Friday, March 30, 2007

CSUN assistive technology update

Okay, This is more like it.

Over the course of the past several days, Ranger1138 has posted a good bit of information on
The Ranger Station
about his trip to CSUN last week.

One of the most interesting items he posted relates to the Juliet Pro braille embosser. If you happen to have one of these embossers in your home or office, then you know what a noise maker this machine can be. You may want to pay particular attention to what Ranger1138 had to say about his best of show selection, a case for the Juliet Pro by Enabling Technologies, which cuts out a lot of the machine’s noise.

Aside from that recognition, Ranger 1138 provides a good collection of links for additional information on a variety of products that were displayed. Check out what this “dude in the assistive technology industry” has to say...he's worth listening to.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Flash animation and assistive technology

Is it just me, or has there been a recent explosion by web designers to incorporate Flash plug ins on their websites?

Perhaps Macromedia, the makers of the Flash animation product, have put on a full court press to promote a broader use of their application.

Whatever the reason, Flash seems to be flourishing on the web in the past several weeks. On top of that, in most cases, the controls for the Flash features are just the generic buttons with no description to what their functions are, leaving blind users of screen readers wondering what in the heck those buttons do. So, not only is Flash spreading like wildfire, the ignorance about accessibility is being incorporated in the fold as it does so.

I don’t think that most web designers have any idea that Flash is a difficult speedbump for users of screen readers. It is so much of a problem that Freedom Scientific’s JAWS screen reader includes a function to disable Flash animation when using the web browser.

Speaking purely anecdotally, I have noticed a large number of websites in just the past month that have begun embedding Flash animation as a means to spiff up their sites. I notice it because it makes it difficult for me to read their site’s content. On one newspaper’s site, if I had not been reading the site for the years that I have, I would have not known how the site was laid out and, as a result, when they employed Flash animation about three weeks ago, I would not have been able to read the news without taking a slow and time-consuming method of reading one line at a time with the down arrow. Even then, I don’t know how well the Flash animation would have interfered with JAWS.

Don’t misunderstand my complaint. I’m not a new JAWS user who might be unfamiliar with the program’s operation. I’ve been using this product for more than 10 years and am using the latest version. Also, I’m not a rookie in understanding how to maximize the efficiency of JAWS. I have often been called upon by friends who are also JAWS users for technical assistance.

I’m just noticing a glut of embedded Flash animation that is making my life difficult. I can’t speak for users of other assistive technology software such as screen magnifiers or other brands of screen readers, but I would think that this is affecting their access to web sites as well.

I just read an interesting post related to this subject on a new blog called ,
It is only the second post on the blog, but seems well written and offers good insight to understanding web design.

Hopefully, future web designers will initiate some insight and think about the users of their products as somebody besides the typical, sighted consumer. Universal design would make their web pages readable by a broader audience. Isn’t more traffic what most creators of web content want? There are methods for creating accessible Flash animation. I’ve posted about some training on this specific subject here on previous occasions.

Finally, so you don’t think this post is purely a personal vent, look at your school’s web pages. Are they employing Flash as part of their effort to have the latest in whiz-bang technology? Is it accessible? Does it meet Section 508 standards?

Pardon any self indulgence on this subject, but it is a concern that I see as a growing trend and not dissipating in the near future.

My hope is that the understanding that Flash can be used successfully and also be accessible will begin to spread as fast as the use of Flash has been on the web.

Interview with Marcus Engel

As hoped, I have an announcement to make.

My interview with Marcus Engel is now posted on the
Disability 411 blog.

Well, sort of. The interviewer got a little chatty and the interview ran long, so Show 38 is the first half of my interview with Marcus, a dynamic and interesting professional speaker and author.

So, what are you doing reading this? Go on over and check out Beth Case’s blog and download the interview. Also, make sure to come back to her site later for part 2!

Friday, March 23, 2007

More CSUN information

Here are a couple more notes about the CSUN conference.

On the SpeEdChange blog, Ira Socol shares an interesting understanding of one conference session attended about the
Accessible Technology Initiative
That exists within the California State University system.

In the blog post, Ira said that it was, “rough to listen to - university administrators being so fond of acronyms that most of their speech is incomprehensible to anyone outside the system - but it was well worth listening to because every school, at every level, in every nation, will need to perform similar tasks very soon.”

