DEDICATED TO IMPROVING THE LIVES OF BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE

Resources for Partners August 21,2020

RDPFS, Partners pilot SELT book club

Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation (RDPFS) is excited to announce that Lighthouse Guild is launching a virtual book club for people with vision loss on September 9. The program, in partnership with RDPFS and Bookshare®, is an extension of Lighthouse Guild’s Tele-Support Group for Adults and will meet 10 times during the year. Partners for Sight is providing a complimentary one-year membership for its Select Editions Large Type (SELT) condensed popular novels. In preliminary discussions with potential members, some readers shared that they require audiobooks. Once it was determined that the SELT titles are available, Bookshare, through its partnership, is also providing complimentary subscriptions during this pilot period. Members will have the option of reading via large print, audio or dual-modality. Alice Massa, a Lighthouse Guild volunteer and occupational therapist, will coordinate the group. Alice brings her own experience of transitioning from print to audiobooks and can guide members who are having difficulty transitioning from print to audiobooks as well. This enables members to continue enjoying literature as their vision loss advances. The group is limited to 15 members. A few memberships are still available on a first-come, first-served basis. For information or to register, go here.

Register to vote

Although National Disability Voter Registration Week has passed, the American Association of People with Disabilities continues to offer information on how to register to vote through its page n.b. the language combo box does not read the English default). There’s also a link to the 40 states that offer online voter registration here. The link for New York, has a downloadable accessible mail in form from the state Board of Elections in both English and Spanish. Voter registration deadlines are October 9; forms must be received by October 14.

Request an accessible absentee ballot
For the longest time, absentee ballots were not accessible to those who are print disabled. Finally in New York, we are making some progress. Before the New York state primary, National Federation of the Blind (NFB) along with Disability Rights New York filed a lawsuit asking election boards to provide an accessible absentee ballot. The New York Accessible Electronic Absentee Ballot Application is available here and can be emailed as well as mailed to local county boards of elections. Note that the instructions reference primary voting dates, so check for updates.

Kids in the Kitchen – a Guide for Parents

Originally introduced by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in 1978 and updated in 2015, “HEY! WHAT’S COOKING? A Kitchen Curriculum for the Parents of Visually Impaired Children” has kitchen-based activities for children from infancy through teen years. The kitchen, say the authors, “is the place to come for talk, comfort, sharing, togetherness”. While some of the ideas presented may have “aged out” even in the last five years, there is solid, practical information for all age groups that not only covers food preparation, but table manners, kitchen related chores, and food related exploratory activities as well. By the way, they welcome reader suggestions for new updates.

Scholarships and Summer Employment 2021 – it’s never too early

Virtually or in person, many college students are starting classes in August. That means it’s already time to start thinking scholarships and summer employment for the year to come. Lavelle Fund for the Blind’s scholarships page has an extensive listing of scholarship opportunities specifically for students who are blind or visually impaired, complete with requirements and filing deadlines. Find out more here.

August 24, 2020 is the opening date for registration for the Workforce Recruitment Program from the federal Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Department of Defense. WRP works with student disabilities or careers services at partner colleges and universities. Students or recent graduates must “be U.S. citizens, be attending or have graduated from a U.S. Department of Education accredited college or university, and be eligible for the federal Schedule A Hiring Authority for persons with disabilities.” Interviews will be held Fall 2020.

Tech Talk

Audio description

In the world of entertainment, audio descriptions are not the norm for movies, TV shows, and the like. Audio descriptions verbalize the visual by providing descriptions of characters, settings, facial expressions, objects, actions, and more, bringing stories to life for many who would otherwise miss out on the information. Kevin Thompson, founder of the Audio Description Discussion Facebook group, brought together over 500 narrators, studio owners, industry influencers and audio description customers in an endeavor to improve the quantity and quality of audio description by allowing an open forum for the exchange of relevant ideas and feedback. In the spirit of Kevin’s work, Roy Samuelson, an audio description narrator himself and a friend of Kevin, founded Kevin’s Process, an organization dedicated to empowering blind and visually impaired audiences. The organization works to bridge the gap between the entertainment industry and blind and visually impaired consumers, and is currently working on “securing formal industry adoption of codified measures of excellence in Audio Description.” Listen to an interview with Thompson from the Know Your Narrator Podcast series via a link on the “About Us” page here.

Did you know that you can explore the web as if you were in another region of the world…

…by changing a site’s settings before you even get there? URL parameters, strings of characters after a website’s basic address, can let you do just that. Take, for instance, https://www.aple.com. The link will take you to Apple’s website, and settings like language will be determined by the location reported by your device or an estimation thereof. If you’d prefer to read the site in Greek, then you can simply visit https://www.apple.com/gr. If you prefer Italian, then visit https://www.apple.com/it. URL parameters, in the case of Apple’s website, inform the site of the region for which you’d like to view the page. Other sites employ methods that are functionally the same, but the syntax may differ. For instance, the search engine DuckDuckGo allows you to select your region by typing “?kl=” after the URL’s final slash and then using a number of region and language codes. If you’d like to view the site for France, simply visit https://duckduckgo.com/?kl=fr-fr. If you’d like to visit the site for French-speaking Canada, however, simply visit https://duckduckgo.com/?kl=ca-fr. Sites can offer many URL parameters, as in DuckDuckGo’s case, and they can come in handy for faster, savvier web navigation.

