Friday, November 18, 2011

Season's of Giving Thanks

This past week I was reminded just how blessed we here at EmpowerTech are. Every day we get to witness our students learn something new, engage in activities that before would never be possible. And then there are those times that they get remind us that they in turn are thankful too. Daily we are reminded that there are too many things we take for granted and in the student story below you will see how saying please and thank you shouldn’t be one of those things.

This past Wednesday I was having a bad day (one of those days when you realize halfway through it that you’ve been walking around with toothpaste on your shirt) when Lisa came into my office. Lisa has been attending our free Open Access Lab every Wednesday for over a decade. She also faithfully shows up just when I’m in the middle of something; but I always take time to talk with her about what she’s going to work on. This past year Lisa has been making memory books using PowerPoint to give to her family and friends. She also uses this time to check her email and to reply to any she receives. Some of you may have gotten her notes. There are times when she needs help with email and will always politely ask when she does.

Lisa is almost old enough to be my mother but she views the world through the eyes of an 8 year old, and delights in those things that can be taken for granted. The simplest things- like saying please and thank you, and that sometimes a little prayer doesn’t hurt. There is never a time that she doesn’t bring out the best in someone wither her smile, her generosity of heart and sincere gratitude. She’s also very intuitive to a person’s mood but never let’s that stop her when she needs help. So after she pointed out the toothpaste on my shirt she asked; “please help me with an email invitation to my cupcake birthday party” Now you know there was no way I was going to refuse her request and set to work helping her compose an email. As I typed she stood behind me with her hand on my head; seemingly to look for any mistakes that I may make (Lisa cannot read but does recognize words like, cupcake). When I was finished I asked for her approval and she nodded her head. There is more to the story (her list of presents all of which were to be shiny) but I won’t go into details. However, I do want to add that she asked after my father who has been ill, then let me know that she prays for him. Well my friends this did me in so smiling through my tears, I said thank you that means a lot to me. As she was leaving my office she paused at my door, smiled, pointed to herself and said; “thank you for helping me”.

In the spirit of thanks giving, Lisa and all of our other students I ask you to please consider a gift to our programs by clicking here to donate.

And thank you for your support of EmpowerTech and our students

Monday, November 7, 2011

EmpowerTech Receives Grant from Allergan

We here at EmpowerTech wish to send a huge thank you to the Allergan Foundation for supporting our programs this year!

Monday, October 24, 2011

EmpowerTech Student Teaches Smart Art

Coming in to EmpowerTech I was not very familiar with Microsoft Office. I knew the basics and could design templates, however I was no expert. Today, upon my arrival, I was happily greeted by one of the students, David. David had helped me last week when I was having trouble with the Smart Art application. He taught me all there was to know about Smart Art and even went on to teach me a few of his favorite tricks. After David greeted me today, he immediately asked me what I would be working on and if I needed any help. Of course I couldn’t turn down advice from an expert, so I welcomed David to pull up a seat and assist me with today’s assignment. He helped me with page boarders and showed me easier ways to do research on the internet. David is just one example of the many students here at EmpowerTech who have mastered the tools of Microsoft Office and no w use their acquired knowledge to help others.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs dies age 56

Steve Jobs, the wizard behind Apple who put the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad into the hands of millions of religiously devoted consumers around the globe, died Wednesday.

He was 56 and had battled pancreatic cancer since 2004.

"Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being," the company said in a statement. "Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple."

In a separate statement, his family said, "Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family. ... In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family. We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve's illness."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Letter from Student

I received this letter from one of our blind/low-vision students on September 22; just a few short days after our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. The reason why I'm sharing this with you all is simple; this is one of the first letters he has written since losing his sight. He sent this letter as an attachment via email, something most of us take for granted and can do almost without thinking. But for him it was a great challenge but as you can read he did it! I'm so very proud of him and his commitment to continue breaking down the barriers and opening the doors in his path.

September 22, 2011

Dear JoanElaine,

When I first began at EmpowerTech I thought of the school like any other educational program. Quickly did I realize at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony that was not the case. When you were speaking at the event, it hit me like a train the amount of the energy and effort it took you and your staff in putting this whole program together. Thank you for inviting me to the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, and the positive experience you create at the school.

I will continue working hard.

A. L.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Interesting Fact-

Kevin A. Lynch, President and Chief Executive Officer of National Industries for the Blind (NIB)

Since the passage of the Wagner-O’Day Act in 1938, people who are blind have been a major part of the U.S. labor force by creating quality products for the federal government and military. This contribution to the manufacturing boom after the Great Depression and during World War II was decades before the signing of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)...Today, thanks to modern developments in assistive technology, people who are blind have a wide range of career options. However, the unemployment rate among working age Americans who are blind still hovers around 70 percent. Why is this?...

