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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

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Changes in AFB's Strategic Direction and Programs

Photo of Kirk Adams

Kirk Adams is president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind.

This week we announced a partnership with the American Printing House for the Blind to carry on the award-winning web programs AFB has created, so that the American Foundation for the Blind can focus its full attention on creating a more inclusive and accessible society for millions of Americans with vision loss.

Last year, we set out to create a new strategic plan for AFB’s future. We recognized a need to refocus our energies, so we could expand the impact we make on the lives of Americans with visual impairments and the broader world. The year-long strategic planning process was guided by a key question:

What can AFB do to create a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired?

We determined that AFB must strengthen its commitment to effective research, policy, and partnerships—and ultimately improve our social systems—so that Americans with vision loss have the same opportunities as their sighted peers and loved ones. AFB’s track record of evidence-based programs and advocacy makes us uniquely suited to the challenge.

What does this look like in practice? Over the coming year, AFB will:

We know that discrimination against people who are blind or visually impaired remains a big problem. We want to shift public attitudes to create a more inclusive society.

Together, we can make a big impact in the areas of education, employment, and aging, so that children who are blind can follow their interests and capabilities into an interesting and productive career, and then enjoy a healthy retirement.

We truly believe that this is the right focus for AFB at this point in history. The 25 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired deserve the opportunity to live, learn, and work in a world with no limits. We look forward to working closely with APH, and we know they will ensure that our ground-breaking resources for parents, adults, and seniors remain strong.

Change is never easy, but we believe that our new strategic plan—and our mission to mobilize leaders, advance understanding, and champion impactful policies and practices using research and data—will result in significant improvements in the lives of people with vision loss.

In the News

Delta's New Advance Documentation Requirements Create an Undue Burden on Blind Travelers

a golden lab dog guide

Delta recently announced their intention to implement “advance documentation requirements” for customers traveling with service animals. While news stories about service peacocks, comfort turkeys, and gliding possums may seem alarming and absurd, the fact is that Delta’s proposed solution is an overly broad policy with serious implementation problems. We strongly object to any extra bureaucratic hoops or paperwork, which will clearly impact the right to travel freely for people who are blind or visually impaired.

We know sales representatives who are blind, whose demanding jobs frequently require them to drop everything and head out the next morning to visit a client. This policy would directly impact their ability to fulfill their job requirements. Passengers with dog guides have long been protected under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and other laws.

We join with our colleagues at ACB and NFB in strongly opposing any policies that would create an undue burden and deny equal access of service for passengers with service animals.

Getting Around
In the News
Public Policy

Join AFB's Advocacy Network!

Mark Richert

Mark Richert, AFB's Director of Public Policy

These are challenging times for America, and it's more important than ever that we each get involved in our own way and make our voices heard. On behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), I would like to invite you to be part of a dynamic community of advocates who have a passion for systems change and for improving the lives of individuals living with vision loss by joining AFB's Advocacy Network.

The concept here is very simple. We want to reach out directly to people in our community—just like you—to inform you about specific ways you can take action to defend and promote the rights, needs, and capabilities of individuals who are living with vision loss. By agreeing to participate in AFB's Advocacy Network, you are letting us know that you’re willing to make contact with policy makers, their staff, and other influencers. As part of the Network, you'll get all the details and resources you'll need to effectively advocate for the issues we all care most about, and we'll offer you as much assistance in making your voice heard as you need or want.

After a quarter century of professional public policy work on behalf of all people who are blind or visually impaired, I know with absolute certainty that it is still true that one person can make a difference. The worst thing any of us can do is give into the temptation to be cynical about the policy process and to feel that there's nothing that any of us can do to make things happen. You can make a difference, and we want to work with you to get it done.

Learn more about AFB's Advocacy Network and sign up today!

Whether you choose to participate in the Network or not, we invite you to subscribe to our public policy and research newsletter, AFB DirectConnect, so that you can stay in tune with the latest developments in Washington and across the country concerning the rights, programs, and services we all care about.

Together, we can protect the civil rights of people with vision loss and fight for funding and resources for quality rehabilitative services enabling people to live, work, and play confidently and independently.

We can fight the good fight for independent living services, funding for key programs, quality professional services meeting unique needs, and the tools, transportation, and technologies that can make all the difference in the world for adults who are losing their sight.

And, we can advocate for legislation like the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act—which will make sure that students who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind get the education they need once they get in the schoolhouse door.

I hope you'll join us in this important work. No one else will do this work for us. It's up to us to make the difference we seek. As Helen Keller said, "Together, we can do so much."

Public Policy

Report From Day One of CES 2018, a Global Technology Event

Paul Schroeder

It’s the time for college bowls, NFL playoffs, New Year’s resolutions, and, of course, all things technology at CES in Las Vegas. The show officially kicked off on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, with lots of attention to self-driving vehicles, voice-controlled everything, robots galore, and audio products with hearing enhancement. A big thank you to the Consumer Technology Association for supporting attendance by disability advocates, including Lee Huffman and me.

