iOS 8 Release: Things to Consider Before Updating Technology Association for Veterans with Visual Impairments

Here is a post from a BVA member about the new Apple iOS 8:

This is not intended to cover every facet of iOS 8, rather provide a quick overview of a couple of the updates, bugs, and resources with more extensive reviews. This does not discuss anything related to the iPhone 6 or issuance of the KNFB iOS app.

iOS 8 Release: Things to Consider Before Updating Technology Association for Veterans with Visual Impairments

September 24, 2014

On September 17, Apple officially released iOS 8. This update includes many new and updated features that take the iPhone and iPad to a whole new level. Here are some of the most notable and what they do:

Accessibility Features
• Voice Over announces “footer” when it reaches the last bit of text at the bottom of a page, regardless of whether you are on a webpage or in your settings menu, Voice Over will start that final line by saying, footer. This is designed to let you know that you reached the bottom of that page.
• Audio ducking toggle switch is now available as a rotor option. Audio ducking is a Voice Over feature that reduces the volume of the non-Voice Over sound as you use Voice Over. To enable this toggle for your rotor, head to Settings, General, Accessibility, Voice Over, and Rotor settings, and swipe down to Audio Ducking.
• More options exist as an action for Voice Over when swiping up/down on an email message in the Mail app. The more options allow you to quickly forward, reply, reply all, and other tasks commonly performed with emails.
• Direct Touch Typing merges standard and touch typing into one typing method. If you are in a text field, turn the rotor to typing options. Direct touch typing by default acts like standard typing. However, if you are extremely confident that you hit your desired key on the first try, direct touch typing will type the letter you simply tap on without exploring by touch.
• Braille now appears as an option like handwriting in the rotor. Head to Settings, General, Accessibility, Voice Over, and Rotor. Swipe until you find the braille option. Reference the below link for detailed information from on this feature.
• Zoom now possesses multiple methods to zoom. For those familiar with Android Zooming or Zoom Text options, you will be happy to notice some of these now appear in Settings, General, Accessibility, Zoom. These include the standard full screen zooming, window zoom, region zoom, and area zoom. Apple also included an on-screen joystick style controller to ease panning.
• Speak screen is another advancement for Zoom users. Located under the Settings, General, Accessibility, Speech, Speak Screen menu, you can listen to the contents of the screen without turning Voice Over on.
For more information on changes to Accessibility in iOS 8, visit these links:’s-new-ios-8-accessibility-blind-low

Note: Perform a four finger double tap to start Voice Over help.

Mainstream Features

• Hey Siri is a new way to interact with Siri. This feature requires the following steps:
◦ Your iPhone or iPad to be connected to a power source
◦ You must say, “Hey Siri.” If successful, you will hear the Siri chime that indicates its ready for your next command
• Health Book is an app of sorts located on all iOS 8 devices. It will be up to the individual to take advantage of this app for tracking various bio-metrical data. These range from your weight and intake to exercise and blood pressure. As more wearable devices hit the market like the Nike band or pending Apple Watch, we will have more methods to track how we live.
• Wallet truly becomes a digital wallet. Right now, only a few high end retailers and some credit cards take advantage of this app, but more, like Bank of America, will arrive. A downfall for Wallet stems from paying with Wallet. Only devices with NFC capabilities (i.e. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus) will be able to remotely pay.
• Near Field Communications (NFC) finally arrived on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. This stands out as special mention as those Script Talk users will soon be able to download the Script Talk app, and scan their medications with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
• Now you can answer a message or make a call directly from the Notifications Center.

