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Expedia unveils enhancements in website accessibility

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 09:12


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 and

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 and 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.”


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:

  •®, a leading full-service online travel brand with localized sites in 33 countries
  •®, a leading global lodging expert operating 89 localized websites in 41 languages with its award winning® 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®,® and® 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®,,®, and®
  • 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
  •™, 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

Blind School Board Member Has Settled With School District

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 08:47


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.


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

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

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


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. (

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.”


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

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 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.


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.


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


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.


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

Helpful Hints for Handling Homework

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 09:22
Blog Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2017Author: Melissa RiccobonoCategories: Parenting

Once again, the school year is in full swing. No more sleeping late. No more lazy summer days. It’s early to bed, early to rise, and of course once again it’s time to tackle homework. This task can seem overwhelming, particularly at the beginning of a new school year, and especially if your child is new to school. Here are a few suggestions that might help make homework time go more smoothly.

Communicate with the Teacher

Most teachers truly want parents to be involved in their children’s education. If you talk to or email your child’s teacher and ask if homework can be emailed to you, or whether homework is available on a class website, you may be surprised by the results. Some things are more easily emailed than others. Materials the teacher does not create him or herself might be more challenging to email, as will packets of homework for young children with lots of pictures. Even having the teacher email you directions to assignments or the spelling or sight words for the week or month can go a long way in helping you help your child learn.

Make Friends with Other Class Parents

This may be easier said than done, but parents of other kids in your child’s class are wonderful resources. After all, they are helping their children with the same assignments. Perhaps you could gather somewhere to do homework together. Maybe you could help with one aspect of the homework the other parent finds frustrating, and the other parent can help with parts of the homework which you find hard. Even having the ability to call or text another parent to get clarification on directions, especially for young children’s assignments, can be very helpful.

See What Your Child Knows

Often homework is a review of what has been done in class. Even a young child might understand what needs to be done because he or she has seen it before. So it never hurts to ask, “Do you know how to do this?” If they can spell, you can ask them to read the letters they see. This can be very slow, but may work in certain situations. Of course, this gets much easier when your child is older and can read.

Hire Help

All parents hire help for homework – and a variety of other things – for tons of reasons. Perhaps it makes sense to hire some help for your child’s homework. The helper could be someone from a church, a retired person who loves children and is looking for a little work, or even a high school or middle school student who needs some type of service hours. Another great place to look for possible homework helpers is a college campus. Education majors might jump at the chance to gain experience working with children on homework. Finally, some schools have after-school programs where children receive help with homework and other skills. Check what resources your school might have to offer your child.

There Might Be an App for That

There are a variety of apps you can use to read all types of documents. Some, like the KNFB Reader, are apps you need to pay for. Others, like Seeing AI are free. There are also services now, such as Be My Eyes and Aira, which connect the user with a person in real time who can do reading or answer other questions.

It’s Your Child’s Homework

This is important to remember. We all want our children to succeed; we all may have the desire to have our children turn in “perfect” assignments. We want teachers to see us as competent parents who just happen to be blind, and part of being a competent parent is to help children with homework and make sure it is perfectly done. Try not to fall into this trap! Remember two things. One, homework is a chance for the teacher to learn what things your child can do well, and what things your child still has to work on. If your child has trouble with certain parts of homework, the teacher will be able to give him or her more help in class or talk with you about ways you can help him or her at home. Two, especially in the early years, the fact that you care enough to sit down with your child and make sure he or she completes homework counts for a lot. Not all parents can or do take the time to do this. Teachers notice.

Concentrate on What You Can Do

It is sometimes frustrating to dwell on all of the little things that might be difficult for you as a blind parent to do. You cannot necessarily see whether your child is making letters or numbers backwards, for example, and you might not be able to verify that your child has used the correct color for something. However there are many things you can do and many ways to reinforce what your child is learning. You can have your child write letters and numbers in shaving cream or sand so you can feel his or her work. You can practice letters, numbers, math facts, colors, sight words, etc., by using flash cards you create in either large print or Braille. You can get a puzzle or other tactile map of the United States so you can help your child learn the locations of the states and their capitals. You can read to your child using large print or Braille books, let your child read to you, and even enjoy an audio book together while discussing different parts of the story. All of these things are a part of your child’s learning. Take the opportunity to be creative and teach your child in your own way, even if it doesn’t look the same as the homework your child completes.

Tags: parentingblind parentshomeworkeducation

Amazon Fire Braille Support: New, Improved, and Still Improving

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 08:40
Blog Date: Friday, September 22, 2017Author: Amy MasonCategories: Access Technology

In our recent blog post, “The State of Refreshable Braille Support — Summer 2017,” the access technology team shared some of the most relevant findings from our recent review of Braille support across a large number of different devices, and at that time we noted that, “Of course, the pace of technology is faster than most of us can keep up with for long.” Well, we certainly were not wrong on that point.

