Recorded live and in person at the ACB National Convention, Chris and Liz sit down with members of the APH’s Connect Center leadership to tell us what’s changing soon.
Richard: Some of the big significant changes over the past year is that we are consolidating all the cool things of the Connect Center into one web page, so, uh, no longer will you have to go to
We’ve consolidated that. By the end of this month, we will have everything under the hood at
Chris: (crowd noises and canes tapping in the background:) This is the Penny Forward Podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson, …
Liz: I’m Liz Bottner, …
Chris: And MOe Carpenter is at a wine tasting and not able to be here today. But we are live at the ACB national convention in Schaumburg Illinois, sitting out in the hotel lobby area, so you can hear everything going on around us here. You might hear some dogs jingling and some canes tapping and so forth. And, as our guests today, we have Katie Frederick, Lorie Scharff, and Richard Rueda from the APH Connect Center here to, uh, tell us what’s new with the Connect Center this year. All of you, thank you for being here.
Richard: Thank you.
Either Katie or Lori: Thank you.
The other woman: Thanks for having us.
Chris: Richard, let’s start out with you, and we’ll go around the table and have you introduce yourselves, and I’m starting with you because you have a new roll at APH this year. Correct?
Richard: I, I do. Yes. Uh, and thank you, Chris. Uh, Richard Rueda, the assistant director of the APH Connect Center. Uh, in January, I got a little promotion from the digital content manager managing career connect, and I’m going on uh, October will be three years with APH. Uh, first year as a contractor, and the last almost two years as an employee.
Chris: Lori, would you introduce yourself for the folks?
Lori: Sure. I’m Lori Scharff, I’m the lead content contractor for Career Connect, and I’ve been with the Connect Center since October.
Chris: Well, welcome. Glad to have you here. And Lori has, uh, somewhat of a connection to Penny Forward in that she, uh, and her partner Mike have also been helping us build our uh, Simplifying Social Security course. So, uh, we appreciate that help as well. And Katie.
Katie: Hello, I’m Katie Frederick, and I am the digital content manager for Vision Aware, one of our Connect Center programs. I have been with the Connect Center since October of 2021. So, a year and a half, and time flies when you’re having fun.
Chris: Awesome. Tell us now, and maybe we’ll start with Richard, what is new with the Connect Center this year?
Richard: YEAH. I believe we were last with you about a year ago, in 2022 about this time, a little earlier, and we were talking about what we do, and, we bantered. Some of the big significant changes over the last year is that we are consolidating all the cool things of the Connect Center into one web page, so, uh, no longer will you have to go to
we’ve consolidated that. By the end of this month, we will have everything under the hood at
Um, all the content you have come to know, and new content, and content that we’re, um, remarking on and updating is gonna be at
That’s the … some of the huge significant changes, and I think Katie, Lori and I can take a deeper dive into that. Do you want to add to that, Katie?
Katie: Yeah. So, any time that, if anyone on this, listening to this podcast has done a website redesign, it is a process. Right? It’s, it’s, you know, taking, in our case, three websites and merging them into one, that is easy to, easy to read, easy to use, easy to navigate, but most importantly, accessible to everyone. And that is our goal with the new
site, that is expected to launch July thirty-first of 2023. So, we are putting on the, the finishing touches, getting those final presents and gifts wrapped for you all, um, to be able to enjoy our new site at the end of the month.
Liz: When the new site launches, and people visit the page for the first time, what is the one thing that they might see that might be different, or how is the page different, if at all? Katie, would you want to answer that?
Katie: Sure. So the page will look different. Um, we hope it will be a neater look, um, visually, and, uh, from an accessibility standpoint. Um, so at the top we’ll have a, a menu where you can find the different sections of the site. We’ll also have a search feature that, where you can search the site for our content, um, and then under that, you’ll have some headings where we break down the site, so, again, if you’re looking for information, if you’re a parent, or, someone supporting a child who is blind or low vision, you might want to go to our section titled “For Families” first and check that out. Um, we also have, underneath that, our section, our heading “For Job Seekers.” And that’s, and “for employers,” and that’s our careers information. And the third heading is our section for adults and professionals adjusting to blindness or low vision, or those who work in the field. That is Vision Aware. And, so those are the three kind of main headings of the page. Under those headings, we’ll have another heading that’s where we have our information and referral line contact information, um, it’s called, you know, “Want to talk to us,” or “Need to Talk to us,” that’s our information line. Um, and also on our page, on the home page, um, people will see the new, the new blogs that we’ve published. And we publish content at least once a week for the blogs, and so all of our blogs will be visible from the home page, and then you can filter them, you’ll be able to filter them by, by category, and, um, topic area of interest as well. But everything will be there on, on one page, um, as well as our Connect Center calendar that we’re also bringing over.
