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The Tactile Traveler 7 - Accessibility Tech, Guide Dog Assembly Lines & More
Kansas Sebastian /Flickr

On this month's program we explore social distancing when you can't see six feet, or even at all, Philly Touch Tours, guide dog assembly lines and much, much more. You can find a link to the show's full transcript by clicking the headline.

You can find a full transcript of this show by clicking the link below:

Tactile Traveler 7 Transcript Link

Or continue reading below:

The Tactile Traveler Script Show #7
Nick Isenberg


I’M Nick Isenberg.

When blind people go places, we don’t experience things like our sighted friends. We don’t see beautiful mountains, or romantic sunsets. The goal of this program is to identify and even create experiences that are more meaningful, or just more fun for us and for our sighted traveling companions.  Frequently as people lose their eyesight, they become more and more isolated.

The Tactile Traveler hopes to empower people not only to go literally around the world, but around the block to new adventures in their lives.

Blind ranges from people who are visually impaired and glasses and contact lenses no longer help them to live a normal life, to people like me who are totally blind. And to sighted parents who have a blind child to blind parents who have sighted children. And, people of all ages, interests and physical abilities. 

On today’s program:

Help with social distancing; when you can’t see six feet, or even at all.

A better way to carry a tray.
A nightmare for a man testing a device designed to make us more independent,
Philly Touch Tours, don’t lose your head when you lose your hat. 

How to be easier to spend money with if you’d like more of our money. And, what’s happening to guide dog assembly lines.

Susan Armstrong is vice president of training, veterinary and client services for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Bend, Oregon. She says during this time of social distancing

Bite 1:Susan: Guide dogs don't understand social distancing so there’s some things as a handler you can do.  We encourage people to be using their voice a little bit more to let other people know their dog doesn’t understand social distancing and they can be a little more proactive.  And we’re also trying to make the public aware to be kind to people and that dogs don’t understand social distancing and so for them to be proactive as well. 

(Nat sounds white cane then fade under Nick…)

That’s the  sound of my white cane as I get some exercise  walking around the block. It’s so noisy because I USE A TECHNIQUE CALLED CONSTANT CONTACT, INSTEAD OF TAPPING BACK AND FORTH, LIKE IN THE MOVIES.  It gives me a lot more  information than tapping.  But just like guide dogs, it doesn’t tell me how close I am to other people.  But there are two smartphone apps that can:


Bite 2 starting call .wav: Nick/ nat sounds: 

Hey Siri, open Be My Eyes.

Siri: Connected

Nick: Hello?   

First is a free app called Be My Eyes. You start the app and one of more than three million volunteers somewhere in the world uses the camera on your phone to have a look around.

bite 3 be my eyes help.wav: (Nick speaking to volunteer): Are there any people within 6 feet in this direction?

Volunteer:  No there’s not.

Nick: ok, what about this direction?

Volunteer: No, there’s not.

Nick: And that direction…

Volunteer: No. There’s no one there.


That was Volunteer Naiomi from Tampa, Florida

The second app which is free for five minutes is Aira, spelled A-I-R-A. 

Bite:  Bite 4 Aira help.wav  Aira AGENT:  Thank you for calling Aira today. My name is Irene. What would you like to do today?

Aira is also free in many airports and some stores like Walgreens and some Targets.

Bite: Byte 5Aira Captain Crunch.wav Aira AGENT: If you’re going navigating down an aisle and I saw a person with a cart on the left side I can say keep right as you move down the aisles, stay away from another shopper, or ya know, if you were standing in line and observing I could steer you to the marks on the floor and to then let you know when the next person in line moved up, or if you’re looking for say some kind of cereal or something then an agent could look at the signs above the aisles in a grocery store to direct you to the correct aisle, and then a lot of times what can  help is having you face the section and then an agent can take a photo through your phone and zoom in and if they know your looking for a certain kind like Captain Crunch for example, we can zoom in and direct you to it with the minimum amount of touching so you don’t have to touch everything to get to it.

So, with the apps, you can keep your six-feet social distancing, touch fewer items in the stores and get your sugar high at the same time.

You’re listening to the Tactile Traveler. Empowering blind and low vision people to explore the world and helping our sighted friends see the world in a new way. I’m Nick Isenberg. 

Someday we’ll be eating at buffets, salad bars and cafeterias and other places where we have to carry food on trays to our tables again. Lydia Ekiert has a tip you might find helpful. 

Lydia: Has your excitement at great buffets, salad bars, cafeterias, and fast food restaurants dampened when you realize you have to carry a tray full of food to your table? Especially, when you might not even know where there is a table with an empty seat. It’s hard enough if you have both hands available to balance the tray, but if you’re using a white cane, holding onto a guide dog harness, or a baby with one hand, it can make the trip from where you get the food to where you eat it really exciting. Here is a better way to carry a tray!

