Insignia brand tablet PC that costs less than $200. The PC lacks many of the hardware specifications found in traditional laptops and desktops, and I have not found any lag, refresh issues, or other performance concerns when using Narrator with Edge, Mail, People, Calendar, Adobe Acrobat DC, Netflix, Skype, One Drive, One Note, Word, and other standard apps. Of these, Adobe Acrobat DC is the only one not located in the Windows Store, but Windows offers its own document reader, and I am holding off installing iTunes until it reaches the Windows Store.

To summarize, the Windows 10 S to Pro free conversion for those requiring accessible assistive software will not be a big deal for most blind individuals who adopt Narrator. If you want to stick with JAWS and ZoomText, you would not be purchasing a Windows 10 S system anyways, but rather a Home or Pro version. Regardless, everyone who relies on a screen reader or screen magnification third-party solution should take a honest stab at Windows’ integrated options. Those who live in the world of Voice Over an Zoom through iOS and MacOS can attest to the benefits related to stability when accessibility is not bolted onto the operating system but is apart of the operating system’s core.

Remembering Armed Forces Day

67 years ago today, President Truman celebrated the first Armed Forces Day. This stems from the unification of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps under the Department of Defense. Today, each of the uniformed Services celebrates Armed Forces Day alongside their own birthdays. This instills the one team mentality, since all of the branches support and defend our country. Before going further into Armed Forces Day, let us pay tribute to them through their slogans:
Air Forces Aim High, fly, fight, and win. 
 Army’s Army Strong. 
The Coast Guards, Semper Paratus English: Always ready. 
Marine Corps is Semper Fidelis or always faithful. 
Navy’s is Semper Fortis or Ever Strong. 
Today Armed Forces Day resides in a very fitting timeframe. First, May is military Appreciation Month. May’s chances to admire the beautiful flowers and plant new crops, is similar to Armed Forces Day chance to admire our military prowess and culture, while planting the seeds for the next generation to serve. Fittingly, Armed Forces Day resides between two extremely important day of remembrance. Last week, we celebrated Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Every individual who raised their hand and swore an oath to serve and protect the Constitution of the United States did not do this alone. They were not only surrounded by their fellow Service Members, but their families and friends. We cannot preform our mission without our loved ones, for they provide us with strength, courage, and hope. Next week, we will come together for the most important of all of the military and Veteran days of remembrance, Memorial Day. There is nothing more important than remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and those who have passed on. Its by remembering, we live up to the Warrior Ethos, to never leave a fallen comrade behind.
This placement truly allows the three main goals for Armed Forces Day to be achieved. First Armed Forces Day informs our civilian counterparts about the duties, responsibilities, equipment, and sacrifices of our fellow Service Members and their families. Secondly, it bridged the gap between civilians and the military by jointly exploring the role of the military in civilian life. Finally, Armed Forces Day honors all of those who served, as we prepare ourselves for Memorial Day. 
Achieving these three objectives is more important today than ever before. Our current military composition of all volunteers means serving is a choice. Many of you remember a time when we had the draft. Today our new recruits, Cadets and midshipmen decided to join, with a large majority doing so because their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and/or teachers showed them the impact of service. Unfortunately this means the number of families and communities who have a direct connection to current service members decreases each day.
Its more important than ever we take the time to explain to our communities about how the modular force structure and deployment cycles work. NO one knows this lesson more than our Guardsmen and Reservists who do not have the liberty of being around a military installation where everyone knows and feels the impact of a deployment. Instead our Guardsmen and Reservists have to explain to their places of employment that they will be gone for a set period of time. Their families have to teach their children’s teachers that their child is acting up because their family structure has been disruptive. Finally, when our Guardsmen and Reservists reunite with their families, they do not have the number of post-deployment resources which encompasses military installations.
Without us taking the time today to execute the mission of Armed Forces Day, how do we expect to ensure our fellow Service Members, Veterans, and their families possess the chance to enjoy the freedoms paid for by their service?
How else do we establish the framework to stress the importance for the Department of Veterans affairs and all of our programs and non-profits who care for those who bore the cost of service?
How else do we create an environment where our fellow Service Members, Veterans, and families understand they are not alone?
Take a moment today and reflect how the military impacts your life and communities. Even if you live far away from a military installation, I bet you are, know, or walk by a Service Member, Veteran, or family member. As you look around your house, garage, or neighborhoods, I bet you will find products developed for the military. Finally, if you look around medical institutions and interventions, you will find many life saving treatments and therapies designed to save or prolong the lives of our brave Service Members. The US Armed Forces are here to support and defend us all.

