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Bridges Blog Series: Next Steps November, 2021

Next Steps November: Navigating (Your Future)

It’s November, and the leaves aren’t the only things changing. We settled into the school routine, and the holiday season is gearing up. November is a great time to create bridges between our current realities and the futures we seek, so these are the topics we will explore this month:

  • November 2: Navigating (Your Future)
  • November 9: Networking
  • November 16: Niche (Finding Yours)
  • November 23: Note-taking
  • November 30: Nurturing (Yourself)

In this first installment of our “Next Steps November” series, we begin with mapping the journey: Navigating Your Future.

Where Are You Now?

It’s almost impossible to get to your destination if you don’t know where you are right now. From Google Maps to IEP baselines, we are always asked where we are right now.

Navigating your future is no different; you need to determine where you are right now.

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your interests?
  • What intrigues you?
  • Is there anything you’d like to explore but feel that you cannot?
  • Do you want to learn about different things but don’t know where to start?

Please reach out to others, including the Free Bridges Helpdesk, to dig into these questions and your answers. By asking and answering these questions, you are defining your starting point.

Where Do You Want To Be?

Every journey needs both a starting and an ending point. However, while the starting point is usually very specific and concrete, the ending point does not need to be so. In addition, the ending point might be different at different times of your life. As you think about your ending point, please consider:

The time frame:

  • What are your goals for the next year?
  • The next five years?
  • The next forty years?

What skills do you want to have, and how will you get them?

  • Will you need vocational/technical training?
  • Will you need a college degree? A post-graduate degree?
  • Will you need to get extra disability-related training (for blindness/low vision, other disabilities)?
  • Are there other skills you want to get?

What kind of employment do you want?

  • Working for a governmental agency or a private business?
  • Owning your own business?
  • At an office?
  • Working directly with the public?
  • Working from home?
  • Hybrid?

In what employment field are you interested?

  • Business, such as at a bank, in an insurance office, accounting?
  • Technology, coding, cyber security, customer service?
  • Medicine, law, retail, something else?

Where do you want to live?

  • City? Suburban? Rural?
  • In Maryland? On the East Coast? In another country?
  • In an apartment? A home you own?
  • With a roommate? Alone?

Take It One Step at a Time

It can be overwhelming to think about all of these things. Please remember, you don’t need to have all of the answers, and know that your answers can (and maybe should) change.

Nevertheless, asking yourself these questions will help you navigate each next step in your life. Please know that the Free Bridges Helpdesk is ready and eager to support you every step of the way.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Series: Orientation October

Useful Apps for Reading Signage, Purchasing Transit Tickets, and Getting Transit Scheduling Information

Using Technology for the Details

When traveling with a white cane, individuals have many techniques that they use to obtain the information they need to go where they want to go. A summary of these techniques can be found in last week’s post, Useful Apps for Navigation: Google Maps and Blind Square. At the Bridges Helpdesk, we know that the more tools individuals have in their toolbox, the better. Individual users can then make educated choices about which methods they want to use depending on the situation and the information needed.

There are times when technology can enhance the traveling experience, whether the traveler is looking to read a quick sign to become more oriented or they want to use an app to check a schedule. Below are some resources and tips which can serve as helpful additions to the orientation and mobility toolbox.

Reading Signs and Schedules

Whether it is a street name sign, a boarding location sign, or a bus stop sign, knowing what a sign says can help orient someone to their location. Similarly, having access to a schedule of transit options can help someone plan their routine or activity. There are lots of ways for blind/low vision individuals to access this information, even though it is not at first glance accessible to them. There are many non-technological solutions to this, but if a person wants to use technology to figure it out, here are some options:

  • Aira is an app in which the user can contact a sighted agent in real-time to obtain information about their environment using the smartphone’s camera. Agents have the capability to take photos of the user’s surroundings to help them zoom in on the text of signs or schedules. Several months ago, the Bridges Helpdesk published a post, Aira in Action, about Aira and its many features.
  • Seeing AI is a text recognition app that reads text aloud to the user. It has a variety of different modes depending on the desired task. You could use this app to read a schedule, a list of cabs and their contact numbers, or use the Short Text mode for signage text. The Bridges Helpdesk published a post on this app as well, called Seeing AI.
  • In the electronic age in which we live, almost all transit schedules can be accessed online. You can access scheduling information using your local transit authority’s website, and many transit sites even have a specific trip planning feature. Individuals can also utilize third-party apps such as Transit (Transit app in the Apple App Store and Transit app in the Google Play store) or Google Maps (in the transit mode) (Google Maps app in the Apple App Store and Google Maps app in the Google Play store).

