- AFB's New Website Builds on a History of Accessibility
- Syed Hassan: Pursuing His Dream Career with No Limits
- AFB Leadership Conference Sharpens Focus While Expanding Reach
- Anita Shafer Aaron: What Does the World Look Like to You?
- AFB Net Notes
AFB's New Website Builds on a History of Accessibility
With a fresh new look and layout, AFB's new website is easier to use than ever
If you've never built a website, it's hard to appreciate the complexity of what goes on behind the scenes—all the moving parts that must work precisely so the website is as simple to use as possible for visitors. And for AFB, that usability has always included accessibility for people who are visually impaired, even before technology to support that functionality existed.
AFB is proud of our revamped website, which is not only more streamlined and easier to use for visitors of all visual abilities, but also more accessible for developers on the back end, too.
To appreciate how important this accessibility is to AFB, it's worth a quick look back at the history of our website. As early citizens of the Internet, AFB didn't have a lot of options for creating an accessible website. In fact, not one "out-of-the-box" option existed, so AFB built its own accessible content management system (a web-based tool to add and edit information on a website). Fast forward 20 years and keeping up with modern technology and making necessary site updates had become quite a challenge, says Matthew Janusauskas, director of information technology services at AFB.
"We'd try to make the simplest of changes and we'd have unexpected consequences elsewhere on the site," he explains. "You can only patch things so many times, whether it's software or clothing."
With AFB's new strategic vision and priorities—and the stewardship transition of numerous programs such as VisionAware to the American Printing House for the Blind (APH)—it was time to build a brand-new site from the ground up.
The new site has a fresh, clean look with high-contrast graphics. It also adheres to accessibility guidelines to ensure that the site works well for screen reader users as well as people with low vision. To be sure the site was as user-friendly as possible, AFB Consulting conducted usability testing—just as it does for outside firms that want to be compliant with current accessibility standards.
Mary Witherspoon, associate usability specialist at AFB Consulting, led the project, which asked 12 visually impaired people using different assistive technologies, including screen readers and magnifiers, to test the site before it launched. Because she is a screen reader user herself, Witherspoon knows how important it is that a website works smoothly with all types of assistive technology.
"Headings and other information have to be designed so a screen reader can make sense of it," she explains. "Other people use applications that change light and contrast or produce inverse colors, so the website has to be designed to work properly with those technologies, too."
Witherspoon says she was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to find the information she was looking for on the redesigned website. She adds that the usability testing participants really appreciated the chance to offer feedback and have their voices heard.
Regardless of visual ability, visitors to the new afb.org will find that it's organized in a way that makes it much easier to find the information they're seeking, from details about AFB's focus areas to facts about vision loss and how to get involved with AFB.
"We're very pleased with the results," Janusauskas says. "I think people are really going to enjoy using the new site."
Pursuing His Dream Career with No Limits
Syed believed he could work in computer science. In AFB, he found an employer who believed it, too.
Syed Hassan is proof that people who are visually impaired can do any job—and that includes work people might assume someone who is blind can't do, such as website development. In fact, one of his college professors told him he wouldn't be able to complete his coursework.
Hassan not only aced that class, but did so well in others that he was nominated for the computer science award while working toward his degree in computer science. Since then, Hassan has earned bachelor of science and master of arts degrees in computer science. He also began working at AFB as an intern in the Web Department in 2013. Although he was unfamiliar with AFB at the time, he quickly recognized that AFB was telling the world what he'd been trying to say with his own life choices since losing sight in both eyes to a gunshot wound during a robbery in the early 2000s.
"I didn't know why the work AFB was doing was so important, but once I got in, I didn't want to leave because the kind of motivation they're providing to the blind and visually impaired community shows that there really are no limits," Hassan says. "There are opportunities out there, especially if you use all the tools available to you and get good training. You can't just sit at home—you have to go after what you want."
Hassan admits he went through a period of depression after losing his sight, but realized that he should not give up on his dream of working in computer science. Thanks to vocational rehabilitation programs, Hassan learned braille, received mobility training, and was exposed to assistive technology that prepared him to finish his education and begin a career.
After completing his internship at AFB, Hassan was hired as a technical assistant and then promoted to software development engineer, the position he's held since June 2018. He's been integral to the development of AFB's new website, which includes much more accessible technology for engineers working on the technical aspects of the site.
"We selected this platform for the redesign because its accessibility is customizable," he explains. "You can use a screen reader or screen magnifier, so people with various visual impairments can work on it as easily as anyone else."
In addition to being in an environment where people who are visually impaired are given the same opportunities as everyone else, what gets Hassan excited about coming to work every day?
"All the things we're building for the people at AFB—the tools they request and the problems that need solutions—are all about troubleshooting," he says, "and I just love solving problems."
AFB Leadership Conference Sharpens Focus While Expanding Reach
With an emphasis on AFB's strategic priorities, the 2019 AFBLC broadened its audience
Once again, the AFB Leadership Conference (AFBLC) attracted some of the best and brightest minds in the field of blindness—as well as a variety of other related fields—to help AFB build new connections in pursuit of our strategic objectives.
More than 400 people attended the 2019 AFBLC, which shifted its content significantly from previous years. In addition to practical guidance for direct service providers, the sessions were more aligned with AFB's emphasis on thought leadership, collaboration, and higher levels of influence around our key priorities of employment, education, age-related vision loss, research, and technology.