Windows 10 Narrator Basics

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate Windows 10 Narrator. Microsoft’s commitment to integrated accessibility options for the blind received much attention since releasing Windows 10, with more to come. No longer is Narrator the laughing stock of screen readers, but its now almost as powerful as NVDA or JAWS. This episode shows how to use Narrator to navigate around different screens. Here are the key commands used:

  • Windows Key, Control, and Enter to activate or deactivate Narrator
  • Capslock and up or down arrows to change navigational level
  • Capslock and left or right arrow to navigate to the next or previous item at the set navigational level
  • Control to pause/resume Narrator’s speech
  • Capslock and Spacebar to activate or deactivate scan mode
  • When in scan mode, the up and down arrows moves Narrator’s focus and the left and right arrows will move you by character
  • Capslock and plus or minus keys to increase or decrease Narrator’s rate of speech
  • Capslock and A to change the verbosity level
  • Capslock and S to spell the line or word
  • Capslock and W will read the entire screen
  • Capslock and F1 pulls up the Narrator key command list

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on the basics of Windows 10 Creator’s Edition Narrator.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Help the VA Revamp Its Digital Presence Through the US Digital Services Cohorts Study

Have you ever wondered how and why the VA developed their online interfaces? Many ask this question, especially since many pages and online resources might be accessible but far from usable. This is where the US Digital Services agency comes into play. The US Digital Services falls under the executive branch, after President Obama established it in 2014. The notable achievements of this self-described “SWAT Team of nerds” includes the Vets.gov, website to streamline Veterans experiences when accessing services, and saved the federal healthcare marketplace after its abysmal role out. Additionally, the team aids other state and federal entities, like the Department of Defense and various educational institutions, clean up and enhance usability of web-based an other electronic interfaces.

Based on early successes US Digital Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs decided its time to obtain the feedback from Veterans, caregivers, supporters, and other individuals who utilize VA services. The hope is to increase the number of Veterans who apply for benefits and services, which is at 10% for first time VA healthcare enrollees. Let’s face it, the reason stems from the VA’s over reliance on PDF’s and paper-based forms. These outdated communications methods not only impinge Section 508 compliance for the blind, but simply fail to address the evolving way our millennial’ Veterans interact within the digital landscape. The resolution is the new streamlined and accessibility healthcare digital application.

Ad Hoc spearheads the Cohort study on the behalf of the digital Services and VA. This is the team that created the previously mentioned online application for VA healthcare services, and now aims to expand to all other facets of VA programs and services. If you wish to contribute your experiences, please sign up by clicking here. This will take you to a webpage to learn more about the project. Then you will have to provide your basic contact information and preferred method of contact. The Ad Hoc team will then contact you.

Do not let this opportunity to restructure the VA’s digital presence slip by. To often do Veterans and caregivers comment about the usability of VA websites, and this is our chance to assist the agency which supports us through its benefits and services. I already signed up for the study, and I hope each of you do the same.

So what happens next? After signing up, you will be contacted by a person from Ad Hoc. The first call will just obtain some basic demographical information about yourself. The representative then mention possible upcoming sessions that will ask you to go through some websites and provide feedback. Once completed, you are then eligible for a $25 Amazon or PayPal gift card.

Important Items to Know

  • This has not been open to the general public, though all information cited above can be found through public access points.
  • Participation requires you to digitally sign a consent agreement. This is currently inaccessible for screen readers, as you cannot read the consent form and none of the text boxes are labeled.
  • The bulk of the assessment occurs through the VA’s e-benefits and Vets.gov websites, so make sure to have your DS account prepared

Send and Share Your Location Through iOS Messages

A suspension bridge spans the logo with the acronym BVT in the middle. Beneath the bridge the words Blind Vet Tech appears. The bottom of the logo contains morse code reading TAVVI.
In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate how to send or share your location through the iOS Messages app. The Messages app possesses a feature enabling you to share your location with others, so you never need to guess your precise location again. This may be accomplished by preforming the following steps:

  • Open the Messages App.
  • Either compose a new conversation and send a message or open an existing conversation.
  • Find the More Info button in the upper right corner of the conversation screen.
  • Select Send My Location to immediately send your location at that moment.
  • Select Share My Location to allow the recipient(s) to track your location for an hour, day, or indefinitely through Find My Friends.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on how to send your location through Messages on iOS.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Trekking Through the Bataan Memorial Death March

The 26.2 mile Bataan Memorial Death March challenges your humility, endurance, and perseverance. The trial originates from the high desert trails consisting of sand, gravel, and paved roads admits the Organ Mountains on White Sands Missile Range. The 3,970ft average elevation of Las Cruces adds an extra bonus for those participating from lower altitudes.

The Bataan Memorial Death March commemorates the forced march of Filipino and American civilian and service members captured on April 9th, 1942. Approximately 10,000 individuals died along the roughly 62-mile route to the Japanese camps. The original participants consisted of the survivors from the battle for the Philippines, which started in December 1941. Reflecting upon the casualties from the original death march and what the survivors endured leaves me speechless. The stroll we do today keeps these brave souls alive. Listening to those around you and assisting your fellow marchers provides a glimpse into this tragic event.

Even more inspiring is the chance to meet and walk with the Veterans of the Bataan Death March. COL Ben Skardon was 24 years old when captured by the Japanese. This year marked the tenth time the 99-year-old walked 8.5 miles of the route, surrounded by family and friends. Along the route, I had the pleasure to meet a daughter of one of the Bataan survivors. Her story about her Dad carrying his brother, who later died on the route, left me absolutely speechless. When she thanked me for my service, tears came to my eyes as I attempted to convey my gratitude for the sacrifices made by her and her family.

