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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

AFB eNews

February 2014

Hot Topics

2014 AFB Leadership Conference an Unprecedented Success

Oral Miller, Carl Augusto, Keller Johnson-Thompson, and James Kesteloot with the Migel medals

Migel winners Oral Miller, Keller Johnson-Thompson (great grandniece of Helen Keller), and James Kesteloot pose with AFB President and CEO Carl Augusto.

Imagine getting first-hand information from communications giants such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and IBM, about innovations in the pipeline for consumers with vision loss.

That’s just one small part of what participants at AFB’s 2014 Leadership Conference in Brooklyn (February 27-March 1) experienced at this year’s national gathering of leaders in the field of blindness. From the latest smartphone apps to sessions on employment, the Leadership Conference offered a wide array of fascinating programs and workshops for educators, rehabilitation specialists, and other professionals who work with people with blindness or low vision. Showcasing our headquarters city—New York—for the first time, we had a record number of attendees, sessions, sponsors, and partners.

The action kicked off on Thursday, February 27, with special all-day summits on accessible technology, transitioning to college and careers, and the latest advocacy initiatives for making classrooms, consumer products and services, workplaces, and public spaces more accessible.

On Friday, keynote speaker Kannan Pashupathy, director of International Engineering, at Google sat down with Paul Schroeder, vice president of AFB Programs and Policy, to explore the tech company’s latest research and development. Another session featured a discussion between Carl Augusto, CEO and president of AFB, Mike May, president of Sendero Group, and Martin Monson, superintendent of the Tennessee School for the Blind on the traits of successful blind leaders.

A highlight of the conference was the presentation of awards that celebrate outstanding achievement. J. W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr., executive chairman of Marriott International, discussed leadership and values with Carl Augusto and presented the first ever Stephen Garff Marriott Award to Richard Chen in honor of his late son. AFB Access Awards were given to Fleksy, Image Searcher, Inc., Independence Science, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. AFB’s esteemed Corinne Kirchner Research Award was given to Jane N. Erin, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona. Dr. Erin is also an editor emerita of AFB's Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

The prestigious Migel Medal, the highest honor in the vision loss field, was presented to James Kesteloot, the former Director of the Chicago Lighthouse and to Oral Miller, founding member of the American Blind Lawyers Association and the former president of the American Council of the Blind. This year, the Migel Medal was also bestowed, posthumously, to AFB’s most beloved ambassador, Helen Keller. Keller's great grandniece, Keller Johnson-Thompson, accepted the award.

Conference goers have told us that this year’s conference was the best yet, with one attendee noting, "I wanted to send kudos to you and all the staff at AFB for putting on such a stellar event" and another saying, "I’ve gone to so many trainings that I sometimes find that I’ve heard everything before. However, this was certainly not the case at this excellent event."

If you missed us in New York, please mark your calendars for the 2015 Leadership Conference at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown, from April 9-11, which is being held in conjunction with Arizona AER. If you’re interested in sponsorships for the 2015 conference, please contact Amanda Kolling at

Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act Introduced into U.S. House of Representatives

Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Steve Stockman (R-TX) have introduced H.R. 4040, the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, which is the most comprehensive special education legislation for students with visual or hearing disabilities to date.

"Right now, our schools are not prepared to help children who are visually impaired or hearing impaired develop to their fullest potential, and we are determined to change that," said Paul Schroeder, vice president of programs and policy at AFB. "H.R. 4040 would provide vital resources and establish requirements to help students with visual or hearing impairments excel in the classroom, at home, and in their communities."

The legislation, initially drafted and championed by AFB, would ensure that:

  • Every child who is deaf and every child who is blind, regardless of whether they have additional disabilities, will be properly counted and served
  • Each of a child's unique learning needs will be properly evaluated
  • States will engage in strategic planning to be sure that they can in fact meet each child's specialized needs
  • The U.S. Department of Education will do its part to hold states and schools accountable
  • Students who are deaf will be served by qualified personnel
  • Students who are blind will receive state-of-the-art services and skills supported through a new major national collaborative initiative addressing their unique learning needs

You can help make this act a reality by contacting your member of the U.S. House of Representatives to ask him or her to cosponsor H.R. 4040. Doing so will help ensure that the nation’s special education system is worthy of the enormous potential of every child who is blind, visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing. To locate your representative, visit the House of Representative’s contact page and enter your zip code.

AFB Advocacy

We Want Your Opinions: Comment on Draft Design Guidelines for the Visual Environment

AFB has always been dedicated to accessibility—in the workplace, in the classroom, and certainly in all built spaces. In order to ensure indoor and outdoor spaces take into account the needs of all individuals, including those who have vision loss, the National Institute for Building Sciences (NIBS) is requesting public comment a set of draft guidelines entitled "Design Guidelines for the Visual Environment" to address some of the issues the people with low vision face in the built environment that are not addressed fully by other laws and regulations. The draft guidelines and directions for making comments can be found on the NIBS site. Your comments and suggestions are requested by April 4, 2014.

