New Congressional Session, Same Legislative Imperatives

When a new session of Congress begins, our priorities still push on. That’s because advocacy for the independence and dignity of people who are blind or have low-vision involves all areas of society.

When handling legislative matters, some people with whom we talk may remember the bills that we addressed last year; others may not. Much has happened since last year’s American Council of the Blind’s Washington Seminar. For one thing, the House is now flipped into the control of the Republicans while the Senate has remained under Democrat control. Committee assignments and headship is, to some extent, different.

Hence, we have every reason to speak on those matters that pertained to us a year ago. As for web accessibility, we can be thankful that some progress has been made under the leadership of Reps. Sarbanes and Duckworth. With the advancements of treating COVID-19 and other conditions, we have seen testing kits become more accessible. These are but a few areas wherein we have made progress. Now we push on, engaging our Representatives and their legislative assistants.

No doubt there will arise further issues that impact our adaptation to the mainstream society. Mental health concerns, education matters, pedestrian safety and many other areas will give us cause to keep in touch with Federal and State levels of government. In addition, other organizations serving the blindness community like the National Federation of the Blind, National Industries for the Blind, and the Centers for Independent Living in each State will have their own legislative emphases. So, stay tuned and keep advocating!

A New Way To Vote Independently In Indiana!!!

It’s official here in the State of Indiana! Whether you want to vote on Election Day in-person or you opt for absentee measures, you now have the ability to cast your ballot independently. After the Indiana Disability Rights group won their settlement here, people in the blindness community who have trouble getting to the polls now can use secure technology that links their home computer with the local board of elections so their vote can count.

Of course, time will tell how many more people will make their choices known at the ballot box in the future. News of this kind of advancement travels slowly and often person to person. The point is that election boards across our State will count more of our ballots than ever before. This doesn’t, of course, increase the legality of people who can vote. People who are blind or have low-vision have been able to vote in any election for decades. Now, with the technology in place, as it is in many other States, voting is that much more accessible to us.

Check out this press release from Indiana Disability Rights for yourself. This truly is an achievement to celebrate!

Everyone An Advocate

Everyone An Advocate

One of my many joys I have is participating in the American Council of the Blind-Indiana’s legislative and advocacy committee. It’s a privilege to keep abreast of what’s coming down the pike at the State House and from Congress regarding blindness and other disabilities. Getting our voice heard and respected in the political world, however, is only one part of advocating on behalf of the blindness community. Rather, everyone of us is an advocate in various ways.

Legislative Advocacy

When hearing the word, advocacy, we may think of calling Congressman, meeting with city council members, and attaching our names to petitions. Recent bills have come to our attention discussing enforcing the ADA to better address web access. (HR 9021 spponsored by Rep. Duckworth (D-IL). Earlier this year, the American Council of the Blind advocated before Congress concerning four legislative imperatives having to do with fitness, web accessibility in the workplace and school, medical testing accessibility, and updating the FCC’s requirements for streaming audio description on TV programming.

As we approach the upcoming 2023 Indiana State House Session, we in Indiana will keep December 9  in mind as the deadline for submitting bill/legislation requests and Jan. 13 as a deadline for our Representatives to submit bill drafts and proposals to be put on the calendar. As you follow the State goings on wherever you live, take note of those bills and proposals having to do with disability issues.

Community Engagement

Do you enjoy playing a game like chess or Scrabble? Singing in a choir? Writing poetry or prose? Or helping out with transportation concerns? Whether we live in a big city like Indianapolis, Indiana or Chicago, IL  or in a small town like Bedford, IN or Seward, NE, opportunities abound for us to join our friends who are sighted in choirs, tournaments, meetings, and more casual discussions. I know it’s sometimes intimidating even if we’re good at a hobby to join others we do or don’t know in public, yet doing so will build our self-confidence while raising awareness of our capabilities and rights. After all, how will people grow to embrace us and our concerns unless we are seen and not just heard.

Then what happens when we go with friends or family to the movie theater? Wearing those nifty headsets with the secondary audio programming, we get to laugh right along with everyone else watching the action. People can see that we don’t always have to rely on someone sitting next to us announcing what’s up on the screen.

Consider the times you and your family go out for dinner. If you have a guide dog, your host or hostess as well as patrons around you get to see the way that dog is , in fact, a four-legged disability advocate. The sign he wears tells people not to pet him while in harness and that he’s working. How he responds to your commands to walk from the table to the restaurant’s door or to sit nicely at your feet speaks to the helper he’s been trained to be. Here in Indiana, Rep. Cindy Ledbetter will be returning last year’s HB1102 for consideration so that more refined distinctions between service and emotional support animals can be codified as law.

