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Happy White Cane Day, from the American Foundation for the Blind!

three young children using white canes to go up a school stairway, trailed by an orientation and mobility instructor

White Cane Day is October 15! Every year since it was first established in 1964, this day has been set aside to celebrate the white cane as a symbol of independence and mobility for people who are blind or visually impaired.

In honor of White Cane Day, the American Foundation for the Blind is celebrating across its entire family of sites:

Wherever you are, we wish you a safe, happy, and independent White Cane Day!

Orientation and Mobility

5 Great Ways to Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month

It's National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)! Observed each October, NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of everyone's skills and talents. This year’s theme is "#InclusionWorks."

girl playing with plastic tools, wearing construction hat

The American Foundation for the Blind is proud to participate in NDEAM every year. Here are some ideas for ways you can use AFB’s resources to celebrate and support a workforce that is fully inclusive of people who are blind or visually impaired.

1. If you’re the parent of a child who is blind, low vision, or has multiple disabilities, explore! It’s never too early to start expanding your child’s knowledge base, or providing meaningful community experiences.

As your child gets older, you can increase their exposure to jobs and hobbies, laying the groundwork for that exciting moment when they can start volunteering, and eventually figuring out what they’d like to be when they grow up.

Aaron Preece with his dog guide

2. CareerConnect® is a great resource for young visually impaired adults to explore careers, and learn how to make connections and succeed on the job.

You’ll also learn how to write a resume or personal data sheet, how to prepare for interviews, and think about when and how to disclose your disability.

headshot of Pauline Winick, job coach and older worker

3. If you’re a visually impaired adult in the workforce, we’d love to hear from you! Would you like to become a mentor, or share your story through CareerConnect? How did you find your current job?

If you’re dealing with recent vision loss, has articles on how to talk to your employer about it, including important information about your legal rights, how to ask for reasonable accommodations, and continuing to work as a senior with vision loss.

4. If you are a professional who works with teens or young adults who are blind or visually impaired, check out CareerConnect’s new, free Transition to Work Program Activity Guide. These 19 lessons and supporting materials provide instructors with easy access to a variety of activities in several formats, to meet the learning medium needs of all of their students. Be sure to check out the other free lesson plans from CareerConnect.

5. Finally, we encourage you to visit the Department of Labor’s website and explore their ideas for employers, educators and youth service professionals, associations and unions, disability-related organizations, and federal agencies to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Sign up for employment-related alerts to get updates as we add new articles and resources throughout the month. And let us know, in the comments: what do you have planned?

In the News

If I Could Ask the Candidates: A Presidential Debate About Blindness and Visual Impairment

US flag with podiums in front, and the words Presidential Debate 2016

The upcoming presidential debates have me thinking about what I might ask the candidates if I were a debate moderator. It isn’t often that disability issues get front-and-center attention during a nationally televised event like a presidential debate, let alone issues specific to people who are blind or visually impaired.

But what if they did?

Would I use my opportunity to ask the candidates about their position on the payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities? Would I ask them about the need to ensure that people with disabilities have an unequivocal and supported right to full integration into society? Or would I use my question time to urge them to promote the prompt ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

Maybe. While these hot topics in the disability community are getting a fair amount of attention, any number of critical issues are not. And so here are my top choices for the questions I would ask the candidates during the debates if I had the chance:

1. The Obama Administration promised the disability community that it would issue much clearer rules about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to retailers and other businesses that operate exclusively online. The Obama Administration has not kept this promise. As president, would you commit to the issuance of federal regulations within the first six months of your presidency that would make it clear that online-only places of public accommodation cannot discriminate against people with disabilities?

2. Technology can be a tremendous liberator for people with disabilities, but it can also be a barrier to our full integration into society. What steps would your administration take to ensure that people with disabilities are able to make full use of technologies in the health care, consumer electronics, and employment contexts?

3. After more than 40 years, we still haven't done enough to ensure children with disabilities get an equal education. This challenge is particularly acute for children with sensory disabilities, such as vision or hearing loss, deafblindness, and who may have additional disabilities. Will you join the more than 100 major national, regional, and community-based organizations across America who are calling for the prompt enactment of the Cogswell-Macy Act, which would improve the quality of instruction, services, and resources for students who are visually impaired, deaf, or deafblind? What steps would your administration take to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education does right by children who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or who may have additional disabilities?

4. As America ages, we know that the number of people experiencing age-related vision loss is expected to increase dramatically. However, state and federal governments are not investing in the kinds of services that would keep older people with vision loss from institutionalization simply because they are not provided with the support needed to live independently. Are you willing to commit, as part of the first budget you submit to Congress, to doubling funds for the Older Individuals Who Are Blind program, the only national program dedicated to meeting this need? And how might you make improvements to the program to reduce bureaucratic barriers that keep people from receiving services?

5. We spend so much money in this country on prevention of vision loss, and the American Foundation for the Blind has always been supportive of efforts to increase vision screenings. However, our nation’s fear of blindness has meant that we've focused on prevention to the detriment of assisting those who do live with vision loss to learn, work, and live independently. We need to send the message that vision loss does not have to mean the end of independence, productivity, or full participation in community life. What will you do as president to ensure funding for programs that assist those with vision loss is at least comparable to those dedicated to vision loss prevention and screening?

