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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 October 2010 Issue  Volume 11  Number 6

In This Issue

Editor's Page

Editor's Page

Lee Huffman

Employment Issues

Insider Tips for Getting the Most from Vocational Rehabilitation

Lee Huffman and Joe Strechay

National Disability Employment Awareness Month: The Employment Process

Joe Strechay

Window on the Working World: Assistant D.A., Deputy Bureau Chief, Rackets Division

Detra Banister

Product Reviews

Lighting Up Your World: A Closer Look at Illuminated Magnifiers, Part 3

Morgan Blubaugh

Social Networking Issues

An Introduction to Twitter

J.J. Meddaugh


One Dream Comes True: An Interview with Jeff Senge, Cal State Fullerton

Deborah Kendrick

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Editor's Page

Editor's Page

Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

In this issue of AccessWorld, we celebrate October as Disability Employment Awareness Month. We are taking this opportunity to focus on employment and provide information about employment resources, strategies, and insider perspectives for getting the most from vocational rehabilitation services. We will also shine a spotlight on the working world by highlighting the career of New York State Assistant District Attorney and Deputy Bureau Chief, Rackets Division, Celeste Lopes, to see how she found her job and how she uses technology to accomplish her daily work.

Since Congress designated each October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, it has become a time to celebrate the skills and accomplishments of American workers with disabilities. Further, it is a time to illuminate and discuss the employment barriers that still exist and to pursue with renewed vigor their removal.

This effort to educate the public about issues related to disability and employment began in 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October as "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month."

This issue of AccessWorld also includes "An Introduction to Twitter," from J.J. Meddaugh, and the third installment of our series on illuminated magnifiers, "Lighting Up Your World: A Closer Look at Illuminated Magnifiers, Part 3," from Morgan Blubaugh.

I hope you enjoy this issue, and I hope you will join AccessWorld in recognizing and celebrating the inroads individuals with vision loss and all types of disabilities have made into the world of employment.


Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

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Employment Issues

Insider Tips for Getting the Most from Vocational Rehabilitation

As our nation recognizes and celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month, this is a great opportunity to offer AccessWorld readers who are currently a client in their state's vocational rehabilitation (VR) program and who may be looking toward employment some tips or advice for gaining the most from their VR experience.

Unfortunately, there is approximately a 70 percent unemployment or underemployment rate among blind and visually impaired adults. Regardless of the reasons for this high unemployment rate, people with vision loss, like everyone else, must take responsibility for preparing themselves for the highly competitive world of work. In addition to formal education, including high school and post-secondary education, people with disabilities, including those with vision loss, can often benefit tremendously from VR.

As you read this article, keep in mind all states handle vocational rehabilitation in different ways. You are encouraged to apply the information from the article to best support your particular situation and employment goals.

In order to get first-hand information, I spoke with AFB CareerConnect Associate Joe Strechay. Before joining AFB, Strechay worked for the Florida Department of Education, Division of Blind Services and has 5 years of experience in VR. He offered the following insight:

"You must remember, the VR counselor's job is not to find or give you a job; he or she is supposed to help prepare you and guide you toward opportunities for employment. It is important to realize your job search is your job, and gaining the most from your VR experience is part of that job. Job seeking is a job in and of itself. You should get up in the morning thinking about ways to find a job and then follow through. It's also very important to keep an open line of communication with your counselor. You may want to send him or her e-mails with updates on what you are doing to better prepare yourself for work or provide them with information about job leads you are pursuing. It is important for your counselor to see you are putting forth effort to find work."

Strechay explained that the road to finding fulfilling employment can be a long one, and even if challenging situations arise during your VR experience, you must remain professional and courteous. There may be instances when you want to say something out of frustration, but Strechay recommended holding back, "because a good working relationship with VR staff is a great asset."

Strechay encourages VR clients to remember the following:

  • Deadlines can be very important; if your VR counselor asks you to get documentation to him or her by a certain date, have it to them prior to that date.
  • Always follow up on requests to your VR counselor.
  • Do the research necessary for the jobs that interest you, and utilize all your resources. If you have access to the Internet, use it as a research tool.
  • Keep notes on your contacts with your VR counselor and the dates you submit information. Maintain a contact log specific to your VR case that includes when you filled out your application, received notice of being eligible for services, made your first contact after eligibility, and received your first service.
  • Keep copies of e-mails, letters, and other correspondence you receive from VR staff and potential employers.
  • Keep copies of any information, including your individual plan for employment (IPE), and keep it organized by date. This shows the services on your plan that you should be receiving.

The services a client receives should be based off an assessment or inventory of your needs, and your VR counselor will offer services that will help get you to work or back to work, Strechay said. In addition to career search and employment services, rehabilitation services will most likely be offered to improve your blindness skills, which may help increase your independence at work and at home.

"Most state VR agencies have a handbook or procedure guide that is often available online," Strechay noted. "VR counselors follow these procedures, and this should give you a better idea of what specific rules they follow. These are guidelines set by the state VR agency and will be different in each state. Services offered in one state may not be offered in another. States have different programs through their VR agency and may include programs aimed at children, teens (often called transition programs), seniors (often called independent living programs), vocational rehabilitation programs (employment training, including post-secondary training), or Blind Enterprisers' Program (as part of the Randolph Shepherd Act)."

Strechay also suggested that individuals who request equipment or technology ask for equipment that will be essential to their success in meeting a vocational goal, and to be prepared to justify why this piece of technology is needed. "Make sure you can get training on this technology or are already trained to use it. Ask for training if necessary," Strechay urged. "Most importantly, if at any time you don't understand something, ask questions."

Sheri Koch, program supervisor at the Blind & Visually Impaired Services for the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services, also works extensively in VR. "The mission of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services is to enable and empower individuals with disabilities to work and live independently," Koch noted. "Our role in blind services is to work with the client with vision loss to provide all appropriate services to enable the individual to live and work with vision loss."

Individuals should investigate their VR options early, Koch said. "School-age individuals should start meeting with their rehabilitation counselor in the 10th or 11th grade to begin developing the client-counselor relationship. Counselors for the blind should start attending the client's IEP meetings at this same time to begin working on transition issues," Koch said. Self identification is important, especially for students with low vision, to ensure the school system provides appropriate accommodations for the student. "If vision loss occurs after the individual has completed public school," Koch remarked, "the sooner the connection between the counselor and prospective rehabilitation client can be made, the better."

"Generally, we begin working with individuals around age 16 or so, but there is no set limit on the maximum age as long as it is reasonable to consider employment for the person with vision loss," Koch said.

According to Koch, there are 10 important steps in the rehabilitation process:

1) An individual applies for rehabilitation services, and the specialty counselor for the blind in the individual's geographic area takes the application.

2) The counselor obtains information and documentation needed to verify the presence of a disability.

3) Eligibility for services is determined, which should be complete within 60 days of the application. An extension will be completed by the counselor if additional information is needed to determine eligibility.

4) The client participates in a variety of assessment activities designed to determine an appropriate vocational goal. Such activities may include a vocational evaluation, interest exploration, an evaluation of an individual's aptitude and achievement, an evaluation of the job market for the client's chosen goal, an assistive technology evaluation, a determination of whether compensatory blindness skills are needed, and a plan for specific training.

5) The counselor and client write an IPE uniquely tailored for that client's interests, abilities, training services, and placement.

6) The client receives services under an approved IPE.

7) The client maintains regular contact with the rehabilitation counselor during the delivery of services.

8) Upon completion of needed job-preparation services, the counselor works with the client to identify, interview for, and obtain employment.

9) Once the client is employed, the counselor works with the client and his or her employer to address such issues as accommodations needed to perform job tasks.

10) Once the client has been successfully employed for 90 days, and if no additional services are needed, the case is closed with the client being successfully rehabilitated.

