Using Watchtower Online Library with a Screenreader

This post is to update a previous post on using (Watchtower Online Library) with screenreaders. I promised I would update my blog when changes to the site were made. I apologize for being slow to do so. I also apologize if this post is either unclear or unhelpful to you because I am not familiar enough with the specific access technology you use.

Screenreader accessibility has been greatly improved. The site is now completely functional when using a browser and a screenreader that support ARIA markup. ARIA stands for Access Rich Internet Application, and is an addition to HTML that provides useful information to screenreaders when non-standard or entirely visual elements are used.
If that definition does nothing for you, don’t worry. I probably explained it badly, and it isn’t necessary to understand what ARIA is to take advantage of it.

At the top of the page there are links that are formatted as menu items. On mobile browsers these links do not show any text labels, but now they are perfectly accessible to screenreader users, because they are invisibly labeled with ARIA. Because they are marked as menu items with ARIA they behave somewhat differently with different browsers and screenreaders.

With the NVDA screenreader the menu items are not viewed as links at all, so it is necessary to use Insert-Space to leave browse mode in order to interact with them. Browse mode will actually be off when you first load the page, but you will be stuck in the search edit field. It’s not possible to tab out of it, so you must enable browse mode to escape, and then reenable it to interact with the site’s navigation menu. Pressing enter on the menu links will work after that. You will also want to stay out of browse mode when navigating the lists of publications and each publication’s table of contents. Once you have selected an article/chapter/lesson you should return to browse mode in order to read it. Most of the time you can find the main content of the page by pressing D (the NVDA hotkey for landmarks). For me, NVDA’s behavior has been somewhat inconsistent.

With JAWS it is not necessary to force forms mode on, because the menu items are seen by JAWS as both links and form items. If you have auto-forms mode enabled you will probably get stuck in the search edit box every time the page loads. Just press escape and then arrow away from it. It’s annoying that tab doesn’t let you move on, but it’s manageable. Once you have selected a section of the site to view you can use the ; (semicolon) hotkey to move to the main content of the page. Semicolon is the JAWS hotkey for moving through ARIA landmarks and certain HTML5 elements such as article.

When the Watchtower Online Library was first created it caused some problems with screenreaders because of the way that the navigation links are formatted. Each link is actually a list within a list that can take up more than 1 line. JAWS really did not work well with that, and NVDA didn’t deal with it perfectly either. JAWS couldn’t seem to tell where one link ended and the next started, so it was extremely unreliable to navigate the links to get to the information you wanted to read. If you have an older version of JAWS you may still experience that problem. If you do you should navigate by using the links list feature by pressing Insert-F7. All the links on the page will be found and presented in a list that you can navigate by using either your arrows or by pressing the first letter of the link’s label.
For anyone using a recent and ARIA enabled screenreader and browser combination navigating those links will no longer be a problem. They have been marked with a tag that says that their formatting is just for visual presentation and is not something the screenreader need deal with or share with it’s user. What a relief! :-)

Reference and scripture links within all publications and search results display a ToolTip-like pop-up when mouse users hover their mouse over the link.
It is not possible to use this functionality with JAWS. Control-Insert-Enter, which is the MouseOver hotkey, does not result in the referenced content
being read.

Activating these links does open the referenced publication to the correct section, but it will be necessary to search for the referenced scripture or
paragraph containing the relevant text. The numbered links at the top of each Bible chapter do not correctly cause the JAWS virtual cursor to jump to
that verse.

The relevant paragraph(s) or verse(s) are highlighted in a different color for sighted users. By default this highlighting is of no use to screen reader
users, but the JAWS Skim Reading tool can be used to find and read the highlighted text.

