Podcast transcript: APH Connect Center PT Ii

Richard: As you get confidence in your back yard and you get those sea legs, then you’ll start to kind of emerge and do all these cool things we’re talking about. I think that’s really important for those of us who are newly blind or experiencing vision loss and are a little apprehensive. Start local.

Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson.

Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.

Chris: We are blind people learning, from each other, how to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.

Chris: This is part 2 of our two-part interview with Leslie Weilbacher, Richard Rueda, and Katie Fredrick from the APH Connect Center. In Part 1, we talked a lot about the APH Connect Center, and specifically, Vision Aware and Career Connect, and what they have to offer the blind community. In Part 2, we have a lot of fun because we talk about what Leslie, Katie, and Richard love to do for fun, and all of the things that blind people can do for recreation as well as work. And we wrap up with a discussion about how to get connected with some of those fun things.

Liz: Before we start, we’d like to thank Ron and Lisa Brookes, at Accessible Avenue, for sponsoring the Penny Forward podcast. I’m sure many of us have experienced frustration and uncertainty when trying to use public transportation or paratransit services that are either inaccessible, or just poorly designed for meeting our needs. Accessible Avenue works with transit agencies and other mobility providers to make transportation services accessible for everyone, including those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Accessible Avenue also works with individuals and organizations who need training or assistance with public transportation problems. You can learn more at

Chris: We’d also like to thank Kane Brolin of Brolin Wealth Management for sponsoring the podcast. Investing doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s never too late to take action. But depending on how far away your goals are, the decisions you need to make will be very different. Kane Brolin is a blind certified financial planner, and chartered special needs consultant, who may be able to help you, no matter how much you have, or what stage of life you are in. Learn more by visiting
or by calling 574-254-7180. Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network. Member FINRA SIPC. A registered investment advisor.

Chris: What do y’all like to do for fun, and what do you know about what other blind people like to do for fun? Leslie, you, you started by talking about horses, so let’s pass that question to you first.

Leslie: I will always talk about my horses. Um, I love horses. I call my German Shepherd my little pony, because he’s twice the size of my previous guide dog, a little black lab girl, but it’s both a physical activity, it’s a sport, it’s building muscle, and getting outside, but it’s also, I love animals, and horses are just so intelligent, and sweet. I call my horses my big dogs, because they follow me around. There’s just something about them that’s very calming. And my aunt always had horses growing up, I had that exposure, but as a teacher, I needed an outlet for myself. And I decided to look around and buy a horse and just figure it out. I was very concerned that where I found a barn would be discriminatory towards me, but everybody was actually very supportive, because I was honest about what I knew and what I didn’t know. And I did this right before everything shut down from the pandemic and it was my … (Chuckle.) My major outlet, and it was wonderful. And through the years, I have found other blind people that ride, and we started a network called the Blind Equestrian Community. So it’s like “Well what do you do when you’re standing in the middle of the arena and you don’t know where the gate is, and you don’t know where …” you know, talking about orientation and tips and tricks that other people have done. It’s been … it’s been fabulous. And on the other side of that, I knit, and I go for hikes, and uh, … I like stuff. I like to explore new things.

Chris: Wow, that’s a lot. Richard, you’ve got a lot going on too, right?

Richard: Oh yes. Leslie stole my line. “I like to explore things.” I’m a traveler. My pass port is nearing its end, so I need to renew it. That’s my worry right now. And I love to travel, I’m a restless person. I attribute my curiosity to going to the bus stop at 16 and missing my stop and figuring out, “Well, let’s see where this bus goes.” And that’s kind of been how I do things in life. I want to see the world. I want to experience the world. Getting on a plane, getting on a train, getting on a bus, getting on a ferry, deep sea fishing, anything that, you know, the world offers, I want to do it too. And I want to make that accessible to myself and to my friends. So I try to be as fearless as possible. In the last topic, we talked about self confidence. I think in my early twenties, I didn’t have that self confidence. And when I got connected with the ACB at the time, and started meeting people, my confidence shot up right away going, “Look at these cool blind people doing things.” And that really got me on the path to just wanting to be immersed in our community and to get out there and do things. And any time I can introduce people to travel, and resources, and just doing wild things, my upcoming vacation in September is canoeing the boundary waters in Northern Minnesota and Duluth area, and just having a blast with a non profit that takes anybody, whether you’re disabled or not, and making it work. And so, if there’s a place to travel, let me know about it.

