This page contains background information about myself, my website and how it came about.

About me

My name is Gene and I live in New Zealand (also known as Aotearoa - which in plain English is the land of the long white cloud). Many people think we are that little island off the bottom of Australia. That place however is called Tasmania.  We are the country to the south east of Australia, made up of 3 main islands and a whole heap of little islands surrounding it. Wellington is our capital and also where the Lord of the Rings was filmed. Actually, to tell the truth the Lord of the Rings (and now the Hobbit) was filmed all over New Zealand. We are blessed where we live. We can be at the beach in 30 minutes, up in the snow in 20 minutes (if it is there), or out in the country in just a few minutes.  If you would like to read more about New Zealand please visit http://www.newzealand.com/ You will soon see why we love it here!

I am New Zealand born. I am a young male (or at least I would still like to think that I am). I was diagnosed at the age of 4 with RP (also known as Retinitis Pigmentosa). In plain English, I have tunnel vision during the day and at night I have night blindness. As I have gotten older my field of vision has closed in and the tunnel of vision that I have has gotten smaller. I am to the point where I can't read written material any more and what vision I do have left doesn't really help. Imagine travelling through an endless tunnel and over time the tunnel gets narrower and narrower.

Due to my father's work obligations, I travelled a fair bit of New Zealand when I was younger (with my family), then we went to Australia for 17 years. While over there, I got my first Guide Dog (called Kenny) who I brought back to New Zealand. Since then, I have retired one called Hurricane and am now working with one called Opo (they are named after a provincial football team and a famous dolphin from the 1950s). That is how my email address came about for this website.

I have been an advocate for the blind in a variety of roles, starting when I got my first Guide Dog. There was a lot of opening of closed doors, and educating the public in quite a few areas. Being the first guide dog owner (in the area that I lived in at the time) meant I was the first to take my guide dog on a bus, the first to go into shopping centres and so on. While living over in Australia, I met my wife (who I have been married to for over 25 years), and she followed me back to New Zealand. It has been a while now and we are still loving it (especially the green green grass of home and the scenery we have here, not to mention the abundance of water!). As a younger man I found having longer hair, and wearing a leather jacket and heavy metal shirts while having a guide dog meant you were stereotyped by some people, and I vowed never to judge others by their looks. Peoples perceptions of visual impairment or blindness seemed to be that you had to be old, and had to wear dark glasses and/or have white eyes. They also seemed stunned to find a young man legally blind who was active and willing to give anything a go. They seemed to expect blind people to sit around and not do much, and that you had no vision at all. Thanks to my experiences along the way, I continued on with advocacy wherever I went and still do to this day!

Computers (and what they can do) is something I have always liked. Back then, I had more sight and could use one with the text etcetera enlarged and colour schemes etcetera changed therefore making it easier for me to use. My first screen reader (around 2001) was funded so I could study at the time. The programme was called Supernova and it had full screen magnification as well as a basic screen reader back then. As time progressed, my needs (in relation to magnification) became obsolete. I came across NVDA - a basic screen reader - back in about 2007 and watched it progress. I was not in a position to update my first screen reader/magnifier to it's new release each year. Even back then, I started using NVDA and could see it's potential and the people it could reach world wide. It was around 2008 when computers went into our public libraries with free internet access. I wanted to use those computers just like every one of our sighted counterparts, but without adaptive technologies (like a screen reader), this was impossible. The alternatives weren't cheap and could only go onto 1 PC. Then, you had to add the price of upgrades after that. Wanting to have the same access as everyone else, I told them I used a screen reader called NVDA (because I was visually impaired and needed it to be able to use the computer). Once the APN were contacted (Aotearoa People's Network - who manage the New Zealand library computer network), and testing etcetera had been done, the programme was allowed access to the library network. If you would like to see the news article from the Stratford press (from when NVDA was given access to the APN network), please visit https://www.nzherald.co.nz/stratford-press/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503390&objectid=10973253 to read the news article. NVDA has been updated on their network once a year ever since!

Special thanks to the APNK for allowing this access for print disabled people nationwide! So, this means you can go up to any computer on their network and use a copy of NVDA. They also gave access to 2 magnification programmes.  If you would like to find out more information about the access we have, please visit the following link. It can be found at http://www.aotearoapeoplesnetwork.org/content/partner-libraries I would like to see this access increase in other parts of the country as well as throughout the world!

NVDA was also mentioned at the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities which can be found at http://printdisability.wordpress.com/conference/2010-conference/8a-aotearoa-peoples-network-kaharoa/
I do like their motto "Think globally, act locally".

Please note: Since this installation (back in 2008), two other library networks in New Zealand have taken up the initiative also (Christchurch City Libraries in 2018, and Auckland City Libraries in 2019).  For more information on these and other networks, please go to my nzlibrarieswithnvda web page.

How my website got started

I started building my home page about April 2011. Since then I have turned it into a small website which is being added to periodically (as I come across information about blindness related topics). When I went to different blindness related groups, different topics would come up from time to time. So, hence some of these pages started to come together (for example tips and tricks, pen friend ideas and so on).

It was a way of passing information on to others. Whether it was what adaptive technologies were out there, or a new trick that could be learned - I found myself asking a lot of questions on different lists and going to websites all over the net. I was asking questions to different people in blindness related groups and found we all had a little bit of knowledge, but not in the one place! Hence, I started building this website into what you see today. I also wanted to get out information on the NVDA screen reader and where you could get it from. I noticed a few people on the NVDA freelists were asking questions about how to best use NVDA. It was a lot easier to put the information into an easy to use webpage for new users of NVDA and to flick off a link to that webpage to say how to do stuff, rather than type it up over and over again (either from me or someone else).

While putting together the website, I thought it would also be a good idea to put in information on how sighted people can help us out in the community. Some sighted people (actually a lot of them) were not aware of some of the things we come across in every day life (for example overhanging branches). So hopefully someone (or everyone) who comes to my website, can leave with some information (that can either help us out when in our community, or a VIP learn a new tip or trick they can use at home). A lot of people do not realise just how much they rely on their eyesight until it is taken from them. Whether you are a shop owner wanting to find out more about how you can help us, or someone getting information on how to help someone else who is visually impaired - hopefully this website has helped in some way or another. One day the website might even get a domain name and be easier to search for.

This website is a form of both education and advocacy. It is up to each of us to advocate our aspirations and communicate our needs to others around us (whatever those may be). As an example, if you are in a restaurant and are having trouble seeing the menu, do not be afraid to ask the restaurant to enlarge their menu, or to get someone to read it for you. The more education we share, the better the next person's experience! It is up to the Visually Impaired Person to speak up, as if we do not speak up then how can a non vision impaired  person know what our needs are? You may also be helping others without realising it!

If you would like to contact me (or even pass on some information that may help someone else), please feel free to send me an email. I can be contacted by clicking on the following link mailto:hurrikennyandopo@hotmail.com