From the Desk of Jason Eckert
Executive Director of Readers Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
I have been thinking about independence. As the Executive Director for Readers Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS), I often say: “through its grantmaking activities RDPFS assists people from diverse backgrounds who are living with blindness and vision impairment in achieving increased independence resulting in greater equality and inclusion in all communities within which they wish to participate.” A statement that proved to be true this month.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Events that celebrate the activities of employers and employees with disabilities, including vision loss, have been abundant and inspiring. October 15 was also White Cane Awareness Day, which recognizes and applauds the history and universal acceptance of the white cane as an orientation and mobility tool and a symbol of independence for those living with vision loss.
In addition to these annual October celebrations, this month the RDPFS Board of Directors awarded five grants to not-for-profit organizations who developed programing to increase the independence of those living with blindness and vision impairment.
The Chicago Lighthouse‘s youth transition program has been developed to increase an adolescent’s independent living skills and exposure to career opportunities while still attending high school. This training program culminates with a summer internship before graduation. The result is an increase in opportunities for college matriculation, continued vocational training, or employment for all program participants.
VISIONS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, developed an “outreach and services connectivity” program aimed at ensuring that all persons with vision impairment in seven counties in New York’s Hudson Valley have access to independent living skills training. Once a person is identified as living with vision loss and needing training, the VISIONS staff contacts them immediately and offers the full array of independent living services. This immediate service delivery approach ensures that no one “falls through the cracks” while waiting for funding to be approved.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is granted funding earmarked for their unique guide dog training program for persons living with multiple disabilities, including vision impairment. All too often these individuals cannot participate in residential guide dog training because of the complex medical issues associated with their other disabilities and/or chronic health conditions. Guiding Eyes employs a multidisciplinary team of clinicians who assess and incorporate these issues in developing and implementing an individualized training plan for the student. The result is a successfully trained person/service dog team.
The Hadley School for the Blind approached RDPFS to assist with the reorganization of their adult braille literacy training program. They requested financial support for developing large type materials to assist students as they make the transition from print to braille. RDPFS has a long history of providing large print materials to persons living with vision impairment. Based on that history, we are extremely proud to partner with the Hadley School in this endeavor.
The American Foundation for the Blind seeks to decrease the prevalence of “career stagnation” in the blind and vision impaired community through a mentor/mentee program. This initiative assists recently employed college graduates living with vision loss by pairing them with a seasoned professional, also living with vision impairment, in a similar career. Twenty-three mentor/mentee pairs participate in an established management training program that has been customized to address the needs of persons living with vision loss.
The organizations awarded funding in this grant cycle have long and distinguished histories of fostering independence for those who are experiencing vision loss. Those programs described above bolster that tradition. As we enter the holiday season, I am thankful for and proud of the partnerships that RDPFS continues to advance across the blindness community. Working together all members of this community can create opportunities for all of us to achieve our full potential and live our best lives.
This year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) culminated in a hybrid celebration, with both virtual and in-person events in communities across the U.S. We highlighted some of the virtual activities in bulletins earlier this month. Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS) was represented at some of the in-person events in the New York Metropolitan area, including those held by The Long Island Working Partnership, the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), and VISIONS Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As we approach the end of this year’s NDEAM, we reviewed some of the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disabilities Employment Policy (ODEP) on employment among people with disabilities and found a positive trend in some categories. The labor force participation rate, for example, among persons with a disability in September 2021, 22.3 percent, represented an increase from September 2019’s 19.3 percent. The employment-population rate, which includes unemployed people not seeking work as well as those who are, rose to 20.3 percent in September 2021 from 19.3 percent during the same period in 2019. The unemployment rate, at 9 percent in September 2021, was higher than that time period in 2019 (6.1 percent), though improved from 2020’s rate of 17.9 percent, reflecting the impact of COVID-19. For more details, check out ODEP’s Disability Employment Statistics. To delve into more of the data, you can retrieve historical statistics by checking out the Employment status of the civilian population by sex, age, and disability status.
“Becoming Helen Keller” Documentary Released in Honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)
The new documentary, “American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller,” reexamines the life of author and activist Helen Keller, exploring how she “used her celebrity and wit to advocate for social justice, particularly for women, workers, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty.” It recounts her life and accomplishments with archival film clips, photos, interviews with historians, and more. The full episode, with extended audio description and other accessibility features, is available from PBS by connecting to Becoming Helen Keller.
