From the Desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
Learning and Thriving
On March 16, 2023 the Board of Directors of Readers Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS) reaffirmed their commitment to learning and literacy with the approval of three exciting grant applications.
Future In Sight will receive support for the second year of a pilot program that adds Occupational Therapy services to the vision rehabilitation process. This program doubles the amount of skills training seniors who are experiencing vision loss receive. These older adults, who have recently become vision impaired, will learn new skills to gain the proficiency and confidence to lead independent lives.
Learning Ally will be granted funding to develop the accessibility component of their new web-based program platform. This new platform will house all of Learning Ally’s reading and educational tools and audio books in one place. RDPFS support will ensure that every person using Learning Ally’s services who is blind and vision impaired has equal access to its electronic materials. The platform will be “born accessible” and allow the students living with vision loss to access reading and educational materials alongside their sighted peers.
Finally, RDPFS is supporting the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School in developing a database that will house their extensive braille and large print music collection. This initiative will be a partnership with the American Printing House for the Blind and the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library of The New York Public Library. These institutions will house thousands of scores and make them available to any musician who wishes access to the materials, thereby improving the ability of musicians who are blind and vision impaired to learn how to play all kinds of music.
The learning opportunities offered by these programs allow individuals to thrive while living with vision loss. Increasing services and making information more accessible foster equal access to community activities, greater inclusion, and independence, thereby increasing one’s ability to attain personal and professional goals.
Tomorrow: Tune in to a Talk About Audio Description
Audio Description and the Audio Description Project of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) will be discussed by two guest experts at the meeting of the Delaware Valley Council of Citizens with Low Vision (DVCCLV), which begins between 12:45 and 12:55 ET tomorrow, April 1, 2023. The speakers, Dr. Tabitha Kenlon and Dr. Joel Snyder, are well versed in the field of audio description for media, performances, cultural events, and more. Dr. Kenlon brings her experience and knowledge of performing artis, disability rights, literature, education, and research to her role as Audio Description Project Coordinator at ACB. Dr. Snyder was one of the world’s first audio describers beginning in 1981, introducing audio description techniques across the United States and internationally. In 2014, ACB published his book, The Visual Made Verbal – A Comprehensive Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description. To join in tomorrow’s program, use this Zoom link. The meeting ID is 440 465 3663; passcode 2121.
Free Document Accessibility Review
by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern
Complying with the legal standards for accessibility in digital documents can be daunting if it’s something you haven’t had to consider before, and still difficult even if you have. However, it’s extremely important to do so for anyone who is part of an organization or trying to run a business. If you are in this position, there’s a free service from BrailleWorks, one of the nation’s leading providers of reading materials for those who are visually impaired, that has you covered. You can send them a PDF document, along with some information about your project and organization, and they’ll offer an accessibility review of the document, typically providing the results within two business days. It’s important to comply with these standards not just because they’re the law, but also because customers are becoming more and more socially conscious and want to give their business to companies that reflect their values of inclusivity and accessibility. In this sense, an organization that invests in making their documents accessible is investing just as much in their own ability to connect with customers, whether or not they have visual impairments. You can follow the link above to check out the service. For more information on the upsides of compliance, look at this BrailleWorks article: Accessible Documents, the Positive Approach to Compliance.
Tech Connect: A Free Assistive Technology Resource
In their continuing mission to create informative and entertaining educational resources to individuals who need them, Vision Forward is launching a new assistive technology resource. This new site will bring all of their content to a single easy-to-navigate platform, offering access to both the live Tech Connect sessions and professional webinars. Tech Connect events, held free of charge every other Thursday at 11 am CST (12 noon EST), feature a live demonstration of an assistive technology product, followed by a question and answer session and general discussion. The professional webinars are eligible for ACVREP (Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals) for CE, making it easy to get continuing education credits all in one place. With a free account, users have access to the ever-growing library of webinars and produced videos. Choose the webinars category to browse current offerings or choose the "Search or Browse Our Video Content" link from the main navigation to see a searchable list of all existing videos. For those who only want to see videos about the iPhone, for example, just type "iPhone" into the search and the video list will be filtered. You may also join Tech Connect live sessions or watch past episodes. Please visit the Vision Forward Association log in page to register for and access this new resource. For more general information, visit the Vision Forward homepage here. To access previous podcasts, visit the Apple Podcast Preview Page on Vision Forward's Tech Connect Live.
