Posted in Helpful Technologies, Uncategorized

There’s an App for That!

There’s an appp for that…

I remember when the iPhone first came out and smart phones started taking off. I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was trying to explain to me what “apps” were. I was having such a hard time wrapping my brain around why these would be useful to me. Well, boy was I wrong. Like most people, I can’t imagine living without a smart phone and the use of apps. How did we ever manage before? J

This month at our local NFB chapter meeting, we had some member presentations on some of the top apps they use as a blind person. Some of the ones shared were blindness specific, but others were just apps that were useful in some way as a blind person in that they helped provide greater access to something or a useful service. So with that, I’d like to share just a couple of my favorite “blind-friendly” appps that I use on a regular basis.


  1. Uber and Lift: Most people are familiar with these services. Basically, they are public ride share services that work like a cab service except the drivers are just independent members within the community who sign up to provide rides and work for Uber or Lift as contractors. It’s probably pretty obvious why I love using these services…since I can’t drive. I still use public transportation in tandem, but these are definitely more convenient and reliable. I love knowing when the ride will come, who my driver will be, and the ability to leave comments and rate the drivers. I use Uber the most as it works the best in our area. I may have to write a post sometime just dedicated to how much I love uber and how we use it on a regular basis since both my husband and I don’t drive.
  2.  Order Up: I think this is a new service that is mainly based in our area, but I know it’s growing and that there are a lot of copycat services. I also heard a rumor that Amazon offers a similar feature in certain areas. Basically, this is an appp that allows you to order food from a number of restaurants in your area, many of which do not provide their own delivery service already. New places are always being added. You can browse the menu, order, give instructions to the restaurant and/or driver, and pay through the app. There is a $5 fee per order, but for us, this is totally worth it, especially if it’s a place that isn’t exactly within walking distance, or easy to get to via transit. It’s so great to be able to have something delivered that is not just pizza or Chinese food. We also like that it offers us options which most people would just drive to and pick up, which isn’t always as easy for us…like those night-time ice cream cravings. They even deliver to our neighborhood pool. 🙂 Some of our Faves to order from are  Dunkin Doughnuts, Cold Stone, Chick-Fil-Et, and Chipotle.   We’ve also ordered from some local places that are great. I highly recommend using it. It’s pretty easy and fast.
  3.  Honeywell Thermostat: This was a device that we bought which is a wireless thermostat you install on your furnace. It was a pretty easy installation too. It’s great to be able to access our heating and air conditioning systems via our phones. Otherwise, the screen on the wall in our home is a flat touch screen which my husband can’t see, and I have to get really close to read (I can’t really read more than the temp either, so programming is not an option.) Through the app, we can program our system to be on or off and it’s also great to regulate it while we are on vacation. The app works great with the voiceover built in on the iphone. I am looking forward to finding and using more appliance-based apps in the future for things like programming our stove, or monitoring home security.
  4. Big Magnify: This is a great tool for the low vision user. Basically, it turns your phone into a small hand-held magnifier (like a portable CCTV for those of you who are familiar with those). . It can provide a pretty strong magnification too. I use this for spot reading like product labels at the store, mail, etc. Just small things that I want to read quickly and when I don’t really need to read the whole thing. ON another note, I have found that I can use this sometimes at venues to see a bit better. For example, Jesse and I went bowling once and couldn’t’ read the score screen. At first, we just figured we would play and then ask the attendant at the end to tell us the score and who won, but then I figured out that I could aim my phone at the screen above the lane (kind of like looking through binoculars) and make out the scores. This is a bit subjective and will depend on a user’s level of vision, but it was exciting. I also watched parts of my daughter’s dance recital this way. I don’t do it all the time because it probably looks a little weird, and sometimes there are just better, more effective techniques that also don’t strain my eyes as much either, but on the other hand, to most, it probably just looks like I’m taking a picture or using my phone to film something.
  5. KNFB Reader: This is a great program for scanning and reading large amounts of text. Basically, you take a picture of something you want to read, i.e. a package label, piece of mail, flyer, etc. And the app converts the text to speech. It’s also really useful for reading pdf’s that you open in a message or download from a website. I used to use the parent product in college (Kurzweil 1000) for scanning textbooks and handouts on a flatbed scanner connected with my computer. The new version with a smart phone is so much faster and easier! I use this now mostly to read long pieces of mail or handouts at meetings. It also has a “continuous scan” mode which I’ve used before to scan a book or manual that I couldn’t get electronically.
  6. National Library Service BARD app: For those of you who are a BARD subscriber, and who enjoy reading like me, this is a great way to browse the catalog easier and it’s nice to be able to download books for free and listen to them on your phone rather than having to download it to another device, especially since I use my phone so often anyway. Voiceover will work with apps like the Kindle and ibooks, but these are human-voice narrated and free to BARD patrons.
  7. Workouts: I don’t know the official name of this app, but this is what it looks like. FullSizeRenderThis is an app we stumbled onto when trying to find some new exercise programs. It’s a mainstream app designed with a variety of videos to serve as your personal trainer through a variety of exercises. You select the kind of exercise you want to do, (i.e. yoga, cardio, spin, weights, etc.) and then it gives you several videos ranging in fitness level or time. The reason I’m listing this one here though is because the videos are really descriptive—that is, there is a narrator describing how to perform the exercise, as well as a written description at the bottom of the page below the video. It’s a great way to use a workout video, especially when you may not be able to see what the person is doing or be familiar with the exercise. Additionally, this is great because the app works fully with voiceover whereas other similar apps have unlabeled buttons or text that voiceover cannot read.
  8. NFB Newsline: This is a service that gives you access to over 200 newspapers and publications. It began as a phone service, but the app is great to organize your favorites and read the paper or various magazines via Wi-Fi rather than using minutes on your phone. You can also email or share items through the app. I like using this service as it is designed for blind people and free. It’s nice to be able to access news via the associated press or some of my favorite papers or magazines without having to pay a subscription fee or try to read them online and navigate through all the online ads and headers. Some of my favorites are the Target weekly circulator, USA Today, the Economist, and Parents. I also like to check in with hometown papers once in a while.