Steve, Marshall, Nate, and Kevin talking during breakfast the day before the Bataan Memorial Death March.
My participation stems from efforts by Operation Peer Support of the BVA and Blind Endeavors. Nate Gorham, Steve Baskis, Lonnie Bedwell, Dan Standage, and I comprised of the first five man blinded Veteran Team. Nancy Fairbanks, Kevin Baskis, and Victor Henderson served as our guides and supports along the route. Terry and Maryellen Kebbel, hosted our group with the assistance from their friends Jim and Nina Schaeffer, Marie and Al Hughey, and Eileen and Harry Monahan. We also had the distinct pleasure to meet fellow blinded Veterans and hero, Marshall Lynch, who charged across an island with 75 Marines during island hopping operations but only 18 survived.
Jim and Tim discussing plans for the Bataan Death March the day prior over breakfast.
If you are wondering how five blinded Veterans navigate a 26.2-mile trek through the desert, let us say it required some trial and error. First, we used a combination of trekking poles, white canes, iTunes Music, and other vocal commands. Our formation possessed a center point consisting of Kevin and Steve Baskis walking in single file connected with a cane. Steve carried a Bluetooth speaker which pumped out a series of playlists from iTunes Music from his iPhone 7 throughout the entire time. The music allowed everyone else to orientate off the audio cues. Lonnie with his tremendous hearing followed behind Steve with a trekking pole and white cane. I floated either behind Lonnie or to Kevin’s front guided by Victor. I relied on either two trekking poles or a trekking pole with a white cane. Nate and Dan relied on their residual sight and canes with guided assistance as needed. Nancy, a VA bind rehab center instructor, ensured we stayed on point and not go wondering off through the desert. Amazingly many of our fellow participants did not fully realize we were blind, especially when Lonnie starts dancing mid trail.
Nate, Steve, Terry, Tim, and Guide Dog Black Jack sharing stories about being a blind Veteran over the generations.

Both the two trekking poles methods and a trekking pole and a white cane permitted me to independently navigate. The two trekking poles method requires each pole is extended so your hands and arms rest comfortably about chest level. Each time you swing your arm, place the tip of the pole in front and outside your foot by a foot. This aids in your balance and awareness of the trail. The trekking pole with a white cane preforms a bit differently. The pole reinforces balance with limited trail feedback, while using the white cane as normal. A pencil, ball, or hook tip will work, but keep a loose grip.

The The various types of sand, gravel, and roads presented different challenges. Two to three foot sand berms acted like bumpers but the loose sand and gravel made walking straight very difficult. The paved road was easy to navigate with the white cane, but very difficult with the two trekking poles. Finally the course contained many congestion points forcing us to rely on walking in tandem. . So just as we developed a groove, environmental factors prevented complacency. If anything, the variations frustrated my sense of independence by forcing reliance on guides.

The Bataan Memorial Death March is a huge highlight in my life for two reasons. The adventure permitted me to complete my first marathon, accompanied by my friends and fellow Veterans. Hopefully this will not be my last time storming through the White Sands Missile Range, learning about the sacrifices of so many and connecting with nature.

Self-Driving Bicycle? Yes Please!!!

The movement towards self-driving vehicles represents a promising future for the blind. The hope originates from our desire to independently travel to and from different locations. Right now, we must rely on transit services, family and friends, and companies like Uber. The most common barrier involves acquiring a ride when its needed. Yes, forward planning resolves many issues, but how many times do you leave the house in a rush due to life?

While the blindness community believes the self-driving car will eliminate transportation barriers for those who can afford it, our society must first establish various driving regulations and policies at local to federal levels. This only complicates the situation and why I predict the blind will not legally operate a self-driving car for daily situations until late 2020’s at the earliest. However, an alternative exists.

How about a self-driving bicycle? The University of Washington through an Amazon and other private funding opportunities through CoMotion Labs attempts to design one. The prototype consists of a tricycle and a two-seated model, 15-mile range, and max speed of 30MPH. The best part comes from the targeted price point of $10,000 and elimination of regulatory barriers for driver’s licenses and insurance.

Out of all of the self-driving concepts, the self-driving bicycle captures my full attention and pocket book. After all, the self-driving bicycle will provide an eco-friendly and affordable transportation solution for the blindness community. Most of us reside in residential and urban areas for proximity purposes, so the mileage factor is not an issue. $10,000 is much less than the $30,000+ for even the cheapest proposed self-driving cars. Finally the chance to exercise independently will empower healthier lifestyles in general.

iOS Control Center

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate the iOS Control Center. The Control Center provides one with quick access to controls for airplane mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, screen brightness, media controls, and many more. Control Center may be activated by:

  • Do a one finger swipe up from the bottom of the screen, with Voice Over off
  • Place the Voice Over focus in the menu bar and do a three finger flick upwards
  • Tap the Control Center button if Assistive Touch is activated

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on the iOS Control Center.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Reflecting Upon Dr. David Shulkin’s Selection as Secretary of Veterans Affairs

The testimony of Dr. David Shulkin should relax Veterans. His hearings and unanimous approval by the Senate transpired with little positive or negative excitement from anyone. In the short history of the new administration and 115th Congress, this is a sigh of relief. However, the lack of responsiveness may leave many not knowing much about our new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Dr. David Shulkin comes to the Secretary position after spending the last 18 months as the Under Secretary of Health for the VA. This experience enables him to start off with inside knowledge about the VA and its current beneficial programs and controversies. His years as a medical doctor, leadership roles in other healthcare settings, growing up in a military family, and practice experiences at VA medical centers outweigh the fact he never personally served in the military. The combination of these items affords him the knowledge to continue Secretary Robert McDonald’s initiatives, while establishing his own priorities.

