Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Roundtable: How the BVI Community is Responding to COVID-19

April 02, 2020 American Printing House Episode 2
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Roundtable: How the BVI Community is Responding to COVID-19
Chapters
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Roundtable: How the BVI Community is Responding to COVID-19
Apr 02, 2020 Episode 2
American Printing House

We're all having to change how we work and learn - for better or worse. How are organizations in the blindness field responding? Are there lessons we can all take away from this unusual time?

In this episode of Change Makers we sit down for a roundtable discussion with leaders in the field. APH CEO Craig Meador moderates a discussion with:

Rob Hair
Superintendent of the Maryland School for the Blind, a statewide resource center that provides outreach and educational services for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Amy Campbell
Education Consultant for visual impairment with the North Carolina Depart of Public Instruction. She helps oversee, and provides guidance on services for students across the state with visual impairments.

Bryan Bashin
CEO of LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, where they provide comprehensive blindness services for people of all ages, serving all of Northern California.

Do you have questions for APH? Do you know a change maker who would be a great guest on our podcast? Send us a message at communications@aph.org.

Show Notes Transcript

We're all having to change how we work and learn - for better or worse. How are organizations in the blindness field responding? Are there lessons we can all take away from this unusual time?

In this episode of Change Makers we sit down for a roundtable discussion with leaders in the field. APH CEO Craig Meador moderates a discussion with:

Rob Hair
Superintendent of the Maryland School for the Blind, a statewide resource center that provides outreach and educational services for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Amy Campbell
Education Consultant for visual impairment with the North Carolina Depart of Public Instruction. She helps oversee, and provides guidance on services for students across the state with visual impairments.

Bryan Bashin
CEO of LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, where they provide comprehensive blindness services for people of all ages, serving all of Northern California.

Do you have questions for APH? Do you know a change maker who would be a great guest on our podcast? Send us a message at communications@aph.org.

Jack Fox (INTRO):

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:

Hello and welcome to change makers, a podcast from American Printing House. My name is Jonathan Wall. I'm part of the communications team at APH. In this episode, we're excited to host a really important discussion with leaders in the blindness field. They'll talk about how they're responding to COVID-19 and the lessons that we can all be learning right now as we work to provide important services that are usually not offered remotely. We have three guests today.

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Rob Hair, the Superintendent of the Maryland School for the Blind, a statewide resource center that provides outreach and educational services for students who are blind and visually impaired.

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Amy Campbell, an education consultant for visual impairment with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. She helps oversee and provides guidance on services for students across the state with visual impairments.

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And Bryan Bashin, the CEO of LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco where they provide comprehensive blindness services for people of all ages serving all of Northern California. Everyone in this round table was in the middle of a busy day at work. So you may hear a little background noise, but that's only because they were working hard. Our moderator today is APH president Craig Meador, and he'll be leading today's discussion. Craig, I'll leave it to you.

Craig Meador:

There's so much going on across the country right now. A lot happening. And I imagine all of you have spent some time, if not all your time working from home as of late. So if you could, would you mind sharing with us how this is affecting your organization and your ability to serve your people?

Rob Hair:

All right. Well at the Maryland school for the blind. Um, it has been, um, of course, uh, you know, our governor, governor Hogan was one of the leading governors to announce a shutdown of the state or, uh, gradually shutting down the state. We closed schools, uh, statewide a couple of weeks ago. And even before that, the school, we were very, my team was way on top of developing a COVID-19, plan for our school, diagnosing if a student needs to be checked and be sent home, you know, perhaps they have symptoms or something. So we wanted to keep everybody safe. We serve students with significant multiple disabilities all the way to students who are academically inclined. So we really wanted to be cautious with not knowing how severe the reaction of the virus could be. So then the school's closed. We were closed for two weeks, but we'd never really stopped.

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Our wonderful teachers and staff have been developing distance learning plans and ideas for educating their students, touching base with their families, making sure that they were okay and assessing the technology abilities. And so, and then as of last week, the state superintendent of education closed schools for another four weeks. It was initially a two week closure and then it was another four weeks. Uh, and so it began yesterday for distance education. Uh, in the meantime, I have mostly been at home. Most of our staff have been at home, um, today, however, I'm, uh, at the school I'm meeting with the U S army Corps of engineers for the possibility of this being an emergency treatment site or our campus as well as, and they're just evaluating it and well, you know, who knows, hopefully we pray that we will not be needed. Um, but if we are, we, we want to make our campus available to, um, COVID-19 people who are recovering or triaging patients. We also opened up a preschool, a not a preschool, a childcare facility for children of first responders. And one of those first responders happens to be one of our parents already. One of our students that we currently serve will be in daycare here, uh, as, as the only daycare that's allowed are for essential staff and um, uh, first responders. So it's not been any less hectic than it is when this school is open for normal operations here at Maryland.