For more information about iOS 8, view these links:

Caution If You Are Updating to iOS 8:
It’s common to approach these major updates with a bit of hesitation. In fact, many people elect to wait for the first incremental update (like 8.0.1 or 8.1) before taking the plunge. If you are on the border, the below list includes some examples on why waiting to update is advisable:

• You are a brand new iOS user, and have concerns about learning the new features
• You are concern about the bugs with Voice Over or Zoom
• None of the new features appeal to you
• Unsure if you have enough storage on the device as the update requires 1 GB of free space to download and install
• Concern that the new update will increase the battery drain, and you do not have a backup battery pack

Sluggish Devices with iOS 8 and Voice Over
If you are concern that your device may become sluggish after updating, the following list are those devices where Voice Over users report such behaviors:

• iPhone 4S
• iPad 2nd Generation
• iPad 3rd Generation

Accessibility Bugs
After working with iOS 8 for several days now on both an iPhone 5 and iPad 3rd Generation, I have been able to duplicate many of the bugs reported at the below link. Some of these are severe and stand out as major frustrations when using your device. This next piece will list the bugs posted by and my experience with each.

• Screen fails to follow the Voice Over Cursor. This becomes evident if you attempt to select a button, but cannot activate it. Work around is to try to find that button by exploring the screen with your finger, lifting then sliding, and tapping on it.
• When using the number pad to dial a phone number or in a teleprompt, the button would “stick.” Basically, you will hear the key’s tone no matter what you try to do. The only way to shut this off is to actually turn off your device by pressing any holding the power button and double tapping on power off the device.
• Handwriting may crash Voice Over. This seemed to mainly occur if you use handwriting to open an app on the home screen or enter your pass code on the unlock screen. Additionally, Handwriting might seem unresponsive while entering text in a text box. Best solution is to use the rotor to activate and deactivate handwriting. Additionally, this problem seems to occur less and less after powering off my iPhone 5, and it is non-existent on my iPad 3rd generation.
• Voice Over will not read off notifications on the lock screen. Rather, you will simply hear the chime. No work-arounds exist yet.
• Voice Over will not automatically read off the caller ID. You will have to swipe through the screen in order for Voice Over to mention the caller.
• Siri’s responses often are cut off. For example, Siri would state, “the time is,” but not finish the statement if you asked Siri for the time. This also occurs with numerous other commands. I have noticed this bug arises less often as time passes.
• If trying to purchase an app or other App Store or iTunes store item, you may have to do a single finger triple tap to activate the button. Not sure how pervasive this issue is, so you may wish to try a single finger triple block on other buttons that do not seem to work properly.
• App icons located on the fifth row above the dock cannot be moved. This bug definitely impacts those interested in rearranging their screens. This row of apps appear completely unaffected no matter how you try to shake things up.

More bugs exist as these represent the relatively few I have personal experience with. Please use the below link to obtain a full list of bugs identified in iOS 8 for Voice Over users.

Apple Accessibility and Bug Reports
Apple Accessibility requires our assistance as end users to fully diagnose these bugs. For many reading this, updating to iOS 8 can be very helpful. This of course depends on your comfort level and willingness to troubleshoot some of the bugs within iOS 8. The only way we will see many of the bugs resolved in a timely manner depends solely on the outcry from the consumers.
Contacting Apple Accessibility is fairly easy and straight forward to do. I recommend the following steps:
• Ensure the bug is related to an accessibility feature

• Send an email to Apple Accessibility at:

• In your email include:

Model or iOS Device
Version of iOS

Exact details and events that created the bug
Voice Over, Zoom, or other accessibility feature you were using

Settings of that accessibility feature (like if it is a voice issue, what Voice Over voice you were using)
Historically, I have sent in one email per each bug, and never bunched several unrelated bugs together. Now, if the bugs are related, it could be useful to group these together. For example, a very similar occurrence where by handwriting behaves weirdly on both the home and lock screens.
I cannot stress this enough, but convey your messages in a professional and straight forward manner. Do not curse or blame the accessibility team in your email for not having the problem already resolved. They will be swamped with these types of requests over the next several weeks, and you will receive a far better response by sounding like you wish to help in resolving the problem.
How to Update to iOS 8
For those still interested in updating to iOS 8, the below two methods illustrate how this might be accomplished. Before we proceed any further, here are a few words of advice and caution:

