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Tips for Planning a Successful 2017 Meet the Blind Month

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 15:24
Blog Date: Tuesday, September 19, 2017Author: Stephanie EllerCategories: General

Meet the Blind Month is a great time to ramp up outreach and education efforts in our local communities. The benefits of Meet the Blind Month events are numerous: they can raise public awareness, reach new members, and bring your chapter's existing members closer together. Our Louisiana and Maryland affiliate presidents, Pam Allen and Sharon Maneki, offer the following ideas for having a successful Meet the Blind Month.

  • Host a screening of Do You Dream in Color? with a discussion after the movie to promote a greater understanding of blindness by the general public.
  • Participate in an existing community event like a fall festival or parade. Hand out literature and Braille alphabet cards, and play games using Braille. Giving people their name in Braille, especially kids, is always a big hit!
  • Read a children’s Braille book at a local preschool or elementary school.
  • Hold a “Braille Carnival” for local kids (this could be blind or sighted kids), including games featuring Braille, at the local public library.
  • Collect canned goods/food items for a local food bank.
  • Present at a local assisted living facility/nursing home for seniors, with hands-on demonstrations of tools and strategies they can use for independence.
  • Do a local fundraiser with a restaurant. Usually these businesses will hand out flyers and donate a percentage of meal and/or drink sales. You can hand out literature with the flyer or set up an information table at the restaurant during the event.
  • Build on the interests of the people in the chapter.  For example, if you have football enthusiasts, have a tailgate party before a game, or if you have people who like wine, do a wine tasting.

Whatever event you decide to do during Meet the Blind Month, be sure to publicize your events so that others in the community can participate. This can be done through articles in the local newspaper, interviews on local morning radio/TV shows, social media outlets, and your chapter/affiliate webpage. Email communicationsteam@nfb.org to receive a sample press release. Also share your local efforts with the broader NFB community via social media using #MTBM17 so others can draw inspiration from your ideas and we can celebrate our successes together.

Materials are available through the Independence Market. If you’d like any of the following to hand out at your events, please email independencemarket@nfb.org or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2216.

  • General NFB brochure – available in English and Spanish
  • Braille alphabet cards
  • Kernel Books
  • The Courtesy Rules of Blindness

Meet the Blind Month is about showing the world how we live the lives we want. We look forward to hearing about all the successful and creative Meet the Blind Month events your chapter hosts!

Tags: Meet the Blind Monthoutreachengagementcommunityfundraising

President Riccobono Speaks on the Importance of Accessibility in Autonomous Vehicles

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 13:14
Blog Date: Tuesday, September 12, 2017Author: Mark RiccobonoTags: Access Technology

On September 12, 2017, National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono attended a Vision for Safety event held by the US Department of Transportation where Secretary Elaine Chao announced new guidelines for autonomous vehicles. Below are the remarks President Riccobono gave at the event.

"Madam Secretary and other distinguished guests, it is my honor to be here today to emphasize the important opportunities that automated vehicles present to all citizens of this great nation and, most specifically, about the increased independence and freedom that the 7 million blind Americans will experience from this innovation. Equal access to reliable, affordable, flexible, and barrier-free transportation is one of the most significant obstacles preventing people with disabilities, representing one out of every five Americans, from fully contributing their talents and achieving full integration in our communities. The race to bring fully autonomous vehicles to America’s road brings an unprecedented opportunity to ensure equal access for people with disabilities. Driving has always required vision, but only because we have not imagined and built transportation systems differently. In a society where everyone uses the power of automation to travel, we should build vehicles without the artificial barriers of the past. With this opportunity comes great responsibility to include everyone in the design of our future transportation systems. Imagine what will result from better utilizing the capacity and talent of those who are not today in the class of drivers. As President of the National Federation of the Blind, I have been invited to sit at the table with automobile manufacturers, technology developers, systems researchers, and policy makers. The increasing recognition of the important role that people with disabilities play in the automation of vehicles and the design of future transportation systems gives me confidence that our nation will lead the way in maximizing the benefits to society that these vehicles have the promise of delivering. With the development and implementation of automated vehicles, we have the opportunity and responsibility to begin with the prospect that everything is possible and then work together to make that future a reality. We appreciate that Secretary Chao and other champions for automated vehicles have made equal access for people with disabilities a top priority, and we welcome the increased freedom and independence that will come with the innovations that result."

National Federation of the Blind Hurricane Harvey Relief Project

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 15:46
Blog Date: Tuesday, September 5, 2017Author: Mark RiccobonoTags: General

During the past week, many members of the National Federation of the Blind have reached out with offers of support for blind individuals impacted by Hurricane Harvey. We have been asking that you hold those offers of support until we could coordinate with our Texas affiliate, determine what needs exist, and develop a plan that most effectively marshals resources to meet the needs of blind people in impacted communities. We are now prepared to mobilize the National Federation of the Blind’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Project. Below are the things you need to know and ways that you can best help.

The National Federation of the Blind Hurricane Harvey Relief Project will be managed by Norma Crosby, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. Norma will be assisted by our national staff as needed.

How you can help:

  • Donate to our Harvey Relief Fund which we commit to only using for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. We will accept:
    • Gift cards to major retailers, because they are easier to share than supplies. We encourage gift cards from Target, Walmart, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Amazon, and Bed Bath and Beyond.
    • Transportation credits/gift cards for Uber and Lyft to provide transportation assistance.
    • Financial contributions either online (be sure to write “Harvey Relief Fund” in the note field) or write a check to the National Federation of the Blind of Texas with “Harvey Relief Fund” in the memo line.
  • Adopt a family: If you would like us to match your affiliate/chapter with a specific family that you can help, please reach out to Norma Crosby. 
  • Help us find families that include blind individuals by sharing the following information via email or on social media:
    • The National Federation of the Blind wants to help! If you, or a blind person you know, has been impacted by Hurricane Harvey, please reach out to the National Federation of the Blind for support from our Hurricane Harvey Relief Project. Call (281) 968-7733, email ncrosby@nfbtx.org, or send us a message on our Facebook page.
    • Here is a sample tweet you can cut and paste into Twitter: 
      If a blind person you know has been impacted by Hurricane Harvey, email the NFB Hurricane Harvey Relief Project ncrosby@nfbtx.org. 

Send all donations to the NFB Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund to National Federation of the Blind of Texas, 1600 E. Highway 6, Ste. 215, Alvin, TX 77511-2595.

We appreciate the tremendous concern and offers of support being offered by members and friends of the National Federation of the Blind. We thank you for being patient as we determine where the needs exist and work to match resources with the people that need help. Together with love, hope, and determination, we will rebuild and transform our dreams into reality.