The VA’s scandals allured Dr. Shulkin into the Undersecretary position. He stated in his Congressional testimony, “I view my service at V.A. as a duty to give back to the men and women who secured the uniquely American freedoms and opportunities we all enjoy,” due to the barriers to timely service Veterans face. This sense of both urgency and duty stems from his Grandfathers service in WWI, father’s service as a Psychiatrist and Captain, and his own residency experiences in a VA medical center.

Dr. Shulkin’s 18 months as President’s Obama’s appointee to the Undersecretary position enabled him to understand, “it was years of ineffective systems and deficiencies in workplace culture,” that lead to many VA problems. Numerous VA employees from healthcare providers and counsellors to departmental chief echo similar comments. Additionally, break down in communications between the various VA layers restrict the flow of information and knowledge throughout the entire system.

Dr. Shulkin informed Congress it will require years to resolve the numerous concerns and barriers impacting VA’s service to Veterans, so his first act increased urgent care clinics and same day appointments for those in crisis. Just like anyone us, us Veterans sometimes just need these types of crisis based services to resolve many of our healthcare needs.

By attending many of the Veteran Service Organization’s annual conventions and conducting town hall forums throughout the country, Dr. Shulkin obtained direct input from individuals to major stakeholders in the VA. He realized Veterans receive the VA as “one V.A., and not as three separate administrations.”

After all the VA consists of the Veterans Healthcare Administration (BHA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration. Supporting the thousands of VA employees, Dr. Shulkin informed Congress, “that V.A. has many dedicated employees across the country, and our veterans tell us just that every day.” I completely agree with this statement.

Many of the frontline VA employees care deeply about Veterans services and will figure out workarounds when barriers exist. For example, Blind Rehab Services acknowledge the barriers Veterans with visual impairments face, and often become our advocates when requesting prosthetics. Many Social Workers in case management roles will synchronize appointments to reduce travel barriers and fight for us to receive appointments in specialty clinics. Primary care managers will take advantage of the Choice Program upon request and justification.

Dr. Shulkin’s most impressive statement pertained to VA reform. “It is unfortunate that a few employees who have deviated from the values we hold so dear, have been able to tarnish the reputation of so many who have dedicated their lives to serving those who have served, but there should be no doubt that if confirmed as secretary, I will seek major reform and transformation of V.A. There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options, but the department of veteran affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”

This answers many of the questions about Dr. Shulkin’s positions addressing VA issues. First, this statement coincides with legislative efforts over the last several years to eliminate loopholes used by VA employees facing putative actions. Secondly, he will continue efforts impacting Veterans’ abilities accessing everything from healthcare services to backlogs I benefits processes. Finally, Dr. Shulkin will not standby as legislators attempt to destroy the Department of Veterans Affairs by privatizing it. These stances mirrors the resolutions adopted by Veteran Service Organizations, like the Military Officers Association of America, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Veterans groups and Dr. Shulkin do not oppose the Choice plan, but we do oppose privatization. Dr. Shulkin seeks to “strengthen system within V.A that are essential for veteran well-being, and use services in the community that can serve veterans with better outcomes and value to the taxpayerk.” Dr. Shulkin cited about 5,000 Veterans solely rely on the Choice plan for all of their care, but the majority of the 31% of Veterans who use the Choice plan prefers a combination of both VA and private care. The VA remains the best provider for many specialty care services and therapeutic interventions predominately found in Veterans populations, like Post Traumatic Stress, Agent Orange and other environmental exposures, and many other conditions.

When addressing Veteran suicides, Dr. Shulkin stated, “we have made significant progress in suicide prevention, including hiring more mental health professionals, implementing a predictive tool to identify those at greatest risk and fixing the crisis line to better serve our veterans.” By impacting access to urgent care and mental health services, Dr. Shulkin suggestions mirrors findings from a national Veterans suicide study from 2016. The study reported failure to access VA services on a regular basis, along with age are key lethality factors. The predictive tool and increase in mental health providers aims to resolve these concerns.

Based on Dr. David Shulkin’s Congressional testimony and supportive actions, I feel he will continue to positively impact the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, I say this with some apprehension. Dr. Shulkin is one individual, and many systems impact the daily to longitudinal operations of the VA. We still will have employees enhancing and diminishing VA services. We will still have legislative priorities assisting and hindering VA progress. We still have a Veteran population steadily dwindling, removing the percentage of the public who directly and intimately knows a Veteran. Therefore it is our job as Veterans to make sure decision makers and stakeholders know our thoughts about the Department of Veterans Affairs. We need to speak up at civic events, writing editorials to news outlets, and contact the offices of our elected officials.

