Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Resources for partners December 4,2020

RDPFS Welcomes New Directors

Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation is pleased to welcome three new directors to its board. John Krieger joins the board as Treasurer. John is a retired financial consultant with over 35 years’ experience. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago. William O’Connell, O.D., is a highly experienced low vision specialist and who has presented on low vision to Optometry and Ophthalmology residents for 40 years. Dr. O’Connell is a Diplomate in Low Vision of the American Academy of Optometry. Angela Winfield, Esq. is currently Associate Vice President for Inclusion and Workforce Diversity at Cornell University and of counsel at Barclay Damon. While a Barnard undergraduate, Angela was a summer intern at RDPFS. For photos and bios go to RDPFS.

Peer Support for VIPs and their families

Eye2Eye at Rutgers University is the first phone-based, emotional Peer Support Program for people with vision loss in the United States. The program aims to “support, comfort, and help you through the process of dealing with the difficulties [of adjusting to vision loss], and to celebrate your successes with living a healthy lifestyle” through peer support, clinical assessment, information dissemination, referrals, and outreach activities. “As visually impaired individuals ourselves, we understand some of the emotions you may be feeling.” Peer supporters have different types and levels of visual impairment to ensure that “a peer who understands, and who has walked in [your] shoes, is only a phone call away.”

Masks and Low Vision

A chance conversation this week alerted me to the difficulty some people with low vision, particularly those with field loss, experience when trying to navigate while wearing a mask. In an article aimed at mask makers, Matt White, who is blind from birth, “began reading accounts from blind people on social media indicating that their sound-based spatial awareness seems to be compromised when wearing a mask. Blind mask wearers report having difficulty perceiving distances to objects, leading to unfortunate head-meets-pole incidents, among other oddities.” White reached out to a researcher friend who suggested “that olfactory spatial cues would be modified by masks (you don’t smell other people, e.g. perfume and cigarettes, until they are closer to you), as would any tactile cues from the face (like the warmth of the sun, or wind, on the face).” A quick internet search turned up ideas and information, but my hope for uncovering a new invention that provided the perfect solution faded. Reaching out to colleagues didn’t reveal much either. “We do not have any set answers but are experimenting as is the rest of the low vision community. Have tried drop in shields behind face mask for those who wear glasses.” “No magic fix; however, depending on the environment and surrounding people, some of my students pull down their mask…to keep their glasses from fogging up. I also instruct them to increase their scanning and be more proactive within the environment…The mask does reduce the vision in the lower fields – a cane would be helpful in this situation.” Back to the internet, undeterred, a deeper search turned up some useful information.

The Massachusetts Commission for the blind has published Five Face Mask Safety Tips. Their tips, along with those from many other sites, include advice to practice wearing the mask prior to venturing out and relying more heavily on your white cane or guide dog. Having a properly fitted mask is also critical, and some resources suggested trying different types and sizes of masks, though not those with filters, until you’ve found one that works well.

The Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington offered free cloth masks with a Checkered Eye symbol that identifies the wearer a person with low vision. “POB is teaching local businesses about the symbol and how their staff can interact with an individual with low vision.”

The symbol was designed by Libby Thaw of the Checkered Eye Project in Ontario, Canada. “The checkered eye itself is a simple line drawing of an eye, the center of which, the iris, is black and white checkers. The wearable symbol bears the Checkered Eye and the text “LOW VISION”. It has been translated to French, Spanish and Thai as well. The background is white, the outline, emblem and text are black.” The website cautions that wearing the symbol, whether as pin, patch, pendant or clothing safe sticker, should never be used to replace a white cane. The items are available for sale on the site along with downloadables like a sign to place on reserved seats.

