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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...

UK & World

Blind YouTuber Joy Ross creates videos showing people her everyday life

March 14 2018

A visually impaired YouTuber has gained popularity for posting videos showing people how she lives her life with no sight.Joy Ross uploaded a video showing people how she refills her drinks at restaurants using the self-serve counter, which has now reached nearly two million views.The video shows Ross demonstrating how she finds the drink she wants, then tests if her cup is full enough by dipping her finger into the drink.She said: “A lot of people with eyesight can’t understand how a blind person does simple things… I think people take it for granted that you can do all these things.”Ross, who lives in Washington State, started her channel four years ago. She films and edits her videos herself.The project began as a Facebook page, called Through The Eyes Of Joy, and grew quickly at the beginning of this year.Ross said: “This past November I had 5,000 subscribers on YouTube… Now I have 54,000, and it’s just March.She said: “It’s just unbelievable because it’s just me, I run my own channel, I’m completely blind. I see nothing, no light perception, I’ve been completely blind for 10 years… I do everything by sound and touch. My ears are my eyes.”Ross has had juvenile arthritis since she was a child, which affected her eyesight over many years, finally causing her to lose her sight completely 10 years ago.She said: “It was difficult… my little girls were babies when I lost my sight 10 years ago.”After losing her sight, Joy got a guide dog named Antonia; she worked with the dog for nine years before the guide retired. She now has a new dog, Arabella.Ross worked with her new guide dog for three weeks before filming a video of her crossing a busy junction with Arabella for the first time.The video shows the way Ross has to train the dog while crossing, and the difficulties that come with getting used to a new guide dog.She said: “It was super scary… I’ve worked with my former guide for nine years. Antonia my yellow lab, she was the key to helping me find joy again. She gave me back my freedom, my independence… Retiring her was extremely hard.“Antonia was amazing, she was incredible as a guide… How do you trust another dog to be just as amazing, and to keep me safe?“I don’t allow those fears to keep me home, sitting on my couch, living a small life.”Due to her popularity, Ross has been invited to be the commencement speaker at this year’s senior graduation at the Washington State School for the Blind.She said: “There’s low expectations for blind children. They don’t expect a blind person to be able to operate a camera, or to be able to write… Nothing warms my heart more than to know that I am inspiring so many other blind kids.“Just because you may not have eyesight, if you lose your eyesight, you can still live an incredible life.”

Business news

Fife firm’s app helps blind airline passengers

December 6 2017

Technology developed by a Fife company which helps people with visual impairments access inflight entertainment has been launched worldwide by Virgin Atlantic. Dunfermline-based Bluebox Aviation Systems specialises in creating the software for airline passengers to access information, television shows, music and films. It has contracts with aviation companies all over the world. Its new tablet-based platform for people with sight issues is a result of a collaboration with the Guide Dogs for the Blind and Virgin Atlantic, who rolled out the platform across its fleet at the weekend. Bluebox adapted its software to simplify its screens, increase the size of the font and enable people to hear audio descriptions of the television programmes and films on offer. David Brown, of Bluebox Aviation Systems, explained: “The app offers high contrast screens in black and white which we have been guided is the best option. “It also offers very large text and the ability to zoom into sections of the screen and of course the app also gives audio description by the voice over function.” In the development phase Bluebox met with a group of people with a range of visual impairments — from partial sight loss to total blindness. This group then gave input and feedback at each stage of the development process as Bluebox adapted one of its software packages. James Macrae, Bluebox’s chief technology officer added: “We distilled the most critical elements of our Bluebox Ai IFE platform into a simple design that someone with sight loss can easily and consistently navigate, enriching this with additional background functionality. “We kept the interface uncluttered and simple to navigate, but still providing information to help the passenger choose their selection.” A spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind said the software means people with visual impairments will be able to access entertainment without asking for help. Welcoming the new facility, Mark Anderson, executive vice president at Virgin Atlantic, said: “Nearly thirty years ago, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer seat back entertainment in all cabins, so it’s apt that we should be the first to ensure our entertainment is fully accessible across all flights.” Bluebox has also announced that Japanese regional airline Solaseed Air has deployed its software system across its Boeing 737 fleet. rmclaren@thecourier.co.uk

