Archive for the ‘Inclusive Planet Staff Picks’ Category

The Fake IPL Player is on inclusive planet!

That’s right, the FIP (fake IPL player) has started a channel exclusively on  inclusive planet where he will read out one chapter a week, for members of inclusive planet.  Sounds too good to be true? Listen to this!

If you are not a member, what are you waiting for? You can register for free at http://inclusiveplanet.com/en/register. Once you do that, then head to http://inclusiveplanet.com/en/group/495133 and subscribe to the channel.  We got two podcasts up already, read out by the one and only FIP himself!

That’s all we got to say. Hope you enjoy your weekly dose of Appams and  Naans and Chirkut Telis (Our other personal favorite 🙂 )

Will keep you updated with every new podcast

Best, Anant

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Today as part of our staff picks we are featuring Mr.Yam.  We had discovered his blog a few months back, ever since then we have been in touch with him seeking his advice for Inclusive Planet’s activities in Malaysia. Thanks Mr.Yam for all your help!

Find below a recent post from his blog.

Two years after losing his sight, Yam Tong Woo has not only returned to golfing but is determined to establish and develop blind golf in this country

By EDWARD SAMINATHAN – ParGolf Magazine January 2010

Seated at the Kundang Lakes Country Club terrace, Yam Tong Woo looks like any other golfer having a drink after a round. But look closer and you will see a strange contraption by his side: a folded white cane.

“What’s a blind guy doing here?” may be the first question that runs through your mind. “Do the blind even golf?” you may wonder next. Yam not only plays golf but is determined to establish and popularize blind golf here. “Other sports that the blind participate in like goalball usually involve only the blind; whereas golf is a game where they can play with the sighted,” said the affable 55-year-old with sliver-lined hair. “It allows for social interaction, empowering them to walk shoulder to shoulder with the sighted and enjoy the game together.”

Yam’s passion to introduce golf to the visually-impaired community is admirable. Recently, he almost single-handedly organized the first-ever blind golf event in Malaysia, the National Council for the Blind (NCBM) Friendly Golf Game, and is keen to go further. But barely two years ago, Yam was still a sighted golfer.

In January 2008, Yam led an ordinary life as an automotive engineer in Kunming, China, as
a husband and doting father to three children, and as an avid golfer. He did not give a second
thought to the fever he had contracted, not realizing that it was the start of a journey to a life without sight.

“It was a few days after New Year celebration. I had high fever and sought treatment in a private clinic. The next day, I started having eye discomfort and got admitted into a private hospital. Slowly, my eyesight began to blur,” relates Yam. “After a week of treatment there, I was transferred back to a hospital here in Malaysia. Operations and treatments did not help to save my sight and not too long later, the doctors had bad news for me: I was irreversibly blind,”
he adds.

A bacterial infection, specifically the waterborne Klebsiella bacteria, not only left Yam blind but seriously affected his lung and liver functions; requiring him to undergo more operations and treatment. It took him almost an entire year to get back on his feet and in a way, learn to live life again.

“Life is such that never in my wildest dreams would I have given the slightest thought of this happening to me,” says Yam. “I felt like I was plunged into outer space; a darkness enveloping me and not knowing what was out there. Isolation, helplessness and fear – a mixed bag of emotions; it was a shock beyond description.”

“And my career came to a sudden stop. At 54, I was too young to be in this state,” adds
Yam, the disappointment still apparent in his voice.

With his wife of three decades, Hong, and his three children by his side, Yam slowly but surely began picking up the pieces of his life. Little did he realize then that his battle would give him the strength and opportunity to help other unsighted folk.

“I must admit that I begin questioning my purpose in life. I felt so depressed, angry and sad that I had become a burden to my family,” reveals Yam. “My initial visit to the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) was to seek advice and counselling. Later on, I begin enrolling in their programmes, which empowered me to be independent.”

Learning to move around with the white cane was the most important thing for Yam. “The cane is surely the essential mobility tool to me now and I cannot leave home without it,” explains the Kuang resident, reaching out for his cane on the table. But if there is something else that Yam
acknowledges has allowed him to lead a normal life, is being able to use the computer. With a special screen-reader software, Yam is able to communicate via email and access the
internet just like any other person. “He’s even better at typing than me and my, can he sms!” exclaims proud wife Hong. Yam also wears a watch and before the question could be asked, he points out that “the watch talks.”