Employment Advocacy

Nearly every one of us has heard the statistics for decades: 70 percent of the blindness community is unemployed. Add an additional disability and that rate rises to 80 percent. Include a third factor such as mental or cognitive illness and the percent jumps ninety. Of course, as is reported here, many factors help us understand the participation of blind and low-vision persons in the workforce or looking for a job. As such, those who do work for a living serve not only their need for gainful employment and bring home the bread for their families. They represent our community’s dignity and ability to participate in the workforce.

Some jobs are traditional fits for us like being a rehabilitation counselor or therapist as certified by ACVREP, becoming an employee of the IRS or Social Security Administration, or an instructor of adaptive technology. But we who are blind or have low-vision can be teachers, lawyers, and extreme athletes. So whether we work the nine-to-five j.o.b. or from home freelance, employment gets us in touch with those who can learn of our needs, rights, and capabilities. We educate people about making their companies’ websites more accessible. We help coworkers relax with us during a working lunch when the subject turns to matters far distant from our special accommodations and toward the topics of business, production, and publicity.

In short, we are all advocates throughout the length and breadth of our lives. Everyone is an advocate as we navigate life’s contours boldly blind.

Feeling Holiday Stress And Isolation? You aren’t alone.

Holiday stress is tough! Yes, we call the lead up to and through Christmas the “most wonderful time of the year” and for many folks, it is. Think of the candy canes, decorated trees, house and office parties, and of course Christmas Eve  and other regular services at your local Christian congregation.

But, what about those who have recently lost loved-ones or friends to death? Yes, the season will still bring its joy while that chair at Christmas dinner won’t be occupied by Grandma, Grandpa, a cousin or uncle or aunt. Some of us who are blind will feel afraid of venturing out to be with family and friends on Christmas because the possibility of being the token center of everyone’s fawning or we fear being set in the corner while others talk around us.

Those who wrestle with feelings of loneliness at this time of year face a blanket of anxiety deeper than the mounds of snow in many parts of the country. For many, said reasons can be enough to build up more resentment against those who don’t quite understand how we cope with our sight loss.

Yes, we who confess the Christian faith live in both worlds: Yes, we can sing and be joyful at celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior, as we long for His return in glory. Still, that does not exempt us from feeling isolated, ignored, nervous and grieving at this time of year when facing the fears impacted by our blindness. We wrestle, too, even as we believe our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus birth, death, and resurrection are for our salvation.

Whether Christian or not, howe do we who are blind get beyond what often sound like holiday buzz words or cliches? Maybe, we do revel in the trappings of the most wonderful time of the year. We can be thankful for this. Yet, those of us who do not so revel, you are no less a part of the blindness community, let alone dignified people now than at any other time of the year.

It’s going to be a blessing on Tuesday evening as the Hoosier All-State Chapter of the American Council of the Blind-Indiana takes up this important matter in a guest presentation by Pastor Dave Andrus. Pastor Andrus, himself blind since he was eleven years old has led Not Alone Internet Ministries for several years. Besides this, he serves as a pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in St. Louis, MO and has overseen various outreach centers for the blind throughout the country during the past twenty-five years.

If time allows, join us on Zoom at 7:00 PM prior to the Hoosier All-State Chapter’s regular monthly meeting for Pastor Dave Andrus’s talk. Here’s the Zoom info.

Time: Dec 6, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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Advocating By Social Media

With over a billion people worldwide using Face book and other social media, we have a bigger platform than ever to raise awareness of our capabilities as people who are blind. Of course, we at Boldly Blind do this frequently in our blog posts. From the YouTube demonstration of a cooking lesson to a video clip of a goalball game, people can see us in action.

That’s why I encourage fellow advocates to make use of the visual media. Our sighted friends and neighbors depend on showing more than telling to grasp what may seem obvious to you and me. And the more our friends and neighbors see us who are blind going to and from work, ordering food at a restaurant, voting on Election Day, and so forth the more they will know we walk the same path of life they do.

