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AFB Staff Members Report Back on Three Different Approaches to Experiencing the Solar Eclipse

Alina Vayntrub and Crista Earl stand outside Penn Station, with Crista's dog guide Paige. Alina holds a colander and Crista, wearing headphones, is holding her iPhone. A piece of white paper lies on the ground.

Yesterday, AFB staff experienced the solar eclipse with a variety of high- and low-tech approaches.

Associate Director of Web Services Crista Earl used the new Eclipse Soundscapes App created by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and NASA’s Heliophysics Education Consortium. AFB Press Executive Editor Alina Vayntrub went old-school, using a colander to cast shadows of the eclipse against a white piece of paper. And Neva Fairchild, National Independent Living & Employment Specialist, listened to a livestream description from the American Council of the Blind.

Crista, how was your experience of the eclipse with the app?

Crista: The app was fun! It has three parts—one is you get a series of pictures of the different phases, and you can run your finger over them. It creates a tone that conveys the differences. It was interesting, but the pre-recorded human descriptions were even better. They were created in advance by WGBH, to give information about the major stages of the eclipse such as "Bailey's beads." It included the technical names of each phase, and gave you interesting scientific details about what caused the various effects. And the third part of the app were the push notifications, so you could get alerts specific to your area if you allowed location services.

Apparently the National Park Service was recording the sounds of wildlife, so I'm going to check today to see if those have been added to the app.

I have to say that the spontaneous descriptions from friends were really the best part of the eclipse. "It looks like a croissant! It's even golden!" They conveyed that the moon was crossing in from the left, and covering the bottom three-quarters of the sun.

Another wonderful discovery was that it was reflected in the windows of Madison Square Garden. A whole bunch of strangers gathered together, amazed. The crowd effect was the most fun.

eclipse reflection captured on the windows of Madison Square Garden: a crescent-shaped sun gleams from the window

Alina, can you tell us more about the colander viewing technique?

Alina: I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get eclipse glasses in time, so I decided to look up other ways to safely view the eclipse if I didn’t have the proper protective glasses. Some articles suggested using a colander with relatively large holes that could reflect the eclipse onto a white piece of paper. Luckily, I happened to have one handy at home and brought it in to test it out. It worked! Using the colander, instead of seeing one eclipse, we saw multiple eclipses through each of the individual holes.

The shadow cast by a colander during the solar eclipse -- each hole in the colander reveals a crescent shape on the white piece of notepaper.

Around the time of the totality of the eclipse, about 2:44 pm in NYC, two of our fellow building mates were returning to their offices and offered us their eclipse glasses. It was interesting to experience the eclipse in so many different ways: we listened using Crista’s Eclipse Soundscapes App, we saw the multiple little eclipses through the colander, we viewed it through the safety of the special eclipse glasses, and we also observed it in the reflection of the building windows. It was also exciting to see so many people in NYC who would typically pass one another on the street or in a building coming together to experience this rare event and share resources with one another. Can’t wait until 2024!

Neva, you took advantage of the audio description provided by ACB Radio. Can you tell us how that went?

That's right, I listened to the audio description of the total eclipse broadcast by ACB Radio by dialing in on my desk phone. My iPhone wasn’t working yesterday, of all days, so I relied on old school technology. The broadcast began with Dr. Joel talking about eclipse science and then an experienced describer told us what she could see from the courtyard of the Tennessee School for the Blind. She described how the sun looked like a very bright crescent moon with the shadow coming in from the left and moving oh so slowly that it was excruciatingly hard to wait for the totality. She talked about the color of the sky changing and compared the amount of light to a cloudy day, dusk, and then full night. She described the chirring of the crickets and cicadas, who typically only make sound as night approaches.

Unfortunately, the sun was covered by a storm cloud during most of the totality of the eclipse, but she said that sometimes when the cloud shifted the sun rays would be visible in the corona and that the cloud sometimes appeared to be glowing. I felt as if I were there, and the excitement of the crowd was also described. People were silent as the eclipse moved toward totality. When darkness was most prominent, the crowd became noisier and the excitement was palpable. As the sun made its reappearance, the novelty was over and people went back to their classes or offices long before the full sun was visible. Short of being there in person, having the total eclipse described was ideal for me.

How was your own experience of the eclipse? Let us know in the comments!

Assistive Technology
In the News
Video Description

Simple Accommodations Can Improve Workplace Safety for All

Two men standing in a warehouse. The older man on the left is pointing to lighting fixtures on the ceiling. The younger man standing next to him holds an open safety manual.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. workplace accident death rate is higher for older workers. In the article, however, they also cite Ruth Finkelstein, co-director of Columbia University’s Aging Center, who cautioned against stereotyping. She said older people have a range of physical and mental abilities and that it’s dangerous to lump all people in an age group together because it could lead to discrimination.