Did you also know …that it’s traditional to name screen readers after aquatic creatures? Hence JAWS, Flipper and …

Orca Screen Reader for Linux
The Orca screen reader, named after the killer whale, serves as an accessibility tool on the Linux operating system. Orca is a free and open-source program that employs speech synthesis and braille to verbalize the contents of the computer screen to blind and visually impaired users. A built-in feature of the popular Linux distributions Fedora and Ubuntu, Orca can be activated by first using the Alt + F2 key combination, then typing “Orca” into the text field that appears, and finally hitting Enter. The computer should announce Orca’s activation and allow you to begin navigating with the screen reader. Orca is designed to work well with the Firefox web browser and with the LibreOffice suite, as well as with a number of other applications that support the Assistive Technology Service Provider Interface (AT-SPI), an accessibility standard. You can visit Orca’s main webpage to learn more about the community of developers behind the software and to access the user guide.

Screen Magnification Baked In
Built into the Windows operating system, Microsoft’s Windows Magnifier is an efficient and useful accessibility tool for those with low vision. It requires no installation to use. Simply use the Windows Key / Plus key combination to start the magnifier and increase the zoom level. The Windows Key / Minus combination and Windows Key / Escape key combinations respectively decrease magnification and close the magnifier. The following commands can be used while holding the Ctrl and Alt keys:
L: Switches to Lens Magnification
D: Switches to Dock Magnification
F: Switches to Fullscreen Magnification
I: Inverts the Screen Color
Spacebar: Momentarily Zooms Out
Arrow Keys: Pan the Magnifier in Lens Mode and Fullscreen Mode and Position the Dock in Dock Mode
Scroll Wheel: Changes Zoom Level
In addition to offering a number of convenient commands, the Windows Magnifier can start upon login and keep the mouse pointer centered on the screen or within the dock or lens. Magnifier settings can be accessed from the Options button in the zoom menu or from the Windows Ease of Access Center. Visit Microsoft’s official support site to learn more. Note: Not all features described on the site may be live at this time.

Practice Writing Letters and Numbers
DoItWrite is an accessible application that allows people who are blind or visually impaired to learn how to trace the alphabet and numbers using Voiceover and the iOS handwriting tool that comes with iPhones and iPads. Instructions are straightforward and include how to correct and improve letter and number shapes as you trace them, plus a game. For the $1.99 cost in the apple store, it will provide fun instruction and entertainment. Here is a short demo from the iphoneappsComputer Center for Visually Impaired Persons which is now part of Helen Keller Services for the Blind. Get the app here.
Warning: it may take patience to learn to use this app well. Ahmat’s initial reactions: “Oh my gosh, this app is so frustrating!” “I like what is was intended for but it doesn’t work for me.” We’ll check back next week to see how he’s doing.

Running Free

RunGo is a free accessible iOS application with paid premium upgrade that provides self-guided turn by turn directions when running on a pre-set route. The developer states “search the largest collection of voice-guided routes across 171 countries; build your own route, or select one of the 400,000 routes worldwide, and follow a voice-guided tour, including every time there’s a turn or a cool landmark, or an encouraging reminder that you’re halfway there. RunGo tracks run stats like time, pace, distance, elevation, and estimated finish time.” Ahmat noted this application is great for those that have some usable vision or for running with your dog guide. A new feature that allows you to “run famous races and bucket list routes from your treadmill, with voice-guided messages as you imagine running the course” should make the app more useful for those who have no vision. Click here to read more about it.

The Future of Tactile Currency in the U.S.

When the topic of tactile markers on currency arose in our editorial meeting, the interns were enthusiastic and hopeful, so Nikhil decided to pursue the topic. In 2002, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) filed a formal complaint about the inaccessibility of U.S. paper currency for the visually impaired and blind. In 2020, 18 years later, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) continues to mount legal appeals, citing the “undue burden” that the government would endure if it were required to redesign paper currency to include tactile features. The ACB currently stands undefeated with two court victories, and it plans to emerge from the next month trial victorious. Although tactile currency is the norm in some countries, not everyone agrees. One point of view is that the lack of tactile features in U.S. currency represents an inconvenience rather than discrimination, the charge brought forth in the lawsuit against the BEP. Moreover, the ACB court order injunction mandates that there should be “meaningful access to United States currency for blind and other visually impaired persons,” but does not explicitly state there should be tactile markers on paper bills. To date, “meaningful access” has been provided through such initiatives as the U.S. Currency Reader Program and the creation of official currency identification apps.

Medicare Info – in accessible formats

On Tuesday, Medicare.gov sent an email offering Medicare info in braille, large print or as data/audio files. Email requests to [email protected] or call 800-633-4227 TTY 877-486-2048.

Zoomworld – videoconferencing, that is

Writing in The Atlantic this week, author Emily Gould said, “One exciting thing about being alive at this pivotal moment in history is that I’m constantly learning about strong opinions I didn’t previously know I had. Before mid-March 2020, if you’d asked me how I felt about videoconferencing, I’d have shrugged. It’s fine? Now I would have to amend that opinion slightly. It’s not fine. It’s horrible, a form of psychic torture, and I hate it so deeply that my hatred feels physical, like an allergic reaction.” Gould goes on to speak about her pre-schooler’s remote learning experience (and her own) in detail here.