FEMA Provides Vaccine Resources and Information for People with Disabilities

Tablet showing the definition of the word "access"The Biden Administration has tasked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with managing set-up and operations for Community Vaccination Centers across the country. With other federal agencies, FEMA established a Civil Rights Advisory Group that developed a Civil Rights Checklist – PDF and Best Practice Information – PDF resource to provide states, territories, and tribes a list of civil rights considerations and resources to ensure equitable vaccine access.

“It is essential that people with disabilities have equitable vaccine access,” U.S. Access Board Executive Director Sachin Dev Pavithran remarked. “This means ensuring that strategies are developed and implemented with the integration of the needs of people with disabilities into the design of accessibility to the vaccine. I commend FEMA for making the necessary efforts in continuing to make the vaccine more accessible for people with disabilities.”

FEMA provides live on-demand American Sign Language interpreters at all federally supported community vaccination centers during each center’s hours of operation. FEMA also has civil rights and disability integration advisors in each of its 10 regions to advise state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and other partners, ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are integrated in all facets of vaccination center operations.  For further details on your region’s Disability Integration Specialist, contact FEMA at FEMA-Disability-Integration-Coordination@fema.dhs.gov

More information about vaccine supportequitable vaccine access, and ASL videos can be found on FEMA’s website. Find vaccine updates in your community and more information from your local health department. You can also find a list of places where adults can get a vaccine.

Maine Partners with T-Mobile to Provide Increased Internet Access to Maine Students

From the Maine Department of Education

HelpThe Maine Department of Education has partnered with T-Mobile to expand efforts to provide internet access and devices to Maine students through their Project 10Million initiative. If they choose to participate, the program provides mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices directly to school districts for student use.

“We are thrilled to partner with T-Mobile to continue providing opportunities that allow Maine students to stay connected to their teachers, peers, and school communities,” said Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin. “The partnership helps to expand our own Connect Kids Now! initiative which supports Maine schools by providing internet connectivity through the pandemic.”

The Connect Kids Now! initiative began in the spring of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic when it became abundantly clear that technology resources were critical in closing the equity of access gap for continued learning for Maine students. In line with this these efforts, T-Mobile’s Project 10Million initiative provides the opportunity for districts in Maine to participate by signing up and choosing from three tiers of service which they can pass on to students at no cost: up to 100GB per year per device for free, or low-cost options for 100GB per month or unlimited data. Part of the commitment of the partnership will be to provide additional devices from T-Mobile over the next five years. T-Mobile will distribute these devices directly to districts and all student households with at least one student participating in the National School Lunch Program are eligible for the program. The Maine DOE will look to include districts based on economic factors such as Title 1 schools, National School Lunch Program eligibility rates, and distressed county designations. Districts can complete an online interest form to participate in the program.

“Partnering with the Maine DOE helps us identify districts and students that will benefit most from Project 10Million and get them the devices and connectivity required to fully participate in school,” said Mike Katz, executive vice president of T-Mobile for Business. “We are grateful to be a part of the solution that Commissioner Makin and her team have put in place to make sure ALL students can access the resources they need to succeed.”

 

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Available to Eligible Families in April

From the Maine Department of Education

Neon sign with the words Hi Speed InternetThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently adopted a “Report and Order” that established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to help lower the cost of high-speed internet for eligible households during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefits of the program include:

  • Up to $50/month discount for broadband services;
  • Up to $75/month discount for broadband services for households on Tribal lands; and
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider.
  • The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per eligible household.

A household is eligible if one member of the household:

  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019- 2020 school year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

The FCC expects the Emergency Broadband Benefit program to be open to eligible households before the end of April, 2021. Please check the FCC’s website regularly for the latest information. Once up and running, eligible households will be able to enroll through participating broadband providers or directly with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).

Many types of broadband providers can qualify to provide service in this program. The FCC is currently setting up the systems needed for providers to participate. Contact information for the providers participating in the program will be posted on USAC’s website.

For more information, the Report and Order along with the rules governing this program can be found at this link…

FCC announces new program to help households struggling during the pandemic

The Emergency Broadband Benefit

Neon sign with the words Hi Speed InternetThe Emergency Broadband Benefit is an FCC program to help households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. This new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, and virtual classrooms.

About the Emergency Broadband Benefit

The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute $10-$50 toward the purchase price.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

Who Is Eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program?

A household is eligible if one member of the household:

  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

When Can I Sign Up for the Benefit?

More Information for Broadband Providers

The program is open to all broadband providers, not just those currently offering Lifeline services.  Participating providers will receive reimbursement from the program for delivering qualifying broadband services or devices to eligible households. Broadband providers can find more information about how to participate here.

