Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

COVID: 1 Year Later

March 25, 2021 American Printing House Episode 26
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
COVID: 1 Year Later
Chapters
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
COVID: 1 Year Later
Mar 25, 2021 Episode 26
American Printing House

Hear APH President, Dr. Meador discuss the many curveballs COVID-19 brought to APH and how the organization adapted to those challenges. Plus      Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, AFB Director of Research, examines the impact of COVID-19 on students with visual impairments in the Access and Engagement Study.

On this podcast (In order of appearance)

  • Dr. Craig Meador - APH President
  • Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum - AFB Director of Research


Additional Links

Show Notes Transcript

Hear APH President, Dr. Meador discuss the many curveballs COVID-19 brought to APH and how the organization adapted to those challenges. Plus      Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, AFB Director of Research, examines the impact of COVID-19 on students with visual impairments in the Access and Engagement Study.

On this podcast (In order of appearance)

  • Dr. Craig Meador - APH President
  • Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum - AFB Director of Research


Additional Links

Speaker 1:

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.

Sara:

Hello, and welcome to change makers. My name is Sara and we have hit a milestone that I'm sure no one wants one full year of the Coronavirus. If you think back one year ago, news of COVID-19 was just starting to dominate the news coverage, thinking about it. We all went through this together and we're still going through it from being told to wear masks, to stocking up on food and toiletries, to working from home. There wasn't one aspect of daily life that wasn't impacted. So one year later we're looking back and reflecting on how APH was impacted by COVID and how it adapted to the new normal plus what's in store for the future, as COVID slowly relegates itself to a memory that one won't soon forget. And who better to talk about all of this than none other than APH President Dr. Craig Meador. Dr. Meador, thank you so much for joining us today on Change Makers.

Dr. Meador:

Oh, thanks, Sara. Pleasure to be here.

Sara:

Thank you. So it's been one year and what a year it has been. How was APH watching the COVID situation this time last year?

Dr. Meador:

Wow. Um, so we had, well for those who, who don't know APH, APH is a seasonal institution. It's our agency. So what happens is we live our lives and seasons and every January is the start of conference season. So it's almost like it's almost every week. We have a team bouncing all across the country. Uh, one week we're in Nevada, the next week we are in California. So it just is like that. So we were well into the way of our conference season. We had gone to CES where we have received some awards and CES was well attended. And at that, so that was first week of January. So you're just starting to hear the rumbles out of China. And so we were like going, okay, well, that's right now, let's keep an eye on it. We don't think it's going to affect us. So we came off that and we were onto another, a workshop. And then pretty soon we were at CEC , which was the first or end of January. 1st of February, that place was packed full crowd. We did our gig , uh, had a good sh good turnout . There did very well. And you're hearing more about it. We move into February 1st week of February, we're at CEC out in Portland, Oregon. I'm starting to hear that, you know, some, some things are happening. Somebody got diagnosed in the States . First person got diagnosed with it. And of course everyone's saying, well, you know, it's kinda like the flu. It's kinda like this. Then we had a few smaller shows and next thing you know, the big one was CSUN, which was , uh , second week of March in Los Angeles. And by then the world was on, started the freakout . Um, you know, so a lot of places were shutting down. Uh, we'd seen that through , uh , most of the , uh, the East. Uh, you're starting to see that happen in European countries. And you're like going, Holy Crow, this is serious. And I remember that leading up to a few weeks before CSUN thinking, are they going to cancel the show? Are we going to go , uh , by now COVID was well-established in the United States. There were no cases in Kentucky at that time. Um, but a lot of the other Washington, of course, California, New York, a lot of those States had seen COVID and we were just starting to realize the seriousness of COVID. And I remember meeting with the team saying, what are we the teams going, what are we going to do? And we're like, well, you know, we're pushing all our chips into the center of the table and we are headed to CSUN at that time. We w we really had no idea how big this thing was going to get, but, you know, there, there was no cases in Kentucky. So we were like going, we don't want to be the first , uh , we had some staff who were super concerned and they were the smart ones. They were the smart ones. I think at the time I was thinking, Oh, they're , they're just being a little overcautious . Uh , but some people said, I don't feel comforted well going . We said , that's fine. Stay back here. We don't want you to be anywhere where you're not comfortable. And so we took a smaller than normal team, and we got out there and only to find out that half of CSUN is, for those who don't know. And haven't had the opportunity to go CSUN , uh, is the biggest Assistive Technology Conference for blind, visually impaired, I believe in the world. Uh, there's another one that happens in Frankfurt , Germany, that, that builds itself as the largest. But I think CSUN is larger. So you have everyone from cross country, Canada , uh, Latin America, and a lot of , uh, companies from , uh , Korea and Japan and China and all these. So it is a big, big deal. And everybody who's, anybody is there and everybody wants to be there. And it is just an amazing time fun show. So we're there, we're like, huh, half the half the vendors didn't show up. And then half the people who signed up didn't show up and, and we knew some of that going in, but when you got there to became very apparent , uh, you know, when you start to do and every day, it was like "the following sessions have been canceled.. Session one session two, and session 99 session, 105." And, and , uh, every day that got a little worse. And, and , uh, I always say America , uh, one of the things I , I love Americas is so passionate about sports, but you knew. Um, so with this conference, by the way, and this is sorry for my rambling was situated in Anaheim at the conference center, which is right across the street from Disneyland. So, you know, we had heard the stories of in Washington and California, or in New York, some of the places that stores were being ransacked and nothing left on the shelf. And I went into the , uh, the , the local market there across to get some yogurt. Um, and shelves were fine. You know, there's toilet paper. There, there was Windex, there were hand wipes. There were all this stuff that was, is flying off the shelf. Supposedly in some cities, I'm going "well, nothing's happening in LA." So this was on a Monday. I went over there and got some yogurt for the week and, and , uh, got some coffee and Disneyland is right next door. And the crowds, they were at capacity because it's spring break time for a lot of states. And they were having to shut Disneyland down every day because they had too many people in Disneyland. So you're just thinking, okay, maybe this is a big thing. Maybe people are overreacting. And then that Wednesday , um, I think it was Wednesday. Yeah. Uh, I got a call from my son who works at one of these , uh , bougie hotels in New York City. And he says, dad, I said, what? He says, I've been quarantined. I said, well, what's going on? He says, well, two players from the , uh, uh, the Nets were here and they tested positive for COVID. And I was the one I had interaction with them. I checked them into their rooms. And so they put me on quarantine for two weeks. And a day later, the NBA says "season suspended." Disneyland within six hours, says "Saturday, we're shutting down the park." And it's like, on that Wednesday, someone flipped a switch. And that same , uh, CVS, where I went and got my yogurt. People had cleaned it out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. And it was just like all crazy , easy broke, loose. And that was Wednesday. And the conference was supposed to go , go to Friday and they got on and they finally said, "hey, we're shutting down the conference." We're supposed to go to Saturday. "They said, we're shutting down the conference early. We got to shut this thing down early. Everyone's leaving. There's no point we're going to refund some of your money. If you need to leave early, we understand they're offering everybody free meals". And I remember on a Thursday morning, I was having breakfast. And the waitress who had been working at that Marriott for 35 years had just been in front of that day, that she'd be losing her job. And they didn't know if they would bring her back or when they would bring her back. She'd been that same restaurant for 35 years working for Marriott. And , uh, and that's when it hit me. It's like this thing is, this thing is huge. This thing is going to be really huge. So I pulled team together. I said, "get on the next plane, shut her down. Let's get outta here." So I think we got everybody out of there by Friday. We, everybody quarantine , uh , for two weeks had nobody come into the building for two weeks. And by then , uh, when I got back, of course I was meeting with the executive team. Um, and I , I just asked the team. I said, what do you think? And they're saying, we, we, we've gotta , we gotta be super cautious and everybody gave their recommendation. And so I said, okay. So I called the board and I said , uh , we're pulling the plug. We're sending everybody home. Uh, those who can work from home, we'll work from home. And those , um, who can't work from home, we're going to send them home and pay them anyhow. Um, we're , we're just going to take care of everybody. And the board said, "absolutely, it's the right thing to do." So this was before , uh, so I was kinda scared about that. Cause I'm thinking, Oh my gosh, this is gonna, this could really kill us financially as a, as a company, but it's the right thing to do. And very few other companies were doing this right now. And then a week later, I think it was Wednesday following Wednesday when Ford announced they were shutting down, I thought I was like, "Oh great. I'm not in this all by myself."

