Skip to Content

AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

AFB Blog

Track This Blog By E-mail

"I have great joy in the tulips...": A Helen Keller Quote in Honor of Earth Day

Helen Keller holding a flower in her garden

Helen Keller in the garden of her home, Forest Hills, New York, circa 1920

“I have great joy in the tulips and lilacs
which make my garden ‘look like the waking
of Creation.’ O the potent witchery of smell!
Leaves opening delicately on tree and rambler
and rose-bush tell me God has passed this way,
and I forget the disturbing nearness of the city
in the eternal miracle of a tiny garden
great with wonders.”

—Letter to Waldo Mac Eagar of the British Empire Society of the Blind
May 13, 1933

Recommended Links

Sign up for e-mail alerts from AFB whenever new content is added to the site, for the interest categories of your choice.

A First Look at the Apple Watch and Its Accessibility

closeup of Apple Watch displaying text

Closeup of Apple Watch displaying enlarged text

The AFB Leadership Conference agenda included a session titled Apple Connected. What participants didn’t know until they arrived in the meeting room was that the Apple representative would be unveiling and demonstrating the accessibility features of the Apple Watch for the first time anywhere. There was an audible gasp of delight.

I'm happy to report that the Watch includes a full complement of accessibility features, including VoiceOver, Magnification, and a variety of Font and Contrast options (including Grayscale and Reduced Motion). Here are a few cool takeaways from the demonstration:

  • The watch includes what they call a Digital Crown; it looks like a watch stem but can be used to navigate on the screen, for instance, to move from line to line with magnification.
  • The watch includes options for many different watch faces including my favorite, Extra Large Watchface with extra large numbers in high contrast that make it easy to read.
  • Mono Audio allows you to direct both audio channels to one ear, or to balance the sound between the two to the degree desired.
  • The Haptic feedback option allows you to receive a tap on wrist or audio announcement of alerts.

At the end of the session, we were able to play with the watches and try features for ourselves. The stainless steel and sports versions were shown. I found it easier to tap the small icons on the watchface than I had expected. And in addition to the attributes specific to accessibility, some other features I loved include:

  • The Health & Fitness built-in app that monitors daily activity.
  • Connection with an iPhone to manage phone calls, text messages, email, etc. You can quickly respond from the watch but transfer the interaction to the phone if you want to.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Apple Watch. It was much more enticing than I had expected it to be. And kudos to Apple for thinking through and implementing accessibility right out of the gate.

The Top Twelve from the 2015 AFB Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

Russell Shaffer, Joe Strechay, and Chris Downey at a 2015 AFBLC panel on employment

Russell Shaffer, Senior Manager, Corporate Affairs, Walmart, Joe Strechay, AFB CareerConnect Program Manager, and Chris Downey, Architect, talking about success and vision loss

We just closed up our 2015 AFB Leadership Conference, and I would love to share some highlights. It was a fast-and-furious conference with no reference to the current Furious 7 film. The conference was jam-packed with unique and informative content from experts from around the United States and abroad. Our final head count was somewhere around 420 attendees from 38 states and 7 countries, which is quite awesome. The conference could not have happened without our co-host, Arizona AER, our conference ally, VisionAware Alliance, our partners, sponsors, exhibitors, volunteers, presenters, staff, and especially the work of Scott Truax and Amanda Kolling (AFB's conference dynamic duo).

So, without any further ado, here is your 2015 top 12 list!

12. The first highlight has to be the tremendous list of generous sponsors who care about our mission and the AFB Leadership Conference. Our sponsors were JPMorgan Chase & Co., Delta Gamma Foundation, Google, AudioEye, IBM, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Inc., CTIA, OpenText (formerly Actuate), Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Canon, Comcast, Facebook, Freedom Scientific, Microsoft, NIB, HumanWare, APH, Helen Keller Services, A.B. Data, and TracFone. In addition, I have to mention the enthusiastic and innovative exhibitors who showed off their products and services, and provided fantastic prizes for our popular “exhibitor bingo.” AFB is all about partnerships and connecting people to resources, and these exhibitors provided an extra punch to the conference with their great offerings.

