Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

APH Huntington

August 11, 2022 American Printing House Episode 58
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
APH Huntington
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Change Makers, we’re learning about APH Huntington. Listen about the service it provides and the impact that it makes.

On This Episode (In Order of Appearance) 

  • Jeff Fox, Narrator
  • Sara Brown, APH Public Relations Manager
  • Lee Huffman, APH Huntington, Senior Strategist, Accessible Technology and Community Outreach

Additional Links

Jeff Fox:

Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH . We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision. Here's your host.

Sara Brown:

Hello, and welcome to this episode of Change Makers. I'm APH's Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And today we are learning about the amazing work done through APH Huntington. We have APH Huntington's Senior Strategist Accessible Technology and Community Outreach. Lee Huffman here to talk about the origin of APH Huntington and how it's meeting the needs of local residents. Hello Lee , and welcome to Change Makers.

Lee Huffman:

Good morning. Hello. Thank you for inviting me.

Sara Brown:

So tell us about your professional background and introduce yourself to the audience in case they're not familiar with you or APH Huntington.

Lee Huffman:

Well, thank you, actually. Yes. Uh , my name is Lee Huffman, as you had said, and I have really a fairly new to APH. I've been with APH really, almost exactly two years last week. It's two years. Exactly. And , um, began working with APH to really bring about , uh, some learnings about how it can better understand and learn to better serve rural populations. When , uh, I first be began, my career in the blindness field was about, well in 2005. I began working for the American Foundation for the Blind and I started , um, as I was new to the blindness business completely. And I was hired under a grant in Huntington, West Virginia, where one of the AFB offices was located and the grant was to determine best specifications for small visual displays. So I have low vision myself. I have a condition called Stargardt, which is a juvenile form of Macular Degeneration. And at the time that's when cell phones were really getting popular. Everyone had one in all the different cell phone screens were different, some were more readable, some were less readable. And the grant was really to AFB to find the most readable specifics for small visual displays. And now we have, you know, retina displays on a phone. So things have changed. A lot. Screens have gotten a lot better. They've gotten a lot larger and much more readable. So that's how I got started in the business. And after that transition to writing for AFP's Access World Technology magazine, and after some time reviewing technology products of all different types , uh, for people who have low vision, I began , uh, as the editor in chief of Access World. And that was my last several years with the American Foundation for the Blind before transitioning over to, to APH to start APH Huntington.

Sara Brown:

Okay . Now talk to us about what APH Huntington is and how we got started?

Lee Huffman:

APH Huntington, really the overall, what people I think really should really understand is the goal of APH Huntington. It's a new program of APH is to really, to, in , to learn about how to and learn about and how to best serve more rural communities, because there are challenges and in a rural community that don't necessarily exist in a more metropolitan area like a Chicago, or New York, or Boston, or Houston, something like that , uh, that would have more resources. And so the overall goal is to bring the information , uh, which is like the educational knowledge of APH and also the knowledge of products and technology products to the rural area, and to infuse this area, to educate the folks in the community and to elevate the possibilities for people who are living here in this area who are blind or low vision. And so that can likely be replicated other places, really to have better outcomes, whether it be for education, employment, and life in general, even for people who have maybe retired , uh, to help them have better outcomes in their life based on infusion of information and all the resources that APH has to offer. So that was the overarching goal. And still it remains to this day and the work of APH Huntington began with the good maps indoor navigation. So the first idea that we had to bringing information to the area was with good maps, which is an arm of APH that brings indoor navigation to people who are blind and vision impaired and really to anybody through a smartphone app. So if your listeners aren't familiar, what it is, they , uh, go in and they map a building , uh, height, weight , the spatial areas of a building. They can create digital maps and through a smartphone app, a person who's blinded originally impaired can pull up the app on their phone and get walking directions to points of interest within a building. Whether that be a classroom, an office , uh, a restroom, a water fountain. If you're in a mall, it can be a store. If you're in an airport, it could be , uh, a gate that you're going to, to catch a plane, or there , I know Good Maps currently is doing a lot of work in , uh, museums across the country to help people better understand how to navigate a museum and to better understand what is on display and how they can best interact with it. So that was the first , uh, we thing we did to bring more infusion of the, a , to the area and Good Maps mapped for buildings in Huntington to kind of get that initiative started. And when you have something like that, there has to be some training. And so we worked with the good map staff and myself to gather a cohort of folks to come in and receive training on how to use the good maps app . So when they go to, it was the Huntington downtown library, the YMCA, the local Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind, which is a local nonprofit . We mapped their building. And also one of the Marshall University , uh, buildings, the Visual Arts Building downtown , uh, we mapped those four to kind of get started. And when we did the very first training, we of course interviewed people before and asked them about their smartphone usage and whether they used magnification to access information or speech output or both. And I was very surprised that we got a lot of good answers and we seen people like they would be ready, but when we got people into the room to download the Good Maps app, most everyone in the room we had about 2020. Some people couldn't do it. They were not familiar enough with their phone to download an app. Many of them , someone else had set up their phone for them. They didn't know passwords. And really we're excited to learn about the technology completely understood what it could do for them, but did not have the , the skills , uh, with voiceover or through magnification to download an app or to use the app proficiently. Most of them , um, kind of disguised the fact during the interview that they were using their phone for very , uh, rudimentary tasks, making a call sometimes, sometimes placing a phone call and , um, or a text message. And that was really it. They said they had things like Facebook on their phone. I think that's great. And they did, but they never really used the different aspects of it. So we learned very quickly that we had possibly gotten and in front of our skis with what we were looking to do in the community. We realized that we had to take a step back and kind of meet people where they were.

Sara Brown:

How has APH adapted its work to meet the needs of local BVI residents?

Lee Huffman:

The biggest, the biggest thing that APH Huntington has done is really kind of rethink where we meet the folks in our area. And so we realized that we had to take a step back and meet them where they are, and also that the community. So we really decided to invest in four main areas. And the first one was to create access technology trainings for some of the blind and vision impaired folks in the area to help get them up to speed on technology. I'll go through these a little bit to explain them better. But the second thing we did, we created what we called the spark, which was where we were showing and demonstrating some of the technology that APH has to offer to some of the local TVIs and rehabilitation folks who never really get to see that type of , uh, technology. We also created a community speakers series to help educate and elevate the community's knowledge of expectations and the capabilities of people who were blind and visually impaired. And then we created and presented most recently in April, late April of this year was the APH in fact , Full Living Summit. And so those were the four areas that we realized we needed to take a step back, meet people where they are and help elevate people to get them to the point of better users of technology. And to add the community have a better understanding about capabilities. So with the access tech trainings we had, and I cooperated with the Aaron Priest, who was the current , um, editor-in-chief of AFBs technology magazine. Who's also local in Huntington, and we created six training sessions for folks who , uh, applied. And we did the first one. We , we had a training, we did six of them, one per month for six months. And the first one was on better cell phone usage. So we got their phones and we helped set them best for their level of vision in determining whether magnification was what they needed or , uh, speech output or using both and taught them to use , uh, the most appropriate hand gestures and how to do that proficiently. So they could use their phones better and talked about the different things that you could do with the phone, how to download a app, how to use a app, how to go through and do email and read email to help them get better at acquainted with their phones. We had one on smart speakers, whether it would be the Google home and the Amazon Alexa teaching them about what the capabilities are there. So they could learn to do that type of technology. We had one on Uber and Lyft, which was, we had to learn about the Uber app. They actually used the app, they called a car . We took some rides and learn to do that. And we talked about all the different things that they had questions about. We taught about the use of Microsoft Aeeing AI, which is a Microsoft developed app, which will be as a currency identifier. It's a light detector. It reads short documents, it reads full page documents allowed. It will read QR codes or barcodes on products to tell you what they are and how that could really help them in their everyday life. And we talked about audio description for television to get them better accustomed to understanding what was available and how to, you know, best incorporate some of that into their life. Uh , that was one of the most important things that we did as long , uh, as well as the community speaker series, which we , um, the first one that we did, we brought folks in from APH , uh, some of these staff at the time, Melanie Peskoe Melissa Slaughter, Allen Lovell again, Aaron Priest from AFB participating. And we did a self-advocacy because I believe that's, we thought that's really where we needed to start to show people that, you know, there are blind and visually impaired, successfully working folks , uh, in professional fields. And we had them talk about their use of technology, the challenges that they've had in life and work and education, how they've overcome that. So the people in the audience could really get an understanding of, "Hey, we're not alone. Maybe I can do what they've done. Maybe I can , uh, ex take a tackle a challenge the way they did," and had some questions and answers at the end to give the people that are in our area, a better idea of how to handle some, some challenges and some situations that they may be facing and learn to best advocate for themselves. Uh , the second community speaker series we did was a partnership with the InSights Art program. The director at the time came to Huntington, and we had an installation of a InSights Art that had been collected over the years installed at the Huntington Museum of Art, which was fantastic. We had about 25 different types of pieces. There was art photography, there were crafts, all different types of things. And we had a reception and the director walked through each of the pieces for the attendees. And afterward we did a panel discussion with the museum curator, the InSights Art director, and of the artist and residence at the museum who also works with blind impaired folks on a , uh, pottery class every year or two. And so just to talk about the importance of, and the contributions of people who are blind and visually impaired to the arts, which many people were , uh, really unaware of, and didn't really think that there was a lot of input from people with disabilities in the arts, which is obviously, you know , uh, not true at all. And the last thing that we really did most recently was the APH Huntington Impactful Living Summit. We had about 60 folks that attended, and these were people who were blind and visually impaired practitioners in the field. Uh , people who worked with rehabilitation, people who worked as TVI's, some folks from the community where we had a day-long series of sessions. It was just like a small conference. We had exhibitors from our community, which were, of course, you know , APH had a , a booth, Vispero, which is a technology manufacturer for assisted technology, had a booth, our local Goodwill, the Independent Living Center , uh, American Foundation for the Blind had a booth to really bring together all the resources of our area to showcase those. Good Maps did a presentation on indoor navigation. We had another panel discussion with people who are blind or visually impaired. We had technology demonstrated as a presentation or a session that , uh, really enabled the folks to see what blind technology is like. Refreshable braille , uh, magnification devices, things they had never seen before. And the reason we did it was to, like I said, help educate and elevate the community because when the professionals in the area aren't aware of the resources, they can't share them with folks who need them. So these are the initiatives that we just completed , uh, as sort of taking a step back and really kind of reconfiguring what APH was doing in our area

Sara Brown:

And through your work to date , what learnings have come from working in this rural community?

Lee Huffman:

