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Winter 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Spoken Text Website Launched&And Its Free

By Christine Sweeton, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario
Reprinted with permission from The Charlatan, Carleton University Independent Newspaper, September 14, 2007.

Abstract: A Carleton Univ. graduate launches a free website, , that allows members to convert text files into speech recordings.

Key words: blindness, visual impairment, print-disabled, The Charlatan, Carleton University, spokentext, screen reader, Mark McKay, Carleton School of Psychology Human-Oriented Technology Laboratory.

A bright, young student at an American university eagerly awaited the start of the school year. She started attending her classes and enjoyed all her lectures. It was not until she went to purchase textbooks for her courses that her university career slammed to a devastating halt.

This student was blind, and her textbooks were not available as audio books.

The university rushed to acquire the information in another format. Reluctantly, publishers released the texts as digital files on CD. The written words on the computer screen were no easier to see than those on a page. As she fell behind in her courses, she wondered if this signaled the end of her university career.

While searching the Internet, one of her professors stumbled upon spokentext.net. Created through a partnership between Carleton graduate Mark McKay and the Carleton School of Psychology Human-Oriented Technology Laboratory (HOT Lab) the website is designed to assist visually-impaired people around the globe. The website, spokentext.net, is free for all users and allows members to easily convert text files into speech recordings. The recordings can then be listened to directly or transferred to iTunes or an iPod.

Being able to quickly and easily turn digital textbooks into recordings helped save that American students education. Thankful for the solution, the student wrote to McKay, the websites creator.

McKay graduated from Carleton in 2000 with a commerce degree, specializing in information systems. He is also visually-impaired and worked with the government on web accessibility prior to starting the website. Focused on helping other people, his goal was to create an easier way for the people to access text in spoken form.

I had the idea for years, says McKay. When his government contract ended and he met Robert Biddle, a HOT Lab professor, the website began to take form. McKay wrote all the computer code and designed the interface himself.

Spokentext.net went live in December 2006 and now includes members from more than 80 countries.

After its launch, McKay and Biddle began researching user reaction to the site. They aim to keep spokentext.net as simple as possible, but many features were added at the request of users.

I believe that technology should bend to the user, not the user bending to technology. The sites design is user-driven, says McKay. I wanted to remove the pain from converting text. The site is empowering. There is no need to wait for the files.

The site was originally designed for the print-disabled, but now includes many non-disabled members. Print-disabled is a broad category, which includes the blind, visually-impaired, those who are illiterate or who have learning disabilities, and anyone learning English as a second language. Unable to easily read the written word, the print-disabled look for other ways of receiving the information.

McKay says he hopes the website will reach even further. Students have started using the site to convert their study notes into recordings that they can listen to while doing things like exercising.

McKay is currently focused on promoting the site, emphasizing to those in need of this service that it is available, and free and simple to use. He has already had meetings with Carletons Paul Menton Centre to share information about the site.

Without an official sponsor, the site is funded by McKay, Biddle and a Paypal donation feature on the home page. I want the people who use it to support it, says McKay. They are currently raising money to add a female voice option, which will cost $260. It is not a huge sum, says McKay, who notes that he would love to add other voices and languages though the funding is not available yet. Both the interface and speech files are available only in English, but McKay says he eventually wants to provide multilingual speech conversions

After six months online, Spokentext.net is still growing and changing. McKay says he hopes that spokentext.net membership will continue to grow and the site will gain popularity. We know it isnt perfect, we know it doesnt have all these features, but its usable and it helps.

Winter 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Bookshare.Org News Update

Excerpt from Bookshare.org Website

Abstract: Bookshare.org announces a five-year award that allows them to supply high quality textbooks and educational materials to students with special needs.

Key words: Blindness, visual impairment, Bookshare.org, Benetech, literacy, IDEA, print disability.

Created in 2002 by the nonprofit organization Benetech, Bookshare.org is a subscription-based service used by nearly 6,000 U.S. residents. Bookshare.org gives print disabled people in the United States legal access to over 35,000 books and 150 periodicals that are converted to Braille, large print or text to speech audio files. Bookshare.org announces:

Were happy to share incredible news, which will transform Bookshare.org. On Friday, the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. federal Department of Education made a major five-year award of $32 million to Bookshare.org. This will further the objectives of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), by supplying high quality textbooks and educational materials to students with special needs.