Note: At the time of posting this blog the color of the reference links in Internet Explorer was maroon on white. Unfortunately JAWS 14.0.1823 has a strange bug that causes it to switch maroon to red4 which although possibly similar in appearance, is not at all the same thing according to software, so the skim reading rule does not work. I have reported the bug to Freedom Scientific.
The solution is to use Firefox which displays the reference links as purple4 on black, which works just fine.
Download Firefox

Directions for using the JAWS skim reading tool

  1. Activate a reference link by pressing enter on it.
  2. Find the text that was referenced by the link by whatever manual means you usually use.
  3. When the JAWS virtual cursor is placed on part of that referenced text you’ve located, press Insert-5 to hear the text and background color of the
    highlighted text.
  4. Press Insert-Control-DownArrow to activate the JAWS Skim Reading utility. You can also access it by picking it from the JAWS utilities list available
    with Insert-F2.
  5. For the control prompt “Use Rule Type:” select the radio button that says “Attributes and color rules apply for reading.”
    Note: if you’ve used the skim reading tool before you will need to press Shift-Tab to get to this control.
  6. Tab to the control that prompts Text Color. Start typing the name of the color you discovered for the highlighted text in step 3. When you’ve gotten
    close to the correct color, alphabetically speaking, press DownArrow until you find the exact color.
  7. The Next control is for background color. You may not need to specify the background color, but you can do so just in case. Use the same method as
    in the previous step.
  8. Jump to the next relevant control, Speak Unit, using Alt-U. I chose line, but you might want to experiment.
  9. Press Alt-S to have JAWS start reading the matching text in the current document. Press Alt-Y to have JAWS put all matching text in the results viewer.
  10. Next time you want to use this rule on a document or web page press Control-Shift-Insert-DownArrow and pick it from the rules history list, then
    press Alt-Y to view the results. If you press Control-Insert-DownArrow at any time JAWS will skim read the current document using the last rule you chose.

Using with JAWS or NVDA

The main site is quite screen reader friendly, but here are a few tips.

Headings are our best friends. They will get you just about anywhere you want to go on each page.

The site uses some convenient HTML5 tags. With an up-to-date version of JAWS and Firefox or Internet Explorer you can take advantage of these semantic HTML5 tags by pressing the Quick-Nav hotkey for landmarks ; (semicolon).

When you press enter on a scripture reference link on a pop-up will appear, and JAWS may say application mode. If this happens just press Shift-Tab to deactivate application mode and read the scripture.
If JAWS doesn’t say application mode, you can just read the scripture with your arrow keys.
NVDA will conveniently read the scripture aloud, but any attempts to read the pop-up with your arrow keys will result in disaster of the focus loss variety.
With either screen reader pressing enter on the close button will close The pop-up, and recently a fantastic change was made that causes focus to be returned to the activating link so that you do not loose your place in the article when you read a scripture.

The flash at the top of each article will almost always play the MP3 of the article in the browser when you press enter on the accessible play button.
You must have show flash enabled in JAWS settings in order to see the site’s embedded flash player.
NVDA will say embedded object where the flash player appears on the page, but you may have some difficulty activating it.

You will find download links for many publications on the site. The PDF versions of publications you can download are not at all nice to use with screen readers. They contain the publications text, but are not properly tagged for readability. There is also some strange issue that causes spaces to be missing in many places. This makes understanding what’s read aloud very difficult. Also, with Adobe Acrobat reader and JAWS almost every word is on a separate line.

The EPUB versions of publications are very nice. They don’t allow heading navigation for subheadings within articles, but they are otherwise structured
very conveniently.

How Does Depression feel?

I want to write this blog, because I know there are so many people out there suffering from depression.
I’ve always found that knowing about the problems that other people have to deal with helps me cope with mine. I’ve valued people’s willingness to share their feelings and experiences dispite the possible discomfort that sharing them can bring. And I know how much comfort I felt whenever someone really understood how it felt and sympathized. Depression doesn’t feel the same for everyone, but maybe part of this will strike a cord with someone. Ideally, people who have never experienced serious depression will be able to empathize better after reading just one person’s explanation of how it can feel.

I am not currently suffering from depression. Either welbutrin is working, or I am happily taking advantage of a placebo effect. If I am depressed I am unable to write anything for public consumption. I feel too worthless to consider that anything I would ever write would be of interest to even one person on the planet. I also experience brain fogs that seriously impair my ability to communicate clearly. I hope I can remember my feelings well enough and express them clearly enough to make readers understand.