Chris: Lori, do you have, uh, any insight into some of the, the favorite content that people might find once they get there?
Lori: Well, um, I primarily deal with Career Connect, so the employment side of things, um, we have lots of blogs and articles, we have, um, a, a link to our YouTube channel, where we have our career conversations where we interview professionals who are blind or visually impaired that were in all different careers, and then our employment conversations, which is our quarterly program that we started last, in April of 2023, and that’s gonna be quarterly, and we focus on a specific topic. So that would be, like our first one we did was disclosing your disability to your employer, um, so, that’s just a, a taste of what would be in that area. I, Richard, you probably could answer better as to what our, our highest rated content would be.
Richard: I’ll just add too, that future employment connections could be a conversation with and/or curriculum with, uh, the good folks over at Penny Forward, which we know about, …
One of the Women: Yes.
Richard: So, we’re really building a lot of content, which will be featured on that home page. From career conversations, college conversations, all the webinars that Katie does with Vision Aware, as well as Melissa Matthews, who manages very well Family Connect.
Liz: With the calendar aspect of the website, is it a comprehensive calendar, or does each section of the website have its own calendar?
Katie: That’s a comprehensive calendar, and we want this to be for the whole community. So, if you have something that you wish to share, we have a, a free calendar, um, we do have a page where you can submit your event, and then we make sure that it’s, you know, we, we vet those, just to make sure that it’s, it’s, it’s real. Right? We don’t want any robots adding to the calendar. (Chuckles along with Chris.) But we do, um, we do have the community, the Connect Center calendar, and we want and to be a resource for the whole community of, of people who are blind or low vision. So, if there is something you want to highlight on that calendar, let us know, and we are happy to post it. It is site and community wide.
Lori: And, that also is a great resource for people that might be looking for stuff in their own geographic area, or, even events that are happening virtually throughout the country.
Chris: I know that you don’t do a redesign just for the sake of doing a redesign.
Chris: So I, I imagine that there must have been some feedback that you received, um, that, that caused you to, to go in _ direction. What kinds of feedback have you received, and, and uh, what about the redesign addresses those things?
Richard: We did several focus groups back in May of 23, as well as a survey, that solicited a lot of good feedback on, “How is the language read? How does the website read? What is redundant? What should go away?” And it really speaks to, uh, easy to read language, easy to use fonts, um, again, speaking to the accessibility, uh, for, for people with low vision, or people who are using screen readers, or both, it’s really easy, digestible information. Making sure we’re using language that’s readable by all folks, and it’s not just for practitioners, or for piers, so we try to make it middle of the road. And Katie, you want to add to that?
Katie: I do. Yes. So we also, prior, prior to doing the focus groups, we, we knew that, you know, again, because of our history, we came over as three separate entities.
Katie: But we also heard, you know, from our, our … our leadership at APH, and also our readers, that, you know, it was a little bit confusing. “Oh. Vision Aware. Career Connect. You’re all, you’re all the same.” We … you know, there was some confusion out there in the community. And so, we’re hoping that by bringing everything under one APH Connect Center umbrella, you know, we, we work so well as a team that it’s just really great to have all of our resources under one roof, or on one website, so to speak, so people only have to remember one URL to, to access our content, and really find the wealth of information. Because we know that, you know, if, if you are, you know, maybe you’re a parent working with a child who’s blind or low vision, “and then, you know, from, from that perspective, you know, why not check out our career resources, right? Or, you know, why not take a look at what it’s like for them, what it might be like for them, moving into adulthood and navigating life after, after education, and into that job, into that, you know, raising a family, and, and those next stages of life? So, um, with the redesign, we’ve tried to make, as Richard said, the, the website more, more accessible, adding our search features, and, also adding photos. Which, I know for some of us, who are, are maybe totally blind, or, you know, that’s not always something we think about. But it’s, it’s really important, and …
Katie: We’re adding, you know, we have alt text on all of our photos, and we did receive feedback from our focus group participants that the, the site is easy to read. A lot of people appreciate the site. One of the questions that we asked was, “What, what do you like that we are doing that other sites are not?” And, you know, we heard again and again, “Thank you for not putting up ads and pop-up banners, and pop-up dialogs and things like that.” Because, you know, for many of us who browse the web on a daily basis, we want to pull out our hair sometimes, right? Because, on a site, and you … “Sign up for our newsletter!” You know.
