Vol. 59, No. 9 October 2016
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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Vol. 59, No. 9 October 2016
Illustration: Summer Interns Come to Contribute and Learn
That NFB Resolution
by Jonathan Mosen
Putting News First: Breaking Down Stereotypes as a Blind Journalist
by Gary O’Donoghue
A Community of Practice: The Federation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math
by Natalie Shaheen, Joseph Heimlich, Arianna Benally, Frances Hammond, Cricket Bidleman, and Salvador Villa
Participating in the American Dream Means Paying Taxes: The Innovation of Accessible Financial Tools at H&R Block
by Bret Reimer
The Roots of the Federation in the World: The Isabel Grant Story in Her Own Words
by Deborah Kent Stein
Eliminating Artificial Barriers: Civil Rights and Disability at the United States Department of Justice
by Eve Hill
Educational Assessments, Math Innovations, and Real Accessibility: Progress at Pearson
by Jon Twing
Copyright 2016 by the National Federation of the Blind
From the beginning of June through the early part of August, the Jernigan Institute hosted three interns who had demonstrated a commitment to the organization, possessed leadership potential, and demonstrated energy and enthusiasm in earlier Federation work. The purpose of the internship was twofold: to build on this leadership and to tackle some much-needed work that would challenge their creativity and their ability to work as a team.
The 2016 interns were Michael Ausbun of Nevada, Julie McGinnity of Missouri, and Jerad Nylin of Iowa. Jerad and Michael worked together on STEM EQ, and both say that working as mentors in the program was a mountaintop experience. Jerad said that the experience he found most valuable was learning his own strengths and weaknesses and how important communication is in working as a team. Michael loved being a mentor and found that contact with his own mentors and fellow interns was the most valuable part of his experience. Julie thought that being an intern gave her a wonderful view of the Federation nationally and enjoyed her work planning for and executing a plan for affiliate building.
All of the interns went to Capitol Hill to support the Federation’s legislative priorities. Not only do they learn more about the process, but getting to know the senators, representatives, and the staff members who play important roles for our public servants was enormously helpful.Perhaps Julie McGinnity best summed up their feelings as they move on to new challenges, "The internship didn't lead me to a destination. It led me to believe in the worthwhileness of our further journey.”
by Jonathan Mosen
From the Editor: Jonathan Mosen is well-known to many blind people who follow technology. He was a prominent spokesman for HumanWare when they introduced the BrailleNote and now hosts the popular FSCast sponsored by the VFO Group, formerly Freedom Scientific.
This article first appeared on July 7, 2016, in a blog entry on Mosen Consulting’s website. At the 2016 Convention this organization passed Resolution 2016-04. It was controversial, not because anyone disputed the truth of the assertions, but because it criticized Apple for quality control. Apple is a company which is credited by anyone with brains with breaking a barrier many of us feared would stifle technological progress for the blind. They figured out a way to make a touchscreen usable by blind people when it seemed that the very nature of the technology would preclude any exploration to find the number or the button desired.
No matter how much the NFB applauds Apple for its innovations through the purchase of its products, favorable articles and user reviews, and even granting them the most prestigious award we have for the developers of technology, any word of criticism is regarded by some as blasphemy. Let the Federation be a watchdog seeking to ensure fair treatment by a blindness agency, an accrediting body, or a government policy or procedure, and the organization is either applauded for taking a stand or criticized for not taking a more forceful one. But let us speak about Apple, and suddenly we are unappreciative, overly critical, and unduly demanding.
Whether we like it or not, the controversy over the resolution passed concerning Apple raises serious questions about what we who are blind think about blind people. Are we full-fledged consumers with the right to say when something we have purchased doesn't work as it should? Do we have real rights when it comes to expressing our views, or must we confine ourselves to saying only what those who rely on charity and goodwill have the right to say? No matter how courteously or constructively our concerns are put forward, if they involve Apple they cause a firestorm which inevitably finds people questioning our motives, our reasonableness, and our record of working constructively not only for access but for the ability to efficiently use devices so important to our daily existence.
It is refreshing to see that some who are not associated with us share our opinion that calling for quality access is not a violation of civilized behavior and that, in fact, we must exercise our rights as consumers whose money is as hard to come by and every bit as valuable as the money offered to Apple by people who can see.
To help with a bit of translation, when Jonathan says “I do so fully recognizing that I’m on a hiding to nothing,” he means that he is engaging in a bet which he is likely to lose and that the payoff is likely not worth the risk. Here is what he says:
In writing this post, I do so fully recognizing that I’m on a hiding to nothing, and I should probably leave well alone. There is an ugly mob mentality that can easily get going when social media turns on an individual or organization, and it’s a phenomenon that has been the fascinating subject of entire books.
But, after initially deciding to sit out the latest NFB Resolution controversy, I decided I was being morally complicit in the mob mentality by not having the courage to share my own story and views. I was also encouraged to write this because of an amicable and reasonable Twitter exchange I had with someone whose views are not identical to mine. It made me realize that there still may be reasonable people who might appreciate a different perspective on this issue. So, for better or worse, here goes.
In case you’ve been fortunate enough to be under a rock and off the grid, the National Federation of the Blind has just concluded its 2016 convention. NFB is a consumer organization that also provides services, now extending to the development of assistive technology that runs on a range of platforms including iOS.
Resolutions can be proposed by any member. They are first discussed at the resolutions committee. The resolutions committee then votes on whether they should be discussed by the convention, which is the supreme governing and policy-making body of the organization. So if you pay your subscription [join the Federation], you too could propose a resolution next year.
The following resolution was proposed and ultimately adopted by NFB:
WHEREAS, Apple Inc. has made VoiceOver, a free and powerful screen-access program, an integral part of many of its products, including the Apple Macintosh, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple TV, and iPad; and
WHEREAS, when a significant software update for one of these products is released, there are often accessibility bugs that impact the usability of the product by blind users, causing them to lose their productivity or their ability to perform certain job duties when the use of Apple devices is required; and
WHEREAS, recent updates have included a large number of serious, moderate, and minor bugs that have made it difficult or impossible for blind people to perform various tasks such as answering calls, browsing the internet, entering text into forms, or adding individuals to the Contacts Favorites list; and
WHEREAS, for example, after iOS 9.0 was released, some iPhones running VoiceOver occasionally became unresponsive when getting a phone call, and there was no way to choose any option on screen; and
WHEREAS, although this issue was fixed in a new release of iOS, it would not have occurred if Apple had conducted more thorough testing with VoiceOver; and
WHEREAS, another example of inadequate testing by Apple involves VoiceOver failing to render the contents of the screen when a user attempts to add a contact to the Favorites list in the phone app and has multiple contact groups from which to select; and
WHEREAS, because Apple products and its accessibility tools are built by the same company, there is no need to share confidential information with partners that may affect the normal development of the software; and
WHEREAS, we recognize the efforts made by Apple to inform developers about the accessibility features built into Apple products and encourage the company to keep working in that direction; however several accessibility issues still appear with new software releases even when they have been reported during beta testing; and
WHEREAS, it is vital that Apple give priority to addressing bugs that have an impact on accessibility before releasing software updates: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourth day of July, 2016, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon Apple to make nonvisual access a major priority in its new and updated software by improving its testing of new releases to ensure that nonvisual access is not limited or compromised; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Apple to work actively to incorporate feedback from testers who use VoiceOver during the beta-testing phase of software development to ensure that accessibility for blind individuals is fully and properly addressed.
Quality control problems are rampant within Apple, not just where accessibility is concerned, but with software in general. If you take even the most cursory of glances at the technology news, you’ll have seen a number of examples. Most recently, some units of Apple’s latest pride and joy, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, were bricked by what was supposed to be a minor software update.
Some Sprint users couldn’t connect to LTE after iOS 9.3.
You may remember that a minor update to iOS 8 broke LTE functionality, causing massive problems for those who were unfortunate enough to upgrade before the update was pulled.
The issues with VoiceOver and iOS 9 were just the latest in a series of significant problems over the last few years. I could go back further, but let’s just look at iOS 8 on release day. There were serious issues affecting the two-finger double-tap when an incoming call was received. Answering a call would not always pause audio that was playing, and the phone could get itself into a state where it was difficult to stop audio without hanging up a call.
Remember the dial pad bug in iOS 8? If you tried to do something as simple as call a number using the phone keypad, it would often get stuck emitting a DTMF tone. Each key you pressed would cause one tone to pile on another.
On iOS 8 release day, Bluetooth keyboard support with VoiceOver on was so unreliable that it was useless for practical purposes.
If you had a Braille display and no Bluetooth keyboard, QuickNav was stuck on, and there was no way you could disable it unless you were able to borrow someone else’s keyboard and pair it or buy a Bluetooth keyboard expressly to get around Apple’s bug.
When VoiceOver was enabled, Siri would often be cut off in its responses.
And the really big one—VoiceOver was completely broken if you had a Braille display and had chosen a particular configuration for status cells. There was no way to recover from this one without sighted assistance.
Let’s move on to iOS 9. This was the release that the tech press said would be lighter on features because there was a need to make the OS more stable. Do you remember how flaky Bluetooth keyboard support was for some of us only when VoiceOver was running? There were times when entering text into an edit field did absolutely nothing. If you were really lucky, turning VoiceOver off and back on again got things working for a while. If you were a little less lucky, but still a bit lucky, rebooting the device would get things working. Still others couldn’t get Bluetooth keyboards working at all, no matter what they did. I remember long, convoluted Twitter discussions as many of us tried to find the variable that would make Bluetooth keyboards work.
Remember the famous iOS 9 focus bug? This was a particular problem in apps where you’d want to return to your previous place, such as Twitter and podcast apps. It made using apps like Twitterific, Tweetings, or Downcast a miserable experience, because you couldn’t pick up from where you left off.
There were numerous other ones, but let me be clear that every piece of software ever written has bugs. So I want to focus on the really big one.
As the NFB resolution mentioned, there was the call-answering issue, a showstopper if ever there was one. It saddens me that many of those who were not affected by it trivialize the impact that it had on those of us who were.
To recap, when you received an incoming phone or FaceTime call, VoiceOver became unresponsive. It wasn’t possible to answer a call or navigate the screen. I can tell you that as a business owner and a dad, this was a very high-impact bug, and it was totally unacceptable that the software was released in this state.
Don’t agree? Well, let’s take blindness out of the mix for a bit. What do you think would have happened if even 20 percent of the entire iPhone user base found after installing iOS 9 that they couldn’t take phone calls anymore? It would be Apple Maps all over again. Apple would have been a laughingstock for making a phone that doesn’t even let you…answer the phone! The blind business owner who relies on their iPhone to get their sales leads, the blind attorney who needs to hear from their office, the blind parent who needs to be able to pick up a call from their kid—they’ve all paid exactly the same money for their iPhone as anyone else. And, if it’s unacceptable for sighted people to be unable to answer their phone, not just occasionally but always, then allowing software to go out that makes it impossible for numerous blind people to answer the phone is an act of discrimination. It’s not deliberate, it’s not willful, but discrimination need not be deliberate or willful for discrimination to have taken place. We have enough barriers and ignorance to overcome without these sorts of preventable barriers getting in our way. These devices aren’t toys; they’re now an essential tool in our productivity armory for many of us.
I have seen it suggested that this serious call-answering bug was introduced late in the beta cycle, too late for Apple to do anything about. This is unequivocally false, and I’m going to give you dates to back that statement up. First, a bit of background:
I believe in trying to make constructive, positive contributions where that’s an option. All the way back in iOS 7, many of us had become troubled by the dwindling quality control of Apple’s accessibility offerings. To try to make a positive difference, I set up a private email list of registered blind Apple developers. The idea was and is that we compare notes and try to find steps to reproduce a bug so we can lodge the most accurate bugs we can with Apple. Incidentally, the very accessibility of lodging bugs has varied a lot over the years from the excellent to the near-impossible.
This email list means that I can tell you exactly when I became aware of the serious call-answering bug. Bonnie and I were married on 27 June last year. I therefore refrained from installing the iOS 9 beta on my main device until we were back from our honeymoon. On 4 July I first reported issues with answering calls. By that stage we were only at iOS 9 beta 3. I suspect that if the bug was present early on in the cycle like that, it was present from the beginning. Certainly it was present in early July, a full two-and-a-half months before iOS 9 was officially released.
When I lodged the bug, I gave it the highest priority I could, stressing emphatically what a showstopper this one was. I was also able to make it clear, because of the private email list I run, that it was affecting some people, but not others. Some people with the same model phone as I had were affected, while other users of the very same model were not. I have huge empathy for the Apple quality-assurance folks, because a bug like this that affects some people but not others is the absolute worst to track down.
Nevertheless, the software was released in the full knowledge that there were going to be some blind people for whom a core function of the device they paid for was useless. And I would be surprised if I had been the first person to log the issue in early July.
As the resolution also pointed out, Apple is in a unique position, and it’s something they market as a strength. They have full control over all the hardware and the software. They’re not trying to provide access over the top of an operating system; it’s part of the operating system.
iOS 9 was also the first iOS release to go into public beta. As I blogged when that move was announced, having more data to draw from isn’t going to help if quality assurance isn’t resourced appropriately.
