Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Resources for Partners August 12, 2022

Introduction to Python for Students Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision: August 16 to 19, 2022

The use of technology is key in our daily lives and an ever-growing career path for students who are blind or have low vision. Introduction to Python, a class offered virtually and in person by Our Space Our Place (OSOP) from August 16 to August 19, 2022 from 2 to 5 pm Eastern Time (ET), will teach basic computer programming using Python as the language. Python, a “general-purpose programming language,” allows users to “work quickly and integrate systems,” with a design that focuses on the readability of the computer program code. In the class, students ages ten and older will go from learning about installing Python to the basic principles of the system to building a hands-on project. No previous programming knowledge is required. Students are expected to be familiar with using screen readers. For more information and to register, check out Event Details for Coding 2022, Introduction to Python. For additional background related to the programming language, visit the web page from Python About Python™ and the Wikipedia listing for Python.

Advancements in Accessibility for Public Transit

Advances in technology, such as new transportation apps and audio signals, as well as other enhancements, like tactile curb cuts, have, to some degree, helped to level the transportation field for individuals with visual impairment and other disabilities. However, recent developments, like the expansion of outdoor seating and additional pandemic nuances, have created some challenges as well. Following are recent items that may be of interest:

Funding Available to Improve Rail Station Accessibility

“’While our country has made enormous progress in the three decades since passing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), too many people with disabilities still don’t have access to reliable public transportation,’” according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. To address the situation, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for $343 million available as part of the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP), one of the programs established under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law in November 2021. Over the next five years, ASAP will provide $1.75 billion to improve accessibility at older rail stations that are non-compliant with the ADA. Approximately 927 rail stations in the U.S., about one-fourth of the nation’s total number, are non-ADA accessible, according to the National Transit Database. Many of these stations are found in urban settings, particularly older systems, such as those in New England, the New York City metropolitan area, New Jersey, and Chicago. While some systems have designated funding to station accessibility projects, the grants made through ASAP “will provide dedicated funding for accessibility improvements that meet or exceed the standards included in the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Among the improvements are repairs, improvements, modifications, and retrofitting the infrastructure of passenger stations and facilities. Upgrades in technology, such as wayfinding, can also be funded through these grants. Read more from the Mass Transit article entitled FTA issues NOFO for rail station accessibility program.

Pilot of Transit App for People Who Are Blind in Washington, DC Has Potential to Benefit All Riders

A new technology designed to make the transit network fully accessible to people with visual impairments could also help to overcome one of the greatest challenges facing everyone when trying to navigate underground areas that GPS can’t reach. The  Washington (DC) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is the “first in the U.S. to offer free, turn-by-turn audio directions throughout 25 of its most heavily utilized underground subway stations and over 1,000 bus stops.” In launching the free app, Waymap, the London-based company behind it, joined with partner organizations, such as Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, WMATA, The White House Office of Public Engagement, National Industries for the Blind, American Council of the Blind (ACB), Verizon, and Catholic University. Plans call for the expansion of this technology to the area’s remaining stations by mid-2023. And Waymap is also reported to be in talks with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and with transit agencies in cities in Europe. Waymap uses sensors built into most cell phones to detect a user’s movement and location to alert the individual when to turn to avoid oncoming obstacles like open stairwells and route them safely to a train platform, or even a water fountain or bench. The technology can also let the user know of any changes, like a broken elevator, through algorithms that detect when others are avoiding a route and will recommend an alternative, similar to navigation apps for driving that warn users of traffic congestion. While Waymap is designed for people with visual impairments, it can be adapted to just about anyone with a disability or anyone who wants some “help finding their way,” because it can be adjusted based on the specific “stride length, mobility challenges, cognitive needs, and more,” according to the company’s Chief Operating Officer Celso Zuccollo. Read more in ACB’s article entitled "Waymap Launches A Navigation System that Provides Accessibility for Blind People to Use Public Transporation in DC Metro Area" and from STREETSBLOG USA here about "How a Transit App for the Blind Could Revolutionize How Everyone Rides."

Ensuring Access Internationally

Although people with disabilities comprise almost 15 percent of the world’s population, and more than half of these individuals live in cities and towns, most cities are designed “from the perspective of people without disabilities” and focus on people in motor vehicles rather than pedestrians, bicyclists, or public transit users. “Access for All: Persons with Disabilities,” a new paper from ITDP (the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy) and World Enabled (The Victor Pineda Foundation), explores “accessible transit-oriented development and sustainable urban mobility” from the perspective of individuals with disabilities. The study offers recommendations to “promote responsive actions.” Barriers to mobility include such factors as the physical environment, lack of dedicated experts to address accessibility, or a lack of guidelines for universal design. Universal design guidelines for cities must be “not only accessible but convenient, comfortable, and independent.” This can be accomplished through a principle called inclusive transit-orient development (TOD). TOD provides a combination of services, goods, people, and opportunities within distances that are short enough to be reachable by walking or via public transit (or cycling). TOD, along with universally accessible walking, public transit, and cycling, will improve the access and inclusion of individuals with disabilities in urban areas. These modifications can improve independent mobility and result in an “increased sense of security and a higher quality life…” Universal design elements in developing urban spaces make it possible for everyone to enjoy them equally. For more details check out the article from ITDP “Transit Matters,” Ensuring Access for All Persons with Disabilities. You can download the full report from ITDP by providing your contact information on the ITDP “Publications” webpage entitled Access and Persons with Disabilities in Urban Areas.

