August 2012 Issue  Volume 13  Number 8

AccessWorld News

AccessWorld News

Support the Anne Sullivan Macy Act and Revolutionize America's Special Education System for Students with Vision Loss

Since its enactment more than 35 years ago, Public Law 94-142, now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has transformed educational opportunity for all children and youth with disabilities. However, the law does not adequately hold public agencies accountable for vital services and instruction, such as braille, orientation and mobility, the provision of low vision devices, and a host of other essential services and instruction needed by students with vision loss to truly receive a free and appropriate public education worthy of their tremendous potential.

The Anne Sullivan Macy Act, comprehensive draft legislation endorsed by the American Council of the Blind (ACB), American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), Council of Schools for the Blind (COSB), Perkins School for the Blind, and VisionServe Alliance, would revolutionize America's special education system for all students with vision loss, including students who may also have additional, potentially even more significant, disabilities.

Everyone who cares about the scope and quality of special education for students with vision loss is invited to join in the national effort to work for the legislation's prompt enactment and/or incorporation into IDEA. While the process for congressional review and reauthorization of IDEA promises to be a long one, advocates should begin now to educate federal policy makers about the critical need for the array of improvements that the Anne Sullivan Macy Act embodies.

You can find the full text of the draft legislation and a petition to sign at the AFB website.

An array of supporting explanatory materials can also be found at a joint AFB and Perkins School website.

If your school, association, agency, parent network, service organization, or other group can join the growing roster of organizations endorsing the Anne Sullivan Macy Act, we'd love to hear from you! Send an e-mail confirming such endorsement to Mark Richert, Director, Public Policy, AFB.

Named for Helen Keller's beloved teacher, the Anne Sullivan Macy Act would strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and improve results for the more than 100,000 children and youth with vision loss, including those who also have additional disabilities. Key provisions of the legislation include:

  • Ensure that every student with vision loss is properly identified regardless of formal disability category or classification so that all students with vision loss, including those with additional disabilities, are counted and properly served.
  • Expand knowledge about the scope and quality of special education and related services provided to students with vision loss through refined data collection that tracks all students with vision loss, regardless of formal disability category or classification.
  • Expect states to conduct strategic planning (and commit such planning to writing) to guarantee that all students with vision loss within each state receive all specialized instruction and services needed, which are to be provided by properly trained personnel.
  • Clarify that proper evaluation of students with vision loss includes evaluation for students' needs for instruction in communication and productivity (including braille instruction and assistive technology proficiency inclusive of low vision devices where appropriate); self-sufficiency and interaction (including orientation and mobility, self-determination, sensory efficiency, socialization, recreation and fitness, and independent living skills); and age appropriate career education. Such instruction and services constitute the Expanded Core Curriculum, the body of services which teachers of students with visual impairments and related professionals are expertly trained to provide.
  • Ramp up US Department of Education responsibilities to monitor and report on states' compliance with their obligations with respect to instruction and services specifically provided to students with vision loss.
  • Assist parents and educators of students with vision loss through regular and up-to-date written policy guidance from the US Department of Education.
  • Establish a national collaborative organizational resource, the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Vision Loss and Educational Excellence, to proliferate evidence-based practices in the education of students with vision loss, to keep special educators current with the latest instructional methods, and to supplement state and local educational agency provision of the instruction and services constituting the Expanded Core Curriculum.

For further information, e-mail Mark Richert, Esq., Director, Public Policy, AFB, or call 202-469-6833.

New HumanWare iPhone App Will Get Deaf-Blind and Sighted People Talking

HumanWare, in partnership with Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille (INLB), has unveiled the HumanWare Communicator, the first multilingual face-to-face conversation app for deaf-blind people. This app will help deaf-blind individuals communicate on an everyday basis by connecting a HumanWare braille tool (BrailleNote Apex or Brailliant) with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

Now a deaf-blind person can use Bluetooth connectivity to pair their HumanWare braille device to an iPhone, iPod, or iPad. In the absence of an interpreter, the HumanWare Communicator app then facilitates a conversation. The deaf-blind person converses through the braille device and hands his or her tethered Apple device to the sighted person who uses the touch screen keyboard to respond. The face-to-face conversation appears in real time on both the refreshable braille display and the iOS devices' screen.

HumanWare introduced the DeafBlind Communicator (DBC), the first portable face-to-face chat solution, in 2008. For the first time, a deaf-blind person had portability and independence when having a face-to-face conversation. The system combines the simplicity and portability of the popular BrailleNote with a companion visual interface running on a cell phone, and since a familiar cell phone keyboard is used, the sighted individual has a very small learning curve to engage in a conversation.

"With the popularity and inclusion of access technology features in Apple's iOS devices, HumanWare has received a high demand to bring the face-to-face concept of the popular DeafBlind Communicator to the popular Apple devices. The HumanWare Communicator app breaks everyday face-to-face communication down to its simplest form and will get everyone talking," says Greg Stilson, HumanWare product manager.

The HumanWare Communicator app will be available for standard download from Apple's app store in late July 2012.

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