Youth Services Quarterly Newsletter

A line of stick people holding a giant email icon over their heads. The email icon looks like an envelope with a letter poking from the top.

Summer 2021 Edition

En español

Newsletter Contents

 

Introducing Our Newsletter

The Department of Services for the Blind is excited to introduce our first ever Youth Services e-newsletter! This newsletter is intended for—and written by—students from our very own Youth Services department. Our intention is to expand our department’s outreach to blind and visually impaired (BVI) youth across the state, so that students can strengthen their sense of community within the DSB. The content we are going to be producing includes updates about DSB Youth Services programs, current topics that affect BVI youth, and engagement opportunities. Every quarter you can expect the newest edition of our newsletter in your email inbox.

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Our Newsletter Needs a Name!

Dear readers, we need help choosing a name for our newsletter! Listed below are names to choose from, and a link to a survey where you can submit your vote.  Please only submit one vote per person. Voting is open until September 1, 2021.

Here are the names you may choose from: 

  1. The DSB-Hive
  2. The DSB Buzz
  3. The DSB Swarm
  4. DSB Quarterly 

Below is the link to the survey for you to vote:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CZ3LMHP 

If you have any trouble submitting your answer via survey, you can send your answer to jennifer.scheel@dsb.wa.gov.

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Introducing Our Team

Behind the scenes, we have a team of four individuals working hard to keep our quarterly newsletter up and running. Our team consists of two student interns and two DSB Youth Service Specialists. Here is an introduction for each team member: 

May is Vietnamese, she has long black hair and she has black glasses. She is wearing a black turtleneck with jeans and a black jacket. She is wearing silver earrings, a silver necklace, and a black belt with a silver buckle. There is a stone structure on her left and a tree on her right.

May Tran – Student Intern

Hello everyone! My name is May Tran and I go by she/her pronouns. I am from Puyallup, Washington, but will be moving to Seattle soon to attend the University of Washington! 

I joined our newsletter team here at DSB Youth Services to get a deeper understanding of how I could better serve the BVI student community. As a visually impaired student myself, I think it’s important for disabled youth to stay informed on the services available to them and the current events that may impact them - hence my decision to be on the newsletter team! 

My hobbies include writing/reading poetry, playing the piano, cooking, and watching cartoons with my sister. 

Len is wearing a black and white striped t-shirt with a jean jacket, and a pair of black earbuds. They are Caucasian, and they have colorful glasses and short, shaggy, brown hair. They are pointing “finger guns” at the camera with their right hand and sitting in a chair, smiling casually. Behind them is a wooden wardrobe and a flag hanging vertically with three stripes: pink on the left, yellow in the middle, and blue on the right

Len Wheeler – Student Intern

Hi everybody! My name is Len Wheeler, my pronouns are they/them, and I live in Auburn, Washington. I joined DSB’s Youth Services e-newsletter because I love writing and connecting with other BVI youth. My hobbies include reading, writing, music, art, and puzzles.

Picture of Jen with her long haired black dog named Jax. Jen is a Caucasian woman with dyed pink hair wearing a pink beanie and smiling.

Jennifer Scheel – Youth Services Specialist

Hi there! My name is Jen and I work at DSB as a youth services specialist serving the Peninsula, Pierce, and Thurston counties. I use she/her pronouns and am from Olympia, Washington. 

I joined DSB because I love working with transition age students and helping to empower young people in making choices about their career and life goals.  When I am not working, I love to be outside hanging out with my dog, paddle boarding, backpacking, and doing yoga!

Janet George is a woman of black Caribbean descent standing with her cane in her right hand. She is wearing a red shirt with a blue jacket over it. She has a big smile and is standing directly in front of the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC with her youth services coworker Marcie Ebarb

Janet George – Youth Services Specialist

My name is Janet George. I joined DSB thirteen years ago because it fulfilled my passion of working with BVI youth and their families. I live in Shoreline and enjoy walking along the trails with my Guide dog. I love reading and hanging out with my family.

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Awareness, Advocacy, and… TikTok?

By May Tran

To some of us, the emergence of TikTok may be one of the only redeeming factors of COVID-19. To others, TikTok may be an invasive trend that has consumed time as if it were an abundant resource. Regardless, TikTok is a platform that has dominated both the inner and outer spheres of social media. It’s a source of entertainment, relaxation, education, and for those who have conquered its unique algorithm, it can even be a source of profit. 

