Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners August 13, 2021

Upcoming Free Webinar on August 18: Helping Clients Who Are Experiencing Housing Insecurity

This Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) program will provide information about online resources and help available to homeowners and renters dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the economy begins to rebound, clients may need assistance from financial professionals and others on how to transition back to normal payments. Others facing eviction or foreclosure may need guidance on how to obtain help. The webinar, while intended for financial practitioners, can be of assistance in finding resources and professionals to provide support as we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic. For information and to register for the program, scheduled for August 18 from 2 - 3:30 pm EDT: Helping Clients Who Are Experiencing Housing Insecurity.

New Training Session: Independent Living Services for Older Adults with Hearing and Vision Loss: August 20

In this training, speakers from the Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youth and Adults (HKNC) will provide perspectives on how to consider the needs of older adults experiencing both hearing and vision loss – and how technology can help. They will highlight technology options, including mobile devices (smart phones and tablets), apps for communication and daily living, such as Seeing AI and SIRI, and Smart Home technology. HKNC will share their resources as well. The program sponsors are the Older Individuals who are Blind Technical Assistance Center (OIB-TAC) and the NRTC (National Resources and Training Center) on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University. For more information and to register for the training, to be held on August 20, from 2 - 3:30 pm CDT/3 - 4:30 pm EDT: Using Technology to Increase Independence of Older Adults with Combined Hearing and Vision Loss.

Back to School News and Tips

By Nikhil Vohra

Mid-August marks the beginning of the back-to-school season, and for students who are visually impaired or blind, that often requires some extra planning. Luckily, a number of resources exist to help students find accessible books, supplies and services to help students do their best. We are highlighting some of them in this week’s bulletin to ease the transition into the upcoming school year.


To start off, let’s revisit an extremely useful resource for math and science: the Desmos online calculator. As we first reported in January, Desmos offers the functions of a scientific and graphing calculator, but it also offers the functions of a simple four-function calculator, making it a tool for learners of all ages and levels. While we’ve already praised the accessible design of the calculator, it’s worth reiterating the inclusive design, as it renders the tool extremely convenient and valuable to those who rely on screen readers and auditory feedback:

Free Accessible Online Graphing Calculator

A favorite among math teachers, the online Desmos calculator provides access to a free internet graphing calculator. The Desmos team has now redesigned its calculator for screen-reader accessibility, and it even provides comprehensive documentation on configuring your screen reader—whether you use JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, TalkBack, or even ChromeBox. The calculator supports the verbalization of the operations of a scientific calculator and provides auditory tracing of graphs. Learn more from the official YouTube video and from the thorough documentation.

Creating Accessible Math Content

By Nikhil Vohra

Two weeks ago, we explored the markup language MathML and its ability to render math content accessible to screen readers online—but its usefulness extends beyond the Internet. As long as you have a browser that supports MathML, such as Mozilla Firefox, you can read equations written in this format offline in XML files. In this way, accessible equation sheets and assignments can be created, downloaded, and distributed as XML files and opened and viewed in a web browser. One way to create an XML file with accessible math content is to write the document using LaTeX, a very popular document preparation system in academia among mathematicians, scientists, linguists, and others, before converting it into an XML file with a program such as TeX4ht. Of course, this method assumes the ability to use LaTeX. However, its popularity in academia means that creators of math material, such as teachers and professors, are likely to know how to use it. In addition, students studying or planning to study in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) field are eventually expected to learn LaTeX for their assignments and papers. (Note: Overleaf offers a 30-minute crash course on LaTeX on its website for free.) Once a document is properly written in LaTeX (in the TeX file format), the conversion process to XML/MathML takes one simple command using TeX4ht. In this way, it is possible to create documents with embedded math content that is accessible to screen readers via MathML. For a detailed walkthrough of this process, check out the LaTeX to MathML guide from California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

Preparing for School-Year Reading

By Ahmat Djouma

If you are heading back to school this fall, there are a few things that you could do to be sure you are prepared. First, gain access to all of your textbook materials, whether through Learning Ally, Amazon eBooks or Bookshare.  If you know what books you need in advance, Bookshare could be a way to go. Textbooks for students are a priority over any other books on Bookshare. If you are unable to find a book that you need for school, Bookshare provides an easy-to-use request form.  Even if they don’t publish it immediately, Bookshare will give you a raw scan of the text so that you can at least  get started while you wait for the book to be fully published. The Bookshare Help Center includes a guide and video tutorial that detail the process of requesting a title not available in the current collection. Secondly, if you are reading books that are not textbooks, consider getting audiobooks from the National Library Service for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NLS)’s  Braille and Audio Download (BARD) or Audible.

Digital Security and Firefox's HTTPS-Only Mode

By Nikhil Vohra

Maintaining digital security is a multifaceted and complex process, but it’s also essential in the times in which we live. One particularly important place to be vigilant about security is in your browser. This is especially true if you plan to communicate your credit card number, address, or other sensitive information to a trusted website. Failing to establish a secure connection could leave your data vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, and other malicious actors. To verify whether your browser has established a secure connection, you can navigate to the address bar and make sure that the web address begins with “https://” (as opposed to the insecure “http://”). In addition, most modern browsers provide a padlock icon next to the address bar for those who can see it when a secure connection has been established. Mozilla Firefox has taken HTTPS security one step further with HTTPS-Only Mode.  This feature ensures that all sites you visit establish a secure connection to your browser, and when that isn’t possible, the browser issues a warning and an option to continue with an insecure connection. The feature allows you to browse without worrying about the padlock icon in the corner of the window, as secure connections become the default. To read more about the feature, visit Mozilla’s HTTPS-Only Mode support page. You can download Firefox from Mozilla’s main website.

