Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Breast cancer drug trial results appear biased

In research and statistics classes, one idea is often repeated—be skeptical of statistics. It is not meant to degrade the value of statistical information, but more as a guide to pursue the purpose of the provided statistical information. The professors want students to evaluate the source of the research, usually by examining who provided the funding for the research. To be objective, research should be free of bias.

Unfortunately, bias seems to be the case being reflected in a world where advances and growing awareness are regularly reported—breast cancer research. In a Mcclatchy Newspapers article, it is noted that
Funding seems to affect breast cancer drug trial results.

According to the article:
“Some 84 percent of company-supported drug studies published in 10 major medical journals in 2003 reported positive results about the breast cancer drugs they investigated, according to an analysis by Dr. Jeffrey Peppercorn, a cancer physician and researcher at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's School of Medicine, and colleagues at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.”

“Non-industry supported studies were far less likely to be upbeat, publishing favorable results just 54 percent of the time.”

Compare and digest those numbers: 84% favorable when it is company funded research versus 54% favorable when studies were independent.

It doesn’t take a statistics major to figure that this equals a 30% differential when the drug companies are not funding the research.

If the statistical research being submitted is as skewed as this article reports, then This is truly sad. Breast cancer is a dangerous killer and honest research needs to be conducted to maintain a vigilant battle to defeat this beast.

We are taught that statistics are just numbers. We are also taught that just because the difference exists, this does not infer any causal relationship. However, recognizing this difference does make my eyebrows raise, oh, about 100% of the time.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Assistive technology allows "low functioning autistic" to function beautifully

I usually use the forum of Access Ability to provide links to web sites that provide qualified and worthy resources or news that is of interest to DSS professionals. As a result, I limit links to any personal blogs, as many are only personal soapboxes and do not usually provide credible, professional information. However, I have discovered one that is definitely worthy of the attention of DSS professionals. Let me direct you to
The blog site of Amanda Baggs, a woman with autism.

Her doctors describe Ms. Baggs as “a low-functioning autistic.” However, when you read her blog, you will see that this label is very misleading. What this misnomer fails to grasp is the stimulating intellect that Ms. Baggs’ possesses. The mind which hides behind her disabling condition can totally flourish when provided the proper assistive technology.

Ms. Baggs is a video blogger with a demonstrative video posted under her on-line name of
posted on Youtube. Her video
in my language
was shot, edited, and posted by Ms. Baggs herself.

On the link of her blog marked “About,” Ms. Baggs explains the insightful and thought-provoking source of the name of her blog and further discloses:
I am a non-speaking physically disabled and autistic woman who’s lived in institutions, whose income comes from a disability check, and whose services are funded by the state.”

“This blog is about assorted ideas, but most will have something to do with human rights, autistic liberation, disability rights, and so forth.”

Check out her blog and see what I’m talking about. For somebody who classifies herself as “non-speaking,” she sure has a lot to say…and she says a lot that is worthwhile. Her video is a strong statement of this fact.

I originally came across this post through another blogger’s writing about Ms. Baggs via a news alert for the terms “assistive technology.” I think her Ballastexistenz blog demonstrates a hallmark example of what strides people with disabilities can gain via AT.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

NAD celebrating Read Captions Across America

On March 2, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is launching its 2nd
Read Captions Across America Campaign.
This event is in conjunction with the National Education Association’s (NEA) Read Across America celebration.

In the press release on its web site, the NAD explains this observance as:
“Read Captions Across America puts emphasis on the importance of captioned media (DVD, CD-ROM and Internet streaming) as a reading tool for deaf and hearing children alike.”

“The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), administered by the NAD and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is organizing and promoting Read Captions Across America and loaning captioned media for the event as well. “We are pleased to be joining the NEA in celebrating the joy of reading,” says Nancy J. Bloch, NAD Chief Executive Officer. ‘Teachers and parents of young children are fast discovering the benefits of captioned media in fostering literacy development.’”

