of the

San Mateo County Council of the Blind


November 2001 Vol. 2 No. 8


Dictionaries for the Blind and Visually impaired

By Pui Chan

From time to time we have to consult a dictionary to verify the meaning or the spelling of a word. Surely, a visually impaired person may still make use of his or her CCTV in the event that he or she wants to look up a word. Yes, but how about those of us who are totally blind? What if the particular dictionary is so bulky that one can’t put it under a CCTV?

Some organizations have produced talking dictionaries on 4-track cassette tapes. However, even for a medium-sized dictionary, there are so many tapes that it is difficult to carry it around–not to mention its price and inefficiency.

Available from various dealers is the Franklin‘s Talking Dictionary, a portable dictionary featuring most of the important functions that we can, in a reasonable way, expect of a dictionary. It is the size of a small hardcover book, containing some 300,000 words and approximately 500,000 synonyms. If you desire further information, you may wish to contact Maxi at 1-800-522-6294 or The Lighthouse at 1-800-829-0500.

For those using Windows or Macintosh, there is the American Heritage Talking Dictionary, a CD-ROM version much cheaper but not as portable. The item is probably on the inventories of stores like the Office Depot and CompUSA.

There are, of course, some large print dictionaries for use by persons having low vision. Visit a well-stocked bookstore or public library, and you will find titles such as the Webster Large Print Dictionary, the Oxford Large Print Dictionary and the Merrian-Webster Large Print Thesaurus.

Remember that the San Mateo County Council of the Blind meets at the Bank of America branch at El Camino Real and 3rd Avenue in downtown San Mateo on the first Saturday of the month at 11:30 AM. Contact Frank Welte, president by calling: (650) 508-8329 or e-mail to: [email protected].


by Marlaina Lieberg

(Submitted from the Web by Sue Ammeter, August 2, 2001.)

A new federal Web site will make it much simpler to get information. The Labor Department is preparing to launch www.Disability.Direct. Gov–a portal designed to direct Internet users to local, state and federal information about services available to people with disabilities.

The site is part of the New Freedom Initiative, which is intended to increase education, employment and housing opportunities for Americans with disabilities.

Unlike most federal Web sites, DisabilityDirect will focus heavily on the local level where services are typically delivered, rather than on the federal level where they are funded, said Dick Griffin, the project's manager at Labor.

Users begin by entering a ZIP code that automatically screens information to the user's locality. Users select a category of services or information and are presented details about programs and services available in their areas.

Helpful tips, like telephone numbers, travel instructions and ideas on steps to take.

Making the site easy for the public to use was only part of the challenge, Griffin said. It also had to be designed for easy use by those who will supply information for the site. For the most part, they will be local, state and federal employees trained to provide services to people with disabilities but most likely not trained to operate Web sites.

To a degree, DisabilityDirect site will be automated. A search engine developed by Autonomy Corp. will comb the Internet for information and programs that would be useful to people with disabilities.

Unlike search engines that work by finding keywords, the Autonomy engine analyzes Web for concepts. It develops lists of relevant Web sites for DisabilityDirect managers to evaluate for inclusion in the public site.

It's A Question of Dignity

By Linda Alviti

Our lives, as visually impaired people, are affected in many ways by how we are "officially" treated. When we are presented with options including help from agencies, we take ourselves more seriously–as does society at large.

Although a native Californian, I have lived in Massachusetts, where I experienced vision loss. Shortly after an ophthalmologist said I was legally blind, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind contacted me. When I was wondering how to take the next step, people offered services. Should I choose to accept help? I decided to check them out.

My first rehab counselor was a blind man who worked in a modern office building downtown. I had met very few blind professionals up to then. I chose to travel to his office for a consultation, but could have asked him to come to me, because all counselors there will travel to see their clients. The services he described were free. They included: training in Braille, learning to use magnifiers and other low vision aids, training to use a white cane for travel, etc. Most Commission services are offered at no cost.

It was simple to "get to know the system." In addition to having a contact who knew about the spectrum of services available and who could answer my questions, he provided me with large-print descriptions of their services. This saved me a lot of time.

Not all of the information was relevant to me, but this was a place with lots of experience. The Commission had helped people deal with blindness many times, and they knew which services might be useful for the blind. They did not think it was odd for me to be a literature student in college at a time when I wondered how it could be done. They knew about hiring readers and reading books on tape, among other things. They offered ways to reach my goals. I was taken seriously– so I took myself seriously.

Back again in my home state of California, I have been talking to visually impaired people. I know that it often doesn't work smoothly here when a blind person asks for assistance from the State. They feel lucky if the rehabilitation counselor understands even an average thing or two about blindness. Generic advice is applied to situations where it is not helpful. Services are scattered, too. There is no one agency empowered to serve the visually impaired. Thus, I am not surprised that California has a high unemployment rate for the blind.

Can this situation be fixed? Yes! We can fight for a centralized State Commission for the Blind. We deserve services that address our needs more fully, just like every other disabled person deserves appropriate help. Once we have a system, complete with knowledge of and referrals to private agencies that serve the blind, we will be part of a useful network. It will include help for all blind people–the very young, the senior citizens, those with multiple disabilities, and working-age adults. It will serve each group competently. Blind people of different ages and situations need different services, but often they are in need of the same type of services, as training in getting around independently. A blind child will someday be a blind adult and then a blind senior; how simple and effective for him or her to always know where to turn for advice.

As well-informed and well-trained blind people, we will look more attractive to employers. It will help both us and the economy. This is not a hypothetical dream. One part of the circle carries momentum to the next. As empowered citizens, we shall be able to make a noticeable difference in society. We will not be the only ones who benefit from our receiving qualified assistance, but we will feel a greater self-respect as we enrich daily life in our State.

The Bulletin

San Mateo Council of the Blind

Phil Kutner: Editor

1128 Tanglewood Way, San Mateo, CA 94403