Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Making a Difference During the Coronavirus Crisis

March 26, 2020 American Printing House Episode 1
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Making a Difference During the Coronavirus Crisis
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Making a Difference During the Coronavirus Crisis
Mar 26, 2020 Episode 1
American Printing House

For the first episode of Change Makers we're talking about the topic that's on everyone's mind: the COVID-19. Learning from home is challenging for teachers, parents, and students. This is even more true if the student has a disability and usually gets specialized learning.

In this episode we talk to APH President, Craig Meador, about how the field can and should respond to the crisis, to the APH Director of Customer Service at APH about the services we are still offering, and to Charlotte Cushman, with Paths to Literacy, about great online resources for students learning from home.

Do you know a change maker in the field of blindness or visual impairment? We want talk with them. Send us any suggestions, or questions to [email protected]


APH Customer Service Team
Phone: 1-800-223-1839
Email: [email protected]

ConnectCenter Resources
Information and Referral Hotline: 1-800-232-5463

For parents and families:
For adults with vision loss:
For young adults with visual impairment:

Online Learning Opportunities


Show Notes Transcript

For the first episode of Change Makers we're talking about the topic that's on everyone's mind: the COVID-19. Learning from home is challenging for teachers, parents, and students. This is even more true if the student has a disability and usually gets specialized learning.

In this episode we talk to APH President, Craig Meador, about how the field can and should respond to the crisis, to the APH Director of Customer Service at APH about the services we are still offering, and to Charlotte Cushman, with Paths to Literacy, about great online resources for students learning from home.

Do you know a change maker in the field of blindness or visual impairment? We want talk with them. Send us any suggestions, or questions to [email protected]


APH Customer Service Team
Phone: 1-800-223-1839
Email: [email protected]

ConnectCenter Resources
Information and Referral Hotline: 1-800-232-5463

For parents and families:
For adults with vision loss:
For young adults with visual impairment:

Online Learning Opportunities


Jack Fox (INTRO):   0:01
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 visually impaired. Here's your host...

Jonathan Wahl:   0:15
Hello and welcome to the very first episode of Change Makers. A podcast from American Printing House. My name is Jonathan Wall. I'm part of the communications team at APH. We've been working to launch a podcast for a while now, but with everyone working and learning from home, we thought this would be a good way to connect with you. Provide resource is and maybe even prevent some boredom at home. What you hear over the next few weeks won't be the final format for this show, but we do hope it will be helpful for now. Today we're talking about COVID-19 and how APH and the BVI community is responding. We'll hear from Jim Kreiner, the Director of Customer Service, at APH of ordering during this crisis and then from Charlotte Cushman with Paths to  Literacy, she'll tell us about some great online resource is, but first, APH President Craig Matter has joined me to talk about how the coronavirus is impacting our field and what we can learn from it. Thanks so much for joining me, Craig.  

Craig Meador:   1:07
Good to be here.  

Jonathan Wahl:   1:08
Let's go ahead and just start broad. What do you want people to know about how the Corona virus is impacting APH?

Craig Meador:   1:15
This is uncharted territory, for I wouldn't say just APH. But I think most of the educational field that works with students who are blind or visually impaired and that is so much of the work we do is not virtual. Most of that is done. Ah, you know, face to face with a student, one on ones, small group settings. And so you know, APH is no different. Most of the work that we're doing here, the creation and preparation of materials that providing of service is is is done in fairly close contact with others. I think as a field, we are all faced with this reality of how do we accomplish our missions. How do we get out there and meet the needs of customers and meet the needs of students within the school systems in an effective way, but doing it very, very differently, and I think right now I can speak for myself. But I can also speak for the colleagues I have in the field. We're all in a scramble, so to speak, as we try to marshal resources, but there will be a definite time of trying on of new techniques and using technology and figuring out what works and trying to, ah, determine the efficiencies of of new technology in trying to use that as a problem solver moving forward for all of those who are out there experiencing this new reality. Right now, my advice to you is, be in communication with each other. This is a time when we really need to be connecting with other professionals in the field and asking questions and looking for solutions and relying on each other to arrive at the best possible solutions for the people we serve.

Jonathan Wahl:   3:08
Craig. There are a lot of students at home right now. This includes students who are blind and visually impaired, who have been removed from needed resources. How is APH working to help?

