2022 Change Makers Transcripts
Episodes 44 to current
Jeff Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH . We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:14
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers I’m APH’ Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And today we’re talking about acknowledging bias. We’ll learn what resources APH provides, and then we’ll learn about the things you can do to be aware of bias. Up first, we’re talking to APH’s ConnectCenter Information and Referral Services Coordinator, Alan Lovell. Hello, Alan , and welcome to Change Makers.
Alan Lovell: 0:39
Thanks, Sara. I appreciate you having me.
Sara Brown: 0:42
Can you talk about what the ConnectCenter is for those who aren’t aware?
Alan Lovell: 0:45
Mm-hmm <affirmative> I sure can. Uh , actually the ConnectCenter , uh , in 2018 is when the ConnectCenter officially started with APH. It is a grant funded grouping of resources , uh , that come in the form of websites and, and an information referral hotline that folks can call , uh, to find answers to any questions relating to low vision or blindness. If, if a person goes to our , uh , main landing page, our website , uh , www. aphconnectcenter .org , that links to all of the properties that make up the ConnectCenter. Um, they are VisionAware that is a site , um , specifically curated around adults and seniors. Uh , Family Connect is , uh , information for families of visually impaired or blind children. And APH CareerConnect , uh , which is for job seekers, folks who are , uh , blind or low vision. And , um, so we , uh , and my team in the ConnectCenter, curate information, blog, posts, articles, webinars , uh, and, and host various different groups , um, for job seekers and parents of low vision children , um, to go up on those sites and keep them fresh , uh, with information about, you know, how to in life , uh , especially if you’re a person who may be new to low vision.
Sara Brown: 2:18
Can you talk about the resources ConnectCenter provides regarding support groups for diversity and why they’re so important?
Alan Lovell: 2:26
Well, yes. Um , you know, the ConnectCenter, what kind of powers the ConnectCenter , uh , and , and the resources that I just spoke about the website is a national directory of services. So any of the sites, if you perform a search on any of the sites, or if you’re just sitting in the directory itself, you can search in your locale for, you know, any number of services , uh, like rehab services or, you know, information on your eye disease. Uh , but with that , um, you know, there , there are support groups that come in a lot of different forms. Uh , virtual, especially since COVID , um , the rehab , uh, the state services for the blind, usually host support groups. And what that does is brings folks together of all ages , um, you know, races , um, you know , any sort of specific to a person’s , uh , personality in life that they have that one thing in common though, where they can share their experiences with low vision or blindness and learn , uh , amongst others who have that thing in common. Um, and, and so when we talk to a person who is new, or perhaps just dealing with their visual impairment for the first time. Uh , we do our diligence to find a group, whether it’s local to them, or whether , um, you know, there are groups with specific , uh , specifics that meet , uh , this person’s sort of needs , uh , when they ask about what they want to talk about. And , um, so we don’t in many cases, host them ourselves, but we find them through our grouping of resources. You know, we reach out to our , uh , colleagues in the field , um, you know, search the web, scour the interwebs, if you will. Um , to , to find the appropriate group. And so that gives us a chance to , um, talk about what is weighing heavy on our minds as we deal with, with life, with issues with blindness. Um, and , and so we get confirmation almost on a daily basis. When we talk to folks who are , um, living their lives, they have no idea that there are resources available for them to, to learn skill sets that give them their independence back, that gives them outlets to , um, express themselves in the world. Whether it be through , um, work or education or their artistic outlets. It’s, it’s , it can be very freeing for folks to learn what is out there. So it , it’s very important it’s , especially these days that diversity is at the forefront of, of what we as an agency put out , uh, and, and how we serve those who need , um, who need us, who, who need the information that we’re here to sort of tell them about.
Sara Brown: 5:45
So someone’s coming to you all, that might be transgendered and, and have low vision, you know, what resources… So that’s you all putting out sort of like the call to find resources for that person?
Alan Lovell: 5:56
Yes. And I can think of a specific , um, phone call that I got not that long ago from a , uh , transgender female who was also blind now. And , um, she called to find , uh , of resources that sort of were in-line with what many of our callers need relating to their, their blindness. But the questions then ran to, well, I’m a trans female . Um, I’m running into trouble with how I present myself. Uh, not only am I a blind person having to sell myself , um, in a way that overpowers the negativity that comes with a , you know, preconceived notions over blindness , um, being, being a trans woman is, is another challenge. And in that type of case , um, it’s more about the conversation that we had because at , at that point, I couldn’t find a support group for trans women who are blind, right? Like that’s not something that has formed yet . So we had conversations about what, in what way are we going to present ourselves when we’re going to look for jobs, for example , um, and should the fact that you’re a trans woman come first, or should that be in the background and not so important? Should you know, what skill sets are we putting out there first? Um, so we had a long conversation about that and, and , and , and we were seeing more and more situations like that where we’re , we’re so diverse , uh, and people really want to express themselves. But , um, in these conversations, it’s more about, what’s, “what’s most important with what you’re trying to achieve?” Um, you know, it does. “Do you come with a challenge?” Do , do I, as a gay white male, do I come with , um, a , a challenge for you, or am I selling myself based on my skill sets and my personality and things like that? Um, so it’s a , it’s we have, we have conversations like that, that that can run in any different direction, but thankfully, APH , the company we both work for and now is 164-years-old is , uh , such a forward thinking organization. You know, our, our slogan now is “Welcome Everyone”. It’s on our t-shirts, it’s on our banners. U h, it’s in the way we think the way we produce products, the way we, u m, serve the people who need us, u h, everyone, no matter what or where you are in life. U h, and how lucky are we to have an organization that is i t’s, i t’s just wonderful. It’s just a wonderful feeling, knowing that, t hat, t hat they’ve got our back like that.
Sara Brown: 9:09
No, that’s, you are 100% correct. And, you know, the “Welcome Everyone,” when we say “everyone,” we mean “everyone,” and that’s so important. And I’ve felt that throughout the halls at APH , for my past two years that I’ve been there. A while ago, you wrote an article called “Blind, Dating While Gay,” and it provided some tips for dating in this modern world. Can you talk a bit about that,
Alan Lovell: 9:34
That article, which is on VisionAware. Um, I don’t know if it’s also featured on all the platforms or not, but you can locate it on VisionAware just by searching for dating.
Sara Brown: 9:47
We’ll be sure to put a link in this podcast to it.
Alan Lovell: 9:49
Great. Um, I mentioned earlier, I’ve been with APH for 26 years and it wasn’t, you know, I started when I was 21 and I, you know, I , I have gray hair with a white beard now. That was not the case back then. <laugh> , but , um, it wasn’t until I was 29 where I really sort of came out of the closet. I lived on both side of the fence and, and, and , uh , I went through this discovery at a midpoint in my life before I, you know, came to terms with who I really am. Um, but as I mentioned earlier, my lifestyle didn’t come with , um, a challenge for anyone. It was just more or less a fact, and I sort of systematically came out and, and now at the age of 48, I’ve, I’ve been married to my husband for 19 years. Um, but I wrote this article because while there are a couple of older articles on dating out there specifically , uh , for those of us, but those of us who are low vision or blind, we come with a unique challenge. Um, when you are sort of a nontraditional person , uh , when you wanna find a, a partner in life, you have to sort of come up with techniques that are going to work for you. Um, and thankfully technology is on our side. Some people, you know, you know , might find a, you might find yourself in a situation where you, where you do find a partner in a traditional way, which is always great, you know, enough about a person to know that, oh, well, that person’s gay too . Or, you know, the , the specifics that are important are in line with, with what you’re looking for. But when I was searching , um , to find a, a partner, this was before I was out of the closet to anyone and I, I was kind of coming to terms with it myself. Um, I used technology , uh, online dating. It gave platforms that I could access with my assistive technology, even back then , uh , a computer with JAWS software on it was enough for me to create a profile and , uh, an online presence on a specific dating site where I was able to either read other people’s profiles or they could read mine. Um, and as technology has advanced, you know, our smartphone give us the ability to post photos , uh , of ourselves and, you know, put ourselves out there. That’s sort of on-par with what a sighted person might do. Um, but since we , we are all different, we all have different experiences with low vision or blindness and technology. Uh, I wanted to put information out there that might help someone else. Um , because when you can’t see what you’re doing with your phone , um, you, you don’t wanna put a picture out there that is unflattering or put yourself in a space where you might have clutter behind you that tells a story , uh , that may, you know, not put, paint you in the best light. Um, so I put tips in that article about, you know, making a good photo. And then I spoke about this is again, how are you going to present yourself to some , uh , unknowing person who lands on your profile? Are you a blind person right up front , or you , as I wrote the article, I kind of used a pseudonym. I didn’t , uh , at that point know for sure if I was gonna put my name on it, but there it is. I wrote it. So I used the name, “Jake.” Um, are you a blind person named Jake, or are you “Jake?” A person who has all of these interests in life, like, oh, walks on the beach, for example , um , you know , dinner, dining , um, hiking, biking, and then you happen to be a low vision or blind person, you know, how are you gonna put that out there? And then that’s a personal decision. It might, you know, it , it , if you put something like that out there, it , it could potentially , um, turn some people off because they don’t have, they’ve never had a blind person in their life and they think, oh, I, well , I don’t want that. <laugh> in my life in , in my situation. And I’m not saying this is the right way or not, but , uh , I chose to leave that out. I chose to present myself as Alan , “Jake <laugh> whomever. Yeah . The person who , uh , has all of these interests in life. And that’s, that’s how we bonded. And it wasn’t until we actually wound up on the telephone. We , uh, rose to the level of in person conversation. And , uh, it wasn’t until we talked, he could hear my voice. He had seen pictures of me , um, where I said it , you know, I better go ahead and tell you this, cuz it seems as though we might actually meet and anybody who’s ever done online dating before knows that you might wind up in a bunch of different conversations with different people that don’t go anywhere. And, you know, constantly explaining myself I’m leisure , I’m low vision . I’m blind. That may not even be important because the conversation may not ever go anywhere. Um, so I put that kind of information in the article just to give somebody , uh , who’s interested something to think about when, when they put themselves out there.
Sara Brown: 15:41
Is there anything else you’d like to say about acknowledging bias or resources the ConnectCenter provides or dating?
Alan Lovell: 15:50
Well, the ConnectCenter is here because we , uh, can empathize those of us who make up the staff of the ConnectCenter have worked in the field for many years. There are 12 of us on staff. Now, two of us on the phone , uh, both of us who are on the phone are, are blind as well and have worked in the field for many years and have , uh , sort of built a , um , a level of, of knowledge where we’re able to, you know , like I said, empathize with a person who maybe do new to this and who you are as a person. Um, you know, if you have questions about your life as it pertains to low vision, you know, I , I , I think we’re on the same level as you, because we’ve been there. Prejudice and bias aside, you know, we’re here to talk about blindness and provide you with the tools that you can use to, to thrive in life, no matter what your situation is. And you know, if you have , um, additional circumstances to who you are, we’re here to help. We’re here to find you resources. We’re here to find you groups of people to talk with so that , uh, you know, you’re in , in spite of your challenges , uh , you’re going to be able to thrive in life. And, and that goes along with the reason APH exists, the products that are manufactured by APH , the services that we provide it’s it’s so that you can rise above your challenges no matter who you are and , uh, and thrive.
Sara Brown: 17:34
Okay, Alan , thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Alan Lovell: 17:38
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a , it’s been a pleasure.
Sara Brown: 17:43
We’ll be sure to put links to the ConnectCenter and Alan’s article in the show notes up now is Tai Tomasi. She’s here to talk about the different types of bias and why recognizing they exist is so important. Hello, Tai, and welcome to Change Makers.
Tai Tomasi: 17:58
Hi, thanks so much for having me today .
Sara Brown: 18:00
Can you talk about ABIDE for those who aren’t aware?
Tai Tomasi: 18:04
Sure. Abide stands for Accessibility, Belonging, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity. And we are a resource for internal stakeholders within American Printing House for the Blind. We are also a resource for the field of education of the blind and low vision community. So we provide trainings for anyone who’s interested and also to the community at large here in Louisville, Kentucky. Um, so we are definitely interested in assisting with development of trainings on all of the areas encompassed in abide.
Sara Brown: 18:34
There are two kinds of biases, conscious bias and unconscious implicit bias. Can you explain the difference?
Tai Tomasi: 18:43
Um, sure. Conscious bias is where your brain is aware of the bias that you’re holding. It’s being processed by your brain. Uh , whereas unconscious bias is based on some background work that your brain is doing very quickly. Um, and it’s analyzing patterns and past information, but you’re not aware of the bias that you’re holding. So you may not be aware of the things that are coming into play , uh , with that unconscious bias. So it’s basically , um, your processing of affinity and other patterns that you may have been aware of from the past, whether that’s from media or other sources , um , that are kind of driving some unconscious stereotyoes that you hold
Sara Brown: 19:27
Bias is not limited to just one demographic. It can be found in medical settings, race, gender, sexual preference, politics. Just about any topic. Can you talk about how ABIDE educates individuals regarding bias?
Tai Tomasi: 19:43
Yeah . So ABIDE is constantly educating others about how to overcome and work on bias , um, overcoming implicit bias. And what we want to do is , um, work with that automatic human function and actively take steps to understand and resist those unconscious biases. So that requires developing new inclusive patterns and habits that kind of overcome that part of your brand. That’s working in a , in a very , um , unknown fashion behind the scenes. So making sure you’re questioning you’re listening , um, you’re actively listening with humility. And so abide is here to train people on how to listen with humility, how to , uh , listen without judgment , um, how to be more aware of your biases and how to check those biases. Um, and one major way that we work with people to check those biases is to encourage them to suspend the need to be right about your opinion. Um, often our opinions are based in , uh , unconscious bias. And so we need to suspend our , our wish to, to , um, be right about those things and to listen to others with humility.
Sara Brown: 20:49
What are some ways a person can assess if they do have bias?
Tai Tomasi: 20:54
There are a lot of tests online that you can take. Unfortunately, some of those tests are not very accessible. A lot of them rely on visual cues. Um, I’m still working to find a good accessible test on implicit bias because many of them rely on visual indicators. So what they might do is , um , show you a picture and then you’re supposed to pick the thing that comes to mind and click on the next thing that comes to mind in , in a list of things and that , and that test will evaluate your implicit bias. Um, so as people who are blind or low vision, we need to be more aware of doing this work on our own because we don’t have, we don’t necessarily have accessible means to do those kinds of tests.
Sara Brown: 21:31
How does acknowledging unconscious bias, advance diversity and inclusion?
Tai Tomasi: 21:36
We all need to be more accepting and more understanding of everyone. And we need to work on developing empathy and challenging. Our biases are good ways to do that. And that’s why we need to listen with humility and really think about how we’re reacting to various situations in our life. Things that we encounter. Um, those reactions are problematic, and we need to think about how we react so that we can build a better inclusive and diverse environment.
Sara Brown: 22:07
What do , do you have any tools one could use to sort of see if they do have an unconscious bias?
Tai Tomasi: 22:16
Yes. I have a couple of links that I can share in the show notes that talk a little bit about implicit bias and how to challenge it. I think those are very useful tools. There’s also a lot of great things on the internet that , um , that you can find by searching, but I will provide a few links to those.
Sara Brown: 22:34
Are there any other organizations that offer special interest groups for bias or bias?
Tai Tomasi: 22:40
Yeah, I think there are a lot of consumer groups, whether it’s for people with disabilities. Um, there are also subsets of those consumer groups. Um, for example, in the blind and low vision community, the American Council of the blind and the National Federation of the Blind all have , um, various special interest groups , um, that address a lot of issues of implicit bias. Um, for example, around the LGBTQ+ community and other communities , um , there are quite a few groups there that , um , that can address some of those topics.
Sara Brown: 23:14
And is there anything else you would like to add?
Tai Tomasi: 23:16
ABIDE will be happy to work with you on ways that you can challenge your implicit bias in ways that your organizations can challenge them. And we would be happy to work with you on some trainings and some content around that, that topic.
Sara Brown: 23:33
All right , Tai, thanks so much for joining me today on change makers .
Tai Tomasi: 23:37
Thanks again for having me.
Sara Brown: 23:40
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of change makers . We hope you have enjoyed this episode. I’ve put links to the resources Tai mentioned, and Alan’s links are also in the show notes as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH . We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown, and today, we’re celebrating the Transition Hub. It turns one in July. We’ll hear from a Transition Hub official and hear about the many services and resources it provides, and we’ll also hear from a Student Advisory Member who uses the Transition Hub regularly. Up first, we’re talking to Richard Rueda, Digital Content Manager for the APH ConnectCenter with CareerConnect. Hello, Richard, and welcome to Change Makers.
Richard Rueda: 0:48
Thank you, Sara. I’m happy to be here and talk all about the Transition Hub.
Sara Brown: 0:53
Can you explain what the Transition Hub is and the services and resources it provides?
Richard Rueda: 0:59
The APH ConnectCenter Transition Hub is the one-stop resource for those who are in high school and in college, who are looking for opportunities for work, experience and programs that will help boost their career advancement. The Transition Hub lists currently over 50 programs across the United States through a searchable database by region, by state, by , uh , location. By the way, the program is sponsored. It’s the one page you can go to to find out all these programs, whether you’re in Hawaii, Florida, Alaska , uh , New Hampshire and everywhere in between. No longer do people have to search out different states and different tabs on their laptop. When you can now go to the Transition Hub for all this information at the tip of your fingertips and all located in one spot.
Sara Brown: 1:58
Now tell us why these services are important?
Richard Rueda: 2:02
These services provided through the Transition Hub are offered to help students, their families and teachers identify all the pre-employment skills that they’ll need to be successful in the working world to be an adult, to be successful, to be confident, to be gainfully employed and to be independent. And these services are critical because you can choose on what program you want to attend by reading the reviews, by reading the statistics on who provides?… What do these programs provide services for blind, deaf blind?… What are the costs involved? Are they covered by rehab?… And they’re important because the more that you prepare yourself for the world of work, the more you prepare yourself for being successful in college and in life, the better off you’re gonna be independently in life. And having access through the Transition Hub is where all starts. I , I firmly believe that with the year that this program, this service has been around, we’ve seen so much growth. We started at 30. Uh , we built this from the ground up and now we’re reaching 50 programs listed. That’s almost one per state. And , uh, we’re very, very proud of what the Transition Hub is , uh , become and what it’s going to be in the future.
Sara Brown: 3:23
So the Transition Hub launched one year ago, pretty much in a few weeks. Can you talk about how it’s doing today?
Richard Rueda: 3:31
Good question. And, and yes, I’m happy to talk about that. And I remember when I was a contractor with APH at the ConnectCenter, we, we got this grant and we built this from the ground up . And I remember fondly. It was February of 2021. And , uh , they said, “Richard, let’s build this.” And I said, “let’s do it.” And so we, we came together, we identified what we needed to do to build a Transition Hub. We came up with questions that the , uh , vendors who would be listed in the Transition Hub, these agencies would wanna have, from your name, your address to the program type, the program style, are they residential?… Are they non residential ?… We had over 40 questions that we put on this survey so that the initial participants , uh , participating agencies could list their information and we could organize it by state and by region, we, we got that up and running. We did some cold calls in April of 2021. And by June we were building the infrastructure that eventually ultimately became the Transition Hub. And on August 1st , it went live it with about 35 programs. And , um, now a year later, again, we are at 50… Probably in the mid-fifties as I speak now in June of 2022. And , uh , we’ve got folks who are working behind the scenes, who are constantly keeping the data updated, because if you go and list your program in April of 2021, we wanna make sure it’s relevant in June of 2022. So we’re constantly connecting and engaging with our vendors, our agencies who are listed there , asking them let’s update. “Who’s the new contact person?” “If it’s not you, what new program additions do you have?” “Are you, are you not longer virtual?” “Are you hybrid?” “Are you in-person?” So we’re taking all these factors in consideration as people search out the Transition Hub. So what once may have been virtual or hybrid, may it be in-person or vice versa? So we wanna make the information relevant, timely, and tangible. So that high school students, their teachers are the visually impaired rehabilitation practitioners. Parents can go to the Transition Hub and know that this information is up to date and rely on us as the go-to resource. We just don’t want this to be a stagnant page. So many programs prior to this that did have attempted this haven’t updated it. And I think that’s the, the , uh , the challenge that we have in a good way. The Transition Hub is gonna be a very interactive and engaging site for people to go to.
Sara Brown: 6:03
Do you have an estimated figure about how many people it has served?
Richard Rueda: 6:08
If I had to take a guess, and I remember reading this not long ago, we had a couple of thousand visits to the site since it’s launch in July 31, August 1 , 2021 . Uh , we’re promoting the heck out of it through all the outreach we do, we show and demonstrate to other practitioners on zoom or in person, how easy it is to how you can use it on , uh , your phone and on your iPhone, not just on your laptop. And so we’re through all that engagement. We know we’re, we’re , our impressions are, are , are getting out there in the thousands.
Sara Brown: 6:45
And from last year to today , can you talk about how the Transition Hub has grown and evolved?
Richard Rueda: 6:52
The evolution the Transition Hub has evolved , not only from the numbers where we’re, we were at 35 to the mid 50’s, and we know there are more programs out there. Um, a , a lot of programs that are small , um, have great turnover and, or may exist one year and not the other year , um, by putting staff, by putting , um, our grant in behind it, we’re evolving into having more interactiveness with the site. Soon, you’re gonna visit the Transition Hub and not only see the videos we have up there, we’re gonna have testimonials, we’re gonna have blogs. We’re gonna import a lot more of our transition content that is currently on career connect to come to the Transition Hub. So not only will the Transition Hub be the place to find out programs, but it will have transition content for the student, for the teacher, for the rehabilitation practitioner. Our Job Seekers Toolkit will be up on the Transition Hub. The Job Seekers Toolkit, which is , is a very proud product of the ConnectCenter and CareerConnect will also be interactive in a learning management system , uh , which it hasn’t been in several years since the days of AFB. So that’ll be a new addition to the job Transition Hub,
Sara Brown: 8:07
Looking toward the future . What future goals do you have for the Transition Hub, or what would you like to see for the Transition Hub?
Richard Rueda: 8:14
You know, that’s a very good question. I think when you look at the history of APH , the ConnectCenter and Career Connect, you have some big players and some big names and the field of education and, and the field of transition. I think when we leverage all these resources and we begin to really use and identify and market the Transition Hub as that premier resource for teachers of the visually impaired our EOTs, our families, practitioners, students, families in , in the community at large to say, “Hey, this is a critical service needed for students to really gain , uh , information that they can make decisions on their life, preparing for life after high school life, after by attending these programs that will help them grow and build. And, you know, the Transition Hub is the place you go to.” Uh , I think that’s profound. And, and I think that’s where the future is as we leverage all those, all these resources, people are going to use , uh, the Transition Hub as, as the sole place to go for transition information. And we have so many partners out there with our national transition conversation that we, we host quarterly webinars at where we’re always talking up the Transition Hub and our partners are , are getting more excited by the day. So I think you’re gonna see a lot more content, interactive content and a lot of really good feedback and a lot of good uses , uh , out of it that that we’re building right now.
Sara Brown: 9:40
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Transition Hub that we might not have touched on ?
Richard Rueda: 9:45
If you , you haven’t heard about the Transition Hub, please visit the Transition Hub. I truly honestly firmly believe you will be in awe . You’ll be amazed. You will come to find that it is a very useful program. And if you visit constantly, you will see in real time the updates and the love and passion we’re putting into making sure the information listed on the Transition Hub is relevant, timely, and is gonna benefit the most amount of folks out there.
Sara Brown: 10:14
Thank you so much, Richard, for coming on today.
Richard Rueda: 10:18
It was my pleasure, Sara. Thank you.
Sara Brown: 10:23
Now we have CareerConnect Student Advisory member Paige Hammock here to talk about her experience using the Transition Hub and how she uses the service as she pursues her masters . Hello, Paige , and welcome to Change Makers.
Paige Hammock: 10:37
Thank you so much for having me.
Sara Brown: 10:40
So can you talk about what a Career Connect Student Advisory member does?
Paige Hammock: 10:46
Yeah, so , um, we have a main group where we discuss different ideas that we wanna contribute to the ConnectCenter. Um, right now we’re working on blog posts. Um, a lot of us are doing all kinds of different topics, and then there is a subgroup I would, I guess you would call it , um, that I’m a part of, for a panel that we’re gonna do , uh , called College Conversations. We’re gonna be talking about transitioning from high school to college and , um, our personal experiences and just some tips and tricks to help those younger students who are in that process. So , um, I’m , I’m doing a little bit of everything right now
Sara Brown: 11:32
And you’re representing the Transition Hub. Can you tell us how you use the Transition Hub?
Paige Hammock: 11:37
Yeah, so , um, the Transition Hub has been useful for me in that college conversations, planning that I was just talking about. Um , we’re still working on getting our first panel up and running and we wanted to bring that into the conversation at some point, cause I think it’s a really useful tool. So we’ve all I don’t, well, I don’t know about the others, but I’ve been looking at it , um, for some resources and , um, just making sure that I understand everything that’s available on there to be able to explain it to the people, listening to our college conversations meetings. Um, and I also just started my own podcast and I think the Transition Hub is a, an awesome resource, especially for those that are transitioning from high school to college. Um, with all of the different vocational programs that are on there, I think are really useful. And a lot of people don’t know that those even exist. So I’ve been using it for both.
Sara Brown: 12:32
So can you talk about how the Transition Hub has helped you as you pursue your studies?
Paige Hammock: 12:37
Um, I would say thankfully, I , I knew about the vocational programs here in my city , um, because of the Division of Blind Services here in Florida. They’ve been very good about giving me resources. Um, so I’d say that they’re my number one, but they’ve directed me to the Transition Hub, you know, to look at other things, if there’s anything that, you know, sparks my interest that I didn’t know about before. Um, but I think, like I said earlier, it’s a , a great resource for those who are maybe new newly, you know, low vision or losing their vision and don’t have a lot of resources or don’t even know where to start. I think that it is a great place to look for resources in your area that you might not have known about before.
Sara Brown: 13:23
And how do you promote the Transition Hub to those who might not be aware of its benefits?
Paige Hammock: 13:29
So we’re still trying to figure out how we wanna talk about it and how we wanna bring it into the conversation during our college conversations meetings. Um, we’re gonna talk about all different things from, you know, finding colleges, but also , um, you know, looking for resources on campus. But I think that we’re probably going to bring it into the conversation, talk about how , um, you know, outside of the college itself with the disability resource center, there’s also, you know, those outside programs that are helpful and beneficial. And I am gonna eventually talk about it on my podcast because I’ve had a lot of feedback from other people in the BVI community that they don’t even know where to start, or they never received services when they were younger and they don’t know , um, you know, who to turn to or where to start. So I definitely try and promote it and bring it up in conversation, say, Hey, you know, this, this is a resource that might be helpful for you to kind of just look and see what’s in your area and see if there’s anything, you know, that would be able to help you and see if they have any services that maybe you haven’t had before that you might find beneficial.
Sara Brown: 14:38
Is there anything you wanna say or anything else you wanna add about the Transition Hub coming from the Student Advisory perspective?
Paige Hammock: 14:46
Um, I mean, I don’t wanna repeat myself, but I really do, you know , stress to, to others I’ve talked to about it. You know, I I’ve run into a lot of people just in my personal life who didn’t get services until they were way older and didn’t know about services that they could have been getting from the start . So I just try and, you know, stress it early and make sure that people are able to, to get what they need. And I think the Transition Hub is the best place to start.
Sara Brown: 15:13
Thank you so much, Paige , for joining me today on change makers .
Paige Hammock: 15:17
You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 15:21
We’ve put a link to the Transition Hub, as well as the ConnectCenter in the show notes. We hope you have enjoyed this podcast and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.
Jeff Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH . We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And on this episode of Change Makers, we’re celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week, focusing on Special Education and Orientation and Mobility Specialists. We’re gonna learn the process to become an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, the need for more, and what opportunities are out there in the field. We’ll also have a special segment that highlights the new APH Press Book “Guidelines and Games.” With us now is APH’s Product Manager of Educational Product Innovation, Lauralyn Randals. Hello, Lauralyn , and welcome to Change Makers.
Lauralyn Randles: 0:52
Thanks for having me.
Sara Brown: 0:53
So you’re now an APH Product Manager, but you were once and O&M Specialist. Can you talk about what orientation and mobility is about the work of an O&M Specialist and what all they do?
Lauralyn Randles: 1:06
Um, Orientation and Mobility… It’s, it’s a specialized set of skills that we teach to students and travelers with low vision and blindness. Um, there’s actually about 145 different skills that we teach , um , depending on what they need for their age, their goals , um , where they are at this moment in time, where they want to be, what vision loss they have. We use all of those things to kind of guide where we want to go with them. Um, as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist… my job is to guide that , um , that instructional journey that they’re on to make sure that they get where they need to be.
Sara Brown: 1:41
How does the work of an O & M Specialist differ from other education professions specifically in the field of Special Education for those who are blind or have low vision?
Lauralyn Randles: 1:51
So actually orientation mobility has a great deal of overlap with both the fields of , uh , visual impairment. So TVs , but also physical therapists. We’re a related service. We’re not an educational service in the school system itself. So we are working with students on a one-on-one basis on functional and life goals , not necessarily academic goals . We’re trying to make sure that they have access to the educational envirO&Ment and access to their community, which is where our, our students and our learners are really picking up. Most of those skills,
Sara Brown: 2:23
Orientation and Mobility is a very specialized field. So to become an O&M Specialist, one needs a bachelor’s degree, but do you need a teaching certification or any other certifications? Tell us about the process to become an O&M specialist. If we have anybody out there interested in pursuing that field
Lauralyn Randles: 2:40
Orientation Mobility, actually… there’s only one remaining program that has a bachelor’s program and that’s , um , SF Austin in Texas (Stephen Fuller Austin State University). Other than that, they’re all graduate certificate programs or they are , um , graduate degree programs. So you, when you’re going through, you can kind of choose your own adventure and decide whether you wanna get it as a master’s if you live in the state of Texas or sorry, if you wanna get it as a bachelor’s, if you live in the state of Texas or , um, if you would like to go for a shorter program where you’re just ending up with a graduate certificate, or if you wanna go for a longer one where you actually end up with a master’s degree. Um, a lot of teachers that are going back into the field or those that are wanting to work in education will choose to go the graduate , uh , degree route because it kind of bumps you up this higher pay bracket, because I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but in education, our pay is, is kind of decided on an Excel sheet. You go across for the number of years of education and down for the number of years of experience. And so it just kind of helped move you over that one more column. So when you’re gonna be an O&M specialist, if you are choosing to go either the graduate certificate or the graduate route, you do have to get your GRE first for most universities, it’s an exam that you have to take. Um , it is a , it is offered predominantly virtually at this point. So you just kind of find a local testing center and you go and you take that exam that helps prove that you’re ready to sit for a graduate program. Um, they do also offer it in adapted format. So if you do have , um , low vision or blindness yourself , um, you can get accommodations for that exam. Um, after that point, it’s a matter of finding the program that best suits you, because it is it’s again, a kind of suits your own pick your own adventure kind of program. You find whether you wanna work with children or adults… If you want to do a summers only program, or a virtual program, or an in person. Um, if there’s certain faculty that you want to go towards, if you want to be a dual major where you’re getting an Orientation and Mobility License, but you’re also getting your TVI license or Vocational Rehab or Assistive Technology, you can kind of pick what program meets your needs based on that. And then you just kind of go through the application process and , and get in , um, some of the programs, even at this point have , um , federal funding that will help you go through the program. Some include tuition, reimbursement, some include books. It , it really depends from programs program, but there is a, I think the most up to date list of the programs that we have in the us right now is on us OMSA. org. Um , if you search for O&M program, it will come up. You can also search search that in Google. And that’s how I typically find it. Um , a teaching certificate though is not necessarily required. Um , some states have wonky requirements , um , because each state is so different, especially in the education system. Um, you can have two neighboring states with completely different requirements. So some may require it and some may not. Um , there is also the consideration of certifications that go along with it. So there are three different ways in the us to practice as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, you can practice with your base degree from the university and be, you would just be an OMS, or you can get your COMS license or COMS license. It , you go through an internship after your university program, and then you sit for an exam and then you have five years of an active licensure, and then you get that opportunity to do continuing education to renew in five years. There’s another one that’s very similar. It’s NOMC, National Orientation and Mobility Certification. That one is very similar. Um , in that you have an internship after you come out of university program, then you sit for the exam and then you have five years of active licensure , um , to, to go through your renewal process.
Sara Brown: 6:39
Wow. So there’s a lot of options out there. Are there any specific colleges or universities where you can obtain your certification?
Lauralyn Randles: 6:47
So there’s actually universities in a majority of states or regions across the United States. Um, I I’m partial to Northern Illinois University just because that’s where I went. Um, but there are programs in or near your region. Um , we actually have one here in Kentucky. Um , that’s University of Kentucky at Lexington, Donna Brostek Lee runs that program there. Um, it’s great program really. I’ve been in the business a while and I don’t know of any bad programs. So reach out find, find one near you find, find some around you listen to the O&M Specialist that, you know, see where they went and where they had a great experience
Sara Brown: 7:27
As a former O&M Specialist. How was that career rewarding to you? And what impact does this role have on the students who are served?
Lauralyn Randles: 7:37
I, I loved working as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist. I was actually a dual TVI and O&M, but O& M always had my heart. Um, everyday is new. You , you never know what you’re gonna get. You may start your morning with a three-year-old. Who’s just beginning to explore their environment. You may end your day with a , a high school student. That’s preparing to cross a street that would make any parent have palpitations, and they’ll do it with ease because they’re amazing. Um, you have the ability to just open up a world of possibilities for these students and their families that they, they never knew were gonna be available to them. It it’s really, it’s great. It forever changes you and it forever changes them working through this process. I actually have several students at this point that still reach out to me from time to time and let me know where they’re at and what great things they’ve done. I actually had four graduate in the last two years from college , um, and I’m just tickled pink to see them and where they’re headed next.
Sara Brown: 8:37
How does your past impact your current role as an APH Product Manager?
Lauralyn Randles: 8:43
So, actually right now, I’m more over test and assessments and it , it’s not directly connected at this point, but really through my orientation and mobility time , I, I found that because there’s so few and far between us, we have to heavily heavily justify our decisions. And in order to do that, we have to have really strong assessment pieces that are guiding that not just our O&M assessment, but our functional vision assessment . And even our educational assessments. We have to have a really strong profile that tells us exactly who this student is and exactly where they are and exactly where they want to be so that we can design the best program that we can, because it seems like we have a lot of time with them because, you know, if we get them in kindergarten, we have them for 13 years in theory, but it’s, it’s never enough there . There’s never enough days to get it all in. And the better picture we can have from the beginning, the better we can serve them moving forward. And the better we can justify to administration that we need additional help. We need additional manpower. We have to have data to guide those decisions and that data starts with assessments .
Sara Brown: 9:50
Okay . Lauralyn, is there anything else you would like to say regarding O&M?
Lauralyn Randles: 9:55
Joining any aspect of the low vision and blindness field. It’s, it’s going to change you for the better. It’s going to change. It’s going to change the world for people around you, and there’s not a whole lot of jobs out there where you can make that immediate and huge impact that you can see and you can feel. And just to know that you’re making that impact on a daily basis and see that change over time is huge.
Sara Brown: 10:25
Thank you, Lauralyn for joining me today on Change Makers.
Lauralyn Randles: 10:29
Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 10:31
We’ll be sure to put those links she mentioned in the Show Notes. Let’s talk more about the opportunities in the Special Education field. We’re talking to Portland State University’s College of Education, Assistant Professor Orientation and Mobility Program Coordinator, Dr . Amy Parker. Hello, Amy, and welcome to Change Makers.
Dr. Amy Parker: 10:52
Hi, thanks for having me.
Sara Brown: 10:54
Can you talk about your job and how you prepare and work with future O&M Specialists?
Dr. Amy Parker: 11:00
An Orientation and Mobility specialist is one who provides direct instruction and assessment to all kinds of people of any age who are blind, deaf-blind, or have low vision to travel safely and efficiently in their environment. So those environment can span from home , uh , to neighborhoods, to communities, to schools, to workplaces anywhere a person wants to go or be and move about safely. So it can start at a very, very young age when a person is , um, an infant and learning to move and learning how their body works all the way , um , throughout life until the end of life. When someone is maybe traveling with less , um, less agility and less mobility, but still needs to move about safely, to know where they are , um, to get where they wanna go,
Sara Brown: 12:00
Job opportunities and job security are important in every field. Can you talk about the opportunities in the field of Special Education for future educators who may consider this path?
Dr. Amy Parker: 12:11
Absolutely. Well, just as I mentioned about O&M spanning a lifespan , um, there are opportunities to practice O&M with babies and infants and toddlers, and very young children. So at, at home, in home and community settings and preschools , um, but there are opportunities of course, in K12 settings or in typical school settings where, where , um, one would be considered , uh , related service provider under I D E A Law and work within schools under that, that job title of Orientation and Mobility Specialist. But there are also job opportunities beyond that. So as people transition from high school to community living to adult services or career service or college , uh, there are lots of opportunities for orientation, mobility specialists there. Some of them work in still in school settings, but some of them also work for adult service agencies who are focused on , um, transition age youth. And then there are of course, Orientation and Mobility Specialists that work with working age adults and older adults as well. Um , some Orientation and Mobility Specialists work in hospital settings. Most traditionally, the veterans administration, hospital settings , um, employ orientation and mobility specialists. That’s actually a part of , uh , Orientation and Mobility’s history is with , um, with Veterans, but there are other , um, Orientation and Mobility Specialists that work in hospital settings. For example, I have a student , um, who works at, in , in Seattle at a Children’s Hospital and she provides Orientation and Mobility to patients there as a part of a team. So it’s more, it’s still with children, but it’s in that setting as far as special education goes, there are so many , um, openings right now for Orientation and Mobility. I at, at Portland State University have connections with folks in, in many states, not just Oregon who are looking for personnel who have this unique skill set , because I think more and more people are beginning to realize what it means for a child , uh , to be able to move safely and independently around in schools. Um, some people recognize what has been lost during , uh , the pandemic when students weren’t out and about as much. And they weren’t as mobile that they’re having to , um, come back to environments and relearn some of those skills. And I think if we’re honest, that happened to a lot of children, not just children who were blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind, but it was more pronounced when people weren’t , um, getting out and navigating in the environment, getting where they want to go. And they’re having to relearn some of those skills.
Sara Brown: 15:21
The past couple of years have been tough on everybody, educators, administrators, and students alike as a nation. We need more educators and we need more special educators. We need more O&M Specialists. Do you feel that there is a need for more awareness about the Special Education field in particular, the area of Orientation and Mobility?
Dr. Amy Parker: 15:42
Absolutely. <laugh> . I don’t think it can be overemphasized. Um, we know that Orientation and Mobility is linked with really positive outcomes, positive life outcomes for students . Um , some researchers have actually found , um, Dr . Jennifer Smart. Um , some of her work on Correlational Studies have actually correlated Orientation and Mobility , um , services that students have received and , uh , improved career outcomes. Others have looked at quality of life, so it kind of makes sense. Doesn’t it? If someone can move more safely and efficiently can have more confidence can get where they want to go , um , knows how to use tools such as canes or guide dogs or way finding apps that they have , uh , a better quality of life because they have more choices. They have more opportunities to participate, to travel, to have , uh , career opportunities maybe that they wouldn’t have, or even knowledge of the environment, knowledge of where they live knowledge of opportunities about where they want to go and how to get there. So, absolutely, I think that we need to do a better job as Orientation and Mobility Specialists about not being shy about what we do about , um , working right where we are to raise awareness about these skills , um, and to partner, to partner more effectively with , um, folks on the educational team. But maybe even beyond that, to let people know that Orientation and Mobility is a Civil Right. It is a part of Inclusion and Community participation and access to the world. And in doing that, that kind of opens us up right as a field, not to be siloed, but to be integrated into , um, all kinds of conversations that help , uh , our students have more choices, more opportunities , um, and, and hopefully better lives.
Sara Brown: 17:53
What APH products have you used in the past as an Orientation and Mobility specialist?
