Posts Tagged ‘blind’

Photo: Mariam Ehab.
View of Mandara Beach in Alexandria, Egypt, where floating ropes help the visually impaired enter and exit the Mediterranean Sea, Aug. 23, 2022.

You may have noticed that I love stories about Sweden and Egypt. That’s because two of my grandchildren are half Swedish and two are half Egyptian. How lucky is that!?

Today’s story comes from Alexandria in Egypt. Miriam Ehab covered it for the Christian Science Monitor.

“In a sunny spot along the bustling shores of Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, a group of beachgoers splash and frolic in the sea. But this is no ordinary beach.

“Holding onto floating barriers and ropes, safe in the knowledge that attentive lifeguards are nearby, almost everyone here is blind or visually impaired. Mandara Beach is the first of its kind in the Arab world’s most populous country, specially fitted so it’s accessible to swimmers with physical disabilities. For many, it’s more than just a day of fun and relaxation – it’s a rare window of empowerment.

“Inaugurated in 2021 for people using wheelchairs, Mandara underwent another renovation last year. When the revamped beach opened again in June, at the height of Egypt’s summer season, thousands of citizens with visual impairments could also safely swim in the calm cerulean Mediterranean waters. …

“ ‘This is the first time I’ve been to the sea,’ Sarah, one beachgoer, says with a beaming smile. ‘I was very happy and did not feel afraid at all when I was swimming.’ … 

“Some 12 million Egyptians live with a disability, roughly 3.5 million of whom face visual challenges. In 2018, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared the ‘year of persons with disabilities.’ … Parliament responded with a slew of laws, including the provision of state-subsidized health care to people with disabilities.

“Other benefits included tax exemptions on the purchase of cars, educational and medical materials, and imported assistive devices. Legal fees, whether for plaintiff or defendant, also were lifted for people with disabilities. And in 2021, Parliament approved tougher penalties for the bullying of people with disabilities.

“ ‘The laws from 2018 are excellent,’ says Hassan Abdel Qader, head of Alexandria’s Blind Association. ‘But the problem is in their implementation.’

“The fact is, say campaigners, that many public spaces and means of transport still lack accessibility, assistive technologies are hard to come by, services for people with disabilities are patchy, and discrimination is not uncommon. Still, change is coming, slowly. 

“Some months ago, Jihad Mohammed Naguib, an employee at the Department of Tourism and Resorts in Alexandria, was inspired by something she heard from the governor of Alexandria, Maj. Gen. Mohamed el-Sherif. He noted that there were never any blind people on the beaches, which are the pride of the coastal city. …

“ ‘The idea ​of ​allocating a part of the beach for the visually impaired … was put forward after we inaugurated the free Mandara Beach for people with motor disabilities and the success that it met,’ Major General Sherif says in an interview. And so, with funding from the Rotary Club of Alexandria Pharos, the work began. 

“Floating ropes with plastic balls were installed on a flat portion of the beach, so that swimmers with visual impairments could enter and leave the water holding these ropes. People in wheelchairs could use a modified ramp, the end of which was fitted with a metal box submerged in the water, ensuring their safety while in the sea. Lifeguards and a first-aid unit were also available – which isn’t always the case on Egypt’s public beaches.

“Those directly affected – and most likely to benefit – were consulted from the beginning. ‘We proposed some things that they have already implemented, and others that they promised would be implemented in the future,’ Mr. Qader says.

“Those suggestions included a whistle for children who feel endangered, and a rope that extends from the entrance of the beach to the water, so that even if a visually impaired person visits on their own they can reach the sea without assistance. …

“The beach is the latest in a recent string of hard-won successes for Egypt’s visually impaired people. The Egyptian Blind Sports Federation already runs several sports teams, including soccer, weightlifting, judo, and showdown – a type of air hockey for blind people.

“But gaps remain.  ‘Most services, and recreational and sports activities for the visually impaired, are concentrated in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, while other Egyptian cities have little capabilities,’ says Moamen Mostafa, the former head of public relations for the Blind Association of Egypt. …

“That makes Mandara Beach all the more poignant for a group who have difficulty accessing recreational and sports activities.  For 52-year-old Mohamed Attia and his 40-year-old wife, Sahar, both wheelchair users, this was the first time they could enjoy the beach together. 