One issue is that employers assume they will have to invest lots of money to arrange a work environment that is conducive to people who are blind. In reality, the cost of accommodations is often nominal. Data from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) indicates that most accommodations for people who are blind or visually impaired cost less than $500. In fact, 50 percent of the accommodations required to set-up a barrier-free work station cost less than $50 and 31 percent cost nothing!

A national survey conducted by the Office of Disability Employment Policy on consumer attitudes toward companies that hire people with disabilities indicated that 92 percent of the American public views companies that hire people with disabilities more favorably than those that do not, and 87 percent would prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disabilities.

I encourage companies to consider this information when making informed decisions about the modest investment required to accommodate this underutilized labor resource

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scientific breakthrough: Seeing with your ears

A neuroscientist has unveiled an "amazing" new device that could allow the blind to visualize what's around them, helping them to navigate through their surroundings. Though it's still just a prototype, the device, named the vOICe, was unveiled this week at the American Psychological Association meeting in Washington, D.C. It combines a set of goggles, a webcam, a smartphone, and earbuds to convert visual information into sound. Here, a brief guide to this innovation:
How does the vOICe work?
A webcam that's mounted in the goggles takes a snapshot, which is scanned from left to right by the smartphone's vOICe software program. Objects in the snapshot are assigned different frequencies and volumes, based on where they're located. Then the listener hears a "soundscape where the changes in frequency and volume correspond" to the objects in the snapshot image, again from left to right, says neuroscientist Michael Proulx, as quoted in Discovery News. If there's an obstacle such as an ottoman on the user's left, it will be represented by a shift in tone and frequency that occurs in the first part of the recording.
Is this all new technology?
Not really; the technology to convert visual signals into audio has been around for about 15 years, but with advances in phone technology, "mobiles are now smart enough to handle the required imaging software," says Tibi Puiu on ZME Science. Also, the small size of newer smartphones is what makes this technology easily portable for the first time.
Is the vOICe easy to use?
Not at first: The developer has found that "one of the biggest challenges is that it takes people three months of training to use it." But once a blind or visually impaired person gets used to the device, it's expected to give them much more independence than they would otherwise enjoy.
Sources: Discovery News, ZME Science

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Message from the new Director of Development, Lisa Gaynor

I wanted to take a brief moment of your time to introduce myself to all of you.
I’m Lisa Gaynor a long time community member of both Westchester and Santa Monica. I am so pleased to let you all know that I am now the new senior development director of EmpowerTech. I know that I have some big shoes to fill following behind Ally Walker, but I do want to assure you all that I have the background and the resources to do a fantastic job not only for EmpowerTech’s students but for the organization as a whole.

For the past 5 years I have been an independent grant writer primarily working with nonprofits in the LA County area. It is through my expertise that Common Ground received one of their largest grants to date. I am a mother of 3 children all of whom graduated Santa Monica High School and both of my son’s are recent graduates of LMU (class of 2008 and 2010).

I want to let you in on the true reason that I made my decision to join EmpowerTech, and that is I had an uncle with a disability. He was diagnosed with polio in 1938 at 20 months old. We all seem to forget that back then this was a death sentence but due to perseverance by my grandmother he became an invaluable member of the community. He was an extremely talented artist, but the only job that he could get was working in an electronics firm as an assistant.

His dream was to design sports car models similar to “Hot Wheels”. I can only wonder what his life would have been like if EmpowerTech and assistive technology was around back then. His struggles and disenfranchisement from the community may not have happened had he had a computer and the necessary training. The first time I walked through EmpowerTech’s doors I remembered all the stories my uncle told me of his childhood and the taunts other kids bestowed upon him. I don’t ever want that to happen to anyone that comes to EmpowerTech. I want to give them the tools that allow them to achieve unprecedented levels of independence, self-confidence and fulfillment. I am honored to be a part of EmpowerTech’s team and to the memory of my uncle and those that will come behind him, I promise all of you I will do my job and do it well

What's New For Musicians... The Lime Lighter!

I was recently introduced to a company called the Dancing Dots they serve blind musicians and their educators through technology and training. How cool is that? Can you imagine loosing your sight and not being able to read music any more? Dancing Dots has a solution for you, they're the go to company; "Where Music Meets Technology for the Blind"

They have a new product for low vision muscians called, The Lime Lighter. I sugesst that you take a few minutes to cehck this video out!

3-minute video at:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

EmpowerTech Finds a New Home


Non-Profit In Need of Donated Office Furniture & Equipment for New Location

MAY __,2011: LOS ANGELES— EmpowerTech, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that provides computer training to persons with physical and developmental disabilities, announced that is moving on June 30, 2011 to a new, larger facility located at 9100 S. Sepulveda Boulevard in the Westchester section of Los Angeles.

