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Braille Cane Travel Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information Independence Training Program

Meet Adama, a Disability-rights Champion from Sierra Leone

Adama sitting at the table in the travel lobby with her phone and her slate and stylus.
After a lesson with her new iPhone, Adama reviews her Braille notes.

For the past three weeks, we’ve been delighted to have Adama Conteh as a special student at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Adama is from Sierra Leone, a country of about 6 million in West Africa. She has been in the U.S. under the sponsorship of Hope International, which has provided Adama with training at their headquarters in Tennessee, and transportation to Colorado to attend the Center for these three weeks.

You don’t have to talk to Adama more than a couple of minutes to understand that she is a disability rights and women’s rights advocate at her core. Blind since she was a very small child, she nonetheless went to college, worked as a teacher and was recently elected to city council in her home town of Makeni.

Not surprisingly, in a country where almost all daily cooking occurs outdoors over a wood fire or coal pot, and where only 12 percent of the population had access to electricity in 2016 (and that sporadic, she tells us), Adama had not learned to use accessible technology or even a Braille typewriter. She is, however, a marvel using a slate and stylus. Just think of the sound of a popcorn popper. Okay, a little slower than that, but just a little.

While at cCB,Adama has followed a very abbreviated schedule typical for our Independence Training Program (ITP). Thus, she worked on cane travel, home management and lots of Tech. Already Braille literate, her efforts there were to learn to use a Braille typewriter with its unique keyboard. In her work as an advocate and on the city council, she could effectively use her iPhone with a bluetooth Braille display, both for reading and writing e-mail, text messages and other documents.

At first, she didn’t see much use in a white cane, though. Streets in Sierra Leone are not regulated in the same way as they are in the U.S., and there are definitely no pedestrian sidewalks.

“If you (as a blind person) want to go somewhere,” she told us, “you take a scooter and they drop you right in front of the door.”

After a couple of weeks with a cane, however, she says she is excited about the increased independence it provides to her. She not only plans to use a cane when she returns home, but she plans to introduce it to other blind Sierra Leonians as well.

And calls home to her family?

“They can’t believe it,” she laughs. “”All those blind people are cooking? All the teachers and the director are blind?”

Adama gets it, though.

So, our thanks to Hope International for sending Adama to us, if only for three weeks. But also our congratulations. With a goal of empowering women with disabilities in Sierra Leone, you have found a champion, and we are proud to welcome Adama into our CCB family as well.

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Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information Youth Services

Technology Giveaway in Memory of Former Summer Student, Staffer Megan Bening

Grinning, Megan shows the Apple watch on her wrist to the camera
Megan Models the first generation Apple Watch just before it was available to purchase. (Photo courtesy of Jean Bening)

We want to tell people about the Megan Bening Memorial Fund Technology Giveaway by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) because it will put over $10,000 of technology into the hands of blind and low vision students. But we also want to tell you about it because Megan Bening was one of our own.

Megan Bening was a summer student at the Colorado Center for the Blind in 2009.

“She had such a spark,” said Director Julie Deden. “That’s why we were so excited to have her back as a summer staff member.”

Megan came back to teach technology to our summer students in 2015. As a staff member she was thoughtful and committed to teamwork, says our Summer Programs Coordinator Martin Becerra-Miranda, passionate about teaching tech to her students, and the young blind women with whom she lived and mentored for two months adored her. There was only one Megan in this world, and we were deeply saddened at her passing last year – so young, so suddenly.

Megan loved technology. Does that really need to be said? Yes, but only for those who were not lucky enough to meet Megan. and that’s why this memorial fund to put vital assistive technology in the hands of blind kids is the perfect tribute to her. She would be drooling over the list of tech items to be given away. The Giveaway will occur at the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando during the NOPBC’s hospitality night on July 3. Children up to 18 yearrs of age who register for the NOPBC conference are eligible.

Learn More About the Megan Bening Memorial Fund Technology Giveaway

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Careers Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information Independence Training Program Youth Services

Soldering wires nonvisually is .. well, a BLAST! @BlackbyrdFly @COSpaceGrant

Jamie talks to Maddie while she works with components on a breadboard

Somebody had to do it. So Jamie Principato decided she would take the skills she’d learned and taught herself as a blind Physics student involved with a Colorado Space Grant rocket project and teach them to other blind students. That’s where the idea of BLAST came from – Blind Learning All Skills Too launched on August 10 with the express purpose of teaching other blind people the skill of soldering small electronic devices, the precursors of instruments like those Principato and other students at Arapahoe Community College (ACC) built earlier to send high into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Naturally, we were excited to host the BLAST project’s first-ever soldering and circuitry workshop for blind participants. Principato, after all, had tutored some of our college-bound students in math before she graduated from ACC in 2016 and moved on to CU-Boulder last fall. When she started planning BLAST and needed workshop space and blind participants, we saw an excellent opportunity to rekindle our partnership.

