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It is rather amazing just how many local and regional information, support and assistance entities there are in any community. All one has to do is step out and look for them! It is definitely not easy to initially locate information, support, or assistance groups, but they are there: in private and public agencies or foundations, in various church programs, in local and regional service clubs, and often in the form of community volunteer programs.

Sometimes assistance comes in the form of a previously known entity, like your local phone company's 411 operator or the many guide dog schools. Sometimes one can locate such groups by networking with various individuals or community liaisons, or by simply finding someone to look through the local phone book with you. (Look under the listings here entitled Independent Living Centers or ILC's, because these agencies are some of the best information and assistance services available to persons with disabilities.)

Remember that to find a needed service or item, everyone in this world has to act in a proactive manner; EVERYONE has to move forth and address their own individual needs in some way. The real key to being vision impaired and doing more than just surviving is being proactive in your own behalf. Getting out and looking for resources in your own community is assuredly one of the best ways to find assistance, new friends, and a new world of positive contacts. Listed below are several opportune contacts to help you get out and get going in a variety of ways; go for it.


Audio Yellow Pages

Provided by Voice Access Communications, Inc.
Dial: (888) 654-1236

Dialing this toll-free number at any time allows persons with disabilities (not just the blind or vision impaired) to find contact information on over 10 million businesses located anywhere in the Nation. Before this service, it was nearly impossible for those without access to print to locate a number for a business, especially if the exact spelling of the business name was not known. (Refer to the Dial O and 411 Waiver section for general information on 411 accessibility.) Using the Audio Yellow Pages is so simple, it's wonderful!

Any caller can use the voice activated system or use the corresponding numbers to negotiate the system. There are several options available at the onset of a call, such as a demonstration of the system, establishing your password, or looking up a specific business contact by stating the area and type of business desired. First time callers must establish a password; from then on, simply start out by saying "look up" and you can locate your desired business's address, phone number, and other minor details. Give it a try; and have no fear! Audio Yellow Pages is absolutely free!

Dial O and 411 Waiver For The Blind

In all 50 States and U.S. territories, telecommunications companies, and in particular local telephone companies, are required by Federal Communications Code (FCC) statutes to provide equal access to the general information systems that they own or utilize. Any vision impaired and documented caller using their own phone (or cell phone) MUST be allowed equal access to the 411 general information system which that company maintains or provides. Additionally, the use of operator assistance by such print-disabled users must also be provided at no charge (because many newly blind and elderly phone users may have great difficulty in negotiating the use of their phones). Put simply then, for those phone subscribers who are documented as legally blind or vision impaired, there can be no fee charged for the use of the information system or operator assistance. Nearly all phone companies however, require some sort of documentation by the vision impaired phone subscriber before they are allowed these free services.

Every phone subscriber in the nation pays a small access fee that is attached to the taxes and other charges section of their bill. This funding source is what pays for programs such as the 411 Waiver Program and the Dial O Assistance Program, and many other types of adaptive equipment which can provide persons with disabilities equal access to phone systems in our nation. Sadly however, many persons who are newly disabled or blind never learn of or are not notified about the existence of such services, equipment, or programs that these charges fund.

Generally, the 411 and Dial O Waiver Program is managed by a separate section of each phone company, such as a Special Needs or Deaf and Disabled Department. To find out about your phone company's policies on such waivers and what is necessary to register, ask your local phone provider's Customer Service Representative or 411 operator to give you the Special Needs or related Department.

Upon your documentation and registry, remind the billing agents that they must remove any previous charges for informational and assistance services. Let them know that as long as you have been a vision impaired subscriber of the phone company, you cannot be charged for 411 or operator assistance. Be polite but firm, as often it is necessary to educate the very agents that are involved with these services.


Guide Dog Schools

(a partial list of schools)

There are at least a dozen dog-guide (or guide dog) schools in the nation and each may be a little different in the types of dogs bred, raised or trained, how they instruct their dog-guide users, how graduates interact with their school, and how each school deals with issues concerning dog ownership. Each of the schools are separate unaffiliated agencies and some may have more than one campus or training area. Most schools do not charge fees for their dogs or training; or if they do, the cost is usually low to accommodate their students.

Guide Dog Users of America or GDUA is a consumer group affiliated with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and is composed of dog-guide users who advocate the use of dog-guides in their individual areas. Calling them may give some personal hints as to the nature of the various dog-guide schools and their resulting teams. Local Chapters of GDUA may be reached by calling the ACB National Office at (202) 467-5081.

With the establishment of the ADA and the rising use of "service animals," it is important to understand what using a dog guide in your community will mean. Asking dog-guide users is one way to look into potential schools, though users are VERY loyal to their respective schools, so it is important to really check out a potential school. There is also an informational tape produced by the US Council of Dog Guide Schools, which may be obtained by contacting their website , though the tape only describes Council member schools. (An asterisk before the name of a school on the below list denotes Council affiliation.)