Katie: We uh, we don’t have that. We, we will have a sign-up, um, section on the website where you can sign up, but it will not be a modal dialog. So it will not pop up randomly. (Chuckle.) It will just be a, a static sign up screen. So, …
Richard: And, if I can back up just a minute, CHRIS and Liz, a bit of history of the Connect Center, we, uh, we are celebrating five years this month as the Connect Center. So when all these pieces came over from AFB, uh, it was, it, again, it was the I and R line, it was the three sites we referenced, but it was in … it didn’t have a name. It was just, “Here it is.” So we, uh, APH worked and marketed, uh, the, and we called it the Connect Center. And that’s what we’re under the umbrella of. So we’re our own department. Our boss, Dr. Olaya Landa-Vialard, she’s, she’s down in Houston this week, but we’re up here, so we’re out there selling the connect center. And it really makes sense to put that under. Because we do want to provide, and we are providing, resources, critical resources, for, uh, that are life changing. I almost forgot our tag line. And that’s what we’re all about. And, you know, imagine this. It’s not just Katie, Lori and I. I always try to put the human face behind all this. There are three of us, we started the Connect Center in 2018, now there’s fourteen of us, uh, half of us are contractors like Lori, the other half of us are on, uh, staff, and, and really, at any given time, we’re all over the country. Uh, and that’s the nice thing about APH. We’re all over the place, but we’re doing this, we’re on Zoom, we’re on Teams, and we’re really there dedicated to providing these life changing resources at all levels.
Lori: You know, many of us are blind or low vision, and we have lived experience, which gives a very different perspective when, you know, discussing things with piers, and, um, you know, if we added up our years in age, we’d be rather old.
Katie: Yes. Yeah, we do bring that persp– that personal experience, that lived experience. Many of us on the team are blind or low vision, or, in the case of our, our family connect manager Melissa, Matthews, her … she has two children with albinism, and so she, she has that parent perspective, as well as, she’s a TVI, teacher of the visually impaired, and so she has the field, professional perspective as well. So, we really, you know, again, collaborate together. It’s, it’s not uncommon to receive an E-mail saying, “Does anyone know, you know, how can we help this person who might have called into the I and R line?” Or, or “Someone is looking for, you know, uh, … a, a page about their eye condition. You know, can you, can you help them?” And, and we, we often work together to, to help make sure that people who, who come to us, get the resources and information they need.
Chris: We haven’t talked about the I and R line yet, but you’ve referred to it, a, a couple of you have. Um, uh, would one of you tell us what that is and how people can access it?
Richard: Yeah. So, Allen Levell and Sharon Hewy are themselves blind, and are professionals, and Sharon’s a retired psychologist, and, uh, they work and answer the I and R line, and the I and R E-mail. That is active, the phone line is active twelve hours a day, 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. Eastern. and, again, they’re, they’re fielding questions from all over the country, and in some cases, all over the world, that people call in about. “Hey, I just lost my vision.” Or “Hey, my mom or dad’s losing their vision.” Or, “Hey, I need housing,” or “I need accessible this or that,” or “I’m losing my job,” or, they get them all. And, we, together, they work with the team, and they work together with our directory of services, and just the experts within the Connect Center, and within APH, to address all those. And those are, I mean, those are some really life changing accolades. We, we hear from them every week that, you know, they’re in many cases saving lives, and giving hope to people.
Liz: You mention I and R, what exactly is that?
Katie: Information and referral. Um, you can, you can call them via the 800 number, at 800-232-5463, or E-mail
if you prefer that way. But our, our information and referral specialists, Allen and Sharon, are, are here to help and to, to be a resource.
Liz: You also mentioned that you put up blog posts weekly. Who writes those?
Richard: Everybody. Um, (Chuckle.) Even ourselves. We, we have piers. Um, all, all the sites, family, career, vision aware, we all have our advisory groups, and we all have piers, again, people who are blind, who are experiencing vision loss, who’ve experienced vision loss, and people who are retired, uh, people who are practitioners in the field of the careers of rehab, employment, uh, families, and parents who are blind and low vision who work with Family Connect. And they all address the blogs that we write, from both perspectives of the pier as well as from the practitioner. So that the end reader is getting perspectives on all things blindness and low vision, on those various topics from all angles.
Lori: We also do have some, some content writers who, who write for us as well and provide, provide their perspective in addition to our pier advisors, and we’re always open to, new, new writers, and new voices, and new, new topics. So if you’re on the site, and, and maybe don’t see something, or see a, a gap in our content that you’d like to fill, reach out to us. And, and we’re happy to have a conversation with you about that.
