The group of 15 Birding by Ear attendees and 3 instructors pose for a photo along a trail at the Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton. Photo by: Madison Audubon Society.
The Council is always looking for ways we can partner with other groups to bring interesting events to the blind and visually impaired community. Earlier this year, we teamed up with the Madison Audubon Society to offer a Birding by Ear webinar and two-part workshop. Get out and enjoy nature in a new way. Here are some tips for Birding by Ear:
- Focus on learning two or three birdsongs at a time. “As adult learners, there is sometimes a pressure to try to learn everything at once,” says Denise Jess, Council CEO/Executive Director. “Breaking it down into manageable pieces is helpful.”
- Learn mnemonic devices, phrases that can assist in remembering complicated information, such as the “Cheeriup, Cheerlee, Cheerio,” song of the robin. Develop kinesthetic memory by rhythmically tapping on a table as a bird sings to help recall the cadence of the song.
- Start birding in winter, when only a few birds are around. Learn the songs of birds you already hear frequently.
- Work in tandem with a sighted friend or family member who can see the bird, describe it, and match its description to pictures on the Internet. “Many sighted birders do not learn to bird by ear,” says Kerry Wilcox, biologist and Madison Audubon Society volunteer who led the Birding by Ear webinar and workshop. “Sometimes, birdsong is the only way to identify birds out in the field, especially if there is foliage or if the bird is too small to see. This is an important skill to have in your back pocket.”
- Use technology to learn and recall birdsongs. While phone apps and websites can be a tremendous resource for individuals interested in learning how to identify birds by sound, certain precautions must be taken when utilizing this technology. Consider using apps with headphones while out in the field, or leave the technology at home and check it later. Birdcalls made by technology can trigger responses in wild birds that take them away from young, use up energy, and expose them to predators. Because of this, some locations prohibit “playback,” so be sure and check rules first. It is always illegal to play the sounds of endangered species out in the wild without a permit to do so.
The following are some accessible technology resources to consider when learning to bird by ear.
All About Birds
- Accessible site operated by Cornell University
- Contains bird sounds, cool facts, information about bird identification and tips for bird enthusiasts
Blindfold Bird Songs
- Available in Apple App Store
- Fully accessible game which helps users identify bird sounds
- Contains Find the Bird, name the bird and bird facts
- Basic version is free, in-app purchases unlock additional bird calls
Look for local birding opportunities in your area, whether in your backyard or at a local nature preserve.
A close-up photo of an monarch butterfly perched atop an orange flower by Alison Fortney, a photographer from Milwaukee who is visually impaired.
In recent weeks, Council staff have begun to promote our Fall Gallery Night event, at which the Council recognizes artists who are blind and visually impaired. We do this because their work establishes that people who are blind or visually impaired can be creative and equal participants in mediums which the general public assumes would be open to sighted artists only. Many of these artists—from painters to woodworkers to photographers—learned their craft from an art program or class.
Art classes are an excellent way to reconnect with a hobby, expand existing skills, or learn something new. For people who have a visual impairment, finding materials that work, adapting techniques for aspects of art previously done visually, or explaining visual impairment to an instructor might seem daunting. Feeling this apprehension is normal. Acknowledge the feelings, but do not stop there. Here are some tips to help you learn with confidence.
Before Class: When considering learning a new art form, it can be helpful to talk with a person who experiences vision loss who creates in that medium. Ask them questions about techniques they use. Talking with them can help give ideas.
Council staff are happy to serve as resources and provide connections to such individuals, whenever possible. (In some cases, we might know artists who work in the desired medium. When we ourselves do not know an artist who works in the desired medium, we can connect people with those who are artists in general to broaden the network and help find someone.) We also can help brainstorm ideas for how to self-advocate and/or what to consider and ask for when reaching out for instruction and even what tools might be available for assisting. For example, we have a variety of magnifiers and lights in the Sharper Vision Store that are very helpful for crafters and artists. Feel free to call with questions at 800-783-5213.
Once an art class and medium has been chosen, it is a good idea to talk with the instructor ahead of time. They will likely have questions about ways to adapt the class, so having ideas of how tasks can be done non-visually is helpful.
“Pave the way for yourself and make it easier for your instructors,” says Deb Claire, a painter with a visual impairment living in Madison. “Give yourself permission to be in the class. It is OK for you to ask for and discuss accommodations. Brainstorm with your instructor. It will be easy to tell if they are willing to work with you.”
