Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Staying Connected, From Afar

April 23, 2020 American Printing House Episode 5
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Staying Connected, From Afar
Chapters
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Staying Connected, From Afar
Apr 23, 2020 Episode 5
American Printing House

Conferences are a huge part of the blindness and visual impairment field. They're about more than just attending sessions, they’re also were we learn about new products, and where we partner with other companies to continue to push the boundaries of our field.

To talk about how we can stay connected, and make the most out of virtual conferences, APH President, Craig Meador, leads a roundtable discussion with three change makers who have, or are planning to host virtual events.

Guests: 

Dr. Kirk Adams, President and CEO of AFB, a private non profit that uses research and evidence to effect system change that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind.

Dr. Amy Parker, an assistant professor and coordinator at Portland State University where she is engaged in community development and nurturing.

Sergio Oliva, the Associate Vice President of national and youth programs at the Braille Institute. He oversees Cane Quest and the Braille Challenge. 

Show Notes Transcript

Conferences are a huge part of the blindness and visual impairment field. They're about more than just attending sessions, they’re also were we learn about new products, and where we partner with other companies to continue to push the boundaries of our field.

To talk about how we can stay connected, and make the most out of virtual conferences, APH President, Craig Meador, leads a roundtable discussion with three change makers who have, or are planning to host virtual events.

Guests: 

Dr. Kirk Adams, President and CEO of AFB, a private non profit that uses research and evidence to effect system change that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind.

Dr. Amy Parker, an assistant professor and coordinator at Portland State University where she is engaged in community development and nurturing.

Sergio Oliva, the Associate Vice President of national and youth programs at the Braille Institute. He oversees Cane Quest and the Braille Challenge. 

Amy Parker:

Maybe this time is a chance for some of those people who never get to go to our conferences. Never have tasted that, to be a part of something.

Jack 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 visually impaired. Here's your host.

Jonathan Wahl:

Welcome back to Change Makers, a podcast from American Printing House. My name is Jonathan Wahl. Off the top you heard from Amy Parker about looking for silver linings as conferences important to the work we do are all moving virtual. That's today's topic. How do we stay connected? Conferences are about a lot more than just attending sessions. They're also where we learn about new products and where we partner with other companies to continue to push the boundaries of our field. Today we have three guests. Part of another round table discussion. Dr. Kirk Adams, president and CEO of AFB, a private nonprofit that uses research and evidence to effect system change that creates a world of no limits. Dr. Amy Parker an Assistant Professor and Coordinator at Portland State University where she is engaged in community development and nurturing, and Sergio Oliva, the Associate Vice President of National and Youth Programs at the Braille Institute. He oversees Cane Quest and the Braille Challenge.

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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:

Thank you. This is Dr. Craig Meador talking today about what happens when the world throws you a curve ball. Our field is this wonderful collaborative group of people that not only, uh, get along professionally very well, but actually like each other. And so what happens when a field that is so defined about by the conferences and the opportunity to touch base and the after hour happenings at conferences, which is so important to our or cultural lifeblood gets interrupted and we are forced to go to a new motive, virtual mode. What happens then? And can we continue to be successful not only with getting out material and instruction, but meeting those heart needs of our field. And so we're going to talk about that today. All of you had some big events. Kirk, most recently the AFB leadership conference which moved to a virtual environment. But before that Amy, your Mobility Matters, moved to a virtual environment and I also heard Sergio, I know the Braille Institute, Braille Challenge this year, is going to be moving virtually as well. So tell me a little bit about that event and, what brought you to that decision? What were the steps you took, uh, to make sure that the event would still be relevant even though it was shifting to a new platform? So, uh, Amy, why don't we start with you?

Amy Parker:

It was a tough decision even in the midst of all the data that was coming in and information that was coming in to move mobility matters over to an a fully online environment. We were having conversations, our team at Portland state with dr Holly Lawson and others, we were having conversations every day about what was going on. We were hearing from partners about their trepidation about coming face to face. It was happening in a lot of different States. Our partners from Verizon who were coming to join us had, we were talking on the phone daily and I actually remember connecting with you to Craig because some of your staff were coming out to be a part of mobility matters and had been engaged with Portland state in wayfinding research. Um, and so we were so thrilled that they were coming out and I, it was, it was really hard, um, still just to accept that we couldn't be together in the same space physically because of all the reasons that you mentioned that our field needs time together.

