A One-Year Anniversary of Changes to Life As We Knew It
On March 27, 2020, exactly 52 weeks ago, as we all closed down for what we thought would be a brief period, RDPFS, in the spirit of partnership, started the resources bulletin as a way for all of us, longtime and new partners and friends, to remain connected although physically apart, and to assist with ideas for keeping your community members connected virtually. Through the year, we found ideas across the blindness field and beyond, providing over 300 resources in accessibility, technology, daily living, employment, getting around indoors and out, eye health, sports, music and art, and just plain fun for children, teens, adults and seniors. Many items came from resources you, our readers, suggested as you adjusted to a new way of working. Others resulted from hours of research by volunteers and our interns who combed the web to find innovations from around the country and worldwide. Those of us researching and writing the bulletin learned so much and developed an even greater passion for the work of making life with vision loss doable. We hope you, our partners, did too!
One-Year Anniversary of ACB Community Calls
In addition to RDPFS, many organizations acted quickly to keep members of their communities connected during shutdown and beyond. American Council of the Blind (ACB) recently marked the anniversary of its Community Calls, which began in March 2020 as a new connection for peer-to-peer support. The broadcast recounted how, from a start of two events its first week, the calls quickly grew to 40 per week in May and to their new high of 100 a week mid-March 2021. Hosts are people who have turned their own interests into events that attract audiences who want to learn more about tech, crafts, health and wellness, sports, recreation, beauty, grooming, languages, books and more. Calls are via Zoom and hosts are trained by ACB to ensure that all listeners and viewers have the same high-level experience. Their 100 hosts, 99 of whom are blind or low vision, have held over 3,100 events, attracting over 75,000 callers via Zoom and many more listening on ACB radio, YouTube and other outlets. ACB looks forward to continued expansion of Community Calls and is currently training a new host from the Philippines. Another international host hails from Dubai. They’re looking for new hosts, too. Anyone with a skill to share or a topic they like to chat about can email Membership Services Coordinator Cindy Hollis through ACB’s contact page here. View and listen to the Community Calls first anniversary broadcast, including interviews with two of the hosts, on YouTube.
Orientation and Mobility – Providing Services Virtually
Over the year, we reported on many wayfinding apps. Early on we explored how Orientation and Mobility is delivered in remote areas of the U.S. and abroad. Since then, most if not all of you have returned to providing in-person services, but some ingenious ideas implemented then could still be helpful.
Tactile Maps and City Tours in Chicago
Many instructors created tactile maps and shared them with their students during the time when nearly everyone was on lockdown. At the Chicago Lighthouse, a city tour guide and their own mobility instructor, Jaret Bozigian, partnered to provide students two virtual tours via Zoom, including one of the winding streets of Chicago’s Chinatown. Prior to the tours, Bozigian created 3-D tactile maps and mailed them to the students’ homes. In addition, there is a website that allows users to put in an address and generate a tactile map of the surrounding area:Touch Mapper Through a group lesson students learned about street numbering systems and public transportation. During the tours, Bozigian used directional language to guide the students through their tactile maps and describe directions and street crossings, including those unique Chinatown streets and alleys, while the guide described points of interest and local architecture.
Harnessing Technology in San Francisco At the San Francisco Lighthouse, instructors working on indoor mobility had students walk down hallways with their phone on a lanyard so the teacher could observe cane movement and had a spouse video her husband, a brand new white cane user, walk down a grassy path. Another teacher had students “share the screen on their smart phone through Zoom [the videoconferencing app] so I can monitor what they’re doing. It can be challenging when they are using [the iPhone screen reader] VoiceOver, because I can’t hear what their VoiceOver is saying. One student called me using her Amazon Echo so that I was able to hear her use VoiceOver on her iPhone.” Lots more O&M ideas in this newsletter article
Tandem Software Use Leads to Success in Maryland
Dona Sauerburger, a COMS (Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist) from Maryland, offers practical instructions for “Teaching Street-Crossing Concepts and Skills Remotely” on her personal website. After installing the APH software “Crossings with No Traffic Controls” on the student’s computer as well as her own–and Team Viewer free remote desktop software to allow the student to control her computer–she was able to complete the lesson successfully and includes the videos to prove it.
A Year Later – Free Virtual Tours, Films, Performances Are Also Audio Described
A Night at the Museum
At the University of London, an audio described tour of its Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway went online last June. Professor Hannah Thompson, who is partially sighted, created the tour of 15 selected pictures using volunteers who are trained in Creative Audio Description. “Unlike traditional audio description, CAD does not claim to offer an objective description of an image. Instead, it recognizes that each beholder will see things differently and it welcomes non-normative gazes and encourages individual and inventive responses to art.” To learn more about accessing the tour, Creative Audio Description and Professor Thompson’s theory of “blindness gain”, read the entire article. The tour is hosted on the Smartify app, which is free and boasts a database of two million artworks. While Smartify includes information about the artist is included, only select tours audio describe the works themselves. On its own website, the Smithsonian Museum’s National Portrait Gallery offers audio description of 10 presidential portraits from its extensive collection.
