From the Desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
Little Things Mean A Lot
Kathi Wolfe’s recent essay in The New York Times, “A Smirk, a Smile, a Clenched Fist: What the Movies Taught Me to See,” identifies very clearly how a person living with low vision learns about images and eventually incorporates them into their lived experiences. Interestingly, she relates how for a person with low vision viewing something in the movies is a more powerful learning opportunity than experiencing it in real life.
Living with low vision, I often must imagine the small details presented visually, since I cannot see details that fully sighted people might take for granted. Each subtle gesture, facial expression, or silent visual moment carries so much meaning, from joy to sorrow and everything in between. Every day I think about the little things in people’s body language that I might miss. I instinctively “fill in the blanks” of my world. Like Kathi, my experience includes not being able to see the faces and expressions of emotions of the people with whom I interact. In business meetings and social gatherings, I can’t pick up on subtle cues that convey how others might be feeling, such as a slight smile, frown, or an eyeroll. But I can guess, based on what I hear, previous experience, and other non-visual clues.
Like Wolfe, watching TV and movies gave me the opportunity to get really close to someone’s face on a big screen and see how their expression matched the words they were saying and the tone, diction, and cadence of their speech. I eventually memorized pairings of expressions to speech patterns and assumed that other people did the same. Being able to view these nuances close up provided a glimpse into how people might look and act in real life. Most important, I’m able to listen for the tones in people’s voices to discern their emotions. The enhanced visual experience provided in movies is increasingly available through optical devices, technological, and other advances in interventions available so that those of us with low vision can make best use of the vision we have. These innovations create a similar opportunity and build on what movies and television have provided for many.
Enhancements of visual images and audio cues, whether through media or the use of low vision interventions, have helped to heighten my awareness of verbal and nonverbal cues in communicating with others. I often strive to put my own emotions into conversations, displaying my understanding of the importance of allowing someone to feel heard. The moments of silence between us are filled with visual images that allow communication and understanding beyond words. Because of this, people living with vision loss have an inherent disadvantage. Visual enhancements help, though they do not fill in all the blanks. Therefore, imagining a person’s gesture or facial expression because of the sound of their voice is extremely important in navigating our ever-changing world successfully. Because these little things mean a lot.
Gearing Up for February, Low Vision Awareness Month
Each year, in February, Low Vision Awareness Month is commemorated to increase knowledge about low vision and the vision rehabilitation services that benefit individuals with vision loss. The National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that “Low Vision Awareness Month is a great time to spread the word about vision rehabilitation – and make sure that people with vision impairment know about the services available…” Vision rehabilitation includes a wide range of services that can help people with vision loss make best use of the eyesight they have to maintain their independence. NEI provides many resources to increase awareness about vision impairment and vision rehabilitation, including fact sheets, articles, infographics and infocards, a video series, and much more. For additional details and to access resources, check out NEI’s webpage on Low Vision Awareness Month.
Virtual Programs Marking Low Vision Awareness Month
The Braille Institute is hosting a number of Low Vision Awareness Month workshops that are being held virtually:
On February 2, from 10 to 11 am PT (1 to 2 pm ET), Basic Lighting will offer tips for household lighting, glare control and contrast enhancement for reading, managing finances, personal care, and meal preparation to stay safe and independent.
On February 6, 2023, from 1 to 2 pm PT (4 to 5 pm ET), Macular Degeneration and the Latest Research will feature a presentation from retina specialists about this leading cause of vision loss in older adults, including emerging treatments and new research.
On February 9, 2023, from 10:30 to 11:30 am PT (1:30 to 2:30 ET), UCLA Nutrition and the Eye, an educational workshop, will focus on nutrition and its role in managing disease and maintaining health.
On February 15, 2023, from 1 to 2 pm PT (4 to 5 pm ET), an Update on Clinical Trials for Low Vision Retinal Disease will elaborate on the latest trials underway.
On February 23, 2023, from 10 to 11:30 am PT (1 to 2:30 pm ET), Principles of Contrast will provide participants with basic principles related to contrast and how to apply them to address difficulties related to low contrast sensitivity and overcome challenges to activities of daily living, such as dressing, household and medication management, and more.
For more information on these and other resources, visit the Braille Institute webpage: February is Low Vision Awareness Month!
New Study Assesses Incidence and Impact of Visual Impairment Among Older Adults
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
Over the last few decades, as the population has continued to age, the prevalence of vision loss has increased markedly. A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology confirms this trend, reporting that 27.8 percent of adults over the age of 71 have a visual impairment (VI). This is the most comprehensive study published on this subject in 14 years. These findings are “based on objective assessments of visual function with habitual correction in the 2021 nationally representative National Health and Aging Trends Study, which surveys Medicare beneficiaries 65 years of age and older.” More specifically, 10.3 percent of adults have a distance impairment, 22.3 percent have a near visual acuity impairment, and ten percent have contrast sensitivity impairment. Lower income, less education, non-Caucasian race, Hispanic ethnicity, and older age all correlate with a higher prevalence of VI. The study involved 3,026 participants, 55.2 percent of whom were female; 29.5 percent were between 71 and 74 years of age. Significantly, this research shows that this VI persists even when wearing eyeglasses, contact lenses, or other devices. Lead author Olivia J. Killeen, M.D., a Clinical Lecturer in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Michigan Medicine, stated, “‘These findings are important to address, as poor vision is associated with several adverse outcomes for older adults, including depression, dementia, falls, motor vehicle accidents, and even death.” Senior author Joshua Ehrlich, M.D., M.P.H, assistant professor in Michigan Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, added, “‘The up-to-date data presented in this study are vital for informing surveillance of vision health in the U.S. and may enable public health programs to target those at highest risk of poor vision.’” You can read more in an article from Michigan Medicine summarizing the study and in the study’s abstract in JAMA Ophthalmology.
