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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Current Projects and Activities, Fall 2003



The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), the organization to which Helen Keller devoted her life, is a national nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate the inequities faced by the ten million Americans who are blind or visually impaired—inequities in literacy, access to information, employment, and aging. Current Projects & Activities is an update on the work AFB is doing to fulfill this commitment. We encourage you to share it with your staff and others involved in services for people who are blind or visually impaired. We at AFB are always interested in hearing from you how we can best address the significant issues facing our field.

Carl R. Augusto
President and CEO



www.afb.org

The Helen Keller Kids Museum Online, a major addition to AFB's award-winning Braille Bug children's web site, was launched June 27, in honor of Keller's birthday. Drawing on the resources of AFB's Helen Keller Archives, the museum offers children a guided tour of Helen Keller's remarkably rich life, through video footage, photographs, fun facts, and quotes. Visit the online museum at www.afb.org/braillebug/hkmuseum.asp.

The Braille Bug's Reading Club (www.afb.org/braillebug/readingclub.asp) continues to post new books for discussion, accompanied by games and suggested projects. Read Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger with your class, and then use the suggested activities to learn more about food chains and number problems. For older kids, try Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, and the related activities on vegetarianism and music boxes. Read the Braille Bug's "Message to Teachers" (www.afb.org/braillebug/MessagetoTeachers.asp) for more ideas on how to use the Reading Club to encourage your print- and braille-reading students to read and discuss high-quality literature.

To add a job listing, event announcement, or news item to the AFB web site, contact Sara Hernandez, AFB Headquarters, sarah@afb.net.

National Literacy Center

The AFB National Literacy Center (NLC) develops programs, products, and strategies to ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired will become literate to the fullest extent possible in the most appropriate media.

Bridging the Gap Leadership Summit

The NLC hosted a Bridging the Gap Leadership Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 31 - November 1, 2003. This invitation-only event included original members of the "Round Table of Experts," Bridging the Gap trainers, content writers or reviewers, and invited guests who offered relevant information or new insights. The Summit also extended the reach of the project by strengthening the leadership roles of the Bridging the Gap trainers. The Summit provided updated information on reading research, assistive technology, and current trends in the field. Work groups were based on the most critical issues facing adults who are visually impaired and have low literacy skills. Highlights included: informal sharing of achievements and challenges faced by mini-grant recipients; follow-up on innovative projects or products presented at the National Symposium on Literacy or Adults with Visual Disabilities, held last year; a sneak preview of the web-based version of the Bridging the Gap workshops; in-depth evaluation and identification of immediate and future goals; and development of collaborative strategies. Papers drafted by the work groups can be viewed on the AFB web site, www.afb.org. For more information about the Leadership Summit, any of the products resulting from this event, or how to get involved in the future, please contact Tina Tucker, (404) 525-2303, ttucker@afb.net.

National Technology Program

The goal of the National Technology Program is to eliminate or reduce inequities in access to information and technology-based products and services faced by people who are blind or visually impaired.

AFB TECH Expands

On September 15, AFB expanded its AFB Technology and Employment Center at Huntington, WV (AFB TECH). The addition of technology experts Jay Stiteley, director of the AFB National Technology Program, and James Denham, AFB national program associate in technology, creates a centralized hub for AFB's innovative technology efforts. Stiteley and Denham—both of whom are visually impaired—relocated from AFB's Midwest office in Chicago, which had shared responsibility for the administration of the AFB National Technology Program with AFB TECH since the Huntington facility's inception in 2002. (AFB's Chicago Office has now been closed.) AFB established AFB TECH to ensure that blind or visually impaired people understand and have access to the latest developments in technology, and to pilot novel solutions to the employment crisis among those who are blind or visually impaired. AFB TECH spearheads efforts to make sure that mainstream technology products—cell phones, PDAs, computers and computer software, medical devices such as insulin pumps and blood glucose monitors for diabetics, and even voting machines—are accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. For more information about AFB's National Technology Program or AFB TECH, contact Jay Stiteley, (304) 523-8651, stiteley@afb.net, or Mark Uslan, (304) 523-8651, muslan@afb.net.

