Saturday, April 28, 2007

Interesting diversion: Assistive Technology trainer reports on adventures in Ghana

I offer a slight diversion today, kind of. Instead of offering information or resources, I want to share an on-going profile of a person who is providing disability services. However, this person is not working in DSS at a postsecondary institution. Instead, she is traveling around the African countryside near Ghana, where she is conducting assistive technology training and other related activities promoting individual advancement with blind residents and reporting her adventures on her blog.

On the pages of the
Ghana 2006-2007 Blog,
Akuwa reports on her interactions with locals as her travels take her to different points of interest.

Akuwa‘s writings are smart and intelligently written, but most of all they are interesting, particularly the April 27 post titled “The Last Few Months,” in which she tells about her most recent adventures. There are several pictures also posted on the same date individually above that post. For sighted readers, these may prove informative and interesting, especially the voodoo chief’s palace or the motorcycle driver’s voodoo paraphernalia.

I know, this is a little stretch of serving the needs of postsecondary disability support services, but it is definitely an interesting sidestreet to venture down. I’ll soon return with more of the standard fare.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Article offers good information about managing dyslexia

There was a recent New York Times article about dyslexia which clearly illustrated the plight of a child struggling through, and ultimately learning the resources and tools to manage this disability. It also emphasized a point I’ve often cited, that a person with a disability does not function in a vacuum. In this case, the parents of the young lady with dyslexia were also impacted, having to learn the limitations of her disability and assist her, as she grew into an understanding and acceptance of her dyslexia and what it would take to succeed despite the dyslexia.

Aptly titled
A family’s experience with dyslexia,
The article aemphasizes some statistics about dyslexia and specific tools that this family used to manage the limitations.

Some of the statistics highlighted:

*Studies have shown that dyslexic students have significantly more academic and behavioral problems than children without learning disabilities.

*One 1996 study found that 2 percent of those with learning disabilities go on to a four-year college.

*Studies have also found that adult dyslexics have a lower satisfaction with health and friends, and exhibit more psychiatric problems than non-dyslexics.

*Fewer are employed and, even if employed, hold jobs that are part-time, minimum wage and unskilled.

Some of the tools discussed for managing dyslexia included the traditional electronic speller and word processer. However, the article also praised the use of tools such as recorded textbooks from
Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic
And also using the
Computer Program.

Aside from providing a good discussion of the progression of understanding dyslexia and what it would take for the young lady to manage it, the article paints a clear picture of what advances the skills and tools brought her in terms of comprehension and the decrease of time needed to complete her reading and writing projects.

The article offers a good general discussion on dyslexia and research currently underway to understand the cognitive functioning that goes on during reading. It also shows what a strong will and determination can bring when augmented with the right tools.

Personal footnote:
I believe the PDF Equalizer I wrote about yesterday would be another great tool to put in the tool box for a person with dyslexia. This program’s ability to convert pdf files into mp3 files would serve the same function for a student reading pdf documents as those served by the RFB&D textbooks. There seems to be a growing use of pdf documents, especially for official government reports and the like, and this would only empower students’ when researching information for class projects and papers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Web site is rich resource for assistive technology

In one of my news alerts today, I found a good general listing of assistive technology. The link I've created doesn't open the page correctly, but the web site's URL is,
so copy it and check it out as it is a rich on-line resource of assistive technology.

Even though the web site’s name indicates that the targeted audience is disability service folks in the elementary and secondary school sector, the resources are useful for those serving the postsecondary student population as well.

The listed resources are useful for students with a wide variety of disabilities, including visual, hearing and learning disabilities. Make sure you have some time when you go to this site as it is brimming over with information and you’ll need that time just to look over the list, much less check out some of the linked web sites.

PDF Equalizer makes Google Books accessible

You’ve got to hand it to the folks at
Premiere Assistive Technology
as they’ve made inroads for accessibility once again.

According to a press release for PDF Equalizer, it is easy to understand the powerful functionality of this latest offering from Premiere Assistive Technology.

