In This Issue
- Learn, Share, Connect – Insight: A Low Vision Expo
- Client Story: Kelsi Watson
- Connecting with SightConnection: Joyce Shoemaker, Retail Operations Manager
- “Get Caught Reading”: Celebrate National Audiobook Month and Rediscover the Joys of Reading
- SightConnection Store: VictorReader Stream DAISY Player
LEARN, SHARE, CONNECT – Insight: A Low Vision Expo
Saturday, June 9
9:00 am to 3:00 pm
Lynnwood Convention Center
There is still time to register for SightConnection’s 3rd Annual Insight: A Low Vision Expo. Don’t miss our two keynote speakers this year. In the morning, David M. C. Rakofsky, Psy.D., will open the expo with his presentation “Loss, Hope, and Recovery: The Emotional Side of Vision Impairment and Rehabilitation.” After lunch, Wendy Lustbader, MSW, will present “Making Life as Good as it can Be.”
The smaller break-out sessions will focus on housing options, reading, and a doctor Q&A. Plus, organizations and companies will be there to share their services and products with you, and SightConnection’s popular hands-on assistive technology demonstration lab will be open with some amazing tools for you to try. You will even have a fresh box lunch to enjoy while connecting with others.
The SightConnection staff is very excited for the low vision expo, too!
“I appreciate the expo because of the information available to clients, their families and staff. I always tell patients to educate yourself – learn as much as you can – the more knowledgeable you are on training, treatments, and coping with vision loss, the more empowered you will feel. One of the most important things for people with vision loss is to be able to talk to other individuals who also have vision loss.” – Sharon Laughlin, Low Vision Specialist
“I am looking forward to hearing both keynote speakers. The emotional ramifications of vision loss are often overlooked, yet finding some hope within all the challenges can be positively motivating. I most enjoy persons of all ages along the visual spectrum coming together to learn and share.” – Kate Fewel, Social Worker
“What I love most is getting to see our beloved patients in a non-clinical setting, to have more time to chat about ‘the person’ rather than the condition.” – Lucinda Daly, Low Vision Clinic Assistant
Kelsi Watson’s Incredible Year of New Friends and New Experiences after the Expo
At the middle lane of noisy, bustling Roxbury Lanes in White Center stands Kelsi Watson in her maroon “Roarin’ Dragonz” bowling shirt, holding her purple bowling ball in front of her chest and concentrating on her swing. Lined up with the central arrow on the floor under her feet, Kelsi takes one, two, three steps forward and releases her ball at the top of her swing. The ball travels straight down the lane with remarkable speed and connects with the first pin. Strike! Her team mates and the bowlers in the lanes on either side of her cheer and reach for her hands in celebration. Kelsi will bowl another two strikes before the end of the day. She is a remarkable bowler considering she only learned to play last summer; she bowls better and with more accuracy than most casual bowlers with 20/20 vision.
Kelsi discovered her new passion for bowling through connections she made attending SightConnection’s low vision expo, Insight, in 2011. “I met so many people from attending the expo,” Kelsi explained. “I met so many friends, learned from the speakers and vendors, and found new networks that I didn’t know existed before.” It was through a new friend with whom she connected at the expo that she even learned to bowl. “I didn’t know what the expo was or what it was about, but I thought ‘SightConnection helped me before, so I should check this out.’”
Kelsi first started working with SightConnection after experiencing an aneurism that left her partially-sighted. One of the people with whom she worked was Karen Mehlhorn, a SightConnection orientation and mobility specialist (“Karen the cane lady”). “Karen got me my cane and came to my house to help me out,” Kelsi said. She fondly remembers Karen teaching her how to safely walk her beloved black lab, Saylor. “Karen connected me with everything SightConnection had to offer, even encouraging me to see Dr. Welling in the [low vision] clinic. Because I trusted Karen, I paid attention to the expo flyer in the mail and decided to give it a try.”
