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Helen Keller in Hiroshima, Japan

Helen Keller and Polly Thomson at the Hiroshima Tower, Japan, 1948
  • Friday May 27th 2016, President Barack Obama will be the first sitting President of the United States to set foot in Hiroshima since the atomic bomb devastated that city 71 years ago
  • Wednesday October 13th 1948, Helen Keller was America’s First Goodwill Ambassador to Japan after the Second World War

Helen wrote the following letter to her good friend Nella Braddy Henney on a train from Hiroshima to Fukuoka on October 14th, 1948, the day after her visit to the devastated city. The letter powerfully reminds us of the horrors of war and the suffering that war creates.

"…Now I simply must tell you about our visit to Hiroshima yesterday. We are still aching all over from that piteous experience — it exceeds in horror and anguish the accounts I have read. Polly and I went to Hiroshima with Takeo Iwahashi to give our usual appeal meeting, but no sooner had we arrived there than the bitter irony of it all gripped us overpoweringly, and it cost us a supreme effort to speak. As you know, the city was literally levelled by the atomic bomb, but, Nella, its desolation, irreplaceable loss and mourning can be realized only by those who are on the spot. Not one tall building is left, and what has been rebuilt is temporary and put up in haste. Instead of the fair, flourishing city we saw eleven years ago, there is only life struggling daily, hourly against a bare environment, unsoftened even by nature’s wizardry. How the people Exist through summer heat and winter cold is a thought not to be borne. Jolting over what had once been paved streets, we visited the one grave — all ashes — where about 8.30, August 6th, 1945, ninety thousand men, women and children were instantly killed, and a hundred and fifty thousand were injured, and the rest of the population did not know at the moment what an [?] of disaster was upon them. They thought that the two planes — when they bombed, they always came in numbers — were reconnoitering planes; so they were not prepared for the flash of light that brought mass death. As a result of that inferno two hundred thousand persons are now dead, and the suffering caused by atomic burns and other wounds is incalculable. Polly saw burns of the face of the welfare officer — a shocking sight. He let me touch his face, and the rest is silence — the people struggle on and say nothing about their lifelong hurts. We saw a memorial to the ninety thousand who perished — a simple wooden shrine where people of all sects lay flowers, and the Shintoists place food, wine and incense.

And it was to those people that I made the appeal! Yet, despite the consummate barbarity of some military forces of my country and the painful wreckage upon the survivors, they listened quietly to what I had to say. Their affectionate welcome from the moment I arrived until two hours later, when we left by ferry for Miyajima, will remain in my soul, a holy memory — and a reproach…"

Image: Helen Keller and Polly Thomson at the Peace Tower in Japan, 1948

Helen Keller
In the News
Personal Reflections

Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2016

illustration of world globe surrounded by electronic devices and signals

May 19 marks the fifth celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day—a day designed to “get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities.”

This year has seen some exciting developments in accessibility. Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Comcast, and Google have all announced major initiatives.

There have been setbacks, as well. Nearly six years after the Obama Administration publicly promised to make significant progress toward clarifying how the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act should continue to break down persistent barriers to inclusion and independence in a digital age, the Administration has yet to keep its word and allow the U.S. Department of Justice to move forward with meaningful federal rules on web accessibility that both advocates and industry groups have long sought.

The American Foundation for the Blind envisions a world where people with vision loss have equal access and opportunities. We are actively working to create a more equal, accessible world by:

Increase global accessibility today by contacting AFB to find out how we can help you engage with supporters and customers with vision loss.

If you have a website of your own, why not celebrate accessibility today by picking just one page and testing its accessibility with WebAim’s online tool WAVE? Or use their Color Contrast Checker to see if your site is low vision friendly. Visit W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative site and learn more about the guidelines, and how you can participate in updating them.

Let us know how you’re celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day in the comments, and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #GAAD.

Web Accessibility

Meet Kirk Adams, the New President and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

Kirk Adams stand in front of an AFB sign

AFB’s Communications team sat down with Kirk to ask him a few questions about his new role, his vision for the future, and his hobbies. Here’s what he had to say.

Tell us about your new role at AFB. What are you looking forward to?