These tasks include “web Accessibility, instructional Materials, technology Procurement, and library Materials, with the goal of a Universal Design-based system fully in place and operating by 2012.”

Universal design integrated as part of an education system’s mission. Now, that’s a great idea!

Ira also has other postings from CSUN on the
SpeEdChange blog Home page
That you might want to check out.

Also, if you want more information about what is going on at CSUN right now, perhaps the best thing to do is visit the
CSUN conference site,
produced by Lets Go Expo. Here, you can find the latest, most up to date CSUN information, names of featured presenters, and sessions being presented. There is even a link that will allow you to view webcasts from the event. So, if you couldn’t make it to CSUN, you may still be able to take in the happenings from the privacy of your home or office.

Its just a thought, but wouldn’t it be nice if these webcasts were archived for future access?

Watch for more posts here about CSUN as it is available.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

News article illustrates need for colleges to have service animal policy

Here is an interesting news article about a
Tenessee man’s experience with his service dog ,
including the challenges he encountered when attempting to go to class.

On the surface, the news article appears to be a human interest feature demonstrating the man’s adaptation to changing life situations. However, it is ultimately an illustration of the difficulties all sides face when a university does not have a service animal policy in place. The student faced hardships and barriers that should not have to be encountered in this enlightened 21st century where we have the Americans with Disabilities Act as a guide. Additionally, due to lack of foresight and proactive policies, the university looked Ill-prepared to manage a situation that had a common sense response.

Although this man trained his service dog himself, the article reports that she is registered with the
Service Animal Registry of America,
SARA, an apparently respectable and qualified resource for this type of information. The organization’s web site could serve well as a resource one might want to bookmark for future reference.

This story very clearly points out the fact that service animals are not always those used by blind people.

A few paragraphs from that story:
“With attending a public university that has no service animal policy, Michleski was met with hesitation and some disapproval from those who had never encountered a four-legged addition to a student that was not a pet. “

“Michleski explained how he was confronted by certain university officials concerning the use of Maggie and initially was escorted off of campus by safety and security until the matter could be resolved.”

“After deliberation between the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Michleski and UTM, the student was eventually allowed back on campus with a temporary policy in place exclusively for Michleski's situation. “

Again, this paints a very ugly picture of what can happen for everybody when a college isn’t prepared.

So, how about your school? Does it have a service animal policy?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CSUN conference on Technology and People with Disabilities

If you haven’t noticed, it is time for the 22nd annual CSUN Conference on Technology and People with Disabilities.

Maybe you know all too well that the conference is going on, but due to some scheduling or funding conflict, you aren’t able to attend the highly-anticipated California State University event.

Fear not, as there are a variety of resources to keep you up on the happenings at what is often simply referred to as "CSUN."

As I’ve reported here before,
The website for Equal Access to Software and Information, is going to upload podcasts on the
EASI podcast conference page.
Bookmark that site and check back regularly or subscribe to the feed to keep up to date on the latest postings from CSUN. Also, you might want to check out the previously posted podcasts from last year’s CSUN for some good informational resources, including Learning Disabilities and Postsecondary Education.)

Two credible bloggers are also reporting with current posts from the conference as well.

Jeff Bishop, from the Main Menu program On the American Council of the Blind’s ACBRadio, is posting his CSUN observations on his blog
The Desert Skies.
As a matter of fact, he has already posted his first CSUN entry.
Additionally, if you’re interested in podcasts, Jeff has also posted information about how to subscribe to his podcast feed for more in depth discussion about what he takes in at the conference.

And, finally, Ranger1138, another favorite blogger of mine on the subject of assistive technology, is also at the event and posting to his blog,
The Ranger Station.
Sorry, Ranger, you’re running behind. Jeff’s already posting from CSUN. Better hurry up and log on.

So, if you’re not at CSUN, check out these resources for updates. And, if you have others to share, please leave a reply and share them.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

COAT, The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology

All you outlaws, take note; there is a new sherrif in town.

COAT, the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, is a newly united gathering of established disability organizations working as a single entity to persuade the “powers that be” of the information technology sector, that providing accessibility is the right thing to do.

(I just learned about this worthy endeavor through Teri Adams’
Crip Chronicles,
An intelligent, thought-provoking blog written from her unique and interesting perspective on the world. I came across the Crip Chronicles through a news alert, but have found it compelling enough reading that I’ve included it in my regular RSS feeds. Check it out, I think you’ll find Teri’s writing interesting and worth your while.)

