Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

AFB Blog

Track This Blog By E-mail

Let's Keep Changing the World Together on Giving Tuesday

Photo of Kirk Adams

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

I know more than I ever wanted to about unmet needs.

I became blind when I was five years old. That's when I learned about AFB. It produced my educational materials and devices, which were my lifelines.

When I grew up and graduated college, I tried but struggled to land a job. I would send my resume and cover letter, then ace a phone interview. Everything looked promising until I showed up for the in-person interview with my white cane. Suddenly I was no longer what they expected. I was labeled incapable. That hurt, every time.

With a lot of perseverance, I finally got a job and built confidence and a career. Then, more than 15 years ago, I attended my first AFB Leadership Conference. As it is now, AFB was the leader in the field of vision loss, the place that millions of people turned to for help, hope, information, and community.

This year, I became AFB's president and CEO, and every day I'm humbled by the thanks I hear from the people whose lives we improve—kids, parents, elders, and their families who just want equal access to the things so many of us risk taking for granted: education, independence, health, jobs, and technology that lets us connect with our friends and the world.

Your Donation's Impact

The demand for AFB's services is growing. In 2017 alone, millions of people will learn for the first time that they are losing their vision. If it were you or a loved one, I know you'd want AFB to be there as a go-to resource, a source of community, and a champion for equality and access.

Meanwhile, government and corporate support for our work is shrinking. Today, Giving Tuesday, is the perfect time to donate to the organization I and others have turned to for so long.

AFB is 95 percent privately funded. We rely on friends like you—compassionate people who understand the impact of their support—to keep us going. Together, we can make the next year brighter for everyone who depends on AFB.

Right now, while you're thinking about it, donate and help us continue the work we love—being the source of strength for people with vision loss when they need us most.

Thank you for your generosity.

Donate to AFB here.

Happy Thanksgiving From the American Foundation for the Blind

a photo of Helen Keller with friends celebrating Thanksgiving Dinner

Transcript: Thanksgiving dinner at Palawoo, 1918. (Left to right) Elsa Kingsley, Mrs. Mary Kingsley, Polly Thompson, Helen Keller, Myra Kingsley, Maybon Kingsley, Mrs. Macy "Teacher" -- We are doing our best with a 14 lb turkey that Mrs. Kingsley brought in with all the "fixins." How much have we all both as individuals and collectively the [sic] be thankful for this wonderful day with the World War over.

The American Foundation for the Blind is grateful for all of you, who share our vision of a world where the millions of people who are blind or visually impaired have equal access and opportunities to excel at school, at work, and in our communities.

Today and every day, AFB is thankful for you—our supporters who make our work on behalf of people with vision loss possible. We wish you and yours a happy Thanksgiving!

Helen Keller
Personal Reflections

Lessons from New Zealand Earthquakes Can Help People with Visual Impairments Prepare for Disasters

In light of the recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck New Zealand's South Island on Monday, November 14th, and the 6.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan's Honshu Island on Tuesday, November 22nd, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) extends its heartfelt sympathy to all those affected by the initial tremor and aftershocks. To help people with visual impairments, especially older people with vision loss, prepare for similar situations, AFB would like to share a few disaster-preparedness tips from an article that will appear in the forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) on aging and vision.

Older man sitting on a wooden bench with his cane in hand, and labrador retriever dog, in a park

Authors Gretchen A. Good and Suzanne Phibbs, from the School of Public Health at Massey University in New Zealand, and Kerry Williamson, from the New Zealand Ministry of Justice, report on a series of interviews they conducted with mainly older people with visual impairments who lived in areas affected by the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that occurred in 2010 and series of deadly aftershocks that happened in the year following the initial event centered around Christchurch on the South Island.

With the majority of research into disasters focusing on the restoration of communities, the JVIB article represents the first study of its kind to explore disaster preparedness for individuals with visual impairments. Participants talked about how their own personal networks rather than agencies offered support to them immediately following the disaster, "I think somebody should have checked on disabled people...some official, if you follow my point," said one individual.

