The 2017 AFB Leadership Conference Report
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) held its annual Leadership Conference at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, on March 3-5, 2017. AFB President and CEO Kirk Adams announced in the opening address that there were a record number of attendees.
This conference is geared toward assistive technology specialists, rehabilitation counselors, teachers of the blind and visually impaired, organizations that serve people with visual impairments, and anyone interested in these fields. The gathering featured an AccessWorld Tech Summit. There were many concurrent sessions on topics including seniors with vision loss, children who have autism and are also visually impaired, and making the transition from school to the workplace.
Exhibitors included HumanWare, LS&S/Reinecker USA, American Printing House for the Blind, and En-Vision America. Exhibitors showed their products and some talked about special services they provide. For example, AFB had information about some of their programs including AFB Press and AFB Vision Aware. Other organizations included Computers for the Blind, Hadley Institute for the Visually Impaired, US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the US Library of Congress.
The Keynote Address and Stephen Garff Marriott Award
The Keynote Address featured Kirk Adams, AFB President and CEO. After welcoming conference members, he presented the Stephen Garff Marriott Award to Robert Vetere. This award honors an individual who is blind or visually impaired and who has served as an extraordinary mentor or who has attained remarkable professional success. Vetere is a senior workplace accommodation specialist with Northrop Grumman's Global Corporate Responsibility organization.
Vetere's speech was very moving. He said, "You have two choices: sequester yourself or take the challenge…If you navigated life, you are a walking library of inspiration."
After the award presentation, Vetere and Denna Lambert from NASA discussed their careers and the importance of being a mentor.
When Vetere started at Northrop Grumman in 1978, he hid the fact that he was going blind; by 1980, he was legally blind. In the beginning, the only people who knew were his closest friends. He added, "It's something I'm kind of ashamed of today…I love this new generation because they are bold, they are proud, and that's the way it should be…For smart employers, it's all about their qualifications and talents."
Lambert was born with congenital cataracts. She uses a variety of low vision and blindness products. While in college, she said she let other people's doubts about her ability become her doubts and it took a while to get past that. She said, "It's taken a journey of meeting with other blind individuals and sighted individuals who were able to sit and talk through that challenge of how do you overcome those doubts so it turns into confidence, courage, and moving forward?" She benefitted from both informal and formal (from blindness organizations) mentors.
She said, "There's so much work that you can do within the agency." She is employed at NASA, "working with librarians and scientists to create a space which takes research and turns it into collaboration."
Vetere closed the session with the following statement:
Don't put limitations on yourself. Don't let your employer or society limit you. Don't allow anyone to tell you what you're capable of. If you gain employment and your employer isn't expecting you to be his or her best employee, you strive and show them that they're wrong. I tell young people all the time: "You're going to have to work harder, smarter, and better than all of your colleagues just to be considered on the same level." That's not fair, but you don't have to tell a room of blind people that life's not fair. I believe that we're given gifts that offset our loss of vision or any other disability. Use those gifts, become the best you can be and always keep in mind that you're not doing this for yourself. If you're employed, you are among the lucky minority right now. Do it for the next generation of young people who will benefit from your hard work, passion, and effort.
If you are looking for a mentor or want to become one, get the AFB Career Connect app.
The AccessWorld Tech Summit and Showcase
Facilitator: Lee Huffman, AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief
Huffman welcomed everyone and explained the summit format. After each speaker, there was time for questions and answers. The first part of the summit featured presenters from several companies and organizations including the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), Yahoo, and Sprint. The second part of the Summit featured an Exhibiters Forum with representatives from assistive technology companies including HumanWare, OrCam, and Eschenbach Optik.
The Federal Communications Commission
Speakers: Suzy Rosen Singleton, Chief, and Will Schell, Attorney-Advisor, Disability Rights Office, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
The session focused on access to video description. This has been an issue for many years for both individuals who are blind or visually impaired and the FCC.
Singleton began by saying, through a sign-language interpreter, that the FCC's Disability Rights office focuses on insuring that technology is accessible to all people with disabilities, as authorized by law.
Ms. Singleton explained that the FCC is hoping to soon mandate an increase in the number of hours of television programming with video description. To receive information about the FCC's work with regard to accessibility, subscribe to their email list.