She first started making friends and connections before she even disembarked from the DART bus at the Lynnwood Convention Center. “I started meeting people and everyone was chatting on the Access bus through Seattle, and I started talking with my new good friend Glen when we transferred to the DART in Snohomish County. Glen was the last one to get off the bus in Lynnwood, so I walked with him to the registration table. As we walked, everyone was yelling ‘Hi, Glen!’ to us, and I thought, ‘Oh, I picked the right person to make friends with!’” remembered Kelsi with a laugh. “Oh boy, did we have a good time at the expo!”
Kelsi remembers the expo fondly as a day of learning, sharing, and connecting. “Both of the speakers were excellent and clearly specialists in their fields,” she said. “They didn’t talk in ‘doctor-ese’ at all. They spoke to us as real people, which I really appreciated.” Kelsi even had the opportunity to talk with and thank one of the speakers personally when she saw him later at the expo.
The vendor fair was equally important to Kelsi, for she had the opportunity to learn about guide dogs, recreation activities, assistive computers, and other tools and devices to make her life easier. She was very glad to see the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library (WTBBL) table because she had a brand-new digital audio player at home that she wasn’t sure how to use. “I had one of those old machines before, where you had to flip the tapes over to keep listening. It was a pain. When I got the new digital one, I opened it but didn’t know how to use it.” The WTBBL table had a model similar to Kelsi’s new one and they taught her how to operate it right there at the expo. “It’s great to read books again. Last year, I read Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story (by Brian Donovan) about NASCAR’s first African-American race car driver, and it was excellent,” Kelsi shared.
Kelsi had a remarkable day at the expo last year, but what happened after she returned home is even more remarkable. The friends she met helped her connect with a strong network of social and recreational opportunities. She met and became friends with Gaylen of the South King Council of the Blind, who introduced her to the other council members. “The South King Council of the Blind has been a wonderful resource for me; there are a lot of neat people there,” Kelsi said. The group meets every month in Federal Way, and Kelsi feels lucky to have met them through Gaylen.
And then there is the bowling. “It was my new friend Glen who encouraged me to keep being active and involved in the community. Glen used to be a bowling instructor when he had his sight, and when he got back into it, he drug me in, too,” Kelsi explained. “I had not bowled since I was a child. The first time I tried it last year, I was scared to death for I only had my childhood memories to rely on. But I did OK, and my bowling is getting better,” she said humbly. Through Glen, Kelsi met a new community of people who are passionate about the sport, including a professional instructor who has been working with her. “Now when I go bowling, sometimes there are so many people talking to me at once, trying to help me. I want to yell at them: “Stop talking to me at one time and get out of my head!’”
Kelsi is looking forward to attending SightConnection’s low vision expo again this year. In addition to hearing the keynote speakers David M. C. Rakofsky and Wendy Lustbader, she cannot wait to return to Lynnwood and try her hand in the technology lab to learn more about computers. “I really, really want to get a computer,” Kelsi explained. “I really, really need a computer, and the expo is the perfect place to try out the different programs and equipment.” Kelsi plans to learn, share, and connect even more this year. We are all excited to see what new doors open for her in the coming year after meeting more peers and specialists at the expo.
Come join SightConnection and Kelsi at this year’s Insight, Saturday, June 9, from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm at the Lynnwood Convention Center. Register online, call toll-free (800) 458-4888, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your space.
Connecting with SightConnection: Joyce Shoemaker, Retail Operations Manager
Joyce Shoemaker brought over 25 years of retail management experience with her when she joined SightConnection as the Retail Operations Manager in 2005. A native of Santa Barbara, Joyce successfully ran numerous sales operations in both the high-end fashion and health/fitness industries. Despite the fact that Joyce has had Stargardt’s since she was a young teen, she had never worked with an organization or company that specializes in low vision aids before. “I was too busy organizing private after-hours shopping excursions for celebrities in my Santa Barbara Eddie Bauer store,” she joked. It was the low vision and blind community network that brought Joyce to SightConnection; when she first moved to Seattle, Joyce found a low vision support group to join through the recommendation of the Braille Institute in Santa Barbara, whose members then told her about SightConnection. “I was hired because I knew about running retail operations. Being able to relate to the clients is really a side benefit, a bonus.”