Dr. Amy Parker: 17:58
I have found Tactile Town to be a useful tool. Um, I’ve even used this tool with adults and adults who are deaf-blind to talk through certain environmental settings. You know, that the product is , is really creative. It’s easy to use. I actually have , um, left that product with a colleague and a friend who is deaf-blind, who has conversations with, with others who visit her about , uh , the location of certain , uh , landmarks or stores or , um, places that folks wanna visit in her town. And she has used it to have conversations with other folks. So it’s, it’s a great product. The other products that I’ve used as , um, a university program are , uh , one created by Dona Sauerburger, that wonderful curriculum “Crossings with No Traffic Control.” That product is, is really innovative because it helps people think through the risk of a , of a particular crossing based on systematic thinking. Um, and it’s a really great tool for partnering with clients to , um, make informed decisions about particular crossings. You know, Donna talks about the intuitive timing or intuitive sense of someone’s time in crossing a street. That’s a really helpful tool that O&Ms can use. And I love that product and encourage my students to use it. We’ve attended APH webinars with Donna, where she’s talking about the tool , um, and I encourage all of my students to, to get that curriculum and to use it. Um, it’s even been helpful for people who are working remotely, who may not be with a particular client every single day, but can review elements of that , uh, curriculum at a distance. And then when they come together with that particular client can work through , um, those decision making processes using that curriculum. It’s, it’s fabulous. The other , um, tool that I really like is , uh , one that was created by Dr. Sandra Rosen from San Francisco State University, the “Step-By-Step” curriculum. That was a really innovative , um, approach that APH engaged in with Dr . Rosen to help university students , um , refresh their knowledge and skills on, O&M just by watching these wonderful video clips , um, breaking down the different , uh , Orientation and Mobility skills that they’re learning. Uh, so again, I use that curriculum all the time
Sara Brown: 20:55
At APH. We talk a lot about turning awareness into a verb into action. What would you like to see happen to increase awareness?
Dr. Amy Parker: 21:03
Well, I think that if Orientation and Mobility Specialists can begin to see themselves as , um, as partners and not be shy about sharing what they do with others, I think sometimes Orientation and Mobility Specialists are, are rightfully so. They’re so focused on their students or their clients. Um, they’re working so hard to help someone have greater independence and to be mobile, to be out and about in the community. Um, but maybe where we’re not doing as much is sharing what we do with other professionals, both to raise awareness about the profession, but also to talk about the Civil Rights that people have to be mobile, to be included, to fully participate in the world around them. And so I would see one things that Orientation and Mobility Specialists, right , where they are, wherever they are, can share awareness and knowledge about what they do with the teams around them. I think that’s gonna help the field grow and be sustainable. I also think that we can , um, follow in the footsteps of people like Janet Barlow, who is a leader in the field who talked to transportation, engineers and designers, and helped Orientation and Mobility Specialists and people who are blind and visually impaired share their knowledge with those , um, folks. So that designs could be more inclusive. So I would say that that’s a challenge for us, and it can be exhausting to think about always being an educator, but I think the payoff is worth it because when more people recognize how important orientation and mobility is, and what’s possible, then they become allies and they become people who are interested in inclusion in a whole new way.
Sara Brown: 23:04
Thank you so much, Amy , for joining me today on Change Makers.
Dr. Amy Parker: 23:08
Holy thank you for having me. It’s been nice to chat with you, Sara.
Sara Brown: 23:13
Now I’m gonna turn this podcast over to APH Press Managing Editor, Jess Bryant .
Jess Bryant: 23:20
Thank you, Sara. We have Renae Bjorg, Assistant Professor at the University of North Dakota and the primary author of the Second Edition of Guidelines and Games here today. Hi Renee.
Renae Bjorg: 23:32
Hello, Jess. I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Jess Bryant: 23:36
<laugh> Thank you for being here. I just have a few questions about “Guidelines and Games.” How do you think the book benefits teachers?
Renae Bjorg: 23:46
So , uh , I wanna start out by saying that , that this is a quote from , um, Sally Mangold. Um, and Sally is like a pioneer in braille, right? Um, and she coauthored the first book with Myrna Olson , um, 40 years ago. So it’s exciting. Right? Um, so here’s what, here’s what Sally Mangold said. She said, “the quality of life need not be compromised because of the visual impairment. Love tenderness pride in one’s accomplishments are never measured in terms of physical characteristics.” So, right. So I have a student , um, a former student and , um, I used to, as a teacher of students with visual impairment, I used to get called to , um , universities to be a speaker, a guest speaker. And I’d always bring a student with me because they didn’t wanna really see me. They wanted to see somebody who had a visual impairment or respond . Right? <Laugh> so I was, I brought this guest speaker with me and one of the , um , the , the future teachers to be in the audience asked the question. “So if they came up with a surgery to fix your eyes, would you do it?” And she said, “are you kidding? No way. Why would I ever wanna do that? I’d have to learn how to do everything all over again.” Right. And so, and this student had , um, she’s blind, totally blind. She had prosthetic eyes. So, so the , the audience was like, “why you wouldn’t wanna see?” She’s like, “why would I, why would I ever wanna do that?” Right. So we have, as, as people that are cited , we have this perception that, “oh, you poor thing, right? You , you , you can’t see and you have to do all these extra things and wouldn’t it be great to be like us?” And she’s like, “no.” So I think that kind of , um, so in going back to Sally’s quote, it’s like our job as teachers is to help people to be , um, make things accessible, make the world accessible. And braille is the really the medium to experiencing the world. Um, so I, how is this helpful to people? I hope that people get inspired to know that it is braille is not a problem. Braille is easy. Braille is the gateway for adventure and excitement and independence and , uh , self-expression , uh , connection. Right? So that’s really the, I think that’s the biggest message in, in my view anyways, like that the understanding that the power of braille cannot be underscored. And in the , in the field, sometimes we, we come into situations where the administrator might say, “gosh, why don’t we just use technology? Why do you need braille? Um, why can’t they just listen to a book on tape?” And I’m like, “yes, books are important. Yes. Is important. And listening to a book is not literacy. It’s not literacy and reading , uh , literacy and listening are different skills.” We need to teach students how to listen and we need to teach them how to read. But I think really the messages that braille is so important, it’s equally important to, you know, there’s a certain number of minutes in a , in a day, in any student’s day, that’s devoted to English language arts, and we need to spend an equal amount of time devoted to helping students learn braille and reading braille and using the , um, process of like, “what is the code? How do you read it? How do you use it? And what’s important?”
Jess Bryant: 27:26
Renae Bjorg: 27:27
So that’s, that’s, that’s really the , the power of this book is when you start to understand the importance of braille and what it can do for you, then you’re more motivated to go, oh, how can I like, this is a fun thing, not, “oh my gosh, braille, oh, this is this added thing. And how am I gonna fit in the students day? And how am I gonna do it ?” And right. But it is this, this adventure of learning, this process of reading .
Jess Bryant: 27:54
So how does this book support braille reading then?
Renae Bjorg: 27:58
Um, it’s very functionally based . So there’s specific examples. Um, and, and when you read this book, you become familiar with the essential elements of evidence based reading, and you learn about the science of reading , um, and what the elements of those, those pieces are and how they’re necessary. Like , um , how children read the , the skills that are necessary to read and how the brain develops. And I think the beauty of this book is that we talk about the science of reading, but it’s in a bite size way. That’s manageable so that you really understand, okay, here’s the concepts of the book. Here’s what we really need to focus on in this reading process and how can, and then, then it’s the, it’s like the strategies to help , um, educators and parents and, and , um, family members to really understand , um, like, okay, here’s okay, this is easy to understand. I , now I understand the background of this. So, and then it’s like, what are some things strategies that we can use to help our students to learn?
Jess Bryant: 29:03
And what are some of those activities or games found within the book that you find the most useful or helpful?
Speaker 6: 29:09
Um, okay. So one of the most fun things , uh , activities in this book is really excited from the work of Carol , uh , gal lamb . And it’s , um, there’s an example of the, the , the book that from the , the book, the three Billy goats gruff, have you ever read that book? Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s an old book, right? So in ,
Jess Bryant: 29:30
I haven’t, no, but I I’ve read guidelines and games. And so I saw the reference, of course <laugh> .
Renae Bjorg: 29:37
So in the , in the book, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, is like the here’s the three Billy Goats on one side of the bridge. They need to cross the bridge to get over to that really great lush grass so they can eat it. Right. And underneath this bridge is this troll, and they’re terrified of this troll because this , the troll’s gonna come out and eat them . Right. So, so here’s a fun little story, right. But how do you make it real and exciting for a student? So you can actually use the braille, and this is the, like the Gayle Lambs , um , whole, whole language approach, right? Like “how can we use the the braille to symbolize the goat? Oh , so here’s, here’s braille and here’s the braille symbolizing, the goats, and here’s the bridge and, oh , here’s another symbols of using braille and, oh , look, here’s above the bridge.” What’s going on? And here’s the troll below the bridge. And all of this is in braille. And then on the right side, if you think of crossing the bridge from left to right, is that this beautiful lush grass and how can you represent that using braille? So all of a sudden in , instead of just reading braille from left to right, or reading a page, like if you’re reading print from left to right then there’s, it becomes a picture, like a story that you can participate in. Right. So I think that’s where, where I , that I think in that approach is like, whoa, like it opens up, braille becomes this vehicle for inspiring children to practice their tracking skills. And, oh, let’s tip toe across the bridge. We’re gonna use light touch instead of heavy touch on the paper. Right. Um, what was the concept of under the concept of over? So all of those things can be part of this little, this little lesson completely using braille and the braille position in certain places on the page in order to represent the story. So, and I think that is like, if, if I can start to think about brail as a vehicle and go, oh, how can I use the braille to represent , um, the grass in the, like in preschool when they have , uh , what is that story? The bear hunt, right. Going on a bear hunt and the , you know, like, okay, let’s, let’s find the bee in the grass, the bear in the grass. Right. It makes it more exciting and more fun and more entertaining. So that children naturally wanna be part of it. They are part of it, they’re learning skills, but they don’t even know their learning skills. It’s the art of reading. And that reading has meaning and that we can create something in braille ourselves to create or express something else. It’s , it’s exciting to see kids connect that braille has meaning. And I think that’s one of the things in this book that’s really helpful. And it , not only that braille has meaning, but it shows you how to , um, teach specific what is mechanical skills and how do you teach those and what are some tracking skills and how can you teach those? And what are some, you know, if you don’t have hand strength, what can you do to work on that? So , um, besides the it’s very practical and functional, but it’s still doable. Like anybody can do it. And , um, it’s important. I hope that people read this book and be inspired about learning and teaching, teaching braille and the importance of , and the value of it.
Jess Bryant: 33:06
Is there anything else you want listeners to know about this book that we haven’t already talked about?
Renae Bjorg: 33:12
Well , there’s, well , there’s lots of things, but
Jess Bryant: 33:13
So many things, <laugh>
Renae Bjorg: 33:17
Yeah. You have to buy it too , too , really , uh , understand. But I think this book was really a collaborative process. So , um, I invited some of my students. Um, so, so I’m a , um , a professor at this , the University of North Dakota, and we have phenomenal students going through our program who , when they graduate as a teacher, you know, and are ready to go into the field, they’re ready. People are, people are , um, those school districts are fortunate to have our graduates, but I had some phenomenal students. And so I wanted to invite them to get, to be involved in the research and the writing and the publishing aspect of this book so that they could forward our field cuz because right, we need, we need more researchers, we need more people , um, promoting our field. So that , so anyway, so I invited these students to participate in this project and um, I am is very much a collaborative effort, their voice in this project. And the research that they’ve done to contribute is , um, is part of what makes the book so important and so well done. So I’m really proud of the people that have contributed and, and even , um, one of my, one of my students , um, she said, well, I have to ask my boss if I can do that. And she asked her boss, and this is a student from Canada. And she asked her boss and her boss called me and she said, “I am a graduate of the University of North Dakota. I’m a graduate from your program, Myrna Olson, Dr. Myrna Olson was my teacher. I wanna give back. And there’s other people in, in our, in our , um, in our group in Canada , um, who want to give back. So can we please be part of this project?” And I think that, that , that speaks to the high caliber students that we have, but the, the importance of braille and the importance of being a teacher of braille, like Myrna and Mangold, so that they can continue to give back to the field and continue to , um, develop their own skills and forward our field and continue to be exceptional teachers.
Jess Bryant: 35:41
Thank you so much for being with us, Renae. I appreciate your time. Um, and, and your insight , uh, and your, your time on the book as well. Um, and I think it’s going to be a great resource for teachers. So thank you for writing it. Thank you for time today, time on the book, energy, you know, all of that. Thank you so much.
Renae Bjorg: 36:05
Well , um, and thank you for inviting me and thank you for listening to me this morning,
Jess Bryant: 36:10
Back to you, Sara.
Sara Brown: 36:12
Thank you so much, Jess. And thank you for listening to this episode of Change Makers. For more information about O&M Specialists, the links that have been mentioned in this podcast and the new APH Press Book, “Guidelines and Games.” Please see the Show Notes for links as always be sure to look for ways you can be a changemaker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH . We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APHS public relations manager, Sara Brown. And today we are celebrating the 11th Annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day. That’s on Thursday, May 19. We’ll learn about the importance of accessibility awareness and how to make your social media more accessible. After that, we’re gonna learn how you can advocate for yourself in the workplace to talk more about GAAD.
Abby Pullis: 0:42
I have APH’s ABIDE Director Tai Tomasi. Hello, Tai Tomasi, and welcome to Change Makers.
Tai Tomasi: 0:48
Thank you so much for having me
Sara Brown: 0:50
For those who don’t know. Could you explain what ABIDE means and its mission?
Tai Tomasi: 0:56
Sure. So ABIDE stands for Accessibility, Belonging, Inclusion, Diversity and Equality. And the mission of ABIDE is to incorporate all of those areas into APH and into the field. So helping internally at APH with accessibility efforts, whether that is helping to make sure all of our web content is accessible, helping with document accessibility. Helping to make sure we acquire the right software that is the most accessible available, and , um, helping to make that software even more accessible so that all of our employees have a , an accessible experience. Um, and then also helping the field of the education , uh , the education field for the blind and visually impaired to , um, improve accessibility as well. And the same thing with belonging. , Uh , especially in this remote environment… This hybrid working environment, it’s important that employees have a sense of belonging and , um, that plays into accessibility… Because certainly when things are not accessible , uh , people do not feel a sense of belonging. So we wanna really usher that in and continue pushing that effort forward. Um, same thing with inclusion, inclusion , um, and diversity and equality. So we wanna make sure that we have a diverse workforce that we are promoting diversity and equality and , uh , in the field of blindness and visual impairment education, and also in, within the American Printing House for the Blind itself.
Sara Brown: 2:18
Talk about the importance of global Accessibility awareness day and why people should be more aware?
Tai Tomasi: 2:24
So Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a great time for us to refocus on access, access, culture and Accessibility. Um, in our community, there has been a lot of controversy over how digital accessibility is done. Um, there are certainly issues with usability and web content accessibility guidelines. Um, we’ve had a lot of controversy over different types of digital overlays that have not been adequate solutions to help with digital accessibility. So we want to take the opportunity for Global Accessibility Awareness Day to really refocus our efforts on finding solutions and on helping people with advocating , uh , with other businesses and vendors, to make sure that we have accessible , uh, digital products.
Sara Brown: 3:13
How does GAAD help break barriers, whether it’s in daily life or in the workplace?
Tai Tomasi: 3:18
So by educating , um, people about accessibility of web resources and digital , uh , content… Uh, we can improve the experience of employees , uh , of every person with a disability. And , uh , what that takes is really centering the disability experience… Talking more about usability. Um, you know, sometimes the web content accessibility guidelines are not enough. Um, that something might be compliant with those guidelines, but it might not be usable to a given user with a certain. So , um, we need to take the time to listen to the community and to center those comments and , uh , continue making sure that people with disabilities are at the forefront of those efforts.
Sara Brown: 4:02
And how can one turn awareness into action.?
Tai Tomasi: 4:06
So one of the best things we can do to go from awareness to action is to educate ourselves about what accessibility needs are. And again, turning to the disabled community. Talking about what access and usability really means is important. And that requires companies and individuals who are working on accessibility to educate themselves about those needs by coming to the community and learning from the resources that we can provide. And APH’s ABIDE will be putting out quite a few social media posts with some simple tips on improving digital accessibility in the month of May.
Sara Brown: 4:47
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Tai Tomasi: 4:50
Again, I’m looking forward to that refocusing on access culture and making sure that we are putting people with disabilities at all levels of businesses and at all levels of accessibility discussions and prioritizing those needs. And I appreciate that Global Accessibility Awareness Day gives us a platform to refocus our efforts in the community and talking with people with disabilities about those efforts.
Sara Brown: 5:16
Thank you, Tai, for joining me on Change Makers today.
Tai Tomasi: 5:19
Sara Brown: 5:21
Now we’re turning to something I’m sure everyone knows about…. Social media. But did you know there’s a proper way to do it, to make it more accessible for all? We have APH’s Digital Engagement Manager, Abby Pullis here to talk about accessible social media. Hello, Abby , and welcome to Change Makers.
Abby Pullis: 5:40
Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 5:42
Can you talk about the importance of accessible social media?
Abby Pullis: 5:46
Social media is part of our everyday life. It’s where we go to learn about the news. It’s where we connect with our families, our friends, people who live, you know, far away in our hometowns. Um, we connect with other professionals or we connect with people in our shared communities for our hobbies. Um, if it’s not accessible, then we are leaving a whole group of people out. Uh, we’re not giving access to this community resource that we all rely on.
Sara Brown: 6:17
And what are some of the devices people might be using to access social media?
Abby Pullis: 6:22
For users with low vision, there is magnification software that can either be downloaded to their desktop computer or often is native within the, the device itself. Um, a lot of smartphones have accessibility like that built in, and they’re able to change the background color or text contrast and colors , uh , to give themselves the, the most comfortable reading experience based on their visual impairment. For people who are blind, it’s the same thing, but with voiceover technology, they can either download that technology to their desktop computer o r laptop computer, or it comes native with their device, like with a smartphone,
Sara Brown: 7:01
For those who are blind or have low vision. How does inaccessible social media impact their experience?
Abby Pullis: 7:08
Inaccessible social, specifically missing alt-text on pictures , uh , really leaves people wondering what the point of a post is. We rely on photography or graphics. So often when we’re posting on social media and it’s often quite encouraged by the platforms to include a photo , um, that if we’re not using descriptors to let people know what’s in that photo context is lost. So it would be like looking through a scrapbook, but all of the pictures have been taken out. So you can say, oh, “first steps .” But like, without that kind of emotional appeal of the photo, you lose a lot of context. Um, another example would be , uh, “it finally happened!” Would be the text that’s included, but if the picture has no description, then you don’t know if it’s a proposal, a graduation, a first home , uh , you , you really lose the , the emotional impact and the important update.
Sara Brown: 8:02
So as APH’s Digital Engagement Manager, talk about the process you go through when posting the social media to make sure a post is accessible.
Abby Pullis: 8:12
I try to keep in mind from the get, go , how this is going to , uh , impact all of our readers , um, and not just remediate a social media post to make it accessible after the fact. So when I’m coming up with a campaign or coming up with just even a single post keeping in mind , uh , what’s going to make the best experience , um, for our sighted and blind readers.
Sara Brown: 8:42
And how can we take action as posters to improve the social media experience?
Abby Pullis: 8:49
I think people get a little overwhelmed when they think about trying to make their social media accessible, because they don’t know what that entails… And they’re afraid that it , that it means, you know , going behind the scenes and doing some sort of like coding or, or going through a whole bunch of extra steps that are, are beyond their technical expertise, but it’s really quite easy. Um , there are some simple tips , uh , and ways that you can make your day-to-day social media experience , um, accessible for all of your friends and family and , and readers and people who are interacting with you. Um, the first and most obvious one would be including alt-text behind your photos. Um, so instead of including an image description in the text post , um, you can go in and this is true for Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, you can go in and you can add that alt-text underneath the image. And that way it’s not taking up extra character count in your posts, because we know a lot of these platforms have limited character counts. Um, and some tips for writing that alt-text would be to include those key and important details without getting too lost in the, the minutia. You know, you don’t need to, to reference the color of every person’s shirt, unless that means something to the photo. Uh , I like to think, you know, what’s the, “what’s the call to action with this photo?” “What am I wanting you to feel or think?” “How does this photo add to the story of the post that I’m making?” So if it matters that your student is graduating from college and they’re in a cap and gown, you may wanna say what color that cap and gown is because it represents the university they’re graduating from, but if you’re blowing up candles at a birthday party and the person in the background is wearing your red shirt, it’s probably not necessary. So I think it’s okay to kind of balance that, that those key details with that emotional language. Another way to bring social media accessibility into your day-to-day life would be to look at the way that you use hashtags. Uh , the first tip is to put your hashtags at the end of your social media post, as opposed to incorporating them in the text when possible. Uh , when screen readers come across that content. Sometimes they , because all of the letters are ambushed together, they misinterpret that content and it doesn’t read the way that you i ntend i t to. U m, and another tip is to use capitalization within your hashtag or as a lot o f people call it CamelCase where you make sure that the first letter of each word within the hashtag is capitalized. U m, it helps the screen reader parse what that word is. And it also is a better reading experience for s ighted people as well. U h, it makes it a lot easier when you’re skimming through your, you know, Twitter, as you’re thumbing through, you can read those social media hashtags a little bit easier because you can see the individual words within the hashtag. And then lastly, I would say with graphics or with photography, especially from a business, we often create event hashtags or taking photography , uh , that with the intent of posting it, making sure we’re keeping in mind , um, contrast , uh, that there’s enough contrast or that we’re really intentional with our contrast. So that users with low vision , um , can tell what’s going on in the image and that that also has to do with graphics, making sure that we’re using good contrast on our text and also keeping our text fonts in mind. Sometimes that really beautiful scripty-scrolly font is actually really difficult to read for anyone who has , um, low vision or, or even people who aren’t technically on the, the low vision spectrum, but are just glasses wearers, even.
Sara Brown: 12:08
So you said we’re supposed to put our hashtags at the end, but sometimes there’s a character limit. And then you have to put your hashtags in the actual text. What’s the best practice when you’re up against the character limit?
Abby Pullis: 12:22
I would say it’s a best practice to put hashtags at the end. Uh , when you are on a character count that is often kind of difficult. And you know, when you’re attending a conference, a lot of times those conferences will have an acronym that they’re using and that’s their hashtag. And so, you know, if you’re , if you’re limited for characters and you need to put that hashtag up in the top, that’s fine. I think a bigger issue is when people use kind of long hashtags, ironically, within the text , um, to be quirky or playful, and those don’t read as well. I think, you know, if you’re trying to say I’m at “#APH 2022” for our Annual Meeting , uh , that that’s okay.
Sara Brown: 13:01
During my time here at APH . One thing I’ve noticed is while using my, so my personal social media is more people are putting image descriptions in social posts. As the digital engagement manager. How does that make you feel when you see people being more cognizant of their posts and the making sure they’re accessible?
Abby Pullis: 13:22
I think it’s wonderful. And I think that it’s one of those situations where we often learn that , uh , things that are accessible for one group of people , uh , end up serving a much larger audience and actually it’s universal design and not just , uh , a , a feature for a single group of people. And , um, if we can create our posts from the beginning in a way that meets the , the largest audience and then speaks to the broadest group of people, then we’re really being, you know , um , the best stewards of whatever we’re trying to communicate that we can be.
Sara Brown: 14:00
So let’s touch on office software real quick. And one thing I’ve noticed is when I do alt-text in different programs, it’ll automatically generate a description. Can you talk about the generated image descriptions on various platforms?
Abby Pullis: 14:15
AI generated descriptions , um, while it’s wonderful to give some context in place of no context, it’s definitely preferable to nothing. Um , really doesn’t take the responsibility off of the poster because they’re often wrong and they don’t give that, you know, compelling description that I think most photos are intending to evoke when they’re posting . I think, you know, think about the intent of the photo that you’re posting and that will lead you to the kind of alt that you wanna include. Um, I’ve seen a lot of alt-text, you know, when I go to , to add-alt text to the posts for APH , I see that generated , um , alt-text that, you know, Facebook or whoever is supplying and it’s often like “potentially,” or like “possibly an image of a person outside.” And it’s like, oh, well, it’s actually a “photo of a proposal at the grand canyon.” Those are like, you know, that’s a really a big gap in knowledge there that’s , uh , being missed. So I would say that while it’s a great step, you know, that’s tech companies taking responsibility for trying to make their platforms more accessible and that’s awesome, but it’s still up to the individual poster to take that step and , uh, add that flavor to their social media posts.
Sara Brown: 15:33
And social media. Isn’t the only place where you do alt-text. You can also do it again on office software. So talk about, you know, alt-text and word documents and PowerPoints and emails?
Abby Pullis: 15:46
Alt-text really lives outside of social media. I think that’s a really popular place , um, that we’re talking about alt-text a lot, but you can add alt-text to your word documents, your PDFs, your PowerPoints, anything that you’re, you know, communicating, you can add it to your emails. And I think that’s really important to consider , um, not just what you’re saying with your public voice, but what you’re also communicating on a one-on-one level. Um, for example, if I were to make a PowerPoint and send it to, you know, a cited coworker for them to review, it may end up being viewed or passed along to someone who needs those accessibility features. And because I didn’t bake them in at the beginning now, maybe the person that I’ve passed it along to needs to add the alt-text to send it on to the next person. And they may misconstrue my intention for including some of those photos or not know their best practices around that. So I think it’s just, you know, uni, good universal design considers all people and , and you know, their , in the origination of the content. And, and I try to keep that in mind when, when doing any kind of campaign for APH , uh , and I think we should all do it when we’re doing our , our social media or our writing, our word documents.
Sara Brown: 17:02
What’s out there for a person to learn how to make their social and work materials more accessible?
Abby Pullis: 17:08
There are a lot of great resources for accessibility. Um, we have some blogs on our website that specifically talk about , uh , accessibility with social media , uh , with links out to the individual , um , social media platforms, where they describe the process for, you know, putting social, you know , alt-texts up on their social media , um, for word documents and things like that. You know, there are a host of resources. We’ve done some , um, blogs on those. We also have , uh , an Accessibility Hub that , uh , is run by our ABIDE team that has a lot of information on just those basic business things, you know, like word documents and things like that, accessible PowerPoints, et cetera . So you can find all that kind of information there. I would definitely, you can start with us, but there are a lot of , uh , great allies in the field creating this kind of content as well, trying to educate, you know, not just the people within the field itself, but you know , uh , the whole world.
Sara Brown: 18:10
And is there anything else you’d like to say?
Abby Pullis: 18:13
I would say that it’s, it’s easy to be accessible , um, and , and once you start doing it, it really becomes such a natural practice. Uh, and , and, you know, a lot of us are thinking like, okay, well, I’ll definitely make sure that my business or my organization or my school is being accessible because they have a really broad reach, but I would encourage you to also make your own social media accessible on a personal level. Uh, you might find that , um, you reach a new audience or, or you are accessible. Uh , you don’t realize that you’re blocking people from, from enjoying your content , uh , by not including those kind of details that, that make a more usable experience for people.
Sara Brown: 18:55
Thank you so much, Abby , for joining me today on Change Makers.
Abby Pullis: 18:58
Thank you for having me. This was , uh , a lot of fun.
Sara Brown: 19:03
Now we have Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Sassy Outwater-Wright. Hello, Sassy, and welcome to Change Makers.
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 19:13
Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 19:15
And do you care to share the many, many things you do at the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired?
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 19:24
Sure. I can share. the many things I do. That’s a , a good way of putting it. Um, I do everything from helping to teach assistive technology. Um, for people through MABVI, we use accommodation of qualified instructors and blind volunteers who are assistive technology users, themselves, who want to help older adults who are just stepping into this , um, process of losing their eyesight. We do , um, as many instructional hours of, of partnership as they want to do to feel comfortable using the technology as older adults. Um, we do orientation and mobility instruction for people with intellectual and developmental disability plus blindness. We do adjustment counseling and peer support services for people who want to talk to someone who’s been through losing their eyesight before and , um, want some mental health support going through that adjustment. Um, we do volunteers to help older adults who have a task or younger adults who have something that they wanna do, like go to the gym or get out and do some fitness , uh , routines and want some sighted assistance with that. And , um, then we also do various other things, community advocacy efforts partnering up with age friendly , um , movements in local communities and support groups throughout the state. And then we have occupational therapists who are cross trained , so they can help older adults who are dealing with declining eyesight, but also might have other things going on, such as , uh , stroke recovery, or brain injury or other things that oftentimes just a company old age . Um, and we want them to feel like they have some medical health support as well with our occupational therapy team . So we do a lot at MABVI, but we put it all into the community, rather than having someone go into an institutional setting. And we do it either in home or in local senior centers to everybody.
Sara Brown: 21:33
So we’re talking about GAAD on this podcast and it’s all about access and awareness. How do you engage a business and advocate for what you need?
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 21:43
Right now, we’re in a really, really sensitive time for , uh , disability rights in terms of digital accessibility, because digital accessibility in most context is not actually under the ADA yet. Um, except the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And only in some instances for employment, it is really solidly in the ADA. Um, and so right now it’s, it’s, it can go to court and then you’re waiting for a non-disabled person or a group of people to decide what happens to your rights. Um, and we’ve seen that come up a couple of times in over the past 12 months with the CVS case that went to the edge of the Supreme Court and then the LA community college case that went to the edge of the Supreme Court. So our civil rights and our ability to say “you’re discriminating against me,” even if that discrimination , uh , isn’t intentional, that hangs in the balance. And so a lot of times , um, disability advocates have said, have said in the past “asking doesn’t work.” Um , and yet lawsuits and legal litigation right now are putting our Civil Rights in jeopardy as well. Right now our , our Civil Rights really are kind of on an edge. And so I’m a huge fan of self-advocacy… Asking a business… Letting the business know this is not accessible to me. Um, and I’d like to work with you to help it become more accessible. Um, and that does not mean that the disabled person has to do the lifting. That means that the business has to be willing to hear that something’s not accessible and look at what they can do, and it doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive. It doesn’t have to be a civil litigation. It doesn’t have to be a lawsuit. It doesn’t have to be anything but cooperation and learning what works. Um, it’s an educational process and then it’s an implementation process. And so we’re, it, it starts with an ask, even though the , the community is really resistant to the ask. I think we also need to be aware of it continuing to let nondisabled court systems handle our rights is also a problem too.
Sara Brown: 23:59
Can you talk about Access Culture?
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 24:02
Access Culture is many things to many people it’s still kind of coming up, but it is it’s what’s coming. It is the idea that we can participate in our own access needs and drive our own access needs and lead our own access needs. And that accessibility , uh , the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are an amazing set of technical standards , um, and guidelines that we can use to check whether something is accessible or not by most people’s definition. Um, but there are disabled people who aren’t getting their needs met through WCAG yet. Um, there are people who want culture of Accessibility and want to not have it be a pass fail thing. They want it to be a discussion. They want it to be a , “this is what WCAG says , but according to my disability, this might work better for me.” They want accessibility, digital accessibility at a company, or at a , a place to become a , a conversation that can be a little bit more individualized, a little bit more ingrained in the culture of the company , um, and a little less stigmatized and a little more common place . Um , we want broad inclusion and belonging and accessibility. Isn’t the end of that conversation. It’s the beginning. Accessibility is the first foot through the door, but people are wanting what I call the “whole damn pie experience.” We don’t wanna be handed a little bitty slice of pie. We want the whole thing. Um, and we wanna be a participant in that conversation. And that’s what Access Culture is. It’s, it’s a culture of belonging and inclusion that starts with accessibility and goes beyond that to fully include and, and allow us to belong in our own experiences at work, in our entertainment, recreation, and our healthcare , all of it .
Sara Brown: 26:00
What is the role of advocacy in the digital accessibility life cycle ?
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 26:05
That’s a tough one more and more and more. It seems like we’re getting kind of stepped to the side by processes, by company processes, by both the attorneys who handle our cases in some instances, and that the , uh , accessibility field we’re getting put into just the role of tester. Very few of us are in the role of developer designer, company, CEO, C-suite groups , uh , attorneys, ourselves who handle these cases. There are some disabled attorneys who handle these cases, not a lot, and there are not a lot of disabled leaders coming up and, and pushing. There are a lot of disabled advocates who sign onto laws and sign into things and participate, but we need leaders. We need space to grow our own leaders, to support them, to allow them, to learn, to allow them to lead. And , um, we need space for us to be able to talk to businesses rather than businesses fearing us because of lawsuits. Um, we need those lawsuits to compel compliance. Absolutely, but it doesn’t have to be a negative process. Disabled people don’t have to be used to do it in these troll lawsuits that needs to stop and things where businesses are able to kind of step aside from doing , um, making their sites accessible, because it’s just gonna be an audit repeat process. We need to change how we provide digital accessibility, overlays… Not the answer. Manual remediation and audit and repeat… Not the answer what’s next… We need to be at that table, leading that discussions to what comes next. And there are very few in this industry who are firing up that conversation, stepping to the table and getting involved in the leadership. I see a lot of changing hands of accessibility companies. I see a lot of litigation happening and disabled people don’t know about it as a community until the last hour before something heads to the Supreme Court and endangers our rights. We can’t keep doing this in siloed spaces. We need to do it out in the open with the community, deeply involved in space for new leaders to learn how to lead, to step up and to be given space, to lead and confidence from the community and with the community to lead in the community.
Sara Brown: 28:29
How is digital accessibility changing for the end user and how can end users take back the position of leadership in that cycle?
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 28:37
That’s a really good question. Um , disabled end users, those who, who are using the websites, there are more and more tools coming out that allow us to participate in our process of accessing something. Um , and it’s reporting that you’re having a difficult experience. Companies can’t do something unless they know about it. And , um, you know, having a situation where a lawsuit is the only answer. Isn’t the only answer that we have today, having discussions with businesses, having discussions with consumer organizations, calling digital accessibility companies and saying, “I’m having this issue. How can I figure out if it’s a user error or a bug?” That’s the classic first step? Is, is it a user error because you’re not completely familiar with how to handle digital accessibility , um, or is it a bug? And there is something wrong in the code. And nowadays where code comes from different sources on a website, it’s not just one person developing the code. It might be a widget that somebody installed on their website. It might have come from another company and they’re just clicking and pointing to build their website. It gets even harder to pin down what’s going wrong and how to fix it. So having social media groups , when you can ask the group, is anybody else experiencing this issue with this browser and this screen reader when they visit this website or troubleshooting as a community together , um, I’m seeing a lot of tech groups have people come together and bring websites to the group and say, “let’s all go together and experience this. And maybe someone has a workaround. Nope, it’s a bug. Let’s report it to the business together.” Many of us have tested it. Let’s, let’s let them hear that this is a problem. Bigger businesses need to step up. Um, when something is called out on a bigger platform, they need to, they need to acknowledge it. They need to fix it. They need to not duck that responsibility. They need to treat us like any other customer group and, and fix the issues that are brought to their attention and, and do that very publicly with accountability to us. Um, and this can, this can change. It doesn’t have to be settled behind the scenes in a courtroom with , um, you know, covers and, and the community constantly just calling out negative things . This can become a collaborative conversation. If businesses are willing to make it one and disabled, people are willing to call out something without , um, fear and without (inaudible) involved and without shame involved and without anger and with a , an eye towards solutions. And , um, I look at the work of a lot of people who are going toward negotiation, settlements that does something, lawsuits do something they’re all valid ways of handling this, but so is self-advocacy and community building and community solutions with the businesses, especially the local ones where we show up in person and might have to order something online, too . Um, getting to be known as a human being and advocating for access as just any other customer does carry a lot of, of gravity and we need to use it .
Sara Brown: 31:49
Is there anything else you would like to share about GAAD or digital accessibility?
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 31:55
I just wanna see us change and have some positive discussions about digital accessibility in 2022 . I think we’re having a lot of negative, a lot of fear based and shame based and money based conversations about Accessibility and while fear , shame, and money are motivators. They’re not things that lead to belonging, inclusion, leadership of the disabled community for the disabled community. Um, where are those discussions? I wanna see those be the things that are making waves on Twitter in 2022. I wanna see accessibility companies, not just putting us into roles of testers, but putting us into C-suites seats. Uh , say that five times fast at 7:00 AM, C-suite seats. , um, I wanna see disabled leaders holding those positions and finding pathways up to those positions in terms of support , um, development, mentoring, understanding, capability, capacity, and educational opportunity. I wanna see more tech , um, apprenticeships opportunities being available to people, not just in testing… In UX, in design. There’s no reason that a disabled person can’t be doing their own code and handling these things and that we can’t be teaching ourselves how to code for ourselves of ourselves. Nothing about us without us. It’s time for that to take its rightful place in the digital accessibility discussion in 2022. And for this to stop being a negative anger, shame, and money driven thing, and to start being a community, building social justice thing , um, time for us to take the reins and, and drive this thing home. It’s our turn now.
Sara Brown: 33:39
Sassy. Thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Sassy Outwater-Wright: 33:43
Thank you for having me. Um, I love stir things up in a , in a positive direction. So hopefully something I said helps somebody find their voice and step forward and say, “I wanna seat at that table. I wanna lead .”
Sara Brown: 33:57
And thank you for listening to this episode of Change Makers. For those interested, I’ve put links to the Global Accessibility Awareness Day website in the show notes, as well as the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and additional links on how to make your social media and your, your office work more accessible. So be sure to check out the Show Notes and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Change Makers a podcast from APH. We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager Sara Brown. And today we are learning about educational offerings for professionals and students. We’re gonna be checking in with The Hive, Access Academy and ExCEL Academy. We have APH’s Learning Management System Administrator, Amy Campbell here. She’s gonna tell us more. Hello, Amy, and welcome to Change Makers.
Amy Campbell: 0:39
Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here today.
Sara Brown: 0:43
Can you explain what The Hive, Access Academy and ExCEL Academy are for those who might not know?
Amy Campbell: 0:49
Absolutely. Um, I think of these three , um, these three entities as these are our services services at APH , uh , provides. And while these are , have been around for maybe a year, year and a half , um, some up over, you know, almost two years, what we find time and time again, is that we are discovering that there are still so many people who don’t know that this, that these things exist. And , um, sometimes it’s good to be a , the best up secret, but I don’t think that this is, we want people to know about , um, the Access Academy, the ExCEL Academy, the APH Hive, and, you know, the best way that I can kind of explain and summarize what these are, especially, you know, if you don’t know , um, how to differentiate these is, I like to think about these. These are ways that APH is able to offer both synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities , um, to the professional community and to, you know, families and, and caregivers. Um, I’ll start with Access Academy. Uh , you know, in my mind it is our one-stop resource and we have that on our line online as well, that, that we want to be the place to go for that meaningful instruction and training. So we do this in webinars and our goal is really essentially just to be able to get the most out of our APH products and services. Now, ExCEL Academy, um , this is what we think of as our virtual supplemental instruction for students. So whereas Access Academy is geared towards our adult professionals and families, parents, ExCEL Academy is for students. Again , it’s used as a webinar platform just as Access Academy is. What’s unique about ExCEL is that educators come in and we’re teaching on a particular topic. So these topics might range from anything, from something in the expanded core curriculum and teaching on a topic. Then students come in and are the live audience. They’re participants of this live instruction. These students often are grouped in grade levels. And sometimes, we group them into ability categories as, as well. Uh, what’s so unique about ExCEL Academy is that oftentimes teachers and university, you know, programs want to observe. They want to see how good quality teaching comes into play. And it’s great because we can invite those teachers to come in and , uh, I’ll say, be “flies on the wall,” just to kind of see… absorb, what is happening and get to see quality teaching being modeled and how to engage students. So both Access Academy and ExCEL Academy, they’re alike in that they have fixed times. So, it gives people the chance to come in and attend as a live audience. Now, we can’t always, you know, meet everyone’s needs. You know it’s one time out of a , out of a given day when something is offered. But what I love also is that if you can’t catch the live event, it’s totally okay. Uh , we post most of our archived webinars on our YouTube playlists. So that just means that if you can’t make it to the airtime… It’s okay, come on in, watch the archived webinar and you can still , um, tap into those learning opportunities. And then, when I think of, you know, now making the segue to the APH Hive. Uh , there are times when those archived webinar, that I just talked about actually get absorbed into The Hive. So if you don’t know what The Hive is, we are a totally accessible learning management system. And the purpose is to equip educators really to meet the unique needs of our students with visual impairments. But it like it doesn’t stop there. Or it goes even further by offering outcome based learning opportunities and , uh, areas to apply what you have learned. And teachers and families can tap into really unique resources that are only available that’s through The Hive. So we take the, those webinars that have aired and , um, sometimes it’s perfect in crafting into content to make into a course. And when this happens, again, we take that learning, I think, to the next level. So not only can you get ACVREP credit for what you’re learning by going into The Hive and enrolling and, and participating in those courses. But you get the chance to really generalize what you learned from the video content, you know, by thinking about your caseload of students, generalizing that content and envisioning how those things that you learned are then gonna be delivered with your students. So , um, it’s just important that users of The Hive have the chance to apply what they’ve learned , and that’s kind of how it takes it to the next level over just watching a webinar.
Sara Brown: 6:39
And how did these programs come to exist?
