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THE ADVOCATE - Spring/Summer 2004 EDITION

Published by the Association of Blind Citizens

PO. Box 246, Holbrook, MA 02343

Telephone: 781 961-1023

Fax: 781 961-0004

News and Activities line: 781 654-2000

Vehicle donation line: 1-888-881-9090

Web Site: www.blindcitizens.org

CONTENTS:


President's Notebook

by John Oliveira

It is again time for another column regarding the activities of the Association of Blind Citizens. Our programs continue to flourish and the need for the activities in which ABC is involved in continues to be evident to the blind and visually impaired community. We continue to sponsor children's camps. These camps are giving blind children a chance to participate in activities that they would not be able to experience in their community. Our commitment to Braille literacy continues to move forward as we sponsor the reprint of a children's book in Braille. The reprinted Braille book will be released in October as part of the National Braille Press Children's Book Club. ABC will continue to support projects that promote the learning or use of Braille. The college scholarship program received a higher number of applications than in previous years. That indicates to me that the funding for educational services for the blind is needed and ABC will continue to do what we can to support the scholarship program. In a few weeks $20000.00 will be awarded to blind students from around the country. These students are our future leaders and many opportunities await them.

As the deadline approaches for the close of our assistive technology fund, the online applications continue to arrive. The Assistive Technology Fund continues to receive mention in a variety of publications for the blind. The word is spreading and it indicates to me that the need for this one of a kind program to grow exists and we must do what we can to make funds available for this program. The notes of thanks and appreciation from people who have received ATF grants are pleasing to me as they indicate the expectation that these recipients have for a brighter and more independent future with the new technology acquired.

I have just returned from Chicago where the Association of Blind Citizens beep ball team participated in an 8 team beep ball tournament. The highlight of this tournament was the dramatic come from behind in extra innings victory for the Boston Renegades. The players, volunteers, and knowledgeable and energetic coach Rob Weissman are working hard to achieve positive results for the players and the team. This competitive sports program for the blind has more participants than in previous years. ABC has operated the beep ball program for four years and a solid foundation is developing. The foundation is being built using three major building blocks: The first is the strong commitment of the volunteers involved in operating this program. These volunteers are giving up four months of valuable weekend time and many additional hours during week day evenings. And for this great personal sacrifice the players, ABC and the blind community thank them. The second building block in this foundation is the strong commitment of the players to build this program for future players. The third is ABC's board financial support for a major portion of this program as well as administrative support from ABC's office staff. I am looking forward to a successful world series tournament in Columbus Ohio.

It was a pleasure to spend time with some of you during our most recent day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. The trip was educational and a great opportunity to just have some fun touring Newport's attractions. If you have any suggestions on activities or trips you would like ABC to plan please call the news and Activities line at 781 654-2000.

In an effort to promote access to the theater for blind and visually impaired community, ABC has just awarded a grant to the Cultural Access Consortium for the construction of an audio booth for describers of live theatrical performances. ABC is the major financial sponsor of this audio booth project. This booth will provide the blind and visually impaired audience member with a better quality of audio description by eliminating background noise which can be distracting. The describers will now have a private booth which will make their environment more conducive to the great service they provide. This booth will also eliminate many distractions around the describer which will allow them a higher level of concentration and freedom to use their voice more freely. I look forward to seeing this booth when completed and attending audio described performances in the future. This booth will be available for theaters in New England to use when they offer audio described performances. On a personal note, this audio booth project is important to me since I was involved in raising the funds that were used in purchasing the audio description system currently used at the Wang center.

Approximately two years ago I had the opportunity to meet a member of the Ray Charles management team. After spending some time with him, he told me that he was going to tell Mr. Charles about ABC and the great programs that we were building for the blind community. A few weeks later, I received a call informing me that I had a package coming to ABC from Mr. Charles. The package contained a recorded introduction for the In Focus radio show that ABC produces. I was told that Mr. Charles visited the web site and had listened to one of the shows and wanted to do something to help ABC. You have heard this opening introduction if you are an In Focus listener. Although talks to have Mr. Charles perform a benefit concert for ABC were ongoing, his recent health concerns had this project on hold. The music world has lost a great entertainer and ABC has lost a friend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Charles and his family at this time.

In closing, I ask you for your support so that we can continue to expand our services to the blind community. If you can make a cash contribution or donate your time we would love to hear from you. Enjoy the articles in this newsletter and remember that articles are always welcomed for this newsletter. Have a great summer.


Travel

by Mika Pyyhkala

In this first ABC travel column, I will provide an overview of the expansion of low cost carrier airlines serving the New England region. I will then take you along with me as I travel on and review the service provided by JetBlue Airways and Song. Along the way, I'll introduce you to some airline terminology, and provide other relevant background airline industry information. We will cover a broad array of general and disability specific topics which themselves could some day be reviewed alone in separate columns. We'll be covering a lot of ground in about 6,500 words, so let's get right to it.

As many of you know and have read in the media, low cost airlines are becoming increasingly popular profitable enterprises. Passengers traditionally went to low cost carriers for less expensive fares which do not contain the draconian rules and high change fees that the traditional airlines tend to require. Incidentally, in the industry, traditional airlines namely American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways are sometimes referred to as legacy carriers, or sometimes as "The Big Six."

However, increasingly, passengers also choose low cost carriers due to in flight amenities, style, and in some cases more comfortable leather seats. In some markets, low cost carriers provide amenities such as on board live television and custom designed food and beverages. Airlines such as JetBlue and Song also try to create a certain style and friendly ambiance on their flights.

We are fortunate in Boston that Logan International Airport offers passengers a choice between many domestic and foreign flag traditional carriers, as well as a significant number of low cost carriers known in the airline industry as LCC's. There are many cities and regions in the United States that have considerably less variety of airlines, and often as a result, higher fares and less choice for passengers. We are also fortunate that Logan International is so close to the city center of Boston making a quick jet setting day trip or weekend getaway an easy reality for hub dwellers. Some of the LCC's operating at Logan includes Air Tran Airways, America West Airlines, ATA Airlines, Independence Air, JetBlue Airways and Song which is a unit of Delta Airlines. Southwest Airlines, which largely began the LCC industry trend, operates out of Providence RI and Manchester, New Hampshire; but has no Logan based service.

Some of the airline fare advantages offered by most LCC's include the ability to purchase either a one-way or roundtrip ticket at a discounted rate. In the past, traditional airlines would charge significantly more for one-way tickets. LCC's also tend not to require Saturday night stays, and often do not charge the big six industry standard $100 change fee. In many cases traditional airlines match the LCC's fares, but they often do not match some of the more passenger amenable fare rules such as reduced or no change fees, or requiring only a one-way purchase. However, each market is different, and one must carefully review fare rules as they often change. In general, when a market is served by LCC's the fare levels drop across all airlines in that market. Many LCC's and now some traditional airlines also cap fares at a certain level even for last minute purchases. An example of a big six airline migrating in some markets to a permanent low fare structure is the US Airways Go Fares program found in Philadelphia. The program was introduced

after giant discounter Southwest Airlines announced it would open up shop at the US Airways Philadelphia hub. As a result of the Go Fares, you can now buy tickets from Boston to Philadelphia starting at $88 roundtrip, and the highest fare in the market is $478 roundtrip, although in most cases a passenger can find a lower price even for last minute travel. A disadvantage of LCC's is that they often have limited route networks. Thus, passengers cannot earn and redeem frequent flyer miles to fly to as many domestic or international destinations. In addition, many LCC frequent flyer credits require that a passenger fly and redeem points with in one year, where as traditional airlines tend to keep miles active as long as a customer flies or has other mileage activity at least every three years. Finally, some LCC's do not offer first class, preferred frequent flyer membership levels for very frequent travelers, or private airline club lounges at their terminal facilities. However, these drawbacks tend to affect very frequent travelers as opposed to people who fly less than 3-5 times a year. Also if you miss your LCC flight, or there is some other kind of irregular operation (an industry term used to refer to any kind of flight delay or cancellation) there are often less ways an LCC can route you on its network from point A to B, because LCC's typically do not operate what is called a hub and spoke system where passengers fly to airline hubs and make connections. Instead many LCC's operate what is known in the industry as point to point service. I found this out on one winter JetBlue trip, when I had to wait at Logan from 7:00 A.M. to shortly after 2:00 P.M. because I missed an early morning flight. Had I missed my flight on Northwest for instance, ticket agents could have routed me through Detroit, Memphis, or Minneapolis which are all hubs for the airline probably getting me to Florida faster. Also LCC's, in an effort to control costs, may be less likely than big airlines to endorse your ticket over to another airline or provide hotel or meal vouchers and accommodations if you miss your flight due to weather conditions or other extenuating circumstances. The best you'll normally get is standby on the next available flight, and if it is full, perhaps a center seat.

