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The American Foundation for the Blind Applauds the Supreme Court Ruling in Support of Service Animals

Mark Richert

Mark Richert, AFB's Director of Public Policy

We were very pleased to see the Supreme Court ruling today in Fry v Napoleon Community Schools. The Supreme Court held unanimously that Ehlena Fry's family can pursue a lawsuit against her former public school district for denying access to her service dog, Wonder. The ruling made clear that if a school discriminates against a child for using a guide dog or service animal, parents are legally able to go straight to court to enforce the student's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504.

"Nothing in the nature of the Frys’ suit suggests any implicit focus on the adequacy of (Ehlena's) education," Justice Elena Kagan wrote. "The Frys could have filed essentially the same complaint if a public library or theater had refused admittance to Wonder." Therefore, the family does not need to exhaust all of the administrative procedures you typically have to satisfy under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Read the full text of the ruling issued by the Supreme Court (PDF).

In the News
Public Policy

You Don't Have to Be Afraid of Going Blind

Photo of Kirk Adams

Kirk Adams is president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind.

This weekend in the New York Times, personal health writer Jane E. Brody tackled a sensitive topic: the fear, isolation, and anxiety that many people experience when losing their sight. The Worst That Could Happen? Going Blind, People Say.

In 2007, AFB commissioned a national study on people's attitudes and opinions of severe vision loss and blindness. The survey revealed that Americans believe strongly that losing one's sight would have a significant negative impact on their quality of life. But that doesn't have to be the case.

At the American Foundation for the Blind, we know that losing your sight doesn't have to mean giving up your independence, your career, or your favorite hobbies. With rehabilitation training and the use of assistive technology, people with visual impairments can continue reading, cooking, golfing, traveling, surfing the web, and much more.

On AFB's family of websites, we offer parents, families, professionals, and people with vision loss a wealth of information on how to live independently with vision loss. Visitors can also find resources in their communities, which can make a world of difference when coping with a vision loss diagnosis.

We look forward to Jane Brody's next column on aiding people who are visually impaired, and encourage anyone who is losing their vision, or has a friend or family member experiencing vision loss, to explore AFB's website VisionAware.

In the News
Low Vision

Celebrating Louis Braille's Birthday and AFB's Commitment to Braille Literacy

Illustration of Louis Braille

Every January 4, we celebrate the birthday of Louis Braille, who developed his famous braille code when he was only a teenager. Learn more about the creation of the braille code by exploring AFB's Louis Braille Online Museum.

The American Foundation for the Blind's recognition of the importance of braille has been a constant throughout the 95 years of our existence.

AFB took the lead to standardize the English braille code, making it cheaper and easier to produce. Our first CEO, Dr. Robert Irwin, was in the forefront of the delegation that successfully brought about the establishment of Standard English braille for all English-speaking countries in 1932. Learn more (including Helen Keller's opinion on the controversy!) by reading our free online edition of The War of the Dots.

For decades, AFB has maintained the Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons in the United States and Canada, where you can find sources of audio, braille, or large print books, braille transcribers, or local agencies and schools where you can learn how to read braille. (Did you know the Directory is now available as a free, accessible app?)

In the 1990s, we successfully rallied educators, parents, professionals, and other national organizations to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that every student who is blind or visually impaired has a right to learn and read braille.

In 1995, Frances Mary D'Andrea created the DOTS for Braille Literacy newsletter as part of a federal grant called the Braille Literacy Mentors in Training (BLMIT), a three-year project to connect experienced braille instructors with new teachers. The DOTS newsletter was a vehicle for sharing ideas, strategies, and resources about braille reading and writing instruction. Read the DOTS archives here!

In 1996, AFB launched the "brl-help" listserve as another way for teachers of braille reading and writing to connect with one another.

AFB's Braille Bug, a ladybug with the six dots of the braille cell on her back

In the Fall of 2000, AFB's Braille Bug® made her debut and by 2002, she had her own website, complete with acccessible games and activities to promote the love of braille. Check out the Braille Trail®: Classroom Activity Packet for use with grade school students, and show off your love of braille with an adorable Braille Bug mug.

Around the same time, the AFB Solutions Forum established braille transcriber workshops to address the critical shortage of braille transcribers. AFB brought together experts in web-based learning and braille transcription to develop a national training program for transcribing electronic files produced by commercial textbook publishers. And AFB was instrumental in further clarifying IDEA to establish, for the first time, the right of all students who are blind or visually impaired or who have print disabilities to receive their textbooks and instructional materials in the format, including braille, most appropriate to the student and on the first day of class.

The AFB National Literacy Center was officially established by 2001, as well as new projects like the Bridging the Gap workshops and national symposium, which created partnerships between adult literacy programs and rehabilitation centers in 16 states.

In October 2002, alongside 43 national organizations throughout the United States, we launched the AFB and Verizon National Campaign for Literacy, Textbooks, Transcribers, and Technology to promote the new career of braille textbook transcriber at the federal and state levels, and to raise awareness of the needs of blind and low-vision schoolchildren for timely access to textbooks and learning materials.

In 2013, the World Blind Union, with AFB's active participation, successfully advocated for the conclusion of an international treaty that will break down needless barriers between countries to allow the cross-border sharing of braille and other books. While the U.S. has yet to formally ratify the so-called Marrakesh Treaty and AFB continues to fight for its prompt ratification, this international accord has the potential to dramatically address a worldwide shortage of books available to people who are blind or visually impaired around the globe.