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And this particular conference is an interdisciplinary conference that includes transportation providers as well as people in our own, um, field as well as students, other faculty who are engaged in transportation research. So they were also our transportation providers. You know, that that's kind of the folks that say the show must go on, the planes have to run, the trains, have to run the buses. Um, so they weren't telling us that they, they couldn't come. But what finally happened, I think it was Holly grabbed me by the lapels and said, we can't do a conference half online and half face to face. It's just going to be double the work. And so I listened to her, which I think is a good decision to listen to people that you trust and kind of go, okay, we're going to do this differently. Um, so we, we had it online, we had different Zoom meetings going.

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We had a morning plenary session where everyone was together in the same giant zoom room. We had a lot of hands running the conference and then we decided to have our breakout rooms in the afternoon with different zoom rooms going and they were all with moderators. And I know you're, you'll talk about that in a little bit, the logistics of that. But it was a way to preserve the event and in the end it, it turned out to be a good event because I think we had very passionate people, people with disabilities leading the event as well as transportation providers. And people said it was still a really meaningful way to learn and connect. And feel. So I'm glad we did it.

Craig Meador:

Thanks. Thanks, Amy. We're going to get more into some of the ahas after that, but we'll throw it out to Kirk now and, uh, I can only imagine what that was like both for Amy and you, Kirk. But tell me a little bit about, uh, the events that led up to the decision and, and, and how you decided to carry it all off.

Kirk Adams:

Sure. You know, the AFB leadership conferences is our crown jewel and the Helen Keller achievement awards. I attended my first conference in 2001 when I first went to work at the white house in Seattle and I never missed anything. I went to 15 conferences in a row before I actually became part of AFB staff. So a near, near and dear to our hearts and important to the field. But the decision was really clear once we'd done the analysis. So about mid February, Megan Aragon on our staff who was responsible for the conference, started to do the risk analysis and kept the senior leadership team apprised of developments. Um, all of the factors, the pros, the cons, and that was a shifting target. So she kept that updated. Then on March 3rd, it was a week before the CSUN conference, there were five of us who were scheduled to go. I was actually on vacation, but I was following the news and, uh, Craig knows my whole family is in Snohomish County, just North of Seattle and that was the original epicenter. So I was very aware. One of my niece's high school was closed. My parents are in their eighties. You know, I was just very aware of it and I, I made the decision that we were not going to have AFB staff attended CSUN to, to fly across the country to Los Angeles, because there was so much uncertainty and you know, we had a staff member with a child who has asthma and we have staff member with some auto-immune situations. So we made that decision and then just shortly after that there was the health and welfare of our community and our partners and our friends is first and foremost. And if we have concern about our own health and welfare, we need to be equally concerned about everyone else's.

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So we pulled our executive committee together, March 10th and our board, has done a lot of work as far as streamlining committees and understanding roles and responsibilities. The whole executive committee was there, senior leadership. We laid out the high level analysis of what the factors were and it was just a very clear, unanimous decision that the best thing for AFB to do would be to not ask our friends and partners to assemble in person. So the conference, um, the Helen Keller achievement awards were scheduled for March 25th and then the conference on the 26th and 27th. So that gave us than two weeks. And then the next immediate decision was let's communicate to all of the stakeholders and friends and explain what we're doing and why. And then the third decision was how do we provide value to our community? And that's when we started planning for virtual content and pivoting to virtual. And we had our first virtual event, less than a week after the conference. A physical conference was scheduled to occur and we had 1700 people register for our first live stream and the first thousand got in and everyone else has been sent a link to the archived captioned audio described, uh, transcribed session.

Craig Meador:

So in essence, what you guys decided to do, uh, was instead of, uh, like, uh, Amy and them did theirs all on the same day, you decided to break your sessions out then spread them out over over time, which I thought was a, a unique perspective as a way to approach that. So, uh, thanks Kirk. Sergio, you guys - Braille Challenge. Let's, let's talk about that. That's, that is the one kids from all across the country gear up all year for this. All the big contests, it's a wonderful event that happens from state to state to state and of course the prizes flying all these kids into Los Angeles to compete side by side. The comradery, bringing in professionals, recognizing the braille teacher of the year, uh, all the work that goes into that. And then this year it's going to be different. So talk about that.

Sergio Oliva:

Yeah. Thank you so much for inviting me to this. So similar to I think some of my peers when this whole COVID sort of a frenzy started and I personally was still looking forward to going to the AFB conference. Um, like some of you guys mentioned, it's just such an opportunity to get together with other colleagues and that's where like the outside of the workshops is really where a lot of the ideas get generated. So I'm going to be quite Frank and share with you all that I really thought that by, you know, the end of June that we would have, uh, this whole situation was going to be over. Um, little did I know that that was not going to be the case. And so we started getting a lot of, uh, emails and a lot of questions. We have 54 different regional sites across the United States and Canada.