In this report, I will review the flight experience and services offered by JetBlue Airways as well as those offered by Delta Airlines new brand called Song. JetBlue started out as an LCC, and recently commenced operations at Boston Logan. In contrast, Song is a LCC brand with in Delta Airlines much like Ted is an airline within an airline at United. I will discuss the service overall, as well as highlight issues affecting passengers who are blind, visually impaired, or having some other disability.

My original plan was to fly out on JetBlue's inaugural flight from Boston to Orlando on Wednesday January 7th, spend one night in Orlando, and then return on a Song flight on January 8th. Having never taken an inaugural flight before, I thought it might be an interesting adventure. However, work commitments got the better of me, and I was not able to set out on a midweek jet setting trip at 2 on Wednesday afternoon.

Both tickets cost approximately $80 each, as both Song and JetBlue sell one way fares. The flights were slightly less expensive because I booked them on the respective airline web sites. JetBlue offers double TrueBlue frequent flyer points for web bookings, while Delta's Song provides an extra 500 Sky Miles for a one-way ticket. The JetBlue web site was more accessible and easier to use with the Jaws For Windows screen reader. The buttons are labeled with text, and the tab order from link to link is straightforward. The FlySong.com web site was useable, but only after a bit of tinkering around on the screens. The tab order is not in an expected sequence on the initial trip building screen. Also some of the buttons do not have text labels, and are announced by the screen reader as "remote/arrow_orange" and "arrows/arrow_large." These cryptic names signify the continue and back buttons, and you must use trial and error or other techniques to figure out which is which.

I first called JetBlue on Wednesday afternoon to cancel my originally scheduled flight. The friendly agent asked when I wanted to reschedule, and I said possibly for Saturday January 10th. The agent said there would be a $25 change fee, and I asked if I would have to pay the fee a second time if I again changed plans and could not go out Saturday. The agent then said she was checking something in her computer, and said that they would waive the change fee for this particular change to Saturday. That was very nice, as it is not that often these days that airlines volunteer to waive change fees particularly over the telephone. I cannot remember the last time any airlines telephone reservations agent offered to waive a change fee for me even on airlines that I fly on every week. The agent rebooked me for a Saturday morning flight out of Boston.

I then called Delta's Song, and cancelled my reservation. The agent said that the value of my ticket would be available for one year less $25, and that I could access the ticket via my Delta Sky Miles number.

I decided to go on Saturday; after all, I had no particular plans, and why risk paying more change fees. I set out on a frigid winter's morning, getting to Logan airport around 6:10 A.M. for my 6:45 JetBlue departure. JetBlue operates out of terminal E in Boston. Terminal E has recently undergone a major Renovation. The E terminal handles international arrivals, as well as operations for most foreign flagged international carriers. Northwest is the largest US based carrier operating out of terminal E where the carrier has a WorldClub lounge. Incidentally if you have a Continental, Delta, or Northwest airline club membership, you can use this WorldClub and it is adjacent to JetBlue gates.

JetBlue's ticket counters are located in between Northwest and Virgin Atlantic. At the time JetBlue did not offer web check in, but since then, the carrier like most airlines allows customers to print their own bar coded boarding passes from the internet. One key advantage of web check in is that you can skip the ticket counter line if only traveling with carry on luggage, and many airlines offer extra frequent flyer miles for using the service. Both airlines also have touch screen only kiosks at their airport locations which are inaccessible to people who are blind.

The line was moderately long, but moved quickly. I was helped by a friendly gentleman, and I noticed that ticket agents frequently said "good morning" to customers. However, a week or so later on another JetBlue flight out of Boston it looked like there were not enough agents and the ticket counter was very chaotic as one or two agents tried to process a huge line of customers.

I changed my seat to 18C, which is behind the exit rows. Currently JetBlue's planes are configured with more leg room (called seat pitch) behind the exit rows. The agent asked me "do you care for any assistance to the gate," and I asked him to help me out of the roped off ticket counter area to the escalator going down to the security checkpoints serving Gate 1. This escalator and checkpoint is located to your right, as you face the JetBlue ticket counters. The man helped me to the escalator, and did not try to press to help me more than I wanted. I asked him if he came from another airline, and he said he had, but also that there were many first time airline agents working at JetBlue in Boston.

I waited in the security line which also was long, but moving. There was a young woman talking about how she had missed a flight on US Airways the night before due to the long security line. I did not get a chance to ask her if US Airways had re-protected her on JetBlue, or if she ended up having to buy another ticket out of her own pocket. When I got to the security checkpoint, I found out that I was what they call a selectee. This is indicated by SSS printed on your boarding pass (different airlines use different codes). Selectees are chosen by a system called CAPS (computer assisted passenger screening). While exactly what triggers the selectee designation for any given passenger is not made public, things like buying one way tickets, paying in cash, etc. are widely known to cause the system to flag a passenger. Also you are often flagged the first few times you fly on an airline, or when making certain changes to your reservation itinerary. Some say flagging is triggered by customers without a frequent flyer number in their reservation as well.

As a selectee, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel manually search through your bags, and you must take your shoes off. They also search you using a hand metal detector. They were polite about it, and the process took 3-4 minutes. I saw at least two other selectees in the line. I was a bit disappointed that the ticket agent did not let me know I was a selectee in advance, although the TSA once told me agents are not supposed to tip off passengers to this regard. However, any passenger who can read their boarding pass can easily see the selectee letter designation as discussed above. It is helpful to know you are a selectee, because then you will know to leave extra time to go through security. If you go through at the very last minute as a selectee, there is a chance you would be delayed enough to miss your flight.

JetBlue agents reassured people in the line that we would all make our flights to Orlando and Tampa which were departing shortly.

I then went to board the Orlando bound plane, and the same agent that checked me in was working the gate "here's my friend from the ticket counter," he said. I told them I did not need any help in going down the jetway, and boarding was smooth. It looked like I was the last customer to board. As you entered the jetway, there were headsets to pick up for use with the entertainment system. Before they closed the door, the Boston ground crew made a joke that the plane was bound for Detroit instead of Orlando (Detroit is a Northwest Airlines hub). Then they thanked passengers for choosing JetBlue, and said that they were pleased to be in Boston to serve us. The announcements sounded particularly sincere and unscripted. It is somewhat rare on traditional airlines for the departure gate agent to make announcements on board like this, and it was a nice touch. All too often, traditional airline gate agents and flight crews make only the same scripted rehearsed announcements week to week.

JetBlue operates using Airbus A320 jets, and one way they have reduced internal costs is to have one fleet type and all new planes. They have also recently placed an order for several smaller regional jets to serve smaller markets and these smaller planes will also feature the DirecTV entertainment system. The seats were all leather, in a 3 by 3 configuration. The 34 inch seat pitch was roomy, and I had an entire row to myself which was nice.

At this point, usually with a bit of dread, I watch to see if the flight crew will try to come over and give me some kind of special briefing because I am blind. In most of these special briefings, the crews repeat exactly what is said in the audio announcements, thereby not really providing much added value for the person who is blind. About the only useful bit of information would be to know how many rows are in the plane, and most of the time this is not even mentioned during these special briefings. I prefer for them to refrain from doing this, and if I have a question, I will ask. On this flight, one of the flight attendants did give me a special briefing, but fortunately, having my own row to myself made it just a bit less awkward since nobody was sitting directly next to me. Another more discrete way that flight crews could provide this briefing or other information is for the crew member to simply introduce them self to the customer with a disability, and indicate that they are available to answer any questions. Again, this latter more discrete approach is also rarely followed throughout the industry. In many of these special briefings, flight crews treat persons who are blind as if perhaps they have never taken flight in a commercial jet. Sometimes even as an elite frequent flyer (who flies more than 50,000 miles per year on one airline) crews provide these briefings even though their paperwork indicates a passenger's frequent flyer status. In defense of the crews, the FAA does require that briefing information be accessible, and blindness advocacy organizations have not lobbied the FAA and industry to provide these briefings only on request and in a more tactful and discrete way.