Fogging glasses is a major problem when wearing a mask, and not just for those with low vision. Washing with soapy water and air or tissue drying, taping at the top of the mask, inserting a folded tissue or spraying with the type of anti-fog spray that is used by motorcyclists were all recommendations, but the easiest seemed to be: “Many have said that by simply putting their face covering on before their glasses, they’ve found that they’ve avoided their glasses steaming up. So, it can just be a case of putting your mask and glasses on in the right order.” (Tried this, it works when the mask is also properly fitted over your nose.) Additional tips available at

Bridges RC, the independent living center in Rockland County, NY, has a host of tips for people who are deaf blind, wearing a mask, and adhering to social distancing requirements. Bridges recommends tools from the National Association of the Deaf, including carrying a card for communicating with health care providers that states: “I am deaf/hard of hearing/deaf-blind. I do not understand you with your mask on. Here is my identification card/Driver’s License. Please speak into my smartphone. I am using it to understand you. Please respect my legal right to understand you and participate in my care by allowing me to use my smartphone.” A long list of apps to facilitate communication follows on the Bridges site.

Cheryl Murphy, O.D. writes, “It seems that as we exhale with a mask on only a limited amount of our breath passes forward through the mask, some air escapes through gaps in the masks on the bottom, the sides and perhaps most pronounced, through the top of the mask since it may not be secured close enough to our face because of our nose.” This can result in Mask Associated Dry Eye. “A properly fitted mask (with nose piece if possible), lubricating eye drops and frequent mask breaks can help to relieve dry eye.”

APH Virtual EXCEL Academy’s Second Act Coming Soon

“Based on feedback from attendees during the spring and summer, American Printing House for the Blind will again offering FREE lessons for students with a variety of abilities. Beginning January 12, classes will be offered at 3 p.m. as follows: Tuesdays for birth to 6th grade; Wednesdays for 7th through 12th grades; and Thursdays for students with multiple impairments. Click on the link above to get to the registration page, which will make the classes available now through May 2021. Sessions are recorded for those who cannot attend according to the schedule. Archives of previous EXCEL Academy and Summer Camp webinars can be found at the bottom of the page.

Carol for a Cause
TJX companies will donate up to $1,000,000 to Feeding America, $10 at a time, when carolers go to Instagram Reels, record a favorite carol (alone or with others), and use the hashtag #CarolForACause. They’re promoting it on special website. Is this fundraising inspiration?

What About Board Giving

Vu Le of Nonprofit AF often writes humorous pieces about the trials and tribulations of nonprofit work. In a recent essay, Why We Need to Drop the Idea of 100% Board Giving,” he offers several reasons for the case against it, among them, “It reinforces the value of money above all other contributions,” “It keeps boards from diversifying,” and “It…prevents more meaningful engagement.” Vu received lots of responses to his arguments, many not in agreement, which led to a meaningful and thought provoking conversation.

Braille (Large Print) Letters from Santa

In Australia, “children who are blind or have low vision can write to Santa in braille, post it in an Australia Post post-box and get a braille reply from the big man himself. The initiative is thanks to Vision Australia and Australia Post who are working hard to spread the Christmas spirit to all children. Alongside braille replies, Santa is printing his reply letters in large print for children with low vision.”
Back in the USA, National Federation of the Blind keeps carrying out its elfin responsibilities be sending contracted braille letters to children ten and younger. Fill out the form on the web page and the child gets a letter in Braille, and Santa includes one in print, too. Submit requests until December 16.
At Braille Works, “Santa’s Workshop is Open!” Parents or teachers of children who are blind or visually impaired can submit their request and receive one of four letters from Santa in both braille and large print. Request by December 15.
On My Wish or Gift List
For fashionistas, Aille Design “ (pronounced: eye) creates beautiful hand beaded garments using Swarovski Crystal Pearls that form phrases in Braille that are fully legible. They create Braille masks with the messages “Chin Up Mask On” and “I Love Your Mask” in five sizes from Extra Small to Extra Large. Masks are $25 plus shipping and come in indigo, maroon or black. “The intricate beading [also] describes clothing characteristics, such as colour, textiles, wash instructions, and fit.”
At The Blind Woodsman, find smart phone amplifiers hand turned from ash wood and other items. It looks like you may have to mark your calendars, because John Furniss promises to release new products Mondays December 7 and 14 at 8 a.m. Pacific time. When we looked on December 2 at 2 p.m. EST, items released on November 30 were already out of stock.
Our source for these and more gift ideas for techies, foodies, kiddies and others is Perkins School’s gift ideas page. Well worth a visit.