National Federation of the Blind Applauds Implementation of Quiet Car Regulations

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 15:43

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Tuesday, September 5, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgNational Federation of the Blind Applauds Implementation of Quiet Car RegulationsCommends Trump Administration for Action to Protect Blind Pedestrians

Baltimore, Maryland (September 5, 2017): The National Federation of the Blind commented today on the final implementation of regulations to implement the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama to protect the blind and other pedestrians from the dangers posed by silent hybrid and electric vehicles.

"The National Federation of the Blind applauds the Trump administration for protecting the lives of blind Americans, as well as other pedestrians and cyclists," said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "This regulation will ensure that blind people can continue to travel safely and independently as we work, learn, shop, and engage in the other activities that are part of living the lives we want. This regulation is the result of many years of work by dedicated members of the National Federation of the Blind who helped study this issue and advocate for an appropriate solution.”

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About the National Federation of the Blind

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.

2017 National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 16:38
Blog Date: Wednesday, August 30, 2017Author: Seth LamkinPosted in: EducationGeneral

“In the classroom people don’t always ask us to get involved…”

“My science teacher didn’t want me to do anything…”

“People say, ‘it’s for your own good, it’s better if you don’t have to do it…'”

Far too often blind youth are not provided with the same opportunities as their sighted peers to explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. Students are told that without the ability to see, there is no way to explore the cosmos through an astronomy lesson, perform a chemistry experiment in a laboratory, or engineer a solution to a design problem. Instead, while their sighted classmates actively participate in these lessons, blind students are set aside, given menial tasks or told to sit quietly, missing out on potentially uncovering a hidden talent or future career aspiration. Teachers, parents, and the students themselves do not know that nonvisually accessible solutions have already been created by blind scientists and engineers who have mastered the field.

This is where the National Federation of the Blind comes in. We know 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.

And so we created the NFB Youth Slam, a groundbreaking effort to immerse blind high school students in hands-on experimentation and exploration of a host of STEM subjects. Led by experts from agencies such as NASA, from universities across the country, and from innovative technology firms interested in engaging the next generation of top talent, the program’s curriculum showcased how simple adjustments can enable blind people to fully participate in STEM, and do some amazing things in the process.

We launched rockets. We launched a weather balloon. We dissected sharks, programmed robots, investigated mock crime scenes, and built a hovercraft. One year, we drove a dune buggy, as the NFB Youth Slam became the testing ground for the NFB Blind Driver Challenge.

This year, on the tenth anniversary of the inaugural NFB Youth Slam, we’ve done it again. From July 23-29, we’ll be at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland, with a whole new set of tracks, short sessions, recreation activities, and some of the brightest minds in STEM. This year, why not try your hand at video game design or explore how art intersects with STEM to form STEAM. Don’t put it off too long—applications close May 7. Apply today!

“What I liked most about Youth Slam was all the people that I met and being able to see how much I really can do in my life.”

“I learned a little about shark anatomy, but the main thing was that I gained confidence. Before I wasn't sure how I would do the labs in my upcoming biology class, but now I think I know exactly what I need to succeed.”

“It showed me that the things that people have always told me I couldn’t do, I CAN DO.”

The BrailleSense Polaris — A First-Look Review from the National Federation of the Blind Access Technology Team

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 08:30
Blog Date: Wednesday, August 30, 2017Author: Eric DuffyPosted in: Access Technology

“We’ve got a package.”

“Ooh, what’ve we got?”

“It’s from HIMS. It must be the BrailleSense Polaris.”

***

We received the box, and the battle was on. With three team members, and several other curious folks in the building who are avid Braille users, there was a minor scuffle as the team negotiated for time with the latest bright shiny object. After several promises to share the fun with all of our eager readers, I managed to wrestle it away from the others just long enough to put it through its paces as a Braille notetaker. Likewise, Karl (who managed to grab it first) looked at it as an Android device. We had to promise to share the new toy, so this is not a comprehensive review, but hits some of the biggest highlights, and our initial findings.

The Hardware

The Polaris looks great. The body is sleek and small in shiny black. It comes with a semi-rigid plastic case with magnetic closure. The device and the case both feel sturdy and well-built without being overly bulky. The keys feel nice under the fingers, with decent travel, and a fairly quiet key press. The Braille display is pleasant to use with crisp dots and a matte finish that feels a bit like paper as you read from it. The Polaris has respectable hardware for a mobile device including support for features like Wireless B, G, N, or AC; 3 GB of RAM; 64 GB of storage; USB 3.0; a 13-megapixel camera; and several other goodies which will hopefully keep it relevant for the foreseeable future. Overall, when it comes to design, the Polaris appears to be a sturdy machine with well thought out hardware. Being lighter, sleeker, and quieter than the competition will make it attractive to some users as well.

The Software

Well, um… all right. This is where things get a bit more… complicated. How can I put this? I don’t want to be overly critical of a brand-new device, but frankly, I am bored. The built-in programs are, so far as I can tell, mostly re-creations of the BrailleSense U2’s software on top of an Android shell.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some real benefits to this approach. First, it’s going to take almost no work at all for existing BrailleSense users to get up and running. The features match so perfectly that I didn’t have to look up anything not already used every day in my own BrailleSense Plus. So, on the up-side, it’s going to be easy to teach and learn for anyone who has ever used a BrailleSense product in the past.

The power of Android is certainly providing benefit for the web browser which is functional, if not overwhelming in its speed or feature set. This is an important improvement, because the U2 and other Windows Mobile-based notetakers were pretty much useless on the internet for the last several years. So this was certainly a necessary and welcome upgrade. Further, the Android base has allowed the HIMS developers to create a truly functional visual interface for when the device is being used with teachers or others who want to see what’s going on with the device on-screen.

Unfortunately, this is where the benefits end. At present, we are missing features that existed in previous versions of the BrailleSense line. One major example of the Polaris lacking features is in the email application. It is true that the Exchange support in the U2 was quite poor in my experience, but Android should have made supporting Exchange much easier. Despite this, the native email client can only be set to work with POP3 and IMAP accounts.

The features of the core suite of applications do not appear to have been extended or enhanced. For example, the user will have the same experience using the Word Processor today, as they would have had on a U2 or even a Plus. As the Word Processor was rebuilt on the back of Polaris Office, this is a baffling choice. It was actually necessary to remove text styling and other features of the package to re-create the older BrailleSense experience. Even more frustrating, if a user places a document into the device which has been highly formatted, it reads as though it were not.