Chris: So in any kind of a rebuild or redesign or, or any project, really, you have to prioritize, “What’s the most important thing to do now,” and sometimes things that you want to do don’t happen right away. Were there things that you wanted to do that maybe didn’t, that aren’t going to happen at first, but you’re still looking forward to, maybe in the future?
Richard: I think, um, just because of the staffing, and, you know, we’re fourteen and we want twenty-eight people to work for, for us, because we’re that cool. Um, we, we really are trying to address, uh, content that’s in chunks of videos, shorter videos, you know, everyone’s of the TikTok nature, and so we’re trying to, again, a lot of our webinars you can find are anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour long, but sometimes people just need something for fifteen minutes, or shorter, a quick How To. So we’re looking down a line and how to do videos that are gonna go right to the point and give you what you need, so you don’t always have to sit through an hour of content.
Katie: And also looking at how we, how we structure, you know, how we structure our videos that we do have right now. We, we currently have things on a YouTube playlist. And we recognize that that isn’t always the most user friendly at times. Right? And so we’re looking at, you know, building out our video, video section on the website, to make our information more, you know, again, right there, one stop shop, easy, easy to find and, and navigate and, and play. So, that is, is something that we are looking at, um, as we, as we launch, and continue to build out the content. You know, one thing about a website is it’s always dynamic, right? It’s always changing. And so while we’re not going to change the layout of the site, that, that template is, has pretty much been set, but we are continually looking at our, our content, and our, our multimedia content as well, and trying to do that. Um, we’re also going to be, as part of the, the website, and going forward, looking at, you know, ways that we communicate with, with our readers. So, you know, looking at launching a, a quarterly newsletter. Again, that’s really highlighting our, you know, content over the past quarter, and what’s coming up in the future quarter. So, really, just again providing other, other ways for our readers to engage with us.
Liz: In going through the redesign process, was there maybe one thing that stood out in terms of something that was able to help improve the team dynamic as a positive?
Katie: Yes. Um, we found that we all have great content, but some of us have content that’s very similar. So for example, on, on the Vision Aware side, we have some content that is a glossary and a whole section on eye conditions. Well, my friend Melissa, friend and colleague Melissa, said, “You know, we have that on Family Connect too, but why don’t we just link to yours? It’s, it’s … it’s the cool one.” Um, no. But it’s, it’s …
Katie: It um, it is, you know, it’s already there. Why, why are we trying to build this out on our site when we already have one that we can link to? So, as we’ve gone through this, and, and, Richard, , Lori, feel free to add, but we, we’ve looked at, as managers, we’ve sat down and said, and we’re going to continue to do this, “What content do we have that we can share or link to, within our site that, so we’re not reinventing the wheel? We’re not, we’re, you know, saying, “Check out this great article on, on Family Connect.” Or, you know, if you’re, you know, for the families. Or, “Look at, look at this piece on Vision Aware that are, that are … you know, you might want to think about as you look into that.” So, really, you know, how can we make our, our con — the content that we have accessible to the widest audience?
Lori: This is Lori, and also by adding, putting everything under one umbrella, if you think about it, if you’re looking for tips on networking as a person who’s blind or low vision, whether it’s in high school, college, or in the career world, there’s a lot of similarity there. So, you know, we can direct people to one place, …
Lori: With the best information.
Richard: And you might be asking, “Well why didn’t that happen from the start? Why are there redundancies or things that are similar?” In the old days, uh, when the sites were with AFB, these sites, just by nature of the way it was built, were siloed. I mean they all didn’t start at once. Vision Aware came out, Career Connect came out, Family Connect came out later, and they all had to go after grant funding. And they all had to create similar, but different things. So they were siloed. And so, we see some of those old pieces and we see, We don’t need to do that anymore. We’re, we’re getting, um, fundings from similar pots of money, and we can combine our resources. We can work harder. And, and, or, smarter, not harder.
Richard: I’m the one that works harder, not smarter.
Katie: Oops. Yeah.
Richard: So, uh, …
Lori: We knew what you meant.
Chris: Now that he’s the assistant director, he’s really got to push people.
Katie: He wants us to work harder.
Liz: He has witnesses that that was said? I don’t know.
Richard: Take, retake.
Chris: So, what happens if people are used to going to Vision Aware, or Family Connect or Career Connect? Um, what happens if people go to those old sites?
Richard: Those sites, uh, for the time being, will be redirected to the new APH Connect Center home page.
Chris: All right. Are there any other questions that we should be asking that we haven’t thought to ask?
