MTA: Can I have your attention please?

For those of you who don’t know the MTA, it is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York. They are responsible for managing the subway, the local and express buses, many of tunnels and bridges in New York, and the regional rail services in greater New York.

Nobody can deny that the MTA is working hard to improve the experience of the passengers who are using their services. However, this does not mean that we don’t express our concern about how the service is provided to the passengers in general and the blind passengers in particular. I think a lot of work is waiting for the MTA to ensure the safety and the convenience of the blind passengers. The MTA has its own special programs for the blind such as the Paratransit service and the reduced fair. It is true that the MTA is renovating stuff here and there. We appreciate the accessibility of the MTA website. We notice the introduction of some new trains using a clear sound system to speak the name of the stops. What about the trains that don’t have those sound systems yet?

It’s understandable that those issues take long and they usually cost a lot of money. Currently, a train conductor is responsible for announcing the different stops to the passengers. I will take A, B, C, and D trains as examples for this case. I am just wondering (are the conductors well-trained?) (Are they qualified for the job?) (Is there any kind of monitoring for their work?) (Does the MTA make sure that the speakers on those trains are really working?)

Unfortunately, most of the time the conductors either’ are mumbling so you don’t hear what they are saying, or they speak too loud to understand them. Of course for a blind person, this means missing stops, or taking wrong trains without knowing especially when 2 different trains come on the same track.

On the platforms, you hear the recorded announcement says something like this “the next train is now arriving on the express/local track” so which train? You never know. They casually announce which train is coming but it is not always the case. It is also sometimes done while the trains are arriving with their loud noise so nobody can hear what is being said. It is so stressful for a blind person to wait without knowing which train is arriving. Then, he / she has to get on the train to ask the passenger which is which; most of the time he / she doesn’t get an answer because people are not paying attention and some conductors don’t perform their job professionally, or because nobody announces on the platform. This is unsafe particularly when doors are closing, and it may delay the movement of the trains themselves. It is a critical issue for blind people who take such trains specially when it is night time and trains are already less frequent and everybody wants to go home before it really gets late and unsafe to travel. The MTA should assume the responsibility to ensure safety and convenience for all the passengers, particularly, the people with disability. I understand that things take time but when it comes to the safety of your citizens or residence, it is a different story. I myself can’t tolerate somebody who doesn’t want to perform his / her job efficiently.

In addition, when there is a service change, most of the time there is no sign to tell. Even if there is a sign, rarely somebody announces this change for a blind person to know. For example, when a d train, which is an express train, runs on the local track, or when a c train, which is local train, runs on the express track. It is a puzzle even for the sighted person to figure things out so what do you want a blind person to do!


To dream or not to dream, that is the question

My lovely author William Shakespeare, Could you please allow me to borrow your famous quote “to be or not to be, that is the question?” I may need to edit it a bit to serve another purpose here though.

Hey my readers, how are you today? How is it going with your dreams? Are the dreams sweet? Are they inspiring? Are they terrible? Perhaps you are like me, you feel too tired to dream. You put your head on your pillow until next morning.

Many psychologists give a great attention to this part of the sleep cycle that any human being experience almost on daily basis. They say that if you don’t dream, this means that you don’t pass through the different stages of your sleep cycle which may affect negatively your daily performance. Again, I am not a psychologist but what I am sure about is that every human being on this earth dreams, has the ability to dream, or he / she used to dream. So why a blind person cannot dream!

You can’t imagine how often I have been asked this question in my life. I am sure that it has been asked thousand times to my blind friends, (does a blind person dream? If so, how is that? What does a blind person see in his / her dream while he / she can’t see in real life?)

What a strange perception especially when it comes from highly educated people!

As far as I know, psychologists and psychiatrist consider dreams are a reflection of our real world: our wishes, our fears, our aspirations, our desires, or our daily activities. They also say that dreams are a mental or an intellectual activity, actually it is not a sight related one so I don’t understand what the problem is.

Anyway, yes of course, blind individuals like all people on this earth dream. Since they can’t see in reality, they can’t see in their dreams. Since they can feel their surroundings, they can hear what is going on around them, so this exactly what happens to them when they dream. For example, if a blind person dreams that he / she is on a train, he / she can’t see the train but definitely he / she can hear the voices of the passenger, the noise of the train etc.

Upon that, I hope that to dream or not to dream is not a question any longer and I wish you all happy dreams!

Sighted People are Always Right

At customer service, they teach the agent that the customer is always right; the customer should be happy; the customer should be satisfied.  I sometimes think sighted people impose this idea on people who are blind. We, sighted people, are always right. You, blind person, don’t know about your capabilities more than we do. You are always the cause of the problem if there is. You are always the one to be blamed. We, sighted people, never do anything wrong.