Cloud Services and You

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we discuss the role of cloud services when syncing across multiple devices. Apple’s iCloud Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Google Drive, and Dropbox represent the most popular cloud services. Each service possesses it own positive and negatives. The range of options and prices enables the individual to either select a single service or mixture of services to meet their needs. Each service, storage amounts, and personal thoughts may be found below.

iCloud Drive
Storage options includes 5GB for free, 50GB for $0.99, 200GB for

  • $2.99, and 1TB for $9.99
  • iCloud Drive comes with all iTunes accounts and is the primary method one may backup their iOS devices. The Storage is used for iCloud email, file storage, Photos, contacts, calendars, and apps using iCloud storage for syncing information. Individuals living in the Apple ecosystem with iOS devices and Apple computers will greatly benefit from the numerous features and integration options from iCloud Drive embedded in iOS and MacOS. However, iCloud Drive is less important if you utilize Windows or Android devices for primary computing or mobile needs.

Microsoft One Drive

  • Storage options includes 5GB for free, 50GB for $1.99, and 1TB for $6.99 to $9.99
  • Microsoft One Drive comes with any Outlook account or subscription to Microsoft 365. Budgetary speaking, one obtains the best savings by subscribing to Microsoft 365, since it bundles 1TB of storage along with Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel, Power Point, Outlook, and One Note. Each of these apps are fully accessible on Windows, MacOS, and iOS with most screen readers and magnification programs. Even if you solely use Apple products, you can easily ignore iCloud Drive if you live through Microsoft Office 365 on all of your devices. Microsoft is even packaging some additional accessibility tools into One Drive to create descriptions for pictures in Office Lens to Power Point.

Google Drive

  • Storage options includes 15GB for free, 100GB for $1.99, 1TB for $9.99, 10TB for $99.99
  • Google Drive offers the largest amount of free storage4 at 15GB with every Google account. However, you basically need this amount if you rely on a Gmail account for regular emailing tasks. Google Drive is a natural fit if you rely on Gmail to sync your email, contacts, calendars, Chrome bookmarks, photos, and Google Docs across your computers and mobile devices. Google Drive is a natural fit for Android and Chromebook users, but users of a mixture of Apple, Android, and Windows devices may find Google drive suitable for their needs.

Dropbox

  • Storage options includes 2GB for free and 1TB for $9.99
  • Dropbox differs from the previous cloud services by restricting usage to file storage and synchronization across all of your devices. However, Dropbox remains the leader in cloud storage for individual to business power users alike. This stems from its ease of use and ability to share, collaborate, and host documents and files through a very simple and accessible interface. Many individuals find themselves relying on iCloud, Outlook, and Gmail to sync mail, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks, but turn towards Dropbox for file storage.

Each of the cloud services found a way into my regular workflow. My office centers around a late 2016 MacBook Pro and an iPhone 6, while my family utilizes a pair of 2012 MacBook Pro’s and other iPhones. We rely on iCloud Drive for our primary file storage, calendar, Safari bookmarks, and Photos storage across all of these devices. However my most used cloud service is Google Drive, as I rely on Gmail and Google Docs for various tasks. Dropbox hosts many different projects involving the need share and collaborate on various documents and files. Finally, Microsoft One Drive recently entered this picture after some significant accessibility improvements within Office 365. Switching between any of these, regardless if its on my MacBook Pro, iOS devices, or Windows computer is a breeze, thanks to usable apps, simple integration into Finder or IE, and synchronization reliability. It is up to you to determine whether one or a mixture of these options will suit your cloud storage goals.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on the different cloud storage options.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Responses to the #CriptTheVote Activism and Identity Questionnaire

Alice Wong recently posted the below series of questions related to disability identity and activities for the #CripTheVote movement. This movement aims to encourage individuals with disabilities to engage in the political process. #CripTheVote achieved its initial goal related to increasing the public awareness of topics and concerns shared by the disability community and increased the number of individuals with disabilities who voted. With the 2016 election cycle over, the next phase strives to increase the public awareness for disability concerns and ensure our voices remain heard as the new administrations and congressional representatives establish and pursue their own agendas.

The below questions comes from the #CripTheVote blog. While the post requests one to answer via twitter, 140 characters is not enough to answer these questions.

Q1 Community check-in: How are you feeling right now given the recent events after the Inauguration? How are you coping?
The events following the inauguration excites and concerns me. The editing part stems from the number of individuals who raise their voices in protest and celebration. I am excited by those who took to the marches to demonstrate opposition to policies and who cheer for these same actions. I am excited to witness so many individuals who finally escaped their silent cages and freed their voices and opinions. What makes freedom free is the ability to fight for your beliefs. We are not going to always get along, but we do need to acknowledge the existence of multiple perspectives, where the wrong views are those who wish to silence or repress others.

This is what concerns me. We have numerous elected officials to private individuals minimizing or ignoring these very demonstrations of our right to speak, assemble, and publish news. We see more finger pointing and entrenchment of political beliefs. We are becoming more polarized than ever before. The cause originates from both parties, and I do not see anyone in the current administration who may forge a compromise.

I cannot support anyone still in a state of shock or disbelief regarding the elections’ results across the country. This thought lasted about 5 milliseconds after reading the results the following morning. After that moment, I started to investigate the actual positions and policies the elected officials would put forwards and started to investigate which coincide or run in opposition to my own beliefs.