• Back up your iPhone or iPad. This is crucial in the event you encounter an issue while updating.
• Connect your device to a power supply. If you update your device through the Settings option, this will reduce the chance of corrupting the install via battery drain. If you update through iTunes on your computer, then this advise is redundant.
• Once you update to iOS 8, you will not be able to revert to a previous iOS
Updating through System Settings
The easiest method of updating occurs through your device. The easiest method involves awaiting for an alert to appear that your device possesses an update. This only appears if you enabled automatic updates. Otherwise, do the following:

1. Connect your device to a power source.
2. Unlock your device
3. Open the main Settings app.
4. Navigate and tap on General.
5. Navigate and tap on System Update. Within Update Software screen, you will find your current version and a button to check for any updates.
6. Tap on Check for Updates button. A window will appear if an update is available for your device.
7. Tap on the button to begin downloading and installing the update

Updating Through a Mac
In order to accomplish this, you must possess the latest version of iTunes. To determine this, either open iTunes or navigate to Software Update in the Apple menu at the top left of the screen. Once your device is connected, perform the following:

1. Open iTunes
2. Force your Mac to backup your device by navigating to File in the top left menu, to Devices, then sync.
3. Navigate through the main iTunes window until you find your device in a pop-up menu option.
4. Select the Summary Tab.
5. Navigate to the summary window.
6. Scroll down to the button that states Check for Software Updates.
7. Clicking on this button will download the iOS8 update package to your computer.

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October Jethro Tull Concert, Unique Dinner To Support Disabled Veterans and First Responders

Ian Anderson and THE BEST OF JETHRO TULL HELPING THE HEROES with special guests including the Virginia Military Institute Commanders

The National Theater
Richmond, Virginia
Sunday October 5, 2014 at 7:30pm

Ian Anderson, the legendary progressive rock musician and founder of the rock group Jethro Tull, together with his band, will perform a selection of Jethro Tulls’ greatest hits. Special guests include honored veterans and an opening to the show by the Virginia Military Institute Commanders Jazz Band! See Ian Anderson’s personal message on the event at:

Pre-concert events include a Dinner in the Dark in Richmond on the evening of October 4th for to raise awareness of vision-related injuries veterans and an art show at the concert displaying the works of veterans recovering from their injuries through art therapy.

Buy your tickets on line at the National Theater or Ticketmaster:

a. National Theater Website:

– or –

b. Direct from TicketMaster:
See more information on all the great events at:
100% of all proceeds from the events go to charity to help Veterans and First Responders.

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Southern California Golfers Swing on Behalf of Veterans with Vision Loss

A unique memorial benefit golf tournament to be held October 13, 2014 in Southern California will donate its proceeds to the Blinded Veterans Association’s Operation Peer Support initiative for the fourth consecutive year.

The friendly, daylong Columbus Day competition, now in its tenth year overall, honors Major Charles R. (Rob) Soltes, Jr., O.D., an Army optometrist who heroically lost his life in Iraq ten years to the day of this year’s benefit tournament. Major Soltes’ vehicle ran over an Improvised Explosive Device in October 2004. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC) in Long Beach, California, also bears Major Soltes’ name.

Left to right at the 2012 event, tournament organizer Tom Clarke, Dr. Sally Dang, and BVA Board Member Dr. Tom Zampieri.

Left to right at the 2012 event, tournament organizer Tom Clarke, Dr. Sally Dang, and BVA Board Member Dr. Tom Zampieri.

California native Tom Clarke first organized the tournament in 2005. He is a longtime friend of Major Soltes and his wife, Dr. Sally Dang, who also now honors her late husband as a full-time Rehabilitation Counselor at the nearby BRC. Over many years, Clarke’s strong bonds of friendship have also included Sally’s three sons and the couple’s extended families.

