The Board Votes for Mentorship

The WCBNY Board of Directors met following the member meeting on May 20th. Six members were present at the live meeting, two others joined via Zoom, and one was excused. It was great to be in-person, or at least mostly-so. And the Board took a very significant step at this meeting that deserves comment.

The Board voted unanimously to create a task force, chaired by Martin Cahill, to create a mentoring program for on-boarding new and prospective members.

There was a lot of very thoughtful discussion around how this will look, why it is necessary, what we hope to accomplish, etc. Since our meetings are open for guests to listen in, I think I can comment a bit further without getting too far ahead of the task force.

Even though this idea has been floated in the past, the impetus for this specific board action was a comment made by one of the Coffee Club organizers at their recent live event. That comment struck a nerve. And when the idea was formalized at the board meeting, most of the board members seemed quite willing to let themselves be carried back down memory lane to when they first lost their vision, when they first joined the WCBNY, etc. And the consensus seems to be that we’d like to create the program that we wish we’d have had back then.

Several members shared their stories from the early days. Like most people, we found those early days of vision loss, disability, etc to be quite frightening and overwhelming. I shared how funny it is looking back now to the day Martin and I were walking down Hamilton Avenue, on our way to the old location of the State Commission, talking about whether or not we should join that crazy bunch from the Westchester Council.

Of course, we’re glad we joined. And we all feel that we have a lot to offer to folks who are going through what we went through. And perhaps this mentoring program will be an invaluable tool in accomplishing that.

From here, Martin has to put together a task force, and they have to bring their proposals back to the board. So there will be more information circulating on this issue in the days and weeks ahead. Stay tuned for those exciting updates.

Members who are interested in serving on the task force should contact Martin directly. We haven’t appointed anyone or asked anyone to serve, because we want the task force members to be committed enough and passionate enough that they will take action themselves to get involved.

It should also be pointed out that we’ll need members to serve on the task force, organizing the program, and we’ll need members to serve as mentors, once the program starts. Those can be the same people, but they don’t have to be. We’ll need more mentors than task force members. And it is perfectly fine for any individual to serve where their talents and interests are most effective.

This is a very exciting time in the life of our organization. And that is owing to the fact that we have an opportunity, perhaps like never before, to have an exciting impact on the lives of our members, both new and old.


Saturday, May 20th, the WCBNY was back at our pre-pandemic meeting place, the Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation in White Plains, for the very first time. It felt good to meet in person again, and we had a very good program presented to us by the CEO of AYES, Michael Janssen, who introduced us to the OKO app, which can use an iPhone to turn regular pedestrian signals into accessible pedestrian signals at no cost to the user.

Even though we had a nice group of members present, including a social period with light snacks before the presentation kicked off, we still offered a hybrid experience, allowing members to come to the meting on Zoom, as has been our recent norm. Michael, in fact, did the OKO presentation that way.

Michael provided some additional information, post-meeting, that he asked be made available to our group. Here are links to additional instructions on the OKO app, and to O&M instructor materials.

And here again is the link to download the app.

Our meeting included some interesting background information and an extensive question and answer session. We’d encourage interested parties to catch one of these if you missed ours. There will be more, we’re reasonably certain.

While the OKO app isn’t necessarily a stand-alone solution, and it certainly isn’t  one-size-fits all, it is a remarkable tool that can be used in conjunction with the aids we are already using, like dogs and white canes, to help blind and visually-impaired individuals cross streets safely.

Here are some functional highlights:

The app is available for free on the Apple app store.

To use it, just launch the app and point the back-facing camera toward an intersection. The app uses the camera and artificial intelligence to locate the pedestrian signal and inform the user, via audio, haptic, and visual feedback, about the status of the signal.

There are distinct cues for a walk signal, a don’t walk signal, and a countdown timer.

The ongoing information from the app also helps to minimize users veering of course as they are crossing.

The app is not a replacement for a dog or a cane. It is meant to enhance a user’s ability to cross with whatever other aids they normally use.

The app does not require connectivity to work.

The company is still aggressively working to improve the app, and even has a built-in way for users to send feedback to help with that effort.

Mr. Cahill Goes to Albany

He’s not quite as folksy as Jimmy Stewart, but he is very effective in his role as Legislative Chair for our state organization, the ACBNY. And he’s the WCBNY’s very own vice-president. Martin Cahill is fresh off leading the state’s legislative weekend, advocating for an agenda that includes, among other things, electronic ballot return, licensure for O&M Instructors and Visual Rehab Therapists, and infant vision screening.

As part of his duties with the Legislative Committee, Martin was asked to appear as a guest on David Lombardo’s Capitol Pressroom program for WCNY Radio. He’s done two such interviews to date.

The first program focused on the topic of electronic ballot return. Martin lays out a strong case for why this is needed and how it will help the blind and visually impaired community. You can check that out by clicking here.

The second program, airing just this week, covered other items in our legislative agenda. That interview is at this link.

Coffee Club LIVE!

Photo from May 17th meeting of the WCBNY Coffee Club. Members are seen sitting around a table and chatting over coffee and snacks.
WCBNY Coffee Club

WCBNY is grateful to our members, Lynn and Ruth (along with all those who have helped and supported the effort) for creating our Coffee Club. The idea was to create a way for members to socialize and get to know each other, outside of the more formal meetings and the work we do as an organization. And on May 17th, at a great new coffee shop in White Plains, which is a story in itself, Lynn, Ruth, and over a dozen others, turned what had been a bi-weekly online gathering into a live, in-person event for the very first time.

The Coffee Club has been helpful in establishing a sense of community among our membership, and in helping new members to acclimate to the group. Lynn and Ruth, being relatively new themselves, were searching for a way to get to know the rest of the members. And they rightly thought that an informal gathering, like a group of friends going out for a cup of coffee, would be a perfect way to learn the stories behind the voices they heard on those Zoom meetings.

So for a while now, members have been dialing in, with their own brewed beverage in hand, and building friendships, sharing stories, offering tips and tricks, etc. But while Zoom is great, it can’t replicate the coffee house vibe. So it was inevitable that this party would have to become a live party.

Photo from May 17th meeting of the WCBNY Coffee Club. Members are seen sitting around a table and chatting over coffee and snacks.
WCBNY Coffee Club

We would like to thank The Pamplemousse Project on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains for being such wonderful hosts. Not only did they serve up some delicious treats, but they were very accommodating with our group’s needs. We’d encourage everyone to check out their story at the link we shared above. They are a new establishment with an amazing commitment to support charitable organizations in the community with all of their profits.

This was our first live meeting. But nobody thinks it will be the last. It was such a well-attended, good time event that everybody left wanting more. Keep an eye out for schedule announcements.