Visually Impaired: Now What?

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ADA at 29: Websites and Apps Still Not Fully Accessible

Man holding smartphone in one hand and white cane in the other

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 29 years ago, the internet as we know it today and smartphone apps were not in existence. Fast forward to today and doing a Google search and downloading an app are as normal as drinking a cup of hot coffee in the morning. The majority of us, both sighted and blind, are constantly online searching, reading, and uploading information in order to work, live, and play. Smartphone apps make this even easier. Having access to technology has become extremely important, yet those of us with vision loss still struggle with accessible websites and apps. The ADA has assisted and many developers have made their sites and apps accessible, but many have not. Issues arise when only portions of the site are accessible, or an update makes it inaccessible.

These issues have been the saga of my life as a blind person. Since I, like a lot of people, depend heavily on my computer and smartphone, I run into inaccessible sites and apps on a regular basis. I experience a range of emotions from pure anger, to mild frustration, to apathy. Each time trying to figure out what kind of approach I should take in handling the problem, while knowing that it will probably come back up again. I have vowed to try to remain calm, troubleshoot for the time being, and contact tech support so that they can fix the problem.

My most recent website accessibility challenge was with my bank. I have used online banking for many years with little to no problems. However, one day I noticed that the log in portion of the screen was totally gone. That meant that I couldn’t sign in to check my savings, mortgage, checking, or credit card accounts. I contacted tech support, only to be told that it was my browser. I half-heartedly believed that because I had been using the same browser for a few years with no incidents. I didn’t think that was the real problem. Something told me to try it on my laptop instead of my desktop because I had a different operating system. Sure enough, I got a different result. My laptop had Windows 7 and I was able to sign in just fine, while my desktop had Windows 10 and I could not. When I went back to the bank, they had no answer.

There have been times when portions of a website were not accessible, but I was able to get an accommodation. This happened a few weeks ago when I tried to purchase a ticket to a play. I had logged in to my account, selected the date and time of the show, but when I got to the credit card section, I couldn’t fill in the field. I contacted the theater company and told them that particular portion of their website was not accessible. They apologized and told me they would handle my order over the phone. I was okay with that, even though I still would have preferred to have done the transaction on the website independently.

Sometimes when I have had problems with a website, I have been advised to use the app. I have been told that the app is easy to use and more accessible. However, I have found that not always to be true. For example, I tried to use the website for my favorite grocery store but later moved to the app. For over a year, their app has been inaccessible using VoiceOver on my iPhone. When I reached out to tech support, they said they were relaunching the app and the website to give them a new look and feel, and that it would take a while. I had no idea it would take so long! It just became available again this past month. I started to use the app again only to discover several buttons are not labeled properly. Additionally, it is not user-friendly, meaning that you have to flick and swipe around the app to get things done. It takes more time than before to complete one simple task. I am reaching out to tech support about these issues as well.

My movie theater’s app is another example. Whenever I go to a movie at the theater, and then open the app, a rate and review pop up screen appears on top of the home screen. It is not very accessible. They have several buttons that are not labeled, including the remove button. Through trial and error, I figured it out. Now I know which is the button to remove the pop up so that I can use the app, but that needs work too.

I can go and on and on about various websites and apps I have used that are not accessible. I am sure, if you are blind or visually impaired, you have your own stories to tell. I try to focus on being solution-oriented and not complain too much. I try to troubleshoot when I can, contact customer service and/or tech support to alert them to the problem, and persevere. I also try to keep up with any updates to changes to the ADA as far as making pieces of the law stronger in this area. I believe we need stronger legislation that addresses the accessibility of websites and apps just like physical barriers such as buildings, bathrooms, and sidewalks. As we advance, technology will become more and more a part of our lives and those of us in the blind and visually impaired community need to have equal access to it.