Angus & The Mearns

Concerns over talking newspaper service for Angus

June 6 2013

Concerns have been raised by volunteers in Angus over a lack of support for an initiative which brings news to the visually impaired. The Angus Talking Newspaper Association produces audio versions of the local news publications which are distributed to blind and visually impaired people throughout the county. However, the group has expressed concerns that, despite rising national figures for visual impairment, the number of listeners receiving the Angus CDs has been steadily declining in the past 10 years. The group held its annual meeting recently and discussed what could be done to rectify the situation. A group spokesman said: “Traditionally Angus Council social work department has referred people diagnosed with visual impairment to the Talking Newspaper service, and it is these referrals that have significantly reduced in the past few years. “This has been of concern for some time and in the past year has been drawn to the attention of Angus Council and Tayside NHS, but there has been a surprising lack of response. The meeting agreed that efforts would be continued to open a dialogue on this matter. “It was also agreed that, now that a new logo has been finalised after a competition held among primary schools last year, every effort should be made to get a new information leaflet finalised and distributed to public places such as residential homes, doctors’ surgeries, access offices and libraries.” A spokeswoman for the council said: “We have been in direct dialogue with Angus Talking Newspaper Association specifically about how we promote their services since March 2013 and a meeting with them is scheduled in June to speak with them about other methods of promotion. “As discussed with the association in March, in addition to our occupational therapy staff advising people with visual impairments about Angus Talking Newspaper Association, as a staff reference we also have written contact details about them in all our area offices.” Confirmation of dates and venues for the association’s meetings can be obtained on the website www.angustalkingnews.co.uk, or by ringing 01575 575912. Anyone who would like to volunteer with the association can use the same number or look at the website for more information.

Too many blind school pupils let down by lack of support, campaigners claim

February 3 2018

A lack of specialist support for blind and partially sighted school children has lead to a new “attainment gap” opening up, charity campaigners claimed.Royal Blind, the organisation which runs the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh, said the number of visually impaired students going on to university was a third less than for sighted youngsters.It called on the Scottish Government to do more to help blind and partially sighted school pupils, after a significant rise in the number of such students in Scotland’s classroomsAccording to the charity, the number of children with some form of visual impairment in Scotland’s schools increased from 2,005 in 2010 to 4,175 in 2016.But there was a reduction in the number of specialist teachers for these youngsters over the same period, Royal Blind said – with chief executive Mark O’Donnell saying this meant that “too often these pupils are being let down”.A lack of specialist resources, and the current presumption for sending students to mainstream schools, is hindering the education of blind and partially sighted students, he argued.Mr O’Donnell said: “Mainstreaming can work for many vision impaired children, but currently too often the right support isn’t there for them.”He spoke out after 18-year-old Lewis Shaw, who is now studying at the Royal Blind School, told how he was “excluded” in a mainstream secondary.The teenager, who is preparing to go to university, said he had a “horrible” time at his previous school and “felt very lonely”.He recalled: “It didn’t help that some class teachers refused to change the way they taught. One teacher used PowerPoint presentations for most lessons and refused to adapt this saying, ‘it’s just the way I work’. All I could hear was the tap tap tap of her pen on the board.”Mr O’Donnell said: “We support blind and partially sighted pupils being educated in mainstream schools where that is right for them, but too often these pupils are being let down. “We have learned of instances where pupils have not been able to participate in classes because they are told they are ‘too visual’ or cannot engage in subjects or activities because it is “not safe.” This does not represent real inclusion for these pupils.“Up to 80% of our learning is through our use of vision, therefore, it is vitally important that specialist support is provided for pupils with vision impairment who have a huge learning disadvantage in comparison to their fully sighted peers. “More research is required into the numbers of vision impaired pupils in Scotland and their specific needs, but the trend is clear – we have an increasing number of pupils with vision impairment. That means more resources needed to support these children, but in fact in many ways there is less.“Our highly specialist teachers in vision impairment do a great job, with no additional incentives provided for them to undertake their training. But our understanding is that there are fewer of them, being asked to do more and more.”A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We want all children and young people to receive the support they need to reach their full potential. Children and young people should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether that is in a mainstream or special school setting. There is a range of provision in place in Scotland to meet the wide range of children and young people’s needs. “We are currently working to implement the recommendations of the Education Committee on the attainment of pupils with sensory impairment and will provide an update later this year. “The Scottish Government is currently consulting on guidance on the implementation of the presumption to mainstream education. We welcome feedback in response to our consultation and will consider all the responses received. The guidance will be finalised taking account of the research which we are currently undertaking into the experiences of pupils, families and those who provide support in schools.”

