Town Hall #3: November 10 from 2-3 PM Eastern
Topic: Education Across the Lifespan
Presenters: Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, AFB, Director of Research
Dr. Tina S. Herzberg, University of South Carolina Upstate, Professor
Dr. Tiffany Wild, The Ohio State University, Associate Professor

John Mackin: Hello, this is John Mackin, Public Relations Manager for the American Foundation for the Blind. I'm sitting here, I'm a Caucasian male with brown hair and green eyes, I'm wearing a blue button-up shirt. Welcome to AFB's third town hall, intended to engage in dialogue sparked by the Flatten Inaccessibility and Access and Engagement reports. Today's topic is "Education Across the Life Span." As with the prior town halls, we'll begin with a brief presentation. I'll come back at the end to read questions from the audience submitted both in advance and through the chat feature in Zoom. Okay. We have with us today my colleague, Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, Director of Research at the American Foundation for the Blind, along with Dr. Tina S. Herzberg, Professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate, and Dr.Tiffany Wild, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University. I'll let them introduce themselves briefly, then we can shift over to Dr. Rosenblum's presentation.

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: Well, thank you everybody for joining us this afternoon. My name is Penny Rosenblum, I'm in my home office in Tucson, Arizona, I have brown-ish/gray-ish hair, wearing glasses and a blue shirt. I’ll go ahead and have Dr. Herzberg introduce herself.

Dr. Tina Herzberg: Good afternoon, I'm Dr. Tina Herzberg, and I'm at home in Moore, South Carolina. And I am a Caucasian female with very gray hair I'm afraid, and a dark blue shirt today.

Dr. Tiffany Wild: I'm Tiffany Wild, I'm coming to you from my home office in Canal Winchester, Ohio. I am a white female with dark blond hair, blue eyes, and today I have on a black shirt with flowers on it and earrings that are round circles. Penny, would you like to start the presentation?

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: I sure would. Thank you so much. So we are here to talk about "Education Across the Life Span." And we have three pictures on the screen. The first one is from Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We see a teenage white male who is Deafblind smiling at his teacher who is signing to him on the computer monitor. We see a white elementary age student. She has an iPad in front of her with the COVID-19 virus on it and a textual representation of that made with an orange and push pins. Which is one of the adaptations Dr. Wild has come out with to show our students what COVID-19 is all about. And then we have a white Caucasian woman in her 20s who's actually working on–looking at a, I want to say it's a crustacean. I should have practiced that ahead of time. But she's looking at a marine mammal, an animal of some sort. And it's on a tray underneath a camera lens. And she's seeing it enlarged on her computer screen. We'll go on to the next slide.

So, today we're talking about the findings of two studies. The first one is Flatten Inaccessibility. And that website is And the other study is called Access and Engagement and you can go to There should be no slash between Access and Engagement, that's a typo. Both of these studies were interested in how COVID-19 was impacting individuals with visual impairments at the start of the pandemic. So the data for both were collected in the spring. So let me tell you about who were collaborators on this research. Next slide.

So, both studies, we had a core group of collaborators that go across both children's services and adult services. So, those were American Council of the Blind, AER, which is our professional organization, AFB, Aira, American Printing House for the Blind, COSB (Councils of Schools and Services for the Blind), Humanware, NOAH, Objective Ed, VisionServe Alliance, and Vispero. Next slide.

So there were four entities that supported the Flatten Inaccessibility. Johns Hopkins University, National... National Federation of the Blind, Prevent Blindness America, and Professional Development and Research Institute. And excuse Dr. Rosenblum's low vision as she leans forward. Collaborators for Access and Engagement, we added ACVREP, the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation Education Professionals, DVIDB, which is part of the Council of Exceptional Children. CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), National Braille Press, Perkins School for the Blind, Seedlings Braille Books, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and University of South Carolina Upstate. So you will see that there is really just about all the national organizations and companies that supported these two studies. Next slide.

AFB wants to thank our town hall sponsors. The James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and LHH. So we really appreciate them sponsoring all three of these town halls and their contribution. Next slide.

So briefly, the Flatten Inaccessibility study, if you've been here for the other town halls, I apologize you're getting the same slide, but we want everybody to have the same information. We had 1,921 participants in the study throughout the U.S. We had all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico represented. 186 of the participants, or 59%, had concerns about their education due to COVID-19. And you're saying, "Wow, only 186, Penny, of 1,921?" I do want to point out that the majority of our participants were over age 55. So, many of them were not engaged in education. 68 participants were receiving services through a rehabilitation program. So, that might have been O&M, vision rehabilitation stuff, assistive technology training, or they were going to a dog guide school. 43 were attending a four-year college and 27 were attending graduate school. 60% of the participants whose school introduced new technology reported that that technology was not accessible to them. So, those are our participants from Flatten Inaccessibility. So, a small group, but a very important group. Let's look at the next slide about Access and Engagement.