Chris: That’s so cool. The woman of a thousand hats, Katie, what have you got going on in your life?

(Katie laughs.)

Katie: Oh, you mean there’s supposed to be time outside of work for this thing you call fun? I don’t … I don’t understand. Um, no. I … I do enjoy traveling, although, you know, the last couple of years have really kind of given pause to that for me, and just kind of led me to be kind of content with my home environment. But I’ve recently done some travel for work, but it has been good to get out and go to some cities. I’VE had the experience of going to San Antonio Texas this year, and New Orleans Louisiana, two places I had not been before, so that’s always fun. I really love, and enjoy reading. You know, growing up, I attended a small town, attended our … my local public school, which was good, had a lot of benefits for me, but I also didn’t know many other people who were blind. And so, you know, for me, in college, I attended a convention of the American Council of the Blind, and met people that I’m still friends with today, and that really kind of launched my path in the blindness community, and led me to become more involved with that, and start accumulating those hats that I now wear. But honestly, it’s, it is great to be able to give back, to be able to connect, to network, and help people in life. So, that’s me.

Liz: Chris, what do you do for fun?

Chris: Oh, I do all kinds of things. I have been a ham radio operator since I was in high school, and that has always been something that I’ve enjoyed, along with other technology related things. I never thought of myself as being much of an athlete. I was more of a technical guy, a reader, a lover of “Star Trek,” things like that, but as I got more connected with blind people, I also started to experience things that I didn’t have a chance to experience when I was younger, like beep baseball. And my latest pursuit is trying to learn Brazilian Jujitsu. I also love exploring new things, though I will say that I haven’t always been that way, and just like everybody else has been saying, surrounding yourself with other blind people is really, really eye opening, pun intended, to me, …

Leslie: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

(Chris laughs.)

Chris: Because it has gotten me to try a whole bunch of things that I didn’t even know I wanted to try. How about you, Liz?

Liz: I will try almost anything, and everything, once, because otherwise, how do you know that you do or do not like whatever it is? I am very much one of those people who loves exploring new things, and I will agree that I, in connecting with other people who are blind or have low vision, that has expanded my willingness to want to try new things. Sometimes I’m cool with just doing things on my own, but sometimes, it’s just more fun to do things with other people. I currently enjoy playing blind ice hockey, I also run, both with and without my guide dog, my current guide dog is a certified running guide from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I really do enjoy being active, and also, giving back to the community, be that the blindness community or my local community, or even the world in … as a whole. Similar to Katy, I adore books. Books are definitely an escape for me. I have very fond memories of growing up with my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother reading to me as a young child. But I, I’m … I love life, and I love exploring it, and pretty much nothing is off limits for me, at least once.

Chris: So, speaking of life and fun and things like that, Leslie, are you aware of any resources that APH offers to that end?

Leslie: So, there are several art products, making art more accessible. Like Katie and Richard have said, we have blogs that are updated pretty regularly that highlight a lot of products specifically, but also how to use them and what other people might be using them to do. I know there’s like braille beads, there’s coloring textures, a lot of things in that regard are meant for younger kids, but there’s a brand new guidelines and games book that … it’s to encourage braille literacy through, through games. Another big one would be audio books. There’s an audio book studio in the basement of APH, and we work very closely with NLS to produce high quality audio books for them.

Katie: Yeah. Sorry, we also have our cool products for reading braille. So, like our Mantis braille display and our Chameleon. Those are refreshable braille displays for getting work done, and reading for pleasure as well.

Leslie: I’m using the Mantis right now.

Katie: Right.

(They laugh.)

Katie: And the other thing that we have is our Insight art program that APH offers each year, which is a chance for artists to showcase their work, that they have, and that’s something that we highlight during our annual meeting at APH in October. So that’s another great program that APH offers each year.

Leslie: Thank you for bringing that up, Katie, and it just closed for this year, it always closes sometime in late April for entries, but that is preschoolers through adulthood. Anybody can submit a digital picture of their art work, and they are grouped within the type of art it is, and the age range. It’s a really cool program.