Depression can be like loneliness– A great emptiness that can not be filled. Being with people may at times make it worse, and at other times make it a little better. Often it makes me feel worse when I am with people, but can’t feel any connection to them. Something is broken, and I feel like an alien observing humans of my acquaintance through a barrier that lets sensation, sound, and light through, but even though I can communicate to some extent, I am not amerced in their world.
At other times I do feel present in my life and other individuals’ reality, but I’m feeling so terribly unhappy, that I am not good company. When I feel like I am making others feel worse due to my presence, I want to just dissolve in to thin air, or melt into a puddle on the floor. I start feeling so guilty for existing and thereby inconveniencing or depressing other people that my mood worsens and the spiral down and down continues.
Sometimes another person can break the cycle by staying with me threw it all, and by reassuring me that they will not hate me or abandon me no matter how bad it gets. They remind me that it is the depression that is the problem not me. Remember there is a lost good person somewhere inside that awful mess you’re dealing with. The depressed person isn’t necessarily a negative person who is trying to bring everyone else down to their level. In order to get someone out of a literal hole it is necessary to first acknowledge that there is a hole, and that someone is trapped in it. Telling the person that they wouldn’t be in a hole if they didn’t want to be in there is of zero use. You need to lower yourself enough to see what is in the hole, and then be willing to reach out a hand to help pull them out. You might get a little dirty, but the hole is all most for sure only big enough for one person, the current occupant. You can’t take the depression—the hole—away, so the person might fall back in, but you can help them out, or at least talk to them while they’re inside it.
Sometimes I just needed other people to remind me that I really did exist. Remind me that I’m a person as good as any other—imperfect, but real, and capable of being interested and interesting. At times I just couldn’t communicate well enough to explain how I felt, or what I thought. Sometimes I couldn’t even explain my simple needs or wishes. A depressed person who is not communicating may not be refusing to do so. They might be temporarily incapable of expressing themselves. Sometimes I didn’t express myself because I wanted to spare others from my misery, anger, or rambling nonsense, but usually I just didn’t know what to say, or I simply could not get any coherent words out.

Sometimes I wanted to be alone so the burden of acting like a good human would be taken off of me. At other times I wanted to forget that I existed by sleeping or by reading something that would transplant me from my life to some other person’s. At times just spending a couple hours in a book would be enough, and when I came out the worst of the depressive episode would have passed.

I think that depression can at times mimic mourning. The feelings must be processed and understood. Usually I need to be alone to mourn. I don’t know if I am actually mourning something, possibly myself, my unlived lives, or just sorting things out inside my head.
Depression can cause actual pain. I have felt so terrible that my chest really hurt, ached, felt tight. The feelings could take my breath away. Sometimes I would cry, but sometimes the feelings were nothing like something that would cause tears.

In order to feel alive I would sometimes try to eat things I knew I liked. I would eat too much, because food didn’t satisfy, or fill that emptiness, but I couldn’t find anything else to do. Sometimes there just isn’t anything that can interest a depressed person.

Health is often a significant factor in depression. It is possible to have a feeling of mental well-being while ill, but it is much more difficult. This does not mean that you should immediately attempt to diagnose a depressed person’s “real problem.” Empathy is far more important than a diagnoses and cure. Most of the time there will be no cure. If there is one, it will take a considerable amount of time to find and implement. In the meantime the depressed person really does not benefit from people making them feel like they have done something wrong and allowed depression to happen because they didn’t do certain things to remain healthy. Making an already depressed person feel guilty is cruel and counterproductive.
After providing support and understanding, you can then attempt to help the depressed person figure out what might help them feel better.

We are imperfect people living in a world full of other imperfect people dealing with far from ideal circumstances. Depression indicates that something is wrong, but doesn’t tell you what it is. It can be physical, emotional, environmental, or something else I can’t currently think of. Our brains are just too complex for our total comprehension.

Here are some things that have helped me. I’m not going to claim that these things will help everyone else.