Richard: The Connect Center wouldn’t be where it would be without partnerships, and we really have a lot of people to thank, and, and that’s how we roll our credits at the end of our talk, is, We’re partnering with Be My Eyes. You can find the I and R line, Allen and Sharon, on the specialized help section of Be My Eyes. Um, obviously we’re, we’re working to partner with you folks at Penny Forward, uh, N Site, a division of NIB, they’re, they helped us build our job seekers tool kit um, over on the career side of the house. Uh, Katie’s got a couple of partnerships. Uh, we’re doing one for Guide Dogs for the Blind in August. Our Career Canine camp up in Sandy Oregon where we’re bringing kids together, high school students together, to talk about getting a guide dog for the first time, and getting your job for the first time. And how does that work? That’s, that’s a lot of adulting. So how do you manage that? So we’ll, um, Lori and I will be on that. Lori will be on Zoom, I’ll be on the ground, uh, working with Guide Dogs for the Blind, our friend Jean Flower over there, um, really happy to be with them, and, and Katie, what have you got with your partnerships?
Katie: Yes. So, on Vision Aware, we have partnered with the Elder Care locater, and that’s great. People call that looking for support and resources, and they reached out to us saying, “Hey. You’re the experts on blindness and low vision. Can we refer people to you?” And we said “Absolutely.” And then when people call the I and R line, we can send them to that resource as well.
Richard: And they, I mean, we’re all dedicated and passionate. We love what we do. We all have had work experience in various fields, and I think bringing that together, and just the three of us can speak volumes, but the rest of our team, who’s all out there right now, they, they bring a lot to the table. So we have some fascinating meetings every week about, “What are we not doing? I mean we’re, we’re right now going to address and study, uh, bullying, and how do you deal with bullying in school for kids who are blind and low vision?
Katie: Right. Um, also going to talk, expand our, our content on the aspect of mental health.
Katie: Um, we know that, you know, people dealing with, with mental health issues is an area where we need to address. Whether that’s from a blindness and low vision perspective, or just in society in general, right? Bringing, raising more awareness about that. And so that’s an area where we’re going to expand our content over the next year as well on the site.
Chris: Very fantastic. Well let’s kind of wrap things up here, ’cause I know that we all have other places to be, and Richard needs y’all to work harder.
Liz: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: So, again, …
Lori: He’ll work smarter, we’ll …
Katie and Lori in unison: We’ll work harder.
Chris: That’s right. I think you’ve got to work on getting Richard to work smarter.
Liz: And he, and he will get you guys to work on working harder I guess.
Chris: Yeah, crack the whip there, Richard.
Keep us posted on how that goes.
Richard: I will.
Chris: None of us like each other at all.
Liz: In the next update, we will uh …
Katie: Next, next segment, …
Chris: So, let’s give out all the details. The website, the phone number again for the I and R line, all that stuff.
Richard: Yes. So the toll free number once again, 1800-232-5463, email is
and then the website is
Uh, the website, we’ll, we’ll switch that over on July thirty-first of 2023, uh, and we love all feedback. We love your constructive feedback. Uh, let us know what we’re hearing and seeing, and we’ll do our best to address it all.
Liz: Fantastic. Thank you.
Chris: Katie, Richard, Lori, thank you all for being here.
Katie, Lori and Richard in unison: Thank you.
Chris: All right. That concludes this live episode of the Penny Forward podcast from the ACB national convention for 2023 in Schaumburg Illinois. If you are interested in more podcast episodes like this, and our online courses, weekly members only group chats, one on one financial counseling, and other stuff, visit our website,
and click on the “Join Penny Forward” link right near the top of the page, and uh, you can get, uh, connected to us. And! Don’t forget, ’cause this is the first time I get to say this on a podcast episode. Or do you want to say it, Liz?
Liz: Let’s … (hesitates,) Say it to … gether? As together as we can?
Chris: One, two, three.
Chris and Liz, kind of in unison: We have an app.
Liz: Whoo hoo!
Chris: So go and grab our app.
Liz: In your app store of choice.
Chris: Search for “Penny Forward.” It’s out there, for IOS and Android.
Liz: Two words.
Chris: “Penny Forward,” two words. And uh, now. All of the end credits. The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Chris Peterson and Liz Bottner with assistance from MOe Carpenter. Audio editing and post production is provided by Brynn Lee at
transcription is provided by Anne Verduin, the music is composed and performed by Andre Louis, and Penny Forward is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. For all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …
Liz: I’m Liz Bottner, …
Chris: Thank you for listening.