Getting around represented a significant struggle after roads and walkways were destroyed by the tremors, resulting in disrupted public transportation. As one participant explained, "If you use a dog guide, people seem to have the impression that they are magicians and they can put you off at the wrong bus stop if they've gone past your stop and your dog's magically going to know where it is. Well, it doesn't work that way...." Once-confident dog guides "had to be comforted, retrained, and assessed as to their abilities to cope as working dogs after the earthquakes." One participant recalled how her own dog guide reacted following the quake, "Oh, the dog, the poor dog...he was shivering. He shook until about 10 o'clock the next morning; he just shook."

In addition to relaying personal accounts of the hurdles that individuals with vision loss experienced in the hours, days, and months following the disasters, the authors provide a list of 17 practical tips for disaster preparedness gleaned from practitioners with various job roles in the field of vision loss and visually impaired people themselves, some of which include:

  • have at least two people organized to contact you following a disaster
  • keep your shoes under your bed, keep a flashlight on the doorknob, and have spare white canes available
  • have a transistor radio and batteries at hand
  • dog guide users should keep cane skills sharpened: in a disaster, your dog may become lost, injured, or traumatized, and may not be able to help you
  • remember that GPS [Global Positioning System] may not be helpful after an earthquake

These and more tips for surviving after a disaster are available in the article, "Disoriented and Immobile: The Experiences of People with Visual Impairments During and After the Christchurch, New Zealand, 2010 and 2011 Earthquakes," by Gretchen A. Good, Suzanne Phibbs, and Kerry Williamson, which will be available to JVIB subscribers and for purchase in the coming weeks. For more information, visit the JVIB home page at

We hope you've found this information helpful. JVIB is the journal of record for the field of visual impairment that has been in continuous publication since 1907 and has been published by AFB since its inception. Please consider subscribing to JVIB, the essential professional resource for information about visual impairment and blindness, or making a donation today to support AFB's information, programs, and research.

Getting Around
In the News

On Veterans Day, Resources for Soldiers Who Have Become Blind or Visually Impaired

photograph from 1919, just after World War I. Helen has the arm of a newly-blinded soldier; they are walking down a woodsy path in Baltimore, Maryland. Behind them is a stone wall and a large house with many windows, which is the Red Cross Institute for the Blind. Helen is wearing a long, dark coat and a woolen hat. The soldier is dressed in a military uniform. He has a bandage over his left eye and is using a cane to help him walk. Bringing up the rear, also on the path, are Anne, Polly, and two other men, one in a military uniform.

The American Foundation for the Blind was founded in 1921 to advocate for soldiers blinded or maimed during World War I. From our earliest days, we led the nation in demanding legislative change and inclusion for people with vision loss. AFB has served as a national clearinghouse for information about vision loss, created a forum for blindness service professionals, generated new directions for research and accessible technology, and represented the needs of people with vision loss in the creation of public policy.

Today and every day, AFB honors our military veterans for their service, and affirms our commitment to expanding possibilities for people with vision loss. Thank you to all the soldiers still protecting us, at home and abroad.

Resources for Veterans from the American Foundation for the Blind

We hope you've found this information helpful. Please consider making a donation today to support our free information, programs, and research.

Helen Keller
Stroke or Brain Trauma

Let's Go Vote! What to Do if You Encounter Problems at the Polls as a Blind Voter

Image reads: A projected 6.3 million eligible voters in 2016 will have visual impairments. -Rutgers University; Schur, Adya and Kruse 2013

It's almost Election Day. People with vision loss can have the greatest impact when everyone takes action, registers, and votes—whether voting early, absentee, or on Election Day, November 8th!

First equip yourself by knowing your rights, and the potential impact of voters in the disability community (which outnumbers eligible African American voters and eligible Latino voters). Then, it's time to go vote!

Make Sure You're Registered to Vote

One easy place to get registered is at—which includes options for registering, verifying your registration, and requesting an absentee ballot. Another good way to verify your voter registration is to call your state's Secretary of State's office (you can also call this office to request an application by mail or to ask voting-related questions).

The Help America Vote Act instituted Protection and Advocacy for Voter Access efforts (PAVAs) in every state. Find out more by contacting the Protection and Advocacy agency in your state.

