8-12-17 Website Article courtesy website (Link to Article)

Fitbits Help National Fitness Challenge Participants Set and Meet Realistic Goals

By: USABA Contributor

For Jenny Carmack, walking had always been a way to ease her worries -- that is, until two years ago, when she lost all of her vision.

“I’ve always enjoyed walking,” the 43-year-old said. “It’s been a stress reliever for me over the years. But it was causing more stress than it was relieving stress when I lost all my vision. It became intimidating just to walk a few blocks.”

Luckily, walking is back to being an enjoyable activity these days -- which is important, considering Carmack has been wearing a Fitbit and tracking her steps as part of the National Fitness Challenge. Slowly but surely, Carmack has gotten back out there, and it’s safe to say she’s no longer intimidated. If anything, others should be intimidated by all the walking she’s been doing.

The National Fitness Challenge has impacted the lives of more than 3,000 people who are blind and visually impaired. The goal of the Challenge remains the same every year: to raise the physical activity level of each participant, with the goal of engaging in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity and 10,000 steps a day.

Here’s how it works: Anthem Foundation awarded the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes grant funding, as it has for the fifth year in a row -- and USABA partnered with 13 agencies across the nation -- including the Missouri affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, which Carmack is a part of -- to recruit participants and provide resources, along with physical activity opportunities, so that participants could reach their daily goals.

The technology plays a key role in motivating and tracking success. The funding from Anthem Foundation provided a Fitbit Flex 2 wearable device to each participant. The Fitbit acts as a way for people to monitor their progress. It also introduces a level of interaction with other participants, as the 13 groups are competing with their fellow team members on active minutes and number of steps each month.

Back to Carmack: Growing up legally blind, she was involved with marching band, and she tried her hand at softball. But really, she just liked to walk. So perhaps that’s why she was a perfect fit for the Challenge.

Ever since it started this year, Carmack has been an “extremely dependable and reliable” participant, said Robin House, the chairperson for the Missouri group’s sports and recreation committee, who has been with the organization for 20 years.

So would it surprise you to learn that initially, Carmack wasn’t so sure about the Challenge? In addition to the recent loss of her vision, which happened due to complications involving her glaucoma, Carmack also lives with a heart condition, and she wasn’t sure how well she’d do.

But Carmack was smart. When she set her step goal at 10,000 a day and failed to reach her mark, she didn’t lose hope. Instead, she tweaked the system to her advantage.

“It felt discouraging to never reach the 10,000-a-day (step goal),” Carmack said. “But then I learned you can move your goal around. So I started aiming for 4,000 steps a day. Now I’m up to 9,000 a day. And when I hit 9,000, that vibration from the Fitbit gives me that, ‘Yay, I did it!’ feeling.”

Carmack said she likes getting the feedback from the wearable device, and her goal is to hit 10,000 a day soon. And she doesn’t dismiss her heart condition. Carmack is well aware of how it affects her body.

“I have a hard time pushing myself some days,” she said. “And then some days I’m more tired than others. ... I just have to listen to my body.”

Throughout the week, Carmack walks with her husband or on the treadmill. She also tries to attend the group walks with NFB Missouri’s Lewis and Clark chapter.

Stephanie McDowell, 38, has been embarking on the group walks, as well. Although she too is visually impaired, tracking her steps and living in St. Louis -- just like Carmack -- the two are very different.

When presented with the opportunity to take part in the Challenge, McDowell didn’t hesitate.

“She has such a positive attitude -- it’s inspiring,” House said. “(McDowell has) faced adversity. But she’s always very positive and forward-thinking.” Both women “display such commitment to the Challenge,” House said.

It was easy for McDowell to commit to the Challenge because a lot of her steps come from a normal day’s activities. This is her first time wearing a Fitbit. She said she plans to continue all the walking after the Challenge is over. It helps that she’s not in pain anymore.

Three years ago, McDowell was hit by a car. A driver went up on the curb and smashed right into her. The crash broke McDowell’s collar bone and pelvic bone. It really hurt to walk afterward, and recovery was painful, she said.

On top of that, McDowell recently had two stents put in her heart.

“It’s been six months,” she said. “I get tired easily. But the Challenge has helped me get moving again. Being around others helps. And you’re supposed to exercise as you recover from a heart attack -- eat better and move around. So it all fell in line.”

McDowell said she was en route to a cleaner lifestyle, but wearing the Fitbit motivated her even more to keep up with the healthy habits. She either hits 10,000 steps a day or comes very close, she said.