“ ‘I am happy to go into the sea for the first time in my life, after I could only watch it from afar,’ says Ms. Attia. 

“The couple were delighted to find a group of people who helped them move their wheelchairs into the water. … 

“Mr. Attia says … ‘Those who had this idea have a compassionate heart. We really wish this project to continue and spread on all the beaches of Egypt,’ he adds. 

“That wish may come true. Buoyed by the success and widespread acceptance of Mandara Beach, Major General Sherif says there are plans to open a similar facility in Alexandria’s Anfushi Beach. From there, he hopes, the idea will spread through the country.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Blind Photographer

Photo: Liz Bossoli
Pileated Woodpecker in Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida.

A disability may make a person think about things in new and interesting ways. Remember the blind architect whose other senses helped him carve out an inspiring career? (Blog post here.)

In a first-person account at Audubon magazine, Liz Bossoli, describes her life as a mostly blind photographer of birds.

She writes, “As far back as I can remember, I’ve been enthralled with animals. Wherever I went, it wouldn’t take long for me to orient to the nearest one. By age eight, I could identify upward of 100 dog breeds. Yet when it came to birds, my list wouldn’t have gone far beyond Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays. I often heard my grandfather warmly refer to ‘chickadees,’ but this species only existed vaguely in my mind’s eye as a small, probably cute bird. Until recently, I never actually saw a Black-capped Chickadee in a way that I could appreciate. When my grandparents marveled over a bird at their feeder, I only experienced their joy vicariously.  

“I was born with a congenital condition called Septo-Optic Dysplasia, and as a result, I’m almost totally blind in my left eye and legally blind in my right. Blindness is not a binary condition, but rather affects individuals across a broad spectrum. … I’m among the majority of blind individuals who have some usable vision, and I happen to fall on the end of the spectrum with the greatest degree of functional eyesight.

“I’ve been known to describe myself as having ‘pretty good vision for being legally blind.’ It’s my light-hearted spin on living in an awkward space where I don’t need a lot of adaptive tools or assistance from others, until I do. That also makes it easy for people to forget I can’t see well — including myself. Day to day, I’m not often cognizant of the degree to which my vision impairment affects me. Still, one of the most poignant reminders occurs when I can’t perceive my environment in the same manner as those around me. In my yard, I’m consistently awestruck when a friend immediately points out birds I don’t know are there.

“For nearly as long as I’ve been fascinated by animals, I’ve used art to express that fondness; first, through drawing and then, photography. I purchased my first DSLR camera in 2009, so I could create images that would do justice to the relationships I had with my dogs and other animals in my life. 

“I spent the better part of the last decade honing my skills as a dog portrait photographer, but a 2016 visit to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida, reignited a passion for connecting with the natural world. That trip to Corkscrew gifted me with up-close encounters with wild birds, unlike anything I had experienced. Equipped with an entry-level zoom lens, my camera gave me just enough visual reach to see the Red-shouldered Hawk that landed on a low branch right above my head, and to engage in a game of peek-a-boo with an active Pileated Woodpecker. …

“Back home, in Connecticut, my husband and I continue to adapt our small suburban property to create a more hospitable environment for native birds. This year, while spending most of my time in my own yard, I appreciate their presence more than ever.  I’ve found myself fully engrossed in the art of bird photography, driven by desire to understand the wildlife around me. My photo of a Gray Catbird even made it into the final gallery of reader submissions for Audubon’s Bird From Home project. …

“I employ three different strategies for photographing birds in my yard. The first two are intentional: I either actively seek out birds that I hear in nearby trees, or I plant myself in a position from which I know I’ll be able to observe birds. The third strategy usually looks something like me being surprised by an unexpected bird encounter, frantically running into my house to get my camera, and returning in hopes I didn’t miss everything.

“Bird feeders, nest boxes, and a birdbath are often just as integral to my process as the camera itself. They take the guesswork out of finding birds to photograph. I admit that photographing birds in these contexts lacks the thrill of successfully locating a bird on a branch, but that doesn’t mean it’s a passive process. For my purposes, any amount of predictability is a vote in favor of creativity.

