Updated FAQ/Philadelphia Computer Users’ Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired

I have done a bit of tweeking to the FAQ file which discusses this group’s phone meetings and the email discussion list. I have numbered each question. In particular, I have modified question 19, which concerns my involvement with this group. Nothing has actually changed but I have decided to elaborate what I am able to do and what I cannot do regarding my participation on the mailing list. Here is the FAQ.

Here is a list of frequently answered questions for this group, which I occasionally like to post for new subscribers.

Hello. I am extremely happy to be able to send out the following announcement from yours truly. Way back in the day the city of Philadelphia used to have a group for blind or visually impaired computer users. At some point the group fizzled out and, to my knowledge, no similar group exists at this time for people in or around the Philadelphia area. Other major cities have similar user groups and they seem to do very well, such as boston and Baltimore. These groups usually meet on a monthly basis and each meeting focuses on a specific topic. As an example, one meeting might involve demonstrating a reading device where another might talk about tips for using your screen reader on the Web. I have been teaching and supporting blind children and adults for 15 years and I’ve been thinking for a while that such a group needs to be revived. Philadelphia is a city filled with many visually impaired computer users of all ages and with a variety of skill levels and talents and that wee need to have a way of getting all of those people who have an interest to get together to ask questions, provide answers or other ideas. I’ve wanted to see this done in a physical location to allow for things such as product demonstrations but doing this presented some logistical issues. Some of these had to do with finding the best time that would work for me as I don’t actually live in the city and traveling to Philly on a weekend, while possible, is expensive for me and therefore not ideal. I also needed to have a way to do this during hours that I’m not working as this has nothing whatsoever to do with my employer and I therefore cannot run or facilitate such a group during work hours. An idea was suggested to me by a fellow trainer and former coworker that I might want to consider doing this, at least in the beginning, by using telephone conferencing. I felt that this was a brilliant idea and one which provided several advantages. It would allow everyone to join the meeting without worrying about getting to a specific location and all of the logistics which this would entail. It also means that we could do this during hours such as an evening where using certain modes of transportation might not always be ideal. I decided to try it and I have now set up a telephone conferencing system which will allow anyone who is interested to call in and join our discussions.
What follows is a set of frequently anticipated questions that you might be asking along with my answers.

1. Q. How do I call into this system and is it free?
A. The number has a 712 area code. If your phone provider offers free minutes then there should be no extra charge for using the service. If you aren’t sure check with your local carrier before calling as I bear no responsibility for any additional phone charges you might incur by calling.
The number is (712) 432-3900.
The access code that you will need in order to participate in the conference is 391477.

2. Q. Is there a fee for joining this group>
A. absolutely not. This is not a club or group which charges any membership fees.

3. Q. Who are the type of members who are being invited?
A. this is really for any blind or visually impaired individual who has an interest in computers or other types of blindness assistive technology. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a power user or someone who has little or no knowledge but who is just curious about what’s out there. Whether you’ve been using computers since DOS 3.3 or have no computer at all doesn’t matter; all are welcome.
Initially, I would like to try and keep this group somewhat local, meaning that it is open for anyone in or near this area. However, since this is a telephone-based meeting, at least right now, people outside of the Philly area are also welcome. Also, people who work with or who support blind computer users are also welcome to join us. This might include rehabilitation specialists, people who work in the blindness field who have an interest in this subject matter or friends or relatives who are supporting a blind or visually impaired person.

4. Q. So, who actually runs this thing? Is David our new self-appointed president, leader, king, etc?
A. I’m just a facilitator. In truth, if my idea for a physical location had taken off I would likely have not attended most of the meetings but would have offered assistance to a facilitator behind the scenes. This is not a chapter where we elect presidents, secretaries or board members. I’m just trying to get this off the ground and I’d welcome future facilitators for future meetings if this idea takes off and if people like it.

5. Q. So, you’re not being paid to do this?
A. No, but grateful participants can send chocolate to my home address.

6. Q. Is this connected with ASB, BBVS or some other blindness organization? A. No, no and no, in that order. Participants do not have to be current or even former ASB clients or clients of other blindness organizations. This is one other reason why these conferences will be conducted during hours in which I’m not working.