Craig Meador:   3:19
This is a great question, Jonathan, because this is an exciting opportunity. First I'm going to be very honest. This is a challenge, and this is really a challenge when we start talking about our students that have multiple disabilities and multiple challenges, as opposed to the student who is near at grade level but just needs some level of assistive technology.  And so that's the challenge from APH's perspective is how do we get the tools that the student may be using in the classroom to the family in that home environment? How do we make sure that the parent has everything they need to work through those IEP goals; and IEP goals, the individual education plans that have been developed for those students? And how do we play a role? So when I talk about this as being a challenge, is this time right now in COVID-19, positions the field, but also positions [inaudible 00:04:55] speak towards APH. It's a huge paradigm shift. So this new paradigm we're thinking is could you create, and this is not saying you don't need skilled instructor just because you do, you really need skilled instructors, but our goal is to create a product that what happens if you had to deliver a product to a student in the absence of having that skilled instructor? Would that product become a useful tool or would it become a doorstop? And our goal is for that to become a useful tool. So that's the new mental shift we have to get around at APH is really in the whole design and development process of our products. And not only that, but in the access to video, the access to tools that will help people use the product most effectively. 

Jonathan Wahl:   5:51
This virus is putting us all in situations we never expected and It's unusual. You've been in the field for a long time. You were a teacher. What is your advice for how we continue to make a difference while dealing with all of these new hurdles?

Craig Meador:   6:04
I think we all need to examine our practice. Whether we're APH or whether we are delivering information in a traditional way, I think this is a great opportunity for the field to address a couple things. The first one is we have had for 40-plus years a teacher shortage. We are all aware of that. We know that all across America there are students that cannot get the level of instruction they needed because a teacher of students with visual impairments is not available in their area, in their region, in their state. We know that students aren't receiving as much braille instruction as they need or as much orientation and mobility instruction as needed. Now, you take COVID-19 and you're saying, "All right, not only we are short on teachers but now your students can't come to a central location for instruction." And you as a teacher can't go visit that student in their home. So this is two challenges. One is how do we provide that level of instruction that used to be one-to-one, hand under hand, close proximity contact, real time feedback to a student, and how do we do that when there's fewer teachers to provide that same level of service? This provides a challenge for our field, but it's also an excellent opportunity. It's forcing us to look at this idea of shortage and scarcity, but look at it from a very proactive model. How can we make sure that students get the level of instruction they need, I will say, in a less than traditional way? And so a lot schools already have begun experimenting with Zoom classrooms. I think it's time to move that to a forward approach and maybe make that a primary delivery system. COVID-19, this idea of being shut down, kind of forces our hand there, but I think this may be the way forward to serve more students. The biggest downside in servicing kids for most teachers of students with visual impairment is the drive between students. It really is. And while I'd be the first to say that rarely can you replace the face-to-face, person-to-person meeting with a Zoom meeting, I think that the reality is is if we really get our skills down and we figure out the most effective instructional models and how to work with our students with varying needs, using Zoom or Skype or some sort of distance tool, we can actually serve more kids. Now, is that the most ideal? It depends on the student. I think for some it is, but for some, probably not. We need to look at it on a case-by-case basis. But this practice we're all engaged in right now that we've been forced into, this may become the new normal for a lot of our kids, for instruction for a lot of the work that we do. And my challenge to everybody in the field is embrace this opportunity to learn this and really build your skills. And then when sanity returns and we all get back to this level well of being able to be in close contact with each other, my challenge to everybody would be don't necessarily revert back to your old practice. Or if you do revert back to your old practice, don't abandon the new skills that you've learned. And I would really challenge everybody to look to see if you can't create some sort of hybrid model where you can put these new schools and new technologies into play in hopes that you actually reduce some of your travel time and some of your time lost on the road, and would then in essence be able to maximize your teaching time by meeting the needs of more students. Sometimes, these tough times help us find the way forward to other issues. And I think that this is just a perfect opportunity to do that.

Jonathan Wahl:   10:59
Tough time, but at least a blessing in disguise. Thanks so much Craig for taking the time to talk of me today.

Craig Meador:   11:05
Happy to do it.

Jonathan Wahl:   11:09
So many students are learning from home right now and may need additional resources, so I've asked Jim Kreiner, Director of Customer Service at A phto join me to talk about how we can still help during this time. Jim, thanks so much for being here.

Jim Kreiner:   11:21
Good morning, Jonathan. Great to be here with you, Jim.

Jonathan Wahl:   11:24
How is your team working with customers right now during social distancing?

Jim Kreiner:   11:27
Well, Jonathan, we have all entirely successfully transitioned to working from home. So I'm excited to say that we are still here, able to take your calls by phone and e mail and help you in any way we can. 

Jonathan Wahl:   11:39
What about shipping products? Is that still something we can do right now?