From the press release:
“PDF Equalizer is a tool that can open and read aloud PDF Files in their original format without any required file conversion. It is designed so that individuals who use electronic documents can have the true "equal access" to those who use the printed version, plus a few extras. PDF Equalizer allows individuals to select and control what is being read aloud as simply as using your mouse to select the text to be read. If listening to audio of the text is beneficial to you, PDF Equalizer can also turn a PDF Document into MP3 files that individuals can listen to on their MP3/MP4 players. PDF Equalizer can convert each PDF page into a separate MP3 file so it is easy to navigate or create a playlist of the pages you want to hear.”

“PDF Equalizer is a "must have" tool for those who take distant learning classes. The superior note taking capability in PDF Equalizer is unmatched. Notes are automatically synchronized with the PDF page to help keep them organized. At any time, the user can extract all notes into a single Microsoft Word document. If you have too much to read and need to condense the amount of material, use the powerful built-in "content summarization" feature. You can summarize a single topic or an entire book. If you can't find a publication in your native language, don't worry, the translation feature built into PDF Equalizer can translate text on the fly. You can also imbed hyperlinks for direct access to the Internet and there is an integrated dictionary that allows you to immediately lookup definitions.”

This useful piece of assistive technology does more than just make access to pdf documents easy. It also makes
Google Books
Accessible. This feature alone makes the PDF Equalizer's functionality stand out alone in the field of assistive technology. No other pdf reader on the market that I am aware of does this.

If you’re not already familiar with it, check out Google Books and see what a powerful research tool it can be for students.

Google Books has been around for a little while, letting users read passages of print books on their computers, yet also protecting the publisher’s copyrights by not allowing the screen to be printed. In the past, however, it has been completely inaccessible to those who could not read the picture of the text displayed on the screen.

Now, with PDF Equalizer, all those who have been previously excluded from this rich resource can now read the print material via the web…without having to purchase the whole book.

And, like so many other titles from Premiere Assistive, PDF Equalizer is available for free as a fully functional demo so you can try it out. I’m guessing that if you try it, you’ll make that purchase. The price, like so many others from Premiere Assistive, is also reasonable—only $89.95.

If you want more information on this product, check out the official
PDF Equalizer page
On Premiere Assistive’s web site.

Finally, also from that press release, I gleaned an interesting statistic from
the National Institute for Literacy--
nearly 42 million Americans struggle with literacy.

I’m just curious how many of these people are going to college and have a diagnosis of some type of disability. My guess would be a good number of them. Even if just one percent of these were college students, that is still more than 400,000 people. And, this is yet one more tool to help provide access to material which has been previously inaccessible.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Resource explaining Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

A good primer on universal design for learning (UDL) is available as a podcast from the
Texas Assistive Technology Regional Conference 2006 Blog.

While this blog appears targeted towards special education professionals in the public school system, the offered information can be applied to a broader audience to include postsecondary education. The fundamentals of universal design are very well outlined in the
April 20 podcast.
If one changes the setting to postsecondary education, the basics of universal design can still be applied very aptly. The podcast would make a good resource to share with faculty members, especially those who want to maximally assist their students with disabilities. It also makes a sound argument the DSS staff can make to those faculty members who are a bit resistant to embracing alternative format, either delivering handouts to students in alternative methods or by accepting modifications to what expectations would constitute reasonable accommodations in the work the students submit.

The concept of universal design is one that our society as a whole can learn to embrace much better. Having this podcast as a guide supporting this argument only serves to broaden minds.

Check out the blog and see if there is any other information that you can apply to your school. There are other podcasts, including one for meeting math needs for students with a variety of learning styles. Now, I know that’s something DSS professionals can definitely relate to.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ebiblio Collection -- Another accessible research resource tool

I have previously posted about accessible texts available on-line. I want to add to this today by providing another resource for on-line research material that is also accessible.

Today, I want to tell you about the
Ebiblio Collection.
It is a searchable database which claims to be “the public’s library and digital archive.”

It is a collaboration of the Center for the Public Domain and the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Material on this site can be located by using search terms or by categorically perusing the site’s offerings by the Universal Decimal Classification. The material the site locates is then made available by a link.

What it actually offers up is a gathering of websites that offer resources, such as the
Library of Southern Literature
Project Gutenberg,
Among several other sources under the American Literature heading.

