Saturday, May 9, 2020

Tips for an accessible Monopoly Game

These tips are for making Monopoly accessible to blind and low vision players. The techniques can be used for any board game. I didn’t braille every single piece of information as some things like the price of properties and the full names are easily memorized and I wanted to use the regular sized print board. 

The only supplies I used were dymo tape, a Brailler and some braille paper. 

Dice are easy to read by touch. We put a mark in the center of the board so everyone can find the dice easily. 

For squares on the board I made a tactile divider between each square and put a braille initial above each. The initials are also color coded for our low vision players. 

If I needed it, I could have put the price in braille also. 

The property cards I Brailled with a shorthand of the name and rent amounts. 

Chance and Community Chest cards each have a number corresponding to a numbered list in braille. 

The money has each denomination folded a different way. 

Enjoy, but don’t land on income tax!!

Monday, April 20, 2020

My CVI Story

I wrote this post for a CVI (Cortical Vision Impairment) group and decided it would be fair to share the info here too. I wanted to note that I don’t blame my parents or teachers at all for not knowing; a lot of this stuff I never told them. And the doctors gave misinformation too. So it’s not their fault. 

It’s time, I think, to share briefly my story of growing up with CVI. Feel free to share this with my name if you’re doing advocacy or raising awareness. 

I’m an adult with CVI and my biological son also has it. I’m 43 and he is 13.

I was a smart kid, some would say gifted, which helped me to cope so well nobody realized the ways I also struggled. My dad taught me to read when I was two by drawing letters on index cards with a permanent marker then making those into words. My mom read books aloud to me, often the books she was reading, like The Lord of the Rings. I learned to associate meanings with words very early and as I read, to retain those meanings. 

But I knew early on that something was wrong. Other people could see things I couldn’t. I have a clear memory of my mom saying impatiently, “Well, just look harder!” It made me feel like it was a personal failure not to see something. 

She took me to eye doctors, concerned. I remember one ophthalmologist walking with us out into an olive-green carpeted waiting room, his words low and meant for my mom: “I think she is just attention-seeking.” I was given glasses for nearsightedness and told I was fine. I remember the wonder of seeing leaves on a tree sharply with one new pair of glasses and thinking, “it must be true. Glasses fix everyone’s sight.” And I forgot about it. 

Until a swing on the playground that I was facing clobbered me in the face. And a basketball hit me out of nowhere on the cheekbone. And I tried to catch a baseball and missed. Over and over and over. And I missed the tennis ball with the racket. And in high school floor hockey I had to resort to following the crowd of kids who could see the puck because I couldn’t. And the confusion I felt with faces. And the way I’d slip on stairs as if the edges were in the wrong place. Or trip on shadows expecting an edge. Or how tired I got when reading. 

I got all the way through school and graduated valedictorian. By senior math I had given up trying to read the new white boards and just listened to the lectures, occasionally asking a nearby student what something said, making some excuse about needing new glasses. 

A few instances stand out from my childhood that encouraged me to keep my vision problems secret. One was a time sitting in a van full of kids waiting to go to summer camp. “I can’t see without my glasses,” I said, not wanting to admit I couldn’t see much WITH them. One kid sharply moved his hand and I glanced that way briefly. “You can see!” The other kids hooted in derision. I told myself it was true. I had seen that hand. They must be right. Apparently everyone saw the way I did and I should stop trying to make things up.

My dad was constantly trying to correct my posture and get me to stand up straight. One band concert I remember his only comment was how hunched over I was. I didn’t tell him (and didn’t fully realize) that it was the only angle and distance I could read the music. 

I also remember secretly scouring books about blind people, looking for blindness skills that I could use to make life easier. It seemed like I’d be seeing fine one minute then not able to see things at all the next. And it didn’t go dark or scrambled. It just didn’t work. Like trying to lift your ring finger by itself with your hand flat on a table. It just doesn’t work. 