Jim Kreiner:   11:43
So, Jon, from the great news is that yes, we we've got a small shipping team and they're working separate shifts. And following all those social distancing protocols we've all heard so much about, the big difference is if you have a package shipping to other a school or a government agency because so many of those air closed right now, until we hear from you, we're gonna hold on to those shipments. We are still happy to take your orders. Get them  in right away.

Jonathan Wahl:   12:08
Good news. What about some of the products in development? We have several things coming down the pipeline. Is this going to be slowing them down at all?

Jim Kreiner:   12:16
Well, Jonathan, like so many things these days, it really depends on the product. Fortunately, our project leaders are still able to work from home, and so new product development is continuing with some of the products that were closer to release are being held up in China, including two of our new braille devices. We expect them to still be available sometime this summer, and we're doing everything we can to get our APH products into the hands of the kids and consumers who need them. 

Jonathan Wahl:   12:39
Jim, it's all helpful information to have. Is there anything else you want customers to know, right now?

Jim Kreiner:   12:44
Yeah, Jonathan, I just wanted to let you know that even though our physical doors are closed, it doesn't mean that we aren't here for you. We've been working really hard to create educational resources for teachers and students to use from home during this time. There's great professional development opportunities. There's our ExCel at-home, online learning academy. You can find all of those on our blog. We're hosting webinars and now we've got this podcast. It's a great way to communicate with everyone. And just as a reminder, our APH connect center is still open as well. That's our information and referral service hotline. It helps individuals with visual impairments if they are struggling to find resources and support in their own community. And it's just another way the APH is here to help.

Jonathan Wahl:   13:25
Yeah,  Jim and the ConnectCenter Web pages also have a lot of great information and blog's as well. I'll be sure to include that information the podcast description and also include information how you can contact our customer service team if you have any questions. Thanks so much, Jim.

Jim Kreiner:   13:38
Fantastic, Jonathan. It was great to be here with you this morning, even if it was just virtually.

Jonathan Wahl:   13:44
On of the ways APH is Working with partners to help during this season of social distancing is by working on the ExCEL Academy. This is a group project that we're excited to be helping with to tell us more about it. I've asked Charlotte Cushman and join us. She is a change maker with path to literacy, and she's been doing a lot of work to allow online learning daring social distancing. Charlotte, thanks so much for joining me.

Charlotte Cushman:   14:09
Well, thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here today. I wanted to give people who don't know about past illiteracy a little background, which is that it's a joint project between Perkins School for the Blind and Texas School, for the blind and visually impaired. And quite a few years ago, Texas was working on creating a literacy site, and Perkins was creating a literacy site. And we got together and said, Hey, let's do one together So it's been really wonderful, I think for the field because it's a place where people can start to look for all of the information in one place. And it's an honor for me to be able to manage it at and really enjoy to see the contributions that come in from everywhere.

Jonathan Wahl:   14:56
It really is a great resource for the field, so we appreciate you being a partner with us. Let's start talking a little bit about this ExCEL project. How did it get started?

Charlotte Cushman:   15:07
Yeah, well, just over a week ago, Cheryl Kamei-Hannon, who's the coordinator of the visual impairment blindness program at Cal State L. A. approached me because I'm the manager of Paths to Literacy to see if we might be able to coordinate some kind of service during school closures. She also invited APH because of your ability to reach people at a national level, and we started kind of brainstorming. Um, as we all know, things have changed way faster than we ever would have thought possible, with schools closing overnight literally and a lot of uncertainty about how Service's could be provided to students with visual impairment, especially through distance learning. There's a huge range of what's being provided around the country now, depending on a child's home situation and also in the school district in the state. Some kids have parents who continue to need toe work through the crisis, and they're not able to be actively involved in home schooling their kids. And, of course, many families don't have Internet, and that's obviously a big problem for reaching Children remotely. But our hope is really to provide activities for a broad range of Children, and I really want to be clear that this is no substitute for individualized instruction from a trained teacher of students with visual impairments or a certified orientation mobility instructor, because they'd be working on specific IEP goals. What we're trying to do is to provide some online lessons on a variety of topics for a really wide range of learners. And I also wanted to tell you that the project, the official name of the project, is the virtual expanded core Education Learning Academy for students with visual impairments. And we knew that was way too long a title. So the short name is the Virtual ExCEL Academy.

Jonathan Wahl:   17:03
Love it.  Shorter's always better. So tell me about how this program is going toe work for people at home who want to join it.