As part of the crew's announcements, they introduced all of the flight attendants and pointed out which one was working the front, middle, and rear cabin. I thought this was helpful and added a personal touch. Also the cabin wide safety briefing was done manually, as opposed to over a pre-recorded video system. While the in flight crew made numerous announcements, the pilots barely said anything, and did not provide details about our route of flight or which runways or approaches we would be using.

The DirecTV system was activated by the time we were in our taxi out. There is a standard 1/8 inch headset jack in the arm rest, and it will work with both the JetBlue provided headset as well as any standard headphone. This was nice, as some carriers have a proprietary headset jack that can require an adapter if using your own headset. The DirecTV entertainment system is controlled by six buttons located in the arm rest. There are three rows each containing 2 buttons going from left to right. The television channel and volume are changed by using up and down buttons in the first two rows. The third row of buttons is used to control brightness of the screen, and is changed by pressing the left and right hand side buttons found on the bottom row. The screen itself is found on the seatback in front of you, above the tray. There are no buttons on the screen itself, and there is a credit card swipe device on the screen which is currently not in use. JetBlue Airways has recently signed a contract with XM Satellite Radio, and will be adding radio broadcasts to the entertainment system. It will be interesting to see if the system remains accessible even with the added enhanced listening options.

I mostly watched the Today Show on NBC, and they talked about the cold weather, and had some interesting segments. The live television seemed to make the flight go by faster. In watching a news program, or something like the Today Show, you really got the feeling you were watching live TV, and that this was something cool on a plane! The signal only cut out once at a random time for about 20 seconds, but other than that, was crystal clear during the flight. No static, perfect! Passengers can also browse specific television and channel listings on the JetBlue web site for their particular flight times.

JetBlue does not serve meals, but they do offer complimentary snacks and beverages. The flight attendant announced all of the snack choices over the intercom twice which was helpful. Some of the snacks, going from memory, were animal crackers, blue potato chips, Nacho chips, Chocolate Oatmeal cookies, Biscotti, and probably one or two others. I had orange juice and coffee for my beverage. The coffee was good, all too often airline coffee is not strong enough. JetBlue also serves cocktails, beer, and wine, but it was too early for me to check that out. I also noticed that the bags of snacks were not the ultra-miniaturized small packages that you often see even on big six first class flights. Incidentally at JetBlue's Logan facilities there are several restaurants where you can get food to go, and on another JetBlue trip this past winter I had been waiting in the Northwest WorldClub before boarding my flight. The club agents had menus in the club for all restaurants in the terminal, read me the menus, and called in my order to Houlihan's so it would be ready after I left the club. I will have to write a note to Northwest to praise the customer service at its Boston club for having this information available for passengers, and in regards to the agents being so helpful even though I was flying a competitor that day.

We landed in Orlando, where JetBlue operates in a gate area with other LCC type airlines. I took the tram over to the main terminal where ticketing is located. I found the Delta counter, and got in line to rebook my Delta Song ticket. There was a Delta agent walking through the line, and I asked him when the next departure was to Boston. He said it was at 11:30 AM. He said I could probably still make this flight, and that he would take me right away to expedite the process. Normally I will not jump the line, but in this case I probably would have missed the flight. Also this is a service most traditional airlines will provide on occasion to late customers especially if they are a preferred member of the frequent flyer plan.

The agent was unable to pull up my e-ticket either by two credit cards, my Delta Sky miles number, or my home phone number. Finally he retrieved it with my cell phone number. He said there would be a $25 fee to make the change, but he could confirm me on the 11:30 AM flight back to Boston. I was relieved that there would not be a larger charge levied for the change. I don't know to what extent my fare allowed this kind of change for $25 only, or to what extent the agent might have done me a favor to only charge me the fee instead of any last minute fare difference. The agent typed in to his computer for about 4-5 minutes changing the ticket. He then said he could call someone to take me to the gate, and I told him that if he just helped me to the general direction of security I would be fine. He gave me my boarding passes, and we set out for security.

The agent proactively mentioned Delta Airlines internal training procedures and how they stressed that agents should ask rather than assume what help was needed. He said this training really was helpful in this situation. The agent was friendly and professional, and I was impressed by the level of sensitivity training he had been given and how he applied that to his every day work.

The agent said that he would take me to an expedited security line so that I could make my flight, and it was indeed close to departure time. Then he said that he did not have his badge with him, and that he hoped whoever was running the line "knows me." I was very impressed how helpful the agent was without being intrusive or overbearing throughout our interaction. He dropped me off at security, and I thanked him, and went through. Fortunately, I was not a selectee on this leg of the trip, so it was very quick to get through. I then took the tram over to the gate, and approached the crowded gate 76 for the Song flight to Boston.

The Song agents made some jokes about how the Boston temperature was well below zero degrees. Nothing happened at the gate, until I went to board. I went to the boarding line, and a Song gate agent said that I could go to the front of the line. I said I did not need too, and the Song agent still tried to insist that I go to the front of the boarding line. When I got to the boarding door, an agent said "we'll get you down there," and I told her I was fine in walking down to the plane. As I started walking down the jetway, a male agent said to a female agent "aren't you going with him?" Then I waited in a long line of people on the jetway. I noticed what appeared to be a Song agent walk down to the plane, and then walk back. When I finally got to the plane, upon stepping in, the flight attendant said that "you're going to seat 21D." However, there was no way that she could have read my boarding pass from the way I was holding it. As can happen when you are a passenger who has a disability, I felt that this treatment by the airline made me lose the anonymity that the general public enjoys and takes for granted.

After I sat down, I thought about it a bit, and it appeared as though one of the gate agents had gone and told the flight attendant what seat I was in, as if I did not know, or would not ask. This made me feel uncomfortable, and I don't like being watched or scrutinized in this way. I came very close to getting up from my seat in row 21, and schlepping off the plane to the terminal in search of a complaint resolution official (CRO). All airlines are required to provide a customer with a disability with a CRO if the passenger has a complaint or concern with how the airline has handled the disability. It is usually better to deal with a CRO immediately right at the airport, rather than to write a letter to an airlines corporate offices in hopes that it will work its way through the company's internal bureaucracy to the affected location. The CRO is usually a specially trained airline supervisor or shift manager. However, on this particular flight, there was a continuing tide of people boarding. The flight was nearly full, and people were boarding up until the last minute. I figured it would be a pain to get off to speak to a CRO, and I had plans in Boston later that night, so this is one of the few times I can remember that I did not talk to a CRO right away about a problem, and I feared this strategy of postponement was a mistake.

I felt uncomfortable by the tone and way that the gate agents treated me, and about how they tried to watch and monitor me in much the same way they would with a young unaccompanied child. I found it very interesting that the JetBlue station at Boston, only some three days old, could handle my needs with such finesse, while Delta that has been in business at Orlando for decades still could not get it right. I later wrote an email to what is called Song Speak Out, which is the name they have coined for their customer relations department. In the email, I expressed my dissatisfaction about how the Orlando gate agents handled my departure. At the same time, I praised the professionalism and finesse of the Orlando front ticket counter agent. Song Speak Out initially replied with a somewhat generic email apology, and after I wrote back to them a second time and suggested it, they agreed to send me a $50 Delta travel voucher for my embarrassment and inconvenience. They assured me that my letter had been forwarded to the Orlando station. In airline speak, an airlines airport facility is called a station.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, and specifically Federal Air regulations (FAR) referred to as 14 CFR Part 382.61 require that airlines provide new hire and recurrent sensitivity training to employees in the area of interacting with customers with disabilities. The Part 382 ACAA implementing regulation is also very clear that a passenger can choose what if any special assistance he or she wants and that carriers must respect the choices made by passengers in this regard. Airlines are also required to investigate and respond to all disability related complaints using very specific procedures outlined by the Department of Transportation. They must also file and retain records of complaints and the disposition of complaints for three years. Carriers must also provide the Department of Transportation with access to certain internal records about disability complaints and internal airline complaint investigations. Airlines are never obligated to provide any compensation to customers per the ACAA, although they often will as a customer service gesture. Also, if you are unsatisfied with an airlines handling of a complaint, you can contact DOT and they are mandated by Congress to investigate the issue on your behalf. Airlines must also inform you of your right to seek DOT assistance if you are unhappy with their internal handling of your issue. In its monthly Air Travel Report DOT now specifically lists how many disability related complaints were filed directly to DOT for each of the major airlines including some LCC's.