Affordable Camera for Photographers with Low Vision to Be Released This Summer
by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern
Photography poses one of the largest barriers to entry among all artistic mediums for people with low vision. It relies on the photographer to have a sufficient visual understanding of both their surroundings and subject in order to do their best work – whether in capturing the essence of something or chronicling a moment in time. Fortunately, new developments in the way cameras can transmit their viewfinder image to the photographer can reduce these barriers, allowing them to see their subjects with greater acuity than ever before. This is accomplished by using low-level lasers, which are completely safe for the user’s eyes, to directly beam the viewfinder image into the photographer’s retina. The technique was developed by Retissa, a technology company focused on helping those with low vision. Sony is now partnering with Retissa to bring this viewfinder, called the Retissa Neoviewer, to their HX99 point-and-shoot camera this summer and it will retail at a relatively affordable $600. Additionally, Sony plans to partner with both Japanese and American schools for the blind to get this exciting technology into the hands of those who need it most – the next generation of photographers with low vision. For more information on the release of this camera, check out this PC Magazine article Sony Develops Affordable Camera for the Visually Impaired. Also, to get a first-hand account of this camera from a photographer with low vision, be sure to look at this article from The Phoblographer.
Reducing Bias in AI Hiring Systems
by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern
Artificial intelligence (AI) brings convenience and efficiency to many organizations by automating well-defined processes, allowing people to spend their time on more novel or complex problems that require a more nuanced approach. However, that lack of nuance in automation can incur a cost, introducing bias into the processes it seeks to make more efficient. As outlined in an article by The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), this bias can often be at the expense of inclusivity for those with disabilities, particularly regarding hiring processes. An example is a digital application form that screens out an applicant who has a six-month gap in employment because they needed to address medical concerns related to their disability. This person has all the skills relevant for the job, but this qualified candidate won’t move on to the interview phase because of this bias in the hiring process’ automation. A counter-example is offered of how automation – when engineered for inclusion – can actually help to eliminate such biases in the hiring process. Instead of requiring applicants to fill out a form with their employment history and screening based on that information, AI could instead be used to create a chatbot that simply asks candidates about their skills and experience relevant to the role. It would then move all qualified candidates along in the hiring process. More examples and additional information about bias and inclusion in AI for those with disabilities are provided in the full article Reduce Bias and Increase Inclusion in Your AI Hiring Technology.
Upcoming Virtual Presentations…
…on Technology, Music, and More
Training programs coming up from The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library of The New York Public Library (NYPL) include:
The Voiceover for Mac Workshop, begins on April 5, 2023 from 2 to 4 pm ET and continues for twelve weeks. Participants will learn about Voiceover, the Mac screen reader, exploring keyboard commands, customizing features, navigating the Mac operating systems, using websites, text editing, and more. Those registering are asked to commit to attending the full series. To join in this program on the scheduled dates, visit the NYPL Zoom link for the Voiceover for Mac workshop.
April 5, 2023, from 6 to 7:30 pm ET, Understanding Conversational AI covers the increasingly popular “large language models (LLMs),” including ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and the Bing chatbot, that can engage in conversation and provide realistic-sounding answers to questions. Sometimes, however, these answers are incorrect. This program will explain how these services work, how they might be used, and how to check their claims to ward off misinformation. This event can be accessed through this Zoom link for Understanding Conversational AI.
April 8, 2023, from 1 to 3 pm ET, Introduction To Braille Music teaches participants braille music basics, including how braille music began, how to read basic braille music notation, and more. No prior knowledge is required. This event will take place in person and online. To join online, go to this Zoom link for Introduction to Braille Music.
April 13, 2023, from 2 to 3:30 pm ET, Exploring Delivery Apps with Accessibility in Mind covers how “delivery on demand” apps work. These ways to order food and other items can be convenient but are constantly changing and their accessibility varies. The workshop will also discuss which apps are currently accessible and what to do when accessibility breaks while using an app. Join via this Zoom link for Exploring Delivery Apps with Accessibility in Mind.
For more information on these and other programs, read the latest issue of NewsLion: Andrew Heiskell Braille & Talking Book Library Newsletter here.
…on Cooking, Seasonal Crafts, and Games
Future In Sight offers a number of online activities over the next week. Zoom links for each activity will be sent with registration confirmation. Events include:
April 2, 2023, from 3 to 4:30 pm, Outta Sight Cooking: Beef Stroganoff offers adult participants a recipe to cook this classic dish together. Participants will receive a list of ingredients via email prior to the class. More details and a registration link are available here for Outta Sight Cooking: Beef Stroganoff.
April 4, 2023, from 3 to 5 pm, Kaila’s Crafts: 3 Spring Crafts brings adults and youth the opportunity to create seasonal decorations, including a “Flower Bunny magnet,” “Popsicle stick Easter basket,” and “Spring is here umbrella.” There is a $13 fee for registration, which covers the cost of a craft kit. Without the kit, registration is free. Additional information and a registration link are available here for Kaila's Crafts: 3 Spring Crafts.
April 6, 2023, from 11 am to 1 pm, Stumping Alexa offers adults a “game where human wits are matched against the (Amazon Echo) device.” Players aim to have Alexa say a word without using the word themselves. Find out more and register here for Stumping Alexa.
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Happy Passover to all who celebrate!