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What I Learned at NFB Youth Slam

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 14:45
Blog Date: Tuesday, December 5, 2017Author: Camryn GattusoCategories: EducationStories

I am Camryn Gattuso, fifteen years old, and a sophomore at Tuslaw High School in Massillon, Ohio. I have been totally blind since birth and have been educated in a typical public school. I have attended Space Camp® in Alabama for three years in a row, and after receiving my Advanced Space Academy® Wings I wanted to try a different STEM camp. I applied to the STEM program put on by the National Federation of the Blind and was picked to attend.

This is what I did while attending the 2017 NFB Youth Slam. My parents and I drove to Baltimore, Maryland, where I was dropped off at Towson University to start my week at Youth Slam with the sixty other students from the USA. After registration we followed our program marshals to the dining hall and had lunch together. After lunch, we had an activity that was supposed to get us acquainted with each other. The object was to blow up a balloon and see whose would pop first. Then an instructor told us the rules for the week and what would happen if we didn’t follow them. After that I went to my room and met my roommate, Marley, from Utah.

The next day after an early breakfast, I went to my first class, Installation Art. Our instructor’s name was Ann, and she told us that we would be working all week to make an exhibit to show at the conclusion of Youth Slam. We would also be going to White Marsh wetlands the next day to collect random items or ideas that we could use in our project. During the first day we spent over two hours learning where all the tools and the other necessary items for our project would be kept. I figured I would use a motor in my project and was shown the three types of motors they had available. The one I was particularly fascinated by was the 180 motor, which when connected to a controller box, moved back and forth similar to the way a bird flaps its wings.

After we were dismissed from Installation Art, we had some free time before the evening program of Karaoke. At this session I sang two Disney songs, “Beauty and The Beast” and “Let It Go”. Then we went back to the dorm room, and I was fascinated at the Cozmo robot that my roommate brought with her from home.

The next day I continued with my project in Installation Art. My class then boarded a bus to White Marsh wetlands in the afternoon. We were supposed to listen and tell the people in charge how many different bird calls we heard, which was really fun. We were then given a project to identify by feel whether the plants in that area were living or dead. Then we put on rubber boots and went into the water and tried to catch random aquatic lifeforms with a net. Next a forest ranger took us on a nature walk along a wooden boardwalk where we were told about different plants native to the area. We then returned to the university for more afternoon session work.

My next day session was the Chemistry of Cooking, where we learned how to prepare food items. Later that day we had a jam session. I played songs on the piano and listened to others as they performed their talents.

The following day I continued Installation Art, and I came up with the brilliant plan of making a bird with flapping wings using the 180 motor. I learned how to use a hot glue gun in creating my project. I made the head out of foam, body from piece of cardboard, and the beak out of a triangular-shaped piece of paper. After making sure everybody’s projects worked, we set up our exhibits that would be display at the end of the week. Later that day, I went to a session called Hot Stuff, where I learned how to solder wires together or to a terminal.

That night there was an outdoor carnival set up for us, and we had hot dogs and cotton candy. The funniest thing that happened that night was when I was sitting on the concrete outside, this kid walked up to me and asked, “What is this?”

I raised my head and yelled, “You know full well what it is. It’s a person!” I was surprised that he didn’t know that I was the person sitting there.

The next day, I did some finishing items for my Installation Art project. The afternoon session that day was 3D Printing the Stars, where we all got to feel 3D models of stars and other things. The evening session was yoga. We got to make essential oils, and then we learned different yoga positions. There was relaxing music in the background, which sounded good and calming.

The final day was when everyone got to see what their peers had learned to make. Everyone was fascinated by my bird project, and I was most fascinated by the computer science projects where the kids programed audio games on computers. This required knowledge of JAWS to play the games. In the afternoon, we went to the NFB Jernigan Institute, where I listened to presentations on the college application process. Then we finished up with a block party in the garage at the NFB Jernigan Institute. This consisted of a dance and food for us and was the conclusion of a fun-filled and educational week-long program.

I’m looking forward to possibly attending another Youth Slam if chosen to participate again.

Tags: NFB Youth SlamSTEMeducationsciencetechnologyengineeringmathart

Organization Says Senate Tax Bill Disastrous for Education, Employment of Blind Americans

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:27

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgOrganization Says Senate Tax Bill Disastrous for Education, Employment of Blind AmericansNational Federation of the Blind Denounces Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Baltimore, Maryland (November 29, 2017): The National Federation of the Blind officially opposes the United States Senate’s current Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

The organization cites a probable dramatic increase in unemployment among blind Americans, which already approaches sixty percent, as the reason for its opposition.

According to projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the losses in tax revenue under the TCJA will be so high, at least initially, that they will trigger the “pay-as-you-go” rules of the Office of Management and Budget. This will eliminate funding for vital programs and services for the blind, such as Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding. These vital services link blind people to educational and employment opportunities by providing the training and resources that they need.

The 2015 American Community Survey, the most recent data available, reported that, for working age adults reporting significant vision loss, only 42.0% were employed.

“The detrimental impact the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will have on blind Americans cannot be denied,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “This bill slams the door on education and vocational rehabilitation, and ultimately on employment, for some seven million blind Americans. We call upon the United States Senate either to protect these critical programs and services, or to vote no.”

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About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.

Catastrophic Impact on Vocational Rehabilitation

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 15:19
Blog Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2017Author: NFB Government Affairs TeamCategories: Advocacy

Much attention has been given to Congress’s planned tax reform efforts and the varied effects those changes will have on Americans. However, one aspect of the Senate Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that no one seems to be talking about is the drastic effect it will have on people with disabilities.

Though not explicitly mentioned in the legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may inadvertently eliminate federal funding for public vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs. As this letter from the National Council on State Agencies for the Blind explains, VR programs provide critical training for people with disabilities to secure and maintain employment. Defunding of this program will not only curtail gainful employment opportunities for people with disabilities, but also negatively impact other programs such as the Social Security trust fund and Medicare.

We must strive to maintain our financial freedom and independence. Please call your two senators and urge them to guarantee that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act does not trigger mandatory spending cuts that will eliminate or reduce vocational rehabilitation funding. You can reach your senators by calling (202) 224-3121 and asking for the appropriate office.

Tags: tax reformvocational rehabilitation

Review of Freedom Scientific's ElBraille

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 12:13
Blog Date: Monday, November 27, 2017Author: Karl BelangerCategories: Access Technology

The ElBraille consists of a small Windows 10 computer built into a case for the Focus 14 Blue Braille display. The case feels quite sturdy, and the overall concept is a very good one. The unit comes with instructions in Braille and a protective carrying case which feels well-built and should do a good job of protecting the ElBraille. Unfortunately, there are several issues that, when taken together, make the ElBraille a much less appealing option.