Amy Campbell: 6:42
So, interestingly enough, the concept of The Hive goes back a few years, even before, beginning to its inception. And we heard the voices of our APH community, specifically our Ex Officio Trustees who were looking for ways to better understand how to use APH products and apply it into settings… How to, to use things with their students, taking things to the next level. So it started with that of wanting some platform in order to be able to showcase those sorts of things. However, the pandemic came. And when the pandemic came, we really needed to pivot in a way, because we, as APH could not get out into the community in a physical sense. We weren’t able to go to conferences, conferences weren’t even held. So what does it look like to reinvent that type service to the community of showcasing the products that gave birth, if you will, to the webinar platforms, the Access Academy that will showcase the use of products, use cases, how to apply it, how to do things differently, how to learn from other people of how things can be implemented in different classrooms and settings. So things got flipped. If you will. Instead of launching forward with the learning management system in a , in the more quick way, we switched gears. And we knew that we could best serve the community, our professional community, by these webinars. And so that’s really how it came to be. And then, The Hive got a little bit of a later start. So whereas, Access Academy and ExCEL Academy, those took off in probably about April and May of 2220 , the APH Hive, launched and took off in October of 2020. And , uh, we used content that was from those different , um, academies to plug into The Hive, to make courses from.
Sara Brown: 9:34
And what’s the latest information you’ve got to share with each program?
Amy Campbell: 9:39
So for Access Academy, we are always going strong with helping to serve all of those professionals and educators and families that are, that are out in the community. I can share that , uh, we are getting ready to launch information about a braille transcription for textbooks course. Um, I shouldn’t call it a course. It’s a series, but it’s sequential, and it’s intentional in its design, so that people will join from the beginning and continue through it. But it’s all about braille transcription. So that’s gonna get the spotlight during the , the months of May and June. We’re gonna really delve into that. Um, you know, getting ready to settle back into the new school year. There are things that we’re gonna explore , um, of products that we’ll be launching that people will wanna stay tuned for so that they know what sorts of things are coming into the spotlight for our products. But something that we want to really touch upon in the fall is exploring what we call relevant classics. So there’s some products that we have out that are just classics in our catalog. Uh, it’s something that you mention and that all teachers know about it , um, and have thought of , of it oftentimes. And then sometimes it’s a classic that’s been in the catalog, but maybe people don’t know as much about it. So we really wanna hone in on those , uh, relevant classics and explore how things are used in the classroom and how teachers are applying to working with different, with different students. Right now, it’s just an idea. And , uh, but we’re hoping to bring full development to it, come this fall , uh, to gear our professional community, come back, you know, come back at the, when the school system begins. And so with, you know, ExCEL Academy, what we , um, shifted to this past school year is looking at using after school hours and Saturdays in order to better meet the needs of our students and the educators. So it’s something new that we are sampling with and seeing what sort of feedback we get from that it’s exciting. We offer Spanish events. So the , that community can come in and also learn. We’re really focusing a lot on what I would say from the Expanded Core Curriculum. Um, self-determination some social skills and even career education with that. Um, some unique content with that is just, you know, “how do you do emotional regulation?” You know, what, if you are a student and you just need to regulate your emotions. So we even have information about that, that the students go into and can learn about. The career, the college prep that is so important for our, especially our high school students that are getting ready to transition. And so we’re spending time working in series of webinars on all of this content. So there might be a series of maybe it’ll happen. There’ll be two in , in, you know, a two part series. Maybe it’ll be three or four occurrences, but really developing that content and bringing the audience back for continuation of programming. And with the APH Hive it’s, it’s exciting to share that we have 27 courses that are loaded into The Hive right now, which accounts for over 50 hours of professional development. There’s always something happening behind the scenes. We’re always working on new courses that we are getting to put into The Hive. So whether it’s something that is a foundational concept, whether it’s early childhood related, assessment, core curriculum expanded core, it’s the place to go to help get that professional learning with that. Some really unique things that we have that just went in. If you haven’t visited The Hive recently, we have explored how to use the Lego Braille Bricks, not only with just understanding how to use them and the methodology, but how do you apply the use of that with our students that are just pre braille learners. But something I think is really unique is that we applied it to numeracy math related activities and how to incorporate the Lego Braille Bricks into math activities. Which just, I think makes it fun on a totally on a different spectrum. We just launched in the past a few base the week a health course, it’s called “Health is Meaningful Living.” And it’s a focused on sexual education, which is something our students don’t have access to in the Core Curriculum. And we have a course that’s developed that’s in The Hive that helps not only parents and caregivers, but educators know how do we give access to this vital content , uh, within the Core Curriculum. So, so those are just some, some of the things that we have in the , in The Hive right now. I think that it’s really important though, to find a way to separate ourselves as well of other learning management systems that are out there. We all have our unique niche and unique things that we can lift the community up with. And one thing that makes The Hive unique is that we are peer reviewed. So we develop the courses. So all 27 courses that are in The Hive have been peer reviewed. So we have a pool of reviewers that come in and they look at all of the courses, everything that has been developed, there’s a rubric that they use and they are providing recommendations of what might need to be revised. How can it be better , um, and giving the recommendation if it’s ready to go into The Hive. And I think that that helps to ensure that what we are giving to the professional community is quality content.
Sara Brown: 16:16
Are there any new projects on the horizon with any of the programs, The Hive, Access Academy, or ExCEL Academy?
Amy Campbell: 16:23
So this summer with ExCEL Academy, we’re gonna be running from June through August, STEM camp. And this week in this STEM camp is really gonna host preliminary experiences. We’re gonna look at two-day problem solving skills for younger students, and a career open house with stem for older students. Then we’re gonna get a little deeper and we start with a STEM adventure. After having the preliminary experience and with these STEM camps, it’s going to include things such as tending a garden while learning all about the parameter of the area. Um, another one is surviving on a desert island; camping out in the wilderness; becoming a crime scene investigation team; and all around building our math skills with the incredible edible Abacus… Sounds enticing. So we’re gonna be working on funding as well in order to get the opportunity to ship these APH products to the campers. We think that this is gonna help them with not only this endeavor, but things that come afterwards, but we’re still working on getting things crafted. Registration will open in May. And we are excited to say that all are welcome. If you are a teacher who hosts a large camp, for example, think about it, consider having your campers register and attend this together. And there’s also a place for parents. Parents. You might wanna come in with your child during the right time and participate in this. It’s all a virtual opportunity. So everyone has a place that they can come in and participate, even TVI’s. If you’re looking to learn more about STEM instruction and you just wanna observe, it’s a great chance to do so. And again, like I had mentioned before with our Access , uh, Academy and the ExCEL, Academy this ExCEL Academy camp is gonna be recorded. And again, we post everything on our YouTube playlist. So if the timing doesn’t work out perfect, you can always come in at a different time, watch the recording and that’s okay. Well, for the APH HIVE, we have been working very steadily on launching a really large course in The Hive. Most of our courses right now might be anywhere from one to maybe three, four hours at the most of, of timeframe. But we are working on a literacy course, right in a , now that equates to over 10 hours of content. It’s very carefully crafted, and sequenced. And , um, what’s really great about it is that often our teachers, when they go through re-certification process, you know, to update their teaching life, oftentimes they need 10 hours of a literacy credit. And sometimes they have to piecemeal these hours together in order to get up to 10 hours. So I love that we are being intentional and we are offering a new literacy course that will be coming up. And the literacy course for it is about teaching braille. And they can come in and take this, learn through the video instruction, participate in the application activity for it and walk away so much better equipped and knowledgeable about something that they can do. That’s unique in braille. And I’ll say that hoping that I won’t give away too much, so people will want to come back in and stay tuned to know what specifically that course is. That’s for The Hive. And with Access Academy, we’re still in the planning stages of figuring out what all the content will look like. We know that we will continue to feature new products. Uh , I know that we will be working on a webinar featuring the “CVI Companion Guide” and exploring how one particular school , uh, piloted this book, this , um, information into the school system and how it was used. Again, we’re gonna be talking about those relevant classics that I had mentioned and looking at how different teachers use the things that we are offering in our catalog. And also because technology is always changing, we’re always tapping into those technology , um, webinars, where, “how do you use these devices?” “What do we need to know about upgrading things,” getting things revised, all of that good stuff, all of the cheat sheets that you need in order to be able to have in your toolbox. Those are things that we’re planning for in the future.
Sara Brown: 21:29
And what are the future goals for The Hive, Access Academy and ExCEL Academy?
Amy Campbell: 21:34
With ExCEL Academy, we continue to evolve. And , uh, where we want to meet our students, right where they’re at. So, whereas before we had webinars that were during the school day, because we knew our students were at home and they were accessing online instruction. Then schools opened back up . So we transitioned and we went into the evening timespan. We went to the week , even the weekends, we will always continue to evaluate what needs the needs. With Access Academy, we will always be featuring those products that come out so that we can be your first source of really learning, how to use things and , um, apply them, you know , to caseloads of students and clients that you’re working with. For The Hive we’re always growing as well. And I can share that in the next coming months, maybe within six months, we are growing, we are expanding. We’re always putting new courses in, but something unique that we are really committed to getting into The Hive, is what we call discussion boards. It’s a way for people to come in to The Hive and have discussions with each other about what they have learned or ask questions. I, I think of it as a way for educators to build a greater community. So often we feel like islands. Many , uh , are itinerant , um, teachers going from one place to the next, you feel like you don’t necessarily belong, always feels like there’s never enough time in the day to talk in , in to bounce ideas off of each other. We would like The Hive to be a place that that can happen. We want to establish that meaningful collaboration. And we really see that as being a springboard to future mentorship, that we will be able to provide avenues of mentorship within The Hive based on courses that we have and content that we are making available to the public.
Sara Brown: 23:52
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Amy Campbell: 23:55
Because we use federal money in order to support these programs. We are free. These services are free and they always will be free. And these programs are ran by educators, previous educators. So I feel that we have the mindset of what’s needed, and we have the resources to even tap into how we can meet the needs of parents and caregivers. So we’re free and always will be because of the, how we generate the money for that. And what I love is that we also give a way to receive professional credit for this. There are lots of ways that you can go out into the community and get access to professional development, but oftentimes you pay for it and or you don’t pay for it, but you don’t get the credit. I love that we offer both. There’s no cost and we’re are giving you that credit that shows you’ve participated in the professional development that can help translate into re-certification , um, for our educators.
Sara Brown: 25:25
Amy, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Amy Campbell: 25:28
Sara, I have had a great time. Thank you for inviting me.
Sara Brown: 25:32
I’ll be sure to put links to The Hive, Access Academy, and ExCEL Academy in the Show Notes. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers and as always look for ways you can be a changemaker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Change Makers a podcast from APH. We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And today we are getting ready for this year’s 2022 National Coding Symposium Presented by APH and Partners. We’ll learn what to expect from this year’s event and hear what’s new and exciting. We’ll also speak with one keynote speaker who invented a well known computer screen reader. Can you guess what that is? After that, we’ll hear what’s available for adults interested in learning how to code. Here to talk a bit more about the upcoming Coding Symposium. We have APH’s National Director of Outreach Services, Leanne Grillot. Hello, Leanne and welcome to Change Makers.
Leanne Grillot: 0:54
Hello, Sara. Glad to be back.
Sara Brown: 0:56
It’s that time again, time for Coding Symposium and for those not familiar, can you tell us what the Coding Symposium is and why it’s important. And what’s its goal?
Leanne Grillot: 1:07
The Coding Symposium is, is new. This is the second year. So last year was the very first year we’d ever done something like this. This is year two, and we are still headed down that road of awareness for coding. That coding is a huge viable career for individuals with sight loss of any ages and to, to spread the word that this is something to take note and educate people about. So the goal awareness right now would love it to be more than that someday , but we, I think are still at that awareness stage and it’s built for those K12 budding college level students, but not only them. It’s trying to get the educators around them to know about this viable career and giving opportunities for them .
Sara Brown: 1:58
And we’re gonna cover the basics. So when will the event take place?
Leanne Grillot: 2:03
It’s it’s again, happening in may this year, it’ll be May 9 through the 13 and Monday through Friday afternoons, East Coast or mornings West Coast, depending on where you are. Uh , it , it is a little bit shorter than last year, but it’s still jam packed with information.
Sara Brown: 2:21
Can you give us an age range of the participants for the Coding Symposium?
Leanne Grillot: 2:26
So we, we try to be very careful with our K12 students who are minors. So of course, if they’re wanting to attend a person over 18 should be registering them for them to be able to participate, or maybe a teacher is having a group of students in their classroom participating together. So these are great options and yes, they are 100% able to be participants. In this event, they will learn so much and be able to have opportunities to be engaged, but you don’t have to have a student in K12 or to be able to attend this. We’re looking for those teachers of students with visual impairments, but also the assistive technology specialists. And I’m gonna go one step further. We’re looking for those general education professionals who teach coding or teach programming or teach web technologies, whether it’s at the K-12 level or even that college, maybe a technical school, because the goal is to make sure we have the people around the field of coding recognize this is a viable career. We just need to make sure it’s successful .
Sara Brown: 3:30
Can you talk to us a little bit more about this year’s event? What can we expect?
Leanne Grillot: 3:35
So this year we have chosen to have each day focused around a different type of coding program. So Monday it’s about getting started with coding and as a TVI, myself, I immediately think of things like Code Quest, Code & Go Mouse and Code Jumper, because these are familiar to me. So that is that focus for Monday. We’re talking about that, just getting your feet wet day two. Tuesday is focused on HTML, which is a coding language. Many people think immediately of building a webpage, but that’s not the only code you can use to build a webpage. So Wednesday we’re talking about Quorum. Quorum is a coding language that was originally built for coders who had visual impairments, but it used by others. And so that’s Wednesday Quorum. Thursday is the snake it’s Python. So we are talking about yet another coding program called Python. Then Friday, we’re talking about how all of this moves us forward. It moves our students forward and including, I hate to say it, but even myself with understanding what this is and then where it takes our students further. So how do we go further on Friday to make sure that we’re adding coding into the lives of our students at any age? Now you can expect a similar schedule each day. So just because I named a, a type of code that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a very different day. Each time, each day, we’re gonna have a keynote speaker, which is a professional that come from a variety of places that, that they themselves have a sight impairment. So JAWS, Touchological, and VDA and Yahoo. I mean, these are things that many people in our own field will know. There’ll be panel discussion and question , and answer times with topics. So this is an opportunity for students or educational professionals to ask questions, things like bringing up coding concepts. And how do you do web design with HTML or understanding what Quorum is, or how do we introduce Python then gonna be a section of the day where we actually split the learning space. We have students and learners going into one space and educators going into another space at the same time. Now educators will really be engaged in discussing about the teaching and providing access to students regarding that day’s topic. Whereas the students will be engaged in an activity of learning about that day’s topic as a TVI, depending on , uh, what’s going on during that day, I might choose to go into the student section because I’m supporting students in my class. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m making sure my students can participate in the student section. If I don’t have students that day, I might choose to go into that educator session and learn a little bit more about what I can do to provide access to students. And then additionally, there will be a portion of the, where students and teachers who have chosen to do and engage in our sample lessons. They’ll actually be able to talk about those sample lessons and truly if a listener has not found those yet, they should take a look and get involved.
Sara Brown: 6:53
Now I understand there’s a , there’s something new this year. There’s gonna be locations throughout the country that are gonna conduct coding activities beforehand. Can you talk about that?
Leanne Grillot: 7:04
So they’re going to be engaging, not only in some of the sample lessons that we have provided to everyone, but they also have ongoing education happening right now, meaning they were doing this without us saying, Hey, we’re having a Coding Symposium. And so we wanna be able to highlight what’s actively going on out there in educational places. So that’s what they will be doing. Now. Some of the locations that we have, we have the California School for the Blind, the Washington State School for the Deaf and Blind and the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. And that’s just to name a few, a really, truly, you could be a participant, meaning anyone out there that’s listening to this podcast could actually be a participant by engaging in these activities and then talking about it during the session, during the Coding Symposium.
Sara Brown: 7:54
And can you talk more about the opportunities that are out there that you want the listeners to know?
Leanne Grillot: 8:00
Well, besides the great lesson plans, then I can’t say that enough, these were active educators that put these together thinking with students in mind. So that’s definitely something to tap into whether it’s now, or maybe you’re not ready to do it, but wanna get ready for , um, the , uh , week of code that’s done in December for all students keep that in my, but there’s also scholarships that are going to be posted for high school and college students pursuing a career in the stem fields. So this is another way to make sure our students are involved and maybe they’re not of that age, but they realize that there’s this , um , funding to help support them in their education.
Sara Brown: 8:40
Okay. And can you tell us where listeners can go if they wanna sign up and participate?
Leanne Grillot: 8:46
So if you can remember, you could do www.aphconnectcenter.org/coding/ , or if you’re a Google or internet browser, if you type in “APH Coding Symposium,” it’s usually the first link that comes up. So those are two easy ways to be able to sign up. Register registration is free, it costs you no money, and you have the opportunity to register for all five days, or you can pick and choose based on the schedule or the code. That means the most to you. If you think learning about four different ways to engage students in this , uh, activity, then maybe you just pick HTML. You wanna learn a little bit more, you pick that day to attend . So that’s the nice thing about registration this year is you can pick any of the days to register for or all of them , if that’s what you like.
Sara Brown: 9:40
And Leanne, is there anything else you’d like to say before we, we conclude?
Leanne Grillot: 9:45
I am hoping to see people from around the United States, but I’m gonna say also around the world, we had international attendance last year and I sure hope everyone comes to join us.
Sara Brown: 9:57
Thank you so much Leanne for joining us on Change Makers.
Leanne Grillot: 9:59
Thank you. Talk to you later, Sara,
Sara Brown: 10:02
And we have put a link to the Coding Symposium in the show notes. Now we’re gonna talk to someone who is leading Coding Symposium activities beforehand, and a Coding Symposium presenter. We have Maryland School for the Blinds Technology and LEGO Engineering Instructor, Gina Fugate , and APH’s Senior Software Engineer Technology, Product Research, Ken Perry. Hello, Gina and Ken , and welcome to Change Makers.
Ken Perry: 10:37
Hey, thanks. Thanks for having us on.
Gina Fugate: 10:39
Yeah, thank you for having us. Hello.
Sara Brown: 10:41
Thanks so much for coming on. Can you talk about why coding is important for students?
Ken Perry: 10:48
So , uh , I’ll jump in first since I , I do this as a living , uh, I mean, first it can get you a good job, but more importantly, it can make any job. You do easier. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a math teacher or if you’re , uh , doing books at a , um, college, or if you’re an administrator of some company being able to code in some fashion, whether it be scripting or coding language, it can, and really speed up a lot of your work. We just had a problem here at work where we had over, I think it was 800 emails we had to sort through and it , and we had to figure out which one were good and which one sort bad. And just knowing how to code was made it, the job so much easier for my administrator because she was able to script it and actually get whatever the 600 good emails outta the bad ones. And that’s the kind of little thing that people don’t plan on. It’s like, I’m not planning to be a programmer, but it comes out that the programming really helps.
Gina Fugate: 11:54
So Computer Science is, is actually being considered , um, a form of literacy because computer science is everywhere. And I believe that’s been hashed by CSTA, the Computer Science Teachers Association and, and other areas. Um, we know that Computer Science is , um , being emphasized in kindergarten through 12th grade. So if that’s going to happen within our schools, then we need to make sure that all of our students understand it and get to have access to it that everybody gets to play. Um, not to mention that Computer Science is really running our world and the phones that we have in our pockets, all of our “Madame A” devices , uh , is what we call them here so that we don’t do the activation word , um, for some of the assistance . Um, but we really, we just need everybody to, to be a part of that.
Sara Brown: 12:52
And can you talk about the process of teaching code to students or how would one do so
Gina Fugate: 12:57
I’ll jump in first for that one , um, to teach coding to students. I think the first thing to do is to make it meaningful. So to make it meaningful, they need to understand how it is present. Um, so I really just kind of touched on that with phone and , um , things like Siri, all of the digital assistants , robotics, once they understand that that’s part of what makes that happen, then let’s show them some actual code and go through it and help them to be able to do it and to do their own projects. One of the most exciting moments for, or my students was when they used Quorum to, to do a project that was Popeye’s Chicken versus Chick-fil-A. And they, they were able to make the buttons work. They could make it say the name of, of the chicken. And they could also pick on the person who didn’t like their favorite type of chicken , but that’s meaningful to those students. So whether they become software engineers or whether they just walk away understanding that that’s how it works. Um, that’s how I approach computer science and making it meaningful and , um, something that they can access and do independently.
Ken Perry: 14:14
Yeah, I think I totally agree with that. Uh , but as for approaching it, I also think I’d like to add, you know, starting out, it’s not all about Computer Science , uh , when I’ve talked a couple people, they , uh, the , the main thing is they need to understand their computer and coding kind of attaches onto that in the end. But if you don’t know to use your screen reader , if you don’t know how copy files, if you don’t know how to get to the console and do , uh , things like that, it makes learning to code difficult. So it’s important to get them really into their computers. Um, and that’s why sometimes it’s difficult when kids learn to code on an iPad , uh , with like swift-like playground tools and stuff. When they get to wanting to really code, you’re gonna have to have a more , uh , PC system, like a Mac or , uh , windows or Linux . And so knowing how to get in touch with your screen reader is real , really important , um, to follow up with , uh , what Gina said was , um, I think it’s important to point out , um, what coding can do for , uh , blind and low vision children. Um, one of , one of the big things, if you notice a lot of software just isn’t accessible, well, if you learn Python, you can adjust your screen reader to make it work with apps better. Um, or you can make a app or a script to make things like creating PowerPoints easier. Uh, you can make an app script to , uh , make things like creating tables and documents easier. So you can control your world instead of having to about companies correctly making software, because that doesn’t always happen.
Sara Brown: 15:59
Ken, as a software engineer, what do you keep in mind when developing coding products for children? Is there something that you kind of always make sure to have?
Ken Perry: 16:09
Well, you know, I , um , I love this question because I’m not sure, or I keep a lot more in mind when I’m developing software for children as I do adults or seniors, because children, as we know those of us who are really old, we know we, we were always letting the 14-year-olds and 12-year-olds program, our VCRs or our time devices and stuff, because they catch on a lot quicker than we do as we get older. And so one of the things when we’re making software of any kind, the main goal is to make it. So when you open that software up, it should be like an iPhone or an Android experience where you run the app up in whether it be windows or iPhone or anything. And the screen you see helps you complete the task you do. And a lot of software isn’t like that. It’s getting more that way. Now that we’ve seen how useful these phones can be more and more Windows apps and Mac apps , uh, internet apps are becoming where you open them up and it’s like , uh , here’s what you need to do to do the task you’re doing. So the trouble is though with blind and visually impaired students using apps that we develop, you can’t see the whole screen at once. So you have to kind of bring them to the focus and give them some extra indication so that they can get to the information. And that’s not always easy. Uh , but that’s kind of where we , uh, try to put a lot of our time is to make things more , um, UN visually friendly so that you can actually find the task you’re doing when you open the app.
Sara Brown: 17:47
And can you talk about how you got introduced to code?
Gina Fugate: 17:50
I can jump in with that one. Um, I had no intention to get into Computer Science. I came to Baltimore, Maryland, to be a technology teacher. And in that context, it was what Ken was talking about with , um, helping students to learn screen readers, different screen readers, different types of techs, so that they would have those foundational skills that they need. And then towards the end of my first year here at MSB, the, the teacher who was deeply involved in recruiting me, had another opportunity somewhere else. And he left. And that means that their position was oh open . And they happened to be the , uh , coach for the Dot Five U Dogs, which is a first LEGO league team. So the students didn’t want that to stop. And no one was stepping up to take that position when the position was advertised. Aren’t just looking for a teacher that visually impaired, they mentioned robotics and engineering. So when no one was applying and , um, I was sort of left behind saying, “oh my gosh, what’s gonna happen?” “Are we gonna find another technology teacher?” It kind of was just an epiphany of, maybe I need to step up and, and see what I could do with this. The students were so excited about always going to competition. So first LEGO league is nationwide and actually an international competition. So when the dot five Udo go and they compete, they’re competing against teams with typical vision. And because of the students, I got roped into computer science. Um, it also had happened that my first year with the Dot Five U Dogs, we had students who had to use the screen readers. It didn’t matter if I tried to magnify things up on a smart board vision was, was not an option and that wasn’t going to help us out. I also have Retinitis Pigmentosa, I , I couldn’t handle and all of the , the work arounds, it just wasn’t accessible. So we started on this journey of trying to make it accessible and learning about the, the problems with programming environments that aren’t friendly with screen readers, that don’t work with brow displays and fast forwarding a couple years, we continue you to problem solve . And eventually , uh, we embraced Quorum LEGO robotics, and that’s just changed everything for us. And we’ve been involved in it when it was using sod beans. And now we’re involved in it where it’s using Quorum Studio, which is completely accessible. We can use command keys, we can jump all over the place. We can access the codes. So I’m not typing anything for the students. I’m not transferring anything for the students. They are able to do it. So it’s all about the kids. And , uh, that’s what roped me in. And then I, I really love this field. So it’s, it’s a privilege to be able to work with these students and to continue to learn. And it’s a really supportive and community overall, too.
Ken Perry: 21:01
Uh, I started out when I was in high school with a , um , Atari basic class, and I did things like the old 10, 20, 30 programming languages with basic. So this was quite a while ago. Uh , and that was when I was cited . Um, so I went into the Air Force doing electronics. And when I lost my sight and retired from the Air Force , um, they, they kind of said, well, you’re done with electronics. And I wish I would’ve known that I could do electronics though , but I went back to college and I took a degree in Computer Science, Software Engineering, and , um, finished that, got that. And , uh, that’s kind of how I got back into coding, but mean, I did start coding when I was really young on a Vic 20, you know, which is a black, I had a black and white , uh , TV screen and just a computer little keyboard. And that’s how I started coding. I coded a little palm game. Um, but you know, I had to get back into it because electronics wasn’t as , uh , accessible. Um, I found out later and , uh , now I , I even do electronics and stuff, but , um, mainly that’s how I got back into it. I started coding , uh , for a com well , uh , I started teaching Windows in Canada for a company, and then I ended up starting a computer club. And when I saw the job come open at APH , um , I just jumped on it because Larry Souchon was , uh , the current director there. And I had used ASAP, which was his screen reader all through college and stuff. And when I got the chance to work for him, I , I jumped on it. But during the interim , I also , uh , code my own commercial game since , uh , 1995. And it’s still up online. Uh , people still do play it, but we don’t have the same amount of players because in ’98, when , uh , games like “Wow” and stuff started popping up, the tech space games got a lot less players because side of people , uh, you know, switched over to playing visual games. So we still run and I still have other servers out there that I coded. And there’s a lot of , um, uh , blind users that still play the games. But , uh, you know, I, I kind of code that on my hobby side and then I also do open source coding. And so, I mean, that’s kind of how I got into it is just from birth. I well , not birth, but so it’s one let’s see a about , uh , seventh grade I guess, is when I really started. And , uh, it’s, it’s a kind of a love thing because it doesn’t matter if I’m working at, at home, I’m always coding something for something. And , uh, it’s a , it’s a lot of fun.
Sara Brown: 23:44
Nice Gina. I understand you’re leading a site, that’s conducting coding activities before the symposium. Can you talk a bit about what you’re doing?
Gina Fugate: 23:52
So Amanda Rodda and I have been collaborating, she’s actually written the Quorum activities for the symposium. Um, there is a beginner’s track, and then there is an advanced track. Um, we will be working with students regionally , um, ahead of time to do those activities. And it’s designed for anyone to be able to jump in and participate. So it’s really exciting. You don’t even have to have Quorum studio, even though I love Quorum studio, you can use the , um, the online environment , uh , which is newly updated and on the Quorum website and we’re giving code and guiding through all of the lessons. So I’m really excited about that opportunity , um, and grateful to continue to, to work with Amanda. Who’s one of my core mentors. Um, we also serve on the Quorum curriculum committee and help with content for the quo language.com website. So it’s, it’s always busy, but we welcome everyone to participate in those activities. If you’ve never done Quorum, if you’ve never done programming , um, there’s, , there’s every reason to jump in and try it. Now you have the support and we can certainly , um, help anyone with questions or things that they have. And again, I wanna emphasize that it’s all accessible with screen readers. It’s a , a solid, accessible and usable programming environment.
Sara Brown: 25:27
Ken, during the Coding Symposium, you’re a panelist and a presenter. Can you give us a peek about what you plan to say to all the participants?
Ken Perry: 25:36
Yeah. So , uh, I can, I can give you a Henter by just giving you the title. Um, it’s destroying Ophidiophobia. So in short, that’s destroying the fear of snakes. Um, and that’ll give you a Henter of what I’m gonna be talking about, but it’ll also be kind of, I wanna run this a little different , uh, I don’t wanna make it boring and just talk about a programming language. I’m going to kind of start out and see what , uh , people have to ask about. And , um, just, you know, since , uh, I didn’t give it clear enough , uh , I’m gonna be talking about Python for about 50 minutes and , uh, I’m gonna give everybody at the beginning, you know, the chance to ask any questions, because a lot of the time the problem , uh, blind students have blind and low vision students have with Python are not really problems. They are , um, problems that kids think are problems. So I want to kind of go through Python, getting it going and getting started with Python. And , uh, you know, if there’s some advanced people that have questions, we’re gonna go over, anything people ask about, or I have a whole, you know , um, outline that I can go through. So my point is to make it as interactive as possible. So come and ask questions , uh , get involved. And, you know, if you have to make statements, that’s probably gonna be allowed. So that’s my presentation. Uh , and then I’ll be on a, a panel with some other coders. Uh , we’re gonna be there to ask , answer questions for students that are really looking at becoming programmers in the future.
Gina Fugate: 27:16
And Sara, if I could add a couple details , um, the beginner’s track is focused on an escape room , a mad lib style . Um , and , and the advanced , um, lesson is focused on , um, beginning to learn how to program a game .
Sara Brown: 27:35
All that. Yeah, go ahead.
Ken Perry: 27:37
Yeah. I’d like to put a little more in that. Uh , it’s funny that you mentioned the beginning is to, you know, program a game , a , uh , the students I have taught , uh , when you say , uh , make programming useful to the students. The easiest way to do that is to get them into writing games. Uh , my first student , uh , with Python , um , had their first game after their fourth lesson and , and it was a, and most of the first lessons was just , uh , understanding how the screen reader results and stuff came out. So the programming lessons were shorter than the learning to use your computer lessons. And , uh , the first game , uh , I still have it, it’s pretty fun to play. Um, and , uh, so I mean, I was kind of a may said how much the student did with only input statements, if statements and loop statements. And , uh, he was able to write a full game and, and with sound , uh , it was pretty impressive.
Sara Brown: 28:38
Is there anything else you all would like to say?
Ken Perry: 28:41
Well, I think in general, since I was , uh, uh, involved with the last symposium and , uh , we’re trying to make this more interactive and even more informative than the last time. So I would ask anybody who’s going to be coming , uh, to bring questions, be ready to ask us stuff, because the more interactive you can be, the more informative we can be and the more fun the symposium could be. So I can’t wait to see everybody at the symposium. And , um, we’ll see you there.
Gina Fugate: 29:13
I guess I would add , um, that, you know, when I teach Quorum, it’s sort of a beginning place for a lot of students. It’s definitely not the ending place and something else that I’ve been trying to emphasize lately, in case we have people attending who are not blind or visually impaired, is that they can use quo. They can code with people who are blind. It doesn’t really matter the language it’s about making the experience accessible and inclusive, and we are making leAPH and bounds with more and more tools that are accessible. So if you are a person with typical vision and you wanna help kind of move this forward , um, you know, get to know the tools that are accessible and be inclusive. And as I like to say, celebrate it. So the, the National Coding Symposium by APH is definitely something to celebrate , um , any of the information that Ken shares and other people. We really just need to lift that up so that we can get the recognition from the different companies and help them to think in an inclusive way as well.
Sara Brown: 30:26
Thank you both so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Gina Fugate: 30:29
Thank you for having us.
Ken Perry: 30:31
Great . Yeah. Thanks for having us.
Sara Brown: 30:36
Now. I have Center for Assistive Technology Training, also known as CATT, trainer, Jason Martin, here to talk more about some of the site projects. Hello, Jason, and welcome to Change Makers.
Jason Martin: 30:49
Hey, thank you. Thank you for having me
Sara Brown: 30:52
Now. Can you talk just briefly about how CATT and APH are connected?
Jason Martin: 30:58
Sure. So unlike the name implies, we don’t house felines in, in our building, although it might be kind of cool. Uh, the CATT program is the Center of Assistive Technology Training, and we cover the entire Southeast region of nine states and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And we are a partnership between the American Printing House for the Blind and the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. And of course, those guys are located in Louisville, but AIDB is located in Talladega, Alabama. And so we’re a partnership between these two agencies to bring training APH products and generally knowledge of assistive technology to , uh, TVI’s, students and consumers all around the Southeast.
Sara Brown: 31:42
And can you talk about your work as an Assistive Technology Trainer?
Jason Martin: 31:47
So what do you not do as an Assistive Technology Trainer? Like it’s, it , it really is open ended . And of course with like, with the partnership between APH and CATT, an emphasis is on APH products and going through thoroughly with individuals, like one-on-one training of how to , they can better use these products, but at , is like this big expansive term. And it covers everything. So from digital document accessibility to “embossing like a boss ,” um, or just, I’m a huge proponent of entertainment for people with visual impairment. So that’s, that’s a subject that I, I harp on on. I don’t think we do enough stuff, you know, like it’s always good to have more than I love reading. I love books, but it’s, it’s great to have anything additional that, that we can get in. So , uh , and one of my loves and I , I can’t leave without saying my , probably my biggest love here is working with transition age youth. So like high school youth and working with STEM and high school youth , uh , to create creative programs, to get these kids interested in going into stem fields or college fields . So it’s, it’s, it’s a lot of stuff , um, kind of rolled up into one .
Sara Brown: 32:59
I understand, I understand CATT is going to be a site. Can you talk about what lessons you plan to teach as part of the Coding Symposium?
Jason Martin: 33:09
Yes. Yes. So you caught me in the middle of all of this, which is great. Um, I’ve been, I’ve had a week of, of coding class classes with the students at the Alabama School for the Blind. So I’ve got 25 blind and visually impaired , uh, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I , I might be a little insane for taking that many kids, but , uh, I love it. I , I have, I’ve really soaked up them, just the , the experience, bringing this to this large group of kids, because most TVs work one on one . Generally we might have more than that, unless you’re in a bigger school setting. So rarely are you gonna have 25 kids diving into Code Jumpers? So we’ve, we’ve been through the first half of the Code Jumper lessons, and we’re going to get through there . We’re not quite there yet. We’re still in the middle of our week, but kids have been learning about sequencing, computer processes and systems looping and threads and coding. And it’s all using not only APH’s Code Jumper, but we also used kind of a product that’s, it starts as early as four , but it really worked for the, the idea of sequencing and that’s APH’s Code & Go Mouse. Like it was a huge success with these students, so that they’ve loved it. Um, and Computer Science really, it it’s all on how you approach it. So Code Jumper is a tool in this computer science class, right? Like it’s, it’s this , the concepts are Computer Science, but really the meat and potatoes. And the thing that we’ve been working with is this Code Jumper. So there’s a lot of unplugged activities that we do , um, to, to describe sequencing, like the order of stuff, we could do something a little lame, like brushing your teeth and what do , what do we do in the morning when we get up? That’s a whole points , but , um, I like to, to kick it up a notch. So we have this , um , activity that hopefully some of the footage will come out from called the dancing machine, where we make a program that that’s all about dancing and the students have different moves in that program or different parameters. And it really helps them kind of get away from a computer, but kind of vision what these activities are. So there’s, there’s a lot of this unplugged stuff with Code Jumper. So it’s, it’s a mix . And I , I , I don’t think the kids have really seen this type of . I don’t think they know how to , um, it’s to comprehend a teacher. That’s a little bit new . , that’s , that’s a lot different, I guess, in that regard.
Sara Brown: 35:42
And you’re doing some of these activities now, what is some of the feedback you’ve received from students?
Jason Martin: 35:49
So what I’ve gotten is, you know, at first, well, I know everything there is you get a gamut of kids, especially with having 25. You get, I don’t, I might not even want to be here today to , I love computers. And is this about hacking and, and, you know, you , you get kind of a mix of both. And I think with, with all of the students, even if somebody hates the word computer, after going through this, they’ve got this recognition of at least some of the basics of computing. And so some, I , I feel like it’s, it’s a kind of a twofold thing. Some kids like the one that’s, well, I’m not sure that I wanna be here. He’s really turned, turned over a leaf. Like he he’s, he’s seen that, okay, this might be something I can use to get a job. This might be something I’m interested in later. And then the kid that wanted to hack the world for nefarious purposes, probably it’s come. I would say the concept for him. And I’m thinking of two in particular in the class, but the concept for him has become a little bit more concrete instead of this and, and a few students, I would say that instead of having this , um, super idea of lasers and robots, it’s, it’s more of, wow, this is what this actually is. And it’s getting them in that thought process too. So it’s kind of weird. It’s going, you know, from the bottom up and from the top up and, and, and overall, I think they’re happy to be exposed to something like this, to it’s new. I think the colors of both Code Jumper and Code & Go Mouse , uh , weirdly enough, like that’s something that I’ve heard a lot of is, you know , uh , I really like the colors. It was bright and colorful and, you know, that was kind of, I didn’t expect that , um, students really find the word “hub” and “pod” hilarious. I’m not sure why , but , uh, the play play pods and pause pods that are in Code Jumper and the Code Jumper hub is hilarious. So I , I , I think that’s great, but overall, I mean, I had students going, asking the, the routine teachers that , that aren’t a guest teacher. Like I am, “Hey, can we get this so we can, we can work on it after Mr. Martin leaves?” And to me, that’s, that’s what I want to hear. That, that , that’s it, if it sparks that interest and it gets one kid to think about that career path, then I feel like it I’ve done my job. So it’s it it’s been great.
Sara Brown: 38:17
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Jason Martin: 38:20
So I I’ll , I’ll be honest with you. What’s kind of incredible about this and it comes full circle. The Alabama School for the Blind is my Alma mater . I graduated from there. So coming back and, and looking at the sixth graders, and I shared a picture of myself in sixth grade, which is , if you could only imagine , um, I , I , I have a visual impairment, but I do not wear glasses right now, but I had these giant Coke bottle glasses. I can say that they were mine. Um, back in the day and the sixth grade photo I’m wearing for some terrible reason, wearing the most God awful suit and tie in this photo. So I look like probably in a , a 60 year old ex banking executive in this photo, ,
Sara Brown: 39:05
We’re gonna blame mom or dad who dressed you.
Jason Martin: 39:07
that that’s right. And so like seeing these same kids that were in that grade and showing them that picture, which it for me still is hilarious. Some of I said, look, I came out okay. And, and I think really connecting and , and , and really coming full circle to knowing I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve been sitting here and, and, and I did express this to them . I said, I wish I , I would’ve given anything to have a, me, a teacher like myself coming in and show me these concepts early to really stick it. And, and at that time we didn’t. And so like, it , it is that nice, like pay it forward to bring this to these students. So for me, that’s, that’s been very fulfilling and seeing just their interactions with Code Jumper is definitely gonna help me as a trainer to train teachers in the future to know these are the ins and outs of the device, and this is what kids will really love or, or not love. So it it’s, it’s been tiring, but it’s been a blast.
Sara Brown: 40:05
Jason, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to join me on Change Makers.
Jason Martin: 40:10
Sara Brown: 40:13
Now I’d like to introduce the keynote speaker that Ted Henter. Henter is a computer programmer and business person he’s actually retired. You might be familiar with one of his inventions, jaws job access with speech. It’s one of the best known speech software packages on the market. Hello, Ted, and welcome to Change Makers.
Ted Henter: 40:37
Hi, Sara. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
Sara Brown: 40:41
Can you tell us about your background? It’s really interesting.
