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RDPFS Resources for Partners December 2, 2022

Music in HarmoNY: Join in Virtually or in Person Tomorrow

The Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg (FMDG) Music School and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Community Affairs Bureau will present “NYPD + FMDG = Music in HarmoNY” tomorrow, Saturday, December 3, 2022, at 6 pm ET (Eastern Time). This free event will be livestreamed via the NYPD YouTube channel and in person in New York City. The presenting groups will join forces for a concert featuring music “from Motown Sounds to Latin Big Band!” FMDG Music School fosters education, access, and inclusion for individuals of all ages with vision loss. For more information and to RSVP, read the webpage listing describing NYPD and FMDG Music School: Music in HarmoNY. The livestream will be available tomorrow, Saturday, and can be accessed by visiting the NYPD You Tube channel here.

Tech Fair Presentations, Part 1

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

The Carroll Center for the Blind hosted its 2022 Technology Fair in-person and virtually on November 22, 2022. Following is coverage of two of the four presentations given that day. All presentations are available on the Carroll Center’s website, but as they are Facebook Live videos, please note that the audio quality is not as clear as that of a typical Zoom webinar.

Google Workspace with Screen Readers

The Carroll Center’s Nick Corbett, technology instructor, discussed tips and tricks for navigating, editing, and manipulating information in Google Workspace. Formerly known as G Suite, this platform includes such familiar web applications as Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Forms, Google Drive, and a host of others. As an alternative to Microsoft 365, its main strength is the ease of simultaneous online collaboration within its interface. It has become much more accessible over the years, and Corbett focuses on navigating and editing in Google Forms and Google Sheets, with a secondary focus on Gmail and Google Calendar. Since Google Forms is really just a website, navigating and editing them mostly involve the same kinds of commands used on a typical webpage, such as the single-letter navigation common to many screen readers that show preceding and following links, headings, and so forth. Because it is a “form,” it may have more text boxes, checkboxes, radio buttons (where only choice can be selected), combo boxes, dropdown lists, etc. for interaction. Most are accessible, some more than others. However, Corbett recommends creating separate questions and using radio buttons wherever possible, rather than a single question with multiple checkboxes, as the former is easier to understand when sorting data in Google Sheets. Responses to Google Forms can be collected in a Google Sheets spreadsheet, as Google Sheets is the equivalent of Microsoft Excel. Corbett goes through various menu commands, some rather complex, for sorting data most effectively. However, when using Sheets, Docs or Slides, it is very important to enable screen reader support (insert+Z), and for JAWS users, to turn off the virtual cursor before attempting to read or edit, or when using any of Google’s keyboard shortcuts in Workspace. By switching between JAWS and NVDA during the presentation, Corbett underscores the point that you should always have more than one screen reader available. He recommends these two on Windows, but having a Windows screen reader as well as VoiceOver on Apple products is similarly effective.

Top Apps of 2022

The Carroll Center’s Izzy Bermudez, senior technology specialist, gave a two-part presentation on the effective use of smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo and others, in the home, as well as some notable new apps for people with vision loss. Unfortunately, only the apps part seems to be available at the link at the beginning of this article. Highlights include Good Maps, a navigation app specifically designed for people with vision impairments. While not all features are available everywhere, it detects nearby points of interest (POI) and uses your phone’s camera to determine your direction. The current focus is on points it considers most helpful, such as airports and government buildings, but when used outdoors it is possible to save your own points of interest, such as your home. It also has built-in integration with Be My Eyes, an app that allows a blind user to connect instantaneously with a sighted volunteer for on-demand assistance. Bermudez also demonstrated Aira, which is similar, but the help is from agents trained by the company that developed the app.

For more details about these and other presentations, visit the Carroll Center’s website where the sessions are included in the order in which they occurred during the Live and Virtual Technology Fair.

Free Webinar on Online Shopping with Accessibility in Mind: December 7, 2022

Join in a virtual program on December 7, 2022 at 7 pm ET to explore popular sites for shopping online. Offered by The New York Public Library’s Andrew Heiskell Library, the session will cover accessible shopping at sites like Amazon, Google Shopping, Instacart, and more. To register for the Zoom program, visit the sign up page for Online Shopping with Accessibility in Mind.

More Holiday Gift and Activity Ideas

As the holiday season comes into full swing for 2022, here’s a round up of some sources and specific gift ideas for children and adults of all ages who are blind or visually impaired:

Holiday Time for Children and Youth:

Parents and family members of children and youth who are visually impaired may appreciate some suggestions for gift-giving provided by Future In Sight through a talk given by Stephanie Hurd, Assistive Technology/Activities Specialist. She offered ideas based on her own experiences growing up blind, raising a family, and pursuing her career. For gift ideas, consider:

- You know your child best. Think about their interests. Books can be a great gift for the motivated reader, with accessible resources like Bookshare, an online library for those with print disabilities, and apps like Voice Dream Reader, and Voice Dream Scanner, as well as large-print and braille books.