Unlike EmpowerTech’s current space, which features an open configuration, the new center will have private offices and training rooms that will allow the agency’s Assistive Technology Specialists to work privately and in smaller groups with students.

Joan Anderson, EmpowerTech Executive Director commented “It will be enormously challenging and expensive to move an entire high tech facility without interrupting service to our students, but at the end of the day, this will be a major improvement for EmpowerTech. To make this happen though, we need additional financial support to pay for the move. It is our hope that we can rely on the community to help us preserve this invaluable resource by making contributions to help offset our relocation costs.”

EmpowerTech was recently given a notice to vacate by June 30, 2011 after its current landlord leased the building to a new tenant. Assistance was immediately provided by the H.B. Drollinger Co., Westchester’s largest property management firm, which located and arranged for the new facility at 9100 S. Sepulveda Boulevard.

Karen Dial, President of H.B. Drollinger Co. stated, “When we learned about the tough spot in which EmpowerTech had been placed, we felt we had to get involved. Our company has been part of the Westchester community for decades and we feel an obligation to look out for our neighbors—especially for a neighbor like EmpowerTech which has done so much for our local community. We are pleased that we were able to come through for this incredible organization.”

In addition to financial assistance with the upcoming move, EmpowerTech is seeking donations of office furniture and equipment . Anyone interested in making a donation is asked to contact Joan Anderson at (310)-338-1597/

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sky's The Limit Skydive Event


EmpowerTech To Host “Sky’s The Limit” Event on April 30, 2011
March 3, 2011—LOS ANGELES: Proving that anything is possible and, in fact, the “Sky’s the Limit” for persons living with disabilities, EmpowerTech, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that provides computer training to persons with physical and developmental disabilities, will host day of skydiving in Lake Elsinore, CA on April 30, 2011.

The event, which is open to the public, requires individual jumpers to recruit friends, relatives, and colleagues to sponsor a jump by pledging money to support EmpowerTech. The minimum total pledge per jumper is $1,000.

Joan Anderson, Executive Director of EmpowerTech commented, “The theme of this year’s event is “Free Falling for the independence and freedom for individuals with disabilities.” This captures the essence of what goes on every day at EmpowerTech—talented individuals pushing the limit and overcoming obstacles and fears to achieve their full potential.”

“Sky’s the Limit” will consist of jumps throughout the day at Lake Elsinore Skydive in Lake Elsinore, CA. All jumps will be “tandem” jumps with professionals from Lake Elsinore Skydive. On the ground there will be live entertainment, kids’ activities, food and fun for the whole family.

Two members of the EmpowerTech Board of Directors, Keith and Ravi, will lead the procession of jumpers and kick off the day’s events. Keith is a graduate of the agency’s Blind and Low Vision program and is back at work as one of LA’s premier radio DJ’s. He will be raising funds to assist current and future students. Ravi Rajan is also raising funds for Empowertech, both through this jump and through his participation in the upcoming Boston Marathon.

Anderson stated, “Anyone who is surprised when they first hear about “Sky’s the Limit” does not know our students and staff—they don’t back down from a challenge and they live to conquer obstacles. This is all in a day’s work for them. “Sky’s the Limit” represents a tremendous opportunity not only to demonstrate what extraordinary people are capable of, but to give our supporters in the community the chance to interact with our students and staff on the world’s most level playing field—a 120 mile per hour, 60 second free fall from an airplane!”

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Veteran Educator Nicolas M. Crisosto to Lead One of Los Angeles-Based Non-Profit’s Core Service Offerings
FEBRUARY__ —LOS ANGELES: EmpowerTech, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that provides computer training to persons with physical and developmental disabilities, announced the appointment of Nicolas M. Crisosto as Director of Blind and Low Vision Services.
Mr. Crisosto has been a Lecturer in Computer Science at California State University Channel Islands, an instructor at The Society for the Blind in Sacramento, CA, and is a former chapter president and California State Treasurer for the National Federation for the Blind. He graduated from the University of California Berkeley with a degree in Mathematics, and is an alumnus of the Colorado Center for the Blind’s Independence Training Program.
EmpowerTech Executive Director Joan Anderson commented, “I am excited to welcome Nicolas Crisosto to the EmpowerTech team. Our Blind and Low Vision programs require a Director with experience, expertise, and a passion for helping others. Nicolas is the complete package. When it comes to learning intricate computer technologies, he has sat on both sides of the desk—as a teacher and a student—and he knows firsthand the challenges and the rewards of mastering non-visual techniques. The positive impact that I expect Nicolas will make on our students and on our organization is difficult to overstate.”
After an initial evaluation of EmpowerTech’s Blind and Low Vision service offerings, Mr. Crisosto plans to enhance the agency’s core curriculum to include instruction in advanced computer software applications and more advanced Assistive Technology programs. In addition to his collegiate-level instructional experience in basic computer literacy involving the full suite of Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Internet Explorer, Mr. Crisosto also is proficient in a broad variety of Assistive Technologies including including JAWS, OpenBook, VoiceOver, WindowEyes, Guide, Duxbury, JulietPro Embossers, scanners, BrailleNote, and LaTeX.

