Bits & Bobs

A few random thoughts and observations as we enter the new year . . .

Flarp! Sound Putty

My beloved son received a container of Flarp! sound putty from Santa Claus.  It’s a thick blue slime with a grape scent where, if you leave it in the container and shove your hand in it, makes farting noises.  He laughed hysterically while playing with it for over 5 minutes.  Later Christmas evening, he was experimenting with its viscosity, having two different Flarp! chunks oozing down his legs and between his toes (I think it was a race).  He’s enjoyed the scent, the texture, and, of course, the noise.  If you have a 10 yo boy, I highly recommend Flarp! (if you’re ok with giggling and fart noises, that is).

A Shout Out to Cinemark!

A pair of black wireless headphones with a flash-lit hand holding them.

Cinemark’s wireless headphones for AD

We went to Cinemark on Christmas Eve to watch Frozen 2 as a family.  Peanut LOVED the new audio description headset–and so did Efrit and I.  IT WAS ONE PIECE.  ONE!  ONE ONLY!!!

*ahem*  As you can tell, I’m a little excited about this.  Instead of the receiver you have to keep track of with a pair of cheapish headphones plugged into its headphone jack, Cinemark’s new AD headphones are completely wireless.  They’re nice, padded headphones.  Peanut was able to enjoy the movie without having to keep track of the receiver; I was able to enjoy the movie without worrying about the receiver falling on the floor and getting damaged.  I didn’t have to look for it once when Peanut shifted position or otherwise moved.  It was AMAZING.  An ENORMOUS shout-out to Cinemark for the quality of the AD headset!

And yes, for those who are wondering, Frozen 2 was fantastic.  I think it was the same excellent AD narrator as in the first movie, although I only heard snippets in the quiet portion of the film.  Stay through the credits–you’ll thank me later.


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A Shout Out to @Disney

Recently, we were blessed to go on our second Disney Cruise.  I was concerned coming up to the trip:  when we took our first cruise, Peanut still had usable vision.  For this cruise, he would not.  How would he do on his own at activities like the Oceaneer Club?  He loved the club on our previous trip–how would it work for him now, with light perception only?

I had no reason to worry:  the Oceaneer Club was still Peanut’s favorite part of the trip.  He spent hours there, some on his own and some with his sister.  He never called us to pick him up, and he was always upset to have to leave.  Disney and its Cast Members were able to make the Oceaneer Club magical for him, even though he wasn’t able to see.  I’m not sure what all they did or how they did it–I only went in the club to pick him up once, when he was seated at a table with two counselors and several other kids playing a game–but they worked their magic and he enjoyed his time there.

They made it accessible for him.  In a world where so many places and activities are not, it was magical for us that he got to be a kid, just like everyone else.

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Craft Time! An Accessible Advent Calendar

A Twitter friend recently pointed out that it’s hard to find accessible advent calendars.  Sure, there’s some out there (like this one from the RNIB:, but they’re not designed to be fun. Advent calendars, as far as my kids are concerned, should have toys or chocolate–they’re not particularly interested in calendars that are just flaps, particularly since they’d be blank flaps opening to blank pages for Peanut, and they have no interest in calendars that are just words, no matter how inspiring or important those words may be.

Back when I was beginning my parenting journey, I made my own advent calendar using instructions from a family magazine.  My kids love it and eagerly look forward to it coming out each year.  Here’s what you’ll need to make your own:

  • A large sheet of cardboard.  If memory serves, I used the side of a shipping box
  • 12 toilet paper tubes
  • Glue.  Although I did not use it to make mine, I think a hot glue gun would make this easier and more durable.  (I’ve had to repair mine with tape and stickers a few times.)
  • Paint
  • Scissors
  • Rubber bands
  • Tissue paper
  • Yarn
  • Candy, small toys, etc.
The calendar before being filled.

When you build the calendar, it will look something like this.

Here’s how you put it together:

  1. Cut each of the toilet paper tubes in half so you have two smaller tubes.
  2. Make small cuts at one end of each of the tubes evenly around the circumference of the tube.  You’re doing this so you can splay those pieces out flat to glue them to the cardboard sheet, making it so the tube sticks straight out from the sheet.
  3. Glue the splayed edges to the cardboard sheet in rows of 4 or 5.  You can glue these in other patterns if you wish; mine are in a grid pattern.
  4. Paint the calendar.  I used a few coats of white spray paint.
  5. Poke two holes in the top of the sheet of cardboard.
  6. Run a piece of yarn through the holes to make a hangar.  You can put an end through each hole and knot it on the back, or make a big loop that runs through the holes if you like.
  7. Decorate the calendar as you like.  Mine has “Advent” written at the top and a variety of holiday stickers.
Calendar Finished

When it’s filled, your calendar will look something like this.