Richard: This is Richard. I’ll just jump on the band wagon here if we’re talking APH. Thinking of fun and cool things to do, you all have to get out to Louisville and tour APH. Come and see the APH museum. We just have so much history. It’s a fun building, it’s eclectic, we’ve got so much you can see, feel and touch, so come on down to Louisville. Get yourself a tour. And we are gonna be going through some major renovation to really bring out the best of APH, but I really encourage everyone who likes to travel like me, come on out to Louisville. You’ll have a great time, and visit APH.

Liz: A bit of trivia, potentially, I actually was a recipient previously of the art insight. I won the contest, I think I was in fourth grade. And I remember making the sculpture that I made in art class, and the sculpture sat on the desk of the then Senator Biden’s, somewhere in his office, for I think a year. I have no idea what happened to it. I don’t know where it is now, probably nowhere, sadly, but that happened.

Katie: That’s awesome.

Leslie: Very cool.
Liz: It was a very cool experience.

Male Announcer: We’ll continue our interview in a moment. But first, …

Female Announcer: Looking for resources and services related to blindness and low vision? The trained staff of the American Printing House for the Blind Connect Center Information and Referral line are here to help. Call 1800-232-5463, or visit our website,
to access our community connect calendar, our directory of services, as well as our websites. The APH Connect Center, providing resources to guide children, parents, adults, and job seekers who are blind or low vision to greater independence and success in their lives. Call 1800-232-5463, or visit
for more information.

Female Announcer: ¿Busca recursos y servicios relacionados a la perdida de la visión? El personal entrenado de American
Printing House for the Blind ConnectCenter.
La línea de información y referencia está aquí para ayudarte. Llame al 1-800-232-5463 o visite nuestro
sitio web APHConnectCenter.org para acceder a nuestro Community Calendar Connect, nuestro
Directorio de Servicios, y nuestros sitios web. El APH ConnectCenter, que propociona recursos para guiar
a los niños, padres, adultos y personas ciegas o con descapacidad visual que buscan trabajo, para una
mayor independencia y éxito en su vida. Llame al 1-800-232-5463 o visite aphconnectcenter.org para
obtener más información.

Male Announcer: Is there something you’d like to talk about? Visit
to learn how you can contact us, and send us a voice mail that we may share on the air.

Liz: Going back to Career Connect and Vision Aware, are there any success stories that stand out for either of you that you could talk about, and along those same lines, statistically speaking, are there numbers in terms of how many people have been helped by both initiatives?

Richard: As for Career Connect, we do highlight, again, through all our media channels and outlets, through the blogs, through Career Conversations, through other recorded interviews we were doing prior to Career Conversations, and prior to myself it was Jo Streche, who some of us in the community know, interviewing blind folks. Russell Shafer who works from Walmart. Richard Archerletta who is a blinded veteran who works for the EPA. We try to highlight successes, and the realities. When we talk about success stories, we don’t just talk about successes. We talk about, notably in Career Conversations, “What were those challenges? What were those failures you learned from studying, applying and getting that job?” So we look at it through the holistic organic lens. It’s not just about success. It’s about everything that got you to be successful, and what was unsuccessful along the way. So that it’s really tangible and meaningful and humbling to the job seeker. And so I think that’s what’s important, and all of that’s up on Career Connect. Statistically speaking, visits to our web page, I don’t know, Katie. Do we have that somewhere? I know that we do get frequent updates on the top blogs and the top sites that are visited. For Career Connect, the things that are kind of always on top of that list are our transition activity guide that a lot of TVI’S use to build curriculum in the classroom. And I was taken back by that, and Shannon Carola who has been writing for Career Connect for almost a decade and who’s now our head editor, wrote a lot of that. And we were just kind of blown away, and impressed at the same time.