Ted Henter: 40:44
Thank you. I was born and raised in the Panama Canal Zone in Central America. It was like a little piece of Florida just plumped down in a foreign country. I didn’t even know I was in a foreign country until I was about 10 years old. It was very pleasant in the fifties and sixties. I was born in 1950 growing up there. I did a lot of water skiing there , a lot of lakes and rivers around there, and few oceans, 50 miles apart and water skiing. And then in surfing in the , in the early sixties. And then I got a motorcycle when I was 15. And that changed life from then on just all I wanna do is ride and race motorcycles, and that worked out pretty good, but because I grew up , uh, my dad was very mechanically inclined. He was an engineer. His father was a mechanic. I was very interested in mechanical things. Boats, motorcycles, bicycles, cars. We built, a dune buggy one summer. My dad and I. So , uh , I went , I went to college University of Florida to be a mechanical engineer, and that worked out pretty good. And I was racing motorcycles during college, and I was doing pretty good at that too. But the , uh, it was the days of the Arab Oil Embargo, 1973. And all the money went out of motorcycle racing. A lot of motorcycle businesses went out of business. RV companies went out of business. Both companies went our business, the recreational vehicles were, were not much money on . So I, I had odd jobs here and there worked in a hi-fi store. I worked as an engineer, actually at a phosphate fertilizer plant . So things were going great and got married in , uh , 76 , my high school girlfriend. And I was doing quite well in racing. I won the Grand Prix of Canada in 73 was on the pole of Daytona in 74. Second up, Talladega 74. Fourth at Daytona in 78 . So eighth in the Venezuela GP third in the , uh , Guatemala GP , the things, things were going good. And I was enjoying life as a motorcycle racer. Wasn’t making much money, but I was on my way to Spain for the second round of the world championships. And I stopped in England to visit a friend and to meet some new friends one night on the way back to my friend’s apartment, I did not put on my seatbelt . And , uh, I forgot to drive on the left side of the road. So I head-on collision with a British guy. I swerved to the right. He swerved to the left and we, we collided not that fast, maybe 30 miles an hour to be my estimate, cuz we each saw a was happening and slammed on the brakes. Well, my face hit the windshield and broke the windshield. And in those days in England they didn’t require a safety glass. So the , the windshield shattered and it cut up my face and my eyes had 80 stitches in my face and 13 stitches in each . And so that’s pretty much the cause of my blindness. It was my, my fault with the car grass . So I can’t blame anybody by myself. So it took me, oh well had I had two operations on one of the eyes. First one was quite successful, but the retina came off after six weeks. Like what the doctor said might happen because of scar tissue and things were pretty primitive back then, you know, I’m talking 1978 looks like 40 some years ago. This whole thing about reattaching retinas was quite new. So anyway , uh , my second operation was not a success and I knew that when I woke up in the , uh , in the hospital room, I knew then I was, I was blind and was gonna be blind. So I had about 10 minutes of despair and I had a , a warm feeling come over me like a spirit in the room, like an angel. And it , and it gave me an impression that everything was gonna be okay. I , I definitely got that message. I didn’t get it through my ears or my eyes, but it ended up in my brain. And so everything’s been okay since I never, never looked back, never tried to blame somebody else and just decided , well, I just gotta figure out how to make this work, which I did. I went back and I got to the Division Blind Services here in Florida. A counselor advised me to go back to college and be a computer programmer. That was the new thing. Then in the late seventies for blind people, which I did, and I met a friend of a friend, I got a job. I met Dean Blazie when he delivered one of the first talking computers to me. Uh , and we became friends. And after about a year and a half, he offered me a job Dean Blazie, the guy that invented the Braille `n Speak and the Romeo Brallier and all , all kinds of other things. So I worked for him in then in the early eighties learned that’s where I really got my postgraduate learning about computers. I don’t have a degree in computer science, but I, I had a few courses and I, I knew the basics and I learned a lot from Dean and Mike Romeo.
Sara Brown: 46:28
You’ve lost your sight and you’re going back to school. Can you talk about where JAWS, because some of the going back to school sort of put you a on the path to creating something that is still highly respected and still used to this day, which is jaws. Can you talk about the creation of that?
Ted Henter: 46:47
Sure. Well, I worked for Dean for about five years and his business went out of went out of business, Maryland Computer Services. So I had to get a job with Enable Technology as a consultant, as a trainer. And in the process, I met this guy named Bill Joyce. He was blind. He was about my age, maybe a little older. I was , uh , early thirties then. And we became friends and I kept giving him ideas that I would like to do. And he said, well, “lets start a company.” So he’s the guy that said, let’s start a company and create JAWS. And , uh , he paid for it and I ran the company and that’s , that’s pretty much it, but at the time, a lot of people wanna know what , how the JAWS name came about. So of course there was the movie about the shark and the mid seventies, I guess it was. And then there was a product on the market called “Flipper,” which, which reminds me of the PPU , you know, on TV. And one time I was goofing around with a friend. I said, Hey, well, let’s name our product JAWS and eat flipper . And that’s how it started. But nobody liked it at first, not my wife. Didn’t like, it our programmer at the time. Didn’t like it. But after a while, it kind of grew on me and I figured out it could mean Job Access With Speech. So that’s how the name started. And that’s how the company started the company was Henter/Joyce, you know, my name and Bill Joyce’s name. So it was also his idea. We tried to think of some really cool groovy computer name, but they were all taken least the ones we can think of. We just say , well, it’s just an after us. Uh , so that’s how JAWS started. And that was of course, JAWS for Doss in , in the late eighties. So then it was time to do Windows along of our customers were telling us we gotta have Windows. So we started working on Windows, but it was very, very difficult, much more difficult than dos for a variety of reasons. And then in , uh , January of 1995 , we, we released our first version of JAWS for Windows and it was a little unstable admittedly and, but we, but people needed it . So we started selling like hot cakes and , um , over time probably a year or two, we improved it a lot and made it , um , more stable and more effective the way on the way I remember the NFB was given Microsoft static because Windows was so difficult, make accessible and all these small companies were having difficulty making it work. And so Microsoft decided , well, we’ll, we’ll fix that. We’ll come out with our own. What’s known as an offscreen model. That’s the most difficult part, but window screen reader . And they said , well, we’ll do that. And then they get free. And these other guys, the small companies that are making screeners will have a much easier job of it . So they searched around and they, they asked me if I wanted to sell or house screen loan . I said , well , sure. So we sold it to that . They , they , my understanding is they interviewed every , everybody that had an offscreen model and they, they chose ours. And , uh, of course word got out that Microsoft chose JAWS. And then our sales went crazy from there. And there was , uh , one other technical hurdle that back then there was , there was Windows 95 and there was Windows NT , new technology I think, is what it was called. And that was the more secure one. And that’s what the big businesses wanted . The , the airline companies, Social Security, IRS and SA . So nobody had one screener that could work with that. Well , there was a guy up in Boston that had a magnification product, you know, a low vision magnification product that worked with Mt . So we, to him and we bought the secrets from him and with Glen’s help . Well with Glen’s effort, he , uh, saw what was going on there and merged that software in with the child software. So at that point in time, that must have been around 97 or 98. We had the only Windows NT screen reader . Well, that’s the way I remember it . I’m thinking maybe IBM had one, but I , I’m not sure. So that opened up the door for a lot of the government business. Like I mentioned, Social Security, IRS NSA , a lot of the , uh , big companies like FedEx and UPS. Pizza Hut, American Airlines, Hilton Hotels. So we were selling like crazy. And then of course there was colleges, I think at one point we sold, I don’t know how many to the university system in California. And eventually I think every, every university in college and the state system had copies of JAWS in their computer labs. And a lot of other states did that too. Like here in Florida, we were the favored product we weren’t initially, but by the time jaws for windows came out , uh , the folks who in Florida, they make the buying decision. They liked ours the best. And so we, we sold a lot to government agencies, colleges, anybody that needed a screenwriter. They usually got jobs here in Florida and a lot of other states it worked out really good.
Sara Brown: 52:51
So when JAWS is in the market and it’s spreading like wildfire. What was it like when you started hearing feedback?
Ted Henter: 53:02
, that’s a funny question. Cause not all feedback is positive, so, but a lot of feed , even if it’s negative, it’s good. You know, cuz it helps you identify the problems, identify the features that are needed for the next version. So negative feedback is just as good as positive feedback, but it’s the positive feedback that makes you feel good. So we just felt terrific. We started selling a lot of JAWS. We started hiring a lot of people. Uh, we, we were starting to make a lot of money and it just, things were starting to work, you know, because at that point in time it had been 15 years since I got in the business with Dean Blazie. So it it’s not like an overnight success. And then it was 10 years after we started Henter/Joyce that we really started , uh, being successful in the market.
Sara Brown: 54:01
Well, looking back. Okay . So we’re , we , we , we, we we’ve heard where you , how you got to where you are today. So looking back over everything that you’ve done and accomplished and, and with the jaws , um, what unique stories or unexpected barriers did you face while developing that software?
Ted Henter: 54:24
Oh , that’s a good question. Um, I don’t think I mentioned that when I, when I went back to college, there were no talking computers. There were no braille displays in , in 1998 or 99 . Yeah. 98 or 99 . So when I walked into the computer lab, the professor had to ask for volunteers to help me at the computer terminal because I didn’t know how to type and I couldn’t see the screen so I was pretty much stuck, but luckily, you know, I , uh , nice young lady volunteered to help me and she would read the screen to me and I would tell her what to type after a while. I, I learned how to type, not , not very well, but that went on for helping me for two or three different classes. And I forget what the other ones, one , along the way I bought this computer terminal from Dean Blazie, it was one of those very first ones . Actually the Division of Services State of Florida bought it for me. It was $6,000 . That was a lot of money back then, but that’s like $26 ,000 now. So the funny thing is yes, it would talk, but it wouldn’t, it would only spell it. Wouldn’t talk like, and I’m talking now, if I had to type in or read , perform , which is a function call in Cowell , it would go “P E R F O R M” just one letter at a time . It was very frustrating . Very slow . Well , that was one . When , when I first started out, there were no talking computers .
Sara Brown: 56:13
I know you’re not affiliated with jaws anymore, but how does that feel when you hear that? It’s still pretty much the gold standard.
Ted Henter: 56:23
Oh , it feels terrific. Of course. And you know , I , I meet people at the Lighthouse for the Blind. I was just there two weeks ago, the local one Lighthouse of . And I met a bunch of people there that were just ecstatic about JAWS and about meeting me. It it’s a , it’s good of ego boost . And at this point in time, most of what I hear are the , are the good things. I’m not doing tech support , so they’re not coming to me and complaining about certain issues. They , if they meet me or see me or around , you know, they , it’s very nice, positive things.
Sara Brown: 57:03
Looking towards the future . What future innovations or features would you like to see on screen reader, devices or screen reader software?
Ted Henter: 57:15
That’s a good question. And I really don’t know the answer to that cause I’m really not in tune with the issues and the problems I use my, my Windows computer every day . So I , I really can’t speak to the issues of, of Windows in, in this modern day. But I tell you what, what I do see is , uh , everything’s going to the smartphones and as you know, smartphones can do just about anything and Windows PC can do. I don’t like it cuz it doesn’t have a keyboard. And I know a lot of my friends that use, let’s say the iPhone, they like to use an external keyboard. Well, I’ve done that too. What I I’ve applied for a patent on an idea to , uh , overlay a keyboard, not a physical keyboard, but a software keyboard on top of the iPhone or , or the Android and with , uh , a plastic screen over overlay with dots on it, you can basically feel the positions of a numeric path and I’m hoping to develop software that will allow that like we do in JAWS, we have a full size keyboard in windows. You have a numeric pad . You can use that in numeric pad to not only input numbers, but to input screen reading commands like up arrow down arrow, say line next line . So my , uh , hope is to software to over overlay those functions on the smartphone and then add a tactile screen is just a thin plastic screen are available from speed dots already. The speed dots makes these thin plastic screens with the dots, the dots in depth . Awesome in that . So hopefully, so my point is about what the future’s gonna bring. There’s gonna time. I think when we’re, when blind people all too , as well as side people, we’ll be able to use that smartphone for just about everything that you do on a computer. And I , I think that’s, what’s gonna come cause smartphones are so much cheaper and uh , well , you’re just as powerful as the Windows computer. So that’s what I think is gonna happen. That smartphones are gonna be more accessible to blind people. And that’s pretty much it as far as good ideas go. Oh, and what I’ve always wanted to do was since I thought of this math tool, we, we start got button , a math tool , the product was called virtual pencil. I could see that that would be a great product to put on a smartphone. And then the student elementary school, junior high, high school college, and just walk around with it in their pocket. When you get the class, they can do the math is , was to I’d say a braille writer . Well, that hasn’t happened yet. I would still like to do it, but haven’t done it yet. So a lot of these things , I , I’ve just been very, very fortunate to meet the right people and, and learn the right things. One thing I’d like to impart to our audience, which I , I assume are one of the programmers. It’s a great career. You make a , it’s a great career, you have a lot of opportunities working a lot of different , interesting products. And, but I’ve always tried to impart the success or opportunity will come. But when it does strike, you gotta be ready. You gotta be prepared. And by that, I mean, go to school, go to college, learn how to be a programmer, do whatever training you need to do. And just don’t sit there and expect something nice to happen to you . Get ready, cuz it will happen. Like , like in my case, I went to college, even though I already had a college degree, I went back to college cuz I had a new career field and thing . Good things started happening. Uh don’t skimp on your education. Go get some.
Sara Brown: 1:01:48
Thank you so much, Ted, for joining us on Change Makers today.
Ted Henter: 1:01:52
You’re very welcome, Sara. Thanks for the opportunity. Always have a good time talking about the good old days. Thank you.
Sara Brown: 1:02:02
So yes, the Coding Symposium is for all ages. However adults might want something catered just to them. We have APH’s ABID Director Tai Tomasi here to tell us what’s here for adults looking to learn how to code. Hello, Tai, and welcome to Change Makers.
Tai Tomasi: 1:02:18
Hi Sara. Thanks so much for having me today.
Sara Brown: 1:02:20
So what, what is offered for adults that are interested in learning code?
Tai Tomasi: 1:02:25
So around this time, last year I was contacted by someone who was looking for some resources on coding for adults and how she could learn coding , um, so that she could be prepared to do some other mainstream , uh, camps and classes and courses and, and different programs. And some of those programs have some barriers , um, just because they’re not set up to teach blind and visually impaired adults, how to use the software that they have to use in order to access those. So , um , when you’re you , when you’re coding as a blind or visually impaired person, you’re often using additional software and sometimes there are some unique challenges that need to be navigated to do that, to do that work with that software. So , um, because of that inquiry, we developed , um, several classes to address that need and uh, we’ve had great turnout , uh, in the first one in March, we had 256 participants, which is great. And we’re looking forward to our second course, starting in April, which is going to be , um, a continuation of that with a little more in depth programming knowledge.
Sara Brown: 1:03:27
Are there any prerequisites for the participants?
Tai Tomasi: 1:03:30
Yeah, so , um, there are a few prerequisites or expectations that we have for our , uh , participants. Uh, one thing that’s very important is that students need to be able to use their screen access software of choice. So for example, if you are a blind user and you do not use screen modification , but you use , uh , screen reading software , uh , we need you to be fully , um, able to use that software and know all the commands that would get you through , um, any kind of task using that software. Um, same thing with , if you use using magnification , uh , we would wanna make sure that you as a participant understand how to use that magnification software. Um, and, and we go from there. So , um , that’s the basic requirement. Um, certainly people need to be able to , um, devote some time to the classes, maybe a couple hours a week outside of the class to really learn the content. And as we through these , they get a little bit more complex. So , um , making sure that you have the availability to, to devote some time to that, those are the main main requirements. Also, it would be , um, helpful to have internet access. Obviously we’re using the internet for a lot of this. So , um, it’s important to have a computer that can run , um, all of the different programs we’re using, having a computer that’s fairly modern. It doesn’t have to be brand new, but it needs to be , uh, you know, have kind of the , basically the minimum requirements that you need to use the internet and use a screen reading software package or screen magnification.
Sara Brown: 1:04:55
And what’s the goal for those taking the classes? Is it, you know, are you thinking for them to maybe look into that career field or maybe take on more tasks at their current place of employment?
Tai Tomasi: 1:05:07
I think the goal is whatever the person wants it to be. It could be , um, for learning something to embark on a new career. Certainly we envision this as very career oriented. However, it could also be , um, something people are learning as a, as an enthusiast, a computer , um , enthusiast , uh , someone who wants to do this on the side or maybe as a different , uh , different job. But yes, we did envision it as , um , something that could lead to more career opportunities for participants.
Sara Brown: 1:05:34
And if, if an adult out there is interested in learning co where can they go if they want additional information?
Tai Tomasi: 1:05:40
Um, we have, these courses are posted on our social media channels. Um, there will be an upcoming announcement coming out on our APH , um , all of our APH social media channels. And then those who have already registered for the class before , uh , you will get another email. We’re building an email list for that, so that people will be notified of new offerings in this arena. So , um, just check with APH social media channels, wherever you find them , um , Twitter, Facebook , um, all , all the places that we post and that information will be shared , um, in the very near future for the April class , uh , sometime this week.
Sara Brown: 1:06:18
Okay. Tai. And is there anything else you would like to add about this wonderful program?
Tai Tomasi: 1:06:24
Well, please feel free to contact me here at APH. If you have any questions on anything that we’ve talked about today , um, you can reach mat accessibility@aph .org .
Sara Brown: 1:06:35
Awesome. Ty, thank you so much for coming on.
Tai Tomasi: 1:06:38
Thanks so much for having me
Sara Brown: 1:06:41
I’ve put links to the Coding Symposium as well as more information on those classes. Ty was just talking about in the show notes. There’s also additional JAWS links in there as well. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers as always be sure to look for ways you can be a Change Maker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Changemakers a Potcast from APH. We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Changemakers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown. And today we’re talking about arts and crafts. In addition to March being Women’s History Month. It’s also National Arts and Crafts Month. So today we’ll learn about what APH products, new and legacy-wise that help users learn about music and those that help users learn how to create art. We’re also gonna check in with InSights Art and its upcoming submission deadline. Up first, we’re gonna talk about, Feel the Beat, a classic APH product that teaches students Music Braille Code by focusing on reading, playing , and memorizing measures through the use of a soprano recorder. We have APH’s Independent Living Orientation, Mobility, Product Manager, Laura Zierer, here to talk to us about the product. Hello, Laura, and welcome to Change Makers.
Laura Zierer: 1:11
Hi, thanks for having me on.
Sara Brown: 1:13
Tell us more about Feel the Beat?
Laura Zierer: 1:15
Yeah. I’d love to , um , Feel the Beat is a curriculum designed to teach and learn the Music Braille Code using the soprano recorder. So a lot of people have asked why we centered this around the recorder and recorders are really easy instruments to learn how to play. They have a very small range of notes and student peers will likely be learning to play that instrument in their music class as well. The curriculum includes familiar tunes for the student to read, write, memorize, and play.
Sara Brown: 1:48
How does Feel the Beat help students participate in a general education music course?
Laura Zierer: 1:55
Well, music literacy is an important part of literacy. The curriculum will not only teach the students the Music Braille Code, but it will also supplement what the student is learning in their music class. What’s so great about Feel the Beat is it makes teaching the basics of the Music Braille Code, a lot more approachable for the teachers.
Sara Brown: 2:17
Where can teachers or parents get, Feel the Beat?
Laura Zierer: 2:20
Feel the Beat is available on the APH website. It is available for purchase using Federal Quota funds.
Sara Brown: 2:30
Now I just mentioned Music Braille Code. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Laura Zierer: 2:34
Absolutely. Um , the Music Braille Code is a linear representation of music notes, tones values, and so on. Um , print music is the music staff , as we all know to indicate all of those different things. Um, but having access to the Music Braille Code allows students to read all of the nuances of a piece of music that maybe they’re not able to pick up when they’re just playing by ear.
Sara Brown: 3:02
And I understand we have Music Braille Flashcards. That’s another item on the Music Braille Code. Can you talk about those?
Laura Zierer: 3:10
Yeah. I developed the Music Braille Flashcards in response to the lack of resources available for teaching the Music Braille Code. Uh , originally I designed those to supplement Feel the Beat. However, the flashcards do include many additional terms that students might be exposed to as they move forward with music education, including things like composition and band class , uh , learning, you know, different things about their instruments .
Sara Brown: 3:41
And what other APH products would you say help students of various abilities engage in music?
Laura Zierer: 3:48
You know what? I actually just recently sifted through our catalog of products, looking for some out of the box ideas to make music education, more inclusive , uh , Picture Maker Wheatley Tactile Diagramming Kit and TactileDoodle, or two of our , our products that can be used to create tactile representations of print music components. This allows students to understand how music is represented in print and familiarizes them with some of the terms they will encounter in a general education music class. You can easily create these , um, you can easily , you can create and music braille activities using manipulatives, braille labels, and a braille writer . For example, I’ve, brailled a few songs onto braille labels and then affix the notes to manipulatives that I pulled from the hundreds board. Um , these manipulatives can then be applied to the loop material surface of a Picture Maker Wheatley Tactile Diagramming Kit or any other surface that we sell that belongs to a kit. Um, and you can use them for a variety of activities. Um, additionally, the Joy Player is another great tool to get students involved , um, who lack the ability to stay or to play the instrument and honestly finding a way to include students of all abilities. It can really be tricky, but it can absolutely work.
Sara Brown: 5:08
One more question. I was researching Feel the Beat and, oh my gosh. I saw that it won, a couple of awards when it came out. Can you talk about the recognition that received?
Laura Zierer: 5:19
Yes, actually the author Christine Short , um, she did receive an award for this curriculum that was turned into Feel the Beat. She is the, the author , um , that is credited to this product and yeah, it did really great. And I , I think that part of that is the lack of resources that are out there for teaching the Music Braille Code. It really filled a need.
Sara Brown: 5:43
Right , right . Thank you so much for coming on Change Makers today, Laura.
Laura Zierer: 5:46
All right . Thanks so much.
Sara Brown: 5:51
In addition to Feel the Beat we have APH’s Multiple Disabilities Product Leader, Tristan Pierce , here to talk about another APH classic product that encourages children to enjoy music and listen to audio books . That’s the Joy Player. Hello, Tristan, and welcome to Change Makers.
Tristan Pierce: 6:07
Hi, thank you so much for having me back again.
Sara Brown: 6:11
So talk to us about the Joy Player?
Tristan Pierce: 6:14
Um, sure. Uh , the Joy Player is a personal music player that plays digital music , um, that is either in the MP3 or the WAV format. Um, if you accidentally download MP4 files , you will need to convert them to MP3. Now the, the Joy Player has a great story. So , um, all through development, we called it the “Personal Music Player” because we couldn’t settle on a name that we felt did it justice. So prior to field testing, I took the prototype to the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville , um, to pilot it with some learners who have visual and multiple impairments. So , um, while they’re teachers and , and they learned to use the prototype, I took tons of photographs. And then after I returned to Louisville and I sorted through the photographs, I saw faces with wide open eyes and smiles from ear to ear. When it dawned on them that they were in control, they could turn the music on and off. They could change from one song to another song. Their faces showed pure joy. It was a no brainer to name the personal music player, the Joy Player.
Sara Brown: 7:32
And what demographic is this geared toward ?
Tristan Pierce: 7:35
Well, the Joy Player can be enjoyed by any one , but it is designed specifically for individuals of any age who experience challenging motor skills in their upper extremities. So this includes those with cerebral palsy who may or may not have cognitive disabilities. Uh, let’s see, not all is Joy Player great for young learners who have visual and multiple impairments, but it’s also valuable to an adult who has survived a cerebral vascular accident, or what most of us would call a serious stroke.
Sara Brown: 8:13
How does Joy Player work?
Tristan Pierce: 8:15
For the majority of our young learners who have visual and multiple play and impairments , um, it attaches to a tabletop or a wheelchair tray using two-sided hook and loop strap, and the teacher or the parent has to download media content in either the WAV or MP3 format that I mentioned earlier onto a digital talking book cartridge using a USB cable, both of which come with a Joy Player. And , uh, the Joy Player has five button switches across the top. That work exactly like an old fashioned cassette player. So the center button switch is the “play pause” button. Immediately to the left, is the “previous song” button and right of the center on the other side of the play pause button is the “next song” button. And then on the far left is the “volume down” button switch. And on the far right is the “volume up” button switch. The front of the Joy Player has this shoot that attaches , um, on the front while it’s adhered to the front. And it helps guide the user when they’re trying to insert the digital talking book cartridge, and then the button switches are they’re approximately two inches in diameter. So if an individual’s motor skills do not allow the precision required to activate a single button, we have , uh , included external switch jacks in the back of the player. So this means that it accommodates five different external switches, one for each button. So if one’s only ability is to swipe sideways, they could use a stick switch. That would be a great choice , uh, to accommodate individuals who require less visual or cognitive complexity. We included solid black , uh, button covers , um , which match the black top of the Joy Player. So it can be used with just one button or , um , then which would be typically your play pause button or with just three buttons choosing between the , um , volume buttons or the music selection buttons. So in one last thing , the Joy Player can be used with an environmental control unit, such as APH’s Power Select to accommodate direct activation latch activation, or time, seconds, and time to minutes activations.
Sara Brown: 10:54
I understand there’s a new offering to assist some Joy Player users. Can you talk about the recently launched Joy Player Cartridge Holder?
Tristan Pierce: 11:03
Yes. Yes. I’m happy to talk about that. Uh, the Joy Player Cartridge Holder is an assisted device that people can 3D print. So once printed the media cartridge slides into it. So we , we hope individual may possibly benefit from using , um, either of the two styles we design two styles of, of this one is like a screw on style. You have to screw your digital , uh , cartridge into it. And the other one you can just , uh , slide , uh , uh , top over it and that holds it in place. So we have two different styles depending on what you would like to use. So , um, it we’re hoping it will help the , um, users who may have like fisted hands , um, to help participate more in the, the pushing to push the, the cartridge into the player or in the pulling movement to then remove the cartridge. So the, the files are available for free on APHS tactile graphic library. If , if people know about APH’s tactile graphics , image lies . And of course, if you do download these files, you are going to have to have access to a 3D printer in order to make them, but this is such a small incidence population, you know, that , um, trying to us to manufacture them , wasn’t quite, you know, feasible to do. So if you find you have a student to may possibly need these , um, they are available for 3D printing.
Sara Brown: 12:39
For anyone interested, can you tell us where they can buy Joy Player?
Tristan Pierce: 12:45
Um, well, it is available online through APH’s shopping site, which , um , I think most people might know that it’s APH.org , um , or by calling , um , our toll free number 1-800-233-1839, and talking with an APH uh , Customer Experience Representative , um , they can get one to you and the Joy Player is Federal Quota eligible.
Sara Brown: 13:14
And is there anything else you’d like to say about Joy Player?
Tristan Pierce: 13:18
Um, yes. I would like to say that besides having the Joy Player Cartridge Holder available on the Tactile Graphic Image Library, APH also has files there to 3D print the face of the Joy Player button , uh, button switches. So you can 3D print the front of the play pause or the front of the volume up volume down, stuff like that. You can actually make 3D printouts of those buttons and what people use those for . Um , and so communication partners can adhere them to a tactile connections communication card. So that way a non-verbal learner can request the Joy Player by using the card in their calendar system . So we, we have an another whole set of , um, all that you can 3D print in relationship to using the Joy Player with APH’s Tactile Connection Communication System.
Sara Brown: 14:26
Wow. That’s so that’s so cool. The 3D printing and the fact that, that the Joy Player can help make that happen.
Tristan Pierce: 14:31
That’s yeah. Yeah. And, and if anyone is interested , uh , we have three videos online showing the Joy Player, but one shows a toddler with , uh , with dad. Another shows an elementary student with his teacher doing his personal music player routine, which is following along the guidelines of APH’s Sensory Learning Kit. And then our third video shows several adults with their Zoom group, direct support professionals. And if you just search , uh , do a Google search, Joy Player video, all three of these videos will pop up so they can watch them .
Sara Brown: 15:11
What other products are there outside of music? I know there’s a couple, we got the Paint Pot Palette, Paint by Number Safari series. Can you talk about those?
Tristan Pierce: 15:21
Okay. So the Paint Pot Palette is an , an older product. It has recently been relaunched again, but that is really just to make , uh , the braille instructions and the pamphlet inside of it , um , to make that UEB. Okay . So , uh , if you’re a print reader , um, there’s really no change. It’s the exact same product you have always had. It’s just that if you did want the pamphlet in braille, it is now in UEB. So the Paint Pot Palette is like a plastic tray that holds these little cups in place, and it comes with an assortment of paints, color paints , uh , that all have braille labels. And in your tray, there’s these little areas where tiles can go in and they also have the, the paint number in braille. So if you’ve, if you’ve got like three little cups set up and you’ve got green, yellow, and blue up, the little tiles get put in there to say, this cup is my, my green paint. And this cup is my blue paint. And then it’s also got a , a holder show , hold your , um , paint brushes in . And so it , it’s just a way to provide a stable stationary place to put your paints, your liquids, so that things don’t roll, falling and tumbling all over the place. And then it also comes with an assortment of print and line drawings that you can paint now. Um, but that doesn’t mean you have to paint just those, I mean, once you’ve got a paint set, you know, the world is your canvas. You can paint on anything, anything you like there, you know, I do not know where this is, but a number of years back this little boy, I don’t even remember what , um , state he’s from in the school, but I’m sure a search, you could probably find this, but APH , um , always has the , a contest that kids can enter to show what’s their favorite product they’re they’re using. And why is it their favorite product? And one year this little boy won the contest, doing Paint Pot Palette and showing all of his paintings. It was so cute, so cute. So that’s, that’s just a nice product that people can , um, can go to and pretty much use it. And again, it’s one of those that it was designed for its stability, for someone who is visually impaired. But again, it’s something that any child would be happy to use. It is so inclusive, so universal, you know, it’s, it’s just a great thing to have.
Sara Brown: 18:02
What about the numbers? The Paint by Numbers?
Tristan Pierce: 18:06
Yeah. Okay. Paint by Numbers Safari. We started that a number of years ago, and we always said it would be a series of five books, which it is the fifth book in the series is on its way to APH. Right now, I, I have been promised it will be here very soon. So , um , I’m, I’m hoping, I mean, I have my production sample here in my office, but it’s the only one. So our, let me see if I can say all the books from memory. So our first book we did was the “tropical rainforest.” And then after that, I believe we did “under the sea.” Then we did “backyard creatures” then moved into the “desert creatures” and our last and final book, which I’m very excited about is called “endangered creatures.” And one of the big things with it is not only does it teach the idea of , uh , endangered species, but we also offered one or two in there that we prove with, with our diligence and our protection of the environments and everything that we can save some of these endangered species. So we have some in there that have been saved. So that was very important to us. So the Paint by Numbers Safari Series , um , all five books have the exact same number of print and braille pages. They each have 10 raised line print drawings. And then , um, the fun facts, the fun facts are to me , one of the greatest things, the , that that really tied us into a lot of educational standards. So when you’re learning about a particular animal, you’re learning about the geography and their environment , um, you’re learning , um, about science and math. Um , because of course we, we give measurements like how big are they? What are they doing? It’s in, it’s in centimeters and it’s in and inches and feet or whatever, you know? So you’re learning so many things about social sciences, social studies, art, you know, everything. So it’s, it’s really a , an inclusive product that not only everyone can enjoy, but it’s pretty inclusive, which with all the, the subjects of that you may have in school .
Sara Brown: 20:33
And I was just looking at the “desert creatures” the Paint by Numbers desert creatures, and I see the , the Fox and it has the numbers. And I mean, this is something that anybody can do.
Tristan Pierce: 20:44
Oh, yeah. Which is.
Sara Brown: 20:45
Great because I mean, I remember being little and I had paint . I’m sure. I know I had paint by numbers where, you know, it says, number one is red and you paint all the ones red . And like, so this is really nice.
Tristan Pierce: 20:57
Well , and Paint by Number has been around forever and ever, and it never gets old. And because a with each generation of kids, you have, it’s a , a great , uh, a great and fun way to learn organization matching following directions, you know, and one of the main reasons that this this series was created was because, you know, art being the wonderful thing that it is, you know, art has no limits. You can do anything you want in art. You know, you look at Chagall (Marc), you know , he painted people with green faces and, you know, one eye or whatever, and that’s perfectly okay in art, but if you’re visually impaired or blind, it is still important to know what the real world colors are. And that was the main impetus for , um , developing this product. And I would like to give a shout out that both the paint pop palette that I talked about earlier, and the Paint by Number Safari Series APH does that in collaboration with PlayAbility Toys LLC , um , they are a very small American toy company that, you know, specializes in trying to develop , um, nice educational , uh, toys for children that are all in that their products are just all inclusive. Um, APH Rib-It-Ball is also , uh , done , uh , by PlayAbility Toys LLC. Yes.
Sara Brown: 22:30
And is there anything else you would like to say about any of the products we’ve mentioned?
Tristan Pierce: 22:35
Um , well sitting here in my office, my eyes just rested on the Braille Beads, which is a craft product. Um, I’m not sure if everyone knows about the Braille Beads. They they’re little beads that on one side has the print letter on the other side, the raised braille letter, and they come in eight colors. Let’s see if I can say all eight colors and not leave one out. You have white, black, red, green, yellow, blue, orange, and hot pink. So , uh, with the Braille Beads , um, I have Braille Bead earrings in every color. It doesn’t, you know, pretty much doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. I can find a pair of braille earrings to, to wear with them. You make bracelets and necklaces. Uh , I used to coach , um , the KSB swim team for a good number of years in , and I used to make cane fobs for the kids canes because when you’re at a swim meet and they’re all laying their canes up on the bleachers and everything. And then at the end, they’re all trying to find their canes. And it was just easier to have little cane fobs with their names or initials on them . So there’s , um , all kind, you can make, you know, presence for, for people, you know, so it’s just a great way to embrace braille, introduce other people to braille, you know, who knows somebody may see a piece of braille jury find that very intriguing and they pursue a career as a TVI, which we it’d be great. So , um , yeah, Braille Beads is one of my favorite favorite items that we have,
Sara Brown: 24:12
And we will be sure to include links to all the products mentioned in this segment, in the show notes. Thank you so much, Tristan for coming on Change Makers today.
Tristan Pierce: 24:21
Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to come.
Sara Brown: 24:24
And we have an entire blog filled with information about Feel the Beat, Joy Player, and even how to make your own musical instruments. We’ve put a link to all of that in the show notes. For those artists who want to compete, APH has InSights Art. Insights Art is an art contest for artists who are blind or visually impaired, both amateur and professional artists from around the world, enter their artwork in a juried art competition. We have APH’s Special Programs Coordinator, Rob Guillen here to tell us about this program and how you can enter. Hello, Rob, and welcome to Change Makers.
Rob Guillen: 25:08
Thanks , Sara. Happy to be here.
Sara Brown: 25:10
So can you tell us about InSights Art for those who might not be familiar?
Rob Guillen: 25:15
The InSights Art program is an art , um, competition and exhibition for artists who are blind. Um, it is an international contest. It been , um, held every year for about 30 years. In fact , uh, 2022 is our 30th anniversary. Um, we are , uh, the host of the InSights Art competition here in the United States. Um, and it is , uh , a really amazing program that highlights , uh, art that is created , uh , by artists of all ages , um, from all over the world , uh , who happen to have a vision loss and some of the artwork is absolutely amazing and it’s just a way to be able to expose all people to , uh, the kind of work that’s being created , uh , by young , uh , artists and , uh, older artists , um, so that we can become more familiar with the , the kind of work that they do in their career. Um, it is by far one of the most rewarding , uh , programs I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on. And I’m really, really, very pleased to be able to host it again, this , uh, this coming year.
Sara Brown: 26:32
And is there an age range?
Rob Guillen: 26:35
Um, artists of any age can enter the InSights Art contest. Um, so for last year’s competition, 2021, our youngest participant was three and our oldest was in her mid-nineties. So artistic expression really has no age limitations. And , um , that’s a trait that so many people have their entire lives. Uh , we don’t limit who is able to participate. We have nine categories, so will be able to fit into one of those categories to make the judging a little bit easier. Uh , one thing I do like to mention is that artists, of course, must be at least legally blind. That is , uh, they must have a , a corrected visual acuity of 20 over 200 or less in the better eye. That’s usually determined by a Snellen chart. Uh, are a field division that’s 20 degrees or less. Uh , and this would also include individuals who are , uh , what is called FDB that is function at the definition of blindness. And that could be because of a brain injury or some other issue. Uh , for example, an artist who happens to have CVI is very, very welcome to, to participate in the contest
Sara Brown: 27:46
And what kind of artwork can someone submit?
Rob Guillen: 27:49
That’s a great question. Um, artists can submit any two dimensional or three dimensional creative work , uh, that can be something that’s considered traditionally artistic, like , uh , you know, painting sculpture or drawing, or it can be like a craft, something that has been knitted or bead work or woodwork. Um, all of those things are acceptable. Uh, the only things that really don’t qualify are art kits. You know, those are kits where all the pieces are prefabricated and there are instructions on exactly how to put that together . Um , if an artist, however, has done something like unique with the kit, then it would qualify, but something straight out of the box would not. Um , and this is because this is an art contest. So some impulse to creativity needs to be demonstrated. Uh, mostly though , uh, the things that we get are , uh, most of the things we get are qualified. We’re really happy to get them. One of my favorite things I’ll add this is that I love it when an artist upcycles, and that’s when they take something that would be considered trash or recyclable materials, and they create something amazing from it. So they will take, they will make a sculpture out of , um, cans or they’ll make paper flower arrangements from old newspapers, or they’ll create a mosaic from a bag of buttons. Um, I’ve learned talking to a lot of artists that art materials are all around us. So they’re in our garages, they’re in our kitchens, in our gardens. Um, and a really great artist is someone who’s able to do interesting things with anything they find.
Sara Brown: 29:35
And how do you submit a piece?
Rob Guillen: 29:38
Sure. Um, first of all, you have to have a finished artwork and that means that it’s not half finished. Um, sometimes we’ll get , uh , a sketch and we’ll get a note alongside it that says, well, it’s not quite done. Uh, it’ll be finished in time for the exhibit. And unfortunately we really need to , uh, uh , have that piece juried at the same time as everyone else’s. So we only accept , uh , finished artwork and we only accept one artwork per artist per year. Uh , a lot of people think that, you know, they’ll, they’ll go ahead and turn in, you know, five pieces, but unfortunately we’ll have to select one of those for the , um, for the contest. Secondly, you would go to our website, which is insights-art.org. So that’s insights. insights-art.org. And if you click on the link that says, enter the contest, that will take you to a page where there are instructions and entry forms, and you can download them at that location. If you are an adult artist, then you would download the adult entry form. And if you are a student or teacher or a parent , um, and your child or student is interested in entering the contest, then you would download the student entry form. Uh, you also want to download the instructions, just make sure you’re familiar with them. Um , and those are separate from the entry forms this year, and that we just did that to make it a little bit easier when you , uh, send the entry forms to us. Also, one thing I might add is that if you, if, if anyone out there is having any trouble at all downloading, or don’t want to go through that hassle, we are very happy to mail one to you directly. So just ask us a, it’s not a problem. Uh, once you fill out the entry form, you need to make sure that it’s , uh, filled out completely so that we can get all of the accurate artist and artwork information. And that just makes , uh, things like certificates, easier to , uh, produce. There’s not too many corrections that we’ll need to make after. So we would love it if , uh , people can fill out the entry forms correctly. So once the entry form is filled out, you have two ways of sending the artwork in the first way is to mail us the original artwork with , uh , two copies of the entry form. You wanna make sure that when you pack original artwork, that you pack it really well , uh, you wanna make sure that the paint is dry and the glue is dry, and that it’s sturdy enough to travel by mail. The second method for sending artwork is , uh , actually a lot easier. And most people tend to do it this way, which is to send us a digital photograph of the artwork along with one copy of the entry form by email. And you could send that to insights, aph.org . Um , you can also send it to me , uh , in my email@example.com, but it’s easier if you send it to firstname.lastname@example.org . Um, so when you send these digital photographs , um, if your artwork happens to be, for example, a work sculpture, you can send , uh , photographs that have been taken from different angles of the sculpture. If your artwork is more or less two dimensional, it’s meant to be seen from one side and you can take a front shot and maybe one or two shots of really close up details of the, the piece , uh , so that the jurors can actually see closely , uh , your technique, the kinds of materials you made, what have you , uh , the important thing really is to make sure that the artwork, when you photograph it is well lit and that you send us as higher resolution of a photograph as you can manage. That really just helps for clarity. Um , the point is , uh, to get different viewpoints so that the jurors are able to , uh, really , uh, get a sense of your artwork as much as they can. So let me just clarify again. So there’s two ways to send us, send us the artwork. You can either ship it to us, or you could email photographs of it to us. Uh , and either way is acceptable.
Sara Brown: 33:50
Is there a deadline to submit your work?
Rob Guillen: 33:53
There is one coming up. So the deadline for the 2022 season is Friday, April 22nd . Uh , um , so that is , uh , in late spring. Hopefully people are finishing up their pieces and , uh , thinking about , uh , filling in the entry forms, we are already getting a number of entries. So I not only wanna encourage everybody to , uh , enter the contest, but to also consider sending it in , um, as soon as you can. So you’ll be , uh , by the deadline of April 22.
Sara Brown: 34:26
Now, is that just postmarked by April 22? Or is that received by InSights Art by April 22?
Rob Guillen: 34:34
Uh, we need to have received the artwork by April 22. So it needs to be on-site. That’s a great question , uh , because , uh , I wanna make sure , uh , since people are turning in artwork by email that every one of those emails are in by April 22, which means that any physical artwork needs to arrive on the same day.
Sara Brown: 34:55
Okay, great. So listeners, that want to submit, probably need to sort of do some look at a calendar and figure out when you need to get it out. So that’s good to know. Can you talk about some of the work you’ve seen?