The venue for this year’s event will be the Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine, California. The day will include an education component beginning at 7:30 a.m. that includes up to eight hours of COPE (Council on Optometric Practitioner Education)-approved Continuing Education credit. Golf registration will begin at 11:00 a.m. with the opening of the driving range, silent auction, and blind putting contest. A shotgun tee-off will occur at 1:00 p.m. following lunch.

Evening activities will include a silent auction and banquet featuring speakers Captain Tim Hornik, Specialist Shianti Lee, and Specialist Mark Wilson, all members of the Blinded Veterans Association who have participated in Operation Peer Support activities in the recent past. Individual registration and participation includes a round of golf, green and cart fees, lunch, dinner, and beverages.

For more information and to register online, see the attached brochure in PDF format or visit Registrations can also be mailed to Soltes Memorial, c/o Tom Clarke, 1 League #61674, Irvine, CA 92602. Tom Clarke can be contacted directly at 714-389-8830 or

Operation Peer Support seeks to help service members and veterans in their recovery process. The initiative focuses on those who have recently experienced vision loss as a result of an injury related to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan (OEF), bringing them and their families together with veterans who experienced blindness in earlier conflicts.

Major Soltes served as a Public Health Commander with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, United States Army. On October 13, 2004, while serving in Mosul, Iraq, his convoy was attacked. Major Soltes was the first Army optometrist killed in action while on active duty in the United States Army. In addition to Operation Peer Support, contributions will also benefit a scholarship program of Norwich University, Major Soltes’ alma mater.

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Technology Training Session Enriches BVA Convention

By Tim Hornik

During the BVA 69th National Convention a unique session occurred. The first in hopefully a series of BVA member-lead training sessions provided a chance to learn how to use an iPhone or iPad. The Technology Association for Veterans with Visual Impairments (TAVVI), aka the technology working group, developed and compiled a series of handouts and guides for various apps and functions on iPhones and iPads. For those unable to attend, the following link will take you to a webpage to download each of these items:

This hands-on iOS training session received overwhelming positive reviews from those in attendance. Roughly 70 Veterans participated and received valuable information and tips. None of this would have been possible without the assistance from the following:

Blind Rehabilitation Center Staff:
Craig from Birmingham
Denise from Hines

Expo Vendors:

Tom and Chris from Voiceye

Envision America

Jeff from Dolphin USA

BVA Members:
Shianti L.
Steve B.
Travis F.
John G.
Al A.
Claudia V.
Terry K.
Dan S.
Paul M.
Timothy H.

It is the mission of the TAVVI to continue providing assistance and resources to our visually impaired peers on various technologies for the purpose of enhancing their lives. Since our establishment earlier this year, the TAVVI has successfully accomplished a number of missions. These include the following:

• Provided feedback to BVA on the usability of VA’s website for a Congressional hearing.
• Developed a web usability evaluation tool in keeping with Section 508 guidelines.
• Conducted a formalized test on the accessibility of ten VA webpages.
• Testified before Congress on 508 Compliance based on the results of the above survey.
• Proposed and developed the documents and structure of the iOS demonstration at the convention.
• Executed the iOS hands-on demonstration

The TAVVI will continue leading the way with materials and programs to increase knowledge and resources related to technology. The Blind Rehab Specialists merely create a foundation for us to adopt technology. Only by practicing these skills and sharing tips and tricks with each other may we fully learn and incorporate these devices in our daily lives. To ensure that this happens, we are investigating and developing a series of teleconferences and other materials from which everyone can benefit.

On behalf of the Technology Association for Veterans with Visual Impairments, thank you very much for your support and assistance.

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Banquet Finale Closes Memorable BVA 69th National Convention

Inspirational recognitions, emotional tributes to family members and dedicated professionals, and even a few fond farewells all found their way to the capstone event that brought to an official end the BVA 69th National Convention August 21, 2014, in Sparks, Nevada.