And really, this is all the resolution is saying. I can’t speak for its drafters, but I can say that I’m not for one second suggesting that Apple is lessening its commitment to accessibility—far from it. If you’ve got your hands on iOS 10 already, you’ll know that it’s packed with some cool new accessibility features, some of which I’ve been wanting for years.
I don’t question for a single second that everyone at Apple has a deeply entrenched, profound commitment to accessibility, and through it, to making the world a better place. They sure have changed my life for the better, and chances are, if you’re reading this, they’ve changed yours too.
But surely dialogue in our community hasn’t descended to the notion that unless you’re totally for Apple, you’re against them? Clearly, Apple continues to have quality-control issues across the board. You’d have to be pretty blinkered not to acknowledge that. In my view, it’s not that anyone there isn’t truly dedicated or competent, but there clearly seems to be a resource shortfall in quality assurance.
Many users of Apple’s tech, from a range of perspectives, have said similarly, and I for one am glad that the NFB has reminded Apple and the wider public of how vulnerable we blind people are when quality assurance is under-resourced. We’re a small population, and bugs that have a tiny impact on the user base overall can have a debilitating impact on us.
It’s been said by some that NFB seems to be picking on Apple, perhaps because Apple doesn’t engage with our community in the same way other companies do. I don’t always succeed at this, but I find that not much good comes from attributing motive and that it’s best to take an argument on its merits if possible. As someone very badly hit by the phone-answering bug, I felt heard, understood, relieved that finally someone was speaking up for me. It’s also natural that with Apple having done so well, more blind people are using Apple mobile devices than any other type. With that success inevitably comes greater scrutiny.
However, I’d like to have been spoken up for in other ways as well. I’m an Android user now and would use Android more if it weren’t for the abysmal state of support for my primary medium, Braille. NFB has championed Braille over the years, and a resolution letting Google know in no uncertain terms that they must do better would be both welcome and overdue.
Technology plays such a big part in all of our lives now that I suspect there are a number of cases where we’d like to see tech companies do much better. Perhaps Americans who feel this way will put forward their own resolutions next year. I don’t believe that the absence of these resolutions in any way invalidates the strength of the resolution that was adopted, but when we as blind people call for truly equitable access, I do think that such calls should also be equitably distributed.
NFB said something that clearly needed to be said. The impact of unresolved accessibility bugs has been dire for three consecutive major releases now and is symptomatic of a wider software QA [quality assurance] issue. In constructively pointing out the need for meaningful dialogue and timely resolution, that doesn’t preclude us from celebrating the revolution Apple has brought about, for which they deserve warm congratulations.And despite the strong market share of mobile devices Apple enjoys in our community, it is critical that we also focus on other players who are not doing so well so that like everyone else, we as blind people truly can choose the technology we use based on preference and need.
by Gary O’Donoghue
From the Editor: Gary O’Donoghue is the Washington correspondent for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Being a successful blind journalist in the position he holds requires extensive travel, the ability to turn an event into a story, and the flexibility to see that blindness does not get in the way of being where the action is and turning out an article that catches the attention of readers and is worthy of the most prestigious broadcasting service in the world. Here is what Gary O'Donoghue said to the 2016 convention:
Well, it’s great to be here, and I’m very grateful for the invitation from the president to come and speak to you and to tell you a little bit about what I do in my work as a journalist. As the president was saying, this isn’t my first NFB convention; I was lucky enough to be here last year to witness that famous record-breaking umbrella mosaic—an amazing moment, of course. Now I have to tell you that I’ve been to one or two Donald Trump rallies this year, and they are no more frightening than 3,000 blind people waving umbrellas around, let me tell you.
What I want to do today, at the invitation of your president, is to give a bit of an insight into my work as a BBC correspondent and how I go about doing that as a visually-impaired person. First of all, perhaps the potted life story: I was born with poor eyesight, which led to me having one eye removed when I was a baby. I retained some useful vision in the other eye until I was eight years old. But after the retina kept detaching itself, admittedly once after going headfirst over the handlebars of a bicycle, there was nothing more to be done, and I’ve been totally blind ever since then. As was the norm in those days, I was immediately packed off to a couple of boarding schools for blind people, and, as luck would have it, it got me a much better education than I could have hoped for if I’d been sighted. From boarding school I headed off to Oxford University to do a degree in philosophy and modern languages. Shortly after that I joined the BBC as a reporter, and I’ve been there ever since, so I’m about as institutionalized a blind person as you can get [laughter].
Now when I started in this field there were only very basic forms of computers, mobile phones were only just getting going, and access to research materials and daily newspapers as a blind person meant getting hold of other colleagues and getting them to take time out of their schedules to assist. One could, of course, take all the bits of paper home for a girlfriend to read, but I’m pretty sure one left because asking her to read a wedge of newspaper cuttings in bed wasn’t the most alluring offer she could have from a guy—right? [laughter]
I worked at first producing reports from our Parliament for the BBC’s network of local radio stations. From there I got a job on a national daily news program called The Today Program, which is a bit like NPR’s Morning Edition here, which is a significant force in setting the political agenda in Britain each day. During those five years I did a range of stories, really. Traveled to Africa several times, here to the US a few times, the Far East during the handover of Hong Kong back to the Chinese, and I spent a couple of nights on the Macedonian border while NATO bombed Serbia—thousands of Kosovan refugees flooded out of the country, many of them driven out by their Serb neighbors.
I did lots of lighter things as well. I had to cuddle a koala in Australia—now apparently they pee a lot, but fortunately this one did not pee. I had to drink lots of strong lager for a piece on alcohol content—all in the line of duty, of course. And I had to talk to people about the shape of tea bags on Oxford Street, would you believe. I must say, I did draw the line when I was asked to do a bungee jump off a bridge over the river Thames—I thought that was just a little step too far for me.
For a stint at the BBC World Service I became one of the BBC’s political correspondents, ending up as the chief political correspondent for our main news network, and that, my friends, is what brought me here to the United States. Since I arrived here, I’ve spent a lot of time chasing presidential candidates across the country as they eat their corndogs at country fairs, plate loads of beef at cookouts, and do their fifteen flipping burgers or serving behind diners the length and breadth of this country. I’ve been chilled to the bone in New Hampshire; I’ve been so close to Canada in Vermont I could almost touch it; Texas was pleasant in spring, but I have to tell you that I’m relieved not to be there today because apparently it’s going to be 102, which kind of makes Orlando seem fine, doesn’t it? And you only need to listen to Americans talking to realize how big this place is. Even just a couple of hours west of DC it almost sounds like you’re in a foreign country. Donald Trump did actually divert to a foreign country ten days ago when he made a speech at his golf course in Scotland. I have to say, sitting at the ninth tee at Turnberry, surrounded by Secret Service agents, was one of the most bizarre places I’ve ever attended a press conference. Not only does the presidential election campaign reach every person in the US, it also seems to go on forever—doesn’t it? I was with Hillary Clinton in Iowa when she launched her campaign in the spring of last year—shout out for Iowa there—and today we’re still four months away from the general election and six months away from election day. Compare that to the process going on in Britain in the moment: ten days ago the Prime Minister David Cameron announced he’d be standing down after his side lost the EU referendum vote. Today, as I’m speaking to you, conservative MPs (members of parliament) are voting on who their next leader should be. Of course it won’t be decided today; there’ll be more votes among MPs, and then conservative membership of the country will get their say, but Brits will have a new conservative leader and a new prime minister by the beginning of September. So I’m afraid our political chaos is at least a little bit shorter than your political chaos [laughter].
But, whether standing outside a diner in Iowa waiting for Hillary Clinton to show up, or in corridors of Westminster waiting for the results of a vote among conservative MPs to be announced, one thing is absolutely crucial to my job: information. As you all know, information and access to it is one of the central challenges to a blind person’s life, both personal and professional. Technology has done wonders in this field for us, whether it’s the accessible iPhone that allows me to read the New York Times each day and to keep up with the endless twittering and bloggings in the politisphere, or the Braille display that allows me to read out my radio and television scripts when I’m delivering a broadcast—I’m reading from a Braille display right now, and can I just say in this forum how much I rate the NFB’s NEWSLINE service? Scott White and his team who run it: I can’t thank you enough; it makes my job infinitely easier, and, for all of us who rely on the ability to read a daily newspaper quickly and efficiently, I simply don’t know what I’d do without it, so thank you very much [applause].
A word about Braille here: Braille, I know, isn’t for everyone. It’s especially hard for those to learn when they lose their sight later in life, and I’m all for encouraging people with useful vision to maximize their use of it—sight is, after all, the most powerful sense whether we like it or not. But Braille, to me, is an absolute necessity [applause]. I simply couldn’t do my job without it, and I’m convinced that Braille displays and notetakers have given it a new lease on life that we should spread to as many of our blind youngsters as possible [applause, cheers].
Another thing I believe we have to impart to the young people with visual impairments is some sense of what you might call resilience. It’s a very difficult subject, because by that I mean the kind of sophisticated toughness it takes to live an independent life as a blind person. It’s about the strategies to overcome barriers when they present themselves and live an independent life that takes on the world, doing those challenging, high-profile jobs that people who could see traditionally thought might not be for us. Now what I don’t mean is being thick-skinned. We don’t want our young people to become hardened or unable to empathize with others, but it’s crucial we give them the confidence to believe in themselves and to pick themselves up after the world has knocked them down, and most importantly the skills that will allow them to function in a world that—let’s face it—is not designed for blind people [applause]. They’ll also have to learn that even when they’ve built up years of experience they’ll come across people who treat them like novices when they move into a new job.
I got quite a lesson in resilience a few years ago. I had some difficulties in my work and had to make a decision about whether to confront a situation that had developed. I’m afraid for legal reasons I can’t go into great detail, but it was an incredibly hard decision to make, and it took an awful lot out of me, those around me, and my family in particular. But I’m glad I did, and some good did come from it, but more importantly, I could live with myself for going forward. We can’t fight every battle there is, but when the real ones come along, it’s our duty to stand up, not just for ourselves, but for those who come after us [applause].
But back to the practicalities of the job. There’s a pattern I’ve noticed over the past twenty years or so: technological leaps forward have unquestionably helped us as blind people to do a much wider range of things, but each time we seem to catch up, a new innovation threatens to reverse the advance. The old DOS computers--they had screen readers developed for them that worked just fine—then Windows came along of course, and we were back to the drawing board. We get that sorted, and a bit later the touchscreen comes into vision over the horizon, and it looks like there will be a problem yet again. My point here is that we must continue to focus on what’s next, and ensure that the digital divide doesn’t open up for blind people, because we know what that will mean for the already-poor chances of getting a job and leading an independent life. In the realm of journalism there are some big challenges ahead for young blind people wanting to get into that field. Most notably in my view is the ever-growing importance of multimedia journalism that requires the reporter not just to get the story but also to gather her own pictures and video. Couple that with the speed of which one has to work in the newsgathering field now. It’s going to require someone with high levels of technical skills and personal resilience to make it in this trade when they have a disability. One word of encouragement—I don’t want to sound like I’m discouraging people—journalism, at heart, remains the business of telling stories. So for blind people, who inevitably rely on verbal communications and verbal skills, it’s still a very, very good fit. Conducting an interview still only requires a conversation take place, and the means to record it or film it. Visually impaired people are all well-accustomed to having to go the extra mile to understand others, and that again is a hugely useful skill in the realm of journalism.
Now I’ve rambled on for long enough, so let me just say this to you: I feel hugely privileged with how life has panned out for me. Most of the time I see my blindness as an inconvenience, and that’s the extent of it [applause]. I’m not naïve as to believe that blind people don’t face huge barriers to overcome, some natural, some put in our way, but the truth is that there is no other option than to get out there and do it. Some days it will be hard: walking into lampposts—if I may borrow one of your American idioms—some days that just really sucks, doesn’t it? Some days we have to deal with a world that doesn’t really get it, and worse, stands in the way of one making the most of oneself. But we have to—I think—in the words of Winston Churchill, “keep buggering on,” and that’s all there is to it. Thank you very much.
by Natalie Shaheen, Joseph Heimlich, Arianna Benally, Frances Hammond, Cricket Bidleman, and Salvador Villa
From the Editor: What we say about blindness is significantly different from what others say about it, but what we do to give credence to our words is what changes people’s lives, what makes them better, and what sets them free. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in our programs for young people. What follows is a panel discussion introduced and guided by Natalie Shaheen. As you read these remarks, consider how life might have been different for you had there been a STEM2U program when you were young enough to have benefited from it. This was a treat to behold, and hopefully we can bring it to life in these pages. Enjoy:
As a kid I really liked math, and I was pretty good at it too. In high school I took extra math just for fun, and I loved it! Science class, on the other hand, wasn't as interesting to me in my freshman and sophomore years. I found the subject matter rather straightforward and the pace of the classes too slow; I was bored because I wasn't challenged. In my junior year I decided to take advanced chemistry, hoping for more of a challenge. Well, ask and you shall receive.
