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On Sight: January 2016

Council to Participate in Two Snowshoeing Events in February

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Join the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired as we partner with two different groups in two different communities for a special afternoon of snowshoeing on Saturday, February 20.

The University of Wisconsin Hoofers Outdoors Club is hosting one event for the Council’s Recreation Committee from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. starting at Outdoor UW in the Mendota Lodge, located at the UW Madison Memorial Union (800 Langdon St.) on Lake Mendota.

The second event will be hosted by Beaver Creek Reserve in Fall Creek, WI (S1 County Road K) from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Cost is $20 per person, which includes equipment rental and refreshments. Are you interested in attending this event but aren’t sure you can spare the money? Hardship stipends may be available to cover the registration fee upon request. Car pooling may also be available for the Fall Creek event.

And while you’re having fun, so will your guide dogs! Volunteers from the Wisconsin Hoofers Outdoors Club and Beaver Creek Reserve will help watch guide dogs in a specified play area during each event.

This event welcomes every one of all ages and skill levels. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult and parent permission obtained.

Be prepared to lace-up those snowshoes and enjoy a fun afternoon with friends!

Make your reservation for either event by contacting Justin Lemke at 608-237-8119 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." style="font-size: 12.16px; line-height: 1.3em;">'+addy_text64337+'<\/a>'; //--> . Deadline is Friday, February 12. WCBVI reserves the right to cancel either event due to inclement weather.

Council Accepting Applications for Annual Scholarship Awards

 In 2015,the Council awarded ten scholarships to post-secondary students who are visually impaired or blind. These students were enrolled in a technical college, a four-year undergraduate program at a public or private university, or in a graduate program.

Once again, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired is helping to support post-secondary education.

The Council is offering ten scholarships in the amount of $2,000 each to full and part-time students-- whether undergrad, graduate, professional, or doctoral-- who are Wisconsin residents and are blind or visually impaired. 

Registration is online and an application kit with guidelines will be available by early February on our website at www.wcblind.org. The annual scholarship awards luncheon is scheduled for May 21.

Council Staffer Shares Importance of World Braille Day

Council Program Assistant Judith Rasmussen shares the importance of Braille in her life.

In 1824, Louis Braille, a young blind student in France, created a system of tactile communication that would forever change how the visually impaired learn to read, write, learn and communicate.

Almost 200 years ago, Braille invented the raised alphabet that bears his name and every year, on his birthday of January 4, Braille’s innovation and contribution to the visually impaired is honored during “World Braille Day.”

Braille is a tactile alphabet system of six dots in a small grid featuring letters, numbers and symbols for most of the world’s languages. The importance of Braille as an essential guide to millions of visually impaired people around the world can’t be overstated. Braille allows visually impaired persons to study literature and learn alongside their sighted peers.

Louis Braille invented the tactile alphabet as a 15-year-old student at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. Braille wanted the opportunity to read books like his sighted peers, so this young student created a system of raised dots that would be simple to learn, replicate and use.

After losing her sight as a young adult, Judith Rasmussen has experienced the significance of using Braille in her everyday life. Rasmussen, Program Assistant for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, converts publications with Duxbury software, which converts print into Braille by inserting proper coding.  The computer software then allows Braille to be printed on an embosser.

For work and everyday tasks, Rasmussen also uses a Perkins Brailler and a slate and stylus. A Perkins Brailler is a Braille typewriter, while a slate and stylus is a manual system designed to emboss raised, tactile bumps or dots onto paper.

“It depends on what I’m doing and where I am. If I’m at my office and want to write down an appointment date and time for a client, I write on an index card with a slate and stylus and also keep my addresses and phone numbers written on index cards with it too,” Rasmussen said. “At home I use a Perkins Brailler for writing out recipes, banking info and things like that.”

Rasmussen is preparing for changes to Braille communication coming soon.

“How you (format) emails and websites is going to change with the new Unified English Braille system that will go into effect (this year),” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen converts publications into Braille in a process that takes several hours, depending on the length of the publication. For instance, converting the Council Courier newsletter takes at least 20 hours of work to complete each issue.

“It’s a multistep process,” Rasmussen said. “But it depends on how long the document is and how many copies need to go out.”

Rasmussen said Braille has given her the freedom to enjoy her favorite publications without having to listen to them in audio form.

“I find it very pleasing to be able to read something myself,” Rasmussen said. “I was a language major in college, so when I first lost my sight and was listening to things, I wondered where do the paragraphs end? Where is the punctuation for things? I wasn’t sure. It’s very nice to actually be able to read something myself, see the words with my fingers; know the geography of the text based on where the words and punctuation are. Plus, I don’t always like to be tied to technology all the time with listening devices.”

Braille has also been vital to Rasmussen’s writing ability.

“I can easily write down somebody’s phone number and take notes and if I didn’t know Braille, I wouldn’t be able to do that,” Rasmussen said.