So there you have it. These are just some of my favorite “blind-friendly apps.” There are a lot of other “blind specific” apps out there like bar code scanners, color identifiers, money readers, etc. There are also a lot of apps that make accessing sites easier than doing it online such as the Facebook app, Tweetlist (for Twitter), , and bus/rail tracker apps. I’m also a big fan of apps that provide services like Amazon Prime (which speaks for itself and is very popular), or store delivery apps. I’m not a tech expert, but I just thought I’d share some of my favorites that make life a little easier for me. I’d love to hear what yours are. Please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Posted in Public Attitudes and Advocacy, Uncategorized

3D Printing Ultrasounds..Wow!

As most of you know, we are expecting our third child in August.  Becoming a mother is one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences.  Each pregnancy is a little bit different and special for me.  Even though we’ve “done this” now a couple of times, each milestone of the pregnancy is still exciting and new–confirming that you are pregnant, hearing the heartbeat for the first time, and getting that first ultrasound.  Even though we don’t really get get much out of the ultrasounds since we can’t see the screen, they are still exciting events.  I wish I’d have had the chance to have an ultrasound like this one somewhere along the way.  This is an incredible use of science and technology  in such a meaningful way.  Everyone should go support Huggies for making this possible too. 🙂

Posted in Dealing with Challenges, Uncategorized

Follow Up to “Memoirs of a Blind Mom”



I got such a flood of reactions to my post “Memoirs of a Blind Mom.” Nearly all were very positive and encouraging. I did however receive an email from a friend of my expressing great concern for me. Perhaps this post sounded like a cry for help or that I am struggling with some kind of depression. Neither of which are true. So, I will reiterate again that I wrote this post as a way to share something that is hard for me sometimes. While I don’t think we need to always be complaining or focused on how hard things are, I do think it’s helpful sometimes to admit our struggles and weaknesses. It is when we do this that we are able to start the process of learning from them and transforming them into strengths.

I wanted to end that post in a positive way by sharing how blessed I truly am despite some of the struggling feelings I have from time to time, but that wasn’t the purpose of the post. That post was designed to be real and authentic. It felt a little therapeutic to write it all and share it. Glossing over the hard things to share how blessed I am felt a bit to me like devaluing the hard things that I’ve learned from or that push me out of my comfort zone to teach me or humble me.