Rob Guillen: 35:06
You know, unfortunately I can’t talk about any of the artwork that we’ve received for this season, because it may bias a judge who was listening to this podcast. So we’ve always made it an effort . Uh , we’ve always made an effort over , uh , the many years of the contest to not show the artwork too much that any potential jurors will not say, oh, I remember that piece. Um, you know, I really wish that we had a video camera when we’re opening up the boxes and the emails, because , um, it’s actually really fun. And I know that unboxing videos are somewhat trite, but I find them fascinating. And , uh, one of these days we’re gonna be able to do that. And the reason I like , uh , these unboxing videos is because, especially for insights, it’s like opening up a Christmas present. Um, uh , there are all these beautiful artworks emerging from boxes envelopes. Um, and, you know, though this sounds really hokey. You can actually feel artistic energy coming from the boxes and envelopes. You can just feel all the work , um , that was done the care and the love. Um , it really is very palpable when we are unboxing , uh, and , uh , receiving some of the art artwork . Um, it’s difficult to say if there’s a type of artwork that I personally enjoy, but sometimes the best things come in, little boxes. So little sculptures made by little hands, packed up in a little box, and it’s like a little jewel sometimes. And you’re ex excavating that from packing paper. Uh, and it’s actually really exciting. In fact , um, it is really like receiving a little jewel . Uh , I remember once specifically that , uh , we received this little ring that was made from a twisted golden colored wire. There was a little stone that was attached , uh , to the wire that was the color of a Marine and it just glistened, and it was so tiny and delicate. It was really clearly a ring made for a little finger. Um , and you can tell right away there was a lot of work and love that went into it. And those are the types of things that I love. Um, the same thing with , uh , artwork that comes into your inbox. I can’t tell you , um, how that has brightened up my inbox. I know that sounds sort of funny, but instead of getting endless meeting requests and spam and whatnot , I actually get these photographs of really, really beautiful artwork. And I’m really thrilled , uh, that , uh , we’re able to get them.
Sara Brown: 37:34
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Rob Guillen: 37:38
You know, I’d really like to encourage all our artists out there to sell their artwork. Um , it’s so important to be able to share your artistic creation with people who appreciate it , uh, beauty in all its forms really shouldn’t be limited to a stack in a corner of your house. Uh, it really needs to be out in the world, hanging on the wall in someone’s house, or, you know, displayed on a podium in a gallery, or even even held up by a magnet on the refrigerator door. It’s really important actually, to share that joy with others and to feel you as an artist, to feel the appreciation that comes from your creative work. Um, I also wanted to add that it’s been a real honor to work for InSights Art here at APH. Uh , you know, I definitely stand on the shoulders and giants , uh, and this program really wouldn’t be what it is today without all of those hard working folks who came before me. So for , uh , this year also , uh , have my assistants, me and Nicole, and they really , um, add to the excellence of the program. Uh, one of the things I really love is being able to speak to artists and teachers and to develop those relationships. Um , but mostly like everyone else. I really appreciate being able to hear what the artists are working on. It’s a great reminder because just because someone has a different way of experiencing the world , um, they are not, and should not be excluded from feeling creative, their creative impulses and, you know, implementing their artistic goals. Uh , that’s one of the greatest things about InSights Art is that we are encouraging , uh , anyone with vision loss to consider art as something that they can do in their life. And again, so many young , uh , artists and old artists are told , uh , you cannot, you should not. There’s no reason to why are you interested? And that, of course are not being that we believe here at APH. Uh , we believe very strongly that , uh, life is full and rich and that those with vision loss should be able to experience , um, all of it in all of its forms. So , uh , I always just like to end on that sort of note so that people know , uh, that the insights aren’t program still is really vital and important. Uh, so that’s really to , out of all, I wanted to say,
Sara Brown: 39:58
Thank you, Rob, for joining us today on Changemakers.
Rob Guillen: 40:01
It’s my pleasure. Thank you for inviting us.
Sara Brown: 40:03
And I have put a link to InSights Art in the show notes. So you can quickly access all that information to learn how to submit a piece, or just learn more about the program. And thank you so much for listening to this episode of Changemakers. Again, we’ve put links to some of the APH products mentioned in the show and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Changemakers a podcast from APH. We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Changemakers I’m APHS public relations manager, Sara Brown, and we are celebrating Women’s History Month and we are talking to a true change maker in every sense of the word. And that change maker is Ever Lee Hariston. Miss Hairston came of age during a pivotal time in us history and is here to share her story of living on a plantation marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to trials and tribulations stemming from her undiagnosed eye issues to finally getting a diagnosis and how attending an NFB conference changed her life. Hello, Ever Lee, and welcome to Change Makers.
Ever Lee Hairston: 0:55
Sara Brown: 0:57
So I have done some background research on you and oh my goodness. You are a true change maker in every sense of the word you have one heck of a story. So to talk about that, we’re gonna go, we’re gonna talk about some of the major moments of your life, but we’re gonna go back to your childhood. Can you talk about where you were born and raised? I do know it was in the Carolinas. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Ever Lee Hairston: 1:25
Yes. Uh, I was born on the Cooleemee Plantation and that’s located in Davie County, North Carolina. The county seat is Mocksville North Carolina, which is in the Western part of the state of North Carolina. Uh , my parents were sharecroppers on that plantation and , uh, so I was there with my raised by my parents and paternal grandparents.
Sara Brown: 1:56
So you grew up during segregation when it came to your education. What was that like?
Ever Lee Hairston: 2:04
Well, there was segregation throughout the South, but later I learned it wasn’t just the south, but anyway , (that’s right). I grew up , um, having to attend all black schools. And the thing about that was they were good teachers. I do believe. And , um, I felt like I got a decent education in elementary and high school. But limited because we never had an opportunity to have updated books. And I was bused to school from the plantation to Mocksville to the city of Mocksville. It was about 19 miles from home, but we passed several white schools along the way and this I could never understand. And once we got to school, we were using hand-me-down books. That’s what we call them because we never got new additions of any of the books that we used. We had to get the were no longer , um, the ones that were going to be used at the white schools. And so those were turned over to us. So that’s what happened, getting my education. The other thing with that interfered with my education in , um , high school, I would say is being on the plantation. There were so many responsibilities that my parents had, because my father also worked in town, but my , uh , grandfather and my grandmother both worked on the , in the plantation house. My mother did some days work in the plantation house, but there were, there were , uh , seven children that she had. So she was busy raising children and going over to the big house, we called it, to do some work as well. But for the children, my two older siblings and I, we had to stay out of school, usually two consecutive weeks at a time in the Spring and in the Fall. And this was some something that I really detested, but there wasn’t much, I had much, I had very little control. I’ll put it that way. So, so , uh , we had to stay out to either chop cotton in the spring or pick cotton in the fall, fall was harvest’s time. And the ironic thing about that after staying out of school and having to work so hard at picking cotton and having to deal with the snakes. And I’ll tell you about that in the fields, my parents and grandparents, after raising all of that cotton, they only got 70 cents , uh, that was given, well, let me put re rephrase that. 70 cents was given to the plantation owners and 30 cents was given to the , um, sharecroppers. So out of a dollar, we got 30 cents. So it wasn’t very much to live on. And , um, that’s something I recall very, very, very vividly. It was one of the last days that I worked in the fields, my two older siblings and I were picking cotton. And when I lean forward to pick this beautiful cotton out of the cotton bowl, there was a long black snake on the ground. And I yelled out to my brother and he said, “oh, come on . Let’s get done so we can get back to school .” And so , but I was frightened. And um, he said, “oh, that long snake’s gonna just crawl away.” And sure enough, the snake did. But I was cuz I had some vision at that time. And so I, I still was frightened and walked and much slower going down that cotton row . And so I guess I had gotten another 50 feet down the cotton row. And when I leaned forward to pick this beautiful cotton out of the cotton bowl, there was a brown snake and it was a copperhead . So I yelled to my brother and he walked over and looked. He said, “oh my gosh, it’s a copperhead.” But there were several things , several copperheads all around us. And we were so frightened all three of us. So we dropped out tow sacks, which carried the cotton from around our waist . And we ran as fast as we could until we reached a trailer that was parked at the beginning of the cotton row and was packed with several bags of cotton. So I climbed to a bag on the bird top . And as I sat with my head in my hands and I thought, “oh God, there has to be a better way of life for me.” And as soon as I graduated from high school, I was ready. I had already answered an ad in the newspaper for live-in maids in New York, in Long Island. And that’s what I did. So at age 17, right out of high school, I went to New York to work as a live-in maid, because I wanted very much, my dream was to become a nurse because , and I was ignoring the fact that at that time I was beginning to really experience some of the symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa, which is the eye condition that I have . And I guess that was realized also during my senior year, I was invited along with my sister to attend a football game in Lexington, North Carolina, the next town over and I was dating the quarterback. Oh , I was so excited. I was so excited about going to this game. And of course I didn’t talk about the fact that I couldn’t see at nights and the same thing was happening with my sister, my older sister. She also has RP . And so did two other siblings, but both are deceased. One died at age 22 and the other one at age 16. But anyway, we were so excited. A first cousin of ours picked us up and took us to the game. And after the game, we were gonna meet with the quarterback and my cousin. And , um, we were going to go to a , kind of a little hangout where everybody was going to meet after the game to celebrate, because we just were optomistic about them winning. And that was our plan. Anyway, going into the stadium, there was, it was still , uh , daylight and we could see we got into the stadium, no problem. But then we , and the game was over. It was very dark. And as my sister and I were walking out of the stadium and down this very long walkway, there was some lanterns Indicated danger, but neither of us were able to see them . And unfortunately we fell into a four feet hole. And so there were people just walking and walking around us and no one stopped to help. That’s what I, I, I still can’t understand that until today, no one helped us Or attempted to help us. But we struggled. I was much taller than my sister. We struggled and I got out and then I pulled her out, but of course we were dirty and it was very embarrassing to have to get into the quarterbacks car. So That was one of the most embarrassing and difficult times for me in realizing that I needed to share and talk about my night blindness, But I still did very little of it. So then while in New York, working as a live-in maid, I had gone into the City, New York City cuz I was in Oceanside, Long Island. And so I wanted to go into the city. Actually it was into Brooklyn because I had a distant cousin there and I wanted to get away and go visit. Well, by the time I got the train and got back to Oceanside on this Sunday evening, it had gotten much darker than I had anticipated. So when I got out of the taxi in front of the house and I was trying to find my way up the sidewalk, I didn’t realize that the family to whom I was working for was sitting on the , on the front steps and they watched me and as I was trying to shuffle and get my way up the sidewalk, by the time I reached them, they, yeah , they asked , “are, are you okay ?” “Have you been drinking? No. I said, I have not been drinking.” And what would happen with me? If someone noticed something, I would just start crying. I started crying and I said, “no, I haven’t had anything to , I have difficulty seeing at nights .” And they were so kind to me. As a matter of fact, they gave me my first airplane ride, sponsored it. And I went back to Durham, North Carolina at the end of the summer so that I could enroll in Duke University Nursing School. And that was another turning point in my life because when I applied for the nursing school, failed the eye exam and did not become a candidate for nursing.
Sara Brown: 13:42
So what after, so you failed your eye exam. What, where did you go? What would , what did you do next?
Ever Lee Hairston: 13:50
So I had an out to work at Duke University and that was one of the reasons that nursing really appealed to me. So she immediately took me to the optometrist and of course, many of the optometrist at that time, they were not familiar with the eye condition rec pigment. So of course he , uh , offered me a pair of glasses, which did no good. So anyway , I, I recall my aunt always saying, “put those glasses on.” The glasses really, really were more harm to me than good because they were like an obstruction because I really couldn’t, couldn’t see at nights and they didn’t understand that, but anyway, I didn’t wanna be the defeated. It I’d gotten off of the plantation and I wanted to, to do something with my life. I didn’t wanna return to the plantation. So what I did, is I enrolled in North Carolina Central university, which was in walking distance from my aunt and uncle. I had made enough money to pay for my tuition at nursing school, but not enough to pay, to live on campus at North Carolina Central University. So my aunt and uncle invited me to, to stay with them and I was able to attend , uh , North Carolina Center University. It was my third year at North Carolina Center university that Dr. King would come on campus and talk to all of the students on campus about out Civil Rights. And having grown up with such segregation, unable to go to the movie theaters , uh , unable to sit in a restaurant. My grandfather loved this place in, in um, town and it was called , um, uh , Pits Barbecue. And they, everybody loved it, but we could go inside and sit and have a sandwich. We would have to walk up to a window order our sandwich. And then we would have to go back to the car and eat our sandwich to take it home with us. So it was, it was these kinds of things. Or I remember as we were traveling one day and my 16 year olds, the one who died at 16 , um, she was very ill and got ill often as we were riding someplace. And I remember my father stopped at the service station and he wanted to , uh , to have my mother take my sister into the bathroom because she was, she was very sick, but we were told that we couldn’t use the restroom and that’s the way it was. And if you went into a department store , um, you couldn’t even drink out of , they had two separate water fountains. One said “white,” one said “color.” And if you went into a , uh , department store, oftentimes , uh , you could not use the restroom. So having grown up you , if this, when Dr . King started talking about our Civil Rights, my ears perked up, I was so interested in what he was talking about. And he talked about, we must advocate for our rights. And so it was later on in that year, August, 1963, that we know that the March on Washington was held in Washington, D.C. At Lincoln Memorial. And so I was there when he gave his iconic speech, “I Have a Dream.” What a compassionate man. And I had learned so much by participating in the Civil Rights Movement under Dr . King. While on campus, before going to Washington DC, Dr. King had organized a protest March, and we were protesting Sears, Roebuck and Co., because they refused to hire blacks. So from North Carolina Central campus to Sears, Roebuck and Co., five miles, we marched. And as we marched, there was rock stones and all kinds of debris thrown on us. But Dr. King taught us nonviolence and to focus on the ask rather than the people. And that’s what we did. So not only were there students from North Carolina Central, but there were students from A&T College Greensboro NC who had come and in that crowd was Jesse Jackson . So we marched. And when we arrived at the parking lot, we sat down and we all started singing “over my head, there must be freedom in the air,” we sang and shouted. And just actually trying to make sure that in spite of the problems that we were facing, that we still could have some fun and some humor and, and to entertain ourselves. And that’s what we were doing. But suddenly the police moved onto the parking lot and ordered us to move. We refused the order. And then there were buses being driven onto the parking lot at a very fast speed . It was very, very frightening. We started screaming, crying, yelling, and soon afterwards, the buses came to a streaking halt. And so when the police got off the buses, they started pushing, shoving, picking some of us up and they threw us onto the buses and hauled us to jail. Dr . King included. And during that night in jail, we were packed, like sardines in a can . We were packed so tight and so close that wouldn’t work today with COVID , but we were packed so tight that if we needed to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation, we could have. But during the night, an announcement came over the Intercom stating that the jail keeper had had a heart attack and died . This was frightening and fearful for us because we thought we would be blamed for the jail keeper’s death. But anyway, the following morning, they let us out around 11 o’clock. And when we got out, I was even more frightened or fearful of going back to my aunt and uncle’s house because nor did my aunt or uncle approve of me being involved in the Civil Rights Movement. I was afraid that they may pack me up and send me back to the plantation. But then, my parents also did not approve of me being involved. And the reason none of them approved of me being is because they were afraid of their jobs. If their employers learned that their daughter or their niece was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, they ran the risk of losing their jobs. But after thinking about that and praying about it, I knew and believed that that was the risk that I had to take. And so I did.
Sara Brown: 22:16
How did, how did those experiences impact you just psychologically and emotionally, you know, you’re protesting you’re , you’re , people are throwing things at you, calling you all sorts of names. That’s traumatizing.
Ever Lee Hairston: 22:34
Well, it, because we had learned and had been taught so well by Dr. King, really it, we didn’t, I never was hit by anything of course name calling , but , uh, I was never , uh , struck with a , a rock or, or anything. And so, but, but Dr . King taught us just focus on what you’re doing and keep moving. And that’s what we did. We kept moving. We didn’t stop. We didn’t look at the people on the side, we just looked ahead and we kept moving.
Sara Brown: 23:18
Wow. So you just focused on the task at hand ?
Ever Lee Hairston: 23:22
Yes. Yes. And I think you become conditioned. And so the, the most frightening thing and doing that entire time was when we were sitting on the parking lot and it seemed like the, the buses were gonna run over us. That was truly, truly frightening. And one of the things that we had talked about doing and was praying and, and that’s what we did.
Sara Brown: 23:53
Okay . So , you know, you are a outstanding storyteller. You’re , you’re answering the questions. I’m not even, I have, them listed. I’m like, “okay, got Dr . King .” I know you’ve told this story many times, but it’s a , it’s a heck of a story. So a few years later you’ve graduated college and you’re in New Jersey, but your eyesight continues to deteriorate. Can you share what that was like and what was going on?
Ever Lee Hairston: 24:24
Once I graduated from college and it was not , um, it was in December instead of June. And I didn’t graduate in June with the class because when my 16 year old , um, when the sister under me died at eight 16 , it was so hard for me. I couldn’t take the final exams. So two of the courses I needed to take again, and I did in the beginning of September. And so I didn’t graduate until December. So I left in December going to New Jersey and in hopes of getting a teaching job, but I had to wait. And so I applied at New Jersey , uh, in New Jersey for, for the Bank of New Jersey. And when I applied, I went in for the interview and the manager, as he was interviewing me leaned forward, and he said, “Ms . Hairston, I would love to hire you. But the policy in this bank is that we cannot hire blacks.” That was such a culture shock to me. I couldn’t believe that I was in New Jersey and experiencing this. You see, I thought, and my lack of understanding and knowledge, I thought that there was segregation in the states up North, if you will. But here I was facing the same type of discrimination.
Sara Brown: 26:29
What year? What , what year did you say this was?
Ever Lee Hairston: 26:33
19 ? It was, it was and 60 December , 1960 . But when I went to the interview, it was in January, 1965 .
Sara Brown: 26:53
And that was for the Bank of New Jersey?
Ever Lee Hairston: 26:55
The Bank of New Jersey. Later on, I had applied for a teaching position. And I got that job, which only lasted four years, teaching business education courses. And one of the classes was , um , shorthand. So when I would write shorthand briefs on the board, turn around to the class , it took my eyes with RP a much longer time to adjust from one spot to another . And so when I would do that, I , there were times I couldn’t even see what was on the board, but so I turned back to the class and I’d start talking to them or I’d finally, I , I figured, okay, hopefully, and I’d turn to the board. And one day the stress, The stress of trying to do this without talking about my eye condition. I, I, I fainted it. I passed out and I was taken to the hospital and immediately the doctors are shining these lights in my eyes and saying, “are you on drugs? Have you taken drugs?” I was like, “no, I haven’t taken any drugs. No, I don’t even drink.” And so , um, it was shortly after that, that I went, I finally went to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. And that’s when I got my diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa. That was the first time that I had a definitive diagnosis.
Sara Brown: 28:36
So all those years. So all those years when you had vision issues?
Ever Lee Hairston: 28:41
Sara Brown: 28:42
No one ever knew what that officially was?
Ever Lee Hairston: 28:45
No. And then in addition to getting a definitive diagnosis, the doctor said to me, “more than likely you will go blind.”
Sara Brown: 29:00
How did you take that type of news? How’d you take that?
Ever Lee Hairston: 29:03
I , I , I couldn’t stop crying. I just couldn’t stop crying. I thought, if I could just keep the light perception that I have, if I could just keep the vision that I have , I could make it, but it was frightening to think that I would actually go blind. And so , Um, After that, I was forced to resign from teaching. And then I got many other jobs working for the city of Camden, New Jersey. And I had taken a couple of jobs under the Federal Government. I took those jobs. And then finally , um, after years I took a Civil Service Exam so that I could become a counselor. And then I went to Rutgers University and took courses so that I could become certified as a counselor and to work towards a master’s degree. And the way I had to study was recording the lectures of the professors and believe me, I had hundreds and hundreds of cassettes, and I would go home after class, listen to those cassettes, listen to those cassettes and listen to those consents consents. And that’s how I was able to study and to pass the courses. So after passing the civil service exam, I had to take a position at the very bottom, which was a council trainee for the Department of Health and Human Services under the , uh , Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. Uh , but it was called the Intoxicated Driver’s Resource Center, where we were teaching drivers who had been charged with a drunk driving offense. We were teaching them and educating them about the danger of alcohol and driving. And that was easy for me because I wrote a lot of lectures and I had taught school. So that was good. And fortunately, I was able to move up the ladder pretty quickly. Instead of staying as Counselor Trainee, I moved up from Counselor to Senior Counselor, but then it was difficult to move higher because at that point. My eyesight had deteriorated drastically. And I knew I needed help, but, and, and I had gone to the New Jersey State Commission for the Blind to ask for help, but I wasn’t getting the help I needed. I wanted to learn braille. They gave me sandpaper and asked me to fill it. And that would determine whether I would be eligible for the braille. They told me I wasn’t eligible. So I did get some mobility , uh , lessons. And I learned to use the cane , But I wanted training and I was blessed with a phone call from the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland. And the person said they would like to learn about me through the Commission for the Blind. And they thought that I should attend the National Federation of the Blind convention. And this was in 1987 and I made all kinds of excuses because I had a son that I was raising alone. And so, but I thought about it and I felt like this was my golden opportunity. So I said, let’s compromise instead of going for a full week. Could I come for at least four to five days ? And that’s what happened. I went to Phoenix, Arizona to my first NFB convention. I learned so much, but it was when I reached the registration desk. After standing in very long lines. And the young lady at the desk asked , “would you like a braille or a print agenda?” Oh my goodness. A light bulb went off of me. I’m thinking a “braille or, Or a print agenda?” I don’t know braille. And I can no longer read print. I’m a college grad, but illiterate. So I talked to as many people as I could at that convention. Learned about all of the professions and the, the skills and the training people had gotten, who were blind. And I knew that this was for me, that’s what I needed. So I went back to the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and asked for help to get to the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana. They denied me that opportunity. So I knew someone who lived in Louisiana. I went to stay with them so that I could become a resident of the State of Louisiana. And that’s how I was able to get funded, to get the training at the Louisiana Center for the Blood. I went there in 1990 and graduated 1991. And when I returned to New Jersey after learning braille in a six month period, getting technology, training, computer skills. Getting orientation and mobility, Independent living skills, I returned to New Jersey with all of those skills. And I quickly began to integrate those skills into both my personal and professional life . You see, while I was in Louisiana, I built up my confidence and I knew that in order to maintain my job, there was some risk that I had to take while in Louisiana. And one was, I always tell this story, cuz it’s One of the things that you have to do in order to graduate is to go and I graduate from on routes. So they took me to Monroe, Louisiana, and I had heard that, “oh my gosh, Monroe , uh , uh , it’s not the greatest place for blacks.” So anyway, they took me to Monroe, Louisiana, and then had given me instructions on that. I had to find the bus stop and take the bus to the Monroe Mall. I got off the bus and I thought, “oh my gosh,” I was frightened. I thought I am out here all by myself in Monroe, Louisiana, probably Ku Klux Klan is all around. (laughing).
Sara Brown: 37:41
Ever Lee Hairston: 37:44
Oh God, I’m here by myself. And so I thought about Dr . King . He always taught, “don’t focus on the people, focus on the task.” And so I said a little prayer. I started walking, using my skills and there was a building that I came to. I went in and I asked, how could I find the bus stop? And she gave me an directions. The traffic underneath me, to the left of me . I didn’t know where I was, but I continued to walk. And then there was a lady driving and she yelled out , “miss, where you going ? Let me help you .” I said , “miss, thank you so much , but you can’t help me. I’m performing a test.” She said, “well just where are you going?” I told her, “I’m trying to get to the bus stop so I can take a bus to the Monroe mall.” She said, “keep going forward. And when you get to the end of the street turn right , and you will hear the buses.” That was a sound. When I turned right and heard that bus, those buses, that was a sound that penetrated my soul. I tell you , I took a bus to the Monroe Mall. There was met with the students and staff… mission accomplish. And then another, another thing that they did. And I thought “these people must be crazy. What kinda training is this?” They took us. And you had to always stay in. There were groups of three. They took us to Mardi Gras. (Laughing). I know they’re crazy. And so they gave us , uh , a card that had braille on it. And they, it had an address. You have your , you have to find this address, but it was on Bourbon Street. Can you imagine on Bourbon Street? So we are walking and it’s noisy because as you’re walking, there’s, there’s the blues going on your left. There’s uh , gospel songs on the right, there’s jazz. Straight ahead. You can hear all kinds of noise, but people were walking to the three of us and they would say , “let me read your fortune. Let me read your fortune. Come on ladies, let me reach a fortune.” Then there were others saying , “let me pray . Let me pray for you. Let me pray for you.” But the one that really took the cake for me was, this man walked up to us and obviously he had had a bit much to drink and he started singing Three Blind Mice. S ee h ow t hey r un?
Sara Brown: 40:46
Oh my gosh! Three Blind Mice?
Ever Lee Hairston: 40:50
And so again, think about it. What did Dr. King teach? And the other two were ready to just give up and fight back. And I said, “no, we can’t do that. We’re on a mission. Don’t focus on these people. Let’s stay focused on our task.” We finished that task. And then the night of Mardi Gras, was another test, which we didn’t not even know. You know, when the parade was over, everybody is ripping and running and going back to however , they were going to travel, either buses or walking or whatever. And the staff member had told us where they would park the car. And once the Mardi Gras was over that we were to come to of the bus and where it was parked. But as we were moving, people were scrambling and moving all around us. And so it was so difficult with all the noise. When you have RP , you become very oriented disoriented, because you cannot. It’s like, “I can’t hear cause it’s so much noise.” So when you can’t hear, it’s weird, you , you really, you really have very poor mobility skills. So I ran into a pole , it was a flag pole and I grabbed onto that pole and I told the other two, I said, “look, just let’s stand here until it gets quieter. They won’t leave us. Let’s stand here.” And we did. And they were crying. And I just knew that that was the best thing to do. So when the crowd had dispersed, I said, “we can go now. So we took out, canes and we only had a little less than a , a full block to walk, to get to the bus. And , uh , as we were approaching, one of the staff members said, “congratulations, you made it.” And so I graduated from that center. So proud of what I had accomplished, but more proud of the fact that when I returned, as I said, and , and using these skills, but I was able to move up the ladder and eventually from supervisor and becoming the director of that program, I worked there for 26 years, but not only changing in my career, but I made changes in the National Federation of the Blind, my commitment, my dedication. I started the Garden State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I became first Vice President of the New Jersey affiliate. I served on the National Scholarship Committee for 23 years. I became Vice President after moving to California, I became first Vice President and then elected as President of the California affiliate. I’ve been serving on the National Board for 12 years. Oh , it’s been my 13th . And so I truly believe that my mission in life is to reach out to others And to help others to, and make this world a better place in which we live. And especially for the blind. And I cannot neglect the fact that it’s important for black, blind females.
Sara Brown: 45:17
Your story. You’ve answered all a good chunk of my questions, just in your storytelling, which has me waited with baited breath for more and clenching the chair. But during your , the course of your career and your journey, where have you felt any resistance from or any biases from individuals? I mean, you are , are a black woman and you’re visually impaired. Have you felt, or have you known that you’ve, you’re being discriminated against or having any biases put against you?
Ever Lee Hairston: 45:48
Absolutely. Absolutely. Um , on the job , There were those white females and males who said, “I will not,” when I became supervisor, they made the statement. “I will not work under a blind, black, female,” but I was, I had confidence in myself. Then I said , “well, Then that means you’re gonna have to find another job because I’m not leaving.”
Sara Brown: 46:31
Wow. The sheer audacity is, is just unbelievable.
Jack Fox: 46:38
So you’re on the board of NFB. You’re on the Board of Directors.
Ever Lee Hairston: 46:44
Sara Brown: 46:45
Can you talk about some of the work that you do that you do there?
Ever Lee Hairston: 46:51
As a member of the Board of Directors, I represent the president at state conventions. And so one incident I will share with you serving on the board, meaning that I traveled to many states. Stayed in many hotels. So I arrived and I’d rather not give the name, but I arrived at this, in this state. And I took a taxi to the hotel, immediately, went to my room and said that I would freshen up so that I could go and meet the president of this affiliate. So I left my room and walked towards the elevator. And when I approached the elevator bank , I could hear three people talking to each other. And obviously they were from the sound. I thought that they were three , uh , white females. And so they were talking about the convention and, just chit chatting. So I said, you know, “hello, good evening.” Yeah , I’m just bubbly. “Good evening.” I’m happy to be there. Hello . So they didn’t say anything. I said , wait a minute, did they get on the elevator? And then they started talking again. So I said , “good evening. How are you ladies?” Not one word out of either one of them . So I heard the bell ring , meaning that the elevator was stopping on my floor. So I said, “are you ladies getting on again?” Silence. So I got on the elevator. I said, “are you ladies coming on?” And one lady said, “I’m not getting on with you.” And she named , she said the “h” word . And I think, I think, I think the way I grew up and learned how ignorant some people are and how prejudice they are, because this is all they know, this is what they learned . This is how they grew up. I know who I am . And I learned who I am through Dr . King. So one might say, “wow, how , what was that for you? Someone call you the “N” word .” Well, I wasn’t going to bring my myself down level . So I had a task to perform. I went downstairs. Now , this is the ironic thing I went downstairs. And shortly after I was standing and talking to the president, I heard one lady and it was the same voice I had heard. I think they , and they walked up to the president and say , “good evening. How are you?” You know , I said , and so the president said , “oh, meet our national representative.”
Sara Brown: 50:11
How did that go ?
Ever Lee Hairston: 50:15
And it , it was obvious then that they were the ones because you, you know , they , oh , you know, you know , you could tell , you know , how a person is not sure what to say, how to say it. So it was , uh , oh , okay . So I, as national rep, I had to give a couple seminars. I gave the, the keynote address at their banquet. And so I that’s what I did. And that’s what I do.
Sara Brown: 50:55
Wow. Another, and you’ve got so many interesting facts. You’re an author. So talk about your book, “Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness, Despite her Blindness.” And what do you want readers to get out of it?
Ever Lee Hairston: 51:12
The reason that I wrote this book was because of the way I had grown up. And the part of the story that I haven’t shared is that I was married in 1969. I had a son in 1970. And unfortunately that marriage did not last because I was losing my sight. I had a one year old son that I was taking care of and my, her husband was not faithful. And I felt like I could not handle that. I couldn’t deal with that. So this is the one part of my life that I just don’t like talking about. We were divorced. It was sad for me, very sad for me because I was losing my sight. And I felt like I had a one year old to manage and to take care of alone . But I made , I wanted to share the story so that others could see no matter what happens in our life, no matter what journey we are on, we don’t have to give , we don’t have the power to make life fair, but I believe we have the power to make life joyful. And I felt that sharing my story with others, black, white, blind sighted would inspire others. And that was the purpose. I got married a second time, years later. And that was very short-lived as well because my husband , uh , developed bone cancer. So our life together was only from ’92 to ’96. That’s it ?
Sara Brown: 53:48
Is there any thing else you wanna add to this conversation just over your life, over the listens , you’ve learned anything you wanna say to our listeners out there?
Ever Lee Hairston: 54:01
I think I often think about the words of Dr. King and I think people who think about giving up are not wanting to deal with some of the challenges that we have in life. I think the words from Dr. King always helped me and I like to convey that to others. And it said, “if you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. Whatever you do, you must keep moving.” And I believe that.
Sara Brown: 54:59
That’s so true. Dr. King, what was he like? Dr . King? I know you marched with him and you were part of his , um , March on Washington, but what else was, I mean, I feel like, did you actually get to talk to him?
Ever Lee Hairston: 55:20
Sara Brown: 55:22
What was he like?
Ever Lee Hairston: 55:24
He , he reached out. No one was too small or too insignificant for him. Although he was famous. So intelligent. And, but he always made you think that he was listening to every word and wanted to help you as an individual to be the best you could be. That’s the thing I always got from him. But he , there was a lot of humor with him. He had a lot of humor . He always talked about that. Whatever you do enjoy some humor every day . He talked about that. And the other thing he often shared, which I have had to look at over the years and that is, he said, “have no regrets.” “Remember yesterday’s history. We did yesterday. That’s history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.” And then he said, he would say to us, “remember you never too old to do the things that you really want to do.”
Sara Brown: 56:45
You tell a riveting story? I have been sitting here with my fists clenched and my breath held and just like, “okay, here we go.” You are quite the trailblazer. And I really, from the bottom of my heart, wanna thank you for coming on here and sharing your story with us. And you’ve got a heck of one. Thank you so much again for joining me today on Change Makers.
Ever Lee Hairston: 57:10
Thank you. Thank you. You’ve been great.
Sara Brown: 57:14
And if you are interested in acknowledging change makers , we are accepting nominations for the Hall of Fame until Saturday, April 30. I’ve put a link in the show notes so you can submit your nomination. Thank you very much for listening to this episode of Change Makers as always be sure to find ways you can be a change maker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Changemakers a podcast from APH. We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:16
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager Sara Brown. And today we’re going to hear an update from GoodMaps. We’re gonna learn the latest on their new app, what projects they’re working on in the UK. And what’s next for this accessibility app. I’m going to turn it over to A’PHs Head of Global Innovation, Greg Stilson he’ll moderate this podcast.
Greg Stilson: 0:40
Thanks so much, Sara. I am Greg Stilson head of APH’s Global Technology Innovation Department. And with me today, it’s two good friends , uh , in the field. Uh , Jose Gaztambide, the, GoodMaps CEO and GoodMaps Chief Evangelist, Mike May . Hey , hi. Both of you, I’m looking forward to , uh , to talking about a lot of really exciting things that you all are working on.
Jose Gaztambide: 1:04
Thank you, Greg. Great .
Mike May: 1:05
Thanks for the opportunity to be here.
Greg Stilson: 1:07
All right . Well, I am super excited to talk with you guys today. Um, you know, GoodMaps is it it’s been around for a little while. Jose, when did you guys, when were you first founded?
Jose Gaztambide: 1:18
Uh , 2019 .
Greg Stilson: 1:19
Okay. All right . So it’s been about three years. And how , how is, you know, there’s outdoor navigation that blind people are very used to, we we’ve had this for, you know, better part of 20 years now, but how, how is GoodMaps different? I know it , it , it works with indoor navigation, but what’s the technology behind it?
Jose Gaztambide: 1:36
Like, Yeah, thanks, Greg. I , I , I would say good maps is different in a number of ways, and I think you , you nailed it to us now. We’re, we’re really hyper focused on indoor navigation , uh, to your point , uh, outdoor navigation. And I think fairly good outdoor navigation has been around for a couple of decades, but indoor continues to be this massive opportunity and this massive need , uh, that the industry has been taking a lot of swings at and just really , really not managed to , to get right. Uh , and there’s a number of reasons for that. And , um , that , that was really our focus from the get go because it was what we heard most from, from people and from the industry and from our partners , uh , that we haven’t unlocked indoor mapping and indoor navigation. And so what really makes us unique is we’ve combined , uh , and developed a number of technologies that effectively helped us get around the traditional problems that have existed in, in indoor navigation. Um , the, the first one is really about maps, the availability of maps. Uh, there are generally speaking, no indoor maps. And so we’ve developed a new mapping platform and a new process that uses LIDAR , uh , a technology that’s been around for a handful of decades, but has grown in important because of its role in autonomous vehicles , uh , and use that to compress the time that it takes to create an indoor map , uh , which was , uh , a major pain point for the industry. The other thing that we’ve done is, is figured out how to position people when they’re indoors , uh, and how to do that , uh, in a way that A.. Requires no physical infrastructure. So, so no beacons, nothing that people have to put on, on walls and maintain. Uh, and B… That’s much more accurate , uh, than , uh , than a Bluetooth beacon and a lot of the other kind of traditional approaches. So what that means is that for the end user, the experience of navigating indoor is, is , is one that you can fundamentally trust , uh, because that accuracy is as good as it is. Uh, and number two, it means that for the venue, which is fundamentally , uh, the person who’s paying the costs to, to have this installed, it’s a much better user experience. Uh, and that’s because they don’t have to pay for that hardware. They don’t have to maintain that hardware. Uh , and so we think we’ve, we’ve hit about upon a , a , a business plan and a product that kinda meets a lot of the needs that we’ve been hearing from the industry for many years now.
Greg Stilson: 3:47
Great . And, and correct me if I’m wrong with this, does use the users . It uses a number of the sensors that are in the smartphone. Um , but one of the biggest changes or , or differences is that , uh , a user does utilize their now , is that correct ?
Jose Gaztambide: 4:01
Yeah, that’s exactly right, Greg. Uh , the way that we are able to, to get around the infrastructure requirement is by basically using the user’s camera to identify , uh, where they are within that, within that space. Uh, I think importantly, there’s no personally identifiable information that, that, that data doesn’t go anywhere. Nobody views it. It’s just a way for your phone to be able to tell you you where you are .
Greg Stilson: 4:21
Gotcha. And I know, you know, Mike, you and I have, have spent a lot of time working on the, the , the app itself and things like that. And you guys are working on an update, is that correct?
Mike May: 4:31
Well, always , um, the it’s , as soon as you release something, you’re always pushing features to the next update. Well, let’s save that for later. So yeah, we’re, we’re working on updates. The , the first product came out , uh , about a year and a half ago. And , uh , we’ve been coming out with new versions ever since, mostly focusing on the improvements indoors. And we acquired as you know, from IRA good maps outdoors, so that we a more mature outdoors product to help our users to deal with the outdoor environment while we focused our resources on indoor challenges, both positioning and mapping. And it’s, it’s probably , um , we , we shouldn’t , uh , of not say the fact, this is a huge nut to crack. I’ve been involved in indoor navigation projects since the mid nineties, people have been trying to do this, and it has not gone mainstream. And it started out as , uh, an infrastructure free approach with you wearing a device. And then it went to infrastructure, things like beacons, and now it’s finally come full circle and realizing the , the , the viable way to make this happen commercially is to have , uh , no infrastructure installed. So it’s cheaper for the venues. And , um , that’s been, you know , 25 years in the making, and we’re really thrilled to be on the , the cusp of seeing that be successful commercially.
Greg Stilson: 6:04
And, you know , you talked about the outdoor navigation experience that you guys , um , acquired from from IRA. And can you talk a little bit about what, what that is and how that kind of fits into the good maps ecosystem?
Mike May: 6:17
Sure. There are a number of outdoor navigation products, everything from the Google and Apple mainstream products to the accessibility products and those mainstream products obviously focus on the sighted user and not providing two verbose of an experience. They provide turn by turn. They give visual indications of where you are and what’s around you. And so the accessible apps fill in the blanks or fill in the information. That’s what is in between. And I need confirmation that I turn and where is my next turn and how far away is it? So that verbosity is, is really what separates the accessibility apps from the others and the , what we call “GoodMaps Outdoors,” which used to be seen on IGPS is a mature app with lots of user input over the course of eight, nine years. So that a lot of the features that users want outdoors have been implemented, and that’s not something we could do right out of the blocks at GoodMaps. And so we’ve kind of taken advantage of the best of both worlds by bringing in that app to cover those verocity needs of blind people. And then we wanna see that work together with a seamless navigation from an outdoor place, to an indoor place. And that’s why we have the two map , the two apps, the two apps, GoodMaps Outdoors, and GoodMaps Explore, which focuses on the indoor experience.
Greg Stilson: 7:51
Got it. And , and you’ve, you’ve been getting feedback on both, both experiences, both apps , um, you know, have you , can you pinpoint any feedback on, on either of those experience, the Outdoor or the Indoor that may prompt you to make some changes , uh , in, in either experience?
Mike May: 8:08
Yeah. Well, users are, are both amazingly appreciative and amazingly demanding. Uh , that’s been the case since I started doing this stuff in the late nineties. Uh , so it’s, it’s an ongoing process and that’s why the updates keep happening because we filter out what are the priorities, what can we accomplish? What can we add? And in terms of outdoor navigation, I think it’s, it’s always a matter of filtering in filtering information. Every situation is not the same. Sometimes a user is destination oriented and sometimes they just wanna wander around or know what’s in their environment. And so there’s a sweet spot in figuring out what is the right for Bo city level for the right situation. And the more you can do that automatically the better or you provide options, same thing indoors. We have to help make the process indoors simpler. So in an ideal world, the computer would read your mind and , uh , would get you to your destination without having to interface with the phone a lot. Uh , part of that of course, would be evolving towards a speech control, a voice input kind of system, so we can have indoors, but we have outdoors, which is give me walking directions to such and such a location. That would be great. We’re not there yet, but it’s very high on our priority list to simplify the indoor navigation experience.
Greg Stilson: 9:34
Gotcha. You know , you , you reference this hybrid approach where you’re, you’re going outdoors to indoors, to outdoors. There’s a , there’s a lot of locations I’m thinking of college campuses and outdoor malls and things like that, that, that have this hybrid experience that, that exists. And right now , um, you know, GoodMaps is built for, for single building environments. Are you guys looking at addressing this, or how are you looking to, to tackle those challenges?