After spending years studying foreign languages at both UW-Whitewater and UW-Madison, Rasmussen realizes the value of proper communication in multiple forms.

“When you’re reading something yourself, you’re actually learning something about the language, whereas if you’re just hearing it all the time, I think people are making mistakes in everyday grammar,” Rasmussen said. “Language is an important tool in communication.”

Rise of Growing Disease Recognized During Glaucoma Awareness Month 

As we recognize January as Glaucoma Awareness Month, it’s important to note that glaucoma, which affects more than 2.7 million people in the U.S. over 40, is growing.

According to the National Eye Institute, by 2030, more than 4.2 million people are projected to have glaucoma, a 58 percent increase. The Glaucoma Research Foundation reports that glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

Since the onset of glaucoma poses no symptoms it is often referred to as the “sneak thief of sight.” Once vision is lost, it’s permanent. A person affected by glaucoma can lose up to 40 percent of their vision without noticing.

Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that combine to rob sight. The most common groups affected by glaucoma are the middle aged and the elderly, primarily African-Americans and Hispanics. Among African-Americans, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. Also, siblings of people with glaucoma have a much higher risk of getting glaucoma.

Vision loss through glaucoma is caused by optic nerve damage. The optic nerve functions similar to an electric cable with more than a million wires and its main function is to send images from the eye to the brain.

Glaucoma comes in two forms: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma. An increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) or pressure inside the eye could be the beginning of glaucoma. Sometimes normal tension glaucoma can be caused despite a normal IOP. In secondary glaucoma, optic pressure damage can be caused when another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in vision loss.

Vision loss from glaucoma can begin with peripheral or side vision. While vision loss can come with little warning, the best way to detect glaucoma is through a comprehensive eye exam to begin treatment immediately.

Jean Kalscheur, Education and Vision Services Director at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, provides tips for using your remaining central vision if you have glaucoma.

“Find and use a good ‘task’ light. Bring the light down so it is 8-10 inches from the task you are trying to do. Use a ‘bright white’ bulb to eliminate the yellow effect of a ‘soft white’ bulb,” Kalscheur said. “Reduce shadows by placing the light to the side of your non-dominant hand. When the light is on the side of your dominant hand, that hand will cast a shadow on the task. Consider adding contrast when you can. For example, use bright or fluorescent duct or electrical tape to mark items that are often ‘lost’ such as your key ring, your favorite paring knife in the silverware drawer or your deodorant container in a bathroom shared with others. When scanning to find the items, the color may draw your attention.

“Be careful with magnification. Too much magnification is not helpful, especially when your field of view is small. A low vision evaluation may help to suggest appropriate aids. A vision rehabilitation specialist might have ideas for lighting, contrast, and using magnification in the context of your activities,” adds Kalscheur.

Low vision evaluations are available at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired office and are conducted by Low Vision Therapist, Amy Wurf. To book your appointment or to learn more about the low vision evaluation, contact the Council toll-free at 1-800-783-5213. 

To learn more about glaucoma and research to find a cure, go to: www.glaucoma.org. 

Council Thanks Donors for 2015 Contributions

All who benefit from the services provided by the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired say thank you to the individuals, grantors and businesses who gave so generously in 2015.

Your gifts supported the Vision Services team as they helped people adapt to their changing vision, organized educational events, performed low vision evaluations, and participated in health and senior fairs.  The Sharper Vision store served over 3,000 customers with advice and adaptive products, and gave nearly 500 free white canes to those who qualified.

Grants from foundations and businesses throughout the state helped us take vision services to those in rural areas. Sponsorships helped cover the cost of our first low vision fair in the Fox Valley and events where we honored outstanding community members and blind or visually impaired scholarship recipients who are continuing their education.

Our sincere thanks to everyone who made these efforts possible! 

Get Ready for “The Big Share” March 1

Community Shares of Wisconsin will present the second annual “The Big Share” on March 1.

“The Big Share” is an online day of charitable giving for 68 local nonprofits dedicated to building a fair, just community and protecting our environment. The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired is participating in “The Big Share” and welcomes your donations.

“The Big Share” is a fun, easy, and flexible way to donate to and learn more about organizations that help our community. “The Big Share” will introduce you to local charities and will provide a new way of giving for many who have yet to discover the Council.

“This is a big fundraising opportunity for us,” said Council Fund Development Director Lori Werbeckes. “Donors can pledge as early as January and will receive their receipt on March 1. This is an opportunity to be a part of something big. The first Big Share far exceeded our expectations.”

You can schedule your donation anytime at http://tinyurl.com/jeq6ygj.

Watch for more information in the February issue of On Sight. 

Council Looking for Volunteers  

Are you looking to lend a helping hand? The Council is hoping to increase its volunteer base in 2016 and has several opportunities available.