Purchasing Tickets

Fewer stations than ever are operating without a ticket counter run by a human employee, and with this change comes inaccessible ticket purchasing kiosks. Some transit systems have very accessible ticketing machines, but even then, there is often only one or two machines with audio feedback and these could either be in use or in disrepair. Luckily, the two major transit authorities that cover areas in Maryland have apps for ticket purchasing. If you live outside of the greater Baltimore or Washington, D.C. regions, it is possible that your local transit authority may provide online ticket purchasing as well. Feel free to peruse your local transit website and contact the Bridges Helpdesk anytime for additional support.

Contact Us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

Categories
Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Series: Orientation October

Useful Apps for Navigation: Google Maps and Blind Square

Techniques for Travel

When a person travels using their white cane, they have lots of techniques for learning a new environment and exploring their surroundings at their disposal.

Asking questions of passersby such as clarifying which block a destination is on, asking what intersection one is standing at, or inquiring which building is next to one’s current location can yield very helpful information about one’s environment.

Relying on other senses aside from sight can be very enlightening when discovering new aspects of one’s environment. A quiet thrum can indicate where the vending machines are, and the beeping sounds of cash registers can indicate where the checkout line at a store is located. Sometimes, finding the best coffee shop on campus is as simple as walking down the block, entering the place where the smell of delicious coffee is coming from, and ordering a coffee.

Individuals can also work with travel or O&M instructors on learning their new environment. Many times, this service is provided through the school district or DORS, and the Bridges Helpdesk can work with you on getting this service covered if needed.

Most cane users employ a combination of all of these methods, and also add in some additional tools in the form of apps on their smartphones. GPS apps are not perfect, and it is important to use other tools in your toolbox to get around while also using the apps to supplement your travel experience. Below, we will detail two useful apps for navigating and gathering information about one’s environment. There are others, and we encourage users to try them out and have fun!

BlindSquare

BlindSquare was developed from Foursquare and it has many features that can enhance location and destination identification. Users can enjoy many customizable features which include but are not limited to the following:

  • Shaking your phone while the app is open will give you your current address and speak information such as the closest intersection and popular cafes and other points of interest that are around you.
  • As you walk along the route and listen to the app’s directions, the app will periodically announce what direction you are headed in and along what street to help you maintain orientation. You will also hear the voice navigation announce what you are passing in real-time.
  • The app allows users to filter information that they want to hear. For example, if you only want to hear about nearby post offices, you can filter out all other mentions of other locations and points of interest.
  • Users can drop markers so that the app can use voice guidance to guide them back to their starting point after navigating to their destination.
  • Some users find it helpful to keep the app open when they are riding in a car or on public transportation because it will speak out the streets and points of interest one is passing. This can be a great tool when learning the layout of a new neighborhood or trying to contextualize what a bus line includes.

Blind Square is only available for iOS users in the App Store. The Blind Square event app is available at no cost, but Blind Square Event is only a demo version unless used at certain, limited events. The full version of Blind Square costs $39.99. Learn more about Blind Square or see it in action on Blind Square’s Help page.

Google Maps

This app was not specifically designed for blind and low vision users. In fact, this app has several modes and can be used if one is driving to a location, using public transportation, walking, or even bicycling.

The walking mode can allow you to preview the route that you will need to take to get to a specific location. You can also choose to start the route and Google’s Voice Navigation will speak directions to you as you progress on your travels.

Many users find Google Maps helpful because it can give information about which buses or trains to catch to get to a specific destination when using the app in the public transportation mode. The app also provides multiple public transportation route suggestions if available so you can evaluate which one will work best for you.

You can also use the app for giving driving directions to a driver or ensuring that that driver is heading to the requested destination. This app also has the ability to help you discover places around you and has the capability for you to call those places if needed by the push of the button in the app.

Google Maps is available at no cost and can be used with iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome operating systems.

Contact Us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Bridges Blog Independent Living Resources Series: Orientation October

Orientation October: How to Get a Cane, Different Types of Canes, and Your Rights as a White Cane User

What Type of Cane Should I Buy?