“And when I do hear the sound of uncharacteristic rustling in the trees or a bird call close nearby, I hope for the best. I rely on the goodwill of birds who are generous enough to remain in the same location for minutes at a time, as I visually scan the area with my camera. Through the viewfinder, I trace the outline of branches in order of my best guess that the sound came from that specific area. I repeat this with other branches until I have to refocus and scan the same area at a different distance from me. In the course of this process, I’m likely pointing my camera directly at the bird I’m seeking several times without realizing it. I estimate that at least 90 percent of my attempts at photographing birds under these circumstances are fruitless, but the occasional success makes the time investment worthwhile.” More.

There’s something wonderful about the unexpected in any art. Take the happy accidents of Raku pottery, for example. I don’t imagine anyone can control precisely how Raku turns out. There may also be good surprises in domestic arts like cooking and knitting, not just horrible glitches. And what about the scientific arts? Scientifically minded readers should check out the eight beneficial mistakes described here.

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Photo: CBS News
Blind architect Chris Downey explains to CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl on
60 Minutes how his disability has made him a better architect.

Talk about making lemonade if life hands you lemons! This story about a man who suffered a devastating loss and eventually came out ahead of the game is inspiring.

Lesley Stahl reported on Chris Downey’s saga for 60 Minutes.

“Several mornings a week, as the sun rises over the Oakland estuary in California, an amateur rowing team works the water. It’s hard to tell which one of them is blind. And Chris Downey thinks that’s just fine.

“CHRIS DOWNEY: It’s really exciting to be in a sport where nobody looks in the direction they’re going. You face this way in the boat and you’re going that way. So, okay even-steven.

“It’s not exactly even-steven in this design meeting, where Downey is collaborating with sighted architects on a new hospital building. But he hasn’t let that stop him.

“LESLEY STAHL: Here you are in a profession that basically requires you to read— read designs and draw designs. You must’ve thought in your head, ‘That is insurmountable?’ …

“DOWNEY: Friends that were architects and anybody else would say, ‘Oh my God, it’s the worst thing imaginable, to be an architect and to lose your sight. I can’t imagine anything worse.’ But I quickly came to realize that — the creative process is an intellectual process. It’s how you think, so I just needed new tools.

“New tools? Downey found a printer that could emboss architectural drawings so that he could read and understand through touch. …

“At age 45, Chris Downey had pretty much constructed the life he’d always wanted. An architect with a good job at a small housing firm outside San Francisco, he was happily married, with a 10-year-old son. He was an assistant little league coach and avid cyclist. And then — doctors discovered a tumor in his brain. He had surgery, and the tumor was safely gone, but Downey was left completely blind. As we first reported in 2019, what he has done in the decade since losing his sight, as a person and as an architect, can only be described as a different kind of vision.

“And he came up with a way to ‘sketch’ his ideas onto the plans using a simple children’s toy — malleable wax sticks that he shapes to show his modifications to others. And he says something surprising started to happen. He could no longer see buildings and spaces, but he began hearing them. …

“DOWNEY: I was fascinated — walking through buildings that I knew sighted. But I was experiencing them in a different way. I was hearing the architecture, I was feeling the space. … It was sort of this — this excitement of, ‘I’m a kid again. I’m— I’m relearning so much of architecture.’

It wasn’t about what I’m missing in architecture, it’s what— was about what I had been missing in architecture.

“Chris Downey’s upbeat attitude doesn’t mean that he didn’t go through one of the most frightening experiences imaginable — and struggle. He and his wife Rosa were living in this same home with their son Renzo, then 10, when Downey first noticed a problem while playing catch with Renzo. The ball kept coming in and out of sight. The cause turned out to be a tumor near his optic nerve. Surgery to remove it lasted nine and a half hours. He says his surgeon had told him there was a slight risk of total sight loss, but that he’d never had it happen. … The next day half his field of vision disappeared. And then —

“DOWNEY: The next time I woke up it was — all gone. It was just black. …

“After days of frantic testing, a surgeon told him it was permanent. Irreversible. And sent in a social worker.

“DOWNEY: She says, ‘Oh, and I see from your chart you’re’— you’re an architect, so we can talk about career alternatives.’ …

“Alone that night in his room, Downey did some serious thinking. About his son, and about his own father, who had died from complications after surgery when Downey was seven years old.