According to Koch, "A wide array of services is available from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services, and these services are provided depending on the unique needs of and appropriateness for each client. Services include:

  • Assessments
  • Rehabilitation training, such as college, blind compensatory skills training, vocational technical training, and job readiness training
  • Career planning services
  • Placement services
  • Counseling and guidance
  • Access technology
  • Support services, such as reader service, orientation, and mobility, and physical restoration services, such as glasses
  • Services to employers

"Throughout the rehabilitation process, the counselor works diligently with the client to help him or her reach a positive employment outcome," Koch said. "Conversely, the client must work equally hard to meet their responsibilities throughout this process. Clients are given a copy of the Department of Rehabilitation Services Rights and Responsibilities at the time of application."

In order to get the most out of VR, Koch recommended that clients put maximum effort and work into all phases of the rehabilitation program, from vocational training and job search efforts to actual employment. Also, clients should communicate with the counselor on a regular and consistent basis, not just when they need something.

Frequently, Koch said, the client considers only the vocational training and placement part of the rehabilitation process and ignores the fact that compensatory blindness skills are essential prior to taking on academic or vocational training, or job placement. Before planning college or vocational training, or before going for the job of a lifetime, VR clients should complete a self-inventory and ask themselves:

  • Do I have reading, writing, braille, and computer skills?
  • How do I study for and take tests?
  • Can I prepare for and get a job interview on my own?
  • Can I travel independently?
  • Do I have the skills to live independently: prepare meals, plan and maintain a budget, do laundry, etc.
  • Do I know how to use the technology my rehabilitation counselor plans to provide?
  • Do I have the social skills to work and interact well with others?

"A second mistake made by many clients is their lack of involvement and planning in their own rehabilitation process," Koch said. "In other words, they tell the counselor what they want, and sit back and wait on it. Take the time to know what you need and when you need it, to succeed in your rehabilitation process. Plan ahead and don't wait for a crisis to get you moving."

Koch believes a third mistake made by clients is a lack of realistic job planning. "Look to see who's doing what and where they're doing it," she said. "For instance, if you want to be a sea captain but don't want to leave your land-bound state, you may want to reconsider that career choice."

Along the same lines, she warned, "Don't sell yourself short! If you want to be something specific, explore to see if other blind people are doing what you want to do and how they do it. Check out the CareerConnect website and other employment sites for people with vision loss. Always remember that good compensatory blindness skills can knock down many barriers to employment."

Koch also urged clients and potential clients to "communicate, communicate, communicate! Talk to your counselor. Talk to your classmates. Talk to other people with vision loss. Talk to people who work."

"The Division of Rehabilitation Services can and does provide life-changing services to clients so that they can live and work independently," she stated. Working with the Division can be an opportunity of a lifetime, but with opportunity comes responsibility. "Play an active role in your rehabilitation process from beginning to end," Koch advised. "After all, it's your life!"

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Employment Issues

National Disability Employment Awareness Month: The Employment Process

As National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October) kicks off, it is important to take a moment to explore employment opportunities available today. Employment for people with disabilities, including those with vision loss, has come a long way, and there are more opportunities available than ever before. This is not to say that the employment process is easy, or that the high percentage of unemployment among people with disabilities is close to being resolved. It is, however, important to realize where we began, where we are, and where we need to be. Truthfully, the problem of persons with disabilities being employed at a level equal to their education is far from solved. This article takes a closer look at how the employment process has changed and highlights some of the resources available to us as we search for fulfilling employment.

The History of National Disability Employment Awareness Month

In 1945, Congress designated the first week of October as National Employ the Physically Handicapped week, which was an effort to educate the public about hiring people with disabilities. In 1962, the word "physically" was dropped from the title to include people with all disabilities. In 1988, Congress made the decision to expand the week to a month and renamed it "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." This meant the entire month of October was dedicated to expanding awareness and employment opportunities for all people with disabilities.

Raising the public's awareness of employment needs for people with disabilities is important because many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are working below their education level. Most people with disabilities want to work, but many have difficulties breaking into the world of employment. It is important to promote the hiring of people with disabilities as they represent a viable yet underutilized pool of qualified job candidates. If you visit the American Foundation for the Blind's statistics page, you will see that we still have a long way to go before reaching employment parity.

The Employment Process

The employment process comprises the steps or phases in training for employment, researching employment, applying for a position, interviewing, accepting and starting a job, and maintaining that employment. Over the last 15 years, much of the initial phase of the employment process has moved online, meaning people must have access to a computer and the Internet. If you do not have access to a computer or the Internet at home, libraries are an option, but not all libraries have screen-access software available to people with vision loss. Check beforehand as some libraries may have the appropriate technology, but it may not be properly maintained.

The move toward online applications has some benefits, such as the ability to apply in an instant for a job on the other side of the world. Working from home rather than in the office is more common because of the use of virtual networks. The office is now only a conference call, phone call, text, chat, or post away. Indeed, the ability to network online and connect with people who may be working in your field is a major benefit of online job hunts. You can build up your personal and professional networks by utilizing social networking sites and other online resources. This positive comes with a few negatives. People can misrepresent themselves online very easily, but you can do some fact checking for reassurance.

Another positive aspect of today's job search is that there are many sources to search for jobs. This includes online newspaper classified ads, corporate and business websites, job search websites, job announcement boards, and online list services. All of these methods allow for more access to opportunities, but with these opportunities come more effort to search through jobs that may not relate to your interests. Searching for employment is a full-time job with a lot of overtime.

One negative aspect of searching for employment online is the proliferation of scams that offer work in exchange for a small investment or an "easy, work-from-home opportunity." These scams were around prior to the Internet and were advertised in college newspapers and other periodicals. The best advice is to be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true. Research the employer or organization offering the opportunity. You can often do an online search with the name of the organization and the word "scam." You will most likely find posts from others who have had an experience with the organization.

Organizations tend to do background searches online when an individual is applying for a position. They may look at your social networking pages, such as Facebook, to view your personal information. It is important to understand that your posts on these sites may not be totally secure. There are often work-arounds that allow people to look at your page, where they will be able to see pictures and messages you and your friends have posted. Be careful with what you post and what you allow others to post on your page. Employees have been fired for things they posted on their social networking pages. If an employer feels the information posted is inappropriate, he or she may have grounds to fire you. When applying for employment, it is important to make sure the information on your social networking pages presents a competent, professional image.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Employers are not supposed to ask perspective employees about their disabilities, but people with disabilities have to be prepared to bring up the topic creatively to answer the unasked questions related to their ability to perform job requirements. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides oversight over the laws relating to employment and preventing discrimination during the employment process. Everyone is afforded equal opportunity and access to the employment process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Civil Rights Act, Rehabilitation Act, Age Discrimination Act, and Genetic Information Discrimination Act.

AFB's CareerConnect

The CareerConnect website is a fully accessible, online program of the American Foundation for the Blind dedicated to promoting the employment of people with vision loss. CareerConnect boasts a number of helpful resources, such as an online mentor database of people from many fields of work who are visually impaired or blind and gainfully employed or retired. These mentors can be contacted for advice through a safe online messaging system. The site also offers employment-related articles, useful links for job seekers, and career-exploration and résumé-development tools. CareerConnect also offers useful tools and activities for professionals.

Launching in the near future is a section called "Career Clusters," which will make it much easier to find career information. This section will allow one to find career data, mentors, and a career-specific message board all in one place. This will make navigating the career-exploration process that much easier. Check it out soon on the CareerConnect site.

The Job Seeker's Toolkit

The Job Seeker's Toolkit is the latest resource from CareerConnect. The Job Seeker's Toolkit is a self-paced, online course. You work your way through lessons and assignments that can be saved and updated over time. You will have the option to save these tools in your "My CareerConnect" portfolio. The tools range from your résumé and cover letter to a list of job leads. The toolkit starts with an introduction to the course and CareerConnect, and then proceeds through modules on self awareness, general tools for career exploration and searching for jobs, and pre-interview and interview skills. The course ends with information on job maintenance and resources to guide you through keeping that all-important job. This toolkit is available free of charge to all registered CareerConnect users.

