Above: Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, is interviewed during the organization’s protest on April 2nd in midtown Manhattan. (Video: SCOOTERCASTER / YouTube)
Members of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) gathered in midtown Manhattan on April 2nd to protest “In The Dark,” a new television series on the CW network. The purpose of the protest #LetUsPlayUs was to highlight the lack of authentic representation of blind people in the entertainment industry; “In the Dark” features a lead actor who isn’t blind in real life, but who plays the role of a blind person on the show.
In the weeks leading up to the protest, the National Federation of the Blind issued a statement condemning the show and calling for its cancellation. The organization also wrote to the show’s producers and to CW/CBS executives requesting an urgent meeting. The NFB received a response from the show’s executives stating that they are interested in meeting with the NFB after the first season has aired.
On January 15, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Domino’s Pizza website and mobile app must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and be made fully accessible to people with visual impairments. The court reasoned that the ADA applies to Domino’s digital properties because their inaccessibility “impedes access to goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.”
A blind customer first sued the pizza chain in 2016, saying he couldn’t order a pizza through its website or app, since neither were compatible with standard screen reading software. And while the legal landscape regarding online accessibility is still uncertain, the Domino’s case may set an important legal precedent regarding the scope of the ADA.
Read more about the case here, or click here to download a PDF of the ruling.
Mares Wright displays one of the radios Sun Sounds of Arizona gives out, in addition to its online live stream of radio programming. (Lily Altavena)
by Lily Altavena
In 2015, non-profit Sun Sounds of Arizona is still giving out functional, 80s- looking radios to listeners after more than 30 years on the airwaves. Geared to help people with disabilities, volunteers from the organization read everything from the Wall Street Journal to Playboy aloud.
But the tide is changing at Sun Sounds, where an online stream is gaining in popularity.
“I’m signing up more and more people who want to do it digitally,” spokesman Mares Wright said.
Assistive technology is going digital and making new strides. Those with disabilities don’t have to look further than their smart phones to find a range of apps and accessories to improve quality of life. Some of this new technology was on display recently at “White Cane Day: A Resource Fair” in Tempe, Ariz., hosted by the city’s diversity office. The event was aimed at connecting those in the community who are blind or have visual impairments to a variety of resources, according to Michele Stokes, the city of Tempe’s Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Specialist.
Mike Perry owns Low Vision Plus, which offers assistive devices for those with visual impairments. One of the vendors at the fair, he said he’s seen a lot of improvements in the past few years.
“The technology has just become so much better,” Perry said. “Now people can afford to get it, even if they don’t have a lot of money.”
He displayed an electronic magnifier called the Prodigi at his table, which connects to a tablet to magnify and read words aloud. Perry estimates the Prodigi costs around $2,700 – thousands of dollars less than what its lower tech, 1990s counterpart would have cost.
Virginia Thompson, the assistive technology coordinator with the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said she sees more technology useful for people with more than one disability. A home alert system might include flashing lights, vibrations and braille, for example.
Smart phones, too, are ripe for development in assistive technology. In Lyrics Guru, a video game app showcased at the fair, users have to guess the correct lyrics for a song. The company, Al Jones Corporation, is currently developing a voice-controlled version of the game for those who are blind or have low vision.
“From our understanding, there are not many video games out there for those with visual challenges,” Al Jones, the company’s CEO, said.
Events like “White Cane Day” are critical to the communities they reach, Stokes said. Especially if someone is in the process of losing their sight, finding a new tool might make a huge impact in their life, he said.
For Thompson, updates in assistive technology signals more inclusion for those with disabilities.
“We still have a long ways to go, but at least now deaf-blind people can be active in the community,” she said.
Katherine Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist at the University of Wisconsin — Eau Claire, author, blogger (kathiecomments.wordpress.com) and advocate on disability issues, reflects on how the Americans with Disabilities Act changed her life and that of other blind people. Learn more.
In the latest installment of beauty brand Dove’s “Choose Beautiful” campaign, the company released a short film that shows three visually-impaired women talking about their own body image in relation to losing their sight. Read more.
In this video, Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher and companion explains how over time, Keller expanded her communication skills to include being able to speak. For decades, Keller was able to interact with others using tactile sign language and other methods. But as the video makes clear, by developing innovative yet simple methods, Keller learned various sounds and words through feeling the vibrations in Sullivan’s face and vocal chords.
At the time when this video was produced, Keller was already involved with the American Foundation and years earlier, she had attended Radcliffe College as well as the Perkins School for the Blind.
Haller says that journalists often miss opportunities to report on important issues happening in the community of people with disabilities, such as disability rights laws, the lack of accessible housing in various cities or discrimination against people with particular disabilities, for example.
Robitaille also joins the conversation and discusses her views on the state of disability in the news media and how journalism on these topics can be covered more deeply and with greater precision. She explains the complex nature of defining disability on both societal and individual levels, along with the troubles she saw with NPR’s recent reports, “Unfit for Work.”