Sara:

Safety in numbers.

Dr. Meador:

Yes. I know if Ford thought it was the right thing to do to shut it down and send everybody home. We feel like we're in a good spot. We're , we're in a really good decisions. We made the right decisions. And to me, that was just a , uh , kind of a verification that we made the right decision and thus began our life of COVID and the big pivot in turn and the facing uncertainty head-on and what this was going to do for APH and what this was going to do for , um , you know, we had a lot of questions at the time because there was no directions coming out of Washington at that time. Um, we, it was, we really thought , um , and we prepared, we prepared an austerity plan and , uh, but we really thought that there's a strong possibility that the Federal government was going to suspend payments to APH. And we , we thought that they might just say, well, since no one can operate we're and we're funded for those who don't know, APH gets a large Federal grant every year to operate and produce products for students who are blind or visually impaired and to get these products out to students. And , uh, and that all goes out in the form of , uh , the quota accounts that are set up with each state. So, but we , we didn't know, we didn't know if the government would pull that back. We didn't know if the government would say, we're suspending your, so you won't receive your third and fourth quarter payments. Now we have contingency plans. Uh , our , our predecessors at APH were incredibly wise people and they set up a nice rainy day account for just sort of thing. But at the same time, you still, you know, it's all those things that you're worried. What if we never are able to come back? You know, how long would we not be able to operate? Um, those were all the questions is like, are we going to be shut down for a month, two months, the rest of the year there until there's a vaccine, you know, it really was a lot of questions and just a lot of operating off intuition and just , uh, leaning into it. I mean, I don't know how else to describe it, and I know that's overused, but I think everybody, every school district, every business was in the same spot. You just have to, sometimes when you don't know when the unknown is the largest thing in front of you, I, the best advice I can always tell people is that's when you just got to lean in, you just gotta lean in because it , it , uh, the undiscoverable will never be known until you try to wrap your arms around it. So it's , it's that , that opportunity to lean in to the unknown, it's scary as all get out. But , uh , um, we did it, we did it. And , uh, we had some good fortune. Now, some of the things that we did though, is we had a strong strategic plan. In two years previous, we had decided as a leadership team, that where we wanted APH to go in the future , um, was to be stronger in the area as a collaborator and a deliverer of services. APH two years was 70%, 75%, I'll say 75, 75% of all our output was intangible products, whether that be braille or science kits or math kits. And we had decided as a leadership team is we want to get a balance , 50, 50, 50% of our products. We're not going to slow down on the product. So keep products up here, but we're going to bring services from this 25% up to 50 or up to whatever that number is. So that 50% of what we do is the intangible it's it's lessons. It is service to people. It's connecting people to information. It is providing a platform for learning. It is. So this was our grand scheme. So we , we knew that we wanted to , um, not that we wanted to create, because there are , um, uh , one of the things I say all the time at APH, we recognize that brilliance is everywhere. It's everywhere. Yeah . You don't have to come to APH to find that you can find it all over the country. Brilliant and minds , incredible leaders, educators, developers, curriculum makers of teachers, rehab, counselors, they're everywhere. And so our goal was part of that two years ago is let's create a platform and let's go find those people. And rather than duplicate, or try to reinvent the wheel, as they say, let's just invite them to share their knowledge and expertise on this platform. So the wheels had already started turning that . Um, so we're in this new unknown, we had a plan, okay, we're gonna go , we're going to get back together. And we're just gonna figure out what to do next. Um, and what , what happened next was not just an APH thing, but it was , uh, um , the field of blindness and rehab thing, which is one of the reasons why I've , I've been in this field since 1984. And it's one of these reasons. I, I think people stay in this field. Most people who come into this field are lifers. They don't leave. Um, and this was, I think one of those reasons why is because in a time of crisis , um, the , the people in this field pull together, they just like, yeah . And it's almost like if you're gonna bake this, this giant cake and you're like, I don't have flour. And someone says, I got flour, I'll bring eggs. I got sugar. Everyone comes together and throws their energy, their financial resources , uh , their expertise, their , they had lessons already prepared that they had done at a conference. But what we saw as a field, all come together and say, we're all in trouble here. We need each other. We have to rely on each other. Who's got what, who can help and what you saw all across the country. Yeah . Um, uh, NFB did this ASA ACB did this AFB , um, Perkins , the Texas school, South Dakota North . I mean, it's just like when , across the board. And I hate to mention every school cause I'm going to leave one out. But every school for the blind, all these education agencies, rehab centers basically came to the table saying, this is what I have and whether they banded together in teams or whether they went alone, but they all made sure that learning continued for their kids that were stuck at home. And we have a very brilliant person on the APH staff and that's, that's , uh , Leanne grill it. And , uh , she is the national director of outreach for APH. And we had been building this high, what we call the high , which will be our new learning platform. And she basically just decided we're going to launch this thing. And we're like, is it built? Is it ready? No, but we're going to launch it. So she just jumped in , um, and did a lot. This started pulling people together, reaching out. And then she partnered with , uh, uh, the team in Dot Six. And, and then all our partners in the for-profit world, HumanWare, Vesparo, Zoomex, all these companies said, Hey, we can do a training on this. And we won't charge for it. We'll do a training here, free of charge. And then other people came in and said, Hey, we, and then, then we started just putting the call out to teachers in the field saying who would like to do a training? What would you like to train on? And , and before, you know, we had this network of incredible training opportunity that was happening. Um, and I'm getting ahead of myself. So let me, let me back up a little bit, but right before we launched the hive and went out and did this , um, uh, Sheryl , Camille Hannon out of , uh, university, California. Um, I think she, I don't think she's UC Davis , uh, but , uh, she's at one of the universities there. Forgive me, Cheryl for forgetting that , um, and , uh, Perkins school, Perkins school for the blind , um, up there connected with Leanne and said, why not the three of us partnered together, get this thing off the ground. So the three of them partnered to get this thing off the ground. And that ran from April through mid may. And that allowed us to a little more time to pull additional resources together. So when that program ended, it was the pathways to literacy program through Perkins. When that program ended for the, because Perkins was kind of folding its school year to a close and releasing kids to the summer, the demand was still there. So we continued on and that's when we brought in all these additional partners. So on average, we are offering , um, most weeks, three learning three to four learning opportunities on a daily basis. And we didn't know who would take advantage of, we had parents showing up. We had teachers showing up. We had students showing up. We had professionals when all was said and done from the time this started, to the time this ended, we had done, I think, 93, different virtual learnings. 93. You know, I , I , math wise, I I'm , I mean, that's , so that was an average of three a week or three or four a week for a gazillion weeks, whatever the math is on that, the largest one we had over 900 participants then ,

Sara:

Oh my gosh.

Dr. Meador:

