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AFB Awards Scholarships to 11 Outstanding Students with Vision Loss

hands tossing graduation caps n the air

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has awarded its 2016 scholarships to eleven outstanding students who are blind or visually impaired and are pursuing their studies at institutions of higher education. The grants support one of AFB’s most important goals: expanding access to education for students with vision loss.

The awardees are as follows:

The Delta Gamma Foundation Florence Margaret Harvey Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $1,000 to an undergraduate or graduate student in the field of rehabilitation or education of persons who are blind or visually impaired.

Kayla Prato recently completed high school and will be attending Towson University in Maryland this fall working toward a combined bachelor's/master's degree in occupational therapy. Kayla would like to work with children who have visual and hearing impairments.

The Rudolph Dillman Memorial Scholarship: Four scholarships of $2,500 each to undergraduates or graduates who are studying full-time in the field of rehabilitation or education of persons who are blind and/or visually impaired.

Rachel Bodek attends St. Thomas Aquinas College in New York, and will continue working towards her master's degree in teaching and would like to work with children with visual impairments. Rachel has a son who also has a visual impairment and she is a strong advocate for disability awareness.

Barbara Feltz is enrolled at the George Washington University in Washington DC, pursuing her master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, and would like to work with veterans with vision loss. Barbara has a background in exercise physiology, and is active with the American Blind Skiing Foundation.

Dmitry Neronov is pursuing his master's degree in special education at San Francisco State University in California and wants to work with children who are visually impaired. Dmitry currently works as a paraprofessional at a local public school.

Ra’Kira Tidmore is planning to attend the University of Alabama this fall working toward a bachelor's degree in social work, and would eventually like to pursue a masters degree in vision rehabilitation therapy. Ra'Kira does volunteer work at a local hospital and at a nursing home.

The Paul and Ellen Ruckes Scholarship: Two scholarships of $2,000 each to a full-time undergraduate or graduate student in the field of engineering or in computer, physical, or life sciences.

Lauren Siegel is graduating high school and plans to attend North Carolina State University in the fall, majoring in computer science. She founded her school's robotics club, and was a member of her high school's Science Olympiad team. As a young teen, Lauren wrote a computer program that would solve polynomial equations to help students in algebra.

Cassandra Mendez attends the Ohio State University and is pursuing her bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering. Cassandra has had an internship under the Air Force Research Labs, and she hopes to use her degree to change lives through technology and practical design.

The R.L. Gillette Scholarship: Two scholarships of $1,000 each to women who are enrolled in a full-time four-year undergraduate degree program in literature or music.

Winona Brackett is a student at Stetson University in Florida and is working toward her bachelor's degree in music, majoring in trumpet performance. Winona has received multiple awards for her trumpet playing, including the Quincy Jones Award and the John Philip Sousa Band Award.

Precious Perez is graduating high school and will attend Gordon College in Massachusetts majoring in music education and vocal performance. Precious was a member of the Boston Children's Chorus and is now a member of the Vocal Apprenticeship Soloists Program with the Handel and Haydn Society.

The Gladys C. Anderson Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $1,000 given to a female undergraduate or graduate student studying classical or religious music.

Christina Ebersohl is working toward her bachelor's degree in music at Portland State University in Oregon, majoring in music performance and viola. She has served as an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army. This summer Christina will attend a music study program in Italy at the Florence University of the Arts.

The Karen D. Carsel Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $500 to a full-time graduate student.

Silpa Tadavarthy is attending the Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine in Pennsylvania for her Doctor of Medicine degree and would like to specialize in neurology. Silpa plans to serve the low-income patient population of North Philadelphia during her medical school clerkships.

Please join us in congratulating all of this year's awardees!


Bringing Helen Keller’s History to Life

Today, Monday June 27th, 2016—is Helen Keller’s 136th birthday. What better way to celebrate her legacy than by focusing our attention on the Helen Keller Digitization Project? As the result of a grant awarded in May 2015 by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) began the task of capturing 80,000 items in the Helen Keller Archival Collection. Using digital photography, correspondence, photographs, architectural drawings, oversize print materials, artifacts, and film clips are being made fully accessible via the Internet to both sighted and non-sighted audiences around the world.