Purchasing the ElBraille

Unlike similar devices, VFO has decided to take a modular approach with selling the ElBraille. The ElBraille is just the computer dock for the Focus 14. If you currently own a Focus 14 and/or a JAWS license, you can use those. If not, you must buy the ElBraille at $1,795 and the display and JAWS separately at their regular prices. The price for the unit itself is rather high, especially when the hardware specifications of the device are taken into account. With an Intel Atom® processor and two gigabytes of RAM, the ElBraille is roughly comparable to budget friendly Windows tablets.

Physical Description

The ElBraille consists of two parts: the dock, which holds the processor, battery, and other internals; and a Focus 14 Blue Braille display. The dock consists of a tray with an open front end, which is also higher at the back. The Focus 14 is inserted into the ElBraille back end first. The USB cord is plugged into the left side, then the display is lowered until the hooks at the front edge engage with the slots in the bottom of the display. Along the left side are a micro-HDMI port and a slot for a SIM card to connect to an LTE network. The right side has a headphone jack, an SD card slot, a USB port, and the proprietary charging port. There is nothing on the back of the device. On the top left edge there is a power button, and behind that a cover over the Focus display’s USB port and power button. Behind the display on the top of the ElBraille are four buttons, with a volume rocker in between the second and third. From left to right, these buttons access the ElBraille menu, provide battery and network status, announce and display the time and date, and open the notes application. When connecting or removing the charger, the ElBraille plays an ascending or descending tone and also vibrates the device.

ElBraille Custom Menus and Applications

The buttons on the back edge of the ElBraille provide access to a number of custom functions. Pressing the first button opens a menu with direct shortcuts to a number of programs including the calculator, Firefox, Skype, Balabolka book reader, a notes program, and Microsoft Office 365 (if installed). There is also a utilities menu which provides access to settings and documentation for the ElBraille. Pressing and holding the first button brings up a self-voicing menu where you can force restart JAWS or restart/shutdown the system. Pressing or double-pressing the second key once announces the battery or network status respectively, and the third key announces the time or date. The fourth key opens the ElNotes application, which allows for taking both text and voice notes, which can later be reviewed, and the text notes can be searched.

The ElBraille menu provides quick access to a variety of applications. The Miranda instant messaging program, Skype, Firefox, the Balabolka book reader, and Windows Live Mail all come preinstalled. The menu also provides access to the calculator, Notepad, and a submenu for MS Word, MS Outlook, etc., if they are installed. The utilities submenu provides access to ElBraille settings, where it is possible to change when the device beeps or vibrates, whether the LTE modem is on or off, among others. Also under utilities are a keyboard editor where the physical buttons can be reassigned, a firmware updates feature, and help documentation.

Using the ElBraille

When the ElBraille is turned on by pressing and holding the power button, the device will vibrate, then start emitting a series of short beeps. As each stage of the boot finishes, the device will vibrate again and the beeping will pause. This repeats a few times until the beeping stops and JAWS comes up talking. The Focus will also turn on and off several times. The first time JAWS loads, it will present you with the update authorization screen. Otherwise, there is no first run experience; you are dropped at the Windows desktop. For anyone who has used a Braille display with JAWS as the primary means of accessing a computer, turning on the ElBraille will be just like booting up any other Windows PC. For those who haven’t used a Braille display with JAWS extensively, a tutorial would come in quite handy. There are a lot of keys to learn, some of which are layered, some context specific, and while having the Braille manual is useful, a simple on-device tutorial to familiarize users especially with the keyboard emulation, would make the learning curve a lot less steep. Having no first run setup means that users will have to know where to look to connect to Wi-Fi, set the time and date if it is incorrect, add their Microsoft account, etc.

Performance

With a processor clocking in at under two gigahertz and just two gigabytes of RAM, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of the ElBraille. After using it and putting it through its paces, it generally holds up well when doing one thing at a time or using a couple light duty applications, but it slows down once you get a few windows open. The most immediate thing I noticed was the lag when using alt+tab. With only a few things open, moving between applications regularly took over a second, sometimes as much as two. The next issue was that, in some situations, the display would update long after JAWS had started speaking. One area where this was particularly noticeable was in Excel. For example, if I wrote the sentence, “This is a test,” in cell A1, then moved away and back, JAWS would announce “This is a test.” The display would update, then JAWS would announce “A1”. Instances like this make the ElBraille very difficult to use without speech, as it would be very easy to move past content unintentionally if the display isn’t keeping up. I also noticed fairly frequent long loading times, which would sometimes cause the device to stop responding entirely for a few seconds, slow download speeds compared to other devices on the same network, and a couple of hard crashes with nothing particularly strenuous going on. These crashes required a hard reboot by holding in the power button until the device turned off as the emergency menu even stopped working.

Other Observed Design Oddities and Issues

The ElBraille comes with a version of Windows 10 that is from sometime in the first part of this year, as it is before the creators’ update. Furthermore, the 32-bit edition is installed rather than the 64-bit. While neither of these are deal breakers in themselves, it is not possible to directly upgrade to the 64-bit edition without doing a clean install, and it is disappointing to see a new device starting behind the curve, especially given the accessibility improvements in the creator’s update.

No Sleep or Hibernate

It is not possible to put the ElBraille into any form of standby mode. There is only full on or shut off. This is very unfortunate and has several implications. First, there is no way to carry the device around without potentially causing unwanted button presses. It is possible to use a JAWS-specific lock command to lock the keyboard keys, but then JAWS makes an announcement that the keys are locked every so often. The next problem is that there is no way to preserve battery life without a full shutdown. While the battery life is very good, if you’re not going to use the ElBraille for a while, it is necessary to do a full shutdown, then wait for it to boot when you go to use it next.

Occasional Extra-Long Startup

With no apparent cause, upon turning the ElBraille back on after a normal shutdown, the unit will take several minutes to boot, rather than the usual 20-30 seconds. The system eventually boots normally, but this can still be disruptive and confusing.

Potentially Inadequate Ventilation

While the ElBraille does have a fan, there are only a few holes which might be ventilation, some under the Braille display. The carrying case looks like it may even help the device retain heat. This means that the ElBraille can get quite warm under even light operation, and adding in charging the battery can be enough to make the fan come on. This isn’t helped by the speed problems feeling worse when the unit was warm, which leads me to believe that the ElBraille’s processor has some aggressive overheat protection.