“Captions are text forms of the spoken word and often convey sound effects. Captions and subtitles can be carried on DVD, videotape, broadcast TV and cable TV. Also, an increasing amount of content on the Internet has sound, with some of it being captioned. While captions were originally developed for deaf and hard of hearing persons, they are increasingly used by others to develop reading skills.”

Please share the news of this great awareness campaign. While they are marking this observance during the week of March 2, and the week following, both Read Captions Across America and Read Across America are year-long campaigns.

New E-Journal from Access Technologists Higher Education Network

I have previously posted about the
Access Technologist Higher Education Network,
or ATHEN, so their name should not be new to those who have been reading this blog for a while.

However, what is new is that this proactive assistive technology group has just published their second issue of
The ATHEN E-Journal.

This issue’s focus is on web accessibility and higher education, strongly emphasizing providing future support and training. The articles listed in the journal include:
* Welcome to the ATHEN E-Journal Issue #2
* Accessible Electronic & Information Technology: Legal Obligations of Higher Education and Section 508
* Cultivating and Maintaining Web Accessibility Expertise and Institutional Support in Higher Education
* Accessibility Training for Distance Learning Personnel
* Case Studies in Training and Professional Development for Web Accessibility
* Contributors

Take the time to check it out. The E-journal has some good information and resources. While you’re at it, also bookmark the ATHEN site as an on-going resource to turn to for updated information in the access technology newsfront.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Two assistive technology resources

Today, I present two leads for assistive technology, one I discovered on my own and the other is a user review describing his adaptation of a gaming keyboard, turning it into an assistive technology device.

After a recent hard drive crash on my old computer, I was forced into looking at getting a new pc. In doing this, the one thing that I knew I wanted to avoid was getting a computer with the new Microsoft Vista operating system. I use JAWS as my screen reader and the newness that is Vista was something JAWS wasn’t quite up to handling just yet. I had no problem finding a pc with Windows XP and was soon back in the digital world.

One thing I took for granted on my old computer was the CD burning program, Record Now. That program had come installed as part of the manufacturer’s package and I was happily surprised when first using it because I found it was designed with accessibility in mind. There was even an accessibility heading under the help menu which told how the manufacturer wanted the software to work with screen readers.

When I first attempted to burn some files onto a CD on the new machine, I had to look around the programs to find the one to use. There are actually three applications on here that can do the job, but, unfortunately, none of them are very accessible, nor are they designed to be intuitive in their operation. This brought me to search for an accessible CD burning program.

Fortunately, this search didn’t take too long. I quickly found the Premiere CD/DVD Creator manufactured by
Premiere Assistive Software.
The program was easy to locate and download and, best of all, it was free. More than that, though, is that it was designed to be accessible to screen readers.

I instantly recognized the Premiere Assistive Software name, as it was the manufacturer of some software programs we used in providing DSS to students at my last position. The main draw of their software for our job was that they did the tasks we needed very well and were affordable. The link above will take you to a page listing all the available titles. Some, like the CD/DVD Creator and talking calculator, are free.

The other item I want to share is how somebody took a
Logitech G11 gaming keyboard
that was not intended as assistive technology, but after he saw the device’s abilities, quickly understood how it could be made to meet his AT needs. The focus is the keyboard’s additional, programmable function and mode keys. Instead of assigning game functions to these keys, the user assigned executable macros to them and made it function as AT to assist him in overcoming his physical limitations.

Again, technology not specifically designed to work as AT fits well into the DSS domain. This is the true beauty of designing products with universal access. If only the manufacturer’s could see this, they could open up new markets for their products.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Informative article about epilepsy

I want to tell you about an interesting article in today’s
New York Times.

Though the article focuses on the life experiences of a 12-year old girl with epilepsy and the impact on her family as well as herself, ,it provides a good overall understanding of the difficulties faced with this neurological disability. It discusses the trade-off of having the seizures versus the often impairing side effects of medication and also the role diet may play in the management of the disorder. It also explores the social stigma associated with epilepsy.