Q2 What does activism mean to you? What kinds of activism are you involved with?
Activism is any action one takes to express their thoughts related to a topic. This may be informal conversations with your friends to strategic educational advocacy campaigns targeting those who possess the power to change situations. Activism may be letters, conversations, marches, Facebook posts, inaction, and any other method to convey your thoughts.

Personally, I have written numerous emails and attempted to call the offices of my elected officials related to local to national concerns. In each correspondence, my goal involved stating the subject, how it impacts my life, and potential solutions. Leaving any of these out enables the recipient to either fill in the blanks or discard the message.

Q3 Do you think of yourself as an activist or advocate? Why or why not?
I am a advocate. This is part of the professional identity I cultivated since accepting my blindness and establishing my disability identity. We all need to be our own advocate, since only you know what it is you believe.

Q4 How did your disability identity develop in relation to other identities you inhabit?
My disability identity evolved during my Masters in Social Work education. Until this point, I fought my blindness diminished my value as a military officer, husband, friend, and human. After all, I needed the assistance of others just to arrive at meetings on time or to read paper handouts. Social Work education instructed me on the importance of the right of self-determination, empowerment perspectives, and being your own advocate. This allowed me to see myself as a person with many more gifts and strengths to offer the world than what I lost from going blind.

The development of the disability identity transformed fly identities associated with the military, Veteran status, husband, father, friend, family member, and every other identity I possess. No longer did I feel my disabilities conflicted with other aspects of my self. The result is a congruent set of identities, where each borrows from another but none over powers the other. I am proud to call myself disabled, blind, Disabled Veteran, father, husband, advocate, son, guide dog handler, and Army retiree.

Q5 When did you become politicized? How are you shaped by your culture, beliefs, and communities?
The shift from political bystander to active participant required several years. Prior to my blindness, I barely knew the names of our senior elected officials and how legislation impacts my daily life. Following my injury, I started to listen to AM talk radio, talk politics with the strongly Christian conservatives military and GS office mates, and participate in online discussion forums. Naturally my political leans swayed conservative, but I was not able to acquire alternative view points from non-biased sources.

My political leanings steadily moved towards liberal views during my Social Work education and subsequent years. This stems largely from diversifying my friends and social contacts, promoting a richer understanding about the different layers to each issue. Then I learned how local to federal to international policies and agendas impacts my rights for an accessible and equal world, and embraced liberal stances safeguarding disability rights.

Q6 Not everyone is on Twitter or interested in political participation. How can we encourage disabled people to get involved?
Diffusion of an idea requires a multi level approach. Individuals with disabilities not currently engaged with the #CripTheVote movement requires their trusted friends and families to talk about the concepts of the movement. These trusted individuals start to cast light on the #CripTheVote movement, establishing credibility. Next an individual will need to consume content from the movement, solidifying the movement to the individual. Finally, the individual must experience the movement, affixing an emotional reaction to the movement.

Q7 What are some barriers that get in the way of more disabled people from participating in any form of activism?
Knowledge. Knowledge about the issues. Knowledge about how policies impacts the individual. Knowledge about ones role in the process. Knowledge about who to contact for more information. Knowledge about how to interact with elected officials and community leaders. Knowledge that they have the freedom to engage in activism. Knowledge different activism venues and methods are accessible. Knowledge that one will not lose benefits, rights, or supports by becoming active. Finally, knowledge that their voices are important and equal to all other voices.

Q8 There’s the phrase ‘the personal is political.’ If that resonates with you, what issues are hitting you hardest right now?
The nomination for the Department of Justice. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the Department of Justice’s interpretation for teeth. Should the Department of Justice loosen or eliminate consequences for ignoring the Americans with Disabilities Act, I will lose the only legislation permitting my guide dog in public establishments. I will lose trust in my elected officials and the department of Justice to support my rights as a disabled person. I fear accessibility will become voluntary, and digital interfaces will not have to comply to any web accessibility initiative guidelines.

Q9 As you look forward to the rest of this year, what do you need to sustain your activism? What will help?
Hope and trust. Hope the political pandering from both sides will subside and pragmatic evidence-based solutions will arise. Hope that activism will remain one of our freedoms, and the current administration and elected officials will not silence our voices through legislative actions. Trust in my fellow disabled friends and supporters will stand by my side even if we are persecuted for advocating for our rights. Trust in my own voice to remain consistent and responsive throughout the years.Hope

Tremendous Victory for Digital Accessibility Advocates

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Disability digital accessibility advocates rejoiced on January 18, 2017, when the US Access Board Updated rules for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act. March 20, 2017 might be the effective date of the update, but compliance is delayed until January 18, 2018 for Section 508 and the Federal Communications Committee must first adopt the new Section 255 rules. The change advances accessibility of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) employed by federal and other agencies abiding by these acts. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act pertains to computers, telephonic communications methods, copier printers, websites, published software, kiosks, transaction devices, and any electronic documents. 255 of the Communications Act covers telephones, mobile and smart phones, routers, set-top boxes, computers with modems, Voice Over IP (VOIP) software, and the underlying software for these items.