Final Thoughts

As a media consumption and light duty productivity machine, the ElBraille works just fine. It runs well with just one or two things open, the speakers sound good, and the battery life is great. However, with specs in line with under $200 Windows tablets, the ElBraille doesn’t hold up as a productivity device. The Braille lag, long load times, and delays when switching between applications all contribute to a significant blow to efficiency when attempting to work on multiple things at once. Given all of that, the steep price, and that it is based around the relatively fragile Focus 14, potential users should consider carefully what they plan to use it for before purchasing.

Tags: ElBrailleaccess technologybrailleBraille display

A Day of Service

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 08:16
Blog Date: Tuesday, November 21, 2017Author: Melissa RiccobonoCategories: GeneralParenting

It’s Thanksgiving already! This time of year always makes me reflect on all I have to be thankful for and how my family and I can help others. My husband and I try to help our children understand how much they have to be thankful for and how important it is to give to those in need. Unfortunately it is not always easy to truly put these lessons into action. We are faced with obstacles—my husband’s busy travel schedule, our children’s sports schedules, homework, school meetings— and at times wanting to help but not knowing what we can do to truly make a difference. So when my husband and I heard there was going to be an event at our children’s school where families and staff would gather to fill bags for people experiencing homelessness, we jumped at the chance to put obstacles aside and participate with our kids to make a difference in our community.

I am sure every family who participated in this project has a story involving overcoming their own obstacles in order to arrive at the school on time. On this particular Saturday morning, our family’s biggest obstacle was our ten-year-old, who is absolutely NOT a morning person. Although he had been excited about this project the day before, it somehow had lost its luster overnight. Never mind that he was being awakened later than on a normal school day. Never mind that he had just been talking about wanting to help the homeless people he passes on his way to and from school. It was a Saturday, and it was morning! Two perfectly good reasons to stay in bed! Luckily I am used to our son in the morning, and by my great skill as a negotiator (or perhaps by luck) I was able to get him up, moving, and excited again about the service project.

Our next obstacle was hats and gloves. I will never understand how we can have so many hats and gloves in our house, how every day my husband and I remind our kids to put their hats and gloves in their coat pockets so they can find them, and yet, especially when we are trying to get out the door quickly, hats and gloves have disappeared! Luckily, on this Saturday, we were able to find the missing hats and gloves and were able to arrive at the school on time.

Once we arrived at the school, the obstacles disappeared. Everything was organized very well. We took a bag from one end of a table and walked down a line of tables, putting various items into each bag. At the end of the line there were materials you could use to draw and/or write a message to go into your bag. All of us enjoyed filling our bags and talking to the other families and teachers who were participating. Since my husband and I are both blind, we dictated messages to our children so they could write them for us. This gave them practice writing, and we were able to have conversations with them about how to spell words, which punctuation they should use, and what type of pictures they were drawing. I lost count of how many bags we filled, but by the time all of the supplies were gone, there was quite a large pile of bags ready to be delivered to people who really needed them. I think every family left the school feeling proud we had overcome our own obstacles and had done something to make our world a better place.

This story is not remarkable in the least. Yet it will always be a wonderful memory for me of a time my family was able to be of service to others. No one asked my husband or me if we were really sure we would be able to walk around the room and fill bags. No one questioned our daughters who happen to be blind about their abilities either. We were seen as any other family. As blind people, others are often more eager to help us, whether or not we need the help, than they are to allow us to help them. It was wonderful that, on this day, this was not the case. We were able to overcome our small obstacles to join with others to make a reasonably small, yet no less real, impact in the lives of people who need help. During this holiday season, I hope others will overcome their own obstacles in order to create their own memories of service.

Tags: blind parentscommunity servicethanksgiving

Senators Warren and Hatch Introduce New Higher Education Legislation

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:27

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Friday, November 17, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgSenators Warren and Hatch Introduce New Higher Education LegislationAIM HIGH Act Promotes Equal Access for the Blind and other Students with Disabilities

Washington, DC (November 17, 2017): Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have introduced the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM HIGH) Act, S. 2138.

The legislation will authorize the creation of voluntary guidelines to help colleges and universities meet the needs of blind students and students with other disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to read print. The National Federation of the Blind and other advocates support the bill.

The guidelines will be created by a commission made up of people with disabilities, developers, manufacturers, and representatives from colleges and universities. The commission will also develop a list of national and international information technology standards as an added resource for these institutions and the companies that serve the higher education market.

Approved Quotes for This Release

“This legislation is critically important to blind Americans and to me personally, as the father of three children, two of whom are blind,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We applaud Senators Hatch and Warren for taking this step to give colleges and universities the information they need to provide the equal education to which the blind and other students with disabilities are entitled.”

"As new technologies enter university classrooms across the country, it's essential that students with disabilities are able to take advantage of these innovations and fully participate in the college experience with their peers," Senator Warren said. "I'm glad to join Senator Hatch to introduce this bipartisan legislation, which will help colleges select accessible materials that allow all students to succeed."

“Since I took office, I have championed an even playing field in education for students with disabilities,” Hatch said. “As technology has evolved, so has the need for students with disabilities to gain access to innovative learning materials. This bill establishes an independent commission that will create high-quality accessibility guidelines to benefit both students with disabilities and institutions of higher education. As a primary author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I’m happy to work with Senator Warren in moving this bill through the legislative process to remove barriers in the classroom for students with disabilities.”

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About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.

Not a Long White Cane but a Short Black Tail

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 09:32
Blog Date: Tuesday, November 14, 2017Author: Danielle TrevinoCategories: General

It’s the spring of 2004, and I’m a nineteen-year-old college freshman majoring in voice. I’m on top of the world because I’ve just received my admission letter from The Seeing Eye—it’s official, I’m getting a guide dog! This is very much needed good news. This first year has been rough. Between getting my textbooks and access technology for last fall right before Thanksgiving break, and the music department’s unwillingness to accommodate me, I’ve been feeling pretty defeated and alone.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2004. Abbie and I have been a team for just over three months, and I’ve been told that my dog is too distracting to be on stage. In fact, last time I performed, my vocal coach had another student take Abbie outside and said that if I didn’t keep singing, I’d fail. I’m pretty sure this is wrong but I don’t know where to ask for help. I feel so helpless and alone.

Ten years later I’m loving my life with my second dog. We travel a lot for work, and I am extremely confident with her. New York, Chicago, Washington, DC — we’ve been there done that. Has it always been smooth sailing? Absolutely not. Along with the discrimination that guide dog teams have experienced since the 1920s, there are these new forms of it popping up, like rideshare drivers speeding off the minute they see my dog or flight attendants who force me to sit in the bulkhead of airplanes. At times, it’s been scary and definitely frustrating, but I know now that I am not alone.