“DOWNEY: I could quickly — appreciate the wonder, the — just the joy of, ‘I’m still here.’ …

“He knew that how he handled this would send a strong message to Renzo. … Motivated to set an example, he headed back to work only one month later.

“Just nine months after going blind, the recession hit and he lost his job. But he got word that a nearby firm was designing a rehabilitation center for veterans with sight loss. They were eager to meet a blind architect.  …

“DOWNEY: It took my disability and turned it upside down. All of a sudden, it defined unique, unusual value that virtually nobody else had to offer. …

“Starting with that job, Downey developed a specialty, making spaces accessible to the blind. He helped design a new eye center at Duke University Hospital, consulted on a job for Microsoft, and signed on to help the visually impaired find their way in San Francisco’s new, and much-delayed, four-block long Transbay Transit Center, which we visited during construction. …

“DOWNEY: I’m absolutely convinced I’m a better architect today than I was sighted.

“STAHL: If you could see tomorrow, would you still wanna be able to feel the design? …

“DOWNEY: I don’t know. I would be afraid that I’d — I’d sorta lose what I’ve really been working on.” More.

Hat tip: Kristina.


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Art: Thomas Rodgers
The cover art for Chad Allen’s audio comic,
Unseen, is the only visual feature. The comic was designed for the blind.

Hooray for people who recognize a need and do something about it. In this story, a man who is blind devised a way for other blind people to enjoy an art form usually closed to them.

Jessica Gelt writes at the Los Angeles Times, “Chad Allen was feeling helpless. Not because he happened to be blind. He had a healthy handle on that part of his life. It was the insanely dark news cycle that was dragging him down. The sense that the world was falling apart and he could do nothing about it.

“Mounting anxiety before the 2016 presidential election propelled him to do what he does best: tell stories. He created an audio comic book titled ‘Unseen,’ featuring a blind heroine, an assassin from Afghanistan named Afsana. It is believed to be one of the first audio comic books by a blind author, made for a blind audience.

“Working in a highly visual art form, Allen managed to create an auditory experience that closely mimics the sensation of reading a comic book. A whooshing sound occurs whenever a panel changes; the intentionally stilted delivery of lines, as well as narration that prompts mental images, conjure a feeling of being inside a high-stakes comic book world. Aside from a slick red-and-black graphic image of Afsana created for the cover, ‘Unseen’ has no visual art whatsoever. …

“ ‘Chad’s character is written for a blind audience, but all of us can identify with her because we can identify with the experience of being underestimated,’ says Melissa Alexander, the director of public programs at the Exploratorium [museum of science, art and human perception in San Francisco]. …

“The sense among marginalized groups — people of color, women, LGBTQ people and others — that they have been underestimated has made ‘Unseen’ a popular part of the exhibit. …

“Allen is thrilled to have his work included in ‘Self, Made’ because it validates one of his main objectives in writing ‘Unseen.’

‘You don’t see art with your eyes. You don’t see anything with your eyes. All your eyes do is filter light. You see with your brain, and that’s what I’m trying to teach to people more than anything,’ Allen says. …

“Afsana does not have superpowers like Marvel’s Daredevil. She has a skill. Her skill is to slip in and out of places without being seen. She is not seen because people with disabilities are often not seen. They can feel invisible to society at large, Allen says. …

“The catchphrase for the comic is, ‘Discounting her abilities is her enemies’ gravest mistake.’

“The first installment of Afsana’s journey, which is available for streaming at unseencomic.com, finds her at the American border with Mexico in a not-so-distant future, when a dictatorial president is rounding up immigrants and conducting scientific experiments on disabled people with some very spooky results. …

“Allen, 46, grew up loving comic books. … He was not born blind. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes vision loss, at the age of 15, around the time his parents were divorcing. His world was thrown into turmoil in a way his fragile teen psyche had trouble processing. …

“Twenty years later, Allen is sitting at his dining room table in front of a small Braille keyboard attached to an iPhone that reads emails, books and writing back to him at breakneck speed. It is hard to imagine a time when he lacked confidence in the world. …

“Of all the questions lobbed his way, Allen says one of the most obvious and compelling is often asked by his son’s friends: How do you see in your head? His reply is beautiful in its simplicity.