I randomly explored several of the scores of headings to see what was offered on each linked page. I found from as few as three linked listings to more than ten. There was something under each heading that I checked. If that holds true for the entire site, they have indeed done some serious work in putting this site together.

This site has a solid foundation in place that gives it the potential to grow into a very strong resource for on-line research. It will be interesting to watch it grow over time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Free conference--United Spinal Association

How about a free professional conference?

Well, let me restate, it is free if you preregister.

The United Spinal Association is offering that great deal for the upcoming
2007 North American Spinal Cord Injury Conference & Disability Expo,
, which will take place August 27-29 in Orlando.

Granted, this conference is for a particular target audience, but this may be of interest to some readers specifically. And, can’t we all stand to expand our horizons?

If you are not interested, or are not able to attend, but know somebody who may be, please share this information with them.

The conference will be featuring the following organizations and the programs listed:

*American Paraplegia Society
53RD Annual Conference -

* American Association of Spinal Cord Injury Nurses
Embracing New Horizons In SCI Nursing -

*American Association of Spinal Cord Injury Psychologists & Social Workers
21ST Annual Conference -

* Therapy Leadership Council In Spinal Cord Injury
Reaching New Heights In SCI Therapy -

For more information on the participating organizations , or to preregister, go to the web site linked above.

Updated: Attitudes towards people with disabilities-- Like We're Not Even Here

There is an interesting article in the
Government Technology magazine,
Like We’re Not Even Here.
In it, the writer discusses the attitude of some people towards others who have visible disabilities—they talk about us like “we’re not even here.”

I think the article speaks clearly about a particular group of people, unfortunately found too often in the service industry such as cab drivers, wait staff at restaurants or hotel desk clerks. This aggravating and disrespectful attitude is displayed when the service person does not speak to the person with a disability, instead talking to the person who happens to be with him or her.

People in service professions still routinely ask the accompanying person questions such as, What would he like to drink?” or “Will she need anything special for her guide dog?” It is the unspoken attitude that the person with a disability is not capable of speaking for himself.

Whether the attitude is intentional or if it is being subconsciously voiced doesn’t really matter. It still exists.

The heart of the matter is to recognize that it exists. Only then can we change attitudes.

As a footnote to this post, when I attempted to leave a comment on the publication’s web site regarding the attitude expressed in the article, I was unable to do so. The site, like many others employs a screening technology called Captcha to filter spam from reader replies. Captcha uses a graphical image to show letters and numbers that the reader must enter into an edit field to demonstrate it is an actual person, not a spam bot, that is posting to the site. Unfortunately, screen readers, such as JAWS, do not decipher any letters or numbers. Screen readers only see a graphical image—a picture – instead of text.

Isn’t it ironic that a magazine targeted towards government technology workers, who one would think would be fully cognizant of the requirements of Section 508, has a web site that does not allow access to blind readers?

Like we're not even here.

UPDATE: 04/19/07

I emailed Gina Scott, the writer of that article and received a prompt and professional response later that same day. She acknowledged the accessibility concerns and was clear that she did not want to come across as hypocritical. It was her hope that, despite the accessibility concerns, by raising the issue, she would get the word out to "those in government who were not even aware of the issues"

No problem, Ms. Scott. I don't believe you came across as hypocritical in any manner. Enlightenment is a wonderful thing.

She was also forwarding my concerns and suggested solutions to her IT department for consideration as they are in the process of updating their web site. Here's hoping that the IT folks follow up!

I thank Ms. Scott for her time, concern, and insight.

Lastly, I received a comment that the link to the story does not work, so here is the URL to read that story:

(I Have tried to correct the link, but am still unable to make it work, but provide the complete URL so that readers can read Ms. Scott's meaningful article. Copy the address and paste it into your web browser. The article will then load correctly.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Job interview tips for soon to be graduates

In today’s Houston Chronicle, there is an Associated Press story titled
How to interview like a champ.

The target audience of this article, and the book it references, is soon-to-be college graduates entering the job market. The book, New Rules at Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, by Barbara Pachter, gives advice for preparing for that all-important interview.