This funding is to fully support all schools and students with qualifying print disabilities in the United States. It applies to all students, of any age, in K-12 or beyond. We will provide these students with access to the entire Bookshare.org collection of accessible electronic books and to software for reading those books. As of October 1, 2007, we have ceased charging these schools and students anything to join Bookshare.org. We also expect to add over 100,000 new educational titles in high quality DAISY and Braille formats over the next five years, getting students the high quality textbooks they need for academic success.

Bookshare.org is delighted to announce the opening of Bookshare.org to international users with qualifying print disabilities. We have an expanding number of books where we have received generous permission from publishers and authors to make their works available globally. We suggest you check out the books we have available globally, as explained on our International Searching page.

If you are someone who cant read a printed book, or know a person who has difficulty reading printed text, the Bookshare.org community is here to serve you.

Winter 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Book Announcement: A Parents Guide to Special Education for Children with Visual Impairments Edited by Susan LaVenture

Excerpt from American Foundation for the Blind website

Key Words: blindness, visual impairment, American Foundation for the Blind, special education, National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments.

This handbook for parents, family members, and caregivers of children with visual impairments explains special education services that these children are likely to need and to which they are entitledand how to make sure that they receive them.

Edited by the Executive Director of the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments and written by experienced professionals and parents, this helpful resource addresses the effect of visual impairment on a childs ability to learn and the services and educational programming that are essential for optimal learning. It is an invaluable manual, intended to help parents ensure that their children receive the best education possible.

Summer 2007 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Tania Khan: A World of Deafblindness

By Sara Khan, Sibling, age 10, Grade 4

Abstract: Many within the deafblindness community in Texas have had the pleasure of hearing Fareed and Rubina Khan at events such as the Texas Symposium on Deafblindness, describing their personal experiences with their daughter Tania. Now Tanias sister Sara shares her perspective of growing up with a sibling who is deafblind.

Keywords: Family wisdom, deafblind, sibling perspective, disability awareness

On October 16, 1993 my sister, Tania Fareed Khan was born. She was premature, meaning that she was born four months early. Being born at six months and weighing less than two pounds, her body was not ready for this world. She spent her first eleven months in hospital. Thats where the story begins... Imagine that!

Text Box: Tania had many surgeries during the first few months of her life. She was always very sick and needed a lot of medications that damaged her hearing. No! She was not born deaf. No! She was not born blind, and No! It was not anyones fault. Tanias eyes did not have a chance to develop properly and the oxygen that she needed to survive damaged her eyes further.

When my sister left the hospital, she could not see nor hear. Tania was not able to eat or drink with her mouth. She used a G-button. A G-button is a tube that connects to your stomach. Food is sent to your stomach through this tube. She needed a G-button for quite a few years. When she no longer needed it, she had surgery to remove the G-button and close her abdomen.

Tania did not walk till she was about three years old and needed someones support to move about. Often people did not understand that she was deafblind. They thought that she was mentally retarded, which she was not. People thought this because she did not act as you and I would. She acted normal for herself. Normal for her is not what we call normal.

She started school when she was three. It took a long time for her teachers to understand her and her ways of doing things. The teachers, my family, and I were learning sign language. Before sign language, Tania had no other language or way to communicate. It was like guess and check without the check!

She could not talk because she was deaf. We learn by hearing people speak but she cannot hear, therefore she depends on us to teach her. Also, because she is blind we have to sign under her hands. This is called tactile and coactive signing. Being deafblind, she can learn only what we teach her and what we show her with her hands. Her hands have to be her eyes and her ears and we have to bring the world to her hands.

When she was five, Andi, her intervener or caretaker, came to work with her. She was and still is great with Tania. She does nearly everything with my sister and acts as her eyes and ears. Andi has been with us for nearly eight years. Wow! We all hope that Andi will stick with us for however long we need her. That may be a while.

