Oh, Pu-leeeze!

The Obama Administration sent out a memo today to ticket holders who are planning to take their children to the 135th annual White House Easter Egg Roll that says:

“by using these tickets, guests are acknowledging that this event is subject to cancellation due to funding uncertainty surrounding the Executive Office of the President and other federal agencies.”

Air Force military honors (flyovers) for veterans funerals and personnel killed in action: cancelled.

Show Tours–which are positive image builders for the US Military–for the Blue Angels, already cancelled or (for any shows not yet cancelled) on indefinite hold; for the Thunderbirds–cancelled.

Tours of the White House: cancelled.

And the list goes on.

All of these are due to “funding uncertainty.”

So where’s the memo saying President Obama has put a moratorium on his playing golf? Oh — wait — he should golf, according to NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because it helps build social relationships.

Huh. Isn’t that the same argument behind what established and maintained the Easter Egg Roll, military honors, show tours, and White House Tours?

Oh! I get it! Those don’t those count because they’re to promote the common good! Golfing is a sacrosanct presidential entitlement, don’t I get the difference?

No, I don’t.

I’m all for cutting back, but I guess I’m one of those stupid idiots who thinks that maybe our nation’s leader should lead the way by making a personal example — instead of making an example out of everyone else.

The sequester that’s the “reason” for all these cuts? It’s all about a tiny rollback of the amount of increase in the federal budget. Put another way, it’s all about a reduction in the increase–an increase that is way beyond the increase that any of us commoners are getting in, oh, say, cost-of-living increases (if anyone is getting those still).

Get. Real.

Yeah, I’m annoyed. But guess what? I’m not the only one.

And for a little historical perspective: Calvin Coolidge was the only president who actually cut the federal budget–made a true decrease–during his tenure in office.

Guess what activity President Coolidge didn’t cut?

 Grace Coolidge holding her pet raccoon, Rebecca, at the 1925 White House Easter Egg Roll

Yeah. The Easter Egg Roll.

(Pictured: First Lady Grace Coolidge holding her pet raccoon, Rebecca, at the 1925 White House Easter Egg Roll)

Help Students Read!

Help the print disabled read!

Imagine going to the New York Public Library, or any public library–or even a bookstore–and finding to your dismay that ninety-five out of every one hundred books there are written in a language you don’t know. You can’t get anyone to translate them into a language you understand. Resources are too scarce to allocate time and money and energy to make materials available to everyone. Oh, and to make things worse? There isn’t any way for you to learn the language all those books are printed in, either.

That’s what it’s like every single day when you’re print disabled. At most, five percent–five out of a hundred–of books that are published ever become available in a form that a print disabled individual can access.

Think, for a moment, what that means to a student. For every 100 required textbooks their teachers will assign, only 5–at best–are available to a print disabled child in a form they can read.

Enter Bookshare.

Bookshare’s goal is

“to raise the floor of access so that people with print disabilities can obtain a broad spectrum of print materials at the same time as everyone else.”

Bookshare tackles this goal three ways:

  • “Building the Bookshare digital library as rapidly as possible through Volunteers, partnerships, and publishers.
  • Spreading the word so that everyone who is eligible to join Bookshare has the opportunity to do so.
  • Expanding the choices of access technology available for people with print disabilities. Bookshare is leveraging new technological developments that make reading digital books easier.”

As of today, over 167,000 books are available in a variety of accessible forms to the print disabled. Every single title is available as a DAISY talking book, an MP3, a browser-readable XML file, and in electronic braille.

Every. Single. Book.

(Printed braille books can be created, too, on a demand basis.)

For students (in the United States): membership is free. Not only is electronic access to every book in the collection free to students, Bookshare will also scan any textbook a print-disabled student needs for a class at no charge. The funding to cover student memberships and get books into accessible formats for them comes from an award by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Currently, over 200,000 students are Bookshare members. That’s almost a quarter of a million minds that now have not five percent but one hundred percent of the textbooks that a student needs for their education available to them.

It’s a staggering thought.

Bookshare also offers memberships to print disabled individuals who aren’t students, at a cost of $50 a year (plus an additional $25 the first year in set-up charges). If the member can’t afford that, they can volunteer to help, in a variety of ways, earning credits that are applied against their membership. In situations where an individual can’t volunteer because of personal circumstances, other volunteers chip in their own credits to cover the memberships.

You don’t have to be print disabled to volunteer. Just the opposite. Everyone is welcome, with open arms. Volunteers scan books, proofread books, and (if sighted) have the opportunity to describe images that are in books so they are understandable to readers.

How amazing is that?

If you know a print disabled student, I urge you to make sure they, their parents and their school knows about Bookshare. You can visit Bookshare’s site for more information. If you’d like to volunteer by scanning or proofreading books, or describing images–anyone with a computer can volunteer, although completed books are only available to the print disabled–go read their page about volunteering, and jump in.

If you’d like a membership yourself, because you have a qualifying print disability, you can find out how to join on Bookshare’s website.