Craig Meador:

Thanks Rob.

Amy Campbell:

When I think about what we're going through, the word tsunami comes to my mind. I just think that what we're experiencing is just the tsunami and you know, what we're facing on the state level isn't any different than what's happening nationally. You know, COVID-19 has impacted how we educate students, how we feed students and even, you know, how we are offering that supplemental instruction, you know, do, do students have broadband at their home and so at the department of public instruction in North Carolina, those are factors that are in the forefront that we are, we are dealing with, you know, not unlike anywhere else. I feel on many days that we're flying the plane while we're building it and perhaps others would feel that same way. At the state level, we are trying so hard to grab information as quickly as we can. I feel like information has gone from zero to 60.

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Two weeks ago. We hardly had any information as of working with specifically students with, with visual impairment. Cause that's, that's our focus. And now you can go online and there's a plethora of, of information that's out there almost to the point where it can be overwhelming. And you know, at the state level we are trying to focused on that policy compliance factor. And so being able to stay in tune with what the department, um, us department of education is, is giving, whether it's the question and answer, um, information out or the supplemental facts sheets, those are things that we're trying to stay on top of so that we can provide interpretations for public schools. And, um, then trying to find ways to best disseminate that information and pushing it out and, you know, setting up what that protocol of procedures looks like so that we're not duplicating efforts. And um, so the word tsunami is just what comes to mind. But I think that we're doing as best as we can with it, with dissemination of information coming up with procedures. And as I said, it does feel like in many aspects, you know, we're flying the plane as we're building it.

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Thank you. Amy. Bryan, how about you? How's this impacting you and your agency?

Bryan Bashin:

Okay, well thank you. And Craig, thank you for uh, putting together this roundtable and doing some deep listening. Uh, we as usual, California may be a little bit ahead of the game here. We're now finishing our third week in lockdown. Um, it started with the San Francisco mayor, uh, just essentially shutting the city down and we're, uh, we're not a residential site, although we do have some shorter term residential programs and almost everybody that comes to us comes on some form of transit. And, um, I was thinking even before the lockdown, what a strange thing it is to ride a train every 90 seconds with 1,500 people in it. It looked like a bad Hollywood movie. So, um, when we, uh, when we seized face to face operations, we made the decision to continue, um, with all of our employment, all of our employees full-pay, uh, but they are now instantly turning the agency inside out to become, to do different things.

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Um, we originated in three weeks, 23 online courses so that folks can from youth all the way on to seniors can gather together in English and Spanish, which, um, I was really proud of their nimbleness people. We had to deploy a lot of computers. People who didn't have them at home, set up VPN systems, zoom and all of that. Yeah. The, uh, the, um, the bandwidth of people at the periphery is an issue. I convened a call of the California blindness agencies. We've had several weeks of these calls now and the CEO's there, one said yesterday, she was distributing hotspots, uh, to people who needed them for zoom as they had much slower internet. Um, you can get those through tech soup for around $10 a month. So let me imagine that our agency is, um, our governing board is a half sighted, half blind. And our leadership team the same.

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And our employee employee, uh, demographics the same. So what we're finding is there are some basic survival things that are not worked out. The blind people using Instacart and other online delivery services, those have ground to almost a halt. Um, why are they used to be able to deliver in two hours? Now, if you can get an appointment, it might be a week or two out. Um, so one of the things that we've done is we've started, uh, a caring call service. Uh, and 25 of our employees have volunteered for this. It was just systematically gone through the list of thousands of students, all the students except current active students because their own teachers will be doing the, uh, calls to those families. But the thousands of people who just finished working with us, or I've worked with us in the last few years, they're getting calls, asking for our leadership, what do they need? What are the issues? Um, here's a resource list. Um, and that kind of thing. So that's, that's been an active, Mmm initiative. And I have to say I'm following what they did in, in uh, Massachusetts with (unaudible) who, uh, turned their agency in and out and that's all they're doing with their, um, with their employees is just making a very intensive connection via telephone. Um, in the blindness community. The last thing I'll say for this go round is, um, we are at this NIB agency a small one, but we happen to have a few things that, uh, are strangely demand. We make toilet tissue packets. Can you imagine what the value is of that? Right now? Uh, last year we made 50 million of them. Now we can't pump them out fast enough. Um, we've just gotten, uh, a line of disservice. Disinfectants, advanced hospital grade disinfectants and cleaners.

