From the Desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The last roar of cold has left us, and it is time for things to come alive and grow again. Although turbulence continues in the world, I am optimistic. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and COVID appears to be lifting. I hope we are returning to a world where we can be with each other, in person, again.
The RDPFS Board of Directors has continued to meet, consider, and support grant requests throughout the pandemic. Now, as it is abating, we can report that Partners for Sight Foundation recently funded five exciting projects, all of which support getting together in person, learning, and growing.
Camp Helen Keller will again be supported by RDPFS this summer. Through this excellent program, kids of all ages who are living with vision impairment come together and engage in fun outdoor activities.
VisionLink will receive funding to start three projects this year: 1. Increased computer skills training, with in-person classes; 2. The development of a train-the-trainer program for a new computer curriculum; and 3. An untraditional outreach program targeting cultural and social service organizations with the goal of developing partnerships so people living with vision loss feel welcomed when they access their programing along with their fully sighted peers.
Lighthouse Guild has partnered with Cyber Seniors, an organization that provides intergenerational technology training, so that adolescents can work with seniors to teach them how to use their mobile phones and tablets. In expanding their existing program, Lighthouse Guild will bring together adolescents and seniors with vision loss to master the accessibility features on their devices.
The Salus University – Blindness and Low Vision Studies Programs will receive funding to develop an internship program for their graduating Vision Rehabilitation Therapists and Orientation and Mobility Specialists. By allowing graduates to complete the internship portion of their training in the Philadelphia area, this program promises to increase in-person orientation and mobility and rehabilitation therapy services in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Finally, the Perkins School for the Blind is launching a full-service program to meet the educational needs of children with Cortical Vision Impairment. RDPFS is proud to be one of the funders supporting this initiative.
So, as we enter the Spring and Summer seasons, let’s put on our shoes and get out there in person. It is time to participate fully in the community, taking advantage of all the ways together we can live, learn, and grow.
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
The 37th Annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, which took place in Anaheim California from March 14 through 18, 2022, gave participants the opportunity to explore all aspects of assistive technology. In returning to an in-person event, this year’s conference featured more than 250 educational sessions and workshops that focused on assistive technologies that exist and are being developed for people with disabilities. Presentations included such topics as data and web accessibility and digital accessibility being a human right. Discussions on how the media frame people with disabilities, and how they influence myths and stereotypes regarding people with disabilities, also occurred. Here are two highlights:
Envision provided an update on Google-inspired AI-powered smart glasses. The AI specs, originally created in 2020, have been improved for a better overall user experience by pairing the glasses to a phone application that processes the images that the glasses "see," relaying that information, including images and text, to the user. The glasses are capable of reading documents, finding items the user is looking for, recognizing faces of family and friends, assisting the user in riding public transportation, and even describing the immediate environment. With this update, the glasses can now assist not only English speakers, but Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, and Korean speakers as well.
Orbit Research announced their “Orbit Speak” braille notetaker, a modern, pocket-sized braille notetaker that has a host of accessible features. The device itself has built-in note-taking and productivity applications including a book reader, file editor, calendar, address book, calculator, clock, and alarms, and can connect to smartphones and computers via Bluetooth and USB. It can even connect users to the internet, social media, email, and text messages, and also sports a slot for a full-sized SD Card. The Orbit Speak supports a wide range of languages spoken around the world for use by greater numbers of individuals with vision loss.
The Envision smart-glasses and the Orbit Research “Orbit Speak” are just two of the amazing announcements at the CSUN Conference. For more information about the Conference and announcements and technologies covered, check out the CSUN website. If you would like to attend the conference retroactively, go to the 2022 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference YouTube playlist. To learn more about Envision’s smart glasses, read the article, Google-inspired smart glasses for the blind adds eye-catching new features — here's how it works. And for more information regarding Orbit Research’s Orbit Speak, read the article, Orbit Research Introduces The Orbit Speak Notetaker at CSUN.
