by Jaime Rodriguez
It’s the holiday season and Christmas is nearly upon us, so it’s time to get into the holiday spirit! The following are some great, family-friendly holiday-themed movies that feature audio description with information about where you can find them.
First up is A Charlie Brown Christmas, a classic 1965 animated TV special that is based on the Peanuts comics by Charles M. Schulz. In the special, title character Charlie Brown finds himself depressed upon the arrival of the holiday season. Trying to get into the holiday spirit leads him to seek out the true meaning of Christmas. You can stream A Charlie Brown Christmas with audio description here with a subscription to AppleTV+.
Another animated holiday-themed film is the 2004 movie The Polar Express, based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg. The movie follows a young boy who boards a mysterious North Pole-bound train that stopped outside his house on Christmas Eve. During the adventure, the boy is offered the first gift of the season. Choosing a special gift that only works "for all who truly believe". You can stream The Polar Express with audio description here with a subscription to HBO Max.
Elf is a live action film that follows the story of a man named Buddy who had crawled into Santa’s sack as a baby and was given to an elf to raise. Growing up, Buddy thought himself to be an elf only to find out later that he’s human, causing his Christmas-obsessed self to seek out his biological father in New York City. You can stream Elf with audio description here with a subscription to HBO Max.
Up next is Disney’s A Christmas Carol, which is an animated reproduction of Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name. It follows the gradual evolution of a miserly man named Scrooge who has no holiday spirit. Scrooge is visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present, and Christmas yet to come, who show him his life from a different perspective, causing him to change his miserly ways. You can stream Disney’s A Christmas Carol with audio description here with a subscription to Disney+
Home Alone stars the young Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, whose family accidentally forgets him at home when they travel to Paris for vacation at holiday time. Kevin initially loves his freedom without his family, but finds himself missing them as he fends off the "Wet Bandits'', criminals who repeatedly try to burglarize the family home. You can stream Home Alone with audio description here with a subscription to Disney+
The Santa Clause is a film starring Tim Allen as Scott Calvin, who accidentally startled Santa, causing him to fall off his roof. With his son Charlie in tow, Scott dons Santa's suit and inadvertently becomes contractually bound to become Santa, with all that entails. You can stream “The Santa Clause” with audio description here with a subscription to Disney +
And last but not least is the 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life, a movie about businessman George Bailey who mistakenly lost a large sum of money on Christmas Eve. Fearing that he would be held accountable and that his family would suffer for it, he imagines a life in which he never existed. An angel then visits him and shows him what life would've been like if he'd never been born, shocking George and making him regret wishing he’d never existed. You can stream It's a Wonderful Life with audio description here with a subscription to Amazon Prime.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Celebrate the holidays with the Schneiders and Rogarshevskys via a virtual Access Tour, offered through the “Tenement Kitchens” program of the Tenement Museum, located on New York City’s Lower East Side. This special holiday program takes place on December 15, 2021 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm ET. The tour begins by exploring the Schneider’s German American Christmas traditions in their lager beer saloon in 1869, then moves to a visit to the Rogarshevsky’s apartment in 1916, where they celebrate Hannukah. Both stories will also feature artifacts from the Museum’s collection and insights into the “daily work involved in cooking food.” Tickets for the event are free, but registration is required. Registered participants will receive a Zoom link in advance of the program. For more information, or to register, email [email protected] or call their Call Center, open Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm ET at 877-975-3786.
Veterans of all ages are invited to join in a pre-holiday virtual Vet-to-Vet café gathering on Wednesday, December 15, 2021 from 3:30 to 4:30 pm ET. In addition to celebrating the season, this free event, hosted by MJHS, features a presentation on “How to Access and Optimize Veteran Benefits.” Join via Zoom Vet-to-Vet Café, using passcode 069994. For more information or to RSVP, contact Thomas Lamb, Navy Petty Office HM3, at 347-675-0176 or [email protected] or Rosie Bernard at 917-648-3477 or [email protected].
With the number of older adults with vision impairment from diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration increasing, family members and caregivers may be “facing concerns about how to make sure the holidays are a problem-free and joyous time for their visually impaired relatives.” Recognizing this, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind offers some tips that can help, such as:
When decorating, do not reorganize major items. Consistency is important for an individual with vision loss.
Use contrasting colors on and near the dinner table. Limited vision may cause items to blur together.
Choose and wrap gifts “with vision impairment in mind.” Consider gifts that can make life easier, such as products with large print or audio capabilities
Narrate your holiday events. Be sure to introduce yourself verbally and be descriptive about gifts and the location of things in the party space.
For more details and additional tips, check out How to Make the Holiday Season Brighter for Visually Impaired Relatives.
As holiday shopping continues, we found some additional companies founded and run by entrepreneurs who are visually impaired. Many items offered represent practical products deemed helpful in their founders' own activities, like a bold, no-bleed pen, or tactile screen overlays for smart phones, as well as tasty treats like coffee or biscotti, clothing, or technology products. Check out these sites to find out more:
Low Vision Products for Seniors and Others - EZ2See Products: This company, whose founder lost vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, offers a variety of items for people with low vision “or anyone who can use its practical, uniquely designed products.”