The Song crew also came over to me, and gave me a special briefing. This one was somewhat worse to endure, because the flight was full and there were 2 people sitting next to me. Again the personalized briefing repeated the audio information given by the on board video safety demonstration.

There are a total of 36 Boeing 757 aircraft in the Song fleet, and the planes have been reconfigured with leather seats, Song colors, and the Song entertainment system. The system, like JetBlue's, has a standard 1/8 inch headset jack on the arm rest. Flight attendants hand out ear bud style headsets as you board, and of course you can also use your own standard headphones. On the arm rest, there are two rocker type switches. One controls volume, and one controls channel. The television screen is also mounted on the seat back in front of you, above the tray. It has three buttons left to right. A flight attendant told me that the first button controls the power, the second the brightness, and the third does not yet have a function. When I plugged the headset in, and browsed the channels, it appeared to be all music. By pressing random parts of the touch screen, I was able to change from radio to television. I basically had to run my finger around the touch screen until I detected the change in my headset. It was not a straightforward process, and was largely accomplished through trial and error. Pressing the power button also would at times switch the mode from music to television. Once you get the system tuned to television, you can use the rocker switch in the arm rest to change the channel. When the system is in, what appears to be music mode, you can also change the station using the same rocker switch.

I could not find a simple reproducible method to switch between radio and television, but I spent most of the flight watching MSNBC. They were running a feature on the New York mob. It seemed that other passengers in the cabin were using the system to watch TV in addition to playing games, answer trivia, and run any other number of inaccessible applications to someone relying exclusively on the audio feedback from the system. The Song entertainment system was useable with some tinkering and trial and error, but not as easy to use as the one on JetBlue. Song features complimentary Coca-Cola beverages, and also sells alcoholic beverages and snacks. There are no complimentary snacks on Song. I enjoyed two Song signature cocktails called Song Sunrises, as well as an Asian chicken salad, and Pringles potato chips. The crew was good about reading the menu, and explaining the different food options. There is also a feature on the Flysong.com web site where you can pre-order and pay for your meals and snacks, as well as browse the menu items. The crew was professional and friendly during the in flight service presentation and displayed the finesse in service delivery that Song tries to create with its brand identity. The issue that had come up during boarding did not continue in any way, and after 2 cocktails, I felt much better.

We landed at terminal C in Boston, where Song's operations are adjacent to United Airlines gates. Song uses the gate 11-21 concourse, where as main line Delta operates from the gate 25-36 concourse (with Continental), and some Delta commuter flights depart out of a third terminal C area. There is a United Red Carpet Club lounge in the Delta Song gate area while Delta's own private lounge (called the Crown Room) is located in the gate 25-36 concourse.

I went to the Continental President's Club which is located outside of the secure gate area in terminal C. I enjoyed a couple of beers on tap and snacks while charging my cell phone, and using the complimentary local phones. When I got ready to leave the club, a middle aged gentlemen passenger grabbed my arm and said "where are you going," and I literally shook him off. If people want to offer their assistance, I don't think they should be starting a conversation by saying "where are you going." I had not yet showed my club card to the agent, so she swiped it when I left at the front desk.

In the past, I was a Platinum Elite flyer with Continental, and so got to know many of the station agents and supervisors over the years in Boston. Now that I don't fly with Continental as much, I still enjoy going to visit the President's Club where I have a lifetime membership. This Continental Club membership also gives me access to Delta Crown Room clubs, and Northwest WorldClubs as the three airlines are in a marketing alliance. All three clubs offer open bars and complimentary snacks. There are people still working at Continental's Boston operation that I initially met in 1991, and who went above and beyond what they were required to do for me as a college student at that time. During the 1990's I regularly flew with Continental Airlines and I have been impressed with the level of service I received both as a customer and someone with a disability over the years in Boston. As a college student, I distinctly remember how candid the personnel were at Continental in Boston, as the Air Carrier Access Act was brand new at the time. The station management used my feedback to enhance employee training, and the training manager met with me for over two hours to provide a tour of Continental's terminal facilities, behind the scenes operations, and to discuss disability sensitivity in the airline industry. Having logged hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles with most of the big six airlines over the years, I still cannot think of any other station that has been as interested and pro-active and responsive on disability issues as was Continental to me as a college student flying on inexpensive tickets back in 1991. In short, the Boston station management did not hide behind corporate red tape and internal company procedures about candidly talking to customers as most other airlines do, and they worked with me outside the box in a willing and mutually beneficial way. If I ever had an issue or question, all I had to do was pick up the phone and call someone who knew me right in Boston rather than deal with some random and anonymous customer relations person in a distant far away city. I would recommend that flyers, wherever possible, try to establish this kind of relationship with your favorite airline at your home station.

After my visit to the President's Club, I proceeded to go out for dinner with some friends at the end of a VIBUG meeting, and another day of jet setting drew to a close.

I was most impressed with the overall JetBlue experience from the accessible web site, to the phone agent that waived my $25 fee, to the finesse of the station agents and the easy to use on board entertainment system. I also liked the complimentary snacks, and the sincerity and friendly attitude of many of the employees. As JetBlue grows, however, they must ensure that high quality service remains in place which is often difficult as companies expand. In the early JetBlue days most employees personally met with and knew the founder and CEO David Neeleman, however, today many employees at bigger JetBlue have never talked with the chief executive. In a recent magazine article, one pilot recounted saying to the CEO "you really do exist," which is demonstrative of how big JetBlue has gotten. JetBlue should also consider providing more amenities if customers miss their flights, or if they are unsatisfied with some part of their JetBlue experience. I ran in to a couple of frazzled passengers at the JetBlue ticket counter, and agents just put them on standby for the next flight. I think if they even offered meal vouchers and drink coupons this would soothe stressed out passengers more. Also JetBlue has a limited route network, and is not affiliated with any airline lounges. It was only coincidence that JetBlue operations in Boston were near the Northwest lounge where I spent time after I missed a flight. Finally in order to get any free tickets from the TrueBlue frequent flyer plan, you must complete at least 4 long distance roundtrips with in 12 months, or more trips of shorter distances. Your TrueBlue points expire after one year instead of the three years normally given by big six carriers.

Delta's Song came in a respectable second place in this review. I was disappointed mostly with how the Orlando gate agents handled my departure out of that station. Orlando is a large and well established Delta station, and I would have expected far better and more professional service at the gates. Also the on board entertainment system and web site took some tinkering to make them work, and as a Sky Miles frequent flyer member you only receive partial credit towards the preferred Medallion level when you purchase the three least expensive fare types on Delta or Song (booked in U, L, or T fare codes). On some internet chat boards, in fact, angry frequent flyers refer to these less expensive Delta tickets as insULT fares. For very frequent flyers, Delta also makes it more difficult to upgrade insULT fares to first class, where as most big six airlines allow any paid fare to be upgraded in advance for passengers who spend lots of time in the sky. Delta Airlines also has an internal program or philosophy known as Simply Good Business. Under this edict from Delta executives, ticket counter and gate agents are told to strictly adhere to all rules, and to go strictly by the book when dealing with all customers in all situations. This policy is also known on chat boards as "no waivers no favors," or NWNF. At most of the other big six airlines, ticket counter and gate agents are given broader discretion in applying certain rules to keep customers happy. A group of Delta frequent flyers have started a grass roots organization and web site called www.saveskymiles.com in order to try to convince Delta to take a more customer friendly approach to its ticketing and Skymiles frequent flyer procedures. At the same time, Delta and Song collectively have a much larger domestic and international route network than JetBlue, and if you stick to Delta you can earn award travel worldwide on several airlines. Delta also has a new state of the art terminal A. under construction at Boston Logan that will offer Delta, Delta Connection commuter flights, and Delta Shuttle under one roof. I was also impressed by the finesse and professionalism of the Orlando Delta ticket agent who helped me. I would not hesitate to fly Song again, and its service is far superior to most big six coach class products. Also I liked the signature cocktails, and the fact you could buy a variety of different food and snack items on board.