We have really learned a lot at APH, about the rural community, and we've really learned that culture plays a big role in outcomes for people who are blind and visually impaired. We've realized that there is a definitely a lack of access to information. There's a lack of access to , uh, resources and a lack of access to role models for younger folks who are blind or visually impaired. Most folks , uh, we've worked with in the area were not aware of APH. They were not aware of our online webinars, any of the online content that we have . They were not aware of the Transition Hub, the ConnectCenter, the Information Referral Line that is, you know, the 800 number. They were not aware of the email and that they could get information free from APH , get their questions answered from information referral. They didn't know that they could get instructional videos from the outreach team, had no idea any of these even existed and are now beginning to take advantage of them. Uh, role models are especially lacking in , in rural areas. For example, some of the students that I've had the opportunity to speak with didn't ever consider really, I don't believe working after high school or maybe after college, because they had never seen a visually impaired professional working in the working world ever. And didn't have that as a role model to see locally until really we began working with APH . I had one of the students , uh, he was a 17-years-old and he was in the high school. And he just said to me, we were having a one on one conversation. And he said, "does it ever get better?" And I thought he meant his vision. And I said, "what do you mean?" And he said , "just the struggle of it." And I said, "absolutely, it gets better. And here's why when you develop your O and M orientation and mobility skills, the better you are at that. And the better you master the technology and the access technology that you need for your particular vision condition, the better off you will be. And all of the struggles that you're currently having will fade away. Because once you master those two things, getting around, getting where you need to go independently and the technology and the access technology that you need to use a computer to use a smartphone to interact. When you can do those things, you can do anything." And he had never been told that before. So I think the lack of role models is , is super , uh, important. Another thing that I've learned , uh, from speaking with students, one of the students in a middle school that I spoke with did not use a cane they needed to, they did not use technology and they needed to desperately, and the family didn't support necessarily those types of things. They thought that using the cane and the student thought the same thing too, was a sign of , uh, weakness or a sign of vulnerability instead of seeing the cane as a sign of independence and opportunity. And didn't really want their child using one, because they said, "well, if they need to walk somewhere, I'll take them or I'll walk them ." And when they went through their school day, either a fellow student or a staff member at the school would walk them from classroom to classroom, to the library, to the cafeteria, to the restroom and back to the parents when they picked them up after school. And so they were not learning to be independent. They were not using technology at all, and were struggling to do their schoolwork and that didn't have to be. And I think that many times culturally, in a small rural area, there's the mentality of "we'll do it for you. Don't worry. We'll take care of it." Instead of preparing young folks to be independent and placing the expectations on them, "that you will go to school," "you will become a , an independent traveler." "You will go to college or a trade school or something like that," "or start a business," "become an entrepreneur." The expectations need to be raised. And what I'm learning too, is that some of the professionals in the area, because they don't have the resources that they need, they haven't seen role models. They have never seen a , a visually impaired professional have a hard time conveying that as an expectation to young students and the mindset of independence and future opportunities. I really feel, especially in a rural area, needs to be shifted. And so that's one of , of the things that I'm particularly working to do in my role at APH Huntington is to help shift that mindset to independence, into , you know, mastering orientation and mobility skills and encouraging them to master the technology that they need to do whatever they need to do and what that can bring them in. So those are some of the things that I think especially a rural community has , um, as a culture. And I think that the biggest impact really that we can make at APH in this area is with younger students to get that mindset. And while they're young, while it is much more challenging to work with a senior, someone who has lost vision possibly later in life, or has developed a situation where they allow either a sighted spouse or an adult child to sort of do things for them many times, what I found is they are intimidated by technology to the point where they won't attempt it, where students usually, you know, younger folks are more excited by technology. Uh , we think that that's really where the biggest opportunity and impact that we can make in the area is with students.

Sara Brown:

What local organizations have been your biggest ally for this work?

Lee Huffman:

We have had a lot of allies in Huntington in the surrounding area, and really we have not met with any opposition from any type of group. Everyone has been very welcoming and I wanna really sort , I start off by saying that really the ones that made it possible were three of the major donors that we've had over this timeframe. And our key donor has been the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, who has been our, you know, cheerleader number one in the community to help us get started with APH Huntington and has encouraged others to do it as well. We have another funder who funded the speaker series and parts of the summit, and that was the Pallottine Foundation of Huntington. And also the Huntington Foundation, all three have been very generous supporters of our work and have allowed us to do everything that we've done so far, because for the past two years, everything that we've done has not come from funding from APH has been locally grant funded, which makes it even more special. I think because the area that we're working in, number one believes in the work that we're doing and believes in APH , that they have the ability, or it has the ability to really infuse the area with some good information that can improve the, the , the , the awareness for people in our area and outcomes. Uh , the other organizations that have been the best supporters of ours, number one, the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind has been fantastic. They are an organization who has about 500 folks on their rosters that they work to serve every year. And you think 500 people that sounds like a lot, but that's just the ones they have on their role . So even in small rural areas, there are many more people who have vision loss than anyone even realizes or recognizes. We are currently partnering with them to do a needs assessment study for the area we are doing , uh, interviews with blind and vision impaired people to ask them about their experiences as a blind vision impaired person, the resources that they know about and what's available to them, what they've used, what they feel is lacking to find what they feel needs to be done, which will help drive , uh, in the future, the work of not only APH Huntington, but other local organizations as well. We're planning to share that with everyone in the community so that they can have that information. Uh , Marshall University has been a great supporter of ours as well. They were allowed us to use the Drinko Library to do one of our speakers series for the community. We had Micheal Hudson come from the museum at APH to do a presentation with , um, in cooperation with Women's History months . So there was a big presentation about Helen Keller and the impact she's had on the field. They were able to bring some of the touchable items from the APH Museum, for example, the different iterations of the white cane and how it's changed over time. And our blind attendees were able to touch those and feel those and see how things have changed, tactile maps , uh, different types of note takers and how those have changed over time. We showed some APH current APH technology and some older devices, so they could see how even that has changed over time, which is really cool. So Marshall University has been a great supporter of ours, as well as the Huntington Museum of Art, where we did the installation of insights artwork and allowed us to use their facility to help , um, share the information about blind and vision impaired artists . They also hosted that , uh, through their Facebook page and , uh, their website where they had over, I believe over 1200 folks actually come through and physically see the art on display and visit , uh, the exhibit through the website. So it was really great to be able to have that extended virtual reach as well. And the Huntington Chamber of Commerce has been great. We joined the Huntington Chamber of Commerce and they have been strategic and their assistance to us in helping us get out information about what we're doing and events we're having , um, and have really been fantastic about that