For years, I’ve heard that the National Federation of the Blind “hates” guide dogs and that they are not welcome at the training centers in Colorado, Louisiana, and Minnesota. This myth is so pervasive that when I was offered a job with the NFB, people were surprised that I was excited for myself and for my guide dog. I learned very quickly that it all came down to a piece of an article that was taken way out of context.

The fact of the matter is that the Federation fights every day for the rights of those like myself who choose to travel with guide dogs.

The National Association of Guide Dog Users, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, has a hotline one can call for advice on cases of discrimination or to get clarification of the laws of individual states. There’s even a NAGDU app that can be downloaded onto a smartphone which gives the user access to the law whenever and wherever it’s needed. Not to mention that thanks to the efforts of the NFB, rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft are being held accountable for their refusal of passengers with guide dogs.

There are many people who are exploring the idea of getting a dog. One very knowledgeable resource who is more than happy to answer questions about working with a guide is the First Lady of the Federation, Melissa Riccobono, who has worked dogs for years.

It’s now 2017. I am almost nine months into working with my fourth dog, a beautiful black lab named Schulz. A lot has changed in the thirteen years since I first picked up a harness handle. I have learned and grown and though I have no regrets, I do often wonder if things would have played out differently if I had reached out to the NFB when I was struggling in school. Would I have had the confidence to fight for my place on that stage with my guide dog at my side or would I have still decided to change my major? How different would my life be today? What I am certain of is that there are countless experiences out there in the world for us to have, and it’s exciting and scary, but with Schulz walking by my side, and the NFB behind me—supporting me, fighting for me, and loving me (and my dog)—I know that I am unstoppable.

Tags: guide dog

Firefox 57 and Screen Reader Compatibility

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 14:46
Blog Date: Tuesday, November 7, 2017Author: Eric DuffyCategories: Access Technology

If you are a screen reader user and also a user of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, please pay close attention to the following information. Do not update to the soon-to-be-released Firefox 57. This upgrade represents such a significant technical and performance change that it’s going to be known as Firefox Quantum. The changes in Firefox Quantum are designed to improve the speed and security of the browser. This, unfortunately, also impacts on the user experience for screen reader users, most screen access software is completely incompatible with Firefox Quantum and those that still function will exhibit a serious deterioration in performance. At this stage, the National Federation of the Blind access technology team, VFO, and NV Access are all recommending that users switch to using Firefox’s Extended Support Release (ESR) version in order to have the latest browser security features and to avoid 57 until it is suitable for use with screen readers.

You can download Firefox ESR here.

Freedom Scientific Statement on Firefox Quantum
NV Access statement on Firefox Quantum

Tags: screen readerfirefoxaccessibility

Bittersweet Ballet Recitals

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 08:27
Blog Date: Tuesday, October 31, 2017Author: Mary Jo HartleCategories: Parenting

My six-year-old daughter just wrapped up her second season of ballet lessons. The company holds an annual recital each spring. I have to admit, attending the recital is a bit bitter sweet for us. We love being there and supporting our little girl, but watching ballet dances isn’t exactly blind-friendly. But here’s what we do to try to get the most out of the recital.

For starters, the instructor reserves the front row for us and puts our daughter in line on that side so she is closer for us to see. This does nothing for Jesse who really doesn’t have much vision, but for me it allows me to kind of make out where she is. I’ve used either binoculars or a magnifier app on my phone to view the dance. I’ll admit that I feel a bit conspicuous watching with something like this, especially when I’m already sitting on the front row. I also have a little bit of a blindness philosophical battle going on inside, as some of my blindness training promotes “blending in” or not taking special privileges like front-row seating just because I am blind. But I’ve decided that if it helps and allows me to get more out of the situation, especially since this involves my child, I’m going to take advantage of it and not worry about what others think or say, whether it’s sighted people thinking I’m weird or blind people judging me.

I still don’t get a great visual of what is going on, but it’s something. I then describe what I’m seeing to Jesse, which engages him a bit more as well. This isn’t a strategy we use all the time though. For example, if we are attending a play or movie and there is an audio descriptive service or guide, we’ll use that instead as it would be more useful. But for a children’s dance recital, it works pretty well.

Sometime either prior to or after the recital, we have our daughter do a solo performance for us at home and show us her favorite moves or parts of her dance. She then describes what she is doing or will pose for us to feel how she is standing so we can learn some of the moves. She loves the attention and teaching moments. It also gives us a bit more insight into what she is learning and how well she is doing.

I think about all the things we’ll watch our children participate in the future: sports games, recitals, plays, etc. It’s always going to be a little bittersweet not being able to see them make that great shot, give that funny expression when they make a mistake, or perform that solo. Right now our children are young, and while they know we are blind, I don’t think they quite get that this means that we can’t see them when they are performing, but hopefully our presence, cheers, and support will make up for what we may not see. And who knows. When I die, maybe I’ll be able to review a heavenly video of my life and see these highlights in all their visual glory and technicolor while enjoying a jumbo bucket of calorie-free buttered popcorn.

 

Read more from Mary Jo at Making It on the Playground.

Editor's Note: 

This article first appeared on Mary Jo's blog, Making It on the Playground, which chronicles her life as the blind mom of three young children.

Tags: blind parentsparentingchildren's activities

National Federation of the Blind and Automakers Host Conference on the Promise of Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 11:22

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Thursday, October 26, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgScott HallAlliance of Automobile ManufacturersDirector of Communications & Public Affairs202-326-5571National Federation of the Blind and Automakers Host Conference on the Promise of Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability CommunityDiverse group of attendees focus on accessibility of autonomous vehicles for the disabled

Baltimore, MD – Yesterday the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (“Auto Alliance”) hosted a conference titled “The Promise: Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community”. The event was hosted at NFB’s Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.  

The conference brought together representatives from government, the automotive industry and advocates for the disabled to discuss the advances, challenges, and path forward for autonomous vehicle development.

“Historically, accessibility has been a costly post-purchase vehicle modification for most people with disabilities, and nonexistent for the blind,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The National Federation of the Blind was therefore pleased to co-host this first-of-its-kind gathering of disabled consumers, automotive industry representatives, ride-sharing providers, and policymakers, laying the groundwork for accessibility to be included in the development of promising new vehicle technologies rather than as an afterthought. Discussion between industry and disabled consumers has already had a positive impact on the Senate’s AV START legislation, and our continued work together will pave the way for autonomous vehicles to become tools that will truly enhance independence and opportunity for the blind and other disabled travelers.”