Turning to a topic that makes Yam sit up; we talk about his passion for golf and, in particular,
blind golf. A social golfer since 1994, Yam played off handicap 22 before losing his sight. So, what pushed him to take-up golf again? “After losing my sight, I became sedentary. I tried jogging which I used to do with my dogs but I didn’t find it enjoyable. My sons urged me to go to the driving range to try hitting some balls,” states Yam. “But, I felt embarrassed about how would people react. But I know the staff at Kundang Lakes well, so I called the club manager and told him about my situation. He said “I was ever so welcome to come back.” And so, I forced myself to overcome that mental barrier.”

The first swing as a blind golfer was a poignant moment for Yam “I stood there on the driving range, the same spot that I have stood many times before. Except now, all I could see was darkness,” he recalls. Soon, Yam returned to the course as probably the first ‘blind golfer’ in the country. “Blind golf is very different. I need a sighted guide to help me assess the terrain and
distance as well as the position of the ball, club face, pin and myself,” he explains. “The rest is dependent on your own feel and judgement. Just keep your head down and focus on the location of the ball, even if you can’t see it. The icing on the cake is obviously hearing sound of a good contact when the club strikes the ball. There is always a lapse of silence, seconds of anxious waiting after hitting the ball; unlike previously, when I can focus on the flying ball for a few seconds,” Yam elaborates. “Being dependent on a sighted guide, you need to be patient and very importantly, trust the advice given. There’s really no two-ways about it,” says Yam.

Yam says that being able to swing again has been therapeutic. “It helped me regain some of my confidence and self esteem. Now, I’m able to invite my golfing kakis to play with me,” he grins.
This was what inspired Yam to develop blind golf here, so that more blind people can benefit from the therapeutic effects of golfing.

“The idea for a blind golf event came up during a casual chat with my friend, Moses Choo from
the NCBM. He was talking about the Hong Kong Blind Sports Association (HKBSA), which were in close contact with NCBM. I then found out that one of the activities organized by HKBSA was golf. I was ecstatic!” explains Yam. He adds, “So I told Moses, I would very much like to get involved if there was a possibility of getting blind golf here. We begin communicating with our Hong Kong counterparts and we were lucky as they were keen to help us spread the game here.

It took us a few months to get the ball rolling and then we begin approaching the clubs here.”
Yam’s voice takes on a serious tone when asked about the reception from local clubs. “Most of the clubs have not heard about the blind playing golf and they were quite sceptical. Most were not favourable for myriad of reasons but I don’t blame them. That is the point I realized that there is little or no awareness at all about blind golf here in Malaysia. It was always going to be an uphill task,” relates Yam.

Finally, Yam managed to rope in Bukit Jalil Golf & Country Club as the host for the first ever blind golf event in Malaysia on October 15. Yam relates his first meeting with the club’s management: “On our first meeting, I could sense the shock in them seeing a blind guy walking up to them. For the first ten minutes, you could feel the awkwardness; how do respond and what to do,” he chuckles. “But they listened to our requests and by the time I met them for the second and third meeting, the barriers had broken down and everything was fine.”

With the event running smoothly with few hitches, Yam is proud that the first step towards introducing blind golf has been successful. “We managed to create public awareness but we still have a long way to go. We can’t change mindsets overnight and people will be people; unless there is a continued awareness push, interest will wane,” he admits.

“But more importantly, for many of my blind friends, this was the first time they were holding golf clubs or even stepping foot into a course. Whether they will play again or not, I don’t know, but I know that they will cherish that experience for a lifetime. It gives them bragging rights. Air shots are immaterial but at least they have been exposed to golf, what’s the game all about, how it’s played and how difficult it is,” says Yam.

