From the Desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
Celebrating Independence and Freedom
With the arrival of summer, I have been thinking about the July Fourth and Juneteenth holidays. When celebrating these occasions, Americans are asked to rejoice in the ideas of independence and freedom. These words take on a heightened meaning for people living with vision loss. Unintended barriers exist in a world designed for the fully sighted. Although progress has been made through such advances as the passage of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the advent of accessible technology, barriers remain due to lack of awareness, implementation, and other factors. As a result, those with vision loss and other disabilities still experience lower employment rates, earnings, college graduation totals, and additional challenges. Therefore, living with impaired vision decreases one’s experience of independence and freedom. These barriers cause limitations and foster dependence.
Limitation and dependence are the antithesis of freedom and independence. But, as I have stated before, I am optimistic. The world is changing, and opportunities continue to emerge for those with vision loss to live with greater personal freedom and independence.
Fostering the independence of people who are blind and visually impaired is at the core of the work of Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS). At its latest meeting, the RDPFS Board of Directors funded three exciting projects that advance independence and freedom for those living with vision loss.
The National Braille Press will once again be supported by RDPFS this year. This funding continues a grant to provide braille and large print teaching materials to Teachers of the Vision Impaired (TVI) to use with their students. Getting these materials in the hands of the TVI’s increases the literacy rate of students in the blind and vision impaired community.
Camp Abilities in Brockport, New York will also receive a grant to support participants in their research-based adaptive physical education program. Camp Abilities’ athletic programs have been replicated nationally and internationally. They have produced serious competitive Paralympic athletes while simultaneously allowing all participating kids living with vision loss the opportunity to simply play ball on a field in the summer sun.
The American Council of the Blind, as a first-time grantee organization, has received funding to develop best practices standards, curriculum, and software training for Zoom meeting hosts and attendees with vision loss. Once completed, these standards, curriculum, and training modules will be offered to all in the blind and vision impaired community who host Zoom meetings and events.
So, let’s enjoy summer, reading, meeting with friends and family in person or virtually, and participating in outside athletic activities, regardless of vision loss. And let’s celebrate the fact that organizations, like those mentioned above, are removing barriers, allowing those with vision loss to take part in summer life alongside their fully sighted peers. Now that is a level of freedom and independence for all worth celebrating.
Ever since the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, the month of July has been celebrated as Disability Pride Month. The Disability Pride concept underscores the message that people with disabilities “embrace their full identity, including their disabilities.” Events, including a number of parades, are held in communities across the nation and have expanded to other countries, such as South Korea, Norway, and the United Kingdom. These occasions, as well as a Disability Pride flag, recognize people with all types of disabilities and communicate how individuals must navigate barriers and demonstrate creativity and initiative in their efforts. This special month provides an opportunity to “shine a spotlight” on the disability community. The RDPFS Resources for Partners Bulletin will highlight events and other news as the month of July unfolds. For more information, read the blog item from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) on Celebrating Disability Pride Month, the feature from Accessible Festivals on Disability Pride Month and Why It Is Important, and the Wikipedia listing on Disability Pride Month.
The gap in access to computing devices as well as the internet has a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities, according to the findings of a report recently published by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). This gap creates barriers to preparing for, obtaining, and achieving success in employment. The report cites lower rates of access to internet subscriptions at home among people with disabilities, for example, largely due to costs, as a significant barrier. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital access became more critical, with the increase in remote work. During this time, “workers with disabilities transitioned from being employed to unemployed or out of the labor force at higher rates than workers without disabilities…” ODEP’s report reveals detailed data and analysis of internet subscriptions and use as well as employment among those with disabilities, with the intent of providing information that can be used by policymakers and decision makers in developing policies and practices to improve socioeconomic outcomes. Read the full report on Disability and the Digital Divide here.
“To be truly inclusive, organizations need to ensure they are including people with disabilities.” A research-based tool from the Employer Assistance and Resources Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) helps employers to achieve that goal by incorporating disability-inclusion practices into their diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) planning. This resource, developed based on research conducted by Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resources Studies (CAHRS), provides a roadmap for including employees with disabilities in different phases of the employment life cycle, from recruiting and hiring to retaining and fostering career advancement and professional development. Strategies offered cover how to support initiatives that sustain, advance, and measure employment policies and practices “to ensure that they are inclusive, welcoming and accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities.” EARN provides support to both public and private employers. To explore this tool and learn specific steps to take to achieve DEIA goals, visit EARN’s website page on Including Disability in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Priorities: Building A Maturity Model. A screen reader accessible pdf version of the guide is available here.