I’m not amazing or courageous. I’m just trying to do the best I can with what I’ve been dealt. And, if I can inspire or encourage someone along the way, so be it. That is why I shared it.

I truly am so blessed. First, I have a strong relationship with my Savior which gives me strength through the hard times, and provides countless blessings. . Second, I have great family and friends supporting me. I’ve been blessed in so many ways. I’ve been blessed to learn good blindness skills that give me confidence and abilities to problem solve solutions when faced with a challenge. I’ve been blessed with access to resources and technology that make things accessible. I have wonderful friends who call me up out of the blue to offer me rides to run errands or just to invite our family to join them at the park or beach that day without being solicited to do so. I could go on and on. Even though sometimes my blindness is a challenge, I’ve also had some great opportunities and unique learning experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which make me appreciate my circumstances.

So, for what it’s worth, I wanted to make sure those reading this blog knew that that post wasn’t meant to be a pity party even though it may have sounded that way. It wasn’t meant to be a way of flashing the badge of a marter on my arm for sympathy, nor was it to toot my own horn to announce how “awesome” I am because “my life is so hard.” Thanks again for reading and sending your words of encouragement and support along.


Posted in Dealing with Challenges, Home is Where the Hartle Is

Memoirs of a Blind Mom…Sometimes It’s Just Hard

This is another repost from our family site.  I was very reluctant at first to post it there, but as I mention below, I think sometimes there is value in being true to ourselves and not always presenting the “Pinterest Version” to everyone.  I thihnk sometimes being authentic can be really valuable.  So, even though I’m feeling really vulnerable putting this out there, here goes as I hope maybe it will be helpful to someone.  (Originally posted in Fall 2015).


I wrote this a few weeks ago and then started having second thoughts about posting it. I don’t want to be whiny or complain because I truly have so many blessings. I fear that this will sound like I am doing just that. But then I reconsidered because I think admitting our weaknesses is also important, and perhaps the sharing of my experiences will help another. Plus, sometimes having a good cry makes you just feel better. So with that, I share this post with you.

I had a major meltdown this week. I get frustrated and upset from time to time, but this was pretty out of character for me. I slammed my useless laptop hard with my hand after entertaining a brief but serious thought of throwing it out the back door, began yelling to my husband about my frustrations, stormed up the stairs to my room and flung myself down in a puddle of tears in our rocking chair for a self-imposed time out. Yes, I do have the occasional meltdown from time to time, particularly when I’m feeling especially frustrated, over extended, and over tired, but not like this one. I don’t usually get so upset. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this all now, so why am I writing it and posting it on the Internet for all to see? Good question.


On this particular afternoon, I became increasingly frustrated and impatient with a task I was trying to do on the computer. But, like any good parent knows, the meltdown is usually caused by some bigger underlying issue. Yes, I was feeling overwhelmed, and yes, I stayed up too late the night before, but the real issue was much deeper and has been growing for a while now. I was struggling with the computer because I was having difficulty once again accessing a website that was inaccessible for a screen reader. What should have or would have taken someone thirty seconds had been frustrating me for over ten minutes. It was a little thing, but this kind of “little thing” happens all the time. It seemed so unfair! I just wanted to read something really quick, but once again, because I was blind, I couldn’t access it. My anger really didn’t have anything to do with the computer, even though sometimes I joke that my personal “Hell” would be spending an eternity trying to fix them. Instead, it had to do more with the fact that sometimes it’s just hard to be blind and I hate it…yes, I actually just admitted that. Yes, me, Miss Positivity, blind organization chapter president and advocate for all things blindness thinks that. I never admit that, even really to myself. I don’t allow myself to. All my life I’ve been taught to be positive, find the silver lining, count my blessings, make lemons out of lemonade, and just “Pollyanna” up through the hard times. I’m supposed to be strong and not show my weakness, put on a good brave face and soldier on. But frankly, it’s just hard.   It’s something I can’t change and have no control over.

