Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation several months ago, staying on top of the news can be a daunting task. One of AFB’s main goals is to keep people who are blind or who have low vision and their families up to date on the policy issues that affect us all. With this in mind, here are a few recent news stories we found particularly interesting.

The Washington Post: Virginia agrees to make mail-in voting accessible to blind voters who sued
September 1, 2020

Just as we’ve been hearing nationwide from respondents to the Flatten Inaccessibility study, Virginian visually impaired voters faced a quandary: risk health or even life to vote in person, or forego privacy by seeking assistance in filling out absentee ballot forms? Thankfully, the Virginia Department of Elections has agreed to allow voters who are blind or have low vision to electronically receive mail-in ballots compatible with screen-reader assistive technology.

Key excerpt: “At polling places, such voters can request similar assistive technology that reads the ballot to them as they make selections. But at some places, the equipment is not readily available… and voters have to wait or decide to get help from a poll worker instead. Now they won’t need to ask for assistance from anyone. And, like seeing voters, they won’t have to leave home to fill out their ballots.”

We were pleased to see the state in which AFB Headquarters is located take the necessary measures to ensure that blind or low vision voters can exercise their constitutional right and have their voices heard. After all, disability rights are human rights. We also congratulate our colleagues at the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind for pursuing legal action that led to this positive outcome.

Texas Tribune: Special education students lost crucial help when the pandemic hit. Texas schools are still struggling to restore it.
August 28, 2020

A significant percentage of Texas public school students need special education resources, and many were left stranded when schools closed abruptly in the spring. Educators and parents faced challenges again this fall reconnecting kids with the therapists and specialists they need.

Key excerpt: “Nearly 10% of Texas public school students — about half a million — receive special education services through their schools, which offer help with a wide range of behavioral, emotional and physical challenges. When schools shuttered in the spring, many families were left to manage their children’s learning and seek out special services, like therapy, on their own. Educators, many new to remote teaching themselves, struggled to adapt students’ individual learning plans to a virtual world.”

AFB’s research team explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational services for students who are blind or low vision, including those with multiple disabilities and deafblindness. The Access and Engagement Study collected responses from family members and guardians whether or not their child was currently receiving educational services. Professionals provided input even if they were not currently serving students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The research team is still analyzing the data but in the meantime, we have been sharing the results in multiple ways.

Politico: California creates limited path for on-campus instruction — even in hard-hit counties [requires subscription]
August 25, 2020

Most California schools are not currently allowed to hold in-person classes, but the state issued guidelines on August 25 that would enable some programs in any county to open, particularly in special education, with small cohorts in person. The California Department of Public Health’s new guidance states that no more than 14 children and two adults may gather as cohorts in “controlled, supervised, and indoor environments” operated by schools and nonprofits, public or private. Those include day camps, youth groups and after school and recreational programs.

Key excerpt: “…Newsom officials appear willing to allow schools to accept some level of risk in exchange for serving students who would suffer harm from prolonged isolation through distance learning. Special education families expressed concerns in the spring that their students' needs were going unmet and that parents were incapable of providing the specialized care they needed. Children's advocates have warned that many students rely on school not just for education, but to detect child abuse, provide meals and ensure social and emotional support they do not receive at home.”

AFB has urged schools to ensure that students receive the full range of services and skill development outlined in their IFSPs, IEPs, or 504 Plans. If students need compensatory education to make up for lost instruction, they should receive it. But if students with disabilities are the first students to return to the classroom, they and their teachers should not be used as test cases for safety practices. Read the full set of principles AFB has urged policymakers to follow, and add your name to the petition.

Additional Resources:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources

Flatten Inaccessibility: Impact of COVID-19 on Blind and Visually Impaired Adults in the United States

Access and Engagement to Education Survey

How TVIs and O&M Instructors are Handling the Challenges of Distance Learning, Part 1

How TVIs and O&M Instructors are Handling the Challenges of Distance Learning, Part 2