National Industries for the Blind

The National Industries for the Blind (NIB) brings a new spin to their employment training programs by adding management tracks. The NIB offers a contract management training program in connection with a federal government university program. The federal government has a large number of contracts and needs people to manage and monitor them. The NIB's member organizations have a number of federal contracts, allowing them the opportunity to train people to manage these contracts. Contract management is a marketable skill that can be taken to other organizations, governmental agencies, and the public sector.

NIB CareerNet

The NIB CareerNet site (CareerNet is used under license from CareerNet, LLC) is the result of a collaborative effort between AFB CareerConnect and NIB. The NIB has compiled a large list of jobs from around the United States for positions within organizations and businesses associated with industries for the blind. These businesses work in fields related to blindness or have hired persons with visual impairments. The unique feature to this portal is that when you build your résumé on CareerConnect and store it, you are then able to submit your résumé with one click to participating organizations to apply for jobs. If you are interested, create your user profile on CareerConnect and get started. This service is provided at no cost to you. Search the CareerNet job board to see what is available.

Hadley School for the Blind

The Hadley School for the Blind offers online and correspondence courses for people with vision loss. Hadley offers courses related to blindness skills, business writing, employment, and has offered a program on executive training.

Accessing Federal Jobs

Federal agencies have two job application methods available for people with disabilities: competitive and non-competitive placements. Job applicants must meet the specified qualifications and be able to perform the essential job duties with or without reasonable accommodations.

Jobs that are filled competitively are advertised on USAJOBS. USAJOBS is the official job-posting site used by the U.S. federal government. There are approximately 16,000 jobs available on the site each day. Registering on the website allows one to apply to the federal jobs. This takes some time, but is worth the effort. The website allows you to select notifications of job advertisements related to key words. USAJOBS is a tremendous resource that all people with disabilities seeking competitive employment should explore. President Obama wants to increase the percentage of people with disabilities working with the federal government. This should mean many current and future opportunities for people with disabilities.

Jobs filled non-competitively are offered to those who with mental, severe physical, or psychiatric disabilities and who have appropriate documentation as specified under the provisions. For more details on these processes, please visit the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) website offers useful connections to resources for self-employment, youth employment, employer advisement, the latest disability policies, and more. This office advises the U.S. Department of Labor and other government agencies on employment issues regarding people with disabilities. Kathleen Martinez is the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. Martinez is an internationally known expert on disability employment issues and advocacy. She was appointed by President Obama in 2009, but she is no stranger to advising the U.S. government on disability policy.

Recently, Martinez took some time to speak to AccessWorld about the functions of her office and the resources people with disabilities should know about. Martinez told us that ODEP is gearing up for National Disability Employment Awareness Month with their new poster featuring the theme, "Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity INCLUDES Workers with Disabilities." These posters can be ordered online at http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/rc/odep.htm. Martinez believes ODEP-sponsored programs are plentiful, but it is important to support efforts already in motion. Such efforts include Disability Mentoring Day and the Disability.gov website. The ODEP website offers many resources, including a mentoring handbook and helpful links to other organizations

When Martinez was asked about the most important point for employers to know about hiring people with disabilities compared with those without disabilities, she responded, "The most important point for them to know is that there are more similarities than differences." Organizations that hire qualified people who have disabilities "should be the rule, not the exception," Martinez said. She spoke about creating a diverse workplace filled with persons of unique talents, adding that diversity will allow businesses to thrive and grow in a global marketplace where consumers are just as diverse.

Martinez noted that many programs for people with disabilities who are seeking employment are underutilized. She went on to say there are numerous programs available, among them the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities (WRP). The WRP is a program that looks for outstanding and enthusiastic college students with disabilities or recent graduates who would like to get real work experience through summer internships or regular full-time positions. The WRP is sponsored by the Department of Labor and the Department of Defense with 20 other participating federal agencies. This program not only leads to work experience, but often to full-time employment.

Martinez explained the largest stride for persons with disabilities she has seen since taking office was the Executive Order issued by President Obama on July 26, 2010. President Obama said the federal government would serve as a model for ensuring all people have the same opportunity to be employed. His goal is to have the federal government set the bar for hiring people with disabilities. Since that speech, the Office of Personnel Management has begun working with agencies to meet the president's goal of a truly diverse workforce. The president wants to see actual, trackable outcomes, Martinez said.

Kathleen Martinez is an asset to all people with disabilities, and as a woman who is blind, she is a great representative for the vision-loss community. She is devoted to making a difference for people with disabilities by working for equal access to employment.

GettingHired, LLC

GettingHired is an online employment resource for people with disabilities. It offers training courses, opportunities to connect with employers, career personality assessments, and other resources. The site is connected with employers who pay a subscription fee to have access to users. This allows a job seeker another opportunity to advertise him- or herself. The more people who sell their skills and abilities, the better. GettingHired has recently announced a partnership with HirePotential, Inc. HirePotential, Inc., will provide specialized training courses for national employers on the accommodation process, disability etiquette training, OFCCP compliance, tax credit utilization, and disability awareness training for recruiters and hiring managers.

Job Accommodation Network

The Job Accommodation Network is an online resource that offers accommodation advice. The website also allows users to submit questions regarding special accommodations and ADA issues in the workplace. This well-established resource may prove useful as it covers issues dealing with all disabilities, including vision loss.

Career One Stop

Career One Stop is a free resource provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. The job bank allows you to connect to and search your state's job bank database.

Career Centers

Career centers help people perform research to support professional goals. Colleges, universities, and post-secondary and vocational schools often have career centers, and many are available to the public. You may have to visit, call, or do some online research to find out what is available to you locally. Keep in mind, many career centers maintain robust websites accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. These sites may offer many free resources and materials. Career centers are often underutilized and most are eager to have visitors. Some receive grant money to offer services to the community or state, and some actively recruit people with disabilities to their centers.


Libraries are an important resource for any job seeker. At your local library, you can find books in large-print, audio, or other formats, access major online research databases, and find additional information and guidance. Most libraries are moving--or have moved--some or all of their materials onto the Internet. If you do not have a membership at your local library, schedule an appointment to join and receive a tour. If most of your library's resources and research tools are online, you might even be able to do the majority of your orientation over the Internet.

If you are a student at a high school, vocational school, community college, or university, your institution's library may provide access to even more online resources. Even if you are not a student, many community and public colleges offer local residents access to their resources. Even schools that do not offer access may be persuaded to do so with some negotiating, persistence, and a positive attitude.

Library staff are trained to help you find the information and resources that will support your employment research. Some universities and public libraries have staff trained to work specifically with people with disabilities. Find out what is available at your local library and take advantage of whatever resources you find.

Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Vocational rehabilitation helps people with disabilities prepare for entry or re-entry into the workforce. Your local vocational rehabilitation agency will offer a range of programs, resources, and services to help you prepare for and find work. The range of programs offered by these agencies varies from state to state, so research your local vocational rehabilitation agency, determine what programs and services you are eligible for, and get registered.

In most cases, these organizations exist to help you become job-ready and find employment. Some may also train you in independent daily living, orientation and mobility, and access technology. These organizations will also know about other available resources in your community and state. To find a local or state agency near you, use AFB's Directory of Services.

Final Thoughts

In closing, if you are a person with a disability, a professional who works with persons with disabilities, or someone who knows a person with a disability, please take the time to spread the message that individuals with disabilities can be great employees.

Get on the bandwagon and help educate the public. At the same time, open some employment doors for a qualified person with a disability. It is important not to forget the word "qualified" because we are advocating for equality. Contact your local state agency for persons with disabilities and find out if there are activities to promote awareness. Your local state vocational rehabilitation agency, blind services, or community rehabilitation provider would be a good place to start.

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Employment Issues

Window on the Working World: Assistant D.A., Deputy Bureau Chief, Rackets Division

The Samuel N. Hecsh Window on the Working World of Law

Editor's note: Content for this article was compiled and edited by Detra Banister, AFB CareerConnect program specialist.