900 participants showed up. We had, I think it was 18 or 19 different kinds countries participate. Saudi Arabia to China to , uh, I mean, it was just UK, all over the board. People coming from all over the world to participate. You're from experts here from people who all have the same passion. Uh, everybody was in the same situation, everybody. Uh, I, you know, it's kind of this whole idea of going back to this idea of leaning in everybody was just leaning in and then supporting each other. And that was the most beautiful thing. And that's what I say. It's why I love this field is you see that kind of response there , there, I mean, we all pulled together, but there wasn't one agency sending out a Clarion call, you know, and, and , uh, everybody assembling all at once. And, and, but it was just, it was like , um, it was just this great organization, everybody different in their own creative way, but, you know, bringing , uh, sharing the same mind almost and producing the same sort of thing. And you hear all these heroic, heroic stories going on all across the country. You have teachers who are setting up their garages as braille shops, and they're , they're, brailling up lessons , uh, late into the evening and then getting into their car, first thing next morning, and driving that stuff 30 or 50 and sometimes a hundred miles to make sure kids have lessons and leaving them in the mailbox or putting them inside the screen door. You had teachers who needed to do one-on-one with kids and doing lessons between a screen door, you know, glass door, but the student on the other side, in cases where students didn't have internet access or getting on the phone. And, and , um , so it really , um, you know, I I'm glad for the most part, those days are done. I mean, we're still working with some difficulties and , but a lot of schools have returned or we have , uh, delivered or created better delivery systems for less since , but overall, just amazing to have witnessed this and to look back on what the field has accomplished over the last six, seven months, and also, you know, quite proudly what APH has been able to do, what our staff was able to do in being a part of that was really, really exciting. And the beauty of that is we're now on the other side of that somewhat, I mean, you know , everyone's back, everyone's back to work, whether it be in a home setting or back in the building production , um, is back up operational. All our fears never were realized the government kept funding. Us sales were actually up our productivity. Our production team did an amazing job. Um, I'm , I'm knocking wood right now. You know, we've had very few cases of people who have been infected and, but more importantly of those people who are infected, there was no spread at APH, which is amazing, but I contribute that to everyone just doing what they were supposed to do, spacing the mass good sanitation the whole bit. So we had been very fortunate in during this process. Um, it's, I'm so glad we had a good plan. Um, we were prepared for a disaster before the disaster hits. What came out of it has just been, I think, because we had to enact our plan a year and a half earlier. Our, originally we weren't going to launch The Hive until spring of this year, late spring. So we actually launched it a year in advance. Um, and I think overall some of the direction and ground we wanted to cover, which we had given ourselves a five-year runway to do, we have covered about half that ground. So we , we basically are about two years ahead of plan because of the pandemic. Now I don't want to go through it again. Um , and I am looking for us to get back to a return to normalcy as quick as possible. Uh, I want to see people , um, I want to be able to give people a handshake and , and I , I swear once I get vaccinated, I am going to go up and down Frankfort Avenue, hugging people , um, whether they want it or not. Uh, but , uh, looking forward to that day, you know, it's a , and we're really hoping that next year, as we get closer to Annual Meeting, that our plan right now is we're doing annual meeting in person, putting it out there to the universe and to the powers to be that we are, we are thinking very positively and we are , uh , I'm a man of faith. So in prayer that this will be our reality and, and , uh, uh, that we will be able to see people and greet people and meet people and gather the family back together here in Louisville, Kentucky, come October,

Sara:

You talked about the COVID vaccine and the shot. So how is APH looking toward the future once we're allowed to be together again, you mentioned the annual meeting, but what else does, what else is APH looking forward to?

Dr. Meador:

