Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners August 11, 2023

Upcoming Free Webinars for Professionals

On August 15, 2023 at 1 pm Universal Time UTC (9 am ET or Eastern Time) Past, Present, and Future: Treatment of Inherited Retinal Diseases (IRDs) will cover the history of gene therapy, including past and present successes and challenges. The lecturer, Dr. Alex V. Levin, ophthalmologist with the University of Rochester (NY) Medical Center, will highlight the growing field of genetic testing and gene studies related to IRDs as well as current gene therapies and their impact on patient outcomes. This session is provided by Cybersight. To learn more and register, visit the Webinar Registration page for Past, Present, and Future: Treatment of Inherited Retinal Diseases. For information on some of the latest research in this area, read the coverage in last week’s RDPFS Bulletin entitled “New Study Shows Cones in Retinal Degeneration May Retain Visual Function.”   On August 18, 2023, at 2 pm Central Time (3 pm ET), Mastering the Art of Group Instruction will explore planning considerations and strategies to “provide the optimum experience for adult learners.” This program can be helpful to direct service providers who are considering offering group instruction and want to know more about it and potential benefits. It is provided by the Older Adults who are Blind Technical Assistance Center (OIB-TAC) located in the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Vision at Mississippi State University. The speaker is Polly Abbott, older blind specialist at the OIB-TAC. More information and a link to register are available here for Mastering the Art of Group Instruction. [...]

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Free Online Workshops on Cooking, Meditation, and Artificial Intelligence Interfaces

Future in Sight offers a number of virtual classes via Zoom. Zoom links will be sent following registration. Here are descriptions of two upcoming programs for adults: On August 20, 2023, from 3 to 4 pm ET, Outta Sight Cooking will offer tips to barbeque enthusiasts on grilling with vision loss. While the summer days continue, learn about preparing the charcoal grill as well as cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, and more on a gas or charcoal grill. For additional details and a registration link, visit the webpage on Outta Sight Cooking. On August 28, 2023, from 10:30 am to 12 pm, Mindfulness, Meditation and More will teach breathing techniques that can help people relax, reduce stress, and enhance overall health and well being. In addition to teaching breathing exercises, the workshop will cover the benefits of these activities and how they can be incorporated into daily life. Learn more by visiting the webpage for Mindfulness, Meditation and More. On August 29, 2023 at 7:30 pm, Understanding Google BARD, ChatGPT and Large Language Models will be discussed in an event from the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Books Library of The New York Public Library. These “large language models” can help in practicing a language, working with code, understanding images, and more. They may, however, present false information. In this session, participants will find out how these “conversational AI (Artificial Intelligence) interfaces work” and how to guard against possible misinformation and bias. More information is available here about Understanding Google, BARD, ChatGPT and Large Language Media and register for the program here. [...]

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The First Blind Rehabilitation Center for Veterans Celebrates 75th Anniversary

by B. E. Lewis, RDPFS Intern: This summer marks the 75th anniversary of the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital’s Central Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC), the first blind rehabilitation center to be established by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Since that facility opened on July 4, 1948, the goal of BRCs has been to facilitate ongoing training for blind veterans, first with a model program at Hines VA Hospital and now totaling 13 inpatient blind rehabilitation centers across the nation. These centers provide in-depth intensive and supportive care to restore the abilities of veterans and active military personnel to “achieve their independence, support their families, care for their homes, and integrate into their communities.” Russell C. Williams, a blinded World War II veteran and the center’s first chief, is credited with developing innovative programs and practices which helped build the foundation for the modern rehabilitation of individuals who are visually impaired, from developing touch recognition of everyday objects, to improving the form and function of the long white cane. Hines VA’s BRC continues to develop innovative techniques and use cutting-edge technologies. Today’s center enrolls 34 veterans in a four- to six-week inpatient course. This modern facility features practical skills areas, a woodworking shop, arts and metal-working areas, and independent living apartments to help veterans continue a full, self-sufficient life after completing the program. Participants also learn how to operate various technology to meet their needs, such as assisted reading devices, braille reading and writing aids, voice-activated technology, and GPS devices. Since 1948, Hines BRC has trained approximately 10,000 individuals and currently serves approximately 300 annually. It uses video conferencing to reach additional veterans across the country remotely. For an example as well as additional details on the work of the Center, read about Marine Corps Veteran Robert Smith, who credits the facility for saving his life, in the article stating that the Hines VA Center is vision of hope for 75 years. More information on the anniversary and its significance is covered in the VA news release reporting that the Oldest VA Blind Center, white cane perfecter, to celebrate 75th Anniversary and from the Blinded Veterans Association commemoration  on their webpage noting that BVA Recognizes Milestone 75th Anniversary at Hines. [...]