What do the popular TV shows "Hill Street Blues," "Night Court," "Boston Legal," "Ally McBeal," "The Associates," and "The Good Wife" have in common? Hard-working, successful, savvy women lawyers. Celeste Lopes, however, is not an actress, but an assistant district attorney, whose daily life is filled with legal drama--the very stuff TV shows are made of. Recently, she shared the story of her professional growth in the world of law.

While in some states, my position is known as assistant state attorney, here in New York, my official title is assistant district attorney (D.A.). Basically, I am a local prosecutor and my rank within the D.A.'s Office, in which I work, is deputy bureau chief. However, this title is more representative of my tenure in the office and less representative of my tasks. I have had this position for 27 years.

In my office, the typical day of an assistant D.A. differs depending on the type of bureau to which the attorney is assigned. I am assigned to a bureau that investigates white-collar crime, which includes, but is not limited to, embezzlement, forgery, fraud, and official corruption.

As such, I am predominately involved with investigating allegations of criminal activity. I review the allegation and then, in order to help establish culpability, interview any individuals who might be a witness to the alleged crime or who might provide information that will help lead to the next investigative step. Additionally, I review numerous documents to establish the "paper trail" needed to prove a case. I also work closely with members of the various state agencies that investigate these matters, as well as the local police and investigators employed by the private sector. Likewise, I also work with detectives and financial investigators employed by my office.

Some characteristics of a normal workday at my office could involve reviewing a large number of documents, interviewing witnesses, reaching out to investigators to discuss the investigative plan and findings, and drafting subpoenas to obtain documents needed to further the investigation. Typically, my day begins at approximately 8:15 a.m. and ends at approximately 6:45 p.m. It is sometimes necessary to work a few weekends.

If you happen to be an entry-level D.A. or prosecutor, you will be expected to process a large number of documents, both typed and handwritten. This has to be done in a short amount of time in order to make quick, informed decisions. Therefore, before applying to any prosecutor's office, you will need to determine ahead of time how you will process the documents that will relate to a large number of different cases in a professionally and fiscally acceptable manner to an office with limited budgets.

I came upon this job during the fall of my third year at law school when I participated in an on-campus interviewing process. This is where representatives from law firms, companies, and agencies looking to hire new law school graduates interview third-year students who are interested in being hired by one of the firms. Interested students submit resumes and the hiring organizations, based on a review of the resumes, choose candidates they want to interview. I was fortunate enough to have been chosen for an on-campus interview and recommended by the interviewer for additional consideration. I traveled to New York for a full day of extended interviewing. Some of these interviews were one on one and others were two on one. But at the end of a very long and exhausting day, I was offered a position.

By November of my third year of law school, I had three job offers, and I chose the lowest-paying one. As I interviewed with various firms and agencies, the skepticism that I met from interviewers who wondered if a woman who is blind could be an effective attorney influenced my decision a great deal. Of the three job offers, I felt that accepting this particular position would prove, without question, that blind women could be very effective and successful in the practice of law.

Other than summer internships between my first and second and second and third years of law school, being a D.A. is the only job I have had. I do think those internships helped me to secure the three job offers I got from the on-campus interviews.

During my first internship in the summer between my first and second years of law school, I clerked for a chief federal district court judge. This was a nonpaying position, but the experience and the job I did resulted in a very nice letter of recommendation. I believe having this letter opened doors for me because it made my resume stand out from others. In the summer between my second and third years of law school, I interned in our state's attorney general's office. These work experiences were helpful in understanding how one job leads to another and helps a person to establish a career.

Being successful as a blind employee means modifications and accommodations on the job are in order. There are a number of devices and other things I use to help me accomplish all of my daily tasks. Text-to-speech screenreaders are a must. I use a wide variety of off-the-shelf and proprietary software including, but not limited to, Office 2003, OpenBook, Kurzweil 1000, and the Duxbury translation program. The most important low-tech things I use are a slate and stylus and a talking calculator. For orientation and mobility purposes, I choose to use a guide dog. I trained with and received my first guide dog during the summer between college and law school. Now, 30 years later, I am working with my sixth guide dog. All six dogs were trained and issued by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind.

The best things about my job are the ability it gives me to interact with many different people and the lack of repetition--no two days are quite the same. When successful prosecutions happen or an investigation culminates with victims being made whole, that makes it all worthwhile, and the high stress factor shrinks. Nevertheless, the long days and hours remain with very high-pressure, time-sensitive issues requiring quick turnaround times.

To decide whether a job like this would be a good fit, one needs to understand the true nature of the work and see if it balances out with the right amount of rewards and satisfaction. In other words, do your homework and check the balance between the job's assets and liabilities.

Law school is very rigorous; if this is what you want, you need to want it with all your heart and soul. I think in today's labor market, it is a lot harder for young people trying to get into law because many firms outsource certain jobs, such as research. Firms can contract with lawyers out of the country for a fraction of the cost. This makes the competition fierce for newcomers.

Something to keep in mind is that jobs in smaller towns are probably more manageable than those in large cities, so if you are willing to move, this may be a good way to move into this line of work.

To keep a healthy balance in my life, I go horseback riding as often as possible. I also participate in Ski for Light, Inc., and enjoy doing things with my niece, her children, and other friends and family members. I was blessed with parents who passed onto me a lot of faith and courage. When I wanted to do something, they would often say, "If you can figure out how to do it, do it!" And that's what I will say to you, too.

Celeste Lopes is a longstanding member of the board of directors for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, and ABILITIES. She is also a member of the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys, a division of the American Council of the Blind.

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Product Reviews

Lighting Up Your World: A Closer Look at Illuminated Magnifiers, Part 3

If traditional eyeglasses or contact lenses do not provide enough visual correction for a person to read printed material, he or she, a family member, or friend will often purchase a magnifier. However, there is a good bit to consider when selecting a magnifier, and without a proper clinical low-vision eye examination and guidance, few actually get the magnifier best suited to their needs.

In this ongoing series, AccessWorld reports on the findings from a study of illuminated magnifiers conducted at AFB TECH. The study incorporates laboratory research and data collected from experts in the low-vision field. This project is being undertaken to provide relevant information to the increasing number of people with vision loss who are looking for an appropriate illuminated magnifier. This information will enable consumers to become much better informed about these devices and, with the assistance of their professional eye care team, select the magnifier best suited to their vision needs.

The first article in this series discussed the importance of a clinical low-vision evaluation and provided background information about the characteristics of illuminated magnifiers, including the types of illuminated magnifiers, magnification levels, illumination levels, types of light bulbs, light color, battery life, size of the lens, and weight of the magnifier. In the second article, we compared the Mattingly Advantage and LS&S lines of handheld and stand magnifiers, both of which are typical mid-range magnifiers. In this third article, we compare two high-end magnifiers that are advertised as having especially bright and powerful illumination: the Modular Akku Kryptolux by Schweizer and the Coil Xenon.

The Kryptolux and the Coil Xenon are both relatively expensive magnifiers that use high-powered light bulbs in order to provide more illumination than mid-range magnifiers. This article will examine these two high-end magnifiers to illustrate the differences that often exist between mid-range and high-end models, both in the amount of illumination they provide and their ease of use. The Kryptolux and the Coil Xenon are two of the more popular high-end magnifiers on the market. The high cost of these magnifiers makes them a major purchase for many individuals, and it is important that consumers understand the differences between these magnifiers before they make any such purchase.

Measuring Illuminated Magnifiers

When presented with many choices, it can be difficult to decide which illuminated magnifier is best for you. There is little information available to consumers regarding the differences among magnifiers, such as which magnifier provides the highest level of illumination, which has the best battery life, and which provides the largest viewing area.