You know, the other, the other real benefit that came out of this , um, APH and I don't, I don't think we're much different than any other business, any other brick and mortar business. Um, we've always had some employees that have been home assignment or not. Their workstation was not assigned at APH. We've always had a few of those, but I think out of fairness, if you were to go back and ask all our supervisors before all this happened, saying, would you ever have people who work from home and not within your department? And I think if people were honest and most of them would be, they would say, you know, I, I don't know how to manage somebody. If they don't come in every day, I would not know how to manage them. Their productivity they're successful if they're successful or not, or whether this was a healthy thing or not. If, Unless they were coming in every day, you know, and that idea of, I want to have my team close because I feel like we can move faster for closer together and in better communication. And I'm a believer in that, but I'm also a believer into that. Um, and that had long been an APH directive , um, way before I got there. The idea is that if you worked for APH, you lived in Louisville and you came into the office every day. That was the thing expectation. But the problem is as the world, changes is really funny. As the world has gotten smaller with technology and the ability to travel and the ability to , to connect on many different levels, the world has also , um, become more restrictive. And I'll tell you what that, what I mean by that. People are less likely in , this is just my hunch. I've got no science to pack back this up. Although I bet I could back it up with a research article or two if I spent a little time, but my feeling is a lot of people would love to work for you BPH, but they didn't all find themselves in a situation of , um, you know, I have an aging parent, I have to take it . I'd love to come work. I'd love to make that move to Louisville , come work for you guys. But I have an aging parent. I live in Michigan. I live in the Moines, Iowa. I live in , uh, the San Fernando Valley, wherever it is, but I have re I have family responsibilities. I have a aging parent. Um, you know, we have a , um, a split household and , and it would be too difficult on our kids trying to move them back and forth between States. It's hard enough trying to do it across city. Um, and we've lost out on a lot of good people because of that. You know, we've hired a lot of them as consultants and have been able to rely on their expertise, but we haven't had them as a full fledged member of the team because of our, our previous philosophy. So I think what COVID taught all our managers in a very quick crash courses, you are an effective manager and given the opportunity to manage people from the distance, you'll figure it out. And what we've seen for the most part is most people who are at home have become, huh , highly. I mean, they've been every bit as effective at home as they have been at APH. And I think in a few cases, maybe even more affective because there are people who don't do well with interruption. And so when they're able to , to their own workspace and work on uninterrupted, they are just covering miles and miles and miles. And so for them, it has been a godsend . So when we look at it as a company, you know, one of the questions that was asked the other day in the COVID meeting, I wasn't there for it, but I was relayed to me is will we be everybody back all at once? And of course the answer is, it depends. It depends on what the need of the department is. It depends on the employee. We, I know we have out of the , uh , currently 312 employees at APH, three 12, three 15, give or take a few. Um, we have about a third who come into APH every day to work , uh , HR, finance production. They're in shipping, they're in every single day. Um, and then we have different people who come in one day or two days a week, but on any given day, only a third of our staff are on site. If we were able to tomorrow, we were at vaccinate everybody today and say, starting tomorrow, anyone didn't come back would come back. I imagine we would get another third that are just ready to bust down the door to come back saying, I got to see people. I want to share a coffee pot. I want to steal somebody's lunch from the fridge. You know, they just want to be back amongst people and have a routine and have that interaction. Yeah . And then we have a handful of people who say, I really liked this working from home thing, but there are days when the kids are driving me nuts. And I would like to go to the office or the dog's driving me nuts, or I just need that routine. And so they're looking to do a split schedule, you know, Monday, Wednesday, I'm in the office, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, I met home or Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, I'm at home. And all that will be worked out within the departments. But I think what we have proven to ourselves and our, and our employees have demonstrated is that we're capable and competent people. Um, we can work across a myriad of environments. And from a, from a company perspective, I think the more flexibility we can allow our employees the better off we'll be. Long-term I think if, if , uh, that's , uh , if that's a perk and I'm always , um, I was raised with a philosophy why wasn't raised with it because my mom always said no, but I learned as a dad early on , uh, uh, from some wise mentors, they said say, yes, when you can. Say no, when you must, it's , it's kind of that idea of, you know, it's like , uh, you know , can I have cake before bed? Can say no , when you must it's . And sometimes you get yourself in some trouble as a parent, but I think it's the same way too, as, as a , as an employer. It's like, if someone's saying, you know, I really have, you know, my washing machines on the Fritz and I've got to stay at home and wait for the repairman to come. Can I work for them ? Why not? Yeah. Why not? "You know, I got a sick dog, I got a sick dog who needs round the clock attention and, and I'll be here. And then my partner will be at home at two. So I can be in the office from two to five. Is that okay?" "Work from home, the front half work from the office, the last half?" Why not? Why not say yes when you can? Um, because , you know, I, I think that's just, it just