I remember how I went through a bit of a grieving period when I first went blind as a teenager. Over the years I’ve noticed that every time I encounter a new phase of life, I go through another sort of grieving process all over again—turning sixteen and not being able to get my license like my friends, watching my siblings get theirs, moving away to college and worrying how I’d find my way around campus, seeing friends of mine get engaged and wonder if I’d ever get married because after all, who would want to marry and raise a family with a blind girl? Failing an internship at a children’s hospital because I’d walk into hospital rooms to offer child life services to patients only to find I’d just given my shpill to an empty bed, and then wondering what kind of career I’d ever really be able to do? Now as a young mom I find myself going through this process once again, only this time it seems to be hitting me harder than usual.


As a mom, I greave now for little things like not being able to hold my child on my lap and read aloud to them. Instead we have to read at my desk with a magnifier, listen to someone else’s interpretation of how a story should be read on an audio book, or worse yet, try to read braille to them and hope they don’t get bored before I finish the first line. I miss that we can’t jump in the car after dark and go for a ride—something my family did all the time while I was growing up, especially at Christmas time to look at lights. I long to be able to take them on bike rides, hikes, camping trips, or or road trips cross country without having to worry about coordinating for a sighted guide or driver to accompany us and working around someone else’s schedule.

I hate that I sometimes dread taking my children for walks around the neighborhood or to the park because I have to be a little “extra vigilant than most parents so as not to lose them. What should be fun and enjoyable often ends up being extremely stressful for me. I constantly worry as I try to keep track of them and often feel quite anxious when they get more than a few feet away from me (out of my visual field) or out of ear shot with their bells on. I often come home with real headaches as result.

I leave playgroups with other moms feeling sad and sometimes embarrassed that I have to take the bus, or cab, or rely on the kindness of others to chauffer us around. I admit that I’ve even been jealous before of moms with their minivans or SUV’s full of properly and permanently installed car seats while I juggle mine on my arms and pray we’ll make it home safely without an anchor strap because I can’t remember all the various ways to properly attach it for every make and model of vehicle in which we may happen to ride on a given day.


I cringe every time I let my four-year-old daughter leave the house in a miss-match outfit of her own choosing for fear that others will look at her with pity that her “poor blind mom couldn’t match her clothes” rather than seeing how I’m really allowing her the freedom of self-expression. I fight off nagging fears in the back of my mind when one of my children has a bump or bruise that might be mistaken for negligence because of my “lack of sight and inability to care for them.”


It frustrates me sometimes that decisions such as where we live or how many children we will have are governed by blindness. It frustrates me that I worry about what others are thinking when we go out in public as a family. Do they look at our children with pity, or silently label us as irresponsible for bringing children into “our situation?” It frustrates me that I’m often reminded by passengers on the train that I’m carrying a small child on my back and to be careful when I sit down…as if I didn’t notice the extra weight on my back, or that I’ve had someone accuse me of suffocating my child in a front-carrying pack because he was afraid I couldn’t see if my child’s face was covered or not. . Frankly, it’s all a little emotionally exhausting sometimes.


So, despite my randtings, I know that deep down I truly am blessed and have so many wonderful things going for me. I could write pages about all the great things I still can enjoy despite my challenge, the blessings I enjoy, the wonderful acts of service that have been shown to us by others, or some of the unique experiences or opportunities I’ve been given because of my blindess, but for now, I just need others to know that it’s hard sometimes. I confess I am weak and occasionally host my own pity party. So for what it’s worth, thanks for listening.

Posted in Home is Where the Hartle Is, Travel Skills

Lunch with the Elephants

This is another archive I’m transferring to this blog.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie hopefully.  I thought you might enjoy a peek into an everyday outing for me and my children as a blind mom.  (Originally written in Spring of 2014)



Every spring, the circus comes to town in Baltimore; and the elephants have a special lunch engagement. I remember first hearing about it about eight years ago when I first moved here and thinking to myself that it might be a fun thing to check out sometime.   I mean, come on, it’s not every day that you get to see an elephant up close and personal right? The event took place just up the road too from where I worked at the time so I always thought it would be fun one year to take an extended lunch hour and go visit the elephants when they were in town. Needless to say, for one reason or another, I never have, until this year.

My daughter is now three, so I figured she might enjoy the event too.

