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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

One Million in Federal Funding Goes to Combating Technology and Access Barriers

Funding Championed by West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd

Huntington, WV (February 10, 2005)—The American Foundation for the Blind, Technology and Employment Center at Huntington (AFB TECH) recently received $1 million in federal funding to address technology and access barriers faced by blind or visually impaired people. The funding, awarded by the Department of Labor in December, was made possible by West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd who secured Congressional approval for the grant in early 2004.

"AFB TECH works to open new opportunities for blind and visually impaired persons, and I am proud to help this organization accomplish its goals," said Senator Byrd. "More than two-thirds of working-age blind or severely visually impaired Americans are not employed, largely due to a lack of training opportunities and significant obstacles faced in the workforce. That's simply unacceptable. The Huntington center is instrumental in helping to address two of the biggest barriers facing the growing blind population—employment and technology."

"This funding will greatly assist AFB TECH in working to break down technology and access barriers for people with vision loss," said Carl R. Augusto, AFB President and CEO. "We thank Senator Byrd for helping to give all people an equal opportunity for employment and experiencing life and we are truly grateful to him for championing the needs of people with disabilities."

The new funding will be used by AFB TECH to create a product evaluation program that concentrates on accessibility of office equipment, which is necessary in the employment of people who are blind or visually impaired. There will also be a new program to evaluate small screen accessibility by visually impaired people. These small screens are present on things like cell phones, blood glucose monitors for diabetics, office equipment like fax/copier/scanner machines, and other everyday devices.

In addition, the funding will allow CareerConnect®—a national database containing more than 1,000 working blind and visually impaired individuals who, among other roles, serve as mentors for blind or visually impaired persons seeking employment—to expand the national database, with a particular emphasis in West Virginia. There will also be increased training and materials made available to public school teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired; and, greater emphasis will be given to needs related to rehabilitation and counselors in this field. Additionally, employers will be given expanded information and assistance on how blind and visually impaired persons can function productively in the workplace.

Byrd added the funds to federal legislation in 2004.

"This federal appropriation will allow us to address entirely new areas that act as barriers to employment and accessibility," said Mark Uslan, Director of AFB TECH. "I'm confident our programs, enhanced by the funding from Senator Byrd, will mean real progress for people who are blind or visually impaired."

AFB TECH principally concentrates its work in two areas. The first is the product evaluation and testing of mainstream devices, such as cell phones, voting machines and personal medical devices, to determine their accessibility to blind or visually impaired persons. Once the evaluation and testing is complete, the results are taken to the manufacturers of those devices for the purpose of working with them to modify the device to make it accessible. The second AFB TECH program is CareerConnect®, a free resource for people to learn about the range and diversity of the jobs that are performed throughout the United States and Canada by adults who are blind or visually impaired.

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Contact:
Adrianna Montague-Gray
AFB Communications
212-502-7675
amontaguegray@afb.net

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