While I have not read the book itself, I would venture to guess that it does not address people with disabilities and the additional steps they might need to address. However, the following techniques mentioned in the article are good, practical advice for all job seekers, whether they have a disability or not.

• Be prepared. Know how to relate your relevant experience.

• Make a strong first impression. "It's more than just clothes. Do you look the person in the eye? Do you shake hands?"

• Fake it until you feel it. Behave confidently even if your knees are knocking; your interviewer won't know the difference.

• Send a thank-you note. Even a small touch can set you apart.

Those first three tips should be magnified for anybody with a disability, especially if it is a visible one.

Now, to that short list, I would like to add the following suggestions.

The first impression is so important. The emphasis on conveying confidence at that point is critical. You are asking this person to believe in you enough to select you as the most qualified candidate. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect the interviewer to do that?

Dress for success. It is much better to overdress for an interview than to underdress. Even if the job’s dress code is office casual, nobody will fault you if you interview in a sharp, pressed suit.

If your disability keeps you from doing something during the interview, such as shaking hands, don’t feel awkward about it. The interviewer may be a little uncomfortable at first, and that is when your confidence in handling these situations must be conveyed. Use your confidence as a catalyst to put the interviewer at ease.

Posture can not be overstated. Stand and sit upright, as much as your disability allows.

Be aware of any nervous habits you have and avoid these during an interview. Do not sit there picking at your nails fingers, or other areas, no matter how insignificant you think that behavior is. The interviewer is watching you to see not only what you say, but also how you respond under stress.

Visual impairments have their own unique challenges and being proactive in planning how to deal with these will give you more confidence in handling what could otherwise be awkward moments.

When you first introduce yourself to the interviewer, extend your hand to shake (if you are able). The interviewer will reach to meet your hand. This keeps the interviewer from trying to figure out how you will know his hand is extended, waiting to shake.

Eye contact is important, even if you can’t see. If a person has a visual disability, directing one’s gaze in the direction of the interviewer is still important to the interviewer.

Hand in hand with the above comment about eye contact, remember that facial expressions accompany that eye contact. It is okay to show facial expressions as you interact with the interviewer. It is okay to laugh at appropriate times. These expressions can help the interviewer look beyond the obvious and see the person, not the disability.

Finally, the last tip cited in the article-- yes, the one about sending a thank you note – applies to interviewees with disabilities as well. That can help you make an even stronger and lasting, final impression on the interviewer. Don’t delay in doing this, either. If possible, do it the evening of the day of the interview. If you need somebody to help write the note, then do it. Whatever it takes, get that final point made.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Texas student wins battle over accessible dorm room

A recent article on the
Campus Progress
Web site Titled
Separate but Unequal Dorms
tells about the victory of a Texas State University student who uses a wheelchair after she had to pay higher costs than other first-year students just so she could live in an accessible dorm room.

Bailey Gosda is a sophomore at TSU who uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. She has been in a nearly two-year fight with the university, in which she has contended that the university overcharged her several thousands of dollars so that she could live in a dorm room with wheelchair access. This would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA).

In 2005, Ms. Gosda visited the campus and Residence Life told her they did not know where to house her. She asked to live in Smith Building, the traditional and most affordable dorm, but there were no rooms in the building that were wheelchair accessible. The university moved her to a single room in a more expensive dorm, explaining that she and her equipment would foreclude the possibility of having a roommate. The result was that she paid more than twice what most first-year students did.

With the assistance of an attorney from
Advocacy Inc.,
a non-profit disability rights organization based in Austin, Ms. Gosda began to take on the university.

In the article, her attorney stated that, “under the ADA, Gosda should only have to pay for what she requested—a dormitory room in a traditional building with a roommate—even if there was not a wheelchair accessible room available that fit that description.” Her attorney asked the school to repay Ms. Gosda the difference.”

This seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? It was not that simple, though, as Texas State officials drug out their opposition. Read the article linked above to understand the battles this young lady had to undertake to be proven right.

Last month, Ms. Gosda was vindicated in her battle when the euniversity offered to refund the $6,000 it had overcharged her.