One purpose of this article is to provide consumers with the information they require to more fully participate in discussions with their eye-care team as to which magnifier best suits their needs. With that goal in mind, we compared handheld and stand magnifiers currently available for sale by using the following measurements:

  • The amount of light given off by the magnifier (illumination)
  • The color of the light
  • Battery life (only for magnifiers that use batteries)
  • Magnifier weight and size of the lens

Different Types of Light Bulbs

All illuminated magnifiers use a light bulb built into the handle of the magnifier to direct light onto the viewing surface, but the type of light bulb used can differ between magnifier models. Most illuminated magnifiers on the market use low-energy LED lights, including the Mattingly Advantage and LS&S magnifiers reviewed in the last article. These LED lights provide a fairly bright light that can run for hundreds of hours of a single set of batteries. This is becoming increasingly common among mid-range magnifiers due to their longevity. Many high-end magnifiers, however, use high-power light bulbs in order to provide a greater amount of illumination over LED magnifiers.

The Kryptolux and Coil Xenon magnifiers both use these types of light bulbs. As their name implies, the Kryptolux uses a Krypton light bulb, whereas the Coil Xenon uses a Xenon light bulb. These light bulbs claim to offer high levels of illumination; however, the added brightness comes at the cost of increased power consumption. Most of these magnifier types use AC adapters that require the magnifier be plugged into a wall outlet, and the ones that do use batteries, use larger batteries that often do not last as long as their LED counterparts. These magnifiers also tend to cost significantly more than LED magnifiers, often in excess of $100. These are all important considerations when examining illuminated magnifiers.

Schweizer Kryptolux and Coil Xenon Illuminated Stand Magnifiers

In this article, we examine a sampling of the Schweizer Kryptolux and Coil Xenon lines of illuminated stand magnifiers, which included the 3x, 4x, 7x, and 10x magnifiers for the Schweizer Kryptolux and the 2.8x, 4.7x, 7.1x, and 12x magnifiers for the Coil Xenon. We examined two different models of the Coil Xenon: one that operates on an AC adapter and one that uses batteries.

Additionally, the Kryptolux magnifiers were provided with three color filters that could be inserted into the magnifier to change the color of the illuminated area. The color filters provided with the Kryptolux were white, blue, and yellow. We inserted each of the color filters into the Kryptolux and measured the illumination and light color for the magnifier with and without the filters. Our complete measurements and comments for each of these magnifiers can be found in the table below.


The light provided by illuminated magnifiers can help to increase the contrast and brightness of the magnified area, making it easier to see. However, whereas all of these magnifiers can brighten the reading area, the actual amount of useful light provided--the illumination--varies widely from magnifier to magnifier. To measure illumination, we used a state-of-the-art light meter to measure the candelas per meter squared (cd/m2), the most widely accepted unit of measurement for illumination, that is provided by each magnifier.

The Kryptolux and Coil Xenon both claim to offer higher levels of illumination than typical LED magnifiers because of the high-power light bulbs they use. However, the amount of usable illumination offered by a magnifier is dependent on a number of factors aside from just the strength of the light bulb. Another important factor is how well the magnifier focuses the light onto the reading area.

Most stand magnifiers, including the Mattingly Advantage and LS&S magnifiers examined in our last article, have an enclosure around the light bulb designed to trap the light and focus it on the reading area. This ensures that little to none of the light is wasted. Unfortunately, the Kryptolux does not feature an enclosure that effectively focuses the light on the reading area. This means that the light is shined in all directions, and only a small portion of the light is on the reading area. As a result, the Kryptolux provides much less useful illumination than can be found in many LED stand magnifiers, even with the brighter bulb.

In our last article, we found that the Advantage stand magnifiers ranged from 1,465 to 4,900 cd/m2 depending on the lens strength. The Kryptolux, without any color filters inserted, offered illumination levels that ranged from 91 (the 3x) to 222 cd/m2 (the 10x). With color filters inserted, the illumination worsened: the white and yellow filters lowered the illumination by a small degree (1 to 15%), but the blue filters reduced the illumination by over half. The Kryptolux provides less than one-tenth of the usable light provided by an LED magnifier, but at double the price. The design of the Kryptolux may be better suited to a flashlight than to an illuminated magnifier, and as a result does not offer as effective a lighting situation as other magnifiers on the market.

The Coil Xenon, meanwhile, does have an enclosure around the light bulb that focuses the light. Unfortunately, the Xenon bulb in the Coil does not provide any advantage in illumination over typical LED stand magnifiers. The Coil Xenon with AC adapter offered illumination levels that ranged from 440 (the 2.8x) to 1,790 cd/m2 (the 12x), whereas the Coil Xenon that uses three C batteries ranged from 410 (the 2.8x) to 1,310 cd/m2 (the 12x). Although these numbers are a significant improvement over the Kryptolux, they are still far below those offered by the Advantage or LS&S LED magnifiers.

For both the Coil Xenon and the Kryptolux magnifiers, the actual amount of useful illumination provided is a major disappointment. These magnifiers are supposed to offer a substantial improvement over LED-based magnifiers, but the fact that they offer only a fraction of the illumination is an issue for anyone looking to purchase an illuminated magnifier.

Handheld Magnifiers: Light Color

Both the Kryptolux and Coil Xenon provide a white light, which effectively retains the color(s) of the surface it is used on. By comparison, most LED bulbs provide a bluish light. If you prefer a colored light, the color filters provided with the Kryptolux allow you to change the color of the light to give it a yellowish or bluish tint; however, the filters do reduce the total amount of illumination. People with low vision respond differently to different light colors; consult your eye-care team to determine what color light is best for you.

Handheld Magnifiers: Battery Life

Both the Kryptolux and Coil Xenon use an AC adapter, which requires that the magnifier be plugged into the wall, although the Coil Xenon is also available in a battery-powered model. The Kryptolux is not available in a model with replaceable batteries, but it does have a built-in rechargeable battery that can be charged with the AC adapter. This allows for the Kryptolux to be used when traveling as long as it has been properly charged beforehand.

The Coil Xenon is available in both a two-battery and three-battery model, although we only evaluated the three-battery model, which uses three C batteries. To determine how long the batteries would last under normal use, we left the magnifier on for 24 hours of continuous use and measured how much power was left in the batteries afterwards. Following 24 hours of use, the Coil Xenon was at about 70% battery strength. This was approximately the same as the LED magnifiers; however, the Coil Xenon requires three C batteries, which are much larger and heavier than the AA and AAA batteries used in most LED magnifiers.

Handheld Magnifiers: Magnifier Weight and Lens Size

The Kryptolux and Coil Xenon use interchangeable parts, meaning that the handle (with light bulb) and the lens can be purchased separately and attached manually. This allows consumers to switch lenses easily without having to purchase multiple magnifiers. This is a particularly useful feature for these magnifiers, as the handle can be quite expensive compared with the lens. Also, the process for removing and replacing lenses in both magnifiers consists of two simple steps: grab the lens and detach it from the handle, and then attach the new lens to the same spot.

The size of the lens and weight of the magnifiers depends on the strength of the lens that is attached. For both brands, the least-powerful lenses are the largest and heaviest. The Kryptolux ranges from having a lens size of 3.3 inches and a weight of 11.9 ounces in the 3x model, to a lens size of 1.3 inches and a weight of 9.5 ounces for the 10x model. The Coil Xenon without batteries ranges from a rectangular lens size of 2.9 inches by 4 inches and a weight of 11 ounces in the 2.8x model, while the 12x has a lens size of 1.1 inches and a weight of 3.6 ounces. With batteries, the weight of the Coil Xenon increases to 18.4 ounces in the 2.8x and 11.0 ounces in the 12x.

Stand magnifiers are typically heavier than handheld magnifiers as they are meant to be rested on a surface. That being said, the weight of these magnifiers is still noticeable when moving the magnifier around the page or when traveling with the magnifier. The Kryptolux has an average weight for a stand magnifier and the lens sizes are about what you would expect: a large 3.3-inch lens for the 3x magnifier and a smaller 1.3-inch lens for the 12x. The weight of the Coil Xenon depends heavily on whether you use the AC adapter or battery-powered model. The Coil Xenon with AC adapter is exceptionally light, weighing only 3.6 ounces with the 12x lens, whereas the battery-powered model is one of the heaviest magnifiers we've seen with a weight of 18.4 ounces (over 1 pound) for the 2.8x. The lens sizes for the Coil Xenon are very similar to those for the Kryptolux.