Schell spoke about the new regulation requiring that all devices that play video and are made on or after December 20, 2016, be accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. That equipment must have an accessible user interface so that a person who is blind can use all or nearly all functions of the device. This includes settings, menus, and player controls. Schell explained, "Most of this is accomplished through text-to-speech." He added, "Closed captioning and video description are special functions. They get a mechanism that is reasonably comparable to a button, key, or icon." Devices include TVs, smart TVs, tablets, smart phones, and removable media players. The accessibility rule also applies to any pre-installed apps on the device and any apps the manufacturer recommends to download and install.
Schell said that accessible set-top boxes must be available from a provider on request. Gaining access to these devices should not be any more difficult than gaining access for a sighted person. The largest cable and satellite companies must have the accessible boxes now. Boxes cannot cost more than a device that is not accessible.
According to Schell, manufacturers as well as cable and satellite providers must have information about which products are accessible on their websites. This information must include how their accessibility features work and whom to contact for specific details. He recommended the FCC disability website for more information.
Speaker: Darren Burton, Yahoo Accessibility Specialist
There are over one billion Yahoo users. Burton is Product Manager for all mobile apps and he works to make them accessible. The topic of this session was the March Madness app, which lets you pick the outcome of each game in the NCAA basketball tournament. There were cheers from the crowd when various teams were mentioned.
The March Madness app is now fully accessible. Burton demonstrated by making team selections and showing how to get to the various brackets. He showed how to get additional information about a specific team and how that team did against a specific opponent.
Burton said, "Productivity is hugely important. We need to use word processing, spreadsheets, and things like that to get the job done. The rest of life is real important too; things to talk about on the bus, at the coffee shop. You talk about politics, games, and sports and all that fun stuff. It's part of our lives and Yahoo takes it very seriously. That's one of the great things we do at Yahoo: the rest of your life."
Burton spoke about the importance of teaching engineers, designers, and researchers about accessibility while they are still in school. More information is available at the Teach Access website.
Speaker: April Lufriu, Sprint Vision Ambassador
Sprint has new options for people with visual impairments. Lufriu spoke about Sprint's commitment.
Lufriu said that Sprint is going back to the fundamentals by bringing out a great product at a great price. She said, "We truly want to be your premier wireless provider of choice, especially for the blind and low vision community." She added, "Anything new that is leaving the doors of Sprint is truly accessible, from our customer service, to our website, and to our new phones."
Sprint will be releasing a new phone that is a hybrid between a smart phone and a flip phone. It has the usual 12-button keypad and also a touch screen. It is good for someone who does not want a complicated smart phone but wants more than a flip phone.
Sprint offers free directory assistance and a dedicated customer support line that is available for people who are blind or low vision. Lee Huffman, AccessWorld's Editor-in-Chief, asked what kind of training the accessibility team received. Lufriu responded, "They went through a lot of detailed training working with blind people, because if you bring in a normal person to try to answer those questions, they're really not going to know how to do it. They have been trained with people who are blind and low vision and go through those steps to answer their questions as best as possible. And if they haven't, just let us know and we'll fix the problem."
More information about Sprint's accessibility can be found at the Sprint Vision website or by calling 855-885-7568.
VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies
Speaker: Lind Stevens, OTRL, SCLV, MS, Clinical Specialist, Mid-Atlantic
The Miniature Implantable Telescope
There is a new, surgical implant to assist people with end-stage macular degeneration. The miniature implantable telescope from VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2011. Stevens explained that this telescope is about the size of a pea and is placed in the eye capsule where the lens was. This is similar to cataract surgery where the lens is removed, but instead of a new lens, the telescope is implanted. In the US, the device has 2.7X magnification. Stevens explained, "It's pretty intensive surgery for eye surgery these days. They end up having to cut quite a big opening and it requires about seven to eight stitches."
The telescope is approved only for people with end-stage wet or dry macular degeneration who have an acuity of 20/160 or worse in both eyes and are at least 65 years old. They cannot have had cataract surgery and their condition must have been stable for at least six months. The telescope is implanted into the better-seeing eye. Stevens said, "The telescope uses natural eye movement, unlike an external telescope where you have to pull it up. With this, if you want to look somewhere, just turn your eye. It's pretty much on demand." She added, "The telescope eye is for detail and the other eye is for mobility and seeing the big picture. The other eye must have good peripheral vision. She said, "Because it's such a complex system, after you get the telescope, vision rehabilitation is essential to help the person learn." The person uses one eye at a time.