Katie: Yeah. I think for Vision Aware, we do have our Personal Stories where we highlight, again, people’s journey. Recently we’ve published blogs on, you know, someone wrote a post about, the month of June is Cataract Awareness month, and so we’re putting out a post about someone’s, you know, personal story with that experience, and what that was like for her going through that, and that is an example of one of our stories. We also put up a blog recently about RP, Retinitis Pigmentosa, and kind of that person’s journey through that process as well. So we do have those personal stories up on Vision Aware. And many of our pages and things that are popular are age related macular degeneration. Diabetic retinopathy. Retinitis Pigmentosa. Those things that are common among people who are adults, and perhaps aging. We recently, last week, had a webinar addressing those conditions, and that will be put up on our archive webinar page. On our YouTube playlist, we have about 90 webinars that we have done over the past couple of years. Our webinars are always free, and we record them, and so if you can’t make it live, you can always catch the recording of our webinars in the Connect Center. And, you know, I know our Information and Referral line takes several calls a day, a week, you know, a month, just, we want to help as many people as we possibly can and connect them to the resources that they need.

Richard: This is Richard. I just want to add one final thing to everything that APH does, from the Connect Center to outreach. APH is not only a hundred and fifty-eight years old, but we have over three hundred employees, and the wealth of knowledge that we all share agency wide is just astounding. And if we don’t have the answer, we know someone who does, who can get you the resource, and that’s what I love about working for APH. And I worked in the blindness community for over twenty years, and I’m very proud of my employer, and what APH does for the community, and for the world.

Liz: So we talked kind of about what APH previously has done and what kind of programs they have. What are some things that are coming down the pipe line for APH, if you can talk about them, and what to expect?

Leslie: Well, some things that we do, we, through the Access Academy, is our webinars, and those are professional development for people in the field, but also there’s a lot that parents enjoy, and get a lot of information out of, and people who are blind as well. And some others are Excel Academy, which is our virtual webinars-ish for students, and we have these throughout the school year, after schools, after school hour, and on Saturdays, and they are based on what students would like, more interactive, more student specific, usually fun time on. There was a detective skills, there was one meant specifically for students who were deaf blind, in communication, some are also done in Spanish, and this summer, we have several camps. They are an hour a day for a week, broken up by age groups. There’s the Great Stem camp-out, and Stuck on a Desert Island, and one is Oreos and Abaki, so doing some fun things with abacus, and of course Oreos, so lots of cool things this summer. I know that more courses are going to be coming out in the APH Hive, which is our online learning management system, and again, this is more for people who need professional development in the field. But they’re free, bite sized, pier reviewed courses on foundations of blindness, on assessing students who are visually impaired or blind, early childhood, ECC, which is the expanded core curriculum, so all those areas like O and M, and assistive technology, and rec and leisure, um … that’s all that’s coming off the top of my head. Lots of conferences. We like to go to conferences. Especially Richard. Richard doesn’t sit still.

(They laugh.)

Leslie: But we will be at several conferences as well.

Richard: Yes, we will. (Laugh.) Katie’s on one of those lines too. She travels as much as I do, if not more.

Katie: Yes. That’s really one of the things that we try to do in the, you know, in the Connect Center, working with our colleagues in outreach as well, is just, as you eluded to earlier in the podcast, Chris, people don’t know what they don’t know. And at APH, we are doing a lot of … a lot of great work. We in the Connect Center are doing our best to provide people with the resources to help them, but again, if people don’t know that these resources are out there, it’s incumbent upon us to come on programs like your podcast, to attend these conferences, to get out there and spread the word. Because we know that that’s how people learn about things. Especially in our community, word of mouth is incredibly powerful. And so, we all agree that this outreach and reaching out and connecting with people is really a fundamental part of our job, and it’s one of my personal favorites.

Richard: I will add to that, as far as new and innovative things that are coming out, not just with APH and the Connect Center, we too also have webinars on our platforms. And up until now, we hadn’t really been providing continuing education credits for our rehabilitation professionals. The TVI’S have ACVRAP, so starting this, later this summer, August, September 2022, we will have CRC continuing education for the rehabilitation professionals, so more of them can come to our webinars, watch it, and get credit, and how cool is that? And share it with their consumers, and with their constituents so that more people are informed of all the good things we’re doing. Like Career Conversations, which we launched in early 2022. We are working with our Career Connect student pier advisors, which we started in April, and they are putting together a series with some of our staff of college conversations. So we’re leveraging the experiences of blind and low vision college students who are at college. Two year, four year, private universities, and they’re gonna share their experiences quarterly through Career, uh, College Conversations. Which will be a webinar specifically for the high school students, and the moms and dads who are nail biting going, “Oh, I don’t know. Am I gonna be able to get to college?” And kind of just dispel those fears that we’ve all had when we were younger going to college, whether we were blind or not. But adding vision loss on top of that can be a little more scary. Especially if you’re losing your vision. So we’re gonna address that through College Conversations. There’s a lot we’re doing. There’s just so much.