Also in 2013, we created AccessNote, the first notetaker app for iOS designed particularly for people using both QWERTY and refreshable braille display keyboards.

(Browse the AFB product database for more information on refreshable braille displays, braille printers, braille translators, and other electronic braille devices.)

cover of Beginning with Braille shows a teacher with a student who is reading braille In 2016, we continued our tradition of promoting braille skills by publishing Beginning with Braille: Firsthand Experiences with a Balanced Approach to Literacy, Second Edition, which has been the go-to resource for educators teaching early braille literacy to students in the United States and abroad for more than 15 years. This highly anticipated second edition has been updated using Unified English Braille (UEB) and includes new teaching materials, record forms, and braille activities.

AFB Press also released the Burns Braille Guide: A Quick Reference to Unified English Braille, Second Edition, the perfect resource to keep in your classroom or in your pocket (revised and updated to reflect the changes introduced in the transition to UEB). This easy-to-use reference guide includes common braille-to-print and print-to-braille conversions, as well as punctuation, new UEB contractions, and general rules and new terminology.

Continuing our commitment to braille, AFB's family of sites features posts and articles about braille and its importance to all ages—from childhood through employment and into adulthood.

How will you celebrate Louis Braille's birthday? We hope with a great book!


Helen Keller on Trying to Make the World 'A Little More As I Want It'

Helen Keller walking in her garden at her home in Westport, CT.

Image: Helen Keller walks in her garden in Westport, Connecticut, 1950. It is wintertime. Keller is seen smiling, facing the camera. She wears a long coat and woolen hat. She holds a wooden branch railing with her left hand.

As the new year approaches, it’s a good time to review the progress that is being made to digitize the Helen Keller Archive. This is a mammoth task, and we are well on our way to accomplishing the work of preserving and disseminating online the over 80,000 items in the collection. We are simultaneously working on another major objective: to make the materials accessible to hearing, sighted, blind, deaf, and deafblind audiences alike. This is pioneering work and we have no doubt that Helen Keller would be thrilled that her archive is the catalyst for the creation of ground-breaking technology for people with disabilities.

Today, over 40,000 images are up on the site, many items are transcribed, and the collection can be searched as a result of the thousands of pieces of information (metadata) that have been created to describe each item. Enjoy some of the newly digitized photos, or a film clip of Helen flying in 1918, or try a simple search in the online collection and see what you find!

Helen Keller’s involvement in the key cultural, social, and political events of the 19th and 20th centuries is unparalleled, and few archival collections have the potential of providing historians with so rich a source of information on this nation’s history and direction. Above all, the collection powerfully illustrates Keller’s lifelong work to make the world a better place, and as we reflect on the past year and consider how we can do better in 2017, her life story and words are more relevant than ever. As she said:

"I do not like the world as it is; so I am trying to make it a little more as I want it"

Happy New Year from the American Foundation for the Blind!

Recommended Resources

How You Can Help

  • Raise awareness of AFB’s work by sending a beautiful, free Helen Keller ecard with archival photos and quotations.
  • Support the Helen Keller Digitization Project—your donation helps us continue transcribing and describing all of Helen’s beautiful photos, letters, and artifacts.
  • Share this post on social media!

Arts and Leisure
Assistive Technology
Helen Keller
Readers Want to Know

Looking Forward: Join Us in Expanding Possibilities for People with Vision Loss

Photo of Kirk Adams

Kirk Adams is president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind.

"Expanding possibilities" is both our promise and our challenge.

The promise: "When we expand possibilities, we will improve people's lives."

The challenge: "Can we achieve the future we believe is possible?"

The American Foundation for the Blind has put forward a vision of possibilities for people with visual impairments and works to make that vision a reality. We champion the needs and dreams of millions of people with vision loss by challenging the limits of education, technology, and policy. And though we have a long way to go to achieve what is possible, we are already breaking down barriers. That’s what I love about the AFB family—how we tangibly enhance lives, every day.

In the past year alone:

  • More than two million people found help, hope, information, and community through our websites.
  • We built on groundbreaking collaborations with innovative manufacturers to bring accessible devices to market and developed amazing apps for students, workers, and seniors.
  • We published an important new guide for professionals who work with seniors losing their vision.
  • Hundreds of supporters urged their members of Congress to sponsor the Cogswell-Macy Act, and dozens of legislators and organizations joined us in endorsing the most comprehensive special education legislation ever for students with sensory disabilities.

Looking Forward Together

We're proud of these triumphs—you should be, too—but we must protect the progress we've made.

As we look forward, we see a rapidly changing world that threatens to slow our pace and possibly even take our work backward.

We cannot let that happen.

AFB is working harder than ever to build on our progress, leading on issues such as employment, education, and access to new technology so that people with vision loss are welcomed as equals, leaders, and contributors at every level of their lives.

That's what people expect from AFB. They rely on us to enhance the past year's accomplishments—to bring people together, continue our progress, go even further, and help even more people.

That's why we're turning to you this holiday season, when we're most aware of our AFB family and how truly powerful our community and connections are.

Helen Keller said, "Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much." And I believe that together we can continue our progress and improve the lives of millions who are blind or visually impaired.

Let's aim higher next year. Let's do more for one another. Let's do it together.

You can help right now by giving to AFB and supporting our crucial work. Share this message with your friends and neighbors, and encourage them to do the same.

Please consider making your gift a monthly donation. Monthly gifts help ensure a steady, reliable source of income that we need to continue our award-winning programs for men, women, and children who are blind or visually impaired.

Thank you for everything you do to help us expand possibilities for people with vision loss!