Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

RDPFS Resources for Partners September 10, 2021

Upcoming Access Academy Workshops

APH (the American Printing House for the Blind)’s Access Academy offers education and training webinars related to their products and services, including how to “get the most out of your beloved tech.” Upcoming programs include:
Tuesday, September 14, 4 – 5:30 pm EDT: Teaching Screen Readers the Fun Way with Cody Laplante: Part 4 of 4: Laplante, founder of the eye.t learning portal, will discuss how to “assess your learner in their screen reader lesson in a meaningful way…”, whether they use JAWS, NVDA or Chromevox.
Friday, September 17, 12 – 1 pm EDT: Go Back to School with MATT Connect: The MATT Connect is “an all-in-one magnifier, distance viewer, and educational Andriod tablet.” The webinar will cover how to set this up for new students, including creating profiles and how to make the most of its accessories.
Friday, September 24, 12 – 1 pm EDT: Chameleon Say What? Text to Speech and More on the Chameleon 20: Text to Speech will soon be available via the Chameleon 20 braille device. Instructors from APH, William Freeman, Tactile Technology Product Manager, and Donna McClure, Early Childhood Product Manager, will provide updates to the Chameleon 20, including how the text to speech features can help students.
Get more information and register for Upcoming Access Academy Webinars.

Free Virtual STEAM Career Showcase for Students with Disabilities on October 19

Perkins School for the Blind eLearning is offering its 9th annual STEAM Career Showcase on October 19 from 1 – 3:30 pm ET, an event for students in grades 6-12 and “an opportunity to connect with role models with disabilities in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM). The keynote speaker, Brandon Winfield, founded iAccessLife, a mobile app that gives individuals with disabilities the opportunity to rate, review and find out about accessible restaurants, retail and grocery stores, and other venues. Winfield and other speakers will share their personal experiences and strategies leading to success. Those attending can gain practical advice to apply to their areas of interest and career pursuits. For more information and to register, check out the STEAM Career Showcase 2021 for Students with Disabilities.

Dining Out? Check Out Menus for Accessibility

By Ahmat Djouma

When a person who is blind or visually impaired is considering dining out, they often have to think about whether the restaurant has an accessible menu.  My personal approach is to check out the menu before I get to the restaurant.  Menus4ALL is a website that provides accessible menus for 50,000 restaurants in more than 12,000 cities in the United States.  You can search by your zip-code or your current location. More of the restaurant listings are in major cities.  You can access the menus with a computer or an iDevice. To learn more about Menus4ALL, read the transcript interview of an interview from Blind Abilities with Stephanie Jones from Menus4ALL.

Another website for finding out about accessible menus is Blindline ®. Blindline® is “a fully accessible web site created by VISIONS (Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired) in collaboration with the American Foundation for the Blind to provide direct access to a New York statewide database of organizations and services for people who are blind or visually impaired, their family members, counselors, and other professionals.” You can select a category like advocacy, restaurant, or other areas of interest and type in your zip-code. It will provide you with resources in your chosen category along with additional information such as hours of operations and other offerings. For example, if you choose the restaurant category, it will show you a list of restaurants near you and if they have braille menus available.

With the proliferation of internet and digital information, braille menus may not always be necessary.  As long as the digital information meets accessibility standards, menus can be posted online for everyone to access, as they increasingly are, especially during the pandemic. Restaurants change their menus frequently and this poses challenges to providing them in braille since every time a change is made, the restaurant would need to get the menu converted into braille.  While some large national chains do offer braille menus, electronic versions of menus are accessible to most people and restaurants can update them easily as they make the change.  Read the commentary from The Chicago Lighthouse.

For another perspective on the topic, check out the You Tube video from Tommy Edison, who has been blind since birth, Do Restaurants Have Braille Menus?

Dining Outside: This COVID-19 Trend Poses Challenges to Individuals Living With Visual Impairment

Outdoor dining, an increasingly popular pastime, has created difficulties for navigation that are not always well known, acknowledged or understood. Following are some perspectives on this challenging trend…

…For cane users:

“For members of the sight loss community, the move to outdoor recreation and dining means further obstacles…” This statement the motivation of the National Council of the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) in launching a #ClearOurPaths campaign. Individuals who are navigating with a cane are now often faced with temporary obstacles, such as chairs pulled away from tables, people standing around awaiting a table, and umbrellas sticking out from chairs, to name a few. The campaign seeks to increase public awareness of these barriers to navigation, “educating and challenging people to be more considerate…” and “better understand the impact of their actions on me and the thousands of others who are blind or visually impaired. Writing in the Irish Examiner, cane user David Kortukohun explains problems that have arisen – or grown – during COVID-19, as he endorses the #ClearOurPaths campaign and encourages others to do likewise. Read the full article: Clear Our Paths: Covid-19 has made our streets an obstacle course for visually impaired. Learn about the campaign from NCBI: #Clear Our Paths.

…For guide dog users:

The difficulties to navigation for people who are living with vision impairment have also been addressed for guide dog users. According to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, outdoor dining – and the extra furniture and partitions it often requires – “has forced visually impaired people (to walk) out onto the road.” This poses challenges to safety and can impact confidence and the ability to get around in cities. At the same time, having to walk around diners can make it difficult to maintain adequate distance from others. National Advocacy and Policy Officer for the Irish Guide Dog organization Lean Kennedy (in an interview on Newstalk Breakfast Weekends), suggests that a designated safe route, similar to a bicycle lane, is needed to provide a clear, unobstructed route. Read more about the problem and proposed solution from newstalk in Outdoor dining is making navigation extremely difficult for the visually impaired... Activist and guide dog user Dr. Amy Kavanaugh, who is visually impaired, echoes this sentiment. Dr. Kavanaugh tweeted about the experience of her dog, Ava, and how outdoor dining make her job difficult, when a pedestrian and decorative plant obstructed their path. Read more about her situation Outdoor dining makes guide dog's job difficult, says visually impaired activist.