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And so we started getting a lot of emails, a lot of questions. What's going to happen as you mentioned, uh, Craig Braille Challenge is a year long program in our seasons. Our regionals happen between early March and mid, uh, early January and mid March and finals is a two day event where a lot other 50 finalists, the top 10 in each of the categories do come to LA and we host like a two day mini conference event where on Friday we welcome them. We try to promote some of tactile activity, just really getting the families to engage with one another. Oftentimes a lot of the braille challenge finalists walk away with having all these different friends and the main sort of day is on Saturday, we're at the university of California Southern California USC campus. We bring the USC marching band and we kick off with like an opening ceremony and then all the students going to testing.

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We have amazing parent workshops and followed by an awards ceremony on Saturday night where everybody gets dressed up and we have a keynote, we bring in alumni speaker, we recognize a teacher of the year. So then we thought what do we do? And we did a couple of things. We actually had several conversations with different key stakeholders, like regional coordinators talking to a lot of our TBIs that we work with. And essentially what ended up happening is, uh, the executive leadership team at braille Institute. We made the decision that we still wanted to stay true to why the program started, which is to really promote braille literacy across any stage of wherever our students are. And so we really started, uh, my team and I just really started planning like, how can we deliver remotely this same sort of experience, if you will, how do we engage the families?

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How do we allow them to introduce, uh, to each other to, you know, to meet other people. And so we, uh, picked up this tagline which we're going to keep using, which is keep calm and braille on. And I have sort of just held onto that. And really that's how we ended up planning out the different phases, uh, that we have for that two day event. Similar to what Kirk mentioned, what AFB is doing. So we have the different components and we're going to be rolling out in their friends at a different time. So there's a lot of logistics, uh, that is going to go into sending out the final contest, making sure that each final is gets, you know, uh, the proper time. But like you mentioned, the prizes are still here. We're upping some of our cash prices that Breo Institute gives the students, uh, we're sending them their traditional swag bag.

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We're still asking them for a portrait because we usually have what we call a tactile portrait of all the 50 finalists so that we can sort of detect that sort of skill. Um, also. And so it was very, um, the hardest part honestly, is not seeing people like physically and it is so challenging, but it's what do you do with what you have? And so how do we still engage? And the whole point why we're having remote remote Braille Challenge finals and we're going to do a whole Oscars reveal when we have the finalist. I'm going to go live with my team on Facebook. And sort of announce all the 50 finalists and then we're going to follow up a lot. So we're going to be looking at this summer, uh, enrolling all the different sort of components of the two day event. But end of the day, what we really want is to really continue promoting braille literacy.

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This year we had over 1200 students that participate in and one of our regionals. And we don't want to lose that momentum. This program got started 21 years ago to really address the unemployment rate in the, among the adult population. And one of the things we all know is that those that are employed, um, they're braille readers. And that's really, I found a document that's what really the program got started, but it's taken off and there is different pieces like socialization, providing parents with that connection with other individuals in the field. So we're just continuing to finesse like how we're going to roll out with the different components and still stay true to what the program consists of. So we have a couple of, um, I guess shiny objects if you will, uh, things that we're going to be announcing soon. But we're excited to still have a braille challenge finals.

Craig Meador:

I am so glad if it is going to continue, I'm sure it's going to be with its challenges, but I just could not imagine a year without that for students. So that was good news to hear. Let's talk about that a little bit. Biggest challenges and we'll just go in the same order again. I guess we'll lead off with Amy, the biggest challenge for rolling out mobility matters. Uh, now that your, your participants are scattered, uh, across the country.

Amy Parker:

Well, I just want to say I'm loving this conversation and if I could just say something to Sergio, what is so fun about, um, what you just said is that I could almost see like an Oscar party going on because you know, people can attend the Oscars, but what do they still enjoy? They enjoy the awards, you know, they enjoy seeing snippets of people's victories and having little parties at home and watching. So I will dovetail into what you said and say that the challenges is to keep that spirit. That's what Sergio is talking about. The spirit of the event and mobility matters. We, we really wanted people to, to have that interdisciplinary spirit. So there's the content around it, but there's also the connections with the people that are there, who's participating, you know, for adult learners. I think that adult learners need the opportunity for content to be relevant and timely and, and to tie into their own practices.

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That's always, content is always King, you know, in any event, whether it's face to face or online. So I think what was compelling for us was that we really had some great speakers and content and we needed to coach them. And I do want to emphasize it. It was not just me, it was a team, Dr. Holly Lawson, as I mentioned, but others, some of my students, my O and M students, Kirsten Becky, Amanda, Dina, Ashley, Julie, they all just kind of dove into this experience and helped people behind the scenes. So thinking of it almost like a theater show, you know, where here we're going on the stage and we're live broadcasting. You know, some people had to get into the whole idea of, well, how does my hair look? You know, and do I have access to lipstick still or do I not have that at home?

