VI Doctoral Student Needs Your Help

From the mailbag:

Hello Everyone! I am a visually impaired clinical psychology doctoral student. I am looking to recruit participants for my dissertation research study concerning visual impairment and child development. Information about my study is below.

Advertisement for Research on Visual Impairment

Study: The Early Years: How A Visually Impaired Infant’s Earliest Relationships with Caregivers Impacts Their Social-Emotional Development

Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study is to help the field of psychology develop a better understanding of how early visual impairment impacts the bonding process between visually impaired infants and their caregivers. Additionally, it is important to investigate how this early bonding process could potentially impact a visually impaired child’s general social-emotional functioning as the child ages.

Eligibility Requirements:
– Must be 18 or older
– Must have a visual impairment that developed before the age of 3, OR be a parent of a child who has a visual impairment that developed before the age of 3.
– Adults with visual impairment must be younger than age 30. Parents of children with visual impairment must have children younger than age 30.
– Due to the nature of the study, only ocular-based visual impairments (visual impairments caused by disease, injury, or other damage to the eye, retina or optic nerve with no damage to the brain and an inability to correct the vision with glasses) will be considered.
– Individuals with multiple disabilities may be considered depending on the nature of their additional disabilities.
– All race/ethnicities, genders/gender identities, religions, socioeconomic statuses, and sexual orientations are welcome to participate.
– If there are two parent/caregivers of a visually impaired child, both parents/caregivers are welcome to participate but not required.

Anticipated Time Commitment
Participation will require the participant to fill out a 15-minute survey about their personal and visual impairment related demographics, as well as participate in a 1-3 hour audio-recorded interview. In person interviews are preferred, however alternative interview methods such as over the phone or secured video conference can be discussed.

Location of The Research
In-person interviews will be conducted at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology- Chicago Campus.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
325 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60654

If you have any questions or wish to participate in the study, please contact Brittany Adams Yee at (414)418-3809 or via email at

Posted in From the mailbag, Making a Difference, Random Thoughts and Observations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

This October, Support EAC

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how best to convince you to support the Equal Access Collaborative (EAC) and its mission of inclusion for B/VI kiddos like Peanut.  I can give you the snippit from their Web site, describing EAC as:

a nonprofit organization pairing highly-qualified Visual Impairment professionals with families of students with visual impairments.  [Their] goal is to improve inclusion for students who have trouble accessing visual information at school.  [They] believe in transformational leadership as a powerful tool for culture change in education.

But honestly, I don’t think that’s enough.  Instead, I’m going to tell you why I think that this organization will succeed.

Kathy Alstrin, EAC’s founder, is a TVI, COMS, and Ph.D. student.  She was also Peanut’s first TVI.  I have witnessed first-hand her absolute commitment to equal access and absolute faith in the ability of B/VI children to go on to live normal lives with the correct support, and her determination that that support will be provided, even in the face of organizational politics working to her personal detriment.  When we first started this journey, our early in-home therapists asked us what our goal was for Peanut:  we responded “for him to have a normal life.”  Where other in-home workers gave us odd, concerned looks, like we were being unreasonable or overly hopeful, Kathy whole-heartedly agreed–of course, that was the goal.  That still is the goal.  Kathy is an enormous part of why, in Peanut’s case and I believe in many others, that goal is absolutely reachable.

I am also privileged to be part of the group helping launch this organization, albeit from the background in my case.  I know the people who are putting this together, and they are amazing:  these are TVIs, COMS, people with visual impairments (many of whom happen to be TVIs and COMS), parents of children with visual impairments, and more.  All are passionate about our B/VI kids getting equal access and collaborating with parents and caregivers to make sure that our kids get their best chance, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay, their education level, or their ability to argue.  I know first-hand what it’s like to be in a school district that doesn’t believe in my kid and having to argue that basic services (braille!) be provided.  EAC is here to help make sure that no parent in that situation has to go it alone.

