Janet Ingber

The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, previously known as the Hadley School for the Blind, begins its second century with a revamped curriculum and many exciting new offerings, all still at no cost.

In the very beginning, Hadley offered only correspondence courses from their base in Winnetka, Illinois. A student completed lessons and mailed them to their instructor, who would then review the student's work and mail back an evaluation.

Hadley still offers home study courses on how to read and write braille, but now they also use modern technology to present a wide array of additional course offerings in new formats.

A Chat with Julie Tye, President and CEO of Hadley School for the Blind

Julie Tye became Hadley's President and CEO in 2016. She doesn't have a visual impairment but has spent her career in human services. She describes her journey to Hadley this way:

I started off in health care administration where I was responsible for a wide variety of services including acute care, ambulatory care, mental health, aging, and substance abuse. Before coming to Hadley, I ran The Cradle, a child welfare agency. One of the programs we offered was a distance learning program. I think that is what appealed to Hadley's Board of Trustees, that I had distance-learning experience. Also, I've found that there are lessons that different fields can borrow from each other. For example, I ran a smoking cessation program that relied on what is called the Trans-theoretical Model of Change. It was very effective in helping people decide to quit smoking and become non-smokers. When I got to The Cradle, I realized that this model could be applied to couples experiencing infertility in helping them make the decision to stop treatment and move on to the adoption process as a way to form their family. My experience in aging is really coming in handy because the baby boomer generation is where so much vision loss is occurring. But I had a steep learning curve, for sure!

Hadley's new platform went live on July 1, 2020. Tye describes how the Institute approached the overhaul:

We completely reconceptualized how we help people who come to us. First, we moved away from the very academic model that was geared to how children learn, to a model that focuses on giving people practical tips as they learn to live with vision loss. Second, we educated ourselves about best practices in distance learning and incorporated those into our new approach. We want the learning experience to be fun, engaging, and interactive, and the feedback we're getting from the 3,000 people who have signed up with us is that we achieved that goal. So, we think we got the online delivery of content just right. Our next challenge is to incorporate some of the distance learning best practices into the braille and large print versions. We have a great team working on this right now.

Tye encourages everyone to check out the new site and help guide the Institute as it begins its second century:

Hadley is about to begin our second century of service and we're going back to a concept that our founder, William Hadley, was committed to. As he began to offer instruction, he asked people who were visually impaired what they wanted to learn from him. He actually took out an ad in the Matilda Ziegler Magazine asking people to write to him with their suggestions. Today, we're doing the same thing. We are producing content based on what our users tell us they want. In the engineering world, this is referred to as "design thinking" and we take it very seriously. For Hadley, it is all about honoring the user experience. I hope folks will check us out! And give us feedback on how we can continue to improve!

Taking the New Hadley Website for a Spin

I used a 2016 MacBook Pro running macOS Catalina and VoiceOver to try out the new Hadley website. I can also say that the new site worked well on the iPhone. One difference in navigation between the Mac and the iPhone is that there is an Open Menu button on the iPhone that opens a list of navigational links.

The Home page has 11 links, 3 headings, and 6 form controls. It is not cluttered, which makes for easier navigation. The three headings are Home, Make this site your own, and Need some help? The form controls are Log in, Help, Get started, and Search. It is very important to know what sort of help is available and which screen customizations are offered so I will be describing those form controls first.

Help and Screen Customization

Selecting the Help button opens a new page. At the top is Hadley's phone number, 800-323-4238. Help is available Monday through Friday from 8am to 6pm, Central Time. There is also a Chat option. The final help component is a link for Frequently Asked Questions.

On the home page are two buttons labeled "Get started." VoiceOver told me that each was a button. With sighted assistance, I learned they brought me to the same place. When either of the two buttons was selected, a new screen loaded with a heading to choose contrast. Just below the heading were instructions for screen reader users to skip the contrast setup. Navigate to the Skip button that is clearly labeled and is at the end of contrast setup. Under the screen reader information were four text contrast radio buttons. The Skip button was below the contrast options. When I activated the Skip button, a new screen loaded with text size radio buttons and another Skip button.

Signing Up and Search

When the Log In button is activated, the next page has a Log in heading. Next is an option to sign up and create a profile. Below this are options to sign in with Gmail, Facebook, and Yahoo. I chose to set up a profile so I activated the Sign up link.

After activating the Sign up link, the new screen informed me that I was on step one of four. Using forms navigation, I found the edit box for an email address and password. The final control was a Next button.

When the new screen loaded, I was informed that I was now on step two. This page had edit boxes for my first and last name and another Next button. Step three was to choose my relationship to visual impairment. I chose Personal. There were other options including friends & Family and Professional. The final page was how I heard about Hadley. Options included Online, Doctor, and News. Once the choice was made, I activated the Let's Go button. On the next screen was a congratulatory message informing me that I am now logged in to Hadley. Though the registration process is simple, it could have been done over one or two pages instead of four.

After registering, I received a welcome email that included Hadley's phone number and links to their home page, discussion groups, and podcasts.

The search form consists of an edit box and a Search button. I entered "Apple" in the edit box. When I executed the search, results were below the search form and there were many to choose from.