It’s a good organization. Worth your time. What they do helps make the world a better place.

Trust me on this one. I know.

I’m print disabled.

Toxic Injury Awareness and Education Month

Here in Wisconsin, our Governor has proclaimed May “Toxic Injury Awareness and Education Month.” Lest you think, Oh Best Beloved, that our State stands alone in this, the Governors of at least twenty other States this year alone have also officially similarly proclaimed May as the month in which to raise awareness and provide education about Toxic Injury, Chemical Injury and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. In the past eight years, the Governors of over thirty-five States have issued proclamations recognizing the need for education on and awareness of chemical injury, toxic injury and MCS.

If you’re not familiar with chemical injury, here’s some key points about this devastating illness:

  • Toxic injury is often characterized by a heightened sensitivity to very small amounts of air pollution, mold, petrochemicals and other toxins found in our everyday environment, this sensitivity being called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), chemical injury or toxic injury.
  • Toxic injury is a chronic, debilitating and sometimes life-threatening biologically-based (i.e., physical) condition for which there is no known cure, causing serious financial, employment, learning, housing, health, social and other consequences.
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is recognized by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and other state and federal governmental agencies, which have supported the health and welfare of people with this condition. The Veterans Administration, as documented in the VA’s report on GWS, released Monday, Nov. 17th, 2008, specifically states when discussing the cause of Gulf War Syndrome that “It is well established that some people are more vulnerable to adverse effects of certain chemicals than others, due to variability in biological processes that neutralize those chemicals, and clear them from the body.”

As part of our own personal contribution to Toxic Injury Awareness and Education Month, I’m going to direct you to a new article written by Michael and I that is now on our website: What’s So Tough About Home Repairs, Maintenance And Construction? It’s not easy when you’re living with a family member who has chemical injury.”

We hope you find it both educational and informative!

Thanksgiving

Amidst all the other items for which we gave thanks this year on Thanksgiving, I have a special item for which I am grateful:

Accessible books.

I can’t read printed books. I can’t repetitively flip pages, or hold a book open. Even if I could, many books are moldy or have other problems such as disgusting modern inks that give me migraines and asthma. Prior to becoming disabled, I was a voracious reader, inhaling books to the tune of one or two daily.

Since the early 1990s, I’ve read by getting “Talking Books.” The National Library for the Blind and Disabled provides the “Talking Books” service (books on tape), and has hundreds of thousands of unabridged books available to its patrons – at no charge.

It’s a great service. Truly.

But.

Imagine a world in which millions of books have been published. You, the reader, can only get books that a panel has decided should be made available to you. Resources are limited. One must understand.

One does.

Truly.

It’s like any other public library – the collection is limited by the resources at hand, and someone has to decide which books enter the collection.

Normally, when a reader can’t find a book they want at a library, they can purchase any type of desired reading. However, while both new and used books are widely available, finding an accessible unabridged copy of a book is a tad more difficult. And expensive, even if one exists.

Enter Bookshare.

Bookshare is

an online community [that] enables book scans to be shared, thereby leveraging the collections of thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication of effort. Bookshare.org takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for the disabled.

The majority of books on Bookshare.org – over 40,000 titles now – are there because an individual with a disability – most often a volunteer – decided to share that book with the rest of the community.

Wrap your head around this, Oh Best Beloved: my friend, M, scanned over 400 printed books this last year as a volunteer for Bookshare. I could hug her to bits because a chunk of that total included books that she scanned specifically for me – books that I never would have had the chance to read otherwise.

M, by the way, is also disabled. She’s blind, as are most of Bookshare’s volunteers. She scans books using a standard flatbed scanner and then uses an optical character recognition program (OCR) to translate the books into a rich text format file. Another volunteer proofreads (or validates, in Bookshare terminology) the contents of the file. Bookshare’s staff then translates the file into electronic braille files and into special DAISY html files that both blind readers and sighted disabled readers, like myself, can download and read on any personal computer.

How cool is that?

So, on the occasion of Thanksgiving I want to say: thank you, M, and thank you, all the other volunteers and staff at Bookshare. What you are doing is amazing.

If you’d like to learn more about Bookshare, you can visit their site for more information. If you’d like to volunteer to help out by scanning or proofreading books – anyone with a computer can volunteer, although completed books are only available to the disabled – go read their page about volunteering.

It’s a good organization. Worth your time. What they do helps make the world a better place.

Trust me on this one. I know.

The End of the Rainbow

Rainbow at twilight behind wind turbine

Last Monday, even though it was raining, we decided to take a drive to find the new wind farm that was completed this summer in northeast Wisconsin. The wind farm was designed to generate 145 megawatts (MW) of electricity from 88 Vestas wind turbines, which means it’s capable of powering about 36,000 homes. In practical terms, that means that this wind field alone generates enough power to provide the electricity for two out of every hundred residences in Wisconsin.

Sounds like a winner to me.

Right as we approached, the sun came out from a break in the clouds behind us, creating a spectacular rainbow arching over the wind turbines.

Awesome.