The annual Awards Banquet is considered the final opportunity at each BVA national gathering to enjoy food and drink while mingling with new and old friends. The event began with an hour-long reception and concluded with expressions of appreciation for dedication and sacrifice by BVA members and their regional groups, caregivers, board members and staff, and others who provided support and service to veterans with vision loss throughout the past year.

Valerie Duffy, VIST Coordinator at the Boise, Idaho, VA Medical Center, played her ukulele to illustrate points made at her presentation to the BVAA Auxiliary. The presentation was entitled “83 Things Every Survivor Should Do.” At right, BVAA National President Sandy Krasnodemski.

Valerie Duffy, VIST Coordinator at the Boise, Idaho, VA Medical Center, played her ukulele to illustrate points made at her presentation to the BVAA Auxiliary. The presentation was entitled “83 Things Every Survivor Should Do.” At right, BVAA National President Sandy Krasnodemski.

BVA National Treasurer Paul Mimms received BVA’s highest honor, the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement, at the banquet. The Irving Diener Award was presented to Charles Register of the Southern California Regional Group for outstanding service to the Association while Charles Davis of the Greater Houston Regional Group was honored with the David L. Schnair Award for distinguished voluntary service.

Three regional groups also received recognition at the final event. The Washington State Regional Group earned the coveted Gold Gavel for having added the largest number of new members to their group. The Silver Gavel, presented to the group with the highest percentage of new members, went to the Wisconsin Regional Group. The Bronze Gavel, introduced only last year for the group signing up the largest number of new members previously designated as nonmembers in BVA’s database, was awarded to the Florida Regional Group for the second consecutive year.

Special national award recognitions were given to Dr. George Stocking for his more than four decades of service on the BVA National Board of Directors and Robert Keller for outstanding and lengthy voluntary service in the BVA San Diego, California volunteer office.

Robert Adkins of BVA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Group and Bill Hausinger of the Greater Houston Group arrived bright and early August 21 for front-row seats at the Convention’s Closing Business Session.

Robert Adkins of BVA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Group and Bill Hausinger of the Greater Houston Group arrived bright and early August 21 for front-row seats at the Convention’s Closing Business Session.

The Awards Banquet brought ended an intense week of education and training, business sessions, and informative speeches and presentations. Although opportunities also arose for socializing, recreation, and even relaxation, they were rare for those on whose services and dedication so many of the attendees depended.

“I don’t have even a few seconds during BVA conventions to sit down anywhere and just think,” exclaimed the universally appreciated and longtime Convention Volunteer Coordinator Margarine Beaman with her always recognizable and friendly chuckle. “I lose touch with the outside world when I am doing this—I haven’t even turned on the TV this week!”

Despite her attempts to be in many places at once wherever and whenever she was needed, Margarine once again in 2014 stood ready and willing to respond with a smile and helping hand to every expressed need as she coordinated volunteer efforts. If she was unable to make it happen by herself, she called on and delegated a heavy workload to a reliable cadre of volunteers from throughout the Reno community and even a few from much further away.

Charles Register, Southern California Regional Group, addresses Awards Banquet attendees following reading of the citation that honored him as this year’s Irving Diener Award recipient.

Charles Register, Southern California Regional Group, addresses Awards Banquet attendees following reading of the citation that honored him as this year’s Irving Diener Award recipient.

The BVA 69th National Convention attracted 345 total registrants, 148 of whom were blinded veterans. The week began with registrations and check-ins August 16-17. It also included preliminary activities of participants of Operation Peer Support (OPS), an initiative now eight years strong that seeks to connect veterans who have recently lost their sight with those who experienced the same during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or due to an age-related disease.

OPS participants from the United States, accompanied by a family member or friend, introduced themselves at a reception and dinner on August 16. They boarded a bus the next morning for Lake Tahoe, where they enjoyed a day of kayaking courtesy of Team River Runner (TRR). BVA member Tina Lemus, a Sparks resident and TRR official herself, organized the event. That evening the participants welcomed four additional OPS arrivals from Blind Veterans UK at still another reception and dinner.

