Our interns, Nikhil Vohra and Ahmat Djouma, continue their coverage of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Convention here. Next week they will report on the upcoming convention of the American Council of the Blind (ACB).
At the convention, accessibility related to medications was an important discussion topic. Unfortunately, a number of barriers make it difficult for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to manage their medications independently—and excessively small print on medication labels is just the start. One major issue that emerged during the past year involved taking a COVID test. The at-home tests promoted for those experiencing symptoms, to avoid inadvertently spreading the virus, are not accessible to those who cannot see them. For people who are blind, this required engaging someone who is trusted with the individual’s health information as well as capable of reporting test results accurately. Not everyone had such a luxury, and going to an in-person clinic was not possible for many, due to travel limitations and other pandemic-related constraints. Fortunately, Be My Eyes, in partnership with Accessible Pharmacy, stepped up to fill the void, creating a new service in late 2020. Be My Eyes users can now contact a representative from Accessible Pharmacy to assist with COVID tests and managing medications in general. Users can call in from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM on weekdays for assistance with reading medication labels, ordering and checking COVID tests, and even asking questions about drug interactions. Learn more about this new service on the Be My Eyes website, and try it out for yourself. Be My Eyes can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store or on Google Play.
APH-Humanware collaboration and the Promise of a “Braille Revolution”— In a partnership nothing short of a technological revolution, American Printing House for the Blind and Humanware are collaborating to design a device that can create tactile graphics along with braille. “We’re developing what we consider the holy grail of Braille: a single tablet device that provides both braille text and tactile graphics, all in one,” according to the two companies announcing their ambitions for this project. Unlike traditional braille displays on the market that display only a few lines of braille text at a time, the new device uses a much more flexible and sophisticated system to provide a tactile version of a graphic, a full page of braille, or even a tactile mirror image of a computer desktop or microscope display. In the past, improvements to electronic braille gadgets typically involved designing lighter, more cost-effective models of braille displays or increasing the amount of text that could be displayed at once. This project seeks to combine the functionalities of braille displays with those of tactile graphic displays, which are fairly new on the overall tech scene. It promises to have a significant impact on education, career opportunities and much more. For example: “We will level the playing field for students who can receive braille instructional materials at the touch of a download button instead of waiting weeks or months for embossed braille textbooks to be transcribed and shipped.” Find out more about this exciting development from APH’s recent online announcement, where you can also learn about how to participate in the project personally by offering expertise or becoming a beta tester.
Each year, Apple holds its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) to showcase developments in its wide range of products, from iOS to OS X. During this year’s conference, held virtually, the company released a design guide for creating accessible applications, emphasizing the importance of inclusion and accessibility to the company. The guide encourages app developers to keep digital accessibility needs in mind when developing their application interfaces and features, and it provides some guidelines to help facilitate the process. With this development, Apple affirms its commitment to being as an industry leader in the realm of inclusive design. Not only will developers of applications for Apple products feel the impetus to improve their accessibility, but other ecosystems and developers are also likely to respond in kind. You can read Computerworld’s press release on the design guide to learn more.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lighthouse Guild are offering two-day virtual art workshops for children (ages 5 through 12 years) and teens (ages 13 through 18 years) who are blind or visually impaired. Participants – who can have any level of experience – will be able to explore the collections of The Met Collection through detailed descriptions, learn drawing techniques and create works of art. For more information about the Virtual Art Workshops and to register. You can learn more about programs and resources for people with disabilities at The Met website.
Although swimming may be easy to learn for many children, including those with visual impairments, some tips for preparing for that first swim lesson – for parents as well as instructors – can make the activity the “best experience possible.” So states Tracey Poimeno, Perkins School for the Blind Lower School teacher. Parents of children who are visually impaired and about to begin swimming lessons “may be wondering how to adapt a swim lesson…” Prior to class, for example, pathways and walkways should be cleaned up and cleared of obstructions. Always keep equipment in the same location. In the pool, brightly colored objects that contrast with the water are helpful, as well as verbal prompting and descriptive verbal instructions. Communication with the child, in particular after the lesson, is important to gauge their experience, what they thought went well or didn’t. Read the full article on the WonderBaby.org website.
