June 4, 2010

1. A chef who sees with her creativity
    San Jose Mercury News
    June 2, 2010

2. Partially blind woman achieves dream of climbing Mount Everest
    ABC News
    June 1, 2010

3. National Conference of Bar Examiners Discriminates Against Blind Law School Graduates
    PR Newswire
    June 2, 2010

4. Local center for visually impaired highlights affordable gadgets
    June 1, 2010

5. Putting the ‘we’ in Wii for blind gamers
    CNet News
    May 28, 2010

6. The Beacon Show, Talk Radio Produced By The Chicago Lighthouse’s CRIS Radio, Now On WCPT- AM & FM
    June 4, 2010

1. A chef who sees with her creativity

A sense of taste, a passion for food, and an inherent capacity for creativity are starting points in the kitchen for any reputable chef.

So what does it matter if the chef can't see?

Laura Martinez, 25, has been totally blind since she was 1, the result of retina detachment glaucoma.

"It's like cancer of the eye," she said.

Blindness is no deterrent for Martinez. She has a natural inclination for cuisine that she hopes will vault her one day into the stratosphere of celebrated chefs.

"But in a different way," she said. "I don't want to copy any of their styles. I want to be different and unique."

Martinez, who lives in Chicago, is a graduate of that city's Le Cordon Bleu Culinary College. She's staying at the Oakland Marriott City Center this week, preparing for Saturday's benefit dinner at the California Culinary Academy, where she'll be cooking for the Oakland-based Blind Babies Foundation.

With Martinez is her mother, Josefina, and Laura's assistant, Rachel Colcyn, 25, who helped her through Le Cordon Bleu. Alicia Cavallo, director of sales and marketing at the Marriott City Center, set up this interview.

"I'm not a chef because I'm blind," Martinez said Wednesday. "I have the passion, patience, desire and energy to do it, and not because I can't see."

Born in Mexico, she moved with her family to Quad Cities, Ill., when she was 9. She first wanted to be a surgeon, then a butcher and a psychologist before embracing cooking, which encompasses her first three career paths.

"I started doing a lot of cooking because I moved out (of home) and I had to learn everything from scratch because my mom wasn't there," she said. "And I liked it. Friends tasted my food and said I should go for being a chef. It was a challenge for me, and I thought, 'Why not?' So I did it."

Though sightless, Martinez has never injured herself cooking. She hasn't cut a finger while slicing meat, fish or fruit. She hasn't burned her hand over a stove.

Still she was told a blind person can't be a chef.

"Finding trust, finding opportunity "... it wasn't easy," she said. "It was hard facing it, hard to get into it, convincing people to give me a chance."

She survived Le Cordon Bleu by "showing my confidence, and that I was serious. I wasn't just playing around like most of the students. They show up for a month or two and then they miss a lot."

For Laura, it was the sauce pan or nothing. Charlie Trotter was the first to believe in her. Trotter, a Chicago restaurateur, hired her four months ago.

"He tasted my food," she said, "and he told me, 'You're working for me. I didn't choose you because you were blind. I chose you because of your talent.' "

Now doing "stash" work, or prep cook, she's "impatient" to move ahead, to create new dishes, to own a restaurant in Miami.

How does she function in the kitchen? Her spices are labeled in Braille. She separates different meats or fish by feeling their texture or by using a keen sense of smell. She doesn't consider herself handicapped.

"If you have the desire and creativity, it doesn't matter," she said. "I know people who have everything, and they can't cook at all."

The biggest reward for her cooking "is the satisfaction of people when they sit and taste it."

Colcyn, who's now working in a furniture store in New Braunfels, Texas, has rejoined Martinez to assist her with Saturday's benefit dinner.

"It's her attitude," Colcyn said. "She had to fight really hard to get into (Le Cordon Bleu), and fight really hard to make it. She's very positive, and has a great sense of humor when things go wrong. Also, she knows what she's capable of and she doesn't let people tell her she can't do it."

And now the blind are helping the blind.

