Commentary: Making Classroom Technology Accessible for All

Last week, the Federal government and Miami University in Ohio reached an agreement to provide access and equal opportunity to activities and classes for students with disabilities. The lawsuit – which came from a student who is blind – accused Miami University of failing to provide accommodations to students with disabilities and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Among other things, Miami University will make accessibility improvements in the technologies it currently uses, as well as meet with students with disabilities in order to develop a plan to make accommodations for each student.

Many people might wonder why there is still an accessibility problem in colleges and other facilities. After all, the ADA has been around for 26 years, so surely colleges and universities have all implemented changes to make buildings more accessible. This is accurate in the sense that many schools throughout the United States have installed ramps, elevators, Braille signs and wide entrances. Since the ADA was passed into law in 1990, it does not include accessibility standards for modern technology. Although independent organizations have developed standards to make websites more accessible, for example, few businesses or institutions adopt them, often because they are unaware they exist.

I know all too well about how inaccessible technology can present challenges to college students who are blind, because I myself experienced this situation in school. While my classmates could easily log on to computers in the library or computer lab, I would often show up just to find out that screen-reading technology was nonexistent on those machines. In other words, even finding an accessible computer can be difficult, often impossible, for students with disabilities. I was lucky to have my own accessible laptop, but there were still times when I desperately needed to do school work on another computer. The time when my laptop crashed right before finals is the first instance that comes to mind!

In today’s day and age, assistive technology helps people with disabilities be more independent and successful. Thanks to it, we can go to school, have jobs and be involved in social activities. Screen-reading and magnifying technology allows those of us with vision loss to use computers, smartphones and tablets just like everyone else. Technology is becoming more and more important in today’s world, and that is why schools should always consider the accessibility needs of its students with disabilities. Like anyone else, they want and deserve a positive experience while pursuing their education.

I hope that this agreement between Miami University and the Federal government will help create more awareness for other schools regarding the accessibility of their classes and other activities. This will in turn create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students.

How Should Restaurant Staff Interact With Customers Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired?

How Should Restaurant Staff Interact With Customers Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired?

Whether just for fun or for an important get together, everyone enjoys eating out at restaurants. Most people go to restaurants without giving it second thought, but those of us with who are blind or visually impaired often have to do some extra planning. We might want to, at the very least, find out some of the dishes on the menu in advance, so we can begin thinking about our choices. I have previously discussed Braille and accessible restaurant menus, but there are other suggestions that can help wait staff better serve clients with vision loss.

  • Always greet customers the moment they enter the restaurant. If the person asks for assistance getting to the waiting area or table, offer your arm to guide them. This is called the sighted guide technique. The person will gently grab your arm just above the elbow, and walk a couple steps behind you. Some customers might prefer to follow you instead– always ask the person how they would like to be assisted.
  • Introduce yourself to customers as soon as you take their order. I find this to be particularly helpful if I am on my own or with other friends who are blind or visually impaired. Also, be sure to tell us when and where you put drinks, silverware, condiments or food. Often when a waiter brings my drink, I have no idea where it is, and I have to ask whoever is with me, or do some “exploring” around the table.
  • Although some restaurants have Braille menus and I appreciate it when staff offers me one, not everyone who is blind or visually impaired can read Braille. Offer to read the menu to customers who are blind or visually impaired, especially if they are on their own. A lot of times when I’m at a restaurant with family or friends, I will ask them to read the menu to me. If a restaurant has a menu on its website, I might have already looked at it beforehand.
  • Ask us directly what we want. I (and other friends with visual impairments) have had the all too common scenario where wait staff will ask whoever is with us what we will have to eat. Like anyone else, we are perfectly capable of answering and deciding for ourselves. Also, speak in a normal tone – we can hear you perfectly fine.
  • Ask customers if they would like you to read the check to them. This is especially helpful to me when I am on my own, or with a group of friends who are also blind or visually impaired.

These simple tips will help wait staff at restaurants better serve and create a positive dining experience for customers with vision loss. What other suggestions do you have for restaurant or other personnel for interacting with customers who are blind or visually impaired? Please share your ideas below!

Commentary: On Being Poor and Disabled

Since it’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Sandy is sharing one of the most popular posts from 2015 on employment and disabilities. Enjoy!

The high poverty rate and lack of opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the world are clear indications that we have not done enough to help this community. I recently read an article about the Framing Perceptions Project, a set of portraits that aim to give us a glimpse into the lives of disabled individuals in India and Uganda. Reading the many stories made me realize how fortunate I am to live in a country where plenty of opportunities exist for people with disabilities.