This coming Monday, June 27, 2022, marks the 142nd anniversary of Helen Keller’s birth in 1880. To celebrate the occasion, the NFADB (National Family Association for Deaf-Blind) is hosting a free, online event featuring keynote speaker Dr. Susan Bruce, Professor and Chair, Teaching, Curriculum, and Society at Boston College. Dr. Bruce’s professional career has focused on how students with severe disabilities communicate, in particular those who are deafblind. Her research has encompassed literacy, assessment, teacher preparation, special education, and rare syndromes, including a key international research study on communication, language, and literacy in children who are deafblind. To register, visit the listing on the National Center on Deaf-Blindness website: NFADB Event: Helen Keller's Birthday Celebration.
June 27 has been recognized as “Helen Keller Day” since 1980, when President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation celebrating the “deafblind icon’s” life. During her lifetime, Keller met six of the nation’s Presidents, using the experience to “enlist them in the fight for equal rights for people with disabilities.” Learn more about her relationships and partnerships with these leaders from the Perkins School for the Blind description of Helen Keller, the president whisperer.
Adults ages 18 and over with disabilities and/or chronic health conditions are invited to complete the 2022 National Survey on Health and Disability (NSHD), conducted each year by The University of Kansas Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies (KU-IHPS). Since 2018, this online survey has queried people with disabilities, chronic illness or disease, mental or physical health conditions about their well-being, quality of life, access to health care, employment, and, the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete and the responses are anonymous. Those participating, as well as anyone interested, can “enter a drawing to win one of ten $100 gift cards." For more information, visit the KU-IHPS webpage on The National Survey on Health and Disability (NSHD). To access the survey directly, click on the KU 2022 National Survey on Health and Disability. Those using a screen reader are advised to complete the survey on a laptop rather than a smartphone. To take the survey over the phone, or for any questions, please call, toll-free, 1-855-556-6328 or email [email protected]. The survey will be conducted until August 2022 and data from the 2022 NSHD will be available in the Fall of this year.
Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic Experiences of Working-Age Americans with Disabilities
Building on “the success of the existing National Survey on Health and Disability (NSHD)," this project develops partnerships with others funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). Participating groups will generate survey questions, analyze data, and “assure activities are conducted in a rigorous” manner, using the NSHD to collect pre- and post-pandemic data. Content covered includes such topics as health status, transportation, housing, work status, and tech usage, to name a few. Project findings will be used to prepare policy briefs, policy and practice recommendations, and research articles as well as consumer materials to focus on pandemic-related issues that have been identified as affecting the health, functioning, employment, and/or community life of Americans with disabilities. The outcomes anticipated include increasing knowledge about the impact of the pandemic and improving related policies and practices. For more details, visit the webpage from the KUIHDPS on the NSHD and scroll down to the section on Using the National Survey on Health and Disability Panel to Document the COVID-19 Pandemic Experiences of Working-Age Americans with Disabilities here. For more information on the project, which is funded by the NIDILRR, contact Jean P Hall, PI at [email protected], Noelle K Kurth, Co-PI at [email protected], or Kelsey Shinnick Goddard, Project Coordinator at [email protected].
During the summer months, especially around the July 4th holiday, fireworks often mark the occasions in bright, colorful, and very audible ways. These displays, which can be spectacular, can also cause severe damage, including “devastating eye injuries,” if not handled properly, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). AAO points out that fireworks result in 9,000 injuries each year. To focus attention on the safety precautions that can be taken to prevent accidents and injuries, Fireworks Eye Safety Month is observed each year in June. Fireworks can be enjoyed safely by keeping a distance from them and experiencing the spectacle only in licensed, public displays. If an accident occurs, some recommendations from Prevent Blindness that can minimize the damage are to avoid rubbing, rinsing out, or applying pressure or ointment to the eye. It is also important to head to the emergency room immediately for treatment. For more detailed safety tips, visit the Prevent Blindness webpage on Fireworks Safety. The AAO offers information on Fireworks Eye Safety Month, along with a sample press release, newsletter article, social media posts, and other resources that can be found by scrolling down to the month of June on their webpage on Promotional Materials for Eye Health Observances. For additional background information on the monthly observance, visit the write up on National Today on Fireworks Eye Safety Month. Enjoy the brilliance of summer and the stunning displays of fireworks safely!
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Note to Readers: Since Independence Day is next weekend, we will not be publishing the Bulletin this coming Friday. Resources for Partners will return the following Friday, July 8.
Have a happy and healthy July 4th holiday!