I am honored to be the American Foundation for the Blind’s (AFB) new president and CEO. I’ve long admired AFB’s commitment to making the world a more equitable, inclusive place for people with vision loss. So I’m excited to build upon AFB’s impressive history and to work with the staff, board, and leadership in the field and individuals in the community to find ways to achieve our mission and vision.

How did you learn about AFB?

I’ve known about AFB for as long as I can remember. I’ve been blind since I was five and that was in the mid-’60s. AFB produced educational materials and devices that I used. And then professionally, I attended my first AFB Leadership Conference more than 15 years ago in DC. I remember being struck by the academic approach—evidence-based decision making, really understanding what the numbers say—that really appealed to me and I haven’t missed a leadership conference since then! About six years ago, I was asked to be on AFB’s program committee and was then invited to join the national Board of Trustees three years ago, so I’ve had an increasing involvement since the early 2000s.

What are you planning to tackle first?

Together with the AFB staff and board, I’m planning to take a careful look at the greatest barriers for people with vision loss and identify areas where we can have significant impact long term, and benefit the most people.This will mean working with education systems, policy makers, corporate leadership and technology leaders to create environments where people with vision loss have freedom of employment, freedom of information, access, communication, and freedom of movement through adequate transportation. I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and get started!

What’s the most critical issue for our field?

We have to move the needle on employment. More than 60 percent of blind individuals are not employed and more than three-fourths of individuals who are blind or visually impaired are not in the labor force. That has to change! Even in our own field, we have far too fewblind or visually impaired leaders at the top. There’s a great need for a focus on efforts to create not only qualified blind applicants for leadership positions, but also to work with organizations to be prepared to hire people who are blind. I’m thinking this might be a potential systems change role for AFB, to develop strategies around increasing the numbers of qualified blind leaders in cross sectors, including nonprofits, industry, education, and government. So, that’s really an exciting prospect

Besides employment, what are some other significant barriers?

For starters, I’d say access to information and communications. We must make sure people who are blind or visually impaired have the same access to the wonderful new technologies that are available to the population now. Access to transportation is also hugely important. And let’s not forget education. Right now, quality education is too hit or miss depending on which school a blind child happens to attend, so consistency in education is critical. Those are some of the things that come to mind—just a few!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and some of your interests.

I’m from Seattle, born and raised, so I’m a fan of the Mariners, the Seahawks, and the University of Washington Huskies. I love to cook and I’m an avid reader; I read fiction or poetry in braille daily. I’m also a music fan; I’ve gone to lots and lots of live music in my day and I’m looking forward to exploring the music scene in New York. And most importantly, I’m very close to my family. My wife, Ros, and I have been married for 31 years and our children, Tyler and Rachel, are grown up now. I really enjoy spending time with them, and interacting with them as adults; it’s pretty fun!

But I don’t actually have a lot of spare time these days and now I won’t have very much at all for a while moving forward because I really want to embrace this opportunity with AFB and learn all I can. 

Personal Reflections
Readers Want to Know

A Breath of Fresh Air: Helen Keller and the Importance of Playgrounds for Children

Helen Keller and her niece Adair Faust, 1956

Helen Keller was always a vocal supporter for the rights of children. In 1923, she wrote a fundraising letter on behalf of the National Playground and Recreation Association of America. In it she passionately advocated for the need for outdoor spaces where children could run around safely and enjoy themselves. Keller instinctively understood that play is as important to the healthy development of a child as is study indoors. Read her words below — they are as applicable today as when she wrote them over ninety years ago.

I have been asked to write a letter on behalf of the "National Playground and Recreation Association of America." This movement has for its object the safeguarding of the health and happiness of the children of the nation. It should, therefore, appeal to the heart, the intelligence and conscience of the country.

One cannot walk through the thoroughfares of our large cities without realizing that they are not safe or otherwise desirable places for children to play in. By right divine the great Out-of-doors belongs to all children. But since we grown-ups have so misplanned our lives that our children are denied their birthright, it becomes an urgent necessity to provide them with wholesome places of recreation. Furthermore, it is our sacred duty to see to it that the playgrounds have as much of sunshine, pure water and sweet air as possible.