11. AFB Press and Professional Development gave a presentation on leadership through authorship. Editor and author perspectives were given for helping to build the knowledge base of the field and to advance the dialogue on critical topics by writing books, submitting journal articles, and making presentations through webinars.

10. The summits and offerings on the first day of the conference allowed attendees to gather, hear, and discuss the latest information about topics such as transition, research and policy, technology, and the aging population. You might have been in the Apple training, Google Android training, or in the packed AccessWorld Technology Summit brought to you by Lee Huffman. Maybe you were at the National Transition Summit, where we discussed current innovative programs and the obstacles faced by professionals and providers. You will see all the notes and next steps posted to the National Transition page soon.

9. If you attended any part of the research and policy session from AFB’s Mark Richert and Rebecca Sheffield, you would have been blown away with the depth of knowledge, delivery, and humor used to make data, research, and policy as entertaining as television's “Big Bang Theory.”

8. Getting to meet all of the future experts in the field of blindness and visual impairment by networking with current Delta Gamma Fellows in attendance of the conference was truly inspiring, and this is all thanks to the Delta Gamma Foundation's sponsorship. Delta Gamma didn't stop there, however—if you attended, you might have met a number of volunteers from local Delta Gamma chapters or alumnae who now live in the Phoenix area. Delta Gamma truly helped make the conference a huge success.

7. Did you make it to the Saturday afternoon session by Mahadeo Sukhai, one of a handful of congenitally blind biomedical researchers in North America? Dr. Sukhai spoke about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) access in postsecondary education. I can tell you I walked away from this session with some great ideas and motivation around the inclusion of individuals who are blind or visually impaired in STEM lab settings and "practical spaces" in the arts and design. And he just happens to be an AFB CareerConnect mentor, too.

6. Would it be wrong to put my employment panel on this list? Well, I don't think so as the panel was truly exceptional. Toni Mayros from the Tui Group, Jim Camp from Walmart, and Mylene Padolina from the United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN) did a great job of addressing questions on trends in the employment process, disclosure, talent acquisition, social media, and advice for professionals and job seekers. I really don't think this panel could have gone any better, and that is because of these talented individuals.

5. If you attended the informative personnel preparation panel general session and accessibility panel with Paul Schroeder, you would be geared up for next year's 2016 AFB Leadership Conference in Arlington, VA, as these panels set the tone for the level of content that come from the conference. Hearing from executives and experts at companies like Microsoft and Comcast leaves a lasting impression. During the personnel preparation panel, a great question about the preparation of teachers specific to training youth on technology was asked by Carl Augusto, and I believe this topic will be highlighted more next year.

4. I am biased, but I am putting my own general session on this list! The Stephen Garff Marriott Award was presented during the session to Russell Shaffer from Walmart, an exemplary individual who gives back to the world while demonstrating that vision loss or blindness shouldn't stop you for reaching and striving for success at the highest level. During the general session, I had the opportunity to interview Russell and Chris Downey, lead architect from Architecture for the Blind, about their work, life, vision loss, and adjustment. We could not have picked two better panelists. I had multiple people come up to me and share that they cried during the session and two people even cried while talking to me about the panel. Many more asked for another general session like this in the future, and I would be happy to oblige.

3. The newest AFB Press publication, Vision and the Brain: Understanding Cerebral Visual Impairment in Children, edited by Amanda Hall Lueck and Gordon Dutton was presented to great acclaim and the copies brought to the conference sold out quickly. This book will bring much needed information and new perspectives about working with children with CVI. I also have to mention the cool squeezable brains that AFB Press gave out at the conference for stress relief—that was quite cool and unique.

2. Apple and the Apple Watch wowed the audience in the very first presentation about the accessibility and use of this cool new device. Numerous people remarked that they went online and pre-ordered their own later that day after seeing the demo.