Mike May: 10:02
Well, the operative word is “campus,” and that’s what we’ve deemed this feature that we’re adding , uh , any minute now. Uh, and I’m sure it will evolve and , and get more extensive. But the idea of course, is you wanna navigate from , um , indoors in some facility, you finish a meeting or you , you finish a class and you think of the student experience, then they have to hustle over. They’ve got 10 minutes to get to their next class. They’ve got go outdoors and then indoors to another location. And so we wanna make that journey as simple as possible. And that means see mean and stitching together those buildings with an indoor outdoor experience.
Greg Stilson: 10:42
And do you envision the user kind of flipping from the GoodMaps Outdoor Experience, to the GoodMaps Indoor Experience? Or are you, you know, is your dream, what , what’s your dream app look like? Is it one app that does both?
Mike May: 10:55
Well, right now you have to navigate to a building using the outdoor capabilities. And then you’re asked to “you’re, you’re at an indoor building. Do you want to enter?” And you click? Yes. Because maybe you’re just walking by it. So that’s the first interaction you have to have. If I set my classroom is my destination that I want the system to be smart and figure out , uh , don’t ask me if I want to go into the building cuz now I’m at it. So we’ll, we’ll, we’ll simplify things by compressing. What not might now be, let’s say a five step process . We want to reduce that into a one step process.
Greg Stilson: 11:33
Gotcha. Okay . And you know, you , you , you mentioned good maps, outdoors and , and good maps explore. Do you guys have any other apps under development or are those your primary , uh , focuses right now?
Mike May: 11:47
We do. Of course. We’ve got to address. “How does the venue owner manage and control the maps?” Um , maybe Jose can comment more on, on that , uh , part of the equation.
Jose Gaztambide: 11:59
Yeah, Greg, we, we do have some things , uh, in the works that we will be releasing , uh, at some point here in , in 2022 that we’re pretty excited about. Uh, I won’t go into many details, but I will just say that it is all in the spirit of , uh , universal navigation and the idea that anybody should be able to navigate their space independently. Uh , and on improving the experience for anybody , uh , walking into a space that , that we have mapped and , uh , and that we support. So we’re, we’re really excited about the , the things to come.
Mike May: 12:28
And I think generically, we know in navigating, there’s not one app that does everything. So you might have a , a bus timetable app going , uh, if , if you went into a store, you’d , you’d be pulling up products. And so in an ideal world, my dream is to see some integration and at least some simplification between those apps. And that’s part of the, we realize it’s not just about getting to the building. It’s about the journey in between the buildings. And then once you get inside being able to experience what’s in that building fully, and that’s going to require collaboration, which we’ve talked about a lot in , uh , the rest of this podcast.
Greg Stilson: 13:13
Absolutely. Oh, and you , you , you talked about, you know, your dream, Mike. Jose, what’s your , what’s your final, not final, but what’s your , what’s your long term vision or dream for what, what GoodMaps becomes? Um, whether it depends on a partner or several partnerships or, you know, where where’s your head at with this?
Jose Gaztambide: 13:31
Yeah, that’s a , that’s a great question, Greg. You, you know, to , to answer that question, I think we got to go back to the prompt that we asked ourselves almost three years ago , uh, in the series of problems that we identify that , that led us down the path that we’re at right now , uh, and fundamentally those problems , uh, focused around the idea that there are no digital maps, that there is no good trustable infrastructure, free positioning approach. And that the value proposition for IndoorMaps was too limited for most customers to say yes to going through that process. So when I think of the GoodMaps of the future, I imagine a platform that has mapped an absolutely enormous percentage of the areas that any individual could go into on any given day , uh , in that that individual , uh , would feel comfortable navigating , uh , that , uh , that , that designated building. But I think more importantly, that individual should have a choice in the way that they engage with that mapping data in , in the way they navigate through that space. And so one of the things that we hope for, for, for good maps is that it becomes a , a tool in a data repository that any accessible navigation company can tap into for their users, because we fundamentally believe that users deserve a choice and they shouldn’t have to relearn , uh , their navigation system , um , uh , based on, on who has access to the mapping data and who doesn’t. I think the , the third piece that I would add onto that is we imagine good maps really incorporating a whole lot of other use cases. In addition to just , uh , navigation. Uh, we hear from a , a number of people, all at things like asset tracking , uh , is important in a hospital setting , uh , or crowd tracking is important in an airport setting or being able to deliver the mapping information to a first responder on their way to the scene of a fire is really important for first responders and emergency responders. Uh, and so, you know, our , our , our vision is, is broad . Uh, our vision is , uh , there I say audacious , uh, but the need is enormous. Uh, and the feedback from the market has been , uh , delightful. Um, and so it’ll, it’ll take us years to build that company, but that’s, that’s what we’re building.
Greg Stilson: 15:45
A big dream, but you guys got a ton of work ahead of you. And I think, you know, it’s an awesome dream as, as a blind person myself. And I think as , as somebody who maybe isn’t blind and just wants a really, really darn good in indoor navigation , um , or, or as you mentioned, if you’re a , a venue, if you’re a , a hospital or something like that, you wanna track your stuff efficiently. That’s, that’s a really, really awesome vision for the company. Anything else? I left out, um , any , any other initiatives you wanna , uh, have our listeners know about?
Jose Gaztambide: 16:18
Greg I just wanna add on to the point that, that you just made , um, obviously our, our heart and our soul and our origin story lies with, with blindness. Um, and , and that will never cease to be the case, but there’s a need for every, I mean , … I’m a fully sighted person and I get lost all the time. I get lost in my kitchen, Greg. Um, and , uh, there’s, there’s no limit , uh, to the number of places that I, that I wish were mapped and that I wish I could get around, and that I wish there was information for that currently isn’t at my, my fingertips. And I think solving that problem for everybody is really big part of achieving scale , uh, and of making sure that the value proposition that we bring is robust enough , uh, that, that anybody , uh, would, would say yes to this because every person that enters that building is impacted by the, by the technology. And that’s, that’s really important.
Greg Stilson: 17:09
So in between the hospitals, airports, big venues will to Jose’s kitchen to make sure that that gets mapped in . So
Jose Gaztambide: 17:17
That , that would be great. (Laughing) That would be great. That’s probably low on the, on the roadmap.
Greg Stilson: 17:23
Well, thank you both for, for joining. This is , uh , a really awesome kind of insight into , to what you guys are looking at and, and what I think our , our listeners and, and potential users can expect from GoodMaps in the future. I think Jose, or , uh , I’m sorry, Mike, you, you hit it right on the head that this is one of those things that you, you do have to try to, to, to , to really get what the independence value is , uh , for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Um, so if you do have an opportunity , uh , at a venue near you , um , you know, try to get there and use it, it’s, it’s an unbelievable experience. It gives you sort of this, this newfound sense of independence that maybe you had in an outdoor navigation situation, but you’ve never experienced indoors. So thank you both for, for joining, we’ll look forward to , uh , to hearing about some exciting updates in the , the coming months. And , uh, we’ll , uh , we’ll chat with you soon.
Mike May: 18:18
Yeah, Greg, thanks very much. And I encourage people to go online and download GoodMaps Explore, and , uh , thanks to APH for having the vision to spin off this division, which , which became GoodMaps to , to do all of this work. And it makes me think that there’s so much more than printing in , uh , the , your now in your third century. And I think of it’s more like “American Print Alternatives for the Blind.” So great to have that breadth and , uh , innovation, which you’re in charge of as part of the, the , uh, the , the collaboration between our organizations.
Greg Stilson: 18:57
Absolutely. Yep . I’m , I’m looking forward to more collaboration with you all. Um, and, and you, you kind of hit on where you can download , um, the existing apps. If, if folks are interested in getting in touch with you , um, to, to at local venues mapped or to potentially , uh , start a partnership conversation , uh, what , how do they get in touch with you?
Jose Gaztambide: 19:17
Yeah, they can email us at info, GoodMaps.com. Uh , there’s a lot of information on GoodMaps.com, including a list of venues that we currently support. Uh, and so if any listener has a curiosity , uh, uh , of where good maps is closest to them going on the website, we we’ll give you the latest up to date news.
Greg Stilson: 19:36
Sounds great. Thanks again for joining.
Jose Gaztambide: 19:39
Thank you, Greg .
Mike May: 19:39
Thanks. Thank you.
Greg Stilson: 19:43
All right . So obviously a lot of really exciting stuff to talk about here and , and really we focus so far on good, the GoodMaps experience as a whole , um, and kind of where it’s come from, where it’s going. Um, joining us now is Neil Barnfarther, Vice President of GoodMaps, Europe, to talk to us a lot about what is happening globally , uh , with good maps. Hello, Neil . And thanks for joining us here on Change Makers.
Neil Barnfarther: 20:08
Thanks. So so much, Greg, for the welcome me to this , uh , podcast.
Greg Stilson: 20:12
Well, Neil , I am super excited to talk to you, Neil . It’s been, you know, we , we talked about feels like it’s been two and a half years since we talked to each other. That’s pretty much what it’s been , uh , unfortunately thanks to COVID, but , uh, it’s awesome to , uh, to, to hear your voice again. And I know there’s a lot of really exciting things happening with good maps in, in Europe and other locations. Um, can you kind of talk to me a little bit about what market segments you’re seeing growth in, in , in Europe and, and surrounding areas?
Neil Barnfarther: 20:40
Yeah, sure. Um, it , it is , you’re absolutely right. Um, super exciting really , uh , to see the way that the product and the technology is being embraced. Uh, in the way it has been. Um, I , I look back upon the sort of commencement of , uh , that the role , uh , in the region and it GoodMaps being that sort of , um , accessibility product and seen as very much something to help , uh , explicitly and expressly, our community, getting around in environments, which traditionally you’d have considered , um, you know, difficult, challenging, and, and frankly almost hostile to us , Uh , without, you know, good and extensive , uh , O&M training in those environments. And the technology just has so much capacity to come in and absolutely evolutionize how we access environments. Um, and what what’s been really exciting over the journey of sort of the last 18 months or so is to see how organizations who , um, may not have been at original target have sort of ran with the technology predominantly , uh , as they’ve seen that growth in the accessibility context. Um , but predominantly they’re looking at it from a universal access from an inclusivity tool. They’ve got their, their sighted folks walking around in their buildings using it. They’ve got , uh , wheelchair users utilizing step free access. It’s assisting people , uh, who are experiencing neuro-diverse challenges and barriers to environments. And that , that has been tremendously , um, warming and gratifying to sort of just see the way organizations are, are being creative and responsible employers and, and hosts to their, to their customers. So specifically the areas that we have seen the most growth in that, you know, you would really sort of say, “wow, that that is super exciting,” is , is things like transport. So we’ve seen , um, not just one station and two stations and sort of drip, drip, we’ve had an entire line. So, you know, literally start terminals to end terminals and all stations in between , um, mapping and the commitment from those sorts of transport partners coming in and saying, you know, this matters to us, this is important. And we want this as part of our customer journey. We’ve equally seen , um, really strong , uh , connections with , uh , grocery retail , um, with, with organizations looking to map literally supermarkets. And the , the way that, that empowers the user to access those environments, is really game changing, not just for our community, but for, for many people. So, yeah. Um, those are certainly some of the real surprising areas. Corporates, obviously we’re getting, we’re getting quite a bit of , uh , traction in individual corporate environments , uh , with people wanting to help get staff around to meeting rooms , uh , helping guests in those spaces, helping people find the nearest bathroom , um, and, and that sort of side of things. So it’s , um, it’s really great to see the way people are sort of seeing us as it’s navigation at one level, but it’s also , um, so very much more and almost, you know, the , the limit is your creativity and your imagination.
Greg Stilson: 23:56
And are you able to, to talk about any specific locations that have been mapped or places that, you know, if somebody wanted to go check out GoodMaps , um, where, where if they had a location near them?
Neil Barnfarther: 24:07
Greg Stilson: 24:07
Where, where could they find this?
Neil Barnfarther: 24:09
Yeah , absolutely. So the, the obvious , um , locations that I would talk about are the, the line , um , the first group transparent express , uh , railway line that runs , uh , starting , uh , in Manchester at Manchester airport station rolls right across through the middle of the country , uh , through Huddersfield and then ends up in hu uh , at the Northeast of the country. So that that’s great experience. Um, we also have a row station , um, near where I live , um, just North of West of London that’s available. And if you wanna go try out the grocery retail experience, for example, that’s available at the moment in , um, an Asda supermarket, which is one of the big national chains over here. And that’s available in that store is, is located in a town called Stevenage , uh , which is just Northwest of London again. Uh , but they are looking to roll out to additional stores, following huge interest , um, from both our community, but indeed the wider societal interest. They’ve had a really good, really positive , um , feedback from, from, you know, literally their entire consumer base within the store. So , um, those, those are the two sort of obvious places to, to give our product a , a road test .
Greg Stilson: 25:20
Awesome. And, you know, as, as a blind person yourself, and, and I know that that I’ve used GoodMaps. Can you, can you walk somebody through sort of the experience they would expect in, in say a , a , a rail station or something like that? Um , just, you know, the , the 30,000 foot view of how you would use good maps? What , what , what autonomy does it give you when you’re using it in these these locations?
Neil Barnfarther: 25:44
Sure, absolutely. And, and that’s the exact word I would use because we’ve, we’ve lived with this notion that we’ve assisted travel, you know, blind people and the disabled community can have independence. And the reality of that is if you are reliant on that assistance, what what’s happening is you’re basically being, you know, picked up, put down, picked up, put down, guided from one point to another, Hey, wait, here. Then someone comes back and that is not independence, but what’s fascinating is GoodMaps is far more than independence. It, it, it literally brings autonomy. It it’s your decisions on your terms. And the experience is very much as follows. You’ll arrive at a , a mapped venue. Um, upon arriving you launch the app, the app will indicate that you’re in a , a venue that’s supported and invite you to enter , uh , with a tap of the button. So you’ll say, “yes, I wanna enter this venue.” And then from there you have a variety of options. You can explore the venue , uh , via a, a sort of , um , look around mode, which, which is anyone who’s used navigation tools for , um, our community and the outdoors environment with GPS. We very familiar with that sort of process. Being able to turn around and understand what is around you. The, the next sort of , um, level of usability is the, the functionality of searching a venue , uh , by, by level. So :what’s on the ground floor?” “What’s on the first?” et cetera . Um, and, and look at specific types of , um, information. If so, if it’s a wide Concourse, for example, we can add additional environmental information. So if we can describe the shape of the venue , uh , the , that area, we might say “the ticket areas off to the right.” “There’s a , waiting area or seats on the left,” et cetera . And then I suppose the core functionality at the moment is the navigational experience. So from the search box or from the , uh , directory of, of points of interest within the venue, you’d select an item and you would be provided directions and a route to that destination and this a few sort of , um, uh , options in that from step free access, et cetera . But in essence, once you trigger that experience, you say, I want directions , uh , you’ll lift your phone into the upright position, allowing the camera to look forward ahead of you. You’ll be directed , uh , with a rotate command if you’re not facing in the right direction to start walking. And once you’re facing a correct way, you’ll hear an auditory cue and you’ll be given , uh , verbal prompts , uh , via both voiceover or , um, the inbuilt , uh , text-to-speech engine. And in essence, it is very much akin to what you experience in the outside world, you know, “walk forward 50 feet, turn left , uh , turn right,” et cetera , you know , uh , enter into the elevator, down the escalator, et cetera . And , um, you’ll be taken point to point from where you are to , um, roughly speaking sort of the , sort of very, very close to the anticipated destination. So , um, you know, we are , we are , we are seeing users arrive , uh , close to that sort of three, four, five foot points of, of that destination requirement, which is just absolutely amazing. In a train station environment, when you sort of consider, we couldn’t have got anywhere near that. If I put you in a train station that you had no familiarity with before, and I said, Hey, get yourself to platform two. And on platform two midway down, there’s a bench, want you to go find that bench and sit on that bench. Most people in our community would’ve gawked at that and been highly anxious about that. Let alone would’ve necessarily successfully done it. Were they totally blind? And we can now deliver upon that.
Greg Stilson: 29:22
Yeah, it’s a , it’s a remarkable experience as somebody who’s used it in , in our , in our own APH building. I remember when I was new APH, the building APH is, is in , is a very, very large expansive building and somebody who had not explored that building very much , um , just to be able to, and , and I think that that’s really akin to the success that GoodMaps has seen in our communities. You’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. You’re using familiar terminology as we’ve used an outdoor navigation for a long time, which is things “like points of interest,” right? You’re looking for in indoor points of interest that you can now navigate to. Um, there’s a lot of them indoors , um, because there’s a of places that you can go, but , um , essentially you’re right. It’s, it’s this whole, you know, set this as a destination and go, I think the biggest difference is what you, you mentioned with regard to the orientation of your phone , um, is putting your phone in an upright position because , um, there’s, you know, and Jose is alluded to this before it’s using, you know, the camera to, to track where you are. One thing I do want to clarify , um, is that this does not do obstacle detection. You’re still expected to use your, your travel tool of choice, your cane or your guide dog to navigate around obstacles. But this is looking for is just getting you from point A to point B uh , in the correct direction. Is that, is that a good way to summarize that Neil ?
Neil Barnfarther: 30:42
Yeah, absolutely. I think , um, there are two things, so firstly, just touch on your last point there . Absolutely. So the, the expectation is that you have your O&M skills, you know what you’re doing with your cane, you with your guide dog and, and you’re , you’re , you’re walking. And when you were told to “go forwards 50 feet,” “a hundred feet,” whatever it is, there is an expectation you don’t literally walk forward, irrespective, you know, that , that route, it , it may have a minor curve to it. And, and, you know, you’ve , you’ve got to obviously utilize that skill in that space, but predominantly yes, that, that’s absolutely right. You know, it’s, you know, if , if there’s, if there’s say a , a trash can or something, you know, along that corridor, you know, and we are telling you to go forward and you are skimming the wall, your cane is gonna , or your dog is gonna find that trash can, and we’re not gonna say, “hey, half step to the left walk forward, free , you know, free foot , then half step to the right to go round that trash can.” But the, the other thing I just wanted to touch upon as well, interestingly, concerning the APH building. So I’ve never been in there before, but one of the amazing things is the ability to virtually tour locations. So, you know, load up the app, select one of our venues and explore a , you know, a building from the comfort of your own home that is incredibly empowering. Um, you know, to us, particularly our community, being able to explore those environments and understand, okay, right, this , this many levels, the office is here, it’s near these restrooms it’s oh, okay, cool. It’s near this, this conference. You can call this. Or, you know, and if you start beginning to build that mental map in your mind of a venue before you’re even there, it takes a huge weight off of you when you actually do arrive. So that virtual functionality is incredibly beneficial.
Greg Stilson: 32:25
No , I love it. Especially as spatially challenge , as I know that I can be at times, at least having that mental map of the elevators. When I come down from the elevators, I know that the meeting rooms are gonna be over in this general direction. It just gives you you’re right. That sense of relief a little bit, when you get off those elevators that you at least know that you’re turning in the right direction.
Neil Barnfarther: 32:45
Exactly. And I think Michael probably talk about it a little bit more , um, specifically obviously with, with his extensive experience in this space. But I think the , the , the traveling with that confidence, that real assuredness is the , the big difference between, you know, you arrive in a shopping mall and you know, someone, “hey, you’re right. And I’m oh yeah, yeah. I’m , I’m gonna Starbucks. Okay. It’s down there on the right. Okay , great. That’s that’s fantastic. How far is down there?” You know, and , uh , and having this awareness of its like 300 feet down on the right, we can pace that out. We have a rough idea what that is. So having that virtual concept before you get there is so unbelievably empowering and then, you know, actually getting there and , and walking along, you , you know, it doesn’t matter if that place then is, is packed or, or empty if there’s a lot of audio interruption, but cause it’s busy or, or , you know, maintenance work going on, which may be distracting, et cetera . You know, that is, that is so, so beneficial.
Greg Stilson: 33:48
Very cool. Um, with regards to GoodMaps Europe, is there anything coming in the pipeline that you wanna talk about or any, any , um , any, any other initiatives that we didn’t cover?
Neil Barnfarther: 33:59
Sure. Um , well I think the biggest thing is , um, we , we are commencing the expansion , uh , into the European area, specifically mainland Europe. And , um, that, that is just really exciting to see that as we’re beginning to actually have , uh, physical locations, that , um, brands that are very well recognized in transport, in , um, corporate and in academia and indeed in retail are becoming exposed to the products we, we are , I mean, I’m getting calls literally from people and they’re saying, Hey, you know, we’d like to discuss it. What does it look like? Let’s talk it through. And when I’m proffering to them , you know, can I tell you where your nearest location is ? So you can go and try it. Uh , invariably, now I’m beginning to hear, that’s why we’re speaking to you. We’ve already tried it in that location. And so they’ve, they’ve sampled it and now they want it. That ., That is great. And specifically in the U.K., Obviously that the big thing is that , uh , the retail organizations are really beginning to ramp up and say, “okay, we’ve done the pilots. Now let’s talk about, you know, wholesale, you know, our entire estates.” So we’re beginning to talk about, you know, “what does that look like?” You know, and, and “what does that mean for our community” and, and the wider demographic to mean that people can actually go into these places and access them autonomously, you know? And, and that is my , when you sort of think it is 2022 , and finally that equality, that inclusion message is actually becoming a reality. Uh , I , I , I can’t convey how, how powerful that is. Um , but , but specifically transport and, and retail are the standout areas from a public perspective. Um, and it , it , it’s super pleasing to see corporates responding in this way as well. You know, having an , a corporation say, this actually matters. You know, this is all part of our, you know, we’ve, we’ve got our agenda, we’ve had our disability, our include agenda for these years , but how do we actually welcome people in, how do we help them in the interview phase? How do we do all that? How do we make people feel at ease? And, you know, people really taking that on board that this matters, and it should be something that’s done that that’s really good.
Greg Stilson: 36:12
I love it. I love it. Um, I’ll spin this over to Mike or Jose. You, you know, GoodMaps is, is now becoming a global company. Um, and you guys are seeing success , uh, around the world, right. Can you just talk about a few of the, the , the global organizations, companies, places that you’ve mapped, that, that people would know of , um, that, that, that, you know, they , they could try this out or things like that, you know , uh , Neil talked about a few , uh , train stations and, and transport locations in the UK, any anything in the , the global perspective that you can mention?
Mike May: 36:48
Yeah, thanks Greg . Well , Neil summarized things quite well in terms of how the app works and the , the value, the benefits of it. And of course the big challenge for GoodMaps is scaling this. Uh , when you , when you think of the world being mapped outdoors, and 20 years ago there , the everything wasn’t mapped and points of interest had to be added and streets needed to be added. And so we’re kind of in that part of the curve, right at the beginning, in terms of indoor navigation, it’s a huge, but it’s also a huge challenge. One of our first international partners, or definitely our first was , uh , CNIB. And so that’s where we , we have a partner that’s helping to make this happen in Canada, starting out with one of the CNIB facilities. We have many discussions going on with other English speaking country is in Australia, in particular who, who have been , um , real advocates for all sorts of , uh , accessible navigation for a long time. And I’m sure something will happen there sooner than later, New Zealand. And then going beyond the English speaking countries to , uh , to many of the others. There’s some, some blindness agencies who’ve always been involved in accessible navigation , uh , in Israel, in Spain, Netherlands , uh , I mean, you name it. Uh, the world is reaching out to us and of course us back to them to work on the collaboration so that we can get demo sites into these different facilities. And as Neil says, once somebody has the opportunity to go check it out, then they have that aha moment. This is great because we know that , uh , the side of people, they , they obviously use GPS and navigation and it’s important. It becomes very essential in their lives, but there , they do have an alternative to look around and see print signs. So where you’re in , um , this situation where you don’t have print signs, and you can only depend on well-meaning cited people to ask questions of, if there happen to be somewhere around this kind of accessible information is huge as we’ve learned outdoors, and now we’re helping to people to realize how important it is, indoors everything from malls to airports, to hospitals, universities, et cetera .
Greg Stilson: 39:00
Yep . Absolutely. Anything that we didn’t cover , um , in sort of the global initiatives that you all have. It sounds like you have a bunch, it sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you, but , um, any , anything that you’d like to be seeing happening here in the next , uh , 12 months or so related to, to your global initiative?
Jose Gaztambide: 39:18
Yeah. I’ll just come in here, Greg. Um, I , I think you’re going to see a really rapid expansion , uh, of venues that are supported by good maps on the, on the global scale. Uh, and , and really particularly , uh, in the , in Europe and in Canada , uh, there’s a lot demand both because of enabling legislation, but also because of the culture and the , those two geographies and the, and the emphasis that they put on accessibility , uh , and that’s gonna directly translate into more spaces that people can walk into and , and navigate independently. Uh, so we’re just, we’re just really excited about the feedback we’re getting , uh, in the kind of momentum that we’re seeing in those international markets.
Greg Stilson: 39:58
Awesome. Well, I am looking forward to seeing good maps in more places, worldwide. Um, being able to, you know, I think we all have this dream as, as blind people, to be able to board a plane in our home location, go travel internationally, exit a plane in our destination, and be able to navigate both airports completely independent. I mean , if , if I was going to boil a , a dream that I think almost every blind person shares down to that , um, you know, good maps has the potential to do that. So let’s cross our fingers that that dream can become a reality. So , um, I wanna thank all of you for, for joining us, Neil , thank you so much for joining us from the UK. Hopefully COVID allows me to come see you at some point this this year . Um , but , uh, thank you so much for joining us and, and keep up the great work.
Neil Barnfarther: 40:43
Thank you so much, Greg. I really appreciate having me.
Jose Gaztambide: 40:45
Thank you, Greg.
Greg Stilson: 40:47
So obviously the foundation of GoodMaps was built around accessibility. We we’ve heard a lot about that so far, joining us now to join me in a conversation really about accessibility as a whole, is the Consumer Technology Association Foundation’s Executive Director, Steve Ewell, and also in , in this conversation is Mike May , which he is a , CTA board member as well. Um, so thank you both for, for joining in this really , uh , exciting part of the conversation.
Steve Ewell: 41:16
Thanks for having us here. And it’s , uh , exciting to have this conversation and talk about some of the accessibility we saw at CES this year.
Mike May: 41:24
Yeah. Thank you.
Greg Stilson: 41:26
All right , Steve. So CES was a little different this year, but I’m sure that accessibility was still something that was talked about. Can you talk to us a little bit about what accessibility things came out of CES, any initiatives or, or things that came up this year?
Steve Ewell: 41:41
Yeah, absolutely. And , and yeah, as you , uh , said, it was certainly a little bit of a , a different year for us at , uh , CES, but , uh, we are excited to continue to have , uh , accessibility be a major topic for us , uh , at the show. And there’s a variety of different activities that we have throughout the, the year to , uh , be able to , uh , highlight accessibility and really bring that to the show. You know, one of the, the major projects that we do each year is we have our Eureka park accessibility contest , uh, and maps was actually one of our previous winners. Uh, they won , uh , back at the CES 2020. Um, but this year we had five new companies there , uh, representing a , a wide variety of different technologies , um, right in the, the very opening area of , uh , Eureka Park. So , uh , it’s a great way for us to highlight just a couple, the startups working in the , uh, accessibility space, it’s both accessibility and aging for that contest. Uh , we also do , uh , a program called our Accessibility Round Table. And this is actually one of the, the highlights for the show. For me, it’s an opportunity for us to bring together , uh , leaders from the disability community as, as leaders from , um , across the industry and talk about some of the big issues going on related to accessibility, but also, you know, talk about some of the technologies that we’re gonna see , um, at CES. So this year, you know, topics range from, you know, some of the hearing technologies now that we’re seeing , uh, over the counter hearing , uh, uh, rules , uh , starting to, to come out , um, looking at virtual work technologies and what are the, the technologies that can assist as we’ve all been , uh, working in the, the COVID pandemic , uh , world, and now shifting towards more of a , a hybrid world and , and what are the accessibility challenges and , and opportunities that come out of that. And then it’s just an opportunity for a number of different , uh , both companies. And , uh, as I said, the disability advocates to really share some of the, the opportunities and challenges and build those relationships. And that’s one of the key parts , uh, for me, is being able to bring people together, have those introductions and start to look at how can we all work together, little bit better , uh, to make sure that , uh, accessibility is built into some of the, the broader , uh , general consumer , uh , technologies and , uh, building those relationships that will ultimately make better products for, for all of us. Um, so in , in addition to that, there’s a variety of different, you know, panels and programs and use and things like that that happen throughout the show. Um, and you know, it’s always great to have people like, you know, Mike who’s , uh , one of our , uh , trustees , uh , at the show , uh , walking around the show for as well and finding all the, the great technologies , uh , that I may not , uh, always get to see everything. So , um, I don’t know if Mike wants to add , uh , some of the things that he saw as well.
Greg Stilson: 44:39
Yeah. Mike, why don’t you talk about some of the things you were texting me about or putting on Facebook cuz you found some cool stuff.
Mike May: 44:45
Yeah. Well it’s definitely a situation where you wanna divide and conquer and that’s why it’s been great. That CES has reached out and, and gotten different people from the accessibility community to come and look because with hundreds of thousands of, of people to meet with and companies to interact with, you just can’t possibly , uh , see everything all of the time. I really enjoy the fact that since good maps has a product, that’s both for accessibility and for the general market, we’re part of a mainstream event and seeing our , uh , our booth there, right, and mixed in with everybody from sleep number mattresses, to healthcare products, to , uh , tracking products , uh , we were there to, to meet with people and, and to develop relationships as far as products that I saw, there weren’t as many in terms of accessibility, but I’m hoping that that’s because more accessibility is being baked into products. A lot of , uh , companies have apps and they don’t necessarily know if those apps are accessible or not. And so one of the, the fun things myself and other blind people do is to say, well, let’s turn on voiceover and see how your, your app works. And then this makes them very nervous. But you actually find out that some of them work quite well from , uh , robotic products like , uh , the Labrador, which is a robotic cart that moved your stuff around , uh , there’s asset tracking companies , uh , which we really want to collaborate with, cuz it’s part of, once you have good maps in your building, you can track where your stuff is. Uh , so those are just a couple of the categories of things that we touched on. Uh, in terms of accessibility, there was a company that had an obstacle detection device with cameras and headphones and they deliver were that information to you. So you’d have a , a spatial understanding of your surroundings and what’s in front of you. Uh , that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Greg Stilson: 46:40
Oh, very cool. Yeah. I , uh, the , the , the accessibility round table is always sort of the , the highlight that I’ve been to as well. And it was such a bummer not to, to make it this year. I know , uh , I think our president Mader was, was there. Um, I was glad that he was able to be there. Steve, what other big initiatives does CTA have , uh , CTA Foundation have on the, on the pipeline related to accessibility?
Steve Ewell: 47:05
Yeah, absolutely. And , uh, and you know, our foundation is focused in on how technology can help both older adults and people with disabilities. So just about EV everything that we do has accessibility as really a , a core piece , um, whether we’re working with the aging population or people with disabilities at , at all ages. Um , so there’s a lot , uh , happening a lot going on. Um, and actually this year , uh , we’re getting ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the CTA foundation, which , uh, to me just seems like time has , uh , flown by , uh, as we’ve , uh , launched and, and built this foundation. Um , so we’re, we’re really looking at ways we can highlight , uh , a number of the programs, both the companies we’ve worked with, the nonprofits that we’ve supported , uh, including APH , uh , which has been , uh , an incredible partner , uh, with us , um, as we celebrate our 10th anniversary and look at how we’re gonna be able to, to build off that with a , a new strategic plan , uh , to make an even bigger impact in our, our coming next 10 years. Um , but on top of that, we continuing to , uh, look at our, our grants programs. You know, the CTA Foundation really , uh, tackles our , our mission through three key key pillars. Uh , one of which is looking at how we can do the convenings, things like that accessibility , uh , round table . And yes, we were thrilled to have , uh , Craig (Meador) representing , uh , APH there., Things like , uh , the , the , um , pitch contests and other activities where we really promote innovation as our , our , our second , uh , pillar of activity. And then the third is that funding and working with nonprofits across the country that are using technology to serve their communities. So a lot of great , uh , opportunities coming. Um , and can’t wait to , uh , be able to announce a few things , uh , here soon.
Greg Stilson: 48:53
Very cool, happy birthday CTA Foundation. So there you go. Um, you know, Mike, you kind of alluded to this, I , I don’t know if you guys have a sort of general consensus feel for , um , the way the accessibility field is going or a trend the accessibility field is going. Mike, you alluded to it by saying that there’s a lot of companies that are starting to bake accessibility right into their app experiences and things like that. I’m just wondering if, if one or both of you could, could kind of give me your opinion on, are you seeing a trend in the way that accessibility is being looked at today in the technology field?
Mike May: 49:30
I, I think we’re the trend in terms of attention and visibility in companies. So they have their diversity and inclusion officers and some have accessibility departments, and that’s all great. Are we getting better in terms of what the end user experiences I’d say? Yes, but we’ve got a lot other to go than we’ve come. Uh , because most of the accessibility that I find at these different companies, if it’s there, it’s accidental, it’s because they follow the right guidelines when they develop their app and their app works. And so it’s accessible. There’s also more and more technology that’s addressing issues that helps us all. And I think that that , and , uh , is, is definitely helpful. The fact that you’re having more automation, voice input is huge. Uh , that’s not really intended for blind people, although we probably championed it and started it long before anybody. Now it’s coming into ma a lot of products. And then when you have voice control of products, that also means then it’s easier for everybody to use. And when things are easier for everybody than blind people, fortunately benefit from that. I also wanna mention that a unique thing about CT, the CES is that CTA provides guides for the show days, and this is an amazing opportunity for people to see for themselves what’s out there and go at their own pace and have full accommodation. And I don’t know of any other large show or almost any show that provides that kind of accommodation. It’s amazing.
Greg Stilson: 51:06
In a event , you, as large as Vegas, it’s probably really valuable.
Mike May: 51:10
Steve Ewell: 51:12
And that’s something that we’ve , uh , you know, it’s really a priority for us. As we look at CES, we wanna make it a accessible show for our attendees regardless of , uh, disability. Um, and you know, that, that it’s a real priority for us, as Mike said, it’s not a accessibility focused show. Um, in , in the way, you know, some of the other, you know, the CSUN’s and other conference along those lines would be, excuse me, would be , uh , but essentially , uh , as a general consumer technology show, looking at the broader population, it’s important for us to make sure that accessibility is a key topic there, and it’s starting to get more companies to pay attention. We had things like, you know, Samsung had a , a big accessibility portion of their booth, where they were highlighting everything from , uh, ways that their televisions could adapt to various types of color blindness to , uh, screen readers and their refrigerator , uh, touch screens and , uh, sign language in some of their menus. So , um, you know, the fact that we’re getting large global brands like that , uh, they also highlighted accessibility as part of their , uh , keynote , uh , address as well. Uh, but it’s not just us, you know, the large global brands like that. It’s everyone from the, the small startups , the , the mid-size companies and more , uh, and this is really an opportunity for us to get in front of those , um, companies that aren’t, don’t have someone who’s a full-time accessibility , uh , expert on their staff and help them understand why it so important to address these issues. And , uh, and that is why it’s so important for us to have leaders from the disability community at the show, whether they’re representing , uh, some of the, the advocacy organizations or whether they’re, you know, members of the industry. And I think that’s , uh , where it’s really important for us to highlight, you know, it’s not just the advocacy organization, but there’s a lot of people , uh , within the industry that , uh , have disabilities. And they can really , uh , help as we look at designing the , the best products for , uh , people moving forward.
Greg Stilson: 53:20
I love it. That’s, that’s, that’s a great way to summarize it. And I mean, when you look at it 10 years ago, would we have ever seen televisions that when you turn them on, have, you know, text to speech that are for somebody who’s visually impaired, I think 10 years ago, the question of do blind people, we’ve watched TV is really something that people ask . So , um, I think we definitely are seeing progress and , um, it’s just very cool to, to have an organization like CTA Foundation helping to kind of further the further the mission there. So thanks for what you, what you guys are all doing. Um, anything else that we, we didn’t talk about, or any other initiatives that , that you wanna bring up before we, we let you go,
Steve Ewell: 53:59
I’ll jump in first and Mike have , may have some , uh , others, but , uh, you know, we’re constantly looking for, you know, partner is , uh , key stakeholders that we can work with , uh, both in the, the for-profit and nonprofit world, as we bring people together and really continue to , uh, educate , uh, people about the types of technologies that can help people of all ages and abilities. Uh , and that’s why, you know, I really , uh , appreciate APH , uh, covering this issue and the, the work that , uh, you all are doing , uh, to, to make , uh , technologies that , uh , really do some , uh , great work in this space. So , uh , we really appreciate , uh , APH as a partner. Um, you know, beyond that , uh, if people, you know, are interested in kind of seeing some of the other activities that we’ll have throughout the year , um, basically go to , uh , our website at ctafoundation .tech. It’s T ECH , or find us on, you know, the various social , uh , media channels , uh , Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn , uh , we’re now on Instagram. Uh , and we we’ll be keeping those up to date with , uh , other activities that we have throughout the year.
Mike May: 55:05
Yeah. And I’ll echo with , Steve’s said in terms of partners and collaboration, it’s really important. We , we can’t do this without them and they can’t do it without us. So I think it’s, it’s important for any company to know, small to large that there are resources out there, APH, GoodMaps, CTA Foundation, and many more to address more, more than just web accessibility. That tends to be the focus in terms of my life. And I think most blind people these days, it’s more about app accessibility, which needs a lot more attention and that can be done very easily through , uh , having beta testers and consultants to help advise when a product is, is good or not. And that’s a lot cheaper if you do it from the ground up rather than you try to retrofit after the fact.
Greg Stilson: 55:55
Absolutely. Well, thank you both for , uh, for, for joining us today. And we, we look forward to hearing about what what’s happening , uh, with CTA Foundation next year, hopefully , uh , after a really, really successful CES 2023.
Steve Ewell: 56:09
Great. Well thank you for having us and , uh, it’s great to have this conversation.
Mike May: 56:14
Thank you very much. I appreciate being part of the conversation and collaborating with Steve U and all the good work he’s doing at the CTA Foundation.
Greg Stilson: 56:23
I’m gonna hand it back over to Sara.
Sara Brown: 56:26
Thank you so much, Greg. And we’ll be sure to put any links or websites mentioned in the show notes. And thank you again so much for listening to this episode of Changemakers and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a changemaker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Welcome to Changemakers a podcast from APH. We’re talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here’s your host.
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers. I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . On this podcast, we’re celebrating Black History Month. We’re gonna talk to one woman with an amazing story, and that woman is Deena Lambert. She works for NASA headquarters as their Space Technology Mission Directorate as their DEIA Lead. DEIA stands for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Hello, Deena and welcome to Change Makers.
Denna Lambert: 0:47
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 0:49
First off, NASA. Wow! I’m sure you get that a lot. Can you tell us what you do there?
Denna Lambert: 0:58
STMD , uh, the Space Technology Mission. They decided that , um, they needed to, to some expertise and , um, someone to really dig in deep with their , uh , various programs and projects , um, to help them kind of move the, the needle or make some progress and ensure that our , um, our research opportunities, funding opportunities, grants , uh, prizes and competitions were open and barrier free to , um, as many researchers and innovators as possible. So , um, I was brought in , um, to, to lead that effort and it’s pretty exciting because , um, STMD is very much an outward facing function of NASA , uh, in that, you know, a lot of times people will think of NASA as , um, you know, astronauts and, and space shuttles and, and that sort of thing. But , um, we have a very huge commitment and investment to research, and that’s where it , um, people who are in who are students grad students can engage in the work, professors, academia , uh , small businesses can really , um, say, “Hey, we have a new technology that we would like to bring to NASA,” or “we would like to apply NASA technology in this commercial or academic space.” So , um, that’s, what’s really exciting is that it brings NASA’s , uh , work home. That that’s what I really , um, like about the work that, that I have kind of set out before me.
Sara Brown: 2:42
Okay. Now, switching gears, let’s go back to the beginning. Can you talk about your childhood, where you were born and your family?
Denna Lambert: 2:52
So I , uh , currently live in the Washington, D.C. Area, but like most , uh , D.C . or DMV residence , I , uh, made my way here through Arkansas. So I originally was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. Uh, I am a only child to , uh , my parents who are now in their late seventies. My mom is sighted, but my dad is blind. And so that’s where I was born, with congenital cataracts , um, and started out receiving , um , blindness related services , uh , even as a baby , um , because my dad and, and my mom were both advocates for me getting , um, a , a head start in my education.
Sara Brown: 3:39
So you say your parents advocated for you as a baby. Do you remember any of the ways, or the ways they told you how they advocated for you?