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And people to kind of allow that and to have fun with that. But also to support people with the technology. So we had participants who were deaf, blind, uh, participating on a panel. And what was really frustrating is of course, if you want an extreme sport, the extreme sport of accessibility as my friend Kirk knows from his leadership in Seattle is communication and communication in, in real time. And this event where we've got multiple streams going, so there's an ASL interpreter for those who can access that visually. There is captioning going on and some people might be participating, um, you know, in, in braille reading along on their own devices with the captioning. I mean, think of that. So that also I think presented both a challenge and extreme challenge, but also the fact that we were able to do that. We were walking the walk of accessibility.

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Like I love what Kirk said about you know, making a recording accessible and having it described well that is really, really important. So the biggest challenge was all the prep work, kind of behind the scenes and making people feel confident and comfortable with the technology and then the communication for all people to have access when they needed it. So back to the deaf blind panelists, we had one person receiving individualized sign language on her own device because she could not access what was on the screen. We had another person having someone summarize some notes for them in writing so that they could read it on their email at a pace that made sense to them. So kind of short hand. And then we had people who were participating real time, we had Kelvin who presented, who was listing to audio feedback at the same time that he was listening to audio feedback. I don't know how he did that to respond in real time, but that was what was important is like if we can't have a conference that is accessible, then we are not fulfilling our responsibilities. So that was the challenge and the joy and the theater, you know, of mobility matters as a lot.

Craig Meador:

Kirk, do you have anything to add on that with, with what you guys experienced for your conference?

Kirk Adams:

Yeah, I think, um, the first was the learning curve. We had not done video conference, virtual content. Uh, we'd, we'd done some video work before, but nothing to this scale. So we had to learn. So again, all about relationships. We talked to our friends at Microsoft and our friends at Google and Apple and no, they were, they were, uh, converting some of their CSUN content, um, to virtual since they had made decisions not to attend. So they shared what they had been learning about, sharpening up the content, shortening up the presentations, making sure they're evergreen, that if you're archiving something, it'll still be relevant. Uh, no doubt down the road as much as possible. And then we reached out to bridge multimedia and Matt Kaplow, in New York, who's worked with AFB for many, many years. And he connected those with people who, who know how to do this stuff. And we, we pride ourselves on our conference.

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So we wanted it to be the same level of quality. So, you know, professionally produced and again, accessible for, for everybody. So to learn how to do that. Um, and kudos to our community engagement team, Adrianna Montague, our, our chief community engagement officer. I said, well, I guess we figure out how to do it virtual now. And they, they went and did it. So the second challenge is scheduling. Uh, everyone's lives are turned upside down. Everyone was doing crisis management. We wanted to get something out top quality ASAP to kind of open the conference, open the virtual conference and, and, and keep our stakeholders engaged. So we wanted it to be as close to the original conference date as possible. And so pulling together the production folks, um, all the people who needed to be involved with everyone's competing schedules. And that continues to be a challenge. And an third is the, is the technology we're doing, um, for recording people from their homes and they have their home internet. And sometimes that's been a little iffy and caused some glitches and some problems. So those are the three so far.

Craig Meador:

Thanks Kirk. So Sergio, you get the benefit of hearing from Amy and for Kirk as you guys prepare, I know you guys are already into preparations for what comes next. I'm sure you've thought of some of these things already. Any ahas they're in and uh, what are some of the constructs you're putting in place? Because obviously Braille Challenge is going to be different than AFB, uh, leadership and mobility matters.

Sergio Oliva:

Correct. And I'm actually a really loving this conversation because I'm taking notes and, uh, I'm not one to reinvent the wheel. So I actually may reach out to Kirk and Amy about some things in terms of logistics. But prior to what I share, like some similar things is, one thing that I forgot to mention is that we are going to be live streaming, uh, via our YouTube channel. Um, the actual winners. So we're going to have like our alumni speaker come and we're going to work that out.