The convention also brought some 66 exhibitors housed in nearly 40 booths. They featured  innovative instruments such as audible currency readers, talking computers, barcode scanners, bioptic telescopes used as eyeglasses, video magnifiers, hand-held libraries of audible information, mobility aids for independent living, audible health monitoring devices such as medical alarms and two-way emergency communicators, and portable Global Positioning System devices. Several exhibitors also addressed interested convention attendees in break-out sessions outside their booths.

BVA National President Mark Cornell and other members of the Board of Directors welcomed attendees to the convention at the annual President’s Reception on the evening of August 18. U.S. Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV-2) appeared at the reception and also offered welcoming remarks.

Newly appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini addressed the convention on August 19. A full text of Secretary McDonald’s speech is available on the VA website ( .

Other highlights of the week included the traditional BVA Auxiliary Silent Auction, caucus sessions within the various BVA districts, the unveiling of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s new U.S. Currency Reader, iPhone hands-on demonstration stations, and a Bylaws and Resolutions meeting that considered proposed bylaws and 21 resolutions.

The annual BVA Forum on August 20 featured presentations by the local Toastmasters chapter, Long Beach Blind Rehabilitation Center Low-Vision Optometrist Dr. Sally Dang, VA Blind Rehabilitation Service Director Gale Watson, and Executive Director of the University of Utah Moran Eye Center for Translational Medicine Dr. Gregory Hageman.

Following the forum, BVA member Bill Wedekind, Vietnam veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the annual Father Thomas A. Carroll Memorial Luncheon. Bill, currently a resident of San Antonio, Texas, spoke of life-altering events that began with an explosion as he was inspecting a defensive perimeter while on duty in Vietnam on May 25, 1968 that left him without sight and hands. The luncheon was also highlighted by presentation of BVA Certificates of Appreciation to VA BRS employees Lillie Kennedy of the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center and G.W. Stilwell of the same Philadelphia facility. The two were honored for their recent exemplary service to blinded veterans and their families.

Convention attendees were also treated to a mystery auction during the evening of August 20. They received updates by members of the Field Service Program’s National Service Officers and Director of Government Relations Glenn Minney on August 21. Convention and Project Manager Christina Hitchcock directed a session with regional group officers relating to successful development of a BVA regional group.

Although none of the proposed bylaw amendments passed on the convention floor as proposed, members and delegates voted to change the wording in one of the already existing bylaws. Each of the 21 proposed resolutions were approved.

Delegates and other convention attendees the Closing Business Session approved Louisville, Kentucky, as the city to host the Association’s 70th National Convention. The host hotel and dates for the 2015 gathering will be announced in the near future.

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New VA Secretary Kicks Off Activity-Filled Week in Nevada

Photo of Dr. Zampieri & Dr. Hageman

BVA Director of District 6 Dr. Tom Zampieri, left, with Dr. Gregory Hageman, Chief of Ophthalmology and Executive Director of the Moran Eye Center for Translational Medicine at the University of Utah. Dr. Hageman addressed blinded veterans and their families on the causes and new treatments for macular degeneration during the convention’s Wednesday forum.

“Let me thank BVA for your long-time support of VA—for your work at our medical centers, at our Blind Rehabilitation Centers, on the Prosthetics Advisory Committee, for your collaboration with VHA on the evolution of VISTA 6, and for your help in preparing our blind rehab professionals to serve you better,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald after just two weeks on the job.

McDonald’s August 19 remarks at the John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, Nevada, just outside Reno, set the tone and direction for the four days of business meetings, workshops, exhibitions, media interviews, social events, awards presentations, and the luncheon honoring Blinded Veterans Association legend Father Thomas J. Carroll—all of which have become significant components of BVA annual conventions over a nearly seven-decade span of history.

Photo of Bill Wedekind

BVA member Bill Wedekind, Vietnam War veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the annual Father Thomas Carroll Memorial Luncheon August 20.