Some statistics in the article worth noting:
*50 million people worldwide have epilepsy
*2.7 million Americans have epilepsy
* There are more Americans with epilepsy than those with Parkinson’s disease, Multiple sclerosis, and Lou Gherig’s disease combined
* 30% of the people with epilepsy have seizures which are not controlled by existing treatments

I have had several close friendships over my lifetime with people who have epilepsy and thought I knew a lot about the disorder, yet still found the article very insightful and informative, learning things I had not previously known about epilepsy. Check it out— it is a good read. (Remember that the Times requires registration to read their articles, but it is free.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Adaptech Research Network-- a great DSS resource

I have just recently learned about a Canadian web site that seems very promising in what it brings to the table for DSS. While it is from our northern neighbor, the information presents a strong parallel to U.S. colleges and universities.

The Adaptech Research Network
Has information that should be of interest to any DSS provider. It offers resources that would fit in with any program. They are also seeking input that DSS providers should have thoughts on.

On its website, ARN is seeking informational input about free or low-cost software programs that would be beneficial to students with disabilities. By low-cost, they mean under $200. If you have names of software titles you would like to share, email

She would also like the name of the companies that manufacture the software, if you have it.

The reason for this query is to expand the ARN’s
database of free and low-cost software.
They have recently updated their database, but are continuously seeking to expand the listings. They would also like any input you might offer on the usability of the library. If you have any comments, please email Catherine at the email address above.

Additionally, the ARN has recent data that is of interest to DSS professionals. They have conducted research into graduation/employment rates of students with disabilities, comparing these rates to the non-disabled student population.

Here is a synopsis of the study from their website:
“The Adaptech Research Network in collaboration with our partners recently completed three studies whose goal was to explore obstacles and facilitators to college studies and examine what happens to college graduates with and without disabilities a year after graduation. Participants were: 182 graduates with and 1304 without disabilities from three large junior/community colleges, 57 college based professionals providing disability-related services, and 300 students with disabilities who were registered to receive disability related services from their college. While current students with disabilities indicated that disability-related accommodations such as extended time on exams were important facilitators, for the most part these students, as well as graduates with disabilities, mentioned the same facilitators as their nondisabled peers. The same was generally true for obstacles. The main difference here was that students and graduates with disabilities cited disability-related issues, such as health, as a major obstacle. Graduates with and without disabilities continued their studies and obtained jobs at the same rate as nondisabled graduates.”

You can download the executive summary of their report in either MS-Word or PDF format from their web site linked above.

EASI offering podcasts, tips for creating accessible web seminar

I have previously posted information about
the web site for Equal Access to Software and Information. These are usually about educational seminars teaching how to create accessible materials. Today, I will share two more resources from EASI, one that is a new feature and another web seminar they are offering.

Podcasts have grown in popularity as a timely and useful medium to get information to users. Many colleges are employing podcasts in some manner, either as part of information distribution of course material or as informational outreach. EASI is no different and is also making some of their information available with a
podcast page
recently added to their site.

The staff from EASI will report from next month’s CSUN Conference on Technology and People with Disabilities. This is the 22nd edition of this annual event and EASI is going to bring highlights of the event to you by means of their podcasts. So, if you’re not able to make it, but want to know the latest scoop in AT and what is cutting edge out there, watch the EASI podcast page for updates.

The other EASI tool that I want to share is an upcoming web seminar on
Making web seminars accessible.

This is a free seminar, but you need to register in advance to participate.

The seminar is being presented on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 2 pm Eastern.

If your school offers web seminars in any form, then it is imperative to have these accessible to all students. If it is not the DSS office teaching accessibility to the creators of your school’s seminars, then who is?

The price is right for this seminar. Check it out and see what they have to teach.