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But, uh, I forgot to mention that. So there is that opportunity and I hope to see a lot of viewing parties. Usually that already happens because a lot of the families sometimes don't, aren't able to come to LA. But to answer your question, I think the operative word here is a, at least for us that we've been considering a lot is access for us. We still promote, you know, braille literacy. We still have the Perkins Brailler. And so we're going to, there's a couple of things, logistical challenges here. One is we can have all 50 finalists take the contest in one day. That's just not realistic. And, um, we need to figure out like, what does that window, uh, how do we work? So how do we schedule that so that every finalist, you know, has the same amount of time. And the other thing is making sure that they have access to different materials. And by materials I mean like braille paper and just be ready and comfortable. Braille challenge finals - these are like the top 10 in each of the categories. So there's a lot sometimes no matter what we say, like this is, you know, it's not a competition. Like everybody, you're representing a lot of different students. These are our top braille readers. And so there's a lot of, anxiety sometimes that goes into this. I'm hoping that although there's going to be some logistical challenges, there's also going to be some silver lining lessons there. And that's one of them. So besides like access to making sure that they have whatever technology it is that they need or materials, it's really a lot of the behind the scenes. Like how do we actually schedule different things. For instance, our parent workshops are going to be webinars.

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One of our presenters is actually, um, Dr Ting Siu out of SF State with her new book as well. We're figuring out how do we actually open this up to a lot more people. And so besides a lot of those behind the scenes, logistical background, um, the, the behind the scenes, uh, challenges, there's a lot more like a opportunity here so that in the future, this new normal that we're facing now, it's going to carry on into whenever we do go back to physically having a Braille Challenge finals. And so there's a lot of lessons learned here. And one of the beauties is that as you said, I don't need to go into a lot of details and what both Kirk and um, but what they shared is that it's a lot of similar stuff and what beautiful thing that we get to learn from one another.

Craig Meador:

Well, selfishly it's good for us to have this conversation today because our big conference of course will be in October at annual meeting and we are so having our fingers crossed that the world has returned to a level of normal at that time. And we actually could hopefully get you all in and hopefully we'll be doing a personal, everyone in person annual meeting this year. But we're in that process right now of planning both for virtual annual meeting and a in-person annual meeting. We're hoping fingers crossed, toes crossed, uh, that we're going to do the in-person annual meeting and we'll see. We'll see. Challenging times to be sure. A lot of these times is the show and tell of these conferences. You know, we, of course we have exhibitors at some of the conferences that want to show the latest, the greatest products. It's also a time to meet with, we've mentioned before, colleagues, uh, hear about the latest research here, about the new developments in, uh, programs, learn firsthand about new government regulations without having that face to face. I'm looking for suggestions as well as answers here. How do we keep people informed? How do we close that gap? So I don't know who wants to answer first that's open for anybody that wants to take a shot at that.

Kirk Adams:

Well, this is Kirk. I would just say we're, we're, we're all starting to figure that out and I think it's going to really evolve. I know Craig, you, um, convened a group of blindness organizations. Everyone's first instinct was to be helpful and thank boy, you know, people need to adapt. And we've got blind kids who need to continue to learn and we got blind folks who need to be able to continue to work and got people in need to access health care and transportation and food. So I think every, everyone rightly started pulling resources together and sharing resources. And so you'll find many. Uh, we have afb.org/covid19 and many other organizations have similar pages. And I, we're talking about how to coordinate that better. We have a access world, which is typically, a magazine type publication. We've started to asking individual authors to produce articles that we can get out quicker in the form of blogs.

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So there's been a, been a lot of blogging around resources. Um, we've been contacted by most of the names you recognize HumanWare and Vispero and Orcam, and they're all wanting to help and making products available and services available. And so there's a great willingness to help and it's also new. I'm, uh, I know it'll shake out, um, as time goes on. I think, um, I think we'll be seeing some hybrids of activities. I think Sergio mentioned a watch party. I think you'll have some smaller in-person gatherings, uh, combined with virtual sessions in some form or fashion. Um, before we're at the point where we're gonna get a thousand people in the, in a hotel ballroom. Again,

Amy Parker:

I was just to say that, I think that all learning is still intimate and that if people can find ways to share moments online of connection or inspiration or looking at technology together that it be applied, that it'd be applied to someone's life or someone's needs. I think that's the most relevant for many people to understand what is the need to continue to get to the grocery store or to be a part of a church community or to, um, connect with their family members or to connect with their healthcare providers. So if a technology and, and um, or a policy even can be put into those terms, then it, it, it helps breathe life into the conversation so that it's not just a show and tell, but it's technology, meeting people where they are. And with what, what they want to accomplish with their lives or what a family wants to accomplish with their, their son or daughter. And, um, that I think it's also really relevant from that kind of demonstration. If it's via a video that then the person themselves be a part of the panel that discusses the use of that, um, and reflects on it. So, and, and showing those professional and um, parent partnerships around some activities. So I've seen a little bit of that is happening online now. Like Kirk mentioned, people have a strong desire to be helpful. I remember we scheduled with, um, the CEC, the council for exceptional children. We scheduled a webinar before the pandemic. It was to happen in April and it did happen and many people that attended, um, appreciated it and they said, we see now ways that this can be applied to our immediate situation and had conversations after that and wanted to have conversations then again about how to apply it. So maybe layering, um, a phase one demonstration and then a phase two demonstration after something has been tried for people to come back together and have a facilitated discussion about its use so that they're not just exposed, they've actually thought about it, they've kicked the tires on it, they've tried it.