Two U.S. Department of Labor demonstration model grants focused on supporting students with disabilities who are seeking employment. These projects demonstrated that coordinated, customized supports can benefit students with disabilities in securing employment after completing their formal education. Collaboration among college disability services, career services and community rehabilitation resources were key project components. “The projects also fostered student ownership of the process by encouraging them to identify their own work-based learning opportunities.” Read more about the demonstration program on the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) website.
The Macular Disease Foundation Australia reports that one in seven Australians over the age of 40 experience vision loss. Nearly half, however, do not have regular eye examinations, as reported in Daily Mail.Online. Macular degeneration is leading cause of vision loss in Australia. To address disparity in care, the Foundation has launched an online quiz that can help people “understand the seriousness of macular degeneration,” providing an analysis of risk and a link to schedule an eye checkup or receive more information. Find out more, or take the quiz, at Check My Macula.
Nationwide tests of the EAS (Emergency Alert System) and WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) Systems scheduled for August 11 at 2:20 pm EDT must be accessible to individuals with visual or hearing impairments, according to the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC. This applies to television broadcast stations, cable systems, video systems, and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) entities for EAS alerts and to participating commercial mobile services providers for the WEA test. The EAS message transmission will begin with the phrase “THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System.” FCC rules “ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and individuals who are blind or visually impaired have full access to EAS messages…” Specific guidelines are included as well, in terms of features such as audio, contrast and font size. More information is available from tvtech. The official public notice on accessibility can be found on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website.
The pandemic forced many changes to life as we knew it, especially for education. As remote learning became the norm, “students, faculty, and administrators had to learn ways of transferring and consuming knowledge without stepping into the classroom…” in a recent blog post on My Blind Spot, Albert J. Rizzi, M.Ed., points out “a number of silver linings as it relates to learning styles.” The “silver linings” included the increased attention brought to the barriers and overall issues that have confronted those with disabilities, well before the pandemic. Rizzi covers what we learned about educational disparities, the effective transition to remote learning and work, and how the situation facilitated increased access for individuals with disabilities. He salutes the teachers who adapted to remote work admirably. Technical difficulties, including inadequate band width, poor connections, and lack of access to technology emerged as major challenges. These difficulties helped to prompt the Biden administration to address these as vital to the nation’s infrastructure, acknowledging that “the virtual avenues we travel daily are as important as our roads and bridges.” Companies like Zoom took action to ensure that individuals of all ages and abilities could utilize their digital platforms, including students and professionals with disabilities. Rizzi cites many examples, noting that “this pandemic forced us to rethink things and revisit how we did things because they simply had to be done.” Read his full blog at My Blind Spot.
For lovers of fitness, drama and spectacle, dragon boat racing might be the right sport. First, the boat itself is a spectacle, with its Chinese Dragon’s Head in front and Tail bringing up the rear. Then there is the drama, as the rowers paddle to the beat of a drum. Finally, there are the paddlers, digging their blades in unison with all their energy to be the first to the finish line. It’s a sport that’s attracting many blind paddlers, including seniors in their 70s. The Out of Sight Dragons are an affiliate of the (Washington) DC Dragon Boat Club. Their 18-person craft not only sports the head and tail, but colorful red and white dragon scales grace the sides of their boat.
The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, the largest and oldest in the world, took place in June this year. It’s likely the Darkness Fighters, who were featured in an article in The New York Times in 2018, Blind and Graying, were there paddling with every muscle. The team of 22 includes some seniors who are as passionate about the sport as any of the younger members. “Competing is an opportunity to socialize as well as a chance to exercise” One paddler, Lau Fat, 65, who lost his vision in 2013, takes a bus, makes three subway transfers and navigates Hong Kong traffic to get to practice. Lau, who’s also learned Kung Fu, said “It’s hardest for newly blind people. They need to be convinced that they don’t need to be home alone but should come out and do things.” By the way, they placed fifth out of eight teams in their race. The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York takes place this year on August 7. Find videos on YouTube.
Terry Hunt, a 72-year old veteran who lost his sight to RP, maintains synchronization for his team members from the front of the dragon boat paddled by the VA Warriors in Salisbury, North Carolina. Hunt describes himself as adventurous, and currently is working with his rehab outpatient specialist at a nearby VA center to rev up for a VA Sports Clinic in San Diego in September. Everett also has been experimenting with a new device — something fitting much like a life vest — which a blind kayaker can wear, and sensors on the vest tell him in which direction to paddle.