It amazes me still how much more than just social games and fun you can pull up on Ticktock, for example. And the video clips aren’t just short here-and-there ditties. You can really show someone going curb to curb from home to work or a center for independent living or just on an afternoon stroll. People who are sighted need you to point these examples out, especially if you are the only person they know who is blind. That YouTube video of a guide dog in action with his handler, of which we’ve featured several on this blog, can give that supervisor confidence that his new employee can travel to work while letting his furry pair of eyes guide him through hallways, into coworkers’ offices or classrooms, and then to the waiting transit for going home.

Maybe, there’s a mother or father who wonders how their teenage daughter will do with cooking in an apartment-style dorm when off at college. YouTube videos abound showing the tricks of the trade from organizing a kitchen to using appliances like a liquid measurer or talking meat thermometer. The trick for us as self-advocates is knowing where to look for the resources.

Google Is Our Friend.

The search engine is a great place to start. Say you want to look for videos of someone using a computer. Thanks to Sendero and Freedom Scientific, among many software distributors, you can find lots of examples if someone wants to see a well-adjusted person who’s blind interacting with a screen reader.

After all, one of the big fears that a parent, employer, teacher or neighbor might have is how they might react if they were blind themselves. It’s an understandable fear. Yet, since we are all advocates to a smaller or greater extent, we can show people in various parts of the U.S. or around the world doing the same tasks we want to do as independent, self-confident people. Exposing someone to what we do or are learning to do will help remove the mystery or hero perception that many have about us as we venture out as part of the big world “out there.”

So if asked for a video or proof of someone who’s blind teaching class , you can show them after searching, for example, “blind+teacher+classroom.” Or you can bring up videos of a blind wrestler by searching on Google for YouTube videos to show others.

Even beyond answering friends’ or family member’s questions or concerns, sharing videos on Facebook regularly exposes sighted friends to the world that is completely normal for us. After all, what do many folks look at on Facebook but videos of friends at a picnic, hanging out for a birthday party, or laughing over something funny like a cat’s goofy face when playing? We don’t have to see the pics of puppies in training ourselves to educate our friends about the preparation it takes before a dog is ready to be a guide. We don’t have to have gone to a school like World Services for the Blind or The Helen Keller Center to show friends that job training is available for us. Posting clips from these schools’ websites can educate people we know about the opportunities we have to become contributing members of society.

Sometimes, it takes a bit of prompting for friends, coworkers, or classmates to become inquisitive beyond their learned perceptions of the blindness community. Yes, we’ve got a lot of regulations and legal clauses in place to safeguard our rights in public. Yet, more importantly, we can provide those means of getting beyond the narrow scope that learned prejudice provides. Ours is the opportunity to show our community being bold, capable, interactive, and contributing in the public square. So post those videos of a guide dog handler and his furry four-legged friend. Link your post to a speech given at one of our ACB or NFB conventions. Share that video of a person who’s blind explaining the notetaker she uses.

Then likes can lead to questions and questions to further discussion. And all the while we keep raising awareness and encouraging each other, being boldly blind.

Honoring Bobby Silverstein

It’s been thirty-two years since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990) Whether you believe it to still be a power-packed contour for us who are blind or you consider its legislation as coming up short of expectations, you must admit that the ADA has had a huge impact on American livelihood, especially in the workplace and affecting public accommodations.

As such, we recognize the legacy of one contributor to the ADA, Bobby Silverstein. You can read here more about Silverstein’s work with regard to the ADA and other efforts to better the lives of us who are physically or developmentally disabled.

Often, it takes the staff behind the legislator to get the Representative or Senator to vote as he or she does. So while serving in Washington, DC, Silverstein worked with plenty of legislators and their committees to craft legislation designed for the betterment of the disability community.

Now as we stand on the shoulders of advocates like Bobby Silverstein, we keep advocating for better web access, small and large accommodations for employees who are disabled, and the public welfare for all.

Survey For Those Who Have Guide Dogs And Gotten Denied A Ride

It’s easy, you might think, for someone who’s blind and uses a guide dog to get noticed. I mean, how could you not be attracted by a confident traveler with a cute canine by his side? The problem, though, is not everyone is so attracted.

One of the most frustrating things guide dog users receive is denial of service by cab or Uber drivers who do not wish to pick someone up who has a service animal. Despite such denial of service is blatantly illegal, it’s also rude. If an Uber driver commits to transporting someone, having already been paid via the Uber app, fulfilling that commitment makes perfect sense.