She went on to say that she’s not sure that older workers need much more protection than younger workers, but agreed there is a need for all workers to have more protection. "We are not paying enough attention to occupational safety in this country," she said.

At the American Foundation for the Blind, we strongly agree with Dr. Finkelstein. Older workers already face challenges in employment, and those experiencing vision loss sometimes experience implicit or explicit discrimination, such as job reassignment or forced early retirement. Vision rehabilitation services can dramatically improve older people's safety at home and in the workplace.

As James Grosch, co-director of the National Center for Productive Aging and Work, pointed out, changes as simple as improved lighting can make a huge difference in workplace safety and productivity.

Further, the Department of Labor’s National Technical Assistance and Research Center to Promote Leadership for Increasing the Employment and Economic Independence of Adults with Disabilities offers additional workplace accommodations that can reduce the chance of injury and increase opportunities for older persons experiencing vision loss to continue working. ("Employer Strategies for Responding to an Aging Workforce" PDF). Some of these include:

  • Individualizing workplace ergonomics and analyzing job tasks to prevent injury and disability
  • Incorporating high-and low-tech assistive technology devices to increase, maintain, or improve functional capacity
  • Engaging older workers in discussions about creating accommodating workplaces
  • Offering on-the-job training for new skills and for renewing and refreshing essential skills, especially utilizing multiple, shorter training sessions with a range of training formats

Older Persons at Economic Risk

As Dr. Rebecca Sheffield has documented in a recent letter to the Senate Committee on Aging, older persons with vision loss are already at economic risk, with fewer opportunities to work. Additionally, most are unfamiliar with the vision rehabilitation services that can help them adjust to vision loss, learn skills to live and work with vision loss, and get the help of trained vocational rehabilitation counselors so that they can retain or find employment. Human resources departments need to learn about these programs and inform their employees before they are in crisis. Retaining good employees by providing them with the supports they need to continue working is generally more cost effective than training new ones.

Other initiatives that proactive companies can undertake to retain experienced employees, reduce risk, and promote a healthy and safe workplace for everyone include:

  • Providing fall prevention programs
  • Offering exercise programs to everyone, not just older workers
  • Training their Employee Assistance Programs to refer workers to vision rehabilitation services
Chralotte Schrier, working on a handheld loom under a task light

Learn more about AFB’s work bringing leaders and advocates together to shape better policies, programs, and supports for older adults with vision loss at

More Resources

The U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) website has information on reasonable accommodations. has an entire section on employment of older persons with vision loss

Also check out VisionAware's workplace technology section and reasonable accommodation area.

In the News
Public Policy

Sharing Our Progress in Making the Helen Keller Archive a Gold Standard of Accessibility for Other Digital Archives

Top of image are various pieces from the Helen Keller Archives. Text on photo reads: Pioneering a Gold Standard: An Odyssey to Digitize Helen Keller’s Archive for Sighted, Hearing, Blind, and Deaf Audiences; Helen Selsdon, Elizabeth Neal, Crista Earl, and Toya Dubin SAA Annual Conference July 27th, 2017

We were so honored today to present at the Society of American Archivists 2017 Annual Meeting to discuss the Helen Keller Archive digitization project, and our work to create a fully accessible archival collection. Our topics included:

  • Why we were doing it, and why you should, too!
  • The process of digitizing braille, and other tricky materials
  • Metadata—all the information about the information that is contained in the collection (archivists love that stuff)
  • How to make websites accessible
  • How to conduct usability testing, and why you should bother
  • What we learned, and how we changed the site accordingly

We had some wonderful questions from the audience after today's presentation, and wanted to share them with you.

What platform are you using?

Veridian has been a wonderful partner in this project, and we asked them for a lot of customization of both the user end and the administrative interface.

Originally, Veridian's platform did not have a transcription interface. Hudson Archival worked with them to build that in, and Veridian enhanced the transcription functions radically to support our volunteers' needs. The transcription platform allows the volunteer to see the item that he or she is transcribing side by side with their transcription data. For people correcting the errors that so commonly occur in optical character recognition (OCR), the tool highlights the area that you are working on as you correct it.

Veridian has significantly enhanced the administrative functions over the course of this project, so that an administrator can track the transcribers' work, and easily assist if problems arise.

What work flow did you develop for transcription?

AFB staff developed a set of transcription standards that would lead to a good user experience for people using screen readers. We use these standards to train volunteers. As mentioned previously, the platform allows administrators to review transcriptionists work as they proceed.

Encouraging your transcriptionists is vital to the success of a project like this. Even if they have the delight of transcribing hilarious letters from Mark Twain, it's really important to remember that someone who is getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning to do this as their gift to the world needs to be thanked. And we do appreciate it, so much. If you would like to be a part of this process, and join our wonderful transcription team, please contact me at

Will you be sharing the results of your work, so that we can all benefit from your accessibility and usability findings, and improvements to the user interface?

