This New App Could Be a Game-Changer for Braille Users

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Thanks to a team of Stanford University students, people with visual impairments now have access to a free braille-writing app. iBrailler Notes allows iPad users to use their fingers to communicate.

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A braille keyboard can cost more than $1,000, according to Wired.com. iBrailler is free. The app creates customized keyboard layouts based on the users’s hand positions and allows them to type in both braille and English.

Ed Summers, a blind computer engineer who works with visually impaired students and teachers, told Wired.com that the app has great potential for classroom use.

Now [visually impaired students] can use an iPad and they’re the cool kid,” he said. “They have the coolest technology in the classroom.”

iBrailler features customizable design options. The typing screen is free of buttons and can be adjusted to different color schemes and font sizes. The app features a traditional eight key layout but lets users determine the arrangement of the keys by repositioning their fingers. Using the audio feedback feature, users can hear what they type and make edits in real time.

The app supports English Braille Grade 1 and 2, and Six-Dot Computer Braille. Users can choose to pay a monthly subscription fee to access additional features, such as additional languages. You can download the app from the Apple Store.

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Why My Great Grandpa’s Fall Is One of My Favorite Memories

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I just read a wonderful story about a stranger who became a friend by helping a mother struggling to clean up her lovely child after he had an accident at Walmart. I would like to share my story, too.

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My family all lives in Ogallala, Nebraska. Our population runs about 5,000, and I can honestly say this is one of the best hometowns to have. If you’ve ever meet a Nebraskan, they can tell you that we are friendly, neighborly, Husker-loving individuals who aren’t afraid to stop and help someone in need.

Less than a year ago my Great-Grandpa Al became ill. He’d been battling bone cancer and had fallen and broke his hip. Grandpa and his daughter, my grandmother Maria, who likes to be called “Nana,” decided it would be best if he stayed with her until he was healthy enough to go back home.

Nana is in her mid-50s and uses a cane to get around, so you can see the potential problem. I usually assisted them to the doctor’s office, helped deliver checks to pay the bills and was generally the first response team when someone had fallen. I loved spending extra time with Nana and Grandpa when I could, but just like any other college freshman, I had to get a job to pay for classes and living expenses. I couldn’t always be around to help them out in sticky situations.

One day last summer, it was time for one of Grandpa’s checkups. I was at work so I couldn’t come over to help them to the office. Nana has to hold the doors open for Grandpa while he does his best to make it out the door with his walker. There’s one step to get from the door to the ground; this step was always the hardest part of getting Grandpa to the car. Without someone there to spot him, he lost his balance and fell into the grass. Nana immediately stepped out to help him, but she also fell into the grass.

They were unable to get up. Nana’s first instinct was to grab her phone to call me, but at the time she didn’t have my work number. Before she could think of someone else to call, the neighbor across the street was right there to help. He was outside mowing his lawn when he noticed them on the ground. He helped them back up, got them to the car and didn’t leave until they were out of the driveway.

Our family is so thankful that God had sent such a wonderful guardian angel in the form of their neighbor, who was also my former employer. We still keep in touch now and again. His son and my previous step dad where wrestling buddies, and his eldest daughter and I worked together in his establishment. He is truly an inspiration.

Grandpa Al passed away at the end of August, and I will always cherish the memories I have. Everything from road trips to visit my dad when I was young, to the last smile he gave me the night before his passing. This story is the best memory of them all and has inspired me to always stop and help someone who needs it. I’ve stopped my schedule to help my elderly neighbor shovel his sidewalk, pulled over to make sure a crying child was taken care of and will continue to do good — always keeping Grandpa Al and his guardian angel in my heart.

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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To the Teacher Who Instilled a Disney Dream in Me I Never Quite Shook

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IMG_8104883476656 Growing up as a kid in the early 90’s was a time of uncertainty for my parents. I was born with a genetic visual impairment and a developmental delay (mostly because I could barely see a damn thing). So the transition to school was a bit of a pain.

I hated being different. I hated the lefty scissors, I hated my grippy pencils and the lack of seeing what the teacher was reading during circle time. I hated that kids started to notice something wrong with my eyes. I hated being beat up by the neighborhood bullies. School was pretty much one big let down for me.