A doctor-proscribed anti-depressant medication is necessary for me to feel some improvement. I would have preferred a more natural solution, but although they work for some people, the ones I tried didn’t work for me.
It is also essential for me to take the proper dosage of my thyroid medication. I have hypothyroidism, which is a well-known cause of depression.

Vitamin D seems to have a huge effect on my mental health. A daily dose of bright sunlight can make the difference between me feeling alive or half dead. Unfortunately sunlight is not always available, and winter sunlight is often not strong enough. I take the highest recommended dose of vitamin D every day that I don’t get outside in sufficient sunlight. Actually, I only take my vitamin pills when I remember them.

Having a purpose in life or just for the day can really help. Having something good, or at least interesting/different, to look forward to is one of the best ways to make it through a period of depression. The event does not have to be big and important. If necessary create the thing to look forward to yourself. Even if it is just the next episode of your favorite TV show it can help. Planning and preparing for something, or learning something new tends to be the best thing for me. What doesn’t help is having someone say that they are not depressed because they keep themselves so busy that they don’t have time for it.

A good balance of alone time and time with others keeps me closer to sane. I really believe that both are extremely important. Unfortunately neither is considered a human right. There have been many periods of time in my life when I did not have any control over my exposure to other human beings, and I suffered because of it.

Everyone’s heard of the studies proving that a sense of having some control in one’s life is just about the most important factor in a person’s health.

Exercise helps if it doesn’t hurt. I long ago decided that exercising because I should, or to burn a certain number of calories is just frustrating and unhelpful. I actually like exercising when it’s purely to make myself feel good. Find something enjoyable to do that’s exercise and benefit from those endorphins. I won’t exercise without either music or company. I remember that a lot of the house work that I must get done is exercise, and it also goes much better with music, company, or a good audio-book.

The Blog that Leaves a Lot to be Desired

This WordPress theme is modern, which I like, but it is so boring. I sincerely apologize for it’s boringness and lack of functionality. You’d never guess it is the blog of a person who knows HTML and loves bright colors. Someday I’ll actually get around to fixing it, I hope. I think more useful or interesting content is a higher priority, though. I guess I don’t write as much as I intended to when I started using WordPress.
If you actually want to know what I’m doing and thinking it would be better to follow me, @CuriousEntity, on twitter.

I want a long white sports cane.

I have just searched the Internet with Google and called the NFB, but the product I want doesn’t seem to exist. I’m hoping I’m wrong about this, but I am right depressingly often.

I want a long white cane for a blind person like me who likes traveling, hiking, swimming, boating, and climbing or scrambling over rocks. I don’t actually like biking that much, but I have a double bike and want to use it sometimes. The problem is that my usual NFB type 2 long ridged fiberglass cane can not be packed away conveniently when it is not in use. I have a hard time holding on to it while climbing or crawling, and it obviously doesn’t fit on a bike with me. I want one I can throw in a backpack when I don’t need it, or as a spare in case my cane breaks while I’m a long way from home.

Yes, everyone knows there are folding canes out there. They are metal, have a plastic blob for a tip, and fold in to 4 parts. I used to use one, but can’t imagine doing so again. I am way too used to a light-weight cane. If I tried to hike with a metal one now my wrist would certainly become sore. I also remember having irritated skin from the rubber of the handles on those canes. I definitely wouldn’t want one with white tape wrapped around it to make it the correct color, because my habit of putting my cane in water would not allow it to last very long. Having only 4 sections and being metal would also make it harder to pack then I’d really like.

I have tried the telescoping carbon fiber canes. They are fantastically light-weight, very sensitive, and easy to pack. Unfortunately mine has a terrible habit of telescoping suddenly without warning when the tip hits something with slightly more force than usual. Even though I am not leaning my weight on the cane, it tends to throw me off balance a little. That isn’t so bad under normal circumstances, but is not something I want to risk when a little shift in balance could throw me over a cliff. I found that the one I have is extremely fragile as well.