Weight and size is an important consideration if you plan on traveling with the magnifier or using it for extended periods. A large magnifier provides an increased viewing area and can be easier to use, but it can also be more difficult to move around. At the same time, if you intend to use your magnifier for extended reading, keep in mind a 1-inch lens may be too small to fit more than a few letters at a time in the magnified field.

The Bottom Line

Once the proper magnification level and magnifier type (handheld or stand) are determined for your situation, you may want to ask your eye-care team questions about illumination, battery life, light color, weight of the magnifier, and size of the magnified field, in addition to those concerning price, warranty information, and return policy.

The Schweizer Kryptolux and Coil Xenon are two of the more expensive illuminated magnifiers on the market, and for the added cost you get a magnifier with significantly less illumination than competing models at half the price. Although both of these models do offer some advantages in terms of providing adjustable light color and easily replaceable parts, they simply may not be worth the higher price. These magnifiers are perfect examples of how difficult it can be to compare magnifiers based just on packaging and appearance. If you keep these issues in mind when shopping for magnifiers, you should be able to find a magnifier that fits your needs comfortably.

Product Pricing

Kryptolux (w/ AC Adapter): $199.75 to $214.75

Coil Xenon (3 Batteries): $40.75 to $75.95

Coil Xenon (w/ AC Adapter): $69.95 to $79.95

Results Table

Manufacturer Model Type Magnification
Lens Size (in) Weight (oz) Illumination (cd/m2) Battery strength
(after 24 hours)
Bulb type Light color
Schweizer Modular Akku Kryptolux Stand 3x 3.3 11.9 91
38 (Blue)
77 (White)
77 (Yellow)
N/A Krypton White
Schweizer Modular Akku Kryptolux Stand 4x 2.7 11.1 141
67 (Blue)
140 (White)
138 (Yellow)
N/A Krypton White
Schweizer Modular Akku Kryptolux Stand 7x 1.4 9.4 197
89 (Blue)
190 (White)
191 (Yellow)
N/A Krypton White
Schweizer Modular Akku Kryptolux Stand 10x 1.3 9.5 222
102 (Blue)
212 (White)
215 (Yellow)
N/A Krypton White
Coil Raylight 2 (Adapter) Stand 2.8x 2.9 × 4 11.0 440 N/A Xenon White
Coil Raylight 2 (Adapter) Stand 4.7x 1.8 4.6 1410 N/A Xenon White
Coil Raylight 2 (Adapter) Stand 7.1x 1.4 3.8 1670 N/A Xenon White
Coil Raylight 2 (Adapter) Stand 12.0x 1.1 3.6 1790 N/A Xenon White
Coil Raylight 2 (Battery) Stand 2.8x 2.9 × 4 18.4 410 70.1% Xenon White
Coil Raylight 2 (Battery) Stand 4.7x 1.8 12.0 1130 70.1% Xenon White
Coil Raylight 2 (Battery) Stand 7.1x 1.4 11.2 1220 70.1% Xenon White
Coil Raylight 2 (Battery) Stand 12.0x 1.1 11.0 1310 70.1% Xenon White

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Social Networking Issues

An Introduction to Twitter

In four short years, Twitter has evolved from an online social experiment to one of the most influential and used forms of online communication today. Where search engines formerly were the most-used method for retrieving information on current events, many users now turn to Twitter and rely on messages from users across the world as their source of pertinent information. Indeed, Twitter is much more than just a compendium of status messages about what your friends are doing. Many users now utilize Twitter for everything from tracking breaking news to playing online games.

Twitter has also changed the way that many respond to emergency situations. Shortly after the Nashville floods, a local pastor requested supplies and volunteers via Twitter. Hundreds of people responded and offered their assistance in a time of crisis. Government organizations use Twitter as a way to disseminate information. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey offers several earthquake-related Twitter services, largely based on real-time reports from its users.

Getting Connected

To connect to Twitter, simply create an account on Twitter's website. The sign-up process is pretty painless, and the website is relatively accessible with a screenreader. Although the website can be used to send messages, follow other users, or update one's profile, seasoned users will usually download one of the many Twitter clients that allow one to interface with the service using a computer or mobile device. A listing of some of the most popular accessible clients is provided below.

Qwitter is the most popular desktop client for the Windows operating system and was written specifically for screenreader users. It works using a hotkey system, offering access to its wide array of commands regardless of the user's current application.

Macintosh users can try Nambu, a client whose latest version has been made compatible with the VoiceOver screen access program.

Twitter clients are also available for some popular mobile phone platforms. iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad users can try Echofon, a free Twitter app that is fully accessible using the built-in VoiceOver screenreader. Users of Dragon's dictation software can also send a message using voice recognition. Tweets60 is the most popular choice for users of Symbian cell phones, such as the many models from Nokia.

As for notetakers, the Icon from LevelStar includes a Twitter client in its built-in software, which offers basic functionality. Users of other notetakers can access Twitter through the website.

The developers of Accessible Twitter offer a Web-based interface to Twitter with strict accessibility standards at the forefront of their development. Some screen-access users may prefer this version.

Using Twitter

The foundation of Twitter is short messages commonly referred to as "tweets." A single tweet can be up to 140 characters long, so as you might expect, a lot of shorthand is used. A tweet may include a status update of what you are doing, a link to a website you wish to share, or simply some random musings. There's practically no limit to the types of messages that people tweet, as you'll quickly realize by browsing other people's accounts. It's also important to note that you are not required to tweet anything to use Twitter. Many users will spend most of their time reading messages from others instead of sending lots of their own updates.

If you wish to read another person's tweets as they send them, you will have to "follow" that person. Twitter will show you updates from the people you follow in near real-time as they post them. You can also see a list of people who are following you from your Twitter client or the website.

Twitter has adopted several special types of tweets, allowing you to reply to other people or send a message about a particular topic. For example, one can reply to another person's message by putting an at sign (@) before their Twitter name. If you would rather send someone a message privately, putting a "D", a space, and then their Twitter username before the message does just that. This is called a direct message, and the person you are writing to must be following you in order for you to send it. Many Twitter clients will include built-in commands to send replies and direct messages, so remembering these codes becomes unnecessary.

Hashtags are a way for Twitter users to follow a particular event and read tweets from people on a specific topic. Hashtags are so named because one types a hash or number sign before the word in a tweet. For instance, participants of the 2010 California State University-Northridge International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN) in San Diego used the hashtag #csun10 to talk about the various sessions, exhibits, and other events happening at the conference. You can search for a particular tag to follow an event or topic.

Twitter offers a feature called "trends" that allows users to keep on top of the most popular discussions at a given moment. Most clients offer a way to view the top trends on Twitter based on the words or phrases most tweeted by users. Often, names of famous people, places, or sports teams will appear as trends when news has recently occurred that involves them.

Staying Safe

When you send a standard tweet, it is normally stored and posted to Twitter's website for anyone to view, regardless of whether they are following you. A small number of users, however, make their accounts private so only those who are following you can read your comments. If you choose to keep your tweets public, it is highly recommended that you avoid posting sensitive information, such as your address, passwords, or anything you wouldn't want to turn up on a Google search. Although it is possible to delete a message you have posted, it may be archived on a search engine or by other users. Alternatively, direct messages are private, so these will not be searchable by other users.

Like most forms of online communication, Twitter users are sometimes susceptible to spam and malicious attacks. These generally can be avoided by following a couple simple rules. First, make sure you set a strong password that includes both letters and numbers and would not be easy to guess. Malicious users have hacked into Twitter accounts with weak passwords and sent messages to all of their followers without the account holder's knowledge. Also, be wary of suspicious messages from other users with website links to places you do not recognize. One Twitter scam involved sending users links to a quiz website that ultimately compromised their account. If you are unsure, you can reply back to the original author and have them verify the link. Generally speaking, however, a few smart decisions will help you to stay safe while using Twitter.