White cane users all have their individual preferences on what makes the most useful white cane. Here are some valuable questions to consider as you evaluate the type of cane you want to use:

  •  How heavy do I want my cane to be? — Some prefer a heavier cane made out of aluminum or graphite, and others prefer lightweight cane made out of carbon fiber or fiberglass.
  • What material of cane tip do I want to use? — Some users say that a metal tip gives the most tactile feedback, while other users say that a marshmallow or pencil tip glides more easily over surfaces.
  • How tall should my cane be? — Some cane users feel that a cane that goes up to their sternum works for them, and others feel unsafe unless they use a cane that goes up to their forehead. As you consider this question, it also may be helpful to consider how fast you walk. Some cane users claim that they can jog with a longer cane because they have more advanced notice of the objects in their path.

It takes some time to figure out what type of cane you prefer, and we encourage you to explore all possible avenues before you settle on the cane type that works best for you. At the Bridges Helpdesk, we are always happy to discuss your options with you. Many cane users own multiple types of canes for different types of travel, and that just means more tools in the toolbox. Here are some examples:

  •  Some individuals carry a straight, non-collapsible cane for regular use, but carry a folding or telescoping cane with them in their purse or backpack in case something happens to their straight cane while they are traveling.
  • Some cane users have a shorter cane for daily use, but a longer cane for long walks or jogs.
  • Some cane users have lightweight canes for regular travel, but have heavier canes for hikes to assist with durability.

How Do I Purchase a Cane?

You can purchase a cane through a variety of places:

Free White Cane Program

If you have never used a white cane before, or you just want to try out NFB’s model of cane, you can order a free white cane from the NFB every six months with no charges. This cane is a straight fiberglass cane with a metal tip. If you want to look into other types of canes through NFB, those are not part of the white cane program but can be purchased at the Independence Market link indicated above.

Get your free white cane by filling out the Free NFB White Cane form.

Contact Us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Bridges Blog Information Resources Series: Orientation October

Orientation October: History of the White Cane and White Cane Safety Day/White Cane Awareness Day

History of the White Cane

In older literature and in written accounts of daily life, it is common to read that a person who was blind/had low vision used a long object such as a branch or metal pole while walking to give them information about the ground in front of them so that they could safely navigate. It truly was a fantastic innovation that blind/low vision individuals created themselves: if one cannot feel the ground while also trying to walk, then they thought to make a longer device that could give them information from the ground so that they could safely and confidently navigate.

Not until the 1930s did it become standardized for blind people to use the white cane specifically. The white cane has become a symbol that indicates blindness or low vision around the world. The white color allows the cane to be seen more easily in the dark. Blind/low vision cane users today enjoy all kinds of benefits from the standardization of the white cane, including customizable lengths, materials, and weights.

What is White Cane Safety Day?

October 15 marks White Cane Safety Day, which is a time to educate society about the white cane and how blind/low vision people travel. It is a time to be proud of the innovation that keeps cane users safe and traveling confidently to the things that they want and need to do.

White Cane Safety Day was established nationally in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Here is the proclamation as made at that time:

“The white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and special consideration to the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more fully aware of the meaning of the white cane and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it Congress, by a joint resolution approved as of October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day. Now, therefore, I Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States of America do hereby proclaim October 15, 1964 as White Cane Safety Day.”

What about White Cane Awareness Day?

In the decades since 1964, some in the blindness/low vision community believe that, “the emphasis of White Cane Safety Day has shifted over time away from safety, and toward independence and equality” and have adopted the term “White Cane Awareness Day” to “to celebrate this history and recognize the white cane as the tool that allows the blind to “come and go on [our] own” as President Lyndon Johnson said back in 1964.” National Federation of the Blind. Additional organizations that celebrate White Cane Awareness Day include the U.S. Library of Congress, the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision, the American Printing House for the Blind, The Braille Institute, and many Lighthouses for the Blind across the country.

Canes and more! Blind Americans Equality Day

In 2011, President Barrack Obama proclaimed October 15, 2011 “Blind Americans Equality Day.” In his proclamation, he referenced the original “White Cane Safety Day” proclamation and specifically recognized the importance of technological accessibility, including moving the federal government toward compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. You may read the entire proclamation at Presidential Proclamation – Blind Americans Equality Day, 2011.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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