So I got to college. I majored in music education and took marching band. I was terrible at staying in the line. I couldn’t see the people on either side of me. As usual, I thought it was my fault and determined to work harder and keep up. I stayed after class through my lunch period and discovered I could feel the painted yard lines on the AstroTurf through my socks if I took my shoes off. I memorized the feeling of eight steps to five yards and gradually got better at marching although I never could play all the music and concentrate hard enough on marching to be accurate. I just faked playing when it got too tricky. 

In percussion tech class I was supposed to sight read a marimba piece which involved using peripheral vision to see the marimba keys. It was then that I realized I had no useable peripheral vision at all. By then, I was so committed to hiding that I went into the percussion room alone and memorized the location of each key using muscle memory so I could look at the music only. 

When I was a senior, a totally blind student enrolled in the music program and I remember my burning jealousy of the way that everyone helped him and didn’t expect him to read music or look at marimba keys. On a band trip, I remember going toward the entrance to a football stadium in Boise, Idaho and having a panic attack at losing the person I was following and getting lost or tripping on stairs. I started having nightmares about not being able to find classrooms that continue to this day. 

I graduated Magna Cum Laude and got a job teaching music at a local high school. In spite of doing my best, I simply could not keep track of the kids and they ran wild. At my second teaching job I had 145 kids through my classroom every week and I could not handle the crowds of kids. I used to try to take note of the color of shirt that the worst of the troublemakers wore each day. One day I had a sweet little junior high aged girl in my office asking her to please stop talking in class. As I tried to think about what to say, I didn’t realize my eyes drifted downward and she told her mother I had ogled her body sexually. Nothing could have been further from the truth but I realized then how my vision “turns off” sometimes without me realizing it. 

Combined with the stress of political troubles at that school and being fired for poor class management, all of the stress of trying to cope through college and teaching finally caught up with me. I had a mental breakdown and developed chronic clinical depression with suicidal ideations that I battle to this day. I also developed chronic hypoglycemia and my blood sugar crashes extremely easily and swings wildly if I don’t manage it with extreme care. 

When my son Seth was born, I noticed as a baby if sunlight or bright lights struck his face he would cry. He was a little slow to walk and seemed afraid of stairs and curbs. As he has grown, he too is extremely gifted and loves to learn but shows many of the vision oddities that I struggled with. I’ve homeschooled him to allow him to learn at his pace and adapt his schoolwork as needed to accommodate his vision. 

I’ve discovered ways to exercise and keep active that don’t involve sports I struggle with. Hiking and backpacking, swimming, archery, woodworking and sewing are all hobbies I really enjoy. 

When we began the process of adopting my daughter who is blind from glaucoma, I knew I needed to face the fact that I too had a vision impairment. I’d tried again to find out what it was, only to have eye doctors tell me that my eyes looked quite healthy. One doctor tried vision therapy which was frustrating and painful and did not help long-term at all. 

Three things happened about this time. One is that I found an article about CVI online. As I read it, I started shaking and crying. It was if the article described ME.  Although I hadn’t had head trauma or a stroke, everything else fit, and it answered so many questions. I figured that must be what I have, as much as I scorn self-diagnosing. The second thing is that I wrote a “coming out” blog post, detailing to family and friends how I see, as much as possible. Link here:  I discovered too that a lower glasses prescription made the CVI less because the acuity was less so there was less information to process. The third thing was that I met someone online with the same condition as me. For the first time in my life, I was not alone. I had affirmation that this really did exist and that I wasn’t imagining it. 

(Edited to add: the VR counselor at the Idaho Commission has been the only person who listened and has tried to help. He was able to get Talking Books and the Dial-A-Ride services for me which are the first and only help I’ve ever received.)

My daughter has been home for eight years now, and I’ve discovered that I have and use excellent blindness skills, so much so that when I toured the rehab center looking at it for her, there was nothing new they could teach me. 

I had been using a white cane in unfamiliar areas, starting on a trip to Europe with my mom and aunts, who were surprisingly accepting once I explained why I needed it. I was amazed at the way I could travel standing upright and looking around rather than bent over looking at the ground directly in front of my feet. I still felt like a fraud using it and I hated the attention it drew. 