Council Program Assistants Tim Davis and Heather Buggs coordinate the volunteer program for the Council and are always looking forward to welcome new volunteers.

“We have opportunities available, from helping people read books and their mail to helping them with shopping,” said Davis. “We are looking for people, especially in the Madison area, that would like to help.”

Those looking for a volunteer to help with day-to-day tasks are also encouraged to contact the Council. A background check for all volunteers is required. For more information, contact Davis at 608-237-8104 or Buggs at 608-237-8101. 

Madison Area Photographer Finds Passion Through Stunning Photography

 

Mike Morris shares his passion for photography with attendees of Fall Gallery Night last October. 

The road to Mike Morris’ dream of becoming a talented nature photographer hasn’t been smooth, but Morris finally received his night to shine earlier this fall.

Morris, who lives in Belleville with his wife, Renee, was among several blind and visually impaired artists who showcased their work during Gallery Night at the Council. The annual event, presented on October 2, was held in conjunction with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA).

Morris, 45, was diagnosed with myopic macular degeneration in his late thirties. While it took Morris time to process the diagnosis, he eventually accepted it, and tried to move past his visual impairment. A nature lover all his life, Morris didn’t truly see the beauty in nature until his sight was compromised.

After dabbling into wildlife photography with a simple point-and-shoot camera, Morris got serious and purchased a digital SLR model with a powerful lens. With help from Renee, his “nature spotter,” Morris searches for birds, fish, bears and whatever he can find through the lens. 

While his passion for photography is only a couple years old, Morris has already captured stunning, close-up images.

Morris’ journey to this point came about seven years ago. After experiencing weak vision in his left eye, which he believed was due to old contact lenses and infrequent evaluations, Morris’ eye doctor referred him to a retinal specialist. After spending months going from specialist to specialist, Morris finally found out what was wrong. He had macular and retinal damage in his left eye.

While it was originally thought his condition wouldn’t worsen, Morris discovered, almost a year after seeing his eye doctor, that he had limited vision in his left eye. He began taking injections to slow the progression of the disease in both eyes. Morris had to grapple with the reality that, while still fairly young, his vision may never be the same.

“I certainly didn’t wake up one morning and flip a switch; there’s a grieving process that everybody is going to go through when you lose anything,” Morris said. “One thing I’ve learned over the last five years is when you lose something you still have to go through a process and deal with those stages. For me it was probably a year of not sulking, I spent a lot of time in those periods, but certainly spent a lot of time reflecting on life and trying to get a better understanding of where life is taking me.”

While Morris is still learning to adjust to life without total vision, it hasn’t deterred him from pursuing his hopes and dreams. In fact, it’s given him renewed motivation.

“For me, I had to have that reality check of somebody in my life saying to me, ‘Snap out of it. Go do it. You can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it,’” Morris said. “We always see things differently, and when I look at an animal or a landscape, I see it in a different way. I began taking pictures because I wanted to see the detail, I wanted to see the contrast in colors; I wanted to see some type of action going on.”

Morris began sharing some of his work with family and friends and they realized the same color patterns and unique textures he did. Eventually, Morris had the courage to share his images to the general public.

“What I was learning was all these folks were seeing the same thing I wanted them to see,” Morris said.

Morris recalls the first time someone was astonished at the level of his work, considering his visual impairment.

“She looked at me and asked, ‘How could someone who is vision impaired take a photo?’’’ Morris said. “I told her, ‘How could someone who is vision impaired not do what they want to do?’”

Morris didn’t allow the comment to stifle his motivation. If anything, it made his passion and desire burn even brighter.

“That’s a big part of my driving force. We can do whatever we want to do and it doesn’t matter what the challenges are,” Morris said. “We all have a block, but the question is, are you willing to fight hard enough to overcome the challenges that are in your way?”

Because he does have limited vision, Morris will go through many blurry frames before getting the ideal shot. He deletes about 95 percent of his photos. For him to get several of the close-up shots he’s captured, Morris has sometimes spent weeks stalking out the same location. He’s spent many early mornings at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to find that unforgettable image.

“It truly is a level of labor to get that type of photo,” Morris said. “When I take photos, it’s always on auto focus. I think if you had to pigeonhole my photography, I always have a 500-milimeter lens because I do have to zoom in tight. I focus on taking pictures of the subject instead of trying to capture the whole canvas, but it’s what I have to do to be successful and I’m okay with that because at the end of the day, most of us, vision or low vision, don’t have the opportunity to see what I get to see.”

To learn more about Morris’ work, go to www.mikemorrisphoto.org or contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sharper Vision Store Product Feature:

Tactile Tic Tac Toe

 

This bright orange 5 1/2" x 5 1/2" tactile tic tac toe board features high contrast white circles and black square pegs for markers. This game is easy to see and feel the contrast between pieces. 

Item # RT280 $8.50