Road tests

Audi Q2 puts quality over size

March 21 2018

Audi’s Q2 was one of the first premium compact SUVs on the market. It sits below the Q3, Q5 and the gigantic, seven seat Q7 in Audi’s ever growing range. Although it’s about the same size as the Nissan Juke or Volkswagen T-Roc, its price is comparable with the much larger Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan. Even a basic Q2 will set you back more than £21,000 and top whack is £38,000. Then there’s the options list which is extensive to say the least. My 2.0 automatic diesel Quattro S Line model had a base price of £30,745 but tipped the scales at just over £40,000 once a plethora of additions were totted up. Size isn’t everything, however. In recent years there’s been a trend of buyers wanting a car that’s of premium quality but compact enough to zip around town. It may be a step down in size but the Q2 doesn’t feel any less classy than the rest of Audi’s SUV range. The interior looks great and is user friendly in a way that more mainstream manufacturers have never been able to match. The simple rotary dial and shortcut buttons easily trounce touchscreen systems, making it a cinch to skim through the screen’s menus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eQ5p5Z7-Ek&list=PLUEXizskBf1nbeiD_LqfXXsKooLOsItB0 There’s a surprising amount of internal space too. I took three large adults from Dundee to Stirling and no one complained about feeling cramped. As long as you don’t have a tall passenger behind a tall driver you can easily fit four adults. At 405 litres the boot’s big too – that’s 50 litres more than a Nissan Juke can muster. Buyers can pick from 1.0 and 1.4 litre petrol engines or 1.6 and 2.0 litre TDIs. Most Q2s are front wheel drive but Audi’s Quattro system is standard on the 2.0 diesel, as is a seven-speed S Tronic gear box. On the road there’s a clear difference between this and SUVs by manufacturers like Nissan, Seat and Ford. Ride quality, while firm, is tremendously smooth. Refinement is excellent too, with road and tyre noise kept out of the cabin. It sits lower than the Q3 or Q5 and this improves handling, lending the Q2 an almost go-kart feel. On a trip out to Auchterhouse, with plenty of snow still on the ground, I was appreciative of the four-wheel drive as well. The Q2 is expensive – though there are some good finance deals out there – but you get what you pay for. Few cars this small feel as good as the Q2 does. Price: £30,745 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds Top speed: 131mph Economy: 58.9mpg CO2 emissions: 125g/km


Karten Centre for visually impaired opens at Cupar’s Elmwood College

February 7 2011

A centre has been launched that gives visually impaired people in north-east Fife access to learning technology. The Karten Centre in Elmwood College, Cupar, was officially opened by college principal Jim Crooks. It is funded by the Ian Karten Charitable Trustwith a grant following the application made by the college and Fife Society for the Blind (FSB). Since 1996 a network of Karten Centres has sprung up around the UK, Republic of Ireland and Israel aimed at improving the quality of life and independence of adults with physical, cognitive, sensory or learning disabilities. The latest developments in adaptive or assisting computer technology are offered, including special input and output devices and software. There are already Karten Centres in Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Inverness.SupportLocated in the college study, the Elmwood centre allows specialist staff to work with students and members of the public to get the most out of the assisting technology and support on offer. Guidance and learning support manager Karen Thirkell said, "We are delighted to be able to host this facility in the college, and our partnership with FSB and the Karten Trust has given us access to top of the range technology which will benefit a wide range of people. "Hazel White from FSB has worked closely with the college in identifying suitable technology, and she will become a familiar face in the college as she develops the service to meet the needs of the local community." Mr Crooks added, "It's a wonderful opportunity for Elmwood to contribute to the community of north-east Fife. "We can offer a central point for people to try technology, which will help them to access many things which sighted people take for granted. "We are very grateful to the Fife Society for the Blind for their faith in Elmwood and for being such enthusiastic partners, and also to the Karten Trust for agreeing to pay for items which have the potential to transform lives." Fife Society for the Blind chief executive Alan Suttie said, "This is part of a broader development between the society and Elmwood which will not only give the society a base in north-east Fife but will further contribute to a partnership designed to open up life-long learning opportunities for blind and partially sighted people."