Use this link to go to the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit page for more information…

Website collects educational resources for teachers, families

As reported in the Kennebec Journal...

University of Maine logoPreK–12 schools in Maine and around the country reopened for in-person instruction this fall after abruptly closing in the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. But with many now operating on a hybrid schedule to limit the spread of the disease, educators and families continue to face uncertainty, and demand for reliable resources related to remote learning and other issues raised by COVID-19 has increased, according to a news release from the University of Maine.

To meet this need, the UMaine’s College of Education and Human Development has created a website to help address questions and provide research-backed information for teachers and parents.

The PreK-12 Resources for Educators and Families site, includes links to materials on topics such as social-emotional learning, trauma-informed teaching, special education, literacy and more.

Faculty experts and graduate students in the college vetted all of the resources and provided short descriptions to make it easy for members of the public to understand how each one can be used. In addition, the different topic areas are organized into resources for educators and resources for families to make it easier for users to find the most relevant information.

Read the article on the Kennebec Journal news site

Visit U Maine’s PreK-12 Resources for Educators and Families

Q&A about captioning from NDC

Closed Caption feed on TV screenThe National Deaf Center on Post Secondary Outcomes (NDC) has recently been publishing a number of valuable resources regarding accessibility accommodations for people with deafness or hearing impairments. The latest comes in the form of a Q&A (questions and answers) with section that was particularly helpful. We picked this one to share, but please view the full resource and consider signing up for their newsletter.

Read the entire NDC Q&A resource

Captions – automatic, closed captions, real-time, transcription: What do these all mean?

Automatic captions – Also referred to as speech-recognition, automated captioning, or auto-captions, are generated by a computer with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. These captions tend to lack punctuation, speaker identification, and require a human to fix mistakes.

Many platforms include this feature, such as:

  • Video streaming platforms (i.e. YouTube automated captions or Microsoft PowerPoint Translator)
  • Apps (i.e., Translate or Otter.ai)
  • Learning Management Systems (i.e., Blackboard, Canvas)
  • Live video streaming services (i.e., Zoom, Google Meet)

Captions – Also referred to as open/closed captions or subtitles. These are captions for pre-recorded video content that are time-synced and embedded into the media. Accurate and edited captions provide equivalent access. Captions also provide auditory information that ASR technology may not be able to identify.

Real-time captioning – Also referred to as live captioning or speech-to-text services.  This service is provided by a qualified speech-to-text professional.  Examples: Live captioning for news broadcasts or by a third-party vendor streamed into Blackboard for a synchronous online class.

Transcribe/Transcription – Also referred to as a transcript. This process involves converting audio into a plain text document. Transcripts are commonly used for stand-alone audio, such as podcasts or presentations without video. They are also used as the first step towards creating captions for media. Transcripts can be auto-generated using ASR or by speech-to-text professionals.

 

Tips for Hosting Accessible Meetings with Deaf Participants

Accessibility pictogramThe National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC) has hosted a valuable set of tips for hosting meetings where some of the participants may be deaf or hard of hearing. They note, “besides running a better meeting, effective communication between hearing and deaf people has other benefits for career success. Research shows it strengthens relationships, increases well-being, and fosters meaningful participation in the workplace.”

Among the tips are recommendations regarding:

  • the use of captioning for any videos shared in the meeting,
  • the importance of providing the right accommodations – including in-person American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, remote ASL interpreter, remote speech-to-text services, large print materials, and presentations slides as handouts with presenter notes, and
  • establishing some meeting ground rules, including taking turns, and identifying yourself before making comments.

The complete list of tips (PDF) may be downloaded from this link to the NDC website

In need of further assistance? Connect with the NDC Help Team

See also: Remote Workplace Communications Access: Recommendations for Employers During Times of Expanded Telework – National Association of the Deaf

rev: 8/12/2021

Give IT Get IT provides PCs for Maine citizens

From MaineBiz Magazine

Person using laptop computer

An organization that refurbishes donated computers and provides them at low or no cost to people who need them is stepping up its efforts to help Mainers who are offline during the pandemic.

Waterville-based give IT. get IT., a nonprofit formed last year out of a merger between PCs for Maine and eWaste Alternatives, is increasing its capacity to recycle retired technology from Maine businesses, refurbish it, and then distribute it to technologically isolated Mainers.

“We were planning to launch give IT. get IT. in March, before COVID-19 forced businesses of all sizes to completely alter their operations,” co-founder Chris Martin said in a news release. “With so many Mainers now facing isolation due to shelter in place mandates, the need for give IT. get IT.’s services has never been greater or more urgent.”