When you’re ready to fill your calendar:

  1. Cut small squares of tissue paper.  I recommend making each square two thicknesses of paper so it’s less see-through.
  2. Lay the calendar out in front of you and put your prizes in each of the tubes.  I’ve used chocolates, small souvenirs from our travels, finger lights (these were HUGELY popular), balloons, etc.  Use whatever you like–it just needs to fit in the tube, or be close to fitting in the tube.
  3. Put a square of tissue paper over each tube and rubber band it (easy) or tie it down (a bit more complicated, but workable).
  4. Put a number on the tissue paper on the end of each tube.  You can use a marker, foam stickers, or braille them if you like.  (Since ours are in a grid and we’ve used it for years, Peanut knows what order the tubes are in, so I just use marker.)

All you need to do next is hang up your calendar and enjoy it with your kids.  They can punch through the tissue paper each day to get to the treat or just rip it off.

Peanut and Sprout absolutely love this calendar, and I’ve enjoyed putting it together for them each year.  It takes a bit of work to assemble the first year, but after that the hardest part is deciding what to put in it.  You can make it as tactile as you like.

Happy Advent!

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Time to Sign Up for Braille Readers are Leaders!

Peanut loves a good competition–learn more and join him at the American Action Fund!

From the mailbag:

As part of its mission to promote Braille reading, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults is sponsoring Braille Readers Are Leaders 2019-2020. Braille readers in grades K-12 compete with others in their grade category to read the most pages during the reading period from December 1 to January 18. An adult category allows adults who want to practice their Braille skills to participate as well. Registration began on November 1, and it will remain open until the final day of the reading period. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top readers in each category, and each participant
will receive a packet of Braille-related gifts.

A little competition is a great way to get kids (and adults!) reading. Please register and start gathering books and magazines to be ready for the reading period to begin. Braille readers are leaders!

You can find the registration form, reading log form, and contest rules by visiting If you have questions, email  or call 410-659-9315.

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Survey for B/VI folks on Body Movement

From the mailbag:

Inviting Persons who are Blind or have Low Vision for Survey for Learning a Physical Activity

 Researchers from the University of Iowa Department of Computer Science are inviting people who identify as blind or low vision, are at least 18 years old, and have participated in athletic activities that involve swings to participate in an online survey to provide experiences when learning swings in athletic activities (e.g., forehand, or backhand swings). The survey will take no longer than 15 minutes. Our long-term goal is to develop technologies that provide coaching feedback on body movements, especially when performing these movements in Virtual Reality gaming. There is no compensation for this survey; however, upon completion you will have the option to be entered into a raffle to win $25. Raffle entrance is limited to the first 50 participants who opt in.

 If you have questions, please contact Elizabeth Zak at

 To find out more about the survey:

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TVI or future TVI looking for a summer gig? The NFB’s BELL Program may have the opportunity for you!

From the mailbag:

Participate in the NFB BELL Academy Teacher Immersion Program

Are you a teacher of blind students or a future teacher working on certification? Consider training and support with NFB BELL Academy.  Apply for the National Federation of the Blind’s 2020 Teacher Training and Immersion Program for
NFB BELL Academy, also known as Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning.
Dynamic teaching opportunity. World-class professionals. Hands-on experience.
Financial compensation included.

About the program:
This program is for teachers or future teachers who:

  • Believe in the capabilities of blind children.
  • Actively promote the age-appropriate and effective use of Braille.
  • Understand that exposure to independent blind role models plays
    an integral role in the academic and social success of blind students.
  • Have enthusiasm about making learning fun.

    This program consists of:
    A weekend of training on the curriculum, philosophy, and structure of our NFB BELL Academy.  This weekend will take place at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, beginning on Thursday evening, January 9 and concluding on Sunday, January 12, 2020.  The National Federation of the Blind will cover travel, lodging, and meals. One to two weeks at one of our early NFB BELL Academies (May or early
    June, 2020), shadowing an experienced BELL Academy teacher, and gradually moving into a teaching role under the supervising teacher.  The cost of the immersion experience in one of our early academies will be covered by the National Federation of the Blind. Teachers agree to be the lead teacher in at least one other BELL Academy during the 2020 summer season. Support from an
    experienced NFB BELL Academy teacher who will be available for questions and assistance in preparing for the role of lead teacher for one of our state affiliates.