Dundee engineer fronting campaign to change workplace attitudes to the visually impaired

July 15 2015

A partially-sighted engineer with Dundee City Council has become the public face of a national campaign to dispel the myths about what people with sight loss can and cannot do. Mark Wilson is one of eight men and women to feature in a major new report by RNIB Scotland, entitled This Is Working (PDF link), which aims to change the Scottish workplace. There are an estimated 8,500 people of working age in Scotland who are blind or partially sighted, but the charity believes they remain among the most disadvantaged groups in society when it comes to employment. RNIB Scotland director John Legg said too many employers still have misconceptions about what workers with sight loss can achieve and hopes the experiences of people like Mark will make a difference. Mark studied mechanical engineering at Abertay University and has now worked for the council for seven years, despite being partially sighted since birth. “There was a period in my life during which when I applied for jobs I’d get a ‘no’ straight off the bat,” he said. “When I asked them they said they were concerned about employing someone with sight loss, even though I was applying for jobs I was confident I was capable of doing. “But people with sight loss can be valuable employees. If they are the right person for the job you’ll find a way around the disability.” Mark has “high myopia”, which means he can see things very close up but the further away they are, the less detail he can make out. “I work in road maintenance, with most of my work based in the office and my job can be pretty visual, but as an employer the council has always been very accommodating,” he said. Mr Legg said he hoped the report would address the issues faced by people with visual impairments, most of whom are not completely blind and do not have guide dogs. “In many cases employers might only need to make minor adjustments to the workplace,” he said.

This student took his Tinder profile to the next level by turning it into a PowerPoint presentation

February 21 2018

Standing out from the crowd on Tinder can be tough, but with the help of Microsoft PowerPoint a British student has managed just that – and gone viral in the process.Sam Dixey, a 21-year-old studying at Leeds University, made a six-part slideshow entitled “Why you should swipe right” – using pictures and bullet points to shrewdly persuade potential dates to match with him on the dating app. The slideshow includes discussion of his social life and likes, such as “petting doggos” and “laser tag”, and “other notable qualities and skills” – such as being “not the worst at sex” and “generous when drunk”.It even has reviews mocked up from sources such as “Donald Trump”, “Leonardo Di Capri Sun” and “The Times Guide to Pancakes 2011”.Sam told the Press Association the six-slide presentation only took about 20 minutes to make and “started off as a joke”.However, since being posted to Twitter by fellow Tinder user Gracie Barrow, Sam’s slideshow has been shared tens of thousands of times across social media.So, it’s got the seal of approval form Gracie, but how has the slideshow fared on Tinder? “I’d have to say it has been pretty successful,” Sam said. “Definitely a clear correlation of matches and dates beforehand to afterwards.“Most of the responses tend to revolve around people saying ‘I couldn’t help swipe right 10/10’ but I’ve had some people go the extra mile and message me on Facebook.“Plus some people have recognised me outside, in the library and on dates.”A resounding success.


Optician highlights increased risk to smokers’ sight

March 7 2011

An Angus optician has warned that smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to lose their sight in later life. Kenny Johnston, store director at Specsavers in Arbroath, said smokers also have a higher likelihood of developing cataracts, a common cause of blindness and visual impairment. Research has confirmed the harmful effects of smoking on eyesight, particularly in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the UK's leading causes of sight loss. Yet more than nine in 10 smokers in the UK are unaware of this increased risk. Mr Johnston is now urging smokers to stub out the habit and use National No Smoking Day on Wednesday as an incentive to give up and make an appointment for an eye examination. Specsavers in Arbroath is educating smokers about the potential damage they are doing to their eyes and the increased risk of developing AMD. "Age-related macular degeneration affects around 600,000 people in the UK alone and smokers are more likely to suffer from this eye condition than non-smokers," he said. "They also risk contracting it earlier. "When you inhale a cigarette, approximately 4000 chemicals such as nicotine, tar, arsenic and ammonia enter your bloodstream and travel throughout your body. Some of these substances cause blood vessels at the back of the eye to burst, damaging the macula and ultimately leading to loss of vision. "As well as the early onset of AMD, smokers also have a higher likelihood of developing cataracts, a common cause of blindness and visual impairment. In addition, nicotine slowly poisons the optic nerve, causing impaired colour vision. "We are urging smokers to use No Smoking Day as an incentive to give up and make an appointment for an eye examination." Rachel Martin from No Smoking Day said, "Nearly two-thirds of the country want to quit smoking and No Smoking Day aims to help them as, with the right support, people are four times more likely to succeed. If you want to quit go to www.wequit.co.uk to find out the support and help available." On No Smoking Day events will be held across the UK organised by a variety of health professionals and stop smoking services to help reach the smokers who wish to quit. Photo used under Creative Commons licence courtesy of Flickr user Simon Blackley.