My sister had therapists for nearly everything. There were therapists for teaching her to walk, speak, dress, eat, sign etc. We hope that Tania will one day speak but then and even now we focus on sign language. If she never learns to speak then sign language would be her only language or way of communication. Think about not being able to communicate. Wouldnt that be horrible?

Tania Khan is an amazing friend, sister, and daughter. Though she is not Helen Keller, she is just as smart and fun. Nobody can really describe her world. At the time that she was in hospital, the doctor had told my dad that she was not going to make it. Look at her now! She is a nice, smart, and beautiful thirteen-year-old girl. That just goes to show you: dont ever let anyone tell you that something isnt possible&

Summer 2007 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Tania Khan, My Sister

By Sara Khan

I know a girl not far from me

In fact, right across the hall;

Though she is deaf and cannot hear

She receives every hummingbird's call.

She is blind and cannot see

Yet, she knows nearly everything:

Everywhere, everyone, every fly, every hum

She knows a lot, yet cannot speak, she holds it all, and then retreats.

I know a girl not far from me

In fact, right across the hall;

She uses her hands to communicate

And seems to find it not hard at all.

This girl I know not far from me,

just happens to be my sister

People find it hard to believe,

and the thought of it makes them quiver

I laugh and smile all the while, yet,

I mind that people stare

She is a human being. Like all of us.

Yes, that girl, who is quite near

Summer 2007 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Disability Awareness Pays Off Not Only for a Young Lady, but Also for a Community!

By Brian Jones, Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist, Klein ISD, Houston, TX

Abstract: An Orientation and Mobility Specialist shares his experience in watching his neighbor transform from a student who had to do a school project to a young lady who wanted to share information on deafblindness with others around her.

Keywords: Family Wisdom, deafblind, disability awareness, student achievement

Opportunities to learn present themselves in the funniest of places. I live in the Humble ISD region, and teach Orientation & Mobility skills to students with visual impairments in the Klein ISD region. My next-door neighbor, Abby Richey, is the type of child who is curious about learning new things. She loves to watch an adult engage in an activity, and asks a question every second until she understands the whole process. I have enjoyed seeing her get along with her siblings, reading the best books possible, and teaching her to ride her bike. She is noticeably an active learner.

In March, Abby approached me and indicated that in her second grade class, they had divided into teams to do research on individuals who have made an impact on society. She asked if I knew anything about Helen Keller.

I began a conversation with Abby about societies' views during Helen's life, her method of communication, the way she accessed information, and how Ann Sullivan worked with Helen to teach her vital concepts. Through our conversation, Abby began to understand just how remarkable Helen Keller really was. Abby began asking questions such as, "Where do I get Braille?" and "How do I learn Sign Language?" I provided resources for her to research the life of Helen Keller and then tools for her to show her classmates including Braille, Abacus, and Sign Language Charts. Her excitement and joy were hard to contain!

For over a month, I saw Abby transform from a student who had to do a school project to a young lady who wanted to share the information on deafblindness with others around her. I saw a deeper sense of compassion and understanding for those who have disabilities.

Abby Richey's research on Helen Keller won first place in the Humble School District's Documentary/Newscast Division for Humble ISD's Technology Award. On May 12, 2007, Abby received an achievement award for her hard work from Dr. Guy Sconzo, Superintendent for Humble ISD, and also had the opportunity to show others her project and increase their knowledge on the issues of deafblindness. Way to go Abby!!!!

Winter 2010 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By: Joe Paschall, Athletic Director, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: Physical fitness and recreational activities are important for individuals with visual impairments. Suggestions for activities and modifications to support access are discussed.

Keywords: visually impaired, fitness, physical education, recreation.

Almost any fitness or recreational activity can be I will begin by discussing fitness. This is an area adapted for individuals with visual impairments, of concern for many young people and adults with and some don’t require any adaptations at all. visual impairments. There are many ways to build Several items to consider are accessibility to fa-physical fitness. This can be done at home, in locilities, equipment, and transportation. One way cal gyms, and other community facilities. Work-to support success in this area, is to research ing out at home is difficult for some individuals. these transportation and accessibility issues be-However, making the workout environment more fore attempting to participate in activities. interesting or entertaining can help the workouts.

