Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners January 20, 2023

Using Braille Every Day: Virtual Parent “Eye on the Future” Resource Session on January 24, 2023

In recognition of Braille Literacy Month and of braille learners, The New York City Youth and Vision Loss Coalition invites parents to participate in its upcoming “Eye on the Future” session on January 24, 2023 at 7 pm ET. The program will feature Frankie Ann Marcille, VRT/OMS, who will share recommendations for maintaining braille skills and practical ways to use it in everyday life. Join in the program that evening by visiting the New York Vision Loss Coalition Parent Meeting here. The meeting ID is 875 5759 6924; and the passcode is 212625. To participate via phone, call: (929) 205-6099. For more information, e-mail Melissa Phipps, Senior Director of Youth Services at VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired: [email protected].

A Self-learning Braille Device for Children with Visual Impairments

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

A research project by four developers from India has led to what their company, Thinkerbell Labs, calls the “world’s first self-learning Braille device.” Annie, named after Helen Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, is a machine with hardware and software tools designed to let children learn braille at their own pace. Currently available in English and several Indian languages, Annie has its own curriculum and also allows teachers to assign homework and tests to students. Annie was developed to fill the critical need to advance braille literacy around the world. For decades, teaching braille has revolved around a close one-on-one relationship between the teacher and the student. However, even in the United States, where braille literacy is only at ten percent, there are not enough teachers to make this practical for most blind children, and braille literacy in India is at one percent. Thinkerbell Labs, which has already partnered with the governments of several Indian states to introduce Annie into special education and mainstream schools, has the ambitious goal of revolutionizing the way braille literacy is taught around the world through technology. This mission has earned them a spot on Shark Tank, excerpted on You Tube. They were also profiled in an article by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and another in the Indian Express. Here is the link to Annie on the Thinkerbell Labs website.

It’s a First: Australian Open Welcomes Blind and Low Vision (BLV) Champions on January 24, 2023

For the first time ever, as the renowned tennis tournament marks its 111th edition, the Australian Open (AO) will be welcoming two Blind and Low Vision (BLV) champions onto the court. BLV players Mick Leigh, the Men’s B3 Australian Champion, and Courtney Webeck, Women’s B2 Australian Champion, will participate during the AO’s first-ever All Abilities Day on January 24, 2023 (January 23rd in the United States). All Abilities Day will “celebrate and provide opportunities for all members of our diverse community to experience and enjoy the AO.” To promote awareness and the inclusion of BLV tennis in the Open, Australian tennis champion Alicia Molik, former “World Number 8” player, took part in exhibition games prior to the AO with Leigh and Webeck, wearing blackout googles to simulate how people with vision loss experience the sport, gaining a new perspective of the game. “Having relied on her eyes while playing all her life, Molik was totally out of her element playing Leigh and Webeck but that only made her more passionate about raising the profile of BLV Tennis at the AO.” Often referred to as “’soundball,’” BLV tennis is typically played indoors on smaller courts with raised lines to indicate boundaries and an adapted foam ball containing bells so that players can track the ball’s location by sound. For players who are blind, up to three bounces are allowed on their side of the court and for those with low vision, one or two bounces are permitted depending on their sight classification. Through the sight classification system, B1 players have the least sight and B4 the most, as explained in an earlier RDPFS Bulletin piece on The Background of Blind Tennis. Read more about BLV tennis at the AO in Honey Nine’s article about the Act that changed Alicia Molik's perspective of tennis at the Australian Open and the SBSNews coverage of how 'Soundball' will make its Australian Open debut this year. This match, as well as others, will be available online every day during AO23 through Action Audio, creating a “3D spatial audio experience for live sports to allow blind and low-vision audiences to follow the action in real-time.”

From Canes to Ski Poles: Winter Sports for People with Vision Loss

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

While people with disabilities will be featured next week in the Australian Open, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding now rule the roost here in the Northern Hemisphere. Fortunately, those with vision loss have a plethora of options for learning at a variety of ski resorts across the country. For those who are visually impaired, lessons usually involve one or sometimes more coaches with one learner. The coaches, who typically must complete a certification such as that offered by the Professional Ski Instructors of America and Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-ASI), give instructions and physical feedback, guide the learner through turns with a system of verbal cues, and travel backwards in front of the student to judge form and ensure they detect obstacles in time to give a warning. An additional person, known as a shadow, often accompanies to assist with loading and obstacle detection, and can be a staff member or a parent, family member, or friend of the learner. Many programs are run by volunteers, in which case the payment for lessons, which is often discounted, goes to the resort. Some lists of programs are available, such as this one listing several across the U.S. and Canada and this one dealing with New York programs. Others, not listed in the links above, include STRIDE Adaptive Sports in Massachusetts and New York, Summit Adaptive Sports in Connecticut, Adaptive Adventures in the Midwest, and Jack Frost Big Boulder Resort in Pennsylvania. These are just a few of the programs available, as the number of adaptive programs of various types is quite large and is growing. Programs in any individual state can easily be found by doing a Google search. This trend is gratifying to me, as I’ve had personal experience with both STRIDE and Summit, as well as two programs in Vermont which can be found in the lists above, Vermont Adaptive and Smuggler’s Notch.