Screen Reader User Testing: An Avenue for Employment for Those with Vision Loss
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
The last decade has seen the advent of automated accessibility testing tools. These tools can fall short, however, in the actual experience of individuals using screen readers. Therefore, there is a growing need for testing by actual users. In a previous article in the Bulletin, we covered The Carroll Center for the Blind’s Screen Reader User Tester Training Program. This seven-week, intensive, remote training program teaches blind users of screen reading technology how to test websites and programs for accessibility in a systematic way as a means of gaining employment in the accessibility field. Students have the opportunity to be placed in an accessibility testing internship with My Blind Spot, an organization that seeks “To inspire people of ALL abilities," at the end of the program in order to gain experience and qualifications for the future. The course costs $12,000, and most students are fully funded through their state’s Commission for the Blind or equivalent agency. Other companies and organizations have also begun to offer training programs as well as jobs to screen reader users looking to test accessibility. Most or all of these, including The Carroll Center’s program, have the objective of obtaining a certification by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). A few of these are listed below:
- Equalize Digital offers website testing to clients with blind screen reader users as the testers;
- The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Talent Lab designs internships and apprenticeships for potential testers who work on client projects;
- HolisticA11y (“A11y” is short for “accessibility”) offers an online training course for testing web accessibility with computer and smartphone screen readers;
- Deque University, offers an online screen reader testing course as part of its series on web accessibility testing.
- Lastly, this article from UsableNet explains the advantages of this testing from both a user and developer point of view, as well as listing additional organizations that connect content creators with testers.
As this field continues to expand, this Bulletin will include additional coverage of the latest developments.
On February 2, 2023: Accessible Retail Spaces and Restaurants
Shopping and eating out are ongoing activities that need to be accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. A webinar from the Great Lakes ADA Center on February 2, 2023 from 2:30 to 4 pm ET will provide an overview of the accessibility requirements for retail spaces and restaurants through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Standards. The program will address requirements for parking, entrances, food service and waiting lines, dressing and fitting rooms, dining surfaces, checkout aisles, and more. Accessibility Specialists from the Access Board will speak about frequently asked questions related to these topics as well. Video remote interpreting (VRI) and real-time captioning will be included and attendees can earn continuing education credits. To learn more and register, visit the Great Lakes ADA Center listing for Accessible Retail Spaces and Restaurants.
Also on February 2, 2023: Creating Cross-System Partnerships to Pave the Way to Inclusive Career Pathways
People with disabilities can benefit greatly from partnerships that pave the way to both careers and inclusion. On February 2, 2023 at 3 pm ET, the LEAD Center(National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities) will host the webinar “A Roadmap to Inclusive Career Pathways: Promoting DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility) Through Cross-System Partnerships.” Panelists from Washington, DC will speak about their strategies, experiences, and resources used to foster inclusive career paths, partnerships across government agencies and with underserved communities, and to promote DEIA to “enable people with disabilities to succeed in the workforce.” Learn more and register for A Roadmap to Inclusive Career Pathways: Promoting DEIA Through Cross-System Partnerships.
On February 9, 2023: Supports and Services: Accommodations with a Heartbeat
Hosted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) on February 9, 2023 at 2 pm, this training webcast will explore effective methods for using supports provided by a person or service animal as job accommodations. These “’heartbeat accommodations’” may mean using a job coach, emotional support animal, guide dog, or other kinds of support. Speakers include experts from various areas within JAN, including an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) specialist. To learn more and register, check out the JAN webpage for "Supports and Services: Accommodations with a Heartbeat." JAN, part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), is “the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on job accommodations and disability employment issues.”
A Reduced-Price Option for Technology for People Who Are Visually Impaired
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
People with vision loss can acquire computers and related technology through a variety of sources. One of these is your state’s Commission for the Blind or equivalent agency. Alternatively, an organization called Computers For The Blind (CFTB) has been offering computers for purchase at a reduced rate since 1995. Based in Texas, CFTB was founded by Robert “Bob” Langford, who was blinded in an accident at age 16. According to his biography on the CFTB website, he was “the first blind person to graduate from public high school in New Mexico and the first blind person to receive a Bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico. His degree included a triple major: Psychology, Social Work, and Education.” His group, now directed by Tanya Towndrow, receives donated desktops and laptops, refurbishes them, installs Windows 10 Pro, and ships them to anyone in the United States who is blind or visually impaired. They also offer computer training for first-time users. CFTB currently has a partnership with Vispero, (formerly Freedom Scientific), and a one-year license of JAWS screen reading software, ZoomText screen magnification software, or Fusion (a combination of both) is included with each purchase. According to CFTB’s pricing guide, computers range from $200 to $385, with upgrades costing from $10 to $50. CFTB has recently announced a discount of $150 available for individuals on all of its models. With this discount, their base model is available for $50. You can find out more in the links above, and here is the application to order a computer.
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