Photo of Edna Dixon

BVA Auxiliary Vice President Edna Dixon holds up hand-made pillow she designed and sewed for this year’s BVA Auxiliary Silent Auction.

“Your devotion to veterans isn’t lost on me, and I want to assure you that your contributions to VA reform discussions have been of great help to me,” McDonald continued.

Additional details and photos and highlights of the BVA 69th National Convention, those front and center as well as behind the scenes, will be available shortly. Check back periodically for in-depth reports and comments from convention attendees!

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Fourteen U.S. combat-blinded service members injured in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Operation Desert Storm joined seven British legally blind veterans at the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) 69th National Convention at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada, August 18-21. The hotel is located just outside the City of Reno.

The group spent time together in recreational activities, educational seminars, and social settings. The U.S. attendees spent Sunday, August 17, on a kayaking excursion on Lake Tahoe.

Aaron Hale of Florida and Shianti Lee of Southern California prepare for kayak launch during Operation Peer Support activity August 17.

Aaron Hale of Florida and Shianti Lee of Southern California prepare for kayak launch during Operation Peer Support activity August 17.

Participants were honored as guests of BVA at its convention. The gathering of the veterans who have more recently lost their sight is made possible through an organizational program known as “Operation Peer Support.” The initiative began in early 2006 when generous corporations and individuals provided financial support to bring a small group of recently wounded personnel to BVA’s 61st convention in Buffalo, New York.

The program has continued at subsequent meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Phoenix, Arizona; Washington, DC; Las Vegas, Nevada; Galveston, Texas; and Spokane, Washington. At the top of this year’s list of supporters are Genentech, the Allergan Foundation, American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Optometric Association, and Eschenbach Optik of America.

According to BVA National Officer Dr. Tom Zampieri, Director of District 6, the chief aim of Operation Peer Support is for recently blinded veterans to meet and gain strength from many of BVA’s longtime members, the annual convention serving as a means by which such exchange and mentoring begin to occur.

Extreme sports enthusiasts Lonnie Bedwell, left, and Steve Baskis reunite during BVA 69th National Convention Operation Peer Support opening activities.

Extreme sports enthusiasts Lonnie Bedwell, left, and Steve Baskis reunite during BVA 69th National Convention Operation Peer Support opening activities.

“Our desire is that strong relationships might be established between the members of BVA blinded in previous conflicts and those who have recently had a similar experience,” he said. “Physical and emotional isolation is a huge issue for those who have recently lost their sight, and perhaps only those who have gone through the experience themselves can truly understand the great challenges they are facing.”

The British contingent includes four recently blinded Army veterans and a recreational therapy instructor from Blind Veterans UK, BVA’s sister organization in the United Kingdom. The five were participating in a BVA convention for the first time with two other British veterans who have lost their sight and attended the convention in previous years.

All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. They resolve to help other blinded veterans understand and receive the rightful benefits they earned through their service. The Association also represents the interests of its members before the legislative and executive branches of government, at the same time openly encouraging its constituents to participate in Department of Veterans Affairs’ blind rehabilitation programs.

For further information, call BVA at 800-669-7079 or visit the organization’s website,

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Bill Wedekind, Vietnam War veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) 69th National Convention’s Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon on Wednesday, August 20, at 12:30 p.m. Wedekind delivered his speech in Rose Ballroom B at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada.

A life member of BVA and current resident of San Antonio, Texas, Wedekind was born in Manhattan, Kansas, as the first of five brothers. He was inspired to follow the family tradition and join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967, expecting it to be a lifelong career path. On May 25, 1968, his life permanently changed course when he was sent to inspect a defensive perimeter while serving in Vietnam. Never arriving at a certainty or remembrance as to what happened next, Wedekind nevertheless lost both eyes, one ear, and both hands in the explosion.