Regenerating fingers and limbs

This is the first of several posts I want to write today. There is a lot of good stuff in the news of late and I want to give each subject it’s own post. Consider yourself warned!

Last week, I posted a short piece here about scientists discovering methods to make the spine regenerate in rats. In a related story, some other scientists are working on
digit and, in the future, limb regeneration.

An extract of pig’s bladder is marketed by a company named Acell Inc, which is used to regrow ligaments in horses, and is also now approved by the federal government for use on people. This compound has already been successfully used to regenerate the fingertip on a man who was involved in an accident with a table saw.

Further, there are anomalies in nature that defy human understanding. Salamenders can regrow limbs and a particular breed of mouse can heal itself. Scientists are studying these animals to learn the genetics involved and if these can be used in the future to help humans heal.

These medical advances offer potential that has before been unthinkable. They present hope for some restoration for people who have damaged or missing appendages or limbs. And, that is only the near future prospects. When examining the potential research that can branch off from these findings, the potential advances are even more encouraging.

According to the Associated Press article:
“The implications for regrowing fingers go beyond the cosmetic. People who are missing all or most of their fingers, as from an explosion or a fire, often can't pick things up, brush their teeth or button a button. If they could grow even a small stub, it could make a huge difference in their lives.”

“And the lessons learned from studying regrowth of fingers and limbs could aid the larger field of regenerative medicine, perhaps someday helping people replace damaged parts of their hearts and spinal cords, and heal wounds and burns with new skin instead of scar tissue.”

While this news may not be necessarily central to providing service to people with disabilities, it is, nonetheless, encouraging for a particular segment of the DSS population. I offer it here on Access Ability as an informational conduit for these people.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Unintended innovation becomes assistive technology

Every now and then, a product comes along that has an unintended feature that makes it a useful piece of assistive technology. Such is the case of two voicemail management programs.

The original pitch of these two products is to make getting access to one’s cell phone’s voicemail easier to manage without burning up precious minutes of your calling plan. If you’ve ever experienced the prolonged messages that begin most cell phone voicemail programs, they seem to take forever before allowing you to respond by pushing your desired action to retreive messages. Then, some programs also make you listen to the entire length of each voicemail message before allowing you to decide to keep or delete each one. All of these tasks take away some of those precious minutes of your call plan, which is what both
Are initially targeting in their offered services.

However, when you understand what they are offering is voice-to-text transcription service for voicemail messages that are then sent to the user as either an email or a text message which can be read on the subscriber’s mobile phone or PDA, it seems clear that this might very well be useful to people who are deaf.

The primary difference in what the two companies are offering is price-- Spinbox is free and Simulscribe costs$10 monthly for 40 messages. However, the idea is an innovative way to quickly get audio messages to people who wouldn’t otherwise hear them.

To read a more in-depth review of these two offerings, check out the article in today’s
New York Times.
(The Times requires on-line readers to register, but it is free.)

Some informational notes from that article:

“SimulScribe is available right now. It costs $10 a month, which covers 40 messages; each additional transcription costs 25 cents. This can become very expensive if you get a lot of messages. The company plans to offer better deals for frequent phoners — including an unlimited plan — in the coming months.”

“SpinVox, on the other hand, has been operating in Britain for some time. It will be free during its year of testing in the United States. To sign up for the free year, send an e-mail inquiry to (Ignore the “seven-day trial” offered at; that’s just for British customers.) Eventually — in the second half of this year, SpinVox says — the service will be available in the United States only through cellular carriers; pricing hasn’t been set. That’s right: you’ll be able to spend more money with your carrier to spend less time on its voice mail system.”

“When you sign up for either service, an e-mail message gives you instructions for reprogramming your phone. For most carriers, that involves dialing a string of numbers with * and # characters; for Sprint, you have to call customer service. Either way, this process reroutes incoming messages to the SpinVox or SimulScribe service. (Until you re-record the greeting, callers hear a generic “Welcome to SimulScribe” or “Welcome to SpinVox” message.)”