The Play’s the Thing – Though for Right Now It’s the Film
The Shakespeare Globe Theater and Dead Poets Live are currently screening a film about the life and work of poet Stevie Smith, who was “admired by Seamus Heaney, mistaken for Virginia Woolf and asked out for lunch by Sylvia Plath”. Audio description of the film, which includes selections from her works and her own illustrations, is available, so select your own time, create an account and register, then Zoom in from anywhere by April 5. For the Easter season, the Globe is featuring online Telling
Tales interactive workshops for children from age 3 up for a per household fee. Those 12 and over can choose from Romeo and Juliet, Othello or Macbeth. For details and to inquire about accommodations,workshops-3-8-years Shakespeare workshops. Online Shakespeare performances resume this summer for a reasonable 10 pounds ($13.71US currently), for live streams of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
A Little Music
A year in, the Boston Symphony Orchestra continues its partnership with WCRB is to air concerts from its Symphony, Pops and Tanglewood archives as well as new programming on Saturdays at 8 p.m. Upcoming in April, a celebration of Brahms plus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27. Learn all the ways to listen here. The BSO Home School page has virtual lessons and delightful demonstrations by musicians and conductors. Learn about the alphorn and how to tune a timpani; listen to Vivaldi and Rimsky-Korsakov. Much more to listen and learn here.
Aira Access at Starbucks
Starting this week Aira—a service that connects blind and low-vision people with remote visual interpreters through an app—is available for free in all US Starbucks stores. Learn how Starbucks is using Aira and inclusive design to create a more accessible customer experience by visiting Aira.
Have Skills, Need Money, But Prefer to Freelance? Do It Virtually
A recent broadcast on ACB Community discussed the “Contingency Workforce” and suggested those between regular jobs or who want to only work occasionally consider freelancing virtually through sites like Upwork , fiverr, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or guru. Freelancers with just about any job skill submit their bids for posted jobs and if selected, complete the work and are paid securely through the website. Current postings included a children’s book writer, Korean-English translator, web and app developers, transcriptionists and cold callers. Some sites require sign up before viewing available jobs, but others make their listings available immediately.
Short-term Projects Going Undone? – Hire a Freelancer Virtually
When RDPFS needed a new logo, rather than hiring a local company, it turned to the web and 99designs, a freelancing website from Vistaprint where those seeking design services can submit specs, start a design contest, and select from the ideas submitted. For projects ranging from audiobook narration to translation to just about any type of job that needs to be done at a reasonable price, Upwork , fiverr, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or guru work similarly.
Guru: Find Freelance Work and Hire Freelancers
Employers create accounts, fill out a form that defines each job and sets payment parameters, get quotes from freelancers, hire, approve the result and make payment through a secure payment system. While there is no favoritism here, guru’s process seemed easier to understand and their handling fee for a basic listing is only 2.9% of the job’s cost, “the lowest in the industry,” although they do suggest upgrading to the featured job category.
Some Highlights from CSUN
CSUN’s exhibit hall featured many exhibits with useful news and products for people with vision impairment. Following are a few highlights, from RDPFS intern and exhibit hall visitor Ahmat Djouma:
Automatic Sync Technologies: Audio Describing Video Content
This company uses an automatic mechanism to provide live audio description of video content. Their technology writes the descriptions and embeds them with text-to-speech that can be read as the video plays. The quality is not quite that of the “human describer, but it does the job.” Learn more about it: Automatic Sync Technologies.
Increasing Web and Document Accessibility
CommonLook sells software that allows users to make usually hard-to-decipher PDF files and forms accessible. They recently worked with Google and, as a result, a new feature in Chrome will build PDF accessibility. For more information: CommonLook.
Many CSUN exhibitors showcased their expertise in making websites ADA compliant. One example, ADA Site Compliance, conducts accessibility audits for existing websites, including checking for contrast, text size and spot checking visuals. They work with private, state and local government agencies to build and maintain websites to ensure accessibility and ADA compliance. ADA Site Compliance
A Shout-Out to Optometrists:
World Optometry Day March 23 marked a worldwide day to “celebrate optometry and the many new professionals joining the eye health sector and making a difference.´Thank you to all! For more information, check out: The Evolution of Optometry
Hunter College Extends Grad Admissions Deadline to Degree in VRT and O&M
Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY) has extended the application deadline to May 1 for Fall 2021. Entry to its combined Masters degree program in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) and Orientation & Mobility (O&M). The program has been teaching hybrid distance learning master’s degree programs since 2000. Fall and Spring classes are taught in real-time online. Dorm housing is available during the 2-week summer lab classes. For more information, contact [email protected]; 212-772-4741.
Gardening – it’s for everyone!
In “Gardening for Young Visually Impaired or Multi-Impaired Children,” published by NFB way back in 2005, Didi Goodrich, mom of an 18-year-old, wrote about her daughter’s raised bed gardens: “a small enclosed area roughly fifteen-by-twenty-five feet that has two raised beds, a small greenhouse, a fountain, bird baths, wind chimes, statuary, garden ornaments to tactually explore, bird houses and feeders, a bench, and many large cedar tubs and pots containing herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables.” Sounds like a natural paradise. Goodrich gives a list of plants in the garden, and discusses tools and techniques that make gardening tasks fun. Learn more about raised bed gardening.
Vision Aware has “Gardening and Yard Work Tips” that are both easy and practical. Use old car tires as planters for spreading plants like squash or pumpkins, it advises. Poke holes in the bottom of an egg carton and use it as a spacer for planting seeds. Fishing line or a cane laid out in the garden will help to create straight seedrows. There’s a section on safe lawn care and so much more, all on a single page.
Carry On Gardening is the website of Thrive, a 30 year old British gardening program for people with disabilities that has lots of information for blind gardeners. There’s a Getting Ready guide for novice gardeners with advice like being sure to bend and stretch before gardening, and having one’s own garden plot and setting a radio or other audible signal in the plot so it’s easily located. There are free downloadable instructions on how to make a right-angle guide (invented by a blind gardener). Thrive’s other publications for gardeners are also free as downloadables (don’t let the prices on the products make you retreat; click to get the description and find the free versions.) Dig up all the info here.