Finally, several of the older features of the BrailleSense have been stripped. It is assumed that these features were removed as they are replicated by Android applications, but unless the apps are accessible and easy to use on the Polaris, the removal of features like Dropbox and YouTube will harm productivity. Since I’m not our resident Android fan, Karl very helpfully wrote up his experiences using the Polaris as an Android device below.

Android Apps on the BrailleSense Polaris

As much potential as the Polaris has with running Android apps, the current state of that support leaves much to be desired. Navigating through apps is inconsistent and uses a completely different command structure than the rest of the device, apps generally run slowly and hang or crash frequently, and the whole experience feels half finished.

Navigation and General Notes

When I first started navigating in an Android app, I naturally went for the space+dot1 and space+dot4 commands that work everywhere else in the BrailleSense and in most other devices, but was surprised when these didn’t work. Next I tried the space+dot4,5 to emulate the tab key, and this mostly worked but was inconsistent. I finally had to look in the manual to determine what I needed to do to navigate in apps, which is F3 and space+F3. With this knowledge in hand, I jumped back in and had better success this time. I managed to get some apps downloaded, but not without significant slowing at times, and some inconsistent navigation. Load times were also extremely long, with Google Play Music taking a minute to load in one instance and crashing in others.

Installing and Managing Apps

Apps can be downloaded from the Play store, just like on any other Android device. Once an app is installed, it is launched from the “All Apps” menu off the main menu. I noticed a few odd things here. Google Play Services, which is a system service and not an app in the regular sense, is shown in this menu when it shouldn’t be. I also noticed the Google Now launcher in the apps menu. The manual has dire warnings about accessibility being disabled if the Google Now launcher is set as the home launcher. This begs the question of why it is on the device in the first place. If it is accessible, then don’t artificially kill accessibility services when it gains focus. If it’s not, then what in the world is it doing on the device? Even if it is required for Google certification, as we were informed, many other Android devices do not appear to be loaded with the Google Launcher, so it really should be placed in a harder-to-access location. I see a lot of unneeded potential confusion and headaches over this.

On most Android devices, it is possible to bring up the “app info” screen for a given app where notification settings can be managed, you can check the data and storage of the app, uninstall it, and potentially make other changes. This functionality appears to be unreachable directly on the Polaris. The same info can be reached through the settings app, but is much less efficient.

Using Apps on the Polaris

Third-party apps, as mentioned previously, are extremely laggy and crash-prone on the Polaris. There is no mention of a method to move by granularity in the manual, which means that moving by links in a web view for example doesn’t appear to be possible. Some apps let you use the f2 key or space+M to open the navigation menu, but others don’t, and there doesn’t appear to be any logical reason behind which behavior happens. When everything managed to work, it was possible to compose an email in Gmail, review my library in Google Play Music, and watch a video in YouTube. Unfortunately, things don’t stop there. It is possible to enter contracted Braille, but this feature seems somewhat buggy. For example, I entered BrailleSense, using the contraction for Braille ‘Brl’, and it translated as ButrlSense. The hints feature also needs work. Having to read “press enter key to select” after everything gets tedious. I’d recommend having it display as a message after several seconds and obey the message time setting.

Resetting the Polaris

When I was done with being frustrated by Android apps and was ready to pass the unit over to Amy, I wanted to give her a clean starting point. As there was no reset option in the main Polaris Settings menu, I went into the Android settings and performed a factory data reset. The unit started then rebooted several times with no indication as to what it was doing, leading me to fear I’d put it into a reboot loop. Finally, it came up with the Android welcome screen. After having focus issues signing the unit into Wi-Fi, I got to the main menu and saw there were only partial utilities and settings menus. Upgrading the device — which took nearly an hour — restored things to more or less normal, but that ancient firmware really needs to be brought up to speed to avoid a lot of hassle when resetting the Polaris.

A Terminal Problem

Unfortunately, we were unable to test the Polaris as a Braille display. During testing, Amy attempted to connect it to her iPhone, as well as to a phone running iOS 11. Initially, she was unable to get the device to pair with either, and she received a message which essentially said that the BrailleSense was not supported. As documentation indicated that this should in fact work, she did the reset process on both and eventually found that she had two instances of the BrailleSense in the pairing list on the phone. One was non-functional. The other worked except for one little problem — it would disconnect after about a minute and a half of connectivity and require a complete repairing process to continue. After much hassle, we spoke with technical support, and sadly, it was deemed our Polaris needed to be returned. Customer service will be sending a replacement, but at this point, we have not been able to confirm the quality of pairing, though we have been assured it ought to work.

Conclusion

The BrailleSense Polaris is presently not very exciting. There’s not much to recommend it over the last generation of notetakers, or its current crop of competition. Notetaker features have taken minor steps backwards overall from what was possible in the U2, except for web browsing. In Android apps the situation is even more dire. We cannot recommend the BrailleSense for anyone who expects to rely on Android, at least not yet.

There is at least some hope for the future. HIMS has a long history of having fantastic hardware, with software that improves in time. The pattern of excellent hardware design appears to have continued in the Polaris, so it’s hoped that HIMS will expand both the native Android support and the feature set of the core applications. Sadly, in its current state, we just can’t recommend it. There’s nothing new here that works well enough to justify the price tag, but we’ll keep an eye on it and hope for better soon.

The National Federation of the Blind and Two Blind Individuals File Lawsuit Against SSA for Lack of Accessible Kiosks

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 15:12

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Monday, August 28, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgGregg KelleyWashington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban AffairsDirector of Development and Communications(202) 319-1000The National Federation of the Blind and Two Blind Individuals File Lawsuit Against SSA for Lack of Accessible Kiosks

San Diego, California (August 28, 2017): Today, the National Federation of the Blind and two blind individuals who receive Social Security benefits filed a federal lawsuit against the Social Security Administration (SSA) for its failure to make its Visitor Intake Processing touchscreen kiosks accessible to its blind visitors. As a result, blind patrons are unable to check in independently at their local SSA field offices, and are forced to divulge private information, such as their social security numbers, to SSA staff or other sighted third parties to assist them. In addition, they cannot read the printed ticket generated by the kiosks, which contains their check-in number, so they must ask someone else to read the number or risk losing their appointment.

The Individual Plaintiffs

Lisa Marie Irving is a blind recipient of Social Security benefits and visited her local SSA office in La Mesa, California on May 4, 2017. In attempting to check in, Ms. Irving found that the Braille instructions were located on the side of the kiosk in an awkward position, making them impossible to read. She could not locate any keypad connected to the kiosk, and there were no audio instructions. Ms. Irving had encountered these same problems at least twice before on previous visits. “It was not only frustrating, but made me dread coming to the SSA office. I always felt rushed by the security guard and was never allowed to try and read the Braille instructions and check in independently. I had to rely on him to always check me in and had to provide my social security number in a crowded environment. It made me feel very insecure.”