Chemistry presented a significant intellectual challenge, one that, at the time, I felt was beyond me. I put 110 percent into chemistry class, but I could never quite grasp the concepts. I ended up getting a C in that class, one of two Cs I have received in my entire educational career. I was devastated. It sounds sort of goofy, but, for sixteen-year-old-perfectionist Natalie Shaheen, the bad chemistry grade was traumatic. I left that class angry, embarrassed, and fed up with science. I concluded that I just wasn't smart enough for hard sciences.
It wasn't until I came to work for the National Federation of the Blind and was assigned to make a wide variety of STEM subjects accessible for blind students that I realized what had happened in chemistry class all those years ago: in chemistry I didn't do the experiments. In order for me to see what I was doing, I would have had to get dangerously close to toxic substances and fire. The teachers, of course, didn't want me to get hurt. They didn't know how I could do chemistry if I couldn't see what I was doing. And I certainly didn't have any answers for them. I couldn't even phone a blind friend to ask for advice—I didn't have any blind friends. I didn't have a community of practice of blind people who could help me figure out how to do science nonvisually.
So I suffered through chemistry class as the notetaker for my group, trying to understand the content without having full access to the activities. The C that I received in chemistry did not, as I once thought, reflect my lack of capacity for doing chemistry; rather, it reflected my lack of access to the subject matter.
Thanks to the work of the National Federation of the Blind, today blind high school students have a community of practice of blind people who can share wisdom and advice about how to do all kinds of STEM subjects nonvisually.
Well what exactly is a community of practice? So as not to bore you with the long academic definition, I'll give you the twitter-style definition—140 characters or fewer. Is it possible? A community of practice is a group of people who organize themselves, share information, and apprentice novices to become experts.
Our community of practice, the National Federation of the Blind, organized itself in 1940. To this day we share information and advice with each other about how to be successful in the world, and we apprentice novice blind people to become expert blind people. Though we do not commonly use the term apprenticeship, we practice apprenticeship every day in the Federation. If you all will help me, we can demonstrate the prevalence of apprenticeship in our organization. Are you all listening? Alright.
If you have been mentored by an older, more experienced blind person in the Federation, say "aye." [Many affirm they have.] If you have mentored a younger less experienced blind person who was just entering the Federation, say "aye." [Again a significant response from the crowd is heard.] That's our community of practice, all over this banquet hall and all over the country.
My first mentor in the Federation was Dr. Larry Streeter, who is unfortunately no longer with us [Applause for the work and dedication of Larry Streeter]. That's right—give it up for Dr. Streeter. Today I am mentored by numerous people in the Federation, including President Riccobono. Just as more experienced blind people mentor me, I, in turn, mentor the young blind students who walk into my classroom or bump into me out in the world. That's how a community of practice works, that's how the Federation works, and that is why this organization is such a powerful resource for blind students of all ages.
As you listen to the other speakers on this panel today, take note of how our community of practice is referenced both explicitly and implicitly. All of the speakers on this panel have participated in one way or another in our National Center for Blind Youth in Science programs, which are currently funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. This three-year grant is comprised of three intertwined components. The first component is our regional STEM programs, called NFB STEM2U, which serve blind students, parents of blind children, and teachers of the blind. The second component is NFB EQ, a weeklong advanced engineering program for blind high school students. The third and final component involves working with six science museums across the country to increase accessibility for blind visitors. Today our speakers represent each of those three components of the grant.
Our first speaker is Dr. Joseph Heimlich, the executive director of the Center for Research and Evaluation at COSI and the principal researcher at Lifelong Learning Group. Dr. Heimlich has donned many hats as a part of this project. He has been a great advisor with respect to navigating the museum world, and he has been a tremendous resource as our external evaluator, giving us advice about how to make our programming even more effective. Here is Dr. Heimlich.
Joseph Heimlich: Thank you, Natalie. As President Riccobono said yesterday, this program is exciting, it's innovative, and it's powerful. My role and my team's role in this project is a fun one: we get to help the National Federation of the Blind succeed. Our goal—our role—is to make sure that the good programs get even better and that we can give critical feedback and watch how Natalie and her team turn that into better and better programming for the benefit of the youth.
There are several things we've learned on this project; one of them is that these programs are working. They're working for the youth, they're working for the parents, they're working for the educators, and they're working for the museums. One major learning is that the NFB is strongly committed to STEM learning, and this is important for the National Science Foundation. And finally, we're learning that parents want and need tools to help their children do science at home.
So I'm going to take just a moment and make you do some work for me. I want you to take one minute and talk to the people next to you, and identify three reasons why you think these programs are important. You've got one minute; go [audience starts talking].
All right, so what are some of the reasons these kinds of programs are important? Shout them out. Equity, education—shout loud, I'm deaf—yes, career choices, problem-solving, empathy, raising expectations—absolutely, these programs are doing all of those things and more. Oh man, that's a big one, learning about themselves and who they are.
What we are seeing—number one thing we're seeing—is an increase in confidence in the youth, a discovery of what they can do and how they can do it and how they can be engaged in making their own decisions for the future.
A second is an exposure to skills. They've not been given, in many cases, the opportunities to manipulate, to learn tactilely and haptically around these various issues. And finally they're receiving tools to help them perform in the classroom and beyond.
Most STEM we learn, and almost all the STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—we use, we do not use in the classroom. We use them in daily life. This means that museums and other informal organizations also need the support to work with youth who are blind and blind adults. This program is taking the traditional educational approaches used in blind education into museums and beyond, where we are seeing a transformation. The reason is that access and accessibility is the real issue for a lot of these youth in science. We're seeing that these are amazing young people who really need the opportunity to succeed, and this program, and programs like this in the future, will continue to give them opportunities to succeed [applause].
Natalie Shaheen: Thanks, Dr. Heimlich. Next up is Arianna Benally, one of our younger blind students. She participated in two NFB STEM2U programs. At NFB STEM2U Phoenix, Arianna told me she was writing a story about our program for her school newspaper. Now she's going to share her story with us! Let's give it up for Ari:
Arianna Benally: Hello. My name is Arianna Benally. I'm eleven years old and going into the sixth grade. I went to two NFB STEM2U programs. STEM means science, technology, engineering, and math. We did a lot of engineering. Engineering taught us to make something new with recyclables. It inspired us to build and imagine.
At the NFB STEM2U program in Columbus, Ohio, the museum was called COSI. COSI has exhibits about the human body, the ocean, and electricity. One exhibit was a timeline from when we did not have electricity until present day when we have a lot of electronics. COSI was a lot of fun!
I met a lot of kids in Columbus, and we built many projects together. We built racers, brush bots, and a flash-card tower. I learned that even though a person is visually impaired or blind, they can still build anything [applause]. I also learned how to work in a group. With our parents' help, we tried to build the tallest tower out of big blue blocks. My group won. These activities helped me learn more about STEM.
At the NFB STEM2U program in Phoenix, Arizona, the museum was called the Arizona Science Center. That museum has exhibits about the human body. One exhibit was about a woman having a baby. Another exhibit was about the wind. In that exhibit you had to stand on a platform, and you could feel the wind and see the lightning. The Arizona Science Center was interesting.
We built racers and a flash-card tower. Making these things made me use my creativity. We also played with big blue blocks. We pretended to build a machine. It was fun and imaginative. With our parents, we learned how the digestive system works. The museum brought out a bowl with food in it. We smashed the food with a potato masher, which is like our teeth chew food. Then we put the mashed food in a plastic baggie, which was like our stomach. The museum brought out tubes that were the same size as the small and large intestines. We got to look at them. Finally, we learned what happens to our food [what it turns into] after we digest it. It was gross! The program was fun, creative, and it helped me to understand that I can do and accomplish anything, even though I am blind.
So, there you have it. Now you know that the NFB STEM2U program is great for children and their parents. Blind people can accomplish anything. It is great to be connected with the National Federation of the Blind because their programs help us live the life we want.
Natalie Shaheen: Thanks, Ari. Francis Hammond is Arianna's mother, a board member of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and an NFB STEM2U parent participant. Francis is going to tell us what it was like to be a parent at the program. Here is Francis:
Frances Hammond: Thank you, Natalie. My eleven-year-old daughter Arianna and I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We have been members of the NFB of New Mexico since 2012, and since then I have been in awe over the amazing work you have been doing to support each other and blind adults and children across the country. With the support of the NFB, our NFB of New Mexico, and our Parents of Blind Children of New Mexico, we were given the opportunity to attend two of the NFB STEM2U programs. We attended the program in Columbus, Ohio, at the Center of Science of Industry in May of 2015, and we attended the Phoenix, Arizona, program at the Arizona Science Center in November of 2015.
I learned leaps and bounds about how to make science, technology, engineering, and math more accessible for Arianna. I tried to make our attendance at the Columbus program a learning experience from the beginning, because Arianna and I had never been to Ohio before, and we had never traveled alone with each other before. I let her guide me through the airports, which she quickly found is not always an easy task. She found out that rather than roam around aimlessly to read signs too small for her to read, she had to ask for help—this was a big step for her. Then we had our first ride in an Uber. These small, simple transportation details are steps that Arianna had never taken before. We were learning leaps and bounds, and we had not even arrived at the NFB STEM2U program yet.
When we arrived at the hotel for the program, we met our facilitators and other parents and children from across the country who, like us, were searching for ways to make the STEM fields more accessible for our blind children. We all came from very different experiences in regard to our children's educations. Over the course of the next couple of days I heard about instances where services for blind students were extremely limited and examples of technology not being accessible to blind students. I learned that it is a struggle for our students to be as proficient as their sighted peers, simply because of accessibility issues. I also learned how blessed Arianna has been to have blind teachers who are NFB members for four of the five years she was in elementary school. The NFB and the NFB philosophy make a difference in accessibility for our children.
At the Columbus program, we learned about advocacy and what tools are available to blind children in the STEM fields. We talked about our children's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and how much of an impact they have on a child's education. We were given a crash course on ways to make tools in the STEM field more accessible. We learned about how to use tactile calipers and how to tactilely mark a plastic milliliter syringe for measuring. We were shown an audio pen/book combination that could read the periodic table and all of the information it displays. Dr. Cary Supalo showed us his wonderful talking LabQuest that makes taking measurements in a scientific setting as accessible as accessible can be. I was surprised that I had never even heard of any of these tools before, and I was grateful that the NFB had put the STEM2U program together to help us sighted parents understand more about accessibility issues.
Before the program I thought I had a good understanding of what Arianna needed, but I was amazed at the wealth of information I had received. After the program Arianna and I went home with a new outlook on what Arianna's education would look like. I started wondering about her future. Then we heard about another NFB STEM2U program much closer to home in Phoenix. I was overjoyed because the proximity meant that my husband Bryce could attend. I had originally planned for him to take her alone, but I could not resist another weekend of attending an NFB program—after all, this is why we're Federationists. We were able to drive to Phoenix, and upon our arrival, I was expecting the program to mirror the Columbus program. I was excited to learn that a fellow National Organization of Parents of Blind Children board member, Pat Renfranz and her husband Dave had come to facilitate most of the parents' activities. Pat and Dave are scientists, and learning from them was a much different experience because they have a deeper understanding of the STEM fields. Bryce and I were in for a long weekend of learning.
For this program we were asked to bring Arianna's latest IEP. We talked about IEP advocacy, and then we really delved into the IEP and what should be in it. We were told to highlight words like technology, science, math, and measure. Our IEP was the most highlighted in the whole room. This meant that our IEP team must be doing a good job, but there were other IEPs that were less than adequate. I am thankful that the NFB shed light on this problem through the STEM2U program. Now there are so many more informed parents out there who can more effectively advocate for their child's educational needs.
As the program continued I once again found myself with inadequate knowledge of how to make things more accessible for Arianna. Pat and Dave gave us specific examples of how to make science accessible. I had never considered how to explain lunar cycles, the relative size of planets in our solar system, or the distance between planets to our daughter. Pat and Dave showed us how. We used a very long piece of string and beads to show the relative distances between planets. Using this method, it was easy to deduce that Mercury, Venus, and Earth are much closer in distance than Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Then we were paired in teams of two to tour the Arizona Science Center, armed with different tools to make the museum more accessible to our blind children. At each exhibit one partner would wear sleepshades while their partner would explain the exhibit to them while using some of the tools to make it more tactilely accessible. One of the tools we found most useful was the Sensational BlackBoard. We were able to use it to sketch a tactile representation of an exhibit. Bryce and I took turns. We learned more about the dynamics of helping our daughter get the most out of future trips to museums than we ever had before.
The NFB STEM2U programs educated us in the importance of making the STEM fields more accessible for Arianna to succeed in her future educational endeavors. I am thankful that the NFB shared with us how to approach accessibility issues within the STEM fields. Now I know that even though she has had great NFB teachers, I still need to raise my expectations of her educational needs in the future. This coming year Arianna will not be assigned a full-time teacher of the visually impaired because she is starting middle school. All of her teachers will be sighted. I am worried about how they will help make things accessible for Arianna, but I know that I can help where they lack. The NFB STEM2U program has given us knowledge that we would not have obtained otherwise. Thank you NFB for providing a program that empowers parents with the knowledge to help their children succeed in the future [applause].