Yam is currently on a mission to form a pro-tem blind golf association here, with the end goal of gaining affiliating with the International Blind Golf Association (IBGA). “Without a proper set-up, it will be difficult for us to get sponsors, financial assistance and support from the golfing fraternity. Also, with consistent exposure and opportunity, more visually-impaired individuals will be able to take up the game. Who know, maybe one day, the world champion may be from Malaysia!

Hopefully I can get this off the ground,” says Yam. “But of course, there are a lot of sceptics
around, whether blind or sighted. I have to overcome all these hurdles and just keep going. But I’m confident it can be done. Even in England and Scotland, where the game is flourishing now, the people who initially started the game also faced similar hurdles. So, it’s just a rite of passage that I have to go through but at least, I can learn from their experiences,” stresses Yam, his conviction apparent. The American blind educator, Helen Keller, once said: ‘When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.’ Yam Tong Woo is set to open more doors not only for
himself but others as well.

Check out his blog http://myblindsight.blogspot.com/

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[Edited to include link to the original article: http://www.giditull.com/articles/wysiwyg_e.htm]

Life of a blind person in Israel, in the 21st century. For Gidi Ahronovich, its a new challenge everyday.  But his spirit and attitude has helped him sail through. Inspiring post!

What You See Is What You Get

By Gidi Ahronovich

I initially thought about writing a short article about “Why There Are No Blind People on the Internet” and why no official website of the state of Israel is compatible to blind users. Eventually I decided that the problem is rooted much deeper than that, and is related to the lack of basic understanding of the problems of a blind person in Israel. Therefore, I opted to write about the day-to-day life as a blind person in Israel – an article which will involve a number of different areas, a bit of autobiography and small stories, in the hopes that the reader will be able to relate to my own feelings and experiences.

A short summary of my life

I was blinded shortly after birth. I was born prematurely, and the nurse put too much oxygen into the incubator. As a result I lost my sight. I was told that too much oxygen usually causes brain damage to premature babies and that I should take consolation in the fact that I’m “only” blind.

Ironically, my entire family comes from the world of photography. My parents are photographers, my brothers are photographers, my nephews are photographers, and only I am a stray child who went and became a bus driver…

As a result of the family occupation, my first childhood memories include many photography exhibitions, art exhibitions and movies. I remember myself as a child being dragged to exhibitions and getting descriptions of what you can see, and to this day whenever I’m in London, Italy or any other place, I go with friends to exhibitions and they are always astounded by my historical and descriptive knowledge of art.

I remember school as a very bad experience. In Netanya, where I live, a blind person who wants to learn Braille can only do so in a religious school. Thus, I was limited in two ways during my childhood: once by being blind, and once by being the only non-religious person in a religious institution.

My highschool didn’t really know what to do with me, and I ended up majoring in “Secretariate and Management”. They, too, didn’t really want to let me take finals. As a result, in 11th grade, I left high school and completed finals on my own. That was probably the most amazing time of my life.

Afterwards I studied music for a BA and graduated with honors from Levinsky College. I still work in the field to this day – truly a normal life. I’m completely independent and do everything. I’m a big fan of music, art, computers, trips and books.

So what’s the problem?

The problem that I wanted to present in this article has to do with Israeli society’s treatment of blind people in the 2000s. Even today, most people believe that blindness is something terrible and impossible to live with, and have difficulties dealing with blind people who try to blend in society. I think the best way to explain this mistreatment is with real stories from life.

I get to travel on buses a lot (for obvious reasons, I’ve yet to pass a driving test). Usually I sit in the back of the bus. As a principle, I refuse to sit in the first seats – those which are designated for the disabled. I sit, listen to cds and check out girls. People almost always talk to me and a conversation evolves, and the same questions are always asked. How can you live like this? Do you have a girlfriend? Do you ever consider suicide? How do you see colors? How do you dream? And of course, how do you pee without missing?

There was also someone who asked me how I have sex if I can’t see where to penetrate. I explained to him that I do it in the dark.

“Tell me man,” asks me a young passenger, “do you have a girlfriend?” Well, okay, I don’t right now, but when he asked me I did. “Yes,” I tell him. “Wow man, and how do you get along when you’re both blind, isn’t it tough?” I explain to him that my girlfriend isn’t blind, and he asks: “What do you mean? She’s not blind? So what kind of disability does she have?” I explain to him that “No disability. She’s a regular girl.” and he says, impressed, “Wow, that’s admirable of her.”

