Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners July 9, 2021

The Low Vision Experience: July 14th “Diversity Series” Virtual Event

In recognition of the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), SUNY College of Optometry is presenting “The low vision experience” as part of its Diversity Series. Their Office of DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) is bringing together a panel to explore ways providers can help patients with vision loss beyond “the exam room.” Panelists include Carol Moog, Senior Mobility Instructor, Lighthouse Guild; Edwin Mercado, a patient advocate; two representatives from the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library: Chancey S. Fleet, Head of Coaching & Assistive Technology Instructor, and Jill Rothstein, Chief Librarian; and Dr. Rebecca Marinoff, SUNY Optometry’s Low Vision Residency Supervisor. You can register for the event, to be held on Wednesday on Zoom, July 14 from 7:30 – 8:30 pm EDT at SUNY Optometry's website.

NFB Convention Coverage

RDPFS interns Nikhil Vohra and Ahmat Djouma are attending this week’s National Federation of the Blind (NFB) virtual National Convention. Here they share some of the highlights:

Accessibility at the workplace was an important topic of discussion. One company in particular, Target, took the opportunity to discuss its accessibility initiatives not only for its customers but also for workers and prospective employees. Their panel reviewed recent improvements to Target’s proprietary software used by the company. Target has expressed commitment to building accessibility into the code of its software from the start—ensuring access to all. Opportunities currently include positions related to accessibility and customer service. For information on available positions, here is the website link. The company affirmed that it has a dedicated accessibility team to assist personnel with disabilities whether they require digital or physical assistance in any of the company’s many stores nationwide. Of course, one of the topics discussed was working remotely. A number of current employees expressed appreciation for the remote accommodation, as it eliminated the struggles associated with commuting.  More remote positions going forward offer a welcome opportunity for job seekers unable to travel to find accommodating employment. In fact, Target is looking to continue hybrid in-person and remote operation in the future. The company is committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion for all of its employees and is happy to hear feedback or answer questions related to accessibility from current, former, or prospective employees. Issues, inquiries, and suggestions can be conveyed to Target through its Contact Us page by selecting the “Accessibility” option in the drop-down menu.

Also from the Convention: Audio Description from Amazon Prime

During the past few years, online retail giant Amazon has released a number of its own flagship products, such as Alexa and Fire TV, as well as a large streaming platform for movies and TV shows: Amazon Prime Video. One of the accessibility-related topics discussed was Amazon Prime’s commitment to and role in providing audio description for film and TV. Prime’s journey with audio description began by acquiring the official, available AD tracks on the content it hosted. The panel explained, however, that this only provided description for a fraction of the thousands of movies and TV shows offered on Prime, as many never had AD tracks recorded. Amazon took two major steps to remedy this problem. First, all Amazon-original content would be created with audio description. Second, a more efficient way than the traditional process would be developed to create AD tracks for content that lacked description. By employing the Amazon text-to-speech engine Polly, along with a sound-mixing algorithm to integrate the speech into the audio tracks of existing movies, an AD script writer could develop the description anywhere in the world remotely and then plug it into the text-to-speech software to have the algorithm create an AD track. This breakthrough, despite some issues as well as remaining room for improvement, has vastly expanded the range of content containing audio description for audiences who are blind or visually impaired. In fact, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) recognizes Amazon Prime’s vast quantity of AD-supported content on its website. Prime has undoubtedly become a significant leader in bringing audio description to mainstream content, and we look forward to the expansion of its AD offerings. Amazon Prime is available, generally for a fee. Visit the Amazon Prime website for more information or to sign up and get access to its streaming services.

The Future of Voting: Another timely topic discussed at the convention covered issues related to voting. Across the United States, each local jurisdiction handles elections differently, posing challenges to ensuring accessibility nationwide. Representatives of several state legislatures attended, describing voting systems in their areas. For example, some states, such as West Virginia and Nevada, allow voters to cast their ballots electronically and in person. Colorado and Hawaii have both passed laws allowing people with disabilities to cast their ballots electronically. Even so, the information we found online generally didn’t indicate that people with disabilities can vote electronically; rather it seems to be geared more toward individuals serving in the military. Several panelists agreed that technology is the future for voting. More information on electronic voting, from Wikipedia, including benefits and concerns, can be found here.

A virtual field trip: The Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, based in Dorchester County, MD, partnered with NFB to offer a virtual audio tour of the Underground Railroad Museum. The tour featured a narration and description of a walk through the museum’s exhibits, including a short documentary on Harriet Tubman’s life as a slave who liberated herself and went on to liberate countless others from the bondage of slavery. Tubman later served alongside the Unionists in the Civil War, even acting as a spy. She delivered lectures later in her life and finally settled on a small farm in Auburn, NY, after a truly extraordinary life of fighting for freedom and justice. A recording of the virtual tour will soon be uploaded to the NFB of Maryland site. Visit the homepage of the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center to learn more about the Underground Railroad and about how you can visit the museum in person.