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

News: Scooter giveaway, Spinal breakthrough

In my daily scanning of news for anything worth posting here, I came across two items today that caught my attention.

First, The Scooter Store—yes, the same one that you see repeatedly on television promoting mobility—is sponsoring a national concert tour raising funds to fight Multiple Sclerosis. Additionally, The Scooter Store will
give away a scooter
at each of the 53 cities that the tour plays.

The series is the Roger Neal and Friends Sing for MS Concert Tour, a Southern Gospel show.

I figure that I’d mention it here as an informative service. Besides, if you have a student who could benefit from a new scooter, please share this with him or her.

The second bit of news I have today is to pass along something that is pretty groundbreaking. In a recent study, researchers at Johns Hopkins have proven that
the spine can repair itself.
This study has disproven the long-held idea that the spine was incapable of repairing itself. The results of this study are based on clinical trials with rats, but the results offer promise and hope for the many people who have suffered a spinal injury. Only time will tell where this leads.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Class teaches students about disability

Every now and then, an innovative program pops up on a college curriculum that makes me sit up and take notice.

Such is the case of the new course being offered at the University of California Santa Cruz. The new
Course teaches UCSC students about disability.
This credit course offers students much more understanding than the typical disability awareness day or, at best, week usually offered up at colleges and universities.

According to the official UCSC web site:
“The University of California, Santa Cruz, is offering a new general education course on universal access and assistive technology, enabling students from all majors to learn more about disability and the issues that surround it.”

Did you notice "universal access" is part of the objective. Hooray for this great insight!

The professor for the class is Roberto Manduchi, an associate professor in computer engineering. Manduchi’s research has included work on assistive technology. The class will also feature guest lecturers in various aspects of the field: experts who study disability; professionals who work with people with disabilities; and some people who have disabilities themselves.

There is a quote from Manduchi on the site that really makes the course sound intriguing:
"There is some technology involved, because this is an engineering course. But mostly the emphasis is on understanding the physiology, psychology, and sociology of disability."

In addition to the class work, there will also be a project required of the students. This might include learning some American Sign Language or spending 24 hours with somebody with a disability.

It sounds like this is a computer engineering course on the surface, but in a deeper sense, this is a broader study of understanding disabilities.

Good work, UCSC!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Disability rights: It is not one world

While the following is not particularly about DSS at a postsecondary institution, it is, nonetheless, a brief discussion about the rights appreciated by people with disabilities here in the United States.

Reknowned radio commentator and newsman Paul Harvey invokes a phrase when discussing subjects that reflect situations in other countries that play out differently than they might have here in the good old U.S. of A. He usually closes these narratives by highlighting, “It is not one world.”

The same might be said when discussing disability law and the rights of people with disabilities. Remember that the ADA is the “Americans” with Disabilities Act. These rights do not go beyond our border, not even to our closest neighbor to the south, Mexico.

A recent Houston Chronicle article illustrates the
plight of Mexicans with disabilities
through Joaquin Alva, a man who was paralyzed from the chest down in an auto accident. He now uses a wheelchair and walks with the assistance of elbow crutches and leg braces. He is a 31-year old government worker and is also a stalwart disability advocate.

The article reports:
“When a Mexico City-based health-club chain barred him from using its facilities, the 31-year-old federal government worker decided to teach the company a lesson in disability rights.
He's achieved more than that. In a country where the disabled have long lived on the fringes of society, suffered discrimination or simply been ignored, Alva has made their plight headline news. And in the process, he's shamed the government into enforcing, in his case, its much-touted new laws protecting disabled rights.
It took five months. But faced with a lawsuit, government fines and a public relations nightmare, Sports World agreed to make its 10 health clubs disabled-accessible within three months.
It also has accepted Alva's proposal to provide 30 free memberships for the disabled, including 15 members of Mexico's Special Olympics squad.”