Steve Love, director of development for the 60-year-old Blind Babies Foundation, which moved from its San Francisco birthplace to Oakland 10 years ago, read about Martinez earlier this year in a Bay Area News Group newspaper. Love phoned Martinez, who agreed to do a benefit dinner at the California Culinary Academy.

"The Blind Babies Foundation," Love explained, "works with families who have children who've been diagnosed as blind or visually impaired up to the age of 6. We contact the parents and go into the home to work with them to optimize the child's development."
Who knows, one of them might even become a chef like Laura Martinez.

Dave Newhouse's columns appear Monday, Thursday and Sunday, usually on the Local page. Know any Good Neighbors? Phone 510-208-6466 or e-mail dnewhouse@bayareanewsgroup.com.


2. Partially blind woman achieves dream of climbing Mount Everest
Cindy Abbot didn’t let a rare disease keep her from reaching the top of Mount Everest

She's scuba dived in Iceland and Indonesia, gone on safari in Africa and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. So when Cindy Abbott saw a television special on Mount Everest, she knew that would be her next adventure.

Abbott, 51, contacted a high-altitude guide about how to train for the climb. But five months later, she suddenly lost the vision in her left eye.

Losing her eyesight was another symptom that doctors could not explain in her 15 years of living with Wegener's granulomatosis, a rare disease that affects one in 30,000 people, according to the Vasculitis Foundation.

"The blindness was a good thing in a way because I got diagnosed," said Abbott, who lives in Orange County, Calif. "It led my doctors, who had been seeing me for years and not knowing what was wrong with me."

Abbott has had joint problems and mini strokes, and her voice has changed as the disease alters her throat tissue. There is no cure for Wegener's granulomatosis, and Abbott controls the symptoms with a 16-pill-a-day medication regimen.

"Simply speaking, my immune system is attacking my blood vessels and destroying them," said Abbott.

But her diagnosis did not mean the end to her dream of climbing  Everest. Instead, Abbott continued her training climbs. She scaled Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Elbrus in Russia and Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan, deciding to make her Everest climb an awareness and fundraising campaign for Wegener's granulomatosis and other rare diseases.

"We have no drugs that are specific for our diseases," said Abbott. "There's no money in the drug companies to research to make a drug for them. And there's not enough of us to make the doctors aware of the diseases."

But why attempt a feat that most healthy people would not think of doing?

"It's me showing myself it isn't what controls me," said Abbott. "I'm responsible about my treatment. But if I want to climb a mountain or go scuba diving in Iceland, it's not going to dictate whether I do or not, at this point."

Shortly before leaving for her trip to Nepal, Abbott looked over the climbing gear laid out on tables and chairs in her dining area: piles of jackets, multiple layers of gloves and mittens, and a pick ax personalized with her name. She and her husband have exhausted their travel fund for two years of training climbs and have taken out loans and pulled large amount from retirement accounts to pay for this climb. The Everest trip cost them $80,000 for travel and equipment.

"My favorite is my summit boots," said Abbott, holding up a pair of big yellow boots, which alone cost $1,000. "Then to go in the boots, we have battery-operated boot heaters for our toes. I'd like to have all my fingers and toes when we go back."

Abbott said this expedition is not just about the physical challenges. She will draw on her expertise in sports psychology as a health science lecturer at Cal State Fullerton.

"I think I actually have a benefit over most climbers," said Abbott. "When you get up on that mountain it's only about half physical, and the rest mental, because of the suffering, the extreme days, the extreme environment and being away from your family."

Abbott said the most difficult of all will be missing her family, especially Larry, her husband of 25 years. Both he and her daughter support her trekking with a health condition.

"It's just another challenge," said Larry Abbott, as he waited with his wife at the Los Angeles airport before her flight. "It's the cards that you're dealt. We're all faced with challenges of our own type, some of them small, some of them big, every single day."

Reaching Her Goal

The entire trip, including the climb on the south side of Everest, took more than two months. On the way to the top, in one of the most challenging ascents, Abbott and her group climbed straight up 2,000 feet of hard blue ice. Finally, after 18½ hours of nonstop climbing, Abbott made the round trip from the final camp to the summit at more than 29,000 feet.