If you are interested in finding out more about EAC, please visit their Web site at:

If you would like to make a donation and help this 501(c)(3) get started, please visit the fall fundraiser at:

Posted in Making a Difference, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Please Donate to Seedlings’ Annual Auction

Seedlings is by far one of my favorite charities:  they provide free and low-cost braille and twin-vision books.  We’ve been fortunate beneficiaries of their contests and their annual Book Angel program, and they’ve been instrumental in building Peanut’s braille library and helping us encourage him in braille literacy.  They are currently requesting donations for their upcoming Silent Auction, one of the major fundraisers that enables them to do their good work.  If you would like to make a donation, they’ll repay you by advertising your or your company’s name and logo with a direct link to your Web site next to your auction item:  it’s a chance to get advertising while supporting a great cause.  More information is below.

From the mailbag:

Seedlings is in need of auction donations!

We need more items in our auction catalog to raise $18,000 for 1,800 braille books.

Please donate by Oct. 15 if you are able to help.

If you have already contributed, your donation is deeply appreciated!

Popular auction items include:

  • Gift cards to restaurants
  • Gift cards to popular retailers
  • Travel opportunities
  • Tickets to sporting events
  • Passes to entertainment venues
  • Movie & theater passes/gift certificates
  • Behind-the-scenes tours
  • Outdoor adventures
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics

We will advertise your name or company’s name and logo with a direct link to your website next to the item you donate in our online catalog on

Your donation will be seen by up to 490,000 bidders during the duration of the auction, Nov. 1-14.

Help us get more braille books into the hands of blind children by donating today!

For questions, contact Karen Smith at or 800-777-8552.

Download Donation Form:

Donate to Seedlings:

Posted in Early Literacy, From the mailbag, Making a Difference, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Grants Available: United Healthcare Children’s Foundation

If you’re in a position where there’s a gap between what you’re insurance pays and what your kiddo needs, the United Healthcare Children’s Foundation (UHCCF) may be able to help.  As explained on their Web site,

UHCCF’s mission is to help fill the gap between what medical services/items a child needs and what their commercial health benefit plan will pay for. UHCCF grants provide financial help/assistance for families with children that have medical needs not covered or not fully covered by their commercial health insurance plan.

Unlike other programs that require you to be near-destitute or severely disabled in order to receive aid (we, too, once looked into SSI), this program appears reachable by middle-class families with children with moderate to severe needs.  To qualify for a grant, your kiddo must be 16 years old or younger, have a Social Security number issued by the Social Security Administration, be covered by commercial/private health insurance, be under the care of a licensed medical professional and you must be applying for treatments/equipment/services prescribed by a MD, DO, or AuD.  The income requirements are generous:

  • $50K or less for a family of 2
  • $75K or less for a family of 3
  • $100K or less for a family of 4
  • $125K or less for a family of 5+

The income must be documented on your IRS Form 1040.

If you’re interested in learning more about UHCCF, check out their Web site:


Posted in Making a Difference, Random Thoughts and Observations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gage Park’s Animaland

Location: Across from the Topeka Zoo in Gage Park, approx. 10th and Gage

Cost:  Free

Web site:


Peanut and Sprout play on a large concrete shoe.

Generations of Topekans have happily played on the giant concrete creatures in Animaland.  There’s a shoe (we always said it was the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe’s shoe), rhinos, a boat with two walruses and a giant anchor (although it looks more like a tug boat, it’s a pirate ship.  It was a pirate ship when I was a kid, and today’s kids in the park still say it’s a pirate ship.), an elephant, an octopus, a pair of kangaroos, a giant blue whale (fantastic place to pretend to be Jonah!), an alligator, two gorillas, a tortoise/hare, a pair of camels, and what may be a hatching egg.  The concrete structures are periodically painted, and they’ve been spruced up for the younger generation with a thick layer of playground foam around the bases.



The water fountain, with the camels in the background to the left and the egg (?) straight back.

The pathways are wide, but the sidewalk is worn, so cane skills do come in useful.  Although Animaland used to be fenced off, it’s open now, so parents do need to keep an eye on their kids.  This is easy to do, as there are plenty of benches and picnic tables in this part of the park.  There’s even a water fountain to help rehydrate after lots of climbing and playing.