1. The top highlight, however, has to be the award presentation events at the conference. As the most prestigious award specific to the field of blindness, the 2015 Migel Medal was presented to Judy Brewer, Dr. Gaylen Kapperman, and Dr. Rosanne Silberman. The Kirchner Award for excellence in research was presented to Dr. John Crews of the CDC. The 2015 AFB Access Awards were presented to Comcast, Microsoft, MIPsoft, Odin Mobile, Joel Snyder, American Printing House for the Blind, Orbit Research, and Texas Instruments. The Access Awards highlight individuals, companies, and organizations that bring accessibility to a new level in way that can be replicated for the benefit of creating better access for people who are blind or visually impaired. This was a stellar group of winners to add to the great history of past winners recognized by the American Foundation for the Blind.

Besides all of the great general sessions and concurrent sessions, the conference was a fabulous place to network and meet other passionate professionals from around the United States and abroad. I met Joel Isaac from JPMorgan Chase, and he knows that I will be contacting him for an AFB CareerConnect Our Stories piece. It was wonderful meeting new contacts and networking with current contacts and friends. As always, it feels like you are visiting with a big extended family. On a side note, the staff at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown were top notch, perhaps even the best staff I’ve worked with in all of my Marriott stays (and I’ve racked up a lot of Marriott nights). A special shout out to Summer, Tommy, Monique, Ben, and Pamela. Both Summer and Tommy treated me like family; what a great hotel and staff!

If you attended, let us know your favorite aspect or session from the 2015 AFB Leadership Conference (#AFBLC). If you didn't make it this year, you missed out hardcore on innovative and unique information concerning technology, accessibility, employment, education, leadership, and rehabilitation specific to blindness and visual impairment. Don’t miss out next year—mark your calendars for March 3-5, 2016 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, just a quick metro ride to all of the sights and attractions of Washington, DC. See you there!

Personal Reflections
Conference Recaps

Standing Ovation for Netflix on its Audio Description Announcement

Netflix logo

Big news from Netflix this week: the internet television network announced that it is adding audio description to its platform as a setting. This is huge news for those of us with vision loss.

When I read and started talking to people about this announcement, I literally got chills. We all have our outlets for entertainment, relaxation, and even stress relief. Netflix is one of mine; it’s something I truly enjoy. I view it via my Apple TV or my iPhone. And up until today, unless my wife or a friend fills me in on what’s happening on the screen, I end up missing facial expressions, changes in setting and just about everything that’s not captured in the dialogue.

For those unfamiliar with audio description, it’s a detailed narrative around the actions, movement and visual information portrayed; it gives people with vision loss a complete picture of what’s happening on the screen. The information is provided through a narrator in between dialogue in a production. It makes watching TV much more enjoyable for those of us who can't see or can't see that well. The major networks and some cable channels are required to provide approximately four hours of video described programming each week. You can learn more at

So how am I celebrating this news? I’m taking the day off tomorrow, hanging out on my couch and watching as many episodes as I can of Marvel’s Daredevil, the first Netflix show to include description, and one that’s dear to my heart. And I’m not the only one celebrating this wonderful news. Here are some quotes from others at the American Foundation for the Blind:

“Bravo, Netflix! Now Americans with vision loss can more easily and fully enjoy their favorite Netflix shows alongside their sighted peers. Wonderful news.”
—Carl Augusto, President & CEO

“The historic Netflix announcement about the addition of video description to many of its hit shows is a huge step forward for TV viewers with vision loss. As an avid fan of description and politics, I am thrilled to be able to start watching “House of Cards” and learn about all the wonderfully twisted intrigue. As a community, it will be great to start enjoying described TV online, for the first time.”
—Paul Schroeder, VP of Programs Policy

"I'm thrilled Netflix is making description available. I hope Dr. Who can make it to the top of the list to be described. It's time to sign up for Netflix!"
—Crista Earl, Director, Web Services