“Although she often put forth an uplifting message, she (Helen Keller) did not shy away from challenging her simple public image and the assumptions held by the audiences who came to see her.” So states M. Leona Godin in an essay recently published in The New York Times. The author suggests that Helen Keller herself would not want those of us remembering her today to stay in her mid-20th Century world, but rather she would be recognizing the progress to which she contributed, realized in such achievements as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the increases in accessibility through technology. Godin explains her own experience as a writer who is visually impaired and references the growing number of writers and other artists, thinkers, creators, and performers with disabilities. She cites the determination and choice, not miracles, that have fostered greater acceptance and inclusion. Read her perspective in Is a Helen Keller Obsession Holding Disabled People Back?
People with long-term diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic eye disease, a leading cause of blindness. Regular eye exams, treatment, and consistent follow-up care are key in preventing vision loss. During National Diabetes Awareness Month, November, the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP) of the National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute encourages everyone to “spread the word about how people with diabetes can protect their vision.” NEHEP also provides educational information through its Diabetic Education Program. Find out more from NEHEP in their website piece on National Diabetes Month. The theme for National Diabetes Month this year also emphasizes preventing the onset of diabetes when possible: “Small Steps, Big Difference: Preventing diabetes is within your reach.” The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health offers tangible health tips to help manage prediabetes and prevent diabetes. They urge people, for example, to “Take small steps” in making lifestyle changes; “Choose healthier foods and drinks…;” and “Seek support.” For more information and tips, as well as a toolkit with fact sheets, social media messages, and other resources to advance the theme, check out National Diabetes Month 2021: small steps big difference.
This Tuesday, November 2, 2021, elections are being held nationwide for many state and local officials. As you head to the polls, here is some information about access and issues for individuals with disabilities:
Ensuring Access to Voting: The League of Women Voters and its chapters throughout the country work to safeguard access to voting for people with disabilities. League members help ensure that the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are implemented by serving as volunteer poll watchers. The League also holds voter registration drives at locations around the nation and disseminates voter education and information materials, working with VOTE411.org. Find out more about How the League Helps Ensure Voting Access for Americans with Disabilities. To learn about activities or locate a League in your area, Find a league here.
Seeking Public Comments on Recommendations for Promoting Access to Voting: You can have a say in the future of voting access by responding to a request from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST is seeking public comments on the “Draft of Promoting Access to Voting: Recommendations for Addressing Barriers to Private and Independent Voting for People with Disabilities.” They are looking for input from persons with disabilities, disability advocacy groups, assistive technology vendors and professionals, and other constituents. The deadline for comments is 5 pm ET on November 22, 2021. For more information on the request, read NIST Seeks Public Comment on Recommendations for Promoting Access to Voting for People with Disabilities.
By Ahmat Djouma
Do you have an Amazon Echo device? If you do, you can ask “Alexa” to do many things. I have had mine for more than two years and it has been very useful. You can use the Echo device for entertainment or productivity – to listen to radio stations (iHeart Radio or your preferred distributor), play games, listen to music, or watch news. For productivity, you can set up alarms, check weather, set reminders, and more. My favorite task is just saying “Good Morning” and hearing some short news brief from National Public Radio (NPR). Use Amazon Alexa’s mobile app to discover other skills to enjoy. Visit Life of a Blind Girl to learn more about Alexa’s many skills.
Children, ages 5 – 12 years, and teens, ages 13 – 18 years, are invited to explore the The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection in a free virtual art workshop, offered by The Met and Lighthouse Guild on Saturday, November 13 from 10:30 am – 12 pm ET. Participants will experience the collection through detailed descriptions, learn drawing techniques, and create their own works of art. For more information and to register, go to the Free Virtual Art Workshop for Youth Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.
Accessible and “Sensory Friendly” Halloween Activities: Halloween and other holidays are great times for family get-togethers, including activities like decorating, cooking, and crafts. WonderBaby.org has come up with some fun crafts and decorating ideas “that are perfect for kids who are blind or visually impaired.” For example, you can create a “Pumpkin Lite-Brite” by decorating a pumpkin with lights from a Lite-Brite box. That way, children with light perception can enjoy how this lights up the outside of your home. You can also create non-edible gooey “Pumpkin Slime” or textured, tactile pumpkins. For instructions for these and other Halloween ideas, check out 10 Accessible and Sensory-Friendly Halloween Ideas.
Trick-or-Treating Tips: Some tips for preparing for trick-or-treating can help ensure that children who are blind or have low vision can enjoy the festivities safely. Keep costumes as simple as possible, by avoiding unnecessary accessories and layers. Also be sure that the costume itself is not itchy and is comfortable. If your child is going with someone who is not familiar with how they navigate the neighborhood, it’s advisable to do a test run, verbally calling out obstacles and other visual cues. These and other tips are offered by the Society for the Blind in Trick-or-Treating Tips from Tracy.
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