PCs for Maine was formed in 2002 to provide computers and free technical support in Maine, and other parts of northern New England. The merger with eWaste Alternatives added the recycling function.

The pandemic has created more reliance on technology throughout the state, particularly for education and work, and the need  for computers in the home has increased. Of the estimated 70,000 Maine households that don’t have access to the internet or a personal computer, half have students who need to participate in online classes. “This represents a significant threat to Maine’s future workforce and economy,” the nonprofit said.

Read the complete article on MaineBiz magazine

Give IT Get IT website


Photo credit: Image licensed through Creative Commons by Pexel.com

MDOE provides guidance on grading during emergency distance learning

The following announcement comes from the Maine Department of Education:

Unified Message and Recommendation Regarding Grading Practices During Emergency Distance Learning

As many School Administrative Units (SAUs) and schools move into a new phase of implementation of emergency distance learning, focusing on long term practices, many are now wading through conversations around the assessment and evaluation of learning. Some SAUs have already come to decisions around how student learning will be evaluated, if at all, and those plans vary widely, from feedback only to maintaining regular grading practices. We, the Department of Education, Maine School Boards Association, Maine School Superintendents Association, Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, Maine Education Association, Maine Principals Association, and Maine Curriculum Leaders Association, have a deep conviction that any learning evaluation policies or practices must come from a stance of equity and compassion.

We strongly recommend that SAUs take time to thoughtfully design grading policies and practices that do no harm. Operating from a stance of equity and compassion means beginning with those most marginalized in mind when making decisions.  Even during times of regular school instruction, each and every district in the state of Maine had learners dealing with homelessness, food instability, poverty, substance use disorders, and domestic violence, among other stressful and traumatic life situations.  Now we see those situations intensifying, and new situations emerging in families that were once stable.

Any evaluation of learning must take into account the reality that many of our learners are in these circumstances. Learning in any of the circumstances noted above is almost impossible, and no student should face a failing grade, or other evaluative suffering, as a result. We encourage SAUs and regions to discuss and determine a system that holds harmless students for whom conditions are outside of their control and as best as possible prevents any further learning inequities.

Corona Virus Statistics Website Accessible for the Blind and Partially Sighted

From Cool Blind Tech:

A Boston-based software developer wanted to make COVID-19 stats accessible

He created a website that would be easily readable by electronic braille readers and other assistive devices used by the blind and partially sighted.

Tyler Littlefield, a software developer based in Boston, has created a database of COVID-19 statistics meant to be accessible to the visually impaired.

Called CVStats.net, the site organizes up-to-date COVID-19 data in simple charts specifically designed to be legible to a range of aid devices the visually impaired use to access websites.

For Littlefield, and many other people with visual impairments, trying to stay updated during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge because many of the commonly shared charts and graphs are inaccessible, including those from the CDC and Department of Public Health.

“For many people with various types of disabilities, graphics and the information conveyed in them is hard to read and understand,” Littlefield told Vice.

“I believe in the idea of open data, data that everyone can access to help make informed decisions. Finding this lack, I created CVStats to present the data to users in a straightforward way, free of ads, click-through news articles and graphics.”

One of the main obstacles in making COVID-19 information more accessible are the conventions of modern web design. With a profusion of autoplay videos, pop-up windows, and animated inserts, many modern websites make it difficult for braille embossers to scan a webpage and convert its content into a braille printout.

“Clutter is the enemy of tactical legibility,” Naomi Rosenberg of the accessibility firm Lighthouse told Vice.

“For each of these, a blind reader is at the mercy of the designer, writer, or educator to produce quality graphics, concise image descriptions, or properly formatted tables,” Rosenberg said.

One possible alternative to visual graphs are ‘sonification curves,’ which translate graph lines into rising and falling sounds to try and convey a similar sense of magnitude, something that an aid device won’t be able to do without simple and accessible data.

Another challenge, according to Sassy Outwater-Wright, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is that many healthcare facilities don’t post clear or accessible information about their policies.

For instance, some drive through testing sites only allow private vehicles, not taxis or other commercial vehicles, which would be important for a visually impaired person who can’t drive themselves to know before planning a visit.

“The moment that I heard everything was going drive-thru I kind of had a cringe moment because, other than in the hospital, there’s really no other way to access that testing, and for many in our community, including myself, who are immunocompromised, that puts us at a much higher risk,” Outwater-Wright said.

“We don’t get the benefit of staying in our car, we don’t get the benefit of trying to continue to social distance. We have to go in.”

For more information see Motherboard on Vice.com…