Please write to: travel@blindcitizens.org with your comments, personal experiences, questions, or story ideas. In future newsletters, we will feature answers to reader questions, as well as other articles about travel.

Have you tried either Song or JetBlue? How did you enjoy your experience? Did you notice your overall experience was better or worse than standard big six coach travel? Did the agents do a good job responding to any sort of unusual or extenuating circumstances?


Ray Charles Dies

The New York Times

June 10, 2004

By JON PARELES

Ray Charles, one of America's greatest singers and a musician who brought the essence of soul to country, jazz, rock, standards and every other style of music he touched, died today. He was 73.

A spokesman for Mr. Charles, Jerry Digney, told Reuters that Mr. Charles had died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., of complications from liver disease.

Mr. Charles reshaped American music for half a century as a singer, pianist, songwriter, bandleader and producer. He was a remarkable pianist, at home with splashy barrelhouse playing and precisely understated swing. But his playing was inevitably overshadowed by his voice, a forthright baritone steeped in the blues, strong and impure and gloriously unpredictable.

Mr. Charles could belt like a blues shouter and croon like a pop singer, and he used the flaws and breaks in his voice to illuminate emotional paradoxes. Even in his early years, he sounded like a voice of experience, someone who had seen all the hopes and follies of humanity.

Leaping into falsetto, stretching a word and then breaking it off with a laugh or a sob, slipping into an intimate whisper and then letting loose a whoop, Mr. Charles could sound suave or raw, brash or hesitant, joyful or desolate, insouciant or tearful, earthy or devout. He projected the primal exuberance of a field holler and the sophistication of a be-bopper; he could conjure exaltation, sorrow and determination within a single phrase.

In the 1950's, Mr. Charles became an architect of soul music by bringing the fervor and dynamics of gospel to secular subjects. But he soon broke through any categories. By singing any song he prized - from "Hallelujah I Love Her So" to "I Can't Stop Lovin' You" to "Georgia on My Mind" to "America the Beautiful" - Mr. Charles claimed all of American music as his birthright. He made more than 60 albums, and his influence echoes through generations of rock and soul singers.

Ray Charles Robinson was born on Sept. 23, 1930, in the small town of Albany, Ga., and grew up in Greenville, Fla. When he was 5 years old, he began losing his sight from an unknown ailment that may have been glaucoma. He became completely blind at the age of 6. But he began to learn piano, at first from a local boogie-woogie pianist, Wylie Pitman; he also soaked up gospel music at the Shiloh Baptist Church and rural blues from musicians who included Tampa Red.

He was sent to the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind from 1937 to 1945. There, he learned to repair radios and automobiles, and he started formal piano lessons. He learned to write music in Braille and played Chopin and Art Tatum; he also learned to play clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet and organ. On the radio, he listened to swing bands, country-and-western singers and gospel quartets. "My ears were sponges, soaked it all up," he told David Ritz, who collaborated on his 1978 autobiography, "Brother Ray."

He left school at 15, after the death of his mother, and went to Jacksonville to earn a living as a musician. He played where he could as a sideman or a solo act, taking jobs all over the state and calling himself Ray Charles to distinguish himself from the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. He modeled himself on two urbane pianists and singers, Charles Brown and Nat (King) Cole, carefully copying their hits and imitating their inflections. After three years, he decided to put Florida far behind him and moved to Seattle. There, he formed the McSon Trio, named after its guitarist, Gosady McGee, and the "son" from Robinson. He also started an addiction to heroin that lasted for 17 years.

Mr. Charles made his first single, "Confession Blues," in Seattle in 1949, credited to the Maxin (a different spelling of McSon) Trio. His second single, "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" by the Ray Charles Trio, was recorded in Los Angeles in 1950 with musicians who had played with Nat Cole. The singles were hits on the "race records" (later rhythm-and-blues) charts and Mr. Charles moved to Los Angeles.

He joined the band led by the blues guitarist Lowell Fulson, and became its musical director. After two years of touring the United States, he left to resume his own career.

In 1953, he signed with Atlantic Records; he also moved to New Orleans to work with Guitar Slim as pianist and arranger. Guitar Slim's "Things That I Used to Do," featuring Mr. Charles on piano, became a million-selling single in 1954, and it convinced Mr. Charles to leave his imitative style behind and free his own voice.

He moved to Dallas and formed a band featuring the Texas saxophonist David (Fathead) Newman. And after working with studio bands on his first Atlantic singles, he convinced the label to let him record with his touring band, playing arrangements that had been road-tested on the rhythm-and-blues circuit.

"I've Got a Woman," recorded in a radio-station studio in Atlanta with his seven-piece band, became Mr. Charles's first national hit in 1955, starting a string of bluesy, gospel-charged hits, among them "A Fool for You," "Drown in My Own Tears" and "Hallelujah I Love Her So."

In the mid-1950's, he expanded his band to include the Raelettes, female backup singers who provided responses like a gospel choir, and they became a permanent part of his music. It was the beginning of the rock and roll era, but Mr. Charles didn't gear his songs to teen-agers; they had the adult concerns of the blues. Yet his songs began showing up on the pop charts as well as the rhythm-and-blues charts.

At the same time, Mr. Charles made clear his allegiance to jazz, recording an album with Milt Jackson of the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1958 and appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival.

In 1959, a late-night jam session turned into "What'd I Say." It was a blues with an electric-piano riff, a quasi-Latin beat and cheerful come-ons that gave way to wordless, call-and-response moans. Although some radio stations banned it, it became a Top 10 pop hit and sold a million copies. But his next album, "The Genius of Ray Charles," took a different tack: half of it was recorded with a lush string orchestra, half with a big band. He also recorded his first country song, a version of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On."

Mr. Charles left Atlantic for ABC-Paramount Records in 1959 when it offered him higher royalties and ownership of his master recordings. He began to reach a larger pop public with songs that included two No. 1 hits, his version of "Georgia on My Mind" in 1960 (which brought him his first of a dozen Grammy awards) and "Hit the Road Jack" in 1961. With increasing royalties and touring fees, Mr. Charles expanded his group to become a big band.

By the early 1960's, Mr. Charles had virtually given up writing his own material to follow his eclectic impulses as an interpreter. He made an instrumental jazz album, "Genius + Soul = Jazz," playing Hammond organ with a big band featuring Count Basie sidemen. On the duet album he made in 1961 with the jazz singer Betty Carter, two highly idiosyncratic voices sounded utterly compatible. And in 1962, he released the album "Modern Sounds in Country and Western," remaking country songs as big-band ballads. His version of "I Can't Stop Lovin' You" reached No. 1 and sold a million copies.

After recording "Modern Sounds in Country and Western, Vol. 2," Mr. Charles settled into an office building and studio in Los Angeles that remained his headquarters. He returned to rhythm-and-blues for his other major 1960's hits: "Busted" in 1963 and "Let's Go Get Stoned" in 1966. But he was also recording standards, country songs and show tunes.

In 1965, Mr. Charles was arrested for possession of heroin. He spent time in a California sanitarium to break his addiction and stopped performing for a year, the only break during his long career. When he emerged, he resumed his old schedule: touring for up to 10 months with the big band and releasing an album or two every year. He started his own label, Tangerine, which released albums through ABC and on its own. In the mid-1970's, he started another label, Crossover, which released albums through Atlantic Records.

His presence on the pop charts had dwindled, but he was still widely respected. In 1971, he joined Aretha Franklin for the concert she recorded as "Live at Fillmore West." His version of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" won a Grammy award in 1975. He wrote an autobiography, "Brother Ray," that became a best-seller in 1978. In 1979, his version of "Georgia on My Mind" was named as Georgia's official state song, and in 1980, he was featured in the movie "The Blues Brothers."

During the 1980's, Mr. Charles returned to the charts, this time in the country category. The boundary-crossing Southern music he had envisioned with "Modern Sounds in Country and Western" had been not just accepted, but treated as natural. Mr. Charles signed to CBS Records's Nashville division and made "Friendship," an album of duets with 10 country stars, including songs with George Jones and Willie Nelson that reached the country Top 10 in 1983. He sang "America the Beautiful" at the Republican Convention in 1984.