Accessible Blood Glucose Monitors

An article on blood glucose monitoring devices and follow-up results on usability testing by Mark Uslan and Darren Burton, AFB TECH, appeared in the June 2003 issue of Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics, a prestigious medical journal. To receive a reprint of the article, entitled "Accessibility of Blood Glucose Monitoring Systems for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons," contact Mark Uslan, (304) 523-8651, muslan@afb.net.

Making Cell Phones Accessible

In the May and July issues of AccessWorld: Technology and People with Visual Impairments, AFB TECH reported on the relative inaccessibility of today's top-of-the-line cell phones from major manufacturers. In the November issue AFB TECH began a series that evaluates two cell phones for which special text-to-speech software is available. The software, developed in Europe, purports to offer a degree of accessibility for blind consumers. To subscribe to AccessWorld, contact Jay Levanthal, (212) 502-7639, jaylev@afb.net.

National Employment Program

The National Employment Center (NEC) serves as the hub of all for AFB's employment programs and activities. AFB's National Employment Programs seek to eliminate or reduce inequities in employment options and opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired in the United States.

Employment Video Available

The NEC's new video for employers, "A Hire Vision: What Employers Want to Know about Hiring Visually Impaired Workers," has been distributed to employers, rehabilitation counselors, and others interested in promoting the employment of visually impaired people. This eight-minute video is packed with information directly from blind and visually impaired workers participating in a variety of occupations, and their supervisors. It is available, online, via the AFB web site at www.afb.org/announcement_detail.asp?AnnoncementID=103. For VHS and CD versions, contact Tony Candela, (415) 392-4845, tcandela@afb.net.

Assistive Technology Minimum Competencies

The assistive technology (AT) specialist competencies task force, led by AFB employment and technology staff, has compiled comprehensive lists of AT specialist competencies and published them on the web site of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (www.tsbvi.edu/technology/afb/). The project of which these lists are a part is designed to increase the number of qualified AT specialists who work with people who are blind or have low vision. The project has developed modules to evaluate AT specialist competencies in assessment, training, and equipment installation, configuration, and customization. Direct comments and questions to Gil Johnson, (415) 392-4845, gil@afb.net, or Tony Candela, (415) 392-4845, tcandela@afb.net.

Job Placement Training

AFB, in collaboration with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), is offering a course titled "Placement Techniques in the 21st Century for People with Visual Disabilities." Registration is available through the UALR distance education program in rehabilitation counseling, and the course is offered in its entirety online. For further information, contact Karen Wolffe, (512) 707-0525, wolffe@afb.net. AFB continues to offer in-person training in techniques of job placement to vocational rehabilitation counselors and related staff of public and private rehabilitation agencies. For more information, contact Gil Johnson, (415) 392-4845, gil@afb.net.

Reaching Out to Employers

The NEC staff is available to answer questions from employers about hiring and retaining qualified workers with visual impairments. Employers may contact AFB by e-mail at employertalk@afb.net. In concert with Motorola Corporation in Phoenix, AZ, AFB's employment and technology staff has developed a one-day course to inform human resource workers about hiring and accommodating workers who are blind or have low vision. For more information, contact Gil Johnson, (415) 392-4845, gil@afb.net.

AFB CareerConnect™ Opens a Window on the Working World

AFB CareerConnect™ has announced a new column, "Window on the Working World," in which CareerConnect mentors share first-person accounts of what they do for a living. The mentors give tips on how to enter their chosen field and what to expect after landing a job. Check Window on the Working World every other month for new profiles from the CareerConnect mentors at www.afb.org/CareerConnect. AFB CareerConnect™ is 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. For more information, visit www.afb.org/careerconnect or contact Detra Bannister, (888) 824-2184 (toll free), careerconnect@afb.net.

National Aging Program

The goal of the National Aging Program is to increase the availability of vision-related rehabilitation and other supportive services to the growing population of older people experiencing vision loss, in order to help them maintain or regain their independence.

