Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners November 4, 2022

New Voting Laws Praised by Advocates, Reignite Security Debates

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

A spate of new state laws across the country has allowed voters with vision loss to cast and, in some cases, return their ballots electronically. In many instances this is a response to lawsuits filed by advocates for the blind and visually impaired (BVI) community, claiming that current mail-in ballot options are inaccessible. Blind voters are not the first to be given this opportunity; it has been available to overseas and military voters for over a decade. In a GBH article reporting that Blind and low-vision voters hail Massachusetts' new statewide online voting option, Kim Charlson, executive director of the Perkins Library at Perkins School for the Blind, stated, “‘I'm just delighted at the ease of voting, and the privacy of being able to do it independently and submit my ballot and know I'm all set. It makes me feel good about the democratic process. […] I think the disability community takes [voting] very seriously because we had to kind of fight the fights to get to have the opportunity to vote privately and independently.’” Massachusetts is now one of some 25 states that allow the electronic return of ballots. New York, on the other hand, requires the voter to print out the marked ballot and return it in an envelope, as noted in a Gothamist article entitled 'We don’t read print': Blind voters say new accessible ballot measures fall short.  Advocates say this isn’t enough, especially in light of the results of a survey from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and Rutgers University, which found that 67 percent of respondents with a disability have access to a printer, compared with 82 percent of those without disabilities. Other states chose a similar system to New York’s, but have changed to fully electronic return after continued activism. New York’s present implementation seems to be a compromise answer to the age-old debate between accessibility and security. Juan Gilbert, chairman of the computer, information science and engineering department at the University of Florida, noted, “‘If you think about it, the most secure thing in the world, whatever it is, is going to be the most inaccessible thing, just by definition.’” For now, though, the tide appears to be turning somewhat toward access, at least for voters with visual impairments. Read more in the FiveThirtyEight article: New Laws Let Americans With Disabilities Vote Online. They've Also Resurrected The Debate About Voting Access vs. Election Security.

Disability, the Voting Process, and the Digital Divide

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

“People with disabilities are about as likely as those without disabilities to say they expect to vote in the national elections in 2022.” So say the results of a survey conducted in March and April 2022 to identify both the advances and remaining gaps in accessibility for voters with disabilities. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) collaborated with Rutgers University to conduct this study, working with professors from the Program for Disability Research at the university’s School of Management and Labor Relations and the Rutgers Business School. Of the 2426 survey respondents, 1186 had a disability and 1240 did not. The larger-than-average proportion of respondents with disabilities helped to ensure a small margin of error and generalizable information within the disability sample. Despite the referenced statement, the study found significant hurdles for people with disabilities wishing to access election information. For example, from 11 to 13 percent fewer people with disabilities use a computer or the internet, compared to those without disabilities. Twenty-six percent fewer people with disabilities have internet access in rural areas, and 12 percent fewer senior citizens with disabilities are connected. Further, 15 percent fewer people with disabilities have access to a printer. This last figure is particularly significant for those with vision loss, as in some states the ability to cast a mail-in ballot requires it to be printed and returned in an envelope. The results cited here merely scratch the surface of the accessibility gaps, but EAC hopes that with these findings, as well as discussions focusing on the implications of this study, improvements to accessibility of election information will be made at the local, state, and national levels. The EAC website article summarizing the results of the "Disability, the Voting Process, and the Digital Divide" is available here, including links to the full report in PDF and Word formats.

Outstanding Scholars Named as Winner of 2022 Inaugural Leaders Award Winners

Karina Agarwal and Kendelle Pitts have been awarded the inaugural Lavelle Leaders Awards. These new awards recognize scholars who have demonstrated the “highest level of academic achievement” as well as outstanding leadership experiences and school, career, or community engagement that have made a significant impact.  The two award winners “stood out as exemplars of outreach, team-building, and leadership skills,” and their work has already directly impacted hundreds of people. Both applicants are “impressive and inspiring” and “are true role models for their peers.” The efforts of Agarwal, a pre-law student, have made an impact in healthcare and in her community work in creating a “highly acclaimed” program delivering food and personal care items to those in need. Pitts, who is studying chemistry, is a volunteer and advocate for numerous nonprofit organizations, including a program providing essential supplies to homeless individuals. The Leaders Awards are open to college juniors and seniors and graduate students who attend one of the 12 Lavelle Fund for the Blind New York area partnering colleges and universities. The Lavelle Fund offers the Leaders Awards and the Lavelle-Brother Kearney Scholarship Program each year for students at partnering schools. Applications for the next awards cycle will be accepted from February 1, 2023 through June 30, 2023. Visit Lavelle Leaders Awards for more information about this year’s award winners as well as eligibility requirements and the application process.