“Automakers have been developing self-driving technologies for years. We are motivated by the tremendous potential for enhanced safety for everyone and the opportunity to provide greater mobility freedom to people with disabilities and the elderly,” said Mitch Bainwol, President and CEO of the Auto Alliance. “Given the enormity of the social benefits, we are anxious to work with stakeholders and government leaders to develop the policy framework to realize these benefits as soon as we can.”

The conference was a key step in the ongoing conversation about how autonomous vehicles can be developed and deployed safely, while considering the needs of those 57 million Americans with disabilities.

Autonomous vehicles offer disabled Americans opportunities for increased mobility and independence, as well as reliable transportation that could vastly increase employment opportunities.

The National Federation of the Blind and Auto Alliance urge Congress, the Administration, and original equipment manufacturers alike to consider the needs of the disabled as they continue to develop the laws, regulations, and technology that will bring autonomous vehicles to the masses.

The day’s speakers included representatives of the disability community (including the National Association of the Deaf, National Federation of the Blind, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Association of People with Disabilities, United Spinal Association, American Council of the Blind, and National Down Syndrome Society); the automotive industry (including General Motors, Audi of America, Daimler North America, and Volvo Car Group); government (including representatives from the office of Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the U.S. Department of Labor, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and other stakeholders (including representatives from Uber and Securing America’s Future Energy).

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About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.

Blind Teens Fight Challenges in New Documentary

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 09:50

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Thursday, October 26, 2017Category: Affiliate and ChapterChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgBlind Teens Fight Challenges in New DocumentaryNational Federation of the Blind Promotes Film to Increase Understanding Among Educators and Public

Baltimore, Maryland (October 25, 2017): Connor wants to be a sponsored skateboarder. Sarah wants to travel the world. Nick dreams of being a rock star. Carina wants to be the first member of her family to graduate high school.

These four teenagers are each trying to achieve their dreams. But they face an additional challenge: they are blind.

Blind people of all ages, their families, educators, and others who face discrimination based on low expectations will learn from these inspiring young people and their stories in Do You Dream in Color?, a new, critically acclaimed  documentary. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland Greater Baltimore chapter in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library/State Library Resource Center and the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped will host a screening of the film. The event will take place on November 4, 2017 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (415 Park Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201). The screening is free and open to the public. The documentary depicts the problems that blind students experience in public schools and other challenges that they face due to low expectations and misconceptions about blindness. A town-hall-style discussion with audience questions answered by local blind individuals will follow the showing of the film, and the National Federation of the Blind will give a presentation on resources available to families with blind youth.

View the trailer and learn more. (http://www.doyoudreamincolor.com)

Awards and Praise
  • 2017 National Federation of the Blind Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award, Top Prize
  • Official Selection, Dallas International Film Festival
  • Audience Choice Award, San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
  • Advocacy Award, Superfest: International Disability Film Festival
  • “powerfully human" -- Truth on Cinema
  • "a film that will touch your head and your heart" -- Unseen Films

“Watching this film made me more determined to fight for blind kids, like my own, against a public education system that too often fails them,” said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The National Federation of the Blind believes that the stories told in this film will spark discussion and enhance understanding of the true challenges faced by the blind, as well as demonstrating that blindness itself is not the characteristic that defines an individual or his or her future."

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About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.

About Enoch Pratt Free Library

Enoch Pratt Free Library provides equal access to information, services, and opportunities that empower, enrich, and enhance the quality of life for all. It serves both the residents of Baltimore with locations throughout the city as well as residents of greater Maryland with its State Library Resource Center.

Do You Dream in Color? Highlights the Struggles Blind Students Face

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 10:10
Blog Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017Author: Marylin GreenCategories: General

I was twenty-two years old when I was diagnosed as legally blind and received my first white cane. I had earned an undergraduate degree from a reputable university in Chicago and worked in a publishing company inputting data corrections, and I remember thinking that my work and education could have been much easier if the doctors had made this diagnosis five years ago. I learned about so many resources for the blind (i.e. human readers, screen readers, CCTV’s, etc.) that I imagined a past filled with fewer late nights of studying and more days spent enjoying my senior year of high school and my four years of college.

Then I watched Do You Dream in Color?, and I began to question whether it was better that my low vision allowed me to assimilate into the world of the sighted. In this film I saw teenagers and their parents working diligently to overcome obstacles imposed upon them due to their blindness, and it made me wonder if I was blessed to fall under the radar of being diagnosed as legally blind because it is 2017 and blindness is ridiculed and misunderstood.

I am not ashamed of my blindness or what I accomplished with and without accessibility, but I am ashamed to live in one of the richest countries in the world and know that blind people, my people, are fighting for a seat at the table where our sighted peers sit. We are fighting to find our voices in a world that at many turns wants to stifle us and break our spirits. But I stand tall and proud to say that I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization that is raising the expectations of blind people and transforming our dreams into reality.

Editor's Note: 

Marilyn is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. She shared her thoughts after watching the film Do You Dream in Color? We’d love to hear what you think too. Comment below or share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tags: Do You Dream in Colorfilm review

Expedia unveils enhancements in website accessibility

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 09:12

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Thursday, October 19, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgExpedia unveils enhancements in website accessibilityExpedia and National Federation of the Blind celebrate key accessibility improvements

Bellevue, Wash., October 19, 2017 – Expedia today announced details around site enhancements as part of an ongoing relationship with the National Federation of the Blind. It’s estimated more than 48.9 million people live with disabilities in the US1, including more than 7 million with a visual disability2. Expedia’s dedicated UX designers, as well as product and software engineers, are actively engaged in ensuring travelers with disabilities have excellent experiences when visiting sites like Expedia.com and Travelocity.com.

The Expedia Accessibility Technology Team consists of front-end developers and testers who use a variety of methods to design and test site improvements that make the Expedia.com and Travelocity.com websites as inclusive as possible. Screen readers (software applications that read out a webpage’s text content and convey visual cues) for example, are commonly used amongst the blind community. To make it easier for these readers to relay information, Expedia engineers have attached text to pictures and structured the code in a way that allows users of assistive technology to efficiently navigate the product pages. The National Federation of the Blind has provided insights, feedback, and testing on the implementation of these accessibility components to help ensure a great user experience.

Expedia continuously assesses its products, utilizing industry standards that address not only blind users who use assistive tech but also those who need captioning for video or audio, who do not use a mouse, or who have other differences that make these features worthwhile. In fact, Expedia has found that these enhancements improve the user experience for all travelers, not just those with unique needs. While recent activity has been focused on the current site, Expedia is also working to educate and train all of its engineers to design and develop their products, mobile and desktop, from the ground up with accessibility in mind.

