by Helen Selsdon
Helen Keller was a voracious reader. She describes her love of reading in her second autobiography entitled Midstream, published in 1929.
"More than at any other time, when I hold a beloved book in my hand my limitations fall from me, my spirit is free. Books are my compensation for the harms of fate. They give me a world for a lost world, and for mortals who have disappointed me they give me gods.
I cannot take space to name here all the books that have enriched my life, but there are a few that I cannot pass over. The one I have read most is the Bible. I have read and reread it until in many parts the pages have faded out—I mean, my fingers have rubbed off the dots, and I must supply whole verses from memory, especially the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Gospels. To the Bible I always go for confidence when waves of doubt rush over me and no voice is near to reassure me.
...It was while I was still a little girl that I made the acquaintance of three great American writers who are inseparably linked in my mind. All three opened for me magic windows through which I still look upon the universe and find it “many splendoured (sic.)." I mean Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Of the three Whitman is my best beloved. He has been an inspiration to me in a very special way. I began to read his poetry years ago at a time when I was overwhelmed by a sense of isolation and self-doubt. It was when I read "The Song of the Open Road" that my spirit leaped up to meet him. For me his verses have the quality of exquisite physical sensations. They wave like flowers, they quiver like fountains, or rush on like mountain torrents. He sings unconquerable life. He is in the middle of the stream. He marches with the world's thought, not against it. To me he seems incomparably our best poet."
Image: Helen Keller sitting and reading a book in braille, American Foundation for the Blind, Helen Keller Archives.
by AFB Staff
Get into the swing of things and play some beep baseball!
Beep baseball is an adapted form of the traditional sport. It consists of a ball that is larger than a softball, which beeps consistently so players are able to hit it when pitched, and find it in the field. There are two bases rigged with a buzzing sound that are triggered when the ball is hit, so the runner knows which way to go. Beep baseball is a great opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired to run without a cane.
The rules of beep baseball help make the game safer and simpler to score. Rule modifications include:
- There are a total of three bases: home, first, and third
- The pitcher, who is sighted, is on the batter's team
- The game consists of six innings
For more information on how to play beep baseball, check out Physical Education and Sports for People with Visual Impairments and Deafblindness: Foundations of Instruction by Lauren J. Lieberman, Paul E. Ponchillia, and Susan V. Ponchillia, available in the AFB Bookstore.
FamilyConnect took in a game and came away with great insights on why it's important for children with visual impairments to learn about and participate in sports.
But beep baseball isn't just for kids. VisionAware guest blogger Judy Byrd manages the Atlanta Eclipse Beep Baseball Team, made up of players aged 20 to 57. Judy shares the story of her team and their journey to the Beep Baseball World Series.
To find a beep baseball team near you, contact the National Beep Baseball Association.
Now let's play ball!
by AFB Staff
Take a Hike!
It's a great time of year to get outdoors and get moving, so AFB is talking about hiking as a recreational activity for people who are blind or visually impaired.
VisionAware's Ashley Nemeth shares her love of hiking and offers helpful tips on hiking with a cane and with a guide dog.
FamilyConnect blogger Emily Coleman shares a parent's perspective on hiking with her son who is blind, and the things they learned on the trail.
Then, get inspired by Randy Pierce and his guide dog Quinn, who are on a mission to climb all 48 4,000-foot peaks in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Read more about the 2020 Vision Quest project and follow Randy's personal journey from a wheelchair to walking to conquering mountains.
If you are looking for hiking paths in your area, consult our Directory of Services for a comprehensive list of agencies that offer recreational activities for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Strap on your hiking boots and we'll see you on the trail!
by Crista Earl
Lots of websites have a real and urgent need to keep bots and spammers off their sites. One partial solution is the CAPTCHA.
What Is a CAPTCHA, and Can It Be Accessible?
Really, a CAPTCHA is any technique that can be used to tell a computer (bot) from a human. But the most common technique is to put a fuzzy bunch of characters on the page and ask the user to type them into an edit field. A human, theoretically, can decipher the fuzzy characters, but a bot cannot. This has some obvious flaws in it, even if you've never seen these things (or didn't know what they were, more likely).
First, if you are a human who can't see very well, or can't type very well, can you do this? The CAPTCHA even keeps away people who don't think they have a visual impairment, just have normal trouble with tiny, fuzzy, low-contrast text. If you have to say "Wait, let me go get my glasses," you know someone who really has low vision is going to be stuck.
What about assistive technology? Can the CAPTCHAs be read by a screen reader? No. How about putting a civilized alt tag on the image of text? No. Remember, the sites who use them are trying to keep away bots. So, anything machine-readable would be easily defeated by the bots.