Overall, the “open streets” of the pandemic have limited space for people with disabilities, according to accessibility advocates. “Restaurants that claimed sidewalk and street space aren’t leaving room for wheelchair users and others with disabilities…” For more details, check out the article from Bloomberg City Lab: For Disabled Users, the 'Open Streets' of the Pandemic Remain Closed.

The Tokyo Paralympics: Some Notable Finishes

With the conclusion of this year’s events in Tokyo, Team USA athletes who are blind or visually impaired scored a number of notable achievements. Following are some recaps:

Goalball: USA Women Win Silver Medal; USA Men Finish Fourth:

The women’s team competed against Turkey in the gold medal match, where they were defeated 9-2. However, as explained in POPSUGAR.FITNESS, in bringing home a silver medal, “it caps off the country’s impressive run in the sport since it first appeared for women in the Paralympics in 1984.” This year’s silver medal marks the women’s team’s seventh Paralympic medal and the 12th medal in USA Goalball history. Team member Lisa Czechowski, summing up her take on the results, stated that “’I’m so very, very proud. It was such a great tournament. Kudos to Turkey; they played a fantastic game. Kudos to our team. We had a fantastic tournament.’” Read more coverage from Team USA: U.S. Women's Goalball Team Takes the Silver in Friday's Night's Final.

In the men’s bronze medal match, the USA team lost to “reigning Paralympic champion Lithuania” by a score of 10-7. Although they “rallied back on several occasions...” the team ultimately could not defeat the opposition’s experienced line up. Even so, Team USA reduced a four goal deficit to one during the second half, according to NBC Sports, with a You Tube clip of the action. They played most of the tournament without veteran goalball athlete Tyler Merren, who was injured. Teammate Matt Simpson explained that, despite the loss of their team captain, “’We were a couple of breaks away from the medal stand and we’re taking that away. Nobody likes to lose but we fought and we got here and losing Tyler like we did, ending up in the top four is a real win for us.’”

For more coverage of both the women’s and men’s goalball teams, check out the coverage from the United States Association of Blind Athletes: USA Women's Goalball Claims Silver Medal at Tokyo Paralympics; Men Finish Fourth.

Two American Swimmers Win Paralympic Gold Medals: Swimmers Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini, both 17 years old, “broke world records at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.” In the women’s S11 400 meter freestyle, Pagonis broke her own record, at 4:54:49. She finished over ten seconds before the second place silver medalist. The S11 category is for athletes “with very low visual acuity and/or no perception of light.” Pergolini earned her gold medal for the final of the women’s S13 100 meter backstroke. Earlier that day, she broke the world record for this event, set previously by Italian Carlotta Gilli, at 1:05:05. In the finals, she surpassed that achievement, finishing in 1:04:64. S13 refers to athletes who are visually impaired, with higher visual acuity and/or a larger visual field than the S11 or S12 (which is in the middle) categories. Find out more from NBC Sports coverage: Two 17-year-old swimmers smash world records, win Paralympic gold.

Track and field athlete, Lex Gillette, 37 years old, won the silver medal in Tokyo for the long jump. A five-time Paralympian, Gillette has won a total of five silver medals. The T11/F11 athlete lost his sight completely following retinal detachments in both eyes and ten surgeries. His guiding phrase is “’there’s no need for sight when you have vision’”. Check out his profile from Team USA: Lex Gillette.

Also a track and field athlete, Kym Crosby, 28 years old, competed in her second Paralympics, winning her third bronze medal in this year’s Games. Her classification, T13, is designated for athletes with a moderate visual impairment, according to Wikipedia.  Born with albinism, Crosby is legally blind with 20/400 vision. “Her motto is Limited sight, limitless dreams”. For more details, check out her profile from Team USA: Kym Crosby.

Another young Paralympian, sprinter Joel Gomez, competed twice in Tokyo in the T13 category and looks forward to the Games in 2024, 2028 and 2032. Although he did not receive a medal, the 18-year-old looks forward to continuing to progress, expecting that “his best years will be in his late 20s, when his crowning glory could come at the 2032 Summer Paralympics in Brisbane, Australia.” Gomez was born with a rare condition called blue cone monochromacy that causes him to have low vision, color blindness and photophobia.” Following the Paralympics, he headed to West Lafayette, Indiana, to begin his freshman year at Purdue Polytechnic Institute. Read more about Gomez’s record and aspirations from the Times of San Diego:  Encinatas Teen Joel Gomez Savored Tokyo Paralympics, Looks to '24, '28, '32 Games.

Commemorating 9/11: How a Guide Dog and Partner Escaped the World Trade Center

As we mark the twentieth anniversary of the day that changed our world, one story can be recalled that, thankfully, had a positive outcome, thanks to the partnership between Michael Hingson, blind since birth, and Roselle his guide dog. Hingson, a sales director, arrived at work with Roselle that morning on the 78th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center. Soon after their arrival, a jetliner crashed into the tower “18 floors above Hingson.” After calling his wife and checking that his staff had evacuated, Hingson and his Labrador Retriever descended the 78 flights of stairs. By the time they reached the lobby, Tower Two had been struck and was collapsing as well. “Roselle led Hingson some 40 blocks to a friend’s apartment and safety.” After this experience,  Hingson and his guide dog became celebrities, appearing on numerous television shows. “’They were looking for something positive that came out of the tragedy.’” Following 9/11, Hingson returned to California, where he had originally lived, and went to work for Guide Dogs for the Blind, where Roselle had been trained. Read more about it from the American Kennel Club: Guide Dog Roselle Helped Her Blind Partner Escape the World Trade Center.