makes for a better work environment when you can give people that kind of freedom. Now, there are some jobs, obviously, if you're running the braille punch, I'm sorry, unless you just punch in your garage, come in and run the braille punch here. There's some jobs that , that just don't allow you to. And I think , um, and it also comes down to preference. Sometimes it comes down to preference. I am I'm a creature of routine. Uh , lucky for me, I live about a quarter of a mile from APA . And , um, working from home is hard for me today. This is, I decided that I , you know , I've had Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, after Zoom meeting, I did take a about 45 minutes and shovel out the car. Um, but for the most part, I've been attached to this computer in front of me, but I would much rather be in my office. I would much rather be, I've got a , I've got a pace, I've got a momentum. I come in and turn on the computer. I start the coffee pot. I love my routine. And so I miss it when I'm home. Um, so for me, you know, the, probably the worst thing you can do is say, you need to work from home. That's just me. Um, so I think when, when we get back, we , when we have that opportunity, departments will make that decision. Um, but I , I will say the longer we are apart from each other, the, one of the things that does concern me, that , that we are a little bit about is at APH. Um, we , he worked very hard to break down silos and, and when I referenced silos, what I'm talking about is APH really is one big company, but there's like six companies under APH. You got six companies that are in communication, but are producing different products, different outcomes. And so they basically used to run like six different companies. And we have worked very hard over the last few years to get these companies interrelated, connected, communicating the one downside I had seen the longer that COVID has gone on. And we have been separate from each other is those silos has started to come back up. We're seeing communication breakdown between departments. Um, we are seeing where we're starting to lose a little bit of our empathy for each other . Um , there are times when we, we, you know, and we get a little snarky, snarky can be fun, but it also can be hurtful. So we have to, you know, it has to be delicious delivered out to , and snarky never plays well over email. It just, it just doesn't, you can say something snarky in person and then laugh and everyone laughs and uh, uh, but it, it never plays well over email. And we've seen some of that creep back in and we've seen people just losing patients. And I think a lot of this is just the fatigue of not being together. It's the fatigue of zoom meetings. It's the fatigue of, of , uh, just feeling connected to , to the bigger whole . So I think when we are able to bring people back in , um, I know in talking with some department and people, some of them have said, we're going to make it mandatory. That one or two days a week, at least the start we're getting everybody back in under the same roof so we can learn how to behave again. We can learn to value each other again and start to rely on each other and rebuild that communication, which I think is very smart. I think that's, We've been isolated so long, we've forgotten how to interact properly and how to do it professionally. And, you know, over email any email or texts can take on its own tone. However, you interpret it, you know, you can't, you say it , you know , you say something sarcastically, you know, you , you, you, you can sort of elaborate in person, but you do that over email. It does , it , it, it takes on its own tone. So we are going to have to sort of, you know, learn relearn how to interact. And yeah , we're coming out of this kind of traumatized, You know, you , you say that and, and , uh, there's a lot of truth there. This is this , um, you know, you're starting to see some, some, I don't know if they're full studies, but definitely some, some papers being written on the idea of this site , uh, COVID has created PTSD for some folks. So there will be some PTSD , uh, related to, to when this is all said and done. And , and I think people, some people are experiencing that and , uh, and it won't be until after they're out of it that they'll be able to come to terms with it. And then you'll start to see , uh, what happens a lot of times with post-traumatic is right now , um, until it's over, we don't know how that will manifest, but you, you might see people start having anxiety issues. You might see people have other issues. So we'll just have to wait to see, you know, we're tired, we're fatigued. We have a lot of work to do. Um, we're in the middle of conference season with some of the biggest conference to come. And the problem is, is they're all virtual. And , um, and this is not a knock on presenters because the presenters are doing amazing jobs, but, Oh my gosh, a virtual conference , um, it's tough. I, I'm not a fan. It's hard. I love the learnings, but I, you know, for sitting in front of a computer eight hours a day watching, you know, part of the , part of the nice thing about a conference is you get up and you move and you buy conversations in the hall and it's , uh , the dinners afterward, or cup of coffee and a chance to sit down and dream big with , uh, colleagues from the field, the chance to catch up. And that's, what's missing from all these virtual conferences. And, and so , um, I would say right now, I , I'm not a fan. They have their place, but the day that we can put the end to the virtual conference , um, and w I think everything that we do at APH , like annual meeting the show will be a hybrid. We will be showing a lot of that because we did our conference last year, virtual. Yes , we had almost triple the number of people that normally would show up for annual meeting. Normally on a good year, we'll have about 500 people show up for annual meeting. I think we had like 1200, 1300 people, at least one session at annual meeting. So we'll continue to do virtual for those who can't come to Louisville, but I'm going to be down at the Hyatt. I'm going to be down and I will be dressed up. Um, and I will, I will be treating, I will be buying people, coffee or whatever, and looking for conversations and having conversations and , and just welcoming everyone to Louisville, to APH meetings . Can't wait for that. And then normal, normal,