I became what I still call a “kindergarten flunker,” only instead of being held back, I was moved into Pre-first grade, a sort of purgatory for the kids too smart for kindergarten but not quite ready for first grade.

Even as a kid, I had my worries as to how long it would take me to graduate. When I was 7, I figured out that I would be 29 if every other grade level I had to take had a “pre” before it. In my mind, I was doomed for failure. Sent to the “special room” with the kid who would crap his pants and that annoying girl who worshipped the ground I walked on and would sing the SpaghettiOs song over and over again.

My first day of Purgatory, I met Mr. Bittle, a large gent who always had a smile on his face and a joke or two, like Uncle Joey from “Full House” but more epic.

The one thing that caught my attention was his classroom theme.

Disney.

Everything Disney — the books, the toys, the cubbies, the counting squares, the walls, the chore chart, everything was Disney. Mostly Mickey and Minnie.

I fell in love with what I thought would be my own personal hell.

Every morning during circle time, he would sing the Mickey Mouse March, only he would change the words to “Mickey Rat.” His reason was always, “Because mice are small and rats are huge!”

He gave each and every one of us his undivided attention no matter was going on — whether it be a temper tantrum from a classmate, or me learning how to write and see what I was actually doing, or whatever issues so-and-so had with potty training. He took the time for each of us and never once did that smile leave his face.

My birthday that year was one of the first of the group. Mr. Bittle would do a small speech on how well the birthday kid was doing and always gave them a gift based on something that person was talented in. If Johnny loved race cars and ran fast in gym, for example, little Johnny got a Hot Wheels car.

My gift was a Mickey Mouse button.

“Amanda, you are a creative spirit, your drawings and stories and ultimate Disney knowledge makes you my Disney buddy and official Mouseketeer. I can see you working for Disney. Never give up on that dream.”

Mr. Bittle sadly died a few months later from cancer. A crushing blow to me. But I kept going. That Disney dream is worth the chase. Being different has its advantages.

So I made it through college and became a Paraprofessional, following in Mr. Bittle’s footsteps, and in the back of my mind, I wanted to go back to that dream.

Two years ago, I applied to Disney… and got accepted.

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A 23-year-old dream come true.

Some say it’s destiny; others say it’s through hard work and determination.

Either way you slice it, it’s proof that dreams never die as long as you learn to defy the odds and keep going.

I hope in some way, I made Mr. B proud. Although I’m far from the Imagineer he wanted me to be, it’s safe to say I found my destiny.

Thank you, Mr. B.

Love always,
Your Mouseketeer

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The First Time I Saw My Daughter in a Wheelchair

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Thursday was the big day. I actually thought we were just measuring my daughter, Adelaide, so I mentally prepared for her being fussy while I answered a bunch of questions about what she can and can’t do. I physically prepared by bringing snacks upon snacks. I wore my favorite scarf because it makes me feel gorgeous.

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But then he said, “I brought a chair for her to try out. The vendor dropped it off. It’s too small for her, but you can see what we are looking at for Addie.” I responded with the fakest enthusiasm I could muster. I was not ready to see Adelaide in the chair, all strapped in and not walking.

I was all smiles and overly positive. “Awesome. This is great. You’re such a big girl. This is great! What fun! Look at you, so big in that chair! This is so great!” The moment I’d been dreading for more than two years was here, and I was not ready.

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I felt like I’d given up our dream of walking. And then I felt guilty because we have friends whose children will never walk. And so what? What if Adelaide never walks? The world doesn’t end. I realized that I’ve placed some finish line in my mind. Like walking is the end-all milestone. Like walking validates all the therapy. Like walking makes up for everything she can’t do. But it’s just motion. It’s not a measure of her life. Or her impact on everyone around her.

But the chair, it will improve all our lives. We’ll be able to go places that can’t accommodate her stroller. Adelaide will be able to sit at tables when we go to Chick-fil-A. She’ll be able to see things from a different vantage point. She will, hopefully, be able to steer it herself and have some independence.

And maybe we will get to experience Adelaide walking, and maybe we won’t. If we do, we’re having a bumblebee party. A huge party.