In this study, we had 1,432 participants. and they were representing 455 children, 710 teachers of students with visual impairments (or what we called TVIs), 138 orientation and mobility specialists, or what we refer to as O&M specialists, and 180 dually certified professionals. Now you're saying "But those numbers don't add up to 1,432, Penny," and you're correct. And that is because we had about 30 individuals who were both parents or family members and professionals. 56% of the children who these family members or guardians reported on had additional disabilities. In our field of special education for students with visual impairments, we've said for many years that, you know, 50 to 70% of children have an additional disability or more than one additional disability. So, this data really supports smaller studies where that percentage range has come out. 85% of those teachers of visually impaired students who had at least one student taking online courses in the spring – so this was when COVID first was really beginning – 85% of those teachers reported they had at least one student with an accessibility problem. So, both data from Flatten Inaccessibility and Access and Engagement were collected very early on in the pandemic. Let's go ahead and go to the next slide.

Both reports, Access and Engagement and Flatten Inaccessibility are available from AFB at or I want to let you know on this next slide that we are very much in the midst of the data collection for the second Access and Engagement study. That study right now is scheduled to close on–after Sunday, November 22nd. We may consider letting it go a little bit longer, so be watching email and social media. But we really encourage everybody to get on and complete the study if you are a family member or guardian of a child whose receiving education services under the Individuals with Disability Education Act. So, basically, birth through 21, school age. If you are a teacher of visually impaired students or an O&M specialist, we really need to understand what has changed since the spring with COVID? What is new now? What has continued? If we're going to effect change, we have to have data to back up our recommendations, to administrators, to policy makers, to support families, to support professionals.

So, if we don't get folks to take the time to complete this survey, we're not gonna have as strong a voice. So it's imperative that if you are on this call today that you go to our survey site which is, or you can go to the AFB site as well and you'll get there the same way, click on the button and take the survey. There's also a flyer that you can download to share with others. We've written two blog posts that are at Each of them shares ideas on how you the individual, whether you're a family member, a professional, an administrator, how you can use these reports to support services and education for individuals with visual impairments. So, the first one is It Takes a Village, join the Access and Engagement Village and Advocate for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments. And the second blog post is Five Ways to Use the Flatten Inaccessibility Report to Raise Awareness in Your Community.

Okay. So, we wanted to keep our presentation very brief today. There is tons of information in both reports that are available to you. They are fully accessible. They're also on the website in different sections. So, if you are an early intervention provider and you really want to share the early intervention section with your administrators or the families you work with, you can point them directly just to that section so that big report doesn't seem so overwhelming. But we'd really like to hear your comments and your questions. So, Dr. Herzberg, Dr. Wild and I are available and ready to go, Mr. Mackin.

John Mackin: Thank you, Penny, and thank you for that presentation. Let's begin with a question that's actually for all three of you. I think we can begin with Penny and then you can punt it, Penny. But first question. "What did you find to be the biggest takeaway from this study, or the thing that surprised you the most?"

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: You know, John, for me and for our audience, there were so many takeaways. But much of my time before I joined AFB was spent in preparing teachers of students with visual impairments. And I'm betting some folks who had me as a professor are probably on with us today. And I always used to say in my university courses that I can't teach you everything you need to know about being a teacher of visually impaired students or an orientation and mobility instructor. But if I can teach you to problem solve, and if I can teach you to use resources, and if I can teach you strong communication skills, you're going to be able to do great things for kids and families.

And that so shined through for me in the professional section. Many of the professionals who responded – we had 1,028 professionals total – many of those folks, over 700 of them, had connected with another professional, had shared resources with families. Were sharing information, for example, about the Excel Academy, which is free from the American Printing House for the Blind is again running this year to supplement the expanded core curriculum, learning for our students with visually impairments or the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Coffee Hour, they were connecting with others. And that is also running again from the outreach department this year. So that connection, that sharing, that supporting each other so shine through for me. But what about you Tina, what happened with you when you were looking at the data?

Dr. Tina Herzberg: Well, Dr. Wild and I spent a lot of time looking at the, in particular, the school-aged data. And I think the one thing that just struck me over and over again was the importance of technology skills, because the family members that were reporting for their students that had good technology skills were faring well. They seemed to be doing well and able to really access education virtually. On the other hand, we heard from some other family members where the children didn't have the technology skills they needed to be able to participate. And several of them said "I wish my child knew how to use JAWS," or... And then some even described the efforts they were having to take that either they or siblings would sit alongside the child for hours a day to make sure that the child could access their educational content. And so I think my big takeaway is just how critically important it is that we really think about technology skills and that we really help our students to make sure that they have the skills they need. And then for the teachers, I would say, you know, this is the other part is that we hear from teachers that there's a huge range in their technology skills. And so this is the same for those teachers, that it's never too late to learn. And so I'm like you that can we use this as an opportunity to perhaps improve our own skills as well?