Self-Advocacy Training

National Aging Program staff have conducted several trainings around the country, based on materials developed for the book, Self-Advocacy Skills Training for Older Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired, also developed by National Aging Program staff (see AFB Press section below). Staff is available for more trainings between now and May 2004 if the requesting organization covers travel and hotel costs. For more information, contact Alberta L. Orr, (212) 502-7634, alorr@afb.net.

National Education Program

The goal of the National Education Program is to make a positive impact on significant national issues and concerns related to the education of children who are blind or visually impaired. In addition to addressing the shortage of personnel trained to teach children with visual impairments and supporting the upcoming reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, the National Education Program is also committed to ensuring equal and timely access to textbooks and instructional materials for students who are blind or visually impaired through its Textbooks and instructional Materials Solutions Forum.

Accessible Textbooks Tool Kit

A national resource book for textbook administrators, publishers, educators, and community leaders, is available from AFB's National Education Program and the AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum. The AFB Solutions Forum's "Tool Kit" is a collection of information related to providing accessible textbooks and instructional materials to students with visual impairments. The materials include the contributions of many of the 43 stakeholders of the AFB Solutions Forum. The AFB Solutions Forum's Communication and Collaboration Work Group's goal is to have decision-making resources available that can be used to inform, educate, and move the field of blindness forward. The 286-page Tool Kit is available for $25.00, which includes shipping and handling. The Tool Kit is also available on CD (also for $25.00) in an accessible format for people using screen readers or braille. Contact Mary Ann Siller, American Foundation for the Blind, 11030 Ables Lane, Dallas, TX 75229, 469-522-1803 , siller@afb.net. Make checks payable to AFB, and note that the payment is for the Tool Kit.

Improving Educational Opportunities for Blind and Low-Vision Schoolchildren

The AFB and Verizon National Campaign for Literacy, Textbooks, Transcribers, and Technology was launched in October 2002. To raise public awareness and inspire advocacy, we are continuing to promote the new career of braille textbook transcriber at the federal and state levels, and—alongside 43 national organizations throughout the United States—raising general awareness of the needs of blind and low-vision schoolchildren for timely access to textbooks and learning materials. Because of the current shortage of braille transcribers, blind and visually impaired schoolchildren frequently receive their textbooks late and sometimes, not at all. In response to this crisis, AFB has developed a Call to Action packet to support the advocacy initiative of the National Campaign. During this phase of the National Campaign, we encourage you to use these materials to engage business leaders, policymakers, school boards, librarians, and the general public in the efforts underway to ensure the timely delivery of textbooks and instructional materials to America's blind and low-vision schoolchildren. Included are an explanatory cover letter, background materials, sample letters to Congress, the National Campaign advocacy video, the National Campaign poster, and bookmarks. To receive complementary copies of the complete packet, visit the Free Stuff section of the AFB bookstore; call (800) 232-5463; or contact Mary Ann Siller, 469-522-1803, siller@afb.net.

Choices for Children

"Choices for Children " (CfC)—a grassroots network of individuals and organizations representing adult consumers, parents, students with visual impairments, and professionals who teach and assist them—needs your help for its on-going state networking activities. To assist AFB facilitate improved state and community networking for this important program, please complete the online CfC form with the name of your Congressional Representative. If you don't know your Representative, call Congress Merge at (703) 799-1189, or go to www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html. To complete the form, go to the Choices for Children Membership Form.

Governmental Relations

Easier than Ever to Find Out What's Happening in Washington

With just a few clicks or keystrokes, it's easy to subscribe to Words from Washington (WFW). AFB's Governmental Relations Group offers this free legislative newsletter via e-mail, periodically, while Congress is in session. WFW contains brief reports on what's happening in Washington with analyses of how developments in such areas as education, employment, and technology affect individuals who are blind or visually impaired and the professionals who serve them. To read back issues or to subscribe to WFW, go to www.afb.org/wfw.asp. For further information, contact Barbara LeMoine, (202) 408-8169, blemoine@afb.net.

