Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners March 10, 2023

In Memory of Judy Heumann

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

Judy Heumann, a well-known activist and champion of disability rights, passed away on March 4, 2023. She is mourned by many in the disability and vision loss communities. Often called the “mother of the disability rights movement,” Heumann contracted polio as a child and was the first student to use a wheelchair in her New York City school, after first being considered a “fire hazard” and denied entry. She is perhaps best known, however, for the 504 sit-in, a nearly month-long occupation of a federal building in San Francisco, after the U.S. Secretary of Health refused to sign regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which forbids discrimination in education on the basis of disability. She also played a pivotal role in developing and implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). A founder of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, Heumann served as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights in the Obama administration, Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton administration, and various positions in other organizations including the World Bank. She also published a memoir and was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.” U.S. Access Board Executive Director Sachin Pavithran noted: “‘Not only was Judy a fierce advocate that led the disability rights movement, but she was also a personal friend and mentor to me and many in the disability community. Judy taught us by example to not stop advocating for our rights, to never take no for an answer, and that collectively we could get more accomplished to remove barriers. All her lessons will help us continue her legacy.’” You can read much more about her life and work at the Access Board link above as well as many other obituaries across the web. Her unrelenting determination and perseverance can inspire our own activism for the rights of people with vision loss to lead full, independent lives.

Disability Employment Updates

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

A slight upward trend has occurred in the numbers of employed people with disabilities, from 19.1 percent in 2021 to 21.3 percent in 2022, according to new statistics released by The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). These findings were taken from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a “monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that provides statistics on employment and unemployment in the United States.” Despite this trend, however, people with disabilities were more than twice as likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities (7.6 percent versus 3.5 percent) and made up nearly double the number in terms of part-time work (30 percent versus 16 percent). “Unemployed,” in contrast to “jobless,” describes a person actively seeking work within four weeks prior to the survey. Jobless individuals not actively looking for work made up almost eight in ten of those with disabilities. Even though disabilities are more prevalent among older adults, the high proportion of jobless individuals holds true in all age groups. “Among persons with a disability, the jobless rates for Blacks (12.3 percent) and Hispanics (9.6 percent) were higher than the rates for Whites (6.6 percent) and Asians (6.8 percent.)” Individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher were more likely to be employed than the less educated, but marked disparities in employment in comparison with those without disabilities exist in all education groups. You can find much more detailed statistics in the ODEP press release on labor force characteristics for people with disabilities in 2022.

Youth employment Webinar, March 13, 2023

Groups like the Center on Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) are working within communities with disabilities to combat the employment disparities discussed in the ODEP survey. On March 13, 2023 from 2 to 3 pm ET, CAPE is hosting a Zoom webinar on navigation and use of its new website. Designed for counselors from state agencies and similar professionals, the presentation will highlight the main areas of the site and will provide recommendations on how best to use CAPE-Youth’s site and services to assist teens and young adults with vision loss in learning about and gaining employment. Here is the link to register for the webinar.

Recent and Ongoing Happenings in the Usher Syndrome and Deaf-blind Communities

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

As March 2nd is the birthday of Charles Usher, the ophthalmologist for whom Usher Syndrome is named, it is timely to discuss new and significant developments in the Usher and broader deaf-blind community. First, the Usher Syndrome Coalition (USC) has launched a new community server (chat room) on Discord, a popular voice-, video-, and text-chatting app. Discord is primarily used to organize chats around certain groups of people, such as family or friends, or around a given topic such as a game, content creator, or, as in this case, a broader community. Created by volunteer Ryan LaPierre, the server is “a safe space for those with Usher syndrome worldwide to connect.” Anyone over the age of 13 can join Discord free of charge. Users usually join a Discord server by invitation, often through a link, although an account is needed prior to joining. In order to activate the link to join this server, you must be signed into Discord on your device. Once that is in place, here is the link to join the Usher Syndrome Discord server.

New York State Legislation Supporting CoNavigator Services

In news relevant to the entire deaf-blind community, pending legislative bills in New York would secure additional funding for deaf-blind individuals to get CoNavigators, formerly known as Support Service Providers (SSPs). According to the American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB) and New York’s Program of Deaf/Deaf-blind Services, CoNavigators allow deaf-blind people to live more independent lives. For example, they may help a deaf-blind person shop and do other errands, complete other necessary travel, and visually describe their environment. New York and Washington are two states that offer these services, and the new proposals aim to increase allocated funding from the state government to make the services more widely available. It was introduced in both the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly. You can find more information and the full text of each bill at the two links above.

