Vision Rehabilitation Services of Georgia extends a big “THANK YOU” to Whitefield Academy and the great work completed at the office this past Saturday, August 26th. Whitfield Academy students and parents revamped the flower beds are VRS entrance as part of their Great Day of Service.
On Tuesday, July 25, 2017, the Transition Academy was hosted by MUST Ministries’ Marietta location. Founded in 1971 by the Rev. Wayne Williams, MUST “…addresses the basic needs of individuals, families and children with facilities in the Cobb and Cherokee counties and programs in numerous other counties.” MUST’s mission is “Serving our neighbors in need… transforming lives and communities in response to Christ’s call.” Being a volunteer-driven organization, the Transition Academy was able to volunteer while simultaneously learning about job tasks, running a non-profit organization, meeting deadlines, and much more. It was a great way to end the summer academy and a wonderful location to hold the Transition Academy Graduation.
The morning kicked off with the members of the Transition Academy introducing themselves to our hosts (the Program Team), by giving a brief spontaneous Eye Statement to describe how their visual impairment works. For instance, Alsu explained to the Program Team that having Septo-optic dysplasia, means that she sees best in dimly lit environments. Afterwards, the Program Team responded to our introductions by telling the TA participants about the history of MUST Ministries, before outlining some of their own daily job duties.
Kelly supervises the people who work at MUST Ministries as part of their community service. Usually, Kelly and her team handle the janitorial and house-keeping tasks for MUST Ministries, but they also keep the food pantry stocked. Chuck oversees the Thrift Store, which provides a source of revenue for all of MUST Ministries’ programs. Francis, the program director, shared MUST Ministries is a 46-year-old faith-based organization, whose mission is to serve their neighbors in need by providing both impoverished families and individuals with the goods and services they need.
The Transition Academy group broke into several small teams to aid the employees of MUST Ministries by stocking the shelves, handing out food in the pantry, and organizing the Thrift Store (among other things). For example, Brittany, Ayesha, and Skylar took turns steaming the children’s clothes and hanging them on a cart. Then, after the clothes had been steamed, Maggie and Gabby would take the cart to the thrift store. At the thrift store, Chuck showed them how to organize the clothes, for ease of shopper,s based on gender and size from infant through adult. Many volunteer hours are helpful in the store to keep it organized and stocked.
Josh Marks was interviewed for this week’s Transition Academy blog post. Josh is currently a rising Junior at Lassiter High School, in Marietta, Georgia. Josh’s preferred method of learning is through using a combination of audio and visual sensory input. After graduating high school, Josh hopes to major in Sports Medicine at Kennesaw State University. This would be an ideal situation, because one of Josh’s main interests is playing baseball.
Later, in honor of our final class, the Transition Academy volunteers and members had a graduation celebration complete with cake! Each student also received a graduation certificate to signify that they had successfully completed the course.
The afternoon was spent rotating through additional work stations. TA participants unpacked donated work shirts, re-stacked donation boxes, re-stocked the food pantry and unloaded donations for the MUST summer lunch program. In addition, a small group met with Linda Newman, past VRS Board Chair, to discuss strategies for preparing for the Math part of the SAT. VRS is planning to host monthly test prep classes should program participants need additional support in this area.
During the last few minutes of our visit to MUST Ministries, the Program Team thanked every member of the Transition Academy for the volunteer help they provided and the tasks they accomplished. Feedback was shared regarding things learned by both sides. Class members were asked to stay-tuned for Next Step Prep activities throughout the school year. As program participants prepared to leave MUST gave everyone a Gobble Jog T-Shirt to show their appreciation for all our hard work. A reminder was provided to the TA group that a good training 5K in order to be ready for this year’s Gobble Jog is to participate in VRS’ 9th annual Spooktacular Chase in October!
On Tuesday, July 11, 2017, the Transition Academy (“TA”) visited an assisted living & memory care community in Smyrna, Provident Village at Creekside, and a local entrepreneur’s privately-owned framing business, Annie Frame Will Do. The goals of the visits were to understand the various jobs and career opportunities available and practice the informational interview skills taught in TA. By visiting a corporately structured entity and a privately owned & operated business on the same day, TA participants could compare and contrast different business approaches, skill sets required, risks, time commitments and rewards.