So we collected 11 blind participants, from high school students to a former volunteer fire fighter and blind grandparents. Evenour long-time Tech Instructor Chip Johnson got into the act. Jamie collected volunteers from among her friends and fellow Space Grant participants to teach the concepts in a one-day workshop at CCB.

Leon, Jay ,and J.D. look at a tactile schematic diagram while a volunteer points out specific featuresThe morning started with a tactile diagram of an electrical continuity tester developed by blind artist jenny Callahan, proceeded to learning and practicing soldering wires with nonvisual techniques, and finally to a practice assembly of the device using a breadboard and other electronic components. After lunch, the assembly was for keeps and the final soldering completed the continuity tester. Everybody took home a working device.

Jamie doesn’t plan to leave it at that. In fact, she was one of five finalists for this summer’s $25,000 Holman Prize. Now she’s looking for other funding to take BLAST to the next level – a project to build instruments that will be part of a payload that is sent into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The proof of concept is a success though, and it clears the way for participants to further develop their skills like soldering that can lead to following their curiosity in a hobby, in education or employment.

The sky’s the limit … or rather, the sky’s the target. There are no limits!

Laura cuts some electrical tape
Leon works with some wire using the Helping Hands clips

 

Trevor talks to J.D. while he works with some wire and the Helping Hands Clips
Looking down the table as Mickey, Chip, Evan and Maddie work - Two volunteers on the other side of the table interact with the students

 

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Cane Travel Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information Home Management Independence Training Program

A Farewell Wave to Our Alabama Friend

a woman wearing sleep shades uses her cane to maneuver in the Travel Lobby.
By Thursday, Jessica was challenging herself to travel independently between classes while wearing sleep shades.

We want to give a farewell wave to Jessica Edmiston, who spent Monday through Thursday here at the Center, not just observing, but working under sleep shades all week, going to classes with student mentors and working on the basics of Braille, Assistive Technology, cooking and travel. And as it happened, she was here to witness three graduations, including partaking of the meals prepared for 60 by the graduates, and the awarding of their Freedom Bells!

It’s no small deal for Jessica to take a week to do this, since she’s the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind Birmingham Regional Center Director. That’s a long title, and it has a lot of responsibility to go with it, but her center contains a recently established Structured Discovery program, which is (the methodology and philosophy we employ here at CCB, called the Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind. Jessica clearly has a commitment to the deaf and blind Alabamans her program serves, and that includes the Freedom Center for the Blind. We were very glad to have her with us this week!

By the way, she was an excellent student!

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Braille Cane Travel Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information Home Management Senior Programs

Sleepshades, Cinnamon Pudding Cake & Seniors In Charge May 2017

Steve works with Janet to learn the Braille Alphabet using a muffin tin and tennis balls

You wouldn’t have needed to be told that Dorine’s Cinnamon-Pudding Cake was an award-winner if you had been anywhere near the Center’s kitchen this afternoon. It’s our spring Seniors in Charge week, and we have five dynamic seniors determined to keep living the lives they want. This afternoon, of course, they were cooking and baking under sleepshades, and the smell of that cake had mouths watering out in the lobby and beyond!

Sleepshades are optional, though encouraged, in the five-day training for seniors. This group is pretty game though, and all are giving them a good workout this week.

All five, along with some of our Senior Services staff, are staying in our apartments, traveling back and forth to the Center on the bus every day. They’re learning cane travel, Braille, technology and of course the tricks of cooking and cleaning up without vision.

The group come from all over Colorado and as far away as Portland, Oregon. The week wraps up on Friday morning with the Friends and Family gathering.

Sally wears sleepshades while chopping Bell Peppers
Nick stirring a pan of ground beef and freshly-chopped onions

 

Holly and Janet reading Braille Books
Dorine holding up her award-winning Cinnamon Pudding Cake

Holly and Petr returning to the Center after a Cane Travel lesson

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Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information Independence Training Program

Graham’s Tech Project

Graham's hands turn dials on the audio mixing board, mic, headphones and guitar visible

It just so happens that Graham graduated today, but we’re posting a sample of his Tech Class project. He of course worked with screen readers and other tools in his Tech Class, but as a songwriter and musician with a fair bit of recording experience, he wanted to try his hand at recording and mixing a music track for his final Tech project. Tricky enough, but it takes some skill and patience with the computer and screen reader to make it work with audio editting software, and then only a few such applications are actually accessible for blind users. So, that’s what Graham did, selecting Amy Winehouse’s “Love Is a Losing Game,” recording vocals and guitar and multiple tracks for background vocals, then editting and ixing … Well, here’s asnippet, just to give you the flavor.