I’m a huge fan of Animaland; it’s one of the things from my childhood that I’ve been able to share with my children, and that’s awesome.  The structures are absolutely tactile–people climb and play all over them–so checking them out by touch is not only ok, it’s encouraged.  Some of the creatures are easier to play in than others–the octopus is more challenging, for example–but there’s really something here for every age group.  There were some big holes in the padding under the octopus when I was last there, so you may want to check out the different structures with your kiddo before letting him or her run wild.


The “pirate ship” is at the center of this photo, with its anchor before it.  A walrus is at the left, and another walrus’ nose pokes out to the right.


The hole under one of the octopus’ legs.  I’d say i’s about 5″ across and 2″ deep–more than enough to trip a cane user.



I love this whale.  It even has a blow hole in the top.  If you look carefully at the left, you can see it’s eaten Peanut.


Peanut and Sprout walk further into the park.  The pirate ship is straight back, the alligator is at the left, and the elephants are at the right.







Posted in Kansas, Topeka, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gage Park Carousel

Location:  Gage Park, near 10th & Gage.  The Carousel is towards the middle of the park by the pool.

Cost:  At the time we visited, it was $1.50 per person per ride.

Web site:


Photo of the carousel from the back of its enclosure.

The Carousel in the Park is a restored 1908 carousel that sits in the heart of Topeka’s Gage Park.  The sides of the building are open on two sides when the carousel’s in operation, so you can see outdoors as you ride.  Since it’s an antique carousel, it’s very tactile:  the horses often have tails made of real horsehair, and everything is elaborately carved.  There are a variety of creatures on the carousel, including horses, zebras, and rabbits.

This is an accessible ride if you are reasonably mobile.  There are a few benches for people who can’t or don’t wish to mount the animals.  There’s a step up to get on the platform and down again, and it’s fairly crowded with its three rows of animals.  Peanut was able to navigate the carousel fairly well without his cane on his own; I had to warn him about the step down, however, because there is no contrast to speak of and, obviously, no railing.  The carousel is definitely not wheelchair accessible, however.


A partially-restored carousel horse:  the head and neck look shiny and new, but the body and foreleg show considerable wear and tear.

There is a sample of a partially-restored horse on one of the walls; I don’t think anyone would have an issue with it being touched by a careful B/VI person eager to see how the restoration worked.  There are also cut-outs of the four main Wizard of Oz characters to take photos with (i.e. you put your face where Dorothy’s would be) for those who are interested.  I don’t think the carousel’s pipe organ was playing when we last rode the carousel, but I can’t swear to it.





Sprout looks at the carousel creatures.

Posted in Kansas, Topeka, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Study: Use of Camera-Based Assistive Tech by VI People

From the mailbag:


We are researchers from Indiana University Bloomington conducting a study
to understand the use of camera-based assistive technologies by people with
visual impairments.

We invite you to participate in this study by taking part in a 15-20
minutes online survey from a place of your convenience. To participate in
the survey you need to have access to a computer or smartphone with a
screen reader and Internet connection. For your participation in the
survey, you will be enrolled in a random drawing with a chance to win one
of ten $20 gift certificates and have a 1 in 10 chance of winning.

If you are interested in participating in our study or have any questions
about the study, please fill out the form at: Please click here to sign-up

Alternatively, you may email or call Tousif Ahmed at
812-606-6542. To participate in this study, participants must identify as
visually impaired, be 18 years or older, and live in the United States.

Taslima Akter
Indiana University Bloomington

Posted in From the mailbag, Random Thoughts and Observations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Audio Description ROCKS: Cinemark Theatres Merriam

Location: 5500 Antioch Road, Merriam, KS 66202

Cost: It depends on the time of day, show you’re seeing, etc.

Web site:

Recently, we splurged and went to Cinemark Theatres in Merriam to see Incredibles 2.  We bought treats and everything (a huge splurge for us!).  The best part?  Peanut was able to fully enjoy the movie through the gift of audio description.