Hopefully, the university administration has learned a legal lesson on providing access. That was a cheap way out for them. Had she taken this matter to court and been successful, the university could have faced more severe financial penalties.

We often sit back and naively believe we are living in enlightened times when cases such as this are no longer taking place. It is a reflection of attitude towards the law and that is as subjective as any individual. The case of Ms. Gosda could have happened at any college or university. All it takes is the right situation, such as the lack of accessible rooms in the traditional dorm, and the subsequent boneheaded ignorance taken by somebody withing the university to not see the right thing to do, in this case it was to give her the accessible room at the rate of the traditional dorm room.

It is the responsibility of all DSS professionals to educate and enlighten. I would hope that the university consulted their ADA coordinator for an opinion before taking such a foolish and indefensible stance. It doesn't sound like they did, though.

Library site aware of need to address accessible web content

On a blog named
Library Stories,
Which is targeted towards library professionals, there was a recent post about
Web content and meeting the needs of students with disabilities,
particularly pointing out the need for compliance to Section 508.

The author of that post had the insight to point out that students needing consideration in web content are not only blind, but that list includes students whose disabilities are:

• Blindness / low vision
• Dyslexia
• Deaf / hard of hearing
• Limited Mobility
• Epilepsy
• Cognitive impairments

Whatever trends develop over the course of the coming years, one constant will remain-- students with disabilities will continue to go to college and need accommodations at their school’s library. Accessible texts and web sites are two of the primary concerns that will continue to need to be addressed.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Second part of Marcus Engel interview is now posted

Okay, so you went to the
Disability 411
Site a couple of weeks ago and downloaded the interview I did with
Marcus Engel,
Or at least downloaded the transcript to see what Marcus is all about. Then, you felt like you were left hanging on a cliff because it suddenly ended, all due to the interviewer, namely me, running long on the interview.

Never fear. Beth Case has been busily working and you can now go to the
Disability 411
Site and get the second part of that interview.

Now that you see how easy it is to conduct and submit an interview or product review, why don’t you take Beth up on her offer and submit one to Disability 411 yourself. I think she would appreciate a variety of topics and is giving a lot of latitude for submissions. Besides, it is your shot at getting your moment in the sun. And, who knows, you might tap into an interest that you didn’t know you were good at until you did that submission.

Medicare and power wheelchairs

There is an interesting article posted on
Medicare keeping the door shut on the disabled.

The gist of the article concerns Medicare and its policy to either pay or not pay for power wheelchairs. The answer lies in the results of a strict checklist. The bone of contention is that “it boils down to one question: Does the patient need a wheelchair inside the home?”

According to the article, “If you can limp 10 feet to the bathroom, or move from the refrigerator to the sink to make dinner, then Medicare will not cover a power wheelchair, even if you can't walk down the block to the grocery store for the food in the first place.”

This approach seems almost like a silly argument, one that makes no sense in the broader scope of individual needs. If a person is barely functional in their home, but can manage just a little bit, then Medicare says, “Well then…you certainly don’t need a power wheelchair,” even though providing such an assistive device may enable the person to get out of the house and get a job.

Compound this with individual pride and the innate quality of people trying to show they can do as much as they can, demonstrating their will to be strong in light of a disabling condition, even when this demonstration of will is at the reviewing athority who will report their findings of the individual's ability/disability to Medicare? When showing they can walk ten feet, no matter how much is done with a limp or the level of pain they endure when doing this, will be the very deciding factor that will shoot that person in their all-------too-able foot.

Wouldn’t it make sense to empower a person by providing the tool that would give him the potential to go to work and have private employer-provided health insurance, getting him off of Medicare as a result?

I don’t consider myself a liberal, nor a bleeding heart, but I am a passionate defender of rights of people with disabilities. However, I am also a tax-paying citizen and also understand the need for Medicare to protect its budgetary constraints, carefully scrutinizing the criteria for incidents when they will pay for a person’s expensive piece of assistive technology. However, there should be a more common sense review to consider when Medicare will fund these items.