Natalie Shaheen: Thanks, Frances. Cricket Bidleman was an apprentice in our NFB STEM2U San Francisco program and a participant in NFB EQ 2015. She is going to share her NFB EQ experience. Here's Cricket:
Cricket Bidleman: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I'm Cricket Bidleman, a twelfth grader from Morro Bay, California, and I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to share my experiences with the National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative regarding the National Federation of the Blind Engineering Quotient program. A man named Edward Prescott once said, "The only man who can change his mind is a man who's got one." This is true, but how much impact can just changing one's mind really have?
Before ninth grade I thought about a career in law. Since then, however, and no offense to the lawyers out there, I have wanted to go into science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, also known as STEM. The only problem was that I didn't think such a career would be practical due to my blindness. That all changed after I attended NFB EQ.
After arriving at the Jernigan Institute—having flown independently for the first time—I met nineteen other blind high schoolers. I was then assigned to a team with three other students. After everyone had been split into teams, each group was given a marshmallow, dry spaghetti noodles, a paper bag, string, and a piece of tape. We were challenged to make the tallest structure possible, using only the materials we had. My group taped the tips of our canes to the ground in a square, then stood them all upright and tied the paper bag over the handles to keep them together—imagine a square pyramid kind of shape. Then, we put the marshmallow on top and waited for the verdict. Though we did stretch the rules just a little, our creativity had allowed us to make the tallest structure, using only the materials we had. I do want to point out that no one said anything about using only the materials we were given.
The next day, we began our project, which took four days to complete. Each group constructed a boat and oars out of PVC pipes, wood, a tarp, and duct tape—and they weren't those little model boats that people put on shelves and forget about. We learned safety techniques for using drills, saws, and other tools. We also learned to make charcoal water filters out of recyclable materials, and each group was responsible for designing their own filter. At the end of the week, we raced the boats in the nearby reservoir. Thankfully, all of them floated, and although my team did not win the race, we did our best and learned a lot about engineering in the process, and in the end we won the award for the best filter design [applause].
The NFB EQ program taught me a lot. I learned independent travel skills by navigating multiple airports. I learned about the engineering process, about water filtration, and about how to use sharp tools safely. Most of all, the program developed my passion for the STEM field.
As I mentioned earlier, Edward Prescott once said, "The only man who can change his mind is a man who's got one." I changed my mind in ninth grade and am now interested in going into some area of the STEM field. However, just changing my mind was not enough. At the National Federation of the Blind Engineering Quotient program, I was able to gain the experience that allowed me to realize that science is a practical career for me and that with certain techniques I can be just as independent as my sighted peers. In other words, NFB EQ taught me that I can live the life I want. Thank you, NFB [applause].
Science, technology, engineering, and math is so much more than numbers and equations. STEM is about sharing how each person's individual perspective allows them to see and explain the world differently. As a blind person I definitely see things differently, and thanks to NFB EQ, I now have the courage to share my perspective. And this is why we need more programs like NFB EQ—to inspire blind youth to pursue careers in STEM and to give young blind people the skills and confidence to share their perspective with the world [applause]. Thank you.
Natalie Shaheen: Thanks, Cricket. Salvador Villa just participated in NFB EQ 2016, and he was an apprentice at NFB STEM2U Phoenix. Sal is going to tell you what it was like to be an apprentice at NFB STEM2U.
Salvador Villa: Good morning, my Federation family. How are you all doing this morning? My name is Salvador Villa, but everybody calls me Sal. I am from McAllen, Texas, and I will be a senior in high school this upcoming August.
Last fall I participated in the NFB STEM2U program. At the program I learned leadership skills, had the opportunity to mentor younger students, make friends from different parts of the country, and travel across the country to new places.
The aspect of the program that was most meaningful to me was being an apprentice at my regional program in Phoenix, Arizona. I enjoyed this part of the program the most because I was able to use the leadership skills I have gained from working in the NFB of Texas BELL Academy and put into practice the new skills I learned at the NFB STEM2U Leadership Academy in Baltimore.
When I was a kid, many people helped and mentored me. Being an apprentice at STEM2U allowed me to finally give back to my community. To me, nothing feels greater than watching a child be successful and reach their goals, and NFB STEM2U gave me a firsthand experience of this feeling.
In this program I was in charge of a small group of children, and my job was to mentor them as they learned about science. I remember teaching them different cane skills as we walked around the museum looking at exhibits they were interested in. I was also able to share my story on what I have done in order to reach my goals and give them advice on how they can reach their goals.
I am thankful and grateful that I was given the privilege to be a part of NFB STEM2U, and I hope that other teenagers like me can have the same experience I had last November. [Music begins] Yo, this one goes out to the NFB of Texas, my mentors Daniel Martinez, Michael Ausbun, and Jared Nylin.
[Rapping]Check it November 5th through 8th 2015
Phoenix Arizona was the place to be
I was an apprentice at STEM2U
Mentoring young blind children was all I had to do
Watching them be successful while working together
They thanked me for everything, and I couldn't've felt better
Making wine glasses ring was pretty cool
I say it's like jumping into an ice cold pool
We learned about fossils and the anatomy of starfish
I remember someone said that they smelled like their goldfish
Walking with our canes and looking at exhibits
I remember telling them that the sky is the limit
Not everything was all fun and games
Eventually, leadership came into play
Thank you [applause, cheers]
Natalie Shaheen: How about these kids? Our last presentation is a virtual presentation of sorts. We had participants from all of our NCBYS programs send in tweets about their experience, and we pulled a selection of them together to share with you. Here is our spoof on the Jimmy Kimmel skit "celebrities read mean tweets."
Anil Lewis reads and inserts some of his own comments into these tweets; his comments are in parenthesis:
@CuriousKid: At the Museum of Science in #Boston, I picked fake boogers out of a really huge model of a nose in the Hall of Human Life. :) #Yucky (absolutely) #STEM
@ProudMama: (It's a great handle) Overheard my son saying, "I want to be more independent at home." (big mistake, Kid) That spoke volumes to me. (I'm sure it did.) #Grateful #AwesomeOpportunity #NCBYS (And I'll add #NowYou’llHaveToMakeUpYourBedAllByYourselfAllTheTime. Good luck.)
President Riccobono reads: @ScientistSarah: I asked a child at NFB STEM2U #Bmore to watch the experiment... "don't forget, I'm blind!"
@apprenticeSTEM2U: piano keys on the floor, 'Do Re Me,' give me more! #science museum #NCBYS
@aoates: Favorite overheard #Exploratorium #STEM2U moment: "I'm having so much fun, I'm forgetting about growing up! Does this make you forget about growing up?"
Anil narrates: @allieykatt13: Dissecting starfish was amazingly spongy at Arizona Science Museum #NCBYS #STEM2U (I just learned something; starfish are spongy.)
@DuctTapeKing: I used 10 million rolls of #DuctTape to build my boat at NFB EQ #Engineering #STEM (Hopefully that was an over exaggeration of the amount of duct tape.)
President Riccobono narrates: @PatriotsFan29: All the boats floated! #WeDidIt #OhSnap #WeAreAwesome
@nlshaheen: 2 years, 6 states, 11 programs, 400 participants (students, parents, teachers), hundreds of volunteers, 1 awesome @NFB_Voice team! #Time4ANap
@riccobono: Great job, @NFB_Voice #whatsnext
Natalie Shaheen: In closing I would like to thank each and every one of you for making our education programs possible. Everyone in this room contributes to our community of practice, and without that community of practice our education programs would not be successful. Pat yourselves on the back, and give your neighbor a high five. Together with love, hope, and determination, we transform young blind students' dreams into reality. Thank you.
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit <www.nfb.org/planned-giving> or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422 for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
by Bret Reimer
From the Editor: Paying taxes is not something many of us are excited about doing, but the experience is frustrating enough without the added stress of being unable to do so because of the technology used in preparing the forms that report income, deductions, and the bottom-line number that will reveal whether we pay more into the system or get some back. H&R Block is a leader in tax preparation, providing human assistance for those who wish to pay for it and computerized assistance for those who do not.
It was Mr. Reimer’s challenge to follow Jordyn Castor on the agenda, and those who have read her remarks will understand why he began his presentation by acknowledging hers. But before we get to his remarks, here is what President Riccobono said in introducing Mr. Reimer. "This is an important agenda item because getting access to the tools that are needed to file our taxes and independently manage our finances is an important topic, and over the last few years, with our work, H&R Block has come to be a model in moving accessibility within an organization. Here to talk to us about the work of H&R Block, where, over the last year, twenty-three million people have filed their taxes online, is the director of technology who leads a team of accessibility experts in changing the paradigm of accessibility and improving the tools at H&R Block. Here is Bret Reimer:
So, Jordyn, this is going to be a tough act to follow—my gosh, great story.
On behalf of H&R Block, congratulations on another successful convention and all of the outstanding work that you've done this year to make the world a more accessible place.
I personally want to thank the organizers of this conference for inviting me to speak today. This has been a tremendous personal opportunity for me to be here for the last couple of days. I've really enjoyed speaking with a few of you, listening, learning a lot. I really enjoyed going to the exhibit hall and hearing about all of the amazing innovation that's going on. I mean there is a lot of innovation going on, and it's just really exciting to be a part of that. I cannot wait to take that all back to Kansas City and bring back even more knowledge and enthusiasm to H&R Block.
This is the second year that H&R Block has been a part of this national convention. We were here last year for the world-record-breaking umbrella mosaic—that was incredible. And, as I was preparing for my speech today, it really stuck out to me about what can be achieved when you really rally around a goal, and it was just an amazing accomplishment that you all made. I really want to take that rally, that attitude towards accessibility into H&R Block, and I think we've done that over the past few years, and we're very excited to move forward with that [applause].
Now I know I work for a tax company, and I may think taxes are the most interesting thing in the world [laughter], but that's probably not what you want to hear about today. My topic today is going to be all about innovation. It's going to be about how H&R Block over the past few years has been innovating and reinventing how we deliver products to market. We have integrated web accessibility into our product-development lifecycle, and I'm going to tell you a little about the journey that we've been on the past few years, and how that's come to life at H&R Block.
Today we've only got a short time, but I'm going to give you a brief overview of the history of H&R Block, as well as what we do and then take you along that journey that we've been on the past few years.
H&R Block really started out as an innovative company from the very beginning. They were founded in 1955 when Henry Block and Richard Block had a small bookkeeping business in downtown Kansas City. One day a salesman from the Kansas City Star newspaper came to them and asked them if they ever thought about doing tax preparation for individuals. They talked about it a little bit and decided to run an ad in the Kansas City Star to offer tax preparation for $5. Literally the next day he had an office full of new clients, and they basically had invented the tax preparation industry.
You can see that we started out as a very innovative startup company back in 1955. Fast-forward all the way to today. We've done over 650 million returns; we have around 12,000 offices throughout the United States, and we typically have an office within five miles of every American. Not only do we have all of those 12,000 offices, but we also have our do-it-yourself product suite. We have software that you can buy in the retail outlets, we have an online and mobile solution that you can go online and do your taxes yourself, and that's really what we're going to focus on discussing today. We're going to talk about how we're reinventing the way that we develop those online and mobile products to build in web accessibility from the very beginning.
Our accessibility journey started a few years ago with a cooperative consent decree. Now this may seem adversarial, but the relationship between H&R Block and the NFB has truly grown into a strategic partnership over the past several years. Now there have been many people within your organization that have helped us achieve this, but there are a couple people that I want to acknowledge today: Karl Belanger and Gary Wunder have been instrumental in how we have formed our accessibility program. They have offered tremendous guidance, knowledge, and leadership over the past few years. Gary has actually helped recruit consultants from your organization that we have hired on to test and help guide us to make our products accessible. It's been a great partnership that we've formed through the past few years, so thank you Karl and Gary [applause].
Now we were really challenged with this challenge of web accessibility a few years ago, and the challenge was to make our online tax product accessible by the next tax season. This challenge seemed daunting; it really was going to take a team to rally around this idea and make it happen, and that first year was critical. What we did was we formed an accessibility program. We formed a program and a committee that not only defined process, but also acted as champions, because we needed to integrate this knowledge and this enthusiasm throughout the entire company, because it really took a team effort and a company-wide effort. That also took partnerships with a third-party web accessibility consulting firm, as well as the NFB.
There are really three areas that this committee focuses on. I think about it in terms of training awareness, the software development lifecycle or product development lifecycle, and then the strategic planning and strategic partnerships we make. We've come a long way in the past three years. Like I mentioned, the first year was daunting. We came from a very reactionary organization to a much more proactive, strategic organization in how we think about accessibility, and I'm going to walk you through that journey.
