Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners February 25, 2022

What We Are Thinking and Saying About Ourselves

From the desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation

Jonathan Kaufman writes a column for Forbes Magazine entitled “Mindset Matters.” Recently, he wrote four pieces asking readers to change their mindset regarding the value of the disability community to businesses. He suggests focusing on spending power when discussing disability, or evidence that universal design benefits everyone, including the nondisabled community.

Simultaneously, I discovered the work of Trabian Shorters, who promotes the idea of “asset framing” when talking about how to assist people who are struggling. Shorters contends that not-for-profit organizations and foundations, in their eagerness to help, emphasize the negatives a struggling community faces to solicit support (deficit framing).  Inevitably, Shorter explains, that reinforces “cynicism and hopelessness” regarding those we are trying to help.  He suggests we flip the script and promote our assets.

This makes me think about the way we talk about our own community. I say it and hear it all the time. “Most websites are inaccessible to blind people and not in compliance with the ADA. How do we fix that problem?” “A disproportionate number of students with vision impairment fail out of college. Please help us get these kids through school.” “70% of blind and vision impaired adults are unemployed. What can we do to improve this statistic?”  “Very few vision impaired people get off SSI or SSDI once they start receiving benefits. We must do something about that.”

These statements devalue people living with vision loss.  What is the message here? Blind folks can’t use the computer, fail in college, can’t get jobs, and live on social security?  Let’s acknowledge that mindset matters and practice asset framing.  Let’s start saying “When customers living with vision loss are trying to spend their money online they often face obstacles, causing them not to make a purchase on your website. What can we do to improve your business?” “Students with low vision who attend college often face hurdles on the road to graduation. How can we improve the graduation rate at your university?”  “Job seekers living with vision impairment encounter several issues as they seek employment. Help us identify those issues and ameliorate them.” We are customers with money, students with intelligence, and job seekers with ambition. Let’s describe ourselves this way. If we change our mindset and engage in asset framing when speaking about our community, we can make great strides in advancing our collective mission to assist people living with blindness and vision impairment, from diverse backgrounds, in experiencing as much independence as possible while being included in, and treated equally by, all communities within which we wish to participate.

Scholarships for Students Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired for the Upcoming School Year

by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern

Recently we chronicled potential internship opportunities for students with vision loss. This week, we are doing the same with scholarship opportunities. Here are two of the leading opportunities available for students with vision loss for this academic year.

Lighthouse Guild offers scholarships for students who are legally blind, including ten for first-time college-bound students, and one to three Graduate School Scholarships for college students already attending or planning to attend graduate school. To be eligible, students must attend or plan to attend a college that is accredited by a body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and is non-denominational. Applicants need to supply proof of legal blindness, with verification from a state rehabilitation agency or a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist, proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency, copies of college transcripts and/or copies of SAT and/or ACT results, as well as three letters of recommendation and a 500-word personal statement describing their personal and educational goals. Each scholarship awards the student $10,000 and the deadline for applications is March 31, 2022. If you would like to apply for the Lighthouse Guild College Bound Scholarship, click here. For the Graduate School Scholarship, you may apply here. For more information, visit the Lighthouse Guild Scholarships page, here. You may also call (212)769-7801 or email the Lighthouse Guild, here.

Another scholarship opportunity, from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), offers 30 merit-based scholarships of $8,000 for students who are legally blind and are pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, post-secondary course of study in a degree program at a U.S. institution in the fall of the year of application. To be eligible, the applicant must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident, at least 18 years of age by July 5, 2022, and agree to participate in the NFB National Convention and in all of its scheduled scholarship program activities (finalists will receive assistance to attend the national convention). The deadline for applications is March 31, 2022. If you would like to apply, go to the NFB website listing for the NFB Scholarship Program. For more information, you may read the “Scholarship Program FAQs," here. You may also call (410)659-9314, extension 2415, or email the National Federation of the Blind, here.

For additional scholarship listings, check out Lighthouse Guild's "Scholarship Comparison Chart," here. For more scholarship opportunity spotlights, see future issues of the Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Bulletin. Good luck and happy hunting!