Save the Date: Audio Description Awards Gala on November 29, 2022

The American Council of the Blind (ACB) has announced that its Second Annual Audio Description Awards Gala will take place on November 29, 2022. This virtual event celebrates outstanding accomplishments in audio description and increases awareness of its benefits. Great success has been achieved in recent years in expanding the use of audio description for audiences who are blind or who have low vision, as well as those with other sensory disabilities that pose barriers to being fully included in visual media. Audio description (AD) involves the use of a separate audio track that describes the actions taking place on the screen. Although AD has existed for more than three decades, it has grown substantially in recent years, and is now “an integral part of every television network, film studio, and streaming service’s inclusion strategy.” For additional details, visit the Save the Date: ACB's 2022 Audio Description Awards Gala.

Research Updates:

Searching for “Modifiable Risk Factors” for Glaucoma

In glaucoma treatment, the only risk factor that can be altered currently is intraocular pressure (IOP). Research is underway to explore how everyday influences like diet, air pollution, physical activities, medications, and sleep may affect an individual’s glaucoma risk. These possibilities were discussed by glaucoma specialists at the 2021 World Glaucoma Congress and shared by the World Glaucoma Association (WGA) Education Committee. Presenter Dr. Louis Pasquale, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and his colleagues found that among those with a strong genetic predisposition to elevated IOP, higher caffeine consumption correlated with higher IOP and glaucoma incidence. In addition, in pre-clinical data, Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide) acted as a “protective agent for glaucoma.” He advocated for the use of dietary supplements to complement treatment. Dr. Paul Foster, from the United Kingdom (UK), spoke about his studies regarding the relationship between glaucoma and air pollution, explaining how pollution contributes to respiratory, cardiovascular, and other diseases, “causing inflammation and oxidative stress.” For those who are genetically predisposed to oxidative stress, exposure to high levels of black carbon would likely result in high IOP. Professor Pradeep Ramulu, from Johns Hopkins University, highlighted research regarding the connection between glaucoma and physical activity. For glaucoma patients, higher activity levels were associated with slower rates of visual field loss. Dr. Anthony Khawaja, from Moorfields Eye Hospital in the UK, summarized a review he co-authored on how some medications can impact glaucoma risk. For example, systemic beta blockers have decreased the possibility of glaucoma due to their effect on blood pressure. The relationship between sleep, particularly obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and glaucoma has not been as clear. Prof. David Mackey, from the University of Western Australia, spoke about body changes associated with OSA. Although some studies have shown a connection between OSA and glaucoma, “further research is required to see the effect of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) on the optic nerve.” Read more of The (WGA) Global Glaucoma Network Education Committee’s highlights about The Hunt for New Modifiable Risk Factors for Glaucoma.

Progress Reported in Stem-Cell Therapy for Blindness

“What if, in people with blinding retinal disorders, one could simply introduce into the retina healthy photoreceptor cells derived in a dish from stem cells, and restore sight?” University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine researchers are leading an effort to develop an effective way to restore photoreceptors cells that enable people with vision loss to regain sight. Collaborating researchers are from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute (NEI). This type of treatment has been impeded previously by cells dying rapidly or not integrating with the retina. Published in Stem Cell Reports, the results of a new study demonstrate how these challenges can be overcome, making substantial progress toward a “cell-based therapy.” The study team introduced “precursors of human photoreceptor cells” in the retinas of dogs, using immunosuppressive drugs to enable the cells to survive in the patients’ retinas for months and begin to form connections with existing cells. Photoreceptor cells make up a layer of the retina essential to beginning the process of vision. The factory-developed cells were injected into the retinas of seven dogs with normal vision and three with a form of retinal degeneration and then tracked over time. In those with intact retinas, the introduced cells did not connect with the existing retina cells. However, for the dogs with advanced retinal degeneration, the cells “’had a better ability to start moving into the correct layer of the retina.’” The study’s next stage will test whether the therapy results in improved vision. For more information, check out the EurekAlert! on Progress toward a stem cell-based therapy for blindness.

“Indy Edge” are 2022 Beep Baseball World Series Champions

As noted in an earlier issue of this Bulletin, the 2022 National Beep Baseball World Series, sponsored by the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA), took place in Beaumont, Texas from July 24 to July 31, 2022, with teams competing from across the country. In the final game, the Indy Edge, from Indianapolis, Indiana, defeated the San Antonio (Texas) Jets, 19 to 8. The Jets team were runners-up in the series, followed by third place finisher, the Austin (Texas) Blackhawks. The NBBA includes 32 teams across the U.S. In beep baseball, players who are visually impaired hit an audible ball during a six-inning game and run to a buzzing base. Fielders dive toward the beeping ball to stop a run from scoring. For more information about the final game of the 2022 National Beep Baseball World Series, including a YouTube video, visit the 12NEWS webpage reporting that Indy Edge are the 2022 National Beep World Series Champions. Read more about the sport by visiting the website for the National Beep Baseball Association.

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