Amy Bonano is also a blind recipient of SSA benefits. She last visited her local SSA field office in Dayton, Ohio in February of 2017 to report her wages and deliver her paystubs. The kiosk had no Braille or audio instructions, no headphone jack, and no keypad. Ms. Bonano had to ask the security guard to enter her information for her. Because she could not read the number on her printed ticket, she relied on the security guard to tell her what her number was so she could report to the service window. The security guard read the check-in number incorrectly, so Ms. Bonano was forced to ask other visitors to read her ticket for her. “I felt very uncomfortable giving out my private information to a stranger in a public place, and now I dread going back to my local SSA office. I don’t understand why an accessible kiosk has not been installed yet when the software for such touchscreen technology exists today. It exists in the common iPhone, which has a touchscreen. It can definitely be done here.”

Further Background

Hundreds of thousands of blind US residents interact with the SSA each year. The SSA uses touchscreen kiosks at its field offices throughout the country. Touchscreen devices like those used by SSA can easily be made accessible; similar kiosks, as well as automated teller machines, are already accessible to the blind via audio output through a headphone jack and input with a tactile keypad. In addition, the iPhone and many other touchscreen smart phones are fully accessible to blind users. The lawsuit alleges that the use of these inaccessible kiosks violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Approved Quotes for This Release

“It is critical that blind people are afforded not only equal access to government services and information, but equal respect for their privacy as well,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Forcing blind Social Security beneficiaries to divulge their social security numbers, which are portals to other sensitive personal and financial information, in the crowded reception areas of SSA field offices is not acceptable, and the National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate such unlawful discrimination.”

“This issue highlights a systemic concern in the blind community regarding digital accessibility,” said Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Businesses, federal agencies, and medical facilities are increasingly switching to online mediums and kiosks to minimize staff. These spaces also need to be accessible, as they are treated by the public as places of public accommodation. Digital accessibility is not difficult to achieve, as many may assume.”

“The SSA needs to allow blind individuals the same privacy and independence afforded to anyone else visiting their offices,” said Autumn Elliott, a lawyer with Disability Rights California. “The SSA cannot allow check-in kiosks or other new technology to become barriers to access for people with disabilities.”

“In 2017, no federal agency, and certainly not one whose mission includes serving individuals with disabilities, should be using inaccessible technology in its offices,” said Jessie Weber, an attorney with Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.  “Requiring blind individuals to obtain sighted assistance before they can meet with a Social Security representative is unacceptable and unlawful.”

For Further Information

The case was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of California (Case No. 3:17-cv-01730-BAS-KSC) by Brown Goldstein & Levy LLP of Baltimore, MD, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Disability Rights California. 

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About the National Federation of the Blind

ABOUT THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND: 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.

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of fair housing, equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.

ABOUT BROWN, GOLDSTEIN & LEVY LLP: Brown, Goldstein & Levy, based in Baltimore, Maryland, handles both civil and criminal litigation and has long represented organizations and individuals with disabilities in high-profile, high-impact disability rights cases. For more information, visit www.browngold.com.

ABOUT DISABILITY RIGHTS CALIFORNIA: Disability Rights California is a non-profit organization founded in 1978 to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Check out our website (www.disabilityrightsca.org), Facebook and twitter @DisabilityCA.

The State of Refreshable Braille Support — Summer 2017

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 15:10
Blog Date: Monday, August 28, 2017

By: Amy Mason

Refreshable Braille displays are undergoing a renaissance. New devices with many different form factors, price points, and features are either on the market, or on their way. Therefore, the access technology team knew it was time for a review — not of the devices themselves, but of their support across different combinations of screen readers and operating systems, because a Braille display is only as good as the software driving it.

The majority of this data was collected in February 2017 for CSUN, and completed prior to the Access Technology Seminar day at this year’s national convention. The operating system and screen access software combinations that we examined are as follows:

  • Windows and JAWS
  • Windows and NVDA
  • Mac OSX with VoiceOver
  • iOS with VoiceOver
  • Chrome and ChromeVox
  • Android and BrailleBack

We learned a ton. Here are the biggest takeaways:

  • JAWS is one of the most customizable Braille experiences, and one of the most complete. It’s possible to run a Windows computer almost entirely, using just the Braille display with output tailored to your own skill levels and preferences; but getting it set up won’t be the easiest part of your day.
  • NVDA is super simple to get started with Braille, but presently suffers from the inability to use contracted Braille for input.
  • Mac OSX has the ability to connect and use multiple Braille displays which makes for some fascinating classroom opportunities, but still requires the QWERTY keyboard to complete most commands that are not directly related to VoiceOver.
  • iOS was our top performer. The ability to use the device, almost entirely from the Braille display, coupled with a largely consistent interface made it a natural standout. The only noteworthy flaw in the current implementation (which is shared by the Mac) is that quirks in translation can make the Braille experience quite difficult for less proficient users.
  • ChromeVox is the new kid on the block, and it shows. Braille support is fine for reading on the web, but text editing and more skilled tasks are still out of reach. Even so, there is true delight to be derived from plugging in a Braille display and suddenly receiving both speech and Braille, no additional work required.
  • At time of testing, Android BrailleBack had not been updated for a long time. Basics like word wrap and contracted Braille input were missing, and it was one of the least consistent and complete implementations we saw. On the up side, connectivity was rock solid. Connect a Braille display once, and every time the display and Android device are in range, it’s like they were never apart.

Of course, the pace of technology is faster than most of us can keep up with for long, and this blog post represents a snapshot in time. Over the coming weeks and months, we expect to see major shakeups in the following areas:

  • We did not detail the Braille support in Narrator on the Windows 10 Creator’s update in the initial review, as it was not officially released during our original testing, but it is available to try and play with for those running this version of the OS. The Braille on this platform is still quite early in its implementation, but promises to be an exciting package to watch in the coming months.
    • Be aware that if you install Braille support for Narrator, it is using its own set of drivers to run the Braille display interface, and this may cause you to lose Braille support in other supported screen readers. You may have to disable this driver to return to using Braille with JAWS or NVDA after working with Narrator.
    • Although it is early, it is exciting to think that with the inclusion of Narrator, all major operating systems, for the first time that the team is aware of, offers Braille support natively, without the installation of third party screen reading software!
    • Finally, there is more exciting news to come. Microsoft plans to significantly improve keyboard input from the Braille display, including modifiers and other special key commands in the Fall Creator’s Update.
  • NVDA 17.3 is expected to include contracted Braille input.
  • BrailleBack on Android is getting an update!
    • Google is publicly beta testing word wrap, and contracted Braille input.
  • At the World Wide Developer Conference, Apple announced major improvements to Braille in iOS 11, including:
    • Improved translation and Braille input
    • Custom keymapping for your Braille display (I’d like to use this key to do this thing)
    • Braille video captions.