But I’m done fixating on bipedal locomotion. Adelaide is more than legs. And she deserves a mom who believes in her but sees walking for what it is: a skill. And a wheelchair for what it is: a tool.

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This post originally appeared on TheBallews.com.

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To My Son, You Don’t Have Control Over Life, But You Can Control This

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It’s 12:30 a.m., and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m awake and sitting on your feet. The pressure seems to give you comfort and keep the cramps at bay. Every time I get up, you wake. So I’m sitting here, wondering if you’ll ever get relief and what choices you’ll make if you don’t.

Life is complicated and confusing. It sends mixed messages and tries to trick us. It can make us feel both blessed and cursed at the same time. You don’t fully understand what Dystonia means. But I do, and I know it will do all of these things in your life. I’m scared that I already see the impact of life’s harsh realities making you grasp for control of things you can’t have control over. It scares me and puts me on high alert as a mom. Right now you’re in possibly one of the hardest periods you’ve ever been through. Your symptoms are making your life hard, and the meds to help you are only making it worse. They give you convulsions, anaphylaxis or hives. My job as your mommy is to get you a diagnosis, seek the best doctors and get you access to all available treatment. But right now, I’m really, really scared. You see, my powers to do theses things are running out. This terrifies me. All I can do is love you, hold your hand and sit on your feet in the middle of the night.

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I’m sorry to tell you that you live in the real world in a way other kids your age do not. A world you know can be harsh and daunting. It can honestly be flat-out scary, even for grown ups. It’s unfair, unjust and relentless. You will have pain and frustration that others will never be able to understand. You will have no control over so much in life. But you will still have choices over your situation, even when I do not.   No matter how hard life gets, you will always have choices.

It’s important you know that none of us have control over life’s circumstances. People get cancer and have car accidents. Children every day are told they have autism and dyslexia. People have infertility and surprise unwanted pregnancies. People can lose everything in a fire or win everything in the lottery. Sometimes it feels like the cosmic forces are just spinning the wheel of destiny to make things happen. Please remember this when you wonder why this is happening to you. It isn’t. It’s happening to all of us.   Every single person will feel singled out by life’s circumstance at some point. It’s part of the human experience.

What I hope you learn and what I hope I can teach you is that you have so much more control than you think you do. You can always control choice. Control over your life is a mindset, not a reality. No one has the kind of control you seek. All we can do is assess the situation we’ve been handed and make choices. So make choices… good choices. Choose to see the good. Choose compassion and hard work. Choose open-mindedness and acceptance. Choose positivity, and when things get tough choose to look around for perspective. Choose kindness and persistence. Choose happiness. Keep your chin up, and learn how to dominate adversity by extracting the lessons from it. These are the choices that will make you a man, a father and a husband. These are the choices that determine how your life will be judged. When your life has passed its final day, no one will care that you had Dystonia. They will care that you were a good person and that you made their life better for having been in it. I  hope you choose to make a positive impact on the world.

Please know that I don’t care how old you get; I am Mommy, and I will be here beside you. I will help in any way imaginable. But the day is coming when all I will be able to do is help. It is your life, not mine. I can’t make you happy, and I can’t control the thoughts in your head. I can’t require you to have inner strength. I can’t control how you feel and how you treat people. These things are all on you. These are the choices that you can control. Never ever forget that. Life will throw some unexpected things at you. But you — and only you — will get to decide how to react.

Whatever happens, whatever choices you make, know this: I will always choose you and your brother. I will love you, and I will support you, even beyond my last breath. So while the cosmic forces are busy making whatever plans they have for you, know that I’ll still be here. And know that I will still choose you.

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A Book in the Hospital Chapel Changed the Way I Saw Our Loud Roommate

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The little boy on the other side of the curtain was a new intake and our new roommate. Soft-spoken and sweet, he was ushered in with a herd of women: aunties, grannies, Mama and sisters.

It was 2 o’clock in the morning, and by the shrill volume of their voices, they must have believed they were at a horse track cheering Casino Wheels into the homestretch. An interpreter loudly translated the boy’s diabetic specifications, HMO policies, schedules, diet and meds. These were his needs.