Including Yourself in a Faith Community as a Person with a Visual Impairment

Silhouette of woman standing with arms outstretched facing morning sunrise

When you lose vision, at first it might feel like you are unable to participate fruitfully in a faith community. Whether you’re new or a long-term member, some aspects of congregation life that you’ve always taken for granted can suddenly feel uncomfortable as a worshipper with blindness or visual impairment. Who’s saying hello? What are the words we’re singing? How do they take the blessing or communion here? We’re sharing this information in hopes that you won’t give up attending your faith community of choice if you’re experiencing vision loss now, or that you’ll consider visiting a new one if you’re interested.

VisionAware offers tips and resources intended to help you be part of whatever congregation you choose. While some of these resources are specific to certain faith groups, many can apply to almost any worship setting.

Before You Go

Going to a place of worship for the first time, or for the first time since vision loss has occurred, can be much easier if you do a little detective work first. If you can visit its website, information such as location, times of worship and activities during the week that may be of interest to you are usually posted. A quick call to confirm never hurts. Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • If you are not able to find your way to the building independently, is there any volunteer ride service available to and from worship or other activities?
  • Is it on a bus line or some other means of public transportation or do you have other means of transportation?
  • If yes, but if it is difficult for you to navigate somewhere new, would it be possible for a member of the community to meet you at the transportation stop for the first one or two visits?
  • Are there steep or unexpected steps or other architectural challenges that you should know about when you visit?
  • Are service dogs welcomed? (Religious institutions are exempt from the ADA. Read the FAQ on Service Animals, Q34.)
  • If so, is there any available green space for its needs?
  • How is the lighting, and is it ever dimmed?
  • What are the acoustics like, and would there be a better place to sit for best hearing? Or are there assistive listening devices available for use?
  • Does the community have any regular attendees with visual disabilities you could meet?
  • Does the congregation offer any materials in large print or braille? If not, is it possible during the first and/or second visit to have a volunteer sit beside you to explain or assist, cueing you when it’s time to stand, kneel, etc.?
  • If blessing, communion or other individual ministry is involved, could you get an explanation beforehand to avoid awkwardness going to the front or receiving something? (Some leaders are very willing to come to you.)
  • Is there a publisher that could provide large print or braille materials? If not, could the congregation leader or music leader send recordings, texts or other information ahead of time for you to read or listen to?

Stay Involved

Even if you are not new to your community, some of the above questions might be valuable to discuss one-on-one with community leaders. If you have any concerns owing to your vision loss, you can always talk with them; remember, it is as much in their interest to keep you in the fold as it is in yours to stay there. Some of your conversation can involve making suggestions. Few leaders have disability-specific training or resources, and you may serve as expert in this area to help not only yourself, but also future guests and members.

Ways to Stay Involved

  • Community outreach such as cooking, calls to shut-in members, prayer circles
  • Offer to lead study groups at the place of worship or in your home
  • Group or individual music participation
  • Answering phones or guest inquiries
  • Any other volunteer activity you feel comfortable with that would keep you visible and active in the community

Responding to Well-Wishers in Your Faith Community

It is common to encounter people asking questions far beyond the usual chit-chat once you enter a faith community. Many people have great intentions, but they may be quite lacking in information about your disability or personal situation. It’s important to keep this in mind when you respond, but it’s also OK to set boundaries such as stating, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing that,” or “I don’t think you know me well enough to talk about that.” On the other hand, fellow community members may offer kindness or social opportunities not available to you in other areas of your life. As long as you feel comfortable, it’s all right to discuss your disability, your needs or your desire to go deeper in your faith walk or service to the faith group.

At times, well-meaning people of faith may offer, or even ask to pray for you in private or in public. It’s not uncommon for someone to believe that prayer can help or even heal you. Again, the ball’s in your court in deciding how to answer this request. You may feel the desire or even the need for prayer, and all the more from someone who wishes to provide it. Or, while you may appreciate the gesture, you may wish to redirect the good intention. Here are a few examples of honest and courteous answers you might want to keep in mind in case you are in such a situation:

  • “Thanks for praying for me. In fact, I am having eye surgery next month, and I would really appreciate your remembering me.”
  • “I am all right with my vision loss, but could you remember my cousin Lola, because she has cancer right now, and they don’t know what to do,” or “I appreciate your asking, but I am fine. But maybe there is something I could pray for in your life?”