For lots more “Brailley” goodness, please download the PowerPoint and spreadsheet documents which are attached to this blog post. In these documents you can review our detailed findings, and learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of each major operating system’s Braille support today.

Posted in: Access TechnologyAuthor: Amy Mason

From Timid to Bold: Reflections on Newcomers to National Convention

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 11:52
Blog Date: Monday, August 21, 2017

By: Patti S. Chang

“Attending the convention has changed me in many ways. For the first time in my life, I did not feel self-conscious or different. For the first time in my life, I feel like I am part of a big family that really cares.” - Ayoub Zurikat, 2017

Most of us talk about how our national convention reinvigorates or recharges us. Recently, I’ve been thinking about why that is. For many of us, it involves setting high expectations for others and ourselves. We are surrounded by people who expect us to do more than is sometimes thought possible for low-vision and blind people. While that is part of it, for me, there is another big reason: the impact on newcomers to convention and our National Federation of the Blind family.

Newcomers to our conventions bring fresh ideas and energy. They transform us as we influence them. I marvel at the ease with which our younger generation embraces technology and STEM, and I have had to progress to keep up with them. At our 2017 convention, the impact we have on newcomers pervaded my thoughts.

This year one of our scholarship winners and first-timers to convention called me ahead of time. He was worried about travel and explained to me that he had not received formal orientation and mobility training. He was nervous and unsure he was ready for this huge event. We discussed how he could manage, and I promised to connect him with a good traveler who would assist.

When Ayoub Zurikat met me in our hotel, he had a short cane, which is truly the heaviest I have ever had the pleasure, or displeasure, to try out. I traded him canes for the evening. So he went from his short, heavy cane, which might have been forty-five inches high, to my straight carbon fiber sixty-five inch cane for the duration. Truthfully, I just hoped to get a cane in his hand that wasn’t bound to lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Of course, Ayoub far exceeded my expectations.

Midweek I mentored Ayoub, and he wanted to visit the job fair. So we did. Once we got there, I left him to work the room on his own. I was a little worried that he might be upset about my letting him be, but I needn’t have worried. My mentee thanked me for doing so, explaining that his friends never “let him get lost.” I understand the transformative experience of getting lost and figuring it out. Again, he rose to the occasion, exceeding even his own expectations.

Many of Ayoub’s first-time convention experiences were enlightening, as is true for most of us veterans. In his inspiring thank-you note he wrote:

“Attending the convention has changed me in many ways. For the first time in my life I did not feel self-conscious or different. For the first time in my life I feel like I am part of a big family that really cares.”

Ayoub’s success at the job fair left me feeling good, but that wasn’t all. On the last day of convention, my husband stopped me to say that Ayoub was travelling with a long white cane from the hotel to our meeting rooms and was using the cane with good technique. If you were at convention, you know that the long hallway involves moving back and forth and winding one’s way through crowded restaurant areas and at times, throngs of people. This young man went from very low confidence in his travel abilities at the beginning of the week to confidently navigating the most challenging area of the hotel for anyone by the end of the week. His expectations were most certainly raised. And exceeded!

I love how our conventions invigorate and inspire me, but even more I love watching what our conventions do for others, especially those new to this transformative experience. There are thousands of life-changing moments at each of our conventions. It is an amazing privilege to be a part of any of them.

Posted in: GeneralStoriesAuthor: Patti Chang

Experiencing the 2017 Eclipse Nonvisually

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 08:44
Blog Date: Tuesday, August 15, 2017

While some scientists at Harvard are working to turn light into sound by way of an Arduino, you don’t have to get so high-tech to experience the solar eclipse that will occur on August 21. NASA and other organizations have developed fun and unique ways for people to experience the eclipse with all of their senses. Check out the following resources so you can experience this rare event.

Getting a Feel for Eclipses
With support from NASA, scientists and artists have come together to create a tactile guide to eclipses. The two page book includes the path of the eclipse over a map of the United States, and graphs to represent the position of the sun, moon, and earth in relation to one another during the eclipse. NASA has provided these books to schools and libraries for the blind, science centers and museums, state libraries, NASA centers and other institutions. Contact your local libraries or science centers to find out if they have the books available.

Eclipse Soundscapes
NASA’s Heliophysics Education Consortium is working to create an app that will let users hear and feel the eclipse. According to the Eclipse Soundscapes website, “Soundscapes change dramatically as the Moon passes between the Earth and Sun.” For example, nocturnal animals wake up and start to emit their calls during the brief period of darkness. Eclipse Soundscapes project will work to gather recordings of these changes during the eclipse and make the recordings available to users following the event. You can participate by providing your own sound recording to the sound database. Learn more about submitting your recording at EclipseSoundscapes.org.

You don’t have to wait until after the eclipse to experience it with Eclipse Soundscapes. The app will provide narration of the eclipse’s progression based on your location. The app will also feature a “rumble map” that will allow you to feel the qualities of the eclipse using your phone’s touch screen and vibrations.

Be a part of this fascinating celestial event that everyone will be talking about! Check out these resources and follow #Eclipse2017 on social media to join the conversation. Enjoy!

Posted in: GeneralAuthor: Stephanie Eller

National Federation of the Blind Recognizes Thirty Outstanding Blind Students

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 15:35

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Thursday, August 3, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgNational Federation of the Blind Recognizes Thirty Outstanding Blind StudentsMaureen Nietfeld of Colorado Awarded Top $12,000 Scholarship

Baltimore, Maryland (August 3, 2017): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people, today announced the winners of its 2017 scholarships, which were awarded at the organization’s recent national convention in Orlando. The winner of the organization’s top prize of $12,000, donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, is Maureen Nietfeld of Colorado, who is studying human nutrition and dietetics and specializing in the care of organ transplant patients. "When I lost my sight I dreamed of being confident, and I dreamed of being independent and successful. I dreamed of being able to go back to work and go to school," said Ms. Nietfeld. "Thank you to the National Federation of the Blind for helping me to make my dreams a reality!"