Reauthorization of the IDEA

Work continues on reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and it's never too late for you to tell your U.S. Representative and Senators about the need for high-quality special education and related services for children who are blind or visually impaired. The "Improving Education Results for Children With Disabilities Act of 2003" was passed by the House of Representatives on April 30. On June 25, the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003" was approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The bill awaits passage by the full Senate. While both bills contain requirements for access to instructional material (based on the Instructional Material Accessibility Act), the Senate language is more comprehensive and is preferred by advocates. The Senate bill also includes a requirement to consider orientation and mobility (O&M) and assistive technology in the development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). See www.afb.org/idea.asp for details. For further information, contact Joy Relton, (202) 408-8170, jrelton@afb.net.

Appropriations for Chapter 2 Independent Living Services for Older Individuals Who Are Blind

Both the House and Senate have completed work on legislation to fund the various programs under the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, including funding levels for the independent living services program for older blind individuals. Even though the new fiscal year started on October 1, the Senate and House have yet to agree on final funding levels for these programs. Because the House-passed version contains higher funding levels for the older blind program ($32 million as opposed to the $28 million figure contained in the Senate version), now would be a good time to urge your Representative and Senators to support the higher funding level. For further information, contact Alan Dinsmore, (202) 408-8171, adinsmore@afb.net.

Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Services

The House and Senate Conference Committee continue their work on the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003. Because the Senate version of the bill contains the text the Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Services Act of 2003, you should contact your U.S. Representative to ensure that those provisions are accepted by the House. For further information, contact Paul Schroeder, (202) 408-8172, pws@afb.net.

Reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act

Congress has also been working this past year on reauthorizing the Rehabilitation Act, which is now part of the Workforce Reinvestment Act. The House passed its version of legislation several months ago, while the Senate is poised for action soon. The Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act of 2003, which contains the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, passed in the House on May 8. The bill has three provisions of concern to individuals who are blind or visually impaired: 1) it reduces the position of Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services, a presidential appointment, to a Director appointed by Secretary; 2) it provides that the general state VR agency, but not the blindness agency, where it exists, is represented on the state workforce investment board; and 3) it requires the VR agency to share in the costs of the infrastructure of the one-stops.

On October 2, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved the Workforce Investment Act Amendments of 2003, which contains a separate title that amends the Rehabilitation Act and reauthorizes programs until 2009. There are new and significant improvements in the Senate's Title IV Rehabilitation Act amendments with respect to services for individuals who are blind or visually impaired that carry out the following recommendations developed by AFB's employment team and governmental relations staff:

  • Requires the state unit to provide technical assistance in developing successful partnerships with employers.
  • Adds mentoring services to the list of vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Specifically lists O&M and rehabilitation teaching to the list of programs authorized to receive long-term training support.
  • Requires joint rehabilitation agency and education agency transition planning for students with disabilities.
  • Language added to define transition services in the individualized plan for employment for students transitioning from special education to rehabilitation services.

Independent Living Services for Older Individuals Who Are Blind

The National Council of State Agencies for the Blind's (NCSAB) recommendations to increase the minimum allotment for Chapter 2 Independent Living Services for Older Individuals Who Are Blind were adopted increasing this allotment from $225,000 to $350,000 for States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The allotment for U.S. territories was also increased from $40,000 to $60,000. For further information, contact Alan Dinsmore, (202) 408-8171, adinsmore@afb.net.

Reinstatement of FCC Video Description Rule

On June 26, the Senate Commerce Committee approved the "FCC Reauthorization Act of 2003." No floor action is scheduled at this time. The bill directs the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate its video description rule within 90 days of passage of the legislation and to determine the technical and economic feasibility of providing video description of on-screen text within 180 days of enactment. There is no comparable House bill. For further information, contact Paul Schroeder, (202) 408-8172, pws@afb.net.