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Um, I think tools like team viewer where people can add 'em at a remote, um, setting still receive instruction and be able to share a device with an instructor. Those are, those are all really promising. So it's, it's still, uh, a challenge, you know, and it's still not the same as face to face, but there are, there is a beauty to it as Sergio said. I think for some people it actually gives them more access. Um, one person who attended one of your webinars, Craig on with Donna Sauerburger on street crossing with no traffic control. There were 800 people that attended from all over the world. And his reflection was we all had a front row seat. We all had a front row seat to that instruction. We all got to hear Donna and listen really well and could access what was on the screen. So, um, in some ways when you think about a face to face conference and a giant ballroom full of 800 people, sometimes you can get a little loss. Sometimes the sound quality is good in one part of the room and not the other. Sometimes the air conditioning is freezing and you're just trying to pay attention in that way. But if you're home and you're in your comfortable chair and you're listening to someone that's got the depth and expertise like Donna does, then, then it can be very intimate for you.

Sergio Oliva:

Yeah. If I may, um, add to, uh, to that, I think that one of the things that I keep thinking about, not just for Braille Challenge but also running our youth programs and some other programs is how do we bring our services into the home? Like how do we actually bring the program to, you know, the students. And I think that one of the things that we're definitely, uh, playing around with a lot and I think I'm speaking a lot more for like our youth and child services, but I think it, uh, may apply to everyone just really leveraging social media. Um, I think one of the things that I can only speak from my experience is that not every parent, or not every staff perhaps or not everybody, uh, was as comfortable, uh, with social media platforms or even various different technologies. And so in a way, this whole sort of situation as almost, um, pushed us as a field to think outside the box and to continue, um, trying to again, provide the same services and programs and the same opportunity, but how do we do it in a very different way. And the beauty is that in other fields perhaps are using, you know, uh, zoom, I know that we're really using Microsoft teams and I know there's Google hangout, but there's this sort of a gift and being able to explore what I think would have taken perhaps us as a field, like a few more years. And so for what that I feel it's an opportunity to leverage social media and some other, uh, technologies. But one thing that, the last thing that I'll mentioned is that, um, I think it's also important to have an organized way of distributing or sharing information. I really am looking forward to this initiative from, uh, APH in terms of like a clearing house, if you will. And any org or any student, any parent, anybody can access this so that it's organized in a way where there's a bunch of different resources. I can tell you that here in the state of California, there are different calls happening.

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Like, how are you teaching O&M? Like, how are you guys still teaching braille remotely? And it's bringing Northern California and Southern California that together in a way that at least I didn't really experience that as much other than, you know, a conference here and there or CTBVI where we alternate. And so it's definitely an opportunity for us to just not just wait for that technology wave that I heard about a few years ago, but to sort of just for feeling comfortable, uh, in riding this wave and seeing where this is going to take us and how do we showcase perhaps an exhibit and how do you make it interactive but from the seat of your home. And so how do we really engage and bring these services to, uh, people? I think it's one of our key things.

Craig Meador:

Excellent thoughts. I want to ask a question to the three of you because I value your, your wisdom and having known you all for quite a while. Uh, I'm looking for some direction here to uh, both as an agency and also as an individual. There are so many voices talking right now and this is, if I can for a sec, I'll move outside of our field. When you think about coven, you can turn on any new stations, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBC. But their voices and many of the voices are saying the same thing. Some of them I have different messages. So if I take that application at some point to me, like last weekend I got to the point where it's like so much noise voices had become noise and I had to step away from it for a day or two because I just couldn't hear the message anymore.

:

So here's, I'm going to parallel that to our field and have you respond. We're all moving to these, this idea of a social platform of, of zoom zooms become our best friend or uh, teams and, and all of these are wonderful tools. We're all using. Uh, the exciting thing is that as Kirk mentioned, every agency has responded beautifully saying, we've got tools to help. We've got tools to help and they're wonderful tools. They're all good tools. And we're seeing a lot of individual teachers from all across the country, individual rehab counselors and parents and students and just practitioners, people of life saying, I've got a solution. I've got a solution. Things are being thrown out there. Have we? Or is there a concern? There are, do any of you see that, that we'll get to that point where there's so many voices. It just becomes noise. Is that just an a, so that's question one. Number two, is there a natural way that that'll take care of itself? Or three, is there a need to control that?