Assistive Technology Month Celebrated with Online Educational Workshops

During January, “Assistive Technology Month,” Braille Institute is providing free online, interactive technology workshops on a variety of topics to promote assistive technologies and their use. Participants can join in by video or phone, with hybrid workshops streaming to virtual participants and offering in-person attendees the opportunity to try out devices via Microsoft Teams. Upcoming sessions include:

On January 25, 2023, from 10 to 11:30 am PT (1 to 2:30 pm ET), Experience the BlindShell Classic 2 Phone will cover these new devices, featuring hardware, a tactile keyboard, voice control, and loudspeaker, to facilitate use by people who are visually impaired.

On January 25, 2023, from 1 to 2:30 pm PT  (4 to 5:30 ET), Microsoft Teams for Low Vision and No Vision Users will be presented virtually and in person in Los Angeles. An instructor will cover how people with vision loss are using Teams features to participate in classes, workshops, events, and meetings.

On January 26, 2023 from 10 am to 11:30 am PT (1 to 2:30 pm ET), Get Going with Mike May and GoodMaps will cover the importance and need for detailed location information used to navigate inside buildings and in public transportation settings. May is chief evangelist for GoodMaps, a pedestrian navigation company that focuses on accessible navigation for people who are blind or visually impaired. For more information and to register, visit Braille Institute’s webpage entitled January is Assistive Technology Month!

New Accessible Reading App Launched in 2023

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

The accessible ebook provider Bookshare, through its parent company Benetech, has just launched a new, free reading app in conjunction with updates to its longstanding Bookshare reader platform on the web. Users will be able to search for and read Bookshare books through the app; customize visual and audio settings; navigate by page, chapter, and bookmark; and pick up reading where they left off. The app is available on iOS and Android devices as well as via Amazon Alexa smart speakers and will be released outside the U.S. later this year. The history of this app goes back to 2011 when Bookshare released an app called Read2Go. This undated page from their help center explains that at some point Read2Go was no longer being updated. Based on a search of the Apple App Store on January 17th of this year, Read2Go is no longer available. Bookshare is branding the new app not as a standalone service but as the new mobile version of its reader, with software versions for computers coming soon. This is a new alternative in the e-reading market to apps like Voice Dream Reader, Dolphin EasyReader, and the iOS app Capti Voice, among others. You can read more on this page about the various new Reader versions as well as this page with answers to frequently asked questions about the mobile apps.

“Section 504 at 50:” A New Virtual Interview Series

One of the first civil rights laws offering protection to people with disabilities, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 set precedents for later legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. As the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Rehabilitation Act approaches, the Southeast ADA Center has launched a series of 14 episodes interviewing leaders of the disability rights movement. All episodes are available on the Section 504 at 50 webpage. A national law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects individuals from “discrimination based on their disability,” forbidding included entities from “excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services.” Nondiscrimination applies to any employers and organizations that receive financial support from a Federal department or agency, including many hospitals, nursing homes, mental health centers, and human service providers. Among those interviewed for this anniversary series are Andrew Imparato, executive director at Disability Rights California; Barry Whaley, project director at Southeast ADA Center; Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, global disability advisory, The World Bank; Judy Heumann, disability advocate; and Sanchin Pavithran, executive director of The Access Board, to name a few. Find out more by reading the article entitled Southeast ADA Center Launches Virtual Interview Series: Section 504 at 50." For additional background information on the legislation, read the Wikipedia item on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Select Editions, Easy-to-Read Large Type 2023 Titles Released

Subscribers to Reader’s Digest Select Editions Large Type can enjoy the best in current fiction, romance, mystery biography, adventure, and more. Offerings for 2023 will continue to provide expertly edited versions of best-selling books in a format that is pleasurable and comfortable to read. Here are a few of the just-released titles for the coming year:
An Everyday Hero by Laura Trentham;
Noel Street by Richard Paul Evans;
Careful What You Wish For by Hallie Ephron; and
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins.

If you are not yet a subscriber – and are having trouble reading standard print: 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. You get a full year of exciting reading (five volumes in all, each with two titles), 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 helps to support Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation’s work and dedication to improving the lives of blind and visually impaired people.