Liz: What advice do you have for blind people who are finding it hard to find the resources that they need?

Leslie: I would say keep asking. Keep reaching out. Someone’s gonna know something, someone’s gonna connect you to something that sparks.

Katie: This is Katie, I would say, don’t be afraid to ask questions, to find other people who are blind or low vision, you can always call our information and referral line that we operate in the Connect Center, that’s open Monday through Friday 8 A.M. to 8 P.M, and that number is 800-232-5463. And that is a great resource where our information and referral specialists can help you get connected to resources if you’re not sure where to start.

Richard: And this is Richard. I think what comes to mind to me is, it all starts in our back yards. Look in your community. What resources, and you may not know the resources, but dial up your local blindness agency. Look up your local independent living center. Try to connect with someone who can get you information on resources that are available to you in your back yard. From whether you need mobility training, learning to use a cane, learning to use low vision aids, and getting you signed up with vocational rehabilitation, whatever you can get to, find someone locally who you can talk to, and who can give you local information that’s gonna be accessible to you. And I think it starts there. As you get confidence in your back yard and you get those sea legs, then you’ll start to kind of emerge and do all these cool things we’re talking about. I think that’s really important for those of us who are newly blind or experiencing vision loss and are a little apprehensive. Start local.

Chris: And this is Chris, and I will just remind you of what we all said earlier in this conversation, which is, surround yourself with other blind people. If you possibly can, either locally or on line, or a combination of both, because once you see what the rest of us are doing, you’re gonna want to give some of that a shot.

Liz: This is Liz, and I will say, I agree with everything everyone has said. Do not be afraid to ask questions, whatever your questions might be, you might think, “Oh, that’s not really a good question, that’s … why should I ask that?” You should ask that because someone else out there has the exact same question, and if you don’t ask that, then you aren’t getting the information, but neither is anyone else. So, ask questions.

Chris: So important. We love to give out contact information at the end of every episode so that people can follow up. Is there some general contact information for APH? Is there a good place, Leslie, to get started?

Leslie: A good general E-mail that would get either myself or one of my colleagues is

Chris: Outreach at APH.ORG. Awesome. And, Richard, is there some specific stuff for Career Connect that people would want to look for?

Richard: For the entire Connect Center, it’s
as well as the toll free number that Katie had given out earlier, which, again, is 800-232-5463, and that information will get circulated to the entire team at the Connect Center, depending on what people are looking for.

Chris: Great. Katie, do you have anything to add?

Katie: No, I think Richard covered it for contact information, but again, just, please feel free to reach out. We’re here, we want to help you in any way that we can.

Chris: All right. There will be links and phone numbers and E-mail addresses in the show notes. Leslie, Richard, and Katie, thank you all for being here. This was a great conversation. I really appreciate it.

Richard: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

Katie: Thank you for having us.

Leslie: Thanks. Yeah, this is great. Any time.

Female Announcer: Do you know the difference between a savings and money market account? When you’re in an unfamiliar financial environment, and need a hand understanding the lay of the land, Penny Forward is here to help. Our online courses, members only group chats, and access to one on one coaching, help you build your own bright future one penny at a time. It’s easy to sign up or cancel at any time, and memberships are just 9 dollars a month, or 99 dollars a year. Visit
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Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is made possible by a sponsorship from Dennis and Nicole Malinis. They sponsor the Penny Forward podcast because they believe in Penny Forward’s mission; to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. Thank you, Dennis and Nicole, for your generous contribution to sponsor the podcast.

Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Liz Bottner and Chris Peterson, audio editing and post production is provided by Byron Lee at
and transcription services are provided by Anne Verduin.

Liz: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Visit
to learn more about who we are and what we do.

Chris: For all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …

Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.
Chris: Have a great week.

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