The elephants are part of the Ringling Brothers Circus and are escorted down from the arena where they are performing in the circus all week to Lexington Market, unhistorical market located right down town. I was a little disappointed to learn that they don’t actually go through the market (strange enough, somehow I’d got that wild impression over the years and thought it would be sort of surreal to see these elephants waltzing down the isles of the food stands). You can’t go for rides or even pet them like I also hoped, but it was still interesting to hang out and watch them. They are escorted into the parking lot behind the market where there are crates –and when I say crates, I mean more like freight crates–of food for them to enjoy. Fans line themselves all along the fence line surrounding the lot to watch them enjoy a “little” lunch (they consume something like 200 loaves of bread and 700 heads of lettuce. Then, when lunch is over, they march back up the street to the arena.

I told my daughter earlier this week that we were going to go see some elephants and she got so excited! I am pretty sure she knows what an elephant is, at least conceptually. They are always using a baby elephant as one of the “Mouse-Ker-tools” on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”, and the dumbo ride at Disney World is one of her favorites. So, I figured it was time to show her the real deal.

WE invited two friends of ours to join us whose children are the same age as K for a little play date. We made plans to take the light rail from where we live to downtown since it would be easier with parking and the crowds. Let’s just say, half the fun for K was introducing her two little friends to the light rail train as they had never ridden it before, while she is a regular. Half the fun for me was giving my friends a little peek into my world as a blind mom who relies on public transportation(neither of them had ridden the light rail before), and observing the slight cultural shock from the two of them who have not spent a lot of time in downtown Baltimore. (I too was once a naïve Utah girl, but now I guess I’m a well-seasoned city dweller. Not sure whether to be sad or proud of that fact.)

When we got there, we got some lunch from inside the market and had a picnic in the middle of the parking lot just outside the fence line where the elephants were going to be. Let’s just say it made for a little bit of an unusual picture with us three moms and our toddlers sitting on the pavement eating pasta out of Styrofoam containers. I am also proud of the fact that I managed to do this with my six-month-old son in the baby carrier on my front. He may or may not have had a noodle dropped on his head.

Sadly, the whole event wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped, nor was my daughter as interested as I thought she would be. Maybe we’ll try again in the future when she and my son are a little older and we’ll make sure to have a closer seat. . But, I’m at least glad we attempted it. I was pretty pleased too at my friends’ trust in my travel abilities to get them to and from an area that was unfamiliar to them and a bit out of their comfort zones. (Even though I am sure they researched the directions online ahead of time.) It turns out that riding the lightrail downtown turned out to be a highlight for the trip. Who knew? Score one for public transportation.


P.S. I am sorry that there are no pics to accompany this post. Juggling a cane in one hand, holding onto a toddler with the other, and managing to support the head of the sleeping infant in the carrying pack made taking photos a bit of a challenge and I always forget to ask others to take them for us.

Posted in Public Attitudes and Advocacy

A Parent’s Worst Fear

Okay, don’t get too excited…today you get a double post as I’m transferring some posts from our former blind parent blog Home is Where the Hartle Is which is still active if you want to take a look, but won’t be one I’m using anymore.  I’ll be moving a few relevant posts to this one over the next few weeks as I consolidate things.  So, with that, I give you a post I wrote about a year ago as a testimonial submission for the Maryland state legislature.  Just as a side note , since writing this, the bill passed and parents can no longer be denied custody of their children on grounds of blindness only.  big Victory!


Last Thursday, I  was slated to go and testify at a hearing in Anapolis before a committee of the state legislature.  The hearing was about protecting the rights of the blind and other disabled parents, specifically with respect to custody disputes.  Due to a big snow storm however, the entire state was virtually shut down and the hearing postponed.  In any case, I’m posting what I submitted as my testimony for the record.  I thought it may be of some interest and a good way to help draw attention to a scary reality many parents with disabilities face on a regular basis.  Currently in the state of Maryland, and others, parents can lose custody of their children for no other reason than that they have a disability.  No proof is required to show that the child or children are at any risk or danger either.  While my husband and I have never faced any real threats of this, it’s scary to know that this reality is out there and does give one pause to fear what someone’s lack of understanding of the capabilities of a blind or disabled parent could do to a family.  For example, if one of my children had to go to the ER just for a typical childhood injury (e.g., falling from a tree, bike crash, etc.) and a healthcare worker believed this accident came as result of my not being able to see and provide adequate supervision, my children could be removed from my custody with no proof being required–even if the accident was purely that, an accident and had nothing to do with my ability to see or not see.  IN most cases, health workers or social service workers have to at least provide some kind of evidence before a child is removed from the home.  Anyway, there is so much more that could be said and argued on both sides of the matter, but for what it’s worth, here is what I submitted.