"It was just the most amazing feeling," said Abbot in a satellite phone call after reaching the peak. "You look out and know that you're on top of the world."

Making her way down was even more treacherous than reaching the top. Vision problems meant she temporarily lost sight in her right eye and climbed down the ice wall practically blind. The vision loss was temporary, and aside from that, she suffered only some minor injuries and frostbite.

Abbott returned to Southern California about a week after reaching the summit of Mount Everest. But she won't be home for long. Next up: taking her husband on a scuba diving trip.


3. National Conference of Bar Examiners Discriminates Against Blind Law School Graduates

Blind Law School Graduates File Complaint Against NCBE

BALTIMORE, June 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being issued by the National Federation of the Blind:
Three blind law school graduates registered to take the Maryland general bar exam in July 2010—Timothy R. Elder, Anne P. Blackfield, and Michael B. Witwer—filed a complaint today against the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The complaint was filed because the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a section of the General Bar Examination that is offered and disseminated through the NCBE, is inaccessible to the blind.  Recent law school graduates must take and pass the General Bar Examination to qualify to practice law in the state of Maryland. 

Each plaintiff asked the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners to take all parts of the General Bar Examination, including the MBE, on a computer equipped with screen access software, which converts what is on the screen into synthesized speech and magnified text.  The Maryland Board agreed to grant the accommodations for the MBE if NCBE allowed it to do so.  NCBE, however, refuses to allow the requested accommodations.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "As we have said before, those who control admission to the practice of law must themselves obey the law.  It is unconscionable that NCBE would engage in blatant discrimination against the blind and deny graduates the accommodations that they need to compete on an equal playing field with their sighted peers.  We will work tirelessly to ensure that all blind people are given their lawful right to take the bar exam and continue with their respective careers."

The plaintiffs are represented with the support of the National Federation of the Blind by Daniel F. Goldstein and Mehgan Sidhu of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy; Laurence W. Paradis, Anna Levine, and Karla Gilbride of the Berkley firm Disability Rights Advocates; and Scott C. LaBarre of the Denver firm LaBarre Law Offices. 

About the National Federation of the Blind

With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States.  The NFB improves blind people's lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence.  It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation's blind.  In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.

SOURCE National Federation of the Blind


4. Local center for visually impaired highlights affordable gadgets

Affordable tech devices for the visually impaired were recently presented at Baruch College. NY1's Technology reporter Adam Balkin filed the following report.

Every few weeks, the technology demonstration center at the Computer Center for Visually Impaired People at Baruch College shows off to a crowd an assortment of gadgets to help those who are visually impaired. Most recently, the center decided to focus on a very small sector of these produces -- those which are accessible and cost less then $200.

"One thing that we've found as a trend is that a lot of devices for people who are blind are pretty expensive and most of the people who come to our past presentations have told us it's a shame these things aren't more accessible money-wise," says Gus Chalkias of Baruch College.

One such device is a money identifier, which can save a lot of money and confusion for the visually-impaired. While in other countries, the currency is often different sizes and more easily identifiable for the visually-impaired, the U.S. dollar is not so friendly. So the Money Talks and iBill devices do a quick scan of a bill and then speak the bill's denomination.

"Say you've gotten change or there's a wad of bills in your pocket. This is a good way to find out what they are, separate them and then organize them in a certain way," says Chalkias.

Portable media players offer more reading functions and read more media titles aloud in an effort to be more accessible. Even some devices that do not come that way can be retrofitted with new software called "Rockbox."

"It basically replaces the firmware on the device and makes all the menus and commands accessible so you can hear them through your speakers," says Chalkias.

The technology demonstration center tries not to play favorites, but does remind audience members at its demo sessions that pretty much all Apple products are usable for the visually-impaired, straight out of the box.

"All of their newer stuff, the Mac OS X, the iPad, the iPhone, the [iPod] Shuffle, the [iPod] Nano, all of them have accessibility built in. All you have to do is turn them on," says Chalkias.

Users can do that through the Universal Access button inside the System Preferences folder.