What we needed was sleep. It had only been a week since we were given the devastating news that our 4-month-old baby girl had cystic fibrosis (CF). It was one of those diseases you read about in the mail. They send a picture of a cute kid with a slightly pathetic smile and a letter from his dad begging you to give money for the cure. This was us now. We were the family in an envelope begging for a cure.

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Before we had a chance to accept this reality, we were admitted to the children’s hospital. Our little girl was sick. She needed a blood transfusion, enzymes to digest food and vitamins pumped directly into her veins. We were terrified and coping, but more than anything, we needed sleep.

The little boy on the other side of the curtain watched cartoons while the women in his life fought for every detail of his care with loud, cheetah calls. On the television, a coyote chased a roadrunner, with “meee meeps,” and “beee beeps.” I put the pillow over my head and dreamed of anywhere else but here. It was the middle of the night, and yet in a hospital, this was just another hour spent fixing someone’s glucose, skinned knee or cancer.

It’s hard to feel sorry for other people when you’re struggling with your own stuff. I needed rest. My baby needed rest. And I didn’t care about this kid, his loud aunties or the obnoxious interpreter. I grabbed my tiny babe and a couple blankets and left the room, giving everyone a harsh look as I left. If there was one time in my life where I was allowed to be selfish, this was it.

We followed the yellow-painted feet to the dark side of the hallway, where the respirators never rest. These patients were in isolation and had their own rooms, and I silently envied them. At least they were getting some sleep, even if it was to the hum of metal lungs. After ten rounds of circling the fifth floor, we slipped into the elevator and hit down.

A hospital main floor is like a mall after closing. It holds the ghosts of the day and never really feels empty. When I was in Campfire Girls, the local mall in Des Moines, Iowa, they let 400 girls spend the night. It was a dreamland for an 8-year-old, like Barbie coming to life or magically being given the ability to fly. We ate egg rolls, cherry slushies and watched the movie The Dark Crystal at 3 o’clock in the morning. The best part of a mall at 3:00 a.m. is that you aren’t supposed to be there. And as I walked the halls of the children’s hospital, 20 years later, I felt that same excitement of doing something forbidden.

We’d broken out of our room, and this place was ours.

We passed the McDonald’s, the lobby, a coffee stand. We nodded to the janitors as they politely turned off their vacuums for my sleeping baby. They gave us gentle nods, and I appreciated their empathy.

The room I finally entered was about the size of a utility closet. It had an alter, a bible and a place to kneel. There was even a stained-glass window, and the light illuminated the dollhouse church like an Alice in Wonderland cathedral. It felt surreal and peaceful. I couldn’t help but think I was supposed to be here. For some reason because of the intake and lack of sleep, this place was what I needed.

On the table I found a book and a pen attached with a metal string. I thought it was a guest book, like at a wedding or funeral. But this was a book of prayers written by people who, like me, found themselves alone in a utility closet church, wondering how in the world they ended up here.

These were some of their prayers:

“Dear God,

I know I haven’t been a good Catholic, but my baby is sick. She has cancer. We don’t know if she will make it. Dear God, please do not punish her. She has done nothing wrong. If you are mad at me for not believing, please take me.”

“Dear God,

I don’t understand.”

“Dear God,

Please do not let my sister die. If you have to kill someone, take me. I’m older.”

And this one broke my heart the most:

“Dear God,

Our baby has suffered so much in this life. I know you will take better care of her in the next one.”

I didn’t write anything in the book. But I did pray. I said over and over, “Please God, please God, please God,” — for my baby, for the little boy on the other side of the curtain, for all the children in the hospital who were suffering and for all those mommies whose worlds came crumbling down with a diagnosis. The sorrow I felt for myself lifted. This was not just about us.

In other people’s prayers I found heartbreaking peace.

We took the elevator upstairs to the fifth floor where our roommate was sleeping. His television was on –- the coyote still chasing the roadrunner. His aunties, Mama, grandmas and sisters had gone, and he suddenly looked tiny in this hospital bed without an entourage. He was just a boy, small, sick and alone.

I felt responsible for him. He wasn’t a disruption; he was somebody’s baby.

The next day I introduced myself and told our new neighbor if there was anything he needed, we were here to help.

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

Want to celebrate the human spirit? Like us on Facebook.

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