The article illustrates clearly that items such as this which Medicare reigns over with a tight fist often goes unnoticed by legislators, as it is not a big hit on the political radar screen. In time, though, I believe this will change with the graying boomer population and the effects of this aging bringing on a variety of disabling conditions. Medicare’s ability to be so stringent in its governance for power wheelchairs may change as does the age of our population.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Resources for accessible, alternative texts

I want to share a gathering of sources for accessible, alternative texts.

For a broad catalog of texts in the public domain, there is always,
Project Gutenberg,
The “first producer of free electronic books (ebooks).”

Did you know that Project Gutenberg has 20,000 books in its on-line book catalog?

Did you know that more than two million electronic books are downloaded each month from the Project Gutenberg web site?

If you don’t want to download the books individually from Project Gutenberg, you can always do like the New York Times reporter did and pay to get a
CD of more than 10,000 books.
(Of course, you are very likely to wind up like the reporter and have a lot more books than the ones you originally wanted, and many in languages other than that which you speak.)

Additionally, there is also the
Internet Archive,
A web-based warehouse of multi-media internet information, including offerings from several libraries that includes more than 100,000 books.

As an alternative to accessible text, there is also,
A web site providing free audio books from the public domain.

Whichever method you get them, just know that these resources are available for finding accessible, alternative format texts.

A brief discussion of the role of DSS professionals

There’s an old saying, “Nothing succeeds like success,” which can be aptly applied to the profession of disability support services. Sure this applies to the particular accommodations, but there is more that DSS professionals can provide their students. The students can find the skills to manage their disabilities through on-going dialogue with DSS staff and a comfortable place to discuss the challenges they face.

Take for instance, the recent success story about the
CSUN’s Center on Disabilities.

This article illustrates very clearly that a student’s disability is not a sole entity. There are conpounding elements that accompany many disabilities, such as the case of the woman first mentioned in the article with a bipolar disability.

I particularly like that the article pointed out that the center “guides disabled students into finding a cohesive, effective and comfortable style for managing the difficulties that can grow out of a disability.”

While some may argue that the job of DSS staff is to provide only those accommodations needed to meet the students' needs, I disagree. There are some students who have not learned to manage their disability or their lifestyle with consideration for the demands the disability places on it. As the primary point of contact for a student who has very often just begun life out on his/her own, does it not make some sense for the DSS staff to help provide guidance and education to help the students be more successful in their day-to-day lives when they leave your school?

This is clearly the case for DSS professionals at community colleges, where students who graduate from there will often need to go onto an upper level institution to earn a marketable degree. When those students move up, shouldn’t they have the skills in place to successfully manage their lifestyles outside of the classroom? Who better to aid in providing that foundation than the DSS staff?

I know this is a bit of a tangent, but I truly believe that success breeds success. That was the point of the article and it sparked this train of thought from me. If you agree or disagree, please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Landmark College,specifically serving students with learning disabilities and AD/HD

For a long time, I have only known of one postsecondary school dedicated to serving a distinct population of students with a particular disability—
Gallaudet University,
The reknowned liberal arts university serving deaf and hard of hearing students.

That all changed this past week, when I learned about
Landmark College,
In Putney, Vermont, which bills itself as, “The premier college for students with learning disabilities and AD/HD.”

According to the college’s “About” page:
“While many colleges offer special programs for students with learning difficulties, Landmark College is one of the only accredited colleges in the United States designed exclusively for students with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), or other specific learning disabilities. “

“Why does Landmark's approach succeed? Because we take a different path. We teach the skills and strategies necessary for success in college and the workforce.”

In addition to the on-line databases, DVD and CD recordings, plus the more than 30,000 printed texts, the Landmark College library also boasts more than 550 course texts formatted for Kurzweil. The library also possesses a learning disability and AD/HD research collection chock full of books, videos, and journals, which the web site claims is one of the most extensive in the nation.

Take some time to check out the Landmark College web site linked above and explore the information on the various pages. (I especially like the informational resources one can glean from the library’s page.) Their web site should serve well as an additional resource for providing services to your LD and AD/HD students.

Good Resource for selecting the right hearing aid

For the uninitiated, or just for a real good primer on hearing aids,
offers a
Guide to Selecting the Right Hearing Aid.