In 1986, Mr. Charles was one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He received a Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement in 1987, and in 1989 he appeared on Quincy Jones's album "Back on the Block," winning another Grammy for a vocal duet with Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You." In 1990, he turned up in television ads for Diet Pepsi, singing, "You got the right one, baby, uh-huh!"

Mr. Charles's private life was complicated; he was married twice, and had nine children with seven women. But he had become an American pop icon. And year in and year out, Mr. Charles continued to move audiences with his concerts. He would take a set of familiar songs and find within them moments of tenderness and bitterness, humor and resignation.

In songs he had written and songs that he had indelibly claimed, Mr. Charles summed up American music from big-band swing to country, Tin Pan Alley to gospel. With his profound knowledge of musical styles and matters of the heart, Mr. Charles composed, arranged and improvised his way toward an American culture that embraced soul and acknowledged no barriers.

Copyright 2004

The New York Times Company


Blind find birds with their ears

By LYNN BREZOSKY

Associated Press

EDINBURG -- Jessica Garza listens carefully as she waits by a still pond surrounded by thick bushes and blooming tropical flowers.

A lesser goldfinch, a small bird resting on its way back to the Pacific Northwest, lets out its trademark descending whistle.

Garza recognizes the distinctive sound, and she gets to add one more bird to her "life list" of species she's identified by ear since she began birding as a hobby. Garza, who lost her sight as a teenager because of a brain tumor, joins a growing group of blind birders, who enjoy the spring migration in South Texas along with sighted enthusiasts.

"I was so into modern stuff, prestige, whatever," said Garza, 31. "When I lost my sight, I didn't care for any of that any more. I wanted to feel what was in my presence. Now, I'm starting to hear it."

Fifty-three percent of all bird species living in North America can be found in the lower Rio Grande Valley, with 499 species identified, according to the World Birding Center based in Edinburgh.

The center opened last year as a way to promote the region as a tourist destination. Bird enthusiasts from around the world spend an estimated $100 million each year visiting the U.S.-Mexico border region in hopes of seeing exotic birds.

Looking for ways to involve locals, the center offered excursions for elderly residents.

Raul Reyes, who lost his sight because of diabetes and poor laser surgery 15 years ago, began organizing trips for the elderly and disabled who spent their days at adult day care centers.

"I have tried several different centers, and all of them have the same thing to do: Bingo. But that's for the sighted; they don't have any cards in Braille. We just sit there listening to everyone having fun," said Reyes, 58.

The bird excursions allowed the blind to enjoy a hobby with their sighted friends, Reyes said. They obtained audiotapes so they could learn bird sounds. The tapes are to the blind what guidebooks are to bird-watchers, Reyes said. When they hear a bird, they say its name, and a sighted friend will confirm whether they are right, he said.

Reyes got Garza and Gladie Cruz, 24, interested, too. The trio has become so adept at hearing birds before people see them that the "professional" birders travel with them.

"We're like `kiskadee at 2 o'clock!' `Blackbird there!' Then `whish, whish,' " Garza said, imitating the sounds of the birds.

Word about the blind birders spread, so organizers of the Eighth Annual Great Texas Birding Classic in April introduced a new event: the Outta-Sight Song Birder Tournament. Three teams of blind birders competed to identify bird calls. The winning team, which included Cruz, identified 40.


Students Create Talking Washer Prototype to Aid Blind

By REBECCA MCNULTY

The State News

It looks like any other type of high-end washing machine, but the volume knob and Braille reveal its real talent: This washer can talk.

"Water temp: Warm, cold. Spin speed: Medium. Ending signal: Off," it says.

Whirlpool officials donated a $1,199 Whirlpool Duet early last semester to an electrical and computer engineering capstone design class, which, in turn, reconfigured the machine, giving it the ability to announce its cycles.

The machine, still in a prototype stage, can be programmed to use the owner's own voice. The user manual also has been transferred to Braille and placed on CD-ROM.

"The problem with the newest appliances is that everything is indicated by LEDs, and for a blind person that's useless." said Erik Goodman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Michael Hudson, director of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, said the new technology in appliances often has excluded those with visual disabilities. The machine will eventually go to Hudson, who is blind, and his wife, Karla.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult to find household appliances I can use because they are all push buttons and touch control," Hudson said.

"My main concern was that I wanted to be able to operate the washer effectively."

Stephen Blosser works in the Artificial Language Laboratory to make adaptive equipment for students and faculty with disabilities to try and eliminate communication barriers.

Blosser came up with the idea to make an accessible washing machine.

That's where Goodman's class comes in. The students were divided into about a dozen groups with one group taking on the challenge of the washing machine.

"The washing machine was definitely a challenge," said Travis Langhals a 2004 MSU computer engineering graduate and team member.

"It was enjoyable, though, because we got to help people out by donating the machine to a blind couple."

Langhals said the project, which cost $30, took the group three months to complete. Langhals also said the technology could be used to modify other appliances.

"The circuit design is universal so it could be changed to code for a fridge or microwave," he said.

"It's pretty easy to put the materials in another device and reconfigure it."

That's exactly what Blosser hopes - the technology used to make a talking washing machine could be used to one day make a talking refrigerator or stove that could not only help individuals who are visually impaired, but who also have a learning disability.

Whirlpool Global Product Manager Don Maynard, who helped get the washer and dryer for the class, hopes to see similar appliances.

"We're very much interested in this and have been internally working on different user interface types," Maynard said. "We recognize that there's a need for these types of accessible things in the market."

11:54 PM

And Goodman said he is not stopping at the washer. He plans to have his upcoming fall class work with another Duet machine, a $799 dryer.

11:54 PM

Blosser said when all the bugs are worked out of the washer, representatives from Whirlpool will come and examine the washer to see if the design could be put into other appliances and made commercially available.

11:54 PM

"This is purely exciting because you can turn the machine on and it reports it's status," Hudson said. "It puts a smile on your face."


Massaro: Blindness doesn't dim new doctor's vision.

When Gary Massaro listens, people talk.

May 27, 2004, Rocky Mountain News

Lawler has a clear vision for his future even though he can't see.

He graduated from medical school two weeks ago and is going to become a psychiatrist.

Lawler said in his struggle with losing his sight that he learned half the battle in life is finding something you're good at and then going for it.

Lawler, 44, graduated with his doctor of osteopathy degree May 14, his birthday, from Western University in Pomona, Calif.

He grew up in Westminster and graduated from Edgewater's Jefferson High School. By the time he was 24, doctors told him he would gradually go blind from retinitis pigmentosa.

"My peripheral and night vision went first," he said Wednesday. "It was like looking in a tube and the tube kept getting smaller and smaller."

Now, he can see shades of light and dark, but no detail.

So he uses a lot of high-tech stuff. And he has a guide dog, Burke.

"He's so much more than my eyes," Lawler said. "A lot of times, it's just him and me."

Lawler's wife, Sandy, also is blind. Friends introduced them.

"People get tired of hearing this, but it was a true blind date," he said.

Lawler had been thinking of medical school since he was a teenager. But he had too much self-doubt.

Then, after the diagnosis of blindness, "I fought my demons," he said.

He attended Colorado Center for the Blind, and learned Braille and how to use a cane. But more importantly, by questioning some of the things he was taught, he learned to stand up for himself.

And that led him to think about enrolling in college.

What helped rekindle the interest was his memory of a handful of specialists he saw when first diagnosed with his illness. They weren't very good at explaining it.

"None of them had a good bedside manner," he said. "They didn't show any real compassion when they were telling me I was going blind."

So when he was 34, he went back to school.

"I realized I'm not dumb, that I can do this," he said.

He remembers a mentor who tried to encourage students to do something with art so they could build up their confidence.

"When you can find something you're good at, that's the best drug there is," Lawler said.

Now, he said, he wants not only to counsel patients, but to show the world that people should focus on what people can do rather than what they can't do.

"I don't think I'll ever accept it," he said. "But I'll deal with it. If I can inspire anyone, not just people with disabilities - that's why I'm going on this path."


Firm's Vision Gives Hope, Jobs to Blind

By HUGH SON, Daily News May 28, 2004

Worker Keith Aun puts envelopes in magazines for mass mailing at NYCIB's Brooklyn factory.