Exploring Navigational Links

With VoiceOver, I recommend navigating the home page with Tab and Shift + Tab or with VO + Left Arrow and VO + Right Arrow. There were times where VoiceOver said a link was text when navigating with the Up and Down Arrow keys.

The Home link brings you back to the Home page. Next is a link labeled "About Us." Activating this link loads a new screen with information about Hadley's mission, beginnings, affiliations, and much more. It is definitely worth reading. This information is under the heading, "Welcome to Hadley."

The next link is Learn. After activating the link, the new screen will display information about Hadley's offerings. Instead of long courses, Hadley now uses short workshops. Instead of having to read or listen to a book about using the iPhone, the topic is broken down into several workshops. This lets the user choose which information they want to hear. For example, if I just wanted to learn how to use VoiceOver with entertainment apps, there is a workshop for that. The workshops are presented as videos. Everything is very clearly described. There are series that contain several workshops on a particular topic. For example, there is a cooking series that has several workshops.

Choosing a Topic

Under the heading "What Would You Like to Learn Today?" are five radio buttons: Daily living, Recreation, Technology, Braille, and Working. Once a radio button is chosen, a button labeled "Go to Results" will appear. Selecting this button brings up the results. Use headings navigation and you will hear VoiceOver say, "Workshops." There will be an option to search the entire catalog. Next will be the results for the specific radio button. Headings navigation works here to get you to the title of each workshop. The catalog has a very, very extensive list. If you are new to vision loss, there are many helpful workshops.

Results can be navigated by heading or link. Just below the name of each workshop is a brief description of it.

The Daily Living workshops include Cooking Series, Cleaning Your House Series, Clothing Series, Women's Personal Care, and Men's Personal Care.

When I activated the Cooking link, the next page gave me a list of all the workshops in the series. I learned that the content was also available in large print. Under the list of workshops in the series was the heading "Ask the Experts," with options to call or email Hadley experts.

I selected Stovetop and Oven from the Cooking Series. When the new page loaded, I used forms navigation to find the Play button for the video. All links and controls on the video player were clearly labeled. When I started playing the video, it stopped after about a minute. A different voice came on talking about signing up with Hadley. I could not play the rest of the video. Once I logged in I was able to hear the entire video.

After the video, there was a heading labeled, "Did you find this workshop helpful?" Below the heading were Yes and No buttons. Below this form was a link to explore more of the series and a button to get a transcript of the video. VoiceOver read these buttons as headings, but they can be reached with form navigation. The "Ask the Experts" information was also on this page. Toward the bottom of the page is a form to suggest a workshop. Use form navigation to find the button labeled "Suggest your idea."

Since I had logged into the site, Hadley kept track of which workshops I had completed. Under the Learn options, a new radio button appeared: Adjusting to Vision loss, below the Daily Living button. When I activated this button, I was taken to a section labeled Audio Podcasts.

If you are interested in technology, Hadley has many offerings. There are workshops available for iOS, iPad OS, Apple Watch, Android, Windows, Narrator, Outlook, and much more. I checked out some of the Narrator screen reader videos and they were excellent.

Discussion Groups

Hadley offers discussion groups on specific topics. For example, there's a "Tech It Out" discussion for people interested in technology. There's a "What's Cooking" discussion group for people who like to cook. There's an "All Groups" link that displays a complete list. Underneath the title of each group is a brief description.

Activating the title link brings up a new page with a brief video about the group including when it meets. Below the video is information about the next session, followed by ways to connect to the group.

Tye describes the importance of discussion groups this way:

For a number of years, Hadley offered weekly seminars on a variety of topics. We took those to a new level with topic-based Discussion Groups. We have about ten of them addressing things like Technology, Cooking, Writing, Braille, Crafting, Exercise, and Travel. For some Discussion Groups, we have 30 attendees; in others, we have 200! Hadley's staff does an amazing job of giving people the opportunity to fully participate. And, I'll tell you, this came at such an important time. As the pandemic has caused even more isolation for people who are visually impaired, the Discussion Groups are serving as a lifeline for people who want to connect with others.


Hadley offers podcasts related to blindness and visual impairment. Information appears below the discussion group's information. The podcast series is called, "Hadley Presents: A Conversation with the Experts." Activate that link and a page will load with a list of episodes. Some of the topics are COVID-19 and Vision Loss, Traveling the World Without Sight, and Nuts and Bolts of Home Repair.

My Hadley Story

In 1994, I lost the little bit of vision that I had had my entire life. Until then, I could read print with strong magnifying glasses. I realized that I needed to learn braille and contacted what was then the Hadley School for the Blind. Their course materials were easy to follow and my instructors were great. I learned to read Grade 2 braille and braille music. The best thing about my learning braille is that I was able to read print/braille children's books to my daughter, who was born in 1996.


Hadley is an excellent resource if you'd like to learn a new skill, interact with people who have interests in common, or find informative podcasts. The new website is easy to navigate and they offer easy phone, chat and email access when you need live help. I recommend exploring Hadley's many offerings including workshops, discussion groups, podcasts, and braille instruction.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

Comment on this article.

Related articles:

More by this author:

September 2020 Table of Contents

Janet Ingber
Article Topic
Access Issues