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
As the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing came to a close, Team USA's 67 members celebrated their tremendous success this year. Team USA earned 20 medals, including six gold, eleven silver, and three bronze, placing fifth overall. Nine athletes took home their first Paralympic medal, while Oksana Masters became the first American to win seven medals at a single Paralympic Winter Games. Jake Adicoff, who is visually impaired, and his guide Sam Wood, performed in the mixed relay, long-distance cross-country, and sprint cross-country events, earning three medals each, and becoming the most decorated U.S. men from the 2022 Games. At the completion of the Winter Games, Julie Dussliere the USOPC (United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee) chief of Paralympic sport, and 2022 Chef de Mission said, "’To be able to witness the masterful performances of our U.S. athletes on the ice and snow has been awesome…We are grateful to our athletes, staff, and National Governing Bodies for their support in a successful 2022 Games.’” Congratulations on your impressive performance Team USA! For more on Jake Adicott and Sam Wood, please read the Idaho Mountain Express article, Jake Adicoff, Sam Wood golden in Beijing. For more information about all of Team USA, please visit Team USA’s website and read the article, Team USA Celebrates Historic Performance as 2022 Winter Paralympic Games Conclude.
by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
Historically, museums and galleries have been regarded as optic places, where people would browse and view works of art. These institutions offered limited opportunities for multi-sensory involvement and were often considered inaccessible to patrons who were blind or visually impaired. Over the years, the once observed “Do Not Touch” mindset shifted as museums and galleries worked to ensure the accessibility of their exhibits and patrons’ visiting experiences. The addition of services such as audio descriptive displays, comprehensive audio guides, and tactile exhibits utilizing 3D printing has made previously inaccessible institutions and works of art accessible. This approach can be traced to the founding of the Museum for the Blind in Spain in 1992. The museum featured scaled models of famous buildings and tactile paintings, sculptures, and textiles. It also spotlighted art created by artists who were blind or visually impaired as well as art related to blindness. Subsequently, many institutions worldwide have gotten onboard with the accessible art movement, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond Virginia, and the National Gallery of Prague in Czechia. Many institutions now offer guided tours designed specifically for visitors who are visually impaired, both in-person and online. Museums and galleries have also created in-person virtual reality tours with 3D printed art and artifacts so that people may experience them in a new way. This technology, as it continues to grow, has created accessible exhibits that bring new audiences to the museums. For more information, read the Museum Next article, “How museums can remove barriers to access for blind and partially sighted people”.
Throughout the year Xavier Society for the Blind provides “religious, spiritual, and inspirational reading materials” in braille, audio, and large print free of charge. For this season, a number of offerings are available, such as “Essential Easter Prayers” and “Lent, Holy Week, and Easter” in braille. “Mass Propers” liturgical texts in large print can be obtained for every month. For additional information about their services, catalog, and more, visit the website: Xavier Society for the Blind.
Reading material in braille, audio, and large print of “Jewish and general interest” are provided year round by JBI International. For Passover, JBI offers large print Haggadahs, which can be obtained by mail or by downloading from their website. To receive a free Haggadah by mail, order by April 4, 2022 by clicking here or call 1-800-999-6476. To learn more about JBI, visit JBI International.
As we continue to recognize Women's History Month, the role of women in creating book clubs can be acknowledged for the impact on reading and on “their own lives.” The first American reading circles, precursors to today’s book clubs, arose during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Women in these groups met in classrooms, in bookstores, at homes of friends, “even while working in mills.” One notable example, a club run by Margaret Fuller, a journalist and first American female war correspondent, began meeting in Boston in 1839. A participant recalled that Fuller “’opened the book of life and helped us to read it for ourselves.’” As the chief founders of the modern book club, women have had a profound impact on the book industry, now accounting for the vast majority of fiction sales. Book clubs continue to flourish, although the roles have shifted. “Where once women joined book clubs to make up for the education they were denied, now they joined to extend the pleasures they enjoyed at college,” according to Elizabeth Long, an expert cited in The Washington Post article How women invented book clubs, revolutionizing reading and their own lives. For those with vision loss, the growth in alternative formats – from large print to audiobooks to screen readers to altering font size, contrast, and other changes made possible via technology – has made reading and book clubs more accessible. These alternatives allow readers who use large print and formats like BARD from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) | Library of Congress and Bookshare to participate fully in book clubs.
…And A Free Offer From RDPFS for Readers of Large Print
For many years, Reader’s Digest Select Editions Large Type (SELT) books have featured expertly edited best-selling books in every volume in a format that is comfortable for people who have difficulty reading standard-sized print. Many of the selections can also be obtained in an unabridged form from BARD or Bookshare. Usually these books are available only to subscribers. However, an unexpected surplus allows us to offer a limited number of boxes of the latest volume free of charge to those interested in starting a book group. The abridged novels featured in the current volume are Let It Snow by Nancy Thayer and Dear Miss Bird by A.J. Pearce. Each box contains approximately 20 books, along with a Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS) guide to setting up a book club for readers with vision loss. If you are interested in receiving a box of complimentary books, please contact [email protected]. Even if you are not sure yet about setting up a book club, but would like a sample of the book, please let us know.