Mr. Crisoto commented, “When I was given the opportunity to join EmpowerTech in a leadership capacity, I leapt at the chance. Giving people the freedom and independence to manage their lives through technology that so many take for granted, is a rare opportunity. I am excited to work with my new colleagues to enhance EmpowerTech’s existing programs and to make an even greater impact on the community we already serve so well.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stairways to Success

I was recently asked to provide a success story about one of the students in the TRADE program. Glancing though the roster of 40 students, however, I could recall no dramatic success stories. Rather, the emerging mental image was of many earnest laborers methodically pursuing their dreams. Surveying the students diligently working at their computer stations and remembering their excitement during the Achievement Celebration last December, I contemplated how far they have come.
Students have entered the TRADE program with widely varying academic and computer skill levels. They arrived hoping they had found a program that would enable them to build computer skills and/or to become more employable. They just needed to be in a program that would be responsive to their individual needs. They discovered that when given time to learn at their own pace they were able to learn how to use Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. They were able to use a search engine and communicate through email. The curriculum was challenging and interesting. They were surrounded by supportive instructors.
The following comments, provided by students recently, are typical:
“I enjoy coming and I’m starting to learn something new every time I come. The staff are nice and everybody is nice here.”
“I really like it because I can go in there now and just do it myself. Before, I had to have somebody to help me. It’s helping me. Some of the stuff that I saved I can see on my computer at home…and show it to my mom.”

“The class is wonderful and I love coming here…It really helps me to be a good worker on the computer and to be professional.”

“I like the class. I learn a lot. It would help me when I get a good job because they would know that I know computers a lot and every time I learn new stuff. They are wonderful teachers.”

The TRADE students are like masons building stairways of personal and professional empowerment. The TRADE curriculum, assistive technology, and individualized accommodations are their bricks, trowels, and mortar. Although daily progress is often incremental, over time the results have proven to be quite substantial. Their methodical, hard-earned successes should be acknowledged and celebrated!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Web Accessibility--the Basics

Written by Rosemarie Punzalan, Communication Specialist and resident web accessibility expert, CFILC

Whether you are a novice with little or no web development experience or new to accessibility, it doesn't hurt to understand the basics of POUR Web Usability. POUR stands for Perceivable Operable Understandable Robust. Below are just some examples to give you a basic understanding of POUR.

Many of us surf the Internet to access communication, commerce, entertainment, information, and other important aspects of life that we take for granted. The most common senses we use when surfing the internet are hearing, sight and touch. These senses are important to our daily Internet access. It is very important that a user has the ability to perceive the web content. Not only is the ability to perceive web content important, but inputting the information into our brains is very important!

There are many kinds of audio interactions we use when surfing the Internet. Some examples of audio interactions are: hearing music, listening to web radio, and watching videos. If you operate a web site, to make your audio information available to individuals who cannot hear, provide captioned audio. Below is an example of a video with closed captions that was posted on

Web sites provide enormous information with content that consists of graphics, multimedia, and text. Individuals who can see can read text, view images, understand the web page layouts, and understand the meaning of colors in certain cultural perspective (for example,– red and green street lights). To make your web content available to individuals who are blind or have low vision, prior to your web design, structure your content (i.e. headings, subheadings, lists, etc.). They rely on screen readers and keyboards to navigate through a web site.

Imagine an individual who is deaf and blind. How would this individual access information? There are ways a person who is deafblind can access information. 1) Through sign language where individuals use their hands to feel one another’s body movements, gestures and sign language; OR 2) A Braille device – a text can be converted to Braille.

A standard keyboard and mouse is often used to access web content, but not everyone can use them. Some individuals use adaptive or alternative devices depending on their disability (for example, a mouth stick to manipulate a keyboard). Blind users depend on a keyboard and screen reader to navigate web content.

To ensure your web site is usable to people of all abilities, you should make sure the web content's language is as easy to understand as possible.

Technology changes and can be very expensive as well as time consuming. There are different operating systems and different versions of browsers. People who use adaptive devices or alternative devices such as screen readers or screen magnifiers to navigate web content do not always update their devices or software to keep up with other changes in computer technology. Ensure your web site is robust through all operating systems and different versions of browsers by testing it on multiple web browsers and operating systems.