The Disabilities Film Challenge: Registration Open Through March 27, 2023

The 2023 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge is “Celebrating a decade of leadership advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion in the entertainment industry.” The Challenge competition will be held from March 28 to April 2, 2023, with the awards ceremony scheduled for May 4th at Sony Pictures Studio in California. During the five-day Challenge, participants write and produce short films “based on the year’s announced genre, which promotes disability inclusion.” Awards will be given to the “best” in six categories: film, director, actor, writer, editor, and awareness campaign. The 10th Anniversary Easterseals Disability Film Challenge builds on the progress made in previous years. Founder Nic Novicki, an actor, comedian, producer, and disability advocate, explains that “’As the entertainment industry strives to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace, we must keep disability in the conversation…We are proud of the amazing films produced over the past 10 years—viewed around the world—and the successes our participants have gone on to achieve.’” Previous winners and participants have achieved success within the industry, securing roles and directing segments of numerous films and television shows. For more details, read the Easterseals Southern California press release entitled "Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Celebrates 10 Years." To register now through March 27, 2023, visit the Disability Film Challenge website here.

Registration Available for March 31, 2023 Virtual Conference for Professionals

The Hunter College Blind and Visually Impaired Program and New York State Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (NYSAER) invite professionals to join in their Spring conference, on March 31, 2023 from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm ET. This program, available on Zoom, will feature presentations as well as sessions related to various interest groups within the field of vision rehabilitation. Sessions will cover:

- Teaming Up for Success: Best Practices in Collaborative Assessment Vision Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) and Rehabilitation Counseling: The ability to collaborate and join together as a team in planning and delivering VRT services is critical for the success of working-age adults with vision loss.  This presentation will discuss how changes in legislation as well as the pandemic have underscored the impact of VRT services in relation to employment.
- Let's Get Physical: Ways to Make Sports More Accessible to the Blind and Visually Impaired (BVI) Community: Physical activity benefits overall health, growth, and development in young adults and also increases thinking, learning, and judgment skills. Multiple adaptive sports are available to the BVI community. Those joining in this presentation will learn more about adaptive sports, organizations, and funding available to benefit clients.
To register, go to the link for Hunter College Programs in Vision Rehabilitation Spring Conference. For more information, contact Dr Beth Brady, program leader, [email protected]; Dr. Linda Fugate, VRT program director, [email protected]; or Caitlin Graham, program assistant, [email protected].

March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month

Each year approximately 20,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ranging from simple eye strain to “severe trauma that can cause permanent damage, vision loss and blindness.” The key to protecting vision while at work is to use appropriate protective eyewear, which can prevent most serious eye injuries. To underscore the need to protect eyes at work, Workplace Eye Wellness Month is commemorated annually in March. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and Prevent Blindness note that the specific eyewear to provide protection depends on the hazards faced. For example, for working around particles, flying objects, or dust, safety glasses with side shields help; for handling chemicals, wear goggles; and for work near radiation, such as welding, lasers, or fiber optics, select specially designed safety glasses. If an eye injury occurs, it is critical to get help without delay to prevent permanent vision loss. Even for an injury that seems minor, “it’s best to (go) to the emergency room immediately.” The use of digital devices at work, such as computers, tablets, and smart phones, can also cause eye strain, headaches, and eye fatigue. As pointed out by Cedars-Sinai, workers may be at risk for digital eye strain if they spend considerable time each day at a computer or digital device; are too close to the device screen; view at an incorrect angle or with “bad posture;” have eye problems not corrected with glasses or contact lenses; eyeglasses not suitable for the viewing distance of the computer; or do not take breaks. Prevent Blindness offers information on workplace-related eye injuries, how to avoid them, and guidance regarding potential risks for those using digital screens. Resources include a “Workplace Safety” module in its free program, the Healthy Eyes Educational Series, along with workplace eye safety fact sheets and shareable social media graphics. Read more news here from Prevent Blindness about Workplace Eye Wellness Month and how to “Keep Eyes Healthy and Safe, Protected at Work.” The AAO offers additional details here about how Workplace Eye Injuries Cost Time, Money and Vision.

The Camp Abilities Story: Now Available in Paperback

Camp Abilities began in the mid-1990s, with grant support, as a local educational sports camp for children who are visually impaired. Since then, the “Camp Abilities model” has been replicated throughout the United States and in ten other countries. Through the newly published book, The Camp Abilities Story, founder Lauren J. Lieberman, Distinguished Service Professor at the State University of New York at Brockport, conveys how her dream came to fruition and recounts her “journey—from her earliest experiences in sports, to her ’aha moment’ during college, to her Fulbright scholarship and starting Camp Abilities programs worldwide.” The lessons conveyed, including the hard work needed to achieve success, can be applied to “anyone with a dream to make the world a better place.” This book can be purchased for $32.95, with half of the proceeds going directly to support Camp Abilities Brockport. For more information, visit the SUNY PRESS webpage about The Camp Abilities Story. Additional details about the camps are available from the websites for Camp Abilities Brockport and Camp Abilities World. For some of the previous coverage in the Bulletin, read the items about Summer Camps for 2023, Summer Camp Options (2022), and The New Camp Abilities Worldwide website (2021). The most recent RDPFS grant to Camp Abilities supports participants in this research-based adaptive physical education program and was highlighted in the June 2022 column by Executive Director Jason Eckert in the message "Celebrating Independence and Freedom."