Instead of just trying to balance the tray on your fingertips, hold your arm at your side and bend it at your elbow. Then slide the tray to your elbow and then use your fingers to hold the tray steady on your arm. You probably will have to turn the tray sideways so that it will fit on your arm between your elbow and your hand.  It makes the tray a lot steadier. The same technique can be used to carry a plate of food when trays aren’t provided. 

Nick: Thank you Lydia. There are a lot of tech companies out there that say their gadgets can help the blind see. And perhaps hundreds of visually impaired people from around the world participate in clinical trials of these devices. But what happens to these patients when economic strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forces one of these companies to go out of business? The Tactile Traveler’s Jason Strother speaks with a man who’s trying to figure that out right now. 

Byte Jason S: Jason Esterhazen was the poster boy for the ORION, a device that promised to create artificial sight for those who have lost their vision and last year he made headlines around the world. 

(News reporter bite:) Crossing the street, sorting laundry…these are just a couple of the everyday things that Jason Esterhazen can now do again, thanks to new technology, a device implanted in his brain…

Reporter Jason:  Jason, who’s 31, lost his vision after a car accident several years ago. The ORIEN, created by the tech firm Second Sight, was installed in his head by doctors at UCLA.  I called Jason up to talk about it.

(sound of phone ringing) Jason E: Hi, Jason

Jason S: Hi Jason, how are you.

Jason E: Good thanks and you?

Jason S: Jason tells me that he and his wife left everything behind in South Africa to participate in this trial in Los Angeles.  He was one of six patients to be implanted with the device. But recently he got some bad news. The developer, Second Sight, is going out of business.  I asked him how he found out about it…

Jason E: On the second of April, the doctor brought in the neurosurgeon that did the brain implant, called me and wanted to let me know personally that Second Sight is closing down due to Covid related reasons and the trial is not going to continue.  There’s six people who have these devices implanted in our brains now, and who knows what it’s going to do?

Jason S: Are there concerns about any health repercussions of leaving this implant in your head? 

Jason E: I had a major seizure because of the device, inside during a testing session.  Then I had a seizure-like episode outside of the clinical safety. Me and my wife went on for walk, you get this (formation ? inaudible) it’s like this big, white, pulsating light that doesn’t go away and then boom, you start breathing and start shaking and seizing up… it’s crazy.  And there’s just so much stuff going on at the moment… like unanswered questions from everyone.  We just want to know what’s gonna happen.

Jason S: Can’t you just have the device taken out?

Jason E: I was talking to someone yesterday, It’s not like an ear-piercing, it’s not just something you can take out simply.  I have to go for brain surgery again.  Open up my skull again, dig around in my brain to remove this thing.  So it’s not just a quick in and out like getting a filling at the dentist, it’s major surgery. It’s scary. You can die. So to answer your question, yes, I can have it removed but I don’t know what the risks are. 

Jason S: Explain to me a little more how this ORIEN system works.  What does it enable you to see? 

Jason E: It’s a pair of sunglasses with a video camera.  The video camera picks up the images and translates it into electrical impulses that creates flash scenes in your brain.  The electrical stimulations creates a pattern of lights. It’s like little dots.  Whatever you’re looking at though, it would not be a picture or a silhouette or a shape or anything.  It would just be this random pattern of lights, and it’s like learning a new language.  You just have to learn how to interpret what you’re seeing.

Jason S: How does the device improve your mobility? 

Jason E: I was able to distinguish between like vertical lines and horizontal lines, 45’ angle lines.  The more you used the device obviously you learn new little tricks.  Like “ok, cool, when I’m walking down a hallway I can look up at the ceiling lights and then just follow the ceiling lights instead of tapping against the wall with your cane.  I could look down at the street and follow the white painted line across the street so I wouldn’t veer into traffic or walk in front of a car or whatever.

Jason S: What did it do for your confidence once you were able to see these “dots”?

Jason E: It’s a wild ride of emotions. Like in the beginning, the first time I saw one of the dots when the tested the device for the very first time, just like, such an exhilarating feeling to just think “Wow, I can something see SOMEthing again.” Mentally it changed everything because it now gave me hope again that this is something and it’s going to get better and theres hope now for some form of vision again.

Jason S: Do you have any regrets in hindsight now participating in this trial with all things considered?