I have gone inside many sporting goods stores to see what cool things exist that I couldn’t justify buying either because the stuff was extremely expensive, or because I’m not quite that into hiking, camping, boating, or whatever. I’ve seen really neat trekking poles. They were made of carbon fiber, were very light-weight and strong, collapsed in to a convenient carrying size, and had a mechanism to prevent collapsing when in use. The problem with these poles was their tips. They were usually a pretty sharp point that would dig in to the ground. That’s a useful property for a climber’s pole, but quite bad for a blind person’s cane. I need my cane tip to glide over the ground easily to find obstacles and texture, not to stick somewhere and jab me in the gut or chest. I also carry a white cane so that other people know I am blind. A hiking pole of some kind would not work for that purpose.

Now you know what I don’t want. Let me explain what I do want, and what I believe would be the perfect “sports” cane for many blind people.

I want a cane that like a climber’s pole is strong enough to take most of my weight without breaking or collapsing. It should be light-weight and packable. It must have a gliding tip, and be white for identification as a cane for a blind person. It should also be unharmed by dunks in water. It has often been a very good thing that my current fiberglass cane floats. I would prefer a plastic handle with a string of some kind to hang it up by, or occasionally to loop around my wrist for safety. And the tip should be changeable when it wares out, or to suit different people’s preferences and differing terrain. I usually like the round metal tip on my cane because it glides nicely where I usually walk, but I discovered it is not really the best tip for use in Europe where there are so many little grooves between cobblestones and outdoor tiles for it to get stuck in. I don’t know what kind of tip would be best for hiking. am sure canes could be made that would fulfill all my qualifications. I already have a cane that folds in half that fulfills all of them except being able to put it in a bakpack.

Fiber glass and carbon fiber work well for light but strong poles, but there may be materials I am unaware of that would work well. A stretchy string inside the cane could keep the pieces together when collapsed, but I believe it should not be the method by which the cane is held together when in use. The cord must be quite heavy to accomplish that, which would add weight. The cords also tend to wear out. It takes a little extra time to have segments that screw together, but this could ensure they stay assembled and the parts of the pieces that overlap could ensure that the cane would not come apart at the seams. If the pieces fit together very tightly with lots of overlap it might be sufficient to prevent it from coming apart suddenly while in use. I suspect a telescoping design could work if there were pegs to hold the cane extended when in use–a little like an umbrella’s handle. I just don’t know if that works with any material besides metal.

If you have read this far and either have a feature that should be added, or know where I could purchase a cane similar to the one I have described, please send me a tweet, a skype chat line, or send an E-mail to the username mail at this domain.

Florida Vacation

I can’t say I haven’t had any fun lately. I went to Florida for a week, and even though it wasn’t that warm by Florida standards it was a nice change from
Minnesota winter. I definitely needed something to improve my mental health.


We first visited the Homosassa Springs wildlife park, where you can see manatees and other Florida native wildlife. I even got to pet an alligator. :-) Okay, I’ll admit it. It was only a baby, and it was being held by a park volunteer.
When I was little I visited that same park and that time I got special permission to pet and feed a manatee. I kind of wanted to again, but decided I shouldn’t be a pest.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of highest grade lettuce they buy to feed the manatees.

The Gulf coast

In all the places we touched Gulf water it was extremely cold. It made my ankles hurt. I didn’t think I would end up swimming in that cold water, but should have known better. I just can’t resist water.

Sarah getting soaked in the cold seawater
I decided not to put my swimsuit on when we visited Venice Beach, because of the cold water and the annoyance of the changing rooms. I thought I’d just wade in my shorts and look for shells. I got wetter and wetter until I just flopped down in the water and started swimming. I nearly got hypothermia, but at least I wasn’t a bored and boring person. LOL I also got kind of sore feet. I’m not used to walking bare foot in February, especially not on crushed shells.

Jayden standing in the water at Venice beach

That same day I did something else I found extremely enjoyable. I climbed a banyan tree. They are so cool! they are a natural jungle-gym. They not only have many limbs, trunks, and roots to climb, but have very smooth bark, so you don’t scuff your bare skin.

