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February Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Month

retina with dry macular degeneration, photo by Carolina Retina

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss for people aged 60 and older in the United States. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 10-15 million individuals have AMD and about 10% of those affected have the "wet" type of age-related macular degeneration.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, here is just a small sampling of resources from the American Foundation for the Blind to help you cope with this condition.

Macular Degeneration
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"Helen Keller In Her Story" Oscar Winner 1955

Helen Keller holding her Oscar 1955

Sixty years ago, Helen Keller was given an honorary Oscar as inspiration for the movie Helen Keller in Her Story a documentary by Nancy Hamilton about her life; she turned 75 that year and had spent 6 decades fighting for those with vision loss. Decades earlier, in 1916 she delivered an address on the Midland Chautauqua Circuit in which she said:

I, for one, love strength, daring, fortitude. I do not want people to kill the fight in them; I want them to fight for right things.

And that she most certainly did!

In addition to her work for those with visual impairments, Helen never ceased to demand that women, the poor and disenfranchised be afforded an equal chance to live a full life. It is interesting to consider that in the late 1940s and 1950s, as the Cold War set in and many American women were being relegated to the kitchen, here was a person who was in her 60s and 70s, who was deaf, blind, a socialist and a woman, and who was circumnavigating the globe unstoppable in her mission of equal rights and justice for all.

Image: Helen Keller holding her honorary Oscar, 1955

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Helen Keller

Helen Keller: A Champion Among Presidents

Helen Keller touching Eisenhower's face, 1953 Helen Keller and Calvin Coolidge, circa 1926 Helen Keller meeting President Kennedy, 1961

"Only people count. Only people who think and feel and work together make civilization. Only governments that keep every door of opportunity wide open are civilized governments...Civilization means a fair chance to live. It means an equitable share of the resources of the earth for every one. It means health and freedom and education for all men."

Helen Keller, draft of speech, June 1918

When Helen Keller was 6 years old she met President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was the first of many U.S. presidents that she met during her lifetime. The Helen Keller Archives at the American Foundation for the Blind contains correspondence with 9 sitting U.S. Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Keller enjoyed both personal and professional friendships with this country’s leaders. It was perhaps as the nation’s champion for those who were blind or visually impaired that she came in greatest contact with its Commanders in Chief. Keller doggedly solicited federal and state governments to help improve the lives of those with vision loss. At the federal level, among her many achievements, she successfully lobbied the government in the 1930s to print and distribute books in braille for use by the adult blind across the United States, and from 1942-1944, she supported Senator Robert Wagner’s efforts to secure funding for the rehabilitation, special vocational training, placement, and supervision of blind persons, including those blinded in World War II.

Keller famously had the ear of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. During the Great Depression, Keller petitioned President Roosevelt to make the creation of audio recordings "Talking Books," a Works Progress Administration project. The Talking Book revolutionized access to literature and information for those who could not see. Keller successfully advocated for an extensive national program for these recordings, even though as she was both deaf and blind she could not utilize them. This national lending library of recorded and braille books continues today (as the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) with nearly a million users.

Keller powerfully believed in the efficacy of a government that was actively involved in assuring the welfare of its citizens.

Images, left to right: Helen Keller with President Dwight Eisenhower. The fingers of Keller's left hand are placed on the President's face to "see" what he looks like, 1953; Keller stands in the snow next to President Calvin Coolidge, circa 1926; Keller is seated opposite President Kennedy at the White House, 1961.

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Helen Keller

Helen Keller: On the subject of love

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy formal portrait. Keller is seated infront of Macy. With her left hand, Keller holds her teacher's right hand, circa 1893Helen Keller head and shoulders portrait circa 1920

On the eve of her 80th birthday in June 1960, Helen Keller gave an interview looking back on her life. She spoke with Ann Carnahan, a journalist, about her "secrets of joyous living."

Question: What is the greatest virtue a person may have or cultivate?

Answer: Love. Cultivate love for love is the light that gives the eye to see great and noble things. Love is true joy.

Question: I notice, Miss Keller, that you use joy very often. Why?

Answer: It is almost my favorite word. After love. But then they are the same. If you love life, you express joy every day.

Question: How is love personally important to you?

Answer: Only by the love my Teacher gave me did I learn true happiness. She gave me love, opened my mind, and helped me to my portion of the greatness of life.

"Helen Keller at 80" An interview by Ann Carnahan, This Week Magazine June 19, 1960

Image on left: Helen Keller seated in front of her teacher Anne Sullivan Macy. Keller holds her teacher's right hand with her left, circa 1893.

Image on right: Helen Keller head and shoulders portrait, circa 1920

Courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind, Helen Keller Archives.