Sara Brown:

Based on your work and learning, how will APH Huntington evolve going forward?

Lee Huffman:

The learning that we're taking place, really an APH Huntington, which is the Huntington cap , which is Cabell and Wayne county areas of West Virginia, we're right at the border of where West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky meet . So we're extrapolating that these similar cultural situations are happening and just over the borders into the other states as well. And so we're looking to take what we've learned and some of the , uh, trainings that we've done and move them across the border to Kentucky and Ohio and help some of those rural areas get on board with a lot of the APH information and technology that we're sharing here. So that way they can do that as well. I'm also gonna be , uh, writing information and content for the connect center , uh, on APH's website to talk about and to share what we're doing here. So other areas , uh, the country who may be having the same situations, culturally, that we are, can learn from what we're doing. So some of the blogs and articles will be appearing on the , uh, ConnectCenters pages. I'm also gonna be assisting the Outreach team with webinars and different types of promotional , uh, learnings through their work and demonstrations of assistive technology and helping with PR plan and prepare and facilitate some of those. And we're really good to looking to create some more speaker series that we can bring folks in to really educate the community more because when you have a more educated community, they will become more inclusive and more understanding about people's needs, who are blinded vision impaired. Uh , we're working with many of the restaurants to encourage them to do braille menus, large print menus, and just to create a better environment also with the Marshall University and working with the chamber of commerce to help the folks in the area who are business leaders and have the opportunity to hire , uh, folks to consider most likely for the first time people who are blinded originally paired. Because what I believe will happen is once we have a couple of folks in the community who are blinded originally board paired, who are gainfully employed, that will really open , um, an opportunity for others to do the same thing just by getting one or two in strategic places , uh, just from what they've learned and how they can understand that there is accommodations that can be made very simply that screen readers and screen applications do even exist because most of them had no idea of any type of excessive technology and really look to really reshape the way people think about blindness and vision impairment in our area.

Sara Brown:

Is there anything else you'd like to add about APH Huntington?

Lee Huffman:

I believe what I really want people to know is that we are actively, you know, really investing in the rural community to learn here not only for PPH Huntington, but what we can learn here and extrapolate to other areas and help APH better serve them as well, because it's really a hard area to get into and to learn about. And by the work we're doing here, we really are looking to serve other areas better. And I think that we can absolutely do that by helping people understand that resources are available from APH and making them aware that these resources are available, they are free. And , uh, getting that into their hands, I think will really reshape things for rural communities across the country, not just Huntington.

Sara Brown:

Thank you so much Lee for joining us today on Change Makers.

Lee Huffman:

Thank you for having me.

Sara Brown:

And thank you very much for listening to this episode of Change Makers as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.