The World at the Fingertips It weighs a third of an ounce and measures less than three inches long and an inch wide. But it powerfully opens the world to the visually impaired. “It lets you read your email, shop online, surf the Internet. At the library you can check out a digital book and store it,” says Amy Adams (photo), who developed the USB device that uses a speech synthesizer to communicate what is on the screen. Software that works similarly exists. But Adams, a member of the Floyd Lions Club in Virginia, says her device has the distinct advantages of being portable and affordable. Adams, who has provided computer tutoring for the visually impaired, runs digitaltalkingbooksusa.com. She has given away several dozen of the devices to the visually impaired, sold a few to Lions clubs for $99 and has approached libraries about it. A Dream Fulfilled, and Then Some When blind social worker Marjorie McCune had a dream, she knew where to turn for help. McCune told the Lions of western North Carolina about the deplorable living conditions of blind people. The Lions of District 31 A sprang into action and built the Marjorie McCune Memorial Center in 1979; they still own and operate the 64-resident assisted and independent living facility in beautiful Black Mountain. “When you walk in, you feel welcomed. The center is warm, bright and full of life,” says Administrator Frances Coates. Residents walk in the sensory garden, listen to audio books, celebrate weddings and toss water balloons on “crazy hat day” (photo). The Lions are also there planting flowers, bringing holiday gifts and even cutting a rug at parties. “How many living facilities can say that their board members dance with their residents? Everything special and ‘extra’ comes from the Lions. They really care,” says Coates. Bringing Technology Within Reach When Ron Reph discovered that a visually impaired widow in his Minnesota town had to choose between buying groceries or paying the $55 monthly rental fee for her desktop video magnifier device, he was concerned. When he discovered that these machines—which enlarge small print and photos for those with limited vision—could cost as much as $3,000, he was shocked. Then he got to work. Convinced he could use his mechanical engineering background to build an affordable version, he brought the idea to his Nisswa Lions Club, which quickly green-lit the project. The Nisswa Lions sight machine costs just $350. The savings come from Reph assembling the lens system and other Lions building its cabinetry, then wiring the device to a TV. “Retail units are more versatile and look better, but ours performs,” Reph says. Fifteen people are benefiting from the sight device. Reph is happily busy building the next one. Blind Make Bold Moves “This is awesome!” exclaimed 16-year-old Liz Hahn (photo) as she whizzed by her mom, Kathy Shimek-Hahn. Visually impaired since birth, Liz was trying out single blade ice skates for the first time thanks to the Southeastern Wisconsin Lions Blind Outdoor Leisure Development (BOLD). Sponsored by Districts 27 A1 and 27 A2 for close to four decades, BOLD volunteers provide free activities for 220 participants that build skills and confidence, ranging from horseback riding to museum outings. “We would never get to do these things on our own. BOLD enables Liz to try new things and be independent. Most importantly, she gets to socialize with the group,” says Shimek-Hahn. Coming up next on the activity calendar are bowling, a holiday party and a day of downhill skiing. Liz can’t wait, and her mom will be there cheering her on. Shimek-Hahn stresses, “It’s a lifeline. A whole new world has opened up.” Zeke, the Amazing Dog Guide Karen Laite is diabetic, and Zeke, her 4-year-old Golden Retriever/Lab dog guide, jumps up and exuberantly licks her face when her blood sugar is dangerously high—even when she sleeps. He backs off only when he sees her take her insulin. Amazingly, Zeke was not even trained to scent changes in a diabetic. Matched with Laite by the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides in Oakville, Ontario, Zeke has changed her life. When she first became blind, “I was devastated, always sitting in a chair,” Laite told The Packet. “I can go where and when I please.” Service by and for the Blind The popular fish fry of the Seal Beach Host Lions in California raises funds for the blind, and this past summer several visually impaired Leos worked the fundraiser with other Leos. They took tickets, served drinks and grilled hot dogs. “They fit right in seamlessly. You have to see it. They use their other senses to overcome their handicap,” says Scott Newton, the club’s vice president and adviser to the Braille Leo Club, also affiliated with the Braille Institute, which offers services for the visually impaired. The Braille Leos made an impression on the other Leos there. “It’s a great benefit to the sighted kids. It makes them want to give more and serve more,” says Newton. Planting the Seed of Literacy If he could catapult right off the cover, The Cat in the Hat would surely tip his famously high hat to Debra Bonde for making beloved childhood books like his own available to visually impaired and blind young readers. Through the nonprofit Seedlings she established in 1984 in Livonia, Michigan, more than 370,000 books have been transcribed into Braille for young readers. That equals 17 million Braille pages created by Bonde, a small staff and volunteers. Lions have been among her biggest supporters. She says, “This has made it possible for us to provide free and low-cost Braille books to children like Adrianna and Evan [pictured with Bonde].” One Lions’ donation helped Seedlings purchase an expensive dot matrix printer to make “Print & Braille” books so blind and sighted family members can read together. Livonia Lions teamed up recently for a Seedlings Bowlathon. “We raised $2,350. Every $10 raised means another Braille book is manufactured,” says Matt Collins, president. Fun in the Sun Howling monkeys and roaring lions are two reasons why the new jungle-themed Lions Water Adventure Park in Kinston, North Carolina, is a cool place to visit on a hot day. But what distinguishes it from other water parks is that it was built to accommodate those with vision impairments. Design input came from visually impaired employees of Lions Industries for the Blind (LIB) in Kinston, which financially supported its construction. Tactile and auditory prompts are everywhere. A giant fiberglass lion named Swimba announces special safety features. A slide carries swimmers through a massive lion’s mouth that emits a jungle-worthy roar just before they’re about to hit the water. Chattering monkeys screech more water warnings. Paw prints embedded into the concrete guide the blind, and the concession stand has Braille menus. “It’s a wonderful, safe place for me and my family,” says Oscar, a blind LIB employee. “We can all be together and have a good time.”
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