Music or television can keep people engaged. Consistency is another important factor; having a routine schedule will help tremendously.

Many fitness activities can be done in the home. Stretching routines are the easiest. The individual needs only a mat. The routine can last from 0 to 40 minutes and stretch most parts of the body. Stretching also reinforces awareness of range of motion. Some individuals are amazed at how their bodies can move. Having a therapy ball is great. There are many hand and arm motions which can be done with a ball which can help increase your heart rate. Hand weights can build muscle tone. Sometimes people are concerned about muscles becoming too large. Doing a twenty-minute workout with light hand weights can tone the muscles, but not increase mass. Yoga, is another activity that is not intense, but has many benefits. Yoga can release stress, which in turn will help physically through relaxation exercises.

Most communities have local workout facilities. In local workout gyms, as long as the individual with a visual impairment is oriented to the equipment and facility correctly, he or she is able to work out successfully independently. However, I have heard some instances where these individuals are denied access. Being properly trained may help this challenge. Most communities have walking trails in their local parks. They are usually easy to access. Finding a walking partner is usually not difficult. Having this type of commitment helps both partners keep to their activity schedule, and helps them stay healthy.

When choosing recreational activities for youth or adults with visual impairments, the sky is the limit. I have taken students scuba diving, rock climbing, ice skating, water skiing, snow skiing, cycling, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, golfing, bowling, and many other activities. Only a few of these need minor adaptations. The key to success is advanced planning and exposure to equipment before attempting the activity. I have drafted lesson plans for many of these activities and would be happy to share them with anyone interested. If you would like, contact me via e-mail at <>.

In closing, providing these opportunities for individuals with visual impairments just takes a little extra work and creativity. However, the outcome can help these individuals gain self confidence, and a multitude of additional benefits.

SenseAbilities Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo(Spanish Version)

SEE/HEAR, published for the last 11 years by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in collaboration with the DARS Division for Blind Services, has a new look and a new name! We hope you enjoy the first issue of TX SenseAbilities.

Formerly SEE/HEAR - A collaborative effort of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and DARS Division for Blind Services

Editor's Note: This issue marks the end of an era, and the beginning of a new tradition - a time to say farewell to SEE/HEAR, and welcome to the first issue of TX SenseAbiltiies.

SEE/HEAR was formed in 1996 as a merger of two newsletters published by the Outreach Program at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI): P.S.NEWS!!!, edited by Kate Moss; and Visions, edited by the late Sue Currey. At that time TSBVI secured a collaborative partner for publishing and distributing the new publication, the Texas Commission for the Blind (TCB), now the DARS Division for Blind Services (DBS). TSBVI and DBS will continue this partnership in the future with our new TX SenseAbilities.

Kate Moss guided SEE/HEAR through the years as it evolved from a small project newsletter to a quarterly publication with 40 pages of personal and family stories, followed by information and insights from leaders in the fields of visual impairments and deafblindness. As the publication grew, Kate formed an editorial staff, which will continue to work on this new venture. For the last few years, I have enjoyed working with Kate as co-editor of SEE/HEAR, and plan to regularly seek her advice as we move forward with TX SenseAbilities.

We all look forward to providing an interesting and informative publication. Please let us know how we can continue to make it a useful resource for you.

David Wiley, Editor

SenseAbilities Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)


self portraitNicole Slaughter, who is seen in this self-portrait, has discovered that photography is something she loves, and she dreams of making it her profession. Find out why this mom is proud to call herself a photographer in her article, .The Blind Photographer: Finding beauty through the eyes of an unlikely shutterbug, found in the Family Wisdom section.

Formerly SEE/HEAR - A collaborative effort of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and DARS Division for Blind Services


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Last Revision: December 11, 2007

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English version of this article (Versión Inglesa)

Anteriormente SEE/HEAR (VER/OÍR)  Un esfuerzo conjunto de la Escuela para Ciegos e Impedidos Visuales de Texas y la División de Servicios a los Ciegos de DARS