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Helen Keller

What to Do When You Can't Find a Spanish Interpreter: Advice for Orientation and Mobility Specialists

puzzle piece reading Habla Espanol?, connecting with a speech bubble

As an orientation and mobility specialist, I’ve worked with visually impaired individuals of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom speak Spanish as their primary language. Let’s face it, if your Spanish is as limited as mine is, you need an interpreter, but sometimes there are none to be found.

Here are some short-term strategies I’ve used when my back was to the wall:

Hit up your bilingual friends or co-workers. Bribe them with whatever you’ve got. Food usually works, but sometimes they demand alcohol, too.

This approach has some potential benefits and drawbacks. I’ve had some friends who, although they are not professional interpreters, are outstanding. I’ve had others (no names will be mentioned) who were possibly overwhelmed by the task. I noticed this after my Spanish-speaking student spoke at length for a few minutes, and my friend interpreted the lengthy oration by merely saying "He said no." I’m not sure, but I think I may have missed some important information in that interpretation.

Find out if your student has bilingual family members that might be available to serve as an interpreter. It’s not unusual for the children of Spanish-speaking adults to be bilingual and they may actually have served as interpreters for their parents in many situations. I’ve also worked with members of the church that one of my Spanish-speaking students attended. Again, when working with non-professional interpreters, especially children, expect communication gaps. This is far from ideal and not your best long-term solution.

Clean up your communication. I’m not talking about your use of curse words here, I’m talking about your everyday use of language. When speaking with individuals who are English language learners, or working with non-professional interpreters, it isn’t the best time to aim to impress with your fancy-schmancy vocabulary. Instead, it’s probably a better idea to slow your speech down a bit and ensure you enunciate clearly. Use shorter sentences and simpler syntax than you might normally use. Also consider your use of tense, as most new language learners find present tense use easier to understand. Also check yourself if you are a frequent user of idioms. If you want to tell your student that the route you are going to introduce is easy, it might not be the best idea to say “It’s a piece of cake” or you may find your student will be very disappointed. Another avenue of communication to consider, if your student has low vision, is use of gestures and demonstrations. Draw on your past experiences playing Charades — it will be fun!

Download and use a translation or interpretation app on your smart phone. I’ve used iTranslate Voice on a handful of occasions. It’s simple and will provide almost immediate written translation as well as voice interpretation.

You need a sense of humor when using technology for translation and you should be prepared for some very funny mistakes. When my co-editor Matt Hogel and I demonstrated this app at a national conference, he said "Nice to meet you" in Spanish and my phone interpreted it in English as "I love you" for all to hear. This is how rumors get started.

Contact an interpreter by phone. Never fear! Spanish interpreters are available at a moment’s notice by telephone, providing you have a budget to work with. There are a variety of service providers that are easily found through an internet search and fees are charged typically by the minute. Benefits to using such telephone services include the availability of high skilled interpreters in multiple languages at a moment’s notice. I’ve found this type of service to be fabulous for interviews when seated indoors with a landline and a speakerphone. Potential limitations or complications include the possibility of poor wireless connection if relying upon a cell phone during a lesson.

Here are a few tips for using a professional interpreter (by phone or in person):

Allow for extra time when an interpreter is being used. Since everything has to be said twice, doubling the time makes sense!

Prepare the interpreter before beginning your interactions with the student by giving them a brief background about what you will be doing. Ask the interpreter to introduce themselves and their role to the student.

Speak directly to your student. Avoid phrases such as "Tell her my name is Brenda." Instead, just introduce yourself, then pause and allow the translator to relay the message. When using an in-person interpreter, be sure to face your student when speaking (and not the interpreter).

Speak in short segments (a couple of sentences at a time at most), then pause to allow the interpreter to relay your messages.

Be prepared to make an extra effort to develop rapport with your student as this can be trickier when an interpreter is involved. And no matter what, don’t forget your sense of humor!

Brenda J. Naimy, M.A., a certified orientation and mobility specialist, is a Lecturer in the Orientation and Mobility Specialist Training Program, Visual Impairments and Blindness, Division of Special Education and Counseling, California State University, Los Angeles; as well as an Appeals Specialist for ADA Paratransit Eligibility at Access Services, in Los Angeles. She has co-authored a number of textbook chapters on orientation and mobility assessment and program planning and services for children and youths in Foundations of Orientation and Mobility and Foundations of Low Vision, developed online instructional modules, and conducted numerous presentations on various aspects of orientation and mobility.

Learn more about Basic Spanish for Orientation and Mobility Edited By Brenda J. Naimy, Matthew W. Hogel in the AFB Bookstore.

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