While the
official COAT press release
is dated December 17, 2007, I'm guessing that the year is a typo and it was probably issued this past December. Even if you find this to be a bit of old news, it is nonetheless an interesting gathering of some of the major disability rights organizations gathered for a single cause. You can see this list at the end of the press release.

The press release reads as follows:

Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology Launched For Full Disability Access in the 21st Century
WASHINGTON, March 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Get your COAT! Today, a new coalition of disability organizations was launched to advocate for legislative and regulatory safeguards that will ensure full access by people with disabilities to evolving high speed broadband, wireless and other Internet protocol (IP) technologies. The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology, or "COAT," consists of over 45 national, regional, and community-based organizations dedicated to making sure that as our nation migrates from legacy public switched-based telecommunications to more versatile and innovative IP-based and other communication technologies, people with disabilities will not be left behind. Emerging digital and Internet-based technologies can provide people with disabilities with new opportunities for greater independence,integration, and privacy, but only if these are designed to be accessible.
The guiding principle of this Coalition will be to ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of daily living through accessible, affordable and usable communication technologies as these continue to evolve. To this end, and in order to achieve equal access in the 21st century, COAT has identified the following initial broad objectives:
* Extend current disability protections under Sections 255 and 710 of the Communications Act to IP technologies with improved accountability and enforcement measures, to ensure more accessibility, usability and interoperability for all persons with disabilities, including persons who are aging.
* Expand the scope of devices that must transmit and display closed captions under the Decoder Circuitry Act from the present requirement of television sets with screens that are 13 inches or larger to video devices of all sizes, including recording and playback devices, that are designed to receive or display digital and Internet programming.
* Apply existing captioning obligations under Section 713 of the Communications Act to IPTV and other types of multi-channel video programming services that are commercially distributed over the Internet.
* Restore the video description rules originally promulgated by the FCC in 2000 (overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit) and ensure that this access continues in the transition to digital television programming.
* Extend existing relay service obligations under Section 225 of the Communications Act to VoIP providers (i.e., extend the obligation to contribute to the interstate relay fund that supports these services), including obligations for greater outreach to consumers.
* Require accessible interfaces on video programming and playback devices, such as televisions, VCRs, and DVD players.
* Ensure that people with disabilities have equivalent access to emergency information through identification of barriers and implementation of solutions in current and new technologies, including solutions for achieving access by people with disabilities to 911 emergency PSAPs through the receipt of text and video.
* Ensure universal service fund availability for persons with disabilities (e.g., Lifeline/Link-up programs), to increase the number of people with disabilities as broadband users.
The above objectives were recommended in a report released by the National Council on Disability: The Need for Federal Legislation and Regulation Prohibiting Telecommunications and Information Services Discrimination, available at
December 16, 2007).

National organizations
1. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
2. Alliance for Technology Access
3. American Association of People with Disabilities
4. American Association of the Deaf-Blind
5. American Council of the Blind
6. American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association
7. American Foundation for the Blind
8. American Society for Deaf Children
9. Assistive Technology Industry Association
10. Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs
11. Association of Late-Deafened Adults
12. Communication Service for the Deaf
13. Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf
14. Deafness Research Foundation
15. Deaf Seniors of America
16. Gallaudet University
17. Gallaudet University Alumni Association
18. Hearing Loss Association of America
19. Helen Keller National Center
20. Inclusive Technologies
21. International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet
22. National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments
23. National Association of the Deaf
24. National Black Deaf Advocates
25. National Catholic Office of the Deaf
26. National Court Reporters Association
27. National Cued Speech Association
28. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
29. Speech Communication Assistance by Telephone, Inc.
30. Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc.
31. USA Deaf Sports Federation
32. WGBH Media Access Group
33. World Institute on Disability

Regional and Community-Based Organizations
1. Association of Late Deafened Adults, East Bay - Northern California
2. Center on Deafness - Inland Empire
3. Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, Inc. Fresno
4. Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, Inc. Roanoke, Virginia
5. Deaf Community Services of San Diego, Inc.
6. Deaf Counseling, Advocacy and Referral Agency, San Leandro
7. Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness
8. Hearing Loss of Northwest Indiana Support Group for Hoosiers
9. Northern California Center on Deafness
10. North Carolina Governor's Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities
11. Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons
12. Orange County Deaf Equal Access Foundation
13. Roanoke Valley Club of the Deaf
14. San Diego - Hearing Loss Network
15. Tri-County GLAD

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New game device may be promising as assistive technology

There is interesting news in computer gaming that may have broader future applications as an assistive technology peripheral device.