Really, all the stigmata regarding the issue of girls always amuse me. A while ago I emailed a girl through a dating website. The response I got was more or less: “What the hell could a blind person want with someone who can see? I don’t believe that you’re blind, because blind people can’t use computers and this has to be some scheme of yours to pick up girls.”

Or once, during a concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, an old lady approached me and asked: “Sir, are you married?” “Why, Madame?”, I asked, “You sound a bit too old for me.” She told me “I have someone for you to meet.” Out of experience from similar situations, I asked “And she is blind?” and the predictable answer was “Yes, her name is this and that.” “Madame, I know this girl, we have nothing in common.” This was too much: “But how could you not? You’re both blind.”

In fact, I barely know any blind people. I know two or three I met at random; I don’t condemn any relations with blind people. I just condemn the notion of “He’s blind and you’re blind. Talk.” I’m willing to talk with any person, whoever they are. If they’re blind I don’t have a problem with explaining to them why I surf the internet with one program or another, or why I order my canes online and don’t settle for what they sell here in Israel. But if aside from that I don’t have anything to talk to them about – a similar taste in music, books, art, I won’t keep talking to them just because they’re blind.

I’m not a member of any club for blind people because I don’t believe in staying isolated from society, but in full integration. As time passes, I understand that I’ve no problem with my blindness – I have a problem with the ignorance of people, and unfortunately, if people know one blind person, and they don’t particularly like him, they project that onto the rest of the blind population in Israel.

Someone once asked me on the bus “Sir, how can your parents let you out of the house when you can’t see anything?” Oh please. “Sir, how could they let you out of the house when you forgot to take your brain?”

I love movies very much. I particularly like foreign pictures, especially Chinese and Japanese. Then I can torment my friends and ask them to read me all of the subtitles – because it’s not in English.

Whenever I visit the cinema, my friends, who like my cynicism, always send me to buy the tickets. The cashier is always amazed, and once one even asked me to fold my cane and call Igal Shilon (the host of an Israeli prank show on TV) because the jig’s up.

The cynicism also escorted me during my service in the army – a time when many people who saw me on the street in uniform went up to me and asked, “What does the army have to do with someone like you?” I was working in the army’s radio station, and one day the army’s general commander visited, and when he approached me and asked “What do you do in the station?” I told him I was my commander’s driver. Years later, in a phone conversation with him, he told me he was looking for a driver and asked if I was available.

There are, of course, some advantages to being a blind soldier – when the commander announced a new law, according to which the guard could no longer read newspapers but only listen to the radio, I explained to him that I’m allowed to read newspapers in Braille during my shift, because it doesn’t take my eyes away from guarding.

Various services

The problem with state services and corporations is that they have no clue about the life of a blind person in Israel. Even the people who are supposed to handle the blind always see me as a strange character: I can never pass exams that are adapted for the blind because I don’t really know how to write Braille (I write on a computer).

Take, for example, a company like Bezeq (major Israeli phone company). When I wanted to connect to the ADSL they told me there’s no discount for the blind, because blind people can’t work on computers. When I invited their representatives to see how I do it they didn’t really bother to come.

With Orange, a cellphone company, I nearly ended up in court for discriminating the blind. While other cellphone companies have voice alert when you get a new message, Orange has only a drawing of an envelope on the phone screen. I explained to them that I can’t see the drawing, and therefore I often check my messages without knowing if I actually have any – an act which requires payment. They told me it’s my problem that I don’t see the envelope, and even recommended that I ask people on the street to tell me when I have a message and when I don’t. The story ended up in the press, and as a result of the intervention of Yediot Ahronot, a major newspaper in Israel, Orange agreed to take me out of their customer list.

Even the Central Library for the Blind in Israel, which does holy work in recording books, won’t record a lot of science fiction, due to low demand. And what could someone like me, a bizzare person with dubious taste that only wants to read science fiction, do?