When you get to Cinemark, buy your tickets at the ticket booth and tell them you need audio description.  If you need more than one headset, tell them that too.  The ticket seller will fill out a white order form on a small sheet of paper and hand it to you.


An audio description headset (and Peanut’s cane)

Next, you will head to the main concession stand–this is the one directly opposite the main entrance.  Our ticket seller told us to go to the far right of the counter; the person who ended up helping us said we needed to go to the far left side.  Either way, the procedure is this:  you go to the counter and hand the worker the order slip.  S/he will take that slip and bring back a set of headphones plugged into a small receiver–think about the size of a beeper.  This is the audio description headset.  It will already be tuned in to your movie at your time, in your theatre, etc.

Next, you go to your theatre and find a seat like everyone else.  Put on your headphones, and voilà, you get audio description.  It even describes the previews!  When you’re done, simply go back to the main concession stand and hand the headset to any employee.  Easy peasy.

Peanut was hesitant about getting the audio description set, and he said he didn’t want it.  He ended up wearing it for most of the movie, and it definitely made it so he had every bit as much fun as the rest of us.  For my part, I was impressed with how easy it was to get the headset–this was my first time, and it was absolutely no trouble at all.  We will definitely be back to Cinemark for our next family movie splurge.

For those of you who are wondering:  Incredibles 2 was FANTASTIC.  Our whole family loved it.  It might be a little scary for younger kids, but my 9yo and 6yo had a blast.

Posted in Kansas, Merriam, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Challenge Air is Coming September 8th!

If you have a child with a disability and live within a reasonable distance of the Kansas City Metro Area, I highly recommend signing up for Challenge Air.  Aside from the party aspects and free t-shirt, kiddos with disabilities get to fly planes alongside an accomplished pilot.  As we tell Peanut:  if you can fly, you can do anything.

There’s a great article about Challenge Air and a link to the sign-up on our local Fox station’s Web site here:

A parent will need to tag along, and there are weight limits (I want to say 250 lbs, but I can’t swear to it).  It’s been a magical experience for Peanut–he always comes back so excited and super-charged from the experience.  You should check it out, too.

Posted in Kansas City, Kansas City Metro Area, Missouri, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Next Generation of Blind and Low-vision Youth Need You!

Once upon a time, when we first learned Peanut’s retinas were detached and our world had changed overnight, I found the NFB’s “Where the Blind Work” page online, and it has made all the difference.  Simply sharing your story can radically change someone’s life–our family is here as proof of that.  If you have time and inclination, you, too, can change the world, one person at a time, through volunteering with the NFB’s CAREER Mentoring Program.  More information below.

From the mailbag:

National Federation of the Blind Career Mentoring program

Blind and low-vision youth need exposure to positive blind role models who demonstrate a genuine belief in them and in their natural abilities. Here is a wonderful opportunity for you to give back to the next generation and to help them achieve their full potential.

We are actively recruiting successful independent blind or low-vision adults. Go to and sign up to become a mentor.

Through guidance and example, you can help raise expectations and teach blind youth the practical strategies of how to access resources and to acquire skills for success.

If you are willing to share your life experiences, to teach tips and tools for living independently, to assist blind youth to become better self-advocates, the National Federation of the Blind Career Mentoring Program offers you a golden opportunity to give back.

Our NFB Career Mentoring program provides a framework of training and support that will empower you to be a successful mentor to an aspiring blind or low-vision youth. We will host several fun educational activities that allow the mentor/mentee relationships to
grow. If you do not feel you have the time, remember that in many instances, a phone call, an email, or a text may be a life changing interaction.

In addition to having the opportunity to positively impact the life of a young blind person, you will also be able to improve your own skills, and to expand your personal/professional networks.

For more information, check out the article in the April issue of the Braille Monitor, entitled “Changing Attitudes Regarding Education, Employment, and Rehabilitation through the National Federation of the Blind CAREER Mentoring program:”

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want, blindness is not what holds you back.

Maurice Peret
Coordinator of Career Mentoring Programs
200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, extension 2350|

Posted in Making a Difference, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment