DEDICATED TO IMPROVING THE LIVES OF BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE

Resources for Partners April 9, 2021

Virtual and In-Person Camps Focus on Physical Activity

Camp Abilities in Brockport is virtual again in 2021 and is accepting registrations for the camp, which runs from June 27 to July 2, until April 16. Based on the comments from 2020’s virtual campers, it appears everyone had a great time. With only 34 athletes being accepted this year, and registration on a first-come first-served basis, the time to register is now. Camp Abilities freely shares templates about how the program works on its website and their model has spawned camps around the world, including two programs featured below.

At CNIB’s Lake Joe, Ontario camp, the Camp Abilities program ends its week with a regatta or triathlon. Participating athletes 8-18 spend the week preparing for the events in one-to-one training sessions in sailing or triathlon (swim, bike, run). For other summer weeks there are in-person programs for everyone to enjoy fishing, paddling (canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard), pontoon boat cruises, sailing, swimming, tubing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, water sliding along with crafts, land-based athletic activities, excursions, and time to relax around a campfire. For those not yet ready for in-person camping, register for [email protected] regularly scheduled Zoom activities like trivia, scuba diving (virtually and vicariously), and Campfire Songs and Stories.

Central Association for the Blind in Utica, New York has three seasonal camp programs under the Camp Abilities umbrella. While they’re waiting for approvals to open for in-person activities, CABVI’s summer 2021 planning is in full swing, and they’re requiring all staff to be vaccinated. For social distancing purposes, the week-long camp is being divided into sections by age group, with the younger campers attending 3-1/2 days, and older ones attending four days. CABVI and its partner, SUNY Cortland, are moving forward with Fall adventure camp plans where campers hike into the wilderness, carry their own provisions, stay in tents and sleep in hammocks. CABVI teaches a class for Adapted PE students at SUNY who then staff the camp and conduct all camp activities. It’s invitation only for this hugely successful venture. Winter camp, formerly held at a location at the end of an ice road, looks forward to returning in 2022 at CABVI’s new state of the art residential and rehab facility, home of the US Blind Hockey Team.

New Textured Bills from Bank of England

Bank notes with textured markings have been making their way into currencies around the world to increase accessibility for people with visual impairment. Recently the Bank of England announced that “it will add four clusters of raised dots to the top-left corner of its new 50₤ note, meaning that all the notes in circulation in the U.K. will be distinguishable to people who are blind or partially sighted.” The U.K. is the latest nation to add this feature to all of its bank notes to make them accessible – already a feature in Australian and Canadian dollars and the euro. Accessibility advocates in the United States have been urging the U.S. Treasury Department to adopt similar changes. Read about it in The Wall Street Journal here.

Jobs Ability: AI-Driven Virtual Employment Gateway
Multimedia company Our Ability produces web apps and videos for companies across the nation and for people with disabilities. Jobs Ability is their “AI-driven gateway for candidates and employers.” The site lists available jobs. Candidates set up a profile with their qualifications and then are shown available jobs that meet their criteria locally and nationally. For more information, click here.

AI-Powered Backpack in Development as New Navigation Tool

AI developer Jagadish K. Madendran and his research team from the University of Georgia have designed an “AI-powered, voice-activated backpack that can help the visually impaired navigate and perceive the world around them.” The backpack uses Intel’s AI software to create audible alerts for users approaching traffic signs, obstacles, crosswalks and other everyday objects and people. This new system uses a laptop housed in the backpack, along with a vest with hidden camera and a waist pack with batteries. A Bluetooth earpiece relays audio alerts related to the user’s immediate environment. It will be quite some time until a version for consumers is launched and the cost has not yet been determined. Read more about it and listen to an interview with the developer here.

Algorithms Pose Challenges…

…for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
When Mighty Well, an adaptive clothing company, tried to place an ad for a hoodie with the message “I am immunocompromised — Please give me space” on its Facebook page, “The algorithms that are the gatekeepers to the commercial side of Facebook (as well as Instagram, which is owned by Facebook) routinely misidentify adaptive fashion products [as medical devices] and block them from their platforms”, reported The New York Times. In AI, “the standard human” model does not include disability, so the algorithms in control often shut out the ads placed by small business owners who manufacture and sell fashion items for people with disabilities despite the fact that social media companies are vocal in their support of diversity and small business. While social media companies have responded to advocates’ concerns, algoritrms are often handling the appearls process as well.

for Job Seekers with Disabilities

Remember those tricky “honesty tests” some employers used years ago during the hiring process? Now employers speed up the hiring process using similar algorithm driven tools “as an efficient way to identify desirable skills, aptitudes, and ‘fit’ with the workplace culture.” The Center for Democracy and Technology recently released the report, “Algorithm-driven Hiring Tools: Innovative Recruitment or Expedited Disability Discrimination?”, which addresses the legal ramifications of ADA compliance when employers use such tools. CDT’s advice is not only for employers and policymakers, but also for job seekers who have had to take such tests: “Note down what made a test difficult for you to take, whether you received accommodations, and whether the hiring decision was explained. Find more information and the entire report at CDT insights.

Student Debt Cancelled for 40,000+ Americans with Disabilities

This week the U.S. Department of Education “cancelled $1.3 billion in federal student loan debt for borrowers with disabilities,” according to The Hill. Some of the borrowers already had their loans forgiven and then reinstated when they didn’t provide some paperwork. The new ruling allows 41,000 borrowers to have their debt “discharged and any payments they made during the coronavirus pandemic returned, dating back to March 13, 2020.” For more information about the ruling and who qualifies: Education Department Cancels Debt for More than 40,000.

Easter Seals Disability Challenge Features Two Teams of Blind or Visually Impaired Filmmakers

Two legally blind filmmakers from Great Falls, Montana are among those taking part in the Easter Seals Disability Film Challenge, which showcases the talent of filmmakers with disabilities. Teams taking on the challenge produce a five-minute film in five days. Filmmakers Chandra Scheschy and Jenniffer Robinson produced “Service.. A Dog-umentary,” about the challenges faced by service animals and their owners during the pandemic and quarantine. Read more about their work here. Another team meeting the challenge produced “Scene of Possibilities,” where director Jordan works with a cast of characters made up of actors who are blind or have low vision. Both films premiered on March 27, were sponsored by Access Acting Academy (AAA) and are available on YouTube:
A service dog documentary.
Scene of Possibilities

Madam C.J. Walker’s “Gospel of Giving” and African American Philanthropy

Madam C.J. Walker’s “Gospel of Giving” and African American Philanthropy
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker’s life spanned the years following the Civil War and into the early Twentieth Century. Her ethic of giving, however, is “alive and well now” and applies to current events and social justice initiatives, according to Dr. Tyrone McKinley Freeman, author of the book, Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy During Jim Crow. Unlike other well-known philanthropists of her era, who gave after they achieved great financial success, Madam Walker gave along the way, to “uplift the race from the scourge of Jim Crow and racism.” She founded the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, a cosmetics company whose products reached customers nationally and internationally. Dr. Freeman explains that many people don’t see African Americans as philanthropists, just as recipients of others’ largesse. His book tries to “bridge the gap” and illustrate how generosity is part of a tradition related to values and religious ideals and exemplified by Madam Walker. He explains that “Over time, when our hope is merged with the hope of others through giving, mountains are moved and rivers are reversed.” Assistant Professor of Philanthropy and Director of Undergraduate Programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Dr. Freeman presented a webinar with the Westchester Community Foundation on Madam Walker’s life. For more information, and a link to the webinar: Madam C.J. Walker

HBO Max Offering Audio Description

HBO Max, following a settlement between WarnerMedia and blindness advocacy groups, met its deadline to offer 1,500 hours of audio described entertainment, reported The Verge. You have to pay to play, of course, but there are 74 movies including “Aquaman”, “The Polar Express,” and the original “Singin’ in the Rain,” and 88 series like “Boardwalk Empire,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “My Brilliant Friend” available to paid subscribers right now, and they’ll keep adding more through 2023. According to a statement from one of the plaintiffs, American Council of the Blind, “An Audio Description category will be prominently featured in the navigation menu. This prominent browse location will also increase awareness about the importance of audio description and accessibility.

RetinaRisk” App Helps Diabetics Determine Risk of Developing Retinopathy

Seeking a way to help diabetic patients “take matters into their own hands,” Dr. Arna Gundmundsdottir of Iceland and her team sought to create a way to help people monitor their eye health. The resulting RetinaRisk app uses an algorithm that enables patients to determine “their individualized risk of developing diabetic retinopathy…” RetinaRisk considers risk factors diabetics face, such as blood glucose levels, blood pressure and gender. Launched in 2019, RetinaApp has been downloaded by nearly 800,000 people internationally. Read more about it in Forbes. Check out the website: RetinaRisk

Uber to Pay $1.1 Million to Blind Woman Stranded by Drivers 14 Times

Back in 2014, Uber was sued for “discriminating against blind people and their dogs…,” resulting in a 2016 $2.6 billion settlement and agreement to change its policies. This apparently was not fully realized and, in this latest case, Lisa Irving and her dog won in arbitration and now will receive compensation, much of which will go to legal fees. Uber now provides a dedicated support form related to issues involving service animals. Read about it in The Verge.