The update’s chief results empower individuals with disabilities to access digital, electronic, and telecommunications services and programs under Section 508 and Section 255. This occurs through easier to understand accessibility standards crafted by industry leaders. The most important aspects include:

For Veterans with visual impairments, the accessibility of digital content and interfaces will increase within the Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare, and Social Security. Most notably, the VA’s check-in kiosks lack sufficient accessibility options for low vision and blinded Veterans. The Section 508 Team at the VA diligently works to correct this problem; the new rules will decrease the chances for this to happen again. The WAI guidelines for web interfaces and media content will advance accessibility guidelines to usability requirements for individuals with disabilities, a chief complaint of many accessing VA websites to Social Security online forms. Finally, provisions acknowledge and usher guidelines for emerging technologies, like smart phones and mobile devices, by noting their roles in the lives of individuals with disabilities and focusing on the how we use these items in accessing digital materials. Section 4 of the overview contains a complete list of each change and outcomes.

The ICT refresh represents the first steps into a world consistent with universal design principals. While this we celebrate this long fought victory, we need to remain active in advocating for digital accessibility throughout our entire digital life. We still face an uphill climb ensuring those covered under Section 508 and Section 255 comply with these rules and guidelines. While we evaluate implementation of the ICT, we also need to continue to pressure the Depart of Justice to adopt similar requirements, like WAIG, for entities under Section 2 and Section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, like online stores to streaming media platforms.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

Removing the Threatening Pop Up Stating Your Device Is Infected

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate how to resolve an potentially scary situation when a pop up informs you your device is infected. This pop up sounds extremely official and asks you to contact Apple Support with a toll free number. First, your device is not infected. Secondly, this is not the number for Apple support. Do not panic, and follow these steps:

  • Press the Home button to return to the home screen
  • Place the Voice Over focus on the menu bar and do a three finger swipe up to bring up the Control Panel
  • Turn Airplane mode on and press the Home button
  • Double tap the Home button to bring up the app switcher and close the app
  • Navigate to Settings and find the menu option for Safari
  • Navigate towards the bottom of Safari’s menu and double tap the Clear History and Website Data button
  • Press the Home Button, bring up the Control Panel, turn airplane mode off, and go back to navigating the web

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on removing the threatening pop up stating your device is infected.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Voice Over Rotor’s Text Selection and Editing Options

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate how to select and format text with a few swipes and gestures within Voice Over’s Rotor. It matters not if you are selecting text from a webpage and pasting it into a note, email, or text message, the Voice Over Rotor simplifies and expedites the process. If you are new to the Voice Over Rotor, listen to this podcast first. Below you will find the different options available in both the Text Selection and Edit rotor options as well as a basic list of steps to activate the rotor.

Text Selection

  • Character
  • Word
  • Line
  • Page
  • Select All

Edit

  • Copy
  • Cut
  • Paste
  • Look Up
  • Share
  • Make checklist item (Notes only)
  • Indent Right

Activating and Basic Rotor Gestures

  • Activate the Rotor by placing two fingers on the iOS device screen and pretend you are turning a dial
  • On a paired keyboard, activate Quick Nav by pressing the left and right arrows together and then pressing the Left/right arrow with the up arrow to cycle through options
  • Use a flick up/down or the up/down arrows to cycle through the selected Rotor’s options
  • Use the right/left arrow keys to navigate, select, or de select text
  • Double tap, press VO plus the Spacebar, or press both the up and down arrows to select the Rotor option you are on

this task is very simple for Voice Over users. Here is a list of steps you can use as a reference:

  • After opening up the Netflix app, double tap on the Browse button in the upper right corner of the screen.
  • Locate the My Downloads button to view any episode or Movie you downloaded.
  • Locate the Available for Download button to view content you can download.
  • When you find a video you wish to download, double tap on it, and swipe until you find the download button.

Please keep in mind that downloading movies and TV shows will require anywhere from 100MB of space to 3GB of storage. If you have limited space, keep track of what you download, as filling up your storage may result in your device slowing down. To delete videos, do the following:

  • Navigate to the My Downloads menu in Netflix
  • Click on the the Edit button in the upper right corner
  • Find a video you already watched and there is an unlabeled button immediately before the name of the episode or show name.
  • Double tap on this unlabeled button to delete the file.
  • Click done in the upper right corner when complete.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on selecting and editing text through the Voice Over Rotor.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

Don’t miss another Blind Vet Tech teleconference, click here to see a list of our teleconferences and others we support.

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Downloading Netflix Movies and TV Shows to your iOS Device

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate how to download Netflix movies and TV shows to your iPhone and iPad. Netflix consumers have been wishing for this feature for a number of years, especially after Amazon Prime released a similar feature for its video selection at release. Completing this task is very simple for Voice Over users. Here is a list of steps you can use as a reference:

  • After opening up the Netflix app, double tap on the Browse button in the upper right corner of the screen.
  • Locate the My Downloads button to view any episode or Movie you downloaded.
  • Locate the Available for Download button to view content you can download.
  • When you find a video you wish to download, double tap on it, and swipe until you find the download button.