Joyce was the perfect person to take the reins of the retail program at SightConnection because of her years of professional experience – not necessarily because of her own low vision status. “The funny thing about finding this place is that I didn’t really know anything about the products before. I had only used a magnifier for my own personal use at that point. I had to learn about the devices myself,” she admitted. “I don’t tell people right away about my low vision unless it’s relevant. Sometimes it is necessary to share with clients if it will help them relax and absorb what they are hearing. Some people need to hear me say that I use the products.”
Joyce is also the CCTV point person at SightConnection (closed circuit televisions are devices that magnify and project images to a large screen). “Before starting here, I had a CCTV but I never turned it on. I didn’t see the benefit before, but now I don’t know how I operated without it – at work and at home,” she explained. Not only does Joyce use a CCTV in the office for work, but she uses a portable CCTV at home for cooking, applying make-up, and hobbies like making jewelry.
Despite the fact that it looks and feels like a regular shop (both in person and on-line), the SightConnection store is a service program of the organization with the mission of connecting people with appropriate products and tools to help them live well with vision loss. “I love that we created an environment in which most people are comfortable, and that is a retail store. The shopping experience is nothing like shopping in a pharmacy or medical equipment supply shop,” she explained. One of her first acts as Retail Operations Manager was to remodel the store and make it more open, easier to find items, and to create more natural groupings of products like one would find in a store. “Our services are set up the way they are so you can try them out,” Joyce said. “You may not know if one product works better than another for your needs, so we try to give you the opportunity to try them out and guide you through the options. One set of tools is not exactly right for everyone.”
Another way that Joyce and her staff connect clients with the right tools and products to help them lead independent lives is through careful product selection and vetting. They are constantly seeking out new products that are useful, durable, fun, and stylish. “We get samples first and practice using them for everyday tasks. If an item doesn’t meet our standards, we will not stock it. Consider us your friends trying out the products for you first,” Joyce explained.
SightConnection serves those who cannot visit the physical store in north Seattle through its dynamic website, www.SightConnection.com, reaching people throughout the United States and Canada (the store ships more product to Texas, Florida, and California than any other region). Joyce and her staff have taken extensive steps to ensure that those seeking aids online are still connected with the tools that work best for them. The staff collaborate on the catalog together by writing their own descriptions for products based on their experiences testing them, rather than relying on the marketing materials of the manufacturers. In addition, they record the audio of all talking devices and add them to the on-line catalog so that clients may hear exactly what the talking watch or kitchen scale sounds like (many products talk in Spanish as well).
Even online, Joyce and her team want to ensure that clients are being connected with the correct tools. “Sometimes, we will call a customer before processing their order to ensure they are choosing correctly for themselves. People will order the +4-powered magnifying readers because that is the highest power we carry without a prescription, but oftentimes it’s not the right power for them. We often call to ask if they have seen a low vision specialist before, if they know this is right for them, and to ask what they are hoping to achieve with a product or tool,” Joyce said. “Sometimes, it takes a bit of effort as the customer decides what works best for them, but it’s worth it to us,” she explained. “Occasionally, we don’t sell them anything but instead refer them to a low vision clinic in their area so they can be helped the most efficiently by a professional. Ultimately, we’re saving them money, time, and frustration.”
Joyce and her staff are able to respond to clients’ needs and provide individualized service because of their small size. “The common misconception is that we are a large retail operation, but there are only three of us. I can’t help but laugh a little when people call and ask to be forwarded to the shipping or returns department. That’s us; we do it all,” she said. “Sometimes we aren’t able to take a client’s call right away, but a real person will call them back and give them individualized service and attention.”