Four people up in a banyan tree

I feel right at home here

Evening excitement

After our day at Venice Beach we drove pretty much to the other side of Florida. We learned that there isn’t much around when you’re on toll roads, and almost ran out of gas.
While we were eating our extremely late supper in our motel room we were startled by a bang that rattled the door. People popped out of their rooms and demanded to know why someone was pounding on their doors, and wondering what was wrong with the neighborhood. Dumb move if you ask me. LOL Patrick and I were both sure the boom was not caused by a person banging on doors, because it produced a distant echo. Soon we were told that the boom was caused by a space shuttle take-off. It was actually the shuttle’s return, which was great, because that meant that we had experienced all there is to experience of a space shuttle return. Patrick would have been disappointed if he had been so close to a shuttle take-off and hadn’t seen it.

Kennedy Space Center

The next day we went to Kennedy Space Center. It’s expensive but interesting. If you’re a blind visitor I would recommend bringing a sighted reader/describer. Your companion gets in free, and they will most likely be a better companion than the audio description device provided. The device I got was kind of large, heavy, and not of much use. It didn’t help that I had to wait in a slow line to get it, and then was told they take your credit card info and make you sign a paper allowing them to charge you $500 if you break the device. I was also given incorrect directions for using it. The woman gave me directions for using the non-English versions that are provided for translation, which have more entries than the English one does. Maybe it would be okay if you weren’t freaked out as I was when I discovered her directions didn’t work. I was hoping that the dysfunction was not something they could blame me and charge me for. I still believe a companion is necessary for describing things and reading the correct numbers to enter in to the audio device at each point in the tour.

The simulator was mildly interesting, though of course it wasn’t as exciting as they made it sound. I’d like to experience a simulator that could really make a person feel both the G forces of take-off and the weightlessness of space. :-) Yes, I know that the creation of such a thing is highly improbable.

The size of the Saturn 5 rocket is truly amazing! I also found the videos interesting. Don’t expect much from the piece of moon rock they let you touch, though. It hardly even feels like a rock–more like a piece of smooth plastic. :-) I don’t know if it was always that way, or if it’s been touched way too much.

As well as a lot of interesting facts about putting people in space, there are many animals to see in their natural environment. From the windows of our tour bus people saw alligators, armadillos, birds, manatees, and wild pigs. I had no idea eagles nests could get as big as a king-sized bed!

Atlantic coast

Another day at the beach, this time on the Atlantic side at Daytona. I love the sand there! The sand is soft and free from nasty surprises whether it is the deep untrampled sand people sit on, the wet sand lapped by the waves, or the smooth packed sand that is the road on the beach.
Again the water was cold, though I think it was a little warmer than the Gulf water this winter. I was smart and put on my swimsuit this time. I tried to body surf with and without a life jacket, but I spent more time under the waves than on top of them. That’s pretty amazing considering the extra buoyancy salt water provides.

Patrick saw a whale way out on the horizon. I Think he got a picture of it’s tail and of it spouting.

Jayden absolutely loved playing in the sand. He made simple sand castles and watched them “melt” in the waves. He didn’t mind getting wet either.

St. Augustine

The last day before the day we had to come back home was not a pretty day weather-wise. In the afternoon it got cloudy, the wind was blasting, and it was only in the 50′s. I still had a good day, though I was afraid I wouldn’t. I had scheduled a swim with dolphins that afternoon, and I was afraid that a wetsuit wouldn’t be enough, since my fingers go numb very easily in even slightly cold weather, and I get earaches from the wind.
But before I write about my dolphin swim I have to write about what Patrick and I did that morning.

We explored the fort at St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos. The fort was built by the Spanish from 1672-95, and is made out of an interesting rock called coquina. Coquina is tiny shells compacted into rock, and it absorbed cannon shells without shattering. I was able to feel a bronze model of the fort. I could really understand how the shape of the fort was different from older castles, because it was made to withstand attack by cannons and flintlock rifles instead of archers. While there on that particular day I forgot how hot Florida can be, and was only reminded by a plaque talking about the uniforms that the Spanish soldiers on guard duty had to wear despite Florida’s heat. They were made of leather and wool. Awful! I wondered how many died of heat stroke.