Four years ago my husband and I became parents for the first time with the birth of our daughter.   Two years later, we were blessed with our son. Becoming parents has been the most amazing, rewarding, challenging, and life changing experience. For all intents and purposes, we’re just your typical average middle class “all-American” family. My husband works for the Department of Education in Washington D.C. while I stay at home full-time with our children. WE own our own home, take our children to playgroups, lessons, church, and school. WE resemble many families in our similar circumstances with the exception that we do not have a minivan or SUV parked in our driveway because, both my husband and I are blind.

Our children are healthy, smart, and thriving. They no nothing different except that their mommy and daddy use a cane to get around, have to touch things to see them, or that we take cabs and trains rather than drive places like our friends. What my children also do not know is the ever-present fear itching at the back of our minds that at any time, for any reason, our children could be taken away from us purely on the basis of our disability. Thankfully, our parenting has never been called in to question, but the threat is real and does exist.

WE worry that a future visit to the emergency room for a bike accident or fall from a tree could result in us being deemed as unfit parents. A playdate at the park could result in the temporary loss of custody because of a “well-meaning” citizen calling social services in concern for our children’s safety as we cross a busy street together. I hope I am wrong in fearing that such things will ever happen, but I’ve felt the staring looks from strangers and heard the callus whispers of concern or disgust that we as blind individuals would bring children into this world or subject them to such a life.  I’ve been literally yelled at on the bus on several occasions to be careful not to sit on the baby I’m carrying on my back as I take my seat (as if I could forget the twenty pounds I’m carrying). The misconceptions and ignorance is real and all around us. People cannot imagine how someone with a blindness disability can take care of a child,   yet it can be done and has been demonstrated by many with grace and skill.

In our legal system, individuals are declared innocent until proven guilty. Yet, present legal practices allow children to be taken from the custody of their blind and disabled parents purely on speculation with no real evidence that the child is at any risk or harm—thus declaring these parents as guilty until proven innocent. In many cases, disabled parents have a difficult time fighting legal battles to prove their parental competency because of prejudice or social stereotypes that inhibit others from being open-minded to alternative techniques or forward thinking practices about the capabilities of persons with disabilities.

I will agree that there are situations wherein a parent who is blind or otherwise disabled may not be the most fit to care for his/her child. These circumstances would most likely come as result of the individual lacking sufficient skills or capacities to care for him/herself and their child appropriately. In such cases, I would fully support the removal of a child from these circumstances. However, there should be sufficient evidence that the child’s best interest is in jeopardy and legitimate proof, not just speculation based solely on a disability label. The practice of making blanket-statements or the “one size fits all” approach should not apply.

AS a blind person, I use a myriad of alternative or nonvisual techniques to carry out my activities of daily living, manage my home, and care for my children. I travel competently with a long white cane and know how to use public transportation, take cabs, and employ drivers. I hire readers to aid me in my grocery shopping and reading mail. I use nonvisual techniques such as bells on my children’s shoes, baby carriers, child-leash backpacks, and other strategies for keeping track of my children in public spaces.   I know how to cook safely on a stove and with an oven so as to provide meals in a safe manner for my family. I communicate regularly with my daughter’s teacher and school electronically to keep up on handouts and progress reports. I communicate with pharmacists and physicians when necessary to make accessible medicine dispensers to administer appropriate doses of medicine to my children when they are sick. I utilize a host of technologies that provide me useful information for caring for the needs of my family.

I cannot anticipate how I will accommodate for, or handle every situation in the future as I rear my children, nor should I have to justify myself, have all the answers right now for every circumstance, or defend my practices to maintain my rights as a parent when most parents are not held to the same scrutiny in as much as their children’s best interests are not in question. I know I have the skills to do so and that I am the most qualified person to be raising my children. I support the call for stronger legislation that will prohibit the practice of using one’s disability as reason enough for terminating one’s parental rights. And I encourage better practices that promote the rights of such parents and families to co-exist in equality and harmony in our society.