I want to share those stories with you to know what I am talking about.

There was this blind lady who was having lunch with a sighted friend. The sighted friend spilled her juice on the table. It sometimes happens, and nothing is wrong with it. Somebody ran to clean everything and stuff like that. After this, the waiter brought another glass of juice, he put it in front of the blind lady and he put her hand on it thinking that she is the one who spilled it. Yeah, of course, he couldn’t imagine that the sighted person who did it.

At work, one day I put an ad online; when my CEO saw it, he called me and said “o, there is something wrong with your stuff, you definitely did something wrong with the format.” “I really didn’t do anything wrong.” I replied. We had to seek for a third party to help us. He called my colleague to see what I did. She came to rescue me. She explained that she saw the ads and they are not like the way they were shown on his screen and he is the one who has something wrong with his tiny screen.

One day, I was trying to explain to a lady which train she should take to go to her destination, then another person came and gave her a wrong direction. Of course, she thought that she is more informed than I do. Yeah, she can see; she can understand the directions and the trains; she can’t be wrong. You can’t imagine how funny it is when somebody asks you “do you know where you are? Do you know which stop are you getting off?” I wish if I tell them (you know what? I really don’t know, I am just taking a tour on the train lol)

I am not saying that blind people don’t make mistakes or they don’t need any help what so ever. I just meant that they can still be reliable sources of information. They are not the only people who can spill their stuff. Why do we always put the blame on them because they are blind. Why don’t we ask ourselves “do we do the same thing? Can this happen for us too?”

Kareem and his Android

Kareem is an American blind friend of mine; I actually have known him for years even before I come to the States. We usually talk about anything and everything especially when it comes to the issues facing the blind. He is well-informed, modest, and always ready to help if he can. He used to talk to me using a computer at a certain public place, however, when he got his Android, it was totally different experience and a real dramatic change in communication between me and him overseas and his communication with the world as a whole. We talked about smart phones role in changing the interaction and communication between the blind and the worldwide web. Let me quote how Kareem sees his android.

“I like the android for its flexibility and usability. You can do many things with it. For me, as a blind user, I like to listen to music on my phone, and take videos in addition to checking emails and sending text messages. I believe that the android still needs more work to do but, they are on the right track. As more and more phones come out, they will get better and better.

One of the apps I like to use is the k-9 mail to check my emails on the go. It is very easy to install and to use for a blind person.

The next app I use is a software called svox voices. These voices you can find in the market. The android comes with a speech of its own but sometimes it is not always clear to understand so, the android allows the user to add an additional speech software to the device so that they can use it efficiently. The third app I like to use is Google Talk. I like it because it is easy to use

And u can find contacts easily. Now you can also use msn messenger, AOL messenger and yahoo messenger to chat as well.”

Kareem's photo

I am sure that Kareem is not the only blind person who has a successful relation with his Android. Definitely there are others who use different apps for accomplishing various tasks specially that it is an open source platform so creativity and empowering the blind will really deserve the effort.

Code Factory is a well-known company for its products and services for the blind, offers many android apps that can give the blind more control over his / her phone. In addition to that, there are many enthusiastic sighted and blind users and programmers who are willing to help, discuss, design, and support the whole accessible Android for the blind users. T. V. Raman walks us through very extensive and comprehensive information about android accessibility.

Before I go, I would like to thank T-mobile and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) for their initiative to help the blind have a better experience through t-moble discounted plan for the blind.

Blind child and Leisure time

The childhood days are the best ever in any person’s life, no commitment, no responsibilities, no complicated thoughts. I still remember those days when I was a child and play in everything and with everything. I still remember when my leg was broken because I decided to be an adult lady by wearing my mom’s high heel shoes or when I used to play with my nice lovely cat with a small bill in her neck.  O! How terrific those days were!

Those nice memories brought an important question to my attention. How can a blind child spend his / her leisure time? Is it something different from what we usually do with our normal sighted children?

Definitely childhood period is as an important for a blind child as it is for the sighted one. Parents should encourage their children to discover their talents and hobbies in order to develop and improve them. Improving and developing those hobbies will enhance the level of confidence and independence for your blind child.

In fact, you don’t need so much adaptation for your blind child to enjoy his / her leisure activities.

Let us talk about some of the nice things that you could do for your child.