A. T. Guys, Your Access Technology Experts (atguys.com): Presented as “Your Access Technology Experts,” the company sells items like tagging devices, services and training books, and other “cool gadgets, accessories, and more.
The Unseen Bean: Founder Gerry Leary, blind since birth, has a love of coffee that has helped him “overcome every obstacle he has faced” to become “the world’s only known blind Coffee Roaster.” His company sells a variety of coffee blends as well as biscotti.
GuideLight Dog Products (guidelightsandgadgets.us): As the name implies, this company sells gifts for dogs, including dog toys, airport leashes, LED harness strips, and more. Co-founders are KaeAnn Rausch, a guide dog user, and Barry Scheur, blind since birth due to retinopathy of prematurity, according to an article from an American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Access World article: Barry Scheur: Reinventing Himself in Retirement.
Braille Jewelry | Elegant Insights (elegantinsightsjewelry.com): Founded by Laura Legendary, who is blind, this company offers an assortment of novel gifts, from holiday ornaments to snowflake jewelry, charms, and other accessories. They offer a braille jewelry and accessories collection that can be personalized as well.
Wright Turn Only: Totally blind woodworker Ray Wright creates a wide range of products out of wood, such as bowls, a lightsaber spatula (made for Weird Al Yankovic), and a wooden icecream cone. He accepts custom orders and explains that “Here in our woodshop we like to build two things…Things out of wood and more importantly, we like to build confidence.”
Blind Girl Designs: Founder and CEO Tricia Waechter, who has worked in the fashion industry for more than 30 years, launched this company in early 2021. She values designing clothing that is “not only beautiful, but comfortable and timeless.” Tricia is visually impaired, with about ten percent of her vision remaining, “but doesn’t let this stop her from building a clothing empire with garments that are as unique as you are.”
by Jaime Rodriguez
Austin Lighthouse in Austin, Texas, in launching a partnership with Fetch Robotics by Zebra Technologies, is now working with “autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs,” to help employees who are blind or have low vision and work in their million-square-foot warehouse operation. With the implementation of this inclusive assistive technology, workers experience increased independence and new accessibility options in the workplace, while their employer enjoys improved efficiency, with productivity increasing two-and-one-half times since the initial implementation. Workers ship out an average of ten truckloads per day, containing 5000+ packages, using this technology. The use of AMRs has allowed for increased employment of people who are blind and visually impaired, with approximately 250 warehouse employees who are blind or have low vision. With the ever-increasing evolution of artificial intelligence and robotics technology, the employment possibilities are endless. Hopefully, the successful implementation of these assistive technologies will continue and spread far beyond the bounds of Austin, Texas. Read more about this innovation in the Forbes article: Exclusive: How The Austin Lighthouse For The Blind Uses Robotics To Make Warehouse Work More Efficient And More Accessible.
A Work in Progress: High School Technology Club Invents New App for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
by Jaime Rodriguez
Students from the Machine-Learning Club at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia have developed an innovative new app to benefit people who are blind and visually impaired. Dubbed “Atheia,” the app uses facial recognition and computer vision software to detect and describe people and objects in a person's environment. It can answer open-ended questions regarding the size and shape of the objects as well. The app’s built-in text reader also scans text on objects and can read it aloud to the user. In addition, Atheia can tell the user where an object is located and even where it was encountered last. The app even sports a sentry mode capable of recording live video and text updates to the user’s designated emergency contact with their location. The students responsible for the development of this app are seniors Eugene Choi, Raffu Khondaker, Irfan Nafi, and Pranav Ravella, who began developing “Atheia” in 2019 when they recognized a need for accessible technology for people with low or no vision, as well as the fact that computer identification software had been developed to high accuracy. Atheia is now in the testing stages at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. Read more about the new app from IEEE Spectrum: High School Students Built This iPhone App for the Visually Impaired.
CVS Pharmacy’s in-app feature, which reads prescription labels aloud for customers who are visually impaired, is being made available to all of the company’s nearly 10,000 locations across the United States. The feature, called Spoken Rx, was developed in collaboration with the American Council of the Blind. Those enrolled in Spoken Rx can scan their prescription labels and have the information, including the name of the medication and instructions for its use, read out loud in English or Spanish. This innovation is free to users. For patients who do not have a smartphone, CVS can provide a standalone speaker. FierceHealthCare provides more details about how CVS expands 'talking' prescription labels to all locations to support visually impaired patients.
The Board of Directors of Readers Digest Partners for Sight foundation is proud to announce that they have awarded The Filomen M. D'Agostino Greenberg Music School (FMDG) a $25,000 grant at their December 2, 2021 Board meeting. The FMDG “is committed to helping people pursue their study of music while addressing the challenges posed by vision loss.” FMDG provides music lessons to persons living with blindness and vision impairment of all ages at all skill levels. “The Music School has garnered high regard for its instruction, community performances, and teacher training. FMDG serves as a resource to music educators and performers nationwide as one of the leading providers of large print and braille music.” The bulk of the award will be directed to assisting FMDG in the production of braille and large print music for students currently enrolled in classes, thus continuing RDPFS tradition of providing access to materials that promote literacy in the blind and vision impaired community.
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