Sara:

Like the "olden" days, you know , know like , Oh my goodness. So that's exciting. That's exciting. And, you know, I feel like this is something that we truly are all in together. And I feel confident to say that we all are looking forward to the end of this, this whole situation. All right . Thank you so much, Dr. Mehta for joining us on Change Makers, right .

Dr. Meador:

Take care.

Sara:

In an effort to find out how those with visual impairments were impacted educationally during the height of COVID APH and AFB were two of 19 organizations, companies, and universities that collaborated on a project to find out how children learning from home received a quality education. We have AFP's Director of Research, Dr. L Penny Rosenblum here to talk about what they found and what changes were made to ensure quality education continued. Hello, Dr. Rosenblum and welcome to Change Makers. Well, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here to talk to you about how COVID-19 has impacted education of our students with visual impairments in the last year. Good. Okay. Well, let's see. Can you share with us the work you and your colleagues have done in the last year related to COVID-19 in the education of visually impaired children? Absolutely. So when we first started to see a shift from students , um, in brick and mortar.

Dr. Rosenblum:

Building, so to speak, to being educated online, it was a very, very quick change back in March and April of 2020. And so a group of us joined together and very quickly put out the access and engagement survey that opened on April 22nd of 2020. We ended up with data for 455 students and 1028 professionals. Um, and these folks were in the U.S . and Canada. So we had really good representation. And part of what we really found was people had very little time to make the shift. So we had gaps and that included professionals who themselves were not comfortable with technology. And first learned, had to learn how to do things like use zoom themselves before they could start supporting their students. We had , um , families who knew that their child used , um, screen reader software, for example, but had no idea how to support their child and actually using that software. So when the student would get into a situation where they weren't sure what to do, there wasn't somebody there who, who knew how to use jaws for example, and can support them. We also had a lot of issues , um , that we saw around accessibility, whether that was the classroom teachers video , um, wasn't accessible. So the teacher of visually impaired students was having to , um, meet with the visually impaired student to go over that video with them. So the student could get the content, whether that was the teacher, visually impaired students didn't have an embosser available to them cause they had no warning that they were leaving the school. So therefore they didn't have a way to prepare braille materials for the student. Our ONM folks, of course, are very hands-on often, you know, as we all know, pounding the pavement and how do you do that virtually? So that was a huge shift on some level, some of these things have changed, but many of these things have not changed. And we know that from 663 individuals who completed a survey during November of 2020, so that we could start to look at well, where are we? Nine months later?

Sara:

Okay. I understand that AFB is taking the lead for the work on understanding how COVID-19 impacts education, but the list of authors for the report published in October is quite large. How did you all come together to look at how COVID-19 has been impacting children?

Dr. Rosenblum:

So in , um, early April of 2020, a group of 20 organizations and companies started the flattened in accessibility survey, and that examined how COVID 19 was impacting 1,921 adults with visual impairments. When that survey posted , um , Dr. Tina Hertzberg from the university of South Carolina, upstate contacted me and said, penny, we need to do this for kids. And I said, absolutely. Um, the next day, Dr. Tiffany Wilde from Ohio state university contacted me and said, Hey, are we going to do anything for kids and how our group grew? Um, I think the group of professionals who were part of the , um, team that analyzed the data and deciphered it and found meaning in it are individuals who are very committed to our profession. And most of these folks that you see on the first access and engagement report are on the team for our second access and engagement report. And that data is currently being analyzed from our 663 participants. I think the fact that we have such a strong and diverse team for both access and engagement one and our current study that we're analyzing access and engagement two with 663 participants demonstrates how so many of us in the field of visual impairment are collaborating how we are vested in the education of our students with visual impairments.

Sara:

Okay. And now tell me this, what is the difference between the first and the second surveys?