7. Q. OK, so when are we actually meeting?
A. We will be meeting on the last Friday of each month from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM Eastern time.
However, nobody is obligated to stay on the phone during that entire time and I certainly understand if you need to call in late. I realize that we have lives which involve taking care of and supporting family members, friends, pets, etc. and this should take priority for all of us.

8. Q. What types of things do you plan to talk about during these meetings? A. This question was discussed during our first conference, but I still need and want to hear your ideas.
I have ideas but I’m sure that you do as well. Examples might be discussing digital book readers such as the victor Stream, tips for using Apple devices, info on using a screen reader with certain programs … you get the idea.
We could have individuals demonstrating and answering questions about specific products. We could also have mini-training sessions or short classes, such as how to download books from the BARD Web site. We could have general question and answer sessions and play stump[ the chump if that’s what you’d like to do.

9. Q. Are you affiliated with an assistive technology vendor? A. No, and I cannot be more emphatic with that answer. While I do provide assistive technology training, I am in no way affiliated with any particular product vendor or manufacturer. I do have my preferences on what products I like and which ones I don’t like and I am not at all shy
when it comes to expressing my opinions. However, while I may personally recommend or endorse certain products, I am in no way affiliated with those who produce and sell them.

10. Q. So, getting back to the chocolate issue, what types of chocolate can we send to your home address?
A. I realize that this is a highly anticipated question which, no doubt, is heavily occupying your thoughts at this time and so I don’t want to forget to answer this. Fudge-covered brownies, chocolate chip banana bread … I could go on but you get the idea.

11. Q. Is there a maximum number of people who can call into this system? A. 250.

12. Q. What if I can’t call in? Is there a way I can still hear it later? A. Yes, we actually record the conferences and they are available to listen to via the phone for a period of 30 days after the recording is made.
To hear the latest conference, you can call (712) 432-3903 and enter 391477, followed by the pound key.

13. Q. What other topics could we talk about?
A. Here are some sample topics we could have for future meetings. Where to find Books Online
Using My Screen Reader on the Web
Tips and tricks for using Search Engines
Discussion of portable Daisy readers such as the Victor Stream, Booksense, Bookport Plus, etc.
Comparison of Windows vs. the Apple Mac
Demos of IOS devices such as the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, etc. Screen reader comparisons: JAWS, Window-eyes, System Access and NVDA Screen enlargement comparisons: MAGic, Zoomtext, Zoom for Mac and iPhone Downloading books from BARD, Bookshare, Learning Ally or comparisons of these services
Overview of scanning software: OpenBook, Kurzweil, Text Cloner How can I make my computer and Internet connection more secure to prevent hackers from accessing my system? (this is not blindness related but is a topic which affects all computer users)
Pros and cons of low cost or no cost Windows screen readers such as System Access and NVDA
Should I get Windows 8.1? What’s the fuss with this new operating system, anyway?
Info on Braille displays
Discussion of Braille and/or speech portable devices such as the Braillesense, BrailleNote, etc.
What’s new with JAWS 15 or Window-eyes 8.4
Sources for the best chocolate brownies
You get the idea. Any of these are valid topics for future meetings and I’d like your feedback on whether any of these might be of interest to you. There may be topics not listed above that some of you might think could be of interest to others. Please email them to me at
support at davidgoldfield dot info or to the discussion list, which you can read more about below.
the above email address is written with the word at instead of the at-sign and the word dot instead of the period, which I did to avoid spam. Just substitute the word dot for a period and the word at for the at-sign and don’t include spaces in the email address.

14. Q. Wow, you really have access to all of that equipment you just mentioned? A. Not all of it. However, I think that I could find facilitators who do
have those products who would be willing to call in as a guest during a conference.

15. Q. Does this group have an official name?
A. It doesn’t and, at some point, it probably should have one. However, my priority is finding out what all of you want from this type of group. An official name, while nice, is not a priority of mine at the moment. For the moment it’s just the Philadelphia computer Users Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I realize that this name doesn’t exactly roll off of the tongue and neither does its acronym PCUGBVI. The former group from way back when was called VICUPA and I’d like to avoid that name.