Five Paid Fellowships Available for Individuals Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

RespectAbility, through its National Leadership Program and together with the Fox Family Foundation, is offering five paid virtual fellowships for “dedicated leaders with blindness or low vision” who live in or are considering relocating to Southern California. The application deadline is December 1, 2022 for this “’earn while you learn’” program, designed for people who plan to work in careers in public policy, nonprofit management, civic engagement, or other pursuits aimed at creating “a better future for people with blindness, low vision and/or other disabilities.” Fellows will work with RespectAbility staff for nearly six months and complete a three-month externship. Among the requirements for applicants are a bachelor’s degree or experience in a related field, “a passion for making a difference,” and a desire to gain skills and contacts to achieve success. The Spring program begins on January 23, 2023. To learn more and apply, visit the RespectAbility webpage describing the Apprenticeship for Blind and Low-Vision Leaders.

Recognizing Veterans Day: November 11, 2022

Each year, Veterans Day pays tribute to all veterans in the United States, wherever and whenever they served. The holiday commemorates the fact that on November 11, 1918, an armistice between the Allies and Germany marked the end of the First World War. In subsequent years, the anniversary of that event became known as Armistice Day, changed by Congress in 1954 to Veterans Day, to include all who have served in the armed forces in World War II and beyond. Since that time, parades, cultural activities,  and other events have been held each year to mark the occasion. Read more from the Veterans Authority about The Significance of Veteran's Day for Americans.  This year more than 500 free Veterans Day events will be held across the nation. And VA-recognized Veterans Day observances will be hosted by 33 communities in 25 states and in Washington DC. For more information and a full list of activities, check out these Veterans Day events and observances from every state, which includes a listing of free Veterans Day meals and other offers.

The Commitment to Veterans’ Blind Rehabilitation Training

During and following World War II also marked increased recognition of and commitment from the federal government to blinded servicemembers. In 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that “’no blind servicemen from WWII would be returned to their homes without adequate training to meet the problems of necessity imposed upon them by their blindness.’” Post-war, in 1947, President Harry Truman signed a presidential order transferring the military’s blind rehabilitation training to the Veterans Administration (VA). Subsequently, ongoing training for blind veterans emerged, first with a model program at Hines VA Hospital in Chicago and eventually with today’s 13 inpatient blind rehabilitation centers across the nation. These centers provide in-depth intensive and supportive care to restore the abilities of veterans and active military personnel to “achieve their independence, support their families, care for their homes, and integrate into their communities.” Rehabilitation training covers a wide array of services, depending on the individual’s goals and interests. The VA also provides Blind Rehabilitation Services Outpatient Clinics throughout the United States for veterans with vision loss. At these clinics, eye care providers and blind rehabilitation specialists and other support services work collaboratively as an interdisciplinary team to assist veterans and active duty servicemembers in “developing the skills needed for personal independence and successful reintegration into the community and family environment.” Learn more from the VA about  the Post WWII commitment to blind Veterans here and about overall offerings about the VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Services here.

Blinded Veterans Ambassador Program: Connecting Individuals with Vision Loss with Services

More than 120,000 veterans are blind and approximately 1.1 million veterans have low vision, according to the VA Blind Rehabilitation Service (BRS). Many of these individuals are unaware about BRS and do not know that they are eligible for assistance even if their vision loss is not service related. To heighten awareness and disseminate benefits information and advocacy tips among blinded veterans, the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Ambassador Program trains volunteers to serve at a VA Blind Center or VA Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient program. Ambassadors help veterans with vision loss make the most of their VA benefits, including access to the full range of inpatient and outpatient vision impairment services. To find out more about these services, including how to become an ambassador, visit the Blinded Veterans Association webpage on the Blinded Veterans Association Ambassador Program.

Tips for an Enjoyable and Accessible Thanksgiving

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

The holidays keep on coming! With Halloween just passed, you may be wondering about how to make Thanksgiving more accessible and enjoyable for friends and loved ones with vision loss. This article from IrisVision and this one from VisionBuddy  offer ideas that can be helpful to people with vision loss enjoy the festivities, at home or at a distance. Suggestions include:

  • sending a greeting card electronically, in large print, or in Braille;
  • using digital magnification technology to enjoy a movie or a football game;
  • Cooking a Thanksgiving meal with the use of accessible cooking appliances and smart technology such as a talking microwave, smart measuring cups, etc.;
  • A video call with distant relatives or friends on an accessible platform; and
  • Reading a large print book, Braille book, or ebook, or giving these to friends with vision loss.

You can find more in the articles linked above, and countless other sites across the web have good suggestions. For example, this article from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) talks about how a visually-impaired child can help with Thanksgiving meal preparation. Another AFB article discusses how to meaningfully share the holiday with children with vision loss.

Planning for the Holidays: An Online Discussion Tomorrow for Individuals with Low Vision

In planning for Thanksgiving and other holidays, a number of issues may arise for the celebrant with low vision. Tomorrow, from approximately 12:45 pm until approximately 2:15 pm ET, the Delaware Valley Council of Citizens with Low Vision will host a discussion focused on preparing for the holidays. Among the questions to consider: Does the lighting where you will eat present a problem? How do you know who is sitting at the table or speaking to you? If there is a buffet, how do you tell one item from another, or do you ask for someone’s help? What about getting to and from celebrations, can you find a ride, or do you need to take Uber or Lyft? To join the conversation, use this Zoom link. The meeting ID is 440 465 3663; passcode 2121.

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