In a Brooklyn factory, Mamunur Rashid deftly handles the buttons and levers of a machine that stitches together the bristles of a broom with lightning speed.

The moving parts of the hulking machine whir and clank in a blur of metal - a potentially hazardous occupation for someone with perfect vision, let alone for Rashid, 30, who is legally blind.

"We are safe here," Rashid said reassuringly. "We are specifically trained for each job on each machine."

As blue-collar manufacturing jobs become increasingly scarce in the city, one company is providing vision-impaired New Yorkers with crucial employment - and they're even looking to hire.

Two new contracts at the New York City Industries for the Blind factory in Borough Park, Brooklyn, mean that about 20 more people are required, said Richard Bland, CEO of NYCIB.

"We exist for one reason - to provide jobs for blind people," Bland said yesterday on a tour of the factory.

"We're different in that the first thing other companies cut is labor, and that's the last thing we cut. But we still have to run an efficient business."

The nonprofit company was started in 1995 by Bland, a former vice president of Lighthouse Industries - an organization that provides services for the blind - after the group shuttered its factory.

After four years in a rented Long Island City warehouse, Bland took the outfit to digs in Borough Park. He said it was the only location large enough and with reasonable rent and proximity to subways - important for the factory's 79 legally blind employees. About 55 workers with sight also work there, Bland said.

The company took in $13 million in revenue last year by producing mops and brooms, putting together mailing packets for Brooklyn College and Queens College, and other contracts. Many blind employees spoke yesterday of the sense of purpose that working gave them.

"I like my job very much; it keeps me very independent," said JuneAnne Joseph, 49, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who works every day with Krinkle, her Seeing Eye dog, at her side.

Paul Lee, 62, said that when he lost his vision a quarter-century ago, he also lost his will to live - until he started to work.

"I'm lucky in America. I'm blind, but I can take care of my family," said Lee, who lives in Coney Island and originally hails from Southeast Asia.

Workers at NYCIB earn from minimum wage to $11 an hour, with health insurance, paid vacation, sick days and a pension, Bland said.


A book review by Barbara Bates

House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III

RC 50033

Originally published in 1999, this book regained the spotlight when a movie of it was released earlier this year. It's unique style made it well suited to the taped book format. This story is told predominantly from two different, first person viewpoints. The narrator, Richard Davidson, did an excellent job of changing voice tone and inflection to identify the differing perspectives.

The story is set in San Mateo, California, a place pervaded by a fog that seems to hinder and distort one's perceptions of reality. A modern Shakespearean drama, this American tragedy is done in two acts; or rather, two parts.

The first protagonist introduced is Massoud Amir Behrani, an ex-Colonel of the Imperial Iranian Air Force. He tells his tale, interspersed with words and phrases in Farsi; a Persian dialect; in a manner indicative of one for whom English is not a first language.

Though a trained jet mechanic and pilot, he has been unable to get well paying employment in that field. He leaves for work everyday dressed in a suit, changes in the men's room in the hotel where he parks his luxurious Buick Regal, and goes to work on a road cleaning crew. Used to an aristocratic life of luxury, he is forced to work menial jobs to continue to support his family in the style they have been accustomed to.

Although he has brought, along with his family, hundreds of thousands of dollars to America, he currently lives in an apartment costing $3000 per month; so, the money is dwindling away.

Behrani stumbles upon a house being sold at auction, and after seeing the "bungalow", makes the highest bid and buys it. As the house is being sold at a fraction of its value, the town of San Mateo, requires the full amount of purchase; to close the deal. He pays the money, confident he will be able to resell the property at a substantial profit. He moves his family in.

The second protagonist, Katherine Lazaro, is the former owner of the house just bought by Colonel Behrani. Now living in a motel; after her eviction from her home; she has contacted a lawyer and is awaiting the repossession of her house. That a mistake has been made, there is never a doubt, but the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, if at all, and almost never for the "little guy".

The San Mateo house, was left to her and her brother, who lives with his wife, out of state. Katherine cannot at first decide what to do.

It started when Katherine received a letter telling her to pay a business tax which she didn't owe. She went to the town clerk, explained the matter, signed the proper documents and thought the whole thing settled. So, she never opened the letters delivered in her mail concerning this matter, thinking it over.

When a Sheriff's Deputy arrives on her doorstep with an eviction notice; along with a locksmith to change the house's locks; she is to put it mildly, flabbergasted. She protests, to no avail, and dumbfounded, prepares to leave her home.

The married Sheriff's Deputy, Lester Burden, is smitten with Katherine and helps her to move out, rent a storage shed for her things, and find a motel room.

As the story progresses, items from both of the protagonists pasts come to light.

Colonel Behrani and his family, who fled Iran at the dispossession of the shah, had escaped under the cover of darkness. After the execution of one of his colleagues, he has learned that he is to be killed if he ever returns to Iran. His daughter has just been married, and the elaborate wedding, has helped to decrease his finances.

Katherine was left by her husband, Nick, shortly after settling in California. She hasn't heard from him at all, and has been muddling through as a house cleaner. Initially from the Boston area, she married Nick, a bass player in a band, and drove to California with him. Addicted to cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes, she and Nick joined R.R. (Rational Recovery); similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. She has been free from addiction for six months when she is evicted. As her world falls apart, her neediness is exposed.

The married Deputy Sheriff, Lester Burden, becomes her lover and eventually, an accomplice to her wild schemes. She decides that she was only addicted to cocaine, so it's all right to resume her drinking.

Parts of the story; in Part 2; are told in the third person, through Lester. At first confusing, the reason for this can be understood when the effects of a relapsing addict are taken into account.

Andre Dubus has the ability to pull you directly into the lives of the people telling their stories. His attention to detail, his character's bad habits and idiosyncrasies, as well as their attitudes toward life, all contribute to the story's realism.

You become the displaced Persian Colonel, worrying about how to pay the mounting bills, wondering at the gentle beauty of your wife of over twenty years, and brooding about your son's lack of Persian roots. You can almost forgive the deep rooted prejudices, and low opinions he thinks of other races and ethnicity's.

Or, through Katherine's eyes, you feel the relief of making it through another day without resorting to your addiction, relieve your tension by driving up and down the California coast, and try not to think about what your husband, Nick, is doing or where he is right now.

You either love or hate the characters; cheer them on, give them advice, or curse them; but you can't leave them alone. Mr. Dubus drags you into the intricacies and depths of human feelings and forces you to look, whether you want to or not, at life through their eyes. The characters become real people, with all their faults and flaws.

What I didn't like about this book was the fact that although Andre Dubus points out the futility and pointlessness of life, he never gets around to showing its counterpart, joy or happiness. Though the lives depicted are realistic, there is little happiness in them. I sometimes felt as if I were on a treadmill, with no way off, and no end in sight. Otherwise, it's a riveting book, filled with human passions, failings, and dreams.

But, like all tragedies, this one too, ends in sorrow and pain. For in the end, as the tide recedes, the house stands alone and empty; the fog and the people have been swept away. An excellent read, highly recommended.


The Blind Can Be Victims of Circumstance--a Personal Experience

by Bob Branco

One year ago, I was hired by a car-dealership to order car parts and handle customer inquiries on the computer. Throughout the past year, computer engineers appeared at the work sight to determine whether it could be adapted properly for a blind person. Several days ago while I was sitting behind my desk at my job, I received a visit from my vocational counsellor from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. She received a written report of a meting that took place on May 19 with the regional engineer from MCB, a contracted engineering consultant and one of my bosses. The purpose of the Meeting was to discuss adaptations for my job. The report wasn't very positive.

Apparently, there is nothing that can be done to adapt a speech system with Quick Books or All Data. These are programs used by car-dealerships. Regarding the job itself, I was told to think positive despite MCB's findings. There may be some manual steps to be taken which may require my boss to talk into a dictating machine, however my ability To directly use the billing programs may not be utilized.