Accessibility vs. Usability: There IS a Difference

By Ahmat Djouma and Nikhil Vohra

“Accessibility” and “usability” are two words that are often used interchangeably in the digital world.  However, there are important distinctions. On the web, accessibility refers to the ability of users with a range of disabilities—such as visual, auditory, or motor impairments—to properly access, interact with, and use online content and information.  Usability, on the other hand, is concerned with user experience, and it often refers to convenience, helpfulness, and compatibility.  Your website or web application may be accessible in that it meets minimum accessibility standards (such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), but it may not be very usable in a practical sense. For example, important diagrams in a web article that lack alt text are left inaccessible to blind site visitors, as it can result in incomplete or missing information for those who rely entirely on screen readers. A lack of heading structure in a digital document, on the other hand, provided that the document text itself is still readable to screen readers, presents a usability issue (not necessarily an accessibility issue). Last week, we at the bulletin discussed web accessibility as it pertains to Federal government websites, and we mentioned two sites that meet or exceed mandatory accessibility guidelines: and When distinguishing between accessibility and usability, however, these two sites stand in contrast to one another. Specifically, the White House’s website is both accessible and usable, providing convenient and useful heading structure and contrast options, among other features. The CDC website, although it may technically meet minimum web accessibility standards, provides no heading structure on its homepage, potentially making navigation tedious (particularly for those unfamiliar with the site). One way to ensure both accessibility and usability is to familiarize yourself with both concepts in order to be able to design web content that satisfies both principles from the start. In addition, you can employ beta testers to assess both accessibility and usability for your web content before publishing it or to improve it. To learn more about these concepts and the distinction between them, you can read an excellent blog post on the matter from the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.

Career Corner

Back to Work: Remote Career Opportunities

The remote work environment that proliferated during the pandemic has increasingly become the norm for many employers – and has resulted in flexible work opportunities for those “living with chronic illnesses and disabilities” as well. Virtual job opportunities have increased during the pandemic – and are continuing to emerge as new openings are announced. Hannah Olson, founder of Chronically Capable, cites six companies that are currently offering promising job opportunities in an article in The Mighty: Not Ready to Go Back Into the Office: These 6 Companies Are Hiring Remotely. Positions range from sales to dispatch operations to customer service to community project manager, marketing to financial services and life insurance, to illustrators and photographer – to name a few. The companies are: Voltus (technology related to renewable energy); NexRep (platform for hiring contractors); Spotify (music!); PHP Agency (financial services); Quartet Health (platform for mental health); and Canva (internet design tool). Chronically Capable is “a digital talent marketplace and community that connects chronically ill and disabled jobseekers to inclusive employers.”

What to do When Your Accommodation Request is Denied

If you’ve requested an accommodation at work and it is denied by the employer, you can explore a number of options to follow up on if your company or organization is covered by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers some guidance for delving into the issue:

“Learn More About Why the Accommodation Was Denied” – Although the ADA does not require employers to explain why a request is denied, you can certainly ask. This will help to determine whether “there’s any recourse for receiving a reasonable accommodation.”

“Consider Appealing the Accommodation Denial” – Some employers provide an appeals process. Check your employee handbook for that information. If there is no appeals process, you still may approach management about reversing the decision. If there is a union, that could be a good resource as well.

“Engage Advocacy or Legal Services for Support” – If you cannot get more information or appeal the decision, you might want to engage advocacy or legal support. State protection and advocacy agencies can be approached for assistance.

“When All Else Fails, Explore Complaint Options” – If your employer’s response and other options do not offer resolution, you can file a formal complaint under the ADA.

For more details, read the full article: Your Accommodation Request Was Denied. What Now?

Barilla Pasta Partnership with Be My Eyes

By Nikhil Vohra

Be My Eyes, an app that connects people who are blind and visually impaired to volunteers who are sighted for real-time visual assistance, recently announced a partnership with Barilla, the pasta company. This marks the first time that a food and beverage company partnered with the app. Be My Eyes users can now access help with product labels, product availability, and even cooking instructions via the app’s specialized help menu from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM Central Time on weekdays. Be My Eyes vice president, Will Butler, said in a statement that "[f]ood insecurity is probably the most important single issue for the blind community […] Barilla is leading the way and ensuring that the visually impaired have access to all the information they need about what they're putting in their bodies. For that, we truly applaud them.” You can download the Be My Eyes app for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Long Jumper Lex Gillette Going for Gold at Tokyo Paralympics

Lex Gillette, who lost his eyesight at the age of 8, began long jumping when he was 15 years old. Hesitant at first, Gillette “was able to conquer his fear and is now one of the best long jumpers in the world.” He holds the world record in this event at “6.73 meters – more than 22 feet.” And he’s no novice to the Paralympics. He first competed in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, with this year being his fifth time in the games. Gillette has won four silver medals and seeks to win his first gold medal this time around, training several hours each day to achieve that goal. Read more about Lex Gillette in the WXYZ/7 ABC website article: Blind long jumper hopes to bring home gold at Tokyo Paralympics.