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Posts Tagged ‘blind’

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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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