When shopping for supplies, crafting store employees can be an excellent source of knowledge. Ask them to describe colors, about equipment commonly used, and if it is okay to touch materials. Stores want customers to be satisfied with their purchases and are happy to lend a hand. Visit the store during non-peak hours, such as the middle of the morning or afternoon on weekdays so employees will have ample time to assist.
During the Class: When taking a class, let your classmates know about your visual impairment. They might ask questions or display curiosity about adaptive techniques or tools used for creating your artwork.
“Just talk about it at the start of class,” says Deb. “It makes it easier for everybody.”
When the Class Ends: Follow up with the instructor at the end of or shortly after class. Tell them what things were helpful, and discuss what could be done to improve the next class.
“When someone does a good job, I like to call a supervisor,” says Deb. “If an instructor went out of their way and took the time to make sure you felt comfortable and could participate fully, they should be recognized for their efforts. Reinforcing those behaviors helps everyone who might want to take the class in the future.”
Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli is Program Director for Very Special Arts (VSA) Wisconsin. VSA WISCONSIN offers art and music classes for people with disabilities in Madison. Their seven-week summer classes for adults are in the evenings on weeknights and cost between $74-$164, depending on the class. Scholarships are available.
“We offer these classes because we feel it’s so important for people, especially those with disabilities, to have a safe space to express themselves and engage in art or music making experiences,” says Gabrielle. “These positive experiences help them grow as a person and bring joy to their lives.”
All of VSA’s art and music classes are open to anyone with a disability, including visual impairments. A few of the classes offered this summer included: Clay Creations, Cool Summer Paper Crafting, Feeling the Beat, and Drum Circle. VSA is planning a four-week Saturday Drumming class for the blind and visually impaired community to be held in September. Watch Council publications for more details about this class.
A copper relief of the Last Supper, an example of a tactile piece of artwork by a person who is visually impaired, on display at the 2017 Gallery Night.
Have you created a piece of artwork and want to show it off? Submit artwork for consideration to be featured in our Fall Gallery Night! Network with other artists who are blind and visually impaired. Showcase your artwork at a fun event. Get highlighted in our publications and on social media. You might even sell some of your artwork. Previous featured artwork includes: woodworking, textiles, photography, watercolors, copper relief and pottery.
Indicate your interest by sending PDF or JPEG samples and descriptions of art to Denise Jess at email@example.com by Friday, September 14. If selected as an artist, Denise will notify you. Feel free to contact Denise by calling 608-237-8103 if you have questions. We look forward to your submissions! Not ready to submit a piece of artwork yet? Come to Gallery Night to hear artists talks and interact with artwork.
A symposium attendee testing out the Council’s Sharper Vision Store products.
Do you or someone you know have macular degeneration and wonder about how to live with changing vision? Are you a health professional curious about the latest research and care? Find all of the information you need in one place at the Macular Degeneration Symposium. The event will be held on Wednesday, October 10, from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. It will be held at the Alliant Energy Center, 1919 Alliant Energy Center Way, in Madison.
The Council is co-hosting this event, along with UW-Health and the UW Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. Learn about current treatments, cutting edge research, causes of macular degeneration, as well as services and products that can assist and empower people with macular degeneration live full and happy lives.
Speakers include Dr. Barbara Blodi, Medical Director of the Fundus Photograph Reading Center and Clinical Trials Unit; Dr. David Gamm, Associate Professor; Dr. Sanbrita Mondal, Clinical Optometrist, Director — Low Vision Clinic; and Amy Wurf, Certified Low Vision Therapist at the Council.
Vendors include the Council’s Sharper Vision Store, Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library, Enhanced Vision, Optelec, the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Adaptive Technology Resources, and Vision Forward.
The Macular Degeneration Symposium is sponsored by: Associated Bank, AARP Wisconsin Chapter, Adaptive Technology Resources, Clear Vision Midwest, Enhanced Vision, MG&E Foundation, Oakwood Village, and Vanda Pharmaceuticals.
Register by calling the Council at 800-783-5213. Online registration is available at eyes.wisc.edu/event/AMD. We would like to thank Associated Bank and Enhanced Vision for sponsoring this event. Watch future issues of On Sight for more information.
John Harrison sits smiling on a stool holding his white cane.