Between the heart complications and the car accident, “I think I’ve hit my quota,” for unfortunate health events, McDowell joked.

“This has been really fun to see what I’m capable of and how well everyone else is doing,” she said.

McDowell has been involved with NFB Missouri for 10 years and lived with visual impairment since she was 14.

The NFB is headquartered in Baltimore. Missouri, an NFB affiliate, is then broken into chapters -- for example, the Lewis and Clark chapter in St. Louis.

This Missouri team is the only group of the 13 organizations competing in the Challenge with statewide competitors, House said. This marks the NFB Missouri’s first year with the Challenge, as well.

“It’s really going well,” House said. “We love it. For a long time, we wanted to do some work in terms of promoting fitness for blind people and our members. But we didn’t have the right framework to build any momentum. Missouri had its own (sports and recreation-type) committee that we’d just started in the fall when we learned about the National Fitness Challenge from USABA. We thought it’d be perfect. The Challenge gave us that direction and framework that we needed.

“We were kind of asking ourselves, ‘What should our purpose be?’ We didn’t get too far when the opportunity became available.”

House said the group just finished in third place for the third consecutive month.

“We’re proud of that, although we’d love to see the top two spots.”


2-16-17 Newspaper Article courtesy of the News Tribune, Jefferson City Mo  (Link to Article)

Blind Federation members lobby lawmakers

Members of Missouri's National Federation of the Blind (NFB) chapter visited the Capitol this week, delivering their message that "low expectations create obstacles between blind people and their dreams. Blindness is not what holds us back."

Their annual lobbying effort involves informing lawmakers of some of the key, special issues facing blind Missourians that those with sight may not have considered.

Those include:

Requiring a research-based, standardized reading media assessment.

Missouri law says "no blind person shall be denied instruction in Braille," but it does allow school districts to determine whether print or Braille is "the most appropriate method for reading and writing for a given student," the NFB reminded lawmakers. "Far too often print is determined to be the most appropriate reading medium because the process used in making evaluations is flawed and because the strong preference of teachers and school administrators is to teach what they know and use the resources easily available to them."

However, if blind students aren't provided materials in Braille when they need them, the group said, there can be physical and health consequences.

"It is common practice for students with visual impairments to hold reading materials very close to their faces, and/or to hunch their bodies over the materials when reading," the NFB explained.

"In addition to the posture and other health concerns these reading positions raise, years of field practice and experience have demonstrated that youth who read print materials at very close distances suffer eye strain, headache, neck and back pain, fatigue, and diminished concentration, reading speed, and comprehension."

So any test the state uses should "ensure that children are evaluated when sitting up straight and with materials held or placed at standardized distances," the group said. "We urge the Missouri General Assembly to embrace literacy for the blind with the same vigor that our society embraces literacy for the sighted."

Mandating accessible voting in all elections.

The federal "Help America Vote Act" requires each polling place to have at least one voting machine, during each federal election, that can be used by a blind person without requiring the assistance of a sighted person.

The federation wants to see those voting machines used "consistently" in state and local elections as well as federal contests — and doing so would bring the state into compliance with two other federal laws, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.

Changing state law involving the identification required to buy alcohol.

Recently, the NFB told lawmakers, a blind chemist, 35, visiting from another state was not allowed to buy alcohol because Missouri law didn't recognize his state's non-driver license as being valid.

They said current law, which lists Missouri's non-driver license and a valid out-of-state driver's license as acceptable identification, should be updated to include valid non-driver's licenses from other states.s



The National Federation of the Blind distributes many different magazines, newspapers, newsletters, speeches, reports, books, and other pieces of literature to inform the public (blind and sighted) about the true nature of blindness and about issues of interest to the blind.


Braille Monitor

The leading publication of the NFB, this magazine is published eleven times a year and covers blindness-related events, activities, and issues.


Future Reflections

This quarterly magazine (published by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children)offers parents and teachers a multitude of resources and information based on the positive NFB philosophy.


Kernel Books

This influential series of booklets is made up of inspirational stories written by blind people about themselves.


Speeches and Reports

Discover key NFB speeches delivered by our esteemed leaders Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, and Marc Maurer. Included in this section are national convention banquet speeches, presidential reports, resolutions, and President Maurer’s presidential releases.


Topics covered by NFB literature include Braille, discrimination, education, seniors, low vision, parents, students, technology, and more! In addition, you'll find Information Packets full of valuable articles, books, resource lists, brochures, and forms. All of these items are available to order, and many are immediately available online!


Jacobus tenBroek Library

For more information about blindness, please contact the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at 410-659-9314 or send an e-mail to