Yes! We are delighted at this positive response to archive accessibility. We are still testing and refining the user interface as we add functionality. We look forward to sharing all of our recommendations, resources, and insights with the official launch of the Helen Keller digital archive.

I didn't know the American Foundation for the Blind had Helen Keller's Archive—what other archival materials do you have?

We have many seminal collections, not least of which is AFB's own archive. 550 record storage boxes that span from 1915 to the present describe the history of the burgeoning blindness field, blindness advocacy in the United States, and around the world. Materials also include the origins of assistive technology in the US, the standardization of English braille, the creation of agencies advocating for people with vision loss, as well as work surrounding education, rehabilitation and public policy.

AFB's M.C. Migel Rare Book collection contains over 700 volumes on non-medical aspects of blindness, spanning from 1617 to the 1960s. We also have the Talking Book Archive, which charts the history of audio recording pioneered in the 1930s by AFB. Fabulous oral histories recorded in the 1980s, as well as manuscript collections created by leading figures in the blindness field—such as Berthold Lowenfeld, Natalie Carter Barraga, Ray Kurzweil, and Josephine L. Taylor—add to AFB's wonderfully rich collections.

How would a person who is deafblind access the transcripts?

Screen readers are software programs that allow people who are deafblind to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen in braille. Refreshable braille displays provide access to information on a computer screen by electronically raising and lowering different combinations of pins in braille cells. A braille display can show up to 80 characters from the screen and is refreshable—that is, it changes continuously as the user moves the cursor around on the screen. The braille display sits on the user's desk, often underneath the computer keyboard. The careful transcription of all materials in the Helen Keller Archive make these primary sources accessible to all.

One quick question: how awesome is this project? [I swear we didn't plant this guy!]

Thank you! We think so, too, and are excited to carry on. We are so grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for their support, as well as the many other individual, private, and corporate donors who have contributed to this labor of love!

Arts and Leisure
Assistive Technology
Cultural Diversity
Helen Keller
Social Life and Recreation

Celebrating Civil Rights for People with Disabilities

Text reads: ADA 27 Years. Celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act

This week we celebrate the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. As many of you know, the ADA is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. This includes jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Through AFB's ongoing work to build on the landmark ADA and related laws, we are building a world of no limits where vision loss and disability are mere characteristics of social diversity—not used to justify discrimination.

Our family of sites provide many Advocacy Resources to familiarize yourself with ADA law. Knowing your civil rights helps in understanding why certain legislation is so important to the well-being of all Americans. Be sure to sign up for the DirectConnect newsletter to stay on top of public policy issues relating to blindness and visual impairment.

In her latest post, VisionAware Peer Advisor, Audrey Demmitt, R.N. asks, does a caregiver who is visually impaired have the right to receive accessible information? AFB CareerConnect shares an employee's evolving perspective and understanding of the ADA. Deborah Kendrick's AccessWorld article on self-advocacy in the healthcare system highlights ways to communicate in medical situations as a person with visual impairments. Steven Wilson's story of being a single father who is deafblind provides a first-hand look at how ADA law has helped a parent overcome situations of exclusion in providing for his children's education.

Join AFB's advocacy efforts as we collaborate with policy makers in Congress and the Executive Branch to ensure Americans with vision loss have equal rights and opportunities to fully participate in society.

In the News
Public Policy
Web Accessibility

American Foundation for the Blind and 74 National Disability Organizations Strongly Oppose Revised Better Care Reconciliation Act

We join with members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) in strongly opposing the revised Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). While we have serious concerns about many provisions of the BCRA, including a new provision that would dramatically increase costs for people with preexisting conditions, we cannot overstate the danger facing the millions of adults and children with disabilities if the bill’s Medicaid proposals are adopted by the Senate. The bill’s imposition of a per capita cap and the effective end of the adult Medicaid expansion would cut federal support by $756 billion by 2026, decimating a program that for decades has provided essential healthcare and long term services and supports to millions of adults and children with disabilities.

Some 10 million people with disabilities and, often, their families, depend on the critical services that Medicaid provides for their health, functioning, independence, and well-being. For decades, the disability community and bipartisan Congressional leaders have worked together to ensure that people with disabilities of all ages have access to home- and community-based services that allow them to live, work, go to school, and participate in their communities instead of passing their days in institutions. Medicaid has been a key driver of innovations in cost-effective community-based care, and is now the primary program covering home and community-based services (HCBS) in the United States. Older adults and people with disabilities rely on Medicaid for nursing and personal care services, specialized therapies, intensive mental health services, special education services, and other needed services that are unavailable through private insurance.

The BCRA upends those critical supports. Per capita caps—which have nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act—would radically restructure the financing of the traditional Medicaid program and divorce the federal contribution from the actual costs of meeting people’s health care needs.

Read the full letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, and then call your senator (202-224-3121) and urge him or her to vote no on the Motion to Proceed.

Related Links

In the News
Public Policy