After all, anyone driving transportation needs to be signed to a contract that permits no discrimination of anyone based on their disability. So it stands to reason that, in effect, the guide dog is an extension of that person. Someone driving a cab or Uber or paratransit vehicle already knows that they will deal with animal fur, occasional cute eye rolls and sighs from the back seat.

Linked here is a survey that the American Council of the Blind is helping to promote. If you have been or if you do get denied service by a cab or Uber or other ride sharing operation and you have a guide dog, make your concerns known.

With that said, we as advocates for our dignity and awareness do well to remember that kindness and documentation is key. Yes, we may be very upset or frustrated when receiving denied ridership. Yet, as the problem has arisen over a long time, the solution won’t appear overnight and we aren’t each given to save the world. Instead, when addressing companies or individual drivers, we do so confident of our character, assured of our rights but resisting the urge to vent our bluster on the offending party. Rather, each denial of service, each level of escalation with a given cab or paratransit company may be an opportunity to show the composure we want everyone in mainstream society to see in us as people who are blind or who have low-vision.

Again, take the opportunity if you have encountered denial of service to you as a guide dog user. And, if you yourself do not have a guide dog, encourage those who do in their travel and dignity. If you are sighted, watch for us who follow our guides across streets, into stores, into restaurants and to work. Engage us with questions so you can be better informed and at ease. And, remember our dogs are working any time they are in their harness!

For more information about guide dogs and their use in public, go to

National Disability Employment Month, Part I

Do you know someone who is blind or otherwise physically disabled and employed? If you are like most people in the mainstream, the answer is probably no. That’s because among people who are blind or visually impaired, the unemployment rate still persists at about 70 percent even after many decades of trying to lower it.

During this October, we do celebrate the achievements of those who are disabled and gainfully employed while further emphasizing ways in which even more of us can contribute as part of the workforce. Here is a link from the United States Accessibility Board highlighting their efforts to raise awareness of ways public and private places of employment can ameliorate their facilities and overall atmosphere to welcome people who are physically disabled to their offices.

The question we must take up from time to time in observing National Disability Employment Month is whether the triad of buzz words-diversity, equity, and inclusion really better open paths for us to be employed or are they the latest and trendiest bark with little bite. If the latter is true, then what can we do to adapt small, midsize, and large businesses for employees who are blind, deaf, paraplegic, and so forth. After all, the push for a higher employment rate of people who have various disabilities has existed even before Title IX came into existence or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became public law.

Just a short listen to the way government employers and those in cahoots with them talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion of people who are physically disabled gives the impression that they want to win the bragging rights contest. No one, no matter how hard they try, can outspend the government on gaining accessible resources. No one can best the government in mandating the accommodations that public laws and enforcement of guidelines can provide. Like a well-oiled machine, this effort promises the perfect place for people with disabilities to work whether the setting be an assembly line at one of the National Industries for the Blind’s work centers or in a collections site for the Internal Revenue Service.

What happens to such claims when government imposes a hiring freeze upon itself or money allotted for a work site’s operation runs out? Our  government must cut more than its losses. It changes the lives of people who staked their financial and often emotional livelihood on its claims to provide the way for personal independence. Schools such as World Services for the Blind, who served as a hub for training people who are blind for jobs with the IRS, must revise their employment tracks while rebranding their appeal to the disability community.

We can certainly be thankful for the United States’ government being a  place for employment of us who are blind or have other disabilities. The pay is great along with a whole host of medical, life, and disability insurance benefits. An underlying assurance motivates those who want to work in the Federal sphere, namely, that as far as nondiscrimination clauses regarding physical disabilities, the Fed does police itself well. Lots of workshops and continuing education opportunities do allow for ways in which employees can learn ways of speaking to and on behalf of their coworkers who are physically disabled. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) provides avenues for people to negotiate disputes when filing grievances. Such measures have the goal of empowering someone wo is blind, deaf, or otherwise disabled to advance in his or her career path like anyone else working a cubical or office next door.

Again, we wonder how such government self-promotion affects the private sector workforce and overall society that isn’t aware of all that public rulings on employment state. One of the biggest costs is a reactionary dependence on big government. The saying may go something like: Since the Fed has the advantage of noncompetitive employment and standards for monitoring itself, then people who are blind should gravitate there instead of looking for entrepreneurial opportunities. Working in a store or office setting would need more adaptation that a company can’t necessarily afford, but the government can fork over the costs. Of course, this observation may be partially true, but the Department of Labor and Vocational Rehabilitation do have avenues whereby someone can get funding for pursuing a livelihood in the private sector thanks to loans and short-term job coaching that can provide someone scaffolding until he or she gets a business or salaried job established.