We are thrilled with the progress we have made! Over 164 manuscript boxes filled with documents have been photographed and over 24,000 digital images corresponding to over 9,600 items are now available on the website, along with their metadata at

For every item that includes text (e.g., letters, newspaper clippings, speeches), a transcription appears beside it. When the text is typewritten, the computer can automatically generate transcriptions. However, it cannot decipher handwritten text, so these must be manually transcribed. To date, our three volunteer transcribers have transcribed or made text corrections to over 6,600 items, far surpassing our goal of 1,666 transcriptions/corrections by August 2016. Because transcription is proceeding so beautifully, and because it is such an important aspect of making digital images and the written knowledge they contain accessible to those who cannot see, it will be the focal topic of this and many of the posts that will appear over the next few weeks. Blogs will be contributed by both our transcribers and historians, and our hope is to inspire others to volunteer as transcribers and join our "Captains of Transcription" team.

For this blog post, I would like to draw attention to an area where the art of transcription is both tricky and highly relevant to a blind audience—photographic prints. Take a look at the image below:

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan playing chess

A basic description of the image might appear on the back of the photograph as follows: Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan Macy playing chess at Radcliffe College, 1900. The sighted viewer can supply the information that gives historical context to the photograph such as the dresses they are wearing and the style of furniture around them, but what about the visually impaired viewer? An alternative description might be as follows:

In this picture, taken in 1900, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy are playing chess. Helen is about to move a white queen. She has already captured one of Anne’s black pawns, which is to the right of the board. Helen’s hair is pulled into a single braid, down her back. She is wearing a long, dark dress with a high collar and sleeves that puff out from the shoulder to the elbow. Anne’s hair is twisted into a large braid at the back of her head. She is wearing a dark dress with a white lace collar and dark ruffles around each shoulder. A screened window and a book shelf with large volumes are visible in the background.

The wonderful thing about such a detailed description is that it is both highly evocative and can provide careful analysis of the scene and its historical context to both non-sighted and sighted audiences alike. In the era of being bombarded with images on the Internet, a sighted viewer can benefit just as much from careful looking—albeit through a fabulous transcription—as a visually impaired viewer. A well-transcribed photographic print is a beautiful thing and is beneficial to everyone!

So, who wants to sign up and help with transcriptions?

Helen Keller

Accessibility in Digital Publishing: Notes from a Summit

Judy Brewer, Director, Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, speaks at the publishing breakfast

New federal regulations on accessibility for digital and web publishing are expected to have a significant impact on the publishing industry.

The American Foundation for the Blind was pleased to co-sponsor, and AFB staff were pleased to attend, a summit on accessibility in publishing, along with many other publishers and accessibility experts, hosted by the Center for Publishing Innovation.

Discussions included the impact of revisions to Section 508 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and how these changes may affect digital publishing, eLearning, K–12 portals, higher education, professional journals, and library sales.

The three main take-aways were greater awareness, knowledge of tools and resources, and plans to take action. Many of the largest publishers were present, as were digital publishing accessibility advocates.

The Access Board expects to release refreshed Section 508 standards in October and the Department of Justice has signaled that publishers will be expected to comply, not only in terms of accessible books, but also content on their websites.

The Worldwide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative, the International Digital Publishers Forum, the U.S. Access Board, Book Industry Study Group, Pearson, and Benetech, among others, made presentations about tools and resources for accessibility guidance and compliance with Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 standards.

AFB Press, the publishing arm of the American Foundation for the Blind, is proud to be the leading publisher in the field of blindness and visual impairment. We make all of our materials—from e-books to DVDs to online journals—available in multiple formats, and at the highest levels of accessibility. Connect with us on Facebook to learn more about our offerings, or sign up for News from AFB Press to be notified whenever a new publication becomes available.

Conference Recaps
Web Accessibility

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