The most recent meeting of the Get Together with Technology (GTT) Edmonton Chapter was held March 13 at 7pm at Ascension Lutheran Church 8405 83 Street in Edmonton.
12 people attended.
March Topics – CSUN Report, Educational Materials, and Training
California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Conference Report
A new GTT member Stu Starkey returned from last week’s CSUN Assistive Technology conference in San Diego California and gave us a rundown on some of the hot products and new technologies he had a chance to see.
OrCam Technologies presents the world’s most advanced wearable assistive technology device for people who are blind, visually impaired, or have a reading or other disabilities. OrCam MyEye instantly and discreetly communicates visual information by utilizing a small, intuitive smart camera mounted on the wearer’s eyeglass frame. The breakthrough artificial vision device reads any printed text – from any surface – recognizes faces and identifies products
and money notes. OrCam gives independence.
Aira – Visual Interpreter for the Blind
Aira offers an innovative, on-demand service designed to help blind and low-vision users gain mobility and independence via live streaming and wearable technologies. It provides personalized assistance from orientation and mobility experts who can be trained Aira Agents, family members, or friends. Our experts, backed by state-of-the art technology, serve as visual interpreters and navigators for our users, helping them accomplish a wide range of daily tasks and activities.
Website: https:// aira.io/
Second Sight Medical Products
Second Sight Medical Products is the developer and manufacturer of the Argus II® Retinal Prosthesis System – the first and only approved long-term therapy for people living with advanced Retinitis Pigmentosa in the U.S. Argus II is designed to restore some level of vision to people who are profoundly blind and provide them with increases in orientation and mobility skills and is intended to increase their independence and quality of life by restoring their
ability to see objects and motion.
Video describing one person’s experience with the Argus II https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhYe6REdljw
For those who are not suitable candidates for the Argus II, Second Sight has developed a new product called the Orion I. it is described as a wireless Visual Cortical Prosthesis. instead of implanting electrodes on the Retina, this bypasses the optic nerve and directly stimulates the brain’s visual cortex. Here is their press release from their recent successful proof of concept clinical trial: http://investors.secondsight.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=995211
Educational Materials for our Chapter
We thank the Edmonton Blind Curling Club who have generously provided us a grant for training purposes. We used some of the grant to purchase a total of 29 audio tutorials and e-textbooks. These materials have been distributed via download links. The 6 most popular choices were:
• 4 x Mystic Access audio tutorial for Google Suite of products
• 4 x NV Access Basic audio tutorial for NVDA
• 3 x Mystic Access audio tutorial for Victor Reader Stream
• 3 x Access Technology Institute Word 2016 with JAWS textbook
• 3 x Access Technology Institute Excel 2016 with JAWS textbook
• 3 x National Braille Press Getting Started with the iPhone and iOS 10 text book
• The donation from the Edmonton Blind Curling Club also allowed us to provide another training session at the Norquest computer lab on March 2. Two people had basic training on Zoomtext and 3 others on JAWS. We are delighted that the 3 JAWS trainees were junior high students!
• At the March 13 meeting, we also provided basic Victor Reader Stream training to two people.
Next Meeting (Monday April 10 at 7pm)
• As usual, we will provide one-on-one training especially iPhone and DAISY players. If you have other training requests email your interests to us so we can try to accommodate you.
• As always, for help with technology bring your devices and/or questions to the meeting.
Meeting Location and Logistics
• Ascension Lutheran Church 8405 – 83 Street NW, Edmonton.
• We meet in the basement hall. There is elevator access.
• Enter the church from the back door. There is parking at the back and drop off space for taxis, DATS.
• Meetings are every second Monday of the month at 7pm.
• If you have someone helping you your assistant is welcome to remain for the meeting.
GTT Edmonton Overview
• GTT Edmonton is a chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB).
• GTT Edmonton promotes a self-help learning experience by holding monthly meetings to assist participants with assistive technology.
• Each meeting consists of a feature technology topic, questions and answers about technology, and one-on-one training where possible.
• Participants are encouraged to come to each meeting even if they are not interested in the feature topic because questions on any technology are welcome. The more participants the better able we will be equipped with the talent and experience to help each other.
• There are GTT groups in Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Northern Ontario, Pembroke, Halifax, Sydney, Regina, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Victoria, Nanaimo, Vancouver, and more to come.
• There is also a national GTT monthly toll free teleconference. You may subscribe to the National GTT blog to get email notices of teleconferences and notes from other GTT chapters. Visit: http://www.gttprogram.wordpress.com/
There is a form at the bottom of that web page to enter your email.
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The Albert A. Ruel Road to Blindness
A 21 year old man stood on the beach at the Sproat Lake Provincial Park with friends early in May of 1977, and upon gazing across the lake found the Gulf Oil sign missing from the dock-side filling station there. When this fact was shared with his companions they glanced at him with puzzled looks and said, “No Albert, the sign is still there”.