And then one other thing that I have to say that just really struck me that I didn't even really necessarily think about at first is we were collecting all this information from the families and the professionals is that we really didn't have up to date information about–demographic information about TVIs. And now we do. We have this huge sample that we really learned a lot about, including even like the size of their caseloads. And so I think this is like a silver lining of this data collection that I would have never even thought about originally.

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: Tiffany, how about you? What was your takeaway?

Dr. Tiffany Wild: So I spent a lot of time with Dr. Herzberg on the family data and analyzing that data as well as the teacher data. And I will say that the stories that the families told really resonated with me. There were some heartbreaking stories that were difficult to read, but there were also stories of triumph. And some very creative ways that teachers were teaching and reaching out to families. And I was really struck by the hours that the teachers were putting in driving a braille writer to a house and putting it on a porch. Or staying at home and hand-brailling materials because they couldn't access the embosser at school and then driving that to a porch or a drop-off location.

We had several stories of very creative orientation and mobility specialists as well doing remote learning or driving around neighborhoods and watching kids. It was just incredible. And it was those stories that really struck me. And also, the other thing that I wanted to bring up was the parents commenting about how, for the first time, they really felt involved in their child's education. And several parents had mentioned that they now knew and better understood their own child and their own child's needs by watching them and could get involved in their education. So, it was just that human aspect, those stories, and that creativity that really struck me.

John Mackin: Thank you. Let's stay with you, Tiffany. Let's keep you unmuted there for a second. One question that came in. "I don't think my child is receiving the services or materials they need. Who can I contact?"

Dr. Tiffany Wild: Thank you for that question. As a parent with a child with an IEP, I very much have to stay on top of that. But I will also say first, always go to your teachers. There's always a chain of command. So, I always start with the teachers and reach out to them and say, "What do I need to do?" If I don't get anywhere with them, then I go to an administrator and other members of the IEP team. You know, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides official dispute mechanisms and how to resolve problems. So, you can always go that route as well. And there's also protection and advocacy organizations or parent resource centers that will also help you and be a part of this process if needed to provide extra support for the family. And at the same time also educate the administrators and the IEP team. So, always start at the local level. But if you have to go into a dispute, there are those mechanisms, and reach out for support.

John Mackin: Thank you, Tiffany. So, this will be a question for Tina. And I'm going to start with a comment. "It has been difficult to do FVA/LMA for students with other disabilities during this virtual time." And just for the audience, FVA (Functional Vision Assessment), LMA, (Learning Media Assessment). "How has the pandemic affected standardized testing for blind and low vision students and TVIs completing FVAs and LMAs?"

Dr. Tina Herzberg: Well, that really seems like a two-part question, John. I think I'll will start with the teachers of the students with visual impairments completing FVAs and LMAs. That this was supported in the data that there were occasions where really evaluations just kind of stopped. And there were students that–where they hadn't been found to be eligible and really weren't receiving services. Now, this is why I go back to what Penny just said a few minutes ago about how important it is that we collect data this fall, because I'm hoping that we are not going to see that near as widespread this fall. I can just tell you locally that I am hearing stories of TVIs and O&Ms completing assessments this fall. I know here in South Carolina,, there has actually been pretty extensive training and training materials. We also used the materials developed by Ting Su–Dr.Ting Su in California and her colleagues about comprehensive evaluations of blind and low vision students during COVID-19. And we used that to develop a plan for our state. And so, this is my hope that we are six months in the–maybe making progress. And that my hopes is that, yes, it has been hard, but I'm hoping that, that we are seeing progress and that students are being evaluated and that teachers are feeling much more comfortable.

So, the second part of that was about how is the pandemic affecting standardized testing? And it really did because one of the examples that I was thinking of was last year when the college board decided that they would only provide digital access to advanced placement – a lot of times we call that AP exams. Even for students who already had approved accommodation requests for braille exams and tactile graphics. So what happened is one student from New Jersey as well as four other students actually disputed this. And with the help of the National Federation of the Blind, they were able to resolve this. And so, very fortunately that the College Board has allowed those students who had those approved requests to retake the exam with braille and with tactile graphics. And so this is one of those times that students really kind of standing up for themselves and then those advocacy organizations and consumer organizations really standing alongside them, just so they had equitable access. So, that is one thing that happened, I think, that had a really positive resolution. And I hope that will help this year as well. I do know that there has been some delays, like if you are needing to take a process exam or things like that. But my hope is that by this fall, that is also being eliminated.

John Mackin:
Thank you. And equitable access, I like that. Penny, I'd like to circle back to you for a second. And this question involves inclusivity. "Do you believe that the Access and Engagement study, that the findings fully represent all students including those in rural areas, maybe not a lot of family support, people who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, et cetera?"