"We want to promote AFB's strategic direction and have an impact on those particular areas," says Kirk Adams, president and CEO of AFB. "One of the ways we do that is by convening leaders in the blindness field, but also expertise from outside the field, who we collaborate with to advance our mission."
For example, one of the most popular breakout sessions addressed aging, vision loss, and dementia, bringing together AFB's emphasis on aging and vision loss with a significant health issue facing older adults. Other speakers and attendees from outside the field of blindness included representatives from the corporate world, who are essential to helping AFB create a world of no limits.
This year's AFBLC included 35 breakout sessions, three general sessions, and five learning tracks focused on AFB's strategic priorities. In addition, AFB took full advantage of a one-time opportunity to have the National Research and Training Center (NRTC) on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University hold its State of the Science Conference on Employment for Individuals with Blindness or Other Visual Impairments during the 2019 AFBLC.
"This was a great fit because we really wanted an emphasis on research and employment issues at this year's conference," says George Abbott, AFB's chief knowledge advancement officer, who coordinated the conference.
"Six out of the seven breakout sessions in the employment track were on research conducted by the NRTC on employmentrelated issues."
Also new this year were audio beacons provided by Foresight Augmented Reality and a conference app. The beacons and app allowed visually impaired users to navigate the conference area, hotel, and nearby businesses.
The evening before the conference, AFB hosted the Helen Keller Achievement Awards (HKAA) gala, where the recipients —representatives from Amazon and Northrop Grumman, as well as Washington State Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib—gave moving and often funny acceptance speeches.
Overall, the feedback about both events was extremely positive. Many attendees did express an interest in more networking opportunities, which AFB is already looking into for next year.
It's not too soon to mark your calendar for the 2020 AFBLC, which will again be held at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. The HKAA gala will be held on March 25, followed by the conference on March 26-27. For information about sponsorship, advertising, or exhibiting opportunities, please contact Amanda Kolling, firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Does the World Look Like to You?
We continue our series asking people who are blind or visually impaired to share their real-world experiences.
Anita Shafer Aaron is the executive director of the World Institute on Disability (WID) and the 2019 recipient of AFB's Stephen Garff Marriott Award, which honors someone who is blind or visually impaired and has served as an extraordinary mentor or attained remarkable professional success. Aaron joined WID in 2010 after serving for 20 years as CEO of the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Under Aaron's leadership, WID has worked to strengthen its role in addressing barriers to healthcare, economic inclusion, and international access to services, training, and education.
When did you first experience vision loss?
I began losing my vision to Stargardt disease when I was in the third grade. I started the school year being able to read the chalkboard and ended it without being able to read the chalkboard. Now I only have a thin rim of peripheral vision in both eyes, so I use a white cane and all the tools someone with no vision would use.
What surprises people about your life?
I think people make assumptions about what they've decided I can't do and are then surprised when I can do it. For example, if I go to get my hair cut at a new place they'll ask, "Can you get home by yourself?"
The sarcastic person in me wants to say, "How do you think I got here in the first place?" But I take a deep breath and say, "Yes, I'm just a few blocks away and I'm fine, thank you."
Have you ever been in a situation where people tried to put limits on your aspirations because of your visual impairment? How did you have to advocate for yourself?
The first professional job I applied for in the 1970s was as the director of a crisis hotline. The Board of Directors interviewing me couldn't imagine how I could do training support, recruit people—all the things a director would do. But the Chair of the Board told me they were giving me a chance to prove I could do the job in spite of my vision loss because I had more qualifications than any other candidate. It was my qualifications that got me the job.
What do you wish more people understood about what it means to be blind or visually impaired?
I think it's difficult for a sighted person to imagine not having sight, so I wish people felt more comfortable asking questions so they understood that seeing differently doesn't mean we can't get together on whatever it is we want to do.
"I'd love to take a walk with you. What do we need to do to make that work for both of us?"
What advice would you give people who are blind or visually impaired about living with no limits?
Really understand your vision loss and continually assess what's out there in terms of tools and aids and services to maximize your ability. I live in a neighborhood I never could have lived in before ride sharing was available—I looked for housing that was walkable to public transit and the grocery store. Keep current with your options because it really does positively impact your ability to do a wide variety of things.
AFB Net Notes
Listen to Kirk Adams in Conversation
In recent months, AFB President and CEO Kirk Adams has been spreading the word about AFB's work.
He joined Debra Ruh's "Human Potential at Work" podcast to discuss AFB's efforts to include employees who are blind or visually impaired in the larger conversation about diversity and inclusion in the workforce. You can watch the captioned interview or read a transcript at www.afb.org/HumanPotential.
In April, Adams joined Mark Farrell's "Insight" show on the Progressive Radio Network to discuss his own career path and how AFB is changing perceptions and creating career opportunities for job seekers with vision loss. The full radio interview with transcript is available at www.afb.org/InsightInterview.
AFB Needs Your Support, Now More Than Ever
As we pursue our ambitious goals, funding is essential to our success. Although we're grateful for the support of our corporate sponsors, most of our funding comes from individual donors. Any size donation you can make helps us continue our work to create a world of no limits—and every dollar adds up. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today. Learn more at www.afb.org/donate.