Denna Lambert: 3:50
Well , um, so I remember , um, my dad mentioned that , uh, his principal , uh , which, you know, this goes way back, his principal was , uh , Mr. Ewell, who was the , um, superintendent , uh , uh , for a period of time at the segregated School for the Blind in Arkansas, where he attended school, because back in the , um, the forties and fifties. Um , schools, even Schools for the Blind were segregated. But , um, so eventually , uh , his principal , um, Mr. Ewell became , uh , my piano teacher. Uh , but in that, in that , in between time, he kind of mentored my dad in , uh, making sure that I received early intervention services. So a , uh , Teacher of the Visually Impaired or TVI , uh, would, would come to my parents’ home. And I remember them bringing, you know, toys and , uh , sensory objects and things , um, to my house. I thought it was a bunch of play time , but there was actual learning and skill development , uh, early on. And then when my parents had to consider what , um, uh , school environment would be , uh , best suited for me, whether it was a School for the Blind or a public school system , um, they engaged , um , the TVI, and other early intervention specialists to make a decision that , um, I would, you know, engage with the school for the blind, for like summer programs and, and , um, you know, some, some other , um, outreach activities, but that they chose a school environment for me, going from kindergarten through , uh , graduation from high school.
Sara Brown: 5:49
Now, what was it like going through school with a visual impairment and as a person of color? Did you have any challenges?
Denna Lambert: 5:57
Well, I think for a while, I kind of struggled in, you know, what, what parts of myself , um, were kind of more prevalent, you know, so in that my, one of the things that , um , my , uh , TVI , um , Paula Brown, she was amazing. She, she followed me from , uh , the time that I was three years old through, you know, high school graduation. And she knew which schools had the best , um, you know, technology and, and, and, and teachers and, and that sort of thing. Um, one of the choices that we made or that my parents made early on is for me to go to an elementary school that was , um, primarily located in a very , um, uh, affluential , uh, neighborhood, which at , at the time basically meant it was a very white neighborhood. So at the time when I started kindergarten back in, you know, the , the late eighties , um, I was the only black student, you know, in , in , in my class and, and for a number of years , um, until there was more integration that happened and, and more students were being bused from certain neighborhoods to the, these other schools. So that’s where , you know, I , I know only had to kind of face, you know, well , what are, what are these, you know, feelings or differences that I see as a black person, but what are these things that I’m experiencing as a blind person? Because even in my only neighborhood , which was pre predominantly black, you know, I sometimes didn’t feel like I fit in either because I was then faced with, you know, the , the fact of being blind. So a lot of times that’s where , um , going to, to the school for the blind and getting chance to interact with other , um, students of color , um, who were blind, that’s where I felt like I was more like socially accepted. And then, you know, as I kind of grew older, you know, different parts of myself that I was starting to explore of being, you know, identifying as, as a black woman and taking pride in , you know, my, my, you know , natural hair. Um , and then how am I gonna take care of that natural hair? Or , um, am I gonna , um, utilize a , a , a white cane or a guide dog, you know, as you grow as an , as an adult, a young adult to an adult. You know, you , you kind of , you know start to figure out various layers of yourself, versus, you know, so like for me, it was being, you know, a black woman with natural hair and not being accepted more so in a professional environment , um, to “do I use a white cane or a guide dog?” And , and do I, you know, take on more of the identity of being , um, kind of visibly blind and , and using those non-visual techniques , um, versus trying to pass as sight . Um, and, and then entering into the technology space, which traditionally had been , um, white male. Learning how to , um, you know, to speak up and to , to also be confident in the skills and experiences that I do bring. Because it , it, sometimes it’s very easy when you are kind of the, the a first one or the only one in , in many spaces to kind of doubt your, your, you know, you know, ability to, to , uh , bring value. And, and so, you know, I know , um, for myself now, I’m , I’m kind of always having to be my own hype person. Um, as I’m taking , be on this new role of leading out a , a , a portfolio for space technology. That “hey, this is a new field. And, you know, yeah, my, my 20 years of experience at NASA, you know , is, is gonna help me do the best job that I can do,” and that I have just as much of a right to be there just as , as , as anyone else. So , um, yeah, it, it, I think the, the phrase that people , um, hear more of is intersectionality and, and that’s very much the case for me as a , uh , blind , uh , woman of color. Particularly in the , the space , um , space, field , or space industry.
Sara Brown: 10:42
And what was it like when you graduated? What was your job search? What was that like? What obstacles did you face?
Denna Lambert: 10:49
So , um, uh, oh my goodness. Um, so I graduated , uh , with a , um , actually I graduated a business degree and a , a minor in math. I originally started in , uh, college as an Electrical Engineering major. Um, and , and , and that’s a whole story of itself. That, you know, that I will say I , uh, faced more obstacles as a, as a blind student. Um , but when you place , um , being one of the very few minorities in the Electoral Engineering program , um, I, I think I, I often say that I let other people’s doubts as to of my ability become my own doubts. And that is one part of my life that I wish I had had, you know, been able to stay the course and, and complete my engineering degree, but thankfully I still ended up at NASA and, and involved in, you know, innovation and, and, and great things there. But , um, so when I graduated with this business degree and, and, you know , um, you know, doing the job search, I would wear the, you know, the, the big padded shoulders that would , you know, those were the, the big trends at the time was to, you know, have a , a blazer and very, you know, corporate like. I would go to, you know, interviews and I had my white cane, or I had my, my guide dog and, you know , um, you know , they, it , it , it was discouraging to , um, go into those interviews with, you know, a lot of hope , um, about, “hey, this, this, I could be landing my next job,” but then come back home and see a job description change to requiring a driver’s license. And , and, and that would be kind of an out, for many recruiters to , um, disqualify me from , um, you know, the , the , the job, because I , I couldn’t, you know, I didn’t have a driver’s license. Um , and I, I didn’t have either the willpower at the time or the skill to, to fight those , um, rejections, you know, I just kind of kept going. So that’s where I did receive , um, more of a positive outlook when I plugged into , um, a network called the, the Center for Opportunities and or Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities. And they had partnerships with private , uh, companies , uh, NASA was included who was actively and intentionally looking for , uh , people with disabilities. Not in, let’s say the, you know , customer service , um, oriented positions with HR that is a career feeling of itself, but sometimes people can feel very boxed in, into those kind of positions. But they were looking for engineers, they were looking for it specialists. They were looking for procurement specialists. So when I was at their conference, I met a representative from NASA who asked, would I be willing to move from Arkansas? And, you know, I was like, “yes. I was like, yes, I will .” Cause at that point I had gotten to a, a state of, you know, pessimism, maybe that I was ready to leave the, a job search and go back to school for a grad school degree. It really didn’t matter what degree I was getting. I just wanted to be doing something other than, you know, beating the streets every week and getting rejection letters. So , um, so I , I , at that point, yeah, Arkansas was ready to go just about anywhere. If they had said Antarctica, I probably would’ve said no, but you know, D.C. Was, was just fine. So , um, I interviewed , um, thankfully , um , by having NASA being committed to diversity and, and, and accessibility , um, they, they did have the support systems in place. Uh, traditionally the Federal Government has been a very welcoming space , uh, to people with disabilities. There’s certainly a lot of work left to be done, but , um, it, it , it certainly was a step up from what I was experiencing with, with other companies at that time. And I think those same companies , um, uh , like Walmart, like Enterprise, like a couple other places that were recruiting in Arkansas, they are, you know, moving forward with their , um , various Diversity and Inclusion efforts. But , um, so I, I interviewed applied and applied, interviewed and was selected as a Contract Specialist in , uh, 2004. And , uh, that’s when I began my career with Federal Government.
Sara Brown: 16:13
So now you’re at NASA. Can you talk a little bit more about your job duties there?
Denna Lambert: 16:17
Sure. U m, so I am the, u h, Lead for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility for Space Technology, u m, which, you know, it’s pretty awesome. I t, all of the, u m, ideas and innovations and technology that goes into, u h, s ending up satellites, s ending up instruments, sending up, you know, astronauts, u m, all of that culminates into t he, these larger missions that we h ear a bout like J ames Webb Telescope or, u m, the international Space Station. U m, there are hundreds and even thousands of technologies that are, you know, kind of serve that pipeline. So what my role now is, is to make sure that we are opening, u m, that pipeline t o a ny, u m, researchers and, u m, innovators and entrepreneurs who would like to, u h, play a part in that. U m, but NASA is a large agency. We, we deal with aeronautics, we deal with, u m, human exploration. We deal with science missions. Um, so there were, there a re a lot of s kill s ets that are needed to, u m, accomplish o ur, o ur, o ur goals. U m, so I started out as a Contract Specialist, u m, which basically is someone who, u h, establishes agreements or contracts with, u h, private industry, u m, based on t he, t he, the needs that we have, and that can range from, u m, to trash and removal services, janitorial services to actually building flight hardware. U m, so, u m, that, u h, that was my starting point and being able to grow and develop into a Project Manager, u m, a t a , you know, couple years back and get the, you know, retooling and retraining, u m, to take on that role where I was leading a team to, u m, renovate one of our, o ur research buildings. And I had to work with architects and interior designers and scientists and, and it folks. U m, and then, u h, now I ‘m, I’m leading this team, u h, i n, i n Space Technology, which is, is pretty awesome
Sara Brown: 18:52
Right now. I feel like companies are starting to acknowledge their discrimination against minorities, you know, whiskey brand, Jack Daniels. They had Nathan “Nearest” Green. He was a former slave who taught young Jack Daniel, how to make whiskey. NASA was in a similar situation years ago with a particular movie that originated from a book, “Hidden Figures.” What are your thoughts about that?
Denna Lambert: 19:18
You know, a couple years ago, I think it was maybe five years ago, the , um, hidden figures , um, book and ultimately movie was shown , um, NASA had to wrestle with its own kind of , uh , skeletons and its own barriers of, you know, discrimination , um, that, you know, have, have had to help us, you know, ultimately evolve into a , a , a better working environment where, you know, it , it , it should not matter , uh , what your skin color is and, and it should not matter what your disability is that, you know, if, if you have a skill or a talent or an idea, then, then yes, come and be a part of, you know, the work we have to do. Um, so yeah, NAS , NASA’s great, but we’ve had to do a lot of work along the way as well.
Sara Brown: 20:09
Overall, what challenges have you faced as a black woman with a visual impairment?
Denna Lambert: 20:17
I think , uh, I, I, I can’t remember if it , it was Helen Keller, but the sentiment is that the , “the greatest disability there is to actually having a disability not so much of the, the condition or vision loss itself, but it’s more of the attitudes that , um, that the public may have about disability.” Um, so , you know, for instance , um, you know, I , I , if I’m out, you know, shopping , um, actually I I’ll give you a specific example. Um, I needed to replace a, you know, my dishwasher, you know, in my home, the home that I actually own and pay a mortgage to. And, you know, so my neighbor who is cited , uh, she, you know, is a , a white, older, white woman. Um, she helps me out with, with driving and , and that sort of thing. So we have a , a , a great relationship. I help her out with IT services, and she helps me out with transportation. So , um, we went shopping for a , a dishwasher and the sales people would, would go to her , um, assuming that she was the customer, and we would repeatedly have to tell them that, no, I am the customer. I am paying for this. And the , this is for my home that I actually own. And sometimes that can get really that , that can get really exhausting when you’re having to kind of push the envelope of what people think you’re capable of. Um, you know, that it can be like, you know, if , if they doubt whether I own a home, or hold down a job, then can I become a parent? Can I live that dream out of becoming a parent? And then actually, you know , um, came to be that, you know, the , the route that I chose to become a mom was through adoption and the way that most private adoption work is that an expected family chooses the adoptive family, that they would like their , their child to be raised in. And I know I had to have some real deep internal conversations with myself to really say, “Yes, I, I can do this.” Um, even though, you know, there were folks along the way , um, that were really scared and hesitant about how can a blind woman , you know, raise a child, even though we know good and well that there are , um, blind women and blind men who are great parents , um, those and the authority may doubt that. So I really had to kind of , um, you know, kind of get right with myself and , and boost my own confidence , um, to be able to say, “Yes, I can be a, a wonderful parent, a responsible parent for a, a , a future child.” And, you know, it turned out that actually, it , it wasn’t so much of a factor , um, that went into , um, my, my son’s , um, birth mom , uh , you know, decided when she, she selected me. Um , it was more of the, the interest that I had, like Girl Scouting and robotics and stem that she wanted for her , um, at the time unborn child. Um, it wasn’t so much of, “oh my goodness, she’s blind.” Um, though we did have conversations about it . Um, but it wasn’t, you know, the , the make or break thing for, for her. Um, so I think it , it’s definitely not allowing the skepticism, the doubts, the concern to become our own. I think after I went through that experience of switching my major, which was a career choice , um, to , to move away from engineering, by training , um, I, I kind of vowed to myself that I would , I would never do that again. I, I would never let someone else’s doubts, become my own. Um, so, but to , in order to do that, I needed to surround myself with , um, very wise and confident black women that can speak to , um, the experiences of a black woman. I, I needed to find great , um, blind mentors, people who could help me along the way and answering the questions that are, you know, specific to blindness of how to, you know, how am I gonna teach my little boy, how to potty train, if I can’t see what he’s doing? You know, those sort of things. Yeah . But , uh , you know, it , it’s, it’s like I needed to build a village for myself , um, to be able to speak to the , the whole person of who I am as a blind woman of color, if , if that makes sense.
Sara Brown: 25:36
Wow. No, it all makes sense. And you’ve got.. It’s, it’s one of those situations where you do, you have to surround yourself with the right people. And find your tribe. That’s all the thing to say, but that it’s so true. Beucase when you find the right people that understand you and have maybe gone through it and can speak with some, you know, with your best interest, then you can, you can go anywhere and you can do anything.
Denna Lambert: 26:03
So , yeah. Yeah. Cause I , I , I definitely , um, want to , it’s one of those things, I , I , I know it’s like, you know, one , one of “wanting my cake and eat it to ,” I don’t know if that’s the right analogy in that. I want someone who can empathize and understand and, you know, know, you know, the struggle that it is to be, you know, a blind person navigating in a mostly sighted, you know, work environment, or as a , a black woman navigating in a predominantly white work environment. But at the same time, I want somebody who can call me to the carpet as well, and, and can say, “Hey, Denna, you need to get over yourself. You need to really, you know, either take accountability for something or, Hey, no, stop making up excuses, go after it.” Um, and, and, you know, that’s what, you know, having a good tribe, a good village, you know, a good community, or whether we call it a network, that that’s what it is. And I think those things are really important. U m, i f, if you’re talking about, u m, you know, growing into a person that can hopefully, u h, bring change or influence to other people, y ou, you gotta have that, that support, you know, kind o f, you know, being able to stand on somebody else’s shoulders. So
Sara Brown: 27:25
Looking back on everything that you’ve done, where you’ve been places you’ve traveled just life, what are some of the things you look back on with sheer awe?
Denna Lambert: 27:37
Um, so , uh , so, okay. Um, I, so before I, I became, you know , I , I made a decision at, at 36 that I wanted to be, You know, be a mom. And, but I wanted to, to live my best life. Do as much fun stuff that I could do as a , as of a single person, you know, child-free. So I decided that I wanted to travel the world and I, you know , um, I found this company, you know, it was primarily just through internet searches , uh , called you know, Traveleyes. And I, you know, I picked one of their, their holidays or their trips that, you know, we , we were gonna do a cruise to, from , um, Athens to, oh my goodness, where did we end up? Uh , um , can’t remember where we ended up, but , um, it was, it was to Greece and Croatia and other couple other countries. But on my way there , um, I, my plane was delayed, so I could not meet up with the group in Manchester, in the UK. So I had to figure out as a blind person and a country, it was Lithuania , um, how to get connected from Iceland to Lithuania, and then ultimately to Athens , uh, in a , a space where , uh , surprisingly English was, was available. But of course, navigating as one of the very few black people that, you know, goodness others had seen and Lithuania landing at like two or three o’clock in the morning there , it was a pretty wild experience , um , to , to say the least that, wow, I kept it together. I , I called my neighbor and , and was kind of frantic. She was like, “you wanna go to Athens? I was like, yeah, you wanna go on your cruise? Yeah. She was like, well, you gotta keep your stuff together. If you don’t, they’re gonna haul you off any of those things .” Um, so looking back, that was kind of a crazy time to, to end up thousands of miles away from home in a country that was not my own and in a place that I had never been before for “how do I use my orientation and mobility skills?” “How do I ask for what I need and ask for, you know, usable information of where to go” and even something as simple as I didn’t realize in other countries, they had, they use a different style of keyboard, you know, than , than what we use here in the U.S. Um, and so I had to have somebody help me with just using a keyboard. So that was pretty wild. Uh, and, and I kinda , I , I , I kind of tucked that away as kind of the wild, crazy stories that I’ll, I’ll be able to share with my son, but I look back on that and say, “I could not have kept it together if it not have been those lessons learned or those mistakes that I had made that I had to learn from , um, prior to that point,” that, that ultimately helped me to have the, the , the Hupa the confidence to actually, you know, live through that.
Sara Brown: 31:29
What do you want anyone that’s listening to know about the obstacles that you faced and conquered?
Denna Lambert: 31:37
I think this will probably ring true for, for many of, you know, blind folks that, you know, have had the , to live through , um, you know, this, this pandemic global pandemic that many of us were, were living, you know, pretty normal lives, you know, going to work or going to school , um, you know, doing our thing. We had our systems or of support in place, and then the pandemic it comes and it , uh , roots everything. And then blindness becomes much more of a noticeable obstacle because now we’re having to figure everything out again, of something simple of simple as “how am I gonna get groceries?” “How am I gonna , um, get sighted assistance if I need it?” And I think, I don’t know if it’s as much of overcoming, but knowing that blindness does not have to be insurmountable, but it is an aspect of my life that I will have to manage, you know, I will have to, to , to face it. Um , and you know, not just with, let’s say the pandemic in how I , um, may approach different developmental stages with my son, you know, how much independence do I let him have, you know, and, and still keep , uh , him safe. Um, but also in the , the workplace when I’m , um , you know, dealing with , uh , a it system that isn’t accessible, you know, how do I manage my need for accessibility , uh , with my responsibility to lead a team? You know? Um, so I, I would say that having that, that, that framing of knowing that blindness is not the, you know, the , the full stop barrier, but it is something to, to kind of have to, to manage , um, as part of just living life and knowing that , um, it’s , uh , sometimes I’ve struggled with as, as a , a , a blind mom that believing that my son is, is gonna miss out , um, by, by having a blind mom, I’ve had to kind of reframe that to say, wow, what experience in life will he have? Because he has a blind mom. In that as a blind person, I’m having to always think of adaptations and new ways of doing things that are gonna , um, you know, reinforce that skill of adaptability and resilience. And, you know, he may not have gained those skills, you know, in the same way as you would at , as living with someone who’s blind. Um, so instead of it being a detriment, I’ve had to, you know, really see how it can be more of an asset. And I think that can transfer over into , um, the workplace and our personal lives and our relationships. It’s, it’s really important how we see it within ourselves that helps to kind of project it out towards others. All right . What advice would you give to that little girl who looks like you, who might be listening? Oh my goodness. Um, so definitely if, if I had to go back , um, to, to my younger self back in the, you know , whether it was the eighties or nineties, I, I , um, would probably say, you know, for her to take heart and , and know that, you know , um, things do have a way of, of working , um, itself out. It’s not a , a , a permanent state , um, that, you know, the, the circumstances or things that I’m experiencing , um, will, will hopefully help and shape , um, who I am as an adult in a way that hopefully makes me stronger, that has made me stronger , um, or more confident, or even more like , um, humanistic in , in just being able to experience empathy to, I would say the , to the , the young person who, you know, is a person of color and , uh , with a disability now, I would say, wow, we have made so much more that your experience as a person of color, or as someone with disability, or even both is gonna be so much different that we we’ve had that evolution of experience that, you know , um , that my, my dad was in the generation of having to just fight for survival, you know , um, as a blind person, you know, I get to experience what it’s like to , um, progress. What I hope for the much, you know, younger generation is they can push that envelope further in just thriving. You know, and, and, and really , um, get to get a chance to celebrate, you know, being blind or b eing black, or being a person of color or being whatever it is, whatever characteristic it is of you, that you get to celebrate that and have others t o be able to celebrate along with you. Um, a nd, and i t seen as a, a value, u m, and not, you k now, know something as a , I think i n, in my generation, it’s, it’s been kind of like a, you know, diversity number or a quota. I think we’re, we’re past that point. We’re, we’re now embracing individual identity and how that, you know, is a form of human expression.
Sara Brown: 38:21
And is there anything else you’d like to say?
Denna Lambert: 38:24
Um , oh my goodness. I mean, black History month, I mean, it , it definitely is a month. We, we, we, you know, I , I think definitely it’s, it’s a time of reflection , um, that we can, you know, there’s so much , uh , reflection that, and , and richness that comes from learning from, you know, our elders, our, our ancestors or people who have gone, you know, before us , um, in the blind community , um, in own , uh , cultural communities. And I, I would say, you know, let’s, if we can use this month to step back and hear those stories , um, but also the rest of the year to , um, you know, to, to celebrate those stories and our own stories as well. So it , it it’s, I , I don’t think Black History Month is, is a container by any means, but a place that we really, you know, you know, pull together our energies to, to take us through, you know, the rest of the year , um, and you know, to continue on. Um, so, so yeah, I , I would say definitely , um, take the time to dig deeper in the information that we, we have. Um, let’s say Dr. Martin Luther king was one of them. We have many, many, many examples and our blind community of Change Makers that we can honor and celebrate and learn more about and figure out the lessons that they learn that we can incorporate in , into our , our own lives right now. And I , I think that’s where we get a chance to go deeper , um, in , in this month .
Sara Brown: 40:15
Denna, thank you so much for joining me on Change Makers today.
Denna Lambert: 40:19
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Sara Brown: 40:23
And as always be sure to look for ways you can be a changemaker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Changemakers I’m APHS public relations manager, Sara Brown . And today we’re talking about why it’s important for your child be counted in this census. We’ll hear from APH officials and talk to an EOT about the census. After that we’ll check in with Partners with Paul up first, we have APH President Craig Meador and National Director of Outreach Services, Leanne Grillot. Hello, Craig, and Leanne , and welcome to Change Makers.
Craig Meador and Leanne Grillot: 0:42
Hello to you too , Sarah . Thanks for welcome to be here. Great to be here.
Sara Brown: 0:46
Can you tell us what the census is and its purpose? I think most people know it’s taking sort of taking count to see if numbers and demographics are growing or decreasing. Is that about right?
Craig Meador: 0:59
Yes. Yes. It’s all part of it. This all, all stems back and , and lean I’ll start and you can fill me in and correct me where I get wrong. It goes back to the original Act. Uh, and when Congress set aside funding for APH , uh, they, they wanted to give dollars. And at that time it was a set amount of dollars, but they wanted also to make sure that these dollars were actually going to the people who needed it. And so therefore it required that any state at that time, it was mostly institutions that served people who were blind that were receiving dollars would in essence, conduct a census that would give us a number of students who were blind or visually impaired within each state or at each institution, which would then , um, um, and this is , uh , has morphed over the years, but basically it has resulted , um , as a , a yearly census, as accounting of the students who qualify for services. And then that relates back to a dollar amount. So the more students, the more dollars a state has access to are more a school to the blind has access to.
Leanne Grillot: 2:12
And that’s really about it. It used to be just a census whenever. Now it’s a census every year, and we recognize that our numbers ebb and flow as well as where they are, where the students are , are located each time. And this is schools for the blind, but now it is your state departments of education. There are rehabilitation facilities and VO rehab centers, and some agencies that are working with students that are actually doing a census.
Sara Brown: 2:42
Does the census impact APH?
Craig Meador: 2:46
It , yes. Yeah. I mean the , the obvious answer is number one, we have a whole department that has to do this , uh , Cindy Amback, who is census guru, extraordinaire , uh, uh , sets up the census. It does impact APH , uh , to, because it , it lets us know what the, what the needs are, is are our populations trending one way , uh, or another, we , we get some additional information , um, on the census rather than just knowing how many students we get some ages. We also , um, we know how they’re functioning are these low vision . People are these people who use braille as a primary reading , um, uh , tool. We know if these are people or students who are functioning , uh , as blind, which could relate to the , uh , CVI population, which is one of our largest group or our students with additional disabilities. And so that helps drive what our trainings are gonna be, what products we need to be developing. Also lets us know where the growth is across the region and also helps us best estimate , um, where the trends are going in the future. And , um , so we’re, we’re able to draw some real conclusions from that .
Sara Brown: 4:05
What census information does APH send to the Department of Education?
Craig Meador: 4:10
Um , the only thing that gets reported to the Department of Education gets reported on the annual budget. When I prep a budget every year , uh, a lot of it is driven by census numbers. So , uh , we’re always building our budget two years out in advance , uh , as required by the government. So that is sent , um , uh , sent every July, two years in advance. And so we’re using numbers that are two years old, but all they’re asking for usually on the , the numbers that get reported is we have so many students that and adults that have been identified. And we generally just refer to the, the , the main categories. Are, are they , um, you know, like we talked about just a second ago, are they braille readers? Are they , um, would be considered , um, you know, a large print or if a , if a function as blind. So, and that’s all that goes there. You know, the census and , and the Department of Ed. Is , um , um , you know, on the census, we do not collect , uh , we , we don’t keep student names. We don’t keep , um, we do a , we have were required by law to do a very thorough scrubbing so that there is no , um , uh , violation of the family education rights and privacy act. And , and so the information we have has to be very minimal , um, by law, we, no one should be able to pick up, pick up our census and say, oh, I know which student this is. This is so and so who lives in Des Moines, Iowa. And I, I know what school this kid goes to. And I, I know what his vision condition is. You would never be able to determine that by the amount of information we we keep at at APH. So it’s, it’s very , uh , purpose-centric. It’s , uh, we’re , uh , making sure we, we walk that line. We only collect information that we need , um, which is a safety for our students and everyone using census. But it’s sometimes , uh , um , it’s frustrating to people who are doing research, of course, because they want to be able to identify where these pockets of, of students and adults are and, and that they need more knowledge to help them produce good research. And we cannot be a party to that. So , um, it , you know, it serves our purpose very well that doesn’t serve the research community very well, but that’s just the way it has to be.
Leanne Grillot: 6:52
And I can add to that, not every student with a visual impairment is counted and this census, the parents have to provide permission for it. They have to be located. Sometimes students aren’t receiving services and therefore they’re not being counted. Sometimes adults are receiving services and they’re not counted. So our, our data is only as good as those ex officio trustees are in locating finding, and then gathering that information to get counted. So our numbers, ebb and flow, our hope is, and we know there are other students out there that need to be counted. Our hope is to keep finding them.
Craig Meador: 7:30
Yeah. And that , that’s a very good point. We, we always, in fact, even on our website, we’re saying, you know, you can’t take this number as gospel. It’s , it’s not, we’re not claiming accuracy because as lean pointed out, it is dependent on people. Uh , it’s depending on permissions from parents and it’s dependent on individuals. And, and as , um, we know kids get missed every year. We know there are a lot of adult agencies that don’t , uh , access quota. So as a result of that, we know our adult numbers aren’t anywhere near accurate. We know that there’s a large percentage of students that are served in local public schools that qualify from the services of a teacher of students with visual impairment, but do not qualify for census. Our definition of who qualifies is very different from the definition in public schools and at schools for the blindness to who is eligible to receive services. And this is a big disconnect. Something we’ll be addressing in the future at , at , at APH with the , with the help of many minds beyond APH. But this idea of what , um , special ed law says, who gets services and what APH determined back in the forties who gets services are different. They’re very different. And I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m just saying that they are different. And , uh , those differences have been allowed to exist both by department of ed and by the federal government. And so , um, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just, we need to start looking at, is there a way to possibly align those things better? Uh , the , when I was a teacher out in the field by largest case, was students with low vision. It wasn’t students who were braille. And so , um, but when it came census time, you know, I, I , I was probably serving , uh , in central Oregon, I was driving around central Oregon and I was probably serving 24 students. And of those 24 students, I think about 14 , um, qualified for the census. The other 10 did not yet those other and 10 did need services from me in order to be , uh , successful in their classroom settings. So those are the , those that’s kind of that difference. We’re trying to , uh , begin conversations on and hopefully align those settings.
Sara Brown: 9:56
How does the census impact schools that have a child that is visually impaired?
Leanne Grillot: 10:01
The schools themselves take some of this, but, but really it’s, it’s the student that benefits. So every school wants their student to benefit. So it allows their student appropriate access to the educational content and materials. It could be that that student needs a large print book and it comes through the federal quota and they’re able to, in essence, purchase it, using those federal dollars. So the census says that student has these federal dollars to use at APH to get that book, or it could be that they need a device to access a regular print books . So maybe they’re getting some type of , uh , electro magnetic , um, camera. So a , a common one right now is our MATT Connect. This is a , a camera that allows the student to zoom in on the books and, and see that’s a tool that they could use their federal quota of dollars to get. So therein, is the student being successful in reaching their educational materials, which in impacts the school in that they know their student is going to do well, or have the ability to do well , um , with their materials and therefore improve the student, improve the school and, and go from there. So how does the school benefit will they benefit? They know this student has access to their materials right away. And that goes for any type of material that APH produces. Those are materials that are available through this federal quota system for them to be able to get for the students to use. And so it , it could be that the state has organized it so that it going something directly to the student and the student keeps it forever. It could be that the student does not really need the alphabet and braille, past maybe second grade. And so that might be something they borrow. And then it gets shipped back to a , some type of library system that then gets shipped out to a different student in that , uh , state that gets to use it then. So it , the nice thing is that the materials that they’re getting , uh , don’t have to just sit idly when they’re not being used. They can actually move around to different students. And so in the end, the schools are impacted because their students are being successful. So hopefully schools are paying attention. Hopefully schools know many times it’s their teacher of students with visual impairments. Who’s making sure that this is happening.
Sara Brown: 12:24
Why is it important for children to be included in the census?
Leanne Grillot: 12:28
Craig Meador: 12:29
Leanne Grillot: 12:30
Uh , they , they need access to the, the funding to be able to , um, utilize that specific funding. That’s not to say that a school district couldn’t pay with their general funds or even maybe their IDEA funds to purchase an item from APH. They can, and they do. But the cost of educating students with visual impairments is quite high . It is, it has been determined by me , many different areas, just that sheer cost of educating students who lack the access of vision, where we receive a majority of our education. And so therefore the federal quota offsets the costs that these , uh , entities are, are under taking to educate the students. So we would like the students count it so they can access this funding.
Sara Brown: 13:20
The census is currently underway. It started the first Monday in January. So when does the census end and what can parents do to make sure their child is included in the census?
Leanne Grillot: 13:33
It’s a review you process that happens, but our hard date is March 15th. So that’s the date where we , where the, a officio trustees of those students need to have their information in. After that point, there’s kind of a cleanup of the data. We can’t have one student counted twice, right? So we have to make sure that all the students are counted. And they’re only counted once, because we do know that there are students , uh , that are both educated by an agency and educated by a school system. And we need to make sure that the right person is counting that student not being counted twice or not being forgotten. So we help with that. But March 15th. So as a parent or an individual who is concerned that your , uh , student and or child is not being counted, I highly suggest you can go to our website and look up our ex officio trustees under the federal program. And see if your student discounted probably the easiest way is find your teacher of students with visual impairments or your orientation and mobility instructor. They are going to know what the census is. And if the student was counted, as well as if the student meets the definition of being counted for the census to begin with.
Sara Brown: 14:56
We’ve spoken a lot about children, but adults are also important to the census. How do they make an impact?
Leanne Grillot: 15:04
They , they are, it’s hard to find the adults. So one of the first things you have to keep in mind is a , are they being educated in some way, shape or form? That’s not college level. Now you can be both college level and gain education. That’s not college level. We can think of people that kind of receive both and adults. We think backward over the last year, did they receive 20 hours of documented instruction and over a 12 week period, any time during that calendar year, that’s what we’re looking for. The 12 weeks don’t have to be consecutive. It could be that you’re doing it , um, every two weeks. And then you skip a week , uh , based on adults, their schedules are very different. Many of them are working or working toward a career. Uh, a great way to think , um, about adults is , you know, some of our adults are those that have recently lost their vision. If you have recently lost your vision and you need to learn braille, or even how to use recorded material, or if you’ve lost some of your vision and you need to use a low vision device, that time that you take to be educated counts, that’s not college level material , that’s just learning how to live your life. Those are the items that we need to think about. And this includes our students who have more significant cognitive disabilities, who become adults, who are still receiving educational services that are not at a college level. They count .
Sara Brown: 16:32
Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding this conversation?
Craig Meador: 16:36
You know, I , I, I think the , um , the great thing is we spent a lot of energy trying to identify every qualified person. Because , um , not only from an APH perspective and I , I know we kind of danced around this, but, but kind of spell this out. We get a chunk of money from, from the government every year, and then that money gets divided amongst the states and programs based on the number of students. So if that , uh , for, for arguments, say, say it was $200 a student it’s more than that, but we said $200 just for simple. And one program in Connecticut had 10 students, then they would receive $2,000 of credited money, or, you know, we , we basically, it’s a credit, it’s an APH credit that they could spend at the APH through the APH catalog , uh , store and products. So the money though is fixed. I mean, we get, we get slight increases from the government every year, which we are very thankful for. Um , we would like that number to be more because it’s not enough. Um , and so this is the , this is the , uh , the conundrum. We wanna identify everybody that receives services because it’s beyond APH. It’s important for those students to be counted so they can get the level of access and, and , uh , resources and that they need to be successful. So the big overarching goal, the money is the secondary goal that helps support them in those efforts. The big problem is, is say we, and this , the , if we change the definition of the quota, who, who qualifies, we’re gonna add possibly 10,000 people, 20,000 people to our count every year. Our money does not increase by that amount. The money stays the same. And so, whereas students might be , have been receiving $200 per, per identified student. Now that’s gonna go down to, maybe they’re only getting $140 per identified student. So, you know, our, our hope is in time and through conversations with , uh, the federal government, we can continue to increase those funds. And, and , uh, uh, we have a team that does that. They’re , they’re led by Paul Schrader, our, our VP of government, community affairs and Washington DC . He has several conversations on a regular basis with , uh , the , the people who make those decisions in , in D.C. And always pleading the case for why we need more funding for this educational program. Um, so it’s, it’s really , um , it’s a , a , a bag of mixed results. We , we need to know those numbers because that gives this bigger voice and helps us meet the needs of students. The more numbers, the less per pupil you get. And so that’s kind of the downside of that, but, you know, you have to , um, uh, and it , but it , it all goes back to federal law again, special ed law. The responsibility of these people was never the sole responsibility of APH HPH is an auxiliary service that responsibility as established in 1974 for the nation. And in some states earlier in the sixties, they, they created their own laws to meet the needs of these students and , and adults within their, their areas and their states. Their regions is that that primary responsibility falls on the local education agency, the school district, the educational service district, the state, the state is responsible. They are the primary responsibility, a primary driver of finding funds to support the needs of students. APH H’s job is to highlight those students with visual impairment that live within that region saying, oh, don’t forget about Tommy over here. And Tommy has unique needs. That’s gonna require additional services and additional funding, and we’ve identified them . We’re gonna give you a little money to help out with that, but we’re really shining a spotlight on these students so that they will not be forgotten and they will not be overlooked or undercounted. And so I really see that’s APHS biggest responsibility is really helping identify the , the needs of, of our students who have very unique , uh, learning needs , uh, in every state.
Leanne Grillot: 21:20
I think the most that I can say is if you are a teacher of the visual impaired out there doing this count, thank you. Yes. I know it’s labor. I know it’s work to gather all of this. If you’re a parent, I wanna say, thank you, filling out the permission form and saying, yes, it’s okay for my student to be counted. We appreciate it. And then if you’re someone who’s just interested in learning more contact us, this is an area of need. We still need more to, so join us,
Sara Brown: 21:51
Craig and Leanne . Thank you so much for joining me today on Changemakers.
Craig Meador: 21:55
Oh, You bet.
Leanne Grillot: 21:56
Thank you for having me. Thanks Sara.
Sara Brown: 21:59
Up next, we’re gonna hear from an EOT. Here to talk from an EOT’s perspective about the census is brail department of aging and disability bureau of education and services for the blind Nancy mother seal . Hello, Nancy. And welcome to Changemakers.
Nancy Mothersele: 22:18
Hi, Sara. Thank you for inviting me.
Sara Brown: 22:21
Now as an EOT. How are you involved in the census?
Nancy Mothersele: 22:26
Well, for years , um, I think I’d been an EOT, maybe eight years, nine years. But before that, I was , um, responsible for doing all the quota orders for the previous EOT. So when she , uh, left, they asked me to become the EOT. So I took over , uh, doing census every year. Um, there was an assistant that helped the previous EOT, but I decided that , um, she was kind of overloaded with work, so I would take it on. So every year I go in and update the census, I add the new students that we have that are eligible, remove the ones that are no longer eligible or have moved out of state and make sure that everyone is counted. So , um, by doing that, I’m able to see how many students we have , um, keep, keep an eye on the allocation. And I also do all the ordering. So I know where the funds are going to, and I can track those funds and the items ordered and make sure that they get what they need, the students get what they need.
Sara Brown: 23:39
Now I did just speak with APH President, Craig Meador and National Director of Outreach, Leanne Grillot about the census. Overall, can you talk about the importance of the census for your state?
Nancy Mothersele: 23:49
Well, for our state, we do have a , um, a budget. Our agency is given a budget by the governor , um, every year and Children’s Services. We have several divisions that the budget is split up. We have one Division Children’s Services, which I’m a member of, which has all the TVIs, Ed consultants, mobility specialists, technologists, involved in that division. So we receive a budget and by using quota funds of the students that are eligible, it is a huge, huge relief because then we don’t, we can take the money from the budget that we’re allocated every year from the governor and use that for other items for the kids. So the quota, the quota funds are very important to us, and this way I’m able to supply the , the students with whatever they need, you know , uh , books , um, equipment, educational materials , uh, anything that APH has to offer. And if the student’s eligible, I can provide those for the students instead of taking it from our budget and the money can be used in other ways. So that’s, it’s , it’s very, very important to us.
Sara Brown: 25:15
And what does your state follow to ensure students are counted in the census?
Nancy Mothersele: 25:21
We have a client management system in our agency. So any any person in Connecticut that is legally blind or visually impaired is referred to us. We get a , um, an eye report from the doctor and if they’re eligible, they will be added to our client base. So we serve from birth all the way up to adults till they’re either their vision changes or they pass away, or they’re no longer , um, eligible for our services. So we have a wide range of clients in our agency. So every single student is in my client management system. And we send out an intake form with a letter, explaining exactly what quota funds are and how they’re used and how their children can benefit from them. And if they have any questions, they contact me and I’ll answer any questions, you know, that they have some parents , uh , have no idea what , um, the American Printing House for the Blind is. I, I educate them about that, but this is how we track all of our students. And once we get the signed form, the consent form, we scan it into the student’s files. So when I’m reconciling the census, every year, we have a printout and I can search and find all the students that are eligible and make sure every single one of them has a consent form. And if not, I reach out to the TVIs or to the parents and send them one and ask them to please sign it and explain why and how beneficial it would be for the , for their child. And everything is strictly comp . Um , nobody sees the intake forms except for the person in charge of them. And then the , uh , parental consent forms come right to me, they’re scanned into the, the students files automatically, as soon as I get them and then they’re destroyed. So that’s how we keep track of everyone. And, and it is such a great system, cuz I can look anything up.
Sara Brown: 27:30
What are some myths you’ve heard from parents hesitant to have their child counted?
Nancy Mothersele: 27:36
With all the identity theft out there that goes on. Um, some parents are a little bit cautious and a little bit , uh , skeptical about sending any information in, but I assure them in the letter that goes out that it’s strictly confidential, that nobody else is going to see it. The information is not going to be sent to APH. The information will be in a database that is secure and that once I get it, it will be destroyed. And there’s, there’ll only be an electronic form in with their child’s file. And that’s mainly, that’s, that’s the one hesitancy that some parents have is they’re just afraid that the information will get out about their child. And um, you know, and, and I know have experienced identity theft, but once they’re reassured they’re more than willing to, to submit the, the form and have their child be counted.
Sara Brown: 28:36
And what do you want parents listening to know about the census and why their child should be included?
Nancy Mothersele: 28:41
Well, it’s just, it’s so important that their child’s included so they can benefit from all the great products that APH provides. I mean, I have ordered braille books , we’ve had large print books , I’ve been able to order a little Braille Buzz , um, you know, any electronic braille device, even , um, you know, we’ve got the braille devices, the MATT Connects for low vision kids . It’s just, there’s so many products and if their child isn’t part of our census and if they’re not registered, then they miss out on a lot of these, these opportunities to enjoy these products. And it’s , it’s just really, really important because it helps with their education and there’s fun stuff too, that we can order for them. I mean, I love the little beginning reader books and things like that. And the parents really, really seem to like it and you know, every year , um, I do write letters to our representatives. We’re very lucky that , uh , representative Rosa DeLauro was head of the Appropriations Committee and she’s very supportive of APH. I have , um, been in contact with her several times throughout the years. And I’ll write a thank you letter to her or to somebody else on the Appropriations Committee. And just to, to let parents know that if they reach out and they let these representatives know and they, you know, talk to their school systems about APH and, and get materials from them, it’s, it’s so important because it does nothing but benefit their children. And every year when I write the letters , um, to the representatives, couple congressmen, I always include a , a story or a thank you letter that I’ve gotten either from a student, from a parent just to, just to them what , where the funds are going and what they’re used for and how important it is and what a change it’s made in, in these children’s lives.