The first is around training and awareness. At the very beginning we really focused on the technical training that was required. We had an existing website that was built over several years. We have literally thousands of webpages and forms to become compliant. We really focused our training efforts on how do we remediate what we have today, and how do we test that. But we have broadened that significantly in the past three years. Now our training efforts go all the way into our marketing organizations, our graphic design, and we have moved this knowledge and education to the very beginning of our product development lifecycle to where we are thinking about web accessibility from the very beginning.
The other way that we think about training is our hands-on training. There are new industry standards, new expertise is always coming out. One that we've really seen mature in the past couple years is around mobile accessibility. Last year we sent several of our developers out to California with our consulting firm, and we did a three-day hands-on training session working with our mobile apps, and coming out of that we had many of the issues identified and many of them remediated by the time they came out of that. This was a tremendous opportunity for us to sit side-by-side with real users, understand their own client experience, and remediate those issues.
The second area is around the software development lifecycle. Like I mentioned, we brought web accessibility up to the very beginning of that lifecycle within how we design our products. We recently redesigned our tax estimator, which almost ten million people use each year to estimate their refund. We redesigned that in a way where we thought about web accessibility. We had design reviews at the very beginning. We thought about color contrast, user experience, technical requirements—all of that was done up-front. But, after we move into the development stage of the product development lifecycle, we really have to make sure that all of the developers are developing in a consistent way. We have developed over the past three years a robust knowledge base. We have developed over two hundred articles about how we develop at H&R Block. We've taken industry best practices, we've mapped those to very specific requirements for H&R Block design, and we have a robust knowledge base that each one of our developers can access.
After we have developed the product, we move into the testing phase. We not only functionally test our products now; we have to test for web accessibility. We do this in three different ways: the first one is around our automated testing. Over the past three years we've formed a really robust automated testing solution in partnership with our consulting firm. We can not only test the new products that we're developing, but we can also regression test the rest of the products we have as new industry standards and best practices come into play. The second way we test is really around leveraging assistive technology at H&R Block. We use this to walk through the client experience and validate the product. The third way we do this is like I mentioned before—we're partnering with the NFB and others; we're reaching out, and we're engaging with the user community and really trying to make an optimal user experience [applause].
The third way that our committee really reaches out is around our strategic planning and partnership. Like I mentioned, we were here last year. We've also engaged with the CSUN conference as well. We sent numerous people there last year, and these are just great opportunities to listen and hear from everyone. It's a great opportunity to understand what different vendors are doing to innovate. It's also a great opportunity for us to connect with other companies that are on their own web accessibility journey. It's an opportunity for us to hear from them, and also let them know what we are doing within our organization.In conclusion, we have made tremendous progress over the past three years, but we are not done. This is something that is not start and stop. This is something that has to be integrated into the culture and all of the processes you have within product development. We look forward to continuing to improve on our products. Once again, on behalf of H&R Block, thank you for inviting me to speak today. It's been a pleasure [applause]. Thank you.
by Deborah Kent Stein
From the Editor: Debbie Stein is an active member of the National Federation of the Blind who, like many of us, wears a number of hats. She is an officer in the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, the chairman of its scholarship committee, a member of the national scholarship committee, and the editor of Future Reflections, our magazine for the parents of blind children. She is a well-known author of children’s books, and she also makes great presentations as can be seen from what follows:
"I almost heard their eyebrows arch, the silence was so great. A blind woman going around the world? What would she see? Nothing!
"'And where do you plan to go?’
"'Oh, to see the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal, the Angkor Wat, the Blue Mountains of Australia, the Maori huts of New Zealand, and perhaps a visit to the Fiji Islanders if my money holds out.’
"'Going alone? India? What if a cobra jumps out at you?’
"'It would be a trifle late to do anything then!’
"'What if some pickpocket takes your purse, with your passport and all your money?’
"'That would be more probable than the cobra jumping out at me. But I'm a match for any pickpocket.’
"'Well, you couldn't see him.’
“That was true—but just let him try, I thought."
This little excerpt from the opening chapter of Crooked Paths Made Straight gives you a taste of Isabelle Grant's approach to life. She was one feisty lady! She didn't fold up when people told her no! And she certainly didn't see blindness as a barrier. When she wanted to go somewhere or do something, she went there and did it. When she retired from teaching after thirty-two years, she launched a brand-new career as an international ambassador promoting opportunities for the blind in education and the workforce. Her achievements were recognized throughout the world, and in 1972 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize [applause].
Isabelle Grant was born, fully sighted, in a fishing village on the Scottish coast in 1896. In 1924 she and her husband immigrated to the United States and settled in Los Angeles, where Isabelle launched a highly successful teaching career. She had a gift for languages, and she was fluent in Spanish, French, and German. In 1940 she earned a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Southern California.
In 1946 Isabelle's husband died, and she was left a widow with a young daughter to raise. Soon after, she developed acute glaucoma. She took a leave of absence from teaching to pursue medical treatment, and endured eight painful eye surgeries in an effort to save her sight. Nothing worked, and by the fall of 1948 she was totally blind.
At first she sank into despair. She believed she couldn't cook, couldn't sew, and certainly couldn't teach. Most of the people around her were quick to agree. As she said later, "They treated me as though I had lost my wits as well as my eyesight."
Finally a friend took her to meet a blind man named James Garfield, who was a member of the California affiliate of the NFB. As an aside, Garfield wrote a very popular children's book called Follow My Leader. Dr. Grant arrived unannounced at Garfield's door, and in true Federation fashion, he sat down with her and began to mentor her. After he listened to her story, he told her she should learn Braille and learn to use a long white cane. He also introduced her to NFB president Jacobus tenBroek. Dr. Grant and the tenBroeks became life-long friends.
Isabelle Grant was a quick study. She threw herself into the work of learning the skills of blindness, and within a few months she was ready to go back to work. But the Los Angeles school system had other ideas. A county ordinance said that any teacher in the public schools had to have a visual acuity of 20/70. Dr. Grant was told she would have to retire on disability. At that point her colleagues pitched in to help. Sixty-three teachers signed an impassioned letter demanding that Dr. Grant be retained. The superintendent of schools finally gave in, but Dr. Grant was never allowed to teach sighted students again. She was assigned to teach blind children, although she had no training or experience in that field.
Dr. Grant hadn't planned on teaching blind kids, but it quickly became her passion. In 1956 she went to Norway for an international conference on the instruction of blind students. That conference inspired her in two ways. She discovered that blindness need not stop her from traveling overseas and enjoying it immensely, and it taught her about the limited opportunities for blind students in most parts of the world. She determined to travel more widely and to learn all she could about the world's blind children and adults.
In 1959 Dr. Grant was eligible for a sabbatical leave. She spent that year taking a solo trip around the world, the trip she recounted in Crooked Paths Made Straight. She visited twenty-three countries, beginning in Great Britain—and yes, she did get to Fiji. This was at a time when it was highly unusual even for a fully sighted woman to travel alone to exotic places. For a blind woman to do so was unheard of!
She writes: "I sallied forth from California, laden with enough impedimenta for one of Caesar's soldiers on the march through Gaul. My suitcase balanced the scales at forty-four pounds. Besides a sheaf of tickets, a thick passport, health records, and a fat book of traveler's checks, I carried a heavy camel-hair coat and a velour hat. My typewriter, weighing ten pounds, was suspended from my left arm." The farther she traveled, the more impedimenta she collected.
In Rome Dr. Grant attended a conference of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind, an organization founded in 1949. It was made up mostly of blindness professionals from various countries. At the conference Dr. Grant noticed that few blind people were present, and nearly all of them came from Europe and North America. She asked herself why weren't blind people from Africa and Asia represented? She also observed that sighted professionals were speaking for the blind, explaining what the blind should do and what would be best for them. She had been a Federationist for ten years, and she knew that blind people can make progress only when they speak for themselves. She wrote, "I believe that self-acceptance, independence, and action, underwritten by equality of opportunity, are the birthright of all blind people, just as they are for the sighted."
Of all the countries Dr. Grant visited on her first trip, Pakistan affected her most profoundly. On her sabbatical she spent six months in Karachi, studying the Urdu language and training teachers to work with blind students. She traveled the world until the end of her life in 1977, but Pakistan was her adopted home. Here's what she says about riding to an Urdu class in a motorized rickshaw. "I do not remember ever going to my lesson without the rickshaw stalling. The driver would jump out, pick up formidable pieces of iron lodged under my feet, and give a few hard knocks to the machine. On we went.
Some rickshaw drivers took joy in their speed. They had no mercy on the fare. We rattled along, dipping into every pothole. At every dip I bounced up to the canopy, and my head invariably bumped against the metal bar across the top. Hanging on grimly by the supporting bars at the side, I was like a ball bouncing inside an iron cage."
Everywhere she went, Isabelle Grant made friends and influenced people. She talked with teachers, social workers, doctors, government officials, and beggars in the street. Always she talked about the untapped potential of blind people and the contributions they could make to their countries if only they were given the chance.
Though Dr. Grant was a person of boundless warmth and generosity, she wasn't afraid to speak her mind. Once the director of an agency for the blind in Uganda wrote and asked her how he could improve his program. She wrote back, "I find your plans admirably ambitious and comprehensive, but they are still of the old custodial care type—planning things for the blind, and as I see it, doing or trying to do something better, which should not be done at all."
The key to developing blind people's potential was education. And education was not possible unless blind people had books. After she returned to California, Dr. Grant launched a project to send used Braille books to individuals and schools, first in Pakistan, and later in dozens of other countries. She organized Federationists around the country to send her used books. She and her team of volunteers then packed the books into 15-pound cartons and shipped them overseas, along with slates and styluses, Braille paper, and other equipment. She helped blind students obtain scholarships, and she encouraged them to persevere despite every obstacle. She searched constantly for leaders and potential leaders, women and men who could develop organizations modeled upon the NFB.
Throughout the 1960s and much of the 1970s Dr. Grant traveled almost constantly. As she was about to set off on another trip, Dr. tenBroek remarked, "I feel you are like a lone eagle, flying off alone." "No," she said, "I'm not alone, for I have always the Federation behind me."
In 1964 Dr. Grant helped to found the International Federation of the Blind, or IFB, an organization that allowed blind people from around the world to share resources and ideas. Dr. tenBroek served as its president until his death in 1968. Dr. Grant served as treasurer of the IFB and edited its quarterly Braille magazine, which was published in English, French, German, and Spanish.
Crooked Paths Made Straight and Dr. Grant's other writings are filled with stories of her adventures. She did indeed encounter a pickpocket, who managed to steal some cash on a Paris street but didn't get his hands on her papers. And while she was visiting a school in the Congo a teacher suddenly screamed, "JUMP!" She didn't ask questions. She jumped and avoided stepping on a cobra.
Isabelle Grant's legacy lives on today in the lives and work of thousands of blind people whom she inspired and mentored. Nearly forty years after her death, blind people in Pakistan and India, Kenya and Ethiopia and dozens of other countries are studying and working and mentoring the next generation, following the paths that Dr. Grant made straight for them.From the Editor: Crooked Paths Made Straight is available to purchase in EPUB or PDF from iUniverse, Kindle, and the Apple store from iBooks. It is available in standard print from Amazon and from the NFB Independence Market.
by Eve Hill
From the Editor: It is no accident that Eve Hill has become an annual fixture on the National Federation of the Blind’s annual agenda. She is passionate, articulate, and informed. She is able to communicate all of these, and for this reason it is always our pleasure to put her remarks in the pages of the Braille Monitor. Here is what she said to the 2016 National Convention:
Good afternoon, and thank you, President Riccobono, for that really nice introduction and for your work in making the NFB such an impactful and powerful organization and for all of you for contributing to that.
For decades NFB has brought stakeholders together to safeguard justice, advance opportunity, and defend the rights of blind people. In doing so, you help blind people live meaningful, enjoyable, productive lives; you enable our communities to reach their full potential, you advance America's founding dream as the land of equal opportunities, and you make the promise of our laws a reality for everybody [applause].
President Riccobono told me that they saved some space in the agenda for friends of NFB and for fresh meat. He didn't say which one I was, so I'm very glad that he introduced me as a friend of NFB, and if there's a fresh meat section, I'm going to save it for the end because he also told me that I have four minutes less than I had planned on.
Not that long ago for blind people and people with other disabilities, this dream and this promise of America—the land of equal opportunity—felt really distant and out of reach. Discrimination was often built into our laws and into our public services, and because those laws and service systems were based on faulty assumptions about the capabilities of people with disabilities, they made those mistaken assumptions into self-fulfilling prophesies. But the beauty of America's story and the promise of its legal framework shows us that we, as a country and as a people, can change. We can progress—not always perfectly, but unyieldingly. As Dr. Maurer used to say, we don't lose the war because we don't stop fighting.