“Blind people must have equal access to websites like Expedia to live the lives we want, independently,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Expedia is a distinguished partner in supporting our mission of ensuring that blind people have equal access to goods and services online and continues to champion accessibility overall through its product offerings. We are extremely pleased with the progress we have made in our relationship. We know that every user benefits from the enhancements we have worked on together.”

“At Expedia, our goal is to help people go places, and our efforts in improving website accessibility for the blind are helping a community of people that previously experienced difficulties in navigating online travel booking paths,” said Aman Bhutani, President, Brand Expedia Group. “Through our relationship with the National Federation of the Blind, we’ve expanded our duty to bring travel to everyone and are encouraged and excited by our progress in this space.”

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1US Census Data

2National Federation of the Blind

About Expedia, Inc.

Expedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE) is the world's largest online travel company, with an extensive brand portfolio that includes leading online travel brands, such as:

  • Expedia.com®, a leading full-service online travel brand with localized sites in 33 countries
  • Hotels.com®, a leading global lodging expert operating 89 localized websites in 41 languages with its award winning Hotels.com® Rewards loyalty program
  • Expedia® Affiliate Network (EAN), a global B2B brand that powers the hotel business of hundreds of leading airlines, travel agencies, loyalty and corporate travel companies plus several top consumer brands through its API and template solutions
  • trivago®, a leading online hotel search platform with sites in 55 countries worldwide
  • HomeAway®, a global online marketplace for the vacation rental industry, which also includes the VRBO®, VacationRentals.com® and BedandBreakfast.com® brands, among others
  • Egencia®, a leading corporate travel management company
  • Orbitz® and CheapTickets®, leading U.S. travel websites, as well as ebookers®, a full-service travel brand with websites in seven European countries
  • Travelocity®, a leading online travel brand in the U.S. and Canada delivering customer service when and where our customers need it with the Customer First Guarantee
  • Hotwire®, inspiring spontaneous travel through Hot Rate® deals
  • Wotif Group, a leading portfolio of travel brands including Wotif.com®, Wotif.co.nz, lastminute.com.au®, lastminute.co.nz and travel.com.au®
  • Expedia® Media Solutions, the advertising sales division of Expedia, Inc. that builds creative media partnerships and enables brand advertisers to target a highly-qualified audience of travel consumers
  • CarRentals.com™, a premier online car rental booking company with localized sites in 13 countries
  • Classic Vacations®, a top luxury travel specialist
  • Expedia Local Expert®, a provider of online and in-market concierge services, activities, experiences and ground transportation in over a thousand destinations worldwide
  • Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®, a provider of exceptional value and expert advice for travelers booking cruises and vacations through its network of over 235 retail travel agency franchises across North America
  • SilverRail Technologies, Inc., a global rail retail and distribution platform connecting rail carriers and suppliers to both online and offline travel distributors
About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.

Blind School Board Member Has Settled With School District

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 08:47

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Wednesday, October 18, 2017Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgBlind School Board Member Has Settled With School DistrictNational Federation of the Blind Applauds Agreement Resolving Accommodation Issues

Baltimore, Maryland (October 18, 2017): A blind man's litigation against a California school district on whose governing board he serves has been resolved by agreement of the parties.

Timothy R. Nonn, who was elected to the board of the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District last year, sued the district and its superintendent with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind because three sitting members of the school board had voted against his request to use an aid that he personally hired and trained to read documents to him at school board meetings. The agreement specifies that Mr. Nonn can hire and train his own aids to assist him at board meetings and in most situations where he is acting in his official capacity.

“We assisted Mr. Nonn in this litigation because it is critically important that political opponents of elected representatives who are blind be prevented from discriminating against them by denying accommodations and access to information,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We are therefore pleased that this litigation has been amicably resolved and that Mr. Nonn will have the accommodations he needs going forward.”

“I am profoundly grateful for the support of the National Federation of the Blind,” said Mr. Nonn. “Without its help, I would not have been provided with proper accommodations for my blindness. This experience has taught me the importance not only of blind people standing up for our rights, but standing together. This victory also enables me to effectively advocate for the rights of students with special needs who are being denied accommodations.”

The United States District Court, Northern District of California, approved the agreement and dismissed the litigation (Case No. 3:17-cv-00761-JCS) on September 13. Neither Mr. Nonn nor the school district admit any wrongdoing.

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About the National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.

Dealt: A Card Mechanic's Success in the Face of Blindness

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 09:36
Blog Date: Wednesday, October 18, 2017Author: Gary WunderCategories: General

Richard Turner is a living breathing card mechanic. His friends and family call him Rick, and he manipulates cards in ways which leave people scratching their heads. An audience member picks a card, tells Rick what it is, and places it back in the deck. Rick invites the participant to cut the deck and then pulls out a card and asks what it is. Surprise! It's the very card initially selected. Sometimes we see Rick breaking open a new pack of cards, cutting the deck, shuffling it several times, and then revealing that all of the aces are together. A slightly different trick has him taking a deck of cards, asking someone how many cards they want, giving them a stack, and having them count. They hold the number they requested.

Both Rick and his sister Lori were born with sight but lost it due to a deterioration of the retina. Though their conditions were similar, their reactions couldn't have been more different. Rick makes no secret that he hates being blind and does everything he can to hide it. Of course people learn, and he considers this a distraction; the emphasis should be on what he does and not on how much he can see.

Lori reacts differently, deciding that the way to move on in life is to learn how blind people do things and then go about doing them. She designs houses and supervises their construction. She uses a guide dog, a computer with a screen reader, and an iPhone with VoiceOver. Though she travels a different path, she admires her brother and ever so gently pushes him to see that there are ways in which he can be more independent without playing on pity or sympathy.

The movie follows Rick as he is critiqued by card technicians and performers, reveals his absolute obsession with what he does, and shows him competing for the major award given to card mechanics by card mechanics. Three times he is nominated; twice he loses to competitors, but when he wins, he does so to the great admiration of his fellows, all asserting that winning evidences what he has learned and earned through mastery of his art.

I like this movie because it strikes me as real: highlighting the drive required to succeed as a performer and the discipline to become an expert. I like it because Rick lives the life he wants. By movie's end he is coming to understand that his seeming independence has come at a tremendous cost to others, that his blindness provided the drive necessary to his success, and that what he has rejected can make a good life even better, not only for him but for those who have spent so much time helping him avoid dealing with blindness. He raises the bar by showing the public that we too can be exceptional; he comes to understand that success doesn't mean denying who he is.