You may be wondering why it’s so important for the app to offer these options all at once – after all, TikTok is just one out of the hundreds of social media platforms available on the market today. However, as noted previously, TikTok has a unique algorithm that not only serves us best during our times of boredom, but also lends us a chance to spread awareness.

At first glance, the algorithm may seem rather arbitrary and simplistic; you just scroll from one 60-second video to the next. The content is variable, seemingly unrelated, and foreign to those who are used to only seeing their mutual followers on their feed. However, the TikTok algorithm is actually much more strategic than one would presume. The app compiles a unique feed tailored specifically to each individual based on their user engagement trends. This is a holistic process that analyzes the rate by which users view content, the tags underneath liked and/or saved videos, the audio or music used within liked and/or saved videos, and even the nature of videos liked and/or posted by users with similar content preferences. 

In short, the more videos you view, the more accurate your ‘For You’ page will be. Additionally, the more likes a video gets the more likely it will emerge onto other feeds, making it not only possible for individual users to acquire mass exposure, but also possible for certain communities – like that of the BVI community – to channel their voices towards a larger audience.

To put this into perspective, on Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube, when a user posts content the material is first and foremost viewed by those who already follow the user. Furthermore, in many cases some users may only get views from those who follow them. By using these platforms, the only way for a new user to get wide exposure lies within the platform’s search functions followed by an algorithmic recommendation. This means audience members must first search up keywords related to the content of your videos, view a few of these search results (which will not likely be yours seeing as the search results prioritize the largest content creators first), and then after certain number of views your content will be considered as a possible recommendation on others’ feed. However, recommendations also typically prioritize the larger creators first, so new users often face an exposure barrier.

On the other hand, TikTok provides exposure to all users regardless of their follower ratio – allowing the general audience to get a chance to view a diverse compilation of content regardless of their individual preferences. This is critical to the momentum of advocacy, as it has allowed countless individuals from the BVI community to spread awareness to audiences beyond those already within the disability community. 

You may have heard of Molly Burke or Lucy Edwards – individuals who have sky-rocketed into popularity by sharing their experiences as blind advocates. They have conquered TikTok’s algorithm and have made the BVI community known to general audiences across the world with their stories, educational videos, awareness campaigns, and more. 

TikTok can be more than just a time-consumer or a chance to escape the hectic lifestyles. TikTok is a platform that gives you, an individual that represents the BVI community, a chance to share your unique experiences and educate those who may be unfamiliar with the obstacles BVI youth face. No matter how big or how small you would like your outreach as a BVI youth representative to be, perhaps TikTok would be a great way for you to start your journey towards awareness and advocacy!

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BVI and Social Media: One Woman’s Experiences

By Len Wheeler

In the age of social media, how do BVI (blind and visually impaired) people fit into the picture? As social media has become a prominent form of entertainment, it has opened a community for—and prejudice towards—BVI people. Although accessibility on social media has gotten better over time, there are still many struggles BVI people face when trying to interact with the platforms. Bella (@my.eyes.ohara) is a blind Tik Tokker with over two hundred and seventy thousand followers, and she is very familiar with these struggles. In my interview with her, we talked about the ups and downs of social media, and her advice for BVI youth who are active on these platforms.

An overarching theme in our interview was what it’s like interacting with others online. According to Bella, one of the hardest parts of being BVI online is dealing with ignorant people, “they always ask me how I get dressed, how I use the bathroom, how I shower.” 

In her experience, many sighted people seem to believe that “blindness just means total darkness for everyone, and that because I can see a slight amount that I’m faking it.” The most common claim of this type is that because she is using a cell phone, she must not be blind. “Most of it ends up equating to ‘you’re faking it.’” 

Although it may seem like an unreasonable and obviously hurtful thing to comment, Bella says that she sees it frequently. “A lot of people just … go for it. Because I feel like they feel more powerful because they’re behind a keyboard. And I don’t know if they’d ever actually really say that to me in real life.” 