We can pass new laws and enforce the ones we already have to make sure that the freedoms our constitution guarantees and the opportunities that all people deserve are actually reached by everyone. So the arc of our nation's progress in the disability rights arena highlights this. In the 1960s and 70s around the country, the exposure of the inhumane treatment in institutions sparked public outrage. Outrage fueled advocacy, and over time advocacy drove legal change, resulting in part in our 1999 decision by the Supreme Court in Olmstead vs. LC that segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination. But of course laws and rulings alone don't vindicate rights; people do. People like you, organizations like NFB, and organizations like the Justice Department—particularly, I'd say, the civil rights division. We all know, unfortunately, that there's a lot of tough and really important and urgent work that lies ahead to vindicate those rights. Even seventeen years after the Olmstead decision and more than twenty-five years after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, far too many people with disabilities continue to see a real gap between what the law promises on the one hand and what people really experience on the other. We see this gap in transportation as people with disabilities face unlawful barriers when traveling to work or on a plane, as we heard earlier; barriers to vacationing with their families, areas where the Justice Department has tried to take on these issues aggressively, including from Amtrak's rail stations to Greyhound's bus fleet, where I must note that we have secured an uncapped damages fund--if you have been treated badly by Greyhound because of a disability, you should be filing a complaint through this process—and all the way to Carnival cruise ships.
We see this gap in the electoral process. Too many people with disabilities trying to participate in our democracy find themselves turned away by unnecessary barriers to a private and independent vote. Through the ADA voting initiative, the department continues to address these barriers with open investigations of polling places, voting registration, and ballot accessibility all around the country. We see this gap in employment as 450,000 people with disabilities spend their time in segregated sheltered workshops or day programs, with some payed just pennies an hour.
We see this gap in technology as new technologies are developed and older technologies—I must say that websites are now an older technology—as these are deployed and rolled out in ways that don't include people with disabilities and thus exclude them even more than the old paper-and-pen world did. We see this gap in education as schools deny children with disabilities the opportunities they deserve to learn and thrive alongside their non-disabled peers. And we see this gap in the justice system as too many people suffer from policies that criminalize mental illness and other disabilities.
Right now I'm reading this new book; I was reading it on the plane. It's called The Boys in the Bunkhouse, which chronicles the story of the men with disabilities in Atalissa, Iowa, who worked for decades for Henry's Turkey Service for $65 a month and lived in an abandoned schoolhouse where cockroaches infested the kitchen, the heater didn't work, and the fire doors were padlocked shut. That story demonstrates the many ways institutions can ruin people's lives: by separating them from their families; by putting a profit motive on their care; by making them outsiders, someone else's responsibility to their neighbors; and by taking away choice and the ability to grow and learn. That story also highlights the people who tried to raise the alarm and were thwarted by bureaucratic silos and pretty lies and such an ingrained assumption that the men there were so different from the rest of us that it just wasn't even necessary to ask them about their experience. It makes me furiously angry and inconsolably sad, and even after the lawsuits by the heroic Robert Canino of the EEOC--you may not think of government lawyers as heroic, but some of them are--he's one of them. Even after the rescue and resettlement of those men, it's still not right. Many of them have been moved to nursing homes in Texas because they were given no other choice. None of them have gotten the damage—$240 million dollars in damages—that the jury awarded them because the money is gone. And those damages were awarded not for back pay alone, but for the loss of enjoyment of life for decades, and that strikes me as the real harm from institutionalization. It's not okay; it has to stop; I have to stop it; we all have to stop it [applause].
In partnership with many of you here today, the Justice Department works to make sure that people with disabilities—our friends, our families, our neighbors, our colleagues—can live and work and learn in their own communities with everyone else. For the last eight years the Obama administration, in partnership with you, has lead vigorous Olmstead-enforcement efforts that breathe new meaning and real life into the Supreme Court’s findings.
Since 2009 we've taken action and filed briefs in fifty Olmstead integration matters in twenty-five states. And, because of our Olmstead work, today more than 53,000 people with disabilities—53,000 people—will have meaningful opportunities to receive services in integrated community-based settings that they choose [applause].
In Oregon and Rhode Island in the past three years the department's enforcement efforts have led to statewide commitments to transform their employment services systems from ones that enforce the tyranny of low expectations in sheltered workshops to ones that support people with disabilities to pursue their goals and their dreams in real jobs at real wages in their communities. Throughout our Olmstead work we see close connections between barriers to education and limited opportunities in employment and other aspects of life. When students capable of learning in integrated classrooms don't get the opportunity to do so, they just don't get access to the full set of skills, resources, and experience they need to reach their potential in the classroom, in the workforce, or in life.
Last year the Justice Department took on the unnecessary segregation of students with behavior-related disabilities in so-called special schools in Georgia. Our letter of findings about the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) makes clear that the ADA prohibits states from unnecessarily placing students with behavior-related disabilities in separate and unequal schools. Some of these were the black schools from the days of legal segregation of schools. They cannot put them in those separate schools when they can learn in regular education settings.
Our Olmstead community integration efforts span an array of areas. Last month we released findings that South Dakota unnecessarily relies on nursing facilities to provide services for people with disabilities of all ages. Thousands of people who rely on South Dakota for their services must live in nursing facilities in order to receive those services, isolated from their communities, often surrounded by people with very little in common with them. For example, one of the people we spoke to is a seventy-seven-year-old man with diabetes who's lost his vision and went to a nursing home after a toe amputation. All he needed was some help to check his feet regularly. He's been living in an institution for five years.
As part of our efforts in this area to address the rights of people with disabilities to live in their communities, under the leadership of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, we launched a new initiative just recently to look at the interaction between mental health and the criminal justice system. Make no mistake: the community integration mandated in Olmstead applies not just to some but to all public entities [applause]. That includes the public entities in our criminal justice system. And the Justice Department's efforts in this space focus on four key areas: on the streets we want police officers to de-escalate tense encounters with people with disabilities and reduce the need to use force; in our courts, where appropriate, we want to divert individuals with mental illness from incarceration and connect them with community-based services; in our jails and prisons we want to ensure that people get connected with the services they need to successfully reintegrate into their communities and stay there; and in order for the criminal justice entities to meet their obligations and address the needs of the whole community, states and localities need to meet their ADA obligations to provide community-based services. We cannot truly achieve fair and smart criminal justice reform until criminal justice entities and local jurisdictions fulfill their Olmstead obligations.
We've recently entered into a number of settlement agreements in Portland and Seattle and Cleveland and in Hinds County gotten these jurisdictions to interact with their local mental health systems and with people with disabilities in their communities. In addition to working on de-escalation and crisis intervention programs, these jurisdictions have created committees to advise them on how to better keep these silos interacting in ways that get people to the right services, instead of into a jail where they won't get them [applause].
We're also focusing our efforts on ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to all the basic activities that people without disabilities take for granted and that form the basis for the enjoyment of life, from parenting to learning to using the internet to do whatever you want and whatever you can afford when and where you want it, including at home in your bunny slippers (that's the way I do it.)
Let's start with parenting. We recently made a finding that the state of Massachusetts discriminated against a parent with a disability by taking her child away from her in the hospital and failing to provide the full range of reunification services that it offers to everybody and by failing to provide reasonable modifications in those services specifically to accommodate her disability. That state kept that child away from her mother for two years [boos]. But recognizing that this was happening all across the country, last year we and the Department of Health and Human Services issued a technical assistance document entitled "Protecting the Rights of Parents and Prospective Parents with Disabilities." That document makes clear that the ADA applies to child welfare agencies and courts making decisions about child custody and placement, neglect, and abuse [applause, cheers]. The ADA prohibits these agencies from basing their decisions on incorrect stereotypes about people with disabilities, requires them to provide reasonable modifications to their policies when needed to allow a parent with a disability to fully participate, and it challenges the stereotypical assumptions that child welfare agencies have too often made about parents with disabilities and requires people with disabilities to be treated as the individuals they are [applause].
Technology: We are becoming more and more a technology-dependent society. And we at DOJ are enforcing the ADA in ways that ensure that technology is designed and implemented so it actually achieves equally effective communication for people with disabilities, both in educational institutions and everywhere. We've been enforcing the ADA requirements for accessible instructional technology and content against educational institutions and others since 2010, when the NFB said, hey, what about these six colleges that are implementing an inaccessible e-book reader that I won't name—I could but I won't. We reached agreements with those six colleges—I'm in there somewhere, not necessarily where I am now—that required them to agree not to purchase, require, or use inaccessible e-book readers [applause] and to ensure that a student who is blind or has low vision can acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use—and you can thank Dan Goldstein for that standard [applause]. And we in the Department of Education followed that with Dear Colleague letters to colleges, universities, and elementary and secondary schools, saying that the use of inaccessible emergent technologies in the classroom violates the ADA. We also followed that with a settlement agreement with the Sacramento Public Library, which had purchased a bunch of inaccessible NOOK e-book readers to lend to its patrons. The settlement in that case requires them to buy at least eighteen accessible e-book readers to lend [applause]. Web-based, even online-only instructional technology and content providers themselves have ADA obligations to make their services accessible if they offer them to the public. We've made clear that providers of educational and entertainment services online can be covered as public accommodations under Title III of the ADA, so we and NFB have also been enforcing the accessibility requirements against those entities. We've made that position clear against Netflix, who I'm sure was thrilled about that. We've reached agreements to make websites accessible with the Peapod Grocery Delivery Service and with H&R Block, and we've been very active in enforcing the ADA in the context of online education and instructional technology and content. In 2013 we reached a settlement agreement with Louisiana Tech University for using a version of an online learning product that was inaccessible. One blind student was unable to get the course materials for a month into the university quarter, at which point he was so far behind he had to withdraw from the course. Under the settlement agreement, the university has to adopt a number of disability-related policies including: they have to require themselves to deploy learning technology, webpages, and course content that is accessible in accordance with WCAG 2.0 level AA all across the university setting; they'll make their existing webpages and materials created since 2010 accessible; and they'll pay that student $23,543 in damages [applause].
Then we get into MOOCs (massive open online courses). Last year we reached a settlement with edX, which operates a MOOC platform with content from sixty colleges and universities. Under that settlement, within eighteen months edX will make its website, mobile apps, and learning management system all comply with WCAG 2.0 level AA. It will make sure its websites, apps, and LMS don't interfere with accessibility features of any content providers using WCAG math ML, WCAG 2ICT, ARIA, DAISY, and EPUB3. Eighteen months after that edX will make its content management system accessible—WCAG 2.0 level AA; it's a theme. In future contracts with content providers edX will notify them of accessibility requirements and encourage them to make their content accessible and require them to certify it before they post content that it is accessible [applause].
And the big boys: Harvard and MIT--we filed a brief in a suit by the National Association of the Deaf challenging Harvard and MIT's failure to put captioning on their online videos and audio files. Our brief made clear that enforcement of the ADA's effective communication requirements does not need to wait for our rule-making efforts to be completed [applause], that has become more important than I thought it was.
We recently joined NFB in a suit against Miami University, which is still proceeding, about its failure to ensure that its educational technologies are accessible. We've also focused on making accessibility of websites and technology part of all of our accessibility work. So our employment enforcement: we in the past year have incorporated making online job application and job testing material systems accessible, with six local governments in the past year having agreed to do that. And we've made accessible websites a key component of every single one of our Project Civic Access compliance reviews of state and local governments.
And that's just DOJ. The Department of Education has also been active. Just last week they reached settlements with education organizations in seven states and one territory to make those websites accessible for people with disabilities.
Honestly, we've been following on the NFB's coattails in many of these actions, and I can't wait to hear from Jamie, who's really a hero to me. Am I done yet, have I run out of time?
President Riccobono: "Oh, long ago."
Eve Hill resumes: Oh, darn, then I can't go into the fresh meat part. We have not yet issued a rule. We have issued a supplemental advanced notice of proposed rulemaking. Please tell us what you think; be honest—I dare you [laughter]. But we're going to continue to enforce the law that already requires that the communications of covered entities, including those communicated through technology, must be accessible. We don't need to wait for rulemaking, and we won't [applause].So I continue to look forward to working with you. This is my favorite conference to come to, and thank you very much.
by Jon Twing
From the Editor: Getting a fair shake in education means the opportunity to learn, and often that opportunity is conditioned on how the blind do on standardized tests. Sometimes the blind have been forbidden from taking them, the argument being that any accommodations made to the test would invalidate it. Accommodations which have been opposed by the industry include putting the test in Braille, making it available so it can be read using a screen reader, or increasing print size so it can be viewed by those who rely primarily on remaining vision to read and write.
One of the largest companies involved in creating and administering standardized tests is Pearson, so the progress we have made with them is significant. In his introduction President Riccobono said that Pearson has taken accessibility so seriously that they have not only done what we have asked of them but have worked hard to use their knowledge of test taking to enhance the accessibility experience. Here is what Jon Twing has to say about his job, the value of testing, and the commitment he has to accessibility:
Thank you, Mr. President, thank you, Federation. I am responsible for assessments at Pearson, so naturally I live in Iowa City, Iowa, the Mecca of assessments. I'm glad to be here today to talk a little bit about some of our activities. I'm a trained test-builder. I'm something the field calls a psychometrician. People often ask me, "How do you choose such an occupation?" And I have a little secret for you, with no disrespect intended to my good friend at H&R Block, but we all start out as accountants. Those of us with a sense of humor become psychometricians [laughter].