Do you have other tips for staying active in your faith community? Drop us a line at!

Related Articles

Faith Resource List

Meeting a Person with Vision Loss

Meeting a Person with Hearing and Vision Loss

Finding Rides When You Can't Drive

You Cane Give: Making an Amazing Difference

Members of Team Kenya standing together smiling at camera

Editor's Note: James Boehm, VisionAware Peer Advisor, recently participated in a special mission to give blind residents of Kenya and Africa independence, mobility training and a new hope. He wanted to share through VisionAware his personal experience with the White Cane Initiative's Team's work. Other team members included Paul Mugambi, Hilda Mulandi, Laureen Agola, Karen Nelson, and interpreter Florence Mithika. The post was edited by Maribel Steel, VisionAware's International Agency of the Month Correspondent.

Trip to Kenya 2019

While in Kenya, the team visited 4 cities and conducted 5 trainings. On each training day, the team planned for 20 mobility canes and 20 audio Bibles to be distributed. Security was high, and throughout the team's travels, there were numerous security checkpoints where often the vehicles and their contents had to be searched. But the team was able to get their supplies through customs

Happy Recipients in Nakuru

On the first day, the training team and partners met to discuss logistics. Then the team set off to Nakuru, leaving. at 5:30am that morning and returning around 8pm.

The team met many older blind individuals who had never owned a cane. They expressed that previously no one had taken a personal interest in their ability to navigate independently. That day the team gave away approximately 20 canes and 20 audio Bibles. A fifty-five-year-old man named Albert was the first individual to receive a mobility cane.

The women were so moved by the team’s visit and their new canes and Bibles in Swahili, that they broke out in song. Many of them who spoke little English were able to say, "Thank you Global Cane!" over and over again.

One elderly lady had a skinny, heavy, metal water pipe that clunked loudly as she used it for a makeshift cane. She said, "No one has ever cared enough about how I’m surviving and how I’m living."

Day 2--Visit to a College

During the 11-hour return trip to Machikos, eight volunteers in one van set off to visit a college for people who are blind, deaf, or have other disabilities. Volunteers were greeted by many hugs from the staff and students and were welcomed with authentic foods and tea. The team trained over 70 students although they were worried about running out of canes. A blind a cappella group sang a song based on Psalm; a student sang a poem that he wrote personally,in celebration of the empowering white cane – known as Swahili as "gongo."

Training in Difficult Terrain

One of the directors gave James a tour of the grounds of the college and surrounding area, to demonstrate the rough terrain these students must learn to navigate. Although worried about running out of canes, the team was able to equip most students. Several students even donated their used canes to be refurbished! In addition, all students received mobility training from Karen and the team.

Visit to Primary School for the Blind in Thika

At a primary school for the blind in Thika on Day 3, the team was warmly welcomed by staff. The team was deeply moved and humbled when we heard there were 220 students and teachers who needed canes, yet the team had only 30 canes to offer that day. The team promised to return at a later date.

Excitement on Days 4 and 5 in Nairobi

James met directly with the heads of the Kenyan Union of the Blind and the African Union of the Blind. Both organizations were keen to discuss the progress of the current White Cane Initiative, as well as future collaborations with Paul Mugambi, who originally had the vision for the Kenya White Cane Initiative.

The team distributed the remaining 40 canes and 40 audio Bibles and also met inspirational people including a blind, female minister named Mary, who received her first accessible copy of a Bible. Another young woman who is a singer, songwriter, musician, grad student, and the host of two local TV programs received her first mobility cane.

Mobility Instructor Karen managed all challenges, including a young mother who came for mobility training with a baby on her hip! While holding the baby, Karen trained this woman and the rest of the students using the structured discovery method of training (instructional services consist of non-visual techniques, problem solving strategies, experiential learning, and confidence building experiences) including using the guide "The Feeding and Caring the Long White Cane," found at

This method was especially beneficial for the environment and terrain in Kenya. There are few sidewalks and shorelines to follow. The roads and walk areas are rough, rocky, and people selling anything that you can think of all along the road, crating numerous obstacles. The method encourages using all of ones senses and incorporating the feedback received from the tapping of the cane to identify obstacles and landmarks in the route.