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: You know, John, that's a question that our team has really struggled with and continues to struggle with with Access and Engagement 2, which again is a survey open now through November 22nd. So, first off, I read at the beginning the long list of our collaborators. And those folks have been wonderful in Access and Engagement 1 and are continuing to be wonderful in our second study about tweeting and blogging and sending out emails. But if you're a family that isn't online, you don't have consistent access to the Internet, you don't have time, you don't have a device, you're missing all those blogs and posts. So, we know that that's an issue, that families who don't have internet access reliably or who don't have a device of their own aren't knowing about the survey.

We are working to collect zip code information. So, we want to look at our representation of rural areas and we're really working hard to reach out to somebody in every state, and in turn let them know about the study, and asking them to share it. And in our request, we're now saying, "Hey, please reach out to a family that may not be in the know about this study." Because we know our last time, that almost all our families had internet access at home. As far as people from different ethnic groups, Black, indigenous, people of color, we were definitely much higher on the white percentage of participants, both among family members and professionals, than our census data, U.S. census and community census data show.

I can tell you for Access and Engagement 2, yesterday I probably spent about 2 hours researching different Native American groups, different Black groups, reaching out to folks at the University of Arizona where I have been over the last week, to say, "Hey, can you help me on how we can connect with Native families or Indigenous families or families from different ethnic groups?" So, our team is really making an effort. But this is really where we need everybody on today's town hall to help us. If we each could reach out to one family that may not know about this study, especially if it might be a family that would represent some of our underrepresented groups, that will help us have a stronger data set that is much more representative.

John Mackin:
Thanks, Penny. And again, I think the fastest shortcut to that is to send them to

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: Correct.

John Mackin:
Just as a reminder. Question for Tiffany. "How should schools and administrators ensure that special education referrals and necessary evaluations are completed following timelines established by the IDEA?"

Dr. Tiffany Wild: Thank you for that question. As a parent of a child with disabilities, I've really needed to stay on top of the dates and referrals for evaluations. Forms that are needed for those evaluations from parents. And I have been very understanding. In the spring, it was very difficult. When the springtime came around, I have been understanding that due to COVID, we're going to have some time issues. However, this fall, I'm staying on top of those dates and I'm really advocating with district administration as needed for my child. I started with her special education team and then they advocated to administration for my daughter. So, knowing that the IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) timeline is always a good thing.

So, according to the IDEA, you can look at their website, they've got a great Q&A for parents. The 60 days for assessment and evaluations are still in play during this time of COVID-19. But states do have the ability to establish exceptions through state regulation and policy. So, therefore, it's important for parents and administrators to know the policies of their own state. But, again, I've just tried to really stay on top of it. And even I've offered to drive my child in on a hybrid day when she's supposed to be at home for those evaluations and tried to work with administration as much as possible.

John Mackin:
Thanks, Tiffany. One for you again, Penny. "How can schools and universities ensure that their virtual platforms are accessible?"

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: You know, that's a great question, John. And this really is virtual platforms, whether we're talking about universities, whether we're talking about K-12 education, or whether we're talking about work environments. AFB is actually conducting a work place technology study and we had a focus group yesterday of seven individuals, seven adults. And one of our participants made a point that I think really came out in both studies, which is there's a difference between accessibility and usability. If it's going to take me half an hour to work my way through something that a sighted classmate can do in 5 minutes, then it might be accessible, but it's not usable. So, it's important that our procurement folks, whether they're at the university level, whether they're an employer, or whether they're a school district person, have people with visual impairment test out the different tools, to not just look at, okay, yes, it works with VoiceOver. But VoiceOver, which is our screen reader for Apple products, is constantly saying, "Unlabeled button." That's not usable. So, that's an important piece.

I think when a student in a class, whether it's university or K-12 has an issue, the more explanation they can give to their teacher or their professor about what's happening. And if they can't, to give us a suggestion about how to circumnavigate it. So, for example, we had comments from family members who taught in Access and Engagement, who talked about that the videos that their child was being asked to watch, that their teacher had recorded, were not accessible. The teacher was maybe writing on the computer screen or saying "Over here, like this," and the visually impaired child couldn't access that information.

So the first line, as Tiffany was saying, is to talk to that teacher. And we want that college student, that high school student, even that elementary student to be advocating for, "Hey, why isn't this working for me?" And then what might be the solution? And then working with the vendors. You know, vendors such as Zoom, WebEx, they've seen a huge uptake in how much their services are being used. And so, it's really important when you have an issue, fill out their form, let them know. These companies have accessibility people on staff. But often they're sighted people who don't really understand the nuances for those of us with vision loss. Thanks, John.

John Mackin:
Thanks Penny. One for you, Tina. Someone writes, "How can I offer my services as a volunteer tutor for a BVI child learning remotely?"

Dr. Tina Herzberg: Oh, that is a fantastic question. There actually is a national homework hotline for blind and visually impaired students. And it is So what's very cool about it is this can be anybody. Let's say you're maybe a retired or part-time teacher, or perhaps you're really strong in math. Maybe you might volunteer to tutor a student in math. Or maybe it's to help with a writing assignment. Or maybe you're really good with technology, maybe it's helping us learn how to use VoiceOver or how to use Zoom. So this is the really cool part, is just go to the website and there's a place to sign up and I can guarantee you, there are children just waiting for your help.