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Uh, and we're in the process of, we've bought a new facility and we were in the process of expanding when COVID hit. So all of those guys are on emergency paths to set up emergency lines for filling, labeling, shipping, packing. And we've had volunteers from our agency just go there cause we can spread people out. It's considered an essential service. And I was humbled to see that many of our, uh, directors and high level employees are right there on the line with everybody else packing, bottling because this stuff is going to prisons and the military and other high touch places that need to disinfect. So, Mmm, we're talking about, uh, three shifts around the clock, kind of a wartime footing. We can't keep up with orders. So, um, though it's only around 20 people right now, we expect that to really explode.

Craig Meador:

Oh my goodness. So a thread I heard through all of your conversations is a high level of proactivity, which I commend you all on. This is a more conversations I'm having with members from the field. Uh, the more proud I am of the field and our ability to not just deal with the present, but kind of look at a, I mean, all of you mentioned this idea of reshaping practice, basing a somewhat of a new reality that, uh, I, you know, I think many of you were probably already moving into this, uh, area of more service via distance, uh, and also ways of being more productive and efficient with, with limited staff. But I think this is just turned to heat up on all of you and you've done a great job with that. So in this time of doing that, um, especially for those of you who are having people show up every day, how are you, what are you doing to keep people safe? How are, how are you, uh, moving the mission forward and balancing this idea of protecting your employees while still providing that service?

Rob Hair:

Well, at the Maryland school for the blind, we, um, of course closed school. Initially we had COVID plans of people keeping safe distance washing hands. We put signage up everywhere before we closed and we were sending students home or who had symptoms. Uh, very, very difficult to do that. But we felt it was the best thing to do for some of these students who just had some coughing symptoms for example. But now we're in this distance, that environment, very few staff on campus, uh, some facilities work might be happening here and there we have, um, like I said, the preschool and we're just, you know, observing the safe practices, washing hands and um, and then just responding to situations as they arise in your cleaning surfaces. Um, appropriately. And, um, we have had, um, some concern, um, a staff member that came back negative for COBIT, but who was concerned that, uh, they were exposed to COVID and or they were sick, had symptoms.

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And so we had to go through a whole procedure of like, okay, so how far, you know, when do they express symptoms, when will reopen? Could there have been an exposure to staff who were well by, we were still in session. So we've had to think through all of these pieces. Um, even though now we're, we're out of in the meantime, while we have staff who are doing other jobs now than they were used to doing, we have some staff that are delivering food to homes like from the local pickup, you know, for families who have students with very complex needs, who need help. Um, we're helping to drive, uh, food from like the school, a facility where in their local community to drop it off at their home. So we're dropping off those things safely and at the front door we're not actually talking to students in person and parents in person, but only via phone and through like the Zoom and all the other pieces that we're doing in terms of the distance education. So we're taking all the precautions that we can and just using good common sense.

Craig Meador:

Thanks Rob. Amy, similarities, or are things different there for, are you all in North Carolina?

Amy Campbell:

In North Carolina? I think that we have seen a real gradual process come, come over the state, if you will, at the very beginning, you know, at least the support that was being given out through administration of the department of public instruction. I feel like that we have provided that seamless support to our school districts. Uh, we are all employees are, you know, we are working remotely. We're participating in a lot of virtual meetings. Our priorities are shifting by the hour depending on what the need is on the school district level. Um, a lot of creation of resources and online repository is just ongoing at a really fast rate with school system here we have had students have been home for almost two weeks and the entire state has been at shelter shut down now for only if a few days.

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So we have a kind of shows where we are in the stage compared to, you know, what's happening over sand on the West coast in California. But our students are facing a variety of situations depending on where they live, some school systems because it's a local decision how to handle things. Um, some school systems have provided that supplemental information resource, that alternative learning to students. Some schools have jumped in already and started remote learning. And so it all depends on where that, where the students are located and what that looks like for them. I know that we have bus drivers that are working every single day, even just delivering meals to different locations so that students receive, you know, meals that they need, but I think that we are functioning under, it's hard circumstances, but I think that we're sub functioning seamlessly in providing that support as best as we can and trying to communicate that level of flexibility.