ACB Convention: July 16 – 23

Nikhil and Ahmat will attend and cover the annual convention of the American Council of the Blind. Future issues of the Bulletin will include highlights from that event as well.

“E-Pets” Combat Loneliness in Older Adults

Participants in the VISIONS Caregiver Program have reported great satisfaction with the e-pets they acquired through a robotic pet program launched by the New York State Office for the Aging and the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA). The program “provides electronic pets to older adult caregivers as a way for them to connect and engage in an entertaining activity that helps minimize isolation and stress caused by the pandemic.” Read more about it in Stories You Can't Miss. VISIONS Unpaid Caregiver Support Program serves those assisting older adults where the caregiver and/or care recipient is/are blind or visually impaired and grandparents who are the primary caregivers for a child where either the grandparent or child is blind or visually impaired. More information is available on the VISIONS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired website.

Aging & Vision Loss Research: Participants Needed

SUNY Brockport’s research team is recruiting participants for an intervention study they are conducting for family caregivers of older adults with visual impairment. The study will involve family caregivers in online activities aimed at improving their quality of life. Online activities are free and each participant is being offered $50 as an incentive. For more information about the study, or to recommend organizations or individuals who might help to recruit participants, contact Dr. Aleez Hazzan at [email protected]. You can read a paper about the team’s research published in the British Journal of Vision Impairment here.

Enjoy National Parks with Audio Descriptions

Now that more of us are heading out for summer fun, national parks may well be part of the plans. UniDescription, a free smart phone app, offers audio description and navigation tips for U.S. National Parks and other public sites. Learn more about UniDescriptoin and their mission to “audio describe the world” by listening to Hadley Presents.

New Free National Registry for TSVIs/TVIs

Nonprofit organization Success Beyond Sight (SBS) has launched a National Registry for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVIs/TVIs) to “empower a national voice…and to provide a means to reach” professionals with resources and professional information. Due to the fact that TSVIs/TVIs are licensed/credentialed within their state of practice, a national registry was not available previously to recognize their important role in the education and long-term success of their students. SBS is also providing free access to the Journal of Vision Impairment to all who register. For more information, or to register, go to Success Beyond Sight Registry.

Samantha Hurley: Young Climate and Social Activist Who is Legally Blind

In addition to being a rising high school senior, 17-year-old Samantha Hurley serves as the Director of Communications for the organization “Access the Polls,” which aims to increase access among people with disabilities in civic engagement. She also uploads to her own YouTube channel and participates in ZeroHour’s music and songwriting teams, “ which use popular culture to encourage a culture shift regarding climate/justice. She advocates including people with disabilities in “organizing, narrative, and leadership. Find out more about her work from the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE).

Gearing up for the Olympics and Paralympics

Gearing up for the Olympics and Paralympics

With the Olympics and Paralympics coming up shortly, we wanted to learn more about all the Paralympic sports and plan to feature one sport and some of the outstanding athletes in upcoming weeks. The Outlook Trust in the UK, which provides adventure sports activity weekend breaks and holidays for blind and partially sighted children, has a complete list of all paralympic sports for visually impaired athletes and their classes visit the Outlook Trust website.

 Getting Out on the Water – Rowing

How Athletes Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Can Make an Easy Transition to Rowing,” a Family Connect article, covers the history of rowing; how sighted rowers use eyes closed exercises in training; tips for getting connected to an adapted rowing program; and getting started on land. “Unlike so many other sports, there is no part of rowing that requires you to see what you’re doing,” so get started at this page on the APH site.

Patricia Walsh, who recently moved from leading a technology product management team at Dow Jones to Technology Product Manager at Facebook in London, was aiming for a berth on the U. S. 2020 Paralympic Rowing Team, when COVID-19 forced a rescheduling to 2021. She’s a multi-sports athlete who took seventh place in the 2016 Paralympic triathlon. She also met President Obama and asked him if he’d like to play basketball with her, even though she’d never played. Read all about Walsh and her two careers – in sports and technology – at Row New York. We expect to find her rowing on the Thames, if not in Tokyo this year.

IBSA, the International Blind Sports Association, calls itself the “home of blind sports”. Its home page has the latest news in blind sports, mostly from Europe and Asia. In addition to familiar sports like Judo, goalball, football (soccer), and powerlifting, their site includes information on both ninepin and tenpin bowling, chess and a sport that's new to us, Showdown. Designed specifically for people with vision impairments, “The game is played on a specially designed table by two players from opposing sides using flat, paddle-type bats. The aim of the game is to bat the ball [which contains BB’s] off the side wall, along the table, under the centre screen, and into the opponent’s goal. The first player to reach eleven points, leading by two or more points, wins. Players score two points for a goal and one point when their opponent hits the ball into the screen, hits the ball off the table, or touches the ball with anything but the bat or batting hand.” Find complete information about Showdown, including player rankings and upcoming tournaments, check out the Showdown Overview and learn about other sports along the way.