Who to Follow

With millions of users, Twitter offers a vast amount of information--so much so that it may be hard to find people to follow at first. Here are a few I recommend.

BreakingNews is one of the most popular accounts to follow for raw news highlights as they happen. Often, information on major events is posted here before it reaches other major news outlets. Also, check to see if your local television station or newspaper uses Twitter to post news updates. Stay safe by following the stream of severe weather watches and warnings from Severewarn, which will tweet whenever a major weather alert is sent out anywhere in the country. Similarly, amber_alert will let you know of missing children in the hopes you may have information that can be used to find them.

The White House posts updates on Twitter, logically using the screen name "whitehouse." Many state and local politicians also maintain Twitter accounts to communicate with their constituents. On the lighter side, consider searching for your favorite celebrity, musician, or band as most have Twitter accounts to talk to their fans or post updates.

Many popular organizations for the blind use Twitter to update their users on their latest happenings. Bookshare and RFBandD are two such examples. Alternatively, for updates on the latest assistive technology news, try Serotek's SeroTalk account or BlindBargains.

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention AFB's own Twitter account, a simple way to keep up with the latest happenings AFB news. The Twitter username is AFB1921, signifying the year the organization was founded.


Twitter is rapidly changing the way we communicate, and for once, plenty of accessibility options exist that allow blind and visually impaired computer users to be a part of the revolution. From organizing aid for local disasters to talking about the happenings of your favorite sports team, Twitter offers limitless opportunities for account holders. More than just a fad, it is quickly becoming a necessary lifestyle tool to stay ahead in business and be a part of the social scene.

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One Dream Comes True: An Interview with Jeff Senge, Cal State Fullerton

To dream is natural to the human condition. We dream of becoming doctors or inventors, of contributing to world peace or just peace in the family. More often than not, such dreams originate in childhood and take flight (or a back seat) as life nourishes or gets in the way.

Jeff Senge, coordinator of the Information and Computer Access Program at California State University-Fullerton, had a dream that didn't sprout until he was forty years old. While others his age were battling midlife crises, Jeff's imagination was on high alert, busy envisioning how his newfound fascination with late-1980s technology might one day spell complete and equal access to information for students with disabilities.

Jeff and his two brothers were born with a congenital visual condition, similar to juvenile retinoschesis, meaning their retinas never properly formed. Because of several operations throughout his childhood, Jeff retains some vision, but is fond of paraphrasing author Steve Kuusisto's summation of low vision, saying, "I can see more than you think I can, and less than I think I can."

Growing up, he had some braille instruction in a resource classroom, but reflects that it was never integrated into his other lessons. With braille as an additional subject and encouragement to struggle through large-print texts, he felt he had one foot in each of two worlds and limited access to information in either. By high school, braille was no longer in his educational picture. Recorded books on 5-inch tape reels were just emerging as an alternate format, and Jeff used them for all of his classes.

At California Western University in the 1960s, he chose a course of study that was less print intensive than some. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, with ceramic sculpture as his final project. For the next three or four years, he set up shop as a potter, throwing thousands of bowls and pots and vases, but was soon exploring options for a more financially stable employment choice.

He enrolled in a program where a person with vision loss could learn the skills involved in small engine repair, and he quickly landed a job working for a golf course. For the next 15 years, Jeff worked as a mechanic, responsible for some 250 pieces of machinery. He had a flair for it, he says, and for the first five years loved the challenge. The next five years were a kind of coasting time on his job. The work was now easy, and he could do it well. The workplace environment was a congenial one where "every employee got a case of beer with every paycheck." By the third five-year stretch, however, his career as a mechanic had become monotonous. He was bored and desperate to find a more interesting way to support his family.

At about this time, 10 years into his career as a mechanic, the early Apple computers were gaining popularity. "My wife wanted one," he recalls, "but I didn't think a computer was something I would ever be able to use." Then they heard of another blind man who was indeed using an Apple IIE computer, and Jeff Senge's life turned a corner. With an Echo synthesizer and the early WordTalk program running on the family's new Apple computer, Jeff found a new passion.

He took classes after work at a community college, began reading everything he could find about this new adaptive technology, and attended the first Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference at California State University Northridge (CSUN). At the next few CSUN conferences, he soaked up all the information available to him in workshops and exhibit halls, picked the brains of emerging leaders in the assistive technology field, and began to dream of how this technology could change lives--and be his ticket out of motors and lawn mowers and into his vision of making a difference.

His wife encouraged him to follow this dream of making the world of computers and information accessible to everyone, the first step of which was going back to school. It had been 20 years since he had been in college, and he had hated school. "Books and print, were the enemy," he says. As an undergraduate, his work had been consistently at a B-plus/C-minus level. As a graduate student earning a master's degree in education, however, he immediately saw more evidence to fuel his belief in the power of technology: With the advantages of computers for accessing materials, he found he loved school and learning, and maintained a solid 4.0 grade point average.

As a student at Cal State's Fullerton campus, he was hired as a graduate assistant to set up newly acquired assistive technology in a computer lab for students with disabilities, and was awed by his own good fortune. He was setting up technology and teaching students to use it, and "burning inside to take what I had learned from geniuses like Blazie, Henter, and Fruchterman and run the last mile with it."

The last mile, as he perceived it then, involved harnessing the power of computers to fill in where students with disabilities were traditionally left behind. "A computer without applications to integrate it into a course of study or life is just stuff," he said, "so I needed to work to manifest its power."

When he started this project in 1992, there were about half a dozen visually impaired students and only three computers. Today, his program serves about 35 blind and visually impaired students out of a student population of 35,000. (His office serves 60-plus students who identify themselves as having print-related disabilities, and about 750 students with disabilities altogether.) The office is responsible for 50 accessible workstations throughout campus, eight of which are in the lab itself. In the Information and Learning Commons (formerly the library), there are 500 computers, with a separate area that is an Adaptive Technology Center housing six of the accessible workstations. All accessible workstations have Jaws for Windows, PDF Magic, OpenBook 8 and 9, Kurzweil 1000 and 3000, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and various other applications. Computers are set up consistently throughout campus, so that a student who needs to work anywhere on campus will have access to a workstation that is both familiar and accessible.

Where the Cal State Fullerton program seems to dazzle most, however, is in its delivery of textbooks and instructional materials in alternate formats to meet every reading and learning mode. It was the explosion of available printed information, after all, that had first led him to embrace the connection between learning and assistive technology. At first, the instructional materials and textbooks that students requested were produced right there in the assistive technology computer lab. From the beginning, Jeff integrated the role of teaching students about their rights and responsibilities into his job. His earliest recollection of interpreting the 504 regulations of the Rehabilitation Act (and subsequently, the Americans with Disabilities Act) was to recognize access to information as having equal importance and protection as physical access.

"As a person with a disability," he cites by way of example, "I can walk into the library. I can reach up to take the book off the shelf. But I can't get at the information encoded inside that book. The information I need to learn isn't accessible to me." Not everyone took his view seriously in the early years, but today, all major disability organizations are on board with the concept that access to information is a civil right and major priority.

At first, Jeff and his assistant in the computer lab produced the materials students requested in alternate formats. The drawback to this plan was that while braille embossers, scanners, and workstations were occupied by staff producing accessible materials, those same pieces of equipment were not available to students. About 10 years ago, Jeff and others received a $380,000 grant from the Department of Education to implement a plan to streamline the alternate format production for the entire Cal State network. California State University comprises 23 campuses, and each campus has students with disabilities requiring alternate format materials. Under the grant, all 23 were linked via fax and e-mail, with specialized technology and production staff processing materials from a central location. When funding ended, however, the individual campuses lacked sufficient funding to sustain the system, and today each campus produces materials for its own students. Fullerton's production is no longer done in the computer lab, but has space dedicated specifically for production. Much of the work takes place off site as well, and is done by experts who specialize in the various formats produced.