The Issue of Copyright: Making Video Description Truly Accessible

Mark Richert, AFB’s director of public policy, has written a detailed position paper on copyright issues as they relate to video description. As he notes, "It should be so simple. If people who are blind or visually impaired want to enjoy video content—television programs, major motion pictures, popular online multimedia, educational materials, and on and on, they should certainly be able to do so on terms of genuine equality. And if their access to such content depends on, or can be enhanced through, the description of the on-screen visual elements via voice-over narration, such description should be provided. And if the creator of the original content does not provide description or provides insufficient description, others should be allowed to provide it. And if other people with disabilities can benefit from the described content, they too should be allowed to enjoy it." You can read more at An Appropriate "Copyright of Way" for People with Disabilities: How Would You Describe It?

Tools for Professional Development

AFB Press to Release New Professional Resources

This spring, AFB Press will release two new professional books for the field of blindness and visual impairment – Essential Elements in Early Intervention: Visual Impairment and Multiple Disabilities, Second Edition and Basic Spanish for Orientation and Mobility: A Phrase Book and Dictionary.

The second edition of Essential Elements in Early Intervention provides an updated look at the research and strategies needed by early interventionists to successfully work with very young children who have dual sensory impairments and multiple disabilities. Edited by Deborah Chen, this complete sourcebook and guide translates research into practical strategies that can be used with children and their families. Essential Elements will be released on March 11.

In response to a need for materials that O&M instructors can use with students who primarily speak Spanish, AFB Press will release Basic Spanish for Orientation and Mobility: A Phrase Book and Dictionary on April 8. Edited by Brenda Naimy and Matthew Hogel, the manual provides O&M lessons broken down step-by-step and side-by-side in English and Spanish and includes easy to read vocabulary lists.

Both books will be available in paperback, eBook, ASCII, and online subscription  through the AFB Bookstore at, or by calling 1-800-232-3044. Paperback and eBook versions will also be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.

Awards and Events

Save the Date for the 2014 Helen Keller Achievement Awards

The American Foundation for the Blind’s 18th Annual Helen Keller Achievement Awards will be held on June 17, 2014, at the New York Marriott Downtown.

The Helen Keller Achievement Awards were established by AFB in 1994 to acknowledge Keller’s extraordinary efforts and to promote the notable achievements of individuals and organizations that have improved quality of life for people with disabilities. The distinguished 2014 Helen Keller Achievement Award recipients include:

  • Mark Balsano, Executive Director of Compliance at AT&T
  • Dr. Roman Rubio, Group Medical Director of Ophthalmology at Genentech
  • Christine Ha, Winner of Master Chef, Season 3

Proceeds from this stellar gala will enable AFB to continue to expand our vital programs and services.  For more information on sponsorship opportunities and tickets, visit:

Richard Chen Named First Stephen G. Marriott Award Recipient

Richard Chen was presented with the first Stephen Garff Marriott Award at the 2014 AFB Leadership Conference in Brooklyn, New York, on February 28, 2014. The award honors a blind or visually impaired individual who has served as an extraordinary mentor or who has attained remarkable professional success.

Richard Chen has served as the editor-in-chief of The Hedge Fund Law Report, the leading weekly publication providing thought leadership and actionable intelligence for professionals in the hedge fund industry for the past few years after practicing law for approximately 13 years. Prior to joining The Hedge Fund Law Report, Chen served as counsel in the corporate and securities practice group at Arnold & Porter LLP, an international law firm of 700 attorneys. Chen has also served as an AFB CareerConnect Mentor for more than five years. In this role, he supports other visually impaired people entering the workforce, and shares insights on obtaining work, keeping a job and advancing in the legal world. Chen received a BA, with honors, in government from Harvard College in 1995 and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1998.

The Stephen Garff Marriott Award was established in honor of the late Stephen Garff Marriott, who lost his vision later in life and served as an exemplary role model to others with vision loss. He rose to the upper ranks at Marriott International through hard work and tenacity, and was known for being a talented executive, sales manager, and ambassador of the Marriott brand.

Heading to CSUN? Don’t Miss These Sessions

Session LGL-004: Third-Party Video Description: Innovative Technologies; Copyright Policies
Date and Time: Friday, March 21, 2014 - 1:50 PM PST
Location: Old Town A, 2nd Floor, Seaport Tower
Session Description: Presenting the DVRDC’s development of technologies fostering third-party video description (synchronization, crowd-sourcing, etc.), and the amendments to U.S. copyright law needed to support such accessibility.
Presenter(s): Mark Richert, American Foundation for the Blind; Joshua Miele, The Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC)

Session LGL-003: PDF Document Accessibility: Regulations, Risks and Solutions for Compliance
Date and Time: Friday, March 21, 2014 - 9:20 AM PST
Location: Old Town B, 2nd Floor, Seaport Tower
Session Description: Discover the best practices, laws/regulations, challenges and solutions to providing high volume transactional documents as accessible PDFs to visually impaired customers.
Presenter(s): Kushal Agarwal, Actuate Corporation; Darren Burton, American Foundation for the Blind; Paul Schroeder, American Foundation for the Blind

From the AFB Blogs

Watching "Growing Up Fisher"

Joe Strechay, program manager for AFB CareerConnect, gives his review of the "Growing Up Fisher" pilot.

The OrCam: A Portable, Wearable Visual System for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons

Maureen Duffy, VisionAware social media specialist, discusses the OrCam visual system.

In Defense of Taking Photos (Even Though I Can’t See Them)

Michelle Hackman, AFB’s intern extraordinaire, tackles the art of taking photos she can’t see.

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