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) has organized the "REV UP" (Register, Educate, Vote, and Use your Power) effort to get out the vote among people with disabilities. Their website provides helpful links for national and state resources. The REV UP toolkit (which can be customized by state) includes the following reminders of voting rights and accommodations:

When registering to vote, it is good to know:

  • Check voter registration and voting requirements and deadlines for your state at
  • Offices that have voter registration forms must also offer to help you complete the forms, unless you refuse assistance
  • Political parties, activist groups, and private citizens can give out application forms. If they do, they must help you register, too, whether or not you agree with their politics or point of view.
  • If an agency is providing you with services in your home, and if they offer voter registration services, they must provide those voter registration services at your home.
  • If you reside somewhere else that is not in the same county as your permanent address, you can register to vote by mail in the county where your permanent address is. Then you can vote with an absentee ballot.

Know Your Rights As a Voter Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired!

In any election for a federal office, you have the right:

  • to vote privately and independently.
  • to get help from a person of your choice or an election worker, except that you cannot be assisted by an agent of your employer or union or a candidate for office.
  • to a physically accessible polling place, including accessible parking and the use of an accessible voting machine.
  • to have sample ballots in alternative format.
  • to go back and make corrections if you make a mistake before submitting your ballot.

In some states, like Virginia, early in-person voting is only available to people who meet certain qualifying criteria. Often, having a disability is a qualifying rationale for voting early. This option could save you lots of time! In some cases, you can even register to vote and vote early, all in one visit! Check with your local election office for more details.

If you vote using an absentee ballot:

  • You have a right to an accessible ballot.
  • Be sure to verify that you have requested your ballot before your state's deadline.
  • Be sure to verify that you have returned your ballot on time and following the instructions.

If voting in person (early or on election day), you might want to bring:

  • headphones to hear your ballot,
  • photo identification (check the laws for your state),
  • a hand-held magnifier (if you typically use one), and/or
  • a trusted sighted assistant (if you prefer to vote with assistance).

Curious about voting with an accessible machine? Read about VisionAware blogger Empish Thomas' first voting experience with an accessible voting machine (spoiler alert: getting access to the machine first required a lot of self-advocacy!)

What to Do If You Experience a Problem at the Polls

  • Talk to the head election judge. If he/she cannot fix it, ask him/her to contact a city/county election official. If that doesn't work, call 866-OUR-VOTE (a voter helpline service from the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition). Spanish-speaking/bilingual voters may wish to call 888-Ve-Y-Vota, and Asian language speaking voters can call 888-API-VOTE.
  • If your complaint is not resolved, file a written complaint before leaving your polling place.
  • You may also submit a complaint to the Department of Justice Voting section:

One final thought as you head off to the polls: Noted disability rights advocate Justin Dart once said, "Vote like your life depends on it - because it does!" At AFB, we want to encourage you to exercise this valuable right, no matter who you vote for. We wish you the best of luck! Here's hoping that in 2016, voter participation rates for people with vision loss are through the roof, evidence of our community's passion, power, and participation!

Recommended Links

Image reads: Democracy isn't simple or easy. Living in a democracy means taking our responsibilities seriously to be an active part of the process. -Deanna Quietwater Noriega, VisionAware Blogger
  • Want to tell us about your voting experience? Comment below!
  • VisionAware blogger DeAnna Quietwater Noriega wrote "Democracy isn't simple or easy. We can use our power at the polls to elect people we believe will represent our values... If we opt out of participating, then others who may hold opinions different from ours will decide outcomes. Living in a democracy means taking our responsibilities seriously to be an active part of the process." Be sure to read DeAnna's heartfelt blog post on VisionAware.
  • Empish Thomas writes, "As an African-American who grew up with parents who lived under segregation, I have known and understood the importance and power of the right to vote." Read her powerful piece, Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting Machine.
  • Read Mark Richert's blog post on the 5 critical policy issues specific to people who are blind or visually impaired
  • This information was excerpted from the September 23 issue of the AFB DirectConnect newsletter. Please subscribe to stay informed about your rights, and get important updates from the AFB Policy Center. To subscribe, go to and either log in (if you have registered before) or follow the link to "sign up to receive free newsletters and other services." Once you have an account and are logged in, just check the box next to AFB DirectConnect, and click submit!

In the News
Public Policy
Readers Want to Know