That was the beginning of a road through confusion, anger, isolation, loneliness and discovery for me. It all began with a visit to a local Optometrist who could see that my vision wasn’t right, but that corrective lenses wouldn’t help. He then referred me to a General Practitioner, where I received a clean bill of health and an additional referral. This time to an Ophthalmologist. Immediately upon peering through the dilated pupils, Dr. McKerricher was able to see the problem, Retinal Vasculitis.
Now, you would think that all would start to improve at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, CNIB, from 1918 until 1985 only served the needs of people who were “Legally Blind”, a level of vision loss I wouldn’t reach until November of 1979. The words of Dr. McKerricher still echo in my mind today, “Albert, I don’t know what has caused this and nothing we’ve tried is helping to stop it, and you’re not blind enough for me to refer you to CNIB”!
In the middle of this transition from 20/20 vision to “Legally Blind” came the Motor Vehicle Branch and it’s rules of the road. On August 3, 1978 I drove a car for the last time as my vision had reached the level at which operating a motor vehicle became too dangerous, further intensifying feelings of fear, isolation and anger. Sadly, through this period the only available guidance and support was through family and friends, but not the experienced professionals I needed at the time. Although these support systems are critically important they can often be smothering and facilitating, rather than encouraging and supportive.
With gratitude, and some trepidation I finally was able to access CNIB services in November of 1979, and the world opened up then. There I was able to meet other blind people and receive the daily living and mobility skills required to live independently in this sighted world. I learned elementary braille and began to discover technology as necessary tools of independence.
Thankfully, in 1985 CNIB’s National Board altered the course of service to visually impaired Canadians forever. They added a third prong to their Mission Statement, “To promote sight enhancement services”. This opened the door to all Canadians who were beginning to lose sight, as well as those who had a fear of vision loss to access the full range of CNIB Support and Rehabilitation Services. So now, whether it’s someone’s Mother who is experiencing Macular Degeneration, or an Uncle experiencing the affects of Glaucoma, all have the ability to seek information, guidance and support as all involved deal with the fear and anxiety that accompanies such life altering experiences.
With the help of professional Rehabilitation Workers and Employment Counselors I was able to continue traveling independently within my own community, and even more remarkably anywhere in the world I desired to go. I managed to attend College in Nanaimo and New Westminster, as well as traveling to the Mayo Clinic and to doctor’s appointments in Nanaimo and Vancouver without assistance. All of this while living with some usable vision, but not yet needing a white cane for travel.
During the mid 1980’s I was a stay-at-home Dad and did all that was required of that challenging work, from changing diapers to preparing meals, and from cutting the grass to maintaining our home. I even took a woodworking course through Alberni’s Adult Education program and built and restored several pieces of furniture. Of course the 1958 Chevy Impala in the garage was my pride and joy, and I devised ways to do much of the work it required.
I also joined and participated in many community activities, like the local Car Club, and a disability support group that catered to the needs of people with many different disabilities. Of course, continued participation in family life remained of critical importance through this period.
In 1989 a secondary condition began to extinguish the vision that remained, which set into motion a new stream of professional rehabilitation services and supports. By the spring of 1990 Glaucoma had turned out the lights completely, and the darkness I had feared so desperately was upon me. Strangely though, I found this to be a great relief rather than the tragedy I had imagined it would be.
Through several professional rehabilitation sessions, and by joining peer mentoring and advocacy groups I was able to come to terms with this strange feeling, and to learn additional skills and strategies for living with no visual cues of the world around me. This is also about the time that I decided to explore CNIB as an employer, and to see if I could provide the sort of guidance and support to others that had been my pleasure to receive. Those 14 years were a wonderful experience of ongoing discovery for me, as teaching may be the best way to solidify one’s own learning. In other words, those we assist through this transition in turn help us all as we develop best practices and improved service.
Following a 14 year career with CNIB I also served the blind community as the first National Equality Director employed by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), and as a Basic Computer Literacy Trainer with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB). Most recently I have enjoyed coordinating the CCB’s newly launched Get Together with Technology Program in Western Canada, which brings to the fore my passion for assistive technology and the power of peer mentoring.
Without sight I have continued to travel far and wide, with trips to Conventions of and for the Blind in Anaheim California and Melbourne Australia, as well as to many events and activities in Toronto and Vancouver. Of course my work has taken me to many communities throughout Western Canada, and most particularly nearly all regions of BC and on Vancouver Island. None of which would have been possible without the services and support of organizations like CCB, AEBC and CNIB.
For most people blindness generates a fear of extended movement, both within one’s home and community, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Independence comes from personal desire and increased skill. Many community organizations can assist with both through their mentoring and skill development programs. I remember always that life has little to do with what happens to me and 100% what I do about/with it. There is a quote I like to use from the National Federation of the Blind in the USA, “With adequate skill development and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance”, and nothing could be closer to the truth.
Helen Keller said many years ago, “There is nothing more tragic than someone who has sight, but no vision”. She also challenged the Lions Clubs of the world to become the “Knights of the Blind, and to take up the crusade against darkness”. I too joined a Lions Club in 1992 and continue to work on the crusade that Helen Keller began in the 1920-s.
View all posts by Albert Ruel