    How to apply
    To apply, send your resume and a cover letter describing why you are interested in the program to by November 15, 2019. A background check will be performed prior to your acceptance into the program. Learn more about the
    NFB BELL Academy at

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Help test/develop a B/VI employment app

From the mailbag:

The NRTC on Blindness & Low Vision at Mississippi State University is now
recruiting for field test participants for a new app project, 4to24,
designed to help parents and youth focus on employment. The app provides
information, resources, and activities that will help youth build
independence and skills for employment as an adult.

We are seeking parents of youth with blindness or visual impairment who are
age 4 to 24, and youth with blindness or visual impairment who are age 16
to 24, to participate in a study using the app for a 6-month period.

If you or someone you know may be interested in learning more, please follow this link:

If you have questions or need more assistance, please call Anne Steverson
or Karla Antonelli at 1-866-675-7782 or email at or

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NFB Twitter Chat TODAY on Web Accessibility!

From the mailbag:

Participate in Twitter chat about web accessibility!

Join us Friday, October 11 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET to participate in the #MeetTheBlind Month Twitter chat. A Twitter chat is a scheduled, organized topical conversation on Twitter centralized around a specific hashtag. Some questions this week will include the following:

  • What is web accessibility?
  • What are common accessibility barriers?
  • What should be done to increase web accessibility?

Here are some tips to participate:

  • Every response during the Twitter chat needs to include the designated hashtag. Our hashtag is #MeetTheBlind. Find the chat either by searching for the hashtag or going to the @NFB_Voice profile.
  • Include the question number in your response. For example, question 1 may be, “Q1: Introduce yourself.” Start your reply with A1 in order to coordinate answers to the corresponding question.
  • Engage with others in the chat. The chat isn’t only for answering the set questions but to also encourage, support, and assist others who are part of the chat. Tweet, reply, retweet.

Our goal for Meet the Blind Month is to engage members and to provide public awareness. Join us!

October 11, 2019 – Web Accessibility | 12:00 p.m. ET to 1:00 p.m. ET | #MeetTheBlind

There are some more Twitter tips available in the following recent Braille Monitor article:

We look forward to your participation.

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Participants Needed: Contrast’s impact on VI peoples’ perception of the environment

From the mailbag:

To be eligible for this study, participants must:

  • Have a Low-vision diagnosis.
  • Be over age 18
  • Live in the U.S.

My name is Lauren Ashley Hughes, and I am a Visiting Assistant Professor at Mississippi State and a graduate student at the Ball State University. I am being supervised in my research by Dr. Shireen Kanakri at Ball State University. I am conducting an online study investigating how contrast in the interior environment can affect a low-vision person’s perception of the environment and their behavior within that environment. I am looking for low-vision participants with a low-vision diagnosis that are over the age of 18 and live in the United States of America to participate in my study.

This study consists of an online survey, which should take you less than fifteen minutes to complete. All of your responses will be anonymous and confidential.  Your willingness to participate in the survey will allow interior designers and architects to learn how to design the built environment to accommodate the low-vision population more effectively in the future.

To begin the study, please go to:

The survey can be accessed and filled out by computer or by mobile device.

If you have any questions before, during or after the study, feel free to contact me at 662-386-4887 or by email at Dr. Kanakri can be reached at

Thank you in advance for your participation in our research.

Warmest regards,

Lauren Ashley Hughes

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Participants Needed for study to improve access to visual programming tools for VI kids

I am glad someone is working on this:  b/vi kids need access to early programming education, too.

From the mailbag:

I am leading a long-term project at the University of North Texas to
improve access to visual programming tools for children with visual
impairments. Examples of visual programming tools are Scratch and Snap,
which require small blocks of code to be connected together with the mouse
to create a program.  If your child is visually impaired and has been in a
classroom or other environment where they and their peers are learning
about programming, I’d like to hear about their experiences and your
insight into any challenges.  The survey is from your point of view, though
you may need to ask your child some questions.

Your participation will take about 10 minutes of your time.  The survey is

At the end of the survey, you can opt into a raffle for a $50 Amazon gift
card (US only).

If you have any questions, please contact me at

Thank you,

Dr. Stephanie Ludi

Professor, Undergraduate Coordinator, Co-Director of Research In Software
Engineering Lab

Dept. of Computer Science & Engineering

University of North Texas

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