Positivity and advocacy on behalf of others are two lessons Council scholarship winner, John Harrison, tries to bring to his daily life. The creative writing and psychology major, who will start his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater this fall, sat down with Katherine Corbett, Council Communications Coordinator, for a brief chat.
Katherine Corbett: Why did you decide to attend the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater?
John Harrison: I love it! The campus is beautiful and easy to navigate. Plus, it is close enough to home that I can see my family every now and then, and far enough away that I still feel independent.
Katherine: What lessons has your visual impairment taught you?
John: The journey it has taken me on has taught me that my life might suck at the moment and might not always be ideal, but if I feel bad for myself that won’t accomplish anything. I need to look on the bright side. I can still make a difference and help others and be happy no matter what.
Katherine: How do you plan to apply those lessons to the rest of your life?
John: I always want to try to be a positive person. One day, I hope to become an advocate and find someplace where I can make a difference for others.
Katherine: Tell me about a person who inspires you.
John: My favorite author is John Green. He’s a New York Times best-selling author, and a philanthropist. He uses his privilege to make a difference in the lives of other people. I like the idea of being successful and using my success to make positive change.
Katherine: How does the mission of the Council resonate with your own life goals?
John: The Council sheds a positive light on the capabilities of what people who are blind can do. One of the Council Excellence Award winners talked about a simulator he uses to teach blind students to sail. I think that is really cool! By recognizing him, the Council spreads the message that blind people can do anything we want as long as we have the opportunity and take the time to do it. There is definitely a link between my desire to be an advocate and the advocacy work the Council does.
Katherine: What is your favorite instrument, sport or hobby? Why?
John: My favorite hobby would have to be reading. Reading allows me to escape from reality and, at the same time, to see reality in a different light. I like seeing the world more complexly and experiencing things through books that I might never do or experience. It is enlightening to read how other people live their lives.
Council staff member Heather Buggs talking to Low Vision Fair attendees about resources and products.
The Council hosted a Low Vision Fair on Thursday, August 9 at UW-Manitowoc. Thank you to the event sponsor: Associated Bank and speakers: Dr. Katie Buchholz, a low vision optometrist with BayCare Clinic Eye Specialists, Jean Kenevan of the Office for the Blind & Visually Impaired at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Calvin Richtig of Options for Independent Living of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Brent Perzentka of the Council. Exhibitors that day included: ADRC of the Lakeshore, Adaptive Tech Resources, Clear Vision Midwest, Enhanced Vision, Felician Village, Manitowoc Public Library, Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Options for Independent Living, Talking Books. and Vision Forward. A brief word from one of the attendees:
Guests enjoy Dining in the Dark this summer at the Vignette Dining Club.
Global flavors and local vegetarian dishes were the main features of the Council’s Dining in the Dark dinners this summer. The Council partnered with Vignette Dining Club for two dinners in Fitchburg on July 12 and 13, featuring a vegetarian menu with locally-sourced ingredients. GingeRootz Asian Grille hosted a dinner in Appleton on August 14. The head chef at GingeRootz created globally-inspired dishes for the event, such as adobo empanadas, fried soft shell crab and watermelon in an Asian vinaigrette, arroz negre (paella negra), beef caldreta served with brioche and rosemary rice, and ginger panna cotta featuring Pop rocks!.
As is the tradition, all guests were blindfolded during the majority of the meal. Courses were described to diners after the first few bites. After dinner, Council staff led a discussion about the differences attendees noticed when enjoying the food without using sense of sight. Council staff also answered questions about cooking and eating with a visual impairment.
“I loved the sharing of ideas, experiences and perspectives during the discussion,” says Patricia Headland, a former Dining in the Dark participant. “It was really enlightening to realize how much I depend on my sense of sight and how much more I noticed and enjoyed while using taste, smell and touch. I’m eager to experience Dining in the Dark again.”
All three events were well-attended, with a variety of guests at each. Eye care professionals attended a dinner with Vignette Dining Club. A former scholarship winner reconnected with Council staff during the GingeRootz event. Since the first Dining in the Dark event in Spring 2013, the Council has raised a total of $14,000.
Thank you to everyone who attended, to Vignette Dining Club and GingeRootz Asian Grille for hosting, and to the chefs, servers and wait-staff for making all three nights a success this summer. The Council appreciates all you do to spread the message of dignity and empowerment of people who are blind or visually impaired.
Watch Council publications for details about future Dining in the Dark events. Use #DiningintheDark to tag your favorite photos if you attended one of the events.