John Mackin:
Well, I'm glad you thought that was a great question because that was a great answer, thank you. Question for you, Tiffany. And we're kind of hitting an accessibility theme here. "How can a virtual teacher–excuse me–how can a virtual teaching setting be more accessible to both the VI student and the TVI with VI?"

Dr. Tiffany Wild: Well that's another great accessibility question for sure. First you need to make sure that the websites and apps that you're using with your students are accessible. We found a lot through the research that some of the apps and websites were not accessible. In addition, we recommend that the TVI and the parents reach out to the general education team to advocate for accessibility. So you're going to hear this need to advocate is part of this theme as well. If the student's old enough, the student can do that him or herself.

Sometimes in the haste to move online, accessibility may not have been checked or some parts of that technology may not have been checked for accessibility. Especially in the spring when this data was collected, it happened so quickly. So, just leaning on all parts have been huge during this epidemic. And then next, make sure that each student has all the materials and equipment that they need. We found that this too was a problem in the spring with the quick shutdown. Some schools had a couple of days' notice, some schools had hours' notice that this shutdown had to happen. And so kids left without equipment. I know my own daughter left with her book bag left in the locker with the information that she needed.

So, but the research again showed instances of teachers driving to students homes, doing porch dropoffs of equipment, materials, mailings, and being very inventive on ways to access materials. And there's a quote that I want to share with you from one of the parents. She said, and I'm reading this, my head is down. "We talk several times per week via email, phone, Google Meet, or text. Our TVI reached out to myself and my child to check in and see how things are going and to provide encouraging messages. She's also dropped off resources several times. Another parent in our district has the embosser in her house and is able to continue braille production. So, those innovative ways of finding ways to make things accessible and then double checking that technology to make sure that they are accessible has been very encouraging through this whole process. Thank you.

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: I just want to–oh, right. I just wanted to piggyback on to what Tiffany was saying. Because I think part of this was the, if the TVI themselves is visually impaired. And that can be always be a challenge. And I say that as a person with a visual impairment who was a TVI myself for many years. Doing things in the virtual world adds another layer. And I think that's where communication with the family, especially if you're working with a younger child or a child with additional disabilities, to be able to explain to them what you do and the why. And I think the why is the really important thing. And to be able to ask very poignant questions to let you know what's happening. I think another thing is as an advocate for yourself is, if there are parts of this job that are visually impossible for you or very challenging, then to advocate, to be for the district or the school, or wherever you're working, hire what I would like to call a set of rental eyes. Because sometimes there are times when you need somebody who is fully sighted or very close to fully sighted to help you with visual information.

And so that really comes back to the theme of advocacy. In our research, we had several parents who also talked about the fact that they themselves were visually impaired and weren't able to access the students' platform. And I unfortunately did not print out my quotes. But I'll paraphrase one. But one parent said, to the effect of, I'm really glad my kids are sighted because this would be a disaster if they weren't because her children were able to read the information. But another parent who shared basically, "I'm frustrated and my child's frustrated because we both can't see these scanned images or the videos. And so, I can't support my young” — I believe it was a kindergarten or first grade child — “the same way that a sighted parent can." So we need to think about it from the professional who is visually impaired's perspective and from the family member who is visually impaired. I wanted to piggyback on to Tiffany's wonderful thoughts.

John Mackin:
Well thank you both. And this is also sort of a logical point to piggyback a little bit further. This was not a TVI that had a visual impairment, but this ties into someone that had a question in the chat. We do have a couple of blog posts up that was about TVI’s and O&M instructors sharing their experiences. This was before–this might have been during the survey, but before the report. And it was back in April when it all was still so new. My colleague did post those into the chat, so they will be there and they will be on our recap blog post later. So, I just wanted to point that out as well. Thank you both. Let's do another question. Okay. And this stays on the accessibility theme. "Access to virtual learning platforms and other tools that support education in colleges and universities have posed barriers for students who are blind, low vision, or have other disabilities during the pandemic. Is this being addressed by anyone?" This question is for Tina.

Dr. Tina Herzberg: Well, our research for the Access and Engagement in Education really focused on K-12. But we know that we, although we didn't focus on access within higher education, we know that this is an issue that needs further research. What I can say is that there are barriers that are still sometimes faced by students across the lifespan. But there are a few things that I think that are very encouraging. Just last month, one of the largest companies, Pearson, actually entered an agreement. And as part of that, they are establishing a communication channel that will help them to remediate barriers more quickly, and they're also auditing 40 of their most vitally used products, including the My Labs, with the goal of identifying and then remediating accessibility issues as quickly as possible. So I thought that was very encouraging. And then some other things that I think have been encouraging along the way is that, as I talked about earlier, that sometimes I think it's sometimes individual students that are really starting with like their teachers and then letting them know.