Stevens explained that there are three steps to receiving the telescope. The first part is the selection process, where the patient is evaluated by several doctors including a retina doctor, a cornea doctor, and a low vision optometrist. The prospective patient is also evaluated by an occupational therapist. A decision is made as to whether the person is a good implant candidate. The second part of the process is the actual surgery. The third phase is rehabilitation. Stevens said the recovery period is about three to six months. The patient will visit the low vision optometrist several times in the first year and will work with an occupational therapist.
For more information visit the technology webpage on the VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies website.
Speaker: Zachary Bastian, Verizon
Verizon's 5G is coming. Bastian explained this new generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology.
The presentation began with Mr. Bastian discussing the AccessWorld article, Easier-to-Use Cell Phone Options for People with Vision Loss, by Jamie Pauls. Bastian pointed out that the author had a very positive experience with Verizon's website and customer support.
He then spoke about 5G and how it will change wireless communication. He said, "It's going to be completely game changing in the amount of traffic it can handle. So not only is it going to be able to handle a lot of traffic, but it also operates on low latency which means response times are almost instantaneous."
Bastian added that Verizon feels that 5G technology will help facilitate autonomous cars, better way-finding services, and tele-health remote monitoring.
He said that since 5G is so fast, it will need large "blocks of spectrum that are not interrupted. Those are the wireless frequencies that the signals travel over." He said that instead of large cell towers, there will be more and smaller cells since 5G wavelengths are shorter and can only travel short distances.
At this time, 5G is in the testing phase. Verizon is doing home testing in 11 markets including Atlanta, Houston, Denver, and Miami.
During this part of the program, seven exhibitors had the opportunity to speak about and demonstrate their products.
Speaker: Motti Attia, Sales Development Manager
The OrCam is a pair of glasses with a small camera mounted on the right temple and a small tethered control unit. It can identify currency, recognize products and faces, and read with the push of a button or the simple gesture of pointing with your finger. It can read text even if the page is upside down. Products can be added to the unit's database. OrCam's facial recognition system photographs a person and then speaks his or her name. The unit recognizes faces based on distance between eyes, nose, and mouth.
The user must have hearing in their right ear and cannot have any tremors.
Along with the product, the purchaser also receives training on how to use the OrCam. There are two models. The model that reads text costs $2,500 while the full-featured version costs $3,500.
Speaker: Chrissy Burke, Sales Representative
En-Vision America's ScripTalk was discussed and demonstrated. ScripTalk is a small device that reads prescription labels and is free to the blind and visually impaired. A medicine bottle is placed on the unit, and whatever is on the bottle, including medication name and dosage, is spoken. Burke indicated that participating pharmacies include Rite Aid, Walmart, and Express Scripts. She added that if a pharmacy is not sure if they can use ScripTalk, they can call En-Vision America and service team members will answer questions.
Burke then spoke about the i.d. mate Galaxy bar code scanner. It is very sensitive so it's not necessary to be focused exactly on the bar code. The Galaxy can name the product and read information on the package including cooking directions and nutrition information. If a product is not in the database, you can add it. They have washable labels to put on clothing.
The i.d. mate Galaxy Bar Code Scanner costs $1,299.
Speaker: Ron Dare, Mid-West Senior Territory Manager
Eschenbach offers a line of products for people who have low vision. Eschenbach works with low vision doctors, agencies, the VA, and school districts that have clients who use these products. They do not sell directly to the public.
Dare said that over the last five years, Eschenbach has been using new lens design and lighting technology which have made products more intuitive.
Dare spoke about Eschenbach's Vislux Digital HD, a 7-inch, hand-held video magnifier. Its features include an HDMI port, which allows the user to connect the device to a larger screen and increase or decrease magnification, and colors that can be set to a user's preference. This device allows scrolling from side to side, even at high magnification.
Dare indicated the professional price is $495 and the MSRP is $995.
The next Eschenbach product demonstrated was the Magnilink Voice. It is a reading machine that is portable and easy to carry. The camera takes a picture and starts reading the text on the screen. There are three USB ports. A book on a thumb drive can be placed into a USB port and Magnilink Voice can read it. Scanned images can be saved to a thumb drive.
Magnilink ranges in price from $1,495 to $1,795, depending on desired features.
Learn more about Eschenbach's products at the Eschenbach website.