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That was one of the words that came out from the department of ed as we're trying to continue to service students with disabilities. Having a level of flexibility that at first there was perhaps some notion that remote instruction wouldn't be permitted and one of the information sheets that came out in March 21st the supplemental fact sheet was able to set that aside and say, no, that is not the case. We have to provide a free and appropriate public education for students. We have to be helping teams make decisions about what is reasonable for a student, what is appropriate for a student. I think what's so hard for teachers right now is that we want a black and white answer. We want something concrete, a one size fits all and it's not possible for the students because who we serve as so unique, what might be okay for one student might be completely different for another student. So there's so much of a range that I'm seeing in that service delivery for students. Um, if students are receiving that remote instruction yet,

Craig Meador:

The intricacies, you know, is listening to what you're saying there. It just makes my, my head swim, uh, and kind of different types of questions I want to ask off of that, but I, I'm going to try to stay, stay the course here. Bryan, tell us a little bit about what do you guys are doing for protection of employees and staff, but still fulfilling the mission the ever changing based on what Amy is saying is saying the ever changing mission from day to day: it kind of morphs.

Bryan Bashin:

It does. Um, you know, there's the question of who do you follow. And as a former employee of the us department of education, I'm sad to say that that agency has really not distinguished itself with looking for exemptions for students. Our board is writing resolution against that now, uh, during the covert period, um, or the federal government. So we're following, um, we're following mostly, uh, governor Newsome and the California officials and we're tying our actions to the government, local government, um, advice [inaudible] but there is a rich soup of how to stay safe here physically. My is in, um, mental health. Um, employees are profoundly agitated. I think the idea when I sent the memo out three weeks ago that we were closing, I went around and I found some employees like sniffling at their desks, utterly shaken. Why? Because, um, in this age for many of our employees work, work is the place, you know, you have family and you have maybe a, you know, a community outside, but work, we are a mission led organization and people have gotten their sense of purpose through work and all of a sudden that was exploded.

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And there are a number of people who came out to the coast and are living in small apartments and you know, with other people to make ends meet. And all of a sudden that w that's not tenable when you're there 24, seven and you don't have, you know, a nice office to go to and colleagues and all that. So mental health really is, uh, important for us. And when I've hold our directors after the first week, uh, and ask like, what were they doing in terms of programs and this and that. And they did the re they said the requisite things about programs and online and all that narrow things. But they honestly, what I can say is employees were checking in with each other, each department caring with each other, finding ways to have, um, get togethers, both virtual get together as both during business day and afterwards.

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I think we are a private agency, so there's some kind of maybe fear. These folks are not government employees who can look for their 30 years on a pension. And so I, I think they're uniquely sensitive to what's going to happen as they look at these mass layoffs center that are coming. And so the, the thing that, uh, we need to do is to reassure people and connect with each other. Yeah. The zoom and the zoom video, weirdly enough in a blindness organization is useful. But for instance, last night I had a watch party and we did shared screen zoom. Mmm. And we watched the Netflix movie Crip Camp, which I would really recommend it. It's a narrowly about, uh, a camp in New York state in the 70s, uh, for people with all disabilities but widely it's about section five Oh four, and then the ADA, fantastic documentary. But we watched it together and we had bonding that lasted until like 10 30. here. We were in each other's virtual living rooms. These are my directors of camp at directors of rehab and some architects designing our rebuilt, uh, uh, camp for the blind and all of that. And I, that's the real name of the game going forward. Cause I think you're probably gonna ask about how long is this going to go on and I'll save that to the next round. But in the interim, um, I can't stress enough. All we have is the team, you know, we have buildings and we have this and that. All we have is the team and we've got to keep it together.

Craig Meador:

Thank you Bryan. That leads beautifully into this next question in the but this idea of support, um, how and and uh, so I would like to have a Rob and Amy respond to that, to this. Uh, so what are you doing for support of, of your, you know, originally the question was going to be framed as how are you supporting your parents and students? But I, I want to pull back on that and ask this question about your staff, the people you work so closely with. How are you providing support to them during this time of unknown or uncertainty?

Rob Hair:

As far as support at the Maryland school for the blind, it's, um, we are, we're continuing to develop and articulate our plans for how we're supporting each other. It's just been evolving through all of this. There's been a real, there's a school bell by the way, excuse me. Um, this is a school. Um, we, um, have been really upset about people's emotional States and whether people are getting sick and we're concerned and trying to keep in touch with each other. So there's been a lot of interaction informally, but like the idea that watch party, that's something that we've talked about we haven't done yet and I'm gonna make a note of that. A movie idea that's a really great idea for especially a first school like ours. Um, but having watch parties, we set up a Facebook community group for the staff, um, a community group for the parents as well as for the students so that we can do some fun activities online with each other.

