From the desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
July is Disability Pride Month and I have been thinking about what that means to the Blind and Vision Impaired (BVI) community.
Disability Pride Month gives people living with vision loss the opportunity to feel good about who we are and what we have achieved. This occasion asks us to display and recognize those achievements as we interact in the world. Through this public showcase we heighten awareness of and celebrate how we live our lives. We can also take this opportunity to draw attention to the supports that make it possible to achieve success and independence in the workplace and in everyday life. Supports that have been put in place and built upon with the passage and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This month celebrates the signing into law of the ADA on July 26, 1990 and highlights how its implementation through the years has made a difference in the way people living with vision loss and all other disabilities participate in society.
When I think about this a positive feeling emerges. All too often people with vision loss question their abilities and feel their vision loss is a part of their lives that should be minimized. Disability Pride Month challenges that notion, calling on us to acknowledge that living with vision loss allows us the opportunity to develop uniquely by discovering talents and acquiring and cultivating distinct skills and abilities.
When I consider the BVI community and disability pride, I also think about the importance of the field of vision rehabilitation in providing the tools and skills to level the playing field for those with vision loss. I am reminded that when participating in rehabilitation and securing reasonable accommodations, individuals with vision loss can achieve independence and succeed in a world designed for those who are fully sighted.
Over the years I have witnessed many people with and without vision loss working together in the BVI community, sharing the goal of helping those with vision impairment thrive. It is gratifying to be part of this process, both personally and professionally. Living with vision loss is something to celebrate. Being in the BVI community is, truly, a great source of pride. And I, like all of you, am very proud as I reflect on who we are and what we have accomplished. Now let’s go celebrate.
As Disability Pride Month draws to a close, a few programs are coming up that provide opportunities for career development, focusing on such topics as navigating the job search, training for a specific career, and how employers can make their workplaces more inclusive of people with disabilities. All these sessions are free of charge and include:
On August 4, 2022, the British company FairHQ will present “How to design a disability-inclusive workplace.” This program, which begins at 13:30 BST (British Summer Time)/8:30 am, Eastern Time (ET), is designed for employers and seeks to explore how they can understand disability in the workplace and “design disability-friendly jobs.” The goal is to create career opportunities that are accessible and eliminate “disability discrimination in the workplace.” Find out more and register on Eventbrite for How to design a disability-inclusive workplace.
On August 11, 2022, RochesterWorks! Workshops is hosting a “Disability and Disclosure” session from 10 am to 12 pm ET. Workshop participants will learn strategies that people with disabilities can use while seeking a job. Topics to be covered include rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if, when and how to disclose a disability, reasonable accommodations, and more. For additional information and to register, go to the Eventbrite page for Disability and Disclosure Tickets.
Also on August 11, 2022, at 5 pm ET, the Industrial Designers Society of America is having a panel discussion about “Disability and Design: Breaking Barriers in Education.” The program will focus on the “design barriers faced by students with disabilities, and the ways in which the industrial design community can help support equitable academic opportunities. Industrial Design education has a rigid curriculum that poses challenges to students with disabilities. “While students with disabilities have the same passion and skill for design as their peers,” they often face unique circumstances that limit opportunities. Individualized accommodations, effective communication, and flexibility regarding work methods and environments can lead to success. Panelists are students, graduates, and educators, who will share their experiences and respond to questions about “navigating academia with disabilities.” Register and sign in for Disability and Design: Breaking Barriers in Education Tickets here.
A new Mentoring Program from the American Council of the Blind (ACB) will be launched in September 2022 and will continue through June 2023. ACB has announced that applications are being accepted until August 15, 2022, when their Mentoring Team will review all submissions to select mentors and connect them with those who are interested in being mentored. Members of ACB are encouraged to consider applying, so that mentees can be matched with qualified mentors. Those who are selected will attend an orientation and training. The Mentoring Program will “place an emphasis on meeting each (ACB) member where they are and offer guidance to achieve desired goals and aspirations…” The program also seeks to expand ACB’s leadership by developing “a mentorship program designed to seek out and elevate African-Americans and other people of color into leadership positions…” To find out more about the pilot and for links to applications for either mentee/explorer or mentor/guide positions, visit the webpage on the ACB Mentoring Program.