Each of the other twenty-nine winners received, at a minimum, a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in the amount of $3,000. In addition to their scholarship, each received a $1,000 check and plaque from inventor and futurist Dr. Ray Kurzweil, a Google Chromebook laptop, a $1,000 cash award from Google, and a certificate towards the purchase of a Talking LabQuest from Independence Science, for a total award for each winner with a minimum value exceeding $5,000. Here is an alphabetical listing of the other winners, with their home state, career goal, and scholarship name and amount (where appropriate):

  • Lindsay Ball, ME: Adaptive physical education teacher
  • Cricket Bidleman, CA: Anthropology professor ($3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship)
  • Katherine Brafford, CA: Work at the intersection of science and religion ($8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science)
  • Aneri Brahmbhatt, IL: Record label manager
  • Shannon Cantan, HI: Business administration ($5,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship)
  • Melissa Carney, CT: Clinical psychologist
  • Trinh Ha, AR: Dietitian
  • Afton Harper, MO: Journalism
  • Qusay Hussein, TX: Psychologist
  • Catherine Jacobson, MN: Healthcare policy analyst
  • Cassandra Mendez, OH: Assistive technology developer ($3,000 Expedia Scholarship)
  • Tabea Meyer, CO: Advocate for marginalized groups ($5,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship)
  • Ibeth Miranda, TX: University professor
  • Regina D. Mitchell, NV: Psychologist ($8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field)
  • Jackie Mushington-Anderson, GA: Braille instructor ($10,000 JAWS for Windows Scholarship)
  • Efose Oriaifo, VA: Biotechnology
  • Chelsea Peahl, UT: Law/Advocacy ($5,000 Pearson Scholarship)
  • Gloria Rodriguez, WA: Disaster mitigation and emergency preparedness
  • Carla L. Scroggins, CA: International politics ($3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship)
  • Luke Schwink, KS: Athletic marketing/Player development ($5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship)
  • Alyssa Shock, NJ: Child psychologist
  • Heather Simmons, CA: Literature professor ($3,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship)
  • Wayne Smith III, MD: Computer engineering/Data security ($3,000 Expedia Scholarship)
  • Andrew Sydlik, PA: English teacher or disability advocate ($3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship)
  • Sophie Trist, LA: Novelist
  • Rachel Wellington, GA: STEM career ($3,000 NFB Science and Engineering Division Scholarship)
  • James N. Yesel, ND: Entrepreneur ($3,000 E. U. and Gene Parker Scholarship)
  • Zeynep S. Yilmaz, AZ: Rehabilitation counselor education
  • Ayoub Zurikat, TX: Mental health care provider

“The scholarship program is one of our most important initiatives,” said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We are proud to honor these blind scholars, who are studying everything from biotechnology to sports marketing, and in so doing raising the expectations of what blind people can achieve. Their accomplishments are proof of our conviction that we, the blind of this nation, can live the lives we want; blindness does not hold us back.”

Several hundred students competed for the scholarships. A committee of blind persons representing a cross section of the NFB membership, including several former scholarship winners, narrowed the field to thirty finalists. Each finalist was then given roundtrip transportation, hotel accommodations, and assistance to attend the National Federation of the Blind National Convention in Orlando, where the committee spent several days getting to know each student. Only after that process was complete did the committee decide which scholarship to award each finalist. Nearly three thousand blind people attended the convention, the largest gathering of its kind in the United States this year.

Special thanks go to the Jesse and Hertha Adams Charitable Trust for its support of the National Federation of the Blind scholarship program.

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About the National Federation of the Blind

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.

National Federation of the Blind Names Amy Lund 2017 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 14:34

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Tuesday, August 1, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgNational Federation of the Blind Names Amy Lund 2017 Distinguished Educator of Blind StudentsDo NOT remove these tags!!!!

Baltimore, Maryland (August 1, 2017): The National Federation of the Blind has presented its annual Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award to Amy Lund of Springfield, Illinois. Ms. Lund, a teacher of blind students since 2001, currently teaches blind and low-vision students throughout the Springfield, Illinois public school system. She became involved with the National Federation of the Blind in 2009 and has served as coordinator and lead instructor of the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies conducted by the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois in both Springfield and Chicago. She holds a B.S. in Special Education, Low-vision/Blindness and a Master of Special Education, Behavior Interventionist and Material Adaptation, both from Illinois State University.

“Ms. Lund has shown an admirable commitment to teaching blind students the Braille code,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, “as well as to ensuring that they have the independent travel and living skills they will need to live the lives they want from an early age. Parents of blind students throughout her home state testify not only to her excellence as a teacher, but to her warmth, friendliness, and lifelong commitment to her students. We are delighted to present her with our highest honor for educators of blind students.”

The Distinguished Educator award carries with it a $1,000 cash prize and a trip to the National Federation of the Blind National Convention in Orlando. While at the convention, which took place July 10-15, Ms. Lund addressed hundreds of parents of blind students and networked with other blind individuals and teachers of blind students.

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About the National Federation of the Blind

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.

National Federation of the Blind Awards $50,000

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 08:13

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Tuesday, July 18, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgNational Federation of the Blind Awards $50,000Tenth Annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Presented at 2017 Convention

Orlando, Florida (July 18, 2017): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has presented $50,000 in cash awards to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. At the National Federation of the Blind annual convention in Orlando, the tenth annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards honored five innovators and advocates who are helping blind people live the lives they want.

A $5,000 award was presented to the American Bar Association, the national professional organization for lawyers, for its commitment to making its resources and conferences fully accessible to its blind members. A $10,000 award was presented to Dr. Paul Barlett of Cleveland Chiropractic College for his innovations in making complex medical diagrams and other materials accessible to a blind student. A $10,000 prize was also awarded to the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois for its FreedomLink program, which pairs blind youth with blind adult mentors to participate in independent travel excursions and recreation activities in the Chicago area. This year, two awards were presented to documentary filmmakers. Ten thousand dollars was awarded to Rooted in Rights, a project of Disability Rights Washington, for its film Bottom Dollars, which exposes the pitfalls of sheltered subminimum-wage employment for people with disabilities, and profiles disabled workers who have obtained integrated and meaningful employment. A $15,000 award was presented to co-directors Sarah Ivy and Abigail Fuller for their documentary Do You Dream in Color?, which follows four blind teenagers as they seek to achieve their dreams in the face of low expectations and barriers in the education system.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin, the namesake of the award program, was a blind physician who lived and practiced in Chicago from 1912 until his untimely death at age thirty-six in 1924. Dr. Bolotin was especially recognized for treating diseases of the heart and lungs. Despite his rigorous schedule tending to his patients’ needs at all hours of the day and night, Dr. Bolotin also became known as a public speaker and advocate for the employment of the blind and their full integration into society.

Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Dr. Jacob Bolotin was a pioneer who overcame low expectations and discrimination to become a renowned member of the medical profession without the benefit of the support services and civil rights protections available to blind people today. The National Federation of the Blind is proud to honor the memory and spirit of Dr. Bolotin by recognizing and financially supporting those individuals and organizations, both from within the blindness field and outside of it, who are doing exceptional work to help achieve the shared dream of Dr. Bolotin and the National Federation of the Blind—a society in which the blind, like all other Americans, can pursue their goals and live the lives they want.”

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Program is funded through the generosity of Dr. Bolotin’s nephew and niece-in-law, Alfred and Rosalind Perlman. The late Mrs. Perlman established the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust to endow the awards. Income from the trust is distributed to the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation for the purpose of administering the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Program. For more information about the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Program—including more about this year’s winners, as well as eligibility criteria and application procedures—please visit www.nfb.org.

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About the National Federation of the Blind

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.

United States Secretary of Labor to Address Blind Americans

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 11:59

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Thursday, July 6, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgUnited States Secretary of Labor to Address Blind AmericansR. Alexander Acosta to Speak at National Federation of the Blind National Convention in Orlando

Baltimore, Maryland (July 6, 2017): The Honorable R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary, United States Department of Labor, will address the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando on the afternoon of Friday, July 14, at approximately 2:55 p.m. His topic will be "Building the Twenty-First Century American Workforce: Disability Does Not Define Your Employment."

"The low expectations that society has of blind people, as well as inaccessible workplace technology and other factors, still make finding and retaining meaningful employment one of our primary challenges," said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "We are delighted that Secretary Acosta is coming to our convention to share the administration's thoughts on this topic with the members of America's leading organization of blind people."

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About the National Federation of the Blind

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.

3,000 Blind People to Arrive in Orlando

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 14:54

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Wednesday, July 5, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.org3,000 Blind People to Arrive in OrlandoExpected to Be Largest Disability Conference This Year

Orlando, Florida (July 5, 2017)

Event:             National Federation of the Blind National Convention

Dates:             July 10–15, 2017

Place:             Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819

Attention Politics and Business Editors:

Secretary of Labor to Address Convention of Blind Americans

On the afternoon of Friday, July 14, The Honorable R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary, United States Department of Labor, will address the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Secretary Acosta will discuss the integration of individuals with disabilities into the twenty-first-century workforce. His presentation is scheduled to begin at 2:55 p.m.

Attention Technology Editors:

Self-Driving Technology to be Featured at Convention of Blind Americans

Self-driving automobile technology has the potential to bring unprecedented freedom and independence to blind Americans. At 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Thursday, July 13, David Strickland, General Counsel and Spokesperson for the recently formed Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, of which the National Federation of the Blind is a member, will discuss the role of the blind in leadership to develop this technology and the public policies that will make it a new transportation alternative for the blind.

Attention Technology Editors:

Expedia Executive to address Convention of Blind Americans

Bhala Dalvi, VP of Technology and Executive Sponsor of Accessibility for Expedia Inc., will address the convention of the National Federation of the Blind on Expedia's extraordinary efforts to make its travel websites and apps accessible to blind users and how accessibility has been integrated into Expedia's corporate culture. The presentation is scheduled to take place at 9:40 a.m. on Saturday, July 15. Leaders of technology companies catering specifically to the blind, as well as Microsoft's chief accessibility officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, will also be addressing the convention throughout the Saturday general session.

Attention Education, Culture, and Arts Editors:

Critically Acclaimed Documentary about Blind Students to be Screened at Convention

The new critically acclaimed documentary, Do You Dream in Color?, will be screened as part of the National Federation of the Blind National Convention. This powerful film tells the stories of four blind teens as they strive to achieve their individual goals and to live the lives they want in the face of educational and other obstacles. One of the film's directors, Abigail Fuller, and one of the featured students, Carina Orozco, will participate in a panel discussion following the film. The free screening will take place Friday, July 14, at 7 p.m. in Panzacola Ballrooms F-1 and F-2.

Note: The entire convention agenda is available at www.nfb.org.

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About the National Federation of the Blind

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 Helped Eric Duffy Know That He Could Be a Blind Dad

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 09:16
Blog Date: Sunday, June 18, 2017

By: Eric Duffy

I am from a family of eight. I have four brothers and three sisters, and I am next to the youngest. From an early age I knew that I wanted to have a wife and children. I knew, however, that I did not want nearly as many children as my own parents had, but then most people don’t. While growing up, I didn’t know many blind parents. In the instances where I knew of a blind parent, the other parent was sighted. So I questioned whether I would be able to raise children.

In my freshman year of college, I found the National Federation of the Blind. I met a blind father with a sighted spouse. I met a blind mother with a sighted husband. I met blind couples who were successfully raising children, but above all I met blind and sighted people who expected more of me than I expected of myself. The members of the National Federation of the Blind made it clear to me that, if I couldn’t live the life I wanted, including having children, it wouldn’t be because of blindness.

My older son was born in July of 1995. Some of my younger sister’s friends commented that it was too bad that I would never be able to see him. I said that I would love him and care for him and be the best dad that I could be for him. Some of those same people had children whose fathers were not a part of their lives.

Sometimes I wondered how different my children’s lives would have been if I had not been blind. But that kind of thinking didn’t last very long. I quickly asked how different my life would have been if my own father had not been forty-three when I was born. What if my father had been a scientist and not a construction worker? That kind of thinking didn’t last very long either. My father was who he was, and I loved him. He provided a good life for all of us. I have family memories which I will treasure for the rest of my life, including many happy memories with my dad.

Blindness is just one of the many characteristics I possess. My children had responsibilities around the house, but so did my brothers and sisters. I worked to be sure that my boys could participate in the activities they wanted to be a part of. Sometimes this meant arranging transportation, and other times it meant making sure I had the money to buy the equipment or supplies they needed.

Occasionally I would use blindness as a teaching tool. One evening, when my boys were quite young, they wanted to go to Burger King. After getting off of the city bus, they said, “Daddy, we need to go this way.”

I said, “No, Burger King is the other way.” They both insisted I was wrong.

After walking for a while, they said we needed to turn around. But, when they finally saw Burger King, they were both very happy. I said, “That should teach you that you need to listen to your dad.”