And then, you know, sometimes it is also like talking with other students and kind of brainstorming and problem solving together. And then sometimes it goes beyond that where you really, if it is something that's inaccessible is letting the University or someone else, an administrator at the K-12 school really knowing. So right now there are some student groups that are advocating about educational rights, including the National Disabled Law Students Organization. As I was researching for today, I thought it was so interesting that there are two states that are actually allowing individuals who are blind to also take their exams, the Bar exams, at home, because they're allowing everybody else to. And I thought, "Yay! Way to go." Now of course, 2 is not 50 states. But I thought, “Hey, this is movement in the right direction.”

And then I also know that there are several disability rights attorneys that have posted public notice on their website that they have open active investigation into barriers. And so this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. But my one hope is that by doing research like we did for K-12 where 85% of their teachers said that at least one of their students was having an accessibility issue. And then on this second research study that we actually asked more specifically about which are the platforms or the apps that you're having accessibility issues with, that really can maybe help that conversation and facilitate that conversation so that these can really be resolved. So, this is gonna be ongoing. Probably well beyond just the next few months.

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: And John, I'm gonna jump in here and just say with the Flatten Inaccessibility think that we didn't have a lot of college students. We did have several that talked about not being able to get the materials from the disability resource center, let's say for our chemistry class that could tackle diagrams that center was providing them on campus. And now not being on campus, not being able to get those. Or not being able to access the labs that they would typically be doing in class, and the disability resource center would provide them a sighted assistant. And now these were videos of labs that the professor had made and they didn't have that level of assistance. So we had some college students were concerned that they might not pass the course. That they had to drop the course and therefore that would affect graduation.

There was also one individual who basically said, "I know no matter what they do, they're gonna pass me in the course. And that's not right." So, that, well, we don't know how to accommodate, so we don't want to, you know, have a problem. So, we'll just pass this student because we're in COVID. And that isn't right and that individual acknowledged it. So, I think as Tina said, this is very much an ongoing concern. And some of the issues we're talking about today are systemic. They're not just caused by COVID. But COVID has really brought them to the forefront for us as a field, as families, as individuals with visual impairments. And we can take these two large datasets and hopefully this third one that you're all going to help us get for the second Access and Engagement study, and we will have more data to document what is happening with people with visual impairments than this field has ever had before. And that's how we're going to use the recommendations in these reports to make changes with administrators, with policy makers, with technology companies. We have to be able to tell the stories and we have to have the numbers behind them. Thanks, John.

John Mackin:
Thank you, thank you both. I want to apologize to a portion of our audience. We are sort of slipping into our own acronyms here. I just wanted to, for the benefit of everyone: TVI (Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments); O&M (Orientation and Mobility); IDEA, that was Individuals with Disability Education Act. So we'll try to stay on top of the acronyms for those that don't have them memorized, because it sometimes takes a long time to sink in.

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: John is a good learner. He's learned a lot of acronyms.

John Mackin:
[laughs] And they continue to roll up. Let's see. "Between access to technology and access to the Internet and restructuring of curriculum to fit a new dynamic," – this is for you, Tiffany – "which issues can be fixed first?" And I called you on a little bit too late so I'll say it again. "Between access to technology/access to Internet and restructuring of curriculum to fit a new dynamic, which issues can be fixed first?"

Dr. Tiffany Wild: Wow. So with that question, it kind of goes hand-in-hand right now with COVID. A lot of things are going online and a lot of things are being requested using technology. If you don't have access to the technology, that's a problem. On the flipside, with again, hardly any notice, all of a sudden we're having to write curriculum and look at curriculum in a very different way as educators. And that was educators from working with infants and toddlers, and how are we going to work with those babies over the Internet, all the way up to college? As a professor, I was in the same position of what am I gonna do and how am I gonna rewrite this? So right now, how can they be fixed first? I don't have an answer for which one's first. It's kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg? They're kind of interwoven.

But in saying that, so many interesting things have come about because of that lack of accessibility in curriculum and vice versa because we have access to curriculum. Some very creative–or not have access in technology, some very creative curriculum has happened. So, to answer which one can be fixed first, I don't have an answer for that, I'm so sorry. I just kind of feel like they're kind of going hand-in-hand right now and that we're all working as a community to develop. So, for instance, it came across that we needed to teach about COVID-19. And we didn't know how to teach our students who were blind about COVID-19. So what was the response? We made a module and it's now gonna be available from the American Printing House. So the community is coming together to really fix these problems. But again, I don't know how to answer which one should become first because right now they're so intertwined. I think we're working to make both better at the same time.

John Mackin:
Appreciate that. One for you, Penny. "How can we get students to learn braille as early as possible, especially over Zoom?"