It’s easy, when looking for government assistance for financial support or for a government job to let the awareness gap to persist. Without the incentive to venture into the private sector, someone who is physically disabled or an advocate for us who are limits our ability to change people’s perceptions. The only way that a store manager, seminary dean, a bank manager, or tech supervisor will learn how we are capable of working well is through contact with us who want to join in their companies. Sure, public seminars, expositions featuring assistive technology, and heart-touching documentaries about heroing success stories can bring people in touch with our individual lives. But only personal and persistent relationship-building will further welcome us who are blind into areas where we haven’t so much trodden in our pursuit of happiness.

 Of course, much more can be said in the matters addressed in this first look at the employment landscape during National Disability Employment Month. In our next part of this series, we will tackle a perception that many have, namely, that since disability income and benefits exist, that’s the best option for us who are blind or otherwise physically disabled to pursue instead of gainfully earning a living.

New CEO at World Services for the Blind

World Services for the Blind (formerly Lions World Services for the Blind) has long served our community with employment training opportunities. Most notably it used to be the hub for training future workers for the Internal Revenue Service to answer taxpayers’ questions, establish payment agreements, and enforce the tax code. Many other people have attended World Services to become assistive technology instructors who help fellow blind and low-vision neighbors gain independence through better use of computers.

Over the past decade, CEO Sharon Giovinazzo has done stellar work guiding the school from some very rocky waters into thriving again toward respect among clients and employers alike. Under her leadership, the school has shifted focus from the IRS programs due to the 2016 government hiring freeze to implement tracks for credit counseling, massage therapist work, and a continued emphasis on assistive technology. While many of the long-standing faces that graduates might recognize from the past decades are no longer working, the staff is more energetic than ever to keep the school in step with the needs of blind workers and their employers.

So, welcome Eric Yarberry, the new CEO. You can find more about him at this link.

One of my observations, as a graduate of Lions World Services’ IRS program back in the early 2000s, is that having leadership who is visually impaired will more than benefit the Little Rock based school. After all, what better to have someone who’s lived it, walked the talk, and done the hard work of being a leader in the blindness community and in the greater mainstream society? Hence, Eric will be the second CEO in a row who is blind or low-vision. Here’s to him being the latest ambassador for this incredible school with its many opportunities.

More Places For O.andM. Instructors To Learn Ou

We’ve all heard the expression: You need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand what they are going through. Thanks to a partnership with Cal. State L.A., Braille Institute’s California campuses will give students training to be orientation and mobility instructors a great opportunity to do just that.

Most of the Braille Institute locations from San Diego, Los Angeles, and on up the coast service clients who are transitioning from high school to college, middle age adults, and those transitioning into retirement. Some of these campuses also have daily classes for building skills for homelife and employment like working with adaptive technology. Now, with the help of Cal. State-L.A., they will give future O.andM. instructors hands on exposure to people who are blind.

After all, the popular sayings flipside is true, too. We who are blind long to learn from people who truly get us. So after learning a lot about blindness through classroom books and theory along with a bit of practicum mixed in, Cal. State students will have yet another venue where they can immerse themselves in the world we know very well. After all, orientation and mobility isn’t just showing routes and sending the client on his or her way. It’s adapting those routes and needs to the young college student rushing from dorm to science lab, from lecture hall to the dining hall. It’s helping a partially sighted man in his sixties learn to use the color contrasts in his apartment so as to organize where to put the mail he’s retrieved from the box outside. For the guide dog user, O.andM. instruction involves learning the routes he’s taken for some years while staying clear of many benches or flower pots that his cane tip has tapped instead of using them as landmarks.

Of course, the benefit for both Braille Institute and Cal. State-L.A. will extend to the dollars and cents of any partnership along with each other’s public awareness. The more businesses and schools raising the awareness of our capabilities and dignity the better. Now as you read more about this excellent alliance here, think of how working together will benefit each Braille Institute client or O.andM. student intern.

In addition, it’s no secret that there’s a shortage of blindness professionals, whether we’re talking orientation and mobility or assistive tech. instructors, or vision rehabilitation therapists-all of whom we’ve featured in the past on Boldly Blind. Now let’s see how gaining new ground for internships and increased exposure to the blindness community helps Cal. State-L.A. train the next generation.

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