Please keep in mind that downloading movies and TV shows will require anywhere from 100MB of space to 3GB of storage. If you have limited space, keep track of what you download, as filling up your storage may result in your device slowing down. To delete videos, do the following:

  • Navigate to the My Downloads menu in Netflix
  • Click on the the Edit button in the upper right corner
  • Find a video you already watched and there is an unlabeled button immediately before the name of the episode or show name.
  • Double tap on this unlabeled button to delete the file.
  • Click done in the upper right corner when complete.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on downloading movies and TV shows from Netflix onto your iPhone or iPad.

Stay Informed

Stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from the Blind Vet Tech team, by doing one of the following:

If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

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Siri and the iOS App Store

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we demonstrate Siri’s commands associated with the iOS App Store. These commands are limited to searching for a specific app, apps by a developer, or apps within a genre. Below you will find example command phrases for Siri.

  • Siri, search for (insert app name here) in the App Store.
  • Siri, get (insert app name here) from the App Store.
  • Siri, search for apps by (insert name of developer here) in the App Store
  • Siri, search for (insert genre here)apps in the App Store.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on Siri’s commands for the App Store. If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

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Navigating the iOS App Store

A suspension bridge spans the logo with the acronym BVT in the middle. Beneath the bridge the words Blind Vet Tech appears. The bottom of the logo contains morse code reading TAVVI.
In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we explore the iOS App Store. The App Store is how we turn an iPhone or iPad into the best mobile accessibility tool in our arsenal of independent living tools. The phrase, “there is an app for that,” originated because of the App Store’s existence. It might be tricky to find those accessibility apps because a plethora of apps exists, however, the five tabs at the bottom of the App Store’s screen makes it a cinch to navigate. Those tabs include:

  • Featured – This lists those apps Apple wishes users to look at. These are generally based on a theme associated with the time of year, as the podcast demonstrated the strong focus on Thanksgiving and holiday traveling apps on the Featured page in November.
  • Categories – This lists the major genres of apps. Keep in mind that there is no accessibility category, and our blindness specific apps might be found in a host of different categories.
  • Top Charts – This identifies the top paid, free, and grossing apps. This is fun to look at to see current trends.
  • Search – This is where you will spend your time finding those accessibility related apps. You can specifically search for the name of an app or just type in blindness to see what comes up.
  • Updates – This is where you will update your apps and see a list of when different apps where updated. Double tapping on the name of the app will allow you to see when the update was published and a list of changes.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on navigating the iOS App Store. If you have any questions, comments, or requests, feel free to send us an email here. All of our podcasts and other information related to Veterans, blindness, acceptance of a disability, and other resources may be found at BlindNotAlone.com

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How to #CripTheVote and be a Voter with a Disability

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In this Blind Vet Tech Quick Guides and Tutorials podcast, we discuss different options for voting with a disability and demonstrate how to use the Electoral Services and Software Express Vote. Your vote as a disabled voter counts the same as anyone else’s, but our fellow Americans with disabilities face voting participation barriers.

The Department of Justice describes the numerous pieces of legislation and regulations protects and encourages our participation in the voting process. These safeguards includes:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act,, through Title II, mandates all aspects of voting, from registration to sights to casting ballots, is completely accessible for everyone.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965 permits disabled individuals to select who might assist while voting, including site staff to family members.
  • Voting Accessibility for the elderly and handicapped Act of 1984 requires accessible voting locations or alternative arrangements be made available, like curb side.
  • National Voters Registration Act of 1993 requires public offices and state services serving largely individuals with disabilities a chance to register to vote.
  • Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires every voting site possess at least one accessible voting system.

Click here to learn more about #CripTheVote and where the candidates stand on disability rights.

Thank you for listening to this Blind Vet Tech tutorial on how to vote and #CriptTheVote.

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Voting Blind through Accessible Voting Machines

Editor’s Note: This article comes from Terry of New Mexico. He describes a recent visually impaired support group of his where Veterans learned how to use the accessible voting machines. It is important we each exercise our voting rights. To remain silent on November 8th is to deny your opinions related to local to national issues.

By Presidential Proclamation, President Obama declared Blind Americans Equality day in October. “Each day, blind and visually impaired Americans contribute to our society, refusing to allow anything to hold them back. In order to ensure more Americans with disabilities can continue participating fully in our country, we must each do our part to promote equal opportunity for all. On Blind Americans Equality Day, we reaffirm the inherent dignity of every human being and recommit to forging a future in which all Americans, including those with visual impairments, can pursue their full measure of happiness. More than two decades ago, one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in our history, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was signed into law. Ever since, the ADA has helped reduce discrimination and promote equal access to classrooms, workplaces, and transportation — and it is imperative that we build on the significant progress we have made for individuals living with disabilities.”

In celebration of the strides that people with vision disabilities have made, the Rio Grande BVA low vision support group reaffirmed the belief of our full participation in society. At our meeting on October 18, The Dona Ana County board of elections provided an accessible voting machine for our veterans to have a hands-on training in voting independently. The machine is available at all voting sites in our county and provides accessibility for people with physical and visual disabilities. Everyone at our meeting was amazed at how easy the voting machine is to use. The veterans learned that they can vote without assistance. The audio menu system is easy to navigate. Voting time can be reduced by downloading the ballot for your district in advance so that you can easily skim through the actual ballot.