Employee Appreciation Day: Time to Consider Accessible Hiring Practices

Since 1955, March 4th has been recognized as “Employee Appreciation Day,” to mark the importance of strong employer-employee relationships to the success of a business, according to National Today. During the pandemic, this theme has taken on renewed meaning, as one in four people left their jobs over the past year. “It’s a job seeker’s market, with more than 10 million job openings as of November (2021).” Many job seekers have disabilities, after being impacted “disproportionately” by COVID-19-related layoffs. Accessible hiring practices can help to address labor shortages while also connecting employers with talented applicants, as explained in an article from TechCrunch. Contrary to some myths and misconceptions, people with disabilities often are more productive than others and the companies they work for reap greater annual revenues due to “increased innovation that develops inclusive products to capture new markets.” Accommodations for employees with disabilities often involve little or no expense. Companies recognizing the potential advantages of hiring candidates with disabilities can examine their own practices related to such issues as recruiting, interviewing, employee benefits, and accommodations. These are among the guidelines for hiring provided by Disability Rights California, an advocacy organization serving Californians. Read more from TechCrunch about Accessible hiring practices to solve for The Great Resignation.

Skier Brian McKeever to Compete in the 2022 Paralympic Games

by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern

The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing are swiftly approaching. With the games starting on March 4, 2022, we are continuing to highlight some of the athletes with vision loss who are competing. Brian McKeever, a 42-year-old athlete from Team Canada, is among the top cross-country skiers in the world who are visually impaired and is the most decorated male Paralympian in the history of Para Cross-Country. Having lost his vision to Stargardt macular degeneration when he was 19-years-old, McKeever has never allowed it to slow him down. Starting to ski at age three, he began competing at age 13, going on to win a total of 17 Paralympic medals, 13 of them gold, across two sports, cross-country skiing and biathlon. Brian McKeever continues to hit the slopes, with his brother Robin as his guide. The brothers have competed in multiple Paralympic Winter Games, earning them the honor of being inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. McKeever, who was recently featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Toyota, says that he was excited and humbled by the opportunity to see the story of his life and journey on screen. He hopes that his story, and others like his, inspires viewers to pursue their "impossible." McKeever will compete in Para Nordic skiing this year, hoping to earn more medals in what he said may be his last Paralympic competition. To find out more about Brian McKeever’s journey to the 2022 Winter Games, Watch the Toyota advertisement  “2022 Toyota Big Game Commercial: Brothers Extended Cut | Start Your Impossible”, here on YouTube. You may also read the ABC News article “Toyota's new Super Bowl ad about Paralympic brothers is as inspiring as it gets,” here.

Request for Entries: Eye on the Future Video Contest

The “next generation of scientists” are invited to create and submit videos related to the study of science and “how you want to make an impact.” High school students across the nation, individually or in a group, can compete in The Eye on the Future Video Contest, sponsored by the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NEI will select three videos and award cash prizes to the winners, along with the opportunity to spend a day with an NEI scientist at their Bethesda, Maryland headquarters, with travel expenses covered. Videos need to be from 30 seconds to three minutes long and will be ranked with points related to content and quality, with vision-related videos earning extra points. Submissions can be made until April 8, 2022. Additional details and registration materials are available from the NEI listing: Eye on the Future Video Contest.

Research Update: Coordination of Eyesight with Implanted Chip in AMD Patients Shows Promise for Restoring Functional Vision

In February 2020, a researcher at Stanford University and his team “showed that with a thin, pixelated chip and specially designed glasses, they could restore limited vision in the center of the visual field of patients” with macular degeneration. In a follow up study, they found that those fitted with the prosthetic chip “are able to integrate what the chip ‘sees’ with objects their natural peripheral vision detects.” Patients in the study were able to identify colored lines in both the center and sides of their fields of vision at the same time. These results imply that this treatment modality could help patients to gain the ability to resume using their functional vision to perform activities of daily living. Daniel Palanker, Ph.D., Professor of Ophthalmology, stated that the fact that patients could see a “coherent image”…“’is very exciting,’” given that “all previous retinal implants created “’very distorted’ perception.” Dr. Palanker, the lead author of a paper reporting on these findings and published in Nature Communications, worked with a team of ophthalmologists in France. Macular degeneration affects 200 million people throughout the world, mostly older adults, who gradually experience loss of vision in the center of their visual field. Generally, peripheral, or side, vision can remain largely intact. Find out more about study results in the article from the Stanford Medicine News Center: Implanted chip, natural eyesight coordinate vision in study of macular degeneration patients. For the complete paper reporting on these research findings, read it in Nature Communications: Simultaneous perception of prosthetic and nature vision in AMD patients

February is Also Recreational Therapy Month

As we close out the month of February, it is fitting to recognize the observance of Recreational Therapy Month and the work of the professionals in that field. Recreational therapists assess, plan, provide, and evaluate interventions based on recreation and other activity-based modalities to advance the psychological and physical well being of individuals of all ages with disabilities and/or illnesses. Find out more from the American Therapeutic Recreation Association.

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