Before there is any misunderstanding on the part of officials with the Mass Commission for the Blind, let me clearly state that I don't blame anyone at MCB for this problem. If there isn't any way to adapt Quick books or All Data for a blind person, then I can't hold any one person or agency responsible for that fact. I have called several computer software companies across the country, and they have pretty much confirmed MCB's findings. I know that the blind are encouraged to call software companies if the agencies can't help. However, while talking to these companies, I almost have to be a computer engineer myself in order to speak their language. I can honestly say that I no nothing about the mechanics of high-tech software. I'm just a consumer. When I'm on the phone with these companies, they ask questions that require a certain knowledge of these mechanics. It's almost like my going to a brain surgeon for help while he asks me if my cerebrum and my medula-oblongata are functioning properly.

Having said all that, there is still the issue of my keeping busy all day while I'm working. As a blind employee, I know I can't speak for all sighted people, but I'm sure that most of them would like to be busy throughout their work day instead of listening to a radio waiting for the phone to ring. The blind population feels the same way. My bosses would like me to keep busy, not only because it makes me feel better spiritually, but because I'm an employee. Employees are supposed to give their bosses productivity. When a boss hires someone, sighted or blind, he is making a financial investment, hoping that the returns are favorable for the business. Even though my bosses understand my situation and have been close friends of mine for nearly 15 years, I'm sure they hired me with a certain degree of expectation, otherwise they'd hire someone else. I suppose if my bosses wanted to have me sweep floors or wash cars, I might be a bit more productive than I am now. However, they know that I am over-qualified for that. When I was hired over a year ago, I was given 3 titles: Receptionist, Parts Manager and Office Manager. As a result of my current situation, which is no one's fault, I feel that I am more of an expert on local politics, Boston sports, radio talk shows, rap music and soap operas than I am about car parts. Please put yourself in my shoes, if you can. What would you do, starting tomorrow, if you were faced with these problems?


Marketplace

The announcement of new products and services in this column should not be considered an endorsement of those products and services by the Association of Blind Citizens, its staff or officials. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Advocate" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products or services mentioned.


New Book

Wilderlust," a new book published by NHEST Inc., shows how blind and visually impaired people explore and enjoy the outdoors. Edited by Chrissy Laws and written by 18 outdoor enthusiasts from all over the United States and Canada, "Wilderlust" includes chapters on hiking, gardening, fishing, birding, skiing, cycling, spelunking, whale watching and much more. NHEST Inc. sells the book for $19.95. Shipping and handling costs $3.00 for the first copy and $1 for each additional copy. (Maine residents please add $1 per copy for sales tax.) "Wilderlust" comes in regular print, large print and CD-ROM versions; it will soon be available on audio CD. Please call (207) 327-1453 or visit www.nhest.org for more information. To order the book, make a check or money order payable to NHEST Inc. and send it to NHEST Inc., 144 Atkinson Road, Bradford, ME 04410. Proceeds will benefit NHEST Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides educational and recreational opportunities for blind and visually impaired people


NEW PUBLICATION

"The Ragged Edge: The Disability Experience from the Pages of the First Fifteen Years of The Disability Rag," edited by Barrett Shaw, is an anthology of articles from the magazine. To order the anthology online, visit http://www.advocadopress.org/backlist.htm. Or you may mail your order to: The Advocado Press, Box 145, Louisville, KY 40201. Fax credit card orders to: (502) 899-9562.


NEW BOOK FOR SIBLINGS

"Beyond the Stares" is a book for children and adolescents written by siblings of children with disabilities. It is a chronicle of their stories and a place for their collective messages to be shared with others. Adults looking for guidance and children looking for shared experiences will read powerful and touching stories. As they read, siblings can express their experiences by starting their own personal journal entries on pages that are designated just for that purpose. It costs $12.95. Order online from www.dgckids.org/resources-books.htm.


NEW CATALOG

The new catalog from Horizons for the Blind includes a collection of shaped pans for cakes and molds, including a stand- up snowman, Santa Claus 3-D cake pan, and seven more. The catalog also includes two new cookbooks from Weight Watchers, one containing 123 recipes for slow cookers, and three new books that delve into the Great Depression. To order this free catalog, call (815) 444-8800 (voice/TDD); fax (815) 444-8830; or e-mail mail@horizons-blind.org. Please specify whether you prefer Braille, large print, or audio cassette format.


MEDICAID INFORMATION DATABASE AVAILABLE

The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured (KCMU), along with the National Conference of State Legislatures, recently made available an online database on Medicaid benefits in the 50 states, D.C. and the U.S. territories. Check it out at http://www.kff.org/content/2003/20031027/. The database includes information about benefits covered by each state, for what populations the benefits are available, and the limitations, co- payments, and payment rules that apply to the benefits. You may search it by state or by benefit.


LITERACY STUDY

Highly literate adults who are blind or visually impaired are invited to complete an online survey of their literacy learning and technology use. The online survey is one component of Project Emerge, a research study on emergent literacy in young children with visual impairments, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The purpose of the survey is to learn more about the factors that contributed to literacy learning success in individuals who, prior to the age of 6 years, experienced severe visual impairment that affected their ability to read. Participants should be 21 years of age or older and have completed a four-year college degree. The results of this survey will increase knowledge and understanding of early learning experiences, environments, and technologies that are most likely to support literacy learning for young children with visual impairments/blindness. Families and teachers of young children with visual impairments/blindness will then be able to use the information to promote early literacy. The online survey will take about 45 minutes to complete and can be found at http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~emerge/litsurvey/literacysurvey.cfm. For more information, contact Allen Stutts via e-mail, Allen_Stutts@unc.edu, or call 1-888-718-7303.


TACTILE MAPS ONLINE

The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute provides tactile street maps over the web. The system uses a server-based geographic information system (GIS), and will be able to produce tactile graphics files properly prepared for standard Braille embossers, swell paper, ViewPlus Tiger embossers, or other tactile output devices. Ultimately, the software will be available as an on-line service that allows anyone to request a tactile street map of any location at any scale, download the files and emboss or render the tactile map immediately. The street maps are automatically produced with appropriate information density, Braille labels, and simple line figures to optimize their use by a blind map reader. The current system only includes USA data; in the future, other data sources may be used. If you are interested in learning more, or would like to become a beta tester, visit http://www.ski.org/tmap.


ACCESSIBLE TOURS

The Kennedy Space Center offers accessible tours for people with various disabilities. Features include audio guides and hands-on models of the space shuttle and Apollo Saturn V rocket. Each model is three feet high and allows guests with low vision or blindness to use touch to conceptualize the space shuttle and the rocket. The center provides all of its services for guests with disabilities free of charge or at a minimal fee. For more information, or to arrange reservations for guests with disabilities, call (321) 449-4364 or visit http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com.


TEXT-TO-SPEECH GPS AVAILABLE ON WIRELESS DEVICES

Rhetorical, a leading developer of text-to-speech technology, recently signed an agreement with Motorola Inc. to provide speech synthesis software for use with Motorola's VIAMOTO products. These products allow consumers to easily access location-specific information and turn-by-turn directions on wireless devices. VIAMOTO users select their destination in one of three ways: either by calling an operator, using the phone keypad, or through a web interface. The voice directions for a route are then determined by VIAMOTO servers, downloaded and stored in the phone. The directions from the current GPS location to the destination are then automatically read to the user along the route.


Jan's Tasty Tidbits

SALMON BAKE

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
  • 4 salmon fillets or steaks
  • Pepper to taste
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Blend mustard, butter and honey. In separate bowl, toss bread crumbs, pecans and parsley.
  • Season salmon with pepper.
  • Put in lightly greased baking dish.
  • Brush salmon with mustard mixture.
  • Sprinkle crumb mixture on top.
  • Bake 10 minutes per inch of thickness or until salmon flakes easily.

FOIL-WRAPPED SPUDS

  • 6 medium baking potatoes
  • 4 tablespoons margarine, divided
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • Split potatoes almost in half.
  • Place each on heavy-duty foil and top with 2 teaspoons margarine, a few grindings of pepper and 1 tablespoon cheese.
  • Wrap tightly.
  • Bake in preheated 400 degree oven 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until done.
  • Makes 6 servings, about 190 calories each.

GINGERED CARROTS

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 to 5 medium cooked carrots, sliced, diced or cut into strips
  • In saucepan, melt butter or margarine.
  • Add remaining ingredients; combine. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until carrots are seasoned.
  • Makes 3 to 4 servings.
  • If desired, add 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped or sliced. A few raisins may also be added.

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