The article points out that even though Mexico has had disability rights laws since 1995, enforcement, the teeth that make legislation work, has been spotty at best. The implication is that without activism to bring about action, none will be taken.

Here in America, we have the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as various state laws to support the rights of those with disabilities. The laws allow for legal recourse and these may be pursued by the very people who find themselves discriminated against. While our system of laws isn’t always perfect, the rights of people with disabilities are given a good base to stand on. We may not always appreciate the rights we have until we look elsewhere to see what isn’t there.

Also, remember that, even if there are problems, Mexico does have laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. With these in place and better enforcement, the situation for people with disabilities can only get better. There are other countries that have no laws protecting the rights of these people.

Mr. Harvey, you are correct-- It is not one world.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cerebral palsy resource web sites

At my most recent position, I was a little surprised at the number of students on my caseload whose disability was cerebral palsy. There were more people than I had anticipated who were managing the spectrum of impairments associated with this condition Hence, I had to study up on CP and learn more of what to expect so I could better serve my students. My prior experience was limited to knowing only one person who has cerebral palsy, an inspiring young lady and good friend, who was Ms Wheelchair Texas 2005.

If you are looking for a couple of good resources to increase your understanding of cerebral palsy, I offer the following two web sites.

First, the intuitive resource for CP would be the
United Cerebral Palsy
Home page.

The UCP site offers some very useful information for understanding CP and is also a good resource for disability advocacy/rights in general.

Secondly, you should also check out the
Cerebral palsy information

While this site is intended as a resource for K-12 educators, it is nonetheless useful for anybody seeking more understanding about the impairments that accompany cerebral palsy in the education setting.

While these two web sites are far from being everything one would need to have comprehensive cerebral palsy resources, they are definitely good additions to keep bookmarked.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Two more web resources

Today, I want to tell you about two websites that offer rich resources for disability support service. They are useful to bookmark and come back to when needed.

First, I offer

Accessibility Resources,

A virtual compendium of anything related to accessibility. The site is a blog created by the
Virtual Private Library.
There is more information here about accessibility resources than I’ve seen collected in any one location anywhere else.

Secondly, there is
Assistive Technology for hearing impaired students,
A pretty good compilation of resources specific to the needs of deaf and hearing impaired students. It is the latest post to Special Education and Technology, a fairly new blog that appears promising.

These are just more resources to be aware of. Information is power, so check these sites out and consider yourself recharged for the day.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hackers exploit Vist'as voice recognition

Well, well, well. What do you know? It took until the release of Windows Vista, but they’re finally taking notice of assisstive technology.

Those involved in the world of AT would love for more people to take notice of what is out there and make use of it. Unfortunately, the “they” in this case is not good. The first reported exploit in the just-released Windows Vista operating system has been revealed –
Hackers exploit Vista’s voice recognition.

In the InfoWorld article linked above, the term “Shouthack” is used to identify the first reported break in the new premiere Microsoft operating system.

According to the article:
“Microsoft researchers are investigating the reports of a vulnerability that could allow an attacker to use the speech recognition feature to run malicious programs on Vista systems using prerecorded verbal commands, the company said in an e-mail statement.”

For the full details, read the entire InfoWorld article. It also gives insight on how to prevent execution of this malicious hack.

Voice Recognition has been a breakthrough that has provided great access to many for several years, most notably through Dragon’s top of the line program. It is actually sad that the first time such a useful feature is incorporated into the newest offering of the dominant operating system manufacturer and it is the first thing that gets exploited by hackers.

Hold on to your defenses and don’t panic. The first crack isn’t the end of voice recognition in Windows. It is just a new playground for the hackers to look at now that it is being deployed en mass. The developers must remain diligent in following the cracks and filling them in. As for the users, do your part and ensure that all steps are taken to alleviate the threats by keeping anti-virus programs current and not opening files from unknown sources.