Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Resources for Partners September 4, 2020

Remote Learning and Connectivity. Solutions to ongoing issue.

In a recent article, Consumer Reports found “A new state-by-state report on America’s
K-12 students by Common Sense and Boston Consulting finds that almost 16 million students and 10 percent of teachers lack adequate internet or computing devices at home. Minority households are among the most affected. Though 18 percent of white homes lack broadband, the figure rises to 26 percent for Latinx homes and 30 percent for Black homes. The percentage is even higher among Native American households.” And one of those factors is cost – up to $200 a month for unlimited data in rural areas of Maine. Solutions? Public school systems are partnering with internet providers “so that kids without access to broadband can borrow wireless hot spots.” In Kentucky, a school system that provides Chromebooks “partnered with the local power authority and municipal housing authority to identify and provide those in need with WiFi hot spots”. The article reports extensively on the Lifeline program which provides some low income households with a $9.25 monthly discount on phone or broadband service. What’s realistically needed, Consumer Reports says, “is a realistic benefit of $50 a month.” Links to eligibility and application forms are included. There are additional links to internet provider discount program information. Lots of good info here for students without internet.

Among a number of suggestions for parents who have children still engaged in remote learning, WIRED suggested purchasing an inexpensive printer as “a good solution for a child who is easily distracted or who has to share a computer or a tablet with a sibling. Just print out pages to have them read, edit, or work on worksheets away from a screen.”

Mentoring for Employment Success

A 2015 study by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at Mississippi State compared employment outcomes for recent college graduates who were mentored by blind and visually impaired professionals and a control group of graduates who were not mentored. The study found that students who worked with a mentor for one year increased their assertiveness in job hunting, increased job-seeking self-efficacy and career adaptability, and spent fewer hours in their job search. While in-person mentoring was a goal of the program, findings indicated that distance mentoring was just as effective. About the RRTC mentoring project. As a result of the study, MSS RRTC produced an Employment Mentoring Manual, a guide to starting and running a mentoring program.

A Notable Science Career – Naturalist, Author, Poet

Helen Keller described her friend and fellow Perkins student Clarence Hawkes, who went on to a career as a blind naturalist, poet, and author, as an “ardent optimist” with a “remarkable memory, and his brain teems with funny stories and anecdotes”. Hawkes, who lost his sight at age 13 in a hunting accident, began his writing career with the book Master Frisky, a collection of stories about his own dog, then went on to author more than 100 books about the natural world. Helen Keller noted that Hawkes had “become one of the best known writers upon nature subjects in the country”. Read Helen’s essay about Hawkes at the ever-expanding Helen Keller Archive online at AFB, where volunteers devote their time to making sure that the tens of thousands of artifacts, letters, speeches and articles are fully and accurately transcribed and described. There are detailed descriptions of every photograph and transcripts of all photographed text and audio material that render the archive accessible to the blind, deaf, and deaf blind, scholars, students, filmmakers, historians and anyone who is interested in learning more about Helen Keller and her life. “The Art of Seeing. How Clarence Hawkes, the Blind Naturalist, Helps His Seeing Brother to See here.

Tech Talk

New Source for High Tech Help

Through a grant from RDPFS, Perkins Paths to Technology has developed an AT Vendor Support List for teachers and others who may need “technical assistance in teaching and/or using assistive technology”. The list includes U.S.-based high tech vendors with help desk services when making technology work for their students poses challenges. Access the list at Paths to Technology. Digging into the list, we came across the help desk service at Blind Bargains, and of course decided to visit their website, because who doesn’t love a bargain. Turns out there aren’t a lot of bargains on offer, but they produce a podcast with lots of information on what’s going on in the world of high tech, including plans for CSUN 2021 and a modification to AIRA’s free five minute calls. Visit here.