At Provident Village, following opening remarks, each TA member introduced themselves to the staff by discussing the details of their unique eye conditions and asking informational interview questions. Through this question and answer period students were able to find out more about how an assisted living facility is operated.
The TA spoke with Allison Mosely and Carrie Chau, who are members of Provident’s sales and marketing team. Their job is to introduce potential residents to the Provident community. Through organized special events and personalized appointments, Allison & Carrie get potential residents and their families excited about undergoing a lifestyle change and moving into Provident Village. According to Carrie, Provident offers seniors a wide range of services. These include cooking/dining, housekeeping, transportation, and entertaining social activities. A key point is the residents of Provident retain the ability to make their own decisions about what they eat and how active a life they lead. The sole exception to this rule concerns residents in the memory care area of the community who have a history of Dementia or Alzheimer’s and move into Provident Village specifically for a secure, structured, care taking environment.
The class also met Provident Village’s business manager (Natasha) who manages the community’s budget, processes paperwork for the new residents, bills the residents, and performs human resource duties for all the employees. Once the explanations were finished, Natasha led the TA group on a tour of the building. We saw many exciting sights such as the residential dining rooms, the library, and an entertainment center where the residents could watch movies and eat popcorn. In addition, the executive director (Elaine Austin) showed us the memory care unit. We did not enter this secure area as it is locked & contains many alarms to prevent patients from accidentally wandering out of the building or becoming lost. Other staff members who shared details of their positions and what it takes to keep Provident running efficiently and effectively included Nikki at the reception desk and front door; Carla from housekeeping; Penny the Activities Director; and Asia who is one of multiple chefs.
After lunch, the TA group bid the staff of Provident goodbye and rode to visit Ann Chamblee, a local entreprenuer. Today, Ann runs her business from the basement of her house and averages a six day per week, ten-hour work day. However, she used to be a business manager for the army. While working for the army in Texas, Ann ran an arts and crafts center where she fell in love with framing. So, after moving to Georgia, Ann started a business of her own, Annie Frame Will Do.
Ann was very forthcoming with information when asked about how she creates frames, stocks inventory, and gains business. She shared details about tracking the business expenses, planning for meeting deadlines, and how to create pricing structures. The take away was the fact there is a lot to do when running your own business.
Ann’s business specializes in picture framing and frame repair, but she has recently begun printing t-shirts as well. The best part of the visit for most was getting the opportunity to see Ann create our Transition Academy t-shirts in her workshop using a fabric printer, a computer, and an iron. She utilized the TA logo designed a few weeks back at the beginning of TA. Annie was extremely generous so as to let us have the t-shirts free of charge.
All in all, the Transition Academy had a very full day and learned a lot. We truly appreciate the support of these two businesses and the time spent with the class.
Interesting article from The Economist regarding White Cane alternative.
This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition under the headline “White cane 2.0”
Helping blind people navigate
White cane 2.0
A new way to assist those with poor eyesight
Dr Rus’s device, of which she demonstrated a prototype on June 1st at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Singapore, consists of a camera worn on a lanyard around the neck, and a belt. A computer inside the camera creates a three-dimensional image of the area ahead of the wearer, processes it to extract relevant information, and uses the results to pass on appropriate signals via the belt.
Dr Rus knew from previous attempts to build devices of this sort that what might seem the obvious way of manifesting those signals, namely as sounds with specific meanings, was not, in fact, a good approach. Blind people depend a lot on their hearing and do not like it when newfangled devices hamper this sense with beeps and clicks. Hence the belt, which has five vibrating motors installed in it. One sits over the centre of the wearer’s abdomen. The others flank this central motor, with two spaced out on either side of it.
That configuration permits the computer to warn a wearer when he is on a collision course with an obstacle. It does so by telling the motor pointing most closely in the direction of the obstacle to vibrate. If the wearer is walking towards a wall, for example, the central motor vibrates softly when he comes within a couple of metres of it. If he ignores this, perhaps because he actually wants to reach the wall, the computer increases the amplitude as he closes in, giving him a good idea of exactly how far away he is. Similarly, if he is in danger of bumping, say, his right shoulder on a door frame while walking from one room to another, the right-most motor on the belt will warn him of the impending collision. And it works. When compared with navigation by white cane in one of MIT’s famously crowded hallways, it reduced blind students’ collisions with others by 86%.