“ ‘I say to them, “Do you go to bed at night? When you sleep do you dream? When you dream do you see places? Do you see people that you know? Do you see your family and friends?” ‘

“When they answer in the affirmative, he asks, ‘Are your eyes open?’

“They shake their heads.

“ ‘Well, that’s how I see you.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Fred Hatt
Mana Hashimoto is a New York City–based contemporary dancer and choreographer who, despite losing her eyesight, is determined to keep dancing and making dance.

We all have obstacles that rise up in our lives, but for some of us, the obstacles are exceptionally daunting. That was true for the dancer in this story, who made up her mind that her career would not be lost when her eyesight was lost.

Victoria Dombroski interviewed her for Backstage.

“Mana Hashimoto is a New York City-based contemporary dancer and choreographer whose career has spanned from her native Tokyo to many stages worldwide. She also happens to be blind. After losing her eyesight due to optic nerve atrophy, she was determined to keep dancing despite the unexpected obstacle. Since then, she has dedicated her life to merging blindness and dance, and to create artistic works through the use of her remaining senses.

How did losing your eyesight change your trajectory as a dancer?
I trained as a classic ballet dancer and it’s very common that when you take class, you have to check in the mirror to see how you look. It becomes a sort of obsession and trap, consciously or unconsciously. I think it was a relief that I no longer had to see myself in the mirror, but instead be in the moment and be with myself and accept who I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Were there certain things you learned about yourself as a dancer after losing your sight?
“I learned how to accept who I am, [to] be free, and to observe myself internally. It changed my perspective of what beauty is. Visual information can be overwhelming and we are shown what beauty should be instead of who you should be. …

What advice do you have for blind dancers and dancers with disabilities?
“I’m still a work-in-progress as a human being, but if I could advise something: keep enjoying dance. If there are some challenges, you can take them as opportunities to make your dance original. Any challenge is a door we didn’t expect we could open. …

What would you like to see more of in the New York dance community?
“I think more accessibility and openness to have visually impaired participants for workshops and classes. Once we have the right access, dance is open to anybody’s needs. I would also like to see more verbal description for dance performances. Before my performances, I invite visually impaired audiences to feel the space; they can touch and feel the props and costumes. …

What advice do you have for dancers encountering major setbacks in their dance career?
Hold onto your hope. I think it’s very important to share your difficulties along with your dreams.”

More here.

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Photo: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Margaret Baba Diri, a Ugandan legislator who lost her sight, visits the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton to gather ideas for helping the blind in her own country.

Here is a woman from Africa who refused to let her disability keep her from helping the people of her country.

Emily Williams writes at the Boston Globe, “Margaret Baba Diri is scrolling through her iPhone, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. The screen is dark, and she holds it at her chest, her finger swiping through the pages as an automated voice calls out the names of her apps until she lands on the one she wants.

“She is practicing ‘flicking,’ a technique she learned during an eight-week training program this spring at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton.

“A member of the Ugandan Parliament for more than 20 years, Baba Diri, 64, came to the center to improve her skills and move closer to her goal of opening a center for the blind and visually impaired in Uganda.

“She hopes to model many aspects of the Carroll Center’s program, she said, especially the close relationship instructors build with students. ‘We’re not here for competition,’ she said. ‘We are all growing at our own pace.’ …

“Over time, Baba Diri has developed many ways to compensate for her lack of sight and work independently. She reads braille and, with the use of a special machine, can record, edit, and print notes in braille.

“Over the past several weeks, through the center’s independent living program, Baba Diri practiced a range of everyday tasks, such as crossing streets, washing clothes, and cooking meals. …

“As she learns, she is taking careful note of how those skills are taught and envisioning how she’ll construct her own programs. …

“Baba Diri lost her sight in 1990 from glaucoma. She had been teaching biology and chemistry at a secondary school for 14 years, and when she lost her sight, she also lost her ability to teach.

“ ‘I thought it was the end of my life,’ she said.

“But a friend reminded her that the loss of her sight didn’t diminish her intellect. She could learn braille, practice mobility training, and find a new career.”

Learn more about this indomitable woman at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Adam Grossberg/KQED
Ahmet Ustunel, who is blind, plans to kayak across the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey, like blind King Phineus of Greek mythology.