Wedekind’s grandmother, Myrtle Fichon, suggested pottery as a possible career for him and introduced him to the basics of the craft before he studied under accomplished potters at Kansas State University. He later received an advanced degree license as a ham radio operator and took up the building of race cars as a hobby. He also fearlessly uses power tools whenever he needs to build another shelf to hold his pottery. Wedekind is a skilled computer programmer. He has given pottery demonstrations and motivational speeches to a wide array of groups, including students of all ages, a minister’s group, inmates at correctional facilities, and potters at numerous shows, guilds, and seminars.

In 1976, the Disabled American Veterans honored Wedekind as the Arkansas Disabled Vet of the Year. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Combat V in 1968.

Wedekind’s address was one of several highlights of the BVA convention, which occured August 18-21. Some 150 blinded veterans and an additional 250 families, exhibitors, presenters, and friends of BVA participated in the four-day gathering. The Father Carroll Luncheon event itself is named for Thomas J. Carroll, one of the blind rehabilitation field’s foremost pioneers of the 20th century and BVA’s National Chaplain from 1946 to 1971.

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Leading authorities in the areas of leadership skills development, blind rehabilitation, and vision research affecting the blind and visually impaired, especially those who have served in the United States military, will speak in a forum setting on Wednesday, August 21, at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort.

The forum, which runs from 8:00 a.m. until Noon in Pavilions C, D, and E, is one of several educational components of the Blinded Veterans Association’s 69th National Convention. The August 18-21 gathering features organizational business meetings, social events, and an Exhibit Hall open to the public.

Presenters at the Forum include Captain Donald Crandell and Lee Ruff of Toastmasters, International; Dr. Sally Dang, full-time optometrist with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Long Beach Health Care System in its low vision/blind rehabilitation clinical program at the Major Charles Robert Soltes, Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center; Gale Watson, VA National Director of Blind Rehabilitation Service; and Dr. Gregory Hageman, Chief of Ophthalmology and Executive Director of the Moran Eye Center for Translational Medicine at the University of Utah.

BVA’s membership of approximately 11,500 includes blinded veterans from the state of Nevada, seven of whom will attend the convention. Four of the attendees are from the Reno-Sparks area. All BVA members share a common bond as legally blind veterans. They resolve to help one another understand and receive the rightful benefits they earned through their service. The Association also represents the interests of its members before the legislative and executive branches of government and encourages all blinded veterans to participate in VA blind rehab programs.

BVA was established in March of 1945 when a small but close-knit group of World War II blinded veterans gathered together in Avon, Connecticut. The founders hoped to help newly blinded veterans adjust to life without sight and to regain their confidence and independence. This dedication has continued for 69 years.

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Newly appointed and confirmed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert A. McDonald will address the Blinded Veterans Association’s (BVA) 69th National Convention as the keynote speaker at the organization’s Opening Business Session on August 19 at 8:30 a.m. The speech will occur in Rose Ballroom B at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada. Brief remarks by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini will follow.

Secretary McDonald was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs and was confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 2014.

Prior to joining VA, Secretary McDonald was Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company. Under his leadership, Proctor & Gamble added nearly one billion people to its global customer base and grew the organic sales by an average of 3 percent per year. During his tenure, Procter & Gamble was widely recognized for its leader development prowess. In 2012, Chief Executive Magazine named it the best company for developing leader talent. He is personally committed to values-based leadership that leads to improving the lives of others.

An Army veteran, Secretary McDonald served with the 82nd Airborne Division, completing Jungle, Arctic, and Desert Warfare training. He earned the Ranger tab, the Expert Infantryman Badge, and Senior Parachutist wing. Upon leaving military service as a Captain, he received the Meritorious Service Medal. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in the top 2 percent of the Class of 1975. He also served there as the Brigade Adjutant for the Corps of Cadets. He earned an MBA from the University of Utah in 1978.

Secretary McDonald’s address will be one of several highlights of the BVA convention, which runs August 18-21. Approximately 150 blinded veterans and an additional 200 family members, exhibitors, presenters and friends of the Association participate in the annual gathering

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