There are many other examples. In a recent trip to London, my friend was eager to see a painting exhibition that was there. We visited the exhibition, and my friend saw a blind person walking with his wife, and she was describing the paintings to him – and no one looked at them strangely. I went up to him, talked to him, and realized how illiberal and painfully ignorant we are in Israel. In London I didn’t at all feel different, no one looked at me strangely, they let me touch things, didn’t bother me on the underground, and in museums treated me with respect and let me touch everything. In Israel, if I go into a museum and start touching the statues, there’s sure to be some security guard who’ll have something to say about it.

I was told once that in America there are blind people working at McDonald’s. If I entered a McDonald’s branch in Israel and asked for a job theyd call the people from the sanitarium.


I’ve had a Braille monitor for close to twelve years now, and I freely work with the computer. I was using computers even before then – I had a Commodore 64 (remember?) and I learned to play by the sounds it made alone.

Only a minority of the blind in Israel work with computers, because a Braille monitor costs around 30,000 NIS, and Windows translation programs are another 10,000 or so. Or, as my father put it, “For all my children I bought cars and for you I bought a Braille monitor.”

I don’t know why blind people fear the internet. Very few of them are connected, and most don’t even work on Windows but on DOS.

Even the expensive equipment I use isn’t perfect. For example, I can’t read what I write while I’m posting in online forums, and so the number of typos in my replies is relatively high.

In conclusion

Why exactly did I write all of this? Mainly because it was important to me to bring attention to the matter and encourage people to think about it. It hurts me that even today, in the 2000s, people believe that a blind person should sit at home, listen to the radio and work as a receptionist.

I’m probably making an ugly generaliztion here, but very few people know what a blind person is or isn’t capable of, and that’s a shame. I hope in the future this will change.

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A couple of weeks earlier, Yoshi joined us as a new member on BookBole. She is a young aspiring social entrepreneur whose dream is to set up a reading caravan project in Thailand. And she is currently in the final stages of completion of a one year course at the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurship(IISE) in Kerala, India. So here’s a Japanese girl who is studying in India and would be setting up a venture in Thailand! So that pretty much sums up what Braille without Borders is all about!

Yoshimi Horiuchi giving a lecture to the IISE class (smiles)

Braille Without Borders (BWB) is an international organisation for the blind in developing countries. It was founded in Lhasa, Tibet by Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg in 1998.

Sabriye & Paul

Sabriye Tenberken was born in Cologne in Germany.At age 12 she became blind. She studied Central Asian Sciences at Bonn University. In addition to Mongolian and modern Chinese, she studied modern and classical Tibetan in combination with sociology and philosophy. As no blind student had ever before ventured to enroll in these kind of studies, she could not fall back on the experiences of anyone else – and had to develop her own methods in order to follow her course of studies. Out of this need, Sabriye developed the Tibetan Braille Script. Sabriye initiated the project for the blind in Tibet along with Paul. Paul was born in Venray in the Netherlands. He has a technical background, and is responsible for all technical and maintenance aspects in the project.

After tasting success in the Tibetan project they started the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurship (IISE) in Kerala, India. IISE focuses on participants who are blind and/or partially sighted. Over a one year’s course the participants will be practically trained in management, fundraising, PR activities, project planning, computer technology, English, communication and soft skills. After this training they will be in a position to fight for their rights, to negotiate with governmental leaders and help to change the attitudes towards marginalized groups through setting up social and/or environmental projects in their own regions or countries.

Whilst embarking on the project the doubting thomases did ask them “Where will you find partially sighted and blind visionaries who are committed and talented enough to be able start their own social projects?” “Where will you find suitable trainers?

I guess those doubts have been put to rest, the first batch of IISE passes out in a couple of weeks from now. 23 participants from 14 different countries, each with passion, commitment and their own dreams.

Students at IISE sharing a lighter moment outside the classroom

Our best wishes to the first batch & the entire team at BWB , and we are confident that all of them will go places. As they rightly point out, they have right to be blind without being disabled.

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It might be a bit strange to pick a site where all of the content is in video, but our research shows that Youtube is a pretty popular site for our users. So, today, we would like to feature the Khan Academy.