Under Jeff Senge's direction, the system for producing materials at Cal State Fullerton provides a smorgasbord of options for students with varying reading needs and learning styles, and is dedicated to efficient delivery. Students can request materials in braille, large-print, audio, or CD formats. Books provided on disc can be prepared as Microsoft Word files, BRF files, RTF files, or as Kurzweil 1000 or 3000 files. A small number of students have begun requesting (and receiving) materials compatible with VoiceOver for Apple products. In other words, each student can customize the order for his or her text materials and then read them in hard-copy braille or hard-copy large print, or listen to them on audiocassette or on an MP3 player. If the books are prepared on CD (the most popular format), the student can choose a format for loading the book onto his or her braille notetaker, laptop, or desktop computer and choose the computer application (Word, Kurzweil 1000, Kurzweil 3000, or something else) best suited to his or her individual learning needs.

Today, books are prepped in the production center--spines cut off, pages scanned and recognized--in a production center that comprises eight computers, two high-speed scanners, braille embossers, and production staff. Next, the resulting files (with accompanying hard-copy print) are sent out to the various specialists with whom Jeff has contracted--e-text editors, braille transcribers, braille music specialists--to organize the material into chapters and sections, insert page numbers, confirm accuracy, and put the finishing touches on a final product that is as clean and useful to the student as possible. Although some of these e-text editors and other specialists are in California, others are as far flung as Florida and Maryland.

Twenty years ago, Jeff Senge felt like he'd won the lottery when he was hired as a graduate assistant to set up assistive technology and show students how to use it. Today, the program has grown to a team of five professional staff whom he coordinates and who are responsible for 50 campus-wide workstations, and the production of about 500 textbooks and 1,000 other documents for students, staff, and faculty in alternate formats. He has taken the same 45-minute train commute from his home in San Clemente to the Fullerton campus for 20 years, and says, "I absolutely love my job and coming to work every day." He is proud of the programs he has seen flourish and proud of the evolution in student attitudes, too. "We see a lot of students coming to campus now who are completely up to speed. They have their notetakers, they know how to use technology, and they're ready to go." If, on the other hand, a student doesn't know how to get the information she or he needs, Jeff and his staff are poised and ready to show the student various viable options and methods for the use of specific devices.

After 20 years, Jeff's dream has been achieved. He wanted to change lives, to make a difference for others who, like himself, struggled to get the information they needed simply because they had a print disability. Now, he has another dream, that after he retires, his program will continue to flourish as it has under his lead. "When I do retire," he says, "I want to feel certain that things are running smoothly enough without me that the students won't experience any diminishment of services."

Far from retiring at the moment, however, Jeff Senge loves his job and takes pride in seeing the quality of information and access delivered on the Fullerton campus.

"Every day when I go to work," he says, "I feel like I'm making a difference both in a global sense and in individual lives."

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AccessWorld News

Landmark Technology Access Bill Heads to President Obama's Desk

On September 28, the House passed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which is now headed to President Obama to be signed into law. This landmark bill will expand access to modern communications technologies, including smart phones, television programming, and more. AFB's public policy team contributed to the passage of this legislation and has participated in several media interviews. Thank you to Mark Richert and Paul Schroeder for all of their hard work on this.

The bill has received a good deal of recent press coverage:

Landmark Technology Access Bill Heads to President Obama's Desk

New Rules to Make Technology More Accessible

Congress Acts to Give Blind Better Web, MP3 Access

Digital Miracles

Digital Miracles, LLC, has announced that washable audio labels are now available for sale on its website. The labels are read by the Digit-Eyes application (app) for the iPhone and enable people without vision to label clothing permanently and record detailed information about the garment. That information is then played back when the label is scanned again with the iPhone app. The company announced that it now also offers preprinted audio labels as a convenience for customers who don't have access to a printer or who prefer that someone else do the printing.

"Our customers let us know that identifying clothing is one of their most important labeling needs," reported Nancy Miracle, president. "With the introduction of our soft, washable, bleachable, and dryable labels, laundry becomes a snap and confusion in the closet a thing of the past. A number of our customers also told us that they don't have access to a printer or simply prefer the convenience of buying preprinted labels. Now, we have both types of labels available for sale."

The standard, self-adhesive "quick-response" Digit-Eyes barcode labels are best suited as temporary labels or for labeling items that will stay dry, such as folders, compact discs, and containers. The washable Digit-Eyes barcode labels were specifically created for garments and can be permanently attached to clothing.

Charlie Hamilton is New Vice President of Sales for North America at Dolphin Computer Access

Dolphin Computer Access announced the appointment of Charlie Hamilton as vice president of sales for North America, based in Princeton, New Jersey.

In keeping with Dolphin's North American market strategy, Hamilton will be tasked with driving growth, as well as adding value for existing customers, Dolphin's network of dealers, and the regional teams.

A 25-year veteran of the software industry, Hamilton's career history includes both small and large company management, with significant time spent at Oracle Corporation and BMC Software. More recently, he managed North American sales and operations for a small international company.

Charlie Hamilton can be reached via e-mail at charlie.hamilton@dolphinusa.com or by phone: 201-400-8111.

News from Sendero

Sendero has released the second free patch upgrade for Sendero Maps on the PC. Changes from Sendero Maps Version 2010.1 to Version 2010.2 include: (1) An upgrade to the latest SQLite Engine ( for address and point of interest lookups. (2) An upgrade to the latest Richmap Engine (4.5.1) for map access and route creation. (3) Automatic odometer reset to 0 when a previous route is loaded.

It is strongly recommended that owners upgrade to the latest version (2010.2) for compatibility between Sendero Maps and Sendero GPS on various PDA platforms. To get the new version of Sendero Maps, owners should log into their GoSendero account and download the new software.

AFB Announces Call for 2011 Access Award Nominations

The American Foundation for the Blind has issued an invitation for nominations for its 2011 Access Awards. The Access Awards honor individuals, corporations, and organizations that are eliminating or substantially reducing inequities faced by people who are blind or visually impaired. Some of the previous award recipients include Apple, Inc., Google, Code Factory, Ski for Light, and Canon USA, Inc. The awards will be presented on March 11, 2011 at the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute at the downtown Seattle Renaissance Hotel.

Nominations for the AFB Access Awards should illustrate an exceptional and innovative effort that has improved the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired by enhancing access to information, the environment, technology, education, or employment, including making mainstream products and services accessible. The effort should be one that has a national impact or can be a model for replication on a national level. Additional information about the Access Awards and past honorees can be found on the AFB website. Letters of nomination addressing the above criteria should be e-mailed to Marc Grossman, with AFB 2011 Access Awards Committee in the subject line. Nominations must be received no later than October 29, 2010. Product brochures, patent applications, and other materials of support substantiating the nomination should also be sent by the above date. Materials submitted in support of a nomination will not be returned.

Revised ADA Regulations

On September 15, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice published its revised rules regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The new ADA regulations cover both public and private entities and take on numerous issues, including talking ATMs, ticketing for accessible seating, effective communication, and service animals. The new rules take effect on March 15, 2011. Compliance with the new 2010 Standards for Accessible Design will be required as of March 2012. For more information on the revised rules, please visit the Department of Justice's ADA website or read updates on the Lainey Feingold blog, which tracks legal issues related to disability rights.

ATIA to Host Town Hall Meeting

The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)/Low-Vision Special Interest Group will host a town hall meeting at ATIA's 2010 Chicago Conference. The meeting is being held to identify challenges facing individual users and support professionals with regard to assistive technology. There will be an open forum where attendees are invited to discuss resources needed for individual success, provide feedback to vendors, and engage in general dialogue.

The meeting will be held October 28, from noon to 1 p.m. in Utopia B Room, Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center. Please RSVP online if you plan to attend. All stakeholders, including educators, assistive technology specialists, rehab professionals, workplace specialists, occupational therapists, researchers, vendors, consumers, families, and caregivers, are invited to attend.

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