As President Riccobono said, “The National Federation of the Blind believes that the film Dealt skillfully tells a compelling story of a gifted man who is living the life he wants. Rick Turner refuses to be defined by his blindness or to let it hold him back. His talent and his determination will inspire and enlighten everyone who sees this movie.”

For more information about Dealt and where you can watch it, visit dealtmovie.com.

Editor's Note: 

Gary Wunder, editor of the Braille Monitor, wrote this review after viewing the film Dealt. This post contains some spoilers about the movie. The National Federation of the Blind has chosen to support this unique film because of the powerful message it sends: we can live the lives we want; blindness is not what holds blind people back from achieving our dreams. We support everyone in their individual journeys and endeavor to provide love, support, and hope to those trying to turn their dreams into reality.

Tags: film review

Blind Teens Fight Challenges in New Documentary

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 16:24

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Monday, October 16, 2017Category: Affiliate and ChapterChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgBlind Teens Fight Challenges in New DocumentaryNational Federation of the Blind Promotes Film to Increase Understanding Among Educators and Public

Baltimore, Maryland (October 16, 2017): Connor wants to be a sponsored skateboarder. Sarah wants to travel the world. Nick dreams of being a rock star. Carina wants to be the first member of her family to graduate high school.

These four teenagers are each trying to achieve their dreams. But they face an additional challenge: they are blind.

Blind people of all ages, their families, educators, and others who face discrimination based on low expectations will learn from these inspiring young people and their stories in Do You Dream in Color?, a new, critically acclaimed documentary. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, Greater Baltimore Chapter in partnership with the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture will host a screening of the film. The event will take place on November 1, 2017 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Peale Center (225 Holliday Street, Baltimore, MD 21202). The screening is free and open to the public. The documentary depicts the problems that blind students experience in public schools and other challenges that they face due to low expectations and misconceptions about blindness. A town-hall-style discussion with audience questions answered by local blind individuals will follow the showing of the film, and the National Federation of the Blind will give a presentation on resources available to families with blind youth.

View the trailer and learn more. (http://www.doyoudreamincolor.com)

Awards and Praise

  • 2017 National Federation of the Blind Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award, Top Prize
  • Official Selection, Dallas International Film Festival
  • Audience Choice Award, San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
  • Advocacy Award, Superfest: International Disability Film Festival
  • “powerfully human" -- Truth on Cinema
  • "a film that will touch your head and your heart" -- Unseen Films

 

Approved Quotes for This Release

“Watching this film made me more determined to fight for blind kids, like my own, against a public education system that too often fails them,” said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The National Federation of the Blind believes that the stories told in this film will spark discussion and enhance understanding of the true challenges faced by the blind, as well as demonstrating that blindness itself is not the characteristic that defines an individual or his or her future."

"As the first museum purpose-built in the United States and the first public high school for African Americans in Baltimore, the Peale has a long history of advocating and working for inclusive education,” said Dr. Nancy Proctor, Executive Director of the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture. “Accessibility is at the heart of the current renovation of our historic building, and we are honored to have this chance to host Do You Dream in Color? and support the NFB’s call for equal opportunities for all students to pursue their dreams.”

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About the National Federation of the Blind

About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.

About the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture
The Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture helps people see Baltimore in a new light by enabling the city’s creators and culture-keepers to produce new and more inclusive narratives of the City, its places, and the diverse people who have made Baltimore what it is today. Founded by American artist Rembrandt Peale in 1814 and designed by Robert Cary Long, Sr., the Peale is the oldest museum building in the United States. It originally showcased artistic, natural, and scientific exhibits, and was Baltimore’s Municipal Museum, part of the Museums of City Life, for most of the twentieth century. In its more than two hundred years, the Peale has been a home to innovation and many firsts, as the place where Rembrandt Peale introduced gas light to the city, making Baltimore the first to be lit by gas street lights in the country; as Baltimore’s first City Hall; and the first public high school for African Americans in the city. After twenty years of being mainly vacant, the Peale Center is back at the center of Baltimore culture, hosting unique events, partnering with community groups, and providing cultural organizations with a fertile testing ground for innovative projects.

BAUM Vario 340: Expensive Simplicity

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 17:10
Blog Date: Thursday, October 12, 2017Author: Karl BelangerCategories: Access Technology

The Vario 340 by BAUM is an extremely simple, basic display designed for quick and easy connectivity with a computer. The display itself simply has the three buttons on either side of the display that simulate Braille dots as in other BAUM products, an on/off switch, and a USB C port. There is no Perkins keyboard, no battery, and no Bluetooth connectivity. The display fits easily in front of a keyboard, or would slip neatly into even a small laptop bag. However, the lack of a keyboard makes it less appealing to many users, and the price impacts the value equation even further.

Setting up and using the Vario 340

Plug the standard end of the USB cable into your computer, and the type C end into the Vario. Push the on/off switch on the left of the device toward the back. If your setup would work with the cable on the right, press and hold the middle button in each column while turning the display on to cause the orientation to flip. If you’re on Windows, you will hear the device connected sound and a “setting up device” message, followed less than a minute later by a “successfully set up” message. At this point you are ready to connect with your desired screen reader.

NVDA

NVDA exemplifies the simplicity of this display. Simply select BAUM displays from the Braille settings, make any other desired changes, and press OK. Braille is displayed almost immediately. The downside here is that there are very few defined commands, just to go up and down a line. There are many others that can be defined, but each user will need to set them up.

JAWS

As of this writing, JAWS does not have a built-in driver for the Vario 340. I had to go to the online manual at BAUM USA, which directed me to the BAUM Germany site, and then I could go to the downloads section to get it. I’d really like to see a direct link to the driver file in the manual. They do indicate that JAWS will eventually have a driver built in, so this shouldn’t be an issue forever.

Voiceover on the Mac

As of this writing, the Vario 340 isn’t supported by VoiceOver on Mac OS. Hopefully this will change with the upcoming release in the next month or two.

Who is it for?

While the lack of a keyboard and Bluetooth will be a turnoff for some, there are still several groups of users for whom it could potentially be useful. The first use case for this display is at a public computer. The plug and play nature means that those with minimal expertise can set this up, and it could be a very good option for a library or a disability resource center at a college or university looking to support Braille. The display is small enough to be easily tucked behind a computer or in a drawer when not in use. This could also be an ideal office display for someone who prefers to type with a QWERTY keyboard, but wants the convenience and flexibility to read the contents of their computer screen in Braille. For the home user, this will probably not be the right display, especially when cost is considered.