Speaker 6:

Yeah, I'll be brief. This is Kirk. So we, we discussed that and what we've decided to do, um, for first of all we talked about our values. Uh, in times of turmoil. It's good, good to ground yourself in values. So, you know, we went through a really good process with our employees, all the staff of AFB and, we're, we're basing what we do on learning collaboration, excellence and impact. So when we look at that, we thought, you know, what, how do we learn from this? How do we collaborate, how do we do whatever we do with excellence and how do we have impact on what we've really decided to do in the short term? As is narrow our focus down. There's lots of blindness organizations with different focus areas. And we, we defined our focus areas of education and employment and aging and, and we've decided in the short term just to focus on two things with our research, our public policy, our convening and that's education of blind kids, K-12 and, um, successful continued, uh, employment of, of blind adults who are currently employed. So, you know, there'll be overlaps between various areas, but we're, we're trying to stay centered on those two things because we think we have some particular vantage points there. We're not a direct service provider, we're not in that, in that business. But we are in the business of conducting research and looking at systems and understanding where opportunities are and where barriers are. So when we look, when we look at all this new legislation that is flowing through so rapidly, we're, we're concentrating on those two things. We're, where are the opportunities to enhance opportunities for education to kids and a continued successful employment of blind adults and no where, where are the threats in those two areas? So we, we've decided to do our part by staying on it, by defining our lane or for the next stretch of the road here and staying in it.

Sergio Oliva:

I think that to answer your question ideally, and I am not using my work hat, it will, I, I wish that it could be sort of more of a natural selection of a lot of all these different things that are going on, but I, I don't know. I think that's wishful thinking. I think that one of the things that does bring me back to like really trying to understand and iron out some of these, uh, I'll use your word like different noises is what is our end goal. And I know that at least for us, and I'll just speak to, you know, braille challenge and I think a lot of agencies that work with you, we want to do what's best for each child and each youth and also the parent, the family at home. And I think that if you approach anything with that in mind, uh, a lot of us, if not like the whole field, like we all have the same end goal.

:

I don't know if we are going to take the same path and getting there, but I feel very comfortable that we're going to end up, uh, reaching the same goal. That's okay and it's going to look different for different people, for different organizations. But I do think that there is a value and perhaps having a, some of these larger organizations just take the lead and helping sort through some of like the different sort of situations that are happening. And I think that's is one of the biggest sort of a, I always talk about when I talk to people in the field that, uh, I, I'm not from this field and I thought, okay, I'm going to be in this for three or four years and I can't leave. Like I'm in love. I'm in love with the people I've met. I'm in love with what I do. I'm in love with, uh, our population and it makes me want to try harder. And so keeping that in mind I think will allow for a lot of the different, uh, any noise that may come my way as an individual or even the program or the organization.

Amy Parker:

I've been really loving this conversation. This is Amy. I, I think that so many good points have been brought up about our values and what motivates us and what kind of clears our head through the noise. It can be like also an avalanche of resources. I think we can get confused and thinking that, well, our job is to make parents TVIs. Our job is to make parents O and M's and parents are parents, right? They have roles and responsibilities and natural rhythms to their lives. And so sometimes what's been helpful is thinking about professionals as listeners and navigators of those resources. So instead of saying, here, here's every resource that you could possibly want today when particularly what a, what a parent may want to hear is I just need someone to talk to about what's going on. I'm feeling frustrated. I don't know how to use this tool that he has. That's really important for him in terms of reading. So simple things. Um, so I think the human connections are more important than ever. And I've appreciated APH his leadership in terms of bringing people together and having these open conversations about resources, how to synthesize them, how to talk about our different roles and responsibilities with, with the synergistic view. Um, and then looking at maybe ways that professionals can help people navigate and distill information and make it just in time and just for them so that they're not feeling just this weight of huge learning curves when, when really they just need practical information that's tailored to them. So can we help them do that instead of just dumping information on people? And if we're overwhelmed, just think of how other people may feel.

Craig Meador:

Well, thank you all for indulging, that question of mine. I went off script the offerings that you guys have, uh, put out there, the sheer numbers of people that are showing up and, and uh, and I'm not just, and now we can broaden this beyond what has happened already, but I, I know Amy that you are a work with this huge deaf, blind consortia that you guys have your big event every summer. Uh, I don't know how that's gonna play out. I'm sure you guys are already on the planning on that and figuring out what to do next. Do you feel like the virtual environment, um, cause sometimes you go to conferences and it's very easy to go to a conference and be a passive learner, you know, and, and be more worried about is there still coffee at the back of the room as opposed to what is the speaker on stage setting. Do you feel in some ways that this new virtual environment, this, uh, the virtual invite to conferences has deepened the opportunity to connect? And if you have some evidence of that, I'd love to hear that.