Once my daughter joined our family and her dark skin color and white cane drew all sorts of attention, I got so that I didn’t mind and just ignored it. I got the courage to apply to get a guide dog. Once again the gatekeepers blocked my way, saying that without an official diagnosis of legal blindness I wasn’t eligible. I tried again to get diagnosed only to have more doctors telling me I was imagining it. I almost gave up in despair when I found a group of blind people who owner trained their guide dogs. I also found out the ADA service dog laws protect owner-trained animals, not just school trained dogs. I bought Coco, and trained him, although still secretly feeling slightly like a fraud. Walking with him is amazing. I feel so free and safe. He tells me about curbs, stops at stairs, goes around obstacles. I love walking with him! I can even close my eyes if they are tired and just fly along holding his harness handle. 

So there is my journey with CVI. I’m so glad for people like Stephanie who are raising awareness about CVI, especially among doctors and brain researchers. I figure eventually I’ll get a correct diagnosis when brain research catches up to the reality that genetic congenital CVI does indeed exist and we are not imagining, faking or attention-seeking. I hope that someday CVI is respected and that we no longer fall through the cracks, left to struggle along without support or acknowledgement. And I hope that we are appreciated for who we are: often smart and hard-working to cope in a world that doesn’t understand us.

Friday, March 20, 2020



To put things in perspective
for those of us feeling a bit
stir crazy already--Anne
Frank and 7 other people
hid in a 450 sq. ft. attic for
761 days, quietly trying to
remain undiscovered to stay
alive. We can all do our part
to keep everyone safe and
spend a few weeks at home.


Ethan Campbell
Reminder: when the Pevensie
children were isolated during a
national crisis, they found a magical
wardrobe, explored a fantasy
wonderland, led an army of talking
animals against an evil witch, fulfilled
an ancient prophecy, and reigned
over the realm for years, all in one
3:58 PM · 3/17/20 - Twitter Web App

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Kids at the Cabin

While we are on lockdown I took the kids to the cabin. No crowds and lots of fun. :)

Kids at the Cabin

While we are on lockdown I took the kids to the cabin. No people and lots of fun. :)

Friday, March 13, 2020

History in the Making

This is one of those times that we’ll say, “oh yeah. I remember the Corona Virus.” Our school district just closed the schools for several weeks. People are counting the number of cases nearby. 

For the record, I’m more nervous about being quarantined with my kids than I am about getting sick. But we plan to do our part and stay home until it blows over. 

We stocked up on nonperishables. 

Shelves are getting pretty empty as everyone stocks up. 

We donated to the local pop-up food bank. 

And of course, we’re enjoying the plethora of memes and jokes going around. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Day In The Life of a Braille Transcriber

A lot of people are curious about my job. What does a braille transcriber do? How are braille books made?

Well, I’ll take you through the process of making a book today. :)

First of all, here’s a quick peek at my office. There’s a computer, a printer, a braille embosser, a braille typewriter, quilts on the wall, extra supplies, boxes of paper... and a snoozing guide dog on the couch. 

So today I got a request for a book: How to Speak Dragonese by Cressida Cowell. The first thing I need is the text in electronic form. Since Bookshare has this book, that makes it easy. And the book is for my daughter so I can use her Bookshare account. 

I download the text, extract it from the zipped file and open the XML file in a piece of transcribing software called Duxbury. 

Then I set Duxbury to transcribe the text to braille. I check that the braille is correct, that the page and embossing parameters are set correctly and then send the book to the embosser. This one didn’t need a lot of clean-up. A math book might take hundreds of hours of clean-up before it’s ready to emboss. 

My old Juliet Pro 60 embosser will crank out 70 pages in an hour. So this book took about two hours to emboss. 

After it’s done embossing, I print the cover information on the printer, and braille a sticky label to put on the hard cover. If it’s a soft cover, I’ll braille this information directly onto the printed cover. 

Once the book is embossed, I need to tear off the tractor feed edges, separate the pages and bind them. 

The book is bound with the comb binding, then I write the title on the spine or use the label maker to put a title on the spine of the book. 

There’s a finished braille book! This one is going home to my daughter but often they will get shipped all over the world.