I've been building assessments for over thirty-five years of all types and shapes, both domestically and internationally. So I have to be honest with you: if you don't enjoy assessments, it's probably my fault. There's not an assessment in North America that I haven't touched. I'm happy to talk to you about any concerns you might have, just look up Jan McSorley or Sam Dooley or even Cricket, and they'll put you in touch with me. I'm going to be here the rest of the day; we can chitchat about that.
I am delighted to talk about some of the innovation we make. I'm going to point out that I'm going to talk about assessments and the strides and changes and innovation we've driven into assessments. I'm happy to talk about other aspects of Pearson whose accessibility track record is not that great, but I am the assessments guy, so I plan to talk about assessments. We're already seeing, however, generalization of our efforts to make our tools accessible in our assessments going to the other parts of Pearson, so I'm optimistic that we've turned the corner, and we're making that trek. I'll leave that for you to decide once you've heard my talk.
Being a subject matter expert in assessments means that most of my life has been focused on what researchers call variance decomposition, or specifically something known as construct-irrelevant variance. Now I know that sounds really important, but all that really means is that when we build measures, a piece of our measure is error, and we want to get it out of our measure, and a piece of our measure is true, and we want to keep it in our measure. That's almost by definition what psychometricians do when they build measures. Now before your eyes glaze over and you fall asleep and you dream about lunch and you really do think I'm an accountant, let me try to explain this whole issue of construct-irrelevant variance in a very specific and relevant, concrete example.
In the early 1970s AT&T was notorious for discriminatory hiring practices. They often hid behind a rare exception to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act called "Bonafide Occupational Qualification." Basically this exception claimed that if a job could only be performed by one gender, for example lifting a ladder to the top of a panel van, then accommodating that job for the other gender would be outside normal operations and not required [growls and grumbles]. Well I think the EEOC took your point of view, because they essentially went to court in what is now known as the landmark AT&T sex discrimination case and rejected this claim outright. The essence of their victory was claiming that the placement of a ladder on top of a panel van was irrelevant to the skills needed to perform that job. If you reaccommodated that by placing that ladder down on the van, anybody could have access to it.
If you think about the simplicity of this and the power of that one simple example, now we understand a little bit better about construct-relevant versus construct-irrelevant variance. The placement of the ladder had nothing to do with the job skills, and yet it was being used as a barrier for entry. AT&T—not because they were evil people—did the same thing a lot of people did: they didn't think about how the tool was going to be used by the end user. Arguably, according to the EEOC, they did hide behind that bad decision and tried to defend themselves, but ultimately that case was provoked, and accommodations were allowed, and the panel vans were changed.
In measurement and in testing, such accommodations are equally obvious. For example, providing a Braille version of a test for a blind person is a reasonable accommodation because it is obvious that the loss of sight has nothing to do with the cognitive skill in answering the question [applause]. Similarly, then, extended time for a Braille user is a good accommodation because it takes longer to use that tool. Supporting graphics for text items should not become an undue burden to test-takers, particularly those with varied visual needs. As such, accommodating tables and graphics in assessments has become quite routine. However, what is not so obvious are the rules that govern the accommodations or the evidence for just what constitutes undue burden. For example, in the Americans with Disabilities Act of the 1990s, federal law now required testing accommodations for cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia as well as other physical disabilities. But such accommodations might actually impact the validity of the measures. The court has been very wishy-washy on where the line is drawn on this issue of cognitive accommodations.
Now you might say that this is all well and good, but what have you done for me lately? Aren't these things that the assessment industry has been doing and should be doing as we evolve to make goods and services more and more accessible? I agree they are, but don't forget that it was in my lifetime where we used to have the nonstandard administration flag—a flag on a student's report card that any student that would engage in assessment in any nonstandard fashion would get—a flag that my friends at the Arc of Texas would call "the scarlet letter of assessments in the day." Just like when the Bell Lab engineers in Murray Hill, New Jersey, put the ladder on top of the van, they were not thinking of the final solution—how it would be used by the end users, just like how my predecessors in assessments did not anticipate the many diverse needs of their users when they came up with this idea of no exceptions. It reminds me of a wonderful book that I've read that for all intents and purposes is a primer on what is known as user-centered design. It's called The Psychology of Everyday Things by Don Norman. I'd like to quote that for a second: "Humans, I've discovered, do not always behave clumsily. Humans do not always err. But they do when the things they use are badly conceived and poorly designed. Nonetheless, we see human error blamed for all of society's pitfalls . . . While we all blame ourselves, the real culprit—faulty design—goes undetected." Accessibility is all about good user-centered design and making products and services fit for purpose for everyone. We can no longer ratchet something onto an assessment at the end and call it accessible [applause].
Now under NCLB [No Child Left Behind]—and we could have a debate about the value of NCLB, but we'd have to agree that a lot of light and focus was spent on students with disabilities. I recall testifying at a Senate education hearing in Texas. I was making the usual argument about how we're the constructing on-grade-level multiple choice assessments aligned to curriculum standards, but I was doing so for what was known as the 1 percent population at the time. These would be our most significantly cognitively-impaired students. The purpose of the law was to engage with them more than life skills, to teach them subject matter knowledge. I felt proud that we had done such a good job building scaffolding for the teachers, having teacher support and training, having peer tutoring in online interactive qualifications for teachers. I remember thinking how well the rubrics were crafted that helped the teachers decide how much independence the students would have in engaging these tasks.
When I was done, a teacher from one of the schools in Texas, who never took her eyes off me—it was a dagger stare straight at me—wanted to talk about how invalid, unreliable, and useless the assessments were because everybody knew that these children with these cognitive disabilities could not learn, and they certainly could not learn on grade level.
Now what struck home for me wasn't the obvious. It wasn't the bias or tyranny of low expectations that this teacher held or even the notion that this teacher was maintaining a status quo in a school district. What struck home for me was that the very product I thought was good failed to meet the criteria because it wasn't really used and implemented to improve instruction in the classroom.
If I could make that teacher see what those assessments might have done for those children in her classroom had they been challenged to reach that level, it would be an interesting thought experiment to see today. In many ways the current evolution of accessible assessments is the same. Building a Braille test, following the principles of universal design, ensuring that existing technologies work is just not good enough. We started behind in making assessments accessible, and we need to do more to catch-up and to close the gap, particularly as we evolve into more and more of a digital age.
We're making some progress in this regard, as President Riccobono reflected. We need to go faster, but we are making some progress. First and foremost, we hired a dedicated group under Jan McSorley to pay attention to nothing but accessibility inside assessments [applause]. And what she did, which was quite controversial to my management, was she immediately engaged the National Federation of the Blind [applause]. We're working toward a better understanding of what access barriers are faced by people with disabilities. For example, we've sent our developers, our content authors, our user experience professionals into the classroom to observe students with disabilities and to talk with them and their teachers about how to improve accessibility of our products. What a brilliant idea; too bad it was an afterthought—you'd think you might talk to the people who are using your products before you design your products.
Hiring subject matter experts who understand the best design principles with the flexibility needed to respond to individual needs of people with disabilities—again you'd think that would be a no-brainer, but we're doing that in assessments now.
Investing in innovation by tackling the long-standing problem of limited access, particularly in math for students who are blind, we're developing an Accessible Equation Editor that can be used on assessments and in the classroom. This equation editor can do now what has never been done in the history of math: it dynamically translates printed math in the Nemeth code and the Nemeth code into printed math, does it accurately and in real time. I do hope you got a chance to engage with the Accessible Equation Editor in the vendor hall or during the user studies at the convention. If not, no worries: we'd be happy to set up a demo site. We'd be happy to give you a tutorial. Again, probably the right person to contact is Jan McSorley. That's <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and she'll be happy to set up a time to walk you through the equation editor.
But here's a simple story I want to tell that came from the convention this week that's both moving and powerful, though it leaves me sad. Sometime while at the Convention this week, Sam Dooley (one of Jan's team) was demonstrating the Accessible Equation Editor. As Sam was showing the editor, a seven-year-old blind girl walked up to the table with her parents. They said that she was a Braille reader and that she was learning Nemeth Braille, which is the Braille code for math. Sam introduced himself and asked, "Would you like to type some math on the computer?"
She asked, "Are you going to be my math teacher?" For those of us who've taught children of that age, that's a penetrating question, isn't it?
Sam said, "Tell me if you can read what I type," and Sam typed the number 1 on his laptop. "One," she said, as her face started to brighten. Sam typed the plus sign, then the number 2. "One plus two," she exclaimed with pride. Then, "One plus two plus three," as Sam continued to type.
At this point Sam said, "Now let's make it harder," as Sam typed the equal sign.
"Equal sign," she said with anticipation, starting to see what was coming next.
Sam asked her, "Do you know what one plus two plus three is?"
"Mmmm, three plus two is five, plus one is six," she replied.
Sam said, "That's correct. Do you know how to type six in Braille?" She put her tiny fingers on the keyboard on the Braille keys and searched around to find where they should go. Then the sounds of dots two, three, and five went down, and the numeral 6 appeared on the screen in front of her parents.
"That's right," Sam exclaimed, with her parents looking on.
"Mommy, mommy," she said, "You can read my math." [applause, cheers] She cried, and she jumped up and down as only a seven-year-old can when they discover how big the world is.This story is very simple, it's moving, yet it's powerful. Answering a simple math question should not be a big deal. It was simple, though not easy to build a mathematics accessible equation editor. The power was really in the empowerment the young girl felt, perhaps the same empowerment we felt when we learned to read independently. My enthusiasm to enjoy the story, however, is tempered. I simply can't help but think, that's as it should be. That shouldn't be an exciting day in a child's life to do what everybody else is doing [applause]. This is perhaps where my passion lies, though being a former accountant it's hard to claim I have passion. But by utilizing simple user-centered design principles to build accessibility into our products and services, such that all students will benefit from their use, and not added as an afterthought—that is my goal. So as we evolve into the future, we'll continue to evolve our thinking, we'll continue to work with the NFB, and we hope we can generalize such small successes to the rest of the realm of the great Pearson enterprise. Thank you.
This month’s recipes come from the NFB of California.
by Charlotte Carroll
Charlotte Carroll is the president of the NFB of California Senior Division and the first vice president of the Pathfinders Chapter of Los Angeles. She joined the NFB in March 2014 because she truly believes in our philosophy.
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 pound ground turkey
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large red bell pepper (or color of your choice)
1 large onion
6 celery stocks
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
Method: In a skillet, melt coconut oil. Brown ground turkey with garlic and set aside.
Chop the bell pepper, onion, and celery into small pieces. Add the sliced potatoes. Mix cream of celery soup with cream of mushroom soup. Combine all of the ingredients into a baking dish; cover with aluminum foil.
Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until potatoes are done. Serve with your choice of meat, vegetable and/or salad (serves eight).
Crispy Honey Barbecue Wings
by Rochelle Houston
Rochelle Houston is the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of California and the president of the Pathfinder Chapter of Los Angeles. She created this recipe because she enjoyed eating the wings at a fast-food establishment.
3 pounds chicken wings
1 bottle of Sweet Baby Ray barbecue sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
Lemon pepper to taste
Garlic powder to taste
Onion powder to taste
Method: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash chicken well. Place chicken in a large bowl and lightly season with lemon pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Coat chicken with flour. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or baking dish with cooking spray. Place chicken on baking dish. Cook for thirty minutes, turning chicken over after twenty minutes. Remove from oven. Place barbecue sauce and brown sugar in a sauce pan, stir, and simmer on medium heat for ten minutes. Dip each piece of chicken in sauce, coat completely. You can fry chicken instead of baking. Serves six.
Chicken Tamale Casserole
by Joy Stigile
Joy Stigile is a member of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the NFB of California, president of the Diabetes Action Network of California, and treasurer of the Diabetes Action Network division. She says, “I made up the recipe because I wanted to eat tamales, but I wanted to have some vegetables and more protein with them.”
2 cups cauliflower
4 stalks celery, diced
1/2 purple onion, diced
12 ounces chicken, cooked and diced
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup jack cheese, grated
1 cup chunky salsa (I prefer Pace Picante Sauce)
2 chicken tamales, diced
Method: Steam the cauliflower with two teaspoons of water in the microwave with lid for two minutes on high. Set aside. When cool, dice the cauliflower. Place the diced celery and diced onion with one tablespoon of water in the microwave for three minutes on high. Place the first eight ingredients in a two-quart microwave-safe casserole dish and stir well. Then dice the two tamales and stir into the casserole dish. Cook on high for twenty minutes, covered. Let it rest for five minutes uncovered and then serve. Enjoy!
Jana’s Peanut Butter Cookies
by Bill Passmore
Jana Littrell is a member of the California board of directors and our philosophy expert. Bill bakes these cookies for her as a treat after a long week teaching Braille at the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany, California.