At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Emotiv Systems introduced a breakthrough brain-computer interface system that allows the game player to interact using only their thoughts and facial expressions with the computer via a helmet wired to the pc.
The Project Epoch
Reflects the user’s facial expressions and excitement/calmness level, and also allows the person to move computer objects with their thoughts.

According to the article linked above:
“Sensors in the helmet pick up on electric signals in the brain. The system software analyzes the signals emitted by the brain and then wirelessly relays what it detects to a receiver. The receiver is plugged into the USB port of a game console or PC, according to Randy Breen, Emotiv's chief product officer.”
“As with handwriting or voice recognition, the machine itself has a learning curve, improving as it better understands what the player is thinking, but there is also a skill level involving visualization on the part of the gamer.”

Can you imagine the potential of this system if it were applied to a situation where the person were quadraplegic or missing a limb? I’m sure there are other uses that can be realized, but these are the ones that immediately came to my mind when I read this news. By Joining the functionality that the Project Epoch employs with the latest innovations in robotics, a person with some particular disabilities can see a quality of life that could only be dreamed about in previous times.

Early anecdotal feedback of the Project Epoch System reports that children do better using this device than adults. Might this be due to the ability of children to imagine possibilities beyond their normal limitations? If this feedback is correct, and this system can be used in the situations I’ve described above, then it would be essential to instill the belief in the person with a disability that he/she can do things that were previously impossible. Come to think of it, that's not necessarily a bad state of mind for any of us to have.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Assistive technology roundup-- lots of news

I’ve discovered a lot of information about assistive technology in the news of late. Instead of writing individual posts about each item, I thought I’d do a more comprehensive AT round up. So, head ‘em up and move ‘em out, here we go!

Some of the more innovative uses of assistive technology are its applications at the
Center for the Intrepid,
the newly opened, state of the art rehab facility for severely burned and injured soldiers, located near San Antonio, Texas.

In what other setting might one find a firing range simulator as an application of assistive technology to aid in physical rehabilitation?

Although this isn’t exactly postsecondary DSS, these novel applications of AT are landmarks and are assisting a most worthy audience. These soldiers have sacrificed for our freedom and liberty, so let’s give them the best that we can for their recovery.

Voice of America
has been a mainstay on the airwaves of many countries across the globe for several decades. I only knew of this pro-democracy radio network through reading about it in books and history class. I’ve never actually tuned my radio in to a VOA broadcast. However, in this modern internet age, one doesn’t need a radio to listen to VOA. They provide on-line webcasts and podcasts, including accessible transcripts of these shows.

NO, Access Ability has not been commandeered as a shill for the U.S. government.

My reason for writing about VOA is that they recently aired a broadcast on
Assistive technology.
This was actually the third in a four-part series on people with disabilities. The first part aired in January and was on education, while February’s was about employment. If you missed these prior broadcasts and want to check them out, VOA has them archived at

If you don’t like the voice of America, then you might like to go to Japan where
The sidewalks talk.

The Associated Press article linked above reports that Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district has embedded 1,200 computer chips, transmitting information to receivers in portable media players that shoppers carry around their necks. The Tokyo Ubiquitous Technology Project, one of several applications of this AT across Japan, sends information about the shops that the users are strolling near to the media devices that also feature a small video screen.

“In front of Mitsukoshi Department Store, a voice explained how a statue of a lion has long been the store's trademark. Cross the street to Nissan Motor Co.'s showroom, and the gadget automatically switched to a chip at the showroom. "Welcome to Nissan Ginza gallery," a woman who appears on the video screen says. By pushing buttons on the device, the user can see additional information, such as a map or a historical photo.”

The use of technology such as this presents itself as an accessible , guided tour for the user, even if they are visually impaired. It has been previously employed in a similar fashion at national blindness conferences by
Talking Signs Inc.,
And is also akin to those already in place at some museums and national landmarks such as the Franklin D. Roosevelt monument in Washington DC.

The final piece of AT news that I want to share is about
Dadnab - Transit at your fingertips.
This is a melding of information technology that brings transit schedules to a user via text message. The assistive technology is brought about when it is information gathered by a blind user needing to know his/her bus or train route and has a cell phone with either the Talks or Mobile Speak screen readers.