Action Needed to Support Voting Accessibility

In response to the events surrounding the 2000 presidential election, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. Among other provisions, HAVA requires that states purchase at least one electronic voting machine for each polling place that can be used privately and independently by people with disabilities. However, legitimate concerns about the security of electronic voting machines and the lack of a system to verify or audit votes have led many states to stop purchasing accessible voting machines. (AFB TECH tested several of the electronic voting machines and published the results in the November 2002 issue of AccessWorld. Read the article at www.afb.org/aw/aw030603.asp.) Contact your state board of elections and urge them to keep the issue of accessibility on the table when solutions for electronic voting security are discussed. Information about implementation of plans can be viewed on your state government's web site or by contacting your state's Secretary of State. Use the drop-down list at the National Association of Secretaries of States' web site to find your Secretary of State, www.nass.org/sos/sos.html. For more information, contact Joy Relton, (202) 408-8170, jrelton@afb.net or go to www.afb.org/voting.asp.

Policy Research and Program Evaluation (PRPE)

Research Roundtable Continues

The Research Roundtable will again convene at the 2004 Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (JLTLI) in Washington, DC, in early March. The R-Squared dinner-and-discussion session has become a well-established tradition at which persons with a wide range of perspectives on research in the blindness/low vision field can share their concerns and accomplishments. Each year, the group has included experienced researchers as well as graduate students just beginning their own research efforts. Also in attendance have been non-researchers, such as parents, administrators, and consumers of services, who want to provide input about the topics and methods of research or learn about research currently underway. The electronic discussion group (R-Squared@igc.topica.com) offers the same opportunities throughout the year. To access these discussions, or participate by signing up, visit www.afb.org/afb_listserv.asp.

A recent topic has been identifying barriers to participation in social research, especially surveys, by people who are blind or visually impaired. This topic is gaining wider attention with reference to persons with various types of disabilities, and will be the focus of an invitational conference in Washington, DC, in April 2004, sponsored by the Federal Interagency Committee on Disability Research. AFB will convey experiences and ideas about research barriers posted on the listserv to that forum. Contact Elaine Gerber, (212) 502-7644, gerber@afb.net, or Corinne Kirchner, (212) 502-7640, corinne@afb.net with your ideas or questions.

From AFB Press

Collaborative Assessment: Working with Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including Those with Additional Disabilities
Steven A. Goodman and Stuart H. Wittenstein, Editors

Assessment is the necessary foundation for providing effective services and the best, most appropriate education for any child with special needs. Collaboration—the cooperative, interactive efforts of professionals from a variety of disciplines—is the key to accurate evaluation of the needs and strength of students. However, many special education professionals are unfamiliar with the approaches and adaptations necessary to work with students who are visually impaired or how to modify their assessments to identify these students' differing abilities. Written by the expert assessment team at the California School for the Blind, Collaborative Assessment is designed to help school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, administrators, teachers, and allied professionals to understand the impact of visual impairment on the assessment process and provides a compendium of vital information on how to evaluate visually impaired students. Practical tools include checklists, tip sheets, sample reports, and informative appendices. Paperback: 0-89128-869-4; ASCII: 0-89128-870-8; $49.95 each


Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness: Special Issue on Technology

The October 2003 issue of JVIB was dedicated exclusively to the topic of technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. Articles focused on such topics as the future capabilities of cell phones, the need for universal design for everyday products, and emerging technologies that help blind people to travel more independently. Several respected professionals in the field of assistive technology contributed, including Ray Kurzweil, Dr. Lawrence Scadden, Jim Fruchterman, and Jim Tobias. Single copies are available for $25.00 plus shipping.


AccessWorld: Technology and People with Visual Impairments

Beginning in January 2004, AccessWorld, AFB's premiere technology publication will be re-launched as a free, web-based magazine. While AccessWorld has always been available online, the new web-based version will offer multiple options for reading and sharing content, including a braille-embosser ready file, a printer-friendly version, and an "email this article to a friend" option. Readers will also enjoy more timely access to cutting edge product evaluations, sophisticated search capabilities, and access to all back issues of AccessWorld. Visit www.afb.org/aw/main.asp to read more.

For orders and inquiries about AFB Press books or videos, call (800) 232-3044; fax (412) 741-0609; e-mail: afborder@abdintl.com; international customers call (412) 741-1398. Mail orders must be accompanied by payment (for individuals) or institutional purchase orders. Send orders to AFB Press, P.O. Box 1020, Sewickley, PA 15143-1020, or order online at www.afb.org/store.

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