5. Putting the ‘we’ in Wii for blind gamers

VI Fit, a video game research project at the University of Nevada, Reno, could help people who are visually impaired stay fit with active games modeled on the Wii that do not require vision (of the literal variety, that is) to play. They do require Wii remote controllers and a Windows PC with Bluetooth support or a USB Bluetooth dongle, but the games can be downloaded for free at vifit.org.

"Lack of vision forms a significant barrier to participation in physical activity, and consequently children with visual impairments have much higher obesity rates and obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes," says Eelke Folmer, an assistant professor in the computer science and engineering department who led the project.

Folmer says the two new games, VI Tennis and VI Bowling, are the first of several to come, and that while they are adaptations of Wii exercise games, VI Fit is in no way endorsed by or associated with Nintendo.

VI Tennis uses Wii tennis but with audio and vibrotactile cues to instruct the players when to serve and return the ball, and it can be played against other players with remotes, or against the computer.

The group says the 13 blind children who tested the game at Camp Abilities in New York engaged in "levels of active energy expenditure that were high enough to be considered healthy," which is a scientist's way of saying they got the kids off the couch.

VI Bowling uses Wii bowling but with a novel motor-learning feature, where vibrotactile feedback gives players clues on where to throw the ball. The six adults who were evaluated playing the game exerted about as much energy as if they had spent that amount of time walking.

Folmer's research team includes: Tony Morelli, a doctoral candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno; John Foley, a faculty member in the physical education department and expert in movement studies in disability at State University of New York, Cortland; and Lauren Lieberman, a researcher in the Department of Kinesiology, Sports Studies, and Physical Education at SUNY, Brockport, who specializes in adapted physical education, especially children with sensory impairments.


6. The Beacon Show, Talk Radio Produced By The Chicago Lighthouse’s CRIS Radio, Now On WCPT- AM & FM

CHICAGO, IL -- Recently switching to the airwaves of WCPT, The Beacon Show is airing from 4:00 - 5:00 pm, every Sunday. Geared toward the interests of veterans, seniors, and people who are disabled, The Beacon Show covers a wide range of disability issues, primarily focusing on vision and hearing impairment.

Some topics covered during the show are law, policy, access, specific disabilities, guidance and advice, as well as events and services offered by The Chicago Lighthouse and other organizations serving the blind and visually impaired community. Adding to aforementioned subjects, technology for people who are blind or visually impaired is reviewed and discussed in a segment titled "Tom’s Corner" in which Tom Perski, Lighthouse’s director of rehabilitation, contributes his critiques and expertise as a guest of the show.

Politicians, professionals within various fields of disability, representatives from organizations, teachers, and many others experts in their respective fields, also make regular appearances and contribute their knowledge to The Beacon Show.

"We are the only show covering vision loss, hearing impairment, and disability. This show means a lot to a lot of people, and many more can benefit, can learn something new, can feel part of a community" stated Bill Jurek, a legendary name in broadcasting who is also the Beacon Show’s producer and co-host with Lainie Williams, Kevin DePhillips, Edie Manzano, and Sue Lamm.

"Now that we have a great time slot, on a great station, we’re really seeing the responses come in," said Jurek, also highlighting that only after two weeks of broadcasting over the new airwaves, The Beacon Show has had a cumulative audience of 250,000.  

Due to the variety of topics covered on the program, as well as the show’s unique subject matter and areas of focus, a diverse group of advertisers can take advantage of promoting on The Beacon Show. Past advertisers have included vision impairment and disability institutions, public transportation providers, as well as restaurants and small businesses/organizations.  

The Beacon Show airs in Chicago and surrounding suburbs via radio frequencies 820 AM, 92.7 FM in Northern suburbs, 92.5 for West suburbs, and 99.9 in the South. Listeners, throughout the world, may listen live by visiting The Chicago Lighthouse website at http://chicagolighthouse.org. Downloadable podcasts of The Beacon Show are also offered at http://chicagolighthouse.org.

To obtain information on advertising, please visit chicagolighthouse.org, or contact Bill Jurek for ad rates and other inquires: bill.jurek@chicagolighthouse.org or call 312-666-1331 ext. 3077.