The White Cane First Aid Kit!

Through the White Cane initiative, the team worked with an estimated 165 individuals, providing them a cane and mobility training as well as audio Bibles. Some learned basic mobility techniques to use in training individuals after the team's departure.

The team also showed them how to restore canes. They were excited to be able to fix their own canes and named the kit of materials "The White Cane First Aid Kit." While in Kenya, James also demonstrated the use Aira glasses to many of the blind individuals. This was the very first time Aira was demonstrated in Africa!

Humble Thanks

The team thanks everyone who helped, including the Global Cane Outreach for their assistance in providing the talking Bibles and travel contributions. At the team's debriefing all members felt very positive about the trip. Paul stated, "This project has laid a great foundation for future missions."

The team left feeling blessed to have made so many new friends and to have the opportunity to create life-long partnerships. On leaving Kenya, the team told our new family that this is not a "goodbye," but just "until next time." Further meetings are scheduled with the African Union of the Blind to focus on future efforts.

Additional Links

You Cane Give on Youtube

Early Warning Signs of Dementia and Its Effects on Vision

Sandra Burgess and her mother sitting together with text reading California 1975

Editor's note: For Older American's Month, Sandra Burgess shares her experiences with her mother's onset of dementia.

Losing Memory Slowly

My mom began to lose her memory very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that it was not terribly noticeable nor was it enough of an issue to cause her or her family any concern. My mom would say she couldn’t think of a word or remember someone’s name. As forgetfulness worsened, she realized something was not the same and talked about her frustration. When a woman from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association visited her and conducted some simple tests, such as having her draw a clock and repeat back a list of words, my mom asked if she could attend a support group for clients. I understand such groups now exist, but back then, my mom was told support groups were only for caregivers.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting some fifty million worldwide. Dementia is not a disease; it is a broad term used to denote symptoms of memory impairments that severely disturb the quality of one’s daily life. Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are diseases of the brain that result in loss of memory, reasoning skills, and thinking. In my mother’s case, she was informed that she didn’t have Alzheimer’s because when she forgot a word, memory pegging resulted in her remembering. For example, if she could not think of the word “ball” in a word list and the examiner gave a clue, such as, “It is round. It can be used with a bat,” my mom would then quickly say “ball.” With true Alzheimer’s, thoughts slip away never to be retrieved.

We never learned what led to my mom’s dementia, though the fact that she had diabetes, high blood pressure/high cholesterol, and a number of mini strokes (also called TIAs) could have been factors.

Early Warning Signs

  • Forgetting new information (important dates, events). This was very common with my mom, who would call to make a doctor’s appointment, repeat the information out loud, and not remember when she went to another room to write it down. Thinking her family would remember what she repeated, she would ask us and we hadn’t always been paying attention.
  • Performing familiar tasks takes longer, or cannot be completed without mistakes (writing checks, following a recipe, remembering how to drive to a familiar place)
  • Difficulty with where they are in time or place: Mom did not know the correct year, or where she was living when she was in a nursing home.
  • Spatial Relationships and Visual Images. Reading, determining distances, color, or contrast may be hard: Mom thought she was positioned to sit on a chair, and ended up on the floor.
  • Current problems with words when speaking or writing: it may be hard to participate in or to follow a conversation.
  • Misplace items and no longer have the capability to retrace their footsteps.
  • Changes in judgment or in making decisions: Individuals may begin to make poorer decisions in dealing with money, such as giving large amounts of money to scam artists. They may also pay less attention to their personal cleanliness.
  • Withdrawing from hobbies, work projects, and social activities
  • Changes in Mood or Personality: When they are in uncomfortable situations, they may easily get upset, fearful, anxious, befuddled, or suspicious.