While the site is a bit cluttered, once you skip through the headings and links, the article is really quite informative about the different aspects of the various types of hearing aids that are available.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Utah State showcasing features of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0

There is an interesting article in The Utah Statesman, the newspaper of Utah State University, about an upcoming series showcasing the
Functional applications of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0.

The purpose of this event, sponsored by the university’s Assistive Learning Technology Center, is to demonstrate how the speech-to-text application can be used by people with a broad range of disabilities, but won’t stop at just that. Jacob Miller, the coordinator of the center is promoting it as software that can be used by anybody. He claims that Dragon has helped him improve his typing speed by 430%, although he considered himself a decent typist even before using it.

The article goes on to give some pretty strong endorsements from other users of the assisstive technology software, emphasizing different features of the program that one might not know about unless he were a regular user of it. This also serves to demonstrate the applicability of the software across a wide range of disabilities.

One point Miller makes about the broader use of this specific program is that the state of Iowa now requires high school students to learn how to use it. Hmmm. Interesting concept there, mandating use of assistive technology by all students.

Miller also discusses a possible alternative use of Dragon in that article which my former colleague and I had begun to explore last year----------- using Dragon to provide real-time captioning of a professor's lecture on a deaf student’s laptop.

Aside from providing a good informational article about Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0, the concept of having an open series of events where all students are encouraged to stop by to see what this powerful software can do is a fresh idea for an innovative outreach program. In a world where good ideas are often sought out and emulated, I think this is one definitely worth a repeat.

Good work, Mr. Miller.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

IBM develops Accessibility Browser

To further enhance accessibility for people who are visually impaired, IBM will soon release
The Accessibility Browser.

The multimedia browser, also called the “A-Browser,” is set on giving people with visual impairments the same control over their browser’s content as their sighted counterparts, and will do so without interfering with the functionality of talking screen readers. There is a specific concentration on content compatible with the Real player and Windows Media Player.

Information from the BBC news article linked above states:
“By using the A-Browser, the visually-impaired person can control media content by using preset shortcut keys instead of having to seek the control buttons using a mouse. The browser also allows the users to slow down or increase the speed of the video. The volume controls let user adjust the sound of various sources in parallel. Frances West, director of IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility Centre said.”

“IBM says it should be available later this year and hopes that it will be free.”

The A-Browser’s developer, Dr. Chieko Asakawa,is a blind employee of IBM who designed the browser in response to the growing amount of web content she was unable to access.

Now, if somebody would only do something similar with that darn, embedded Flash content.

Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities seeks better Section 508 enforcement

On March 14, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities sent a
letter to United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales,
asking for better enforcement of Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

The heart of their complaint reads as follows:
“While specific federal agency compliance with the procurement and Internet accessibility requirements of Sec. 508 is enforced through the complaint and procurement processes particular to each agency in question, the Justice Department has the responsibility to issue periodic reports on compliance with these requirements across agencies generally (29 USC 794d(d)(2)). This reporting function, which is to occur biennially, has consistently fallen behind schedule and, as of this writing, is well over four years past due. We note that, at least with respect to the need to monitor federal agency compliance with Sec. 508's Internet accessibility requirements, the data collection has already been completed by the General Services Administration and simply awaits evaluation. Surely the Department can, at a minimum, muster the relatively modest resources required to complete analysis and publication of findings during this calendar year.”

This letter emphasizes a simple point: No matter how well they are written, regulations are only as good as their enforcement.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities is a Coalition of more than 100 national consumer, advocacy, provider and professional organizations headquartered in Washington, D.C. (A list of members is available at
Since 1973, the CCD has advocated on behalf of people of all ages with physical and mental disabilities and their families. CCD has worked to achieve federal legislation and regulations that assure that the 54 million children and adults with disabilities are fully integrated into the mainstream of society.

If you are not already familiar with the CCD, check out their web page and book mark it. It may serve you well later as a very qualified resource.

Monday, April 02, 2007

New bar codes could offer assistive technology promise

An interesting advent in cell phone technology looms promisingly on the horizon for people with disabilities.