My Dolphin swim

By the time we arrived at Marineland it looked like it might rain. Their material said they let people swim rain or shine, but would cancel if there was a storm. We were early for once. I got colder and colder as I waited for 1:30 to come. Before getting in the pool we were given a short presentation about dolphins. We were told that Marineland cares for their dolphins in every way. They give them any medical care they need, and the dolphins will let their trainers do whatever is necessary to them. The dolphins will lay with a fin in the trainer’s lap and let blood samples be taken. The dolphins are given fish and attention when they do what the trainer wants them to do, but are ignored by the trainer if they don’t do what they are supposed to do. That kind of proves that dolphins really do like people. Being ignored is just fine with many animals.

I was given a wet suit and told it would be kind of uncomfortable and hard to put on. I actually didn’t find it bad at all. I was certain it wouldn’t fit me decently, but it was fine, even though the legs were a bit long for me. I almost wish I owned one. :-)

I was told that the pool water is sea water, and that it wouldn’t be heated, but it felt quite warm to me. Down in the pool we were out of the wind, too.

The minute I got in the pool and a dolphin came over to us I got a big smile on my face that didn’t go away for the rest of the day. I knew I would enjoy swimming with dolphins, but I didn’t know just how much I would love it. They are so incredibly smooth and gracefully shaped. It seems they sluff off all of the outer layer of skin covering their body every 2 hours.
Their mouths are directly connected to their stomach, and have nothing to do with their breathing. Still I thought they would smell fishier than they do.

the trainer told us about hand signals to try to give our dolphin, named Phoebe. She responded to all of our hand signals. The squeaking sound she made with her blow hole was very cute. Another dolphin made the sound that reeling in a fishing line would make when you pretended to do so with your hands. We rewarded them with formerly frozen small intact fish.

Marineland’s dolphins aren’t trained to tow people at any great speed through the water, but Phoebe did tow us slowly to the middle of the pool. There we put our ears under water to listen to the sound she made to echo locate people, objects, and other dolphins. It made me wonder if I could get any object location data from the sound with my head under water if I were to practice. It sure didn’t tell me anything then. :-) Even in air I’m unable to get anything like the information a dolphin can get under water, but I do “hear” walls and other objects close to me. Even with practice it could be impossible for a human to echo locate anything under water, since our ears were designed for hearing in air. Dolphins don’t have what you would call ears, but instead hear with their jaw bones, which amplify sounds underwater.

I felt extremely awkward in the deep water next to a dolphin. A dolphin would always out swim a person, but I was extremely unwieldy in saltwater, with a wet suit, and life jacket. I also nearly drown myself in my face mask. LOL For my safety I gave it to the trainer. Too bad I couldn’t have done the same with the life jacket. I think there might be such a thing as too buoyant to swim, because I’m normally very at home in deep water.

I didn’t want to leave when our half hour was up. I gave Phoebe a hug and a gentle pat goodbye. Even if you aren’t usually the sentimental animal loving type you just might fall in love with a dolphin if you got the chance to swim with one. I know I didn’t expect to, but did. :-) I would definitely recommend the experience. It’s well worth the price.

Nathan and Sarah petting dolphin Phoebe
I’m really happy that Patrick and Jayden got to interact with the dolphins a little bit, too. They threw their balls out of the pool at us, and Dad lifted Jayden up so he could throw the ball back.

I won’t bore you with the trip back home. :-)

My Thoughts on Braille Literacy

Listen to this post.

I have just finished reading an article on how the perceived importance of Braille literacy is waning. You can find the article at the following address:

My initial gut reaction to the beginning of this article was irritation that anyone could be justified in saying that Braille is basically useless and arcane. If Braille is arcane and useless, then I don’t want to hear about anyone using such primitive things as pens and notepads. It just seems wrong to say that reading and writing is unimportant. The issue is whether blind people who do not read Braille, but do effectively communicate and take in information can really be called illiterate. Technology is definitely making that a hard call to make. After all, blind people certainly would be considered illiterate if the ability to read printed material without assistance was the definition of literacy. Why should reading Braille count as literacy, but listening to recorded material, or using a computer with text to speech software to acquire the same information not be considered literacy?