Fighting in the wrong weight class

As of this writing, the Vario 340 is priced at $2,895. This puts it squarely in competition with the likes of the Brailliant BI 40, the Braille Edge 40, and the newly upgraded Focus 40. All of these displays have Perkins style keyboards, all have Bluetooth, and the Braille Edge and Focus 40 have some internal functions for basic note taking. Because these more full-featured displays are all around $2,895 or even cheaper, it is hard to recommend the Vario 340 to a home user. If the Vario 340 was priced closer to $2,000, it could position itself nicely as the display for those who need the extra Braille, while not paying for features like a keyboard, Bluetooth, or smart functions if they don’t need them.

Conclusion

The Vario 340 is exactly as advertised: a simple display for quick, wired connection to a computer. Unfortunately, given the much more capable displays it is priced to compete with, it is hard to recommend for home users, but may be a very good option for higher education resource centers or for an office environment.

Tags: access technologyproduct reviewtechnologybraillerefreshable Braille

National Federation of the Blind Applauds Introduction of AV START Act

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 11:23

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Friday, September 29, 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 Introduction of AV START ActLegislation Will Promote Access to Automated Vehicles for the Blind

Baltimore, Maryland (September 29, 2017): Today the National Federation of the Blind commends Senator John Thune, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senator Gary Peters, Senator Roy Blunt, and Senator Debbie Stabenow for introducing the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act (S. 1885). This bill will promote equal access to automated vehicles for the blind and others with disabilities through the prohibition of discriminatory licensing practices and the promotion of accessible user interfaces.

“The advent of automated vehicle technology presents tremendous potential benefits for the blind and other Americans with disabilities,” said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “From more reliable transportation to greater access to employment, automated vehicles will be a valuable tool improving the opportunity of blind people to live the lives we want. But none of these benefits will materialize if the principles of equal access and opportunity are not front and center. The National Federation of the Blind therefore calls for automated vehicle technology to be accessible to everyone through nonvisual user interface options and nondiscriminatory public policy, and applauds Chairman Thune and Senator Peters for introducing a bill that takes positive steps in that direction.”

The AV START Act specifically prohibits states from issuing licenses in a manner that discriminates on the basis of disability. The legislation also creates a disability access working group, tasked with promulgating best practices and recommendations on the accessibility of user interfaces and vehicle design more broadly. The bill specifically denotes “accessibility” as a component of reporting requirements for vehicle manufacturers.

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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 Celebrates White Cane Awareness Day

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 08:37
Blog Date: Monday, October 2, 2017Author: Stephanie EllerCategories: General

Most of us are familiar with White Cane Safety Day. Over the years, however, the significance of the white cane has shifted from safety to independence for blind people. To emphasize this shift, and to continue to use the white cane as a symbol, the National Federation of the Blind will now refer to this day as White Cane Awareness Day. As President Riccobono said, “White Cane Awareness Day is our way of emphasizing the critical role that this tool plays in living the lives we want and informing the public about its true significance."

You may be wondering how you can celebrate White Cane Awareness Day on October 15. Below are some ideas for what you and your chapter can do to commemorate the day.

  • Set up a booth at a local mall and pass out brochures, demonstrate cane travel, and answer questions.
  • Get a group together and go out to a restaurant, movie theater, or other busy place so that people see canes in action.
  • Participate in or simply attend local programs, fall festivals, or events. Show the community how blind people live the lives we want.
  • Host a white cane walk.
  • Ask to visit your mayor or governor's office to witness the signing of a White Cane Awareness Day proclamation.
  • Promote #WhiteCaneAwarenessDay on social media and share your story of what the white cane means to you.
  • Encourage friends and family to give the gift of independence by supporting White Cane Giving Day.

The goal is to show our communities how the white cane helps us live the lives we want. Share with us in the comments below or via social media how the white cane helps you and what you’re doing to celebrate White Cane Awareness Day. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and we’ll be following the hashtags #WhiteCaneAwarenessDay and #WhiteCaneGiving.

Tags: white caneWhite Cane Awareness DayWhite Cane Giving DayindependenceWhite Cane Safety Dayfundraisingcommunity

An Update on the National Federation of the Blind Hurricane Relief Project

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 12:19
Blog Date: Friday, September 29, 2017Author: Mark RiccobonoCategories: General

This hurricane season has been particularly harsh on our Federation family in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Harvey, we shared information on our efforts to help blind people impacted by the storm. Since then, Hurricanes Irma and Maria have wreaked havoc. In an effort to offer support those in need following the devastation of these storms, we have started the National Federation of the Blind Hurricane Relief Project. We are still assessing what the needs are, especially in Puerto Rico, but contributions to the relief project will be directed to helping those affected once it’s determined how best we can help.

If you would like to make a contribution to the National Federation of the Blind Hurricane Relief Project, you can donate online and note that your contribution is for Hurricane Relief. Contributions can also be sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Hurricane Relief
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, Maryland  21230

Norma Crosby, our NFB of Texas affiliate president, has offered this update on the relief efforts in Texas:

“Although this continues to be a tough time, we have been so blessed by the outpouring of love and support from our Federation family. Affiliates are stepping up to adopt families, and that is particularly great because it allows us to build a personal connection with those we are helping. Our affiliates and the tiniest of chapters have been jumping in with wonderful, and much needed, donations. I hope I don't leave anyone out when I thank the latest folks to offer support.

Our Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Maryland affiliates have sent generous donations. Our Utah affiliate has adopted a mom who has a blind child with Down syndrome. We have received more gift cards from Rhode Island, and I could not be prouder of how the Greater Providence Chapter has stepped up. They just keep on giving.

The Colorado Springs Chapter and We Fit Wellness are adopting a family who has not known us before, but they lost their home in the floodwaters a day after they buried their son who died just before the storm. They really need not only the monetary support right now, but they need that Federation love that we are famous for.

We have also received donations from the Johnson County Chapter of the NFB of Kansas. The Des Moines Chapter has also helped out, and our own Houston Chapter has sent us a donation. The NFB of Illinois is sending a wonderful donation, and the NFB of Massachusetts is adopting a man named Dwight. Dwight is a blind guy who also suffers from COPD. He was living with caregiver prior to the storm, but their apartment totally flooded, and they spent several weeks at a disaster shelter. They have since moved to a FEMA-approved motel, which I am told is less than charming. We have sent initial funding to him and will continue to work with him.

We have also been the recipients of many personal donations, and while I won't try to list names here, I can tell you that you all have generous people in your affiliates. Along with cash, people have been sending us loads of gift cards, and we love those. Gift cards are a great way to help people out.”

We will continue to support the relief efforts in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and we will continue to update you on our progress. Together with love, hope, and determination, we will help our Federation family through this trying time.

Tags: hurricane harveysupporthurricane relief

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