…Truly the happiness of childhood is the most precious responsibility of the community. The sun can as easily be spared from the earth as joy from the life of a child. Remember, our early years are the formative, impressionable years. Fortunate is the child who grows up in a sane, bright, healthy environment! These sweet influences, like color and perfume in a flower, cling to his soul and remain a part of it forever.

Is it not a disgrace to this great, prosperous, resourceful country that there should be thousands of children growing up under conditions which hinder their normal development, dampen the ardor of youth and quench the fire of aspiration in their young hearts? Thousands of boys and girls — the most precious treasure of the nation — live in crowded tenements where the walls are bare, the furniture cheap and ugly, and food coarse and served in a slovenly manner, wear shabby clothes, play in alleys and gutters, exposed always to soul-destroying influences! Of course all this is wrong. When we consider the myriad available agencies which produce food, clothing, shelter, and make possible the diffusion of knowledge and beauty in the world, it is an affront to human intelligence, an impeachment of civilization that any child should be denied a joyous, free, normal childhood.

Image: Helen Keller and her niece Adair Faust, 1956

Arts and Leisure
Helen Keller
Social Life and Recreation

Reflections of a First-Time Attendee at the Web For All Conference

The Web for All Conference logo: addressing information barriers

Crista Earl, AFB's Director of Web Operations, and I were excited to attend the Web For All (W4A) Conference this year, in Montreal, Canada to share information about the AFB Accessible Video Player. Web accessibility is an important part of our work at the American Foundation for the Blind. We are committed to making our website and all of our products—from apps to online courses and webinars to books—fully accessible to people with vision loss.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Education for All on the Web,” a timely topic because the rapid growth in online learning has created many accessibility challenges. Papers focused on everything from tools and approaches for improving alternative text descriptions of images (yes, sadly still a problem in 2016!) to figuring out techniques to provide students who are blind or visually impaired with access to complex online math problems.

Presenters from around the world tackled everything from web-based games for detecting dyslexia in children to strategies for improving online education for adult learners with sensory, motor, and intellectual disabilities.

Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) and professor at OCAD University in Toronto, gave a powerful keynote talk on “Lifelong Learning on the Inclusive Web” and spoke about the “cobra effect”—the idea that there can be unintended consequences of over-simplistic solutions to complex problems.

As she noted, “Education is a complex adaptive system involving politics, regulations, economics, families, communities, media, students...” all of which combine to make accessible education “a wicked problem.” She argued that accessibility strategies must recognize that accessibility is relative—to individual requirements, goals, and context—not absolute. Therefore, we need regulations that are responsive and evolving, not static.

This led us perfectly into the next talk, an update on “Web Accessibility Guidelines for the 2020s” given by Michael Cooper, representing the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C/WAI). The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 were designed as a universal set of guidelines for content authors, but they depend on user agent support for maximum effectiveness.

WCAG 2.0 is 8 years old now, and starting to show its age. It now has to account for:

  • Smart phones
  • Web payments
  • Automotive interfaces
  • The Internet of things
  • Social networking
  • Ebooks
  • And more

Identifying all of the possible ways user needs could be met is time-consuming, and involves evaluating the pros and cons of each approach, and then prioritizing which approaches are most effective. Cooper encouraged all who are interested to consider participating in the W3C’s activities and working groups to help improve web accessibility.

It was invigorating to spend time with other professionals who are grappling with the issues of how to best deliver online education to learners with a variety of needs. Congratulations to the six doctoral students funded by the Google Doctoral Consortium, the four visually impaired students honored with IBM People with Disabilities Awards, the four recipients of Canvas and Intuit Student Grants, the winners of the Intuit awards for best technical and communication papers, as well as the winners of the Paciello Group Accessibility Challenge! The Pearson Accessible Equation Editor received the judges’ award, and NavCog: a turn-by-turn smartphone navigation assistant for people with visual impairments or blindness won the delegates award, decided by attendees’ votes.

Next year, the Web4All conference will be hosted in Perth, Australia as a co-located event with the WWW2017 conference supported by Media Access Australia.

Related Links:

Web Accessibility