Surely, with three debates scheduled, and given how vision loss likely affects the lives of every family in America, debate moderators can ask at least one of these important questions. These questions, and the candidates' responses, could initiate a national debate, ultimately leading to positive changes in the lives of individuals who are blind or have vision loss.

What questions would you ask if you were a debate moderator?

In the News
Public Policy
Web Accessibility

Voices Heard: Disability Policy Becomes Part of the Public Debate

Your Vote Matters - Election 2016 (superimposed over a US flag)

The growing organization and activism of the disability community is successfully getting the attention of candidates running for office. Today's disability policy speech by Hillary Clinton, as well as the media's interest in asking candidates questions about disability policy, represents a significant shift from how the issues we champion have been acknowledged in past presidential elections. In Illinois, a landmark Senate race is taking place between two candidates with physical disabilities. Where we once struggled to be recognized, we are now seeing disability policy being debated in public forums, as citizens and elected officials alike work to propose the best solutions for inclusion and accessibility.

We are becoming a political force that cannot be ignored. Your efforts have mattered. And they will continue to matter between now and election day. Next week, the American Foundation for the Blind will be launching a Research Navigator that looks at the impact people who are blind or visually impaired can have on the elections. And we will be proposing our own questions for the presidential debates. It’s not too late to get engaged.

AFB is encouraged by this important shift in attention to disability issues, which has been many years in the making. Help keep the conversation going! What questions do you hope to hear in the upcoming debates?

In the News
Public Policy

Beyond Recognition: What Machines Don't Read

Helen Keller reading braille, October 1965

Helen Keller reading braille at her home in Westport, Connecticut. October 1965.

I am delighted that the fifth in our series of posts focusing on the Helen Keller Digitization Project is from Mara Mills New York University Associate Professor of Media, Culture and Communication. Mara’s post - on the continued importance of human transcribers - is fascinating and I encourage everyone to read it. Many thanks Mara!

On Helen Keller’s birthday this year, archivist Helen Selsdon wrote a piece for the AFB blog about the work of three volunteers who have transcribed, text corrected, or described well over 6,000 items from the Helen Keller Archival Collection. Keller’s manuscripts are currently being digitized thanks to a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. But why do we still need human transcribers? Can’t machines read? Why not just use Optical Character Recognition (OCR)?

After a scanner turns a document into a page image, OCR software recognizes letter shapes to generate a corresponding text file. This text file is then searchable, amenable to database queries, and compatible with the text-to-speech (TTS) software used by many blind readers. But the machine recognition process is often inaccurate. Certain kinds of documents, including most historical manuscripts, trip up OCR. Examples include:

  • Faint, blurry, smeared, wrinkled, or otherwise damaged documents
  • Very small or very large text
  • Handwritten documents
  • Languages that include "special characters"
  • Mathematical or map symbols and other graphic elements
  • Nonlinear or misaligned text
  • Text on curved surfaces, such as cans and pill bottles (a particular concern for blind readers using handheld TTS devices)

Harvey Lauer, a former technology transfer specialist at the Hines VA Hospital, commented on the glitches of text-to-speech for blind readers like himself in 1994: "When you use a current OCR machine to scan a page with a complex format, the data is frequently rearranged to the point where it’s unusable. Such items as titles, captions and dollar amounts are frequently scrambled together. It makes me feel as if I am eating food that someone else has first chewed." Twenty years later, complex formatting continues to pose problems for TTS—a particular historical irony when one considers that OCR was originally developed to provide blind readers access to print.

Nor does OCR software work for all languages. ABBYY FineReader, for instance, encompasses 190 languages, but only provides dictionary support for 48. Moreover the speed and accuracy of recognition tends to be slower for Asian languages. Historian of computing Dongoh Park roots these inequalities in information technologies that were initially designed by or for English speakers, resulting in a durable script imperialism. "The English language has long served as the lingua franca of computing and computer mediated communication. Many of the core applications and standards of digital computing, including programming languages, operating systems, and applications, have been developed, documented, and serviced in English." Historical languages and manuscripts are similarly refractory to machine reading. Hannah Alpert-Abrams, a scholar who works with Mexican colonial documents, explains that OCR routinely fails with pages that contain multiple languages and obsolete or non-standard spelling or characters.

Less widely known is the fact that braille documents also thwart machine reading. Optical braille recognition technology is still very much a work in progress, made difficult by the lack of contrast on most braille pages. In the online Helen Keller Archival Collection, a braille letter from 1948 yields the following misrecognized text:

f '¦ ¦" "'.¦ '¦' si' ¦. : ' ¦ 'v'..:.; ¦ i ..¦ ' ¦ ; ". : N II


Most other items written in braille produce no output at all.

Human transcribers are thus essential for correcting OCR output ("machine-assisted transcription"), describing charts and images, and transcribing documents in formats like braille that cannot be read by machine at all. You, dear reader, are invited to volunteer as a transcriber with the Helen Keller Digitization Project, simply by making use of the text-correction interface that is built right into the site. These text files allow blind readers to access the collection, and they enable everyone to search the content online.

If you wish to volunteer as a transcriber, please email Helen Selsdon at Thank you.

Related Links

Accessible PDF
Assistive Technology
Helen Keller
Web Accessibility