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Maybe it's, um, you know, posting videos about what you're doing at home right now or, or something that just kind of fun, fun activities. And then, um, more formally, we're, we're uh, doing zoom campus-wide meetings, um, uh, starting actually the first one is tomorrow. So we're going to have nearly 400 people on a, on a zoom meeting to talk about the plan going forward and the, uh, the, the continue, uh, continuity of learning plan that was just released this week, um, to parents and to staff and to help iron out any questions, um, but providing the support for people to feel good about doing their jobs. So we are also very sensitive to the fact that people are at home with their babies and their children and they're, you know, trying to do distance education, but they're also, they have a three year old who needs their attention as well. So it's, it's a complex situation that we're in and we're all stressed out. I know, I know myself and other that I've talked to were like up late at night worrying about family and friends and ourselves and going to the grocery store kind of feels radioactive nowadays. You don't want to touch anything and you're trying to get groceries for your family who keep eating no matter what you say. All the bread has gone in two days. But um, yeah, it's an evolving plan. I'm, I'm looking forward to hearing other ideas from our colleagues in the field.

Amy Campbell:

I like what you had to say, Rob. Um, just want to echo the word evolving that evolving support. Um, I think that the support that has been trying to be extended to not only the school districts but even more specifically to teachers of the visually impaired has been just so heavy on my heart and how that's been done. And it is evolving of how that is, you know, how that's being done. We have, you know, in a formal sense we have a chain of command that's, you know, a process of how we want to push out information because there is so much being put out rapidly. And as I've mentioned before, it can be so overwhelming. How, how do we know what to tune into? Also happy, discernment that, discernment of the messages that we're hearing and what we're tuning into. But formally we push out information through listservs and through having webinars a couple of times a week just servicing those leadership roles within the district. But and so that's evolving and it is complex. You had mentioned that word too. It's such a complex situation because we are all serving such multiple roles and as I'd mentioned at the same time and um, and as I mentioned before, we're, you know, building the plane and flying it all at the same time and having that level of grace for ourselves I think is really important. As you know, trying to keep up with the day to day support that's being provided, but then also maintaining the household. You know, I have two sons that are doing remote school. I have a husband who's working remotely and I have a dog who thinks that this is all for her. She's excited the only member of the family. But all of this is happening simultaneously, informally. Trying to really be able to convey, convey that compassionate, um, communication to teachers is really important.

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I admit I'm not serving students directly. I'm well aware of a lot of situations that is heavy on my heart and I try to keep in communication with those teachers. I think it's important at least to say that we're thinking about them and we're here to problem solve. None of us have all of the answers. One of the things that I really love that I think has been that I have seen happen that I feel that is so supportive to our teachers, and this is only one example of many that are out there, but Texas school for the blind has just initiated a coffee talk for teachers of the visually impaired to come together on twice a week in order to have that connectiveness and that is a word that keeps coming up in my mind as I'm trying to also think of what's good. The good that's coming out of this, well, some of the good that's coming out of this is the connectedness that we are reaching out to each other. I think in a field of visual impairment, we're predominantly feel like we're islands and I feel less like an Island now because I feel that I have more opportunities to connect with other professionals that are in the field. And so that example of the coffee talk is just, you know, the first thing that pops into my mind that I think that is supportive, that also can feed into that mental health, that stability, and just that can help give us peace of mind that we're not in this alone.

Craig Meador:

Thank you, Amy. Um, yeah, I thought the TSBVI with that coffee that I was just a stroke of pure brilliance and it's just like such a wonderful, wonderful idea that they're doing that. Bryan, any last thoughts? You kind of kicked us off with support and support measures you're building in, but I want to give you a chance if something else popped up there, you can speak to that as well.

Bryan Bashin:

Yeah. Um, I like what Amy said about connectedness. I want to just underscore communications too. I know that, um, a number of employees who are blind at the LightHouse have formed, um, uh, a Bay area. It's, it's not some formal thing. It's a Bay area social meetup. It happens every day at four o'clock on zoom. Um, and there's, I dunno, between 50 and a hundred participants every day, just blind people in the Bay area for social support. That's a really powerful ad hoc thing and many of our employees are participating in that. Um, there are, there are a number of things we've done on the communication side. Like we have a, we have a weekly and a monthly newsletter that goes out to 15 or 20,000 people on our mailing list about what we're doing, certainly. But a couple of smaller things. One, we have an internal email that goes out every morning called lighthouse lately, lighthouse today and now during the closure, it's a lot of support, uh, gossip, um, just, just personal things that bind us together, details about people.