Jason E: I don’t feel I have any regrets. Like any medical trial there’s a risk involved always.  But now, 2 years into a 5 year trial, them just saying “sorry.”  I don’t think I’ve processed this whole thing yet because of the no response from them. Until they come up with, I don’t know some document or letter or just send me an email telling me what to do. Like “hey, stop using your device, don’t use your device, do this, do that, whatever, we are going to continue”… None of it. Nothing’s happened. It’s frustrating.    


Nick: Jason, your report didn’t end on a very upbeat note. What can we take away from his experience with the Orion?

Jason S: Yeah Nick, sorry about being such a bummer. I think there are a lot of uncertainties still and Jason is trying to figure out what is his next step? We should maybe look at this as a cautionary tale of sorts about participating in these kinds of trials that promise to restore vision.

Nick: Is Jason still using the device?

Jason S: No. Jason stopped using the ORIEN device once he got the news that Second Sight was going out business. He doesn’t want any medical complications and he doesn’t even know what the long term effects are going to be if he were to keep it running so for now the device is just going to stay in place.

We’ve had some good news since Jason Strothers filed this story.  Jason E’s neurosurgeon called and told him that Second Sight is not filing for bankruptcy but is laying off most of its staff.  There is a 95% chance that the trials will resume after the coronavirus is under control.

Thank you Jason and Jason.

You’re listening to the Tactile Traveler on KDNK, we’ll be back after a short break.


I’m Nick Isenberg. 

There are only a handful of travel agents and tour companies in the world that provide packages specially designed for people who are blind and have low vision. Simon Bonenfant reports on a company that provides experiences for blind people in Pennsylvania:

Byte Simon:  It’s called Philly Touch Tours.  Philly Touch Tours is a company that designs tours of museums for the blind in the Philadelphia area.  The owner, Trish Monder, teaches the museum staff how to adapt their already existing tours to blind people.  I’ve participated in the tours and I’ve helped Trish train the museum staff. We work with them to describe things in detail without being patronizing. Trish started the company to help the blind community in general. But she also has a personal connection.

Trish:  My daughter Katie was born in 1986 completely blind. At the time I was an art teacher and art educator and it was challenging and really interesting. We soon became aware that there wasn’t much out there for people with vision loss in cultural institutions, museums, zoos… There wasn’t much to do with touch or verbal descriptions and that was my job with her, to sort of make the world more interesting. And so overtime I just became more involved with it and eventually after years of being a mother at home and working in the arts I decided it was time to be involved in accessibility.  

Simon: Tours range from as low as three dollars to eight dollars, to the highest cost of thirty-five dollars for a tour of Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  Participants can enjoy a variety of food options. People are usually responsible for their own transportation and meet at the museum.    

Nick: Thank you Simon.

During my career as a television reporter I covered two different stories where people died chasing hats. The first was in Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda, Florida. A couple of guys were in a boat when one of the guys' hats flew off. When they turned the boat around to get it they turned too fast and the boat turned over. One of the guys drowned and the other was found a couple of days later holding on to a beer cooler.

The second was on the flat tops near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. A family was standing on the Deep Creek overlook when one of the guy’s hats flew off. Even though it was summer time, there was a patch of snow next to the overlook. When the gentleman’s step-mother stepped onto the snow to retrieve his hat she slipped and slid over the edge of a cliff.

Chasing hats is an automatic response. Both of these folks could see. It’s even more dangerous if you are blind. So it’s important to program yourself to stop and evaluate your situation before retrieving your hat. Especially if you are blind. Don’t lose your head when you lose your hat.

You’re listening to the Tactile Traveler. Empowering blind and low vision people to explore the world and helping out sighted friends see the world in a new way. I’m Nick Isenburg.

If you own a business that is trying to reach blind and low vision folks through the Internet, Phyllis Chavez has a tip on how to make it easier to spend money with:

If you can’t see your computer or smartphone screen, you use what’s called the screen reader. It sounds like this:    

Bite:  screen reader reading in robotic voice:  Tactile Traveler stories. White canes on sandy beaches. White canes on cobblestone. White canes on bridge sidewalk.

If what you’re reading includes a photograph, is sounds like this:

Bite:  named picture.wav :  Enjoying the Hotel Colorado courtyard, image. Chef putting garnish on a plate of food, image.

However, if the picture is unnamed, it sounds like this:

Bite:  unnamed picture: Christmas chaos.  ’Twas the night before Christmas and you realize that the door has locked behind you. You know that Santa won’t come down the chimney if you are in the room/ ellipsis. Day one billion, twenty one million, seventeen thousand, five hundred, (goes on saying random number)…image.

If you’re reading something like a travel brochure, or even a newspaper story, it can make a really fun place very frustrating to learn about, and not worth reading further.  