Speaker: Joe Jorgenson, Founder
Accessibyte is a software bundle that is self-voicing and developed for new computer users and teachers of the visually impaired. It has of four separate programs: Typio, Accessibyte Arcade, Quick Cards, and WordWav. Typio is a typing tutorial. Accessibyte Arcade contains nine interactive games. Quick Cards lets teachers create accessible flash cards based on classroom work. WordWav converts text to speech and is designed for teachers of the visually impaired to quickly convert text into spoken words. Jorgenson said the most widely used program is the Typio tutorial. It has various themes including Hip Hop and Space.
Accessibyte costs $100 and there is a free trial. Learn more at the Accessibyte website.
Speaker: Jerry Marindin, Director of Federal Sales
Marindin passed around a Focus 14 braille display. He described how this display can fit into the ElBraille. He described the ElBraille as a docking station for the Focus 14 or Focus 40 braille displays. "The ElBraille unit is actually a Windows 10 PC. So when you take the Focus braille display and put it into the ElBraille you now have a fully functional, I'm going to call it, note taker."
The ElBraille has USB ports and an HDMI port. Encryption is available and it can be connected to a network. The unit has Wi-Fi and GPS capabilities. It uses JAWS as the screen reader.
Marindin did not quote a price. For more information visit the Freedom Scientific website.
Speaker: Mike Tindell, Blindness Product Specialist
Mr. Tindell spoke about HumanWare's BrailleNote Touch notetaker, the first Google certified braille tablet. It gives access to Google updates and to the Google Play store. Tindell said that any accessible app from the Google Play store runs on the BrailleNote Touch. The BrailleNote Touch runs on the Android operating system. Email can now handle IMAP and Exchange accounts. The keyboard can be flipped back to expose the touch screen. The BrailleNote Touch ships with 32GB memory, but there is also a 128 GB option. The KNFB Reader is pre-installed on the device at no additional cost. All HumanWare product updates are free.
Tindell also said that HumanWare now carries the Romeo and Juliet braille embossers. These can print wirelessly from the BrailleNote Touch, a PC, and various other devices. Braille translation software is necessary only if perfect translation is needed.
The BrailleNote Touch costs $5,495 for the 32GB model. For more information go to the HumanWare website.
The AFB Access Awards
The Access Awards honor individuals, corporations, and organizations that are eliminating or substantially reducing inequities faced by people who are blind or visually impaired.
A very large crowd gathered for this exciting event. AFB's President and CEO, Kirk Adams, welcomed the group. Lee Huffman was Master of Ceremonies and presented the awards.
Award accepted by: Matt Kaplowitz President and Chief Creative Officer
This company has become a leader in video description. Through their efforts, many movies, television programs, live events, and other works have become accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
Computers for the Blind
Award Accepted by: David Jepson, Creative Officer
This nonprofit company refurbishes old computers and installs accessible software on them. Then they are sold at minimal cost to people who cannot afford to pay full price. The company also has a lending library of described movies.
Award accepted by: Tanseela Molani, Design Researcher
United Airlines has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements to make their website accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
The Irvin P. Schloss Award
This award is given to recognize a tremendous legacy of advocacy work on behalf of individuals with vision loss.
Recipient: Bernadette Kappen
Dr. Kappen is Executive Director of the New York Institute for Special Education. She has been a tireless advocate for children who are blind or have visual impairments, as well as for those who have emotional or learning disabilities.
The AFB Migel Medal
This award is the highest honor in the blindness field. It is given to a professional or volunteer whose dedication and achievements have improved the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired.
The 2017 recipients were Carl R. Augusto and Rebecca Coakley. The text below comes from the AFB press release announcing the two winners.
Carl R. Augusto
"Carl Augusto recently retired after 25 years of service as AFB's president and CEO. Augusto, a longtime champion of people with disabilities and a preeminent leader in the field of blindness, forged numerous strategic partnerships and alliances within the vision loss community and beyond to address critical issues and expand opportunities for people with vision loss."
"Rebecca Coakley is the director of outreach at West Virginia University Eye Institute and director of the Children's Vision Rehabilitation Program (CVRP), which has provided a template for low vision services across the country. She has also established a low vision program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital to serve children with low vision in Ohio, as well as a Summer Institute to teach independent living skills to young children who are blind or have low vision. Coakley presents in the area of low vision nationwide and has chaired several task forces to establish low vision projects in other states."
This exciting conference offered many educational sessions, exhibits, and awards for very deserving people. The 2018 AFB Leadership Conference will be held in Oakland, California, April 5-7, 2018.
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