While negative comments can be difficult to deal with, Bella feels the positive ones make up for it by tenfold. “To me, one positive comment amidst a billion hate comments would be worth it … because I could change one person’s life just by [making my content] … if I had just left [social media] I wouldn’t have been able to help.” 

Not only is Bella supported by positive comments, but also an entire community. “There’s actually a whole blind community on Tik Tok, which I think is amazing.” Because of this diverse and accepting community, the hashtag “#blindtok” has thousands of videos and over fifty million views on the platform. This would not be possible without many creator’s (including Bella’s) hard work. Making content and interacting with others online can be difficult, but for many people all of that is worth the friendships and community you experience. 

In the vast world of social media, some platforms are more accessible to the BVI community than others. Bella herself finds that Instagram and Facebook are easier for her to use and interact with. “Instagram is probably the easiest for me right now. But I would say, like if we’re talking about with a screen reader, Tik Tok is not the most blind-friendly.” 

While over time Tik Tok has gotten more and more accessible, it has also had some setbacks. “Tik Tok just added the caption feature, where you can put automatic captions. Which is great, but unfortunately it’s not [very] accessible to edit those—to make sure that it has the correct words when it comes to using voiceover to check the spelling errors.” 

Using social media platforms themselves can be a struggle, but for many people the hardest part is how to approach negative interactions. Bella used to respond to some hateful comments with videos; not to be rude but just to politely answer and/or correct them. Eventually this process became more taxing on her mental and emotional health, so she has come up with certain responses to common comments and has them already written in her notes. This way, she can copy and paste it as an answer without much emotional energy. 

“Some people are accepting of it; some people say no because they don’t want to … Google that.” It can be really frustrating when someone doesn’t understand or rejects what you’re saying, but in Bella’s experience “there’s some people out there who are never gonna be accepting that what their belief was about disabled people wasn’t actually the truth.” Her advice for dealing with these kinds of people is: “Be yourself … if you get hate, acknowledge it and realize that yes, society still has its problems, but that we’re not the problem.” 

Furthermore, “arguing with people on the internet is not going to, first of all look good for your future, but also be good for you and it’s not gonna help.” There are many platforms that can be used to interact online, but it is important to always keep your own well-being in mind.

The world of social media is vast and ever-expanding. Although some platforms are more accessible than others, they all share a common thread—they give us the ability to interact and connect with others in our community. Unfortunately, ignorant and hateful comments can leave a lasting impact on mental and emotional health, and it is critical that they are dealt with in the way that is best for you. One key piece of advice that Bella stresses is “never stop educating … Always realize that advocating for yourself is going to be [one of your] biggest life skills, and it’s probably not going to stop.” Being active on social media isn’t always easy, but it can be an amazing way of creating lasting friendships and communities. 

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What's new with DSB Youth Services?

The Youth Services team at DSB continues to stay busy! Please read on to learn more about what we have been up to. All programs described below are virtual. If you have questions about any of the programs, please contact Jen at 360-999-3138 or jennifer.scheel@dsb.wa.gov or register online.

Virtual Internships

DSB will be sponsoring 14 virtual internships this summer! Students around the state will be working as video producers, newsletter writers, accessibility interns, community outreach and advocacy interns, social media interns and much more!

Career readiness program with PIC and Virtual Leap

Students are invited to participate in a six-week course on resume writing, workplace communication, advocacy in the workplace, and interviewing. Students who participate will be eligible to apply for internships next school year if they are older than 16. Virtual Leap is a similar program but designed for students that have other disabilities besides visual impairment and need extra support. Contact Jen to see what program might be right for you!

Telling your story with Jack Straw

Jack Straw Cultural Center will lead students through a six-week workshop where they will create original music and radio theater. Students will separate in teams based on interest (hip-hop, radio drama, and music and song) where they will work together and with Jack Straw audio engineers to create their pieces.

Programs for ages 9-13

We are also offering two programs for 9-13-year-olds. One is a three-session program focused on the vast world of engineering. Another is a four-part series that will be hosted by Jack Straw Cultural Center and will be focused on teaching social skills through radio drama. Both will involve fun interactive activities and guest speakers to keep students engaged and excited about engineering and radio drama!

Spaces are still available in some of the programs, if interested please contact Jen Scheel at jennifer.scheel@dsb.wa.gov or register online.

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