Dr. Rosenblum:

So let's talk a little bit about the first access and engagement survey, and that report is available , um , at afb.org. And that report is based on data , um, from 1,432 individuals, very early on in the pandemic. So we collected that data between April 22nd and May 13th. We were all struggling, whether we're talking about children with disabilities or typically , um , sighted children, whether we were talking about children in earlier intervention or children transitioning out of high school, we were all struggling to figure out how do we make this work during a pandemic, our data set from the fall, the second access and engagement is a much smaller data set. And we have a couple of theories on why that is. Um, we opened that survey just as the presidential election was occurring. Um, so it was a very challenging time in our country. And I think by November, a lot of us were on survey overload. So we have a smaller sample of 663 individuals. So we , um , have a very small group of families who were receiving early intervention. So that's 16 families, 22 families of preschool children. And then we have 168 school aged children that are represented. Actually we had 166 , um , family members who completed on that school survey. Two of two families did it twice because they had more than one children, but we really see some commonalities between the first and the second dataset . And the one that really jumps out at me immediately is that our number of children or our percentage of children with additional disabilities and both the first access engagement and in the second access and engagement report was the same 56%. Um, so that really tells us something. Um, one thing we saw in our second data set that really , um, sat well with our team, is it 92% of our school age students had up-to-date IEP. However, remember these are the families who took time to do a pretty involved survey. So we're not sure if these data are really representative. Um, but we were happy to see that 95% of the families who had school aged children told us their child was participating in education. Um, we also learned that 77% of the professionals were going into school buildings. Um , many of them were also doing online instruction. So in the spring, almost everybody was online, but now we're seeing the shift to both families and professionals telling us that many of our students are being educated and buildings.

Sara:

Now tell me this, how , how are you and the other sharing, what has been learned from the surveys and is that information any of us can use?

Dr. Rosenblum:

Absolutely. So we've got a couple of ways that you can get information. The first access and engagement report has been published. It's available [email protected] It's a downloadable PDF, both the full report and an executive summary or it's , um, by section. So HTML , um , you know , a website type of thing where you can move through the sections. We also have a blog post that I wrote about how you can share the access and engagement report. And that could be by sharing it with school administrators, writing a letter to the editor, contacting technology companies , um, for products that your, your child or your , um, or your students are experiencing challenges with. So we give you some ideas. The second access and engagement report will also be posted on afb.org. And we anticipate that will be late April early may. Um, I know folks are like, well, you collected the data in November. Um, but keep in mind, it was a very complicated survey and it also takes us time to do what we call clean the data, and then we need to analyze the data. And then we need to interpret the data into a written report that makes sense to folks, I've done several blog posts and I've done several podcasts where I've shared the results. Um, our team is going to be presenting two sessions at the California transcribers and educators of the blind and visually impaired conference. In April. We're putting into present at the, getting in touch with literacy conference. That's going to be held hopefully for all of us in person in Tampa, in December. We are having folks in our policy area at AFB share information with administrators, legislators, and others, to get the word out. And we also did a town hall back in the fall where we shared information about education across the lifespan, and that is recorded and it transcripts available on the AFP website as well. So we're doing our best to get the word out, but honestly we need everybody to use the report to share with those who they want to reach out to, to help affect change for students with visual impairment, AFB, APH, any of the other organizations or companies. We can't do it alone. We really need folks who are out there working with kids, our parents of kids, and our young high school age students, themselves sharing the information. So Sarah folks could go to the AFP website to find the blog posts , the report, the town hall that I'm talking to you about, or I know that you're going to go ahead and put them in the show notes for today's podcast, so that they're easily reached by your listeners. And we encourage everybody to check those out.

Sara:

What do you think the long-term impact of COVID-19 is going to be on children and families, TBIs O&M specialists and others?

Dr. Rosenblum:

You know, I think that's the million dollar question for all of us, Sarah, but I think there's a couple things that have definitely shown through in our data and that reflect both systemic issues that we've had in the field of visual impairment and COVID related issues. The number one is about technology. I have really come to learn from my own personal experiences as a person with a visual impairment, as an educator of children with visual impairments and as a researcher that we talk about accessibility, a lot in this field, but we also need to really focus on usability. And so we have had in both studies, family members and professionals share with us that the tools that students are using for learning , um, whether those are our more common tools like canvas or Google classroom or zoom or, or Microsoft , um, Microsoft teams are technically pretty accessible, but may not be usable. And some of that is because of the way things are set up often it's because of the knowledge base or , um, the fact that the student hasn't gotten those skills yet, or the family or the professional doesn't know how to teach those skills or what skills need to be taught so that the student can be more , um , effective using those tools. And every time something updates, we have changes that we need to make sure that assistive technology like jaws or NBDA or voiceover , and that tool get connected and that the changes work on both ends so that when jaws updates, it works with all the tools out there. When any of the tools out there get updated, they work with jaws . So we have a big disconnect there, and I hope , um , that one thing that will come out of our research is that we will have a better synergy between technology companies and educators. And we will be able to build the technology companies awareness that they need to be thinking about , um, usability and accessibility from the ground up, not as an afterthought. So I think that's one issue. Um, another thing that we've seen is in the comments that many of the family members and professionals have made this deeper understanding of the role of educators in the lives of children and , um, on the part of families and a deeper understanding on the part of educators about how families function and how, when, when things work well, when there's good communication, when there's , um, commitment on both sides, the professional side and the family side, that we can really focus more on those educational needs of the student. You know, we had families who now really understand some of the things that their child has on their IEP, that they see once a year, and they , they know that learning's happening. They're not questioning that, but now they're really seeing the details. And we have educators who are really starting to see what's happening in the home and what, what they can do to really support that student in developing their expanded core curriculum skills and , and in a natural way. So I hope that will continue. And then the third thing is we are a digital society. You know, Sarah you're interviewing me from Louisville, Kentucky, and I'm sitting in Tucson, Arizona, and we're having a conversation technology to connect people at a distance is not going to go away when the pandemic is over online learning tools are not going to go away. When the pandemic is over. I use technology all day, every day in my work, our students are going to need to be efficient with lots of different technology tools in the mainstream to be successful in post-secondary education and employment. Um, one of my favorite quotes from a family member of a five to seven year old child, and the false are in I'm sorry, in the study we conducted in the spring and reported on in the fall was that child was learning to be independent with technology and that this was going to serve this child well for the future. So a family of , uh , of a little person, you know, somewhere between kindergarten and second grade, and that realization on the part of the family member of the role of technology and her child or his child's future , um, really has resonated with me. So those are some of the, I think the lessons

