From the Desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
Two years ago, I began my journey as the Executive Director of Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation. I joined the RDPFS team after working for more than 20 years at the New York State Commission for the Blind. For the first time in my career, I was able to apply my knowledge of the BVI (Blind and Visually Impaired) community and program development skills to a broad audience across the entire country. I am grateful to the Board of Directors of RDPFS for allowing me to practice my craft and create programing with outstanding not-for-profit partners in the blindness community at large.
Therefore, it was with a heavy heart but tremendous gratitude that I recently notified the Board of Directors of my resignation, effective June 2, 2023. Consequently, this is my last column in the RDPFS Resources for Partners Bulletin.
As for my plans, I am going to take a little time off, but will soon return to working in the BVI community. In parting, I wish to offer two points. First, let us all continue to work towards our common goal of providing support to those who live with vision loss, advocating and assisting them in pursuing productive, joyful, independent lives. Second, let’s increase our commitment to work collaboratively with other organizations in the community. We all must join together to have the greatest impact, maximizing awareness of vision loss and increasing the resources available to all who live with diminished sight.
Finally, I thank all of you for your warm welcome, as I expanded my role beyond New York State and your collaboration and support over the last two years. I am sure we will be continuing these important conversations with each other soon. Enjoy the summer.
May marks Healthy Vision Month, a time devoted to increasing awareness of the importance of taking care of our eyes. This year’s theme, “Healthy Vision: A Family Focus,” inspires families to “team up and protect their vision together!” In sponsoring this campaign, the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers sample materials to share in communities and professional networks nationwide. Some ways to become involved are to:
-Ensure access to eye care: Connect families to sources that can help cover the costs of quality eye care. Find out more about resources to help families pay for eye care.
-Review NEI’s website and share resources for older adults.
-Make eye health fun for children: Check out games, interesting videos, and tips.
-Help everyone learn how to protect their vision: Share NEI's eye health resources.
Learn more here about resources for Healthy Vision Month.
Each May, the federal government’s Administration for Community Living leads the national observance of Older Americans Month (OAM). OAM acknowledges the contributions and accomplishments of older adults, highlights current trends, and serves to “strengthen our commitment to honoring our older citizens.” These themes are especially relevant to individuals with vision loss. Although vision loss can affect people of all ages, older adults are at greater risk. The majority of those with vision impairment and blindness are over 50 years of age, according to World Health Organization (WHO) information about blindness and vision impairment. WHO points out that, for older adults, vision impairment can contribute to social isolation, difficulty walking, higher risk of falls and fractures, and a higher possibility of early entry into nursing or care homes. The 2023 theme, “Aging Unbound,” explores diverse aging experiences, promotes flexible concepts of aging, and recognizes how everyone benefits when older adults remain “engaged, independent, and included.” Logos, social media graphics, activity ideas, sample messages, and other resources are available to join in the celebration and advance the theme. For additional details, visit the Administration for Community Living’s webpage on Older Americans Month 2023.
Webinar on May 3, 2023: Addressing Ageism
Kicking off Older Americans Month, a free webinar, “Addressing Ageism Part 1: Societal View of Ageism,” will take place on May 3, 2023 from 10 to 11 am Pacific Time (1 to 2 pm ET). Whether or not it is acknowledged, “The way older adults are referenced and depicted in the media, popular culture and even in the health and beauty industries helps to paint a picture that aging is something to dread and make light of,” event sponsors note. Professionals working with older people need to know the impact of ageism on their work and take advantage of opportunities to advance positive views of aging. This first of a two-part program addresses how everyone can contribute to making “our society a better place to age.” Open to the public, the event is part of the American Society on Aging (ASA) “Empowering Professionals in Aging” series. Visit the ASA website for more details and a registration link.
Seeing Through Drawing: May 6, 2023
“Virtual Seeing Through Drawing—Portraiture,” a free workshop from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), offers adults who are blind or have low vision an opportunity to learn drawing techniques inspired by the Museum’s collections. The workshop, on May 6, 2023 from 2 to 4 pm ET, including experimenting with materials, verbal descriptions, and “creative responses to works of art,” is presented in conjunction with the exhibitions Juan de Pareja, Afro-Hispanic Painter and Richard Avedon: MURALS. It is free, though space is limited, with advance registration required, preferably a week ahead (by tomorrow). Participants can receive a free box of supplies by providing a preferred mailing address. To register and learn how to join online, call 212-650-2010 or [email protected]. For more information, visit The Met’s webpage on Virtual Seeing Through Drawing--Portraiture.