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We're sort of doing an internal, uh, kind of seven questions every day about an an employee, you know, so we get to know each other better and so that, that binds us together. And then, um, I S I write a weekly, uh, lengthy piece to all staffers just like where we are, what's it feeling like, what are we hearing? Um, and at the end there's usually some lighter things. It can be anything from, uh, musical parodies to, um, uh, films and other things people might want to just wash during this period. Next week we're doing our all hands meeting and um, in addition to the usual way we do it, um, our chair of our board of directors who's now, uh, Dr. Sharon Sachs, she's going to come on just for reassurance to folks that we're in this together and we're inventing together. And I think that connectedness, if you can, from your governing board and on down, people seem to be hungry for it far more than they used to during normal times. So I suggest those as well.

Craig Meador:

Excellent advice. Well, all of you have talked about change. All of you are doing things different than you were three and four weeks ago. What do you think the lasting impacts will be? A good or bad? I mean, I'll throw it out there. I think there's definitely some silver linings to all this. Um, we've been trying to focus on those at APH, but what we'll look for your agency or for the field, what do you think those changes, those lasting changes will be as a result of COVID-19?

Rob Hair:

Well, speaking for me, I, I see 'em as the, as our other, um, let's move on talking about altogether that there's just much more of a bonding happening among staff and I think it's going to deepen relationships. I mean, through, through trial and to difficulties. Um, I think it brings out the best in people a lot of the times. And, and it's so great to see people just doing so much work, um, trying to make things work and trying to keep community going and trying to serve our students. Um, when we all, we don't want to see them regress or not have any educational stimulation or a lack of food. For example, school food, like I was mentioning, like dropping off food for those families that can't get out to the food distribution locations. I think that's one piece, the deepening of relationships. But then I am really excited that we are, we've kind of jumped into the distance learning piece.

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I think that there's something there. I remember a Washington state school for the blind being the, you know, the real leader in that field 10, 15 years ago. Uh, and I was trying to emulate that when I was at South Carolina school for the deaf and the blind. Um, but now we've really, the, is there, the ability is there. I mean, of course there are equity issues and some families don't have access to technology or to the internet. Um, but I think it's helped us all to learn new tools that could potentially help with homebound students and students who are maybe unable to come to school because maybe they went home sick on Tuesday and they can't get transportation back on until, you know, the next week. Um, or whatever the circumstances that they're, there are new tools that we have in our tool box to help continue to engage and educate our students. Um, and not necessarily always in person.

Craig Meador:

Thanks Rob. Amy what are your thoughts?

Amy Campbell:

Well, to be honest, I would be remiss if I didn't at least just share that, um, the concerns that I have in that I think that there are some real concerns about accessibility. And Rob you had mentioned about just equitableness of learning that we need to keep that on the radar. I do believe that because there is so much talk about accessibility, we can use it to our benefit. Now. I think we have, I think yours are more open and willing to listen, um, and problem solve that. Uh, I think that there is concern with if anything could possibly change in the next year in response to, you know, possible IDEA waivers, you know, that's on the table and that's in the back of my mind. Um, but I like what you mentioned, Craig, about the silver lining. That was a great word to use.

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What is the silver lining? And so one of the things that I had mentioned before was they had used the word connectedness. And I think that that is written really rich for professionals. And I know that just within the past week and a half, the number of opportunities that I've been able to tap into have been very meaningful. But I'm also seeing this connectedness for students to connect with each other, from state to state. And I love that. And so this gives the segue to how these students are connecting. It's because of that remote learning platform. And so I think that that can be a positive and lasting impact as we think about that use of remote instructional methods. I'm going to steal your words to Rob where you talked about the toolbox. We always have to be adding tools and this is where I'm going to be really honest too.

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I'm an old soul and change is so difficult for me and, but this really stuck with me. Craig, you just APH last week you and Jonathan, you launched that first podcast, um, of the, um, change makers. And it made me think because Craig, he challenged, and I'm going to say take it personally, you challenged me personally to examine our, my practice and to view the landscape that we're in right now as an opportunity and how can we build on these new skills? And I love how APH partnered with past illiteracy on this with the Excel Academy. So this is where I'm looping back to the students, um, connectedness. Being a part of ,just an observer for one of their sessions last week that was on social skills and seeing the students interact and have conversations and learning how to access the accessibility of things and learning. It really opened my eyes. And as long as we are mindful of the least restrictive environment for our students in our decision making, I think that this can be a silver lining where we are actually proving and showing that we can work through this and that this can be a viable learning opportunity and way to reach some students that may not be, it's not a one size fits all, but there's so much more value in my eyes that I have seen where previously I couldn't go there in my mind because I embraced that one on one instruction time with students. And in my mind I just can't see how it could be better than that. I like how I'm growing professionally in, in, in thinking about how this could be a game changer for our students. So thank you to APH for um, planting those seeds in my mind and that partnership of that Excel Academy. I really think that it's a game changer and I'll close with this too. One reason why it is so powerful is because you're giving teachers of the visually impaired real life role models of how to deliver this instruction effectively. So I love that and I love couraging my teachers to tap into that in order to expand. You know, there are thoughts of that instruction.

