Back to school always brings a range of emotions. This year, it is a particularly difficult back to school transition as families deal with the complexities of virtual education. When the questions around accessibility of virtual education products for blind students and blind parents are included, a lot of uncertainty exists. Fortunately, we have the dynamic network of the National Federation of the Blind to help manage the uncertainty.
Networking and educational resources provided by the National Federation of the Blind are not new. We have been creating community and working on quality education for the blind since our beginnings eighty years ago. Of course, our educational offerings and advocacy have evolved and continue to evolve especially now. During the pandemic we pivoted to online offerings and ramped up programming for a virtual arena. Advocacy efforts involve collecting data and acting on that data to help ensure children and adult learners receive equal access to education.
As a blind person and a father of three children (two of whom are blind), I understand the current opportunities and challenges of virtual education. My wife Melissa, who also happens to be blind, and I are spending considerable time making sure all our children can access the many online resources they are expected to use daily. When accessibility is built in, this works fairly well (with exception of the normal technology glitches). When equal access is not built in, we need to spend a lot of extra time and a significant amount of energy trying to troubleshoot a barrier that is harmful and could have been avoided. Although our organization has tried to get schools to recognize that access to technology is a pressing issue, they have mostly ignored us. Now that everything is digital, the blind students and blind parents are paying the price. However, the network of the National Federation of the Blind continues to be there to support families and advocate for equal access. As an organization led by blind people, our elected leaders are living this experience every day. I truly appreciate our leaders around the country who are working hard as volunteers to assist families that are dealing with the current uncertainties. This is the best example of Federation family I know.
We know that education and community lead to success as an adult. Acting now is essential for our children’s future. The National Federation of the Blind is creating better education and stronger community for all blind people. Please check out our resources and help where you can by spreading the word, filling out our educational technology survey, or making a donation.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind is committed to ensuring quality education for blind students, and to providing activities and lessons that are fun and educational for blind children and their families. When virtual education is necessary or encouraged, we want blind students to be able to continue learning alongside their sighted peers. From the BEE, our e-newsletter that outlines strategies and hands-on activities for parents and children to perform together to foster Braille skills, as well as early movement and travel, to our interactive activity archives, we offer accessible resources to keep kids learning. Our NFB BELL® Academy In-Home Edition and NFB EQ programs help create a community even during this time of social distancing. Our advocacy for equal access to online learning platforms ensures that blind children can thrive in their school community too.
Natalie Shaheen, NFB EQ program director, shared the impact and importance of the NFB distance-learning programs during the COVID-19 pandemic:
“During ordinary times, blind youth, particularly those who attend public schools, have limited opportunities to engage with blind peers. The National Federation of the Blind has always been a community that blind youth turn to for developing friendships with blind peers and learning with blind peers and elders. During the pandemic, the opportunity to connect and learn in community with other blind people has become even more vital. Blind youth, especially youth of color and those from under-resourced and rural communities, face overwhelming barriers during remote learning due to inaccessible technologies and instructional practices. Consequently, blind youth are benefiting tremendously from opportunities to learn and connect in digital spaces that are designed for them and center their lived experiences. In these Federation spaces, blind youth share their frustrations, their joys, and their ingenious solutions to the new (and old) barriers they face in school during the pandemic. Blind youth are also collaborating with blind adults to create new nonvisual teaching and learning methods. This summer, in NFB EQ Online, for example, blind teens and instructors collaboratively developed nonvisual remote instructional strategies to teach origami to a diverse group of blind youth.”
Check out our distance learning resources. Help our advocacy by submitting the educational technology survey if you or someone you know is working with access technology such as screen readers for this school year as a blind teacher, parent, or student.
Get Ready. Get Registered. Go Vote!
The National Federation of the Blind is working to ensure that all blind voters have the ability to vote privately and independently. We always encourage blind people, regardless of their political views and how they choose to vote, to participate in the American democracy. Learn more about our resources and advocacy on voting.
Access Acting Academy: Upcoming Four-Week Courses
Upcoming acting and performance classes specifically for blind and low-vision people: September 21-Octtober 17 and October 26-November 21! The National Federation of the Blind continues to promote the inclusion of blind people in the entertainment industry. Our 2020 Bolotin Award winner, Marilee Talkington, actor and founder of Access Acting Academy, launched the accessible training program with the goal of increasing participation of the blind in arts and entertainment. It is a first-of-its-kind actor training program. The deadline for the first course is approaching. Learn more about Access Acting Academy.
Access Technology Detection on Website and Apps: Can it Help or Hurt?
Many blind people use screen reading software to access information on their computers, smart phones, and other devices. That software provides the visual information in an audio format. Apps that detect if technology like screen readers is present could provide improved functionality when screen readers are running. Unfortunately, those same apps could be used improperly, hiding functionality, presenting simplified or limited versions of interfaces, and more. Read the recent post on the Voice of the Nation’s Blind blog for more analysis of the pros and cons of apps detecting the use of screen reading technology.
Department of Transportation Announced Extension of the Quiet Car Rule
The United States Department of Transportation announced a six-month extension of the quiet car rule, part of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act that requires audible sounds be equipped on electric and hybrid electric vehicles to help all pedestrians, especially blind pedestrians, be aware when a vehicle is nearby. This extension is needed in response to COVID-19-related manufacturing delays. The National Federation of the Blind recognizes the impact of COVID-19 on the automobile industry and believes that this action strikes an appropriate balance while continuing to ensure implementation of the law. Learn more about our advocacy for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.
NFB-Branded Masks Available Soon—Preorder Yours Now
You can’t have enough--order a Federation mask! They are medium blue, non-medical masks, with the NFB logo centered in white. The face covering is approximately seven and one-fourth inches by four and three-fourths inches with soft white fabric on the inside and loops to go over the ears. The cost is $4.00 per mask or $10.00 for three masks, plus shipping. Preorder yours today by calling the Independence Market at 410-659-9314, extension 2216. Masks will be available around the beginning of October.
Throughout our local chapters and state affiliates to our national headquarters and diverse committees, the National Federation of the Blind is an organization of collective action. Here’s what you can do to get involved this month.
- Please watch our video, “Call for Blind Americans to Vote in 2020 Election.”
- Read the recent post on the Voice of the Nation’s Blind blog for more analysis of the pros and cons of apps detecting the use of screen reading technology.
- Attend one of our upcoming virtual conferences on nonvisual access technology or inclusive publishing.
- Plan to celebrate Meet the Blind month in October by hosting an event or sharing our Courtesy Rules of Blindness and White Cane Awareness Day resources. Follow and use #MeetTheBlind on social media.
- Check out the most recent issue of the Braille Monitor reviewing convention 2020 and highlighting our presidential report.
We certainly are a busy organization. Don’t miss these upcoming events, workshops, and deadlines.
- September 24-25, 2020: Nonvisual Access Conference
- October: Meet the Blind Month
- October 1, 2020: Inclusive Publishing Conference
- October 1, 2020: Presidential Release Live 8:00 p.m. ET
- October 15, 2020: White Cane Awareness Day
- November 1, 2020: Presidential Release Live 8:00 p.m. ET
- December 1, 2020: Presidential Release Live 8:00 p.m. ET
- December 9, 2020: Open House Gathering Call for potential members
- February 8, 2021: Washington Seminar and Great Gathering-In, Washington DC