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Site for sore eyes

Blind chapter leader improves vision services website
New York Teacher

Staff and students in the city Department of Education’s Educational Vision Services will benefit from a new and more accessible website this school year, thanks to the work of UFT member Vincent Pedulla.

The new website will be easier for people with visual impairments to use and has been reorganized to make information easier to find.

As a person who is blind tasked with revamping the old website, Pedulla faced many challenges. The old website was coded decades ago and didn’t have a master page that allowed sitewide changes, Pedulla said. The site was also hosted on an antiquated platform that was not very accessible to a person with visual impairments.

The DOE’s Educational Vision Services assists about 900 students with visual impairments from 5 to 21 years of age and eligible preschool children. It employs more than 150 staff members. The website is a crucial resource for both parents and staff.

A blind man works on a custom computer with his dog behind him napping
Erica Berger

With his guide dog, Liberty, relaxing behind him, UFT Vision Education Services Chapter Leader Vincent Pedulla uses a few devices to update the VES website. The Chameleon 20 (right) has a Braille input keyboard, and the Mantis Q40 has a standard QWERTY keyboard.

Pedulla, who is also the chapter leader of the UFT’s Vision Education Services Chapter (the UFT and the DOE refer to the program differently), started making minor updates to the site with the aid of his sighted accommodations paraprofessional. But after consulting a few programming experts, Pedulla was convinced he could do the work on his own with the right accessible tools. He found coding and file transfer apps to use with his screen-reader and Braille output.

“I just delved in and was able to revamp the whole website,” said Pedulla, who uses a wireless keyboard with a Braille display.

Pedulla made the website simpler, less cluttered and more contemporary. He changed the navigation from vertical tabs to horizontal ones across the top of the page. There are no menus to expand and collapse by hovering with a mouse, which would make finding information more complicated for users with visual impairments.

The project was empowering and “personally rewarding” for him as a person who is blind and a vision teacher, he said. It also inspired him to consider that “software or website coding is something our students could pursue as a possible career path,” Pedulla said.

He said website users, both sighted and with visual impairments, have given him positive feedback about the redesign and the ease of finding information.

Pedulla, who has Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare genetic eye disorder, started working two days a week as a District 75 technology liaison under a school-based option in 2019. Since taking charge of the Educational Vision Services website, he spends most of his time as a tech liaison.