Craig Meador:

Thank you Amy. Ryan are the lasting impacts?

Bryan Bashin:

Ah, one lasting impact is I'm going to find out more about the Excel Academy cause I don't think some of our teachers know about it. And thank you Amy for bringing that up. Every a silver cloud may have a black lining and I'm worried about some of those things are, you know, what we've found is a, is based on the demographics of blindness we serve all ages. We know that only 5% of blind people in the United States are in the K through 12 age range. So the 95% of people who are not in K through 12, I'm worried that this, uh, sort of exuberance of Zoom and remote instruction we know who we're seeing, but we don't know who we're not seeing. And that figure I think is enormous and I'm afraid of a kind of digital apartheid. Um, as we have blind people or newly blind people in their forties and fifties and sixties of working age and are just left out and are isolated and don't have the resources to, um, do the kinds of things that people who have had the privilege of education and all that or have been blind long enough to acquire them, uh, have. And so we're, we're really wrestling with that. Um, because I, I think the field has not really addressed those left out. Um, I also, and worried a little bit about just our own internal structure as this thing may drag out. Mmm. I'm looking at a lot of employees who are learning that, um, they, they don't have a lot to do and they don't have a lot to do and won't have a lot to do. And I think that effect over time might be kind of corrosive when we come back. Um, our agency is based upon showing up and forming community, whether it's, uh, you know, youth classes or where the weekend and our dorms are, whether it's camp in the summer or whether it's, uh, our group employment job seeking thing. Um, that has been a hard tissue to build and it's been really against the grain of one on one instruction that departments of rehab tend to favor.

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I'm just worried that the idea in our culture of showing up, of taking the train of using transit, all of this stuff now where people, people will ignore it, normal times, we'll find all kinds of ways not to show up now w maybe looking at a year or two of people just being fearful of being out in the world. And that leads to a kind of instruction stuff that's in (inaudible) to me, cause it's the warm connected, encouraging forming that, you know, social formation. Um, that's, that's really what I think is at the heart of rehabilitation for people who are blind or newly blind. And I don't think that we can zoom our way out of this. And I, I think, uh, you know, my own staff is congratulating itself with 23 online classes. I think at best it is a distant and cool kind of connection and that's what I worry about for the longterm.

Craig Meador:

Those are some sort of sobering thoughts. Um, and all honesty, I probably have not allowed myself to go there as much as I may should have perhaps. But the, I think those are, are good reminders, Bryan, that there is a downside. I mean we're, I think sometimes in leadership we're trying to take a bad situation and, and hold people up and, and we, we really want to promote what we can grow a, you know, it's that idea of never waste a good crisis. Right? There's no such thing as bad pain as long as you learn from it. Uh, the, those kind of old mantras and cliches, we have plastic along the walls of our offices, but I, I think your caution there is something to. You're right. It is a lot to, especially concerning our students. It's, uh, so many times we are trying to are students and adults, uh, in rehab and, uh, we're trying to encourage people to reach out and grow and take chances and get on that bus, get on that train, make that trip, get to the supermarket, uh, because you need that for growth and you need that for, uh, to be alive in this world, and we have just basically reversed that message and have told everybody the best thing you can do is don't go to the supermarket and don'ts. Don't get on the train, don't get on the bus. And hopefully that's all, all temporal. But I think we need to be mindful of, uh, we, we've got to find those successes, uh, utilize them, but also, uh, uh, be mindful. I love that term, that digital apartheid that, that could happen there. Uh, the corrosiveness of action or inaction and also could result from us. We are getting close to the end of our time, but I, I just want to give you all a chance to, to, uh, give us some closing thoughts. I appreciate all of your wisdom. Uh, I appreciate the situations you're all going through. Some of it's very similar, some of it's very different. Um, but, um, you know, when I was, when Jonathan asked me to find three voices in the field, I felt like the three of you represented a fantastic cross section. And, uh, so I'd be remiss if I didn't give you an opportunity to give those last few words of either insight, wisdom, encouragement or caution, whatever, whatever, however you want to play it. I'll just let you, uh, uh, send us off with that and then we'll wrap it up.