Sara:

Takeaways for us, are there any more plans to examine how education has changed or continues to change for our students?

Dr. Rosenblum:

I am really excited to publicly share with you that our team and it's many of the original folks who started this in the spring of 2020 are looking at telling the story of one year out. Now, I know some of you have done surveys for us and you're going, no, not another survey in the spring. Good news. Um, we're primarily doing focus groups. And let me share with you how we're going to do that. We're going to actually divide into four smaller teams. So Dr. Tiffany wild at Ohio state university is going to be doing focus groups for families . So some of you may be asked to participate or to help us find families of elementary academic students mid on high school , um , family members, families of , uh , students who have additional disabilities. Those families who have children that are engaged in hybrid and online learning families who are homeschooling their children. And then Dr. Wilde's group also wants to talk to ONM specialists . I'm going to be leading a focus group study, where I'm going to be doing focus groups for several different , um, groups that we haven't had. Good representation in our survey from a monolingual, Spanish families, family members of children, and early intervention and preschool, all someone to talk to folks providing early intervention who are not TVI or O&M specialists. We're going to talk to some state special ed directors. For example, my colleague, Kenny Anthony in Colorado, is somebody we hope to invite. We want to talk to administrators at schools for the blind, special ed and regular ed teachers to get their perspective and special ed directors. We are going to have a study that's going to be led by Dr. Tina Hertzberg and that it's going to focus on teens. So Dr. Hertzberg is going to do several teen focus groups. And then also a brief 20 questions we've been working on that co uh , survey for teens. And then finally, Dr. Carly Rhodes , who joined AFB earlier this year as our research specialist is going to put together a very short survey that will target vision professionals. So eyes and OEMs, but also professionals who are early intervention providers, paraprofessionals general ed and special ed teachers. Um, and it will be brief to get their perspective on how COVID-19 has impacted our students over the last year. So we're excited to be these studies in April and may of 2021.

Sara:

And looking back at these surveys and studies, what are your biggest takeaways from all of this work?

Dr. Rosenblum:

You know, my personal biggest takeaways , um, really tie to how amazed I am at the commitment of our professionals in this field. And many of the things that we've seen that have been positive, there is so much more professional development and opportunities for people to collaborate now. And I think about the Excel Academy started by Dr . Um , Cheryl , um, Camille Hannon , um, and colleagues, I think about the TSBVI Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired coffee hours. I think about how use of websites such as paths to literacy and paths to technology have increased. So I I'm one big takeaway for me is, is the collaborative nature. And I hear about groups that are meeting regularly. Um, a second takeaway for me, really ties to that, that systemic issue around accessibility and usability and how, if we're ever going to see more individuals with visual impairments successfully employed. Um, and we get over that hump of, you know, depending on what data you want to use, that, you know, 60 to 70% of working age adults with visual impairment are unemployed or underemployed for going to get over that hump. We have got to deal with this technology stuff. We have to ensure that our students have access and leave school with a very, very robust technology toolbox. Um, and I think then for me, that the last issue is, is our students who , um, have additional learning challenges and how we can ensure because they're often, you know, just a very small number in a school district, how we can ensure that they're not falling through the cracks that they are getting of very individualized, but very robust education that is truly preparing them for what comes next, when school ends , um, because sitting and listening to a video of somebody reading you a story , um, when you don't have the concepts behind that story, when that video is not accessible to you, when your motivation or your ability to attend for that long is not, there is not education. So we really need to look at how can we more effectively serve , um, our students with complex needs. And I think the pandemic has helped bring that awareness even more to the front, hopefully for those outside of our field. So those are just some of my takeaways.

Sara:

Okay. And can you give us an idea as to when the second reports results will be published?

Dr. Rosenblum:

Sure. Um, so we anticipate that the second access and engagement , um, on that 663 , um, person sample will be published at the end of April or the beginning of may. And then we'll be conducting our third study, so to speak with these focus groups and short surveys and, and in April and may. So I think we'll be well into probably September before we're able to share a report of those findings with folks.

Dr. Meador:

All right , Dr. Rosenblum , thank you so much for joining us on Change Makers today.

Dr. Rosenblum:

It was a real pleasure, and I'd like to encourage anybody who wants to brainstorm on how you can use the findings of these studies to really affect change for students with visual impairments in your, in your community to reach out to me. So we'll make sure that my email address and telephone number are also in today's session notes. So thank you so much for inviting me. I look forward to coming back maybe in about six months and sharing with you what we learned through our focus groups and our interactions with teams.

Dr. Meador:

Most definitely. All right. Thank you so much, Dr. Rosenblum. That's it for today's episode of change makers , all of the information discussed today will be in the show notes. Be sure to find ways you can be a change maker this week.