Here are a couple of highlights so far. We’ll have a full wrap up in AccessWorld next month.

Alexa in the Shower?

Yes, I said voice control everywhere and Moen has launched a shower system that includes temperature and other control with Alexa. The accompanying app also includes 12 pre-sets for you and your family members.

Robots for Meaningful Work?

Seems like the robot trend still is mostly about play and fun, but vacuum systems continue to evolve. Ecovacs Robotics showed off new models of floor and window cleaning robots. Ecovacs uses LIDAR (laser-based object detection) which they claim provides better floor mapping allowing more reliable vacuum or mop capacity in one unit.

Self-Driving Vehicles

Among the many displays of futuristic vehicles, CES attendees can meet Olli, a 3-D printed self-driving bus from Local Motors. Thanks to a partnership between IBM, the CTA and Local Motors, Olli is designed to be a fully accessible self-driving vehicle.

CES is propelled by a never-ending pulsing beat, making it tough to hear. Noise-cancelling headphones can help, but increasingly, audio companies are turning to more sophisticated approaches to help address competing environmental noise but also mild to moderate hearing loss. Nuheara showed off a couple of models that will hit the market later this year with Live IQ a hybrid noise cancelling system and IQ Boost targeting hearing enhancement.

AfterShokz was showing off the Trekz Air bone-conduction Bluetooth headphones; they are quite light. And, we got a quick look at the Jinni, a very small wearable speaker from PH Technical Labs. It handles Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Hopefully we can do a deeper dive into this speaker for the wrap-up article next month.

Tech for Good

The technology industry is definitely making an effort to showcase technologies that bring meaningful improvements to people and our planet. For example, smart city technology is a bigger focus this year at CES. I ran across a foundation working to promote Focused Ultrasound to treat diseases like Parkinson’s and cancer.

Aira, the company that brings visual information to users through smart glasses and smart phones connected to skilled agents (full disclosure, my employer), announced that CES is part of its “Site Access” network, which means Aira user minutes are covered while touring the show. Promo alert: the Minneapolis-St Paul airport was also recently announced as the newest member of the Airport site access network.

Speaking of smart glasses, hopefully Lee will tell us more about the Samsung glasses he got a chance to check out.

OK, three more days of fun and discovery await!

Conference Recaps
Helpful Products

How Does the Department of Justice's Withdrawal of Proposed Regulations Change How the ADA Applies to Websites?

On December 26, the Department of Justice (DOJ) officially withdrew pending rulemakings that would have clarified exactly how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to web services. In 2010, the DOJ started the rulemaking process to create new regulations for the websites of public accommodations and state and local governments. These "Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking" (ANPRMs) have now been withdrawn. For two different, but complementary, perspectives on this news, we recommend Lainey Feingold's excellent blog post, No ADA Web Accessibility Regs? No Excuses and the Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights blog post, 2017 Website Accessibility Lawsuit Recap: A Tough Year for Businesses, which summarizes the unprecedented number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal and state courts in 2017, and their recommendations for risk mitigation.

Bottom line: does this news substantively change the legal environment around web accessibility? The Department of Justice has long interpreted title III of the ADA to apply to web services, and recent court rulings concerning the accessibility of web content and services have tended to support that online businesses are a public accommodation subject to title III of the ADA. The DOJ clarified in its statement of interest in support of the plaintiffs in the case against Netflix, “The fact that the regulatory process is not yet complete does not support any inference whatsoever that web-based services are not already covered by the ADA, or should not be covered by the ADA.”

The DOJ reiterated this point in a 2014 case, asserting that “the Department has long considered websites to be covered by title III despite the fact that there are no specific technical requirements for websites currently in the regulation or ADA Standards.”

Business owners have certainly noted the extensive attention given to web accessibility recently in the courts and in the media. Any uncertainty created by the lack of new regulations should lead most business owners to take preemptive steps to protect against lawsuits by adopting best practices to make their sites more accessible.

The most cost-effective strategy is to mitigate risk by simply doing the right thing. The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are the gold standard for ensuring that websites are fully accessible. These standards are known, well-documented, and can be readily achieved with proper training and usability testing to ensure that websites and apps are accessible to all customers.

One way to mitigate the risk of expensive and time-consuming litigation is to work with nationally respected digital inclusion consultants, such as AFB Consulting, who can help businesses maintain welcoming online environments for customers with vision loss and other disabilities. AFB Consulting's project-specific work, training, and other services enable accessibility across your brands and products, ensuring you meet all standards of compliance.

AFB agrees with the Department of Justice’s previous public statement that “Web accessibility continues to remain a critical component of public entities’ obligation to provide equal access to their programs, services, and activities under the ADA.”

In the News
Public Policy
Web Accessibility