Rob Hair:

Yeah. When I think about, um, my biggest takeaways from, um, this really kind of horrifying and, uh, strange new world that we're in right now, um, I try to think about what's, what's important right now. And I think what I've been trying to emphasize with the staff, even though it's been, you know, amazing to watch people come together and, and create new ways of doing things and um, teaching our students and trying to be helpful in ways that they can be, um, during a time when we can't really see each other and be social or we have to be socially distant. I actually don't like the word socially does. I think it's more like physical, distant, but socially connected. And I think we should keep those social connections. And um, I've been trying to encourage my staff and also those myself too, in the midst of all this, take care of yourself, that's, we have to take care of ourselves. A lot of us, I don't know about anybody else, but the first couple of weeks and I, I'm still having trouble sleeping. I'm so worrying about my friends and family and my students and I'm waking up in the middle of the night thinking about, you know, illness and you know, things that need to be done and what are we going to do. And I, you know, but also trying to take care of myself, trying to eat right. You know, the first week I probably didn't need as much, you know, all the right things or drank all the right things all the time. Uh, but now I'm really trying to like exercise and eat more healthfully and I'm, I'm encouraging my staff to just take a, take a step back and breathe and take care of yourself, take care of your family and take care of your children. Um, because this is, as you said, temporal, it is not going to be here forever. Um, uh, and we're going to get through this and that's one of my, I close almost every email. We're going to get through this together.

Craig Meador:

Thanks Rob.

Amy Campbell:

I like how you captured on um, Rob about the self care and I know that um, our exceptional children director at the North Carolina public instruction, um, always man manages to circle back to that self care point these past couple of weeks. And it puts into my mind the picture of when we're flying on an airplane and we're given those instructions of if an emergency should happen and the oxygen masks, you know, come down that we are first supposed to take care of ourselves. We're supposed to put our own oxygen mask on first before we help someone else. And, um, I know my sister has directed me and reminded me of that to take care of ourself and um, because then we're not good for, you know, being able to help anyone else. So I think that self care is really important and I think that the other point to highlight on is never say never.

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And um, as I mentioned before, I perhaps wasn't the most open minded previously in thinking about remote instruction, um, remote services for students with visual impairment. And I'm going back to again, that podcasts and, and stealing some of your words. I hope it's okay, Craig, but it just wasn't meaningful to me where you gave that encouragement about don't abandon these interim methods of instruction and ways of servicing people that we have to have in place now don't totally abandon that when our life returns to normal speed. And I think that it never say never. It, it puts into my mind as, you know, how can a hybrid model of education be utilized for some of our students? So, uh, I think those are things that are lasting in my mind that I hope that I can continue to carry that through until we come to the end of this road and be able to look back on it mindfully and problem solve of how we can make it even better when we're in a better, you know, a better place.

Craig Meador:

Thank you, Amy. Yeah. Feel free to steal anything. That's absolutely fine. Bryan. Final thoughts?

Bryan Bashin:

Yeah, you know, I, after the first few days I noticed that, uh, not having to put a coat and tie on and go through the morning commute and back, that's uh, that liberates maybe 15 to 20 hours worth of, uh, time. And I've been seeing among my circle of friends and family. That we are taking the time to have longer conversations and catch up in deeper ways with family members and others all right across the field. Um, the transactional quick, get it done kind of communication is, is now being enriched with a much deeper kind of check in sort of like we're doing now. Craig, I mean this chance to go deep and ask questions like this, um, I think would not have happened otherwise. And so I, I, I've been thinking about this period that we have now and probably will have for some months. Um, we could, we could frame this as a kind of, um, sabbatical where in a sabbatical you get to get away a little bit from the day to day and get to go deeper and I think the field is, has always and always will be right for reconsideration and re-invention and we could never, I could never rest my team to ask these questions when, when life is buzzing and they're 200 people in the building. Um, now this is an opportunity to go deep and maybe when we come back, think about reorganizing, we doing dropping some things that frankly were marginalized beforehand. So, um, I, I just see this as an opera, a once in a generation opportunity for us to really consider how we might do some profound change.

Craig Meador:

I want to thank you all again a lot to think about and I appreciate your insight. All of this.

Jonathan Wahl:

Thank you to each of you for being a change maker in your region. You certainly have left us with a lot of things to think about.

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That's it for episode two, but we'll be back next week. If you have any questions for APH, be sure to drop us a note at communications@aph.org and we'll be sure to answer what we can in our next episode.

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In the meantime, don't forget to look for ways that you can be a change maker this week.

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Coming up next week on Change Makers. How the APH ConnectCenter is connecting people to important resources during this pandemic information about a survey being launched by leaders of our field to help them better meet the needs of people with visual impairments during challenging times. And we'll hear from NFB Newsline about how they're providing important information on COVID-19.