The Khan Acadamy was started by the efforts of Sal Khan to realize his goal of using technology to educate people.  Sal received his MBA from Harvard Business School. He also holds a Masters in electrical engineering and computer science, a BS in electrical engineering and computer science, and a BS in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He started remote tutoring with his cousins and now reaches over 50,000 students and adult learners around the world.

The Sal Academy features over 800 videos (all made by Sal) covering everything from Biology to Calculus, Linear Algebra and Finance. Sal makes use a blackboard while teaching, but in most cases his lectures are quite easy to understand even without the visual aides. However, even if they weren’t, I for one would like to point to Sal as an inspiration of what one person can do to make a difference.

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The Fayre couple visited India to adopt a 5-year-old boy who was born blind, abandoned at a hospital gate, and who had subsequently spent the last five years isolated in an orphanage with virtually no human contact.

Reading this blog gave me cheer and hope…. Lots of hope. Read about this loveable family and the adventurous journey they have Raising Pandu. I hope you will make an effort to drop a comment to cheer this family that stepped up lovingly to adopt a special needs child.

Here is an excerpt on their first meeting with Pandu

Wow! It finally happened. We went to Ashraya and met Pandu today! And… he’s not nearly as bad off as we had orginally thought he might be. He is walking around on his own, playing with toys, and oh my god, full of energy! He is still in the todlers room. He isn’t speaking, as we suspected, but he is deffinately understanding some words. We were able to spend around 2 hours with him before the children were put down for a nap. We then went back to our hotel for about 2 hours and then came back to the orphanage for around half an hour.

Pandu seemed to be really interested in me. I’m not sure if this is my magnetic personality, or just that he has been around very few, if any, male caregivers. He came up to me several times and grabbed onto my leg. He also let Lalena and I hold him for a while. Lalena played with him and got him laughing. He does have a long way to go, but I’m sure he will improove exponentially once he gets some one-on-one attention. It was very obvious that the orphanage is very understaffed. They just don’t have time to give each child the attention they need. As one of the workers put it, “the volunteers tend to gravitate towards those children who are the most vocal in seeking attention.” Pandu just isn’t one of those kids.

All the children in the todlers room were very fascinated with us. I’m sure they are for any new adult that comes in and pays attention to them. Because I’m blind, and carying a cane, they were that much more interested.

After we left the orphanage, we went out to dinner at a really nice restaurant downtown. The bill came out to 1000 rupees, which is around $20. That was for a restaurant on the 13th floor of a shopping complex with an incredible view of the city. I am now sitting in our hotel room writing this posting. Lalena is fast asleep. 22 hours of traveling and then 4 hours of sleep will tend to do that to a person. I’m gonna as soon as I finish this posting, if my head doesn’t hit the keyboard before I’m finished!

So, that was our day. I’ll let Lalena describe the hair-raising auto-ricshaw ride downtown to the restaurant. She’s much better at that sort of thing than I am. She did see her first cow walking down the middle of the road though. Well, not her first cow, but the frst cow in the middle of te road amoung tons of other traffic. Anyways, good night everyone out there in blog land! We’ll post more tomorrow.

Follow the Fayre family at their blog Raising Pandu

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In today’s staff pick we feature Sandi Wassmer’s blog which is on the Action for Blind website. Sandi is a businesswoman based in UK, who registered blind a year ago, and blogs about the ‘shenanigans of visual impairment’.

Her posts cover her day to day experiences as a blind person, and tend to address a lot of relevant issues which  sighted persons are totally unaware off.

Here’s her take on accessibility with a simple example  “You would think that, in my job and with my burning desire to make sure that all disabled folk are getting the best out of technology, I would be able to get more people to understand why it is so important for the Internet to be Inclusive and that Accessibility isn’t something that you think about as an add-on after you have built your website. It is an integral part of every website. You wouldn’t build a 50-story building without a lift now, would you?”

Her article in the guardian you don’t need sight to have vision was an attempt to open the eyes of people to change their inaccurate perceptions of disability.

We need many more Sandi’s to stand up and keep writing to raise awareness, and we hope that the perceptions will change for good, sooner than later.


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