The people with disabilities who have job and education opportunities in these countries are far few in between. Most of the pictures tell the stories of individuals who live in poverty and depression due to their blindness or other disabilities. The story that caught my eye (no pun intended) is the one of Shyam Sundar, a man from India who was blinded by Glaucoma. He spends most of the day at home and rarely goes out. “There is nothing to be happy about,” he says.

I consider myself extremely fortunate because unlike Sundar and countless other disabled individuals throughout the world, I was born and grew up in a country where there is an abundance of opportunities for us. As a child, I was able to go to school at no cost to me. I was integrated and included with my sighted peers while receiving Braille and other independent living training. Thanks to this, I was able to study and graduate from college, and am now successfully employed.

I often travel to Mexico to visit my extended family. Each time I go, I am reminded that not all people with disabilities are as fortunate as I have been. In Mexico and many other countries, it is still common to see individuals with disabilities in the streets begging for money. Those who are more fortunate and were able to attend special schools often struggle to be accepted into colleges and universities and even to find jobs.

Of course, the equally pressing issue is that of accessibility. Uneven pavement makes it difficult for those with physical disabilities to move around safely and independently. They are all too often excluded from stores, restaurants, movie theaters and the like, simply because no ramps exist. Even in those rare instances when ramps are available, they are either blocked by parked cars or too steep, making it difficult, even impossible for a wheelchair user to climb. Sidewalks are often blocked by parked cars, food stands, and bicycles, just to mention a few. This can make it extremely difficult for people with visual and physical disabilities to navigate independently and safely.

As a person who is blind, I think that these physical barriers are not the biggest challenge for those with disabilities in Mexico and other countries. The negative attitude that still exists about disabilities all over the world is the major stumbling block for countless individuals. Many cultures still believe that people with any type of disability are sick or helpless and that it is something to be ashamed of, which results in the shunning of this population by their family and friends.

Thanks to advocacy efforts, more awareness exists about disabilities in developing countries. However, there is still a long way to go before we can truly say that all people with disabilities have equal rights. Families, communities and political and religious leaders must begin believing in the potential of these individuals and giving them more education and job opportunities.

The United States is certainly not a paradise for people with disabilities, and a good proof of this is the extremely high unemployment rate that has persisted in this community for many decades. Still, when I read about and see firsthand the exclusion and poverty of people with disabilities, I sure do feel grateful to live in a country where I can be independent and not feel ashamed of my blindness.

Helping Find Jobs: An Overview of The Chicago Lighthouse’s Employment Services Program

Helping Find Jobs: An Overview of The Chicago Lighthouse’s Employment Services Program

In honor of National Disability and Employment Awareness Month this October, we are showcasing The Chicago Lighthouse’sEmployment Services program. The program serves people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled or Veterans, and helps them prepare for and find employment. From learning basic work etiquette to helping clients transition to new jobs, the Employment Services staff works one-on-one with each client so they can realize their goals of finding and keeping a job. This is an overview of the services provided by the program:

Job Readiness

During this stage, staff evaluate each client’s employment needs and goals. Some of the assessments include computer and orientation and mobility skills, as well as the client’s career interests. Staff also assists in resume writing and preparation, conducts mock interviews and provides training on appropriate dress code and professional protocol with things like the use of email and voicemail. Participants also learn about applying for a job, and how to answer questions related to their disability.


The Lighthouse’s Employment Service program offers different training opportunities. Job Club is a weekly series of meetings, where participants have networking opportunities and practice interviewing and other job readiness skills. Special presentations on topics of interest to people with vision loss or other disabilities, such as social security, public transportation and money management are also held.

The Customer Service Training Program provides instruction in customer service skills. Often, students become employed in one of The Lighthouse’s customer care centers. The Transitional Jobs Internship provides paid internships to participants in various Lighthouse departments, including the front desk and our call centers. Internships provide participants with valuable hands-on experience that will help them once they are placed in a permanent job. Throughout the internship, participants receive job coaching from one of the Employment Services counselors.

Job Placement and Retention

Once clients are ready for employment, staff will work with them to find a competent job, either in The Lighthouse or an outside business. Participants then meet with staff for the first 30, 60 and 90 days of starting their new job to discuss their progress and solve any issues that might arise. Client focus groups also help staff keep track of former participants.