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: You know, I actually have a good friend who is a TVI working with a Native American 7-year-old who's been having to do remote instruction with this child now for the last 7 months and has really struggled with that. So, a couple of things. One is that our sighted children have access to lots of printed materials. So, we have to get our kids access to braille materials. So that's where maybe getting a volunteer to help you braille the material if you're the TVI and you don't have the time or now you don't have an embosser and you have to do everything by hand. But we need to send braille to the families so that those materials are in the home for that child.

We need to think about making it fun and that our younger students, or our students with additional disabilities who are beginning braille learners, are not going to sit for an hour long Zoom lesson. You're having trouble sitting for an hour long webinar and most of you have checked your email or texts. So if you can't do it, how can we expect a young child to do it? So thinking about activities where they can get up and jump how many times, three times if there's three dots in the letter or the contraction. But some way to make it interactive or send them on a scavenger hunt in the house and they find something, bring it back to you at the computer, and you have them braille the name of the object. But there's got to be some movement. There's got to be some interaction. This is a great opportunity to support families. Families, may be grandma or grandpa, families may be brother or sister because mom or dad may be working.

But is there somebody in that home that you can get involved with braille that can be a support that can be part of the lessons? Contests between big sister and child learning braille. Who can actually read the cards that you send faster? Resources like the American Printing House for the Blind has Building on Patterns and a lot of us call that BOP. BOP starts at the preschool level, so getting that and getting those materials to the family. There's a program called the Mangold Program available from Exceptional Teaching Aids that let's you help students build their hand skills. I love Dr. Diane Wormsley’s IM-ABLE: Individualized Meaning Approach to Braille Literacy Education, and her book that is available from the American Printing House for the Blind that walks through the steps of that process. So using those materials creatively, but it's imperative that braille is in that child's world tactually. It can't just be you talking about it. Thanks, John.

John Mackin: Right, thank you. No, that makes sense. I'm just going to throw out a couple of quick hit questions about the research, about the surveys that have come into the chat feature. And I think one of these, there might have been a little bit of confusion about birth through 21 versus K-12. "Was the research focused on K-12 or was it birth-to-21 and how do you determine the difference?"

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: I'll take that one. So, John, students who have a disability and qualify for education services under the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) qualify until they exit school. For many students that they exit school at the same time their sighted peers would, typically around age 18 with high school graduation. But for our students who have additional disabilities, often they stay in school until age 21. In some states, it is age 22 when they age out of IDEA education. So, Access and Engagement focused on children who were receiving education in the United States and Canada who were basically you could think of in home environments, preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Some of them chronologically were 21. But these were not students who were, let's say, enrolled in college, that they don't--

John Mackin:
Thank you. There was another really quick hit question. "Was the survey only for North America?"

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: The survey was only for the United States and Canada. We had 113 participants from Canada. Which is just under 10%. So, Canadians, let's get you up there. We want to hit at least 15% Canadians this round.

John Mackin: Thank you for that. Question for Tiffany. "What role should university offices of disability services play in ensuring access during the pandemic?" And forgive me, this is actually like three questions in a row. "How can students advocate for themselves? What should instructors consider for students with a visual impairment?"

Dr. Tiffany Wild: Thank you for that. Colleges and universities, they do have an office called the Office of Disability Services. However, one thing to remember is that these offices do not issue an IEP, the Individualized Education Plan, or offer as many services to students and families that they're used to getting in the K-12 system. So there's not those extensive services. The other thing to keep in mind with this, and I want to give a little background to the way I'm going to answer this question, is that the student must initiate all communications to get plans implemented from the office. So it's on the student to reach out to the Office of Disability Services to get any of the services that they may need. They should have a counselor assigned to them that will help them navigate the college requirements and discuss communication options with their instructors.

And honestly, from a personal experience, I've just found that the more open and honest a student is with his or her instructor, the better the relationship that they will build and the response to needs. I have worked with other instructors. So, if an instructor from let's say chemistry or biology has a student with a visual impairment, sometimes they'll call on us in the Program of Visual Impairments across campus to get tips and tricks on how to make their courses more accessible. So, instructors really have to consider the needs of the student, and those vary from class to class. So, accommodations needed for organic chemistry, for instance, is very different than a composition class.

But those counselors will usually draft a letter, they are sent – again, initiated by the student – they'll draft a letter, send that to the instructor, and then the instructors need to follow those accommodations that have been made. But again, just realize that this is all on the college student to initiate that with the office. There will not be follow-up from anyone else. And because of FERPA Act, colleges cannot reach out to parents. So, very much like the Health Act, they cannot open up communication unless the student says it's okay. So it's all student-driven and there's letters initiated, but you're not going to have access to all the specialists that you had in that K-12 setting.

John Mackin:
Sort of underscores the importance of self-advocacy.

Dr. Tiffany Wild: Correct, thank you.