2 1/2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-size bowl sift together white flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl cream together the peanut butter, butter, and sugars. Next add the eggs and beat well. Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Place in refrigerator for at least one hour. Roll into one-inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for seven to ten minutes. Let cool before removing from cookie sheet. Enjoy with a big glass of milk.
Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
by Mary Willows
Mary Willows has served as president for the California affiliate for the past seven and one-half years. Over the past forty years, Mary has held positions in many state and national divisions. In 2006, she was presented with the Blind Educator of the Year Award. Mary loves to bake and entertain. Here is what she says about this banana cake recipe: “If you grew up on Sara Lee Banana Cake and frosting, this recipe will take you back. It is said to be a copycat of the original. Everyone loves it!”
Ingredients for the cake:
1 1/2 cups ripe bananas
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/8 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla (I use banana extract)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Ingredients for the frosting (a double batch for crumb coat and finishing coat):
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla (again, I use banana extract)
7 cups powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
Method: Preheat your oven to 275 degrees, 250 degrees if using a convection oven. Grease and flour two nine-inch round cake pans. In a small bowl mash ripe bananas until almost smooth; use dark brown/black ultra-ripe bananas if you have them. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In stand mixer with paddle attachment cream together butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for five minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and add vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to slow and slowly add in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Add in mashed bananas. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for sixty to seventy minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of the cakes comes out clean. As soon as the cakes are done, immediately remove them from the oven, and place them directly into the freezer for forty-five minutes. This will make the cake very moist.
While the cakes are cooling mix together the frosting crumb coat: in stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine 1/2 cup soft butter and 1 package soft cream cheese; cream together on medium-high speed for three to five minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Turn mixer to slow and add in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Turn mixer off and add in 1 cup of powdered sugar; be sure not to over-pack measuring cup with powdered sugar. Turn mixer to its slowest setting and mix until sugar is incorporated. Do this step two more times, and on the last time add in an extra 1/2 cup powdered sugar for a grand total of 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar for one full batch.
After cakes are cool remove them from the pans and level the tops if necessary. Add a dollop of frosting to the base of your cake plate and place the first layer; add parchment paper under edges of bottom layer to catch any frosting drippings. Frost top of bottom layer, be generous, and then place second layer on top of the frosted bottom layer. Frost top of the second layer and the sides of both layers with a thin coating of frosting, this will lock in the crumbs. Place cake into the refrigerator so the crumb coat will firm up, about sixty to ninety minutes.
While cake is firming up whip up the finishing coat of frosting by repeating the process you used to make the crumb coat, on the last step adding enough milk to loosen up the frosting until it drops in large clumps off of a spatula.
Remove cold cake from the refrigerator, and start frosting from the center of the top of the cake to the sides and then down the sides. Depending on how much frosting you like, you might have some left over. After you get the frosting to your liking, slowly remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Store the cake in the refrigerator or in an airtight cake container; it should keep for three to five days.Notes: I have made this cake in both a nine-by-thirteen-inch size and in cupcakes, and it works great every time. I only make one batch of frosting when I make these sizes.
Voter Information Available on NFB-NEWSLINE:
The best tool for voters is information! In an effort to help our subscribers become more informed voters, NFB-NEWSLINE has added candidate information for the upcoming presidential elections.
Just in time for the November 8 election, you can log into NFB-NEWSLINE and get up-to-the-minute information about the leading candidates for the 2016 Presidential Election.
To hear about the candidates using the telephone-access method, press five on the main menu for “Newspapers in a Different State,” then five for 2016 “Presidential Election.” From there you can choose “Breaking News,” “Daily Newspaper,” “International,” or “Magazine” search results for Clinton or Trump. You will be able to read articles from today’s and yesterday’s publications.
To read about candidates for the 2016 Presidential Election using NFB-NEWSLINE Mobile, choose “Publications,” then “Publication Options,” then “All Publications” and look for “Breaking News Search Results” or “Daily Newspaper Search Results” or “International Search Results” or “Magazine Search Results” for Clinton and Trump to read the most current information available.
In order to obtain this information, we have performed a Global Search for the candidates under “Breaking News” or “Daily Newspaper” or “International” or “Magazines” and created the articles listed in this new section called “2016 Presidential Election.” To obtain further information, you can use the Global Search function to search under additional topics.
Additional election information will be added as it becomes available. Don't forget to get out and vote!
A Report from the PEAT Committee:
The Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee met June 30, 2016, and gave most of the technology exhibitors a chance to talk about what was in their booths when the exhibits opened on Friday. There was lots of emphasis on Braille this year, and much interest was stirred by the new video remote assistive services soon to be available. A good crowd was on hand to hear our speakers, and at the end of the program Clara Van Gerven explained how the committee could help the Jernigan Institute. She would like to know what barriers are affecting our lives the most, and we discussed one on which the institute needs immediate input: inaccessible home appliances. For those wishing to give me information on either of these points, I'll be glad to hear it. The best way to reach me is at (601) 529-8629 or email me at Mark Jones <email@example.com>.
The program began with OrCam, which has new and better software for its camera-equipped glasses which allows reading and face recognition. Then Bookshare asked the question "Why can't books be born accessible?" Ai Squared mentioned its merger with a parent company that now also owns Freedom Scientific and Optelec.
Anne Taylor, now with Microsoft, talked about significant progress with Microsoft's screenreader, Narrator. Darrel Templeton of MegaVoice talked about the first solar-powered audio recorder-player called the Envoy EZ that's smaller than a cell phone, has lots of onboard memory, and costs just $60. Dolphin, which has been doing screenreading for thirty years, has its new Bookshelf, which allows access to several content providers such as Bookshare, NFB NEWSLINE, and NLS BARD directly from its Super Nova product that will transfer information to a Windows computer or Victor Stream with just two keystrokes. Mike Tindell of HumanWare talked about their new BrailleNote Touch, the first Google-certified Braille tablet. Amanda Tolson of En-Vision told us about the new i.d. mate Galaxy with more grocery product descriptions than ever before and their ScriptTalk that has a new and better scanner.
Our program continued with Aira speaking about their video remote assistance solutions, allowing a person wearing the company’s glasses containing a built-in camera to receive real-time help from a live human on the other end of a mobile connection. The VTSECURE folks also have a new product called the Lantern, which detects objects from as far away as 200 feet and contains a haptic compass. When worn on the wrist, the device can greatly enhance cane travel. NCR and Cardtronics talked about their accessible ATM touchscreen solutions. Then the American Printing House for the Blind discussed its new scientific calculator with accessible scientific and math options and discussed the new Nearby Explorer Android mapping application that works with a GPS device for finding your way to anywhere. Additionally, the APH folks talked about the new 20-cell Braille display that will sell for $500 or less when released in October. It's called the Orbit Reader.
Stephen Baum of Kurzweil was next on the program and mentioned his twenty-two-year career at Kurzweil working with the Kurzweil 1000. He's looking for input from users for the new Version 15 that he’s currently working on.
Then Ron Miller with the VFO Group, formerly Freedom Scientific, spoke about the new ElBraille that's being released soon, which is a Windows 10 computer with a small Braille display. Lloyd Rasmussen told us that NLS is working on Braille output for BARD Mobile for Android. A T Guys talked about many new products including a switch-connected plug that would enable Siri to turn on and off different devices in your home from afar.
Clara Van Gerven closed the presentation portion of the program with news about the new comprehensive Technology Resource List now being made available in an updateable form by the NFB’s International Braille and Technology Center.
I'd like to remind everyone who plans to be in Orlando next year that this meeting is open to all and is a great way to find out what's going to be in the exhibit hall before the exhibits open.
We also took questions this year from the audience. You don't have to be on the committee to attend, and this is a wonderful way to get answers to your most pressing technology questions.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Adult Rehabilitation and Employment Survey:
We are looking for you! If you are blind or visually impaired, reside in the United States, and are at least eighteen years of age, we cordially invite you to participate in this survey. Its purpose is to gain a better understanding of your experiences as an adult who is blind or visually impaired, including your experiences with education, employment, training, and vocational rehabilitation.
This survey should not take more than ten minutes of your time. If you complete this survey, you will be entered into a drawing in which five individuals will win a $100 VISA gift card.
Thank you for taking the time to better help us understand the lived experiences of adults with visual impairments. Questions or concerns about this survey may be directed to Edward Bell, principal investigator, Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness, by calling (318) 257-4554 or by sending him an email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The 2017 Ski for Light International Week:
The forty-second annual Ski for Light International Week will be held from Sunday, February 5, through Sunday, February 12, 2017. The event will take place on the grounds of Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, Colorado, near Winter Park. Snow Mountain Ranch is a 5,100 acre year-round recreational complex that includes a 100-kilometer cross-country trail system consistently rated as one of the top ten Nordic venues in the country. This year we will be housed right on the grounds of Snow Mountain Ranch, so participants will be able to access the trail system just a short distance from their front door. Also on the property are a lighted tubing hill, a covered outdoor ice skating rink, fat bike, snow shoe and hiking trails, an indoor pool and sauna, a roller skating rink, an indoor climbing wall, a craft center, a horse stable, and much more.
Cost for the week-long event this year will be a choice of $690 or $775 per person for double room occupancy. Other options will range from $550 for a four-person room to $1,125 for a single room. The room rate you choose will also cover all meals, as well as transportation to and from the Denver airport to the ski site and trail passes. Partial financial stipends based on need for first- and second-time participants will be considered upon request.
Applications are requested by November 1. Applications received after this date will be considered on a space available basis. Full details about the event and the accessible online application, which can be completed on the Ski for Light website, can be found at <www.sfl.org>.
If you are a novice and want to learn how to cross-country ski, or if you have skied before and just want to be matched with an experienced guide and meet new friends for a wonderful week of fun in the snow, this is the event for you!
Individuals interested in attending can also contact visually impaired participant application coordinator, Tim McCorcle, at (206) 522-5850 or <T_McCorcle@comcast.net>.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children Offers Free Books:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children invites Braille readers and pre-readers from ages zero to twenty-one in the United States and Canada to register to receive two free Braille books per year. This amazing program called the Book Angel Program was originally called "Anna's Book Angel Project" and was named in memory of our director's 19-year-old daughter who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 2001. Each year, blind children who were registered received one free book in Anna's name, but now we’re doing even more.
Thanks to Seedlings' generous donors, blind children in the US and Canada can receive two free Braille books per year! Seedlings offers 1,300 titles, from contemporary literature to well-loved classics and continues to add new titles each year so that visually impaired children have the opportunity to read the same books their sighted peers are reading.
The Book Angel Program is a wonderful way to introduce a visually impaired child to the marvel of Braille literacy. Here’s a testimonial from a parent who ordered her first Braille books for her son from the Book Angel Program: “Alex has always been a curious boy and loves to read anything he gets his hands on. He received his first Braille book from Seedling’s Book Angel Program when he was a baby, and the print/Braille format allowed me to read to him while he could touch the Braille just as a sighted child would look at the words as he listens to bedtime stories. Thank you!”
To order free books for your child or student, fill out the form located on the Seedlings website: <http://www.seedlings.org/bkangel2009.php>.
Note: This is a continuing program, but registration is required each year to participate since book choices must be communicated to Seedlings.
Computers for the Blind Lowers Price on Laptops:
In an effort to make accessible laptops more affordable to students and others, Computers for the Blind is dropping the price from $160 to $130. These laptops come loaded with powerful software that will enhance the education, employability, independence, and quality of life of those who can least afford them.
No age or income requirements. We also honor this price for organizations. Join the 9,000 consumers who have benefited from our computers.
Talking Typing Teacher is still available on CFTB computers for $10 (90 percent of retail) through Marvelsoft.
Resource Handbooks Available:
I have created seventeen screen-reader-friendly resource handbooks containing resources pertaining to the blind and visually impaired for use by consumers and professionals. This handbook is for the residents of specific states and includes the many organizations for the blind and visually impaired covering areas such as employment, housing, transportation, and more. Currently the handbooks are for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
The handbooks include contact information on the local, regional, and national level. For more information on pricing and formats, please contact Insightful Publications by email at <email@example.com>, by phone at (808) 747-1006, or by visiting <http://www.in-sightful.com/orderpage.html> for more information on pricing, formats, availability, and state resource handbook order form.
Braille Candy Calendar Available:
We are very excited to announce the arrival of a beautiful Braille Christmas Advent Calendar. This unique and special calendar is produced in Germany by Kampmann International and has been distributed throughout Europe for the past five years. Each of the twenty-four windows, representing the twenty-four days in December leading up to Christmas, is embossed in Braille, and behind each window is a piece of premium European milk chocolate—not only wonderful for someone who is blind, but also wonderful as a learning tool for anyone and at any age. There is a limited quantity available and will only be sold through November 10, 2016.
The calendar is $14.95 with free shipping, and calendars are mailed the same day as the order is received. To order please use the following link to Alex’s Pantry: <http://www.alexspantry.com/holiday-pantry/braille-advent-calendar>.
If you have questions or wish to discuss a large quantity order, please contact the exclusive importer, JSI Importers and Distributors, at (800) 422-2595, Extension 1 and ask for Nancy!
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.