Program staff also gives presentations to prospective employers to educate them about the employment services offered at The Lighthouse, and about the types of jobs people who are blind, visually impaired or disabled can do. In addition, they will conduct site visits to assess what types of accommodations future or current employees with vision loss or other disabilities might need.

The unemployment rate for people who are blind, visually impaired or have other disabilities is above 70 percent, and The Lighthouse is constantly working to help more individuals find a job. For more information about the Employment Services Program, visit ourwebsite, or contact Sheila Perkins, Senior Vice President of Employment Services, at, or 312-997-3647. You can also read Andre’s story to get a firsthand account of how the program is making a difference in the lives of people with vision loss, other disabilities or Veterans.

Guest Commentary: Fake Service Animals Are Not the Problem

Guest Commentary: Fake Service Animals Are Not the Problem

The topic of fake, or ‘phony’ service dogs is commonly discussed among service animal users, and we have previously covered it in the Sandy’s View Blog. This week, Wayne Scace, a service dog user, shares his point of view on the issue.

This is in response to the Fake Service Dogs post previously published in Sandy’s View. First of all, there isn’t a problem with ‘fake service dogs’, there is, however, a problem with non-disabled individuals faking a disability to claim rights or privileges that are not due them. Next, I would like to address the statement in the post regarding the ease of acquiring service animal equipment. I say that this ease of acquiring Service Animal gear is a good thing, and for great reasons. Restricting access to the equipment WON’T stop someone from committing the fraud of faking a disability, but it WILL have the nasty side effect of making life even more difficult for disabled citizens that have a legitimate need for service animal related equipment.

Some people who received their service animal from dog guide schools choose to purchase additional leashes and harnesses to supplement the equipment they received with their dog. Most guide dog schools in the U.S. provide leather harnesses (to my knowledge, Gallant Hearts in Mississippi is the only guide dog school that issues harnesses made from nylon webbing), so some guide dog owners buy a nylon harness to use at the beach, or in the woods because it is very easy to wash if it gets soiled. Another reason is to try out a different style of harness – a Y front as opposed to the more traditional straight front harness. For individuals who choose to train their service animal, buying their equipment is not just a handy option, but it is a necessity.

Allow me to repeat this, restricting access to service animal equipment is not a solution to the problem of people that commit the fraud of faking a disability, only to gain rights and privileges that they are not due. Educating the public and businesses about service animals and the ADA would be a more constructive way to help reduce the scourge of people faking disabilities. If a dog isn’t housebroken or out of control, an establishment can ask that it be removed and the owner may then re-enter the establishment. This applies to any dog, even a fully trained service animal.

Wal-Mart is a prime example of an establishment that doesn’t use the rights granted them under the ADA, because it forbids their employees from asking customers the two legally allowed questions (1. is that a Service Animal? and (2.) what work, or task(s) has the dog been trained to perform to mitigate your disability? This can make shopping at Wal-Mart chaotic for legitimate service animal teams.

I’ve personally experienced this backlash at Wal-Mart years ago, when I realized an employee was following us around. Needing some assistance finding something, I asked the gentleman for help. As he assisted me, I asked him why he was following us, and he told me that earlier that day, someone had brought in a badly behaved, or as he put it, ‘yappy’ dog that barked, growled, and urinated in the housewares section. He had been assigned to follow us to make sure my dog did not do the same. When I attempted to educate the employee about the two legally allowed questions, he politely thanked me for the information, and stated that Wal-Mart’s policy only allowed him to ask the first question.

The way I see it, is this: The problem of people faking a disability to receive rights and privileges that aren’t due them isn’t going to go away by restricting access to equipment. Enacting a law in Illinois that criminalizes faking a disability, as Florida has done, would, in my humble opinion, be more efficacious at combating the faker problem.

Do you have comments or questions about this or other topics? Please leave us a comment, or send an email to

Top 5 Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities

October is national disability and employment awareness month. During the entire month, numerous organizations and advocacy groups throughout the United States hold events to promote and educate employers about hiring of people with disabilities. Below are what many consider to be some of the many reasons and benefits of hiring and including people with vision loss or other disabilities in the workforce.

  1. People with disabilities are reliable employees and have an overall higher job retention rate.

Many studies have shown that people with disabilities take less absence days, and that they are more likely to stay on the job longer than non-disabled workers. Recently, The Chicago Lighthouse studied the retention rate of employees in itsIllinois Tollway call center, which employs people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veterans (as well as people without disabilities.) On average, the employees with vision loss or other disabilities and Veterans had a retention rate of 1.7 years. In contrast, the retention rate for employees without disabilities or that were not Veterans was only 0.9 years.