Appreciate Art At Home Online: May 8 and May 9, 2023
“Art insight at Home: Georgia O’Keeffe,” a free virtual program from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), offers individuals who are blind of have low vision sessions with staff educators who highlight specific themes, artists, or exhibitions via verbal description. Participants can join via Zoom or toll-free by phone. Two sessions of the same program are scheduled, so that those interested can select the most convenient time and date: May 8, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 pm and May 9, 2023 from 2 to 3:30 pm ET. This interactive session will include a conversation about the exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time. Curator Samantha Friedman and curatorial assistant Emily Olek will explore multiple works where the artist focused on the same subjects. Preregistration is required and space is limited. Visit MoMA’s webpage on Art inSight at Home: Georgia O’Keeffe for more information, call Access Programs at 212-408-6447, or email [email protected].
by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern
While video games are not a completely visual form of entertainment, often using audio cues and even haptics to give player feedback, they still rely primarily on visual information, like graphics and text, to construct gameplay. Most games have had little in the way of customizing visuals beyond increasing or decreasing brightness, generally with no support for text-to-speech for text not already accompanied by voice-acting, rendering menus and text boxes largely inaccessible. With more than 250 million people with visual impairments worldwide and an estimated 40 percent of the world’s population playing video games, this lack of accessibility is likely affecting millions of people. However, a positive trend is emerging in the industry. An increasing number of developers are offering more comprehensive options in games to improve accessibility, including many for those with visual impairments. A recent example is The Last of Us Part II, a very high-profile, critically acclaimed game developed in 2020 by game studio Naughty Dog. Among many features for accessibility are text-to-speech for all text, a high contrast mode, navigation assistance, and sound cues, allowing players who are blind and have low vision to have much closer parity with fully sighted individuals. Another example, God of War Ragnarök, released in 2023 by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, includes similar features, as well as the option to increase the size of all text and icons. Both games have sold millions of copies and signal a strong effort in the gaming industry to increase access for those with visual impairments. To learn more about the current state of accessibility in video games, read this article from Wired, Games Are More Visually Accessible Than Ever.
by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern
As part of their series “Where the Blind Work,” The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) held a webinar on April 20, 2023, speaking with three immensely accomplished blind journalists about their careers, offering a wealth of insight and inspiration for those interested in the field. The main theme, reinforced by their personal journeys, is that it’s very possible to succeed as a journalist with a visual impairment. All three panelists spoke of barriers faced by those who are blind or have low vision, but indicated that, ultimately, these are largely overcome by advocating for yourself. Elizabeth Campbell of The Star Telegram shared that “There are always access barriers around getting information quickly,” referring specifically to government and company websites that aren’t accessible. She noted that it’s important to advocate for whatever assistive technology you need to get your job done. Campbell suggested availing yourself of multiple screen readers, as some sites work better with different tools than others. This sentiment was echoed by the others, Gary O’Donoghue of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Michelle Hackman of The Wall Street Journal. O’Donoghue stated that you must “fight (from) your corner, and advocate for yourself,” to overcome disparities in access. He gave an example of using a braille display with a neck strap to write while out in the field, where having a laptop or using audio recording would be extremely difficult. O'Donoghue added that it’s essential to “keep up with technology to do things as efficiently as possible, (allowing the individual to be competitive when) compared to sighted individuals.” Hackman also spoke of barriers experienced in interactions with peers, remarking that while you may encounter some ignorance, “If you have the drive and interest, attitudinal barriers are nonsense that you’ll figure out.” She offered an anecdote involving an individual scoffing at her when visiting a section of the Mexico-United States border since she couldn’t see her surroundings. Hackman insisted on experiencing the environment and proceeded to walk through the brush. Each panelist shared many insights exemplifying tremendous journalistic achievements, serving as inspiration for aspiring journalists. As O’Donoghue stated, “Journalism is not a paper exercise, it’s a people exercise. The talking and listening required (are) a very good fit for blind people.” Check out the work of these journalists in the links above and visit the NFB Employment page for information on the next Where the Blind Work webinar in June.
by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern
Whether or not you have a visual impairment, preparation is the key to giving a smooth and effective presentation. However, if you have low vision, some additional suggestions offered in an article from Perkins School for the Blind can be kept in mind. One aspect is formatting the visuals with a limited amount of text on slides, so that both you and your audience will have to refer to them less often, mitigating the amount of reading required. Additionally, it’s preferable to use fonts with simple, distinct characters, like Arial (used here) or Calibri. Whatever the font choice, make text large, with a light color on a dark background to make reading it easier for you and your audience. Also, bring notes for each slide, in large print or braille, to help stay in-sync with the material on them. Include alt-text for any images as well, so it remains accessible when distributed. When the time comes to present, communicating with the organizer is essential. If presenting in person, let them know what equipment you’ll bring and what you might need from them so you don’t have to work with whatever happens to be available. Check out the location beforehand to set up, as well as to get a sense of the layout of the room and where people will be seated. When using Zoom or other online platforms, send the presentation to the organizer ahead of time in case you have issues sharing your screen or navigating slides. Similarly, see if the chat function will be used and if so, ask if they could monitor it for relevant questions during the presentation. For more tips, read this article from Perkins School for the Blind, When You Have Low Vision and Are the Conference Presenter.
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