As mentioned previously, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can cause changes in one’s vision that make everyday life much more difficult. Dementia is a brain disease and the brain works along with our eyes to interpret what we see. Coupled with dementia, many older adults experience vision loss from conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, or retinal damage from diabetes.

Some Examples of Problems That May Occur

  • Mistakes interpreting what they see: the blue floor looks like the sea, or a coat hanging up appears to be a person
  • Problems identifying people by sight
  • Diminished visual field, so there is a loss of peripheral vision while looking straight ahead
  • Trouble seeing contrast between items and backgrounds
  • identifying colors: purple and blue for example
  • Poor depth perception
Learn more helpful tips on caring for someone with dementia.

Additional Resources

TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack)

How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects Vision and Perception

Tips for Caregivers on Reducing Visual Perception Difficulties in Individuals with Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s Association

ALZwell Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia Caregiver Support

Alzheimer's Society (UK)

Part 3: Relevance of Braille in the 21st Century: A Look at the Scientific Evidence

Scientific Support for Braille and Print

A seated man reading braille

Caption: Man Reading Braille

We started this discussion with an overview post on No Limits--Braille and Print Relevancy. Then in Part 1 of this series, we provided perspectives of braille users concerning the relevancy of braille. Part 2 offered insights from individuals who are sighted about the importance of print in today's world. What does scientific evidence reveal?


Although there has been some research in the past to determine the part of the brain responsible for reading braille, assuming that it's different than reading print, more recent research by Reich, Szwed, Cohen, and Amedi (2012) has found that there is no difference. Once it was thought that the brain was divided into regions specialized for processing information through one sense or another. Although the brain often appears to be a sensory machine, the researchers found that the brain is actually task oriented. "A brain area can fulfill a unique function, in this case reading, regardless of what form the sensory input takes," Amedi said. Previous studies with sighted readers showed that a very specific part of the brain, known as the visual word form area (VWFA) is the portion of the brain utilized for reading print. In the new study, MRI was used to measure neuro activity in eight people, blind since birth, while reading braille. The comparison of brain activity in blind and sighted readers showed that the patterns in the VWFA were indistinguishable between the two groups. As a result, the VWFA should also be referred to as the tactile word form area (TWFA) (Reich et al., 2012).

Planetary Exploration Support for Print and Braille

NASA's latest Mars lander, InSight, touched down on the Red Planet on November 26, 2018. Its purpose is to study what cannot be seen. Like many planetary missions, the lander has a camera calibration target plate. Each plate is adorned with the flags of the countries participating in the mission. But, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) tries to add some creativity to each plate that is launched. This time they chose to spell out "JPL" in braille.

"I was thinking what else could we put on there that could be a kind of code that people in the know could look at and figure out?" said Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator at JPL. "Braille is another kind of a code, an international code that anybody, anywhere in the world could try to interpret. So we tried putting it on there and it looked cool."

A camera calibration target sits on the deck of the NASA's InSight lander, adorned with the flags of the countries participating in the mission, as well as an easter egg, a message in coded in braille. NASA/JPL Caltech Lockheed Martin Space)

Caption: NASA Braille Message

When InSight landed, it joined NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, that touched down on January 25, 2004. The Opportunity featured a mini-DVD decorated in part with a secret message written in braille, "Explore to learn," seen in photos sent back to earth. It's possible that the Insight and the Opportunity will exist on Mars indefinitely--braille and print, side-by-side messages from earth.


Both my informal research with individuals who are blind and sighted and the scientific evidence show print and braille provide the same literacy needs to blind and sighted users. Both blind and sighted people use audio formats for some learning and recreational activities. So, before we step into the voting booth to cast our ballots for the relevancy of print OR braille, maybe we can take a lesson from NASA: give equal relevance to print and braille and offer all readers audio formats as alternative options. Pens anyone for a write-in vote?


NASA's InSight lands on Mars with braille 'easter egg' hidden in sight. Retrieved from

Reich,L., Szwed, M., Cohen, L., and Amedi, A. A ventral visual stream reading center independent of visual experience. Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 4, 21 February 2012, pp 350-351. Retrieved from

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