  1. Employees with disabilities are less likely to get into work related accidents.

Two studies, one from the Department of Labor Statistics during the 1940s and a more recent one from the DuPont company concluded that workers with disabilities had a significantly higher performance in the area of safety than their counterparts without disabilities. In other words, employees with disabilities are more aware and conscientious of safety in the workplace. Both studies looked at different types of jobs, including labor, operational, managerial, clerical and service areas.

  1. Businesses that hire people with disabilities may receive tax credits or other incentives.

Eligible businesses can receive certain tax credits to aid them in hiring and accommodating workers with disabilities. Many of these credits are awarded for expenses incurred in things like purchasing adaptive equipment for workers with disabilities, or covering the costs of any modifications needed to make the building accessible. You can read more about the different types of tax credits and eligibility requirements onthis page from the IRS.

  1. Workers with disabilities will increase diversity in the workplace.

Both workers with and without disabilities benefit equally from a diverse work setting. By working alongside employees with disabilities, individuals who are not disabled will become more aware about how to make the workplace and other settings more inclusive and accessible to everyone. They might consider things they had never thought of before, such as the accessibility challenges faced by people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities can also teach their coworkers about creativity and other ways to solve problems or accomplish different tasks.

  1. People with disabilities are as capable as anyone else!

This is the most simple, but difficult reason for employers to understand about hiring workers with disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities has constantly hovered at or above 70 percent, even 26 years after the passage of the ADA. Unfortunately, employers often refuse to hire individuals with disabilities, simply because they believe we are not capable of doing the job, or because they are unaware about the many adaptive techniques and devices that are available and allow us to work. Like anyone else, we apply to jobs we believe we are qualified for and capable of doing. If employers have doubts about if or how we will do a particular task, chances are that we have already thought about it and found a solution.

The following page lists common myths about hiring people with disabilities. What other reasons or benefits would you add to this list?

Commentary: What I Want Others to Understand During Blindness Awareness Month

October is blindness awareness month, a celebration dedicated to understanding the realities of living without sight. We could say that the main focus of this month is to open the eyes to the general public about what it is like to live without being able to see. This month is alsodisability employment awareness month, and it is intended to educate the public, particularly employers, about the many talents workers with disabilities bring to the job.

Ever since I was in college, I have been a part of these celebrations, mostly by participating in blindness and disability awareness panels. Just yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking to graduate students at DePaul University about how assistive technology has helped me, as well as other challenges I have encountered as someone who is blind. The great questions I got from the students made me think about some of the things I wish more people understood about blindness, and these are my top three:

  1. Although I appreciate help from sighted people, sometimes it can be more of a hindrance.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it when someone comes up to me (particularly if I look lost or confused) and asks me if I would like assistance. If I happen to need help, I will gladly accept. However, please do not feel offended or insist if I decline. Often, I have had people who – in an attempt to help me – give me directions or begin guiding me even after I tell them I’m fine, and this unfortunately might make me become lost or confused.

  1. People who are blind are not “inspirational” simply because we are living our lives.

I won’t deny that those of us with vision loss often have to overcome challenges others do not have to think about. Navigating busy streets and not being able to instantly read things like restaurant menus are just a few of those obstacles we encounter in our daily lives. Without a doubt, these challenges can be scary and frustrating. Still, if you see someone who is blind out and about, chances are that he or she has had special training and practice to learn how to be independent without sight. If you want to compliment us, please do not focus on our blindness or how hard it must be to live without sight. Like anyone else, we like to hear compliments on more interesting things, such as what we’re wearing or any other characteristic unrelated to our disability.

  1. A high unemployment rate continues to be a problem in 2016.

If laws like the ADA forbid discrimination, then why is it that around 70 percent of people with vision loss are unemployed in the United States? Personally, I believe it is because of the negative attitudes and stereotypes employers still have about people with vision loss. The reason is simple: they have never hired someone who is blind, and are unwilling to give us a chance. Also, they are not aware about the various adaptive tools and techniques available that can help us on the job. I hope that one day more employers will give people with disabilities the chance to show them their talents.

What other things would you like people to understand about blindness? Stay tuned to Sandy’s View, where we will continue sharing information about blindness and disability and employment awareness month all throughout October.