John Mackin: Thanks. Okay. Actually, you know what, I'm going to jump back into the chat for a second ‘cause we got something interesting. We can start with Penny, but it might be for the group. It involves the accessibility of management systems. "Has AFB done any research into the accessibility of various learning management systems, or did that–is that something that came up in these studies?"

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: So, AFB has a consulting department and I did not think to check with them ahead of time if they have provided support to any of our learning management systems, John, I don't know if you want to check with somebody in the chat and you can swing back on that if we have worked with any of the companies like Canvas or Black Board or D2L, which is now Brightspace. We definitely heard in both the Flatten Inaccessibility and in the Access and Engagement study that there were issues with accessibility. We heard more honestly about Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and instructor-recorded videos than we did about actual learning management systems. If we heard about learning management systems, it tended to be that the instructor was posting things, and so the student could find the things, but those documents that were posted were scanned PDFs that were not accessible. So it wasn't that we heard about the actual learning management system itself not being accessible, it was what was being posted on it or the way it was being used by the instructor. Anybody else want to jump in? Tiffany or Tina?

Dr. Tina Herzberg: No, Penny, that seems very true for what I remember as well. I would say just in my–just in my experiences that I've not done a study. But I do know that, I mean, from time to time that I've heard, it's like when Penny was talking earlier about usability and accessibility that sometimes the learning management systems, although technically may be accessible, they're not always very user-friendly. I do know that I've heard that from several students. So, I would be very interested to see, will we hear more about those actual learning management systems this time? And I do not know that.

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: Okay. So in our second study we have a question both for professionals and families. Not for the infants and toddlers. But, yeah, from the preschoolers on up. The question basically is, "What tools are being used by sighted individuals?" And we list over 30 tools. We got online and we asked people what tools they were using. Those people, like Tina and Tiffany and others on our team who are parents themselves, had tools that their own children were using. So, the first question asked, "What tools are being used by sighted children as part of the education?" The next follow-up question asked is, "Which of those tools are not accessible to your child with a visual impairment or your students?" And that's one of the things we'll be looking at: which tools get that check in that second time? And I just very superficially and starting to look at, we have about 220 responses as of this morning. And periodically I'll open up a response and I'm seeing that a lot of the tools aren't getting a checkmark. Which means that people are saying that they're accessible. So, hopefully the tools that our, you know, teachers are picking are more accessible or our TVIs worked with companies like Freedom Scientific that puts out the JAWS software to make sure that we have scripts in place and that those tools can be used.

John Mackin:
Thank you, thank you both. And if we do have any additional information that is on our site or elsewhere, we will include that in our recap blog post afterwards. We only have a couple of minutes left, so let's try to get in as much last minute questions in as we can. Let's go to Tiffany. "How has the relationship between family members and teachers changed? And how can these relationships be supported going forward?"

Dr. Tiffany Wild: Well, I'm gonna pull another quote because a family member said it much better than I can summarize it. So, she said, "For TVI, they work on braille together via Microsoft Teams. And for O&M we use Microsoft Teams. On my phone, I'm on video call, and while I work with my son around the neighborhood to practice kingwork. And what I love about that is our relationships have changed." I feel like it's all–the communication has definitely changed. The way we communicate with each other, you know, the previous one that talked about the TVI calling and doing FaceTime and all these different methodologies. The relationship between family members and teachers as a whole, what we've seen, that communication has changed and been, and developed, and gotten greater.

So, for some, it's about communication, but for others, and I just to want put this out there, I think that relationship can be supported through grace. I keep saying that many times. Communication is the best way to foster relationships, but I say grace because nobody had any clue that this was coming. We had very little preparation time. And we're all learning together, we're all learning about these platforms, we're all learning about all the issues that they imply. Teachers are working so hard, many had families of their own at home, and they're trying to work with their own children and help our children – and I say ours as a community. They're trying to ensure students have what they needed while staying up late doing professional development. And we recognize the stress that parents are under due to the changes in the family dynamic, work changes. So, I feel like the communication is key. But we all need grace, we all need grace to understand we're all in this together to ensure students, families, and teachers are supported, and we find ways to work together.

John Mackin: Thank you, Tiffany. I'm afraid we should probably do a hard stop right there. It's 3:00 on the nose. I would like to thank all of you, you were fantastic. Thank you, Monique, thank you Yesenia for your ASL work. And the questions that we did not get to, we will try to answer in our recap blog post, it will be up in a couple days. As will many of the resources that we were posting into the chat feature to also answer your questions. Again, please visit to learn more about the second Access and Engagement survey which is happening right now until I think November 22nd, Penny?

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: Correct.

John Mackin:
So yes, thank you again and have a great day.

Dr. Penny Rosenblum: Thank you, everybody, for joining us today.

Narrator: The foundation we’re built on is creativity, independence, determination, and the pursuit of happiness. We are the American Foundation for the Blind: changing the way the world sees blindness. Together, with you, there is nothing we can’t do. To learn more, visit AFB.ORG. END