  • Playing music – It is one of the very common hobbies among blind people specially if the child has the talent and his / her parents supported that. You may buy your child a small piano, flute or violin to practice his / her hobbies.
  • Singing – it is also a nice hobby so why you don’t find your child a center or a place in which children practice and learn singing.
  • Creating shapes using clay – it is a wonderful tool to familiarize your child with different shapes and it also maximizes using his / her tactile sense. When I was at school, I used to make a big mess using clay sometimes 🙂
  • Playing with Lego and building blocks – it is actually my favorite; I like to play with it even until now. I am this terrible aunt who sometimes pretends that she wants to play with her niece with Lego then she ends up taking all of them and plays with them. . Lego is very important especially if the child has some sight, it will teach him / her how to match the colors and create different shapes.
  • Beep balls – for those of you who don’t know the beep ball, it is another form of baseball for the blind. Blind individual usually start playing this when they are teenagers.
  • Reading – It goes without saying that reading can form your child’s intellectual abilities. Try to figure out if your child prefers to listen to books through audio players or perhaps through large print or Braille. I personally recommend large print or brail because it will develop the style of writing and spelling for your blind child.
  • Domino and cards – a blind child can play the normal domino by touching and counting the wholes that exist in each one. In addition, you may use Braille or large print cards to play with your visually impaired or blind child.

Those were some of the simple, accessible, available tools and games which can enable your blind child to enjoy his / her leisure time. You also can Think about other ways and let us know. Let’s play now!

Money Identification

When I came to the States, one of the strange things that stopped me is that all the dollar bill banknotes were the same size and texture. Unlike the US, many countries offer the bills with different sizes or texture to be easily distinguished. So how does an American blind person know the difference between bills and coins?

As for coins, they are much easier because they have different sizes. For example, the quarter is the biggest one and the penny is the smallest one. Another differentiator is that the quarter and the dime have a rough or a ridge edge while the nickel and the penny have a smooth one.

OK, this is easy to understand. So what about the bills?

Although that having different sizes or texture can help distinguishing between bills, it is not the case with the bills in the United States. In addition, it is not very practical thing to do; actually it is time consuming, you can’t test every single bill you have in order to see the difference among them.

Here are some simple techniques to try

  • Organize money logically in your wallet. Put each bill in a separate pocket for easier identification.
  • Fold each bill differently. For example, you may fold the $1 into half, Leave the 5 unfolded, fold the 20 twice … etc
  • You may also put a separator between different types of bills then put them in elastic.

Beside those simple techniques mentioned before, there are electronic talking identifiers that can tell the blind person which is which. I didn’t try them myself but I know that they are available to purchase. Of course you should make sure that the identifier can recognize the currency which you are using. Whether it is a dollar, euro, pound etc

I believe websites like Independent Living Aids or Maxi Aidsmay have such tools.

If you are a user of Kurzweil 1000, you may have come across the money recognition feature in the tools menu. You simply need to scan the bill and choose the right currency whether it is a US dollar, Canadian dollar, or a British pound.

If you have any other useful way that you think it would be nice, just let us know so that we learn from you 🙂

Organizing your refrigerator

You are just back from the store carrying plastic bags or a big heavy pack bag full of all different kinds of food and beverages. You want to place each item safely in its place in the refrigerator. At the same time, you need each item to be accessible and reachable for usage to make this delicious meal of yours. You also got some fresh or frozen items to be left in the freezer; things that most probably will lose their shape after some time inside it.

Hmmm! this means that we need more organization for our stuff in the refrigerator. Below some techniques that could be helpful although you may need to adjust them according to the space available to you.
• Use a consistent system in organizing the frozen items in the freezer. For example, if you can use 2 shelves, place the vegetables and bread in one shelf, and put the different kinds of meat in another shelf.
• If you have a limited space in the freezer, you still need to organize your stuff in a systematic way. For example, place the red meat, then chickens, then fish then vegetables or vice versa. You should try to find a logical order that is relevant to you to be able to remember it later.
• It is safer if you try to put the glass jars or bottles in the drawer of the refrigerator but in case that the design doesn’t help in that, you should make sure that the glass jars are not at the very front on the shelves. This may lead to breaking them if you try to get something forgetting that you have glass jars in front of you.
• Don’t ever keep anything open in the refrigerator; you should always make sure that containers are well-covered to avoid spilling stuff.
• Most probably you will be able to differentiate the containers according to their shapes, you may need to label them in Braille or draw a clear visible mark if you are visually impaired to recognize them quickly. If you don’t have a Braille labeler, at least you can put a sticker on the similar bottles to differentiate them. For example, you have similar juice bottles one for mango and the other for orange, in this case, put a sticker on one of them to differentiate it from the other one.
• As mentioned before, you still need to organize your refrigerator in a logical order to be able to locate your stuff. For example, you may categorize food into fruits, vegetables, dairy, beverages etc to be easy to remember
• Ask your partner in case he or she uses the refrigerator to put everything back in the exact location to avoid missing up the order.
Those are some basic helpful techniques that can make your life much easier and more independent and efficient in using your refrigerator. Please share yours with us so that we can exchange those useful techniques for an easier life.