A simple solution, name all your photos and graphics.  If the name is a short description of what’s in the picture, that’s even better.

Thank you Phyllis.

You’re listening to the tactile traveler on KDNK, I’m Nick Isenberg. 

Most of us are familiar with the concept of just-in-time deliveries for things like parts for cars as they go down an assembly line developed by Toyota industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno. It reduces auto manufacturers from having a warehouse full of parts that aren’t making money for the company until they’re installed in a car.

The best selling vehicle in America is the Ford F-150 Pick-Up truck, which, with the technology of just-in-time manufacturing, Ford builds a truck in 20 hours and one comes off each assembly line every 52 seconds.

Guide dogs also come off an as-needed assembly line. But, it’s a very different kind of an assembly line. The people who use guide dogs are called handlers. Their dogs are called… dogs! 

Susan Armstrong is vice president of training, veterinary and client services for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Bend, Oregon. 

Bite:  Susan-bite 1.wav: We typically have six handlers in a two week class in Oregon and between six and eight in California. I think in puppy raising we have seven hundred fifty, to eight hundred puppies and training between the two campuses we probably have around one hundred fifty dogs in training at any given time.

Nick: Susan says because of the coronavirus, their two-year long system for breeding, raising and placing guide dogs, like all guide dog schools,  has suddenly come to a screeching halt.

Susan-bite 2-TEMPORARILY OFF CAMPUS.wav: As it’s the first time in our history and we have never experienced anything like this happening before, we’ve had to make some decisions and of course our top priority is ensuring safety for our community and we’ve made some proactive decisions at the beginning of all this to help ensure the health and well being of our community so we made the decision, as you know, to stop our two week immersive client training program and our own in-house immersion training program and what that meant was trying to reduce the number of staff on our campuses and be as safe as possible.  Like everyone else we are doing as much remote work as possible and our training dogs were moved off campus into temporary shelter-in-place foster homes with experienced puppy raisers and families.  So that’s where our dogs are currently.

Nick: When you closed things down you had dogs who were ready for their partner, and since they were ready if you wait, are they going to be over-ripe?

GBite: Susan-bite 3  NOT OVERRIPE.wav 

Susan: (laughing) No, absolutely not. And that’s one of the questions that we’ve gotten as far as “do dogs forget their training?” and they absolutely don’t and I think that whether it depends on what point the dogs are at with training and maybe they’ll need another week of work to brush up on their skills, but they absolutely don’t lose the knowledge that they’ve gained. Dogs are amazing that way.  And once the guide dog goes out with their person there are times in that person’s life where they might not work for two months but doesn’t forget what they’ve been taught.

Nick: Susan asked me to point out that Guide Dogs for the Blind is still taking applications for visually impaired and blind handlers. 

We are proud to announce that The Radio Television Digital News Association  has named The Tactile Traveler the the Edward R. Murrow Award for the best small market podcast win for region three, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. 


 I’m Nick Isenberg

Bite: talking scale

It’s my talking scale reminding us that we’d like you to weigh in on how were doing. Please let us know by sending an e-mail to  HYPERLINK ""  we spell traveler the American way with one  “L.”  We’d also like to hear your story ideas from all over the world. Send us an e-mail with story ideas in the subject line at HYPERLINK "" .

If you would like to help underwrite this program please send us an e-mail with “Underwriting” in the subject line at  HYPERLINK "" .

Transcripts of this program are also available for our deaf listeners by searching The Tactile Traveler in any search engine.

This program is also being broadcast on the Audio Information Network of Colorado and in additional states.

It’s also available by typing The Tactile Traveler into any search engine and available wherever you get podcasts and by asking your smart speaker for THE TACTILE TRAVELER podcast.

We would like to thank the following people who help make TODAY’S program possible. 

Be My Eyes Microsoft Accessibilities Tech Support 

Apple accessibility tech support

Humanwear Tech Support


Lorraine Hutchinson

Sarah Williams

Sophia Williams

Becca Warner

John grace

Lucas Turner

Raleigh Burleigh

This has been TACTILE TRAVELER-EMPOWERING BLIND AND LOW VISION PEOPLE TO explore THE WORLD AND HELPING OUR SIGHTED FRIENDS SEE THE WORLD IN A NEW WAY This has been a production of KDNK community Access Radio, Carbondale, Colorado. 

Nick Isenberg is an experienced journalist living in the Roaring Fork Valley. He is determined to express his craft as a lively storyteller no matter the obstacle. Even legal blindness and partial deafness can't stop Nicky News from sharing information for and about real and diverse people. Nick premiered "The Tactile Traveler" as a new public affairs show on KDNK on July 30, 2019.
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