- Clocks, watches, and household items like blenders, popcorn makers, and other practical gifts that are accessible by speech electronics or by contrast (with low vision devices) can encourage independence.

- Gifts can also include toys and electronics that are similar to those for all children, like rattles for babies, musical toys, crafting kits, blocks, braille jewelry or more high-tech products like a child’s tablet, a smart phone or speaker, depending on the age, skills, and interests of the recipient.

- Outdoor winter activities such as ice skating, snow shoeing, can be enjoyed by the whole family. Gifts related to activities like equipment or tickets for adaptive sports programs are other possibilities.

Check out the Future In Sight website for more Holiday Gift Ideas for Children and Youth who are Visually Impaired and click here for some age-specific gift suggestions.

Gift Recommendations for Children and Adults Who are Blind:

Perkins School for the Blind has a gift guide with ideas to “help bring your loved ones closer together, while supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs who are blind.” Peer advisors and contributors to VisionAware have also developed “an awesome list of gift suggestions” for individuals who are blind or have low vision. Some examples are:

For the technology buff:

- Feelif, a tablet with a tactile grid to orient the user to different parts of the screen, uses vibration, sound, and visual information to present a multi-sensory experience. It gives children the opportunity to play games, make drawings, and take photos.

- Dot Watch refreshable braille technology on this smart braille watch makes it possible to tell time, answer phone calls, and read messages.

- The voice command feature of the Amazon Echo can be useful to check the time, weather, and latest news as well as play games, music, and more.

For the fashion minded:

- Aille Design, founded by Alexa Jovanovic, who notes that “’Good design shouldn’t exclude anyone.” Their designs are fully legible to braille readers and “beautifully showcase the importance of inclusive representation in the fashion industry.”

- The founder of Eye Power Kids Wear, a mom whose son has a vision impairment, was determined to help him “’grow up feeling proud and excited about who he is.’”

For Arts and Crafts Enthusiasts:

- An adjustable task lamp can be helpful for crafters with low vision.

- Practical organization items like boxes, baskets, or containers can be used to store supplies.

These gift guides also feature accessible classic board and card games and sporting goods as well as options for meal prep, music, books, and more. Check out the Perkins guide to Gifts for people who are blind and the people who love them and VisionAware’s Gift Ideas for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.

Braille Greeting Cards

For the braille readers on your list, a number of options are available for holiday cards:

Blind in Mind: The Braille Superstore offers a wide variety of braille happy holidays card designs and messages, including general holiday greetings, and those celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah. Cards are available for $7.95 each and can be personalized. Find out more from the Braille Bookstore webpage describing their Types of Braille Happy Holiday Cards.

Cards from Etsy sellers feature braille greetings, tactile print, and numerous seasonal and holiday designs. Prices range from $1 to $10, with opportunities for personalized messages. Learn more about their holiday and Christmas cards and Hanukkah cards.

Another source, Zazzle, also offers some braille designs for holiday cards, ranging in price from $1.10 to $2.21. For details visit their page on Braille Holiday Cards.

Ship Ahoy!: Adaptive Sailing in the United States and Beyond

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

In our continuing coverage of blind sports, this week we explore the world of adaptive sailing. It’s another sport that developed as a result of the rehabilitation needs of veterans. Adaptive sailing is unique in that, unlike some of the blind sports covered here previously, veterans still make up a large portion of those involved. Some programs are particularly geared toward those with vision impairments, an example being the Carroll Center for the Blind’s SailBlind program. It received national and international attention after it was covered in the 2013 documentary film Sense the Wind, produced by Christine Knowlton. However, many adaptive sailing programs include those with vision loss within a wide range of people with disabilities.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview the directors of two adaptive sailing programs, both fitting into the latter category, Tony Stephens, executive director of the Downtown Sailing Center (DCC) in Baltimore, Maryland, and Bob Bailey who runs the Sailability program in Antigua. During the interview with Stephens, he stressed the importance of veteran rehabilitation to his organization, as well as the benefits of sailing for others with disabilities. “There are studies that show that being on the water decreases stress levels,” he said. “It’s a really special sensation to be out there and feel the wind on your face and feel yourself moving.” Bailey’s program in the Caribbean runs during the winter season (October to April), when many U.S. programs do not operate. During the rest of the year, he teaches out of Peterborough, England. Bailey describes his program as the only one of its type in the Caribbean. In describing his philosophy he explained that: “If I can teach you to sail, then I can certainly teach the person next to you with a disability as well.” Both programs employ the Hansa 303 dinghy, which is specially designed for people with limited mobility and is steered with a joystick, and a variety of boats steered with a tiller. Instruction is typically one-on-one, sometimes with a skipper and one to two crew.

In the United States, US Sailing’s page on adaptive sailing provides a list of local sailing programs, as well as several guides for sailing instructors and for organizations wishing to start offering this service. For sailors with vision loss specifically, Blind Sailing International, also covered in Sense the Wind, is another resource with a focus on organized sailing events such as international sailing championships and the Paralympic Games.

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