AIRA Changes Free Five Minute Phone Call Policy

With COVID came increased use of free calls by AIRA guests and paid subscribers. The volume increased to a point that was simply not sustainable for a small business. As a result here are changes to the free five minute call policy as outlined by AIRA’s CEO. “As of August 25 at 6:00am Pacific time, Aira will provide two tiers of ‘Free 5’, one for guests and another for paid subscribers. Guests may make one (1) free call every 24 hours of up to five minutes in length. Paid subscribers may make one (1) free call of up to five minutes in length every four hours. The app will have a timer located in the usage tab to make it easy to know when you can make your next call.” Read the entire CEO letter.

More ways to navigate your surroundings

TapTapSEE is a free mobile application for blind and visually impaired individuals. This application has been around since 2012. Simply take a picture of anything and any object and within second it will identify it for you. Import photos from your camera and it will describe them to you. To download it, simply search TapTapSee on Apple app store.

Microsoft Soundscape is an accessible GPS application which uses “3d audio technology” to provide information about your surroundings. It provide sounds and directions from your current location. Set markers for it to guide you to where you need to be; set beacons at your current location and it will direct you back there. More info at Microsoft research and to download for free from Apple app store.

Music Lessons – Now Nationwide

For the first time, the FMDG Music School in New York City is offering a dance class, Dark Room Ballet – An Introduction to Ballet. “Participants will develop a broad toolbox of critical skills that prepare them to sign up for an intro dance class in any style elsewhere in the future. Among other benefits, the program builds skills in the areas of directional hearing, internally-based balance, and foot sensitivity.” No dance experience needed, just bring enthusiasm and desire to learn. Introductory tuition for this class is only $60 for six classes. Following a successful virtual summer session, which gathered students from around the country as well as locally, FMDG has added five virtual mini courses to its Fall 2020 lineup. They include: Artistry as a Singing Actor, Part 2 of Beethoven 250 years, History of Rock Music, Musica Americana (bilingual), and Pop Music Theory. Finally, on October 1, Director Leslie Jones will host a virtual conversation with Brazilian jazz drummer Vanderlei Pereira. Sign up for the conversation here. Find information or to register for music classes here.

The Sound of Tennis

Court 16, in Brooklyn and Long Island City New York, has a tennis program specifically “designed for individuals with varying degrees of blindness and skill levels, the program applies a specialized curriculum and adaptive equipment – sound balls made of foam and smaller, modified courts with tactile lines – in a safe and inclusive environment. Court 16 and its partner, Helen Keller Services for the Blind, have teamed up to offer two-hour sessions that include both tennis moves and personal fitness lessons through HKSB’s Health and Wellness program for adults who are not in school and range in age from 19 to 65. The Health and Wellness program began in Brooklyn, and through the generosity of funders has expanded to two locations on Long Island. HKSB clients apply for the program and receive an assessment with a social worker. The program, which moved online during COVID-19, includes creative arts, nutrition advice and dance movement therapy among its offerings.

Find Local Activities: Go In Person or Remain Virtual
It’s September, and everyone is gearing up for Fall – in person or virtually. Regional magazines and newspapers are a great source of information on activities in your area. From our place in the world, Hudson Valley Magazine, has an extensive list of traditional fall activities like apple picking and harvest celebrations that are opening up for visitors (with the appropriate precautions, of course). And there are virtual events geared for the bookish. Albany Book Festival “We have pivoted to a Virtual Writers Institute for our entire fall programming, with everything offered online on the NYS Writers Institute’s YouTube channel and here,” said Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl. Among the featured authors at the festival: Colum McCann; Edwidge Danticat, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Noam Chomsky, Sister Helen Prejean. The festival takes place September 10-24 and it is free. Farther East in Columbia County, the Spencertown Academy has a Virtual Festival of Books featuring Zoom sessions with authors, documentarians, critics and cartoonists. There’s an online book sale and a couple of recipes for making your own “takeout” at home. Registration required due to limited Zoom capacity. From Labor Day to Columbus Day.