A Few Quick Updates

Between editing and posting of the original post, NVDA 2017.3 was released with the promised contracted Braille input. Shortly afterward, VFO announced that the public beta of JAWS 2018 included a newer version of Liblouis, which is the translation package that drives Braille support in JAWS, and several other screen access packages. This is great news as several problems with Braille translation should be corrected with inclusion of this software update. Some errors of instant translation will still exist in all packages, but this is a great step forward for Braille accuracy in a heavily used screen reader and is most gladly welcomed.

Furthermore, we are literally just getting our fingers on iOS 11’s Braille support, and we can continue to expect to see another batch of improvements from Windows Narrator in the next couple months. However, that is not why we are here today…

A New Contender Appears

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, Braille on the Amazon Fire tablets (formerly known as the Kindle Fire tablets) is a unique experience that deserves its own review. This is a relatively new advancement, as prior to spring of this year, Braille support for the Fire tablet, which runs a heavily customized version of Android as FireOS, had used Google’s BrailleBack to provide Braille support, and had to be downloaded from the Amazon app store. Therefore when creating our testing set, we chose not to review it on Amazon’s device.

At CSUN this year, while we were giving the initial presentation these blog posts are based on, Amazon presented a change to the way it handled Braille. It was no longer a separate download of BrailleBack, but instead was incorporated directly into VoiceView on all Fire tablets going forward. The initial release was read-only and was primarily intended for reading Kindle titles on the Fire, but that’s not where the story ends.

As I write this, Amazon’s Fire team has been quietly dropping updates on to sixth, seventh, and eighth generation Fire tablets that add the first round of support for writing in Braille on the device, so if we are lucky, once you have read this review, the update will have made its way to a device near you.


Like most other mobile devices, connections are Bluetooth only, and it’s simple to pair and get to connect, except for the addition of some extra challenges when first connecting a VarioUltra, the actual process of pairing a Braille display is to visit Accessibility> VoiceView > Braille > search for devices, and select your display from the list that appears. Connectivity is still sparse, with support for only a few displays at present, though chances are good that this list will grow in the coming months.

  • Orbit Reader 20
  • APH Refreshabraille
  • HumanWare Brailliant
  • BAUM VarioUltra, SuperVario 2, and VarioConnect

Braille display preferences are currently fairly limited. For the most unique of these options, it is important to note that unlike in iOS and Android’s BrailleBack, VoiceView Braille support is not tied to the focus cursor for the screen reader. It is possible to read beyond the active cursor, so there is an option to highlight its location in Braille. The highlight consists of dots seven and eight underneath all text in focus. I found the lack of options for how to distinguish this cursor somewhat frustrating, as the “highlighting” of a line of Braille with an underline of dots seven and eight can make Braille nearly illegible for me. Other options including choosing between UEB and older literary Braille as well as computer Braille for input and output, and the ability to mute speech while using Braille are welcome and seem to work correctly.


Braille support on the Fire is still in its infancy. It is possible to see potential here, and it is in many ways more competent than Android’s BrailleBack, but writing is still quite difficult, and reading is hampered by a lack of necessary formatting metadata which affects both speech and Braille when using the tablet. Also, commands are extremely limited, or at least that was what I was going to say before opening the documentation this morning and finding that the number of available commands had tripled since I had last reviewed them. Clearly this is a point where Amazon is placing some focus and energy. This is great to see, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Braille continues to develop.

Braille on the Fire looks to be coming up roses, so long as you remember that roses have very sharp thorns. Several of which stung me hard during testing. First, there are still some commands which are necessary for using a tablet primarily from a Braille display which are not yet present, including turning pages, and text selection. Second, I could not enter text in the body of an email message. As soon as I began typing, my focus moved out of the editing area and into the auto-completes above the onscreen keyboard. It is possible that I missed something that would have helped with this, but I never found a workaround. Third, and most problematically, when I switched into a “kids” profile, Braille support was lost entirely. On initial load of the profile, both speech and Braille are de-activated until they are turned on in Settings, which is annoying, but can be overcome. Unfortunately, upon re-pairing my Braille display, I found that although it was possible to use some commands from the Braille keyboard to navigate the screen, none of the text read by VoiceView is present on the display.

With all of that said, Braille on the Fire tablet can still be used for reading the text of books and websites, and will be able to provide some benefit in manipulating the tablet. I could not recommend this pairing for someone who is dependent on the display for all input or output, but the support already available is promising, especially considering the frequency of improvement we have seen so far.


The Amazon Fire tablet’s Braille support is not yet a complete package, but it is already useful, particularly for those using the Fire as a reading device. If this pace of development is maintained, I expect we will see great things in the next year. In the meantime, if you have the required equipment, it’s worth giving it a spin for yourself. For only being about six months old, the Fire’s Braille support has come quite a way, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in future.

Tags: accessibilitybrailleAmazontechnologyproduct review

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 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 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, 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 

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


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.”


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.


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


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. 


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

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

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 (, 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

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