In this New York Times news article , read how
New bar codes can talk with your cell phone.
(The article includes a link for watching a demonstration of this software.)

According to the Times article:
“It sounds like something straight out of a futuristic film: House hunters, driving past a for-sale sign, stop and point their cellphone at the sign. With a click, their cellphone screen displays the asking price, the number of bedrooms and baths and lots of other details about the house. “

“Media experts say that cellphones, the Swiss Army knives of technology, are quickly heading in this direction. New technology, already in use in parts of Asia but still in development in the United States, allows the phones to connect everyday objects with the Internet.”

“In their new incarnation, cellphones become a sort of digital remote control, as one CBS executive put it. With a wave, the phone can read encoded information on everyday objects and translate that into videos, pictures or text files on its screen.”

So you wonder what this has to do with Access Ability and providing disability support services. Read on and allow me to explain.

The trick for making this venture work on a broad scope, of course, will be companies seeing value in incorporating this technology into their products. If enough companies do this, then the use of these new bar codes will spread. I’m predicting that this is a foregone conclusion and we will soon be seeing more and more of these bar codes. Remember, you read that here first!

That same thought about manufacturers finding value to make it worth their while goes for incorporating this feature into the field of assistive technology. They have to see the practical value in it.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of one aspect where a student buys the hard copy of a text book, uses her cell phone to gather the new bar code, and is instantly given the authorization for downloading the electronic version of the text. The accessible version can then be downloaded onto the phone and, with further innovation in cell phone technology, the book might also be read right there on the phone.

To ensure that it is actually a student with a disability who is accessing this material, this might be incorporated into a two-step process where, after entering the bar code from the book, the user is required to do the same with a publisher-issued identification card given to users of their accessible material.

This entire process can save much time for the publishers and, as time is money, the company can see profit by expediting the whole process of obtaining accessible material from a publisher. The student can also save time and have instant access to the material, an almost incomprehensible thought in many previous situations. Granted, it is a little pipe dreamy as we all know how tight the publishers hang onto their copyrighted material.

However, that proposed scenario is not too far off from being able to be realized today. There are a growing number of software applications that will run on cell phones, which already allow users to play audio files. The audio version of text material is great for some students with learning disabilities and the phone makes an ideal utilitarian tool. Additionally, two software models of screen readers already exist that allow blind people to access many features that appear on the visual display of many phones.

What is to prevent the actualization of making the cell phone progress even further, grabbing the informational leaps enabled by the new bar codes, complementing them with additional features that the assistive technology can make accessible to students with disabilities, and allowing a never before seen level of usability of information on a cell phone?

The only answer to that question may be limited thinking on behalf of the companies that have the technology and materials. If they do not think of the innovations like the one I proposed with the e-text authorization, then it is up to DSS professionals to share these ideas. If the tech companies won’t think outside of the mainstream box, we may have to pull them out.

April is Autism Awareness Month

Autism in Connecticut
Blog site reminds us that April is autism awareness month.

This blog makes a good autism resource and is sponsored by the Autism Society of Connecticut. It offers a good assortment of news and information for issues dealing with autism, including grants, training opportunities, and other available resources.

In a related bit of news, I wrote a post several weeks ago about Amanda Baggs, a woman with autism, and her
If you haven’t been following her web site, she has more to say. Her most recent posting is an interesting passage about describing autism to others. She discusses what autism is like for her as it pertains to interacting with people versus objects. Check it out for an enlightened perspective of what life is like for a person with autism.

Also, you might want to check out Ms. Baggs' March 31 posting about the real barriers in communication. In it, she discusses using text-to-speech software on a laptop (and other assistive technology) as a means for communicating with others. This concept is actually not too far-fetched. Think about it. She is unable to communicate in a method that most people understand, but by typing her thoughts on a computer, it can speak via the text-to-speech software and act as a translator, enabling all to communicate. That type of thinking is a good idea to keep in mind when facing a problematic situation where additional resources are needed.

As a reminder, Ms. Baggs Describes herself as a “non-speaking physically disabled and autistic woman. Again, I proclaim that for someone who is “non-speaking,” she sure has a lot to say and says it most eloquently.