Amy Parker:

Well, this is Amy. If I could jump in. I, I think, like you said, if the structure of the online event allows for some active learning, if it can engage the audience, even with what they have right in front of them or with their own bodies or with their own hands to say, here, let's try this together. Let's look at this together. Let's listen to this together. Try this with your own, um, with your, with a piece of paper that you have in front of you or a Brailler, let's, let's work on something. And then as you discover something, we'll come back together and talk about it. It's more of a, again, a very personalized way to communicate with people. Um, some of the best YouTube ERs in the world, they don't ever speak in generalities. They, they speak to you, they say, I'm here for you today to talk about this and you can do this and you can do that. Um, so some people in communications that are much smarter than I am, have studied that and have looked at ways to make learning really personalized. So again, I think if the activity is meaningful and salient and engages with what the person act vividly, it could actually be a more intimate and effective way to learn,

Kirk Adams:

This is Kirk. I can see how the classroom type learning, the information sharing could possibly be even more effective in a, in a virtual environment. But the thing we're going to miss is the other parts of why are we gathered together? It's, it's, um, the sidebar conversations, the camaraderie, the random connections you make talking with someone about a program you've learned, a promising practice, you find out do you have a resource they can use? So we're going to have to figure out how to build that stuff in, um, to the, to the new environment. Um, at AFB, we pivoted to become a virtual organization a couple of years ago. Um, which position does I think, well, to be nimble in this environment, but we've done things like, um, for general staff meetings, have people log in 15 minutes ahead of time with no agenda. We just call it water cooler time. Um, we have virtual staff lunches. Um, as soon as, uh, as soon as the, um, COVID 19 situation emerged, we started, uh, uh, half an hour, nine 30, Wednesday morning. So it's a health and welfare check in no agenda. Um, I've, I've been invited to a couple of virtual happy hours, which have been interesting. And, um, so, so those are the pieces that I think we have to be intentional about and email, um, is a good way to share information, but it's not a great way to have a dialogue, for instance. So we've been talking to staff about pick up the phone and talk to people. This is a time to strengthen relationships and, and let people know that that AFB is here and that we care. And you know, when, when, when you're thinking about firing off an email to someone, pick, you know, pick up the phone. Um, so we're going to have to be really intentional about that or we're going to lose a lot of what's really important to us as a community.

Sergio Oliva:

Yeah. I'll just add like a few, uh, lines here because I agree with, I think, uh, to what Amy was saying. Uh, there's different styles of, uh, learning. And I think that there's something to be learned. Also the perhaps when, uh, we do attend conferences, uh, physically, you know, there's sort of like the more social butterflies like myself that I somehow get energized by talking to people or figuring out like that elevator pitch of like, Oh my God, you're Craig net, or like, this is what you do. And so there's something that you cannot really, uh, recreate in a virtual sort of environment. But I think it's just being very aware of a size of like the group that whatever you're doing. Um, but to what Kirk also said, I think it's really key to just take the time to, uh, connect with people a lot more and figure some things out.

:

I'll share an example that they, they started this, the San Fransico Lighthouse, they have, um, a movie night and we're now discussing how do we have a virtual, uh, social with the San Francisco lighthouse youth program and the Braille Institute there in San Francisco and obviously San Francisco lighthouse and we're in Los Angeles. And so it's that, that's, I use that as an example to, um, how do we actually manage that? How do we facilitate perhaps discussion and questions about the movie? But at the end of the day, it's about just really connecting, uh, as individuals and letting somebody know like, Hey, like that anxiety you're feeling, guess what? Like Sergio from, you know, downtown LA is also going through that. And uh, beyond that though too, it's also being important. Something that, um, I know we're coming to an end, but I really wanted to highlight is what Amy said, that we're not trying to make parents TVIs. There's a lot going on. I, I know that for my child development department, a lot of our families have multiple disabilities and what their kids zero to six and now they have their other siblings, you know, kids at home. And so it's a lot going on. And so I think that this whole like getting a virtual invite perhaps who like a zoom happy hour, it's welcome. It's just sort of like listening to different people and it's, it's a learning opportunity and there is no right or wrong way and I continue to love the fact that everybody is sharing ideas and it doesn't feel, at least for me, it does just doesn't feel competitive. It just feels more like, huh, there's a lot more options now. Like what am I going to do and how am I going to connect? We know the families and youth that I work with.

Jonathan Wahl:

Thanks to each of you for being a Change Maker and giving us a lot to think about as we move into conference season. That's it for today's episode. Until next time, be sure to look for ways you can be a Change Maker.