You can meet Joyce in person in the hands-on Assistive Technology Lab at this year’s low vision expo, Insight. She will be personally demonstrating how to use various CCTV machines for a range of hobbies and crafting – sewing, painting, fiber arts, fly-tying, and making jewelry. In addition, a number of other SightConnection staff members and volunteers will be demonstrating computer software programs, using CCTVs for reading and writing, text-to-speech readers, audiobook players, and the accessibility features of various Apple products.
“Get Caught Reading”: Celebrate National Audiobook Month and Rediscover the Joys of Reading
According to the Audio Publishers Association, the total number of audiobooks being commercially published doubled in the past three years, from 3,073 titles in 2007 to 6,200 in 2010. While the general reading public may think the audiobook industry is new and innovative, talking books have been around for the visually impaired since 1934, when the first ones were recorded on special phonograph records. In the last 80 years, the technology of accessing talking books has evolved from record players to cassette tapes to the current portable digital technology.
“In the old days, the cassette tapes had four different tracks of audio, so one had to listen to a side, flip the tape, listen, flip, listen, flip, and listen. It was cumbersome to use,” explained Lan Nguyen, SightConnection’s Assistive Technology Specialist. “Now the new machines are digital, smaller, and lighter than the earlier models. The entire book will be on one small cartridge, or even contained in one digital file downloaded to a player.” The new devices, such as a VictorReader, will allow readers to save books in the memory so that one no longer needs to carry around bulky cartridges or CDs. In addition, one can move easily from chapter to chapter, or sometimes even page by page, depending on how the audio file is set up.
Residents of Washington State are fortunate to have access to the Washington Talking Books and Braille Library (WTBBL), one of the first member libraries of the National Library Service for the Blind started by the Library of Congress in 1931 (the library is also a part of the Washington State Library system). The use of equipment and borrowing privileges are free to members who qualify, including digital talking book machines and postage for cartridges and Braille books. The Library has over 450,000 titles in its catalog, with an additional 2,000 added every year by the National Library Service for the Blind. In addition, about 70 WTBBL volunteers work to produce audio files and transcribe into Braille an average of 250 titles annually with a Pacific Northwest focus or by local authors, such as J.A. Jance or Ciscoe Morris.
WTBBL offers a number of different programs to keep its members engaged with books and to build community centered on literature and the exchange of ideas. For example, the library is now hosting a quarterly book group in its downtown Seattle facility; the next book club meeting is June 7 at noon to discuss Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. The book club will next meet in September to discuss a book that will appeal to a wide readership (title to be announced soon). Additionally, WTBBL is gearing up for its summer reading program for kids and youth 18 years of age and younger. The program begins July 2 and ends August 24. For more information on these and other WTBBL programs, visit www.wtbbl.org or call (800) 542-0866.
There are other options for accessing audiobooks in addition to the free WTBBL, but the other options do have a cost associated with them. According to Lan, some pay services include Audible.com, which allows users to purchase MP3 files of books and download them to a wide range of devices, including Apple products, Windows Media Player, and Blackberry (one must also download the appropriate Audible.com software for a fee). LearningAlly.org is a similar fee-service that allows members to access titles much the same way that WTBBL does, but carries some additional educational materials geared for K-12 and college students. Finally, the Kindle reader has the capability to “read” some texts, but this accessibility feature is not available for all titles and the text is read by a digital voice. “Audiobooks read by a real voice, sometimes even by the author or a famous actor, are much preferable to a computer synthesizer,” explained Lan.
SightConnection Store: VictorReader Stream DAISY Player
This versatile DAISY player makes it easy to navigate novels and complex books. Use the built-in text-to-speech function to read books in text format such as those from Bookshare. Includes an integrated microphone for recording memos and more. The VictorReader Stream has the ability to play NLS downloaded books and NLS book cartridges (available to NLS eligible members). Has a user-replaceable rechargeable battery that provides 15 hours of playtime as well as a built-in battery charger. Includes a Free 2GB SD card with each order!