This last application of AT was gained via
Wayne’s blog,
the personal blog of Wayne Merritt, a technology trainer at the Criss Cole Blind rehabilitation Center in Austin. Read Wayne’s post on Dadnab to fully understand and appreciate how this tech fusion can bring quick information access to a blind commuter relying on a city’s metro service for transportation.

That 'bout wraps up today's assistive technology roundup, pardner. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Kidney Early Evaluation Program offering free screenings

Until I read a recent letter in
Dear Abby
about the National Kidney Foundation sponsoring the
Kidney Early Evaluation Program,
or KEEP, I was unaware that such a program even existed.

However, now that I am aware of it, I can work to pass along the news of this great screening program in hopes that the news gets disseminated even further.

March 8 is World Kidney Day and it is the day that the NKF is offering these free screenings.

According to the author of the letter in Dear Abby, 20 million, or 1 out of every 9, adults in America have chronic kidney disease and another 20 million are at risk of it.

KEEP is offering free evaluations to people at high risk of kidney disease and has been doing this since the year 2000. Those at high risk include those with diabetes and high blood pressure, two of the leading causes of kidney disease, as well as a family history of kidney disease. The screening is able to find symptoms of kidney disease that might otherwise go undetected with traditional screenings and tests most patients undergo.

To locate the nearest center offering screenings,, check out
or call 800-622-9010.

Awareness is preventative medicine at its best, so please share the news of this screening to those you know that may be at high risk of kidney disease.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Interview submitted to Disability 411

I spent Friday morning conducting an interview for submission to the
Disability 411 podcast.
Beth had recently sent out a call for guest submissions to help her manage recent time crunches on Disability 411. With that opening, I figured I’d take my first crack at the world of podcasting and called up a good friend,
Marcus Engel,
To be the interviewee for my freshman introduction.

I have known Marcus for twelve years and find him to be an interesting and fascinating man. He is a 31-year old professional speaker and author of two books. He was blinded at age 18 in 1993 as the result of an auto accident when the car he was riding in was hit by a drunk driver. After more than 300 hours of surgery, most of it above the neck, Mark redirected his life with a positive attitude and a personal motivation for success.

I don’t know if Beth will select this interview for inclusion in her podcast, but I certainly hope she will. Granted the interviewer sort of stumbles a bit in his questioning, but give him a break. It is his first podcast effort. As for Marcus, his replies are interesting and thought provoking.

Whether she uses the interview in her podcast or not, Marcus is donating signed copies of both his books for Beth to give away to listeners of Disability 411. He is also offering a computer file of his manuscripts to those with a disability that keeps them from reading printed material. They can get this by simply emailing him through his website. Now, that’s accessibility!

To learn more about Marcus, click the link above for his official home page. On that site, you can also subscribe to the monthly newsletter that he writes. As if the speaking schedule, book and newsletter writing weren’t enough, Marcus also writes
Engel’s Ensights,
His personal blog with updates on a regular basis.

Sunday, March 04, 2007 appears promising, but has accessibility concerns

I recently learned of an interesting clearinghouse for audio and video learning resources.
Claims to have more than 10,000 educational audio books, podcasts, mp3 downloads, as well as videos at its disposal. They boast to have the internet’s largest collection of these items. Of this vast collection, they have more than 500 audio and video titles which are free. It does have a searchable database that appears to have strong potential.
The site also hawks an e-magazine and a “Free resource of the day” email.

This all sounds good and promising, but I have not personally delved any deeper into their offerings beyond the home page. I find the web site to be very cluttered and several of the links in dire need of alt tags. It is not very screen reader friendly and that’s both sad and ironic. It would be to the advantage of the site’s owners if they would realize that their project could be of great service to the population of students with disabilities, but to serve this population, they will need to address the accessibility of the overall site.

Senator Harkin: Congress may be restoring ADA

Hark, hark, Senator Harkin!

If you missed it, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) remarked in a Feb. 27 presentation that the new Congress may push for
restoring the Americans with Disabilities ACT.
He commented that the ADA has been defined narrower than Congress had originally intended.
He also dogged the current Medicare policy restricting wheelchair purchases to only those appropriate around the home, giving no regard to people with disabilities being mobile and activbe in the communities within which they live.