Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners July 23, 2021

Celebrating Disability Pride Month and the Anniversary of the Passage of the ADA

Disability Pride Month has occurred each July since 1990, coinciding with the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990. “This month affords us all a great opportunity to lift up the disability community and shine a spotlight on people who are often marginalized, forgotten, or explicitly discriminated against,” according to a recent post in the AFB (American Foundation for the Blind) blog. Parades and other events in many areas have marked the occasion for several years. The pandemic has curtailed much of this activity, although the commemoration of Disability Pride and the ADA anniversary continues and has included virtual celebrations.

A virtual Disability Pride Parade, is occurring tomorrow, July 24. All are welcome to access this virtual event any time after 11 am CDT/10 am EDT. Tune in tomorrow at The Disability Pride Parade Association website. The presentation is also slated to remain available on their website for the coming year.

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is holding its annual celebration of the ADA on July 27 at 7 pm EDT. The event highlights the accomplishments of people with disabilities and a “look towards a future where the goals of the ADA are fully realized.” Special guests include Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation; Congressman Mondaire Jones; Maria Town, President and CEO, AAPD; and Ted Kennedy, Jr., AAPD’s Board Chair. For free tickets, register for the AAPD ADA Celebration.

ACB Convention Highlights

RDPFS interns Nikhil Vohra and Ahmat Djouma have been participating in this week’s American Council of the Blind (ACB) convention. Here they share some of the highlights.

From Nikhil Vohra:

Windows 11 Enhanced Accessibility Features: A topic that has been in the news recently is the Windows 11 update scheduled for later this year. The ACB Convention covered the implications for accessibility. Changes coming to the desktop include a Start button at the center of the taskbar and a new taskbar widget that can be accessed via the keyboard shortcut Windows + W. In addition, the settings app will be redesigned with related controls grouped together in expandable boxes to improve navigability and organization. Moreover, cloud-based apps should work out-of-the-box with screen readers, and some improvements are promised for Windows Narrator’s responsiveness. In terms of sound, both light and dark modes will have distinct sounds. Regardless which theme you choose, when you reboot the computer you will hear the Windows startup sound to signal that the computer is ready to use. One of the most significant updates is related to speech recognition. Microsoft announced that speech recognition will be much improved in Windows 11 and that smart punctuation will be used to punctuate text automatically as one speaks. Although Windows 11 promises to be a major upgrade, Microsoft affirms that all assistive technology compatible with Windows 10 will work with Windows 11. If you have any ideas or feedback, submit them through the Feedback Hub built into Windows. Just press Windows + F to get started.

Microsoft Soundscape, a free navigation app for mobile devices, uses GPS navigation and a system of maps. The app employs sounds and speech to direct the user to his or her destination. Soundscape is not a standard GPS app—its sounds are unique. Specifically, the app will take advantage of headphone technology (if you’re wearing headphones) to produce an audible tone indicating where your destination is. So in addition to the user-centered instructions like “Turn left in 100 feet,” you will also hear the location of your destination while you are en route. As you walk, Soundscape will announce the names of streets and even stores if that information is available. These announcements will come through your left or right ear as appropriate. You also can set your own sound beacons and speech labels for locations you choose. Therefore, if Soundscape lacks information for your area, you can add that information to your phone to help you navigate more independently in the future. The technology—3D sound mapping—represents an exciting new tool for people who are blind and visually impaired as well as for orientation and mobility specialists. Download the app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Headphones are highly recommended, but do not use noise-canceling headphones, as ambient sounds are important for safe navigation. If you have any questions or feedback, email [email protected].

Planting the SEED for Self-Defense: Representatives from Strive4You at the Convention addressed issues related to self-defense and safety. They discussed their Safety Education Empowering Defense (SEED) program, aimed at teaching the skills needed for de-escalation and self-defense in potentially threatening situations. Emphasizing balance, SEED teaches individuals to be aware of their surroundings and to remain calm. It also prepares them to defend themselves if necessary. The program is offered in three formats: hands-on training, hybrid instruction, and fully remote lessons. While the fully online course does not offer hands-on instruction, it teaches valuable skills to decrease the likelihood of ending up in a dangerous situation and how to be alert while remaining calm. Learning the physical aspects of self-defense, however, requires in-person instruction. All techniques taught are adaptable for those with physical or multiple disabilities. Learn more about the program, including fees, at SEED’s official webpage or call 1-866-40-STRIVE Ext: 740.

From Ahmat Djouma:

One of the ACB Convention sessions featured a discussion with representatives of Alaska Airlines and the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) about the recent changes to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). In December of 2020, the DOT proposed a rule about service animals and implemented it this year. The new rule, for example, specifies that an emotional support animal is no longer considered a service animal. You can read about the changes to the ACAA at the website of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Under the new rule an individual with a service animal must complete a form prior to travel. Each airline may have a different process for reviewing the forms and DOT recommend checking with the airline before traveling. In addition, organizations like Open Doors are partnering with different airlines to streamline the process so one does not have to fill out a form each time they travel. Click on SATS (Service Animal Travel Solution) to read more about this. Currently Alaska Airlines is the only participating member, but they plan for expansion. Read the full text of the final rule.