I do think that illiteracy is more of a stigma than a real issue. On the other hand, I don’t think that abandoning braille literacy is a wise move. There are uses for Braille. Auditory methods of reading and writing will not work for all purposes. Reading and writing in total silence is just one of them. I often wish to, or even have to, read while using my ears for some other purpose, and it is not always acceptable to speak aloud what must be recorded for later personal use, or for use by another person. I don’t believe it matters whether you write in braille or type, however.
My brain isn’t good enough at remembering things to go completely without writing things down, but it seems some blind people are far better at memorization than I am. I could not do math or learn another language without the use of Braille, but again, there are blind people who can.

Brain scans have shown that reading Braille activates the visual cortex. This lead some people to believe that reading Braille is the only way to regain the use of that brain area. That doesn’t make much sense, though. Research has shown time and again that the human brain can change itself as necessary. 20 percent of your brain is not going to go unused just because you don’t do the things that most people do.

The second opinion expressed in the article was that organized thought is not possible for a blind person without the ability to read and write Braille. And that anything spoken can not have lasting meaning. This annoyed me just as much or more than the first opinion expressed. Darrell Shandrow may need written symbols to organize his mind, but many people simply do not. I certainly hope that what I say aloud is not meaningless. Did Jesus’ sermon on the Mount mean nothing until it was written down?

Some writing samples from non-braille readers seemed to indicate that organized and logical writing is not possible for them, but I find it hard to believe that simply not reading should make a persons thoughts disorganized. I can’t disprove the facts presented in the article, because I do not know how exactly subjects for these writing tests were chosen and tested. I tend to think that maybe the system for capturing these children’s thoughts was somehow to blame, rather than their lack of Braille literacy. I also wondered if these children were normal in the way they spoke their thoughts aloud. And were they regularly exposed to the writing of other people in the form of books read aloud to them? I would think that auditory reading would be equivalent to Braille reading, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

I know that my writing becomes somewhat disorganized when I am forced to dictate what I wish to be written. When it is read back to me I often wonder if I was that inept in expressing my thoughts in an orderly manner, or if some of the fault lay in the listening or writing skill of the person who took down my dictation.
Is there a chance that what these children really lack is actually writing ability instead of reading ability? Writing seems to clarify my thoughts, but writing with a computer is as good as writing in Braille for me.

It seems totally unacceptable to me that people should judge others as illiterate and ignorant, just because they can not read from paper. Does a knowledge of spelling and formatting bring enlightenment? I sure wouldn’t know. I’m a braille reader who can’t pass a spelling test. :)
I don’t think that Fredric Schroeder is either stupid or unable to understand language just because he didn’t realize that “dissent” and “descent” are spelled differently. I’m sure he did not think that dissenters were people who lowered themselves over cliffs.

I do know that many visual and tactile readers miss pronounce words that audio readers can say without any problem. There is also a great deal of variation in reading comprehension, no matter what the means of reading might be.
My reading comprehension was tested and found to be just fine with either audio or Braille material, but I think I do comprehend just a little bit better with audio material. I get the big picture better that way. If I need minute detail, then I need braille. I simply will not absorb large numbers if I only hear them.

Punctuation and formatting are somewhat more useful, in my experience, but correct stress and pausing when information is read aloud can represent the punctuation pretty well. Now modern technology can even make formatting and document structure known to an audio-only reader.

In conclusion, I believe that Braille is an extremely useful tool for the blind, and should not be considered unnecessary. Yet, to conclude that anyone who is unable to read Braille must be unread, inarticulate, or ignorant is ridiculous. The ability to effectively use technology is probably a more valuable skill in today’s world than the ability to read Braille, but Braille can help a blind person immensely.