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Study Considers How to “Boost” Your Commute

by B. E. Lewis, RDPFS Intern: A new trip-planning app, Commute Booster has shown encouraging results related to the use of public transportation by commuters who are blind or have low vision. Aimed at improving navigation inside subway stations, the app has demonstrated success in interpreting signs in some New York City subway stations. A study published in IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine reports that it presents the possibility of easier commutes. Designed by researchers at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Commute Booster routes public-transportation users through the “middle mile,” the part of a trip inside subway stations or other similar transit hubs. It eases this part of the commute in addition to the “first” and “last” miles that bring travelers to and from hubs. “’The ‘middle mile’ often involves negotiating a complex network of underground corridors, ticket booths and subway platforms. It can be treacherous for people who cannot rely on sight,’” said John-Ross Rizzo, MD, who led the research team that includes advisors from New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Rizzo, an associate professor in NYU Tandon’s Biomedical Engineering department, serves on the faculty of NYU Grossman. “’Most GPS-enabled navigation apps address ‘first’ and ‘last’ miles only, so they fall short of meeting the needs of blind or low-vision commuters,’” Rizzo added. Subway signs are typically image or text based and can be hard to recognize from far away. For those who are visually impaired, such impediments may reduce the ability to be autonomous in unfamiliar environments. Commute Booster figures out in real time what signs a traveler will encounter and uses a smartphone’s camera to recognize and interpret signs, ignoring irrelevant posts. Researchers plan to conduct additional studies among potential users to evaluate Commute Booster further prior to its possible public release. Read more from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering brief here on the New app developed at NYU Tandon (that) promises to make navigating subway stations easier for people with blindness and low vision and a blurb from the National Eye Institute here. The published report on Commute Booster is available here. [...]

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Final Rule Issued on Public Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines

Many sidewalks, crosswalks, and other pedestrian areas across the nation pose continued challenges in travel to individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Access Board has addressed this inequity by issuing its final rule on “accessibility guidelines for pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way.” These guidelines provide federal, state, and local government organizations with information about how to make sidewalks, crosswalks, and other pedestrian facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Among the requirements are accessible pedestrian signals, curb ramps, detectable warning surfaces, and additional features that benefit people with vision impairment as well as those with other disabilities. In issuing the guidelines, Access Board Executive Director Sachin Pavithran explained that “’Equal access to pedestrian facilities is crucial because pedestrian travel is the principal means of independent transportation for many people with disabilities.’” For more details, read the news release announcing that the U.S. Access Board Issues Final Rule on Public Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines. Additional background information is available in the Federal Register’s published report on Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way. [...]

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VPATs: A “Starting Point for Determining the Accessibility of a Product”

VPAT, a commonly used term in accessibility, stands for “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template.” An article in the Spring 2023 issue of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) publication, AccessWorld, explains how VPATs can be “a starting point for determining the accessibility of a product.” In evaluating a vendor or product, one of the requirements that must be met is its accessibility for users of assistive technology. This template helps to determine whether a product is accessible and is generally provided as proof of accessibility by the developer. It has been used as part of Section 508 Standards of the Rehabilitation Act regarding the requirement that vendors and products contracting with the U.S. government meet certain accessibility standards, with VPAT documenting how well the product conforms to those requirements. VPATs are mostly used for software, like computer applications, websites, and mobile apps. While generally not offered to the public, potential users can request them. Since 2017, this template has been based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), with input of accessibility experts worldwide. VPAT contains a list of WCAG criteria for success and “allows authors to document whether their product meets each of the success criteria.” Because VPATs are voluntary, and can be written by anyone, “they should not be used as proof of the product being accessible.” They can be helpful as a first step in determining accessibility. For anyone receiving a VPAT from a vendor, it is important to check when it was created. If more than a year ago, ask the date of the last major code update, since the VPAT may no longer be accurate if more recent product changes have occurred. In reading a VPAT, if the vendor is honest, it will include what WCAG success criteria are met fully, partially, not at all, or if the specific criterion is not applicable or has not been evaluated. Criteria include such features as non-text content, audio-only, and video-only. If they are marked as “partially supports” or “does not support,” that does not mean the product is inaccessible. Most products are not 100 percent accessible. If these ratings are included, it’s advisable to check with the vendor why they are marked that way and when issues will be corrected. For more details, read the article featuring “A Novice’s Guide to VPATs.” [...]

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Having Trouble Reading Standard Print? Enjoy today’s bestsellers in easy-to-read large print: Select Editions Large Type Books

Enjoy the best in current fiction, romance, mystery, biography, adventure, and more. Reader’s Digest Select Editions Large Type features expertly edited best-selling books in every volume. You get a full year of exciting reading (five volumes in all), for the low nonprofit price of $25. Indulge your love of great reading in a format that is comfortable and pleasurable to read. A portion of the proceeds from each subscription supports Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation’s work and dedication to fostering the independence of people who are blind and visually impaired. Each subscriber also receives a large-print calendar free of charge. Subscribe to Reader’s Digest Select Editions Large Type today or give a gift subscription. To order your subscription by phone, call 1-800-877-5293. [...]

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