Bookshare also provided updates on their work, including an announcement that an Alexa Skill for the Amazon Echo smart speaker will be released next year. An Alexa Skill can be added to a device such as Amazon’s Echo to perform specific tasks. In the case of Bookshare, you would use your Echo device to be able to read the books that you are accessing just by using voice commands. Read more about Bookshare's plans for an Alexa Skill here.

Echolocation as a Skill-Based O&M Tool

by Nikhil Vohra

In considering orientation and mobility services for those who are visually impaired or blind, echolocation, or locating objects by reflected sound,  likely does not come to mind—but  that may soon change. A study published last month from England’s Durham University showed that individuals, regardless of the degree of sight they have, can learn to use audible click sounds—produced by the mouth, footsteps, or white cane taps—to determine such information as the size and orientation of objects in their surroundings, as well as to aid in navigation. Study participants learned this incredible skill in the span of ten weeks of training, and four out of five blind participants indicated that they felt more independent as a result. Human echolocation, once thought to be the exclusive realm of such legendary individuals as Daniel Kish, renowned for his use of this technique, may very well enter the mainstream in the near future as a low-tech, low-cost, skill-based navigation tool. Access a summary of the study on the Cool Blind Tech site or the full study in the journal PLOS ONE.

Deaf-Blind Paralympic Athlete Denied Personal Care Assistant Leaves Team USA

Many news outlets covered the decision by swimmer Becca Meyers this week to cancel her plans to compete in the Paralympics after being told she could not bring an aide due to COVID-19 restrictions. Meyers won three gold medals at the 2016 Paralympics “but the experience left her deeply shaken. In strange new surroundings, she struggled to accomplish daily tasks on her own, such as finding the athletes’ dining hall.” Since that time, her mother, Maria Meyers, has accompanied her to competitions as a “personal care assistant.” Meyers’ decision to opt out of the Tokyo games is covered in an article from NPR. Her accomplishments as a swimmer can be traced to her childhood, when Meyers wanted to be like her older siblings, who were both good athletes. Born with Usher syndrome, she is deaf and is gradually losing her vision. While she found sports like soccer, tennis and lacrosse challenging, at the age of five, Meyers began swim lessons. That made the difference. “The water was smooth… And Meyers did not have to worry about catching or throwing anything. It was all up to her.” The instructor advised her mother to have her join the swim team. The rest is Paralympic history, with this recent development curtailing her participation in this year’s event. For more on Becca Meyers’ background as a swimmer, read the article from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum Swimmer Becca Meyers found her happy place in the pool.

In the coming weeks, Resources for Partners will profile other Paralympic competitors who are blind or visually impaired.

Summer Recreation: Accessible Playgrounds and Other Outdoor Activities

The importance of building an accessible playground is covered in “Designing a Playground for Children Who Are Blind.”  This article, posted by No Fault Safety, a company that designs safe surfaces for play and recreation, points out how playground planners can introduce “challenging and creative playscapes” that address the needs of children with disabilities, including vision impairment. Using tactile elements, such as grooved surfaces, for example, can be helpful. Fences that mark the perimeter of the playground can be decorated with items that can be explored through the sense of touch. And detectable changes in the surface of the ground among different playground features, like swings, can benefit all. For more information, read the full article on Designing a Playground for Children Who Are Blind.

Textured surfacing can also help the child with a visual impairment determine where the play area begins and ends. Rubberized mats with bumps can be used to help the child orient their location. For the child with low vision, marking steps with yellow and utilizing bright, vivid colors facilitate independent play. Musical play equipment can enhance the experience for all children. These ideas and more are offered by Miracle Play Systems.

Although most playgrounds have not been designed with accessibility in mind, this is changing, largely due to the efforts of parents and advocacy groups. Playgrounds in the 1980s and 1990s used a “cookie-cutter” approach that limited how children could use the space and how they experienced it. ADA revisions added safety provisions to make playgrounds accessible with ramps, appropriate surfaces and “barrier-free” travel routes. However, “a truly inclusive playground goes beyond federal ADA requirements.” Parent groups have been instrumental in raising awareness and financial support for play spaces that truly offer inclusion, so that children with vision, mobility and other challenges can play alongside their peers. In New York City, for example, the NYC Parks are renovating playgrounds to “go beyond” ADA compliance. NYC Parks “has a tiered rating system that identifies how accessible a playground is; level one is a playground for all chlidren, while a level four playground includes transfer platforms and ground-level play features…” More information on these initiatives and a list of advocacy groups can be found on the website in an article entitled Why cities need accessible playgrounds.

Upcoming Virtual Camps For Middle and High School Students Who are Blind or Have Low Vision

Our Space Our Place invites sign ups for its Theater and Singing Camps.  “If you love to talk, act, tell jokes, share stories” join their theater camp, which runs from Tuesday, August 3 through Friday, August 6. “Love to sing??? Have a song you’ve always wanted to learn to sing??” Learn voice technique, with guidance from a professional singer and voice coach, at Singing Camp, which takes place from Tuesday, August 10 through Friday, August 14. Both camps go from 4 – 5:30 pm.  Students can gain presentation, flexibility, interaction skills as well as confidence. For more information or to register, email: [email protected] or call 617-459-4084.