Event showcases resources for people with physical challenges

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ST. THOMAS - As part of Disability Awareness Month, people gathered at Nisky Center on Wednesday to learn about the resources available to people with physical challenges.

Josette Smith demonstrated how to use a braille typewriter, as well as writing guides and signature guides.

Smith is a peer counselor the V.I. Association for Independent Living. Blind since the age of 5, she teaches braille and provides support for those who already are blind or in the process of going blind.

"Sometimes, they don't know how to cope with being blind," she said.

While technology has created even more opportunities for communication, people still are interested in using braille - a system of raised bumps that can be felt with fingertips to read words.

"In fact I've just been asked to teach braille to some students going to college because they need to use braille to go to college," Smith said.

The V.I. Human Services Department, in partnership with the State Rehabilitation Council and the V.I. Association for Independent Living, organized the expo and exhibit to recognize the accomplishments of people with disabilities.

Human Services Vocational Rehabilitation program participants displayed handcrafted artwork and paintings.

Assistive devices were on display and pamphlets and staff were available to highlight the local resources available for people with disabilities.

Elections System officials also were on hand to help demonstrate the AutoMARK, the special version of the new voting machines that designed to assist those with disabilities. The machine is compliant with the Help America Vote Act, according to ES&S, the contractor providing the territory's new voting machines.

The machine allows the visually impaired, or anyone who has a disability or condition that makes it difficult to mark a ballot, to vote independently.

Malvin Fahie Sr. tried it out Wednesday, listening to the audio prompts to cast a mock ballot.

"I think it's good," he said. "You can do it on your own. It makes you more independent."

Fahie said that in past elections he has taken someone into the voting booth with him to assist in casting a ballot. With the new machine, he thinks he will be able to do it on his own.

"I'll give it a try," he said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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