Graham in headphones before the mic and mixing board, laying down a guitar track
Graham wearing headphones at a PC editing tracks

 

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Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information

Nonvisual Feedback Loop: Testing Dominion’s Accessible Voting System

We were pleased to host usability testing of Dominion’s electronic voting system on February 13 and 14. Students, staff, seniors and alums took the system for a spin and provided feedback to Dominion’s engineers. We’re especially excited to partner on this project because Dominion will provide electronic voting systems to every county in Colorado for the next 7 or so years. What we share with them will be reflected in our nonvisual accessible voting for a good long while, and we applaud their effort to get our feedback!

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Computer and Adaptive Technology Independence Training Program

Matt Can Type – It’s Not a Challenge! #HowEyeSeeIt

Believe it or not, the HowEyeSeeIt campaign hsows folks who are convinced they couldn’t type without their vision. Elementary thinking, and a pretty basic skill that Matt mastered long ago.

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Braille Cane Travel Computer and Adaptive Technology General Colorado Center Information Home Management Senior Programs

No let-up this week – not with Seniors in Charge!

A man and woman prepare food in the kitchen
Ralph fixes a plate of sliced cheese while Sheila slices tomatoes for the sanwitch bar

Littleton’s 2016 Western Welcome Week, including our tours and participation in the Saturday parade, was sure a lot of fun! This week has already seen Matt complete his support drop, our canoeing trip postponed due to thunder, our first rock climbing trip today for the (really?) fall!

seven people go out the front door with white canes
Senior students and staff head out to get some groceries. Left to right: Sheila, Anahit, Dianne H., Wayne, Ralph L., Marianne and Petr.

Even as the 10-day Western Welcome Week celebration was winding down on Sunday, Seniors in Charge students were arriving at the McGeorge Mountain Terrace apartments for a week of taking on new challenges in blindness skills. Offered by our Senior Services staff led by Duncan Larsen, Seniors in Charge gives a week’s worth of intensive training in Braille, cane travel, technology and home management skills.

“Last year I could see,” Ron said in the introductory meeting on Monday morning. This year his vision is significantly limited. Like his five fellow students, Ron wants to learn everything he can to ensure his continued independence.

And that’s the goal of the week – to assist blind seniors to maintain their independence. It includes plenty of opportunities for senior students to talk about their blindness and what they learn as the week progresses. Seniors in Charge is offered twice a year, and this group has four students staying at our apartments and two day students. For those staying at the apartments, Senior Services staff work with them on cooking and more in the evening, staying at the apartments with them.

As Duncan reminds us, the skills and discussions are all pointing to developing a positive, can-do attitude about blindness.

A Photo Collage: Top, Diane McGeorge works with Ron and Mickey using muffin tins and tennis balls. Below, Dianne H. types on a Perkins Brailler.
A Photo Collage: Top, Diane McGeorge works with Ron and Mickey using muffin tins and tennis balls. Below, Dianne H. types on a Perkins Brailler.

On Tuesday, along with other classes, the Seniors in Charge prepared a sandwich bar, then built their own sandwiches and ate together. The program will culminate on Friday morning with a “Friends and Family” session when Senior students can talk about what they’ve gained over the week. This is also a critical part of the program, because family and friends also have an opportunity to examine the fears and doubts they have about their loved ones’ ability to continue living the lives they want, and they can do so in light of all that those loved ones have learned during the week.

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Braille Cane Travel Computer and Adaptive Technology Events Home Management Independence Training Program

Out of Chute Number 18, the Thursday CCB Tour for @WesternWelcomeWeek!

two women at the front of a group toss a hefty goal ball back and forth
Two of our Monday tour guests test the weight of a Goal Ball.

Thursday, August 18

3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

a young man releases the ball waist-high at the end of his spin, his feet off the floor
Christian played Goal Ball in high school, and it shows as the crowd watches him leave the ground on a spinning throw.

That’s right, this rodeo isn’t over yet!

If you missed the fun on Monday evening, you still have another shot tomorrow. Nearly 70 of our Littleton neighbors (and some who happened to be visiting from out of town) stopped by the Colorado Center for the Blind to find out what we’re up to at 2233 W. Shepperd Avenue. They talked with staff and students in the kitchens, the technology labs, the Braille classrooms and the Woodshop. They discussed techniques of traveling with a white cane and checked out some live goal ball action. And they heard about our programs for youth and seniors.

 

a young woman holds a twenty dollar bill under her iPhone camera.
Suzie shows how she identifies currency with an app on her smart phone and its screen reader.

The best part for us was simply the chance to meet with so many folks – some who live only a block or two away and some who didn’t know that we were even in town. We appreciate all the appreciation our guests expressed as they left, but some of us at the Center were buzzing until bedtime with the fun of it all! So our thanks to all who came!

Okay, if you couldn’t make it Monday, join us tomorrow afternoon! Maybe this will be the best tour yet.

(Spoiler: There might be cookies and brownies at the end of the tour!)

 

a seated young man in sleepshades uses a Brailler as two children look over his shoulder
Kids especially enjoyed getting a card with their names written in Braille. Two watch as Jackson types one out on a Perkins Brailler.