The new system can, however, do more than just help someone walk around without collisions, for the belt incorporates a touchpad that is inscribed with instructions in Braille. This permits the user to program it to perform specific tasks.
For example, Dr Rus knew that blind students often struggle to find an empty seat in a crowded lecture theatre. Adding an appropriate algorithm to the computer’s software helps get around this by enabling it to recognise chairs, and also whether or not a chair is occupied. In this case, the motors are used to indicate a direction to be travelled in, rather than one to be avoided. Activating the algorithm using the touchpad causes the motor pointing most closely towards an empty chair to vibrate when the system spots one.
In trials involving a room that contained an empty chair, an occupied chair and also a recycling bin, the algorithm directed the belt-wearer straight to the empty chair 80% of the time. Cane users presented with the same arrangement always found the empty chair eventually, but in doing so came into contact with objects other than their target more than five times as often as those using the camera and belt.
Whether a camera (ideally, smaller than the one in the prototype) and a belt could replace a cane completely remains to be seen. In particular, Dr Rus’s system does lack one important feature of Biggs’s innovation. A white cane not only helps a blind person to navigate, it also signals his condition to the rest of the world, allowing others to adjust their behaviour accordingly. As a supplementary aid, however, her approach seems most promising.
On Tuesday, June 20, 2017, the Transition Academy took a field trip to Steve Gardner’s Alpine Sign and Graphics Studio to learn about branding and logo creation. Before we left, Nancy we began class with our usual introductions. During that time, the class was introduced to Shelby- a visiting teacher from the Macon School for the Blind- who is interning with VRS as part of her O&M certification program. Afterwards, we excitedly headed out on our adventure.
When we arrived, Steve Gardner met us in the lobby and explained several aspects of his business to us. He shared how his business is an important part of a company’s branding strategy. Mr. Gardner specializes in making vivid signs, banners, vehicle wraps, and interior graphics according to his customer’s unique specifications. As a sample, Mr. Gardner showed us a Van Goh painting flawlessly reproduced on a miniature canvas frame, as well as a large wall graphic of the outdoors so realistic that several people nearly walked right into it.
Inside his workshop, Mr. Gardner walked us through the process of creating a graphic, by pulling up the Transition Academy logo on his computer and printing it repeatedly on a large vinyl sheet. Next, he ran the sheet through a slicing machine so that each adhesive logo sticker could be peeled off individually. Afterwards, Mr. Gardner used a pen knife to “weed” the excess white material on each logo, so that the stickers would look much neater when we used them later that day.
Upon returning to VRS, Heidi and I chose to interview William Yancey, a recent graduate of Sprayberry High School, who came to the Transition Academy partly to get a free T-shirt. In the fall, William plans to attend Chattahoochee Technical College. After college, William would like a job where he could work with his hands and repair machines; fixing computers at Best Buy is just one of the many options available to him. For the last major activity of the day, Nancy had the TA participants form an assembly line to create multisensory thank you cards for each of our special guests and visitors from the past few weeks. Once those were finished, Julie, VRS’ Technology Instructor, introduced them to OrCam, a smart camera designed to help visually impaired read by using a special software that turns photos of written words into sounds that can be read back to the user. Then at 3:30 PM, the class was finished for the day.
Cycle Élan, an indoor cycling and yoga studio, visited VRS June 14th to show some of our Diabetes support group, funded by United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, tips on indoor cycling safety and benefits. The session began with clients introducing themselves and sharing their “eye statement” with Cycle Élan instructors. They also discussed their experience with exercising and cycling. Each client had an interesting story to share about their exercise history. While some were frequent exercisers who went to the gym regularly, others were less experienced and uncertain about whether cycling was safe for them. Instructors, Assan and April, eased their fears by instructing on mounting and dismounting cycles safely.
DeAstin, our Program Assistant, led the way. “Ater dismounting the bike, DeAstin said, “That was cool!”
Each client had the opportunity to get on the cycle and experience different tensions and speeds.
They also learned which parts of the body are impacted by cycling and what to expect during a cycling session at a gym or studio. By the end of the session each client was prepared for the upcoming field trip to Cycle Elan where they will experience a 30-minute beginners cycling session, complete with high energy and music and instruction. Our clients showed their enthusiasm and willingness to try new things. Stay tuned for more VRS adventures in cycling.