"I am very excited to hear about the announcement from Netflix! This will provide access to its thousands of subscribers who are blind or visually impaired. I am glad that Netflix is setting this example for other media providers to follow."
—Lee Huffman, AccessWorld Editor, Technology Information

"I have watched Netflix's House of Cards in the past, but I am ready to get the full House of Cards experience with the addition of audio description."
—Aaron Preece, National Technology Associate

Bringing this setting to all of the devices that we use to access Netflix will take a little time, as I was told last night from a customer service representative from Netflix. I plan on buying a new Apple TV device, as I want the access right now. Audio description is officially confirmed and live on Apple iOS devices; you have to enable it under Settings > General > Accessibility > Video Descriptions (under “Media” heading). In the Netflix app, you can go under the language button to select description. After I updated the setting under the Apple iOS settings, the setting on the Netflix app was already enabled.

Thank you to Netflix for including us in the viewing experience. I am ready to celebrate with a good dose of binge watching of streaming television. Let us know what shows you want to see with audio description, or if you have been able to access this setting.

Video Description
In the News

Celebrating Annie Sullivan's Birthday

a sepia portrait of Annie Sullivan, c.

Anne Sullivan Macy (1866-1936) was a woman whose brilliance, passion, and tenacity enabled her to overcome a traumatic past. She became a model for others disadvantaged by their physical bodies, as well as by gender or class.

Anne was born on this day, April 14, in 1866—the eldest daughter of poor, illiterate, and unskilled Irish immigrants. She grew up to become a pioneer in the field of education. Her work with Helen Keller became the blueprint for education of children who were blind, deaf-blind, or visually impaired that still continues today. Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) dubbed her a "miracle worker."

However, Anne's personal story remains relatively unknown. Although some of her letters still exist, it is primarily through the eyes of others that we know her. Some time after she married John Albert Macy in 1905, the young wife burned her private journals for fear of what her husband might think of her if he should read them. Similarly, she did not want her correspondence to be kept after her death. But for historical purposes, materials were retained and the Helen Keller Archives at the American Foundation for the Blind contain some of her letters, prose, and verse. Other materials about Anne are located at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.

AFB's online museum, Anne Sullivan Macy: Miracle Worker shows Anne through her own words, as well as through the eyes of others, as the remarkable woman whose life and teaching philosophy remain an inspiration to those who educate children who are visually impaired. In 2003, Anne Sullivan Macy was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the American Foundation for the Blind was privileged to receive a medal in her honor.

"By nature she was a conceiver, a trail-blazer, a pilgrim of life's wholeness. So day by day, month after month, year in and year out, she labored to provide me with a diction and a voice sufficient for my service to the blind."

—Helen Keller, writing about Anne Sullivan

At AFB's public policy center in Washington, D.C., we are honoring Anne's legacy by working with advocates from the deaf/hard-of-hearing and deafblindness education fields on legislation called the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act. This is the most comprehensive special education legislation ever drafted for children and youth with vision or hearing loss. For students with vision loss, this Act:

  • supports identification, location, and evaluation
  • requires states to ensure evaluation of students by qualified professionals using valid and reliable assessments
  • requires states to ensure they provide sufficient, qualified personnel to support students
  • requires states to provide instruction that meets students unique learning needs, including assistive technology, social skills, career skills, etc.
  • establishes a national Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Visual Disability and Educational Excellence to conduct/fund research, continuing education, enrichment projects, and personnel preparation.

The Cogswell-Macy Act was introduced in the previous Congress but has yet to be reintroduced this year. The bill's reintroduction will be an historic declaration by the sensory disabilities community that America's current special education system must innovate dramatically to be truly worthy of the potential of all children and youth who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deafblind.

You can celebrate Annie's birthday by reaching out to your two U.S. Senators and your House of Representatives Member and urging them to support the Cogswell-Macy Act, and by making a donation to support AFB's advocacy work. Thank you!

Public Policy
Helen Keller