My oldest son John, (named after my father) will soon finish a four year stent in the United States Marine Corps. He became a Marine through his own hard work, but I helped him get there.

Lucas Just graduated from high school and has been working for the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired for the last six months. I am proud of both of my boys.

Blindness did not stop me from being a dad, and it won’t stop you either if you don’t allow it to do so. 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.

Posted in: GeneralParentingAuthor: Eric Duffy

Blind Californians and Advocates Sue Greyhound

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 14:33

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Monday, June 12, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgBlind Californians and Advocates Sue Greyhound

Lawsuit Alleges Blind People Cannot Use Greyhound Website or Mobile App

San Francisco (June 12, 2017): In February of 2015 Tina Thomas, who is blind, was planning a trip from her home in Los Angeles to Las Vegas to visit family and friends. She tried to book the trip on Greyhound.com, but her text-to-speech software couldn't interpret Greyhound's website. She called Greyhound to book her trip, explaining that she could not use the website, but Greyhound still charged her a "convenience fee" for booking by phone. She tried to use the website again earlier this year, but the experience had not improved.

Ms. Thomas and four other blind Californians, along with the National Federation of the Blind, have now sued Greyhound in federal district court. The lawsuit alleges that Greyhound has designed its website and app so that they cannot be used by the blind. This violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and state laws, the lawsuit says.

Blind people use screen reader software that converts the content of websites or apps into speech or Braille. This software can easily read text, but it cannot interpret pictures, graphics, and elements like forms and menus if they are not coded properly.

The Worldwide Web Consortium has published in-depth guidelines on how to make websites compatible with screen readers, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0, Level AA). Apple and Google have also published accessibility guidelines for apps designed for the iPhone and Android smart phones, respectively. Other major transportation providers, such as Southwest Airlines, Amtrak, and the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, have websites or apps that blind people can use to book travel. But Greyhound has not made the needed changes to its website or app, despite several requests from blind people and advocates.

The lawsuit may be certified as a class action if the court approves. The suit seeks an injunction requiring Greyhound to make the needed changes to its website and mobile app. The case is National Federation of the Blind et al v. Greyhound Lines, Inc. et al, case number 3:17-cv-03368. The plaintiffs are represented by Timothy Elder of the TRE Legal Practice, www.trelegal.com, and by Lisa Ells and Michael Nunez of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, www.rbgg.com. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are interested in speaking with any blind individuals who have been unable to use the Greyhound mobile app or website with their screen-reader or who have been charged convenience fees for booking tickets over the telephone.

 "Without the ability to drive, blind people need travel alternatives like Greyhound," said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the blind. "It's mystifying, not to mention unlawful, that Greyhound makes it impossible for us to book trips in the same ways everyone else can. Worse yet, Greyhound charges us extra for the convenience of using the only booking methods that work for us, the phone or the ticket counter at the bus station. Paying for Greyhound’s discrimination against us is offensive and this unequal treatment will not be left unchallenged. "

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About the National Federation of the Blind

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.

Be the STAR of Your Story: Using Your Past Experiences to Excel in Interviews

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 08:07
Blog Date: Monday, June 5, 2017

By: Bobbi Pompey

From the editor: Bobbi is a member of the National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee. 

With the unemployment rate for the blind hovering around 70 percent, the National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee is dedicated to providing resources and information to help the blind become gainfully employed. One of the primary ways employment-related information is shared is through the jobs email listserv. Job openings, relevant news articles, and the sharing of personal experiences are just a few examples of what you can expect to find on this list. Recently, a job seeker posed a question about how to ensure that their personal attributes and professional qualifications are not overshadowed by conversation about their blindness. Utilizing the STAR method when answering interview questions is an excellent way to do just that.

The STAR technique allows you to tell your story during an interview and is commonly used to answer behavioral/competency based questions. Potential employers use your answers to these questions to gage your abilities by looking at how you have handled prior situations. This ensures that you possess the skills desired for the position.

So what is the STAR technique, and how exactly is it used? STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. When answering a question, you tell a story about a past experience and use each component of STAR in your response. Here is how it works:

  1. Situation – Set the scene. Describe the context within which you performed a job or faced a challenge at work.
  2. Task – Next, explain your role and responsibilities in the situation.
  3. Action – Then explain what you did. Describe how you completed the task or endeavored to meet the challenge. Focus on what you did, not what your team, boss, or coworker did.
  4. Result – Conclude by stating how everything panned out. Include the outcomes or results generated by your actions. You might emphasize what you accomplished or what you learned.

By following these four steps when answering an interview question, you will be able to showcase your unique talents in a clear, concise, and organized fashion.

Here’s an example:

An employer asks, "How will you be able to create and organize files and documents required for your position?"

You say: "In my past positions, I have found the use of cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Docs extremely helpful. For example, I and several co-workers were required to collaborate on a presentation (Situation).

“I was responsible for compiling research on one section and reviewing the final presentation for spelling and grammatical errors once everyone had submitted their portions (Task).

“To do so, I use what is called a screen reader to utilize a computer. Screen readers simply convert text and other things on the computer screen into speech. From there I explored scholarly articles to complete my research and compile my findings and bibliography in a Google Docs file where the team was combining our portions. Once everyone submitted their parts, I read the entire file for errors and made the necessary revisions (Action).

“By using a screen reader to access the computer, I was able to do my portion of the project and ensure our presentation was a success. At the conclusion of our presentation, our supervisor commended us all on our hard work (Result).”

By answering this way, you have shown you possess professional skills like researching, writing, and collaborating. And you simultaneously address any concerns that the interviewer may have about how you will operate a computer as a blind person. This proactive approach will put them at ease and remove any doubts they may have before they can take root.

When preparing to interview:

  • Study the job description,
  • Pinpoint the skills the employer is seeking,
  • Identify prior experiences that exhibit those skills,
  • Practice describing the experience using the STAR technique.

You may also wish to research common behavioral questions and practice answering them.

In mastering the STAR technique, you will be able to confidently and eloquently articulate your qualifications and abilities. As Federationists we know that the blind are able to compete on equal terms with our sighted counterparts in the workforce. By the conclusion of the interview, the interviewer will share in this philosophy and realize that blindness is merely a characteristic and does not impact one’s potential for success.

To learn more about the STAR technique, and have the opportunity to practice using it, be sure to join us at the 2017 Job Seeker’s Seminar on Monday, July 10, during national convention. The STAR technique is just one of many gems that will be shared during the seminar, and all who attend are one step closer to reaching their employment goals and living the lives they want.

Posted in: EmploymentGeneralAuthor: Bobbi Pompey