Never say studying Greek mythology fails to prepare a student for life. Laura Klivans’s story at Public Radio International will help you understand why it can be valuable.

“Ahmet Ustunel remembers his daily commute to high school well. He’d wake up at home, on the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey, a city that straddles two continents. Then he would take a ferry across the Bosphorus Strait to the European side of the city. …

“Ustunel has been blind since he was three years old when he lost his sight because of eye cancer — but that never kept him away from the water. He spent afternoons fishing with his father and summers swimming in the Black Sea, where his grandmother had a house. …

“For the last 11 years, Ustunel has lived in the United States. … He plans to return to his homeland next summer to kayak solo across the Bosphorus Strait. …

“Ustunel first became inspired to captain his own boat in high school, while studying Greek mythology. …

” ‘There was this blind king called Phineus, and he used to live on the north side of the Bosphorus,’ he recalled. ‘His mission was guiding sailors in the dark safely to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean.’ …

“Earlier this year, Ustunel saw an opportunity … A nonprofit launched a new award to fund blind and visually impaired people undertaking adventures. The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition offers grants of up to $25,000 to accomplish a bold project. …

“LightHouse has been able to fund these creative projects after receiving an unexpected gift of $125 million from a Seattle businessman upon his death.

“For Ustunel, the money will help him buy the right kind of kayak and the instruments he will use to navigate. He’s documenting his training process on his website, where he calls himself ‘The Blind Captain.’

“So, how do you kayak if you can’t see? Ustunel says the first thing is to use your other senses, which can convey lots of information. …

“But to cross the Bosphorus, Ustunel will need more than just his senses. His journey will be just over 3 miles, but the strait is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. The waters are dangerously crowded with huge freighters and tankers, alongside small ferries and fishing boats — and the currents are strong.”

At PRI, here, you can read about the many gadgets the kayaker is testing before he tackles the Bosphorous.

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Today there are increasing numbers of opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy the benefits of activities that others take for granted.

Eva Clifford writes at Women & Girls Hub about one intriguing example: ballet for the blind.

“In a third-floor dance studio, Lorena Nieva begins teaching her ballet class. Every weekend Nieva, the international coordinator of Psicoballet, travels 80 miles (130km) from her home in Puebla to give lessons to a group of girls from Casa Rosa de la Torre, a home for blind children run by nuns. Aged between nine and 22, all of the girls in Nieva’s class are completely blind or partially sighted.

“As the music plays, Nieva guides the girls, steering their movements with the sound of her voice and a gentle push with her hand. While the first half of the lesson is spent rehearsing a dance routine, the second half is devoted to improvisation. Breaking from the rigidity and strictness of conventional ballet training, Nieva brings in objects to inspire movement and games, such as fabric sheets, elastic ribbons and chairs.

“ ‘Dance cannot be reduced to a single sense,’ says Nieva. ‘It has to come from the whole body – from its limitations, too.’

“Founded on the belief that dance is ingrained in our biological roots, Psicoballet was created in 1973 by Cuban psychologist Georgina Fariñas Garcia … Teachers and advocates say Psicoballet, like most forms of dance, improves balance, posture and mobility, while also boosting self-esteem and reducing anxiety and depression. …

“ ‘I really enjoy discovering new ways of teaching, as it forces me to get out of my comfort zone,’ says Nieva, who has instructed people of all ages and various disabilities, but says teaching the blind girls has so far been the most rewarding. ‘I am keen to see that the girls have fun in the lessons, and that what is learned does not just stay in class, but it also enriches their everyday lives.’

“For many of the girls, that’s exactly what Nieva’s teaching does. ‘It has helped me a lot,’ says Itary, 15. ‘I feel I have improved my way of coexisting. Before, I was very aggressive, I walked a little weirdly and crashed up against everything, and this is not the way to be. Everything has to be done in a smooth way. To dance is to express with my movements what is within me.’ ” More here.

I found the article at the Huffington Post, which had reposted it.

Photo: Eva Clifford
Four girls who suffer from blindness wait to be called out for their first dance in Chiapas southern Mexico.

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Nate Homan recently wrote a good human-interest story for the free subway newspaper, Metro. It’s about one of Boston’s subway musicians, a blind woman.

Michelle Abadia sits at Harvard Station early each morning that her T performer permit allows, strumming her guitar and singing to an audience she cannot see.