Some sites have put up an audible CAPTCHA. The idea is to hit a button or link, listen to some audio, and type what you hear into the box. The audio is made very hard to understand, a and there are usually several voices saying numbers and letters, so it is hard for a human to know what to type and what to ignore. This is intended to defeat the bots, of course, but it defeats humans, too. Users who don't have good hearing, don't have audio on their computers, or lack typing skill, are cut out, along with those in noisy environments.
So, is this really a bleak situation?
No, we have a solution. If you comment on this blog post, you'll see an accessible CAPTCHA in action.
How Does an Accessible CAPTCHA Work?
Here's how ours works—evil bots, go away, don't read this!
We have a teeny list of questions and answers. The questions have to be really easy, so that a user who has a reasonable ability to use this site would be able to answer the question. The answers have to be easy, and no ambiguous spelling options are allowed. For example, we can never have "good bye" as the answer, because there are 211 ways to spell it. (I made that number up.)
So, we might have:
Please type "hello" here.
Please put the word horse in the box.
We have to vary the structure of the sentence, so that a determined bot programmer cannot simply say to pull the word out of the quotes and put it into the box. And, we have to have enough of them that the bot can't put "horse" into the box and be correct every fifth time.
Advantages of This System Over the Image-of-Fuzzy-Text Approach
It can be made to be any color or any size by the user. So, someone with low vision can make it readable along with the rest of the site, no special technique or knowledge required.
The screen reader user hears the clue just like the rest of the site's text, and can read the clue word-by-word or character-by-character if necessary to see exactly what is wanted.
Users of braille displays sees the accessible CAPTCHA on the braille display just as they do any other text, making this technique work just as well for deaf-blind users as for any user.
In other words, the amount of knowledge, skill, visual acuity, and computer access for the CAPTCHA is the same as for the rest of the site.
Is This a Perfect Solution?
It is still an obstacle to some human users, in particular those who use screen readers and have low literacy skills. Some of our users don't know how to spell "senior" and they don't know how to get their screen readers to tell them the details. People for whom English is not their native language have also had trouble with our CAPTCHAs—we avoid using color names, as users sometimes interpret "Type the word 'blue'" as "Type the word that is blue," and are frustrated (and angry, as you might imagine).
And, we have to continually update our list of clues and answers, so the bots don't catch on. We have to test new pairs with users, so we can be sure we haven't inadvertently introduced complexity.
Please comment on the blog or post on the message boards, and see what you think of our little CAPTCHA!
by Crista Earl
At a conference recently, I received a free money identifier. What is this? How did it happen?
The saga is long and complicated. And, your real questions might be:
- How do I get in on this?
- But wait, what happened to the accessible money?
If you are reading this from another civilized country, you might be puzzled. Accessible money? What is inaccessible about money?
In the United States, the bills are all the same size and have no (OK, don't quibble, no practical) tactually discernable features. Meaning, if I receive $16 in change for my twenty-dollar bill, I must come up with some strategy for knowing what is what. (See AFB's site VisionAware.org for some strategies for identifying money.)
The US Bureau of Engraving and Printing was tasked with solving the money-marking problem and began testing workable and unworkable approaches. They've been at all the conferences for several years, showing samples, taking surveys, doing tests with real money users and real money. It's been a fascinating process to watch.
But, still no money. And, when the currency begins to roll out, it will take a long, long time for it to get done. Imagine how long an undifferentiated $20 bill is going to be in circulation after the new ones hit the streets! We'll be using our current flawed techniques for a long time to come.
So, (I'm skipping some grueling and conflictive/conflicted steps that got us to this point) the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing selected a money identifier and is distributing them to all people with visual impairments in the US. Whew, what a job!
This summer, they were at the big conferences—the American Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind, and the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, at least—giving out the devices. In January, the big project will begin; they will distribute the devices through the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped cooperating library system, so recipients of Talking Books and related services will be eligible to receive money identifiers.
If you want to get in on this, what do you do?
First, make sure you are signed up and are current with your local NLS cooperating library. If you've moved, get that all straightened out. Not an NLS patron? Oh, seriously, you are missing out. This will be a blog post for another day, but, if you have a print disability, go get signed up! See a general NLS profile and a list of libraries on the AFB site to get started.
AccessWorld® offered a thorough review and description of the iBill's features about a year and a half ago. But essentially, you put a bill, short end first, into a slot in the device, push a button, and it announces the denomination of the bill. It has options for tones or vibration patterns to clue you, if you can't hear. And, it has a headphone jack if you prefer the voice and don't want to insult a cab driver.
If you're using a money identifier, let us know what you think by commenting on this blog post!
- Helen Keller (20 posts)
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