In preparing for the new school year, a number of resources are available to celebrate and highlight August as Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. As part of this celebration and as part of 2022 as the “Year of Children’s Vision,” Prevent Blindness is providing a variety of free educational tool kits, fact sheets, webinars, and more for parents, caregivers, teachers, school nurses, and public health professionals. The goal is “to help keep children’s eyes healthy and ensure that children are ready to learn and succeed in school, activities and development.” Professionals can access the “’Small Steps for Big Vision’” tool kit as well as certification training for vision screening, data and reports about children’s vision and eye health, fact sheets, and social media graphics.
Among the special events offered in the coming month are:
A free webinar on August 16, 2022 at 2 pm Eastern Time (ET), "Vision Screening: Birth Through High School." The first in a two-part series, the session will provide information about evidence-based tools to help identify children with vision disorders in order to “bridge the gap between the vision screening referral and the confirmatory eye examination.” The second webinar, on October 19, 2022, will cover strategies for successful follow up after referrals from vision screenings.
Two Facebook Live discussions, on August 16 and 23, 2022 at 7 pm ET on “Children’s Eye Safety”, with Blackdoctor.org, partnering with the Children’s Vision Equity Alliance. For these events, no registration is required. Participants can just go to the Facebook page for BlackDoctor.org on the dates and click on the Blackdoctor.org Facebook link here. For those who do not have a Facebook account, the discussions will be posted on the Prevent Blindness website after the event with a link to the Blackdoctor.org Facebook video of the session.
To learn more about the month’s observance and about these and other offerings, visit the announcement entitled August is Children's Eye Health and Safety Month, and 2022 is the "Year of Children's Vision" at Prevent Blindness.
A partnership between BlindShell and Aira has resulted in the integration of the Aira app with the BlindShell Classic 2 accessible cell phone. The Aira app offers “live, on-demand visual interpreting.” BlindShell’s Classic 2 “combines a tactile keypad, voice control, and a high-volume speaker flexibility and ease in operation.” This phone eliminates “the barriers to communication found in traditional phones with touchscreen navigation.” Aira connects users with vision loss to visual interpreters who are professionally trained to read documents, help with navigation, access computers remotely, and provide a description of any visual information needed to complete a task. The phone platform brought about by this partnership equips those who are visually impaired with a tactile keypad that has a camera needed to use the visual interpreting service from Aira. Individuals who have low vision or are blind can download the Aira app from the BlindShell app catalog onto their BlindShell Classic 2, creating “an account with their personal preferences.” Currently, users can try the service at no charge for up to five minutes each day. A variety of subscriptions can be purchased as well, with customer service representatives available to go over options. The BlindShell Classic 2 can be purchased for $489, with three months of free Aira service. Aira’s CEO, Troy Otillio, affirmed that “’Our collaboration is dedicated to helping more people live, work, learn, and enjoy their lives more fully by giving them access to the visual information they need and deserve.’” BlindShell USA’s president and CEO Bari Azman added to this perspective, stating “’The partnership of Aira and BlindShell advances the mission…to remove barriers and make the world more accessible through visual interpreting.” Learn more by reading the BlindShell USA press release: BlindShell Partners with Aira to Debut Aira App on Award-Winning BlindShell Classic 2: Mobile Phone for the Visually Impaired, Enabling On-Demand Access to Visual Information.
The inaccessibility of chemistry labs to people with disabilities, a dearth of materials that are non-visual, and technologies that are not currently optimized for those who are blind or have low vision have, together, created barriers “to the study and discipline of chemistry.” To remedy the situation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $1.3 million grant to a chemist from Baylor University. The intent is to open chemistry courses and labs to students who are visually impaired. Bryan Shaw, Ph.D., a Baylor professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will work on a “first-of-its-kind early intervention project” that eliminates barriers to work in laboratories and provides tactile education materials and equipment. Both high and low-tech approaches will be employed, blending “robotics and technology with educational materials and ’lab hacks’ that enable students with blindness (and low vision) to take part in the same roles and routines as their sighted counterparts.” This five-year grant involves a partnership with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and is supported through the NIH’s Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, which encourages STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) projects for children in grades kindergarten through high school. The project initially will focus on high school students and is expected to begin this fall. Eventually the plan is to include resources for children just beginning to study science. To read more details about the study and the resources it will utilize, read the Baylor University Media and Public Relations webpage announcement: Baylor Chemist Leads $1.3 Million Research Project to Make Chemistry Labs and Concepts Accessible to Blind and Low Vision Students.
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