Charlotte Cushman:   17:11
Well, every day we offer one hour of programming for free it to anybody who wants to join us. And we thought it would be good if it's got if we have a predictable time so that everybody can just plan on this. We said it for the same time each day, Monday to Friday at 2 p.m. Eastern, 1 p.m. Central. And so I'm everybody is welcome to come, but we do ask that people register. Uh, somebody over the age of 18 needs to register the students so we know that there's parental part permission for participation, and if you want to register, you can go to the Home page of Paths to Literacy, which is, all one word, and you'll find a link to the the Virtual ExCEL Academy on the home page and the link to the Webinar there. So we post the schedule there, and we continue to update it with new things. And every day there's something new being added. We are recording all of the presentations, and we think APH for taking the lead on that. So if it's not a convenient time or if you wanna watch some of the lessons are things you could watch over and over again, Um, we encourage you to check out the recorded version. I also want to tell you, Jonathan, that as of this morning, they were about 350 people registered, and that's after just one day. So people only need to register once, and then they can attend anything that's of interest because not everything will be of interest to everyone.

Jonathan Wahl:   18:43
I know there are going to be different topics every day. Can you kind of give me a preview of what some of those subjects and topics are going to be?

Charlotte Cushman:   18:49
Sure. Well, as you know, the needs are enormous and we would like to offer something to everyone from birth to age 22, including those who are academic and those who have multiple disabilities and are deaf, blind. So, it's a big task. It's a lot easier to provide distance programming to some learners than it is to others, but we're trying to be creative about offering something for everybody. We have a science experiment, for kindergarten through 12th grade on Friday, and that'll be taught by Jeff Killebrew from New Mexico School for the Blind. Robin Keating Clark from Utah School for the Blind will be leading a number of sessions on the expanded core curriculum. Other things that are coming up in the next few weeks include beginning braille, a session for early childhood for birth to five. We have a lesson on the abacus, a lightbox story hour for children with multiple disabilities, and quite a few sessions offering some kinds of social support.

Jonathan Wahl:   19:53
And what kind of follow up support can teachers and families provide? I know this doesn't replace a teacher, but how can they support these these lessons.

Charlotte Cushman:   20:00
That's a great question. We're really encouraging teachers of students with visual impairment to log in from their own home and then follow up with their students. For example, in yesterday's presentation, there were quite a few apps discussed, so that would be a good thing to follow up on: did you download that app, how's it going, did you use it, try some of the things we talked about? And those kinds of extension activities could also be done with family members, with parents, with older siblings. So I think there's a lot of opportunity to reinforce some of these lessons and to do some extension activities at home.

Jonathan Wahl:   20:41
You mentioned  some the instructors earlier, and I can see there's a lot of teamwork going on here, which I love.  Where these instructors coming from?

Charlotte Cushman:   20:47
It has been so gratifying to just see people stepping up from frankly all over the planet. We have teachers, an orientation and mobility instructors from all around the country. We also presenters from the UK and from Canada. Ah, we really welcome instructors to join us we need instructors because everyone's doing this above and beyond their full time job. So please let us know if you have some ideas of something you might like to present. Um, and we We would love to be able to increase our capacity of what we're able to offer you.

Jonathan Wahl:   21:22
For sure. That's great. Right now is a really unusual time in early know how else to describe it? Why is it important for everyone in the BVI community to come together right now?

Charlotte Cushman:   21:33
I've been reading on hearing a lot about how people with visual impairments are maybe even more isolated than everyone else. Right now, I think that if you think about visual impairment to people of visual impairment, a big part of it is touch and social distancing is stuff, uh, hard to get around. Transportation was puff, so I think Ah, and things that are available, like the Khan Academy and different things that are available online are not accessible to students who were blind. So I think there's a need is huge. Um, as I said, I'm just amazed at how quickly people have stepped up and offered to help. And really, in times of need, it's It's heartwarming to see how we all reach out to help and support each other. And I think we all recognize that students with visual impairments and their families need all the help and support that they can get right now. 

Jonathan Wahl:   22:31
Thank you  so much.  We are really excited to be partnering with you on this, so I appreciate your time. And for those of you listening, we have a full list of the ExCEL webinars you can virtually attend.  Just check out the link in the podcast description. Thank you, Charlotte.   

Jonathan Wahl:   22:46
The entire world is experiencing something surreal and unexpected right now. It's a hard time, but it's also a time where change makers stand out even more. If you see someone making a difference in the BVI community, we want to talk with them. Send us your suggestions or even your questions to communications and a ph dot or thanks for listening. And don't forget to look for ways you could be a change maker this week.  

Jonathan Wahl:   23:08
Coming up on the next episode of Change Makers, APH President Craig Meador sits down with leaders, and they feel the blindness and visual impairment for a roundtable discussion, how they're responding to the coronavirus and ensuring that students and adults with visual impairment still have access to the resources they need.