The relationship between a dog-guide and its handler is very special and will probably last for years, so be conscientious in your research and final selection. It is probably best to contact each school if possible and an abbreviated list of schools in the US and Canada follows.

Abbreviated Dog Guide Schools List:

Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind
Canine Vision Canada
Eye Dog Foundation of Arizona
* Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation - Bloomfield, Connecticut
Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind
* Guide Dogs of the Desert - Palm Springs, California
* Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind - Smithtown, New York
* Guide Dogs for the Blind - San Rafael, California
* Guide Dogs of America - Silamar, California
* Guiding Eyes for the Blind - Yorktown Heights, New York
Kansas Specialty Dog Service
* Leader Dogs for the Blind - Rochester, Michigan
* Pilot Dogs - Columbus, Ohio
* Southeastern Guide Dogs - Palmetto, Florida
* The Seeing Eye - Morristown, New York


Lions Club, International

Oregon Main Office, Eugene: (541) 484-0452

Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation

Each local and State Lions Club has the same mandate and purpose as does the overall international organization. Simply stated, in honor and memory of Helen Keller, the entire Lions Club organization "shall be the knights of the blind." Accordingly, the general mandate for each community's club is to assist local (as well as through national programs) persons with blindness or visual impairments with their unmet needs, whenever possible.

Occasionally, local Lions Club members need to be reminded of their mandated obligation, as they may not actually be familiar with their local blind community or the related issues. Because persons who are vision impaired do not compose a large percentage of the local population or business community, occasional lack of awareness on the part of some Lions Clubs may be expected; there are also few blind members in local mainstream Lions Clubs. Often local clubs are made up of business folks and prominent local citizens, meaning that they are probably not aware of the varied issues within the visual disability arena. The frequent result may be that local clubs miss their community's vision-impaired population and concentrate on the annual "Sight Saving" and "White Cane Week" fundraising programs, which send funds and eyeglasses to the main headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas for disbursal. These are worthy programs but rarely help local blind and visually impaired persons.

Realizing this, it may be up to individual proactive blind or visually impaired persons to approach their local Lions Club or chairperson and inquire about their assistance, grant, or programs criteria. Upon inquiry, you just may find a slightly more informed group than described above, or you may have a great opportunity to inform your local
Lions members about vision impairment and how they might assist you and your peers. Every community's club is different and is composed of members who probably have the best of intentions. Perhaps if you contact them directly, their funds will follow their intentions and fulfill your needs. Check your local phone book under Lions Club, International or call your Chamber of Commerce for contact information.


Northwest ADA/IT Center (Portland)

Disability Information & Business Technical Assistance Center
(503) 494-4001 (800) 949-4232

The NW ADA/IT Center is a clearinghouse for issues that involve access as it relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act (or the ADA). This law and its associated set of statutes is often misinterpreted and misunderstood by individuals with disabilities as well as by the general public and business community. NW ADA/IT handles many incoming calls and also quite frequently holds local ADA training sessions for the public and business community.

Having the phone and E-mail contact information for the NW ADA/IT Center is important, because if you feel discriminated against based on your disability and need to find a local ADA specialist, they may be the best advocates. If you feel discriminated against or have been disallowed access to a public place, call the NW ADA/IT Center for assistance.


Learning Ally

20 Roszel Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
(800) 221-4792

One of the most difficult aspects for a visually impaired post-secondary student to negotiate is getting their required textbooks. (If you enjoy reading and are blind, visually impaired, or print impaired, refer also to the Oregon State Braille and Talking Book Library.) With more than 90,000 selections, nearly all common undergraduate college textbooks used in the country are available through Learning Ally. Their list of technical vocational and graduate level textbooks is also extensive; Learning Ally is a must for vision impaired post-secondary students.

Learning Ally tapes are in National Library Services NLS) format, and the players sent out by the state libraries are compatible and extremely useful to students because of the variable speed selector switch, which allows students to speed-read their textbooks. Learning Ally also has many E-texts on computer disc, and these are often for sale for permanent use.

Generally your Disabled Student Services Office on campus can assist you in registering with Learning Ally, but one does not necessarily need to do things in this manner. If you have a certifiable disability, merely call the Learning Ally number from 8:30AM to 4:30PM Eastern Time on weekdays. There is a one-time registration and administration fee of $75. This allows you to order books, use their bibliography services, have texts taped for future classes, and access other benefits like their scholarship program.


Refinance and Mortgage Guide for People with Disabilities

The people at provide a mortgage and refinance guide for people with disabilities. The guide is available as both text and audio. Go to the guide.



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