16. Q. OK, so what are these mailing lists you’ve created?
A. I’ve created two mailing lists on the Yahoogroups Web site. The first mailing list is a two-way discussion group which can be conducted through email; no visits to the Web are required. It is a way for people to send public messages to one another or to me and these messages will be sent to anyone else who is signed up with this group. Some of you may be very familiar with how this works but to others it might seem a little bit mysterious. For this second group please allow me to explain this in an attempt to demystify how this works.
A mailing list is a way that you can send a question or a comment to a specific email address. However, in this case your message does not get sent to a private individual but gets sent to other group members. Think of it as public (as opposed to private) email.
First, in order to participate you must join the list. This process of joining the list is also called subscribing to the list and doing so is free. This step of joining or subscribing to the list is easy and allows you to become a member of the discussion group. To join the list send a message to
blind-philly-comp-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
You don’t have to put anything in the message or in the subject. Just compose an email message to that address and press your Send command. This particular email address is not mine but goes to an automated system on the Yahoogroups Web site.
In a few minutes you will receive an automated message indicating that you need to verify that you want to be on this group or, as it’s often called, a mailing list. Reply to that message and you can just press Send without having to write anything specific in your reply. In another minute you should receive another automated message telling you that you are now joined or subscribed to this group.
Now, you can send an email message to everyone else who has joined the group. To do this send an email to the address
blind-philly-comp@yahoogroups.com
type a subject, type your message and send it. If there are 50 other people who are subscribed to the list then the other 50 members will see your email message when they check their email and any of those people can send a public reply to the group.

17. Q. why would I want to send a message to 50 people? Can’t I just write to you, privately?
A. If your question has to do with the administrative aspects of the group, by all means. However, if your question is regarding obtaining technical support for your computer, screen reader or book player then the answer is no, but such questions can and should be posted to the discussion list. Mailing lists have some definite advantages. You might have an idea for a future group meeting that you’d like to bounce off of others to get their opinions. You might have a general computer question and would like to hear the answers or opinions of other members. You might actually see a question from other users that you know the answer to and could respond with your own answers.

18. Q. Do I have to join this email discussion group in order to participate in the telephone conference?
A. Absolutely not. You could join the group and choose not to call. For that matter, you might find that your schedule prevents you from calling and you might not even be someone who enjoys hanging out over the phone. You might only wish to use the phone conference and not want to join the email discussion group; any scenario is fine and there is no obligation for you to do anything. I just see this email group as an extension or an additional option for what I am trying to do, which is getting people in or near this area together to act as a resource for one another or to learn from others about relevant computer-related topics which might interest or benefit them.

19. Q. So, can we ask you our computer-related questions on this group? A. You can pose your computer-related questions on this group for any
one of us to answer. The purpose of the group is for users to reach out to other users. Also, please remember that this group is not, in any way, related to my employer. This means that I won’t be checking the group email list during the day and perhaps not very much, if at all, during
weekday evenings. I also don’t know everything and there are some questions I may not be able to respond to, but posting them to the group means that others who might know the answer will have a chance to respond. I also have a life which involves other things besides my professional career. Therefore, I’m not setting this list up as an official Ask David helpdesk service. However, when I do catch up with the messages I certainly will try and answer questions that I see remain unanswered when my time permits me to do so. This is really for all of you to talk with one another, either about the phone meetings or computer questions or musings.

20. Q. Can I leave or unsubscribe from the list?
A. Yes. Just send a blank email to
blind-philly-comp-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

21. Q. Is anyone storing any of the messages that I post to the group? A. I am not but Yahoogroups does store public email messages to the group. This is standard for most mailing lists of this nature. I might be able to disable that feature if this is of concern to a lot of people.

22. Q. OK, what’s the second list you’ve created?
A. This is an announcement-only group or list. In other words, this is a group where I will send out announcements relating to future phone meetings. It is not a two-way group where other users can post their own messages. This is ideal for people who want to know about the status of upcoming phone meetings but who may not want to read messages from other users. To join this list, send a blank email to
blind-philly-comp-announce-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
If you want to be informed about future meetings, you must subscribe to this announcement list. This is the only way to receive messages about future meetings.

I hope that the information contained in this announcement was helpful. As always, if you have questions or comments you can email me privately at HappyCatholic1211 at aol dot com.

All the best, and may God bless you.

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One thought on “Updated FAQ/Philadelphia Computer Users’ Group for the Blind and Visually Impaired

  1. Have you attempted to contact the people at PACSNET.ORG? I’m sure you would be able to revive it as a Special Interest Group under the Philadelphia Area Computer Society “umbrella” They have monthly meetings at the community center in the Giant Food Store in Willow Grove, PA.

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