Sara Brown: 30:51
And is there anything else you’d like to say about the census?
Nancy Mothersele: 30:53
It’s just it, I , I just think it’s so important that , um, people are educated about it. A lot of people don’t even know what APH is. They don’t know that their children or their students are eligible for funding. And , uh , that would be the most important thing I wanna stress is that it’s there and it’s something that it , and , you know, not everybody gets to, to have, and it’s just so important and it’s so beneficial for these kids. And that’s really why I , you know, just be counted if they’re counted, they’re eligible. And the more students that, that we have, the more funding that their state will get or their school system will get. And the more and , and materials the students will be able to enjoy.
Sara Brown: 31:54
Thank you so much, Nancy, for joining me today on Change Makers.
Nancy Mothersele: 31:57
Well thank you for inviting me, Sara.
Sara Brown: 32:00
Now I have a check in with Partners with Paul.
Paul Ferrara: 32:03
Thanks, Sara. Welcome back to another edition of Partners with Paul, glad to have with us today. Jenine Stanley, she’s the Director of Communications from Aira. Jenine, welcome to the podcast.
Jenine Stanley: 32:14
Thank you so much, Paul, happy to be here.
Paul Ferrara: 32:17
For those who might not know, can you tell us what Aira is?
Jenine Stanley: 32:20
Certainly. Aira is a visual interpreting service that comes to you through a smartphone app. And that means it’s a combination of technology and people.
Paul Ferrara: 32:33
And how does that work together? Technology and the people?
Jenine Stanley: 32:37
Sure. So we have actually a team of professional agents they’re called visual interpreters and they do exactly that through the back camera, on your smartphone, iOS or Android. So you can make a call to IRA and you’ve got , um, people often say “eyes in your pocket.”
Paul Ferrara: 32:57
And the number of tasks that you can do is just , uh , almost infinite, I guess you would say. So if somebody wants to try it for the first time, what should they do?
Jenine Stanley: 33:06
So they can download our app. The app is free and you can try it out. You’re going to get a week of extended service when you try it out and you can download it from the apple app store or the Google play store. It’s very easy to download and get set up . All you’re gonna need is to put your phone number in and then you’ll get a four digit code. You can put that in. And then the app is open and ready to go.
Paul Ferrara: 33:33
And besides doing your own tasks, of course, there’s a list of access partners. Can you talk about what those are?
Jenine Stanley: 33:41
Sure. Well, our most basic form of service is a plan that a customer would buy. You’d buy so many minutes per month, but through our access partners, which are major corporations like Starbucks and target, and , uh , there are a number of them throughout actually the world , uh, they actually sponsor your minutes on Aira. And so when you are using their services , uh, they cover the cost and APH is one of those access partners.
Paul Ferrara: 34:14
And you guys recorded a podcast, speaking of APH being an access partner, and it was all about the museum. Can you talk to us a little bit about that experience?
Jenine Stanley: 34:23
Sure. We recorded the, probably one of our most popular episodes about the APH museum back in, I wanna say may of 20, 21. And we had such a good time, although the museum does have a wonderfully accessible website, we a little more extra detail, which you can get from an IRA agent. And then you can ask that agent. Okay. So about that braille writer, exactly. “What does it mean when it says art deco looking? Cuz I want that particular braille writer from, from that podcast,” but it was wonderful because we got the inform from Mike, but we also got it from our agent and we have that podcast in the show notes . So you can take a listen and see what , uh , doing something with an Aira agent is like, especially online.
Paul Ferrara: 35:15
And the other great thing is since tours are starting back up in-person, if you are on an in-person tour and want Aira, you can use it there as well. So you can get the experience live in the museum. If you wanna go take a tour that way. So there’s multiple ways to experience that.
Jenine Stanley: 35:32
Absolutely. And the great thing about doing it when you’re live on a tour is you can keep up with your tour group or leave your tour group behind if you want.
Paul Ferrara: 35:41
Yeah, absolutely. If you wanted to take one of those , uh , self-guided tours, that’s a really great way to do it. Finally, can you tell us any other new things that are going on that you want people to know about?
Jenine Stanley: 35:52
Oh, my well, 2022 is gonna be quite a year for us. We be at the CSUN conference, we have two presentations. There. One is on Aira for business because we do work with people on their jobs. And we’ve got some major companies that we’re going to show you use cases about. And then Aira in higher education at the college level, a lot of colleges in universities deploy Aira for their student, but wait, there’s more because coming, we hope within the year of 2022, we will have Aira for a desktop. So you won’t need your phone anymore. It will be on the PC and Mac and that’s gonna be huge. We think.
Paul Ferrara: 36:33
That’s gonna be interesting as someone who’s used to using it on the phone to have it on a computer, it could be really helpful. This has been really good information. Janine definitely appreciate it. Thanks for joining me on the podcast today,
Jenine Stanley: 36:45
You are so welcome and we are happy and proud to partner with APH.
Paul Ferrara: 36:49
And like Janine said, in the show notes, we have included the link to the YouTube video with that podcast about the museum. We’ve also included the IRA website where you can get all the information about the service, ask any questions, find out how to contact them and get all the information you need. Thanks for joining us and back to you, Sarah .
Sara Brown: 37:11
Thanks so much, Paul, and thank you for joining me today on Change Makers. We’ve put any links and websites mentioned in the show notes and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.
Jack Fox: 0:00
Sara Brown: 0:15
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers I’m APH’s Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And today we’re celebrating braille history with the look at some of our high tech braille devices that feature the latest of braille technology. We’ll look at a brand new product that’s in the works. Learn a new feature that’s coming to Chameleon 20 and go way back and learn about the history of braile devices. We’ll also have a check-in with Partners with Paul. Up , first we have APH’s Early Childhood Product Manager, Donna McClure-Rogers. Hello, Donna and welcome to Change Makers.
Donna McClure-Rogers: 0:50
Hi Sara, it’s nice to be here.
Sara Brown: 0:53
Great. So can you tell us about this brand new product that’s coming soon?
Donna McClure-Rogers: 0:58
Sure. This product goes by the name of Polly. Uh , it was developed in partnership with Thinkerbell Labs out of India, and Polly is an independent braille learning device, complete with a curriculum for both contracted and uncontracted brail. It also includes an online parent-teacher portal that allows the device to be customized, to fit the child’s needs.
Sara Brown: 1:28
And talk about Helios. I understand that’s the learning management system that comes with Polly. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Donna McClure-Rogers: 1:36
Helios is the online portal. Um, it is basically a web site that provides information about use data. Uh , you know, how much the child has been online , what lessons they’ve mastered , where they’re struggling , that type of thing . It , has a lot of graphs and just data that can really help doing , IEP reporting and providing that information to the classroom teachers or the parents just wanting to know, you know, where is the child, “where’s the child at right now? How are they doing? Um, you know, what real characters do they know? Are they master spelling that type of thing ?”
Sara Brown: 2:26
So the product is Poly. Now tell me how is poly different from other APH products?
Donna McClure-Rogers: 2:31
Well, Polly has a lot of really exciting features , um, as a former TVI and a braille reader, myself. The first thing that I noticed when I picked this device up was the electronic slate. I really enjoyed being able to erase when I was working on those slate and stylus skills, a , uh, there’s also a jumbo display , which there’s two cells for the jumbo display and then six standard cells on this device and these work in conjunction, but the jumbo display is used for not only for input on the device, but also for output. So it kind of takes the place of , of how a teacher might introduce a braille character to a young child using the tennis balls and muffin tin. Remote braille instruction that this device provides is extremely helpful, especially now, as we’re all dealing with this ping pong effect of, “are we virtual today?” “Are we in person today?” That type of thing. Um, when this all started, the field did a great job stepping up and making it possible to continue teaching our students that needed that hands on instruction so much. But with this device, teachers can remotely make assignments to their students and push those through as long as their students are connected , um , to the internet. And they can do that using either the Bluetooth with Wi- Fi for this device, or they can also plug in , um, with a hard wire ethernet port , whatever the students have available. It’ll make it possible for them to receive those assignments. And then for the teacher to be able to receive feedback on how the child is doing, and this device is created in a game like format. So it’s very similar to those commercial beginning reading programs that cited kids have in an abundance of choices. Um , but those are just not really accessible to our braille readers. And this device has everything right there for the student . They can navigate independently , they can get all the feedback they need and they can even get their instructions, repeated. Everything is, is perfectly accessible for both the teacher and the student. I really enjoy , um, the Helios website because even the graphs are accessible. Um, this company has done such a wonderful job, making sure that even our teachers that need that accessibility feature are able to access all the information that is provided to the side users.
Sara Brown: 5:32
Okay and what’s the target demographic for Polly?
Donna McClure-Rogers: 5:35
Um , we are looking at this device working best for children between the ages of probably five and nine or 10. Um, this would be, you know, your beginning braille readers and , uh, the, the it’s because the feedback on the device is geared for a younger child. Uh, we have taken the time to have the voice for this device recorded within the studio at APH. So you’re not getting this computerized screen reader voice , um , talking to the child. We want them to be able to make that personal connection with the device and feel like , um, they’re actually receiving feedback from a person. And so a lot of times if they give a correct answer, they’ll hear , um, children clapping and saying yay, or , um, the narrator might say you got that right. You know, and that might be some that an older child might not necessarily need that much feedback. Um, you know, it’s not to say that an older child or even an adult couldn’t use this device. Um, but again, you know, at the moment we do kind of have it geared more for those younger kids .
Sara Brown: 6:54
Now, what was the motivation behind the development of Polly and what brought about this need?
Donna McClure-Rogers: 7:01
Uh, this one actually came about , uh , one when the team at Thinkerbell Labs was , uh, working together on a graduate school product. They , um, they had noticed that a lot of sighted children have apps that are available , um, like maybe on their iPad that will sing the alphabet song. And then the alphabet letters appear on the screen. So the sighted child can see the letters, but there wasn’t anything that worked , um, in conjunction with a braille display for their blind students. So they took an iPad and one braille cell , and they created , um, an app that would be able to , uh, show the alphabet letter as the song was going through , uh , singing the alphabet. So it began with just the simple iPad and one brail cell . And it has turned into this fabulous device that teaches contracted braille, provides games for the children, gives that feedback for the teachers online. And then, you know, again, my favorite thing, they can, they can work with that electronic slate. So , so they can build those skills to have the most portable braille experience that, that they can be provided with.
Sara Brown: 8:28
And when will poly be available for people to purchase?
Donna McClure-Rogers: 8:32
Uh, we are looking at spring of 2022 .
Sara Brown: 8:36
And is there anything else you would like to say regarding Polly?
Donna McClure-Rogers: 8:40
I do. Um, this device is really geared to allow our students to be able to practice when the , um, when their TVI is not present. Um , we all know that it’s great for students that are beginning braille to have that five days a week with that TVI. I , but sometimes that’s just not possible and we don’t want our children to only have braille instruction for one day a week. Um, and we know that does happen. So , um, you know, if, if you’re thinking about getting this device for one of your students, please make sure that your district knows that this device is intended to go home with the student it’s intended to be used in the classroom without the TVI present. And so, you know, that may need to be added into the IEP just to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. Um, you know, the parents can walk through and learn braille alongside their child with this device. And it would just create that holistic approach that we’re looking for so that we can , uh, help everyone in the field to implement braille into this child’s general ed classroom as quickly as possible.
Sara Brown: 10:01
All right , Donna, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.
Donna McClure-Rogers: 10:05
You are so very welcome
Sara Brown: 10:07
And Polly is only available inside the United States. For those outside the U.S. who are interested, we encourage you to contact Thinkerbell Labs directly to get Polly’s sister product, “Annie.” We’ve put a link to Thinkerbell Labs in the show notes. Up next, we’re gonna learn about an update in the works for Chameleon 20. Here to talk about Chameleon 20’s new update is APH’s Product Manager, Educational Product Innovation William Freeman . Hello William , and welcome to Change Makers.
William Freeman: 10:40
Hello. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Sara Brown: 10:42
So tell us what’s new with Chameleon 20?
William Freeman: 10:45
Uh, there’s a lot new with the Chameleon. Uh, we’ve recently added Spanish language support, which is great shows the menus in Spanish and also adds support for , uh , Spanish braille codes. We’ve all also added a one handed mode that makes it easier for folks to use the device one handed and the most exciting thing coming to the Chameleon right now is text to speech which will be coming in our 1.3 update.
Sara Brown: 11:11
What was the motivation behind adding text to speech to Chameleon and how will it improve?
William Freeman: 11:17
Well , uh , text to speech is a great way to reinforce braille literacy while also giving folks an easier path to learning how to use their Chameleon. So as a person is reading braille on their Chameleon , uh, they can use the speech to learn new braille words and contractions, and even choose to rely on the speech if they need a short break from the somewhat task of reading braille , uh , uh , something also that I’ve realized , uh, that I didn’t think of was TTS (text to speech) , makes it possible for someone that can’t read braille to interact with the device, which will be great for parents and teachers that have otherwise never used a braille display. And maybe aren’t that proficient with reading braille
Sara Brown: 12:00
And speech engines. What , what speech engine will TTS use?
William Freeman: 12:04
It’s gonna use Acapella
Sara Brown: 12:06
And how will the student access speech?
William Freeman: 12:10
Multiple ways? So there’s the speaker on the unit, but also a headphone jack. If they want more privacy, another thing is they could plug it into a speaker or even into their computer. If they wanted to share their speech with someone else, like if you plug it into your computer, you could share it over a video call.
Sara Brown: 12:29
Okay. What are the different options for text to speak ? Does it do more than just say what’s currently displayed?
William Freeman: 12:36
Yes. So there’s , uh , of course a say all function that will start reading from the current cursor position. There’s also read current line, read text under cursor, as well as a typing echo and delete echo functions. It’s cool because you can turn each feature off and on as needed. So you don’t necessarily have to use all of those features. You can just pick the ones you want to use. So if someone doesn’t wanna be bothered with speech very often, maybe they turn off all the other options and just leave, read text under cursor turned on, and then that way, if they come across some brow that they’re not familiar with, they can just move the cursor using outer buttons, and then hear that unfamiliar word, read aloud . Um, users of course, users will also be able to increase and decrease the speech rate, which we know is a must have feature. No one wants to sit around listening to a voice that’s either too slow or too fast for their personal tastes.
Sara Brown: 13:33
What’s what, what the advantage to a student for Chameleon to have speech?
William Freeman: 13:38
There’s tons of advantages. Uh, like we’ve talked about, it’s a great way to learn new braille words by using read text under cursor. Uh, but it can also just generally help build their confidence. Like the typing echo can be used for letters, words, or both. And that means while the student is typing, they can be sure that they’re making the characters and words that they think they are initially they’ll build their confidence as they continue to become fluent braille readers and writers. Overall, it’s just another way to get students reading braille learning braille is hard. It takes so much time. So anything we can do to make that process easier and more fun, we want to do it.
Sara Brown: 14:16
Now. I understand chameleon has different voices. Why put that option in there? Why the choice?
William Freeman: 14:22
Choice is what the Chameleon is all about. Uh, we really wanted a braille display that students could customize and know belongs to them. When we first introduced this product and part of that was the , uh , different colored cases. Now we’ve extended that to the voice selection. So students can pick a voice that they are comfortable hearing at launch users will be limited to two voices per language with English, getting “Sharon” and will and Spanish getting “Rosa” and will. However, with our next release, we will introduce the ability for users to download a whole range of voices, including non-American English, voices, fun , children’s voices, and also bilingual voices that can competently speak both English and Spanish. One aspect of this that is really interesting is that users will be able to select both a primary and secondary voice. The primary voice will read menus and system messages, and the secondary voice will read content. So you could pick, say a British voice to read your menus and system messages, you know, make it very proper and then a more American voice for your content. Um, and with the addition of all these features it’ll mean that every chameleon really is unique to the person as everyone’s gonna have their own preferences.
Sara Brown: 15:43
When will this release be available?
William Freeman: 15:46
Uh, it’ll be coming out early this year .
Sara Brown: 15:47
William, is there anything else you would like to add ?
William Freeman: 15:51
Uh , main thing , uh , the main message I wanna get out to folks with both the Chameleon and the Mantis is update your units. Uh , I’ve been really trying to make a big deal outta this lately, and it’s because we’re finding out some folks aren’t updating their units. So make sure you update your units. We’re listening to your feedback. Everything we’re putting into these devices is based on stuff you’ve asked for. And we just want folks to be able to take advantage edge of all the cool stuff that we’re bringing.
Sara Brown: 16:16
All right , William, thank you so much for joining us today on Change Makers.
William Freeman: 16:19
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great.
Sara Brown: 16:22
Up next. We’re gonna check in with partners with Paul.
Paul Ferrara: 16:26
Thanks, Sara and welcome back to Partners with Paul. Glad to have you with us today on the show we have Kim and Chris Nova from Mystic Access. Chris is the founder of Mystic Access and Kim is the Director of Product Development. Welcome into the show. How are you today?
Kim and Chris Nova: 16:44
Great, Paul, Thanks for having us.
Paul Ferrara: 16:46
A lot of things we wanna talk about today. So for folks who may not know Chris, what is Mystic Access?
Chris Nova: 16:52
Mystic Access, is a company that I founded back in 2013. And , uh , our mainstay is audio documentation for mainstream and or blindness related products.
Paul Ferrara: 17:07
Great. Can you tell us more about some of the products on your site?
Chris Nova: 17:11
Sure. We have tutorial for the Amazon echo, for example, everybody’s favorite a person Google home , uh , iOS, Android, and we even have an APH tutorial up there as well.
Paul Ferrara: 17:28
Yep . That’s definitely something we wanna cover here in just a bit. Kim, is there any new products or offerings we should know about?
Kim Nova: 17:35
We do have a few cool new things, Paul, in terms of the actual audio that we offer, which can be downloaded digitally or purchased on physical media, like an SD card or an NLS cartridge. We have a cool new class on podcast listening that people may find fascinating since we’re sitting here actually recording a podcast all about the various ways you can do it, whether that be on an app via iOS or Android via your Victor stream or another player that might need you to manually download a podcast feed. We talk about all these things. I like what podcast feeds, what are episodes? What do you need to know to get your feed downloaded onto a player? For instance, if it doesn’t allow you the capacity to do it magically through the beauty of electronics, you know, through the player itself. So it’s a very comprehensive class that starts with foundational concepts and moves all the way through to more advanced concepts. And it’s three sessions of powerful information over three hours in links . So that’s a cool class for people who are kind of looking for alternative ways or just perhaps some new ways to check out their podcasts. We also have a couple new hardware products that we’re carrying. One is a desk caddy . That’s really cool. So if you have some goodies that you just want to make sure always at hand, it’s a nice spinning metal desk caddy with a lot of compartments and we have some really cool magnetic cable ties too. So these are kind of fun things we got in for the holidays and they’re great gifts for time of year. Really.
Chris Nova: 19:05
The other thing we , the other thing we have is a partnership with guidelines and edges, where we have talking medical products, blood pressure, monitor oximeter, and a infrared thermometer.
Paul Ferrara: 19:19
So definitely a range of products. Let’s get back to the audio for a moment. Uh , those are something that you completed in partnership with APH. Can you tell us more about that, Kim?
Kim Nova: 19:30
Absolutely. We were really excited to work with APH in creating and compiling a tutorial on the Mantis Q40. And since the Mantis is such an innovative little product, we were really excited to get involved with working on this with you guys and making this really comprehensive again, audio that takes you from again and the more foundational concepts of what’s the mantis. “Why do you want one?” “How do you orient yourself to this device?” “What does it do all the way through all the different applications?” So you can learn about how to write documents and make calculations and of course use terminal modes. So there’s a ton of great information in there that hopefully will make using your mantis a less stressful and more fun experience.
Paul Ferrara: 20:14
There is a lot, it is comprehensive. No question about it. So if you’re an audio learner, by all means , uh , we’re gonna talk to you about how you can get to that here in just a bit. So let me end with this. Is there anything else going on you’d like to talk to us about?
Chris Nova: 20:29
Well, We do have on our site of bunch of paid products, but we also have a bunch of free downloads. We have a biweekly Mystic Access podcast that comes out every a couple weeks. It’s Kim and I , so you get to listen to us. We also have a free downloads page where there’s literally hundreds of hours of audio for you to download and listen to for free.
Paul Ferrara: 20:55
That’s fantastic. And we appreciate the opportunity to have you on today. Thank you very much for joining us.
Kim and Chris Nova: 21:01
Thanks, Paul. We appreciate the opportunity.
Paul Ferrara: 21:05
So at the, in the show notes, you’re going to find a link to the Mystic Access site. We’re also going to include a link to the Mantis tutorial, have a look around, I’m sure you can find something useful there. Thanks for listening. And now back to you, Sara,
Sara Brown: 21:22
Thanks so much, Paul. And now we’re back to the beginning. We have APH’s Museum Director, Michael Hudson, and he’s here to talk about early braille devices. Hello Michael, and welcome to Change Makers.
Michael Hudson: 21:34
Good morning, Sara. Now I’ve just discussed the new APH product that’s coming soon, which is called Polly and the, and updates to Chameleon 20 both high tech braille devices. Can you talk about some of the early braille tablets and devices?
Micheal Hudson: 21:50
Sure. So Louis (Braille) publishes his code for the first time in 1829. And , uh, one of the things that made braille so superior to raised letters, which was the system they were using before, that was that you could write braille pretty easily. Um, and today, you know, if you go in the APH catalog, you’ll find , um, slight stylus’. Um, what Louis came up with was called a Braille Tablet, which is really kind of a desk slate, but if you think of a clipboard size board , um, and then , um, it had , uh , holes pierced down the side of the frame and then a little metal writing flame frame with the little windows that guided your stylist to create the six dot cells, right? And so you would write one line at a time and then you would lift that writing guide out, slide it down, one set of holes, click it in and then write your next line . And another thing that was different about it was , uh, today , uh , slight and stylus. It has these recessed , uh , pits on the bottom side of the frame and that, so when you, when you push your sty into it, it goes into that, that, that recessed hole makes a nice rounded dot , uh , Louis’s braille tablet had grooved lines. And so its braille is not quite as, as , uh , well formed and neat as a modern slate and stylus, but it was still , uh , a quick and easy way to write with. So you could sit and take notes in class, and that was just a , a vast improvement over, over raised letters.
Sara Brown: 23:39
What was technology like in those early devices?
Micheal Hudson: 23:43
Well, I mean, they’re made out , you know , uh , they’re made out of wood and brass , um, and , um, and then they start being made out of cheaper metals. Um, and, and also nickel , uh , you , you start seeing, even though they’re still made out of brass, they start being nickel plated so that they wouldn’t tarnish. Um, and, and, you know, get your , get your fingers dirty when you were using them. The, the stylus come in, all kinds of shapes, you know, everybody that had one thought of a different way to, to carve the knob on the stylist to make it more comfortable for your hands . So you see things that look like wooden tops , um, uh, things that look like chess pieces , um, you see the made out of all kinds of materials. So, you know, wood obviously is common, but then , uh , as early plastics come along, you start seeing a made out of plastic, you know, APH for the longest time had one called a saddle stylist, which was supposed to fit nicely in your hand, but it also was flat on the edges so that it wouldn’t roll. Um , and, and that’s, that’s helpful, you know, so you’re not constantly knocking your stylist and then , you know, it falls on the ground . You can’t find it. So , um , yeah, everybody who , who , whoever saw a slate in stylus and their entire life thought of a different to make them . So, you know, they come in, they come in pocket size , they come in desk slates, they come in upward writing and downward writing. You know, one of the, one of the things that’s always been seen of as a challenge for stylus is that when you press the, the stylus into the paper, you have, you know, the dot appears on the bottom side of the page. So you have to know two braille codes. You have to know the braille code to write with, which is basically everything is as if you’re looking in a mirror. Um , and then you have to know the way to read it, you know , um , um , left to right. Um , as you might normally read. Um , and so, so there’s all these inventors who come with upward writing slates, like, so they would take the stylus. And instead of it being a sharp point, it would be a hollow tip. And then on the bottom frame of the slate, instead of it being a recessed pit, it would be a raised pin , right? So the , the hollow tip of your stylist would fit over the top of that raised pin and make an upward dot. Um, so we, we , you know, and APH has sold several models like that. They never their problem with all of those upward writing slates is they tend to make ghosts dots, meaning that at, because there’s a raised pin on that bottom slate. If you, if you don’t get the stylist really super, perfectly aligned right down on it, sometimes you’ll get ghost dos . And so your braille is not very clean. Um, but that didn’t keep people from trying to lick that, that design problem, but still, you know, there’s nothing like having something you can stick right in your pocket, just like a pencil and paper. And , um, and you know, if you just wanna write down a note or a phone number or something like that, still something that is very handy.
Sara Brown: 27:01
Wow! The fact that you had to learn two types of braille codes…
Micheal Hudson: 27:05
mm -hmm ,
Sara Brown: 27:05
…Just to do that is insane. So when you’re writing, you’re thinking about how this is going to almost translate on the other side. ..
Micheal Hudson: 27:13
Yes, that’s right. But, but think about this, when you’re six years old, this is a piece of cake, right? It’s not that big a deal cause your brain is plastic and it’s nimble and yes, and you’re , it’s easy to learn new things. And the idea that, well, you have to write this way and you have to read this way. It’s not a big deal for your six now for people that lose their vision later in life, you know , uh , a slight and stylist maybe is gonna be a , you know, is not something necessarily that they’re gonna be all that interested in using, but, but you know, really that whole , uh, upside down and backwards, the way of, of writing with the slate and stylus, is a big reason why the braille writer , the brail writer was invented, right? The mechanical braille writer . We think of the Perkins Braille Writer as the, as the, kind of the gold standard today , uh, for, for reading braille. And, and it , the original braille, a mechanical braille writer was invented by a guy named Frank Hall, who was the principal at the Illinois Institution for the Education of Blind in , um , Jacksonville, Illinois, and the Illinois school didn’t even use braille. They used a competing code called New York point that we’ve talked about before, right. A dot code that was like braille, but not braille. And so , uh, Frank Hall wanted to invent a mechanical writer to kind of overcome that whole, the whole writing with a slate problem. But when he started trying to mechanize New York Point, he, he ran into some problems because New York Point did not always take up the same amount of space. It was of a variable width. And so what he ended up doing was coming up with a mechanical braille writer, we call it the Hall Braille Writer and the first , um, commercial models for the hall brail rider came around 1892 or so. And, and it basically had seven keys, right? It had six keys for the six dots in the braille cell, and then it had a space key. That’s all it had, but that braille that it was, it , it was a brilliant little machine. And everybody who wrote braille that, you know, was using a slate stylus that got their hands on a brail writer, like, oh my gosh, this is awesome. So much faster. You didn’t need to know, you know, two different , a way to write a different way to write a different way to read. And , uh , once you got, you know, adept at the typing part of it , um, you’re sitting there banging out braille much, much quicker than, than doing it by hand with a SL and stylus. And , um , every braille writer that we use today, including the Perkins, you know, owes its technological roots to Frank Hall and a , and a gunsmith that was a buddy of his named GU Seber , um, who helped him kind of figure out the mechanics of it. And then , uh , also there was this , uh , typewriter company in Chicago called the Munson Typewriter Company. And they’re the ones who kind of helped him mass produce it.
Sara Brown: 30:12
Okay . Now tell me about braille printing and mass production, because I’m sure with this new braille, the mechanical braille opened up a , all the doors for printing as production.
Micheal Hudson: 30:24
So, so, so now, you know, Hall’s got his Hall Braille Writer and you can, you can quickly, you know, take notes in class or write a paper in braille or, or write a letter in braille. Right. But how do you, how do you make, you know, lots of copies of say the same book, a fourth grade spelling book in braille , right. So, and it , and it’s, and it’s our boy Frank again. So, so, you know, right now he’s got a , a machine that writes on paper, but he starts thinking what I , what I , what I also would like to do is invent a , a bigger heavier duty machine that writes on brass hinged, brass plates plates that can be loaded into a clam shell style printing, press. It opens its jaws. It spreads that printing plate , an operator puts a piece of paper in it, slams its jaw shut and, and , and the dots get pushed onto the page. So he invents this machine called the Hall Stenograph machine. So it’s a big tabletop , uh , size machine, maybe about four feet wide. And it has a big foot , a foot pedal at the bottom and the same six keys. Right? So you type your , uh, the , the Le the , you push the keys down that correspond to the pins. You want to make the, the braille character say, say, you’re trying to make an E so you’re gonna press “one in five”, and then you slam down that pedal. And that’s what forces gives you the kind of the mechanical advantage to, to , to punch those, those , uh , dots into the, to the, the brass plate. And , uh , so you , you sit there with your book in front of you, the print book. And so the operator then will, in their mind translate the print characters into the braille, type them onto the page. And now you’ve got one page, you’ve got page one of your fourth grade, you know, geography book or spelling book. So you gotta make a plate for each page of the book. Right. And at first , uh , the whole paragraph machine just puts braille on one side of the page, right . But in the 19’s and 20’s, uh , people start experimenting with this idea called inner pointing. Okay. And in inter pointing , uh, you, you’ve got dots on the brass plates on one side, on both sides of it. Okay. And they slightly offset those dots between the characters on one side and those on the back. So they don’t cancel each other out. They actually fit inside of each other. Right. There’s just enough space between the dots , uh, to do that. And so now you can prepare these embossing plates , uh , so that you’re producing brail with , uh , pages with brail on both sides. And now it’s a lot less bulky, right? Takes up half the amount of space. Um, you , and , um, so inter pointing becomes very popular. And, you know, even today, although we’re using much different, more modern presses , uh , digital presses, we’re , you know , inter pointing is still a part of, of most braille production. And, and , and by the way, Sara , uh , them printing us didn’t wanna do it. They didn’t want to inter point , um , um , they , uh, uh , they didn’t really want to change, you know, our , our , our people, you know, we were pumping out the braille doing it one, you know, on one sided pages, they didn’t wanna have to think about how are we going to invent a sterograph machine that will put the dots on both sides of those brass plates cause halls, machine wouldn’t do it. But the pressure from the field was so great that our, a board eventually decided to do it. And so we invented our own, we worked with the American Foundation for the Blind and invented a new sterograph machine that would, that would do that. Uh , two-sided uh, uh , plate preparation. And so just to bring it on up to the future. So, so you’re still talk , even though you’ve got a machine, right, that makes, that makes your brail plates, and you’ve got machines that mass produce your braille. You , um, it’s still slow. And your , your stereo machine operator needs to be really highly trained, right? So if, if you, you , you get a woman she’s, she’s highly trained. And then she decides to leave the workforce and go, you know , uh , have a family. Now you’ve gotta train somebody else in this, this very unique thing that , uh , braille braille presses do . So the, you know, the idea is how could we computerize this whole deal? Right? And so in the 1950s and sixties, the center of computer technology is, is IBM. Um, International Business Machines. So APH collaborates with IBM , uh, to figure out how to, how to compute this whole thing. And back then computers, you know, data entry is done. You, you do, you do data entry on this machine that punches holes into these, into these punch cards. And then you load a stack of punch cards into a , a feeder. And it, it feeds them into the computer and it shines light and wherever you’ve punched a hole light shines through, and , and the computer reads that. Right? And so we figure out a way to have a , a , the transcription is done by , uh , someone typing on , uh , punching these cards. And then we would ship the cards up to , uh , New York and they would load ’em into a machine, and it would it’d feed ’em in the computer. And then computer would be programmed to translate the print characters into braille, and then punch, punch, punch, punch , punch . It would punch a bunch of card , big , another big stack of cards out that now that’s the braille translation. They’d ship that back to us. We’d put that into a card reader that was connected to a special machine, a stereograph machine, a computer stereograph machine, and then it would, it would punch the plates. It would, emboss the zinc. By that time, we weren’t using copper anymore. We were using zinc plates and it would, emboss the plates. Then you would take those and put them into the, into the , uh , the press, right to mass, produce them today. That whole process can happen on your cell phone , right? Your cell phone , we , you could use a, you know, software package called like braille blaster from the (American) Printing House. And , um, you know, you could load just about any publication, any print publication into , into that program and it’ll translate it . And that, you know, you’ve got the computing power of, of a mainframe computer in your pocket . Um, and today a transcription occurs , uh, just using a desktop computer, you know, here at APH, we have a , a Braille Translation Department that does that. Um, and, and there are also braille translation programs at lots of prisons. You know, we work with a lot of prison, braille programs, get all the textbooks translated. Um, and then a lot of times you don’t even use those bossing plates anymore. Although we, we have some presses that still use the Bo in bossing plates for publications. You wanna make lots of copies of like, say the McDonald’s menu, right. Um , every now and then we’ll, we’ll, we’ll bid and get the contract for the McDonald’s menu. And we’ll make a million copies of that, that you need still need the, the embossing plates. But a lot of times we make one book for one kid somewhere out there in the United States. And so that you use , uh , a digital press, like a Brailo 650, or an Interpoint NV 55. The Brailos come from Norway. Uh, the Interpoints come from Belgium and we, you know, have adapt a little bit , but , um, so a lot of, a lot of embossing now is done… It’s all digital. Um, and then your next question is gonna probably be what about paperless brail, right?
Sara Brown: 38:16
Micheal Hudson: 38:17
Yeah. So, because you got that’s, what you’ve been talking about is the, the Chameleon and other , uh, refreshable braille devices, little computer note takers, and you can just sit there and bob…bobby..bob, in your class, or in your, in, in the grocery store, or while you’re talking to your mom on the phone and take notes , um , and then it’s got the refreshable braille display where it raises the pins electronically. Well, that all starts in the late 1960s. They start , uh, you know, a number of inventors start working with pretty complicated little devices like that used some sometimes use rubber , uh , belts. And , uh , the , the , the dots would, would , would , it would kind of a , like a memory , uh , foam material, the belt was. And so he could raise the pins in rubber, and then when it would, when it would cycle on through, through the pulley, it would flatten the dot back up. But that, that didn’t really end up working, being practical, but it got Oleg Tretiakov. His wife was a , uh , uh , a linguist who was interested in , uh , braille translation and Ole was more of a computer guy. Uh , and so, you know, as happens sometimes with married couples, you know, somebody, you know, you bring on more problem you’re, you know, struggling with at home. And the other half of the team is like, maybe they bring something different to the, to the problem. And, and that’s what Oleg did he sat down and created this machine called the digit cassette in France about 1975. And the digit cassette was out, oh, it was about probably , uh , 12, 15 inches wide and , uh, about 10 inches deep and maybe about four inches thick. And it used audio cassettes to store the data. Um, and so , uh, and then it had those six, they had the keyboard, the , a braille keyboard that you could set and do data entry with, and it would store it on the audio cassette a magnetic tape, but then it had a, I think a 20 or 25 cell refreshable brail display that , um, it could, you know, play back basically what you had typed onto the audio tape, but it would play it back as in, in braille. Right. And it used to a technology called Pizo electric technology to raise the pins. Um, and , uh, Tretiakov comes over the United States. He’s, you know, trying to figure out a way to, you know, mass produce this. And he goes to a, a company called Telecensory a big , uh , accessibility company back in those days. And try was negotiate with them to produce the , uh, the , uh , Tretiakov, machine, the, digit cassette , well Telecensory was like, “no.” And so basically what they did was they stole Tretiakov idea. Right. And they took his idea and came up with this thing called the Versa Braille, which was the first commerially available refreshable braille device in the United States, also used , uh , um, uh , magnetic tape , um , cassettes, you know, to store the information, but it was portable pretty heavy. Um, by comparison day , you couldn’t stick in your pocket, but it was portable and used a rechargeable battery. And every, all of our devices today, really, they all kinda harken back to those two devices, the Versa Braille and the , although there are European manufacturers that, that have their roots in , in other inventors in Europe. Um , but you know, the exciting thing to is that , you know , that piso electric cell for the longest time has been kind of the , the limiting factor, because it was pretty expensive. Each cell was, you know, I don’t know, 250 bucks or something like that just per sale . So if you had a 40 cell display, that’s 40 times, two $50. Right. And so , uh, and so that’s why , uh, like inventions, like the , uh , Orbit 20 that we , uh, uh, came up with , uh, a few years ago and it’s, it’s now out of our catalog, but it used a different kind of technology. And so a lot of inventors are, you know, poking and prying and , uh, working on that on the, kind of like in the hourglass, you know, the blockage, the one little thing in a , in a technology that, that, that is kind of slowing it , uh , development down . Um, but , um, you know , there’s been a lot of, lot of movement, a lot of growth and a lot of miniaturization, you know, these devices just keep getting smaller and smaller and cheaper and cheaper. And that was the whole idea is how can we get to a point where we can put one of these in the hands of every body who wants to use one? Um, and, you know, we’re really getting close to that. Um , you know, the chameleon and the , and , uh , what’s the other device that, that just came out,
Sara Brown: 43:10
We’ve got the Chameleon 20 and Polly is coming out.
Micheal Hudson: 43:15
Polly. Um , then that’s after Polly Thompson who was , uh , who was , uh , Helen Keller’s assistant, but all this stuff is, you know, it’s happening fast. And , uh, the changes are , it’s just pretty amazing to watch the, the , the , the new products that are coming out , um, that to make braille easier to use. Um , and, and , you know, it’s a tribute to how elegant Louis’s original code was that this thing that was, you know, published for the first time in 1829, which we’re coming up now, you know, won’t be too long till we’ll be working on the 200th anniversary, but it’s co the code is so elegant. Uh , so easy to so easy to use that. And so flexible that we’re still, you know , uh , technology is making it easier to use, but the reason that we’re still inventing new technology is because the code itself is so elegant.
Sara Brown: 44:11
And, you know, when something’s done right or done, well, it will stand in the test of time. And this is a classic example of that. It has not strayed very much from the original, the original code. So that’s just, that’s the, that’s my thinking. That’s my thoughts on it when something’s good, the first time you change , you don’t reinvent the wheel.
Micheal Hudson: 44:30
Yeah. So my old boss, Gary people always used to ask him, you know, why , you know, when will braille go away? And he would always say, when people no longer need a pencil and paper, when side people no longer need a pen to, you know, then people who are blinder vision impaired will stop using braille. But as long as we need to read to , uh , to , to memorize things , uh, to store data, to, to , to send messages to each other , uh , people who are blind will be using , um , Louis’ code,
Sara Brown: 45:03
What else can we see regarding braille in the APH museum?
Micheal Hudson: 45:08
We have an awesome collection, as you might imagine. Uh , you know, it starts with Louis’s original , uh , publication of the braille code in 1829. What we call the per se day , the method it’s super rare. There’s only six copies of the book left in anywhere in the world. And we have one of them it’s on display. We have over a hundred braille slates, the collection, and probably 50 of ’em on display in all shapes and sizes and materials designs. Um, we have 40 , uh, different bra riders , uh, from all over the world, from Europe, from Asia, from north America, you know, starting with that , uh , hall rail rider . We have , uh , you know, the St machine, if you wanna see that we have that , uh, we have , uh , some of the early computer , uh, the IBM developed , uh , computer translation devices that are on display. And , um, you know , uh, we, we di we’ve done temporary exhibits with the , uh, refreshable brail devices, but that’s, we’ll one of the things I’m really excited about the new museum project that we’re working on is that we’re gonna be able to put out a lot of this technology I’ve been collecting over the last 16 years that we haven’t had room for in the new museum. And so , um, you know , a lot of the Bri and bosses , uh, the digital , uh , note takers and stuff will have , um, on display and , um, and , uh, and also in a , an accessible way so that people can actually get their hands on. And is
Sara Brown: 46:41
There anything else you’d like to add regarding braille devices?
Micheal Hudson: 46:45
Yeah, I think it’s just that the braille code is alive, Sara, and , um, and so, you know, we have just this in incredible new , you know, new generation of users that’s coming up and, you know , uh , it’s , uh , it’s, it’s, it’s just a constant process of people , uh, poking and prodding and stretching and , um, and, and asking questions. And I think if we just keep asking questions, why do we do this? Why do we do it this way? Why did , how did it happen that we, we got the , to where we are , um, uh , that people just keep applying their, their , their human ingenuity to this, this, this simple problem of reading and writing. And, and , uh , and so I , you know, I think that’s what our museum talks about, and I , and I’m excited to see where we’re gonna go next.
Sara Brown: 47:39
Thank you so much, Michael, for joining me today on Change Makers.
Micheal Hudson: 47:42
Thank you Sara.
Sara Brown: 47:45
Thank you very much for listening to this episode of changemaker. We’ve put links to Chameleon 20 and Mystic access in the show notes, and as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.