“ ‘Music was my passion from an early age. I don’t have a memory without it,’ Abadia said. ‘I am told that I was helping tune the piano when I was three.’ …

“She lost her sight to congenital cataracts at the age of 4 after six unsuccessful eye surgeries. She has started a GoFundMe page hoping to earn $20,000 to fund her musical career and to help pay for medical bills. …

“She earned a double degree in language studies and music in Boston College, and went on to earn a master’s in French literature and International Latin American Studies from Tufts. After that, she earned New England Conservatory master’s for vocal performances.

“Now she is trying to earn a living as a musician, after teaching Spanish at several colleges in the area and working as an interpreter in courtrooms.

“ ‘The commuters are half asleep, and I don’t know how effective I can be in brightening their days, but some people say the I do,’ Abadia said. …

“ ‘For anyone who is blind wants to be a musician, or anything, I would tell them to follow their dreams,’ Abadia said.”

More here.

Photo: Metro.us

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Douglas Quenqua recently wrote in the NY Times about a study with rats that could someday lead to aids for the blind.

“Blind rats with a sensor and compass attached to their brains were able to navigate a maze as successfully as sighted rats, researchers found.

“Researchers at the University of Tokyo wanted to test whether a mammal could use allocentric sense — the awareness of one’s body relative to its environment — to replace vision. The scientists attached a geomagnetic sensor and digital compass to the visual cortices of rats with their eyes sewn shut.

“When the rats moved their heads, the sensors generated electrical impulses to tell them which direction they were facing. The rats were then trained to find pellets in various mazes.

“Within a few days, the blind rats were able to navigate the mazes as well as rats that could see. The two groups of rodents relied on similar navigation strategies. The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, could help lead to devices that help blind people independently navigate their surroundings.

“ ‘The most plausible application is to attach a geomagnetic sensor to a cane so that the blind can know the direction via tactile signals such as vibration,’ Yuji Ikegaya, a pharmacologist and co-author of the study, wrote in an email.” More here.

I couldn’t find a picture of three rats together although there were lots of drawings of three blind mice. I started thinking, Do children even know nursery rhymes anymore? I wonder what they would make of Jack, for example, who fell down “and broke his crown” and “went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper.” I know a couple kids who would have a lot of questions about that medical treatment.

Perhaps we should make a concerted effort to teach these rhymes before they are lost completely. After all, they are part of our culture, one of our many cultures.

Photo: redorbit

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Studio 360 interviewed a blind photographer the other day. He had not always been blind, and blindness has not stopped him from creating high-quality photographs, strange as that may seem. He gets by with a little help from his friends.

But then, which among us doesn’t?

“In 1994, a stroke left the young photographer John Dugdale nearly blind, and over the years since, he has lost the remainder of his vision. But has never stopped taking photographs.

“ ‘I have a few wonderful people in my life that I trust to help me create the pictures that I see in my mind’ Dugdale tells guest host [Studio 360] Alan Cumming. He insists on releasing the shutter on every photo he takes. ‘It’s the most sacred time in my life whenever that shutter opens and closes — and it’s also the only time I’m quiet.’ …

“Dugdale contracted HIV in the mid-1980s. In the early 1990s he became ill with cytomegalovirus retinitis, an eye infection common in HIV patients, and it accelerated quickly. ‘I didn’t tell anyone, because I thought through magical thinking maybe it would go away,’ Dugdale explains. ‘In a matter of weeks I lost one eye.’ A stroke left him paralyzed for a year and left him with about 20% of his vision. … ‘I’m alive because my mother brought me elbow macaroni with Parmesan cheese and beans every single day for a year.’

“When Dugdale was released from the hospital, he almost immediately began working again. He tells Alan that the photographs ‘poured like a libation out of a vase. I barely even felt like I was making them. They just made themselves.’ …

“ ‘Being blind is not what you think,’ Dugdale tells Alan, ‘it’s not all darkness. My optic nerve still works and shoots a beautiful ball of brightly colored orange and purple and violet light and sparkling flashes all the time.” More at Studio 360, here. Check out some of Dugdale’s work, which continues to be in demand by prominent collections.

Photo: John Dugdale
“Untitled, Self-Portrait with Teacups” 1994

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